Law in Contemporary Society

Building Bridges

-- By AndyGutierrez - 25 Apr 2018

Although I am an only child, I’ve grown up believing that I would be a fantastic middle child. As a result of being adopted into a mixed family, having a mother who was born in Iowa and a father who was born in Colombia, and being a child of divorce, I’ve often acted as a peacemaker and a bridge between people. I’ve learned, as an agreeable middle child would, to embrace these characteristics as strengths. During my first year of law school I’ve learned that I want to use these strengths and serve as a bridge between what many see as opposite ends of the binaries of the legal field. I see myself serving as a bridge in the next two years and throughout my career in hopes of becoming a well-rounded lawyer.

Since planning to come to law school I have seen many binaries. Public interest and private sector. Corporate and litigation. Professional groups and social groups. Some of these binaries are not unique to law. Some of these binaries are blurry (affinity groups are likely a mix of both social and professional). However, each of these binaries forces students to make a decision in the first year of law school. Quickly. Once students are on their paths, the chaos of the first year of law school makes it feel impossible to deviate. Time and energy are both finite, and changing course feels like it would require a lot of both. The minimal overlap of these binaries exacerbates the feeling that decisions cannot be changed.

As someone who carries many identities (Latino, immigrant, first-generation professional, gay) and interests, I felt pressured to choose between them often. Thinking beyond the realm of law school and of the type of person I’d like to be, I also found it important to be a visible presence in activities and events where people who look like me are often not seen. For instance, my interest in science and technology led me to a student group where I was unsurprised to not see people like myself. In the coming years, especially next year as a leader in several student groups, I aim to bridge communities more so that students feel less like they have to choose and less like they are stuck. I hope to allow people to open their minds more and engage with people who are different.

From my experience at a law firm, there is more separation once students graduate and join the workforce. Some of the separation is by choice - again, public interest and private sector; practice areas; geographical location. And some of the separation is not a matter of choice - older lawyers and younger lawyers. Again, each of these categorizations feels permanent (subject to limitations such as the length of time someone plans to stay at a firm, for instance) and, perhaps, isolating. Separation by age is not unique to the legal field, but it does have a significant impact on how colleagues see one another. I participated in a pre-law fellowship program last summer, and there was a considerable amount of time during training focused on how we as young people have a responsibility to be conscious and careful about how we acted at work, especially in the presence of partners and more senior associates. I came away from the training feeling like I would not be able to, nor was I expected to, connect with folks who were from a different generation.

I see myself bringing my desire to be a bridge to my career in a few ways. As someone who worked for a few years before coming to college, I feel better equipped to thrive in a professional setting. My work experience combined with a traditional first-generation, low-income, Latino upbringing helped me develop a strong work ethic and respect for authority and elders. My background allows me to understand and connect with people with different experiences, which has in turn enabled me to act as a bridge between people to facilitate understanding. In addition to how who I is as a person will allow me to serve as a bridge in my legal career, I also think that my interests and professional experiences will allow me to continue bringing different people and ideas together. Professionally, I’ve worked at large tech companies (Oracle, Google) and non-profits, and a small mental health startup. My extracurriculars have included affinity groups, professional development groups, public interest groups, cheerleading, and ceramics. Having been part of so many different groups and workplaces helps me feel confident that I can bring what I’ve learned to my career. I will figure out what practices that I’ve learned over the years work best for me and for others in the legal setting. That can lead to ripple effects and bigger change. Finally, I hope that my ultimate career goals of having a community center for young people, will encourage me to stay tapped into many different networks. Having these different connections will allow me to stay less isolated in my work. I will then be able to serve as a bridge by keeping more people in the know about a wider array of things, which will hopefully encourage more involvement and thought outside of the work they’re doing.

I worked hard this year to not feel isolated at law school. From what I can tell, I’m going to have to continue to make that a priority for many years to come. In doing so, I hope to ensure that everyone around me feels like they are not alone as well. Being a bridge for the different identities in the legal field is a part of my legal career that I didn’t expect to learn to be important to me. But, if we’re all going to be struggling, we might as well feel like we’re a little less alone.

This draft gets to some of the important material, and seems to me a useful way to start writing. But many of its sentences and some of its paragraphs seem to take an external view of you, like an application essay intended to introduce you to a stranger, rather than an introspection designed to help you create a strategy. Improving the essay seems to me most likely to involve replacing the external view with an internal one.

The metaphor of the bridge provides a good structure for the external view: you can be seen as a "connector," using an agreeable disposition and a good work ethic to bring people together. Surely this is an important form of self-definition, but in the present context the metaphor elides the most important question: a bridge from where to where? Counting identities is not a particularly valuable activity: we all have as many as we want to acknowledge at any moment. We aren't building a bridge from one of our social facets to another: we are living our lives.

So the opportunity presented here is to consider, specifically but not immutably, what exactly you want, and how you mean to go about getting it. Probably your objectives will change, perhaps completely. Your sense of the resources you have at hand may also change, and as your objectives alter the resources you will need to collect to achieve them are certain to vary. But the exercise of making strategy—which is quite different from the exercise of putting together an agreeable or marketable profile—is useful even when the fundamentals are uncertain. Learning to define one's objectives; to consider the relevant resources already at hand and to specify the ones needed; to learn how to get the results your license needs to contain, and to build the network you will need to find and serve the clients you want—these are the steps to making good and creative strategy for a fulfilling professional life. All right, you are a bridge-builder. Now we need a map, some materials, an architecture. The bridge you imagine building this spring is just a bridge, probably not the one or ones you are going to build in due course. But seriously confronting the details of the first imagined work is part of the education that lasts through the lifetime of building.

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r4 - 28 May 2018 - 14:25:00 - EbenMoglen
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