Yesterday when I was leaving my clinical office, I rode down on the elevator with my supervising attorney and another attorney from the office. They were leaving for the day, and I was headed home to continue work on my giant research paper and to cram for my final on Friday. I looked at them chit-chatting and said, "I'm so jealous of you guys. You don't have finals to study for."
They laughed. Scoffed, more like it. Their workload is so immense, and the consequences for not doing their best work far exceeds mine. When they screw up on a deadline, their clients get deported. When I screw up, I get half a letter grade off. It reminds me of what an attorney I know said to me during the very first week of law school: "Law school isn't hard. Being a lawyer is hard."
Of course, I'm still riddled with anxiety over this paper and my exams, and the few cases from clinic that I still have to finish before I go. And the loose ends that must be tied up here and there (and everywhere) before I can graduate. I'm still paranoid that something will happen at the last minute and I won't be allowed to walk across that stage. Even thinking about it to type this short paragraph makes my heart quicken with nerves.
But I'm putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that it will work out. I've been given a lot of support from friends and family, who remember a similar panic from when I was wrapping up undergrad eight (EIGHT?!) years ago. It's their encouragement that gives me strength, and their advice rings in my ears as I try to just get it done.
Yesterday a client came to my neighborhood to drop off a critical document we needed for deadline. I met her in the parking lot of the convenience store by my house. When I got there, she was standing outside smoking with her sister. As we talked, they both drilled me with questions about the process of getting her immigration relief. How long will she have to wait to hear back? What happens next? Who will guide her through the process? Will my organization still be her attorney after I leave? When can she work? And the hardest question of all: What do I think the outcome of her case will be? I tried to give her the best answers I knew off the top of my head, crafting responses that would make sense with her limited English and that would give her the confidence to be a good witness without creating false expectations about the certainty of a positive outcome.
Then I got the best encouragement I've received so far. My client's sister, who herself has an attorney and has dealt with many through her family, said that I would make a great lawyer. She praised my ability to explain things to them in terms they understood, and said she really appreciated that I hadn't lost sight of her sister's humanity. Really. That's what she said. After we said goodbye, I went back to my apartment smiling. If I get my law degree, and if I become a lawyer, it will be thanks to the inspiration of people like my client's family, and all the immigrant families I've known who have fought to put down roots in their communities, sometimes despite the quite hostile terrain. And in the end, no matter how hard it gets, I'll try to remember that I've got it pretty good.
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