I woke up particularly early this morning, and I was surprisingly reflective (given how very early it was). “It’s sunny,” I thought. “I’m back in the East Bay,” I thought. “I’m doing exactly what I want to do,” I thought.
But to be honest, working full time for a nonprofit law center and reading the law outside of law school was not what I was planning to do with my life. A year ago, I was on track for graduate school. Like a lot of young college grads, I was following “The Plan,” which is to spend 4-10 more years in yet another school program, rack up debt, and wait for a degree before I could do the things I wanted to do.
Why was I so set on graduate school? I was following The Plan, certainly, but I had three other good reasons. Reason #1: I love to learn. Reason #2: Watching my dad teach and seeing the impact he has on his students’ lives proved how powerful teaching could be. Reason #3: Teaching my own student-led course when I was a student at UC Berkeley made me realize that I also love to teach.
But over the course of the last year, I realized that going to graduate school is not the only way to continue learning, and being a professor is not the only way to make a positive impact, or even the only way to teach. When presented with the opportunity to become a lawyer without going to law school, I decided to take it. Here’s how it happened:
I completed my UC Berkeley undergrad program in 2011, and near the end of that year, began doing volunteer urban agriculture research for the Sustainable Economies Law Center. It was a way to continue learning about sustainable food systems and sustainable city planning and strengthen my research skills for the Masters/PhD program ahead. Working with almost a dozen other researchers, I coordinated the creation of UrbanAgLaw.org — SELC’s online legal resource library for urban farming. At the time, SELC was just Janelle Orsi and Christina Oatfield, and I loved SELC, and SELC loved me, so I was hired as the third staff member. “Awesome!” I thought, “I can continue working with the coolest organization and co-workers on earth while I also save up for grad school.” …Little did I know…
On July 25, 2012, The Plan was turned on its head. The three of us were sitting in a staff meeting, and I took the opportunity to mention that I wanted to take a little time off work to finish applying to schools. I’ll always remember Janelle’s response to this. She said, “Well, how about instead of going to grad school, you keep working at SELC and do a legal apprenticeship with me?
I don’t remember what I said, but I probably laughed and we moved on with the meeting. But something about what she said stuck, namely the notion of NOT going back to school, ever. That night I spent hours writing down the pros and cons of grad school versus legal apprenticeship. I went through everything — from what would best position me to change the world, down to where I want to live for the next four years. I will share (most) of this list in my next post because I think it will help (derail) talented and driven individuals who are also following The Plan.
The next morning I sat down with Janelle to ask her a few questions. The one that made my decision was this on: “Janelle, you studied at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School — one of the best in the world. If you knew about the legal apprenticeship option back then, would you still have gone to Boalt or would you have apprenticed?”
She said she would have apprenticed.
I said I was in.
And here I am: exactly where I want to be.