Law in Contemporary Society

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AlexanderBernsteinSecondEssay 1 - 08 Jun 2017 - Main.AlexanderBernstein
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By Alexander Bernstein - 08 Jun 2017

C.S. Lewis said that everything is a subject on which there is not much to be said. This is essentially how I feel about the law. What is the law, how is the law practiced, how does the law affect us? These are all important questions. And a more careful observer, a more diligent student could answer them. I cannot. What’s more, the answers do not interest me. The ratio of things written about the law to things worth reading about the law is frighteningly large.

You ask me what kind of lawyer I want to be. You ask me how I am going to do that. Maybe this is some variant on Justice Marshall’s the secret to happiness is finding what you want and how you are going to achieve that. Are you trying to set me on the path of happiness? If so, thank you, but I don’t believe happiness is what’s at stake.

If happiness were my goal I wouldn’t have gone to law school. I know that sounds like a joke. But I can’t imagine how anyone would go to law school to ensure his own happiness. It is beyond me. The things I can think of that bring happiness—money, relationships, beauty—can be achieved through more reliable, less expensive means. I was happy before I came to law school. I had the kind of life that I wanted, and I had no reason to think it would change. I left, and I don’t regret it.

Why leave? If not for happiness, then for what? I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t pinpoint the reason. I’ve thought about for some time, and I wish I could articulate it to myself. I love justice! No, I think that’s ridiculous. I don’t believe people love abstractions. At any rate, I don’t. I love my father, I love The Once and Future King, I love breakfast if I don’t have to go to work after. I don’t know if I could love justice. I’m not even sure what she looks like.

Power seems like a better reason than justice to go into law. After all, that’s what the law is—a means to compel people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. Justice has little to do with it. Indeed, justice is an infrequent topic in law school. Efficiency and maximization of value are discussed much more frequently, and I suspect that isn’t only because I go to Columbia. But if I had to, I would say power is the reason I came to law school. I study the law so that I can make people do what I want them to do.

That doesn’t have to be as vulgar as it sounds. A person can want others to pay their taxes, not murder people, and drive on the right side of the road. We would probably agree that these are good things that people should generally be compelled to do. As someone who wants to become a public defender, I would aim to compel people to stop locking others in cages. I abhor the thought of prison, and I don’t want people to go there. Perhaps there are some people who do deserve what happens to them in prison. I can’t say for sure, and until I can I will try to make sure they are free.

What kind of lawyer do I want to be? The kind of lawyer that has that kind of power. How will I craft the rest of my law school experience to achieve that goal? I don’t know. Get good grades, take the right classes, talk to the right professors, try to score some good externships or clinics. The usual. Unless I was supposed to go into a detailed plan in this essay, in which case I fail the assignment. I guess the problem is I don’t understand the question.

Figuring out what kind of lawyer I want to be and how to get there is less important to me. I’m not even sure how much my career interests me. Maybe I shouldn’t have put that in writing. I’m generally suspicious of people who make their entire lives about their careers. When I came to Columbia, it was jarring to listen to how intent people were on figuring out who they were going to be and how they were going to get there. I had never encountered that type of fixation on one’s potential and how to realize it. I am not innocent of this kind of thinking. During orientation, I went from room to room and all the speakers told me how smart I was and how much I could do. It made me forget what was important. What was missing. My main goals exist independently of my professional career, and I won’t discuss them here. As for my legal education, I hope it includes the best Columbia has to offer.

Revision 1r1 - 08 Jun 2017 - 07:18:33 - AlexanderBernstein
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