Law in Contemporary Society

It Depends: Lack of Clarity after 1L

-- By MonicaRuiz - 07 Jun 2017

I overheard an attorney say, “I am a lawyer, so my answer is ‘It depends.'" As a law student, the crucial question we must discover is, “what kind of lawyer will I be?” My answer is of course, “it depends.” My whole 1L experience I tried to find the answer to my diverging interests of becoming a corporate or public interest lawyer. I was one of the many Columbia Law students who stated my desire for pursuing public interest work in my personal statement. I wrote this knowing that I perhaps I would become a corporate lawyer. This tug of war of my interest has continued to be a constant battle.

“Help the little guy beat the bullies”

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I feel a sense of duty to serve my community. My father was once undocumented and I feel connected to public interest immigration practice areas where I could serve these populations. I became more inspired this year by public interest lawyers over the course of the Trump Administration. It was easy to be moved by the images and headlines of immigration attorneys and the ACLU respond to Trump’s Executive Order on immigration where they rushed to the airports to provide counsel to those held up or turned away in addition to the quick response to challenge the order. The election prompted me to explore public interest work this summer. I am currently doing tenant work where I help the organization secure rent-stabilized housing in New York to low-income residents who are typically Latino. Every day I find how vital this work is to New York. I have had the opportunity to speak with clients who are being mistreated and taken advantage of by their landlords in order to seek higher rent or improperly evict the tenant. I am also grateful for every small victory the organization gets when a client is filled with joy because they will become reimbursed for an improper overcharge. Although the victories are small and the law is not always on the tenant’s side, these few victories make a difference to low-income individuals. However, there are several factors that cut against my interest in pursuing a public interest career. First there is the battle that I have carried with me all my life that I will continue to carry with me whether I like it or not. My parents made many sacrifices in their lives and endured monumental hardships to ensure I would be in a better position they were. Many children of immigrants feel that they must aspire to become high achieving and high earning individuals. For my father, success is defined by the amount of money I can make. Although this is an ugly definition of success, my parents ultimately did not immigrate to another country to remain poor. They moved to increase their earning potential and socioeconomic status. There is also the problem where I am very concerned about the amount of student debt I have piled up as a result of law school. A big part of me is too afraid to face these loans on a low paying job and not be able to live comfortably. I also don’t think I am being selfish in taking care of myself too. Lastly, I found that some public interest lawyers felt unsatisfied about their careers. Some have even told me that they still don’t feel like all their work was worth it because their work often remedies only an immediate problem, but creates no actual change or impact in the system. Although some of these factors may seem like they are small or can be avoided, they are still factors that I am afraid of or will continue to think about.

“Which one of our practices interests you?”

This one is easy, and rehearsed. My answer at every firm networking mixer is the same: I am interested in Project Finance either for Latin America or renewable energy. I am honest when I give this answer. However, my decision to pursue corporate work was also heavily influenced by Columbia. The moment I stepped foot on campus people were already explaining EIP as I nodded my head pretending I knew perfectly well what that was and assuming corporate work was decided for me. Additionally, attending firm networking events appeared to be more of a requirement than a light suggestion. Plus, not attending made you look more like a slacker. The overload on getting a firm job was annoying, but I actually enjoyed learning about the practices and attending the events once I got around to them. Although I know I should not base my decisions on others and it is irrational to do so, my interest in corporate work puts me more at ease because this is a career my parents would consider “successful.” I am also interested in working at a firm because I find a role model and look up to the corporate female lawyers of color. These women empower me as I see them succeed in a white male dominated space. I hope that maybe I too would succeed as a Latina woman in these spaces and promote diversity the legal field desperately needs. However, I seriously must consider whether I can find passion and fulfillment in corporate work as I do with public service.

No Final Verdict...Yet

My 1L experience and my classes didn’t fully clarify what type of lawyer I will become. But I will soon decide if I can be satisfied at a firm. I truly believe I must experience the firm side before decline it entirely. Although I prepare for EIP, I know I will not lose sight of my interest for public service whether it becomes my career or an area I continue to participate in through other means.

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r1 - 07 Jun 2017 - 01:29:59 - MonicaRuiz
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