Third year Harvard Law School student, Sean Whalen, is a 2019 Council Scholarship recipient. He sat down with Katherine Corbett, Council Writer, to talk about how he decided to be a lawyer, the importance of empathy and good listening, and what he likes to do for fun when he is not hitting the books.
Katherine Corbett: Tell me about the first time you knew you wanted to be a lawyer. What sparked your curiosity?
Sean Whalen: Since I was in middle school, I thought of lawyer as a possible profession. After college at UW-Madison, I worked in Washington, D.C. as a lobbyist and met several government lawyers and those practicing law in other contexts. I got exposure to low-level legal analysis and discovered it was something I enjoyed. I talked to other people who were blind who were practicing law about their experiences. The more I learned, the more interested I became. In my first year of law school, we did a moot court and argued a case in front of a panel of judges. It was a fun and exhilarating experience, and I knew for sure this was what I wanted to do.
Katherine: Humility and good listening seemed to be a theme in your application and throughout your life. What does that mean to you?
Sean: It is thought that being a lawyer is very confrontational and adversarial—in many ways, it is. Many times, though, I am confronted with a perspective I had not thought of and it will change my thinking to some degree. Being open to the idea that there might be something I am not thinking about or could be wrong about makes me a better attorney. It is easy to come in with preconceptions of the right answer and not hear what people have to say or be open to their perspectives. Making people feel heard goes a long way in establishing and strengthening relationships.
Katherine: What kinds of activities do you like to do in your spare time?
Sean: I enjoy listening to podcasts and I play the guitar when I have the time.
Katherine: How have you adapted your hobbies and schoolwork to accommodate your visual impairment?
Sean: I use VoiceOver on my iPhone to access a podcast app. I use screen-reading software to access my schoolwork.
Katherine: What are three words friends or family members would use to describe you?
Sean: They would say funny, loyal and stubborn.