By Katherine MacRae • January 05, 2017•Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
Entering my final semester of law school, I am caught in the somewhat surreal limbo between “real life” legal practice and the legal academic setting. It can be unsettling at times, knowing that I am close to being able to make an impact on individuals’ lives in a very real way and feeling as if that moment is too much for one person. Law school was pleasantly and unexpectedly enjoyable—of course exams and the stresses of law school we could all do without—but I have thrived on the intellectual challenges of law school which suit my philosophy background. What I did not expect was enjoying an area of the law that I thought I would never find interesting: criminal law.
Starting law school, I was sure that I would not want to practice criminal law because of the very real, very frightening consequences of individuals’ liberty in my hands. The stakes seemed too high and too real for a former philosophy student to handle outside of an abstract setting. It was my first year criminal law professor who gave me the sage advice that you can do more good in the world as a prosecutor than as a defense attorney. Just to be clear, he also emphasized that defense attorneys are vital to the justice system’s balance, but his point was that prosecutors, with their discretion, can exercise justice at every step of the process.
I did not expect to enjoy working as a student attorney in a District Attorney’s office. I have enjoyed being in court, grappling with tough facts and legal questions, questions that often come down to what we as a society expect from others and what our criminal justice system should look like. The high stakes of criminal law have gone from an abstract concept that carries too high a burden, to something that I take very seriously and, hopefully, will make me a better attorney. I strive to never forget the humanity of people, regardless of labels attached by society, and to remember that the outcomes of being involved in the criminal justice system are very real. I don't know if I want to practice criminal law after graduation, but what I do know is that by embracing the unexpected I have learned that being uncomfortable can push you to be a better and more compassionate attorney.