Justice is such a broad term and a seemingly lofty goal. But improving justice for others doesn’t have to mean only a win before the U.S. Supreme Court on a case that changes lives. Lawyers nationwide are working to provide justice. Here are their suggestions for how you can begin taking action during your law school career to have a greater impact during your legal career.
1. Fight to reduce law school costs.
Current government programs aren’t enough—legal counsel should be universally available. One reason attorneys charge their clients so much is the astronomical costs of obtaining a law degree.
While you’re in school, find student organizations that fight for lower tuition fees, or create your own with like-minded folks. Reducing overall student debt would allow a new generation of lawyers more flexibility in pricing, with more pro bono and low-bono work options, without risking their financial security.
Minesh Patel, CEO/principal attorney, The Patel Firm, Corpus Christie, Texas
2. Get more deeply involved in your community.
Of course you should do things like speak with your local public defender’s office or legal aid office to ask what you can do to gain experience on the day-to-day challenges they face. But you should also look for ways to volunteer that aren’t tied to the legal world.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen, help out the local rescue mission, or get involved with local organizations that seek to balance equity. Knowing the issues and challenges that face you when you leave law school will go a long way toward helping you be a solution to the problem.
In addition to learning about constitutional law and criminal procedure so that you can navigate the courtroom, you’ll be well served to learn more about the communities and groups that need more help in today’s America. Justice needs to be something enjoyed by all, not just those who can afford it.
Michael Shepherd, shareholder, Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, Clayton, N.C.
3. Challenge your views.
I think this comes down to educating yourself. It’s not just about book learning and what the laws say to do in certain circumstances, though. Real change can be brought about only by learning what life is like for all citizens of the world.
Sign up for classes that challenge you to see life from another person’s point of view. Volunteer for worthwhile efforts like Habitat for Humanity, which will expose you to the challenges some people have. If it makes you feel slightly uncomfortable, that’s OK—being outside our comfort level helps us learn.
It all begins with a willingness to step outside of what you know, the world you were raised in, and to interact with a more diverse group of people of all races and socioeconomic statuses. It’s the experiences we have and the people we meet that will help us see and want to change shortcomings in the legal system.
We can shape justice only when we’re ready to admit that we don’t know everything—and that our system isn’t perfect and that there’s room for improvement. Keep an open mind and challenge yourself to new viewpoints and experiences.
Jordan W. Peagler, owner and partner, MKP Law Group, Los Angeles
4. Consider litigation as a force for change.
The best way to make a difference is to litigate complicated, new issues. To do that, you need to be an effective litigator as quickly as possible.
So join the mock trial or moot court team. Clerk for a judge, which will likely allow you to watch oral arguments and trials, write opinions, and take part in other aspects of the trial and appellate processes. This exposure to the court system, and the way it functions, will prepare you for life after law school.
Get a third-year bar card if your state permits it. This allows you to practice law under a licensed attorney during your third year of law school. Use that to intern or work for a respected firm that goes to trial or files appeals.
Also consider interning with a state agency. It’s common for interns with our Harris County District Attorney’s Office to try criminal cases in their third year of law school.
You can read every book in the law library. You can get an A on every test. However, truly changing the justice system requires attorneys to make good law through litigation. If you really want to make a difference, close your books and get into a courtroom.
Brian T. Hobson, partner, Odom, Davis & Hobson, Houston
5. Take practice management improvement courses now.
One interesting facet of legal system reform that’s at the forefront is better access to legal services for all people. Pro bono work can go a long way, but by innovating industry practices and teaching law students how to work more efficiently, more reasonable pricing is possible, too.
Sign up now to take project management and process improvement courses, along with data analytics. Find courses that teach about cost-reducing technologies available in law practice so that you can lead a new generation of lawyers who’ll be able to serve more of your community at an accessible cost.
David Aylor, founder and CEO, David Aylor Law Offices, Charleston, S.C.
6. Write on what you’re passionate about.
Find a legal issue close to your heart that needs to be addressed by legislatures or appellate courts. Then write about it. Try to get an article published in a law review, perhaps as a student comment. Do everything you can to draw attention to the unjust legal status quo.
And if you hope to change the justice system, take advanced constitutional law. Most systemic changes to our laws are made by appellate courts on the basis of constitutional provisions.
Bart Siniard, partner, Siniard, Timberlake & League, Huntsville, Ala.
7. Be the person others turn to.
Be involved in your civic groups, including those that are culturally relevant to you or to the community at large. You can be a force for empowerment just by your presence in these groups. Many people have no connection to anyone on the “inside” of the legal system and have nowhere to turn for basic information. You can improve their access to justice just by interacting with them and nudging them in the right direction when their need arises, as a sort of community liaison.
Also focus on achieving a well-rounded legal education and not being too concerned about specializing while you’re in law school. There’s a major problem in the legal profession with job satisfaction and turnover; getting a broad and varied legal education will improve the odds that you’ll find a niche you like—and if you stay in the game, you can have a more significant impact on access to justice in your community in the long run.
Include in that well-rounded legal education at least one mediation or negotiating class. Having dispute resolution skills and knowledge will help you serve the aims of fairness and justice. In my opinion, sometimes justice is simply finding a resolution both sides can accept.
Joel Fairbrother, partner and co-founder, Bow River Law, Calgary, Canada