Law Students can learn from Jean Valjean

March 12, 2013

law school graduatesThe latest blockbusters tell us some things about law school. We’re talking about Les Misérables and legal volunteering. In a story full of selfish characters, Jean Valjean was always putting others first. His example is worth following.

Les Mis opens with “Look Down,” a song of prisoners in despair. Valjean was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. By volunteering, you can represent today’s Jean Valjean’s and give them access to justice. This past fall I did just that, and argued two criminal appeals in the Supreme Court of Iowa. State v. Huston, 825 N.W.2d 531 (Iowa 2013); State v. Schories, — N.W.2d —- (Iowa 2013). Your law school’s legal clinic has more information about your state’s rules of student practice.

Valjean was a businessman and a mayor and used those skills to help others. Volunteering involves you in your community, develops your non-legal skills, and helps you network. Learn event planning by organizing a fundraiser. Learn patience for clients who call a dozen times in a week. Learn about your city and state doing legal outreach. Like Valjean, developing those skills will better your ability to help others.

Valjean also had an amazing singing voice! You deserve to be heard, too. Volunteering raises your voice to strengthen access to justice, your communities, and yourself. As a law student, your stage is hundreds of years of American law. Your role? It’s yours to figure out. Make the most of it! As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Misérables:

“Not being heard is no reason for silence.”