Initially undeclared. When I started college, I would have never thought that I would decide to pursue law. I attend UC Riverside and began school with an undeclared major. During my first year, I took a sociology class and was stunned by the material about inequalities between race, class, and gender. Learning these things made me think about what career path I wanted to pursue. I knew that I wanted to help people, especially those in the least advantaged positions. However, I also knew that I wanted to have a stable career and be able to support my family and myself. The field of law seemed like a perfect fit. Lawyers are able to affect change but still make a good living. I started researching different fields of law and initially civil rights and public interest caught my attention. I decided to add the Law and Society track to my major.
Strengths and weaknesses. Self-motivation is undoubtedly my biggest strength. I am not the type of student to understand course material the first time it is presented. I learn best through repetition, asking questions, and active participation in class. My grades and GPA reflect my hard work and discipline. I am usually up by 5:00 AM on most days in order to study. I’ve realized that there is always something to do, even if there is nothing assigned. Another reason my GPA is a huge priority is because I don’t perform well on standardized tests. Yet the LSAT is weighted so heavily in the law school admissions process. So I realized early on that I needed to work hard to maintain a high college GPA to be a competitive applicant.
Feeling lost. I don’t have family members who are lawyers. The typical image I’ve had of a lawyer was a white male of a high-class and status. I fit none of these criteria as a black woman coming from a middle-income family. Also, in speaking with my friends who were also thinking about pursuing law, we realized there weren’t any programs on campus geared towards helping students of color get into law. We found this extremely problematic. As we talked about our hesitations and fears about law school, we discovered we all had similar concerns. Some of the issues we discussed included how we could afford law school, how the application process works, and what type of applicants law schools are looking for and if we can meet that criteria. We realized we had to figure out the answers to these questions on our own. We decided we should do something about it. We founded Black Student Law Association in our Winter Quarter of 2015.
Black Student Law Association, 2015-16Photo courtesy of N. Martin.
Reaching out and Getting Connected. In both 2015 and 2016, Black Student Law Association coordinated and hosted events with the lawyers of the Richard T. Fields Bar Association. These events included a panel of African-American attorneys who shared advice and their experiences in law school and as practicing attorneys. We had prize giveaways at the events, which allowed some students to receive LSAT books and a free LSAT prep courses. In my view, extracurricular activities and leadership roles during college are not just recommended; they are necessary. I think that being involved on campus not only contributes to one’s undergrad experience, but also teaches students valuable skills, improves their leadership, and enhances their creative thinking. It certainly has for me.
Looking forward. Although I feel confident that I will complete law school and become a lawyer, I still have doubts and fears about the process. I am nervous about taking the LSAT. I am also still in the process of figuring out what to do in my gap year between graduation and beginning law school. I hope to gain legal experience by working or interning in a law firm. However, several of these positions want years of legal experience, or experience working as a paralegal, which makes finding a legal job difficult for a recent graduate. Despite these challenges, I will keep working towards my goals of becoming a lawyer and will stay focused and open-minded.
Photo courtesy of N. Martin.