1 Year Out is an interview series highlighting alumni from the class of 2014 who are engaged in public service, entrepreneurship, or nonprofit work in any capacity- through their employment, a volunteer position, or on the side.
I’m a rising 2L at UT Law. The pedagogy in law school is really weird, and definitely an abrupt transition after liberal arts heaven, but I’m learning a lot and I’m a part of some really neat organizations on campus.
How are you involved in public service, entrepreneurship, or nonprofit work?
I’m the Secretary of Texas Law Fellowships, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that sponsors public interest fellowships for UT Law students. I’m also one of the founding members of UT’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is an organization that unites lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers working to provide legal services to low-income and marginalized communities. At the end of this summer, I’ll be volunteering for the NLG responding to letters from incarcerated people seeking legal advice. I haven’t decided exactly where I want to be for next summer, but I’m applying to work at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Transgender Law Center, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (among other similarly-themed organizations). I also teach yoga to law students because we’re all so tense!
How did you get there?
I got the law school bug after reading Dean Spade’s Normal Life, which is still my bible, and watching my friends and partners go through some heinous, discriminatory BS, and feeling helpless. As Duncan Kennedy says in his super cynical and amazing essay about law school, I’m training myself to become “part technician, part judo expert” when it comes to the law; trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can so I can use it in service of vulnerable communities.
Describe a typical day at your position.
I’ll describe a typical day as a Wesleyan grad at law school in Texas: wake up, get mad about property law, savor your only theory class, lunch (BBQ), get mansplained at by a lawbro in torts class, write some angry tweets, commiserate with the 5 other commies in your year, do some homework, and then go to bed early cause it’s all happening again tomorrow!
How do your race, gender, class background, sexuality, and other identities factor into your work?
I try to stay accountable for being cis, white, and upper-middle class, especially since my career path involves working in solidarity with disenfranchised groups. When I’m not sitting down and shutting up, I’m usually yelling about rampant transmisogyny. For example: my girlfriend has been unemployed and applying to jobs for four months, and despite having 9+ years of sales experience, she keeps getting passed over as soon as they find out she’s trans. The overlap between my legal work and my “IRL” life is good because I feel kind of equipped to deal with it, but also frustrating because I never feel like I can do enough, especially since I’m not a real lawyer yet.
What is unexpectedly great about your job?
The legal field is not full of great people like Wes; you have to dig for the hidden gems. But once you find your people, it’s even more satisfying because you found love in a hopeless place, as they say.
What’s the hardest thing about your position that you’re willing to share?
I already talked about this a bit, but the hardest part is definitely feeling helpless while you’re still learning and establishing yourself, especially when you know you’re about to have the power to help people you love – but not quite yet. To mitigate that feeling, I try to do as much as I can right now, which is why I’m a little over-scheduled.
What are some characteristics that would make your type of work hard for someone?
I think anyone who is passionate about legal justice could do this sort of work in some capacity if they were provided with the opportunities necessary to get there. Unfortunately, there are so many obstacles blocking the way for the people who would probably make the best lawyers. For example, I’ve noticed a lot of the people working for these trans legal organizations are white and/or AFAB – and it makes sense, because trans women and QPOC have way less access to college, let alone law school.
Does the compensation you receive in this field meet your financial needs? If not, how do you make ends meet?
Lol!!! I’ll be fine; the biggest struggle is explaining to your parents why you’re turning down a potential 130k starting salary to do public interest work.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Keep reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. And choose the people you take advice from wisely.
Tell me about a time you felt really effective making change in the world.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like I’ve actually changed the world! But I do really enjoy the programs I’m working on with the student chapter of the NLG, e.g. training law students to be legal observers at protests.
What would you recommend to current students considering work like yours?
Go to law school in a blue state!
If Wes students or recent grads have questions about working in your field, could they contact you?
Yes, please! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a graduate of the Class of 2014 working in public service, entrepreneurship, or nonprofits and would like to be featured on the blog, please email me.