Law in Contemporary Society

Never Far from Evil

-- By FernandoGarcia - 23 Apr 2024

“I am, after all, a lawyer. I am never far from evil.” This characterization of lawyering may turn some people away from pursuing a career in the law; after all, it reads like a warning. The question then becomes: why would anybody willingly spend their life near evil? Some may not be aware that such evil exists, or that it exists so close to them. Others may be aware of its existence—and even their proximity to it—but choose to ignore it or deny it exists. Perhaps the primary issue lies in the fact that each lawyer has a separate and distinct definition of what “evil” is. In this essay, I will reflect on what I perceive to be the “evil” I will never be far from and why, knowing that as lawyers we are never far from evil, I choose to return to law school next semester and continue to pursue a career in the law.

Defining Evil

While no two people will ever agree on everything that constitutes evil, certain things can generally be considered to fall into that category. Murder, assault, and sex crimes, for example, are typically regarded as objectively evil—as is, for that matter, much of criminal law. This superficial (for the purpose of this essay) interpretation of evil, while not necessarily incorrect, virtually always involves lawyers by default. An almost indeterminable number of lawyers are in the business of representing alleged wrongdoers, notwithstanding their aptitude for evil. But I am not interested in such interpretations of evil that focus on how a lawyer perceives her clients. Truth be told, I don’t care what a lawyer thinks of their clients—I am interested in what a lawyer thinks of the systems and institutions within which they practice; the expertise, tools, and knowledge they rely on to navigate those systems on behalf of their clients; and how working in those systems gave them the knowledge to build an effective practice.

Lawyers are typically called upon to resolve, avoid, and sometimes how to properly engage in, conflict. When we get the call, it means something went wrong—or is about to go wrong—and somebody is in dire need of our expertise. The general conception of the relationship between lawyering and evil is as follows: A wrongs B. B retains a lawyer to right A’s wrong—to make things right against the evil A caused. Although this general interpretation of a lawyers’ work is not necessarily incorrect, it assumes that lawyers only fight isolated evils perpetrated by individuals. Although lawyers are surrounded by the evil outcomes their clients perpetrate, the “evil[s]” which lawyers are never far from are more pervasive and difficult to single out. Most lawyers do not fight evil—they navigate through and around, and sometimes even weaponize, evil within the systems in which they practice. The “evil” we are never far from is found in these systems. Although lawyers do not typically suffer directly at the hands of the evils of a particular system, we advocate for those that do. Thus, we can never be far from evil if we wish to practice law.

Running Towards Evil

The question remains: why choose to practice law? Why run towards evil? The answer, at risk of invoking a cliché, is justice. While I do not purport to speak for other lawyers, I am pursuing a career in the law—which means a career never far from evil—because I seek justice. As an immigrant whose family represents a myriad of legal statuses, I have witnessed firsthand the evils of US immigration, detention, and removal. Notwithstanding my experience with evil by way of American immigration, this semester has served a stark reminder that we are never far from evil. The ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine constantly had me pondering what kind of lawyer I want to be. I was particularly struck by Eben’s lecture, following Alexei Navalny’s murder at the hands of the Putin regime, regarding the role of a lawyer during wartime. Moreover, our own campus reminds us that we are never far from evil. Students pleaded for compassion and empathy from their leaders, and President Shafik responded with violence and intimidation. Seeing my peers summarily suspended, rounded up, and arrested by paramilitary police forces—I had not felt such outrage in a long time. Following this incident, Eben helped me narrow down a lawyer’s role in this situation, and in doing so helped me find a reason to return to law school in the fall.

I see my job as a lawyer as one that calls me to engage with such systems that spread violence and injustice to help those who need my expertise navigating, managing, and evading evil. Learning how to effectively do so is my reason for returning to Columbia next term. I wholeheartedly agreed with Eben when he stated his belief that the world would be more just if we become lawyers. Is it too broad to say that I want to be a lawyer to make the world more just? Perhaps. But it is certainly a good reason to return to law school in the fall, even if dedicating my studies to such a pursuit will lead to a lifetime near evil.

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r3 - 30 May 2024 - 03:42:59 - FernandoGarcia
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