Monday, November 19, 2018

Introduction: Chris Kissel

There’s one question I got asked all the time, once I decided to go to law school. Which is: “Why did you decide to go to law school?”

My answer has remained essentially the same since the first time someone asked me that. I tell them I was working as a freelance writer, covering arts and culture for local and national outlets, and found myself constantly describing problems I felt powerless to fix.

For instance, in 2016 or so, I wrote a story about a building in downtown L.A. that, for nearly 100 years, had hosted multitudes of storied independent businesses. At the time of my story, it hosted a family-owned kebab restaurant, which had served lunch to workers from around the block for decades. There was also a dancehall, which for nearly 70 years (!) had functioned as a gathering place for recent immigrants from Mexico. My story was about those businesses, but it was also about the building’s new owner – a company that was threatening to tear down the building and replace it with a parking lot.

I was happy to tell the tenants’ stories, but frustrated I couldn’t do more. It was stories like this that made me want to be a lawyer – to equip myself with the tools I needed so I could be useful to people who need the help. I knew it was vague, but I was inspired.

That “conversion moment,” so to speak, happened nearly three years ago. In the first two years since then, my reasons for going to law school didn’t change much. But what about now? I’ve studied criminal law, contract law, civil procedure, and more – well beyond the scope of laws that, for instance, protect tenants from getting evicted. I’ve worked for California’s state civil rights agency, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and seen firsthand what civil rights litigation actually looks like. And, as if I didn’t get enough of a taste of that arduous process, I’m currently working for a federal judge, spending my days reading and briefing stacks of motion papers.

I’ve been exposed to all kinds of legal work, and I’ve faced questions and situations I wasn’t expecting. Now I think less about why I went to law school, and more about what I want to do when I’m done. Do I want to work directly with clients on discrete needs, like getting benefits or eviction defense? Or do I want to engage in litigation, which can take months or years of work per case, but that can hopefully result, however incrementally, in broader change?

This is, I suppose, the 2L dilemma. Your class schedule loosens as your firsthand experience grows; academic work starts to take a backseat to thinking about getting a job (at least until the bar exam). That’s where I find myself now – thinking less in terms of big picture ideas like “helping people,” and more in terms of questions like: What do I want my day-to-day life to look like when I finally do become a lawyer? This year, I hope you’ll come back to this journal, and check in on me as I being to think less about the why, and more about the how.