I came to law school because I wanted to be a lawyer, and I knew that to be a lawyer I had to go to law school first. When I enrolled at BU, I thought law school was an obstacle: to do the thing I want to do (be a lawyer), I have to go through this other thing first (go to law school). I conceptualized law school as just something I had to get through. As my first year flew by, though, my thoughts of law school alternated between: “Agh my entire grade is resting on one exam please don’t let me fail everything,” “What is WRONG with Scalia?” and, “Huh, that’s a fascinating case/problem/comment.” It never occurred to me that law school might actually be useful.
But then I started looking at classes for my second year. See, every law student attending an ABA-accredited law school takes essentially the same classes their first year: Civil Procedure, Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Property, and a legal writing course. (BU Law students take an additional class called “Legislation,” which is about statutory interpretation.) Your second and third year, though, you can take virtually whatever you want. As I read through the course guide, I started the (very long) process of realizing law school is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and then figuring out how to make my law school experience work for me.
Before law school, I sort of thought everyone did the same thing in law school: you take all the classes tested on the bar exam, you try to get on a journal, you do moot court, and grades are the most important thing. During your first summer, you clerk for a judge, during your second summer, you work for a firm, and then assuming you don’t drop a bottle of red wine on a partner’s head or embezzle or something, that’s where you work after you graduate. That was the only law school path I knew of. Knowing that wasn’t the kind of lawyer I wanted to be, I figured I would put up with law school till I could do what I wanted to do.
But almost as soon as I got to BU, I realized that actually, plenty of people worked at legal nonprofits their first and second summers. I talked to the folks in our Career Development Office, who actually have this whole giant guide about public interest careers. I met attorneys doing what I wanted do and picked their brains. I talked with 2Ls and 3Ls who were interested in the same kind of legal aid/law reform work I was interested in. And so when I went to register for classes, I realized: hang on, there’s no gun to my head here. I don’t think working at a firm or taking Mergers and Acquisitions will help my career. People who know, i.e. folks in the CDO and attorneys who I want to hire me, agree. I’m at this great school, with these great resources, in this great city, with great nonprofits. Why not make law school work for me? Instead of thinking of these three years as basically an academically interesting but basically useless exercise to get through, why not think of them as a tool to help me the kind of lawyer I want to be?
That probably sounds like a complete duh statement. Of course you should think of law school as something you should use rather than something you just have to get through. But it was a major breakthrough for me. Once I realized I was letting resources go to waste, I used my 2L year to throw myself into using law school. I decided to do the Civil Clinic, which literally is legal aid, exactly what I want to do when I graduate, and I loved it. I took classes on Evidence and Administrative Law, topics that have already been useful to me in my internships and classes. I read through the CDO’s emails of public interest opportunities, and got involved with various projects and clinics at fantastic nonprofits all over the city. I learned about homelessness and emergency shelter law and SNAP and TAFDC (“welfare”) and elder law and Section 1983 civil rights litigation so on and so forth. I wrote papers for classes on topics that were both relevant to my work and totally fascinating (in my opinion, anyway).
Most importantly, over this past year, I learned that there are many, many ways to do law school. I learned one of those ways would actually help me be a better lawyer, eventually, board of bar examiners willing. I learned I could – with the help of the CDO folks who sent me emails about jobs and fellowships, professors who taught fascinating, meaningful seminars, and practicing attorneys who chatted frankly with me about their work – build my own law school experience. I learned that what kind of lawyer I intend to be defines what kind of law student I am and what kind of law school experience I have.
Hear’s to year three!