3Ls Reading their Personal Statements – Feature 1: David MacLean
“Dear Law Student:
I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the profession that you are about to enter is one of the most unhappy and unhealthy on the face of the earth—and, in the view of many, one of the most unethical.
The good news is that you can join this profession and still be happy, healthy, and ethical. I am writing to tell you how.”
This is the opening passage to Patrick J. Schiltz’s article on the issues currently plaguing the legal profession. He is a federal judge on the US District Court for the District of Minnesota and a former Associate Professor at the Notre Dame Law School.
The article was one of the assigned readings I had as part of my externship at the Kingston Community Legal Clinic this year. However, what drove me to initiate this series for Juris Diction was not necessarily Schiltz’s conclusions or suggestions but the first few seconds it took for me to read the opening passage.
It occurred to me that there are virtually zero mandatory moments in law school where I am asked to reflect on what I am doing in law school, why I am doing it or whether I am okay with it. I was given one of these moments as a 3L when reading this passage and it made me wonder why it took 3 years.
I also wondered if other 3Ls felt this way. Had other 3Ls engaged in meaningful self-reflection throughout law school? Or did they feel as though they needed to disengage from meaningful thought just to survive the rat race? I present to you the series “3Ls Reading their Personal Statements featuring The Class of 2017”.
This series will feature four current 3Ls. They were all asked to find the personal statement they submitted to Queen’s Law over 3 years ago and engage in a self-reflection exercise. The purpose of using the personal statement was to transport these students back to a time when they were trying to get into law school. It was used as a tool to help them remember why they wanted to come to law school and what they hoped to achieve at the time.
The burning question: how do they feel now?
FEATURE 1: DAVID MACLEAN
Academic/Career Goals at the Time the Personal Statement was Written:
My personal statement reflects more my past ambitions to work within international institutions and highlights my time at the United Nations – which now feels like a generation ago. I seem far more idealistic and also am almost embarrassingly sentimental in my writing. This line makes me cringe a little bit:
“I have been present as sovereign nations argued over issues of law, and I have seen individuals pushed to the point of tears as they described the gross and inexcusable breakdown of various foreign legal institutions.”
I should highlight that I mostly served water to dictators while at the United Nations so the above passage – though not false – is certainly rose-colored. Also, it seems like hack-writing from a B-movie script inspired by the movie Blood Diamond.
I think I was naïve to certain things prior to entering law school and that this naivety informed my career goals. For instance, I didn’t realize how difficult it was to move into international criminal law. Moreover, first year gave me a view of different areas of law that shaped my focus and led me towards corporate/commercial work (this is what I will be practicing as an articling student).
Academic/Career Goals Right Now:
When I wrote my personal statement, my goal was really to return to New York City or potentially move to Toronto and work for giant international institutions. I have since taken a job at a firm in Vancouver, ended up cancelling my Toronto interviews and turned down an opportunity at a weird New York start-up.
The one thing in my personal statement that is the same is my interest in civil litigation. My statement describes my experience working as a researcher at a small litigation firm prior to coming to law school:
“The practice of civil litigation was one that required a subtle balance of judgement and confidence. The result of hitting this balance was the knowledge that our clients had been properly served; which is to date, the single most rewarding professional accomplishment that I have experienced.”
The above-statement is still representative of my view of that specific practice area.
The Impact of OCIs on Academic/Career Goals:
I had the bizarre opportunity of taking a year off between my 1st and 2nd year to go back home and pursue other career goals. One of the reasons that I did this is because I realized I had focused my OCIs in exactly the wrong place. After first year, I knew I didn’t want to work in Toronto or New York but I still applied only to those two cities because they struck me as the most prestigious. When all my interviews started to come in around my second week in 2L, I had a complete crisis of faith, realized I had made a huge mistake, was damning myself to an unhappy life, and took the year off to figure out what I actually wanted to do.
The difference is that during OCIs I wanted to get hired and now I want to stay hired.
Self-Reflection in Law School:
I was essentially the Daniel Day Lewis of first year law. I was weirdly intense (ask Diana Holloway). However, I summered at a Vancouver firm in first year, worked pretty insane hours and began to reflect on what I was doing to myself and the life that I was living.
I eventually recognized that I was mortgaging my entire present for a not so certain future, which seemed idiotic. I’m still pretty go go go because this weird compulsive engine lies at the root of my personality, but I try to stay a little more self-aware. I’ve also tried to be more generous with my time. I do not think I would have changed as much if I had not gone to law school.
When I was writing my personal statement I was 24 years old. I’m now 29. At 24 – like basically all 24 year olds – I had built my self-confidence largely around the views of others. I was less mature. Although I miss the idealism that is reflected in phrases like the following:
“During my time in New York, I was assigned to various committees dealing with issues of international justice. In this environment, it quickly became obvious that the most powerful element in the room was not the chairperson, diplomats, or even the heads of state, but the rule of law.”
I prefer the maturity I have now.
I remember thinking I would have much more free time while at law school. I had a small business when I started at Queen’s that had completely failed and was liquidated by the end of the summer of first year. I had also just started to make money as a stand-up comedian. At the time I wrote my personal statement, I believed I could keep living a life where I did a dozen different things for money. Sadly, most my side hustles have died or are kind of being phased out of my life because of the time commitment of law.
Law school was actually more emotionally taxing than I thought it would be. Helen Connop is my spirit animal. I like this line from my personal statement:
I understand that the practice of law is one that is fatiguing, demanding, and stressful. I have seen the legal profession stripped of its romanticism and despite this; I know that there is nothing that I want to pursue more.
Looking back, I honestly had no idea that law school would be so much work. However, I still love it.
What I Would Tell My Pre-Law Self:
Chill the fuck out.
David MacLean (3L) is a contributor to Juris Diction. Harshi Mann (3L) is Opinion Editor for Juris Diction.