A new speaker series from the USC Office of Religious Life is attempting to dismiss any perception that a successful legal career comes at the expense of a fulfilling life.
Hosted by the Gould School of Law, which also provides the pool of potential orators, the new “Spirit of Law” speaker series aims to bridge the gap between the academic experience and the personal experience of students and faculty at the university.
“Most students who come to law school really don’t know what they want to do — they’re told,” said Andrew Post, a third-year graduate student at Gould and the director of the series. “The goal is to become exposed to a discussion with very respectable members of the legal community for whom law is more than a job.”
The series was initiated after Post attended similar events presented by the Office of Religious Life last year, where different professors shared methods of incorporating a balance between career and personal life. Post, then in his second year, said those events inspired him to request that the Office start a law-focused version of the same program.
Varun Soni, dean of the Office of Religious Life and a California attorney himself, said he sees the value of such a program.
“When I was going to law school, I saw that there needed to be this forum addressing meaning, purpose, and identity within the context of the law,” Soni said. “It wasn’t discussed in the law classes, but it was definitely talked about outside of the classroom among the students.”
The series is based on the “What Matters to Me and Why” program that the office had established on campus, and the “Medicine for the Soul” offshoot focusing on medical professionals.
Ron Garet, a professor of law and religion and the first speaker in the series, said the format of these programs allowed students to learn about aspects of their future careers that they might not be learning in class.
“It provides an opportunity for students to hear a member of the faculty share his or her own responses to the difficult questions that we all ask,” Garet said. “Each speaker talks about how they find fulfillment in their legal work.”
The idea of the program was to give law students, who might be wrapped up in the stresses and expectations of their classes, a chance to examine the profession from a different point of view, Garet added.
“Many students enter law school worried about finding this satisfaction among the long hours and competition, and they begin to question its value and if they are contributing to the meaning of life. This program is designed to give that value to a legal career,” he said.
A number of students said they were happy for the opportunity to learn about the job from experienced professionals.
“This speaker series would be extremely beneficial to the law and pre-law students and others looking toward a profession related to law,” said Julia Riley, a freshman majoring in political science on the pre-law track. “It is really difficult to balance personal time with time devoted to an occupation — hearing firsthand experiences would offer some key advice to making it work.”
Jessica Ching, a sophomore majoring in political science, also on the pre-law track, added that the series would also help students decide if they want to continue studying law.
“Any time one is well-informed and takes advantage of resources available to them, they have better insight into the pathway and can make a better decision as to what they really want to do in life,” Ching said. “[The] series will give students exposure to knowledge that can indicate whether or not the career would be right for them.”
Though the program was designed specifically for law students, Post said he would encourage students from all academic backgrounds to attend.
“I want to encourage people from ‘nontraditional’ majors, such as myself — a computer science and applied math double major — to see law as being more than just a confinement to the courtroom,” Post said. “There is an apparent interest in exploring the meaning of life in the law, and I have high hopes that those who come to the series will find this meaning, purpose and identity.”
Soni added that the Office is looking for a combination of USC law professors and local attorneys from the LA region to fill speaker spots for the rest of this semester. Beginning in January 2010, he added, a new web page will be launched with a link for students to nominate speakers.