BY ERIN ARCHERD
This article is the second in a series talking with 3Ls who have decided not to work in Big Law after graduation.
Deborah Popowski worried that her tightly focused job search would limit her options, but with encouragement and a lot of patience waited till she found a job tailored to fit her interests.
Where are you working and what got you interested in that job?
I’ll be working at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York on seeking accountability for acts of torture. I worked with their Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative during my 2L January term, on a case of a prisoner whom the government threatened to send back to his home country, where he feared further torture. I continued to work with the organization on joint projects through Advocates and the human rights clinic.
I loved working there; the staff is brilliant, incredibly dedicated, and great to be around. They have a holistic and grounded perspective on social change, and they recognize the importance of partnering litigation with grassroots and legislative advocacy. I respect and admire their approach.
What was the job hunting process like?
Stressful and time-consuming compared to OCI, from what my friends have told me; not significantly stressful and time-consuming compared to real word job searching. It’s all relative. I got a tremendous amount of help from Judy Murciano and the Human Rights Program. The unbelievable amount of time, energy, and emotional support they contributed made me believe that something good would work out in the end.
I had applied to a couple of funded fellowships at larger NGOs, and the interviewing process was interesting but pretty intimidating. Talking to CCR and creating this tailored fellowship was totally different – it began in an organic, almost unexpected way, and I was totally comfortable because I knew the staff, and they knew my work.
What was the biggest barrier in the process and how did you overcome it?
Getting over feeling defeated at the end of the difficult, intimidating fellowship interviews. Even when I knew I had done well, or that the outcome didn’t matter all that much to me, I couldn’t help feeling anxious the night before and blue the day after.
Like I said, the process with CCR, which was a create-your-own fellowship, wasn’t like that at all, though. But the biggest barrier in a pieced-together fellowship like this one is organizing the pieces, not having a set calendar, having to depend on various sets of very busy parties – and the waiting. The waiting is the hardest because you don’t always have a guarantee that things will come together, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that you should be applying to dozens of other places while you wait. So it was stressful – but again, it’s all relative.
We’re in such a privileged position here. I got over (or through) the feeling by reminding myself that it would all work out somehow, something that OPIA, HRP, and my friends helpfully repeated often. I was also very, very lucky in that the process wasn’t that long – only a couple of months. So while it felt eternal at times, it definitely wasn’t. And it was a tiny, tiny price to pay for a job that I’m thrilled to be doing.
What was the most useful piece of advice someone gave you while you were considering your career?
My career is still under consideration, and will be for as long as it persists! Early last fall, though, I went in to talk to Prof. Minow about the larger picture, and to ask whether she thought I had been limiting myself with too-focused ideas. Because I have spent a lot of my time in law school on human rights and national security work, especially on anti-torture advocacy, and because entry-level opportunities in that field are relatively limited, I worried that if I focused my search too narrowly that I’d end up with nothing to show for it – and/or that I would be missing out on other social justice fields that I would also enjoy.
She was incredibly helpful, as always, and we discussed several options. But at the end of the conversation, she just looked at me and said: “I think you should go ahead and do the anti-torture work. It’s what you’ve been working towards. It’s what you love to do. Why do anything else?”