Law in Contemporary Society

Occupying the Grey Space

-- By WyattLittles - 09 Apr 2013

Where We've Been and Where We're Going

Our pasts lay the foundation for our future. Having hit the ovarian lottery, I am afforded privileges as a result of the hard work from those before me. Growing up, my parents always made sure that I not only understood the importance of humility, but also recognized the importance of planting trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit. For my entire life I have occupied the white space between the privileged and the poor, and have never felt entirely comfortable in either setting. I was born in the predominantly black, low-income community, Maywood Illinois. My high school experience in Texas however, was drastically different than what I had known in Chicago. While I spent my days in suburban Southlake Texas, outside of school, the neighborhoods of South Dallas were my home. Through time spent both working with my dad at his office, Enterprise Community Partners, and playing basketball, I constantly engaged with people less fortunate than myself, while still being afforded me the opportunity to attend an “elite” college. Having seen first-hand what it is like for both the “haves” and the “have-nots”, I look to my upbringing to influence my legal practice.

Similar to the ways in which I navigated my youth, I hope to be able to strike a similar balance in my professional career. Until this point, I never believed I had to choose between my various identities and interests. Leaving college, I was unsure what specific “job” I wanted, but I knew I wanted to do something personally fulfilling or meaningful. Whether for better or worse, I thought that a legal education would best prepare me to do this. I entered law school without a realistic idea of what the study and practice of law is actually like. Whether through working for the public interest or in the private sector, I naively believed that most lawyers did work that was meaningful to them. I have always looked up to my parents, and therefore always equated being an attorney with work that was “meaningful” despite the fact that I knew very little of what my parents did. I always knew that as the Director of Dallas Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit organization with the mission of providing affordable housing for low-income communities my dad worked to help people, but never asked him how he chose his practice. Simultaneously, I witnessed firsthand the use that my mother put to her licensee in growing her own company. It was not until I began having to make these career choices that I started thinking critically on the ways in which my parents both found meaning in their work, despite having very different practices.

My Ideal Practice

It was not until the first year of law school that I felt as though I was being forced to choose between two divergent worlds. Before coming to law school, I did not expect for the “private vs. public” sector dichotomy to be so pronounced. I do not believe that you must choose between being a “businessman” or a “fighter for justice”. I have seen the balance that my parents were able to strike through their practices, so I know it is a real possibility. It is from this context that I think in my ideal practice, I would work in employment or labor law. While I understand that this route may start me out at a non-profit organization such as legalaid or other similar organizations, as I develop my practice I would be able to attract more clients, and further develop my skill.

For some it may not be clear on the surface, as how a career in labor law relates to justice, there are many ways in which a job in employment law would enable me to improve the lives of others. To do this, I would be working on the side of labor as opposed to management. However, handling matters such as wages and hours worked, possible discrimination, wrongful termination, unsafe work environment cases, or unconscionable labor agreements not only is interesting to me, but would also be a step in the right direction of a greater distribution of wealth in this country.

Besides the potential for good, there are also practical reasons why I believe practicing labor law would be fulfilling for me. First, I feel that the skills I could gain from the work would be beneficial as I would be managing projects both litigation oriented, and business focused. Where mediation, and possible litigation would help improve my advocacy skills, I would also get a real opportunity to negotiate contracts and employment agreements. Second, while I may not always get to choose my clients, I want to be able to interact with my clients, and develop my own practice and set of skills. While working for a firm seems sensible and secure, (and for privileged students like those at Columbia Law School, the path of least resistance), I do not want to be beholden to a partner or a client. While I would not work alone, I would want to be able to practice on my own if necessary. While having a fancy firm name on your resume may help you get into other similarly situated firms, I believe there is no real substitute for experience and on the job training.

Most importantly however, I firmly believe that advocating for the rights of workers is an important job. From my limited work experience this summer, I have realized that no matter what legal specialization I select, all of the work will be tedious and require long hours and immense attention to details (as is the territory), I would feel much better knowing that in the abstract, my efforts are making the lives of my clients better.


Webs Webs

r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:23:39 - IanSullivan
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