I really hate television. Ok, that’s not true at all. I don’t really drink so mindless television is my vice. My boyfriend is continually perplexed that someone “so smart” can be so enamored with Say Yes to the Dress (for the record, I draw the line at The Bachelor). I’m still trying to convince him that my obsession is really anthropological in nature, I’m the Jane Goodall of dumb asses, or so I like to think.
The last few weeks; however, I have sincerely disliked television. Why the about face you ask? Well, because everyone around me believes themselves to be an expert of law school, lawyers and the legal profession. The only explanations I can come up with for this “expertise” are The Goodwife, Law & Order, and The Practice. Well, maybe those and JFK Jr. … he had to take the bar three times dontcha know. Frankly, I find it annoying. Sure, everyone likes help and support from their friends and family. But, there’s support and then there’s unsolicited advice from people who know more about Ally McBeal than they do my goals and, more importantly, my values.
I nearly walked away from law school after my first year. The homogeneity, belief in “objectivity,” competitive nature, and lack of critical dialogue couldn’t have been further from the environment I’d had in mind or the life’s work I was hoping to embark on. A number of factors convinced me to stay but it’s no stretch to say that I’ve made it through law school by brute force alone. With few exceptions, I’ve never felt that these were “my people” or that the social justice work I seek to do is best accomplished through these means.
Working with low income clients in the Asylum Law Practicum and Community Law Clinic have been some of the only parts of law school that have truly reflected my values. Not surprisingly, they are some of the few parts of this experience that I have truly enjoyed.
That being said, my week has been filled with stark contrasts. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my asylum law case. Yesterday, I drove out to my client’s home to have her sign a document. At her home in her somewhat unsafe feeling neighborhood, I was greeted by her ever cheerful family. They offered me dinner and thanked me profusely for my time. When I work with my client I like myself, I feel like I am actually using my privilege in a good and responsible way.
When I got home I went back to my real life which has been dominated by stressing about whether or not I can afford to take the bar, if it makes financial sense to take it now, and what I plan to do after graduation. And, while I find the asylum law work fulfilling, I’m not sure it’s the kind of work I want to do full time right now. Even if I did, I’m not sure I could find the funding to create a position at a nonprofit. This is where Ms. McBeal comes in. When I tell people about my bar related stress, they simply don’t understand. “Take a loan,” they say. “You have to take the bar,” “If you went to law school you should become a lawyer, why else would you have spent the money,” the choruses chime. The mental and emotional contrast between asylum law work and bar/job/future planning work is truly shocking to the system.
What I’m doing in asylum law is helping folks who would not otherwise have access to assistance. I’m helping them navigate a system that is normally pretty hostile to low-income non-English speaking immigrants. Helping them to pilot this endeavor is meaningful to me, and not in a resume building sense.
The interesting thing is, the legal job market is tough and I don’t feel like I need to be a practicing attorney in order to help low income and underrepresented people. If I take the bar and find an area of practice where I am happy then I will be thrilled. But, much to the dismay of so many around me, I’m not married to the idea. If only my values lined up with the rest of the legal profession the way they do with assisting indigent clients.