A few weeks ago, I was down at my alma mater listening to talks from winners of the Kravis Prize (an award given annually to a deserving nonprofit).
I had the opportunity to meet Roy Prosterman, the founder of Landesa. Landesa is an NGO based out of Seattle, Washington, which helps distribute land rights in developing countries, specifically in China, India, and many nations in Africa.
One of the other amazing things is that Roy is a lawyer. As I sat there listening to him discussing his incredibly important work, it dawned on me that he is igniting real change in the world — systemic change transforming the lives of many people —and doing this by using the law. He has, in a sense, created a nonprofit law firm whose sole purpose is to work on land rights issues around the world. He can do the work because he is an attorney. He and attorneys in his group are transforming the lives of people. After his talk, during which I was spellbound by the impact of his work specifically related to empowering women, I had a few moments to speak to him personally. I mentioned that I too am an attorney and that I work with law students. He showed an interest in my work and said something to the effect that there is much work left to be done in the world and we need good lawyers to do it.
As I walked back to my hotel, I spent some time thinking about this fact. In a time when there is so much negativity around the law, here was someone telling me that we still need lawyers. I believe this too. At Catapult 2013 (the conference Alison and I hosted in April 2013) many shared this same message including Judi Cohen, who said that we need people to stay in the profession because, again, there is much work to be done.
Listening to Roy Prosterman, how could you not be excited about the power of the law, right? Likewise, when I read about Asylum Access, a nonprofit in San Francisco started by Emily Arnold Fernandez, whom I knew in college. She started this nonprofit from the ground up, using her law degree to change the world. And from the looks of it, she is doing a fantastic job!
I would argue, however, that the world doesn’t just need lawyers like Roy Prosterman and Emily Arnold Fernandez. We also need smart, thoughtful lawyers to help businesses and individuals who are in crisis. We need lawyers to be fair and keep the system in check. We need lawyers to fight the desire to be litigious all the time and instead work thoughtfully to get their clients’ needs met.
Basically, we need great lawyers. We need them to work on issues both at home and, as shown by organizations like Landesa and Asylum Access, abroad. It is true, the big firm jobs that many folks dreamed of may be gone. Perhaps your legal dreams need to change. Perhaps you need to think about what excites you about being a lawyer — about what work you can do that you will be proud of and enjoy and will make your corner of the world better. There is much work to be done and lawyers have the skills to do much of this work. I encourage you to take some time to think about your role in our profession. As Roy shared with me, we still need good lawyers. Become one of those good or great lawyers. Practice well and make our profession proud.
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