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Some Young Lawyers Still Want to Help The Underdogs

By       Message Sherwood Ross     Permalink
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While the public may generally believe lawyers have chosen their profession "for the money," in fact many pick law as a career from a burning desire to help the underdog.

"Just like Superman and Batman they come to the rescue of people in great distress, to battle evil, well-armed opponents in the name of justice and to aid widows and orphans against Wall Street villains and greedy finance companies," says Michael Coyne, associate dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover(MSLAW).

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In interviews he conducted with law students on the Comcast show "Educational Forum," to air at 11 a.m. October 24th, 2010, Coyne says, "I want you to meet today's lawyers, the next generation of leaders, and learn why people turn to the law, how the face of law school has changed and how law schools must change to remain relevant."

To begin with, Coyne interviewed Clynetta Neely, whose application was rejected by 27 different law schools as she repeatedly scored law on the entry-level Law School Admissions Test(LSAT), which supposedly screens out poor prospects at most of the nation's 200-plus law schools recognized by the American Bar Assn.(ABA). Even though Neely was working as a paralegal in immigration law at the Department of Justice, law school admissions officials would not credit her experience or prior excellent academic record.

When she applied at MSLAW, though, Neely said she was interviewed in person by an admissions person who was "more interested in how I had established myself as an adult since I graduated from undergrad, and by what I had done in the workforce. It was just enlightening to be able to get into a school where the LSAT was not a..factor."

(Note: MSLAW does not choose to affiliate itself with the ABA. In fact, it was instrumental in inspiring a suit by the U.S. Department of Justice against ABA for attempting to dictate policies to law schools. ABA the suit settled by signing a consent decree to stop such practices and paying a fine.)

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Not only is Neely graduating from MSLAW with honors but she has been highly successful as a member of its trial advocacy teams, winning against schools such as Harvard and Syracuse. In the last five years in the Thurgood Marshall competition, for example, MSLAW teams have finished nationally in third place three times, second place twice, and first place once. "It's what's here and now that counts, it's not what a multiple choice test says you should have the ability to do," Coyne said, "because you've won the Dean's Award for significant accomplishments and you've proven by a long shot that you're going to be just one terrific lawyer."

Neely said the most important things she learned in law school were "tolerance for other people...from different backgrounds of life"; teamwork, because nobody in law school makes it alone; and to lead by example because "a great leader's a leader not because they put themselves out but because they make others greater."

Albanian-born Daniel Terpollari said he grew up in a totalitarian society that imbued him with a desire for justice that led him to law school. While Americans were enjoying freedom of speech, he said, "we weren't able to speak, we weren't able to think, we weren't able to do anything that a free person should do. Some of our relatives were executed for speaking out by that horrible regime."

"When I was 10 or 15 years old, I would think to myself and say, 'One day I will become an attorney...and fight injustice in the world, because unless you experience it you never know what freedom means, what freedom of speech is, and what great opportunities this country has to offer people," Terpollari said. After completing law school, he says, "I'm still passionate, and I still love the legal profession and I'll be able to fight for people in the future."

After arriving in the U.S., Daniel met his wife, Aurora, a foreign exchange student and they decided to go to law school together, which he described as "not a piece of cake" for a married couple, either. "You have to just keep plugging, keep on pushing, you have to work in law school as never before. And even though we had our hard times and our trials, we just kept talking to each other, put our heads down, and worked hard," he said.

As immigrants, he said, "We have had to surpass all the challenges with a foreign language, and also the financial difficulties, and also other social and economic difficulties that everyone has but are more difficult for us being foreigners in America." In the process of overcoming those challenges, however, Daniel said the dedication and motivation created in him a work ethic "that will help you in the future."

Being bilingual, Daniel said, will equip him to help other Europeans who have settled in the U.S. but do not seek legal counsel as needed due to the language barrier. These immigrants, he says, "don't have friends, they don't have connections..and I know for sure that so many people suffer because of that." He concluded that law school had made him "a different person" by enhancing his levels of confidence and knowledge and prepared him to fulfill his dream of helping people in need of a lawyer.

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Daniel's wife, Aurora, added she believes that "everybody should go through law school because the knowledge you get is so broad and deep it makes you more confident going towards the future" and "what I learned for myself made me a stronger person."

"Another graduating lawyer is one of the rare individuals who also possess a medical degree. Adam Beck told interviewer Coyne that he was inspired to attend by San Francisco Forty-Niners quarterback Steve Young, who got his law degree on the side and, in fact, had to be in class the day after he won the Super Bowl. Beck thought if Young could do it, he could do it as well. Asked how earning a law degree had helped him in his medical practice, Beck replied, "It's really forced me to look at both sides. Going in, I was (as an expert witness) always on the doctor's side, pro-doctor everything, and there really are two sides to every story. So I think I try to be as fair as possible."

Beck says that he also learned to be more careful going over documents such as consent for surgery. "Before I started law school I wasn't able to even read a contract and make heads or tails of it. Now I can pick up almost anything and read it, and decipher it without calling somebody." What's more, he added, he no longer fears lawyers as do a lot of doctors. Additionally, becoming a lawyer has reinforced his approach to treating patients. "In medicine we try not to direct the patient anywhere. We just let them speak and we're able to formulate a diagnosis. It's very similar to law in that way. We categorize in our brains where we want to go with a different set of symptoms so I think the two (professions) overlap in that way."

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)

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