by Guest Blogger Akshay Verma ’06
The path to law school is different for everyone. The path beyond law school is no different from that. I started on my path after a week-long eighth grade science trip to Yosemite (more on that later – and by the way, I am 35 now, so I started a LONG time ago). But suffice it to say that I practice environmental law because I love what I do, and I love the law. For some, law school is everything they have ever wanted – a calling, if you will. For others, it is the next logical step. For still others, law school is a means to an end and practicing law is a job, nothing more. Like any other profession, people start on their own path for different reasons. So whatever your reason for choosing law school, I am guessing you are reading this because you are (or want to be) on the path to becoming a lawyer. I think I can help.
This begins a series of entries through which I hope to share some of my experiences and thoughts about how, and more importantly why, I made the choices I made along my path. CAVEAT EMPTOR – my experiences are just that, mine. At times, they will certainly have universal application, but I do not mean for this to be some 12-step process to a career path. Think of it more in terms of an experience/knowledge bank for law school and legal practice – my coffers are filled with over 12 years of legal experience. I have been fortunate enough to have worked in a variety of different legal settings: solo practice, small firms, large firms, VERY large firms and mid-size firms. I’ve also been exposed to the criminal field and worked at a non-profit. While this certainly does not cover everything a law grad can pursue, it’s a sizable chunk. I should also mention that while in practice, I have been heavily involved in the recruiting process for my firms – everything from reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates and mentoring law students. I know what firms look for, what works on a resume (and what doesn’t), and how to maximize your interview process.
Sharing my experiences in those settings should provide you some insight and perspective. But through this process, what I am really hoping to provide is something I wish I had had more of when I first started on my path – or at least by the time I started law school. Answers to some very important question: What is it REALLY like to practice law? What all can I do with a J.D? What is the OCI process like? What can I do in law school to prepare for being a lawyer? Should I take time out to work before going to law school? These questions, and more, will be the subject of future blog entries. For now, let’s start at the most logical place to start – the beginning of my path.
My Yosemite trip came at a time when the hot environmental topics of the day included aerosol CFCs, destruction of the rainforests, the O-zone layer (amazing how that’s never discussed any more) and the evils of Styrofoam. It was my first time being exposed to these issues (we spent 3 nights in the valley learning about them) and I was hooked from day 1 – probably because the Earth’s destruction scares the living $%#& out of me. Anyway, from there, learning about the environment was always on the top of my mind. And after studying environmental science as part of my coursework as an undergrad at Berkeley (I majored in chemistry), I decided that my work with the environment was not going to be through science or politics or even academics; it was going to be through the law. At the time, my choice was based on several factors: being in a lab turned my stomach, politics turned my stomach, academia seemed too boring, and my natural talent for arguing was also my best attribute for the law. I realize this sounds more like a process of elimination than an affirmative choice, but even then, I knew I would love advocating for something I truly believed in. I realized a passion and it was a natural decision.
So I studied for the LSAT, took it, did (just) ok, applied to law schools and then made one of the most important decisions along my path…I decided to put off law school for a few years and work. At the time, my reasoning was simple. I was tired of going to class and I didn’t want to study. Having gone through law school now, I am fairly certain I would not have survived the 1L year had I not taken some time off. So I worked as a litigation paralegal at Latham & Watkins’ Menlo Park office (this is one of those VERY large firms) for the next three years. And when I felt I was ready for school again, I came to Santa Clara. [One of my future entries will focus on why I think aspiring lawyers and employers both benefit from "a break to work."]
I loved every part of law school – the classes, the professors, the students, and took full advantage of everything Santa Clara has to offer: moot court, research with professors, student organizations and trial team. And in my last semester of 3L year, I received an offer to work with the environmental group at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (another one of those VERY large firms). After working at Pillsbury for two years, I pursued an opportunity with my current firm, Farella Braun + Martel, also practicing in the environmental group. That brings us to present day. Now, I realize I breezed through much of what I did in law school and my experiences as a lawyer. I want to focus my future entries on different aspects of those years, my choices (informed or not) and my experiences.
For now, I hope you know a little bit about who I am and what I do. Until next time…
Look out for Akshay’s next blog on the OCI experience, including tips for getting a job offer! We’ll be posting it during the week of April 16th!
If you’d like to learn more about Akshay, please visit his Linked-In profile. He’s also willing to receive emails from students at akshay.r.verma [at] gmail.com