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KEEPING COUNSEL: Richard Celestin ’06

March 19, 2018


By Richard Celestin ’06

Richard Celestin, Esq

While at CUNY Law, Richard focused his studies on criminal defense and juvenile justice while nurturing his love for education. After graduation, Richard became an entrepreneur, creating programs to advocate for underrepresented youth in the not-for-profit sector. His private company has engaged more than 40 elementary, middle, and high schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. This work is supported by a “Race to the Top” grant from the U.S. Department of Education and earned Richard acknowledgment with the 2014 Distinguished Public Interest Award for his work with young people. In addition, Richard is very active within his community. He offers his knowledge and insight into the juvenile and criminal justice areas by participating in panel discussions throughout New York City addressing the rising incarceration rates of youth of color and other issues and concerns affecting communities of color. You can follow Richard on Instagram @The_Inspirational_Lawyer.


Claim what you love

My greatest concern when graduating law school was whether I would find a job that appealed to my passions. I entered CUNY Law with a love of working with youth and education and by the end of my three years there, I was eager to find a career that inspired me to the zealous representation I’d anticipated putting into practice. Right after graduation, I began working at a community organization focused on youth education. I knew working to equalize opportunity and promote access to education would be rewarding for me. I knew my education had prepared me to be the kind of fierce advocate students from underserved communities need. But I soon realized that this wasn’t the full picture of my passion; I needed the legal context that would allow me to go beyond advocacy and into the system that needed reforming.

…And what you don’t

The next position I took on empowered me to create a juvenile justice program designed as an alternative to a detention program. I spent time in court, I worked alongside fellow attorneys, and I felt focused on justice – but really I was at the extreme opposite of the spectrum. Due to the high demands of the population, as well as limited funding support, educational programming played a minimal role. Though now I can see that identifying what wasn’t working for me was all part of the process, at the time it felt like an impossible quest to appease my seemingly opposing interests.

Find ways to zero in on the good stuff.

I was concerned that there would be a constant imbalance with my passions. I wanted to develop a way to be in a classroom with youth while also playing a role in court as an advocate. After much thought and debate, I realized that I would need to create what I wanted and then live it for myself. I took on a program director position for an alternative to detention program so that I’d be able to be in court regularly, advocate on the record, conference with fellow attorneys, and meet with Judges – all things I knew grounded me through a strong sense of purpose.  And at the same time, I began to set my plan in motion.

And launch!

My first step was to secure a full-time position which would allow me to develop my “side” business. Once I secured a court-based position, I dove head first into entrepreneurship by creating an educational consulting business. It was incredibly difficult to work full-time while also finding time to visit schools and grow my business. Despite the longer and busier days, for the first time I truly felt happy and a sense of purpose. My passion for both education and the law were so powerful that I was ready, willing, and able to do whatever was necessary to make it work. The amazing thing is I never felt it was work because I was having so much fun doing what I loved.

The perfect job for you may not exist now, but that does not mean that it can’t be created. It goes without saying that we should love the work that we do and find purpose and meaning in it. If you cannot find a position that you love, there is no reason to settle. Although it seems like a daunting task, and one with many risks, the ultimate reward is doing what you love. I am a strong believer that the worst type of lawyer, or any other professional, is one who knowingly continues to work a position while being burned out, unmotivated or disinterested.

Start your own practice and mold it to what you want; create that program that allows you to channel your energy into something you are passionate about; become an entrepreneur and focus your time and energy on promoting a brand you create rather than promoting someone else’s brand.


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