3Ls reflect on their Personal Statements Featuring: Gianluca Canaletti
Academic/Career Goals at the Time the Personal Statement was Written:
Since high school, I was aware that I was a person of philosophic inclinations. I have always been driven by a curiosity to understand how people conceptualize and order their lives, and to relate such conceptual models to how society at large functions. If life imitates art, and vice versa, then philosophy is art as well. Philosophy is nothing more than to live and to contemplate: it is a narrative of the human experience, spoken both by the timeless individual, and the multitude of voices through the course of history.
That, my friends, is the first paragraph of my personal statement. WOW; did I ever think and express myself differently back then. I’m not so sure if I can still whip up such eloquent (and excessive) prose today.
Reading past my discussions of Plato, Man’s Search for Meaning, and my research in marijuana legalization, I addressed (although not so explicitly) the inner conflict I had with deciding whether I should even apply to law school. I knew extremely little of what a career in law was like, and didn’t want to simply embark on a path because of its conventionality (something which I always disliked). Ultimately, I applied because I had a sense that there was not only a wealth of diverse opportunities within the profession, but, more importantly, it was a career path that would allow me to have a positive impact on people’s lives or otherwise generate positive social change. That was the only real thing I knew I wanted to do with my life.
It’s heartwarming to realize I still fully feel that way 3 years later! One passage gave me shivers:
I am uncertain as to what career path I will take with a law degree. Indeed, the great potential of options it provides is part of its appeal to me. However, I recognize that my nature requires me to pursue a field where there are close client relations, and where the consequences of my work on people’s lives are tangible and morally significant. A JD at Queen’s University is perfect for this. I am particularly interested in the Family Law, Elder Law and Prison Law clinics. All three perfectly represent my desire to work for the marginalized and unrepresented (socially and legally speaking), in personal ways. The idea that I can begin this service next year, and not in the distant future, is exhilarating.
Three years later, I can gladly say that the hallmark of my legal education has been my extensive clinical experience with QLA and the Prison Law Clinic. The satisfaction I got from serving my clients and fellow caseworkers was truly exhilarating. I don’t know if I would have made it through law school without them.
Academic/Career Goals Right Now:
Somehow, someway, life only feels like even more of an open book than it did when I wrote my personal statement!
On the one hand, I’ve learned more about myself since before law school; what opportunities within this profession make me ‘click.’ Everything I expected about client service turned out to be true, but I didn’t expect to enjoy trial-level litigation to the extent that I did #TheShark. Today, that feels like the most inalienable aspect of my current career goals. As for specific legal subject matters, I still have only a bunch of clues; no concrete answers. I’ve enjoyed many areas of law, but nothing has really stood out.
On the other hand, I’ve become increasingly realist in my sense of career expectations. I will need to pay the bills; I want a workplace culture I can tolerate in the long run, especially considering I will eventually want to start a family.
Trying to put all these things together creates a muddled picture, which only goes to show how there will inevitably be both apparent compromises, and yet more personal discoveries, along the way. I will be articling at a government office that practices civil litigation. Even here there is a sense of indeterminacy: will I enjoy the practice of law without personal client relationships? TBD! Overall however, I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity for myself: a great diversity of interesting legal issues and an endless barrage of litigation opportunities, all in the name of the public service. I look forward to an extended future with this office, but should that not work out, I am truly open to whatever opportunities present themselves thereafter. Being able to roll with the punches is something I’ve always held myself up to.
PS: I never had any academic goals, and barring a few pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises, my transcript thoroughly reflects that.
The Impact of OCIs on Academic/Career Goals:
I can’t stress this enough: OCIs, and job-searching generally, should be about YOU. It should be about you discovering and learning about the opportunities available to you, and recognizing which of those make you instinctively ‘click’. I still remember one of the most transformative moments of my job search efforts being after my 2L Toronto in-firm week. It was discouraging to have not landed a position after this week, but something just felt right about the Crown Attorney office interviews I had. I still can’t fully rationalize why I felt that way. From that point, I knew I had found something that I would continue to pursue, and would do away with all those other opportunities that simply didn’t inspire me.
I think that on a rational level, this ‘you’-based approach is very easy to accept. I think I wore this approach (and just who I was in general), very much on my sleeve, to my benefit. It was inconceivable to apply for positions I knew I would not connect with, and even for those that I did, but felt uncertain of, the feedback from the other end told me as much. But with all that said, I wouldn’t underestimate how the anxiety to have it ‘figured out,’ or the sense of self-affirmation you imagine getting from securing a position, can subtly change your sense of direction. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to seem impressive, instead of earnestly learning what I want from my career.
To conclude, and as cheesy as it sounds, I must say this. Finding the right job is very much like finding the right romantic partner. There is, on one level, a certain degree of anxiety and conscious effort that goes into it. But on another, more internal level, there really isn’t; there are no serious doubts. It just happens. It feels right. The right things find you, as much as you find them.
Changes (and Lessons) in Law School:
Here’s a loose collection:
Stress-ate a lot of poutine: gained 20 pounds. Realized I’m not young forever. Lost 10 of those pounds. Accepted the other 10. Learned a thing or two about self-control, and living as an adult generally. More on this – Compromises: I simply could not afford the social circle I had in undergrad. I’ve developed a fine taste for friendship, as I’m sure my friends can attest.
I am a much more anxious, competitive and assertive person now. Those were characteristics of mine before law school also, but law school has taken them to the next level. They permeate other aspects of my life, such as board games or infusing cross-examination techniques into daily conversation. Just ask my girlfriend. To an extent, this is a tolerable part of my development. But to prevent from going off the rails, I learned the importance of keeping your inner child alive. Make room for random, ‘inconsequential’ hobbies and interests, don’t take yourself too seriously, have close people around who allow you to do that (also my girlfriend).
I’ve also become much more relativistic. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to develop strong, ingrained opinions about anything. Instead, I take much more delight in pondering the other sides of the coin; developing an entire constellation of justifications for this viewpoint and that. Oddly enough, it’s made me more empathetic and relatable when it comes to simply listening to people and developing personal relationships. When it comes to moral views: it’s harder than ever to think you’re right or sure about anything, but you can certainly live with the confidence/peace of mind of having thought things through and being self-critical. Come to think of it, that’s the point of law itself (in one respect), isn’t it!?
Critical-thinking, combined with motivation, truly is a remarkable power, capable of doing great things. I have never been so inspired by the potential that my colleagues demonstrate on an almost daily basis. The imposter syndrome is real, but I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Self-Reflection in Law School:
I thought that’s what this article was for…
Even though I’m still trying to keep myself busy in 3L, I certainly have more time to let myself breathe: to enjoy the company of friends, to allow the pre-law part of me to express itself, and of course, to reflect on exactly what it is that I’ve learned and how I’ve changed in the past three years.
But I shouldn’t discount what happened during 1L and 2L. As insanely stressful and rushed as it was, I recognize there was still a different kind of self-reflection going on: self-affirmation. In times of stress, I had to remind myself why I was doing all of this. The support of my friends and loved ones, music, quiet moments walking to class, or before going to bed, all reminded me of the commitments I made to myself. It was those constant reminders that helped me stay on track with my innate goals and ambitions, even where there wasn’t much time to ‘think’. To borrow the words of Professor Bracci, teaching Advanced Legal Research: self-reflection (like legal research), is an ‘iterative process.’
What I Would Tell My Pre-Law Self:
He would figure everything important out eventually, but if it gives him any respite, here’s a Magic 8-Ball of pleasant platitudes:
- Do your best; everything else is just gravy.
- Improvise, adapt, overcome.
- Remember to slow down and smell the roses; there’s no rush to be anywhere.
- Stay true to who you are; when push comes to shove, you’ll realize what that means.
- If things don’t go your way, then it wasn’t your way.
- Believe in yourself.
- Ask again later.
- Outlook not so good.
If you got this far: that’s enough leisurely reading. Go back to work.
Gianluca Canaletti, 3L, is a guest contributor.