Law in Contemporary Society

Contributing Member of Society

-- By LissetteDuran - 16 Feb 2012

I have lived in a one-bedroom apartment with four other people. I have fallen asleep to the gentle sway of my classmate’s yacht. I have gone hungry. I have had dinner with President Clinton at Madison Square Garden. I have had to share textbooks in a classroom of 40 students. And I have watched the stars, in astronomy class, through my personally assigned telescope.

I have done a lot of things. But no one experience, event, or interest defines me. I believed that in law school I would acquire more interests and find more ways to get involved and learn. Yet the mythical dichotomy that exists here is daunting. Not only do they make you believe that you have to choose one—either public interest or corporate law—but you also have to choose quickly. It seems as though students’ minds have to be made up as soon as they pick up their CLS book bag from orientation.

The question posed is always the same: Are you going to help the poor and be a contributing member of society, or are you going to help the rich get richer? But it has never been that simple. I refuse to look at the world in such a binary when I am walking proof that there is some gray.

My first issue arises with defining society. I do not believe there is one absolute society to which we all contribute. Instead, we belong to various different communities. We are all born into one community and as we mature and create relationships we become members of others. My refusal to fit into one of those neatly packaged categories stems from my membership in very different, yet very important communities.

I was born into a poor community. I have seen my neighbors leave IOUs on bodega counters anticipating the arrival of insufficient welfare checks. I know what eviction letters look like. And I know what eviction letters feel like. I can recognize the inner frustrations of a young kid dressed in hand me downs too big for his body but too small for his dreams. I love this community. I was raised in it. I learned humility, hard work and how to make a lot out of a little.

And then I became a member of a more affluent one. I have classmates that are CEOs of companies. I have friends who take spontaneous vacations to Europe over the weekends. I watch Broadway shows from the orchestra level. And I have watched my mom use the $250 bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label in our closet to sweeten her morning coffee. I have learned a lot from this community too. For one, it helped me realize that the world was bigger than my backyard. I learned what you could do with extra and what it was like not to need.

Law school makes it a problem for me to continue to be part of and contribute to both. Before law school, I traversed these communities almost seamlessly. I could tell my high school and college classmates about running through open fire hydrants and the drug dealers on the corner. And my Washington Heights friends loved hearing about the roundtable discussions with famous people and the Hamptons trips (and that the affluent, too, had their share of problems). My involvement in one never jeopardized my existence in another. I was able to bring what I learned from one community to enrich and inform the other.

Yet law school’s definition of contribution is so rigid. Apparently they are mutually exclusive—you can only contribute to one at a time. Thus, here I find myself hastily trying to choose between my communities. Should I strike with my father or should I sit there angrily as the other students do because they are interrupting? In a way I feel like I am splitting before I even take the job that has me on the wrong side at two in the morning.

After two semesters here I have decided that I do not have to choose. I will be part of and contribute to both communities. I will continue to contribute to the community in which I grew up by sharing their stories. I will continue putting our stories on wikis and newspaper pages so as to not let people forget we exist. I plan on working hard to make sure my community has better access to opportunities. And I will also contribute to my affluent community. I will bring in my experiences from Andover, Penn and now Columbia. I will learn about big businesses and understand how they work so I can help my friends when the time comes.

Until then, I am going to take advantage of the law school’s buffet of choices. Instead of focusing on what side of the spectrum I land, I am going to run across it. I will take a little non-profit, a little corporate, a little government and see if I can shape my practice to look and feel a little more like me—a little rich, a little poor, and everything in between.

Eben, I realized that when I started writing this paper the first time, I wanted to write about myself and the difficulty in trying to balance these two communities. What I ended up writing about the more vague sense of contribution. I wanted to take my experiences to show why each community is important to me and why I do not fit into the binary the law school creates. Instead of outright choosing, I want to focus on learning and taking everything I can, in. Hopefully, 2L & 3L will have a little more of that. Thank you for a great class.

Lissette -

I struggle with figuring out how to satisfy all of my concerns and interests into one career too. On one hand, I love public interest work and my whole life has been invested in it. On the other hand, I want as you have pointed out, to help out people who were there for me during my childhood and now. If I take a job at a corporate law firm, I can do this but likely at the expense of some of my values. There may be a firm that somehow fits with all I want to accomplish in my life, but I realize that this may be a pipe dream.

I want to buy my mother a nice car and a house as a small payment for all she has done for me. It's hard to come from a single parent background and not feel invested in making sure that parent is okay in life. My father has not contacted me since I was two years old, and the child support checks were intermittent. I owe so much to my mother for persevering despite this. She is getting older and is disabled, so I want to help her sooner than later.

There is a lot of disillusionment in families that never really had someone make it. My family has always pushed me to be successful and believed in me, but most of my aunts work in fast food and I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I still remember talking about how much money in tips I made while working at Sonic in high school, only to have my cousin take my money. His mother made him give it back, but I feel bad because I want him to have a better life too.

On the other hand, I have had some amazing opportunities in my life. As a fraternal twin brother from a low income background, a plethora of organizations were willing to give us full scholarships to take part in programs like the YMCA. People were willing to help us. I even was in a United Way commercial at a young age because people were intrigued by our story. I was blessed to attend great institutions and to teach as a part of Teach for America and later at a KIPP school.

I'm writing all of this to tell you that I'm really proud of you. I know it has been difficult but reading your story inspires me. There are probably some things you never tell anyone because it is part of your family struggle too.

It is okay to have a variety of career interests. It is your life and only you define it. What makes you happy will not be the same as what makes someone else happy. I am glad you are making your own trail.

Take care, thanks for sharing, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 8 July 2012


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r9 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:39 - IanSullivan
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