Law in Contemporary Society

Lessons of Immersion

-- By KentToland - 07 Jun 2017

The first semester of law school is often thought of as learning by immersion, comparable to a foreign language class. As such, only by diving into Swift v Tyson, automatic couplers uncoupling automatically, and Marbury v Madison can we begin to understand the language that is the law. This is a somewhat illuminating analogy, and yet its applicability is not simply limited to what it is like to learn how to read a case. Learning by immersion also occurs with respect to what it is like to be surrounded by (future) lawyers, and while immersion in the law challenges us intellectually, it is the immersion in the midst of other aspiring lawyers that tests our commitment to the goal of becoming an attorney and prompts much soul-searching. Reflecting on the trial that is 1L, I can think of a few lessons that inform the kind of lawyer I want to be and will impact my decision-making during the rest of law school.

First, I noticed that while my class was gifted at making legal arguments, oftentimes fallacious modes of thinking would creep into other, everyday conversations. For example: “I got all A’s, but I thought I didn’t do well in Con Law, so grades must be random.” Or: “I know the word limit was 3,000, but I wrote 5,000 and assumed the professor wouldn’t care.” The former says nothing about randomness of grades since it lacks the sample size necessary for drawing meaningful conclusions, and the latter is at best an extraordinarily risky assumption. But facts and figures are all too often no match for a lawyer with a point to make. That said, I have tremendous respect for the ability and intellect of my classmates, and although I cannot picture myself overshooting a word limit by 67%, if my brilliant peers are not immune from erroneous ways of thinking, then neither am I. As a lawyer who relies on words to process the world and effect change in it, I will need to be vigilant in searching out my own biases and flawed assumptions to move closer to the truth. Only then can I make wise judgment calls for clients and provide them with an opinion that is well-informed, thoroughly self-criticized, and guided by a view of my own experience that is as objective as possible.

Next, our class frequently returned to the notion of being creative in the legal profession, and as the semester progressed the abundance of uncreative approaches to law school became more apparent. For instance: “You want to aim for a clerkship? Then you need to take Admin, Tax, Corporations, etc…” While the Type A side of my personality appreciates having clear checklist items in pursuit of a goal, I wonder why it is taken for granted that courses that worth thousands of dollars apiece should be transacted in order to land a job that will land another job, that will then land another job, that will help us to retire with a good deal of money and connections. Perhaps that is overly cynical, but the point remains: this advice is not driven by creativity, and in this way it is representative of much of the advice I have received. My analysis, however, is not that I necessarily need to shy away from the popular road to success in order to be creative. Rather than focusing on the specifics of what I’m applying for or the classes I am taking, I need to zero in on the mindset that is leading me to these various decisions to evaluate if creativity is influencing my decision making. I could apply for a clerkship in order to chase someone else’s notion of success, or I could apply because I think the opportunity to build a relationship with a mentor, analyze never-before-decided legal issues from a judge’s perspective, and spend a year sharpening legal skills outside of the classroom while considering my next move toward a career committed to justice. One of these approaches is uncreative, but the other could be a great reason to pursue a clerkship as long as it is my reason. By thinking creatively, I can look back in ten years and be content with the job or clerkship I landed coming out of law school because I chose it to better equip myself to pursue justice.

Lastly, 1L illustrated how some of the biggest problems we face are the ones that we cannot see. The most vivid example was Heller’s theory of the anticommons explaining how cures for Alzheimer’s have been thwarted by the gridlock of the patent system, for instance, and most people have no idea because they cannot see it. What this paradigm shows is that a lawyer who can identify and proactively avoid problems that have not yet been identified will be invaluable to his or her clientele. This also presents an ethical question, because a client may not always appreciate an attorney who solves problems of which they are not aware. A lawyer committed to justice, however, is more concerned with solving the problems that need solving rather than resolving only the issues that their client mistakenly thinks are most important.

Looking toward the rest of my education, I intend to cultivate a passion for legal work that will be guided by these principles. From what I hear, merely showing up for 3L classes may pass as being creatively present, but my last years in academia are too valuable to set the bar so low. Practically speaking, I consider myself a generalist, and so I want to explore different courses while still considering if there are areas in which I eventually want to specialize. Furthermore, I intend to engage in dialogue and debate with classmates to sharpen the verbal and interpersonal skills that will be foundational to my career, and to find mentors who will challenge the way I think about myself as a lawyer and illuminate practical ways that a lawyer can work for justice in the present time.


Webs Webs

r1 - 08 Jun 2017 - 01:25:34 - KentToland
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