Recently, I was asked to complete a professional biography for a non-profit I helped to found and continue to advise. One of the questions they asked was “Aside from your legal accomplishments, what are you most proud of?” Like any good parent, I said my kids – not out of some fake, self-serving praise for my parenting (I screw up a lot!), but because I truly believe that those three humans are my longest-lasting legacy on this planet.
From the time they were in elementary school, I ask them every morning how they intend to make the world a better place today. From an early age, I tried to impress on them that one person making small, almost undetectable, changes can have big impacts on the lives of others; and, equally important, that it is their obligation to leave this world better than how they found it.
My reward for these daily lessons (so far)? A 19-year old sophomore psychology major at Oberlin College who works at a camp for mentally-challenged teens during her summer breaks. A 17-year old daughter who passionately exercises her rights of assembly and free speech by joining equality marches of all shapes and sizes. And, lastly, a 13-year old boy who (when he’s not playing Fortnite) displays deep empathy for his sisters and friends. (C’mon! He’s a 13-year old boy, that’s about the best I can expect!)
What’s Your Legacy?
If you’re a 20-something who’s looking to have a lasting impact on the world and you don’t yet have any offspring to groom as change ambassadors, I’d say the next best thing is becoming a lawyer. Yeah, I’m serious.
Despite all the jokes about lawyers, when you consider what they do, it’s easy to imagine all the ways lawyers leave the world a better place. On an individual level, representing a battered mom, ensuring that a child gets the resources they need from a school district, or helping an immigrant successfully seek asylum in the U.S. has enormous impacts not only on those people they represent but also the generations who follow.
And, when you research change agents who served as the force behind positive changes in the world, I’m sure you’ll find many of them were lawyers. You see, a law degree is a powerful thing because it’s an education in how the world works; if you’re looking to have an impact on the system, you’d better know how it works (and where it’s broken), before you decide to fix it.