The Rewards of Public Service

Sara Morshedi, 2012 Bowen graduate, composed this essay about her experience with public service.

Public service is an essential element to a building an efficient community.  This is a lesson that I was lucky to begin learning early in life.  From volunteering my time at the animal shelter during my pre-teen years to assisting in legal research to fight for the civil liberties of the LGBT community at the ACLU during my law school career; I have come to the realization that contributing my time to better the community is not only essential to the community, but also essential to being a well-rounded lawyer and human being.

I think attorneys unfortunately fall into the trap of being too caught up with work and leave public service to scald on the back burner.  This is an understandable downfall of the profession; however, I think it is a downfall that should be conquered.  By giving law students the opportunity to be honored for their contributions to the community, I believe the law school is doing its part to help correct this inconsistency.

Sure, at first, the intent behind racking up public service hours is to get to that end result of honor stamped on a much anticipated Juris Doctor.  But, after spending about 240 hours of my free time doing various things for my community, that intent was eventually replaced with something much more rewarding.  The tide turned for me after my well-spent summer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU) and after my tenure as President of Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers (AAWL).

The ACLU changed my life in a way I did not think was possible.  I began at the ACLU through the law school’s externship program.  I loved the work the ACLU did so much that I stuck around on a volunteer basis throughout the summer and fall of 2011 until I was offered a short-term, paid law clerk position at the beginning of the year.

Many of the projects I worked on during my time at the ACLU were rewarding and helped change my perspective on the law.  However, one project in particular made me realize that this area—the area of public service—is where I want to be and it’s where I belong.  This project began with the ACLU’s victory in the Act 1 case.  After what seemed to be a never-ending battle, the Supreme Court of Arkansas found Act 1—which prohibited same sex couples and unmarried couples from adopting—unconstitutional.

This victory was a great success but, unfortunately, it led to yet another issue.  Arkansas attorneys were either unwilling or reluctant to assist these types of couples (same sex and unmarried) with their second-parent adoptions because there is no precedent and no statute in Arkansas which expressly allows for it.  Suddenly, we realized the battle was not over and we did not want the ACLU’s victory in the Act 1 case to become trivial.  So, I was put to work to do research in other jurisdictions and find the law that would put these attorneys at ease.

I spent the majority of the summer on this project.  It became my pride and joy.  I read statute after statute; case after case; law review article after law review article.  I compiled a memo which was reviewed by my supervisor and the director of the LGBT project in New York.  My memo will now be distributed to Arkansas attorneys who have doubts or questions in these situations.  My memo will help children have the support of a two-parent home.  Providing this type of help to other human beings was the most rewarding experience of my life.  Equally rewarding were the projects I contributed my time to while involved in AAWL.

Being the President of a law school organization, especially one which prides itself on community service, was both the most stressful and one of the best decisions I made in law school.  It took up a lot of time and sometimes made me want to pull my hair out; but, at the end of the day, if I had to do it all over again, I would.  I was able to be the leader of something which made changes for the better in our community.

The best example of AAWL’s great work is our shelter project.  Each Fall, AAWL uses the money raised throughout the year to completely overhaul at least two rooms at a local battered women and children shelter.  We designate room captains (I got be one last Fall) and spend a weekend shopping, repairing, cleaning, painting, and decorating.  Seeing the looks on the faces of the women and children who get to enjoy the new rooms is priceless.

All of these experiences, among others, helped me realize that going into the legal profession does not have to mean being sentenced to 80 hour work weeks, to having no social life, and to becoming bitter and depressed.  There is more to being a lawyer than just being obsessed with money; there is the fact that, as a lawyer, I can truly help people.

As a lawyer (well, future lawyer), I possess skills that can promote the happiness of another human being.  Participating in public service is an easy and rewarding way to be reminded of this.  Plus, if I can pull off 100 hours of public service in one year and 240 hours in about three years while being weighed down with the stress of law school, then I can certainly dedicate at least that amount of time per year to the community when I am a practicing attorney.  My public service experiences during law school really helped make my time as a law student a little less painful, and they gave me the boost I needed to really look forward to becoming a lawyer.

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