Hannah Barton is a junior at Northwestern University and was a summer intern at the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. She is also considering a career as an attorney. In this series, Hannah interviewed 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
Sean Hickey is a rising 2L at Boston University School of Law, and received a dual degree in Economics and Math from Northeastern University. Although he started down a career path in data analytics, he felt that he was more suited to the interactive aspects of being a lawyer. While in college, he had an internship with a law firm in Boston, during which he was able to work with an attorney on a pro bono asylum case for a gay man from Uganda. Hickey describes the moment in court when the man was granted asylum: “I’ll just never forget the look on the man’s face who, in probably two months of prep, never made eye contact with me. That day he made eye contact with me when he said thank you. And for me, that was that was it. That was the big thing that made me go to law school.”
“Law school is not built for minorities in any way, shape, or form”– Sean Hickey
The idea of helping people, as well as actually learning the law, are Hickey’s favorite parts of law school. “The first year just takes your brain and it puts it in a blender. And then it puts it in a nice little mold, and then they bake it… And I just thoroughly enjoyed the process of learning not only the law, but how to think about the law,” he explains. This objective way of thinking is useful when it comes to problem solving, yet Hickey recognizes its faults: “There’s this conception of law as impartial by its nature. But in reality, that’s actually not true at all. It’s not the objective perspective. It’s the white male perspective. And I think that that makes being in the law school classroom so much more difficult for anyone who doesn’t fit into that white male space.” As a Black man, Hickey was surprised by the amount of inequity present in the legal profession, especially since the law is such a backbone of society. He says “the barriers to entry for law school and the elitism of the legal profession really shocked me. It is just so much more difficult for people who come from underprivileged backgrounds to get to law school in the first place. And then once they get there, law school is not built for minorities in any way, shape, or form. It just is not.” Although this inequity is unfortunately present in much of American society, Hickey says it was much more apparent in law school: “I went to a predominantly white institution for college and have been navigating white spaces my whole life, and law school is the biggest, biggest, most viscous white space I’ve ever had to claw my way through before.”
Since the murder of George Floyd, there has definitely been more effort put towards diversity in the legal profession, but it is unclear whether or not there will actually be a change 10 years down the line. Hickey explains that “as it stands right now, most big law firms you’re going to look at, the entire partnership is white, or majority white.” Developing a system in which minority candidates are hired and eventually become partners will take time, so it is something law firms have to make a long term commitment to. Hickey describes it as not just a goal, but a journey: “A lot of law firms are recruiting minority students out of law school specifically only through diversity recruitment initiatives. What firms really need to be doing is reexamining their on campus interview practices and figuring out what it is in their list of criteria that is making the hires out of OCI overwhelmingly white.” Hickey says the amount of talented and qualified Black law students is constantly growing, yet “the numbers don’t really add up as far as the recruitment outcomes versus where the talent is available.” Therefore, only opening a couple more spots in a diversity fellowship won’t change the fact that all of the other associates hired on campus are white.
While Hickey understands why it is important for people from underprivileged backgrounds to find opportunities wherever they can, he personally does not feel comfortable going into a firm with an obvious lack of diversity. Due to the long hours and hard work, the culture of a law firm is extremely important to the happiness of lawyers, and if you are surrounded by people who can’t relate to you, it’s not worth it. As president of the Latin American Law Student Association and a member of the Black Law Student Association, he values being able to have a community of people who can share his experiences and who he can lean on when it gets hard. Therefore, the fostering of environments like this in a firm is very important. “I’m not particularly interested in working in a place with a very cutthroat reputation. I’m interested in working in a place where collegiality is fostered and focused on, and where people have lives that aren’t the law,” he says. On top of looking at diversity, Hickey likes to talk to junior associates and mid level associates to understand how they are treated by the firm and how they have gotten to where they are.
Hickey recommends taking the time to make the decision about law school instead of rushing into it: “I think we in America are just so obsessed with this concept of our career and getting it started as soon as possible. As someone who fell prey to that, I think I reject that notion at this point.” One should really take into account the commitment of time and money that is involved in law school, and to be ready for the learning curve. One thing that Hickey wishes he had done 1L year was to set aside time for his hobbies, which quickly got lost among the other responsibilities of school. However, despite all of the hard work, Hickey affirms “I as much as I hate law school, which I do, I also love it.”