Law in Contemporary Society
"It takes two things to be a good lawyer: you have to know exactly what you want and you have to know exactly how to get it."

Brevity is the soul of wit, but it often sacrifices much in the way of completeness. As persuasive, useful, and (to an extent) accurate as I find this quotation, I cannot help but feel that it lacks a certain something that is everything. With all due deference to eugenic Holmes and legal realism, there is no "ought" there. In a move out of keeping with the very metaphysic of this course, "good" is here reduced to "effective" or "efficient". (Those promulgators of the great cloud of chalk dust on the eight floor would be pleased to hear this!) To be sure, the aphorism goes a long way in explaining the success of those "good" lawyers at the front of the civil rights movement. But does it not apply equally to the previous success of their very adversaries--the "good" lawyers who managed to maintain gross inequality for so long? No doubt those representing Ferguson knew exactly what they wanted and exactly how to get it (an impassioned dissent from pesky Justice Harlan notwithstanding). And what of those pulverized, processed, polyurethane-packaged products we've alluded to on numerous occasions? If these individuals know that they want large paychecks, law school teaches them (if it teaches them anything) exactly how to get those paychecks. According to our standard, these are the very definition of "good" lawyers. What is wanting may become clearer if we broaden our perspective. While the statement accurately describes the catalysts of what are considered to be the greatest social progresses of the previous century, it likewise applies to the agents of what are considered to be the greatest crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. (It takes, then, two things to be a "good" genocidemonger.) And the trouble is not obviated by supplementing the quotation by defining "lawyer", as we have, as a specialist in making something happen in society using words. For words have done more than any other instruments in putting and keeping hatred in the hearts of men. As in our various introductions, neither the words "responsibility" and "duty" nor the ideas or principles they convey are to be found in the above quotation. As a consequence, the statement retains only usefulness (i.e., utility); meaningfulness evades, as it is so wont to do.

-- PietroSignoracci - 24 Jan 2008

Well said.

-- KateVershov - 24 Jan 2008

1) If you want to be a good lawyer, know what you want and how to get it (-Cohen).
2) If you want to learn what you want and how to get it, take this course (-Moglen)
3) If you want to seize control of an industrial state and exterminate a tenth of its population, I prefer that you not take Moglen's class.

These are syllogisms, not value statements. We might clear up the confusion by replacing "good" with "effective." By these standards, Hitler was a good lawyer. If we don't know whether we want to be good lawyers, we won't find the answer as a syllogism packed and wrapped by law school. Law school assumes we want to be good lawyers.

-- AndrewGradman - 24 Jan 2008

1) Perhaps it is that I am still relying on pagination, perhaps it is that I do not have the text on hand, but in any case I do not recall the quotation coming from Cohen. It is my paraphrasis of what I believe to be Eben's quoting of Marshall. Hence my call for something more, as this class purports to be about more than learning to become "good" lawyers for "bad" men. I believe in the potential of this class, this discussion, this professor, these students. Otherwise I would be less demanding.

2) This step is small but in the right direction. However, I wonder if what we want is something that can really be learned. I won't attribute the language to Eben, since I doubt I would have signed up for a course that set out to "teach" me what I want. But diction aside, my overall point is that I am somewhat wary of what I might want. And I am often frightened by what others want. Consequently, the discussion can neither begin nor end for me with such wants. (I consider "need" to be interchangeable with "want" in this context.)

-- PietroSignoracci - 24 Jan 2008

Pietro, I like your thoughts on this topic. I have a thought about this class that addresses your question: “I wonder if what we want is something that can be learned”. A saying that fits this class is “the first step to doing is understanding”. I think that Eben's vision of this class is to identify and introduce problems with the structure of lawyering and law in society. I think his purpose in doing this is to try to give us the understanding of the problems that we will face after graduation so that we can navigate the professional waters successfully. It is this understanding that is the first step to our careers, the doing. I believe that we can learn this step, the understanding.

Beyond the first step, I think that we each need to decide what 'successfully' means to us. I agree (if I understood you correctly) that this class can be a vehicle for defining our own 'successful', but that we need to try to focus our discussion to that point as we go. I believe that this step, the 'ought' in your first post, cannot be learned, only discussed.

I also cleaned Theodore's broken link. -- JustinColannino - 24 Jan 2008

This course often reminds me of this theater review in the New York Times on a recent play - or five plays within a play - written by the great contemporary American playwright, Will Eno. The reviewer summarizes the important message of the play: "I’m a kveller, obviously. I am moved by Mr. Eno’s conviction that inside the skins of normal folk — a high school coach, an airline spokeswoman, a man and a woman at a video dating service — live exhausted existentialists and hopeful dreamers, people whose souls would speak more eloquently than their tongues, if given the chance." What I consider Eben's promise to us is to reveal what our souls would say "more eloquently than our tongues" and empower our tongues to say it instead, to give us the courage to dismantle the social forces and institutional pressures suppressing and concealing what our souls want to say and do. The "good" is whatever your soul has to say; avoiding its suppression, I think, is our mission in this class. Personally, I do not like the word "duty" - to me it recalls too much how Frau Goebbels fulfilled her 'duty' by killing her five children as the Soviets were entering Berlin for utter fear that they may grow up in a 'corrupt' and 'impure' world without National Socialism; but, to which we should all aspire stand intellectual courage and mental strength. -- JesseCreed - 25 Jan 2008



Webs Webs

r11 - 07 Jan 2010 - 23:03:06 - IanSullivan
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