Welcome back to Thrillable Hours! This next instalment of the lawyer interviews is with a woman named Megan, who is currently clerking in the Equatorial Pacific, in a tiny country called Palau. She originally wrote me after seeing the New York Times feature on the site (yay!) and asked some advice about Thailand and Cambodia; as soon as I heard what she was up to, I asked her to participate in the Q&A.
Of the reader emails from lawyers, half are from people saying they wanted to quit to travel, and the other half from people who want to be lawyers or are in law school, but wish there was a travel component to their career prospects.
Given that he court system in Palau has a need for US-trained lawyers, this could be a very educational, different way to spend a year after law school. Whether it leads to additional work in an unconventional sphere (Megan talks about heading to Southeast Asia to continue with advocacy work) or an interlude prior to private practice, it’s always good to see what options are out there. I confess I did not realize Palau could be one of mine.
A brief note: for some reason Feedburner re-sent out my post on Marrakesh from February yesterday, despite my not having changed the post or modified Feedburner settings. Apologies for that – not sure why it happened.
What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
I went to law school to learn how to advocate for the voiceless, but my commitment to social justice started well before that. I grew up in an economically disadvantaged area of California, and I’ve always been sensitive to issues facing immigrants and farm workers. When I was 20, I took a course focusing on the civil war in El Salvador during the 1980s. We later visited some of the villages and listened to people’s stories. It was during that time that I knew I wanted to develop tools to make me into an effective advocate.
I chose UC Davis for law school because it has an excellent public interest program, and I did some human rights work overseas in Budapest during my first summer. After law school I started clerking, which helped me serve the public in a different way and better understand the judiciary. I clerked for both the state and federal court. The Court Counsel job I have right now combines my passion for international work and my desire to learn from people of other cultures with my love of the law and interest in working for judges. It’s been a great fit!
How did you end up clerking in Palau? What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
I didn’t know much about Palau before I started researching the job, but it turns out there is a small but committed cadre of American lawyers working in Micronesia. There are jobs for those interested in working as law clerks, as prosecutors, public defenders, with legal aid, and in private practice.
I saw the announcement for this job when I was clerking for a federal judge in Southern California. I did a lot of research about Palau and talked to a number of people who had lived here and who had held the same position. Although Palau is beautiful, it’s not the idyllic island paradise many people might imagine. There are a number of challenges to living there, but that’s why I like it. I would love to return some day once I have more experience as a litigator.
What I find most fulfilling about this job is the opportunity to truly be a public servant: every day, I feel that I am helping make Palau’s judiciary more efficient and helping litigants have better access to the courts. I was lucky enough to write content for our website (www.palausupremecourt.net) and I have also revised a number of procedural rules that will enable litigants to file fee waivers if they cannot pay the filing fees. It’s also been fascinating to understand the local culture and see how that interacts with the legal system here.
I have also had the chance to interact with Palauans outside of work through sports teams and coaching high school students in moot court.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving conventional private practice in North America but concerned about what is out there?
Researching the opportunities is critical. Because there’s often not a lot of information available online (except for blogs), I recommend searching online to find someone who has, say, worked as a district attorney on the island you are interested in. Word of mouth is really important for sharing information on and off island!
Do you think you will return to more conventional private practice? If not, what’s next for you?
I’m currently writing this from a hotel in Cambodia, where I am on a two-week holiday. Being here has opened my eyes to the tragedies in Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia. We lawyers are in a particularly good position to help others in this part of the world, so I would like to explore opportunities to work for an NGO either here in Asia or in California.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
Megan Knize is a 2008 graduate of King Hall, UC Davis School of Law. She is currently Court Counsel for the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau. You can read more about her adventures at www.penpalau.com.