Student Advice
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Social Justice Lawyering: A Student Advocate’s Perspective

As a 1L selecting courses for my second year, I immediately gravitated towards the experiential learning opportunities: things like clinics and internships that would allow me to figure out how to use what I was learning to serve the values I hold. My first year was difficult, but not in the ways I expected. Law school teaches us that the law is a neutral force, but I knew that to be false. I struggled to learn the first-year curriculum and simultaneously hold on to the people and values that had motivated me to come to law school in the first place. I found out about the  Sheller Center’s Social Justice Lawyering Clinic taught by Professor Lee through the course list. I was immediately interested based on the clinic’s name, so I looked through the Sheller Center’s  website and asked friends who had taken the clinic before for their opinion.

Everyone said the clinic was an incredible opportunity, so despite the fact that I was terrified that I would do a bad job, I filled out the application the Dean of Students had sent out via email in the early spring. I was initially placed on the waitlist and told that I would be contacted if space in the clinic opened up. After just a few days, Professor Lee e-mailed me and said that a student had dropped the clinic and my fear resurfaced. I had no idea if what I had done would qualify me for such a clinic, and I was worried I would do a terrible job. I reminded myself that the experiential learning opportunities were what I wanted in law school, and accepted Professor Lee’s offer.

This was the conversation I had wanted: to be able to talk to someone about how to serve and be of use to the communities I cared about so deeply, to be a lawyer who lived up to the values I knew to be important.

I arrived at my first meeting with Professor Lee determined to mask whatever fear or insecurity I was feeling. There had been no space for introspection or expressing concern over what we were learning in my other classes, and I was trying to prepare myself for more of the same. I was nervous that law school was not the place for me, that maybe being able to “think like a lawyer” really was a necessary skill and not something I could do.

My first conversation with Professor Lee introduced me to the concept of client-centered lawyering, of being a lawyer who is interested in a world where lawyers aren’t necessary, where the systems are accessible and everyone knows that they deserve what they need. This was the conversation I had wanted: to be able to talk to someone about how to serve and be of use to the communities I cared about so deeply, to be a lawyer who lived up to the values I knew to be important.

Throughout the clinic, Professor Lee always made space for us to ask ourselves questions about what was the best way to do our work, and why. She pushed us to name problems specifically; fighting wage theft is not only about people getting paid, it is also about pushing against a system founded on racism, sexism, and classism that devalues particular kinds of work. It was always okay to care about the people in our cases first, to ask if a legal solution was really the best solution, to reject the supposed “neutrality” of what we were learning.

The Sheller Center and Professor Lee supported me as I researched things like pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, and worked with my teammate to draft a complaint for federal court. I am grateful for my experience in the clinic and with Professor Lee, and I am continuing with the advanced clinic now because there is more work to be done.

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