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
Jessica Lubin graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in the class of 2020. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 2014 with a degree in Journalism, she worked for a few years with a non-profit organization doing fundraising and event planning. Although she enjoyed the reading and writing involved in these positions, she didn’t feel like it fulfilled her wish to give back to her community. Law was a way for her to fill in the gaps of what she was missing and make a meaningful impact.
“And if I’m not here, then who’s going to be there to represent those clients who are often forgotten and people don’t really care about?”Jessica Lubin
As a first-generation law student, there were a lot of aspects of law school Lubin didn’t know about until she saw them firsthand. Most noticeably, she found the sheer competitive nature of law school to be much more intense than she anticipated, even though she attended “one of the good and supportive law schools, where there weren’t any crazy stories of classmates stealing people’s textbooks and ripping pages out like at other schools.” She felt that much of law school involved trying to weed people out instead of making people feel proud of the accomplishment of getting into law school. After hearing about the collaborative nature of her friends’ experiences in other graduate programs such as MBAs, she realized that that environment of learning together and supporting each other was not present in law school. She believes this is largely due to the curve, since no matter how smart you are and how accurate your answers are on a test, you will still be judged in comparison to others. “There were a lot of long days and nights where I wondered if I belong here,” she says.
However, Lubin has met some of her closest friends in law school, and it has given her the skills for “being that pillar of fairness and holding these ideals of equality and equity, which is what the legal profession is supposed to represent.” Although her vision of what she would be doing with her degree in the future have changed quite a bit due to the pandemic, she is staying optimistic: “I’m a huge planner, I love paper planners and I have goals and milestones of where I’ll be at a certain time, and it just hasn’t worked out. In a lot of ways it’s been great because I’ve received opportunities and met a lot of people that have taken me on a better path than I think I even foresaw for myself. So I’m trying to keep an open mind.”
Prior to coming to law school Lubin didn’t realize the profession had such a huge lack of diversity, but soon found out when there were only about 10 other Black students in her section. “I’m used to being in spaces where I’m the minority because I grew up in a predominantly white community, but going to law school and not having a lot of diversity is like a whole different ball game,” she explains. It was difficult on a personal scale to realize how isolated she was, but there were issues on a bigger scale as well: “The lack of diversity in the profession has led to a lot of the issues we face in society today, everything from like police misconduct and the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Although change is starting to happen, Black women still make up only 2% of the legal profession, which is something Lubin has learned to expect. “I don’t even bat an eye at this point unfortunately, because I kind of expect to walk into an interview and see no one who looks like me. So on occasions when I do walk into an interview and see a woman, or a Black man even, or an Asian woman or Hispanic man, I get kind of excited because I’m like ‘Maybe there is someone here who will look out for me’.” Even though recently there has been a larger interest in social justice, Lubin doesn’t see any large changes happening in the legal industry, especially after watching how the bar exam has been dealt with in the wake of the pandemic. “It’s a mess, there were at least 20 states that administered the exam [in July], either in person or online with online systems crashing. To me it communicates that you really don’t care, because it’s been said time and time again that not only is the bar exam is not necessary to the practice of law, but also the bar exam disproportionately affects people of color or low income individuals, who are all of the people we need to be fighting for and all of the people that the movement has been about for the past 3 months.” Lubin argues that the bar exam is a purposeful barrier to having more diverse lawyers, and that states across the country have shown they are unwilling to accommodate their law students.
Despite all of this, Lubin has been able to utilize many other resources to further her career. In February she went to Austin, Texas for the ABA’s Judicial Clerkship Program for underrepresented students to further expose them to clerking, and was able to meet judges from all over the country. She says “after attending that program I left thinking ‘Wow, not only do I want to clerk, I feel like I have a duty to want to be a judge because there are not a lot of female judges, not a lot of black female judges, and I kind of felt like I need to make this happen.” In addition to being in Loyola’s Jumpstart program and the Black Law Students Association, she also participated in Loyola’s Moot Court Program, which gave her experience in appellate advocacy and helped her learn how to write briefs and argue a case in front of judges. Although this really pushed her out of her comfort zone, she enjoyed it so much she will now be a coach for the team next year.
Lubin says to anyone who is considering law school that it is worth it. “We need more people of color, we need more women. We need more lawyers generally, but especially if you’re from those groups, I’d say go. Don’t let people deter you from what you want, and when you are there and feel like you don’t belong, know that you do belong there. I know there were a lot of instances where I thought ‘I’m not good enough to be here, I shouldn’t even be here’, and that was one of my biggest hurdles my first year.” She also thinks that a law degree is very valuable no matter what you do with it or where you go to school: “All law schools are created equal, and unfortunately the legal profession makes you think otherwise, and that if you don’t get into a top law school you shouldn’t go at all. That is the furthest thing from the truth!” She says “I haven’t even officially started my new career but I’m so glad I decided to go, because I need to be here. And if I’m not here, then who’s going to be there to represent those clients who are often forgotten and people don’t really care about?”