In this series of essays, Lawyers Update helps you to get into world's top law schools.
An Intellectual Desire
J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan , was, like his fictional character, forever a child. When he was little, he watched his brother die in a skating accident and listened incessantly to his mother's yearnings for her other son- every time [Barrie] would enter the room, she would confuse him with his brother, and then upon realizing who it was, say, "Oh, it's only you." Her only solace was that her son had died as a child, so she could forever retain the image of his youth. Under the severe psychological stress of having his mother ignore him, and under the belief that if perhaps he, like his brother, remained a child, his body stopped producing growth hormones.
I was riveted as Robert Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neuroscience at Stanford, explained how severe stress of the mind can actually affect the way the body functions. I was fascinated by this story because it was the first time I realized how much the mind and body can interact to affect human behavior. While I have always been intrigued by the causes of behavior, until this date I had believed that one could only study behavior from a specific perspective- psychologists studied how the mind and, more specifically, experience affect behavior, while biologists studied how our physical makeup, or our genes, dictates behavior. I felt torn between the two worlds, and was thrilled to learn that human biology was a Stanford major that would allow me to examine the root causes of behavior from an inter-disciplinary approach to give me a fuller understanding of why exactly humans behave the way they do.
* * * * * *
Even my non-science jobs have contributed to my understanding of how human behavior works. In my position at Senator [Hillary] Clinton's office, understanding the behavior of her constituents was an important aspect of developing policy within her office. At the district attorney's office, an essential aspect of working in white-collar crime is understanding defendants on a psychological level. In my work on the Tyco case, we have tried to get a fuller picture of what would motivate the defendants to take money from the very company they are designated to run- the key to understanding such motivation is to get a picture of their mental state at the time of the criminal activity. Furthermore, as the trial is set to begin, we as a trial team, must consider the behavior of our potential jury. Understanding how we want the jury to behave will determine not only what questions we ask them during voir dire , but will also determine the direction of our case, and part of knowing how they behave is understanding what causes humans to behave the way they do.
Just as science seeks to understand behavior, law seeks to improve it. I have not merely sought to understand behavior for its own sake- I have always hoped to use this knowledge to somehow improve the world around me. Everything I have done has not only been about understanding behavior, but about helping people while learning. I believe so much in public service that I started a program, modeled after Princeton Project 55, to encourage Stanford seniors to seek jobs in public service by offering three one-year fellowships. I got inspired to start this program after my own frustration at trying to find a job in public service. After working closely with both Princeton and Stanford to implement the program, as well as finding other interested alumni, the fellowship program will begin this year.
Law school will allow me to use my understanding of human behavior to work in both a direct service position, and in a more policy-making function, as I do now at the DA's office. After law school, I will continue to try to apply what I learn in the classroom to the world around me. Only now do I fully realize the importance of hands-on experience in addition to theory-I can honestly say that I have learned more about stress by working at the DA's office than I ever did in the classroom.