Law in Contemporary Society

I Will Do Good As A Lawyer When I Learn What Good Looks Like For Me

-- By UdokaOkafor - 25 Apr 2018

I Have Always Wanted To Be A Lawyer

I have always wanted to be an attorney, but I never really grasped what that entailed. It seemed like the perfect career fit for me. It was formalistic, there are rules for the risk adverse anxiety ridden control freak in me to learn and follow. I also enjoy doing what I thought were “lawyer” activities. I read the terms and conditions of my credit card agreement, lease agreement, car financing, etc. I am not adversarial, yet I do not shy away from confrontation when I need to advocate for myself. Most importantly it was a plan I deemed achievable that I worked towards.

My long-term plan ended when I was admitted into Columbia Law School. After, I needed to a new plan. I would go the BigLaw route get the training and go in-house after I have paid off my loans and made enough money, eventually ending up in a career where I could some semblance of control over my time. That seemed like a practical plan, but it quickly began to feel incomplete. Going into this summer I thought I would spend my career in the private sphere, but now I am not so sure.

I Do Not Want My Own Practice

I was struck by what another student said during office hours. It was along the lines of, “Right after law school, I can start my own practice and I’ll be okay. I know I’ll make mistakes along the way, but I’ll survive.” I do not share the same sentiment. The thought of opening my own firm, much less immediately after law school, terrifies me. Part of it is risk. If I fail, I fail. If I am at a firm and fail, in my eyes the failure is not mine. This is benign distinction that should not matter but it does. This is part of the reason why my career path always involves being part of a company that is larger than just myself.

Technology seemed like a safe option. I live in the Silicon Valley so there is a plethora of options. I didn’t think I needed to understand the ins and outs of the technology to be able to execute a contract. Notably, I naively thought a tech company could not harm people or do bad acts. I would not have to face the internal struggle of doing good or doing my job when the two are in conflict. I realize this is not true. What I am painfully learning is that there are no companies/organizations that are good all the time. To further complicate the issue, my definition of what is good, or moral evolves constantly. The more experiences I have the more I seem to believe that what is good is both very easy to grasp yet at the same time nuanced.

I no longer think what job I do has to reflect the good I want to do. This does not mean that I will turn a blind eye to the impact what I do as part of a firm or company has on the world. However, I am learning that I can do good myself by being present and speaking my mind, and I growing more comfortable to do so. Instead of biting my tongue and rolling my eyes, I can state what is on my mind and over time this will have an impact.

I Am Learning What Kind of Lawyer I Want To Be

I still do not know what kind of lawyer I want to be, but I am learning what kind of person I do not want to be, and that I do want to use my law degree for good. I want to be the kind of lawyer that remembers my educational privilege does not protect me from society. It would be easy to ignore what is happening in the world, to my community because “it could never happen to me or my brothers,” but I am very aware that this is not true. When people look at me they don’t see smart woman with a bright future, they just see a black girl. I understand the two are not mutually exclusive, but I also understand that I will spend the entirety of my existence educating those around me of this fact. I do not want to be a lawyer who walks past my billboards. I see the billboards every day, I am unsure how best to address them, and I am learning and starting to be comfortable with the fact that that is okay.

I do not know how I will do good, but I do know that I want to do good and that is enough for now. I am learning to let myself exist without a blueprint. It is frustrating and difficult, but also unexpected and exciting. I had an idea of all the courses that I would take in law school to make me the most competitive associate. I am not going to do that anymore. I came in thinking that the purpose of law school was to make me a good lawyer, and that was wrong. The purpose of law school is to expose me to different ways of thinking, concepts that that confirm my beliefs, concepts that challenge them, and concepts that I had never before considered. My new purpose of law school is to learn things that I do not think I will have the opportunity to learn elsewhere. I also plan to take more practical courses. Law school does a really great job of teaching us how to think and speak like a lawyer, but we don’t get the opportunity to learn practical lawyering skills as first year students. I want to take clinics to be able to interact and advocate on behalf of a client. I want to be a lawyer that does good, and I do not know what that looks like or how I will accomplish this.

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r3 - 26 Jun 2018 - 22:40:37 - UdokaOkafor
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