Law student authors inspirational novel, donates proceeds

Jesse Wang’s proceeds from ‘Underdog’ sales go towards small businesses within Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of James Lewis)

Throughout his educational journey, Jesse Wang has always seen himself as an underdog. He’s held this view since the 10th grade when he transferred to a private school where the curriculum was dense and demanding. Although he struggled at first, Wang was able to cultivate a strong work ethic and routine in order to successfully gain admission to Emory University’s undergraduate program. When he began attending the USC Gould School of Law for his Juris Doctorate degree, he found himself in the same predicament as he did many years before at private school, where he didn’t do as well as he had hoped. 

Wang, a graduate student studying law at Gould and business at the Marshall School of Business, said this experience made him very despondent, where he doubted his future in the legal field. Rather than giving up, he worked harder in law school and wrote a book titled “Underdog: 12 Inspirational Stories for the Despondent Law Student” to let his peers know that they are not alone. 

“I wanted to be able to inspire people who were either contemplating law school or were in law school and didn’t have the grades that they thought were necessary to become a good lawyer or successful attorney,” Wang said. “I wanted to write something that would have helped me if I were a [first year] going through the struggle.”

Throughout his book, Wang incorporated 12 anecdotes about the struggles of USC Law students, faculty and alumni and how they overcame their problems. According to Wang, including specific and diverse perspectives was necessary as he wanted the book to be reflective of USC’s law school so readers would hopefully relate to at least one chapter. The cover of “Underdog” features a building with 12 windows, each representative of the short anecdotes Wang wrote. In his book, he takes a tone that is both inspirational yet satirical.

“I wanted it to be representative of the legal community,” Wang said. “I wanted everyone to be a part of the story because everyone is [and] because this isn’t about just one type of person or one quality, it’s about the discipline of law students. And that transcends any type of categorical barrier that we may think, either consciously or subconsciously in the law school, we’re all in the same boat.”

Following his first year of law school, Wang began writing “Underdog” in October 2019 shortly after Eric Koester, a professor at Georgetown University, reached out to him over Linkedin about potentially writing a book. Wang, who was looking for ways to diversify himself as a law student, welcomed the venture so that he could share the struggles of law school. 

After interviewing 12 law students, alumni and faculty, Wang used the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise $5,000 from the USC community to publish his book professionally. Following months of marketing, editing and book cover designing, “Underdog” was released Dec. 7 and quickly became the number one bestseller on multiple Amazon category lists.

Passionate about helping the underserved and low income communities in the Los Angeles area, Wang elected to donate all his book proceeds to the USC Gould Public Interest Law Foundation and the Small Business Clinic to help small businesses affected by the global pandemic.

“I just felt like this is really not the time to make a personal profit off of this project, especially when the book is about the school — It’s about the community,” Wang said. “I felt like it was important for all of us to really come together and support the vulnerable people, the underdogs of L.A. The Small Business clinic helps an incredible number of minority-owned and women- led small businesses in the Los Angeles area.” 

Gabrielle Rodrigues, a third year law student at USC and a friend of Wang’s, is mentioned in one of “Underdog’s” anecdotal chapters which discuss the importance of prioritizing mental health in law school. According to Rodrigues, law students often experience high rates of depression due to the grading curve, high pressure work and not performing as well as they did during their undergraduate program.

“[On] our first day of orientation, the law school gave us this presentation, and the very first slide told us how people who go to law school have much higher rates of experiencing … mental health issues,” Rodrigues said. “When they told us that, it was definitely startling, but nobody really told us how to take care of yourself. I think that this book, just largely, is very much focused on trying to instill that kind of mindset in people that are considering going to law school, because I just don’t think it’s a conversation that’s mostly had.”

Rodrigues also said that the way Wang’s story contextualizes law school by incorporating 12 diverse experiences, backgrounds and challenges allows the reader to relate to at least one of the anecdotes and reaffirm that they are not alone.

Dorna Moini, a lecturer in law at USC Gould, is also featured in a chapter of “Underdog.” In this chapter, Wang writes about his experience in Moini’s “Legal Innovations Lab” course and the way her company, Documate, has influenced his future aspirations in law. 

As a USC Gould alum, Moini said many law students have high achieving personalities who were often at the top of their class during their undergraduate career. Law school, however, can be different, leading them to doubt their decision.

“Entering the law school environment, you’re met with a lot of diversity in terms of skills and interests,” Moini said. “A lot of what Jessie focuses on in that book is how to take things that you think may be your weaknesses, find where your strengths lie, and make a career or a lifestyle out of it and enjoy the way that you practice law.”

Following the success of “Underdog,” Wang said he is writing his second novel which will expand the topic of perseverance to deal with concepts of antifragility among the Marshall community. According to Wang, this sequel will feature stories of business students, alumni and faculty who have endured chaos or struggles and become stronger for it as an inspiration for the next generation of business students. 

“I want the main message for people who are going through any type of hardship, whether it’s law school, graduate school, medical school, undergrad — is that grades do not define who you are,” Wang said. “Success is not defined by your transcript. Success is defined by small wins over a long period of time. It’s about having a singular goal in mind that you chase down with every ounce of your being.”