“Yeah, law school sucks a little bit, right?” Satana Deberry said to a room full of Duke law students. Her audience chuckled.
The Durham district attorney spoke Thursday to Social Justice Lawyering, a class co-taught by Anne Gordon and Jesse McCoy, attorneys with backgrounds in public interest law.
A graduate of Duke Law School herself, Deberry admitted that she told her parents after her first reading assignment that she was bound to flunk out. “Every word in those 10 pages was English, but together they made no sense,” she said.
The students she was addressing have experienced their own challenges in adapting to law school.
Professor Gordon said that many wrote personal essays about how law school is much different than they expected. They entered with goals of pursuing justice and making a difference, but they feel “social pressure, pressures even from the (school) administration and faculty” to choose less civic-minded paths.
The district attorney said she could relate to that.
“Duke has a certain corporate bent that you may or may not know before you get here,” Deberry said. She also mentioned that the lack of diversity in student aspirations corresponds to a lack of diversity in the student body. “When I was here – I don’t know how it is now – but there were only 12 black kids in my class,” Deberry said.
While the Social Justice Lawyering class was racially diverse, Duke Law’s student body is actually not much different than 25 years ago when Deberry graduated. One student said there are only 16 or 17 black students in her graduating class of 223, while another, Ana Maganto Ramirez, said the numbers are about the same for Latinx students.
Deberry encouraged the students not to give up on their dreams of pursuing social justice. “Just be committed to whatever goal you set for yourself,” she said.
“For me, I ended up in law school because I thought the Constitution was the most amazing thing I had ever read,” Deberry said. “I was like, ‘What?! We were guaranteed these rights? They are self evident? What? Who ever thought of that?’”
She said she has dedicated her career to protecting those rights.
“My unwavering commitment has always been to justice,” she said. It sounds corny, but that is what I decided to do when I was corny. That is the benefit of being a kid. You’re like, ‘I want to uphold the Constitution of the United States doggonit!”
In the photo above, Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry speaks to students at the Duke Law School. Photo by Erin Williams – The 9th Street Journal