Thrust Temporarily Into Public Service

Alumnus Chris Reid in The New York Times City Room Blog, January 11, 2010

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 Some law students respond to a higher calling to create justice and serve the common good.  Others respond to the call of the money gods, the pedigree and the cerebral challenge. But the economic crisis of 2009 has created an unusual laboratory where some graduating students who thought they were heading for the corner office were thrust into crowded courtrooms.

Virtually an entire class of law school graduates heading down the corporate track had the plans of its members derailed by the recession.  Law firms said they could not afford to take on the new employees they had recruited in the years before.

Instead, 140 prospective corporate lawyers signed up for an unusual new program organized by the New York City Bar Association:  Serve the public good for a year, then hop back on the corporate track.
These “deferred associate externs,” as they are called, are now defending immigrants threatened with deportation; preventing tenants from being evicted; fighting home foreclosures; and representing battered women in domestic violence cases.

They deal daily with clients in desperate situations and work alongside lawyers who have dedicated their careers to serving the poor.  But when their year is up, they are planning to return to contract law, mergers and acquisitions, or whatever they were planning to do before.

Chris Reid graduated from Colgate University in 2003 as a chemistry and philosophy double major.  After a few years working in various jobs, he attended Fordham Law School, where he developed an interest in intellectual property and constitutional law, graduating in 2009.  He was recruited by Ropes & Gray to work in their patent litigation practice.  But when his firm gave him the option of finding a public interest job in lieu of his first year, he ended up working with the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn housing court, keeping families in their homes. This video is a glimpse into his world.

Mr. Reid will be responding to questions about his experiences in the program. Readers who would like to ask him a question can do so in the comments box below. His responses will appear on the blog at the end of the week.

Watch the New York Times video interview with Chris Reid.

Read Reid's answers to blog readers' questions.