Blog Entry 14
Sometimes we get more from our clients than they get from us. One of things my students and I get from working with many of our clients is a greater sense of humility and compassion and a desire to not be so self-focused. Law students, lawyers and even law professors (shocking, I know!) have larger than normal egos and law school, in particular, can be an exercise in alternating self-aggrandizement and self-debasement. Students sometimes think of their own worth and that of their peers in terms of class rank, Moot Court success, and Law Review membership. This, of course, is excellent preparation for being an attorney and the ability to tie one’s self-esteem as an attorney to salary, position on the partnership track, and jury awards for clients.
One of our clients this term was brought by force into the U.S. to work as a prostitute and she and her two young daughters were placed in extreme danger as a result. They managed to break free but are at the beginning of a long and difficult journey to gain legal status in the U.S. The mother will have to cooperate closely with federal law enforcement officers to give them actionable intelligence on the prostitution ring and she will have to relate every detail of her life to me and my student as we prepare to file a petition on her behalf. In addition, she and her daughters recently moved into a domestic violence shelter and her daughters changed schools and moved away from friends. The emotional, physical, and financial trauma facing this family is severe.
The law students working with this woman approach her with the utmost respect and dignity. They realize that, no matter how difficult their own lives are, they do not come close to what this woman has endured. All of a sudden, grades and class rank pale in comparison to the need to reach out to another human being to offer her hope, comfort and compassion. The law students appreciate the strength and determination of this woman and draw from her the resolve to manage their own struggles. This woman may never know how much my law students and I get back from her but we owe her a debt of gratitude for reminding us what really matters is connection to others and not ourselves. One of the mottos of the Jesuits is “Men and Women for Others” and that, as well as the Mercy traditions, guides much of the work of the Law School and the clinics, in particular. But St. Ignatius probably knew that, by serving others, we gain from the people we serve and not merely in tangible ways.