One of the most exciting and overwhelming aspects of public service is that there are so many different career paths to explore. While many of my peers in public service pursued laudable careers in prosecution and public defense, I sought out less traditional experiences. Though choosing less common paths can be risky, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Throughout my experiences working in the policy and non-profit sectors, I’ve learned that taking the road less traveled shows you the many worthwhile ways to use your law degree.
My first non-traditional lawyering experience was my summer internship with Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ rights impact litigation group. In that capacity, I drafted complaints on behalf of LGBTQ youth in the Texas foster care system, prepared pleadings for an HIV discrimination case, and wrote memoranda on issues of transition-related care in prison. My favorite assignment was drafting a portion of a brief arguing for the recognition of the fundamental right to define and express one’s gender identity. That was truly a surreal experience because I got to work alongside those who wrote the briefs for Lawrence v. Texas and use their work to continue advocating for fundamental rights.
The most rewarding part of the summer was marching with Lambda Legal in the New York City Pride Parade. It is easy to get caught up in the legal aspects of the job and lose sight of the real, human impact of our work. However, Pride was a moving reminder of how important our fight is. When we would turn a corner in the parade route, the crowd would see the Lambda Legal signs and start cheering “thank you!” Knowing that my work could make even a small impact in these people’s lives was immeasurably meaningful.
During my 3L fall, I served as a law clerk for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee. This position gave me the opportunity to work on the issues I care about from a policy perspective. This vantage point was unique because I could take steps to prevent harm to vulnerable communities on the front end instead of serving as an advocate after the problem occurred. For example, I deeply care about the issue of human trafficking. When I interned for a U.S. Attorney’s Office, I did rewarding work on human trafficking cases, but the damage had already been done to the victims. Approaching this issue from a policy perspective gave me hope that our work could prevent human trafficking before it occurred by legislating on some of the root causes. Using the law to proactively address social justice problems was my reason for coming to law school, and my time in the Senate allowed me to contribute in that way.
So take a risk on non-traditional lawyering. It is both challenging and deeply satisfying, and I promise it will be worth it.
Cassondra (Cj) Murphy is a third-year law student from Syracuse, New York. She attended American University, majoring in CLEG—communications, legal studies, economics and government. Cj spent her 1L summer at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria and her 2L summer at Lambda Legal. She recently completed an externship with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee her 3L fall. After graduation, Cj plans to return to Washington, D.C. to work in the federal government or for a non-profit.