I left the Jesuit Volunteer Corps with an Orleans Public Defenders shirt, heavy emotional scarring, and a strong idea of justice. I was prepared to ride into law school on a wave of virtue and morality, certain I knew what needed to be done and how I was going to do it. That wave crashed me right into Civil Procedure and Pennoyer and Rule 12(b)(3) and Contracts and estoppel and intent, and it wasn’t long before I realized it was going to be a while before I was certain of anything again.
Pretty dramatic, but the spirit is true. Law school is a change. There is a transition from being a normal person to a person who thinks legal jokes are funny. Still, overall, most of my preconceived notions have been proved wrong. Cold calls are not that bad, my classmates are also not that bad (fine, they’re pretty great), and six weeks in I have yet to muster any dazzling legal wisdom for family or friends.
Of course, some things have proved timeless: the lack of disposable income, the animalistic desire for free food and the willingness to attend just about any event to get it, and the first-week feeling that every prior friendship was a fluke and I would be doomed to eat lunch alone for the rest of my life.
But some things decidedly do change. I had the good fortune to work at the public defenders office in New Orleans last year, an experience that was incredibly formative for my sense of justice (and for my gallows humor). I didn’t know much about the law, but I knew all too well how the law impacts people, especially people of color and those struggling with poverty. The hardest part of the transition has been losing that human element. Learning rules and procedures is nothing like watching a judge sentence a client. Contracts thus far hasn’t mentioned the plea bargains I watched attorneys make every day. And while Torts gets the closest, watching our professor act out a battery is amusing in a way that reading a police report rarely was.
I know how important these courses are, how foundational they will be. It’s just been a hard shift- going from feeling like I was doing something to feeling like I am preparing to do something.
Without dishonestly glorifying the work I did or unfairly capitalizing on the stories of my former clients, I’ll just say it was hard to leave. So many attorneys and advocates in public interest law get burned out, taking time away to start a family, to gain control of their hours, to begin another crusade. And while going to law school is a valid reason to walk away, I still remember how obvious it was that some of my clients didn’t believe me when I said I would be back.
Six weeks in, there is a lot I don’t know. I’m looking forward to figuring it out.
Brett Gannon is a 1L at BC Law and a brand new Impact blogger. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.