Law in Contemporary Society

A Reason to Return

-- By SpencerBecerra - 11 Mar 2022

Dusty Memories

Two of my grandfathers introduced me to the law. One was a lawyer, a CLS grad. The other did not attend college. The latter grandfather did not directly introduce me to the law; instead, his passing, brought on by elder abuse, did most of the work. I remember going to court to hear the verdict in our case against the doctor. Aged twelve, I felt pain and anticipation emanating from my mother. But after the ruling was announced, sealing victory for my family, I felt like justice had been served. The grandfather who was a lawyer had a smaller role to play. I just knew that he went to Columbia, that his father was a lawyer as well, and that he had practiced corporate law in the United States before returning to practice in Mexico. He became a lawyer because my great-grandfather wanted him to. Until the day of my grandfather’s death, this great-grandfather’s suits hung in their closet, a reminder of his domineering presence.

“Why Did You Decide to Come to Law School?”

I noticed that my answer to this question changed as months passed, varying from a desire to solve problems for clients to confidence that I could at least be an effective attorney. But these reasons never felt personally satisfying, or even entirely true. My apparent lack of a fundamental, compelling reason frustrated me. I struggled to find answers through my 1L coursework, which I had hoped would offer clues as to the kind lawyer I wanted to become. Law school immerses students in the law, the legal culture, and should leave them with a network robust enough to cultivate a meaningful practice. But I suspect most people would not think that one of law school’s duties is to help students realize why they came there in the first place. Instead, the institution assumes that every student has already made up their mind as to coming to law school, leaving the school with only one goal: to sort students into a pre-ordained path to pursue with the degree. However, failing to continually give an answer to the question “why go to law school” both hollows the academic experience and limits students’ imaginative thinking about their practices. While I think that law school could remedy this problem by giving students some experiential or practical exposure to practicing during 1L, my 1L year offered nothing like that. Nonetheless, I rediscovered my grandfathers’ stories and realized their importance to my self-concept as a lawyer through one of law school’s stifling processes: finding a 1L summer job.

Recognizing Choice

My grandfather had no reason to become an attorney aside from his father’s demands. As a result, he neglected his practice and never formed a personal connection to his career. My great-grandfather’s suits hanging became an emblem of the expectations that made my grandfather’s practice so unfulfilling. In an ideal world, the first choice a law student would make is what kind of practice they want to have. Law school presents this choice by showing students its own version of a dead man’s suits: either join a large firm or go into government or nonprofit advocacy. But as 1L instruction proceeds and deadlines to choose a path come and go, no link is explicitly made between the knowledge students gain and the ways they could put them to use in a practice. In the face of such uncertainty, safe conformity is an attractive option, leaving students with little incentive to envision a unique practice. The answer starts with the client. I realized that I could not picture what kind of lawyer I hoped to be without a realistic view of the clients I would like to serve in practice. Law school, by focusing solely on black-letter law in the first year, offers no obvious guide to students who may not yet be able to picture this element of their practice. I became demoralized, as 1L went on, by the growing gap between the volume of material I was learning and the absence of ideas for how I could apply it. What solution could law school offer us, given the limits of time and the expectations for what 1L students will learn? One possibility could be to expand the options for the 1L elective to include experiential courses. Because these provide a window into real practice, including client exposure, students would be better able to pursue their interests by serving real clients. While this would be a small step, it could encourage 1Ls to imagine more than the preordained options currently offered.

Why and Whom

Although law school classes did not help me discover what kind of client I would like to serve, the institution found another way to remind me of why I chose to attend in the first place. The 1L job search, despite its tedium, landed me in a summer job where I will work on elder abuse cases. While my family’s elder abuse lawsuit was a grim way to make first contact with the law, it taught me what justice felt like. Although this feeling was buried inside me by age, and I contrived other reasons for my attraction to the law to replace it, I will now have a chance to deepen its impact. This experience taught me that, while law school can and should change to better remind students why they decided to become lawyers, students who seek the answer to that question can find it through existing processes. I do not know whether prosecuting elder abuse is my calling, but I at least know that this summer I will have the chance to really help people like my grandfather, and perhaps answer that question once and for all. Law school may not give us a guidebook on how to discover the best practice area for oneself, but that does not mean that students cannot find the answer by paying attention at the right time.

Hi Spencer, thanks for a truly insightful essay. I resonated with your disillusionment in law school; my 1L year primarily involved having to doubt many beliefs and ideals I had in college, although our class discussions revived some of them. The lack of direction faced by many law students reminds me of Wylie's belief that what lawyers do is determined by who pays them and that's it, and I really hope that most of our colleagues will have a better lawyering philosophy than Wylie's. - Justine Hong

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r4 - 06 Jun 2022 - 13:22:41 - JustineHong
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