Mahira Siddiqui

Know your law school; Love your law school

Once you know your law school, you’ll love your law school.

It’s 9:43 PM (PST) on a Wednesday night as I write this post. I just got off the phone with my Law Career Services counselor regarding a muddled cover letter in dire need of revamping. This man knows how badly I want to work at a particular legal aid organization here in San Francisco. Due to my manic schedule this semester, I wasn’t able to meet with him in person to discuss editing (read: rewriting) my cover letter. He generously offered an after-hours telephone appointment and assured me he would be able to talk once he put his kids to sleep after 9 PM.

We talked for about 30 minutes, he told me what he liked, what he didn’t like and what my letter was earnestly lacking: personality. He reassured me that I was qualified for the position, would excel if given the opportunity but I needed to show them why they should give me the opportunity. Although this is something seemingly obvious and regurgitated by many career counselors across the nation, it was the manner in which he presented this brutally honest feedback and the genuine belief in my capabilities he asserted in his voice. He wasn’t just telling me I could do better; he knew I could do better. After hanging up the phone it took a minute for me to register what actually happened.

Rewind to around 6:30 that evening. I vent to the law librarian who also happens to be my Advanced Legal Research professor regarding my feelings of incompetence after receiving my first research assignment on my first day at a personal injury firm. One of the partners asked me to identify any and all cases, in any jurisdiction applying federal, constitutional law, the duty of police officers to conduct a thorough search of arrestees for the arrestee’s protection; in other words, not simply a search for weapons that they might use against police or others, but for substances and objects that they could use to harm themselves. Nerve-wracking and terrifying, I know….but it gets better. Before I could complete that assignment, he asked me to explore whether the due process protections enjoyed by pretrial detainees also apply to arrestees before they have been brought to the prison? Naturally, I spent all day researching but to no avail. Oh, you tried researching it too? Yeah, told you.

After hearing a recount of the world’s-worst-first-day, my professor asked me a few follow up questions, went to his office to conduct his own research, and came back to tell me the exact same thing: he wasn’t successful. After my initial “But you’re supposed to find everything” reaction, I felt relieved that my research tactics and results (or lack thereof) weren’t abysmal. My professor told me that often times in practice we may not find a body of law on a particular issue and it’s okay to report that back to the partner. For nearly an hour this gracious man eased my feelings of hopelessness and recalled a few forlorn research incidents of his own, similar to my ‘zero hits’ scenario. It was a very gratifying meeting.

Rewind again…back to my first year: everyone told me I should transfer to a “better ranked” school to secure my chances of employment in a struggling market. With 20/20 hindsight I believe law school is what you make of it and who you meet along the way. However, somewhere in between briefing, outlining, IRACing, and the occasional breakdown or two, I seriously considered transferring, but in the end I couldn’t justify it to myself. I had good grades, knew the faculty, already made a great circle of friends, and I'm on a generous scholarship. Why should I leave?

I asked myself whether X-Law School would have all the great resources and connections I’ve sought out and established at Golden Gate University School of Law thus far. Would I have an open door policy with the Dean to discuss academia and avant-garde fashion? Would I be able to attend 3 dinner parties at the Dean’s house in addition to a brunch at the home of my Criminal Ethics Professor? Would I have been able to learn experiential, lawyering skills from a seasoned San Francisco Public Defender who also became my self-proclaimed “law school mom” and regularly checked up on me to see if I was eating right and sleeping well? Would I be able to casually drop-in to the Dean of Admissions office seeking advice for unique ways to network and get my name ‘out there’? Would I have met another mentor by complete happenstance to guide me throughout my first year and recently tell me that she’s excited to give me her bar prep outlines and binders, knowing I have two years ‘til that bridge is crossed? Lastly, would X-Law School be “better ranked” as one of the best public interest law schools in the nation like Golden Gate University School of Law?

I think you all know where I’m going and what the answer is but just to sound extra lawyerly I will conclude with: I rest my case.

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