Emily Snider

The Power of One

The more experience I had consciously trying to "change" things, the more I realized that in order to affect big changes, a person simply needs to take individual action. My individual action, I decided, was to become a lawyer.

I think a lot of women learn from their mothers how to behave in the world. Sometimes we learn from talking, sometimes from just watching. My mother was a woman who made her own decisions. She didn't make a big fuss about something before she did it. She would think about something, make a decision, and act. When I was in the fifth grade, she opened her own restaurant. It was something she had dreamed about for a long time. She took her time raising me and my two younger sisters and when she was ready, she rented a space, bought the equipment, hired one person to help her, and within two months, she was in business.

My mother set the example of a woman who worked to achieve what she wanted--something I admired too much to disregard. Because of her, I have wanted to be powerful and in control of my own life. I want to make a positive impact on the world through my own decisive actions and lead by example.

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time doing activist work for battered women and victims of sexual abuse. The group that I co-chaired was called Advocates for Sexual Assault Prevention and we spent most of our time campaigning to raise money for the local rape crisis center and raising awareness in the community. My favorite part of the job was meeting with victims and talking to them--not necessarily about their trauma, but about anything. I would talk about family with victims in the waiting room at the rape crisis center, or talk about the holidays, or movies, or the importance of being around people who love you.

Although people generally accept that life is harder for those who live at the poverty line, working with victims of domestic violence confirmed this proposition for me. Poor women feel helpless beyond even their reality because they are constantly worried that any steps they take to help themselves will cost more money that they don't have. They are wary of disrupting personal relationships that they rely on, even if those relationships are unhealthy. Providing free and confidential assistance to these women was so rewarding because I was able to help give them something they thought was impossible to have. I decided then that I wanted to be an advocate for people who, for one reason or another, don't always have the power to help themselves.

My last summer in college I spent in Germany working in an Equal Opportunities office, performing client intakes and conducting research on abortion rights by interviewing women who worked in clinics and reading as much about it as I could find in the city library. My coworkers, a group of middle-aged German women who were very devoted to women's rights, also taught me a lot about the subtle differences between the rights of American and European women. Because European welfare systems are larger than those in America, more change can be affected through social workers and governmental entities without involving lawyers to sort through everything. Sometimes these agencies don't function as efficiently as they need to, however, to help all the people they were intended to serve.

My last semester of college I volunteered for a nonprofit organization that attempted to "network" around progressive issues in order to affect political change. It was a frustrating experience because it seemed that nothing ever got done. Most of what we did was keep records of what we had "accomplished" in order to apply for grants to get the funding to start the whole process all over again.

Something felt wrong; I wasn't using the advice that my mother had unwittingly taught me. It was increasingly difficult to see how soliciting a verbal commitment to "support" our organization was contributing to any positive changes that our organization advocated. The more experience I had consciously trying to "change" things, the more I realized that in order to affect big changes, a person simply needs to take individual action. My individual action, I decided, was to become a lawyer.

The community of lawyers is a privileged one, but it is also full of responsibility. As self-governed officer of the court, a lawyer must put the client above herself at all times and stay within the bounds of legality. I want to be a lawyer who works for her clients rather than for herself. I also enjoy being in charge of my own actions. My first year of law school has left me with a very individualistic approach toward my own future. When a group of students cheated on an open-book exam, I had to have the integrity to look the other way, to simply do my own work and be satisfied that my work would be enough to move me forward.

I have experienced some sexism in school. Women are discouraged from wearing pants rather than skirts in a courtroom setting because skirts are expected. I noticed that some of my older male professors called almost exclusively on male students, and yet I still raised my hand. It seems that women have a harder time than men achieving prominent success in the job world--just look at the Supreme Court. I am confident, however, that this will change.

My criminal law professor made a big impression on me. She sat on the judge panel for an oral argument I gave, representing a hypothetical criminal defendant. Her advice afterward was this: especially as a woman, she said, always look people straight in the eye. Be direct, don't falter, and people will listen to what you have to say.

I have used this advice this summer working for the Public Defender Service, helping the representation of indigent people who are accused of crimes. In the field, I have to speak with all kinds of people, which is always something I have always enjoyed. But now my work has a purpose; now the people listen.

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