Law in Contemporary Society

Legal Education- A Personal Reflection

-- By BrandonReid - 17 Feb 2023

Earlier this semester, I wrote a piece that demonstrated frustration towards my legal education thus far. Since then, I have adopted a different mindset, which brings about a perspective that was not present when I wrote my earlier piece. A few months ago, I understood myself as the subject of Columbia Law School’s curriculum. More specifically, I was subject to whatever education was to be imposed on me, without agency in articulating my law school experience.

That mindset fails to pass any logical review. The student-university relationship is somewhat similar to an affiliation shared between a customer and seller. This analogy is most apparent in the student’s payment of tuition to the university. Following this parallel, I would ask myself, do customers passively accept whatever the seller provides? In my experiences as a customer, the answer is no. As a customer, I have certain anticipations that I expect the seller to meet. My new mindset as a student is related to his way of operating.

From this point on, I am going to be in control of my legal education because after all, this experience is for me, not the institution. I came to Columbia Law School to become the lawyer I envision myself as being. Thus, I am responsible for making sure that I get what I need.

In my earlier piece, I mentioned certain injustices that I hoped to learn to legally address. However, further reflection on my past work leads me to believe that I already know much of the strategy needed to bring about the changes I hope to see in society. After all, I have proven this to myself in past work that I undertook prior to law school. I cannot forget the work that I have already been successful in completing, as doing so would be counterproductive in my becoming a lawyer.

When I think of what’s necessary to achieve the goals that I have as a lawyer, which currently are to contribute to the eradication of the school-to-prison pipeline and to challenge injustices that come to my attention, one common theme arises: I need to have meetings. I need to have meetings to connect, learn, and ultimately advance my agenda as a lawyer. During these next two years, I can use my law school education to prepare myself for those meetings.

By prepare for those meetings, I mean a few things. I need to understand whose wisdom could be helpful in guiding me along my legal path. I also must know what understanding I currently lack in the areas in which I am interested. Finally, I must know how to frame and execute my “ask” in my future meetings. Every meeting that I engage in will have a purpose. As a lawyer, it will be important for me to know how to make that purpose transparent for those with whom I meet.

I can currently think of a few ways that I can prepare myself for meetings during the next two years at Columbia Law School. First, I can take classes with professors who I believe are most relevant to my desired path as a lawyer. Second, I can take on work as a law student to gain clarity on what meetings I need to eventually have. Finally, I can begin to arrange and engage in the meetings that I think need to take place. For the remainder of this piece, I will describe the specifics of each step that I will take going forward.

As for studying under professors who I believe are most relevant to my path, I plan to take classes with those whose work has intersected with the school-to-prison pipeline, even indirectly. I will not only select professors who I think are on my side of the battle, but also those who with whom I may clash. By learning from those who many might consider to be “obstacles” to the path to justice, I will be able to understand their approaches to the issue. Having a strong understanding of their approaches, I will be best prepared to counter similar approaches that may arise in the meetings that I have. And by hearing from those who have achieved what I would consider to be success in challenging the school-to-prison pipeline, they might be able to help me understand what worked in the meetings along their career paths.

How will I know what meetings to have if I lack the work experience? I will not know what meetings to have. It is important that before I graduate, I continue to get practical experience related to the school-to-prison pipeline. I need to meet the victims and the agents who drive the phenomenon’s function to understand the meetings that need to be had. These work experiences can serve as evidence to support my “asks” that I bring to each of the future meetings that I have with folks.

With the insight that I continue to gain during my time as a law student, there is no reason why I should wait to have the meetings that I believe need to take place. Even after law school, my understanding of the issue and strategies to approach it will continually be evolving, so I might as well start having meetings. By having the meetings, I will also gain experience on what I need to do to further improve for future meetings. Last week, for instance, I met with the Public Defender’s office for my hometown and despite the meeting being a success, I identified ways in which I can do better in future situations. This reflection is valuable in becoming the lawyer I envision in my future.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that this approach to law school will be constantly evolving, and many edits could be made to this plan. There is beauty in leaving the door open to change, and I plan to cherish that possibility for adjustment as I go forward.

This is good progress in many respects. But when it comes to educational planning, you should be able to be way more specific. These choices matter now, because you will only have the resources of the school to draw upon for four more terms. Let' s just list some of the things you need, briefly. You can chew on them productively, I know:
  1. You need our specialists in prisoner's representation, Genty and Dignam. They will be crucial for you all the way along.
  2. You need to read our late colleague Robert Ferguson's Metamorphosis with someone who can act as guide. An independent study seems right to me.
  3. You need sociology of criminal justice and training in research methods. Jeff Fagan is the best there is.
  4. You need philosophy and cultural theory of punishment. That's Bernard Harcourt's intellectual home. He brought Michelle Alexander to Columbia, and you need to work with her.

There are offerings outside the law school in the larger university that would be powerful for you. You should spend some time with the catalog.

See where I am going? I think the landscape is rich for you, and you should do some systematic exploring.

Hi Brandon! First off, I definitely relate on the lacking pre-law school work experience point. When I first got here, I was intimidated by being surrounded by so many accomplished people when I felt my skills were still so raw by comparison. However, that feeling in me dissipated over time, and it seems like you're making great progress in gaining experience too with setting up those meetings and reflecting afterward. I've really enjoyed becoming friends with you this year, and I enjoyed reading more about your plan for your education and beyond. Thanks for sharing.


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r5 - 26 May 2023 - 16:44:15 - MichaelPari
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