As a second-career law student, navigating through law school and into the workforce was tricky for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or if I’d even become a lawyer. And as a first-generation law student, now attorney, I didn’t have very many people to look to for advice.
Seeking to learn more about the profession I was about to enter, I joined the ABA. At the time, I didn’t understand how my ABA experience would shape and enhance my career prospects. But it did, and I’m encouraging you to jump into the ABA, too.
It started with some emails
I began receiving emails from the ABA’s Law Student Division. One of the first I remember receiving was an announcement seeking applicants for a leadership position. Not really knowing all the inner workings of the ABA or the LSD, I applied.
Fast forward, I was elected the division’s delegate of communications, publications, and outreach. During my 2L year, I traveled to a number of conferences where I was introduced to other areas of the ABA.
As a delegate, I was drawn to the idea of creating policy through the ABA House of Delegates. I began drafting a policy that urged all levels of government to re-enfranchise people who’ve been convicted of crimes regardless of their status of incarceration. Through my work on this resolution, I was introduced to the ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice, which specializes in addressing complex civil rights and civil liberties issues.
Famous last words
I ended up joining the section, and after about a year of working on policies, I was invited to chair the section’s criminal justice committee. Together with other law students and lawyers, we drafted a number of policies, all of which passed when they were submitted to the ABA House of Delegates. These resolutions are now ABA policy.
I didn’t know how this would impact my career, but if you’d have asked me in law school, I’d have told you that I didn’t want to practice criminal law. I was adamant about that. When someone asked what type of law I wanted to practice, I’d reply, “I’m open to anything but criminal law.”
Being involved in the section changed my mind about that. I ended up applying for a job practicing criminal law—and I got the job. As I reflect on what I think set me apart from the other candidates, I believe my experience as chair of the criminal justice committee as a law student is experience no other applicant could have had.
I was also asked to provide a writing sample. While other students probably sent in a standard legal writing assignment, I sent the resolution I wrote for the ABA. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t done the work I did in the ABA, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.
Bottom line: I encourage you to join the ABA and get involved with the Law Student Division, as well as the other ABA sections, divisions, and forums. You may not have the exact same experience I had, but your experiences with the ABA can set you apart when you’re seeking other opportunities and employment. In my experience, most areas of the ABA welcome law students.
I’d also encourage you to attend some ABA in-person events. This will give you the chance to explore different areas of the law, to interact with attorneys from all over the country, and to be inspired.
See you at the next meeting
As I mentioned, law is a second career for me. I was a truck driver and a truck-driving instructor prior to going to law school. So, naturally, I was drawn to an opportunity to serve as the law student vice chair of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section’s Commercial Transportation Litigation Committee.
Although I practice criminal law, and now federal civil litigation, I’ve authored a series of books about trucking titled The Art of Commercial Trucking. Being involved in this committee helps me stay connected with the transportation industry and get regular updates on cases and trends I might otherwise miss out on.
Like other sections, TIPS has in-person events. Two of its meetings were among the most impactful ABA functions I’ve encountered. First, I attended the TIPS Transportation Mega Conference in New Orleans. Sadly, I was the only law student who attended the event that year.
There were various panels discussing different issues in trucking and various vendors giving information on how their services assisted in trucking cases. There were accident reconstruction services at the conference. Learning how that worked was particularly fascinating to me because of my trucking experience.
The second TIPS event I attended was its fall meeting in Maui, Hawaii. This trip was memorable because it was in Hawaii (enough said, right?), and it was the first time I met my fellow committee members in person.
You should also attend the ABA Annual Meeting. It usually takes place in early August, and if nothing else, you’ll leave the meeting inspired. The various award ceremonies and accompanying speeches will move you to find your path in the legal profession. I’ve met a number of members of Congress, ABA presidents, judges, and National Bar Association presidents through my attendance.
But those connections aren’t what I value most with the ABA. In my opinion, the true value of the ABA is your ability to navigate different areas to find the path that’s right for you, to find what you’re passionate about, to find what moves you, and to find what makes you go back to class feeling empowered.
Law school may be the key to the legal profession. But the ABA opens more doors than you can imagine.