Law in Contemporary Society

First Days on the Job

-- By ArgiriosNickas - 30 Mar 2016

Happy Birthday

I’m sitting here on a Thursday night. This Thursday night happens to be my birthday. I’m tired. And I’m writing an essay with uninebriated attention. For every year on this day, as far back as I can remember, I don’t remember much of anything at all.

I never thought lawyering could be sobering. Contrary to our encounter with Mr. Wylie that is, more or less, exactly what has happened (though to be perfectly honest, Friday night may be a different story). All day victims paraded in with complaints: embezzlement, foreclosure schemes, deceptive business practices, false advertising, you name it. Sometime next week I might even get to see an autopsy in person (the bureau that covers gang crimes is right across the hall) – maybe then I won’t be able to eat either…

I’m not tired because the day was particularly long or arduous. I had an hour off for lunch and I ate a pretty decent Subway sandwich (6 inch, toasted Subway club on 9 Grain Honey Oat). A few interns and I sat behind the office on a picnic bench next to the “District Attorney Community Garden” where small strawberry plants were just starting to grow in. After some random conversation had died down and there was silence for a few seconds, someone started uncontrollably laughing. ‘I’m eating a fucking sandwich and sitting outside in the sun and literally right behind us we’re deciding what to do with people’s lives,’ she said. I almost fell out of my seat in painful hysterics.

We talk and talk about problems in the world, but 99% of it is filtered through a television or computer screen and the remaining 1% is divided 9/10 to books and print and 1/10 towards actual encounters with those problems. Though I’m not sure delaying the second essay comments was intentional, it was probably a good thing we got them back when we did. Most of us had no real experiences in lawyering, and now we do.

Real People, Real Consequences

I was on the right track in my last draft, but I approached real problems as la carte items to be ordered in the distant future, as university courses I could take my time thinking about maybe enrolling in one day. Now the problems are confronting me. I’ve been given my assigned seat and the teacher is cold-calling my ass tomorrow. Its 8:49pm and I need to be in by 8:45am. Between then and now I need to figure out which larceny theory in a foreclosure fraud scheme has a shot at convicting. The ADA doesn’t have the answer; she’s swamped and relying on me to provide it.

A month ago it was nice to sit quietly and meticulously think about quotations from my Yiayia, literature, and life lessons I’ve encountered along the way. Now I’m facing real problems with real people and real consequences.

Attentiveness and the Balancing Act

But I need to take deep breaths. And I need to focus on this essay. I need to focus on this essay not for the grade, but for the opportunity to reflect it provides - for what I can take away from it. I’m writing this for myself.

So how would I have written that last essay differently if “then me” was “now me”? My family still means more than anything to me so I’d still want you to know about the tattoos and the ‘compound’ I grew up on. I’d still want you to know about my Yiayia’s expression because I carry that with me everyday. I would probably change the idealistic tone of the last section: too much droning and not enough action. Now the furnace is raging and I’m coming out as steel, or not at all.

Life is a balancing act where you constantly maneuver values, ideas, and actions back and forth on a teeter-totter. My first essay was all reflection and preparation. Now its time for action: reflection and preparation can wait until next weekend. Somewhere between then and now I will probably drink. But most of the time I will be sober. All of the time I will be attentive. If your course has taught me nothing else, it is to be attentive. Take something away from Mr. Wylie, from John Brown, and from Mr. Robinson. Take something away from Professor Moglen, Thurman Arnold, and Edward Snowden. A wide range of characters and an equally wide range of potential lessons learned.

Of the numerous comments on the first draft of my first essay, one was: “insofar as everything in society is affected by social influences, tautologically.” That is exactly it. You put it bluntly and unapologetically. Each experience, interaction, comment, thought, idea, song, person, laugh, honked horn, client, family member, and on and on, forms who we are. Letting others put together the pieces of my puzzle with ignorance of the process and results is no way to practice law or go through life. I want to own my practice and guide the hands that place my pieces.

Life is an opportunity to reflect on who and what you’re becoming. Yesterday I was preparing; today I’m realizing my preparation was a little too melodramatic. Right now I’m saying, “when you see these victims in person, face to face, there is no way not to care.” Today, I’m an impassioned prosecutor, but tomorrow, who knows? Maybe emotional stress turns to emotional fracture, and I end up popping Vicodin and drowning in codeine? There is a battle inside all of us and sometimes the scale tips one place or another.

Attentiveness is part of the solution. My Yiayia was right: Τα μάτια σου δεκατέσσερα. I know I have the tools to both recognize what I was and shape what I will be. I just need to pay close enough attention to not miss the opportunities to do so.

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r5 - 13 Jun 2016 - 16:12:26 - ArgiriosNickas
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