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Career Story: Lawyer In A Public Interest Law Firm

Lawyer In A Public Interest Law Firm

Job Title: Lawyer

Type of Company: I work for a law office that does public interest work for poor people, primarily. Our mission is to protect housing and public benefits for the underserved.

Education: BA, English, Tufts University •• JD, University of Connecticut School of Law

Previous Experience: Right after college, I worked as an editorial assistant/secretary at Architectural Record for the managing editor for about 6 months. Then I didn't work again until my children were 8 and 10 and I had graduated from law school.

Job Tasks: Most days, I have to be in housing court or at a welfare fair hearing or at a Social Security hearing in the morning. In the afternoon, I may have a welfare fair hearing, but most often I am meeting with clients to learn about their problems, telephoning or writing to my clients' adversaries or other advocates who are working with them, or drafting pleadings (complaints, answers, motions) and briefs (essays about the laws I want the courts to consider in deciding my clients' cases). Of course, some time is given to preparing evidence for hearings and trials. In addition, I am a supervisor of the two units of my program that serve senior citizens and mentally ill citizens of our county. I consult with the junior attorneys in those units about their case plans and what is happening in their cases, guiding their research and strategies.

An example of a recent case is that of an elderly woman who failed to pay her rent for two months and lives in housing for the elderly. The housing program sued her in court, and she did not understand that she could lose her home if she did not pay the back rent. Before we knew about the case, the landlord had a judgment against her and the sheriff had removed her from her apartment. We went into court and had the court order that she could move back, provided the money owed was paid. We sent her to the welfare department, which paid the back money, and she has moved back to her apartment. In the future, her son will help her make sure the rent is paid on time.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is helping people deal with difficult and discouraging situations. I also enjoy exploring new legal theories and writing persuasive pleadings and briefs for the court.

The worst part of the job is that sometimes clients are urgently in need of help -- about to lose their homes or electricity or custody of their children -- so that I worry a lot about the people I'm trying to help. Also, I don't enjoy arguing in court!

Job Tips: There are lots of ways of being a good lawyer. Some lawyers don't enjoy writing, some don't enjoy the adversarial atmosphere of courts, and some especially enjoy political opportunities. Find the niche that's best for you, with your talents and personality.

Law is usually a very social career. You have to be careful about your manners, your appearance, and being well-prepared for the interactions a case or project requires. Generally speaking, clients, other lawyers, and judges don't expect a casual approach to the business.

Always remember the importance of client confidentiality. Don't discuss a case with someone not associated with it by naming the client or giving enough information that the client's identity can be discerned by the other person.

Additional Thoughts: Most lawyers have to handle many cases at the same time. Organizing the use of your time will be very important.

Another thing you will learn over time is that some cases are decided on the basis of a strict application of a law and some depend on whether or not a person's objective appears more fair and reasonable to the judge than his opponent's. Of course, you always try to bring to the judge's attention the special needs and hardships of your client whenever you can, even when the right legal outcome seems not to favor your client. Judges can often give losing parties a little leeway for adjusting to undesirable results.

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