Do you remember why you went to law school?
I’ve been trying to remember that far back — back before four PCSs and the constant military spouse job hustle. Back before two kids, car payments, and student loan payments. Back when I knew the free food and happy hour schedule at every establishment in my neighborhood and went to every club meeting that had free pizza.
Lots of people went to law school to serve their community. I was not one of those people.
When I went to law school, I wanted to make more money. I had been working in publishing for a couple years and was burnt out by the long hours and lack of opportunities to advance. I had always wanted to go to law school, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reset my career.
I started law school in August 2005, right as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast. I remember coming home from my first week of classes and watching the destruction on TV; I was heartbroken by the images I saw and felt helpless 1400 miles away. Soon after the storm, law students nationwide mobilized to help the tens of thousands affected by the storm. That following spring I travelled to the coast to volunteer with them, the Student Hurricane Network.
The experience changed me in ways that I’m still learning more than a decade later. I saw what people meant when they said the hand of God had wiped the Mississippi Gulf Coast off the face of the map. The first time I visited New Orleans, in March 2006, there was a barge resting on the wrong side of the levee in the Ninth Ward. I would travel to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast more than half a dozen times during law school to do legal volunteer work side-by-side with law students and lawyers from across the country.
When I applied for law school, I knew lawyers were supposed to be smart. I knew they had to know arcane law, read dusty books, and be quick on their feet in front of a judge. I knew some of them were slimy and kind of the worst. What I didn’t know — and what I learned standing in a courtroom in New Orleans — is that by and large, lawyers are heroes. My volunteer experiences changed the trajectory of my legal career. When I graduated, I moved to New Orleans and worked on access to justice issues with the state bar.
Lawyers give voice to the voiceless. They stand up for people at their worst in the worst situations. They are the cornerstone of the promise of America.
We are lucky to be counted in their ranks. As officers of the court and military spouses, we exist at a crossroads of service: we uniquely understand the oath that servicemembers take to “support and defend the constitution” because it’s almost identical to the one we take as attorneys. We raise our right hand and swear to support the Constitution of the United States, as well as that of the state we are licensed in.
That oath, like the oath servicemembers take, represents your willingness to serve a cause greater than yourself. It’s easy to forget that, underneath the burden of student loans, licensing restrictions, and all the normal flotsam that life can throw our way. But don’t forget the power of signing up, of raising your hand and choosing to be a part of an amazing American tradition.
Now, my path has not been exactly the way I imagined it when I moved to Louisiana after graduating law school. While I was volunteering in New Orleans, I met a nice young man from Nebraska. Later, I fell in love with that young man and he took me on a grand adventure to the finest bases the Army has to offer (HA.). But even though my path was not what I imagined, I have still tried to weave service to others through it all: service to low-income families at legal aid; service to Soldiers and families with Army Legal Assistance; service to the profession of law in Tennessee; and service to military families and military spouse attorneys with MSJDN. But there is always more to do.
Be one of the doers. Use your lawyer skills to stand up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves. Using the law to help someone is the ultimate act of patriotism and the ultimate display of the power of democracy. Be one of the lawyers that show people what it means to be an American.
It may not have been the reason I went to law school, but it sure as hell is the reason I’m proud to call myself a lawyer.