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Find Satisfaction in the Law: A Lawyer and a Person

To be nobody-but-yourself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting - e.e. cummings

I am a 1995 graduate of the George Washington University National Law Center. Though the career path I have been following has been what many people would call "alternative," I know that no matter what I do for the rest of my life, I will always be a "lawyer."

Throughout history, "lawyers" have not solely been mouthpieces who stand up in court and argue for anyone who will pay them to do so. Lawyers have been writers and politicians, entrepreneurs and activists, teachers and parents. Yet we do not learn about these lawyers' lives in law school. In law school, we learn that in order to be worthwhile, we have to try to make it into the biggest, highest paying, and most "prestigious" firm that will take us. To do anything else is to fail. We buy into this myth and structure our lives around it. In doing this, we perpetuate the public image of lawyers as money-hungry slobs. We fail to serve those who need our bright minds. Most importantly, we betray ourselves, our true dreams, talents, and interests.

This column is the product of my own obsession with my decision to go to law school and its ramifications. However, I hope it will be a companion piece to "Find Satisfaction in the Law: Taking Control Over Your Career and Your Life." Ronald Fox and Mark Byers are advising you on how to become the best lawyer that you can be by becoming the best you that you can be. I want to thank them for giving me support and creative space. What I hope to write is my own story and the stories of lawyers in history, lawyers in literature, lawyers I have met who are doing interesting things.

I hope to explore similarity, the things that make us lawyers. For whatever reason you and I went to law school, for whatever reason we decided to step through the doors of our respective law schools, we will never be the same again. We all endured a grueling educational experience that was unlike any other previous academic or professional endeavor. We all gained certain skills and knowledge; we learned how society works and how to help ourselves and others survive in it by knowing its rules. Many of us also accumulated what feels like an insurmountable debt, a horrible financial burden that hangs over our heads and clouds our visions of what our lives can be.

More importantly, I hope to explore uniqueness. We are all individuals. We all have identities, though some of us have buried them under years of trying to win at the Lawyer Success Game. I am a writer and a teacher. Among my lawyer friends and mentors are a senator's aide, a medical student, a book translator, an executive director of a non-profit, and numerous public interest litigators, teachers, and activists.

In the last four years, I worked in a congressional office and on a local political campaign, got published in a policy journal, attended preparatory meetings at the UN for an international conference, did "undercover filming" with the crew of a national TV news magazine, helped get a non-profit program off the ground, and mentored lots of young people, encouraging them to pursue meaningful careers. None of these activities required a law degree, yet I know that my law school education had a profound effect on what I did and how I did it.

Who are you? I am a 27-year-old woman. I come from a middle class family. My father is an elementary school teacher. My mother is a homemaker who used to have her own business. I have two brothers who are twins. I am very close to my family. I grew up in Staten Island, a borough of New York City. My family is of Italian and German descent. I was brought up Roman Catholic, questioned my faith as a teenager and college student, and am now working on strengthening a spirituality grounded in my Catholic faith but influenced by other religions and philosophies.

I have been a writer since I could hold a pen. I have written poetry and journals since I was thirteen, and I enjoy academic and professional writing too.

When I was in high school, my "good subjects" were English, History, and Spanish. I went to a state college in New York's capital, and studied Political Science and History. Between college and law school, I worked for a two-attorney, people-centered real estate firm. I went to law school in DC because I thought that I could influence policy and make a difference.

While I was in law school, I shared many wonderful moments with a man who I will soon marry. He is now studying to be a high school Social Studies teacher. Though I never felt really comfortable with all of my classmates, I did make some dear friends in law school. I lived ten blocks from the White House and took advantage of everything that DC had to offer.

In order to be with my true love and my family, I left my job at a non-profit in DC and got a new job at a non-profit in New York. I am in the process of planning a wedding. In my spare time, I like to learn about history, listen to music, make jewelry out of beads, and take long walks to ponds where there are geese and ducks.

I have no idea who I am going to be next. I am constantly redefining myself. This is sometimes scary in the face of overwhelming debt. Yet in my heart I feel that I alone know the right road for me. I can ask advice and learn from others, but I will never be happy living someone else's life. I have to be Terri, a lawyer and a person.

Courtesy of Terri Lynn Eberle.

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