The weekend before last I had the great opportunity to attend a retreat with my fellow students of the Christian Legal Fellowship here at New York University School of Law. While the Law School offers plenty of events to help sharpen your identity as a future lawyer–from workshops in emotional intelligence to networking luncheons with firms–sometimes the best lessons are ones learned away from the hustle and bustle of law school life.
What is the Christian Legal Fellowship?
The Christian Legal Fellowship takes its place amongst the other religious-minded organizations at the school, including the Muslim Law Students Association, the Jewish Law Students Association, and the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. CLF is not what you might expect in a law school organization, because even though we engage in serious thought about what it means to be a Christian lawyer, we also play silly games (“Who has the conch?”), cook for each other, and share our life stories during two-hour weekly meetings. Our campus advisor, David Williams, who attends every meeting as our advisor, is part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministries. He gives us a non-student (and adult? professional?) perspective on what it means to incorporate Christianity into all aspects of our law careers.
Why I Love CLF
At CLF, I have been the recipient of wonderful support, not just relating to my questions about Christianity but just in general about stress relating to tests, grades, the job search, and pretty much anything else that life throws in my way. There’s something about walking through the door and having people smile broadly at you and ask, in the words of the CLF president, “How are you?” (I’m not just making small talk, I really want to know–**understanding face/hand on shoulder**). We learn new worship songs and sing as a group–something I thought I would never do in law school. People are not afraid to be vulnerable, as evidenced each week when someone shares a prepared story (a “testimonial”) about how Christianity has played a role in his or her life. I interact not just with third-year students, but with people from 1L/2L year and types of law programs (JD/LLM/dual degree/exchange). From these interactions I am able to give advice based on my own experiences, or simply sit back and enjoy the interesting stories of people from different backgrounds.
Some of the most meaningful connections I have made at the Law School are from CLF–because as my non-CLF friend pointed out to me, the members can talk through our problems using an already existing, powerful, and common foundation. For introverts like me, for whom trying to break into new friendships can be anxiety-provoking at times, it has been great to have CLF facilitate the creation of friendships that will likely last a long time.
Retreating to Reflect
The focus of our winter retreat was “What Makes Us Different? Christianity and the Practice of Law.” The entire event took place in the aptly named Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskill Mountains, with transportation and accommodation generously subsidized by the Christian Legal Society, a nationwide group of Christian lawyers and law students. The three-day, two-night retreat involved intense sessions in both small and large groups that encouraged us to think critically about the role Christianity should play in our professional and personal lives. It was a greatly emotional time for many of us, including myself, probably because in the craziness of law school life I hadn’t really gotten a chance to think about these issues for a long time. I came back from the retreat with a renewed sense of resolve to be more mindful about my religious beliefs and how they could help improve my life, as well as a renewed sense of optimism about my dreams in the law profession.
The retreat was not just all serious talk, as we had many programming events to help us bond with each other and the students from other Northeast law schools. Besides cross-country skiing, my Saturday was filled with archery (though sadly, my dreams of being Katniss Everdeen were dashed) and broomball (on a frozen pond!). We also built snow sculptures almost resembling snowmen. Many, many laughs came from the popular though fiery game of Mafia, which went late into the night. CLF’s own band, Cross Examined, received many accolades for leading an impressive worship in song.
In the end, it’s not really about what is Christian or not, it’s about escaping to somewhere with no cell reception, no email, and no textbooks and revisiting why I came to law school in the first place. Of course, for me Christianity is a huge presence, but for anyone else reading this who isn’t so similarly minded, the point is that it’s always important to take some time out to really think about your goals, dreams, and desires for the future. Whatever happens, it’s important to have trust–whether that’s in a divine being, yourself, or something/someone else–and follow your passion to the fullest. And that, my friends, is how I advanced while on retreat.