This is supposed to be about sharing the stories of the low income, vulnerable and elderly clients whom I serve on a daily basis. This is supposed to be about the days when I cannot bear to leave the office because I have so many client cases to tend to. She told me “!Gracias, que Dios me la bendiga!” (“Thank you and may God bless you!”) This after not having had regular use of gas to cook and heat her home for nearly two weeks, despite our advocacy and assistance. But she thanks me anyway because that is who she is. He emails me incessantly about his sister’s Social Security case. And as frustrating as it is, I know they are desperately in need of her income. She has not had any for nearly a year, before reaching out to us. And today I met another client, this one with a monthly income of $400.00 from Social Security, desperately seeking any boost in income or resources that he may be eligible for after a lifetime of working in this country, he is entitled to this meager retirement based on a lifetime of working low paying jobs. Despite this incredibly low income, this proud man, recently naturalized as a PROUD United State citizen, sends money to his country of birth, each month to his disabled wife who is too sick to travel and cannot afford medical care. He came to our office seeking an increase in his income so that he can afford to send more money to his disabled wife. I shake my head as I even bear to write these things.
My student loan monsters are keeping me up at night again. And the articles that I link to below are not helping. Comparing a lawyer to her homeless clients and calling her better off, does not help. I understand that there is no set of circumstances that could put me in a position in greater need than the needs of my clients. I understand there are human rights violations taking place across the globe and in our backyard in our Nation’s own courtrooms, grocery aisles, schools and parks, civil and human rights are denied on a regular and unfortunate basis. And yet, we must do a better job here of conquering the law school loan debacle and the current law school financing method.
Student loan debt forces poverty lawyers and advocates into jobs that are not why they went to law school. So many people, especially minorities including women and people of color, people living with disabilities, people from diverse and rural backgrounds, so many people went to law school to bridge that justice gap. We want low income and older people as well as people traditionally underrepresented in society to have their voices heard. We know the value of letting the voiceless finally be heard. And yet, despite my parents having grown up in American poverty and being very, very proud of what I do, I hear them constantly encouraging me to move forward to a job that pays a better wage for me.
I practice law in a meaningful way that allows me to represent vulnerable clients who are often in crises. This job is tasking, trying, challenging, overwhelming and exhausting. And it is rewarding, filled with joy and the only thing that I can think could make me proud to call myself an attorney. But too many lawyers like me are enticed away from the work we chose to do, work that motivates and infuriates us at the same time, because the loans we accepted in exchange for the tools to practice are so high that we cannot live comfortably within the demands of this job on the salaries we take and given the obligations we have at this stage in our lives.
Many of my peers and friends are in similar boats. First in your family to go to college. Or first in your family to go to law school. Only lawyer in the family. Only person in your family to ever leave your home state. These circumstances, among others, placed us perhaps at a disadvantage when we took our undergraduate educations on or when we embarked on the exciting adventure that is preparation for the Law school admittance exam (LSAT). Some of us worked while we were in law school or were on food stamps and Medicaid while in law school. And yet, we finished. We passed our bar exams. We ‘made it’. Now we want to and look forward to and feel compelled to serve our communities by representing clients who are in dire circumstances that require the help of an attorney just like us. Someone who knows where they are coming from. Someone who can advise them with sincerity, represent them with integrity and treat them with respect.
Now I just wish we could figure out a way to ensure top notch legal education for folks who like me, may have worked several jobs during college and while preparing for the LSAT and who may not have been accepted to traditional schools or awarded the best scholarship. Folks like me, want to help those clients who remind us of our grandmother who lives in public housing who cannot read or write or our parents who grew up standing in line for the one Salvation Army toy at Christmas, our teachers and leaders who marched in the Civil Rights movement or our Aunt who burned her bra for women’s rights or our friend who protested the KKK or our family members who proudly served our country. We all want to do our part to make our loved ones proud and to serve our community and those folks traditionally without a voice–we want to help them be heard, we just need some help along the way.
What do we want?????
A revolution in the way we finance education in this country.
When do we want it? NOW!!!!!