Sujin Han '20 will be the first one to tell you: she was not one of those people who always knew they wanted to become lawyer.
Growing up, there were no lawyers in her family, no connection to the field. Rather, Han had to pave her own way—much like her family did after immigrating to the U.S. from Korea when she was 13 years old.
Today, Han, a member of New England Law | Boston’s evening JD program, draws upon her past to provide a better future for others. This is her story.
Path to Law
Though she graduated with a degree in biology from Brandeis University, Han says the major wasn’t the right fit. But she did enjoy her legal studies minor, which she says she stumbled into by taking courses that sounded interesting. Those courses led her to an internship with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (the “MCAD”), the civil rights agency for the Commonwealth. There, she investigated complaints of discrimination in employment and places of public accommodation.
As Han grew in her position at the MCAD and encountered more people who were struggling, she saw a connection between her personal experience as an immigrant and her professional goals.
“I learned that I'm pretty good at talking to people in distress.” Han says. “I quickly found out that I had a passion for this: helping people using my skills.” She credits these skills to her background in an underrepresented, underprivileged immigrant population.
Han began advocating for others as a teenager, starting with her parents. She recalls helping them navigate difficult administrative processes, interpreting at appointments, and translating government forms—even though she was still learning English and trying to navigate this new world (and high school!) herself.
As Han’s past experience clicked with her public service work at the MCAD, she noticed she was surrounded by lawyers. So her path became clear: she needed to go to law school.
“I didn't go to law school necessarily to practice law; I simply wanted to grow my impact,” Han says. “I wanted to expand my horizon.”
Being a Part-Time JD Student
“It's a different kind of monster and different experience as an evening student,” Han says candidly. “I would definitely do the evening program again, even though it's crazy and really, really difficult.”
Despite its challenges, being in the part-time evening program at New England Law has been meaningful, Han says, largely due to the students in her cohort. “They are the ones that make the law school experience really special for me, because they bring really different and wise perspectives to classroom discussions," she says. "I intend to stay in touch with everyone!"
The shared experience of a part-time law program has made for a close-knit community, one where students support and push one another. "We're all in this together,” Han says, echoing many of her part-time JD comrades. “We're trying to survive together. We don't want to see anybody drop out." It helps that faculty, staff, and school administration support them as well.
"The professors, I can tell, really have genuine respect for us evening students, and they're very mindful of our schedules and what's going on in our lives," Han says. "The school itself has been very accommodating [and] really makes efforts to include us." This includes things like academic support programs and “twilight” events planned with evening students’ schedules in mind.
Attending law school part time was essentially non-negotiable for Han because of finances; she needed to work to pay her own way. Fortunately, she received a full-tuition scholarship from New England Law and was admitted to the school’s Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Honors Program.
"I don't know what the school saw in my application, but I am grateful!" Han says.
Though self-effacing, Han ranks in the top 10 percent of her class. Her recent awards and recognitions include the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Top Women of Law 2019 Leadership Scholarship and the law school’s Charles Hamilton Houston Enrichment Program Scholarly Achievement Award.
Really think about why you’re doing this. [Law school] is really, really, really hard. You have to find an internal motivation, your why.
Advice for Part-Time Law Students
With all her achievements, it’s no surprise that Han is full of hard-won advice for law students, especially those considering part-time JD programs.
Above all, Han says students need to go to law school for the right reasons.
"Really think about why you’re doing this," Han says. Law school isn’t a convenient layover if you don't know what you want to do, you can’t find a job, or because your mom’s a lawyer and she thinks it’s the right path for you. “It's really, really, really hard,” Han says. "You have to find an internal motivation, your why.”
Second, don’t discount your “nontraditional” undergrad major. Though Han didn’t pursue biology, she says her scientific background benefits her as a law student—perhaps even giving her an advantage over her peers.
“I was trained in science language, which is very similar to legal language, which is following the logic and chronology of events and coming to a conclusion or hypothesis," Han says. "The core principles for science and math translate to law really easily.” (Han says folks with more “traditional” pre-law majors, like English or literature, sometimes struggle transitioning to legal writing and analysis, because they are not trained in such analytical thinking and technical writing.)
Third, Han recommends law students stick with a hobby. For her, it's Olympic Weightlifting (a classification of lifting; Han hasn’t competed in the Olympics…yet). It’s not only a fun exercise routine but also a necessary outlet throughout law school, Han says.
"Whatever you do that makes you happy now, keep it up [in law school]. You shouldn't sacrifice that," Han says. "You should work hard to keep at it. You have to have an outlet to de-stress." Her training sessions are what keeps her going.
Finally, don't let the nay-sayers bring you down. In considering part-time law school, Han talked to lots of people to get a sense of what the experience would be like. Most were helpful, but some were discouraging, even if well-intentioned.
"Someone told me, 'You will start smoking, develop bad habits, and gain 50 pounds’—all discouraging speculation,” she says with a laugh. "That didn't happen."
Law school is daunting and difficult, but doable, Han says, especially when you have that internal motivation. Plus, there are resources available and people there to guide you. Just try to find your place and ask for help when you need it.
"You shouldn't be discouraged from doing what seems impossible."
Looking to the Future
Han’s experience at the MCAD, in law school, and in life have given her perspective and an appreciation for just how far she’s come.
"The fact that someone like me—someone who's not from the U.S., a woman of color, an immigrant—can become a lawyer, I think that in and of itself is really giving power and voice to those who are like me, who are underrepresented and may not have all the resources or network that other people might have.”
Han’s work at the MCAD continued to be transformative throughout law school, deepening her interest in employment law and other public interest issues. Building on that foundation, she recently accepted a position as the Director of Investigations and Training at the City of Boston Office of Human Resources.
Like many 3Ls, Han is still unsure about her long-term plans, though her commitment to public service and working with state and city government remains strong.
"I want to help those who don't have the resources." she says. "I don't know what job I want—but I know it will contribute to that population.”
Learn more about being a part-time law student.