Ex-Baltimore Ravens player Chris Carr found his next calling at GW Law.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Like many third-year law students about to graduate and take the bar exam, Chris Carr has big plans.
He is interested in criminal and immigration law, and after he leaves the George Washington University Law School this month, he will work for Zeman and Petterson in Falls Church, Va., with a focus on immigration. Eventually, he hopes to open his own immigration practice in Southern California.
Mr. Carr’s professional background, however, sets him apart from his contemporaries. He is a former professional football player, an accomplished cornerback who played for the Baltimore Ravens.
“The average career in football is three years, three and a half years,” Mr. Carr said in an interview with GW Law. “I was fortunate enough to play for nine years, so financially I didn’t feel like I had to work. But when it comes to the rest of your life, when you retire at 30, you want to be able to do something that inspires you and that you want to do.”
Fortunately, Mr. Carr had already discovered what that thing might be.
“I took constitutional law my junior year of college at Boise State [University], and I remember I actually enjoyed it more than football,” he said.
That was a surprise for the sports-focused undergraduate, he said, and a relief, as he moved into his life as a professional athlete with an idea of what might come next.
“I knew that I didn’t love football [enough to] just go on TV and talk about it all day,” Mr. Carr said. Nor did he love it enough to coach. “So I knew when I was done I’d go to law school and that would be my ‘real’ career,” he said.
But after retiring in 2014, Mr. Carr found himself thinking more about his legacy.
“I felt like if I really wanted to be proud of myself, it would be important for my kids to see that their dad wasn’t just a football player,” he said.
Readjusting to life as a student was a little challenging, Mr. Carr admitted, partly because most of his fellow students are younger. But he said he chose GW in part because he wanted his family to experience the “energy” of Washington, D.C., and his “hard-working” classmates have lived up to his expectations.
“They want to achieve a lot, but they don’t expect everybody to give them a lot of credit,” he said.
Mr. Carr worked at a small immigration law firm last summer and participated in the immigration law clinic this spring, representing immigrants in court to ensure they could remain legally in the United States. “I was really into immigration policy even before coming into law school,” he said.
When he took an evidence course, he began to think about the work he could do at the intersection of the two.
“Sometimes when immigrants plead to crimes, certain things happen to them when it comes to their immigration status, and a lot of criminal defense attorneys are ignorant of those implications,” he said. “So I felt like there’s a market, a need for somebody that both knows criminal law and knows the immigration implications.” He has even been learning Spanish over the past year.
But even the combination of learning a language, raising three children and attending law school has nothing on the gridiron in terms of stress, Mr. Carr said.
“During an NFL season there’s this stress that rolls over you—it’s kind of like having a final every week,” he said. “In law school, it’s not like that, week to week. There’s a lot of work you have to do, but you don’t have that constant mental pressure to perform.”
Mr. Carr said there are some similarities, though.
“It’s similar in the sense that even though you can perform well, you’re also competing against other people,” he said. “You can know the material really well and do really well on a test, but if x amount of people do better than you, you’re not going to get the grade you feel you deserve. That’s similar to a football game, where you can have great coverage but if somebody jumps over you and makes a great catch you can’t do anything about that. Especially the position I play, cornerback, when you make a mistake it’s very glaring. Law school didn’t have that.”
Playing professional football also taught him to “deal with highs and lows a lot and put those behind you,” Mr. Carr said. “Most teams are not going to win the Super Bowl every year. You’re not going to win every game in the season. There’s going to be adversity. That’s helped me deal with adversity in law school and still having confidence to improve, and I think I have.”
Most importantly, Mr. Carr hopes he’s imparted some of that confidence to his children, now five, three, and six months.
“My kids won’t have a memory of me playing football, but they’re going to see me [as a lawyer] and know that school is important,” he said. “I’m done with football, and I don’t miss it. That’s a happy feeling to have.”