3 More TED Videos to Help You Re(Discover) Your Passion for Law

3 more ted videos to help you rediscover your passion for law

In my last post about TED, a nonprofit that promotes “Ideas Worth Sharing”, I shared 3 videos that were sure to help you rediscover your passion for law. I admire the organization and watch TED videos whenever I get some downtime, and the recent holiday break was no exception. I’m glad I did because I found 3 more inspirational videos about law.

1. David R. Dow: Lessons from Death Row Inmates

David R. Dow has his work cut out for him – he defends death row inmates in Texas. Over the past 20 years, he has defended more than 100 people. A professor at the University of Houston Law Center, he founded the Texas Innocence Network and directs the litigation work of the Texas Defender Service.

In his TED talk, Dow explores how death penalty lawyers have begun to focus on early intervention – interceding at the beginning of the legal process – in an effort to obtain life sentences for their clients. He also argues that intervention in these inmates’ lives should come even earlier, in the juvenile justice system, before a murder is committed.

I sometimes say, if you tell me the name of a death row inmate — doesn’t matter what state he’s in, doesn’t matter if I’ve ever met him before — I’ll write his biography for you. And eight out of 10 times, the details of that biography will be more or less accurate. And the reason for that is that 80 percent of the people on death row are people who came from the same sort of dysfunctional family that [my client] did. Eighty percent of the people on death row are people who had exposure to the juvenile justice system.


2. Karen Tse: How to Stop Torture

Karen Tse is a lawyer, an ordained minister, and an international human rights activist. In 2000, she founded International Bridges to Justice, a nonprofit organization committed to ending investigative torture – the use of torture to coerce confessions during the investigative stage – by putting trained attorneys in place for these pre-trial phases.

Tse, in her TED talk, dispels the notion that torture is something that only happens in extreme instances. She also argues that universal access to lawyers can revolutionize a criminal justice system. 

We often think of torture as being political torture or reserved for just the worst, but, in fact, 95 percent of torture today is not for political prisoners. It is for people who are in broken-down legal systems, and unfortunately because torture is the cheapest form of investigation — it’s cheaper than having a legal system, cheaper than having a lawyer and early access to counsel — it is what happens most of the time. I believe today that it is possible for us as a world community, if we make a decision, to come together and end torture as an investigative tool in our lifetime, but it will require three things. First is the training, empowerment, and connection of defenders worldwide. The second is insuring that there is systematic early access to counsel. And the third is commitment.


3. Shereen El Feki: HIV – How to Fight an Epidemic of Bad Laws

Shereen El Feki is a TED Global Fellow and holds a Ph.D. in molecular immunology. Her writing tackles health and social welfare issues. Though she typically focuses on the Arab world, in this TED talk, El Feki addresses an international epidemic – HIV.

El Feki points out the stark difference in certain countries between the medical and legal communities’ reaction to HIV – the former focused on treatment and the latter effectively criminalizing living with HIV. In case you’re wondering, Obama ended the United States’ 22-year immigration ban for those who are HIV positive, but several states have laws criminalizing HIV transmission. El Feki argues that criminalization and the resulting stigma run counter to basic human rights law.

You know better than anyone that HIV brings out the best and the worst in humanity. And the laws reflect these attitudes. I’m not just talking about laws on the books, but laws as they are enforced on the streets and laws as they are decided in the courts. And I’m not just talking about laws as they relate to people living with HIV, but people who are at greatest risk of infection — people such as those who inject drugs or sex workers or men who have sex with men or transgendered persons or migrants or prisoners. And in many parts of the world that includes women and children who are especially vulnerable.

After watching these, I’m tempted to pursue a public interest career. I’m a biglaw lawyer, a corporate one at that. Biglaw is a long way from where I began. I entered law school hoping to become an employment and labor attorney, advocating for employees’ rights.

While I’ve taken a different path, at heart I’m still a liberal, pro-union kid from Detroit. I take full advantage of my law firm’s generous pro bono policy to provide representation to those unable to afford an attorney.

But I’ll be honest. There are days when I wonder what would have happened if I had chosen a legal career dedicated to public service. And videos like the 3 above make me think it may not be too late to find out. 

Have you been inspired by a video about law lately? Let us know in the comments.

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Melinda Hightower

Melinda Hightower

Founder and Chair at Blueprint JD
Melinda Hightower is passionate about legal diversity, literature and community activism. When she’s not busy earning her keep as an attorney, she operates Blueprint JD, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to building diversity in the legal profession.