I Want to be a Small Piece of the Bridge Towards Justice and Fairness…

Series: Been There Done That

“I have engaged in cases like, some people called us for help but they don’t speak English at all; some said if we don’t help them they would just kill themselves; and a lot of other situations where I was just shocked how unfairly a person could be treated.” — — Su

Meet Su

Su is from Beijing now living in Boston. She graduated from Boston University with a Master's degree inLaws and she works at a low bono legal center while applying for the Juris Doctor program. She is a spontaneous Sagittarius girl who has a strong curiosity and passion for everything fresh and new.

Su has been working at a low bono legal center for half a year. This is her first job after college.

We provide low-charge legal services for people who can neither afford normal charges of legal services nor get free services because their income is above the National Poverty Line. When an attorney takes a case from our legal center, they would charge the client way less than what they would charge elsewhere, so our clients can get legal help with less cost. Most of the cases we take are civil cases, like disputes between landlord and tenant; disputes between employer and employee; family disputes, including divorce, child custody, alimony, visitation rights, etc.

My daily job is mainly about two things: client reception and legal research. When there are clients calling or walking in for help, I would collect their information and inquire about why they need an attorney. Then I would input their information into our system and introduce the legal services we can provide.

During work, Su witnessed all kinds of real-life struggles, injustice, and miserable experience.

One case I remembered very well was a lady who suffered sexual assaults for years called us for help. She told me over the phone that several people had sexually assaulted her, including police, relatives to police, and some other people. She said that her records had been tampered many times and she herself was regarded insane; she once dreamed to become a policewoman but she couldn’t get into a police school because of what happened to her; she wanted to sue the people who did those horrible things to her but she could not find anyone to help her; she knew even if she could sue those people, she probably could not get the results she wanted. She couldn’t do anything. So she called us, with the last thread of hope, to see if we could help her in any way.

Unfortunately, our legal center only takes civil cases and sexual assault is a criminal one. So I could only tell her to try some other ways.

After the call, what that lady had said lingered in my mind. I really wanted to do something to help her. So I compiled a long list of institutions I thought might be suitable for the case and emailed it to her. She got back to me shortly: “Thank you, but I don’t think any of these will be able to help me as I’ve already reached out to most of them, and my case was treated like a joke, which is why I need an attorney for my rights. But thank you anyway.” At the moment, I felt deeply sorry and I was even hoping it was indeed some temporary mental issue that she was experiencing instead of actually having been through those horrible things and ended up feeling completely hopeless.

This lady’s case, in fact, is just the tip of the iceberg. I have also engaged in cases like some people called us for help but they don’t speak English at all; some said if we don’t help them they would just kill themselves; and a lot of other situations where I was shocked how unfair a person could be treated. Well of course, there were also cases that I would feel people made their own bed.

Though the negative energy she encountered upsets her sometimes, Su feels motivated to do more to help others.

This job reveals to me the cruelty and complexity of the real world, but on the other hand, it’s really inspiring to see there is still a lot of people who are trying their best to help others, and I really want to be one of them.

I think I am the type of person who enjoys helping others. In addition, living in the U.S. I have seen many cases where Asian people or international students were treated improperly but could not find a way to appeal. I feel more motivated because of this and I really hope that one day I can be a small piece of the bridge towards justice and fairness.

And Su got to know what are the key skills needed in a real job and learned a lot of things that were not taught at school.

I really like this job. It is exhausting but very educational. Doing legal research was challenging for me at first because I didn’t know where to start. What I usually would do was to set the search range to the minimum in our data system, which would leave me to 150 to 200 cases, then going through them one by one to find the right one. It’s time-consuming and inefficient. It was after getting advice from an attorney that I realized I had done it the wrong way. Now, my legal research ability has improved a lot, but I am still far from being good at it, still working on it.

Besides, having good interpersonal skills and communication skills are essential. I think this not only applies to Law School students but also to other professions in general. The language skills (if English is not your first language) needed at school are totally different from that at work. In my case, most of the time I need to talk to clients through phone, but I was really afraid of making phone calls, almost like a call-phobia. When I first came to the U.S., I avoided every single chance of making a phone call, for example, if I find a restaurant on Yelp that needs reservation by phone, I would just not go there. Not until I had a dog and had to talk to my vet on the phone did I start pushing myself to do it.

I was really anxious when I first realized my job requires me to make a lot of phone calls. In the beginning, I would give myself a little inner “speech” every time before picking up the phone: “you got this, you can do it, you are the best.” Sometimes I did that too long that I even missed the call. Now thinking back, it’s really ridiculous. But as the old saying goes “practice makes perfect”, now after so many practice and fumble, I no longer need any kind of “speech” before picking up the phone. I still feel nervous when getting unexpected questions or uncommon inquiries, but I’m much more confident and comfortable with handling them than I used to be.

Why study law? Su’s reasons are simple and spontaneous.

I’m the type of person who has a strong sense of right and wrong and I don’t like gray areas. But sometimes it is hard to tell what is right from wrong without a clear system to refer to. So I think one of the reasons that propelled me to start pursuing law is to have a clear method of making sense of the world.

Why I came to the U.S. to continue my study was also very simple, even a little silly. I watched a lot of American legal dramas and I was charmed by those attorneys on TV who are super smart and capable, super dramatic as well, of course. I could not help thinking: how awesome it would be if I could shout out “Objection!” or “Oh come on!” during the trial. But after hearing a lot of real trials here, I’ve been “debunked” and realized things are much less exciting in reality.

Career-wise, I have not really decided which direction exactly I’m going for yet, so let’s see where it goes. But I would be really happy if I can be a person who protects the legal rights of common people. I have always been into volunteering and social work. So if I can help more people with my expertise, it would really mean a lot to me.

Editor: Yinong | Translator: Yinong
Originally published on Feb. 4th, 2019
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