Law in Contemporary Society

Feasible Goals

-- By ChrisSantana - 26 Apr 2018

Contributing to the Reformation of Our Criminal Justice System

After a year of law school, I have learned that I want to be involved in the efforts of reforming our criminal justice system and that this is feasible. Throughout my time at Columbia, I have been meeting with practicing attorneys and attending events to narrow my focus with regard to my career goals. I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer that contributes to the betterment of indigent communities but I did not know how to do this in a way that is interesting and practical.

BigLaw Myth

However, when starting at Columbia, I believed that working at a BigLaw firm was the only way to pay off my law school loans and have the means to help my family financially. I soon realized that this was not necessarily true. Even though working at a BigLaw firm would be more lucrative than working at a public interest organization or government agency, money was not my main motivator for attending law school and I was not going to allow it to dictate my life choices.

BigLaw Myth Debunked

In addition to the school coordinated firm events, I attended numerous panels and receptions with BigLaw firms sponsored by the Latino/a Law Students Association. When meeting with attorneys I asked about their practice areas, professional development at their firm, and what attracted them to BigLaw. The following is my personal experience which might vary from person to person. Almost all the attorneys I spoke with were unenthusiastic about their practice area and hesitated when speaking about professional development at their firms. They spoke about not having any formal mentors but being able to ask their superiors for assistance when needed. They also mentioned that they made the choice of working at a firm because of the money and experience. Some attorneys were honest enough to tell me about the intense hours they worked. All of this information was important to me because it conflicted with the reasons I had to work at a firm.

If the attorneys who tried to recruit me did not seem convinced that they made the correct choice in working at a BigLaw firm, then why should I? I was interested in work experience and mentorship so I could grow as an attorney to work at a civil rights organization a few years after working at a firm. However, the experience and professional development associates gained while working for a corporate client is not the type of training I need to help indigent clients. Furthermore, firm salaries sound great but if I am going to be working 2, 200 hours a year, I’ll be getting paid about $80 an hour (before taxes). This time is likely in addition to any pro bono work or community engagement work I plan on doing. After taxes are deducted, practicing at a firm is not as lucrative as some people make it seem.

What I Want Now

While at law school, I also realized that I want to be an attorney who defends clients I value and genuinely support. After hearing many BigLaw attorneys speak about their clients and the legal issues they encounter, I was discouraged to follow their footsteps. I was not interested in working around the clock for large, and often unethical, corporations. One attorney spoke about successfully representing financial institutions against claims regarding their role in the financial crisis. This is not the type of work that I would be proud of or would like to engage in after law school. In comparison, I felt invigorated after attending events where I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Gonzalez, the Kings County District Attorney in Brooklyn, and Xavier Becerra, the Attorney General of California. These are two Latino attorneys that I admire and aspire to be like. They are using their positions of power as politicians and attorneys to help indigent people in their communities.

How I Plan to Guide My Learning

I plan to achieve my goals by seeking opportunities that will shape me into a capable litigator and expose me to different practice areas. Next semester, I will participate in the Challenging the Consequences of Mass Incarceration Clinic. Through participating in this clinic, I plan to learn more about the effects and developments of mass incarceration, build on my civil procedure knowledge, and refine my oral argument, and writing skills. I want to use the knowledge I learned in my first year of law school courses to zealously advocate on behalf of indigent clients that suffer from inhumane conditions of confinement.

The experience and knowledge I would gain from this clinic would prepare me for my future career as a litigator. Immersing myself in this clinic would enable me to get early exposure to litigation and potentially gain courtroom experience. A personal goal of mine while at law school is to refine my oral argument skills to better represent my clients. Whether I work at a government agency or a public interest organization, the skills I would learn from this clinic are transferable.

As I mentioned earlier in this paper, I am interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice reform in the future and would greatly benefit from the opportunity to get involved in policy projects offered by the clinic relating to criminal justice such as bail reform and stop and frisk issues. Being involved with policy projects would allow me to make a positive impact in this country’s criminal justice system and will help me solidify my career goals by exposing me to different issues.

The best route to improving this draft is to concentrate less on what you don't want and more on what you do. You can explain your reasons for jumping off the conveyor-belt to the large law firm practice in one paragraph at most. That will leave more room to talk about both how to study criminal justice policy in law school and how to tend in that direction of practice. In particular, how to think about prosecution as a subject to study and a possible path in life. You will see soon, if you haven't already, why people who have not been prosecutors lose some leverage in the world of criminal justice policy. Perhaps you could benefit from writing about what that means to a young lawyer with your aspirations. That might in turn help to inform some law school choices. Your speculations about all that, which there's not room for here right now, would be valuable to you, whether they turn out in the long run to have been "right" or not.

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r2 - 01 Jun 2018 - 14:21:21 - EbenMoglen
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