Law in Contemporary Society

DRIVER'S SEAT (Second Draft of First Paper)

-- By ChristopherWilds - 8 Apr 2013


I want to have a positive impact on my community, to be able to support my family, and to become a role model for younger people. The role that lawyers played in the civil rights movement sparked my interest in becoming a lawyer. The possibility of working towards something that I actually believe in seemed like the perfect way to lead a meaningful life. Ultimately, I have to do something that I feel is worthwhile.

Although it isn’t something that I had given much thought when entering law school, or something that seemed to be given much attention by law school faculty, it may be a god idea to have my own practice at some point in my legal career. This would mean more financial resources but also more sense of ownership and accomplishment. The work would be mine. Like Robinson in Lawrence Joseph’s Lawyerland, I’d be able to avoid being used more than I’m willing to be used. Like many law students, a large student debt looms in the wake of my law school graduation. Although I don’t dream about owning large yachts and expensive Hublot watches, I would like to be able to support my family financially. Growing up I didn’t know any lawyers personally. One goal for me is to be a mentor to younger members of my community. Part of me being a positive influence to young people means more than perpetuating the stereotype that all lawyers have money. It isn’t enough to show the youth that if they work hard that they can attain material things. Instead, I want the young people in my community to know that if they work hard, that they can change the environment in which they live.


Having figured out what kind of lawyer I want to be, the next step involves me finding out how to get what I need from my law school experience. Having endeavored to spend a great deal of money, one might expect law schools to pull out all the stops in ensuring that no student feels dissatisfied with the experience of learning to become a lawyer. One may also naively take for granted that law school will in fact teach you how to be a lawyer. However, one of the most consistent responses from upper-year students, professors, and practicing attorneys, when asked about how law school teaches someone to become a lawyer is how little law school prepares one for the actual work of being a lawyer. “Experience” and “hands-on” learning are repeatedly praised as the real means of learning how to become a good lawyer. (Contrary to popular belief watching “Law & Order” was not the most popular response). So then my question becomes how can I ensure that I get my money worth? The more I consider this line of thought, the more I realize that like much of the rest of society, law school is being offered as more of a self-serve industry rather than a heavily customer service based enterprise (self-checkout in supermarkets, the prevalence of ATMs as opposed to direct teller interactions, subway metro card vending machines replacing clerks). So, my job will consist of, amongst other things, being proactive in acquiring hands-on learning experiences and building my professional network.


In law school I will need to develop skills to practice by engaging in meaningful work outside of the classroom. This means that summer employment isn’t just about scoring an impressive sounding gig that will put a few dollars in my pocket. Instead I need to approach my summer employment with the watchful eye of an apprentice. For ten weeks I should be watching the attorneys to learn what to do, what not to do, and how to improve upon my skills. This also means asking more questions and worrying less about looking clueless.

This summer I will work at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights New York Office. The work is right in line with the filed that I hope to work in. Therefore, aside from improving writing and research skills, I will be watching to understand how lawyers think about issues that are heavily policy driven. Working with lawyers in my field of choice also means that along with every moment being a learning experience, it is also an opportunity to build my network (more about that later).

I will also have to find hands on employment and clinics that will propel me into the field that I would like to go into. This means asking around about different programs, engaging with professors and pinpointing opportunities. I must strategically approach these opportunities as ways to craft my skills.


Along with utilizing the school’s resources to find meaningful experiences outside of the classroom (and not totally unrelated), one of the most valuable aspects of law school will be building my professional network. Professors, alumni, other students are all potential members of my network. I have to seek them out; they won’t come looking for me. Finding professors and practicing lawyers that are in a position to help and are happy to do so can help me to succeed and grow my practice. Therefore, office hours and lunchtime panels are not simply opportunities to ask a substantive question or get free lunch. Instead, opportunities to speak with individuals who can serve as good connections later on is more like strategic planning for the future.

While law school is undoubtedly too expensive, this serves as even more motivation to get what I need from my time here. Although it would be lovely to have these necessities laid out in front of me like an omelet bar, reality necessitates that I be proactive in finding these opportunities for myself. To be optimistic about the situation, and to defy what countless others think about the institution, law school actually can be viewed as adequate preparation for a legal career. If you want what’s best for yourself, it may be a good idea to get used to being in the driver’s seat as opposed to merely being a passenger.

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r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:15:33 - IanSullivan
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