Law in Contemporary Society

Nothing New under the Sun

-- MingDing - 13 Jun 2017


I had to delete almost a thousand words and spend three long nights to come to the conclusion that I want to be a lawyer that people don’t hate. However, negations are not informative enough, and I have to admit that I am still in search for a positive answer.

(As a side, Roman Numerals do not have zero. I should have long known this from math history; the Romans never thought zero was a number. This just goes to show that what you know and learn in theory may never truly register until you try to use it. Same with my thought on the legal profession.)


The United Nations is not subject to any jurisdiction in the world. If its employees wish to contest an administrative decision, they have to go through an internal justice system, consists of a trial level court, an appellant court, and a mandatory but appealable arbitration system called Management Evaluation Unit (MEU). As an intern at the MEU, I read, discuss with my supervisor and decide on some occasions whether an administrative decision should be upheld.

Mr. A was severely injured in a soccer game to the point that he was paralyzed. The game was organized by Mr. A’s UN station in Pakistan to welcome an incoming supervisor (It may or may not be relevant that it was the new supervisor who injured Mr. A). He spent four years flying to Germany, Bangkok and New York seeking adequate medical treatment, and is now seeking compensation from the UN. Filing the case pro se, his writing was full of grammar mistakes, unclear propositions and subjective feelings hoping to call for sympathy.

And he succeeded. I felt really bad for Mr. A. But after exhausting each and every avenue, I couldn’t find a way to receive his case; the whole thing is time barred far beyond the statute of limitation. It is evident, however, that Mr. A believed that we are his only hope for justice. Indeed, being paralyzed and unable to work for four years, he is at the verge of bankruptcy by medical bills. After finishing the non-receivable letter, I knew he is going to hate me, or at least the department. Or lawyers.


As a matter of fact, people hate lawyers. This fact has not been obviously pointed out to me during my year at law school, maybe because we all choose to ignore it. I read the Oxford Short Introduction to Humor after school ended, and the amount of lawyer jokes cited in the book is disturbing. A stereotypical lawyer is arrogant, greedy and stupid because of her obsession with rhetoric.

There is probably an upside to this hatred. People seem to relate lawyers, and law for that matter, with justice. Unfortunately, the majority of people have a different perception of how justice should be pursued than that of lawyers. They hate lawyers because what they think lawyers are supposed to be and the manifestation of lawyers don’t usually align. In Mr. A’s mind, his situation is unfortunate; every unfortunate situation implicates injustice. By calling MEU’s sympathy, he wished the lawyers could stand up and fight for him.

However, heroism out of sympathy is precisely the opposite of what law and lawyers do. The very idea of law and lawyers is to battle injustice systematically (hopefully I can say this without committing to legal realism). The phrase “case-by-case review” has never meant that merciful exceptions can/shall be made outside of the law. Perhaps the way lawyers seek justice creates a misleading fašade (not denying that probably many lawyers do not pursue it) that they are the cold-blooded kind (or maybe to some extent this is correct). They are guardians and pursuers of the law, even doing so sometimes means making them feel bad.


I have to admit that wanting to be a lawyer that people don’t hate is both cliche and shallow. However, I cannot stop caring about what other people think of me. Whether I should is another job for life. Maybe it is good this way, for now I at least have a guidance.

I used to think that the sort of heavy responsibility that comes with the legal profession is due to this country’s history. See my previous essay. Now I doubt it. People associate justice with lawyers all over the world; there is no escape from that. This conclusion leaves me no choice but to hold on to my sense of absolution and defensiveness. The former because of people’s misunderstanding of the profession; stepping into it almost seems a sacrifice to the “greater good”, whatever that is. The latter because even if I can rid myself from my colleagues’ judgment (by taking the profession nonchalantly, see my previous essay), Mr. A’s case taught me that I cannot escape my own judgment after all, and I cannot take the legal profession nonchalantly.

I tend to distance myself from the word ‘good’, because I think it doesn’t mean much in the real world. But who doesn’t want to be a “good person”? I now wonder whether the struggle of the profession is in part because of this deep rooted hatred that practitioners face. I am already addicted to caffeine and have to down four espressos per day to normally function. Maybe one day I will have to drink it with a glass of wine as well. As for now, I am still deeply disturbed by the seeming injustice that I have done. This is a good sign. Maybe my sentiment could eventually help me become a better lawyer. That’s why I still want to remain in law school: to find out what it means to become a lawyer that people don’t hate, and make my way to becoming it.


Webs Webs

r1 - 13 Jun 2017 - 05:17:56 - MingDing
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM