Law in Contemporary Society

A Law Student Phenotype

-- By ChaseLax - 13 Mar 2015

A Familiar Feeling

“Risk averse control freaks.” Though I laughed when we were introduced to this classification during our first meeting, I was hiding a wave of anxiety that only subsided as I left the room and began to think about my 2:50 PM Property section. The next afternoon, I discovered that two of my friends in our class had decided to transfer into different electives, and I realized why I had been so rattled by those particular words.

After our discussions on subconscious mental activity and the merits of law school and corporate firms, I don’t disagree with Eben’s assessment that “the building is burning.” Throughout the final weeks of the semester, however, I have felt as though I mostly failed to translate my willingness to hear and learn potentially identity-altering ideas into any initiative to delve deeper.

Naturally, I began to ask myself: as a risk-averse control freak, even if I am receptive to critical thought on these matters, will I always be compelled to run back inside the burning building? I have been concerned about my perpetual reversion to default behavior and dissociation from inconvenient realities, but we have already seen that splitting off, in some capacity, is inevitable for everyone. Looking at risk aversion and dissociation in isolation, therefore, may not be the most effective means of understanding the nature of such conduct. Alternatively, zooming out and analyzing overall behavior more holistically may be a better way to comprehend the source of prohibitive characteristics and become more amenable to personal growth.

Where to Look?

In this effort to discern the roots of current tendencies, Judge Celia Day’s notion of “phenotypes” provides a useful starting point. Though somewhat crude and focused exclusively on behavior and physical traits, Day’s understanding is not wholly detached from the basic biological concept: “The observable characteristics of an organism as they appear as the result of the interaction between the organism’s genetic structure and its environment.” While Day simply applies the theory as a means of compulsively forming broad generalizations about specific societal actors, her awareness (at least in a definitional sense) of the weight of environment over behavior and recognition that this “interaction” occurs at a “certain place, at a certain time,” is noteworthy. The Starbucks fiend and the crack junkie each possess the innate potential to be one of Day’s nineteen-nineties American urban drug addicts, just as the character of Robinson cannot be fully comprehended without accounting for his experience in Vietnam. Under this lens, it becomes possible to more closely examine and assess the path of one’s behavior.

The Phenotype

Eben has explained how we are mechanically selected through the use of LSAT scores in the admissions process, and that as a result, each class is inevitably comprised of risk-averse control freaks. At a broader level, however, it becomes apparent that for those of us trying to figure out why we want to return next year to obtain a law license, the LSAT percentile was emblematic of a larger course of development in a specific environment that shaped a particular brand of fearful risk-aversion and protective dissociation. By remaining uncertain about a career path while attending a highly competitive and pre-professionally oriented university, one inevitably defers necessary deeper personal thought; self-reflective assessment becomes foreign, while GPA and standardized tests are prioritized. Accordingly, in order to excel in this uninspired activity, creativity, critical thought, and any semblance of self-doubt must be suppressed. The end result of this process, the deeply insecure and anxious overachiever who instinctively dissociates from any threat to his projected outward self-assurance, could easily be read as one of Day’s phenotypes.

At This Rate...

Since this particular manner of defensive suppression is, by its nature, short-term oriented, the realization that the self-imposed lack of awareness can continue indefinitely is especially jarring. Though not yet necessarily a “deep moral compromise,” the internal resistance seems strikingly similar to Carl Wylie’s propensity to compartmentalize prior to sublimating his feelings and splitting off. Wylie exudes detachment, as even when he discusses money, ostensibly his primary concern as a corporate lawyer, he quips that he “doesn’t know” what it is and “doesn’t really care.” Wylie’s preoccupation with chaos, although perhaps the ironic result of an aimless attempt at enlightenment, is also emblematic of this willing disconnection. By fetishizing intricacy and the unfathomable, the Partner can protectively shield himself from deeper thought and self-reflection. Similarly, “Jack” exhibits the same type of conduct during his therapy session with the psychiatrist. The attorney recognizes and fathoms the doctor’s diagnosis, but instead of allowing this self-understanding to manifest, he compartmentalizes the reality and deflects the inconvenient information.

Phenotypic Plasticity

The fear, therefore, is not simply dissociation, but rather an instinctual manner of splitting as influenced by the impact of a formative environment. Fortunately, though beyond Judge Day’s level of concern and analysis, the concept of Plasticity details that phenotypes are not always fixed, and that these expressed characteristics are subject to change in response to alterations in one’s surroundings. Though it may be too late for Carl Wylie, who, with just the right amount of espresso and chilled Volvic, has thoroughly adapted to his habitat, Eben has consistently emphasized the necessity of placing ourselves in a different environment both while we are in law school and away this summer. Being a risk-averse control freak, the anxiety over how I could immediately change my approach was overpowering. Now, however, I understand the importance and value of mere awareness as a crucial step towards self-improvement. If some degree of dissociation is unavoidable, then awareness itself represents an environmental change for the law student phenotype that has been calibrated to habitually suppress it.


Webs Webs

r5 - 29 Jun 2015 - 20:07:14 - MarkDrake
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