Pigeonholed Before You’ve Begun to Fly

Sabyl Landrum
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

Most rising 2Ls are starting to think about where they want to work next summer. To do OCI or not to do OCI? Firms versus public interest versus government? Large firm or small firm? Direct services or impact litigation? Litigation or transactional? As a rising 2L, we have little to base our decisions on; yet, we can be pigeonholed by our choices.

Apparently making a decision to explore one area of law can make it difficult to seek employment in another area of law. Even in the same field of criminal law, the choice of prosecution versus defense is one of significant consequence. The San Francisco Public Defender website states on its internship page, “Students with a general interest in criminal law or who view being a prosecutor as a possible career choice should not apply.” Yet I have heard several of my classmates make a compelling argument for working prosecution, both as a way to learn how prosecutors work, so as to better defend against them, and as a way to reform thesystem from the inside. Do we not want to encourage those who are empathetic toward defendants to work as prosecutors as well? Besides, in my opinion, the us versus them mentality is a problem in criminal law, resulting in less than ideal outcomes for both defendants and society.

The story is the same when it comes to public interest versus firm work. It is disappointing to hear that firms look with skepticism at resumes demonstrating a lot of public interest and volunteer work. Likewise, I recently heard an intern state that public interest organizations will judge students who did a split internship their 2L summer with a firm and a public interest organization. This came to light when I mentioned a firm that not only allows split summers for 2Ls, but also pays them during their time with the public interest organization. The intern spoke of a friend working public interest this past summer. While the organization welcomed the help, they questioned the paid intern’s commitment to public interest. On the other hand, most law students are taking on debt to support themselves while in law school. By earning money in the summer, the debt load is lessened and the student may actually be in a better position to seek full-time public interest work upon graduation.

I really believe law students should be encouraged to try out different areas of law. If you try an area of law that you do not think really interests you, one of two things will happen: (1) you were right and now you eliminate any doubt and the chance of regret; or (2) you find out you were wrong and you really are interested in an area of law or a type of practice you did not think you were interested in. It is in the best interest of both employers and students if students are able to explore without judgment and find the right fit for their talents and interests.