Law in Contemporary Society
It’s never sat well with me being categorized as one of “The privileged” simply because I’ve had access to tertiary education. I’ve always been very aware of my family’s economic and class background. My maternal grandmother was a single parent and worked as a cleaner for middle class Venezuelans in order to send money to Trinidad to support her three children being cared for by her relatives. My paternal grandfather worked for white, expatriate, Englishmen on oil rigs for 20 years until he opened his own well servicing business. My parents lifted themselves out of extreme poverty to create a better life. All this is to say that I am ever aware of the people I come from and thus having access to a privileged world and “the key to power” via the law, seems farcical to me rather than a defining point of who I am.

I'm not sure I understand this statement. To know that one's forbears were working class people, gaining their livings precariously, will surely result in an awareness of one's own privilege, right? I don't understand why that would be "farcical." Of course one could have many views about the one's relationship to the class system. One might no doubt respond that one's apparent place in the class system doesn't define one's entire real position, let alone one's own subjective experience. But I don't understand the place of the concept of farce.

In an attempt to center myself and reconnect with my motivations for choosing a legal career I attended the 2013 “Women in the World Conference” on April 4-5th. Although it was an extravagant, corporate sponsored, publicity extravaganza for celebrities and corporations seeking to gender their brand’s image, one event stood out because of two young women. Humaira Bachal (Founder of the Dream Foundation Trust) and Khalinda Brohi (Founder of Sughar Women Program) risk their lives daily to open schools and community centers for girls and women in Afghanistan. They work under the threat of violence from the men in their rural communities who believe that educating women is a threat to their power over their community. These young women are being threatened for simply teaching young women to read and create crafts. This fact struck a nerve for me because it’s the first time I felt, and not simply acknowledged, that having the chance to attend a top graduate school in the world is an opportunity I should make the most of, not simply for myself but to honor those who sacrifice greatly to pursue their right to education.

This, on the other hand, does read as though it were an acceptance of privileged position. Men, and those women around the world who take their rights to education and economic, personal, social and sexual autonomy as given, tend not to notice their privilege in escaping the fate of humanity's mostly subjugated women. This seems to me to be one of the very most important ways in which we sharpen our sense of justice by accepting that we live in the tiny stratum of human society which expects to be treated kindly rather than justly by society.

This event has motivated me to see myself as a future business owner (law practice) with skills, assets and resources to manage. Those brave young women run their own non-profit organizations under dangerous conditions and I’m inspired to do the same. My ideal practice would be in International Law and Human Rights. I’d like my practice to specialize in transnational cases, preferably advising and consulting. I like the work that Sarah Cleveland has done with Jamaican cane workers, addressing the Supreme Court on the detention policy of the United States in the ‘War on Terror’ and her advisory role in constitutional drafting in post Arab Spring countries.

I envision my clients to be non profit organizations, nations, corporations, and individuals. Organizations that currently take on cases and activities that I would like to be engaged in are the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, The ACLU and also corporate firms who do pro bono work like Paul Weiss.

The type of classes that I’ll need to take to be an International Human Rights lawyer will be: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Law, International Trade Law, the seminar on Law, Economics and Development, International Law, Global Constitutionalism, Critical Legal Thought (Katherine Franke), Lawyering Across Legal Orders, Anti-Discrimination Law, Equality and Disparity: Contemporary Issues (O. Johnson), International Environmental Law, Energy Law and Immigration Law

Maybe. They might also be Legal Anthropology, Computers, Privacy & the Constitution, Non-Profits Law. They might also be Modernism, or Melville, or Tibetan Buddhism. The idea of learning as picking up blocks with parts of your resume stapled to them is an idea you have the privilege to reject. It's also bullshit.

Classes that I will benefit from for breadth in my learning are: Corporations, Commercial Finance, Advanced Corporate Law Mergers and Acquisitions, Anti Trust and Trade Regulation, Advanced Legal Research Techniques, Deals and Wills & Trusts. Useful student clubs will be CSIL and CIAA

Why the passive voice? Classes will benefit you. Clubs will be useful. How about: I've always wanted to read ..., I need to have a chance to learn..., I will ballast my soul against the sterility of most of life with...

Clinics and externships: The United Nations Externship, the Human Rights Clinic, the Colloquium on Comparative Law and the Diversity and Innovation Clinic, Mediation Clinic Faculty members that could mentor me in my chosen areas are people like George Berman, Anu Bradford, Sarah Cleveland, M. Gerrard and Eben Moglen.

How could lists really be a good essay component?

Learning external to law school that would be beneficial for running a business are: basic accounting and event planning. Soft skills that are helpful and cannot be learned in a course are organizational skills, time management, the ability to identify talent in people, reading body language and learning to network and be charismatic. There are books on all these topics that can offer guidance but the true development of these skills takes everyday practice and trial and error in life situations.

Leveraging the Columbia University network is a complex task. It could be as simple as asking a professor to put in a good word with a colleague for you, or getting a letter of recommendation but the challenge is deciphering who is connected to who and who has meaningful influence. Knowing the class year and background of people you meet can help in deciphering the people they are connected to but it’s laborious. The better way to leverage a network is simply being open with people about what you want, where you’d like to work and whom you would like to meet. Revealing strategic information lets other people make the connections for you.

You mean the best way to have relationships is to have them?

My greatest allies in developing my lawyering skills are my professors, professional contacts (gained through attending events, using alumni contact information, and referrals) and my classmates in the law school. Organizations that wish to have access to lawyers trained in Human Rights and International law will also have a vested interest in making contacts with a potential employee.

Ultimately this plan is a work in progress but the guiding principle for me is “to whom much is given, much is expected”. There are people younger and less educated than I am who have the confidence to start and run their own companies, therefore once I can acquire the necessary lawyering skills, there is no reason I should not attempt to start my own practice; or at the very least to develop my skills as if I intended to run my own practice.

I suppose you could call this a plan, or else a resume printed sideways in the future tense.

It's about having: these courses, clubs, friends, clients—identities. They're accomplishments on the way to other accomplishments. This is certainly one aspect of life, and more amenable to planning than some others. But I think it's important to pay attention to other forms of personal growth, also possible under present circumstances, about which the essay stands less as a plan and more as an expression of the starting point from which growth might occur.


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r6 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:15:33 - IanSullivan
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