I’ve wanted to go to law school since I was 13 years old. The reasons have varied, crossed, and vanished, but after serving as a Research Intern for Accountability Counsel this Summer, I know for sure that’s where my path is leading me.
At first it was about the prestige and money. My family certainly has never been wealthy and traveling anywhere has always been difficult. My uncle, a law school graduate, frequently traveled to the US from his home in Japan with my cousins and the rest of his family. My whitewashed, capitalist understanding of the world saw his degree as the key to freedom – the key to money and power. My children would never experience a life feeling inadequate to their peers or trapped by the confines of their socioeconomic status if I were an attorney like my uncle.
It quickly became about access. After the election of our most recent President in 2016, I felt determined to make a difference in the world of politics, bringing attention to the systemic barriers faced by myself and those around me. As a white man in the South, I felt personally responsible to enact change, amplify previously othered voices, and build in institutional changes that I knew would create good. Law school would contextualize the political world and open up connections to people who may listen to me and my ideas for change.
But it then became about knowledge. Experience organizing for my Unitarian Universalist church, which was largely white, and then witnessing the stark disparities between those organizing out of need and those out of availability in Chapel Hill, taught me to reconsider why I wanted law school. Was it about money, power, and prestige? Was it about using those resources as access to the political realm, even if for good? Would that even be the right place for a person like me? Or should it be about gaining and sharing valuable information to those in need – counseling people that are in direct communication with governments so responsible for violent oppression? At the time and today, I felt it was right to strive towards the latter.
And for the first time ever, I faltered in my determination to go to law school. Upon reaching Duke, a slew of classes helped lift a veil about the effectiveness of institutions that had been socialized into me by my family and my upbringing in Chapel Hill. Through classes on race, disability, systemic injustice, and poverty, it became clear how pivotal attorneys are to solidifying the institutions that oppress. If our understanding is that the U.S. government and its institutions must be rebuilt entirely, then is studying American law, making minor improvements, and providing validation to it with my degree any good?
Finally, it became about real, tangible change. After this Summer at Accountability Counsel, I understand just how endless the possibilities are with a degree in law. Conversations with attorneys at AC have inspired me to continue pursuing my interests in law and to carry on ignoring pulls towards work that is corporate, detached, and out of touch.
Researching so many internationally financed projects, it’s clear that law is harmful unless it is rooted in the needs and desires of those that it impacts most. And so long as those laws exist and continue to be implemented, attorneys will be needed to dismantle and amend them. While such a process may render the institution stronger in the future, people need and request legal help now and a degree in law carries valuable resources that can quite literally save the lives of those not receiving their due rights. I’ve seen it first hand at AC around the globe, and I hope I can continue working towards that same end.