The Dissidents within Me, or, Attempting to Control the Future

Halfway through my 2L year (maybe a little more than halfway), I find myself faced with what seem like multiple paths for my future, all of which seem to be mutually exclusive. I wonder if that’s true, and I know that one can never truly know where one’s path will lead, but nonetheless, I am a control-freak type-A law student (redundant, I know), and I feel the need to at least try to control where I’m going in the near future.

So, again the question – where do I go from here?

I came to law school with a background in international security, and I envisioned myself working in international human rights law, or national security law, after I left law school. I got distracted by criminal law, I tripped on it and fell into love with it… now I can’t see myself doing anything else. My first internship in law school was with my home county prosecutor’s office, now I work for a public defense organization. I love both.

The question of what path is right for me seems surprisingly, unexpectedly, intertwined with the question: who am I? Am I a prosecutor or a public defender? Is that the same question as ‘am I a dissident or a bureaucrat’? Do I really see complexities in the system or am I just lulling myself to sleep as I join the state’s enforcement wing? Can I do good, can I affect change, as a prosecutor – and, if I can, will I have done too much harm on my way there for the good to even matter?

I am of two minds. I value dissent and believe that the state’s power should be checked constantly. I enjoy the thought of being one human being who stands against the tremendous machine of power. I am also (usually) of the belief that it is possible (sometimes preferable) to work for change within the system.

My valiant co-intern at my office and I had a conversation this morning, like this:
Me: What would it look like if all the progressive law students went into prosecution instead of defense? Wouldn’t our world look better?
Valiant co-intern: All the progressive law students would put people in jail.

Can I be progressive and a prosecutor? Can I be anti-incarceration, anti-criminalization, and a prosecutor? Can I work for change within the system without becoming indoctrinated and forgetting my values?

And worse, all this is just part of it. I haven’t even mentioned the guilt over giving up my international security path…