Please welcome guest blogger Greg Reed, ’06
to our Fords on Friday series. Thank you, Greg!
I graduated in May 2013 and since September of that year I have worked as an attorney at the most unique, and arguably one of the most prestigious, law firms in the United States. Its distinction is not defined by its success – although losses are rare – nor by its ground-breaking constitutional litigation – although it regularly appears before the highest courts of the country – but rather by its approach to client advocacy and its belief in legal entrepreneurship. More on this subject anon.
If you decide to attend law school (perhaps you are already reading this among law library shelves), you will inevitably find yourself among classmates representing the full spectrum of legal-profession ambitions. By some measure, there is nothing you can’t do, and no industry you can’t work in, if you obtain a law degree. Beyond the dichotomy of transactional and litigating attorneys – law degrees are used to justify careers in policy analysis, property development, government lobbying, and over the past few years, bartending, to name a few. These professional choices are often presented to law students as predetermined career paths, as if law school is the start of a choose-your-own-adventure paperback novel. In this conventional scenario the classes you choose, the extra-curriculars that overload your schedule, and how you spend your summers set you on an established course with an inevitable destination whether or not you’ve thought that far ahead.
In reality, you are the author of your own story. The diversity of interests and professional ambitions represented by your classmates is reflective of the endless possibilities your career presents. Regardless of the raging debate over the value of a law degree, upon graduation you are in fact equipped with knowledge and skills that transcend nearly all other disciplines. Add intelligence, which Fords have in spades, and the future is yours to write. With such an opportunity, what a waste it would be to look up from your desk in 30 years and wonder when exactly you decided to live another’s idea of a proper career. If you are conscious of the journey you are about to take, you’ll find the only limitation is the amount of time there is in a day.
I share this advice with you, imploration really, from my desk at the Institute for Justice, a pro bono civil liberties law firm that defends individuals’ most basic rights from government abuse. What makes IJ so unique is the manner in which it pursues its mission. For twenty-three years, IJ has been battling decades of precedent that have allowed the government to regularly, arbitrarily, and easily violate individual liberty. For example, are you aware that under current 5th Amendment precedent government can seize your home and transfer it to a private multinational corporation for office space? IJ argued against such abuse before the US Supreme Court and led a reform movement that reached 48 states. And are you aware that many cities, including Philadelphia, prevent food-truck vendors from parking within a couple hundred feet of restaurants or require them to be hailed like taxis, solely to protect certain established interests? IJ has won cases all over the country to enable small business owners an opportunity to compete with exciting cuisine options at affordable prices. Not only does IJ litigate in the court of law, it also litigates in the court of public opinion. Its work has been featured in nearly every major media outlet and its creative, fun videos are award-winning.
When the Institute for Justice started it had only two attorneys and very few believers. But from the beginning the founders decided that they would not let other people define what was possible. Today, IJ has six offices around the country, over 60 employees, and 30 attorneys. IJ’s entrepreneurial commitment is also what enables new attorneys to find, develop, and litigate their own cases. This is the same opportunity that every law school graduate has. Perhaps you will not start your own civil liberties law firm, but you will undoubtedly be presented with numerous opportunities — and countless more if you are looking — to pursue your passions. Maybe it will be in a pro bono case you find while billing hours at a firm. Perhaps it will be in after-hours charitable legal work for military service members who need guidance in drafting a will. Or maybe you will lobby your representatives for better government. The point is, no matter what you do with your law degree, there are endless possibilities that will enrich your life and the lives those around you. In the end a law degree provides you choices; don’t limit yourself only to one.
Greg Reed graduated from Haverford in 2006.
He graduated from American University Washington College of Law in 2013. He is an attorney for the Institute for Justice and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can meet Greg during the annual
Careers in Law Alumni Panel on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.