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How do you know if becoming a civil rights lawyer for you?

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3 answers

Kim’s Answer

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Hi Kabba!

I am not an attorney. My life took me in a different direction. I was represented by a nationally-acclaimed Civil Rights Attorney in an Employment Law Lawsuit. After my case settled, I started doing some freelance work, first for him, then for other Civil Rights attorneys. I want to tell you a little about the work. It is hard. Very hard. And, potentially rewarding. I say "potentially" because, results vary by state. While it is common to lose the case at the first level, the real work often happens at the appellate level. And, it is usually tried in Federal Court. So, there are several appellate courts in the country. Living in San Antonio, our Federal Appellate Court is the 5th Circuit, and, it is in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the 5th Circuit doesn't allow too many "wins" for the victims. So, attorneys have to handle a lot of rejection. A lot. California is a different circuit, and, victims do better in its appellate court.

So, how do you know if it's for you? Are you persistent? Do you wake up at 2 am with a thought in your head, and get up and work on it for the next three hours? (Like, a sudden inspiration on how to write a term paper, for example?) Does being told "it can't be done" make you quit or make you try harder? Do you like to research and write? Do you feel it "calling" you? Does injustice tear at your heart? Do you always want to know more, have unanswered questions? Are you driven? Can you handle loss, after loss, after loss, and still be motivated to keep going? Can you handle seeing photos of people bruised and bleeding, videos of them being shot to death, etc, without letting it get to you emotionally (you will hopefully learn to "compartmentalize." - that is a coping skill. Google it, I am not good at explaining it.)

There are interludes of excitement. Finding the one document that proves a point you are trying to make, getting a ruling in your favor, things like that. It's just they don't come very often.

If you continue along this path. . . thank you!!! Keep in mind you will need to do something else to pay the bills while your cases work their way through court for years. My attorney does immigration law, taking assigned cases from the courts.

Also, and here is the best news yet: There is an organization called the National Police Accountability Project. They deal with, yes, Police officers abusing peoples' Civil Rights. I belonged to it for a while. It is AWESOME! It is a group of attorneys who actually share their research and writing with each other! It will save you a lot of time! And, they discuss their cases with each other, and help each other out. It is a very active organization, and, I was really surprised to see how much they did for each other! Here is the link: https://www.nlg-npap.org/

There are some really bad things going on out there, and the victims definitely need help. There are actually a couple of former cops in NPAP. They actually went to law school and became attorneys. Great guys!

I apologize if this sounds too negative. The reality of it is extremely harsh. Feel free to ask questions, and, I will do the best I can to answer them, from my limited experience working on these cases. Also, I don't know if you can do this or not, given privacy concerns, but you might want to try to shadow or at least meet with the local Legal Aid office. Most of what they handle will be lower level cases, divorce, eviction, etc., but it will give you a feel for the plight of the less fortunate members of our communities. https://legalaidofsb.org/
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Angie’s Answer

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I agree that interning or shadowing gives a perspective regarding what the job entails. This might sound weird, but go sit in a court room and observe. There's a lot to see in these buildings on how court rooms work, court protocol, proceedings, etc. Ride along with law enforcement is a foot in the door to meeting ppl and navigating your way through the Justice system. In your travels if you haven't waivered in your desire to keep pursuing this goal... Then you'll know. Best regards!
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Kinda’s Answer

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Hello, Kabba!

I am currently a senior in college, and I also have thought about pursuing a career in civil rights law. I would say the single most valuable thing that has helped me navigate the direction I want to take is: interning. Interning can be a great way to get a first-hand look at what the profession is really like. Before partaking in an internship, most of the information I had on going into law was obtained through the internet. While the internet can be a great source of information, I found that it was even more helpful to talk to actual lawyers and get a better perspective. Another great idea would be to take classes pertaining to your interests. If you're in college and have the opportunity to take electives, use that opportunity to explore. Not only will you learn if it's right for you, you can also form great relationships with the professors of those courses. Professors often have an abundance of knowledge that they would be more than willing to share with you! Good luck!
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