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Pathways to the Profession: Sophia Dai L’16

June 23, 2014

Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the U.S. and abroad. This dispatch from Sophia Dai L’16 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers. Dai is spending her summer clerking in the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee.  

I’m originally from Los Angeles, went to UCLA for undergrad, and now member of the class of 2016. 

Clerking in the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee is an incredibly stimulating and rewarding experience. I’ve worked on a range of substantive legal issues that range from patent reform to constitutional amendments. It’s been a great summer so far and I’m extremely grateful to work with the talented team in Senator John Cornyn’s (R-TX) office.

Coming in as a rising 2L with no material legal experience, I was very nervous that my first day on the job would expose me as a mere dilettante of law. My doubts were fortunately never realized—while my work assignments were challenging, I was better primed for the experience than I had expected. Although Legal Practice Skills is ungraded, Professor Alison Kehner’s class was the best preparation for this summer position. As a 1L, I significantly underestimated the consequence of a pass/fail class and often thought the assignments were complete malarkey, but the legal writing and research skills I developed throughout the year stemmed directly from LPS.

Notwithstanding my participation in student government growing up, I had no experience in government or politics prior to this clerkship. Even prior to my 1L year, I focused on private practice and imagined myself at a firm post-graduation. My first year at Penn, unfortunately, did not expand my tunnel vision—firms love to court Penn students and their attentions are by no means unrequited. This clerkship, however, has roused me to question my long-term career goals. My brief tryst with politics has given birth to inspired visions of new career prospects. Although it is only a small possibility, I believe that my work product in the U.S. Senate could influence the legislative process and positively impact millions of lives. This feeling of consequence is perhaps preposterous for a 23-year-old to experience, and certainly compels one to entertain thoughts about future positions away from the private sector.

Regardless of long-term career goals, many of us believe that working in a firm post-graduation is the “Penn”-ultimate fait accompli. However, after seeing JDs lead successful, happy lives on the Hill and in other avenues of the law, I now contemplate more varied professional opportunities alongside my original plans. I do not seek nor have a fixed five-year-plan and remain open to change. This clerkship has awakened new hope—there is a great breadth of opportunity in the legal world.

Read more summer employment dispatches.