Mariah Cesena interned for Responsive Law in Spring 2013. This is her reflection on how her internship changed her thinking about law as a career choice.
Every child has a dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Moreover, with that dream the answers are endless: doctor, firefighter, veterinarian, professional athlete and, of course, lawyer. I too was no exception in the plethora of careers I aspired to throughout my childhood. Even as I grew out of my phase of fantasy career choices, one part of the job description remained the same: I knew I wanted to help as many people as I could. Subsequently, in my journey through middle school and high school I finally came to the realization that I wanted to go on to college and major in political science. When I reached my dream school, Howard University, I entered as a political science major; however, I began to realize the major of political science was not as versatile as I had hoped it to be. I then chose to change my major to legal communications, which I am glad I decided to do.
Before I began to intern at Responsive Law, I was already torn between the decision to either continue on to law school or graduate school. But the day that I read the book, Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk, the option of law school pretty much went out the door. Detailed from a first-hand experience of law school, author Paul Campos discusses the truth about law school that many people do not know. The chapter that stuck out to me was “The Myth of the Versatile Law Degree”. Campos goes on to discuss the ploy law schools use when promoting a J.D. Specifically, he states, “It’s quite true you can do many things if you have a law degree. The problem is you can also do all those things if you don’t have a law degree – except practice law.” After reading that, I began a quest of deep soul searching to really ask my self, “Why do I want to go to law school?” Reminiscing on past experiences of volunteering in my community made me recognize that I have an interest in assisting others suffering from social problems utilizing a hands-on counseling approach. Consequently, I realized law school wouldn’t provide me with the necessary tools needed to accomplish this goal, but rather continuing my education in social work would be the most beneficial in fulfilling this ambition. Moreover, my research for Responsive Law brought me to some startling statistics in regard to the legal job market. For example, according to an article published in the New York Times, “Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished.” The article went on to address the subject mentioned above of jobs and requiring law degrees, stating, “A law grad, for instance, counts as ‘employed after nine months’ even if he or she has a job that doesn’t require a law degree.” Campos goes on to demonstrate that a J.D. might actually hinder your chances of getting a non-attorney job.
If hearing statistics like this does not scare you already, or even cause you to question other options of law school, I offer you the same question I asked my self: Why do you want to go to law school? When answering this question consider whether you want to go to law school just to stay in school longer, or because you think it will improve your job prospects. I can honestly say my reasoning to go to law school before was not the smartest choice because I too fit into the mold of thinking a J.D. would get me a job or at least a better job. Also, I was under the impression that what I wanted to do required a law degree. Since my time at Responsive Law, my eyes have been opened to what I really have a passion for, and that passion does not require a J.D. Fortunately, I have set my sights on going to graduate school rather than law school and obtaining my Master’s degree in Social Work. With this path, I can still fulfill my dream of helping people, but deciding to go this route will save me a tremendous amount of money and, most importantly, my time. In closing, I have come to understand that the decision of going to law school is one that should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, I know that not going to law school won’t prevent me in the future, but I know it is not the right choice for me now.