Law in Contemporary Society
Question for Discussion

A major theme of the class is how most students will go out and pawn their licenses, which correlates strongly with the vast percentage of students who go to work at corporate law firms. The question for discussion is why do so many students choose this path, generally fully aware of the consequences. This is a very important question that most of us will or are wrestling with as we get closer to EIP. The apparent dilemma is why do students want a career where it seems most associates are miserable (how true is this fact? - Cecilia Wang), the amount associates are payed per hour of work is very low, and the chance of promotion is minuscule. In addition, associates, even partners outside headquarters, have relatively little control over the firm and tend to get trapped in a lifestyle that is not healthy and difficult to escape. Part of this may include representing clients or sides that one does not believe in and helping perpetuate "injustice." So why do students choose this career path. Are there benefits that make it worthwhile? Are we being irrational or ignorant? Or are there external factors that force our hand, such as loans or the seemingly short time frame we have to make our decision?


One proposition to follow is that rational people would not make such seemingly irrational decisions. What guides such decisions may have to do more with what we value or fear: wealth/poverty, love/hatred, prestige, success/failure, reputation, etc. Such values can be convincing. Or, there could be little incentive to pursue other options, making the lawyer job appear better. What may be one of the more determinative factors is the role of societal/cultural values, and the imposition of those values through group think. Cultural values play a role in our rational decision-making, and the American system puts a premium on wealth and status, contrasted to other cultures that appear to have a more egalitarian ethic. In addition, societal values help fill in the holes of uncertainty we have. Culture is part of our personality and helps define the schema through which we organize information. We must remember that every decision has a reason and we make that decision because it is our best option when compared to all other known options. (Is the lack of knowledge of other options a factor affecting rational decision-making, especially in light of the firm/public interest dichotomy presented by Columbia - Sam Hershey) (How much responsibility do we have over this situation? This dichotomy seems to relate to the other dichotomy between making money/being fulfilled - Jessica Hallet) The lack of knowledge of other options does not make us or the decision irrational, but inefficient. (Mike Abend)

However, in contrast to the above proposition is that people can in reality be very irrational, rationality often being a myth. (Matthew Zorn) By allowing cultural values to play a role in our decision-making in a way that convinces us to contradict our own values and wants, we are being irrational. Societal influences help convince us that what we are doing is good or the correct way, even though we may be unhappy and unfulfilled. Shouldn't we be capable of being more independent of societal influences. By allowing society to force us to choose a path that reflects the values of others over our own, we are not being rational - we are either being afraid of something or being "insane." (Jessica Hallet)

One possible influence on our ability to make rational decisions is the lack of knowledge of other options. Besides presenting the polar opposites of firm jobs and public interest, Columbia does not make it a priority to help students really figure out the full spectrum of choices available to them. (Sam Hershey)

One question to consider under this subtopic is what do we think of those whose values match up with working for a firm? Do these people actually value wealth over autonomy and justice? (Jessica Hallet)

Personal Values

How true is an assumption that every lawyer truly cares about being able to choose his or her own clients and doing justice. One proposition is that working simply for monetary value and self pleasure (whatever form that takes) is as valid as working for justice and the public good. This is based on the idea that value is completely personal. The personal value of justice seems to rely on an external moral order that one submits to, which in turn shapes what is personally valuable. One form of this external influence is religion, though can include other ideologies that are not necessarily religious but take on a form similar to religion. (David Garfinkel)

[How much self pleasure can you gain from working at a large corporate law firm? Why do all personal definitions of justice necessarily rely on an external, set moral order that has been submitted to? Each of these "moral orders" themselves had to historically be created by an individual.---- Rob Laser - 17 Feb 2010]

How far can we take this idea? Is there a point where working for monetary gain and personal pleasure becomes compromised by helping a client do something really terrible? At some point, should one decide that the intrinsic value of what one does outweighs pay and pleasure? (Nona Farahnik)

A counter to above is that we can assume that lawyers ultimately desire to do justice and to be able to choose their own clients is not so faulty. It makes sense to assume that people want to contribute to their society, because they want to be valued. The goal of every life is to live happily, so we do not need to protest that working for monetary value and self-pleasure is valid. However, the reason we assume lawyers wish for justice is because most people wish for coherence and fairness. Plus, feeling valued makes them happy, so working for the public interest or "for the people" is seen as good. A source of external morality is likely not the driving force behind people's altruism. People are meant to want to be altruist to a degree. Religion might even in some cases be detrimental to instilling morality and responsibility towards humanity because that sense of morality and rightness, so strong when developed independently and internally, is externalized, when you are taught to act a certain way for fear of the threat of punishment or that other's told you to do it.(Cecilia Wang)

[Do you really wish for fairness? If injustice cannot be eliminated entirely, don't you want you and your family to be the ones who gain benefits unjustly rather than detriments? Their relationship to you hardly seems a "fair" way to determine such a thing. There will always be inequities, and when absolute fairness is a myth the best you can do is help those you for some reason choose to care about. (can be anyone not just family or people you know, impoverished etc.)-- RobLaser - 17 Feb 2010]

Another set of values that can contribute is respect by the clients and the clients dependency. (Cecilia Want)

Benefits/Temptations/Reasons to Join Law Firms

+ It is easier to get a job with a big firm. The law school is designed to funnel you into a firm job. The firms come here to recruit, and we are pushed to do EIP. The jobs are there and they are offered to students without the student having to do much work. (John Albanese)

[I think this is absolutely correct, choosing a big firm job seems to have a lot do to with laziness. -- RobLaser - 17 Feb 2010]

+ Firms will make the job seem really enticing. The representatives that you will meet from law firms are people that are paid to convince you to come to the firm. These people are the ones who will profit off of your labor. Unless you do some research on your own, you will not meet an associate or partner who hates their job. The summer that you spend will be filled with light work days, nice dinners, and lavish events. Your paycheck will be ridiculous. It will be very tempting to say that you can work for one or two years to pay off your loans and then leave. (John Albanese)

+ Everybody you know will be taking these jobs. Never underestimate the power of peer pressure and group think. (John Albanese)

+ Do we necessarily become trapped. The associates who may be miserable are probably not an unrepresentative minority. It is very possible that people enter such work because they want the challenge and difficulties that come with being a biglaw lawyer. There seems plenty of people who love their work, and not for money. (Cecilia Wang)

Assigned to Due date Description State Notify  
DavidGarfinkel Mon, 08 Feb 2010 Edit topic EbenMoglen edit

This is my first attempt at refactoring, which has been quite an informative but imperfect process. I have tried to preserve the overall discussion that occurred while eliminating repetition, superfluity, and discussion that went completely off topic. I do not believe this discussion is finished, and there will most likely be future attempts to further refactor the page. So discussion is invited on any of the major subheadings. I believe that this thread would benefit from more discussion about the actual/supposed benefits/temptations of working for a firm. I realize there may be a limit to the utility of such a discussion without empirical data, but it is worth a try nonetheless. And the concept of personal values and rationality can be further fleshed out. In addition, feel free to correct or expand on comments already made here if you believe I made a mistake in my editing.



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