Friday, February 10, 2006

Alienated Law Students After Law School

The continuing story of alienated students; what do they do after law school? How do they survive in an alienating profession? I will tell my own story. I actually found something of a niche, even during law school. Some of the time, I worked in the law library. But I also found work clerking for legal services, APPALRED (Appalachian Research and Defense, a Legal Services organization that had a branch office opposite the University of Kentucky School of Law, just for legal research, and many branch offices all over eastern Kentucky. I worked there from my first summer of law school, even as I took my first classes of Library School.

* Warning: Boring private details *

My first job after Law School was as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Law Fellow, an honor and much-sought position from Legal Services Corporation now no longer offered. They funded you for one year, and if your legal services office turned in a good report, would renew you for a second year. The Reggies, as they were called, were supposed to be both diversity feeders for Legal Services and shock troops to create change. Training varied hugely from year to year, and some people were more radical and accomplished more than others. I followed a woman who two Reggies before me had tied up all the resources of my legal services office in a huge piece of litigation against the prison system. The office was fully committed, and no new big project could be picked up. So we carried on with her project and did little bits and pieces. Still, it was pretty cool, and I learned a lot. I actually ran a jury trial, and won it -- I did amazingly well, but boy, it took a lot out of me! I needed to have some sort of staff at home to take care of me. I also had an Court of Appeals case that I won. Yay!

The problem for me was that my legal services office, Central Kentucky Legal Services, was also very committed to representing parents in retrieving their children from the state in cases of abuse and neglect. Every case like this I was required to take tore me apart. I hated all the domestic relations work, but that abuse and neglect stuff in particular was terrible for me. If I could have just focused on consumer law, I think I could have been a happy legal services lawyer for ever. But when my Reggie fellowship ran out, Central Kentucky had no slots to hire me, and my husband begged me not to move to take a job at another legal services. I could not bear thinking about taking up another kind of legal work ... So it was time to go back and finish library school. What a happy thing for me, as it turned out!

So, I popped out as a law librarian at the age of 32. I spent 10 years at St. Louis University, in a a middle-management position. I am only just now realizing how incredibly fortunate I was as a library school student. I was offered first a Research Assistantship in Government Documents where the Head of Government Documents at the University of Kentucky worked us so hard teaching us all about federal, state and U.N. documents and I also learned a lot about maps! I learned more in that Assistantship than in any of my classes, I think, and Sandy McAninch poured herself into teaching us. Thank you, Sandy! Don't think I am not grateful! Then before that year was up, I was offered a second deal, even better, to run a single person library for the Kentucky Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. They let me count it as a full time job, and supervise a library school student assistant (who was so kind to me, as I got unexpectedly pregnant at the end of this year! -- Thank you, Gary Snyder, wherever you are! I hope things worked out well for you and your family!). So all of those things let me step from library school into a middle manager position (to my slight terror).

* End of boring private details *

Here is where the alienation kicks in. All these years, I looked on the outside like a pretty quiet, unassuming librarian, who worked very hard to take care of business. And I do think that has been true on many levels. But let me get up here in Boston, and get tenure and get settled, and BOOM! all Hell starts breaking loose! I start blogging and letting it all hang out. I think there was a raging radical librarian just lurking beneath the surface, like a Loch Ness monster. Occasionally somebody might catch a glimpse, but mostly, I guess I looked pretty bland and safe. Surprise, Suffolk!

Here is a cute story: Among the first papers I published, based on a paper I wrote in Library School is a book chapter titled "The Feminist Attack on Pornography," chapter in Libraries, Erotica and Pornography, Martha Cornog, ed. (Oryx Press, 1990). (This collection of essays won the Eli M. Oboler Award for best publication of the year on issues of Freedom of Speech from the American Library Association). When I was at St. Louis University, one of the professors there kidded me about the title, but it was not a big deal. But the dean who hired me here at Suffolk had not noticed this on my resume. Shortly after I came, somebody at the university had the bright idea of having each dean bring their new faculty and introduce them at an event. My dean read the introduction for me that he was handed. He stopped, he stumbled, he stopped and cleared his throat. The poor man! He had no idea that he had hired the Porn Queen of St. Louis U. to come run his library! He got over it though, but I don't think they ever did these introductions again.

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