Law in Contemporary Society
I took a different approach to this paper while trying to explore the same overall theme. My attempts at generalization were failing for obvious reasons, so instead I focused on myself and my own internal issues. My guess is that some people have similar fears that guide their decisions, though some don't. Hopefully examining a few of my own internal issues and a discussion of a few potential steps forward will be helpful.


-- By DavidGoldin - 10 Jul 2010

Looking Inside

One of the things that interests me about the legal profession is the fact that many graduates from the most prestigious law schools don't end up working where they are needed most - instead, many end up in the "pawn shops." This isn't true for everyone. Some people in my class will go on to do amazing things with their Columbia degrees, and will use them to effect the change that we need. But even in this economy, with jobs at large law firms disappearing, many of my classmates will still follow the "traditional" path. So what is causing this? I can't speak for everyone, or generalize about our entire class, but I know about some of the factors driving my decisions about the future, and hopefully discussing them will shed some light on the issues facing many people in similar positions.

I have always thought of myself as a risk averse person. This doesn't need much of an explanation. Perhaps this is why I chose law school - law has traditionally been seen as a stable career where one can plod along for decades making good, but not great money, without having to worry about layoffs or tough business decisions. Behind this risk aversion is a general sense of fear. I'm afraid of failing. I'm afraid of not having enough money. I'm afraid of wasting my one shot at life. This may seem abstract, but it plays a huge role in guiding the decisions I have made and that I am making for my future.

My reasons to be afraid are likely different from others members of our class who are driven by fear. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunities that I have and feel like an "ambassador" of sorts for my community. I don't want to fail them or be a disgrace. I don't have much family with money to fall back on if I am unable to find a job. I have older family members depending on me and my financial success. Looking at the broader world picture, these concerns are piddling. Many people are living day to day, afraid that they won't have enough food or water. But I am still afraid and this fear is shaping many of the decisions that I make.

Looking Outward

In many ways, my first year of law school has exacerbated these fears, especially the fear of failure. This is justified in some cases. Lawyers can wield a lot of power, and it is important not to misuse it. A lawyer's misplaced words or even misunderstood words can have serious consequences. Additionally, our legal system operates under systems of rules, and not knowing these rules can lessen a lawyer's effectiveness. For example, a missed deadline can be destroy an important case. Playing into my underlying fear of failure is helpful in this arena, in that it will force me to be more careful and try and prevent problems that will compromise my ability to use my license effectively.

At the same time, however, I feel like my fears have been exacerbated in a negative way as well. There are a number of reasons for this. One is money - law school is expensive, and having a large amount of debt hanging over my head scares me. Another is the consistent focus on sending graduates to "jobs" as opposed to careers. During the first two months alone, we had two "mandatory" meetings where we were told about the importance of getting good grades and of finding summer jobs. Not having a "job" was portrayed as the ultimate failure.

Granted, different people react to these meetings differently. But being someone who is guided by fear of failure, it is understandable why so many people go to "pawn shops" as opposed to the places where they can do work that is actually needs them.

Looking Forward

Where do I go from here? This is a highly personal decision. My goal is to use law school and internships to gain expertise in a specific area, a niche. This will do a couple of things - it will lessen my fears and it will allow me to develop the ties that will allow me to effect the type of change that I want with my law degree.

With regards to allaying my fears, developing a niche will hopefully give me more stability and will create demand for my services so I will no longer fear both a lack of success and a lack of money. People who are particularly knowledgeable in an area are in demand. I have personally witnessed this - when working at a large firm that was downsizing, the people who stayed were the ones who had expertise in specific areas and the first to go were the generalists. Having some sort of expertise, and continually working to increase and develop this, will hopefully help me overcome some of my fears.

At the same time, specialization can make it more possible to use my license to do good as opposed to bad. While it would be nice to be able to solve all of the world's problems, it is easier and arguably more effective to focus on improving one specific area - be it pharmaceutical drug policy (my interest), animal rights issues or anything else. Many great movements have started when the organizers focused on individual issues. This too will assist me in dealing with my fear of failure.

This is just a beginning. I will likely struggle to develop sufficient expertise to carve out a niche. This likely won't work for everyone - some people have gotten over their fears, and others have no plans to do so. But hopefully recognizing this will at least allow me to start moving in the direction of developing a career using my license to do something positive.


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r16 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:14:12 - IanSullivan
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