To: Intimidated Young or New Attorneys/Reticent Seasoned Attorneys
From: A Young Attorney
Re: Literally Everything Since January 20, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
An Open Letter from a Young Attorney to Other Attorneys Regarding our Role in Preserving Free Society
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
My intention with this letter is to reaffirm a commitment to the rule of law. Current events in the United States – particularly the recent Executive Order prohibiting entry of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries – have forced me to recommit to the reason why I became an attorney.
Also, I recently paid annual bar dues.
In applications and job interviews, one is almost always asked why he or she wants to be an attorney. The goal is to avoid cliché answers such as “I want to help people.” Frankly, I cannot avoid that reality. I became a attorney to help people. At first this was in an idealistic sense where I would rush into some kind of appellate practice and preserve the beautiful and poetic liberties students read about in textbooks.
When I began practicing, I gained a better appreciation for the seemingly small ways in which an attorney can ameliorate someone’s problems or fears. Fair or unfair, there are some things only an attorney can do – at least legally – and providing closure and resolution had an impact I had not considered when I first imagined myself as an epic legal superhero with a mean right hook.
Like many, I found this past election disheartening. Over the past month, I have become more than alarmed at the assault on the rule of law and fundamentals of constitutional due process. I think this much is a non-partisan concern. Americans have a moral duty to uphold these predicates of our representative democracy. Whatever reasonable disagreements we might have about good public policy, all of us must stand firm for robust procedural protections. There can be no freedom where there is no law.
As a lawyer, there is an even higher imperative. I repeat: all Americans have a moral duty to stand up for foundational principles such as liberty and justice for all. However, only attorneys can practice law. Therefore, some of these duties can only be performed by attorneys.
I am not a top law school graduate. I did not have an illustrious career at a Big Law firm. I bounced around practicing here and there, largely doing pro bono work and relying upon cases given to me by mentors (for whom I am extremely grateful. I learned a lot during this time of my life as stressful as it was.)
I understand completely the feeling that one does not know enough to help people and might even imperil them or worsen their situation. I empathize with the condition where a person can barely meet his or her own needs, let alone donate time to others. I know what it is like to feel as though any work one does attempt will blow up in some professional ethics minefield. Law school does not prepare us for these things. More often than not, it makes us cautious or wary of reaching out.
The purpose of stating these facts is to make it clear that there is nothing particularly good or smart about me that is not true about any other attorney (or American or person for that matter.) Your country needs you. The rest of the world needs you. Thousands of attorneys rushed to the defense of helpless strangers stranded in airports with the threat of deportation. That is your calling as much as it is mine.
Please shed any hesitation you have about your abilities or limitations. For those of you who plainly cannot afford to don this hat, that is not a mark against you. We all need to tend to ourselves in order to be a place of strength for others. For those of you who are like me and regularly suffer from Imposter Syndrome, this letter is for you.
I recently took up an asylum case. This is a new area of law for me. I am relying heavily on the support of the legal aid society through which I found my client. I am scared and worried that I will forever ruin this person’s life and that they will have to return to a country that has no regard for their safety and well-being – a country that only pays lip-service to the law and all its protections and remedies; preys on vulnerable populations, and; serves the nefarious machinations of an insulated wealthy caste.
Nevertheless, it is the right thing to do. More importantly, it is only something I, as a lawyer, can do. Sure, this person can represent themselves, but for all my shortcomings, I know I can do this better. I am trained at a bare minimum to advocate for others. My main takeaway from previous practice is that there is not a problem I cannot solve even if I do not know the best answer right away.
You have this skill too. To be a lawyer is not to have an encyclopedic knowledge of codes and treatises. It is not to be a superhero or a saint. It is to be a regular person and assume a mantle of responsibility for other regular people as clients. It is to look injustice in the eye – to stand between tyranny and its would-be victims – roll up your sleeves, and dare those forces to try.
I wrote the above first and foremost for simple consideration – that the next time any one of us feels discouraged or helpless and wants to reach out, you remember reading this and reflect on the possible role you can play as both a patriot and a trained advocate.