By Victoria Lenes, CFCC Student Fellow 2010-2011
I am a CFCC Student Fellow this fall, participating in the Truancy Court Program at a Baltimore City elementary/middle school. I returned to law school mid-life after working from home for my children’s younger years because I hoped to take my professional life into a new direction. I wanted to work with people, make a difference in my community, and try to harmonize my work and ideals.
During my first year of law school I often found myself crying and wondering what I had done to myself. The often inscrutable and abstract material of Contracts, Civil Procedure and Property was just not resonating with me. For Property class one day, I had to go to Baltimore City rent court; the gritty, mundane reality of that court seemed very far removed from my law school experience thus far. When I was finally able to choose my courses, I took Interviewing, Negotiating and Counseling, and was somewhat shocked to remember that lawyers deal with real human beings who are often struggling with emotional issues. Academics often complain about the disconnect between the law and the everyday people the law affects. The bureaucratic institutions that craft laws and policy often don’t or can’t envision how their rules and regulations will play out in the day-to-day lives of everyday people. Legal scholars debate the question of how much social work should be required of legal institutions. Many believe the courts and judges aren’t social workers. But I think that’s wrong: social work’s focus on preventive, non-adversarial measures should take precedence in the practice of law, particularly in the area of family law.
At my Truancy Court Program orientation, the fifteen or so elementary and middle school participants were instructed to fill out fairly detailed forms asking for contact information and information about themselves. I spotted an adorable nine-year-old boy who looked a little lost. I bent down on my knees and guided him through the forms. When he got to “What career would you like to have after you graduate from college?” he looked up at me with blank eyes. I clarified by asking him, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” He blurted out, “How do you spell scientist?” I spelled the word for him and a hardness that has grown around my heart these past three years of law school softened a bit. That simple question has been the most humane moment of my law school career.