Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers.
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.
11 thoughts on “Thrillable Hours: Megan Knize, Clerk at the Supreme Court of Palau”
I’m really enjoying this series. If you ever want to interview a semi-retired (i.e. recovering lawyer) who has electronically filed briefs from the road (i.e. Japan), I’m here. “Here” being wherever I am. I’m leaving for a 25 day trip to Ireland, Copenhagen, Helsinki and London tomorrow.
P.S.: I realize that Ireland is a country and the others are cities.
P.P.S.: My latest blog post is a rant about Virign Atlantic’s roll out of allowing in flight cell phone calls. What are they thinking!?!
Thanks Suzanne! Happy to send you the questionnaire, definitely. I think readers would be curious about how to sustain a legal practice elsewhere, while being location independent. Yes, the VA idea of calls sounds like a disaster in the making. “Hey! Let’s make flights MORE frustrating.”
Very interesting to learn about Megan. She went to law school right down the road from where I am. She is right about farming and immigrant issues here so interesting how her interests have led her to Palau.
What a wonderful series. Sometimes with careers I tend to think “inside the box” so to read real-life examples of creative professional journeys is inspiring! I think the last line sums it up quite well: “it’s all about creating opportunities…” What a wonderful affirmation in words and practice, thank you :)
Thank you Joy! It’s been great fun for me as well, learning from all these creative choices. Glad you’ve enjoyed the series thus far! More to come soon.
More of this please! Pinay lawyer here and now looking for alternative ways to ‘lawyer’ thanks to your post.
P.S. Glad you loved the Philippines..There’s more to see! :)
Thank you Martina! Please take a look at the full series – some other great examples in there. It’s been fun for me to learn from them as well. I did love the ‘Pines and hope to be back there one day soon!
Another great interview! Megan is a shining example of a lawyer making a huge difference in the lives of people who need it. Another reason I really enjoyed reading this is because I’m a UC Davis law grad too (’99) who spent a year in Budapest… I’m definitely going to subscribe to Megan’s blog. Ciao!
Hey there! I used to read your blog, but somehow I forgot about it. Happy to be back, though! Love this series. Keep up the good work and have fun :D
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Thank you for providing more evidence of someone managing to balance travel and work. I feel a lot of people do not like their jobs because of the location they find themselves in. It looks like you’ve managed to combine a passion for travel, along with the passion you have for your job, which I always consider a major success!
Keep living the dream!