Being at BC Law as a Jewish woman pursuing public interest law can sometimes create a sense of cognitive dissonance and difficulty feeling like I belong. My background and upbringing is very Jewish and very rooted in social justice. I’ve been actively involved in Jewish communities for my entire life and that has informed my values. I attended Smith College, a progressive women’s college out in Northampton, MA. Attending a Jesuit Catholic law school initially gave me some pause, especially knowing that most future lawyers are looking to pursue careers in “Big Law.” But attending the Public Interest Law Retreat (PILR) last weekend reminded me that I don’t need to check my public interest goals and passions at the door to the law school–rather, that there are people and systems in place to support them.
The PILR is a program for 1Ls, coordinated by the Law School and the incredible 1L, 2L, and 3L Public Service Scholars. The bunch of us drove out to Dover, MA to the Boston College Connors Retreat Center. We stayed overnight in the old stone building located in a more rural part of the state with lots of green space and trees. We entered a refreshing atmosphere the instant we arrived.
The first morning kicked off with breakfast and a keynote speaker by an inspiring BC Law alumna who shared her path to public interest work. Following her, the 2L and 3L Public Service Scholars opened the floor for candid conversation about their experiences in school, sharing their agonies over 1L, recalling highlights so far, and giving valuable advice. After lunch we broke up into panels we had ranked by interest. I was surprised to find how informal the conversations were. No more than three law students were placed at tables with public interest lawyers and a student moderator to talk about their careers. We introduced ourselves and asked questions about how our interests intersect with their work. There were panels on criminal law, education and children’s rights, family violence and sexual assault, government/legislative affairs, health and disability law, immigration law, and legal services.
I heard from all of my peers that every panel was amazing but I was especially appreciative of mine. I sat with legal services lawyers who spend every day doing direct representation of different constituencies of folks who cannot otherwise afford the services, and are greatly in need. I met government public interest lawyers: a cyber-crimes prosecutor for the US District Attorney, a representative from the trial division in the MA AG’s Office, and an employee of Boston Public Schools who has done invaluable work to create anti-bias education and change in schools. All of the public interest lawyers who gave their time to meet with us gave us insight and advice. They were incredibly warm, open to questions, and forthcoming. Our dinner with faculty, administrators, and practicing public interest attorneys removed a sense of the formal boundaries that might exist in other contexts. In the morning we heard from young alumni who assured us we’ll not only have a career path years down the road, but also once we graduate.
Through these programs I can see how many people there are in the BC Law community who want to help BC Law students on their paths to public service. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to attend and get back to the reason I came to law school: to become a public interest attorney.
In my personal statement I quoted the famous Rabbi Hillel from an old Jewish text, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers.) He wrote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
As public interest students, we will have to seek out the opportunities to advocate for ourselves and maybe take some nontraditional approaches to finding jobs. But there will be infrastructure at BC to support us and a wealth of alumni interested in raising us up. The students (1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls) I met this weekend are all committed to supporting causes and providing services to callings greater than themselves. I am grateful there was a space, here and now, for us to come together and talk candidly about our careers. I plan to be a civil rights attorney and my classmates have a broad range of issues about which they are most passionate. This weekend we began to develop the friendships and mentorships that will help us keep track of who we are and why we’re here, and learned that those identities can work hand-in-hand.
Elizabeth Gooen is a first-year student and brand new Impact blogger. Contact her at email@example.com.