Law in Contemporary Society

Fall 2018

-- By MarinaHernandez - 05 Jun 2018

How I Got Here

I am the daughter of a convicted felon, and neither of my parents completed high school. Despite being a fourth generation American, my family’s journey hadn’t quite matched the “American Dream” narrative. It may even be considered regressive in some ways. In light of the circumstances, all statistics predicted I wouldn’t amount to anything, but my parents were hellbent on breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration starting with my siblings and me. I came to law school with aspirations of fighting institutionalized racism in government and the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, my first year has more clearly revealed to me the career path I do not wish to take. The attorneys I had the opportunity to interact with during my first year did not help fine tune my goals and aspirations, and have made be question whether Biglaw is the healthiest career choice for me. My classwork also offered little substantive guidance as to the career I hope to pursue due to its narrow focus in topics and skills.

Nevertheless, 1L has forced me to reflect on the type of work that will justify my decision to attend law school. I believe two goals can be accomplished through continuing my education. The first is my aspiration to work on policy or regulatory measures with a systems-based approach, especially as they relate to public education. I previously worked as a teacher, which seems akin in many ways to direct client services. Though teachers and public defenders are truly noble career paths that fulfill essential roles in society, I detested being confined by policies I did not want to enforce. I believe law school will give me greater access to work at the policy level on issues such as standardized testing and school/teaching evaluations.

The second ongoing role I hope to fulfill throughout my career is being a mentor and advocate for first generation college graduates and professionals. In the same vein, I hope to pursue a career that allows me amplify the voices of those demographics that have been historically silenced in the policy-making process. Seeing my father barred from voting and face barriers to meaningful employment upon re-entry to society (effectively making him a second-class citizen) has made me passionate about hearing the voices of those from difficult walks of life. Completing law school will allow me to broaden my capacity to be of service to others in this way. I also believe my own unique life circumstances enable me to provide a diverse point of view in the policy-making and implementation process, should I ever make it to that point.

Continued Optimism

My 1L summer position and my anticipated 2L courses have helped me to remain sure that law school was not a mistake. My summer internship is focused on building capacity and providing resources to teachers who hope to run for elected office. While politics has its faults and drawbacks in effecting change, there is no question that local politicians wield significant influence on matters that affect their communities. I plan to be a sponge over this eight-week experience in learning how the organization fulfills its mission by working with diverse individuals, and how it utilizes a body of teachers for policy change.

I am also inspired to continue my legal education because of the recent political battles focused on public education throughout the country. Perhaps awaken from apathy due to the country’s overwhelming disapproval of our Secretary of Education, teachers and education advocates accomplished major political feats within the past year. From the teachers in West Virginia who successfully achieved a pay raise, to Kentucky public education advocates who achieved an increase in state per pupil spending, education advocates and organizers shook up state politics this year. Even local organizers achieved improvements for teachers and students on a much smaller scale. These headlines have boosted my optimism in the power of political organizing to promote change, even for public interest sectors. It has made me a little less jaded that politicians are entirely beholden to corporate interests. For this reason, I will continue building my capacity as an advocate with a legal background. The first step in building this capacity is participation in Professor James Liebman’s interdisciplinary clinic focused on transformative change in public education. I hope this clinic also serves as an opportunity to network with and observe professionals working towards systems-based change

Law in Contemporary Society has pushed me to think critically about valuing my time and energy, and that I should not be content with giving up five years of my life to a job I don’t enjoy simply because it is the path of least resistance. It’s also served as a reminder that I should not pursue opportunities that are not helping me become the lawyer I hope to be simply because "everyone" says I should. I am excited to learn about unconventional ways that attorneys are advocating for their communities and impacting systems-based change through opportunities within the law school and in the wider community over the next two years.

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r3 - 06 Jun 2018 - 01:02:59 - MarinaHernandez
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