“I was interested in the power of the law to change lives,” Mr. John Sagan, a retired corporate lawyer from Mayer-Brown (Chicago) who came to the Centre for Imagination to talk about law with students, said as he talked about why he went into law. Mr. Sagan pointed out that the law enables people to reach their goals.
Mr. Sagan was not always a lawyer; as an English literature major in college, he started teaching after he graduated. It was during this time he realized that he wanted to practice law.
Shortly after teaching, Mr. Sagan enrolled in law school. “When in law school, you study the laws every single day,” he said. Furthermore, he added that revising every law made would be impossible.
Hence, Mr. Sagan said, “Lawyers specialize because it’s too hard to keep current in everything.” Lawyers become acquainted with their particular field of practice, in order to keep their knowledge of the law manageable.
When asked about the structure of his work life, Mr. Sagan said, “As a corporate lawyer, I’m in the office working with papers on transactions.” Furthermore, he added that the working hours of corporate lawyers tend to vary. When working on large transactions, it is likely to be working in the office for 12 to 13 hours a day.
Mr. Sagan has also worked as a litigator, “a lawyer who specializes in taking legal action against people and organizations,” on a pro-bono, “the offering of free services,” basis. One time, he said, “I helped a woman, from Guatemala, whose husband was trying to take her children to Guatemala without a full court hearing. I was able to stop that.”
The woman received a full court hearing and in the end, was able to keep her children in the United States with her.
“Important law jobs don’t pay big salaries,” he said. His daughter, a public defender in the United States, defends people who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers. She is, instead, paid by the state government.
When asked about how one can improve at representing others, Mr. Sagan said, “You need understanding and compassion.” Moreover, one needs to be able to see their beliefs and understand where they are coming from in hopes to find a common ground with what one believes in and what another believes in.
However, Mr. Sagan said, “I find it difficult, impossible, to represent somebody who I didn’t like or was doing something wrong, even if it was legal.”
A good lawyer, Mr. Sagan added, needs to be a clear thinker, finding the right solutions for his or her client. Ultimately, the lawyer, he said, must find “solutions that enable everyone to reach their goals.”
Faadumo Adam, Class of 2021, acquired a new view of the law after meeting Mr. Sagan. She said, “My view on law and the legal system changed from it being a job and the salary as the main focus, to the bigger picture of contributing to society.”
Similarly, Faisal Qadir, Class of 2019, said, “I got to know that the law is not just about courts.”
On the contrary to the positive exposure of law witnessed by Adam and Qadir, Harsh Shyamdasani, Class of 2020, talked to Mr. Sagan about internal corruption in the courts of India. Shyamdasani said, “Justice is hardly ever served. The government’s policies affect the lawyer’s positions in India.”
Mr. Sagan replied to these remarks by stating that a lawyer needs to have patience and dedication throughout his practice; more importantly, he said that political pressure and personal sentiment should not impede a lawyer’s ability to represent other people.
For Adam, the most important lesson she received from Mr. Sagan was to, “Love your job.” Furthermore, she said, ”Because of the fact that the world has someone who admires the law as much as Mr. Sagan, I think that the rule of ignorant leaders in today’s world will come to an end.”