Law in Contemporary Society

This Again

-- By BrianTratner - 30 Apr 2018

After a year of law school, I’ve learned that I want to be the sort of lawyer that is a friend to Taiwan. I admit that I don’t know exactly what that means yet but ideally I’d be able to use my JD to help raise Taiwan’s international standing in some meaningful way. I don’t claim to hate all injustice, but the shunning of Taiwan by the international community is an injustice I certainly do hate. The Taiwan issue is also a particularly interesting problem to obsess over because it is one in which the right outcome – widespread recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state – is almost guaranteed to have disastrous consequences for all parties involved.

I came to law school ready to forget about Taiwan. After five idyllic years teaching English in Taipei, I returned “home” convinced that what I needed in my life was a lucrative and prestigious career. I accepted that I would have to turn my focus away from the island to accomplish that. After I started at Columbia, however, the billboards kept piling up.

I noticed the first billboard two weeks into the semester when I met a Taiwanese LLM at a Yankee game sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association. We were shocked to discover that we had both been in Taipei at the beginning of the month. She introduced me to the nine other LLMs from Taiwan over dinner shortly after and I got to know them all fairly well over the year.

Another billboard came in October during an information session about summer job opportunities in “Greater China”. Buried between pages of job postings in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong was a single internship in Taipei. It was a more than a billboard; it was a bridge. Better yet, Columbia would pay for it, in so far as an institution you give tens of thousands of dollars a year to can pay for your flight tickets and a modest stipend.

Several other billboards would have been hard to miss. Of Columbia’s 150 or so full-time faculty members, only two that I know of are of Taiwanese descent and I was randomly assigned to both of their classes. I notice the conspicuous absence of Taiwan’s flag among the rafters in SIPA everyday when I walk to and from JG. I’ve been genuinely perturbed by some of my intelligent and well-informed classmates’ lack of concern for the plight of Taiwan.

I have been unsuccessful in finding someone that can help me make sense of the billboards so far. I initially explored the option of practicing law in Taiwan. Columbia’s preeminent scholar on “Greater China” assured me that this would be impossible as the international legal market has all but deserted Taipei. I talked to both of my aforementioned professors but neither had any particular insight into how to go about using a Columbia JD to effectuate this kind of change.

I will be learning through the totalitarian state of immersion this summer when I intern at seven public interest legal organizations in and around Taipei over ten weeks. My main focus will be to improve my Mandarin to the point where I feel comfortable doing legal work in it. I will also try to network with as many lawyers as I can to see if there are any opportunities I haven’t been privy to while stateside. Professor Ben Liebman helpfully put me in touch with an American law professor at the University of Kentucky that has practiced in and published extensively about Taiwan who said he’d be willing to meet with me to strategize in Taipei over the summer.

When I return to Columbia, I plan to start a Taiwanese law students association. Several of the Taiwanese LLMs here have told me that they feel like they are not American enough for the Asian-American club nor Chinese enough for the Society for Chinese Law (of which I’ll be an executive board member next year). Several have also said that they don’t feel like the professors here really care about Taiwan. Although I think affinity groups are largely pointless, drawing a clear distinction between Taiwan and Mainland China can only further the cause. Furthermore, Taiwanese students have as much of a right to a cut of the student activity slush fund as anyone else.

I will of course participate in the bizarre courting ritual of EIP. I will put the two BigLaw? firms that have offices in Taipei towards the top of my bid list. I realize that it may turn out to be impossible to use my JD the way I want to but I want to ensure that I am in a position where I can capitalize on any opportunities that come my way. At those firms, there is at least a chance I could be placed in Taiwan and that I will meet other lawyers who can help me chart my path.

I plan to guide my learning further through my course selection and by continuing to search for mentorship. As being an expert on legal issues in Taiwan unfortunately necessitates expertise on Chinese legal issues, I will take as many China-related courses as I can. I hope to develop a closer relationship with Professor Liebman as I believe he is an incredible resource for lawyers with an interest in East Asia. I will get to work closely with George Bermann through my position as faculty chair of the Columbia International Arbitration Association. I will get a chance to see what people outside of Morningside Heights do with their law degrees every Friday at my EDNY internship.

I haven’t ignored cautions against overspecialization and realize that my focus on Taiwan may come across as obsessive or myopic. I don’t deny that I am either of those. I have a strong apathetic streak but this is an issue that I care deeply about and I would be remiss to not at least explore ways in which I can contribute to its resolution.

Some love is obsessive. That's not a teacher's concern. It doesn't always make a great essay, for the same reasons that it makes a great romance, but most readers can decide whether to stop reading. To improve the draft one would probably best follow the writer's most basic advice: show, don't tell. The "situation" isn't self-evident, unless one is, say, Lithuanian. And then there's the question of whose Formosa this is that you're talking about, which isn't the question that your love concerns, after all. So there might be more to show about why this is what you love, if the reader is to be not merely an awkward three's-a-crowd in it all. But for the real intended purpose, which is express your own intentions, it needs nothing to have done the job.


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r2 - 01 Jun 2018 - 16:48:34 - EbenMoglen
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