I’ve always been impressed and a bit jealous of people who know exactly what they want to do. A quick glance through the posts on this blog offers clear examples of this – law students who know that they want to be a prosecutor, a public defender, a member of the JAG corps, and so on and so forth. Such conviction and purpose is inspiring. Yet if my past is any indication, I probably won’t figure out what I want to be doing until I find myself doing and enjoying it.
Similar to many of the students who have already posted here, much of my work experience in the law has been with the Legal Aid Justice Center. I genuinely enjoy this work, as it has allowed me to provide a service to clients in need while allowing me opportunity after opportunity to develop my own skills, yet I had no idea prior to law school that this is something I would like.
The majority of my work at LAJC has been in the area of consumer law. If you had asked 0L Ryan whether he was interested in consumer law, his response would likely have been “What is that?” Once you explained it to him, his answer likely would have been a resolute, “No.” If you ask the current 2L Ryan whether he’s interested in consumer law, he’ll give an enthusiastic yes and then probably try and debate you about the FDCPA’s (Fair Debt Collections Practices Act) definition of “debt collector.” 2L Ryan is super fun at parties.
I came to law school to study national security law, yet my current path is leading me in a radically different direction. Plans change, and there’s power in being okay with that change. I didn’t plan on working in consumer law, but now I’m incredibly thankful that I applied for the internship that exposed me to that area of law and for the clinic work that allows me to continue serving clients. I also didn’t plan on interning at a big law firm, but that’s where I’m headed this summer. While service-minded folk debate the merits of spending time in big law, it’s a decision that ultimately you have to make for yourself.
The point here isn’t to convince you to study consumer law (but you should – it’s super cool) or to weigh in on the big law discussions. The point is to advocate for keeping an open mind. Have the conversations about alternate career paths, alternate courses, and alternative locations. Maybe you come out of the conversations with the same convictions you had going into them. Or maybe, if you’re anything like me, you’ll see merit in careers/courses/locations that you hadn’t previously considered. It all starts with a commitment to keeping an open mind, even if you feel like you’re surrounded by people who seem to have it all figured out.
Ryan Pavel is a 2L and is originally from a Chicago suburb. Ryan served in the Marine Corps and taught high school in Detroit prior to law school. These days, you can likely find Ryan wailin’ on bass as part of the law school cover band, Jefferson Clerkship.