Law in Contemporary Society

-- By SarahMaciel - 26 Apr 2018

At the surface, it’s a simple question. Of course, many people over the years have asked the same question, but they were different audiences. For them, the answer was easier. “I want to work with children in immigration proceedings.” Simple enough. Then I got here and the answer evolved into an even more digestible one for this new audience: “public interest.” I can safely say after the first year of law school that such answers to the question of the sort of lawyer I want to be are insufficient.

Largely in an effort to mitigate the occupational risks associated with this profession, I will strive to be a lawyer who is happy. That type of lawyer. Perhaps overly simplistic, to be sure, but I plan to embody two specific lawyering traits that I believe will be important in this endeavor: realism and resourcefulness.

I will be the type of lawyer who embraces that she cannot tip the scales of injustice entirely on her own, but who does not allow such ostensible futility in changing factors bigger than herself to paralyze her into being prevented from making some difference. I believe that in being realistic when it comes to the things I can actually change, I will be able to actually change those things and will not feel as though I am being swallowed alive by the whole of injustice. I will treat each client and each policy I advocate for as an added grain of sand on the scales. And I will be proud to have contributed to them rather than standing idly by, enamored by the scales’ magnitude.

In my quest to make a difference, I need to be resourceful. I have never been good at asking for help. I am stubborn and proud, and have needlessly struggled all my life for fear of looking weak. I did not know coming into this year that I would learn how important combatting this inner phenomenon would become. If I want to become the sort of lawyer that I hope to one day be, I will first need to learn how to ask for help. This work cannot be done alone.

It feels strange that in a piece largely about being the type of lawyer who helps others and works to cure injustices, the words are all about me and I. But what I have learned in this class, amongst a wealth of other things, is that I am doing a disservice to the people I want to help if I am not helping myself first. In this respect, my own happiness is not an overly simplistic, overly na´ve, or overly self-interested primary lawyering goal. Hoping to attain it through realistic expectations and resourceful work is not solely self-serving.

My family, my peers, my friends, they have all played critical roles in shaping the type of passionate advocate I strive to be. In part, I am doing it with them. My father was the first person I called when I got into Columbia. It was instantly not just my accomplishment, but my family’s. A culmination of decades of sacrifices, working long hours to keep us in workable schools so that we could do something with our lives. Getting into Columbia Law School was one of the best days of my life, and it continues to be my greatest accomplishment. But it feels so much bigger than me. When my mother and father came to the States from Jalisco, Mexico in the early 80s, this was the goal they had in mind. In many ways, it does not feel like mine to give up.

When the question was first posed to us at the beginning of the semester, “will you return in the fall?” I was immediately brought back to this conversation with my father. We have worked so hard, how could I ever consider not returning?

Two months ago, my grandmother passed away. We were very close. Her death has forced me to confront some of the realities in my life: particularly, it has made me think more critically about the occupational risks that go along with this profession. Her death has forced me to actually engage the question for the first time, my parents’ dreams notwithstanding. Will I come back? Was I ignoring the question when it was first asked in class? And, of course, if I do return, what sort of lawyer will I be?

In this first year of law school, I have found that my greatest resources have been the people around me. The unexpectedly presciently and directly on point words from an elective professor, for example, the advice from a kind upperclassman, the solidarity in peers struggling alongside me. I thought I would be here improving my legal research and writing skills. I have. I am more thankful, though, that I am improving my willingness, ability, and network to ask for help.

I will return in the fall. I will advocate zealously for my clients, while understanding that the scales of justice often do not swing in their favor. With this in mind, I will work constantly to try to get them to. And I will do so with every resource available to me, and in particular, the other people around me. Only then, I believe, can I be happy, and only once I am caring for myself in this way, do I believe that I will have been right to come back in the fall. I will work for the next two years to prepare myself, both emotionally and academically for the work I hope to accomplish, never forgetting what it took to get here. And after three weeks of immersing myself in the work of a non-profit dedicated to serving one of the most vulnerable populations, under an administration that works just as hard to push them down as we do to uplift them, my answer feels more important than ever.

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r3 - 12 Jun 2018 - 02:49:53 - SarahMaciel
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