Law in Contemporary Society

(Re)orienting to Law School After 1L

-- By IsaacLara - 25 May 2015

My Reasons for Applying to Law School

My Job Created Certain Expectations

It’s no surprise to those who know me that my experience as a New York City investigator initially motivated my decision to enroll in law school. During my tenure at the Civilian Complaint Review Board, I had interrogated hundreds of police officers regarding allegations of misconduct within the NYPD ranging from stop-and-frisk to firearms discharges. Much of my work involved cooperating with prosecutors, so it wasn’t long before I realized that my work seemed similar to what a litigator would do on a daily basis, such as collecting evidence, subpoenaing documents, and generating reports based on case law.

Continuing Serpico's Legacy

I therefore began to think I should apply to law school with the intention of one day prosecuting cases involving the NYPD or some other metropolitan police department. Attending law school — or so I believed — would equip me with the skills to fight against the type of graft and public corruption that Mike Serpico had first alerted others of during the 1960s and 1970s. But although I had some idea that law school was different, I had no idea exactly how different. Even so, I was confident that my own experience investigating the police would be easily transferable to law school.

What I Found Instead at Law School

The Dreary Reality of 1L

What I found at Columbia Law School was that very little in my prior experience would help me during my first year of law school. Everything I knew about the police patrol guide had to be rethought or shelved in lieu of the Model Penal Code, the 2nd Restatements in Contracts, or some other legal theory that I needed to memorize for exam credit. The lectures in my black letter law classes were also disappointing, as they were frequently devoid of any meaningful classroom participation. And while I discovered that law school was helping me to rigidly structure my thinking on issues, I still worried about it hindering the suppleness of my problem-solving abilities.

How the Class Helped Me

These experiences, as well as conversations with Eben in the beginning of my second semester, have forced me to reevaluate my career choice in law. Last year’s grand jury decisions involving officers Darrel Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo have only demonstrated how much I had overestimated the power that prosecutors have on enforcing the law against cops, especially in light of their close working relationship. Most local prosecutors, after all, rely on the law enforcement community for evidence and even political endorsements at times. Tack on the difficulty of breaking through the unwritten “blue wall of silence”, and suddenly it becomes an insurmountable task to indict iniquitous cops, let alone convict them.

My Response to Law School

Reflecting on False Expectations

Why I wasn’t aware of this before I decided to enroll in law school though? After all, having had investigated hundreds of cases, I knew that the NYPD Commissioner virtually punished none of the police officers whom I had found guilty of misconduct. It shouldn’t have been a surprise then that the law wasn’t addressing this problem effectively, so why still go to law school if the thing I wanted to go to law school for wasn’t the best means for that?

The benefit of hindsight shows me now that my previous self-assurance in my decision to pursue law was built on the wrong foundation. I had erroneously believed that law school would be an appropriate fit because I had worked on legal matters without fully comprehending the larger system in which the law works, and that system has frequently worked for the benefit of the police officers.

Plotting a New Career Direction

Suffice it to say my dreams of becoming a prosecutor are a little more tempered now. While I am open to one day pursuing this career, I have a better understanding of the unique challenges that prosecutors now face in attaining justice on behalf of the victims of culpable police officers.

Instead, I am rethinking my legal career and seriously considering partnering with another like-minded classmate to launch a government investigations and white collar defense practice. Joshua Horowitz played a prominent role in that reorientation. Listening to how he leveraged his specialized knowledge in computer science to work on the Silk Road case has motivated me to want to leverage my own specialized background in investigations in a similar vein.

So, while I won’t be prosecuting cases any time soon until I can better understand the larger system in which the law operates, my passion for government accountability has persisted. I am confident that whatever work I pursue will therefore help continue the legacy of whistleblowers like Mike Serpico.

Smart and thoughtful. There's no reason to revise.

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r4 - 29 Jun 2015 - 21:45:36 - MarkDrake
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