Monday, February 12, 2018

Learning Outside of the Classroom

One of the main reasons I decided to attend Loyola was our school’s impressive lineup of clinics. As someone with a pretty vague idea of what I actually want to do as a lawyer, the idea of getting out into the real world and experiencing the practice of law before I actually take the bar is really appealing.

As a first-year student, I haven’t had the opportunity to join a clinic yet. I have, however, had the opportunity to get the kind of pro bono experience that’s available to pretty much any human citizen of the United States – even those who aren’t law students.

Two times a month, I volunteer with legal clinics that are geared toward helping underserved populations in the Los Angeles area. On the third Wednesday of the month, I assist at a clinic in Skid Row, where attorneys help the homeless get tickets for minor violations dismissed – tickets for things like riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. On the last Saturday of the month, I volunteer at a clinic in Long Beach that helps residents remove (or “expunge”) criminal convictions from their records for free.

This is technically pro bono work – as in, the kind of work people do purely for the greater good – but I have selfish reasons for doing it, too. It gets me out into the underserved L.A. communities in which I hope to work after graduation. I get to make connections with lawyers who have the kind of jobs I want. And it gives me the kind of personal understanding of the endemic issues that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in our city.

For instance, at the expungement clinic this past Saturday, I helped a woman who had been convicted of a drug-related felony while she had been desperate and living in poverty. Thirty years later, and with zero convictions in between, she is still struggling to find work because the same conviction keeps showing on her background checks.

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking about applying to law school, or you’ve already applied and you’re waiting to hear back, my advice is to get out in your respective city and get involved in these kinds of projects. (Whether or not you want to pursue public interest law.) You don’t have to be a lawyer or even a law student to do it. And you’ll gain a much more vivid picture of the world you’re living in, and the small but significant things you can do to make it a little better.

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