As part of the coursework for Legal Problem Solving (LPS), all students contribute a post to this course blog. Students develop posts from a weekly journal entry, which also is required coursework. The purpose of journal entries is to invite deeper, personal reflection on the subject matter in LPS, reflection being a key component of content understanding and mastery. This course explores how human centered design and other creative problem solving methods and mindsets inform three areas: (1) the delivery of legal services, (2) how we solve clients' (legal) problems, and (3) how law students can intentionally shape their professional journeys. Each student post will touch on one or more of these three areas.
This LPS post is by Aaron Ogunro, Vanderbilt Law School class of 2019.
When I came to law school, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to become. My eyes were set on becoming an antitrust attorney at a big law firm in a major city. Throughout my 1L first semester classes, nothing swayed me from my goal. My goals immediately changed during my second semester Property class. As soon as we started discussing intellectual property, specifically trademarks and copyrights, I was hooked. (Side note: I feel the need to give credit to my professor who taught intellectual property with passion, and I believe his vigor for the subject helped influence me). When we finished learning about trademarks and copyrights, I started seeking out jobs in those fields. I e-mailed and called several law firms and heard mixed responses. I eventually received a call from a Nashville entertainment law firm, who said they would like to interview me. I interviewed and was offered the position. I accepted the offer, but that was only to take up half of my summer. Even though my area of practice changed, I still had the goal to work in a typical law firm environment.
Because I had found an entertainment/copyright job, I started to search for trademark jobs. I contacted a lawyer in Nashville who I had met during my time in undergrad at Vanderbilt. I knew he had started a new firm, Trust Tree Trademarks, in Germantown and that his primary practice area was trademarks. I contacted him, and he said they were looking for extra help in the summer, so I decided to work there for the second half of my summer. I will always remember the first day I walked into Trust Tree. They run their business out of a run-down parking garage, there are no offices (picture below), sports were being played on televisions, and they were all wearing shorts and tshirts. I was stunned.
The goal of my story is to show that literally everything I had planned for post-law school had changed. I have replaced antitrust law with copyrights and trademarks. I have replaced the typical law firm environment with couches often seen in start-up cultures, and I have replaced collared shirts and slacks for shorts and tshirts. I loved every minute of what I did this summer, and my new goal is to be able to practice trademark law in a fun, relaxed environment. None of this would have been possible if I kept a closed mind during my first-year of law school.
For our week 4 journal assignment, we were prompted to give the best advice to first-year law students. My advice was for them to focus on the here and now and to keep an open mind to what they learn. A given law student may think that they already know what they want to become after they graduate. More often than not, they end up doing something completely different from what they originally intended. There are so many interesting areas of the law that we are taught, but if we maintain a tunnel-vision attitude, a law student can easily ignore a potential career opportunity.
A few years ago, I heard Tim Minchin give a commencement speech at the University of Western Australia. In the speech, he said, “if you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.” This quote sums up my experience in law school so far. If you only focus on the job you want after law school, you will lose sight on all the amazing opportunities that were right in front of your nose. Vanderbilt Law School makes it so easy to be exposed to many different areas of the law. They hold annual symposiums and have thousands of lunch talks every year given by attorneys from all over the globe. These opportunities are right in front of us.
In class, we have also discussed human design centered mindsets. One of those mindsets is embracing ambiguities. Being able to seek out different career opportunities requires us to embrace ambiguities. We must be able to discover and explore what is around us in order to find legal areas that may appeal to us. When keeping an open mind, it’s nearly impossible to know where you’ll end up, but this open-mindedness gives us leeway to be able to explore different areas of the law. There are many ways to discover new opportunities. Above, I explained that going to lunch-time talks and keeping an open mind in class helps to find new pathways, but there are so many avenues that we can utilize. Reaching out to local attorneys in a field is always a good way to learn practical knowledge. Taking a class that sounds interesting is another way to expose yourself to a new legal area. We are surrounded by these opportunities, and it is up to us to embrace these situations in order for us to explore their potential.
There are also many situations where you have to learn from failure. If you keep an open mind, you will certainly come across experiences that will not be appealing. It is up to us to take a step back and decide what is and what is not working. The more we learn from these failures, the more likely we will be able to carve out an area of the law in which we will thoroughly enjoy. Personally, the jobs I had last summer could have been bad experiences, but luckily they were not. However, I have had bad experiences at various jobs that have helped me to realize that I do not want to pursue certain professions. By figuring out what works and what doesn’t, I ended up in law school. I will continue to use this mindset in order to find a job that I enjoy. I believe this growth mindset is important for every law student. It is important to remember that nothing is ever done. Twenty years from now it is very possible that I will be tired of intellectual property law, and I will use this mindset to help me pivot into a new field.
The best advice I can give to law students is to focus on the here and now. We often worry what will become of our legal careers way before we need to. Upon entering law school, it is natural to worry about jobs and money, but there isn’t much we can do about these things in the beginning of law school. Enjoying what is in front of us and keeping an open mind can lead us down paths we never thought were possible. So, I implore law students to take law school one day at a time and focus on the here and now because if you don’t, you may miss an opportunity that was right within your periphery.