Law in Contemporary Society

A (Revised) Reflection on Choosing a Practice

-- By FernandoGarcia - 24 Feb 2024

When I began this course, I mistakenly believed that ignoring Columbia’s push towards large firms was a sacrifice; foregoing the salary and lifestyle that firms advertise for a life of low pay, grueling work, and instability. This was premised on the incorrect assumption that one cannot find adequate compensation, comfort, or stability in one’s own practice. Moreover, I believed choosing between my practice and my community were antithetical to one another. I now see that they are instead intertwined: my objectives self-evidently include objectives for my family and my community such that these need not be traded off against one another. To quote Eben, “the point [in choosing your practice] is to be the strategist, not the instrument in someone else’s hand.” To become the strategist, I will plan my practice by following the scheme used in Planning Your Practice: (1) Where you want it to be; (2) What you want to work on; (3) With whom you want to practice; (4) How much you need; and (5) Why you feel that practice achieves your intellectual, moral, political and social as well as material goals. Though I have not taken the course, and considering that planning one’s practice is an ongoing exercise, this essay is a starting point, to which I will periodically return to as I navigate law school.

What do you want to work on?

I begin with the second prong because answering this question determines the first prong. I want to use my legal education to study systemic issues regarding the intersection between the criminal justice and immigration systems, particularly around sentencing, as well as immigration detention and removal. My interest in these areas is both legal and social. I want to build my understanding of the American criminal justice, carceral, and immigration systems so I may navigate them on behalf of my clients. Additionally, I want to use my education to effect systemic change upon these institutions responsible for incalculable pain and suffering.

Where do you want your practice to be?

Upon reflecting on the previous prong, it has become evident that I would find it impossible to build my practice at a large firm. There, I would have no say over the clients I represent. Moreover, the goals of the firm and its clients will likely not align with my own—they may even run contrary to mine. In sum, I cannot build my practice at a large firm because joining such a firm would make me an instrument in someone else’s hand, as Eben puts it. Admittedly, the question of where is difficult to answer at this early stage in my legal education and career, though it can nonetheless be answered broadly. Because the work I want my practice to focus on is primarily dictated by federal policy, I would need to be close to Washington, D.C., ideally working for a nonprofit, a government agency, or in Congress—a place where, unlike at a large firm, I would have more agency when choosing the values, clients, and social effects of my practice.

With whom do you want to practice?

I would stray, at this point in my career, from stating that I would not wish to practice with anyone. That is to say, I do not yet possess either the business acumen or the requisite knowledge of the legal profession to build a private practice—at this stage, I am more prepared to join an existing, like-minded practice. Choosing an organization that sufficiently aligns with my practice is, in itself, an exercise of agency over the clients I would serve and to what end. While starting at a direct services organization would allow me to aid to those who need it while I learn to navigate the systems I want to change, such work is not conducive to the ultimate goal of my practice—systemic change. Helping guide vulnerable people through these treacherous systems is laudable, but my goal is to eliminate the inequities of the existing systems. Doing so through direct legal aid can only be effectively achieved through impact litigation and a victory at the US Supreme Court—an extremely difficult and highly unlikely result.

How much do you need?

In a previous version of this essay, money played a central role in my analysis of building a practice. I argued that the financial stability that comes with a big law salary is too valuable to pass up. However, choosing your own practice and financial stability are not mutually exclusive. As Eben points out, if my material need is for the take-home equivalent of what will be left after taxes from a large firm salary, then that is what my practice must be planned to provide. Though that is much easier said than done, acknowledging it as a goal will suffice for this essay.

Why you feel that practice achieves your intellectual, moral, political and social, as well as material goals?

My motivation behind choosing a practice that focuses on systemic issues within the criminal justice and immigration systems is deeply personal, based on my lived experience. I was born in Guatemala and, alongside my family, I moved to the United States as a child. My experience with the US immigration system will forever be part of my life—and my family was extremely fortunate. It took us eleven years to become US citizens, but many members of my extended family do not enjoy the same legal status I do. Some members of my family persevered through their college education, but are not authorized to work in this country. Moreover, members of my family have been incarcerated and even deported back to our homeland. Growing up having to constantly worry about mine and my family’s legal status, and the implications thereof, helped me realize that these systems cannot remain in their current form. It is my goal that the damage they have caused my family, and countless other families, does not persist.

Good, this was helpful to you, I hope.

Where means literally geographically where. Lawyers have licenses granted by states, and political economies depenednt on where they choose to live.

What means literally what: hat services do you perform for which clients and how do you make money by charging for them?

With whom, means literally with whom: what is the network of people in and surrounding your practice that make it possible for you to serve clients and who help you find and be retained by the clients your income depends on serving.

How much means literally how much: how many clients can you serve at what prices in order to produce what income minus the expenses of serving which are your profits, which must be enough.

Why means not what is the story of your childhood, or what is your motivation, but literally why do you believe that providing these particular services to these clients will meet your material, intellectual, social and political needs, which means saying what those needs are and considering how they will be met.

It is not an objection that you haven't answered a single one of those questions: as you say, you haven't actually been through the exercise and it isn't time yet. More important, however, is your decision to take yourself out of the road altogether. You say you can't have a practice of your own and need to work for someone else first. Fine, of course. That's your way and you should journey on it. But in Planning Your Practice we plan actual practices, so you probably don't want to spend effort on it.

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r4 - 06 Jun 2024 - 15:43:23 - EbenMoglen
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