Law in Contemporary Society

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SpencerBecerraFirstEssay 4 - 06 Jun 2022 - Main.JustineHong
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  This experience taught me that, while law school can and should change to better remind students why they decided to become lawyers, students who seek the answer to that question can find it through existing processes. I do not know whether prosecuting elder abuse is my calling, but I at least know that this summer I will have the chance to really help people like my grandfather, and perhaps answer that question once and for all. Law school may not give us a guidebook on how to discover the best practice area for oneself, but that does not mean that students cannot find the answer by paying attention at the right time.

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Hi Spencer, thanks for a truly insightful essay. I resonated with your disillusionment in law school; my 1L year primarily involved having to doubt many beliefs and ideals I had in college, although our class discussions revived some of them. The lack of direction faced by many law students reminds me of Wylie's belief that what lawyers do is determined by who pays them and that's it, and I really hope that most of our colleagues will have a better lawyering philosophy than Wylie's. - Justine Hong

 
You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable.

SpencerBecerraFirstEssay 3 - 23 May 2022 - Main.SpencerBecerra
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What's a Lawyer, Anyways?

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A Reason to Return

 -- By SpencerBecerra - 11 Mar 2022
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Law school presents a binary: you either get rich or save the world. This false choice manifests in the dual archetypes of the white shoe corporate killer and the justice-seeking social justice warrior. To further elevate these forms, law school imbues mystique in the work we do and puts us as a remove from “laymen”. Of course, hundreds of students may not picture themselves as either of the two common archetypes, and thus lose a sense of self or doubt that they’re really cut out to become an attorney. Furthermore, the mystique that law school works diligently maintains damages our ability to connect to clients and society in general, a negative outcome for anyone hoping to positively interact with the world. I believe that by applying a combination of legal-realist instruction coupled with a practical outlook on one’s choices as an attorney, first-year law students will develop a more nuanced concept of which avenues are available to us as we grow our practices.

First, I will define “mystique” as I understand it. When a 1L first begins to read law, we encounter a host of exotic-sounding words and modes of thought, supposedly impenetrable to the outsider, and are told that we are being trained to be amongst a special class of citizens tasked with stewarding these lofty concepts. In the casebook, the dramas of reality are distilled and obscured, and to the law student the client is hardly a real entity. It is not easy for a first-year student, still watching the dancing shadows from within Plato’s cave, to perceive just how different things may be if the mystique of law school vanished. But I can see at least one reason why the school has an interest in maintaining this status quo: tuition is expensive, and mystique reinforces the idea that we really are special, and thus can either change the world or make pile of money.

For many, mystique and the promise it brings may be the most alluring thing about law school, whether because they inherited golden handcuffs from quasi-rich parents, or have never known true material comfort, or really want to have the ear of the judiciary to effect grand social change that simply would not be possible without a law license. The problem with this framing, then, is that you are left with two essential justifications for spending the time and money to go to school. Once the people making up these two broad categories of 1Ls enter school, they are immediately put on either team private practice/big law, or team public interest/government, each with their own microcultures, career services advisors, and theories about what a lawyer should actually do in the world. Both projections are thoroughly shrouded in the mist of the law, wielding their arcane wisdom to either be the most sought-after attorney in the Financial District, or a protector of the weak against reactionary trolls and other horribles. I believe that these ideals, while perhaps inspirational to some, reflect a skewed vision of how students like us can enter the professional world. Consequently, many who struggle to fit themselves into either of these boxes fall into a spiral of insecurity and doubt as to what it is they want. The remedy, then, is to introduce a perception of choice, with legal realism providing foundations in the curriculum.

Imagine a case pitting a nursing home against Medicaid recipients whose transfer-eligible status is up for review, along with their corresponding level of benefits. The threshold question is whether the nursing home qualifies as a state actor in that context. While privately employed physicians make these choices, they do so within the boundaries of government regulations as employees of one of the most strictly overseen institutions in the United States. Consider also that nursing homes provide shelter and community for the elderly, services commonly associated with the state. These are the circumstances of Blum v. Yaretsky, a 1982 case which helped lay the foundation for modern 1983 jurisprudence. While the majority, asking whether the nursing homes were “entwined”, “coerced”, or performing a “public function” did not find state action, Justice Marshall’s dissent highlights the facts provided above and serves as a prime example of how legal realism can activate creativity and move away from the mystical conception of law so dominant in 1L.

I believe that legal realism has two major implications for first year law students. Firstly, it encourages us to think creatively about what a thing does rather than try to fit everything into a predetermined box. Secondly, it appeals more easily to what is at this point a layman’s mind. A first-year law student would be better trained in the problem-solving skills that employers so cherish by learning things on terms that they already know first, then introducing the probably unavoidable, arcane elements of the profession later. Indeed, realism is introduced in a way which makes it at first difficult to spot or distinguish among formalistic elements. Furthermore, a realist perspective may better equip law students to tackle the kinds of issues that most actual lawyers face-i.e., ones that never see a courtroom, much less make it to a court of appeals and then a casebook.

In embracing a realist mode of thought, law students may also see their options come into sharper focus. Not everyone wishes to be placed on team big law or team public interest; some may want nothing more than to become solo practitioners or start up a firm with a few like-minded individuals, tackling niche issues within their communities. I see realism as a gateway for being able to attain not only the intellectual skills needed to tackle every-day problems as a lawyer, but as a mindset through which one can expand the imagination of what a lawyer does. This process could ultimately shatter the mystique generated by law school and humanize law students, law professors, and lawyers in general, strengthening our social bonds with each other and ultimately with the clients we rely on.

Some actual contact with the literature you are applying would be useful. Who said what that leads where? So far as the relationship of realistic thinking to professional choice is concerned, why not start with Holmes, whose points we discussed?

Way too many words are spent on side issues, such as defining mystique, placing filigree around the false dichotomy of doing well and doing good, and the facts of Blum v. Yaretsky. They distract both the reader and you from your central idea, whatever that is. Cutting should make room for the clearer statement of that idea. So far it appears that anti-formalism in legal thinking will draw students' attention more to what their future practices actually do. This is a good start, but something more than that plus rhetoric about "shattering the mystique" is needed to give the reader a useable view of your idea.

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Dusty Memories

Two of my grandfathers introduced me to the law. One was a lawyer, a CLS grad. The other did not attend college. The latter grandfather did not directly introduce me to the law; instead, his passing, brought on by elder abuse, did most of the work. I remember going to court to hear the verdict in our case against the doctor. Aged twelve, I felt pain and anticipation emanating from my mother. But after the ruling was announced, sealing victory for my family, I felt like justice had been served. The grandfather who was a lawyer had a smaller role to play. I just knew that he went to Columbia, that his father was a lawyer as well, and that he had practiced corporate law in the United States before returning to practice in Mexico. He became a lawyer because my great-grandfather wanted him to. Until the day of my grandfather’s death, this great-grandfather’s suits hung in their closet, a reminder of his domineering presence.

“Why Did You Decide to Come to Law School?”

I noticed that my answer to this question changed as months passed, varying from a desire to solve problems for clients to confidence that I could at least be an effective attorney. But these reasons never felt personally satisfying, or even entirely true. My apparent lack of a fundamental, compelling reason frustrated me. I struggled to find answers through my 1L coursework, which I had hoped would offer clues as to the kind lawyer I wanted to become. Law school immerses students in the law, the legal culture, and should leave them with a network robust enough to cultivate a meaningful practice. But I suspect most people would not think that one of law school’s duties is to help students realize why they came there in the first place. Instead, the institution assumes that every student has already made up their mind as to coming to law school, leaving the school with only one goal: to sort students into a pre-ordained path to pursue with the degree. However, failing to continually give an answer to the question “why go to law school” both hollows the academic experience and limits students’ imaginative thinking about their practices. While I think that law school could remedy this problem by giving students some experiential or practical exposure to practicing during 1L, my 1L year offered nothing like that. Nonetheless, I rediscovered my grandfathers’ stories and realized their importance to my self-concept as a lawyer through one of law school’s stifling processes: finding a 1L summer job.

Recognizing Choice

My grandfather had no reason to become an attorney aside from his father’s demands. As a result, he neglected his practice and never formed a personal connection to his career. My great-grandfather’s suits hanging became an emblem of the expectations that made my grandfather’s practice so unfulfilling. In an ideal world, the first choice a law student would make is what kind of practice they want to have. Law school presents this choice by showing students its own version of a dead man’s suits: either join a large firm or go into government or nonprofit advocacy. But as 1L instruction proceeds and deadlines to choose a path come and go, no link is explicitly made between the knowledge students gain and the ways they could put them to use in a practice. In the face of such uncertainty, safe conformity is an attractive option, leaving students with little incentive to envision a unique practice. The answer starts with the client. I realized that I could not picture what kind of lawyer I hoped to be without a realistic view of the clients I would like to serve in practice. Law school, by focusing solely on black-letter law in the first year, offers no obvious guide to students who may not yet be able to picture this element of their practice. I became demoralized, as 1L went on, by the growing gap between the volume of material I was learning and the absence of ideas for how I could apply it. What solution could law school offer us, given the limits of time and the expectations for what 1L students will learn? One possibility could be to expand the options for the 1L elective to include experiential courses. Because these provide a window into real practice, including client exposure, students would be better able to pursue their interests by serving real clients. While this would be a small step, it could encourage 1Ls to imagine more than the preordained options currently offered.

Why and Whom

Although law school classes did not help me discover what kind of client I would like to serve, the institution found another way to remind me of why I chose to attend in the first place. The 1L job search, despite its tedium, landed me in a summer job where I will work on elder abuse cases. While my family’s elder abuse lawsuit was a grim way to make first contact with the law, it taught me what justice felt like. Although this feeling was buried inside me by age, and I contrived other reasons for my attraction to the law to replace it, I will now have a chance to deepen its impact. This experience taught me that, while law school can and should change to better remind students why they decided to become lawyers, students who seek the answer to that question can find it through existing processes. I do not know whether prosecuting elder abuse is my calling, but I at least know that this summer I will have the chance to really help people like my grandfather, and perhaps answer that question once and for all. Law school may not give us a guidebook on how to discover the best practice area for oneself, but that does not mean that students cannot find the answer by paying attention at the right time.
 

SpencerBecerraFirstEssay 2 - 20 Mar 2022 - Main.EbenMoglen
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It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.
 

What's a Lawyer, Anyways?

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 In embracing a realist mode of thought, law students may also see their options come into sharper focus. Not everyone wishes to be placed on team big law or team public interest; some may want nothing more than to become solo practitioners or start up a firm with a few like-minded individuals, tackling niche issues within their communities. I see realism as a gateway for being able to attain not only the intellectual skills needed to tackle every-day problems as a lawyer, but as a mindset through which one can expand the imagination of what a lawyer does. This process could ultimately shatter the mystique generated by law school and humanize law students, law professors, and lawyers in general, strengthening our social bonds with each other and ultimately with the clients we rely on.
Added:
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Some actual contact with the literature you are applying would be useful. Who said what that leads where? So far as the relationship of realistic thinking to professional choice is concerned, why not start with Holmes, whose points we discussed?

Way too many words are spent on side issues, such as defining mystique, placing filigree around the false dichotomy of doing well and doing good, and the facts of Blum v. Yaretsky. They distract both the reader and you from your central idea, whatever that is. Cutting should make room for the clearer statement of that idea. So far it appears that anti-formalism in legal thinking will draw students' attention more to what their future practices actually do. This is a good start, but something more than that plus rhetoric about "shattering the mystique" is needed to give the reader a useable view of your idea.

 



SpencerBecerraFirstEssay 1 - 11 Mar 2022 - Main.SpencerBecerra
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META TOPICPARENT name="FirstEssay"
It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.

What's a Lawyer, Anyways?

-- By SpencerBecerra - 11 Mar 2022

Law school presents a binary: you either get rich or save the world. This false choice manifests in the dual archetypes of the white shoe corporate killer and the justice-seeking social justice warrior. To further elevate these forms, law school imbues mystique in the work we do and puts us as a remove from “laymen”. Of course, hundreds of students may not picture themselves as either of the two common archetypes, and thus lose a sense of self or doubt that they’re really cut out to become an attorney. Furthermore, the mystique that law school works diligently maintains damages our ability to connect to clients and society in general, a negative outcome for anyone hoping to positively interact with the world. I believe that by applying a combination of legal-realist instruction coupled with a practical outlook on one’s choices as an attorney, first-year law students will develop a more nuanced concept of which avenues are available to us as we grow our practices.

First, I will define “mystique” as I understand it. When a 1L first begins to read law, we encounter a host of exotic-sounding words and modes of thought, supposedly impenetrable to the outsider, and are told that we are being trained to be amongst a special class of citizens tasked with stewarding these lofty concepts. In the casebook, the dramas of reality are distilled and obscured, and to the law student the client is hardly a real entity. It is not easy for a first-year student, still watching the dancing shadows from within Plato’s cave, to perceive just how different things may be if the mystique of law school vanished. But I can see at least one reason why the school has an interest in maintaining this status quo: tuition is expensive, and mystique reinforces the idea that we really are special, and thus can either change the world or make pile of money.

For many, mystique and the promise it brings may be the most alluring thing about law school, whether because they inherited golden handcuffs from quasi-rich parents, or have never known true material comfort, or really want to have the ear of the judiciary to effect grand social change that simply would not be possible without a law license. The problem with this framing, then, is that you are left with two essential justifications for spending the time and money to go to school. Once the people making up these two broad categories of 1Ls enter school, they are immediately put on either team private practice/big law, or team public interest/government, each with their own microcultures, career services advisors, and theories about what a lawyer should actually do in the world. Both projections are thoroughly shrouded in the mist of the law, wielding their arcane wisdom to either be the most sought-after attorney in the Financial District, or a protector of the weak against reactionary trolls and other horribles. I believe that these ideals, while perhaps inspirational to some, reflect a skewed vision of how students like us can enter the professional world. Consequently, many who struggle to fit themselves into either of these boxes fall into a spiral of insecurity and doubt as to what it is they want. The remedy, then, is to introduce a perception of choice, with legal realism providing foundations in the curriculum.

Imagine a case pitting a nursing home against Medicaid recipients whose transfer-eligible status is up for review, along with their corresponding level of benefits. The threshold question is whether the nursing home qualifies as a state actor in that context. While privately employed physicians make these choices, they do so within the boundaries of government regulations as employees of one of the most strictly overseen institutions in the United States. Consider also that nursing homes provide shelter and community for the elderly, services commonly associated with the state. These are the circumstances of Blum v. Yaretsky, a 1982 case which helped lay the foundation for modern 1983 jurisprudence. While the majority, asking whether the nursing homes were “entwined”, “coerced”, or performing a “public function” did not find state action, Justice Marshall’s dissent highlights the facts provided above and serves as a prime example of how legal realism can activate creativity and move away from the mystical conception of law so dominant in 1L.

I believe that legal realism has two major implications for first year law students. Firstly, it encourages us to think creatively about what a thing does rather than try to fit everything into a predetermined box. Secondly, it appeals more easily to what is at this point a layman’s mind. A first-year law student would be better trained in the problem-solving skills that employers so cherish by learning things on terms that they already know first, then introducing the probably unavoidable, arcane elements of the profession later. Indeed, realism is introduced in a way which makes it at first difficult to spot or distinguish among formalistic elements. Furthermore, a realist perspective may better equip law students to tackle the kinds of issues that most actual lawyers face-i.e., ones that never see a courtroom, much less make it to a court of appeals and then a casebook.

In embracing a realist mode of thought, law students may also see their options come into sharper focus. Not everyone wishes to be placed on team big law or team public interest; some may want nothing more than to become solo practitioners or start up a firm with a few like-minded individuals, tackling niche issues within their communities. I see realism as a gateway for being able to attain not only the intellectual skills needed to tackle every-day problems as a lawyer, but as a mindset through which one can expand the imagination of what a lawyer does. This process could ultimately shatter the mystique generated by law school and humanize law students, law professors, and lawyers in general, strengthening our social bonds with each other and ultimately with the clients we rely on.


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Revision 4r4 - 06 Jun 2022 - 13:22:41 - JustineHong
Revision 3r3 - 23 May 2022 - 18:51:02 - SpencerBecerra
Revision 2r2 - 20 Mar 2022 - 19:01:09 - EbenMoglen
Revision 1r1 - 11 Mar 2022 - 23:06:12 - SpencerBecerra
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