Law in Contemporary Society
After a year of law school, I have come to five conclusions regarding the sort of lawyer I want to be: (1) I actually want to be a layer; (2) I do not want to be a litigator; (3) my interest in real estate is real and should be pursued; (4) I do not want to practice here in New York City; (5) there is a 93 percent chance I will move back to Nashville to practice real estate law and pursue a career in politics.

Contrary to the assumption in the prompt, when I arrived at Columbia Law I was not totally keen on the idea of practicing law. I had envisioned myself wielding my legal education in other ways that served the public interest, like broadcast news media for example. (I had applied to Columbia specifically because of our unique access to a world-class journalism school). But as I have thought longer and harder about my interest in public service and politics I found the value of having a formal legal training, which would only come from practicing the law. That said - I realized that if I wanted to truly be an effective change agent and advocate for the public welfare, I needed to learn how to be a lawyer. So that is what I will do.

Participating in the Frederick Douglass Moot Court was a valuable experience for a range of reasons. But the reason most relevant to this assignment is that my mooting experience showed me that I did not want to be a litigator. I found little enjoyment or sense of satisfaction in the legal research or brief writing process, and found even less in delivering the oral argument and fielding questions from the bench. If anything, I learned that my public speaking skills are more geared to oration and speech, rather than legal argument. This is not to say that I am unprepared to invest in my oral argument skills; rather, I am noting that my comparative advantage lies elsewhere. And it is to elsewhere that I shall turn.

During the days in which I felt most trapped in the hell hole known as 1L I would spend the remaining hours of the night on my phone looking at New York City real estate listings. Real estate has always been a passion of mine, stretching back over a decade to when my mother and I would walk onto developments after-hours in our neighborhood to see what the new homes looked like and how they compared to ours. Given my interest, a few lawyers had even previously recommended that I consider real estate law, but I had never taken their suggestions too seriously. But recently I have had a change of heart. If I were to practice at a firm, which is likely, given my financial situation, I think I would start in real estate, as I could actually see myself wanting to master the material at hand. This is all still subject to change.

Another big breakthrough was my realization that I do not want to practice here in New York City. Growing up in Nashville I had always dreamt of moving to New York, for surely there I would find my happiness. But with every dinner, luncheon, and cocktail hour hosted by Skadden, Sullivan & Cromwell, et al., the lawyers I met began to blend together in a way I found depressing. In some ways I acknowledge that my feelings towards these interactions could be limited to select firms…maybe. But importantly I see strands of this ultra-capitalist thinking throughout this city, permeating both social and professional interactions. This is not who I am. What this year has truly taught me is that given my unique ambitions, I should be grow more comfortable doing life differently from most. This has led me to the conclusion that I want to return home to Nashville, where I feel I share the same soul as its people.

From a young age, my ambition has been to run for Congress so that I could be the champion I wish I had seen as a youth, fighting for equality and justice even in the face of political pressure and moneyed interests. Part of me thought that I could effect this change at arm’s length, allowing me to leave Tennessee to find acceptance elsewhere. But I now realize the importance of going back and taking with me the education and exposure that I gained from having left. So I will be traveling back to Nashville next week to learn more about what legal practice is like there. If I find the opportunity, I will likely spend next summer at a firm down there and will move there upon graduation.

So after a year of law school I have in fact learned some things that speak to the kind of lawyer I want to be. But more importantly, after a year of networking with big law types, I have realized the kind of life I want and the kind of person I want to be. And those are considerations that I take very seriously.


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r1 - 16 May 2017 - 00:28:21 - JustinMaffett
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