Editor’s note: We asked four 1L law students—two from Colorado Law and two from Denver Law—to submit articles for our new column, “Law Student Chronicles,” twice per year for five years. We will follow them through their educational journey, as well as join them as they venture out into the legal field.
As I reflect on my first year of law school, I am overwhelmed by a sense of profound gratitude and humble accomplishment. In the past ten months, I may or may not have read more text than I ever have in my twenty-three years of existence; I definitely consumed more coffee, woke up earlier, and stayed up later. After that great ordeal that we call “first year,” I can confidently say that I am on the right path. I am glad to have pursued the legal profession at this time, in this place, and with this group of people. The support system I have in my girlfriend and my classmates has been essential to my perseverance. Because of them, I found the strength to continue at times when I thought I could take no more. My belief in the temporary nature of all of life’s storms has been reinforced: at the end of dark times there is always a brighter day. I made it through the first year; and not only that, this initial year of law school has bestowed upon me new perspectives, new interests, and new frontiers. These I will share with you.
Law school has equipped me with a whole new construct: an understanding of language and its power that far surpasses what I once thought it to be. Language is not only a way of communicating ideas, but it also is a way of shaping reality. Language, fashioned into rules, validated by society, and enforced by the government, can determine the fate of the masses. As law students we receive training that allows us to dissect the nuances of rules, and with those nuances, paint the facts of cases into arguments that are favorable for our clients. If persuasive enough to the judge or jury, we have the ability to provide remedies to individuals who may have no other option for relief. Our efforts can change lives.
Unfortunately, the outcomes guided by the law are not always in step with our ideas of justice and fairness; and many times the remedies provided to victims of atrocity are not enough. In these areas where the law is lacking, I envision the minds of law students, lawyers, and judges nationwide stepping up to the task of righting the wrongs.
I am now aware of the great power that is bestowed upon me by my legal education. With this power comes the responsibility to act justly. I will do my best to carry out this responsibility for the betterment of my community and society at large.
Before coming to law school, I believed that the focus of my legal career was going to be aiding in the fight against mass incarceration. After my first year, I still wish to aid in that fight, but now my thoughts about where solutions will come from have completely changed. I have now developed an interest in energy law and natural resources law in addition to my interest in civil rights law.
The consequences of climate change are harsh. It seems like every other day there is a study out showing both the catastrophic effect humanity’s actions are having on the environment and the impending doom that will result if we do not change our course. These realities brought several speakers to DU to discuss the topic. One speaker that stood out in my mind was Mark Safty. Safty spoke of a future in which all buildings generated their own energy via green sources, a future where homes will put electricity back on the grid, and a future where people will be able to draw electricity off the grid freely. He stated further that the only issues of importance in this day and age are food, water, and energy. I believed Safty wholeheartedly.
After the talk with Safty, I began opening my eyes to the reality of green energy progress that exists in the world today. I am now hopeful. Government entities such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and private entities like Earthship Biotecture are making great strides in renewable energy progress. The most inspiring use of technology I’ve seen thus far is a solar roadway prototype created by Scott and Julie Bursaw. This solar roadway, if applied as envisioned by the couple, will have the ability to provide three times the energy that is used by the United States.
I envision green technology and education about sustainable lifestyles as tools that can be used to combat mass incarceration. We must reduce sentencing lengths, provide more opportunities for rehabilitation inside prison, and remove the barriers that keep people from rejoining society. If the rehabilitation effort included training in the skills necessary to create a sustainable energy future— for example, construction of solar roadways—in conjunction with education that would help ex-prisoners revitalize their own communities—like urban agriculture—than the previously incarcerated may have a better chance at being successful on the outside and making the world a better place while achieving independence and self-sufficiency.
This plan, and many others like it, are subject to several key pitfalls. Prisoners have already been exploited for their labor: sometimes prisoners gain skills while in prison and believe that they will be able to find a job on the outside, but are blocked by barriers placed on people with criminal records. The reduction of employment barriers for ex-felons is essential to the process.
These types of ideas are teeming in my mind and have come as a result of my legal education and the exposure to issues therein. These ideas are in the infantile stage, but because of the new frontiers law school has revealed, I am sure they will mature into transformative action.
I am most grateful for the opportunities law school has provided for further growth. This summer, I will be in South Africa learning about International Immigration and Comparative Constitutional Law. Then in the fall, I will be taking energy law and natural resources law to help further refine my vision on how green energy may fit into stopping mass incarceration. I will also be interning at the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights; there I hope to grow in my understanding of how civil rights law functions and how I can advocate for those who have no way of advocating for themselves. The growth I have experienced thus far has been invaluable, and I am excited for the growth that will happen in my future experiences. I have been given a platform to implement action, as I am now the President of the Black Law Students association at DU and the Vice President of the Christian Legal Society. The time for real work has begun.
This first year of law school was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever surmounted. I feel stronger as a result, but I am also aware that there is so much more for me to learn. I am grateful for the new perspectives I’ve gained, the new interests I have found, and the new frontiers that have been revealed. The best is yet to come.
By Shaquille Turner, a 1L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Turner is feeling great about the direction life is taking him. He has successfully completed the first year at the Sturm College of Law and will be studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa this summer with the Howard University School of Law.