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My name is Hala Furst, and I am a 3L. Before coming to Roger Williams I received a BA in Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota. In the three years between graduating from college and arriving here in Bristol, RI, I worked as a hotel concierge for a luxury brand, a loan officer and mortgage...

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Back in the Thick of It

Posted by Hala Furst on 03/26/2008 at 12:00 AM

So, Spring Break wasn’t much of a break, since I and six of my colleagues were working with the Mississippi Center for Justice on the Gulf Coast. However, it was incredibly energizing and exciting in that “fire in your belly” sort of way. It reminded me of why I had come to law school, and showed me that helping people with a law degree really is possible. I can’t say enough good things about the people of North Gulfport, where I was working, going door to door telling community members about a container port that was supposed to be built on 70 acres of wetlands, just 100 feet from their homes. People welcomed us into their homes, and told the stories of their lives. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the despicable indifference with which they were treated by the federal government was but one of a long line of injustices to affect the people of this community, but time and time again we were reminded to have faith in God, and to have faith in other people. People in North Gulfport were excited to talk to us, to give their opinion and be heard. Every person I talked to had an opinion about the container facility, whether good or bad, and every person wanted to be involved in community meetings and other events about it. It became apparent that the plan to build the inland port was kept so quiet because the people of North Gulfport were not- their level of civic engagement was unlike any I have experienced elsewhere. It was the kind of civic pride and passion that community organizers dream about, and for this reason I think the Gulf Coast of Mississippi should be the next “hot spot” for social justice and political action. Even two and half years later, there are people living in FEMA trailers, people living without electricity or running water, people living in a squalor that has been forced upon them by circumstances and the complete ineptitude of the Federal Government, and still they have hope that their voices will be heard. We should be so lucky to have clients this invested in our futures.

The MCJ is overworked, understaffed, and underpaid, but if you want a hands-on, hit-the-ground-running experience, it can’t be beat. The staffers are friendly, efficient, and interested in what we have to say. They are encouraging and informative, and they have incredible passion for what they do. They are realistic and will tell you honestly that this is not a glamorous or easy way to make a living; they do not idealize or romanticize what they do, and a lot of it is, honestly, tedious, frustrating, and seemingly pointless. But, when you speak to a person who hasn’t been listened to by several government agencies, when you look them in the eye and say “I can help you, and here’s how”, that’s what being a lawyer should be about. We forget so easily that we are supposed to be advocates and advisors, not just desk jockeys trying to pull millions out of one corporation or another. We have a privilege and a duty to help people, and there is nowhere in this country where the need is greater right now. This trip reminded me, at a time when I really needed the reminder, of why I came to law school in first place. Being from Alabama originally, it reminded me of my roots, and made me seriously consider coming back down to the Gulf Coast after law school. There is so much need, and so much that a lawyer can do to help. People down there don’t even know that they have legal needs, don’t understand the fundamental, essential nature of legal help in housing, property, contracts, environment, job security, etc; all the things that are jeopardized by a natural disaster of this magnitude.  I knew I wanted to do public interest work before this, but I didn’t know what that would look like. Now I do know what it looks like, and I want to do it even more.

So, suffice it to say, it was very inspiring, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to go. However, with oral arguments, the second submission of the appellate brief, and the last month of school rapidly approaching, I find myself just an eensy bit jealous of my friends who spent their spring break on the beach sipping something colada-based. Oh well. I think that is just the fatigue talking, for I am getting fatigued. The work just keeps piling up, and it never stops. Even tonight, which I planned to spend doing some homework and catching up on some much needed zzzs is going to be spent preparing for an interview I’m conducting tomorrow for the Liberian Truth and reconciliation commission, as well as writing this blog and the journal entry for my Public Interest service hours from spring break. Friday we have an all day event GLBT legal issues and then I’ll be going to dinner with some prospective honors students. But, even with everything going on, and as bone tired as I am some days, I am happy, and I remain happy. Last night I was at a round table hosted by Judge Savage, from the bench of the Superior Court of Rhode Island (again, that’s just awesome!). She reminded us that life is going to take you a lot of places, and you aren’t going to see all of them if you’ve locked yourself in a study room in the library. Studying hard is important, but it is also important not to neglect all the other things that are going on that will keep you in touch with why you came to RWU, and to law school, in the first place.

I hope all the admitted students are coming to Prospective Students Weekend this weekend. If you see me in the halls, say hi!