Hannah Barton is a rising junior at Northwestern University and an intern at the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. She is also considering a career as an attorney. In this series, Hannah will interview a diverse cross-section of law students about their law school expectations, experiences and aspirations. Has the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the legal profession’s reactions and responses altered their perceptions about the practice of law? Will patterns emerge in the subjects’ responses? Will their thoughts align with your assumptions about law students? Read “What Do Law Students Think?” to find out.
By Hannah Barton
Eleanor Brock is a rising 2L at the University of Chicago. While she was an undergraduate student at Stanford University, she worked for the Public Defender Service for DC and participated in Stanford’s Legal Design Lab, which propelled her interest in becoming a lawyer.
Brock says she is glad she took a gap year to work before law school, which allowed her to realize how many different types of jobs there actually are. She thought it was useful to “get out into the world and pull on different levers to see things that maybe you didn’t know existed before you make the decision about what you’re going to do.” Brock thinks a lot of ex-lawyers say they didn’t enjoy law school because they didn’t think about what the day-to-day of law school and being a lawyer is really like. “You have to like reading and research and it can be a bit solitary,” she says, but if you do enjoy these activities, you should not be intimidated by law.
“Part of the reason that the legal profession is not diverse is because we have all these institutional roadblocks to becoming a lawyer”– Eleanor Brock
While she is trying to keep her options open in terms of what area of law she is interested in, she has been inspired by her professors at UChicago, many of whom emphasized that it is possible to change the law for the better. One thing that has surprised her about law school is how much she liked her classmates: ”many of the people I have met genuinely care about the world and making it a better place”. However, the pace and content of the curriculum can at times make centering this goal challenging. Because 1L consists of reading so many cases, it’s easy to get lost in the details. In criminal law for example, “you can get bogged down in the elements of each crime or the technicalities of every potential defense and miss the larger consequences of how the criminal justice system is structured.”
According to Brock, the lack of diversity in the legal profession is obviously a problem, but the growing conversation on the topic has given her hope. When applying to summer jobs and looking at the diversity statistics of different firms, she lamented the drop in numbers from initial hiring to the promotion and retention of diverse associates. “There has been a hiring push to hire diverse people, which is great, but if you don’t fix your internal culture, then you’re never going to retain diverse attorneys,” she says. She says she wouldn’t feel comfortable going into a firm with low diversity, and part of the reason she is working at her current firm is because both the firm chair and the head of the Chicago office are women.
Brock thinks it makes a large difference to see diversity when interviewing with a firm: “I think a lot of law firms have caught up to the idea that law students care about this issue… but what speaks volumes to me is when I go to an interview and I am talking to people who are diverse.” As a member of the LGBTQ community, Brock pays attention to who is present in the interview room. When there are no other members of her community in the interview room, it often leads her to believe there just aren’t any LGBTQ people in the firm, which can say a lot about the firm’s culture. “You show up to an interview and there are no diverse attorneys, that potentially means the firm has not thought about how this might impact interviewees, or they just don’t have any diverse attorneys, which is an even bigger problem,” she explains.
Brock does think that current events may help propel changes to the system. She cites the student activism that led UChicago to institute a pass/fail grading system this past quarter due to the pandemic as an example of how institutions and students from different backgrounds can engage in productive conversations. It’s really good that these conversations are being had because part of “the reason that the legal profession is not diverse is because we have all these institutional roadblocks to becoming a lawyer: you have to do well on the LSAT, you have to pay for law school, you have to pass the bar,” all things that can prevent people with diverse backgrounds from joining the profession.
The pandemic has also made Brock and many of her friends “reconnect with the fact that becoming an attorney you have an ethical obligation to help people with your law degree and make the profession more diverse”. However, the pandemic’s effect on the economy has also scared people, and many have an instinct to want more financial security, which can sometimes be at odds with their ethical obligation, especially after the huge financial investment that is law school. This leaves many law students, and potential law students, with plenty of aspects to consider regarding their futures in the legal profession.