My readers don't want to forget I have a law degree. SLR requests help on law school exams, while Christine writes in asking what I think about careers in public interest law.
My law school exam taking days were a long time ago. Here are some posts about them: a link to studying strategy posts, and a previous request asking about take home exams, a post about how awful and wonderful I thought taking exams was, and how it's normal to be disgusted with yourself and absolutely panicked and still unmotivated. I think that's everything I've written about exams.
You know, some of my best exams were in the classes where I knew the subject the least well. Not knowing much about the subject forced me to be extremely structured in writing the answer. Because I had to. Okay, identify the issue here. What's the issue? Hell if I know. Is it this? God I hope not, I don't know anything about that. All I know about that it might be is this. Better write that down as clearly as I can. Now what's the rule? I know the rule. Get that down, and make it super clear, so it sounds like I have some authority here. Let's go back to the fact pattern and start sorting through it, and maybe as I filibuster along here doing that as tidily as I can I'll figure out the answer. Yep, I guess I'm getting to the conclusion here. Let's wrap this up tight and move on to the next question. Hopefully I'll know something about the next question.
Maybe that approach was helpful because my answers were spare and clear and not rambling. I didn't know enough to throw in the kitchen sink and a bunch of marginally relevant information into the answers. I just stuck to the basics, and tried to be well-organized and tight in my answers. It worked for me. I fell back to structure when I wasn't so sure of the strength of my content. I also was rigorous about timing myself and trying to schedule the right amount of time for each answer -- not running over or skipping ahead. Discipline and focus and basic competence were my aims, not genius or brilliance. Hmmm. As I write this it seems like a principle for wider application.
And now for my thoughts on public interest law.
Last winter I visited a friend who is a public defender in Miami. I was impressed with the energy and spirit of the young lawyers I met there. And right now I'm staying with a friend who works for the state. He talks about his work with a zeal that I don't see in too many people, in or out of law.
I didn't chase public interest law myself because I don't think I have a thick enough skin to do criminal work. I've got no interest in prosecution at all. My distrust of the police is too high, I guess, but in law school I found myself almost always siding with the procedural limitations and "loopholes" or technicalities that would frustrate some of my classmates, who just wanted to get guilty folks behind bars as quickly as possible. Nope. I'm a defense lawyer at heart; I believe in the protections of the system. It's fundamentally important to make the state marshal its evidence before anyone is convicted of anything, but I don't have any desire to actually do that work. I didn't ever particularly want to litigate, and I didn't want to help perpetrators go free.
My interest right out of law school was business and risk. I like entrepreneurs. I'm a capitalist. I still think bankruptcy work is meaningful and fascinating. When I left my firm I wanted to be a trustee in the bankruptcy system and came very close to doing that. The trustee represents the code, not a particular client, and protects the integrity of the process. I think that's very worthwhile.
If I were starting over I would certainly try very hard to clerk, probably for a bankruptcy judge. And I would look into working for the state attorney general's office. There I think you have a chance to do work that's in the public interest that differs from criminal litigation. You get to think about the impact your work has on a large number of people, not just an individual client. You get to think about what the right answer really is, not just what will benefit your client. Over my time in practice I found myself yearning for that opportunity. I guess it's a slightly more academic way of thinking about the law. Private practice may make that hard.
So I'm all for public interest law. I think, as in everything else, the trick is in finding something that will suit not only your do-gooder instinct, but also your intellectual interests, the pace of workday you want, and the subject matter you want to surround yourself with. Plus, of course, the balance of other things that will make you happy: living someplace you like, that is healthy for you, with time to do something besides work, and earning enough money so that you are not worried or resentful.