A New Path for Law Students
A New Path for Law Students
A year after my latest (and first) blog, I return to this site invigorated and incredibly hopeful for my chosen legal profession.
I began law school in 2006 in Miami, Florida. From day one, I loved law school. I spent almost every waking minute immersing myself in the law. Law school was teaching me to think differently – to think deeply – to look past the words and truly strive for meaning. Law school more than satisfied my constant need to be challenged – I dove into my studies with everything I had. And it paid off; by the end of my first year, I had booked (earned the Top Student Award in) Civil Procedure, Contracts, Legal Research and Writing, and Criminal Law. I was invited to join Law Review, and was offered a position as a Contracts Active Learning Instructor. I was at the top of my game. But I was not happy.
During my first Civil Procedure class, my professor, in typical Socratic fashion, asked us what we believed was the primary goal of each case. My fellow students threw out the typical answers – “To help clients,” “To promote justice,” “To stick it to the bad guys.” In his customary good-humored way, my professor laughed at us. “No, no, no, no, no. THE POINT IS TO GET THE MONEY!!!!!” I know my professor was most likely speaking in jest; however, from the beginning, he stressed to us that the point of all of this was to become a “zealous advocate” – to do whatever it takes to win the case and get the money. It wasn’t just that one professor – almost every professor I had and almost every attorney I met had the same idea.
I do not think lawyers are inherently selfish, dishonest, uncaring, or manipulative; rather, I think the opposite. I think people go to law school because they want to do something good with their lives. Granted, some people want to become lawyers primarily to make the money, or because it is the next step on their path to political power. I truly believe, though, that these people are the exception, rather than the rule. Of course everyone wants to be financially stable, but from my experience, most people go to law school because they want to do something important with their lives, and want to help people who are in need. Though some of my somewhat cynical friends and relatives may disagree with me, and though quite a few will think I’m just another “idealist” for saying this, I really don’t think people take on the monumental task of being a law student unless they aim for something higher – something that makes it all worth it. At least that’s why I went to law school.
Unfortunately, I began to get a sense that in order to “make it” in the legal world, I had to be an attorney who did whatever it took to win my case. And I started to lose faith in my chosen profession. I started to ask myself if that was the type of life I wanted to lead – Could I really resort to methods and tactics that may win the BATTLE but lose the WAR? In the name of “winning” the case for my client, could I seek to destroy the other side? Was that really the only way to “win” the case? And further, could I look at myself in the mirror every day knowing I was benefiting, even profiting, from the destruction of human relationships, and was contributing nothing toward peace and healing in my clients’ lives, in my life, and ultimately in my legal profession?
After my first year, I had to return home to Minnesota to deal with an illness in my immediate family. It took stepping away from the law school environment for me to really see what had been making me so unhappy. Although I loved the law’s constant demand for clear-thinking analysis, and the overwhelming breadth of knowledge that was out there for the taking – I realized I could not sell my ideals short and practice law in such an adversary environment. For a time, I considered not returning to law school – I thought about going back to school for social work, or even nursing. I wanted to be in a profession where I could spend all of my time truly caring for people. I didn’t know what to do, or how to go forward. I wanted to be a lawyer – it is all I had ever wanted. But I didn’t know if there was a place for me.
When I moved into the lower level of Steve and Shannon Helland’s house in Bloomington, MN, I had no idea how much my life was about to change. Shannon introduced me to Collaborative Law -- lawyers who help clients achieve mutually-agreeable solutions to their conflicts; who meet with clients with the ultimate aim of settlement, and who do so without the damage caused by a litigated trial. I had heard of ADR and mediation programs, but I had never met lawyers who were so committed to fostering such a healing environment for their clients. In August 2008, J. Kim Wright was in Minneapolis interviewing pioneers of the Collaborative Law movement for her website, CuttingEdgeLaw.com. We had the honor of having Kim as our houseguest, and over the course of several conversations and one exhausting sailing race, I discovered the movement to transform the legal profession, and my own life was transformed. From that meeting, I learned I was not alone – that there were thousands of people who felt as I did. People who had a love for the law but felt disillusioned by the “system;” who wanted to balance their lives and foster healing and respect for human relationships; who, in short, wanted to be proud to be lawyers.
I have since married and moved to Arizona, and am a second-year student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. I see the same methods and tactics being used in the curriculum here at ASU, but I know now there is something else out there. Call it restorative justice, collaborative law, holistic law, therapeutic jurisprudence, conflict mediation – call it what you will -- a movement exists that brought me back to the law, that changed my life and gave me hope for, and a place in, the legal profession. We WILL change our society, and we will not conform to this notion that we have to destroy in order to “win.” We WIN by becoming lawyers who heal – lawyers who respect – lawyers who value human dignity and peaceful resolution of conflicts. This is a movement that makes us proud to become, and ultimately to be, lawyers.
I have decided to start an organization at my law school aimed at introducing students to this movement. From even casual conversations with some of my fellow students, I have found I am by far not the only one who wants to create a new path through the legal world. I truly believe the law school environment shapes the people we become as attorneys, and I also believe the law school environment needs a fresh voice and new approach. Students need to be aware that there is a movement out there for those of us who want to create a balance in our lives, and who want to affirmatively take a stand that we will not sell out our clients, our society, or ourselves. I am creating an organization – yet to be named (but possibly the Renaissance Lawyer Society) – that will introduce students to the different paths through this movement and to the different pioneers and practitioners who sustain it every day. It is my hope that when we leave law school, we will have the tools, and the contacts, we need to be lawyers who transform our profession.
Kim Wright has asked me to blog about my experiences here at ASU. I welcome the opportunity and am very excited to make my way through this encouraging and enlightening movement. I also I welcome ANY advice, comments, and feedback!