Fulfillment is an elusive idea, but for those who feel drawn to public interest, understanding themselves and where they find fulfillment is an eminent priority. As a young man, I sought fulfillment through a broad array of work, as a rancher, as a salesman, and perhaps most successfully as a student. Before that, I grew up in the low mountains of west Arkansas, in one of Arkansas’ poorest rural counties. Very few of the adults I knew seemed fulfilled, and money didn’t play a part in any of that. My grandfather was a country preacher, and I traipsed after him through nursing homes and hospitals throughout my childhood. He was always full of joy, and his heart was always warm toward the people he encountered. I saw the fulfillment that he had, the joy he took in his service to the people.
I knew I wanted to serve too, and more, to fight for marginalized people. I had joined and served in the Army for this very reason, but I wanted something more direct, needed to feel the fight in my fingers. I took a shot in the dark with the LSAT, and with a respectable score moved on to law school. Here, at last, the promise of fulfillment lay all around, in the many shades of service to self and to community. Hurricane Katrina changed the course of my service, my sense of duty to people and place. I had lived in New Orleans years earlier, had learned to love it easily and even intended to move back as soon as I could. I mobilized other students at my law school and launched a series of service trips to public interest law firms throughout the city.
Many mentors have provided guidance forward from there as I worked with peoples experiencing homelessness and people living with HIV. They taught me about the relationship between a public interest attorney and their client, a special relationship and in many ways a sacred trust. I want to pass on the importance of remembering that clients are the experts, and that attorneys called to the public interest are not here to lead our clients forward, but to support the self-forwarding of those clients who have but rarely been treated as people. By imparting the methods and motivations that have helped me forward, that have moved me along, I can provide a unique insight into the philosophy of service necessary for a successful public interest career.