Law in Contemporary Society

A Window to my Choices: The Evolution of a Law Student

-- By Genesis Sanchez Tavarez - 12 Apr 2018

The Search for Justice

Our experiences dictate our actions and consequently mold us into the people we become.

I was born in the Dominican Republic, a country controlled by violence and corruption. The walls around my house looked like those of a prison, with barbed wire wrapped around and multiple doors that served as barriers to keep the outside world from getting to us—to keep the outside world from hurting us. Still, these barriers didn’t protect us, we had to leave the house eventually.

One day, my father left the house and never returned.

He was shot outside of a gas station, and stories of what happened still come up 18 years later. I don’t think any of us know what really happened. He wasn’t a bad guy. He was just getting gas for his car and ended up sprawled on the floor, dead.

My family didn’t do anything.

Not that they didn’t want to, they just felt that they couldn’t. In a country were police officers, lawyers, and judges sell themselves to the highest bidder, there is no justice for the poor.

My family was afraid of retaliation.

The last time someone around us sought justice, another member of their family was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Searching for justice meant opening your family up to retaliation and to never ending bloodshed. My family believed it wasn’t worth it because finding those that killed my father wouldn’t bring him back.

Everyone accepted this, everyone except me.

I saw my two-year-old brother, and my sister in the womb who would never get the chance to meet our father. I wanted justice.

For me, losing my father was the injustice I suffered that pushed me to want to become a lawyer.

I wanted justice because every day I left the safety of my home and walked into the battlefield was a day I could have been walking next to those that killed my father. At seven years old, I decided that while the law wouldn’t bring my father back, it would have brought me closure. Although that’s not something I can have, it’s something I want to provide to others.

Justice Meet Inequality

I moved to the United States in 2005. I learned the customs, traditions, and quickly learned my place. I was an immigrant, a poor immigrant. A woman of color, who lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Rhode Island and didn’t speak the language.

Learning the language was the easiest obstacle to overcome. The others, however, I felt were unchangeable. I graduated from high school, the first in my family. I graduated from Rhode Island College, a nationally unknown and unranked university.

I was the first of my family to do that too.

I was accepted at a top law school making me not only the first in my family to pursue a higher education, but also the first from Rhode Island College to be accepted to a law school of such prestige. Throughout, I told myself that I wanted to be a prosecutor. I wanted to help people get the closure of which I was deprived. I was unmoved in my desire to pursue justice.

But the ground below me started to shake.

Despite my education, despite my now accent-less English (which those around me loved to point out), I was still poor. I was still an immigrant. I was still a woman. I was still black.

The Divide Between Public Interest and Private Sector

I accepted the loans.

I took on the debt because my mother didn’t start a college fund for me and couldn’t contribute a dime to my education. Not with her job at a factory. Not with the breast cancer she was fighting. Not with her loss of work. Not with her income.

So, I came to law school.

Almost immediately, I sensed a divide in the community. There were students dedicated to public interest work, called “the good ones,” and students that were set on pursuing work in private sector, labeled “money hungry.”

All I wanted to do was thread the needle.

I knew I wanted to seek justice, but I soon realized that I didn’t have the privilege to forego the money.

It wasn’t just me.

It was my mother’s desire to own a home one day. One day where she didn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. It was my desire to one day help others that come after me pay for their college applications, LSAT prep classes, textbooks and all the things that I found myself having trouble acquiring.

I still want to help but have realized that I can do it in different ways.

It’s not that I won’t become a prosecutor one day, it’s that this is not the plan for now. I know people criticize the conversion from public interest to private sector that happens at law school but it’s not necessarily that we don’t care about others.

We just have more to think about.

Money is the “great equalizer.” If you keep us poor, then you keep us down and to raise my community I need a seat at the table—the big table where all the white, middle-class, men are sitting.

Building a Bridge instead of a Wall

So yes, I’ve evolved. I’ve changed my mind because I found that it’s not as clear a divide as it seems. I learned that big law firms help fund public interest organizations. I learned that big law firms do a lot of pro bono work and directly impact communities.

I learned this firsthand when I met a Pro Bono client applying for asylum at the lobby and showed him to the conference room on the 40th floor. The look on his face when he saw the view from up there was enough to show me that there doesn’t have to be a wall between public and private. There can be a bridge.

A bridge I’m determined to walk.


Webs Webs

r4 - 12 Apr 2018 - 18:42:20 - GenesisSanchez
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