My torts professor often reminded us that lawyers are some of the last generalists. As a greater number of professions turn toward specialization, attorneys must retain their ability to move from client to client, constantly learning, always becoming well-versed in new subject areas.
This aligns with the small amount of real-world experience I have. Indigent defense carries with it no small number of clients, each fighting a battle which extends beyond any single criminal charge. Mental health, addiction, familial troubles, employment issues, educational difficulties, and systemic failures at every level are just a smattering of the struggles public interest attorneys must grapple with on a near-daily basis.
Seeing the work of public defenders up close, and knowing I planned to become one myself, I began to see a gaping hole in my legal education. If the role of a public-interest-minded law student is to become a fierce and able advocate, the traditional legal curriculum wasn’t getting me there. No matter how comfortable I became with legal writing, negotiations, client counseling, and trial practice, in three years’ time I knew I wouldn’t be ready to meet my clients where they are at.
As I have come to learn in my first few weeks at BC Law, you hit the ground running from day one, and you rarely pause to look back. I’m from Florida and never had the chance to visit the Law School as an admitted student, so everything in Newton, from navigating school zone traffic to finding parking (it’s even hard for the professors) was new to me, on top of beginning graduate level work.
It was all a bit overwhelming at first. Luckily, I had support. Lots of it.
Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Commanding a spellbound crowd on the Boston College Chestnut Hill Campus (where undergraduate classes are), Mr. Hinton took students, faculty, and members of the public through three decades of despair, faith, fury, friendship, and humor. He was often emotional, always passionate, and amazingly graceful. For nearly an hour and a half, it was impossible to think of anything but spending thirty years in a five by seven cell.
As a freshman at Boston College High School, Boston’s all-boys Jesuit school nestled in Dorchester along the outer reaches of Boston harbor, I heard about vaunted “triple eagles,” guys who went to BC High, BC, and BC Law. It sounded like too much school, and I never understood the appeal. I certainly never thought I’d be one of them.
Although my father and his father had gone to a Jesuit high school in Barcelona, following suit was never on my horizon, and I wasn’t even aware of that legacy until I applied to BC High. I had never heard of the Jesuits, could count on my fingers the number of times I’d been to church, and was ambivalent about single-sex education. But my mother suggested applying, I did well enough on the entrance exam, and one day I found myself riding the commuter rail on my way into the city and my new school. Despite this somewhat thoughtless initiation (at least on my part; my mom knew what she was doing), entering the Jesuit tradition of education changed my life, giving me a sense of purpose that I didn’t know I needed and that is driving me through law school and into a career dedicated to public service.
Four hours north of Phoenix, situated almost exactly on the Arizona/New Mexico border, Window Rock is the capital of the Navajo Nation. On March 2, I made the journey west with seven of my classmates to spend a week with the Navajo, learning about their government, law and culture, and doing our best at placements with the Presidents Office, the Department of Justice, and the Supreme Court.
I was fortunate to spend a week at the Supreme Court. The Court itself handles about a dozen cases each year, as well as countless orders and motions relating to those cases. The two of us assigned to the Court spent most of our time researching and writing orders, putting our Law Practice skills to the test. While I personally have a long way to go before I’m comfortable tackling research and writing problems on my own, honing my skills under the direction of the Supreme Court staff was immensely helpful.
I’m pleased to host a guest post from 3L Jared Friedberg, who spent some time last year working in BC’s Immigration Clinic.
With the semester winding down and people thinking about next year, I wanted to provide a recommendation: enroll in the immigration clinic. I spent my 2L year in the immigration clinic, and as I look back on my time at BC, it was the most impactful experience that I have had in law school.
The purpose of a clinic is to give students the opportunity to work directly with clients. In the immigration clinic, that means visits to immigration court, detention facilities, the clients’ homes, and anywhere else that the case requires you to go. Over the course of two semesters, I had five clients. While representing our clients, my classmates and I met their families, friends, and coworkers. Some of them lived a few streets from where I grew up and some lived across the world.
On a whim, I opened my personal statement for the first time since hitting ‘submit’ nearly a year ago. Preparing to face my tendency to over-write, a habit which lends itself to often-cringeworthy grand pronouncements, I queued up the Aspiring Public Interest Lawyers Greatest Hits: “Is It Still Worth It? (After Signing that Promissory Note),” “Oh, Really? You’re Going to Save the World?” and the classic, “Naiveté.”
Instead, I came face-to-face with the prospect that the young, impressionable, wannabe lawyer nursing the cheapest drink on the coffee shop menu in exchange for five hours of Wi-Fi knew everything he needed to know.
See? Grand pronouncements.
Sure, one year ago, I would have failed every single first year course. I couldn’t brief, or outline, or read, or write, or even speak effectively. My Lexis points stood at zero and I had nary a dollar of Westlaw Starbucks gift cards. Every one of my classmates would have prayed to the almighty curve I was in their section. One year ago, I was a terrible law student.
This year Boston College gifted its students and faculty an extra day of reprieve on Columbus Day weekend, creating a new, four-day “fall break.” I took advantage of the extra time by heading down to visit my father in New York City, where we decided to spend a morning visiting Ellis Island and the immigration museum there. We set out with high hopes that were, unfortunately, chastened by missed opportunities.
Stepping off the boat at Ellis Island, you walk up to the main building that houses the exhibits and the only one that the standard ticket gets you into. The museum opens with a walk through the nation’s immigration history, beginning before Jamestown and stretching to the 1890s, when Ellis Island opened. The Trail of Tears, the Slave Trade, the mix of cultures that produced the likes of Jazz are all addressed. The history is deep and serves as a proper warm up to the story of the island itself, but, as my father pointed out, they might as well just hand you a book when you step off the boat. Displaying few artifacts, the exhibit doesn’t engage its visitors. You mostly step precariously around others, trying to stay out of their line of sight. I found myself gazing at the floor, which is a beautiful white tile, and wondering if it is original (it is).
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.
I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Jason Giannetti, a 2003 graduate of Boston College Law School.
I have been an immigration attorney in Massachusetts for fifteen years and I’ve never been as proud to be one as I am now.
Let’s face it, in American popular opinion, lawyers are not exactly considered super heroes. In fact, in films such as The Incredibles, lawyers are the anti-superhero. It is due to them and their litigation and lobbying that the “supers” have to renounce their superpowers to be like all the rest of us. In the 1993 film Philadelphia, though attorney Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington) turns out to be the hero of the film, Andy, his client (played by Tom Hanks), asks, “Joe, what do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?” The answer: “A good start.”
Be that as it may, America is one of the most litigious nations on the planet. Perhaps Americans have low regard for lawyers because they are such “a necessary evil” in the eyes of most. The only profession with lower regard is politician and, as we all know, many of those politicians are themselves lawyers.
However, I think that besides hemming in people’s exercise of strength (Incredibles) and creating bureaucratic and structural obstacles to swift justice (Philadelphia), the real source of America’s collective ire with attorneys is that they seem to disregard the truth: they are mercenary warriors, defending whatever position (right or wrong, truthful or not) that pays the bills. The most egregious example of this to date is Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “Truth is not truth.”