the vast majority of lawyering is not legal, but human: The more human you can be, the better you will be in the law
Emily graduated from Stanford Law School in 2010, and unlike our other #reallawyerstories attorneys thus far, she is still doing exactly what she set out to do, what she meant to do and loved to do as a law student. She has worked as a public defender and a law clerk to a federal judge. She has represented prisoners under life sentences in three-strikes re-sentencings, and in her free time has started her own nonprofit to create a nationwide post-college program to put young people to work as life-changing non-attorney advocates. Emily is a recent ABA Top 40 Young Lawyers honoree.
1. What do you know now that you wish you had known as a 1L?
I was pretty lucky, in that I showed up to law school knowing almost nothing about law school, and having barely even met a lawyer. My family is all artists and poets, so I had no idea what I was doing when I showed up to SLS. Which was, in ways, a blessing - rather than panicking about my place in the class and who was outranking who in the cold-call-gunner battles, I was just trying to figure out how to read and understand a case. I think this took away a lot of the stress - I didn't know what I was supposed to be worrying about, so I was able to really enjoy the language of the cases, and to settle into an understanding of the legal mindset without all that fear.
2. Are you doing now what you thought you would be doing when you were a graduating 3L? If not, why not? Is this a good thing?
I am doing exactly what I thought I would be doing. I fell in love with sticking up for the little guy early on - since the very beginning, that was what I felt was most compelling about the empowerment of becoming an attorney. I did this to help people who were struggling to have their voices heard, and now I'm living my dream - making my clients heard within a harsh system, every single day.
3. Who were you in law school?
If you ask me who I was, I would have said I was a bit of a misfit, a snarly little anti-authoritarian in a world of very polished future leaders. I would also have said I was someone finding herself, who was very lucky to have accidentally fallen into exactly the right place - and work - at the right time.
But I asked my friend, and he said "You were the cool girl that made it look easy, but people didn't realize how much you relied on your cat for your sanity. And your understanding of constitutional law."
Take from this what you will.
4. What class or concentration do you wish you had taken that you didn’t?
I do wish I had taken more clinical courses in different disciplines - I'd love to have a stronger grasp of civil practice. But that's something I think will come when and if I ever shift gears!
5. What last-minute tips do you have for the July bar exam takers?
Well, it's July, so...it's going to be what it's going to be. Try to find a way to relax into the challenge, and enjoy your own voice. When you sit down to take the test, there will be moments when you don't know what you're doing, and moments when you are delighted and surprised by your own mastery of the material. Enjoy the latter. When it comes to the former, try to enjoy your own mastery of the art of fudging. Try to come up with something, even if you're not sure of it. You'll be happier later that you did that than letting the test freeze you. This probably doesn't apply to the multiple choice...I think there's some kind of mathematical rule about skipping those questions, which I have happily forgotten.
6. Anything else you would want to tell a current student?
I wish I had known that the vast majority of lawyering is not legal, but human - being a human, connecting with another human, trying to create an emotion or explain a concept. The more human you can be, the better you will be in the law. Never lose your common ground, and never start acting like a lawyer.