Law in Contemporary Society

My Own Terms

-- By PatrickWaldrop - 07 Jun 2017

Something to Do

I have always struggled to articulate why I wanted to go to law school. Perhaps it’s because I had too many reasons to choose from or perhaps it’s because I am too embarrassed to admit whatever the real reason was to myself – let alone to others. I have many canned responses for when people ask me this though – different situations call for different responses of course. In job interviews for example, I generally say something to the effect of “my prior career wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough, and I wanted to be able to put my writing and research skills to better use.” When making small talk with my peers, I like to respond with “something to do.” My favorite is when someone asks why I want to be a lawyer instead of why I wanted to go to law school because then I can say: “I don’t know if I want to be a lawyer. I barely even know what lawyers do.”

What's A Lawyer?

It is certainly true that I barely knew what lawyers did before coming to law school. I only really knew two lawyers before starting law school, but I have always had a noble view of lawyers. Lawyers, to me, were respected public servants, learned in the art of governance. Lawyers fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves and quested to make the world a better place.

I wasn’t entirely wrong I suppose. Lawyers can, in fact, be all those things, but they also can be none of those things. More likely, I suspect most lawyers are some of those things… some of the time. Realistically, this isn’t a surprising revelation to me. What has surprised me, though, is the slow and steady grind of being a lawyer.

A Cog in the Machine

I began an internship with a magistrate judge early in May, immediately after finals. Overall, it has been an immensely positive experience. I have confirmed what I always suspected to be true: I find the study of the law and answering legal questions to be incredibly stimulating and rewarding. Perhaps that suspicion is really why I came to law school. I just wanted to study law. I like learning, I like school, I like reading assignments, I like classroom discussion, I like the student-teacher dynamic, and, by some perverse twist of fate, I think I even like taking tests. Maybe even law school tests.

My internship hasn’t all been roses though. My first case was surprisingly silly, but working it made me feel like a minor cog in a vast machine that doesn’t deliver justice, but merely spits out a product that may or may not contain justice particles. What strikes me as wrong is that the law, which I think should exist primarily to deliver justice, exists only to maintain order. It is a vast, methodical machine that is only a minor cog in a much vaster, more methodical machine. I had hoped that learning the law would allow me to aid in the cause of justice, but I am afraid that the law may be fundamentally divorced from justice. The law does not care about people, but justice does. It has to.

Perhaps the law functions the way it has to. Perhaps the law is incremental and methodical because it has to be. It might be the only way to balance the many competing interests of millions or billions of people. But I want to be a lawyer who doesn’t forget the people that the law serves. This requires practicing the law with intentionality because it is so easy to get caught up in the step-by-step monotony. Without knowing exactly what you want and exactly how to get it, you can’t fight the current that is relentlessly pushing you onto the well-trod path.

My Own Terms

So I suppose that at the end of 1L, I’ve just learned that the type of lawyer I want to be is the same as the type of person I try to be every day. It’s funny because I’ve been quite intentional in making sure that “lawyer” will never define me as a person, but it never occurred to me that I who I am as a person should define who I am as a lawyer. I simply want to be a lawyer who always has a smile on his face and genuinely cares about the people around him. I want to be a lawyer who is intentional in everything from arguments to attitude, but who is also capable of enjoying all of life as it comes at him.

This requires me to never forget what my values are and who I want to be. My wife has helped me the most with this. She is the most important thing in my life by far, and the relationship I have with her keeps me grounded. I’ve been intentional the whole year, and will continue to be intentional, in putting all my relationships before school. As far as school goes, I will seek out opportunities that help me put faces to and find purpose in my studies like helping another client file for relocation to the US with the International Refugee Assistance Project.

We were told from day one that law school was going to profoundly change us, and to that end, we have been set upon by external forces pressing us from every direction, forming us into whatever Columbia thinks a successful law student must look like at any given moment. To the extent that being a lawyer requires allowing the CLS machine, or even a minor cog in that machine like Eben Moglen, to remake me into whatever its ideal lawyer is, then I suppose I do not want to be a lawyer at all. But to the extent that being a lawyer merely means anyone who studies the law and advises others on what the law says, then I very much want to be a lawyer, and I look forward to defining what that looks like on my own terms.


Webs Webs

r1 - 08 Jun 2017 - 04:01:40 - PatrickWaldrop
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