Episode 01: How I Got To Stanford Law and Why I Became a Public Defender, with Annick Jordan

Episode 01: How I Got To Stanford Law and Why I Became a Public Defender, with Annick Jordan

Show Notes:

On this episode, Annick Jordan shares what it was like to work as a paralegal at a big law firm and Spotify before going to Stanford Law School. She breaks down her longer-than-expected law school application process and what it was like to overcome the LSAT and self-imposed expectations on her law school application timeline. She also shares what it was like to be one of the few Black women in her Stanford Law class, and her path to becoming a public defender in New Orleans, Louisiana – the mass incarceration capital in the world. Annick’s story is a wonderful reminder to set big goals and go after our dreams – no matter how long it takes to get there.

Check out the Highlights:

3:06 – Annick’s post-grad job search

4:33 – Being a paralegal at a big law firm in New York City

6:48 – How Annick’s law school timeline shifted and moving over to Spotify

10:39- Tackling the LSAT, writing essays and preparing to apply to law school programs

16:47 – Transitioning into Stanford Law School as a Black woman, and pursuing public interest law

20:22 – What it’s like to be a public defender in New Orleans, and finding peace in not planning

Links Mentioned In Episode:

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Annick: I think that with many advisors, they tell you that you’re not going to get into top schools, which is, it’s frustrating. I wasn’t deterred by that. I was like, okay, yeah, that’s great, like, I’m still applying to all of them. So..

Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killin it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger – proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat each Friday, as we dive into a special guest’s story, and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.

Priscilla: On this episode, you get to hear from Annick Jordan who graduated from Stanford Law in 2017 and now works as a public defender in New Orleans Louisiana. She talks about deciding to take her time before going to law school, what it was like to paralegal at a big law firm and Spotify, overcoming the LSAT, believing in herself, and making it at Stanford Law as one of the few Black women in her class. 

Priscilla: Annick and I went to college together, and I just couldn’t be more excited to have you on the show. So welcome, Annick!

Annick: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Priscilla: Great! So I would love to hear a little bit about your personal background?

Annick: Yeah. So, I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mom never went to college. She grew up in North Dakota and then moved to Los Angeles. My dad grew up in the segregated South and went to an HBCU.  I left when I was 18 to go to college at Wellesley and I have not lived in Los Angeles since then. I’ve just been moving around. But I still definitely call Los Angeles home and think I might move back there someday.

Priscilla: Got it. So, I know that you were a Peace and Justice Studies major in college and you focused on Latin America, you know, you traveled to Latin America a few times. I’m curious if you knew this whole time in college that you would be applying to law school?

Annick: I had always planned to go straight through from Wellesley College to law school and then discovered that that was going to be really challenging, just given studying for the LSAT and getting a score that I wanted to get to get into the law schools I wanted to get into…So, I decided that it was not the best idea or plan to go straight through the law school, which my mom was not happy about. I think a lot of parents who aren’t doing what you’re doing and didn’t have the experience of going to college don’t understand how challenging it is to just like stick to your planned path. And so, I think she was just worried I was never going to go to law school,

Priscilla: Totally. I think that’s a really hard conversation to have sometimes with our parents when our plans change and, explaining that. But yeah, so I’m curious when it came time to apply to jobs and it came time to graduation, how did you approach that job searching process?

Annick: So, I started looking, I applied to a lot of think tank jobs and nonprofit jobs in DC and New York. And then, it was the spring. I hadn’t gotten a job yet. And a Wellesley classmate of mine who had graduated the year before I talked to, and she was a paralegal at a large corporate firm in New York. And she was like, why don’t you do this? I can send your resume and you might like working in big law. And I knew then that I probably did not want to work at a large corporate law firm, after law school, but it did seem like an interesting, first job in a way for me to rule that out, before wasting time during the summer in law school or after law school to figure that out. And it also, paid well, which was also another consideration after college. I wasn’t getting any help financially. And, it excited me to move to New York and not be struggling or worrying about money. So that was a really incredible, an eye-opening experience.

Priscilla: Yeah so how was that first job experience like what was that like for you?

Annick: I worked there for two years and I really took advantage of every opportunity as a paralegal there and was actually able to work a lot in their pro bono practice, which was not that developed. So, I did immigration and housing work mostly, but that was the first time that I had ever experienced direct services, with populations in the United States around housing and immigration. So that was really eye-opening.  It was also interesting to be doing that with a firm that had endless resources. And it was basically all positive, in that respect, that I had a bunch of time and money and resources to spend on these cases. And so, yeah, that was my first experience doing that kind of work and it was very clear that that was the type of work I wanted to do after law school. Although, I still was not sure exactly what my dream job would be.

Priscilla: So, during this time as a paralegal, how were you thinking around your graduate school application plans?

Annick: When I started working as a paralegal at the law firm, I told myself, okay, I’m going to do this for two years and then go to law school, and I, again changed my timeline. My mom passed away six months after I graduated from college. And, it was just a lot more challenging to stay on track and take the LSAT, get a score that I wanted. I actually completely bombed it the first time I took it. So, that was upsetting. And I, and I was, I was just kind of like, oh my God, I just can’t do this right now. I just can’t go to law school right now, which it took me a while to get over that rigid timeline.  I was like, I have to do it. I have to prove to everyone that I’m fine. And I can do what I said I was going to do. And then I realized it really didn’t matter.

Priscilla: I totally agree that we have these very rigid timelines for ourselves sometimes. And we really think that we have to do step A and then step B step C, and really our journeys can look a lot of different ways. That’s really cool that you were able to adjust even though in the moment it didn’t feel that great. So, I would love to hear about what happened after you decided to leave the law firm. What did, what did you do next?

Annick: Yeah, an attorney that I worked for at the law firm had left to start the litigation practice at Spotify at the New York office, which was still a very small office. And they were looking for an experienced paralegal. So that’s how I got my next job working in the legal department at Spotify, which was also very interesting and an incredible experience that I’m so happy that I had.

Priscilla: That sounds like such a cool opportunity to get to work at Spotify, especially when they were early on and growing. So, what kind of opportunities did you have at Spotify?

Annick: Given the fact that it was such a small a company at the time, especially in their New York office, (most of their lawyers worked in Sweden and in the UK), I was the only non-lawyer in the legal department in New York. I spent the bulk of my time working with the attorney who worked in the marketing and ad sales, editing contracts between other companies. And I had no experience whatsoever editing contracts and she spent the time teaching me how to do that, which I found really interesting. So, I would often take the first stab at editing contracts with other major companies before she would take the final look at it. What I spent most of my time doing was working on, new market launches. While I was there, Spotify launched in over 50 countries and so there’s a lot of legal implications of launching in a new country. And so, I mostly worked on those projects specifically with the attorneys in Sweden. So, I got to travel a lot to the UK and Sweden and India because we were launching in India. And I really felt like I was treated like another lawyer, which was really amazing. And I think is a huge benefit of working at a smaller company or a company that’s just starting to build itself, the legal department, because you are just given incredible opportunities that you don’t get at a large firm.

Priscilla: So, how was your experience as a paralegal at the big law firm like what was that like before you joined Spotify?

Annick:  I worked at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which is known as being like one of the most elite law firms in New York City and represents most of the big banks and corporations, and being a paralegal there was not glamorous. You basically spend all of your time researching, creating binders of materials for associates and partners to review. Basically, you’re there to make the lives of associates and partners easier to actually write important legal documents and present things in court or to clients.

And so, I spent hours every day at a copy machine, you’re often cite checking and making sure that specific documents that were cited in, and legal briefs for the correct document. It was very boring work. And then there were times where you’re running around, like rushing to do things and working really late.

Priscilla: It’s so cool that you were able to get these two very different experiences before you went to law school. One of them was very conservative and there was a lot of hierarchy and then you were able to go to a place that was way more casual.

Annick: Yeah, so casual. I think they were two different extremes, honestly. I had to wear a full suit to the law firm, which is pretty rare these days. I think a lot of corporate firms it’s business casual, so this was business formal, everyone, including paralegals were full seats. and it was very hierarchical as you said, which was something that you could feel on a daily basis, just the way you interacted with associates and partners. And then Spotify, it was an amazing place to work after working at the law firm. But I did discover like, Oh, I wouldn’t really want to be a lawyer in a place like Spotify where it is hard to concentrate. There’s so much going on. We would have artists performing on the Spotify stage, when I’m trying to have a conference call, for example, and all the conference rooms are booked. It did give me a lot of flexibility. So, I could work from home if I wanted to…no one was really looking over my shoulder. I did realize that I do like having a lot more freedom in my work, which is a huge thing in my current job. It was really helpful to get both of those experiences and it really helped me figure out the type of work environment I wanted for going to law school, which was helpful and saved me a lot of time.

Priscilla: So, backing up a little here. I know during this time you were applying to law school. What was the whole LSAT and applying to law school process like for you?

Annick: Yeah, it felt like it was never ending for me personally. I think that some people do it really quickly. And because I was thinking about it for so many years, like I went into college knowing what I wanted to go to law school. And then I think I signed up for the LSAT the first time, my junior year of college because I was taking an LSAT prep course at Harvard and they were like, oh yeah, you should sign up for this because it’s good to just have a goal, even if you’re not prepared. And then I was totally not prepared to take that class, and no one told me to withdraw from it. So, then I just had like a no-show on my record, and then I was freaking out about that. And then I realized I didn’t have enough time to study for the LSAT while I was in college. And so, I basically studied for the LSAT for like four years…and not, some periods are more intense than others, but it was something that was on my mind for four years, which was a lot, and I don’t really recommend, not that it was like bad, it was just stressful to be thinking about it all the time. I just really think that you have to give yourself a break and not hold yourself to these rigid deadlines and timelines, and really do what is best for you. I wish that I would have done that. So, I took it again. I did it a lot better and it ended up not mattering that I bombed it the first time, because you can actually explain in your applications, like if there’s a LSAT score or something in your application, that seems off that you want to explain.


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Annick: So, I explained that. I think a lot of undergrads and law school prep classes make it seem like it’s not okay for you to fail at all. And that they average your scores and everything’s ruined if that happens. And I just don’t think that’s really that true. The actual application part was, less stressful than the LSAT, and really exciting. I enjoyed working on my personal statements. I started writing them months in advance and sent drafts to different friends who knew me in different phases of my lives and who I knew would give me different feedback. And I really just wanted as many people as possible to give me feedback. I also reached out to the pre-law advisor at Wellesley College who was really helpful. I think that with many advisors, they tell you that you’re not going to get into top schools, which is, it’s frustrating. I wasn’t deterred by that. I was like, okay, yeah, that’s great, like, I’m still applying to all of them. So, but I think it does affect a lot of people and it makes them think that they can’t even apply to schools. And I applied to over ten schools, which is really expensive. The whole process of applying to law school is just so incredibly expensive. It’s really problematic. You get a lot of fee waivers based on your LSAT score, which is really great, but obviously all of the top schools are not going to give you a fee waivers. So, I just spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on applications. But for me, it was really important to apply to every school that I wanted to apply to because it is such a crap shoot and you never know what schools you are going to get into just based on conversations I had with people applying the law school. So, I really wanted to apply to every school that I was excited about. But I was really terrified that I wasn’t going to get into any law school when I applied. And I had all these like backup plans in my mind, just to make me less stressed about if I didn’t get into law school, which obviously everything worked out, but it was stressful.

Priscilla: Hearing you just talk about this process makes me think about just all of the undue stress that’s placed on applicants and how top-notch people like you are like, so overwhelmed and feel a lot of imposter syndrome. And you were worried about getting into any law school and you got into Stanford! Like, it’s just kind of crazy to me.

Annick: A lot of people that work in career offices at schools, they really think that it all comes down to your GPA and your LSAT score, which are obviously very important, but a lot of these top schools, also just want smart, really incredible people to go to their schools and people who have interesting life perspectives and want to make a difference in the world because a lot of these top schools are filled with. People who only want to make money and work at corporate law firms. And so, I really think having an amazing personal statement and an adversity statement that you can write a lot of optional statements that I think a lot of people don’t take advantage of. And I just wrote an essay for every possible thing I could and spent so much time writing them. And I really do think that that played a huge role in me getting into schools. Obviously, there’s like a threshold you have to meet with your GPA and LSAT score. But I do think there’s so much room in these applications to show who you are and to really pitch yourself.

Priscilla: What was it like getting to Stanford, like, was it a really big culture shock?

Annick: Yeah. So it was, it was intense. I think I was less stressed out than people who went straight through and Stanford didn’t really have many students who went straight through from undergrad, whereas other law schools have a lot. I think that gave me a lot of perspective. I was pretty clear when I arrived at Stanford, that I was not going to get distracted with any corporate big law BS, basically. I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I was pretty clear in the fact that I wanted to do public interest law. So, I immediately sought out those communities and resources, which I think really saved me a lot of time and stress compared to classmates who are unsure about that. I will say that I…I was overwhelmed by just the whiteness and the amount of privilege and entitlement. I mostly was surrounded by white men who I found incredibly irritating. And I will say it was the first time that I ever felt a sense of imposter syndrome, I mean the first law school class the professor made a speech at the beginning of class about how we were all the smartest students in our undergrad, but that we wouldn’t, you know, be the smartest at this law school…basically, to scare us. That is what they do in your first year in law school, and I think it’s a lot worse than other schools. I did feel like, Oh shit, like…I don’t know, should I not be here? Like that definitely went through my mind and I was more timid to speak up in class. And, definitely went through an initial period of feeling uncomfortable, which is what the first year of law school is really designed to do – break you down and make you think in a certain way. And, looking back, and now that I’ve talked to classmates of mine all felt that way. But I do think that experience was heightened by the fact that I was like…one of 17 black students in my first year in my entire class at Stanford and very few people of color in my class. So that was jarring. And, my entire life I was used to being in mostly white spaces, but for some reason, I felt that more at Stanford.

Priscilla: I’ve also heard that there’s a tendency in law school for people to hide behind logic and reasoning and people don’t really hear more of the emotional appeals, was that part of your experience too?

Annick: Definitely. I felt that so much, especially in the first year, when most of your classes are doctrinal classes that you have to get out of the way before you can take. Classes that you’re more interested in and so, everything just falls so cold and, as you said, with a focus on logic and reason, and I often felt incredibly disconnected from what I was reading and studying. And luckily, I was able to get involved in pro bono projects my first year at Stanford. So, I was really involved in the immigration pro bono and I just became really involved in as many public interest things as I could my first year, and really just focused on my doctrinal classes last, I was fortunate to do that because Stanford doesn’t have grades, which I highly recommend going to law school that doesn’t have grades. It’s basically just honors and pass and only 30% of students in each class can get an honors grade and it’s all anonymous grading. And so that really gave me a lot of room to actually explore things that I was interested in, while doing the bare minimum in things that I was not interested in, which I feel very grateful for.

Priscilla: So, let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about what you’re doing today, which is, you know, you’re a public defender in New Orleans. What made you consider this career path and what has it been like for the last three years?

Annick: Yeah, it’s been…very intense and emotionally and physically exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. So, this is actually my dream job out of law school. I’m very lucky to have gotten it.  I knew after my first year of law school that I wanted to be a public defender. I did not know that when I started law school, but just based on my interactions with students and conversations, my public interest mentor was going down that road. And he encouraged me to spend my first summer working at a public defender’s office, even though I thought I was more interested in impact litigation, so, working for the ACLU actively filing lawsuits against entities. I thought I was going to do that, but public defense was not really on my radar at all. I didn’t really know what it was about. And so, I’m really glad I spent my first summer working at the public defender’s office in Harlem and I was pretty sure after a few weeks that that was exactly what I wanted to do because it had an incredible combination of direct services and legal work, and oral advocacy being in court every day, which was exciting to me, but also having, connections with clients. And you really feel like an investigator and a social worker and a lawyer…every day is completely different. It’s really fast paced, and you also have a lot of autonomy. You are completely responsible for all of your cases, which I really liked. And so, I thought I was going to move back to New York after law school, because I had heard a lot of great things about the public defender’s office in New Orleans. And I thought it would be really fun to just live there for a summer. So that’s how I ended up in New Orleans for a summer. And I did everything I could to get back there. And I started the interview process that summer and knew that I got a job there in September of my third year of law school, which is so amazing, and took a lot of stress off of my last year of law school, you know, having to participate in the general job search.

Priscilla: I can imagine that being a public defender in New Orleans would be pretty challenging. What has that experience been like for you?

Annick: It is, it’s a lot. New Orleans, Louisiana is the mass incarceration capital of the world and has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in the country, which is a huge reason why I wanted to do this work in New Orleans, where it just seems like the most unjust places in the country. And I knew that I wanted to do something with criminal justice reform going into law school. And I thought that I could make more of a difference doing larger strategic litigation, but I quickly learned that there was so much work to be done on the ground level, representing individual people. I strongly believe that being a public defender on the ground gives me a better perspective on what needs to change, and the best way to do that. I just love that I interact with clients on a daily basis, that I’m in court every single day, making arguments for those people. And the challenging thing about the job is, often it feels like everything that you do makes no difference in the outcome for your clients, which is really sad. We are just forced to work within this incredibly unjust environment. And often the only thing you can do is stand beside your client when something really terrible is happening to them, which I think that alone is really significant and important, and that alone makes me grateful for what I do.

But you know, it can get really draining to constantly on a daily basis see really terrible things happening to your clients. It’s really important to figure out what you can do to detach from the work and prioritize self-care, to keep yourself sane, because there’s just an endless amount of work. And there’s always more that you could do that you don’t have time for…Our case loads are some of the highest in the country and it’s just impossible to do everything you can do for your clients. And the weight of that is a lot sometimes. But, it’s just important to figure out how you can remove yourself from that so that you can keep going basically.

Priscilla: So, my last question for you, Annick, is what excites you about what you’re doing now and what comes next for you and your future?

Annick: I’ve been very fortunate to work in the strategic litigation department in my office because it’s really opened up other opportunities. I’ve spent the last year working on these resentencings and so I’m interested in possibly doing that kind of work for other organizations or working for like an ACLU and doing impact litigation. I think, what excites me is that there is so much room to grow, even in my current position, even though I’ve been doing this for three years and it’s technically the same work that I’ve been doing for the last three years, they’re very quick to move you up to the next practice level as the new class of attorneys come in. So every year, I’m starting to take cases, different charges and people who are facing different circumstances. And also, the strategic litigation allows a lot of room for growth. It’s kind of exciting not to think about the next step, because I feel like my entire life I’ve been planning for the next step. And so, I’m really just trying to live in the moment and the present. And, really just try to excel in this job and, learn as much as I can before I go onto the next chapter.

Priscilla: Annick, it has been such a joy to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for sharing your story and for being here. So many people will get a lot from your story in terms of pushing through challenges and staying resilient and finding your own path, thank you.

Annick: Thank you so much for having me, I really enjoyed talking to you.

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into the Early Career Moves podcast! Be sure to visit ECMPodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community! And if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Have a great week!