Law in Contemporary Society

View   r1
MaeghanMurphySecondEssay 1 - 08 Jun 2017 - Main.MaeghanMurphy
Line: 1 to 1
META TOPICPARENT name="SecondEssay"


My first year of law school is akin to the five stages of grief. In my case, there are four stages: obliviousness, projection, denial, and conflict.


When I began law school last August, I was one-hundred percent confident that I wanted to defend juveniles in the criminal justice system. In fact, I prided myself as one of few students at Columbia dedicated to public interest work. And so, fall semester I joined the 1L Public Defender Students’ board and the Domestic Violence Project board. I also began volunteering with the Suspension Representation Project, representing NYC students in their superintendent suspension hearings. While classes fall semester did not align with my interests, I did not care—I was excited to know I would be taking criminal law spring semester, and browsed course and clinic options for my 2L year. I did not doubt, even once, that I wanted to pursue criminal defense work.


The first time a seed of doubt was planted in my mind was over winter break, while I was home with my family. In November, I met with career services to discuss which organizations I should apply to for my first summer internship. My list was focused solely on non-profits that did legal representation and policy work for juveniles within the criminal system and family court. I sent out all of my applications over winter break, signed up for the PILC fair at NYU, and proudly updated my parents on what I was considering for summer positions. For the next few weeks, my dad persistently informed me that I should also apply to private firm positions—especially at big law firms. His reasoning was that I should not foreclose any opportunities, and that big law firms offer a much different experience than small firms or non-profits (I have previously interned at both a four-person law firm and two non-profits). My relationship with my dad is not the topic of this essay, but from past experience, I knew that I needed to at least make an effort to satisfy his request. So, I begrudgingly researched some firms, and began sending out applications, telling myself that I was only doing it because of my dad.


I latched onto the justification that I was only applying to law firms because my dad was “forcing” me to. Obviously, that was an attempt to justify my selfish pursuits. Full disclosure: I was instantly drawn to the prospect of making a significantly greater salary than I would as a public defender. What could be more important than my living in luxury? Addressing societal inequalities and pursuing a meaningful career? But I can do pro bono work while employed in big law—that’s the best of both worlds! This conflict grew in my mind through spring semester, while I participated in Spring OCI, attended an EIP information session, and ultimately accepted a summer position with the Legal Aid Society’s Adolescent Intervention and Diversion Project. But whenever anyone asked me whether I had any interest in big law or whether I was planning to participate in EIP, I told them “maybe”, followed by a quick disclaimer that: “my dad wants me to.”


I would love to consider myself immune to egocentrism. I would love to move on in this reflection by saying that, upon identifying the issue with my interests in big law I corrected myself and made the proper decision to pursue public interest. But unfortunately, I cannot seem to come to such a simple resolution. I am finishing my first year of law school more uncertain about my future than when I entered. How can I, a person who has been so dedicated to pursuing a career for the benefit of others, be so easily incentivized by the prospect of money? Everyone always talks about how little public defenders are paid—but in perspective, a $60,000 salary and guaranteed benefits is significantly more than many people in the United States make. I should feel privileged to even have a prospective starting salary in that range. If I feel so guilty for these thoughts, why is it so difficult for me to pull myself away from the idea of being in big law?

My first two weeks at my summer internship should further confirm a choice in pursuing public interest work. I love it—I love working with my clients and knowing I am helping them in their most vulnerable times. I love using my privilege and education to pursue change within a failing legal system. I love the challenge and I love being in court. And yet, yesterday, when one of my grades was released, my first thought was: “What do my other grades need to be to ensure I do well at EIP?”


I do not know how to resolve my current conflict. I do not know what I want. Is it best to just acknowledge my faults and selfish drives and ignore them by pursuing a career in public defense? Should I “give big law a try”? These are questions that I need to grapple with this summer. I want to make the right decision, and my inclinations tell me that the right decision is pursuing public defense. But I am afraid of uncertainty—I am afraid of “making the wrong decision”. More significantly, I am afraid of becoming the kind of person whom I have, in the past, looked down upon—the kind of person who puts their own wants above others’ needs.

In finding an answer, I need to reach beyond my own thoughts. This summer, I hope to seek the advice of my professors, my advisors, my friends, and my coworkers. I need to remove my focus from myself, and work on understanding how each law-involved person I know ended up where they are, and why.

Revision 1r1 - 08 Jun 2017 - 00:38:50 - MaeghanMurphy
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM