I came to law school hoping that I would be thinking about privilege and its role in the law or that we would discuss how law has aided in oppressing various groups. But very quickly, I found the focus to be on grades, case law, and rote memorization. The Racial Justice Leadership Institute (RJLI) changed that for me and I know I will be a better lawyer and advocate because of the program.
Clients are this amorphous idea in law school. We hardly discuss the diversity of clients or how to work with them, taking into account their differing experiences. Inherent equalities exist in society and RJLI lays them out on the table so students can have frank conversations about what identity means to them and people they interact with. We spoke at length about how to discuss identity and problematic behaviors in ways that do not alienate any one person, particularly because these are difficult topics that many people feel ill-quipped to handle. Yet RJLI taught me that I can handle a professional situation where racism rears its head and be the voice where there is none. I can be the lawyer my clients want because I will listen to them on more than the “legal” level.
Being an advocate is difficult work. We all, especially as social justice advocates, push ourselves too hard, smile in the face of microaggressions, and never take a break because the work is never done. Burning out is relatively common in the social justice field but I feel equipped to handle that before it becomes an issue. RJLI taught me how to say “no,” prioritizing my mental and emotional health. After all, if we stretch ourselves too thin, we cannot advocate to the best of our ability.
RJLI has defined the type of lawyer I will be: committed to racial justice, to my clients, their experiences, and my values.