By Josh Pens
“What made you decide to go to Law School?”
This is a question every law student will answer dozens of times in the course of interviewing for jobs and internships. It’s a question I myself have answered more than a few times. Yet, when I think back on all of the choices, experiences, and events that brought me to Colorado Law last fall, I realize that it’s a question that is almost impossible to distill into an appropriately brief answer.
My father’s path strongly influenced my own. He went to law school later in life, graduating from Denver Law when I was 16. One might think that witnessing the pressures of law school first-hand would have put me off the idea; but in fact, it was inspirational. I found all of his legal tidbits—those pieces of knowledge that most spouses and friends of law students quickly learn to tune out—fascinating. I was particularly affected by how the law gave him the tools to help people solve their problems in moments of need. So, when I later contemplated entering law school, and wondered whether I could handle the workload, I was greatly encouraged by the fact that my father completed law school and passed the bar on his first try with a full-time job and a family at home.
One might not think of accountants as creative types, but indeed my accounting degree came by way of the school of music. I played several different instruments growing up, and sang in the choir in high school. When I enrolled in college, I thought that I wanted to be a choral director. After a terrible audition, however, and a very frank conversation with my advisor, I decided that music was more of a hobby for me than a career. I changed my major to accounting, and I continued singing in choirs during college and beyond. Although my detour through the music school extended my studies by a year, the experience was valuable both in discerning my future and gaining useful skills. I still enjoy things like public speaking, for example, because it gives me an opportunity to be “on stage.” It was fun to be in a creative environment among some very talented people.
Perhaps the best choice I made on my journey toward law school was the decision not to go right after attaining my undergraduate degree. Though I considered immediately continuing on, I ultimately decided I was ready to be out in the world for a while (and finished with homework). My ten-year hiatus from academia helped me to better realize what a gift it is to be in school. Although my job involved learning and growing, and it challenged me until the day I left, it was just no substitute for the experience of being completely immersed in rigorous study. I certainly have many bright and motivated classmates who came directly from undergraduate degrees; but for me, I know the experience is much richer now than it would have been ten years ago.
I doubt anyone envisions becoming a tax collector. It was a unique and unforeseen way to enter the workforce.
When I applied for a job with the city of Denver, I thought it was an internal audit position. At the interview, I found out that they were actually hiring a tax auditor. I was leery, but the interviewers encouraged me to try the job. The work was challenging, analytical, and somewhat strategic. Fortuitously, it ended up involving many legal tasks. From researching and interpreting statutes, to writing, to presenting at administrative hearings, I developed a stronger sense that a legal career would be a good fit for me.
Part of my decision to actually apply to law school was based on a pact. One drawback to not going straight through from undergrad is that it can be difficult to go back to school. The longer I was away, the more elusive “someday” seemed to become. Then one night, I was having dinner with a close friend who had also considered returning to school. We were contemplating our futures, and decided that “someday” should be today. To motivate each other, we agreed to take the LSAT together. We registered that weekend. If it wasn’t for that dinner, I’m not sure I would have taken that first step and followed through with my dream.
All of these things impacted my decision to apply to law school, but in the end it was still made with some measure of uncertainty. As much as I felt that law would be a good career choice, it was difficult to objectively balance those feelings against the risks of giving up the career I had built. I was by no means certain I would enjoy law school, or that I would find a career in the law rewarding. In short, I took a serious risk.
So far, that risk has paid off. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first-year experience, more so than I imagined. I have met some truly great people, both peers and professors, who will undoubtedly be lifelong friends and colleagues. And even though it’s still less than clear where my degree will take me, the journey has taught me that I will end up where I belong.
By Josh Pens, a Colorado native finishing his first year at the University of Colorado Law School. He graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 2003 with a degree in accounting and worked for 10 years in municipal government.
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.