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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Esq.

Law students are constantly bombarded with advice: what classes to take in order to pass the Bar Exam, the best ways to spend their 1L and 2L summers, which journals or organizations to join, how to conduct themselves in job or clerkship interviews – the list goes on, and the barrage of proffered guidance does not abate upon graduation.  In fact, whether you are eagerly starting a new job or carefully navigating the treacherous landscape of the current legal market in search of employment, chances are that tips and counsel regarding the legal profession will flood both your mind and inbox alike.  While some amount of advice is no doubt helpful, it can be difficult and overwhelming to sort through this never-ending stream of information, especially when some suggestions may not seem applicable to you, or different pieces of advice conflict with one another.  Additionally, in my experience, the advice I received in law school and upon graduation was prescriptive rather than descriptive; it consisted of things that I “should” do in the future, as opposed to encouraging me to focus on what my actual day-to-day experiences were telling me about what I wanted for my career.  Though prescriptive advice has its place and utility, it risks creating a career path on which you only do what you have been told you “should do,” instead of actually evaluating (and then doing) what it is you want to do.

So here is my attempt to add one piece of career advice for current law students and recent law school graduates:  Do what you love; love what you do.  There is no “should” here – rather, this advice hinges on listening to yourself, analyzing your experiences, and developing an understanding of what legal issues excite you.  Admittedly, this is easier said than done.  Finding “your area” or your passion can be difficult to do in law school when the reality of practice is so divorced from the academic and theoretical environment in which we learn.  It can be equally tough after graduation, when financial pressures and the need to fill your resume may force you to pursue positions about which you are not particularly passionate.  Nevertheless, each of these times, places and positions will teach you something important about yourself and your interests, thereby enabling you to formulate an idea of what it is you want out of your legal career.  Every class, clinic, summer position, internship, clerkship, and job is an opportunity not only to build your resume and gain valuable legal experience, but also to find out what you like and do not like about a given area of the law or legal practice, to learn which assignments you cannot wait to work on and which ones you find less stimulating, and to begin constructing a vision of how you want to devote your time and energy in the legal world.  For some people, this process occurs during 1L year, and for others it can take decades.  The pace does not matter – what matters is that you do it, that you engage in this process so you can gain the knowledge and the tools to take your career in the direction you want to go, wherever that might be.

For me, the avalanche of prescriptive advice came in law school.  Former law students, current law students, and even some legal practitioners told me repeatedly that I should take “Bar classes” if I wanted to have any hope of passing the Bar Exam upon graduation.  My 2L year, many of my classmates gave me concerned (and sometimes shocked) looks when I told them that I had not enrolled in Corporations or Wills and Trusts, and instead had decided to concentrate in Critical Race Studies (CRS) and take courses focusing on the intersection of race and law.  “But what about the Bar Exam?” “What are you going to do with a concentration in CRS?”  I was asked these questions countless times, and for my entire 2L year, I did not have answers to them.  All I knew was that while passing the Bar Exam was obviously a goal of mine, I did not want my law school experience to be solely about attaining that one goal; I also wanted to enjoy my classes and find the areas of law about which I was truly passionate.  The CRS classes gave me the opportunity to do just that, and over the course of two years, I found my legal passion:  civil rights law, with a focus on racial justice and prisoners’ rights.  I have no regrets about not taking Bar classes during my last two years of law school, for I was able to enjoy law school in a way that felt right for me.  (I am also pleased to report that I passed the California Bar Exam on my first attempt.)  In fact, ignoring the prescriptive advice about Bar Exam classes and instead paying attention to the classes that really excited me was one of the best career decisions I have made, as it enabled me to find my passion and then turn that passion into a career.  To love your work, to wake up every day excited about what you do – this is not a fantasy or the fortune of a lucky few.  This is a possibility for every law student and law school graduate, provided you are truly willing to analyze each of your experiences and really listen to yourself as you traverse the law school and post-law school terrain.  It is your career and your life – spend it doing something you love, and you will love what you do, day in and day out.

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