When I graduated from Columbia Law School, most of my classmates went to work in large or medium-large private law firms, some after a short stint clerking for a judge or two. A much smaller number went to work in what is commonly called public interest law, usually for a non-profit or for the government — for district attorneys, attorneys general, public defenders, and legal aid organizations.
In contrast to both camps, I decided to work both in private practice and in public interest law (in particular, serving low-income clients, in low-damage cases). This career path does not fit into the standard mold career services teaches us to look for as law students, but I chose it because, according to the most conservative estimates I’ve seen, 80% of Americans cannot afford or otherwise cannot access the legal services they need in our existing legal marketplace. Private law firms are plentiful but tend to work only for or against wealthy clients. Public defenders, legal aid offices, and other legal services nonprofits are grossly inadequate to meet the leftover demand, not because there aren’t enough lawyers to go around — on the contrary, this country has a glut of unemployed and underemployed lawyers — but because these organizations’ limited resources severely restrict the number of staff they can hire and cases they can take on. There seems to be a desperate need for another way to approach the business of law.
I embarked on this path with as much terror as determination. I did not know if it was a path that was really economically feasible. I knew very little about the day-to-day work in this kind of practice. I had seen very few examples of anyone else trying to do it, and I was wondering why that might be.
I am sharing my experience here to make others aware of this career option and perhaps inspire some to consider it.
This blog is for those who are interested in embarking on their own self-defined legal career but don’t know where to begin. Though it is written by a lawyer, much of it applies to anyone trying to take the road less traveled in their professional lives.
The goals of this blog are two-fold:
(1) Inspirational. To inspire readers to be creative in defining the boundaries of their work, this blog tries to illuminate the many ways in which the legal profession has accommodated a diversity of forms of lawyering, including policy advocacy, teaching, organizing, and — especially — starting a community-oriented practice. Rapidly evolving technology and the global marketplace are presenting an unprecedented opportunity to innovate more adaptable job roles that more effectively address real-world needs and more fully engage lawyers in their work.
(2) Practical. This blog tries to organize the overabundance of information related to starting one’s own independent legal career in books, web sites, blogs, chat rooms, and professional organizations. It tries to be comprehensive — covering everything from how to stay motivated to the nuts and bolts of practice — but it also tries to be economical by digesting and condensing this information.
You can follow my own journey in the posts under My Story, learn specific career-related skill sets and tips I have used along the way in the Mindset, Inspiration, Nuts and Bolts, and Resources categories, and learn about the broader direction of the profession as a whole in the Access to Justice posts.
I hope in all of this to remind and reassure the starry-eyed idealists who decided to apply to law school to make a difference (including many of my classmates) that there is still room in the world — and tremendous need — for them to do the kind of work they first came to law school to do.