April 15, 2012
Slinging coffee at a café in Lawrence, Kansas, might not be the typical experience that inspires someone to become a lawyer, but it was for Sarah Lamdan. Working as a barista, she saw a cross-section of her community every day and got to know most of her neighbors as people came in to get their daily coffee. Before her job at the café, she had not known anyone in her neighborhood. The clientele at the café included families, working professionals, indigent people, and people with mental health issues. “I knew them all,” she said, “and it was the first time I felt I was part of a community.”
That sense of community also revealed to Lamdan that some people were more vulnerable and needed more protection than others. “I saw law as a good foundation for being able to change the places around you—to make sure homeless people have a place to be, to develop regulations to make sure the environment is protected,” she said.
Lamdan attended the University of Kansas School of Law, where she felt she might have been “one of the more liberal students they had seen in a while.” Eventually she found other students who, like her, were interested in public interest law; she created an annual event to raise money to provide stipends for people doing pro bono work. She also worked as a research assistant on a project that would inspire her to become a law librarian.
“The professor I worked for had discovered a box of letters written by Susan B. Anthony while searching the library archives. My job was to transcribe those letters,” she said. “Who wouldn’t think a library was cool after that job?”
In addition to earning her law degree and an environmental law certificate at the University of Kansas, she earned her master’s degree in legal information management from Emporia State University at the same time.
After receiving her degrees, Lamdan moved to New York and worked as a librarian at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and at Fulbright & Jaworski LL P. Although she was working on high-profile cases, she said she left the corporate world because it was not satisfying. “It was not what I started out wanting to do.”
Lamdan is now an associate law library professor at CUNY Law. “As a law librarian, I effect change by helping great lawyers do great public interest work,” she said. Lamdan works with students in the library and teaches legal research. Reflecting on CUNY Law students, she said, “They will be the attorneys going out there for the right reason. I’m giving them the tools they need to fight the good fight. That’s a good day at work for me.”