Law in Contemporary Society

The Superiority of the Do-Gooder

-- By TonbaraEkiyor - 31 Mar 2015


Who knows why most people decide to do ‘good work’? The more important question is whether the motivation matters if the change made in the world is positive. My argument is that there is something about what can be described as paternalistic (or maybe self-centered is a better word) motivations, that make good deeds seem empty. Albert Camus’s protagonist in The Fall is given as an example of the benefit of introspection in ultimately understanding our purpose in choosing our profession.

An Exercise in Introspection

In The Fall, the protagonist, a lawyer named Jean-Baptiste Clamence in explaining his life-long propensity for ‘heights’, describes the joy he feels when he is above. This feeling translates to his practice of law. He describes how ‘the feeling of the law, the satisfaction of being right and the joy of self-esteem” work in tandem with his desire to be above everyone else. Through his good deeds, Clamence achieves more than those he describes as “the vulgar ambitious man”. This he believes helped him “rise to that supreme summit where virtue is its own reward.”

It is not clear at what point Clamence became the kind of lawyer that takes clients who cannot pay because he relishes in their gratitude. Did it occur before he became a lawyer? Or did it happen when he was already a lawyer and an incident in which he experienced such gratitude led him to realize it satisfies his propensity for heights? Camus does not tell us.

What is clear is that Clamence has thought about being this kind of lawyer and finds great satisfaction in his profession because it allows him and others to see him as the best version of himself, even though it might be a false representation.

Introspection that Leads to Clarity

The absurdity in this description by Camus lies in everyone else’s view of Clamence as the quintessential do gooder, but also in Clamence’s own understanding of the selfishness that lead to his ‘public service’. However, Clamence has developed a clear understanding of the reason why he is satisfied with his role as a lawyer. His satisfaction is drawn from the reaction of people to his good deeds not merely from the good deeds he performs. He describes an incident where he tipped his hat to a blind man after helping him cross the road. An audience is necessary for Clamence’s good deeds to bring him satisfaction. The wider the audience he gets for his beneficence the better.

Clamence gives us a different approach to understanding our decision to pursue a given area or kind of law. Clamence’s introspection begins with something simple, an understanding of who he is. He sees clearly the kind of person he is and how that speaks to the kind of lawyer he becomes. The starting point is not “what kind of lawyer do you want to be”, as that is already formed. It is formed from the kind of person that you are. The question “why are you in law school” is not one that often leads to profound answers and some kind of self-discovery. The answers given are answers that are clear in any other setting. Law school is a means to an end, what makes it particularly attractive is that it is a means to a variety of ends. It is tailored to suit the person who decides that doing good is the end, the person for whom doing good is a means to an end, and also the person for whom doing good is peripheral.


Concededly, there are many people who decide to take on the role of do-gooder with doing good as the end. Those people shall inherit the earth. The argument could be made that the motive behind one’s decision to practice a certain area of law might be irrelevant as long as one’s contribution to the world is positive. However, there is something to the knowledge that a person’s motivation for being the kind of lawyer like Clamence who declines a fee for his services because he feels ‘elevated’ by performing that act takes away from the benevolent nature of the act.

If the decision not to be ‘vulgarly ambitious’ is drawn from the desire to be a better person, then we must also find problematic the decision to be the kind of lawyer that is not a ‘corporate leech’ because he believes that he is superior to the corporate leech and the clients he defends for free.


Webs Webs

r8 - 29 Jun 2015 - 20:54:40 - MarkDrake
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