Careers and campaigns, Part 2

My thirties are for exhaustion and preparation. I’d like to start getting sleep in my forties, but we’ll see. Much of the exhaustion is like soreness the day after a good workout, where the aches remind you that you’ve done something worthwhile. At last, I will have a JD after these three years.

But then again, what’s a JD against folks like Franklin with his JD, MBA, MD, PhD? I have a friend who has over ten years of experience in tech support, but he is hedging his bets in Boston by getting the bachelor’s he never got before moving here. Someday there could be a promotion that might have been his but for his lack of paper credentials. Now he is taking classes that he could easily teach. He also helps raise guide-dog puppies and adopted two that didn’t become certified, which is just an FYI to note that our pets in the Northeast also pursue their own degrees.

Back when I wrote my midsummer ode to the law, a thoughtful response came by email with an attached article by Dean Spade of Seattle University School of Law. He warns aspiring lawyer-activists that:

“Legal services…[typically] focus on individuals—as if people’s problems with eviction, immigration, criminalization are an individual matter—and do not get to the root causes that affect whole neighborhoods, cities, racial groups, or economic classes….Unless you have a really clear idea of…how your work will be different, going to law school may just co-opt you into narrow reform or system-maintenance work.”

Given the current hiring environment, lots of recent law graduates would love to be co-opted into any work that’s a bona fide job, system-maintenance or otherwise. And lots of law students never had systematic change on their hearts when they penned their personal statements to get their paper credentials. You’ll have to work hard to convince me, though, that there isn’t something in most people that comes alive when there is a sense of larger purpose to validate our hard work.

Lost faith in “larger purposes” beyond caring for family and friends I can understand, and cynicism about redirecting the inertia of the world as is, and the realities of making a living. Rest assured that lawyers continue to have serious earning power. That said, in the mix of any class, I do wonder how many students are connecting with the material being taught on a level deeper than “doing what I have to do.” Are you someone who is developing a “clear idea…of how your work will be different”? If you are, class might feel anything but routine, because you’re searching for insights on your own terms. And every once in while you have the internal experience of “YES, I can use this, this will help me get done what I’m trying to get done!”

625758352-1Another friend who just started law school this fall had a few years of working with homeless people under her belt in addition to making music for good causes (beyond paying her own bills, which is also a good cause). Law school tucks in nicely under the arc of her career, and I’m sure law school will be formative, but its not accurately the “starting point” of her career. I like to think that both of us, and many of the law students I’ve talked with, are actively panning our education for the gold we know is in there. The professional value of paper credentials is important. On top of that function, a JD really sings in the hands of someone who would have fought to do the same work without the degree, except that the degree equipped them to go further.

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