Law in Contemporary Society
This thread separates today's lecture, where Eben asks a question, from

our attempts at answering it, i.e. our collaborative attempts to frame questions about how to become lawyers that we can carry with us for the next two years ...

Also visit this thread.

-- AndrewGradman - 9 Apr 2008 -- AndrewGradman - 14 Apr 2008

I thought I would put some ideas down to hopefully continue others’ thinking about how to frame questions about how to become lawyers (at least private practice lawyers), and maybe jog others to continue this thread:

I sense heavy anxiety when students express concerns about what they won’t know that they should know when the rubber meets the road in real life application. For whatever this is worth, my suggestion is to try not to get psyched out about not really knowing anything about the law beyond basic concepts, research tools and methods, and analytical techniques that judges and lawyers use to parse a legal problem. You WILL learn your areas of law, but it will take time. It’s a process that everyone goes through, and you will find that you will never really stop learning the law (it’s an endless proposition). You are conscientious in applying yourselves – the fact that you got into Columbia is an indication of that, so you will find ways to learn the technical things you should be using when figuring out legal problems for others. On the other hand, I’ve seen lawyers who didn’t really know their areas that well, but they had something else significant to offer – political connections, or deep and broad marketing skills, and so they found someone else in their area who was technically sound, and they tag-teamed with that person.

Eben is right-on when he says that you should be selling knowledge, not time. And I think you will, over the years, observe yourself selling (or really offering) not just knowledge, but much more:

•You will find that the best way to help others (whether clients or the higher-ups you’re working for) is to first, put yourself in their shoes, so that you can see things from their point of view, then apply your knowledge. Every legal question has an answer, but only a portion of that answer is technical; the rest of the answer depends on to whom it is you are giving the answer and why.

I will stop here. I’d love to hear from others: what do you think matters when lawyers, specifically those in firms, apply themselves to their craft? You may be inclined to think about “new associate” duties, but you shouldn’t stop there – this is a life-long project we’re talking about here, no matter how many actual “jobs” you end up having, or in what capacity.

Well I agree with the questions Eben explained needed solving by our future jobs. From what I've gleaned, they are:

1.Making enough money to live comfortably, however we define it (I assume this includes paying off our loans) 2.Doing work we enjoy and find meaningful 3.Having a work/life balance we are happy with 4.Autonomy (I think is the most unnecessary criteria if we already have a work/life balance but I guess its possible to have one without the other).

These are a perfect set of criteria. I want to enjoy what I do, make enough money to afford a comfortable life while paying off debt, and have a life outside of work.

From here I'm looking for answers.

-- JulianBaez - 14 Apr 2008

Julian, I think the answers you are looking for are within you. Hope I don't make you self-conscious here, but after reading your paper about your experience in looking for summer employment, I realize that your go-getter attitude and energy will direct you as close as anyone to that equilibrium that you're looking for while pursuing the four criteria you listed. None or little of this may come with the first job or the second, though. But you'll keep looking. As I hope you know, all life is an experiment.

Just one thing about #4 -- I think this is a spectrum issue, which means that different people have different definitions of autonomy and hence different tolerances, needs, and wants in this area. I gather you are getting the concept of autonomy from Eben's lectures -- I may be wrong, but Eben projects a large amount of autonomy in his working life (we really shade into control issues here), so when he talks about autonomy, he may be talking about a whole different degree or type of autonomy than would fit you. All this by way of saying, I would look at autonomy as an open-ended proposition, and not get stuck on the idea that flat-out autonomy in every facet of a job is the only thing that will make you happy.

-- BarbPitman - 14 Apr 2008

Barb: I think what you're saying about autonomy is extremely true. To an extent all the questions/criteria are subjective valuations we need to make for ourselves.

Also, I'd like to think the answer is within myself but then I don't see the point to discussing these questions in class. Is the point to make us think about what we actually want? I know I thought long and hard about what I wanted to get from my career before this class. I don't think I'm unique in that regard.

What I was hoping to get from this class is information/solutions routes to my questions and desires. If the point was to get us to ask ourselves what we want, then I think the discussion is unnecessary. And as much as we may be able to learn from each other, most of us have no real knowledge of what it is like to be a lawyer, let alone an autonomous one.

There are a few people in the class who have spent time as paralegals, or with sufficient familial knowledge on law practice who may be able to shed some light on this. But even then that knowledge is limited and secondhand, if it is relevant at all.

-- JulianBaez - 14 Apr 2008

Julian, this may sound odd, but about the only suggestion I have is to try not to develop preconceived notions about what you think you want or don't want. Preconceived notions about what you want or don't want in an industry you know little about can only lead to disappointment and forced value assessments. The time when you are in the actual job is the time when you FIND what you want and don't want. And the two summer experiences will give you a jump-start on that. All you know right now is that you want to be a lawyer and you know where you'll be working this summer. That's enough. I'd love to hear in September how your summer went and what you learned from the experience.

Since you mentioned others in class with legal experience, for whatever it's worth, my husband is currently a partner in a Midwest firm. He got his undergrad and law degrees here in the East, and during that time he found out enough about the East Coast market to high-tail it back to Indiana when the time came. I'm sure he'd say he has no regrets. smile

-- BarbPitman - 14 Apr 2008

"If the point was to get us to ask ourselves what we want, then I think the discussion is unnecessary."

I disagree with this comment in the sense that asking ourselves what we want is the first step. You might be thinking long and hard about all your different options, but maybe others aren't being as open about their options. A lot of people in law school seem to feel as if they have "no choice." If you want to do EIP, go to a big firm, work on M&As, securities, etc., go for it. Have fun, challenge yourself, go nuts... I would wish you luck and support you 100 % (whatever that would be worth smile ) The issue is that too many people seem to be saying, "I don't want to, but there's no other options."

I don't buy it. With all the different paths (and an LRAP that guarantees you AT LEAST 50K after loans), we probably have more career options than 99 % of the country. Personally, I'm skipping EIP next fall, not because Eben told us it sucks or because it makes me feel like I'm different or rebellious. There simply aren't any jobs that I want being offered at EIP, and so when I booked my plane tickets in February, I didn't worry about scheduling my return flight for August 28th. I have an idea of the places where I want to work, and the kinds of work they do. It's still a broad idea, but I know enough that it doesn't involve work at a firm that does EIP.

The first step is to ask, "what do I want." I think that's why Eben started the course with the question of why we came here. Once we answer that, we have to ask what that means. If you put what you want out there, you can start to have a discussion about what you'll need to accomplish that specific "what." Until you ask (and to some extent answer) that question, though, I don't think anyone (including yourself) can really offer you help.

-- ChristopherBuerger - 14 Apr 2008

Christopher, Julian put his list of 4 things up there, then said, "These are a perfect set of criteria." The problem is that one doesn't know how these criteria actually pan out in a real job in an industry with which one is not familiar until one is IN the job. Then, if one is already too married to the idea of "perfection," it is likely that the real-life dynamics of a job will create disappointment. Kind of like when people make single-and-looking posts that describe what they are looking for in a relationship -- the more they are wed to any set of criteria, especially made in the form of defined entries on a list, the more they will remember the items that they thought about and then internalize the idea that it is that list or bust. And the more likely they will never feel satisfied, demonstrated by leaving one job for another, which leaves them looking for perfection indefinitely.

-- BarbPitman - 14 Apr 2008

In other words, Eben basically says that we can't go to a big firm (interpreted often as the making of big money) and at the same time be happy. That may be true, but find out for yourself first. You can always tell Eben "you told me so." And I think most people would rather be in that position than be in the position where they muse, "But only if . . ." I find most people regret the things they didn't do, not the things they did do. And as you know, life after the big firm interlude (should you choose that route) can yield much in the form of additional perspective as well.

-- BarbPitman - 14 Apr 2008

Here are the list of criteria Barb referenced which I put up before.

1.Making enough money to live comfortably, however we define it (I assume this includes paying off our loans) 2.Doing work we enjoy and find meaningful 3.Having a work/life balance we are happy with 4.Autonomy (I think is the most unnecessary criteria if we already have a work/life balance but I guess its possible to have one without the other).

I credit Eben with articulating the criteria this way. It more or less matched my internal goals, except mine were more specific to fit my desires (i.e. how i define living comfortably).

I'd be interested in learning if anyone (especially Chris) disagrees with these criteria or proposes additions.

-- JulianBaez - 14 Apr 2008

I don't remember Eben articulating the criteria that way. Could you cite or quote the place in the lecture? Here's a quote where I thought he said the OPPOSITE thing:

    People decompose the question, "How do I use my skills to have a good life?"
    Into a series of competing questions:
    Do I use my skills to get …
    • a meaningful life?
    • paid enough?
    • Achieve a work-life balance with respect to the non-work parts of my life I care about?
    When the actual question is: how do I used my skills with respect to getting smarts, to give me the work, AND the non-work, that I care about.

I think "work and non-work" are supposed to be read as a single thing -- a series of 24-hour blocks read holistically.

I remember last week you were asking what "marketable skills" we should be acquiring. I am concerned that I am creating a "straw man" out of your question, but as I understood you, I thought you were asking the wrong question. "Marketing," as I heard the term defined, is an act of CREATING or PRE-EMPTING demand. Perhaps one could call it "pre-emption" to take courses in the "skills" currently used by corporate-law-firms, rightly anticipating that the attrition among mid-level associates causes each class of associates to advance, opening up jobs at the bottom. But everyone ENROLLED at a law school already knows that. I think that a more valuable kind of pre-emption is innovative / entrepreneurial / creative, i.e. it asks, "what skills are my classmates NOT acquiring, that will be sorely lacking when I graduate from law school?" such that the demand for those services is much higher. I suspect that among those skills is personability, creativity, irreverence -- the capitalist values that they're teaching at business schools. Therefore I am accumulating a portfolio of watercolor landscapes and expressionist poems.

Seriously, though -- I don't pretend that "foresight" is easy; and persuading other people of one's foresight is even harder ... but that's what I want to get paid for.

-- AndrewGradman - 15 Apr 2008

Andrew: I can not cite where Moglen gave these criteria, but I remember hearing them in about the same area you are quoting. I did not mean to suggest those goals are necessarily competing values. Instead I meant to suggest we should try to find work which will fulfill all our needs instead of just some (i.e. a firm job that allows us to live comfortably but gives us no happiness, balance or autonomy).

As for your marketability question, I would imagine its figuring out which skills are desirable. Its true garnering the same skills as the rest of the class will not separate us from the crowd, but being a skillful expressionist poet does not enhance our marketability unless we get the market to demand that skill.

However, some skills gained may be enjoyable to acquire in and of itself rather than for its future utility. So if you want to learn to be an expressionist poet lawyer, than go ahead. Perhaps it will become useful in the future. I thinks that's unlikely though.

-- JulianBaez - 15 Apr 2008

Forget this rubbish:
"Markets reward risk." As if
Thought was *magical!*

Isn't sold as good exchange
But as charity.

How many cases Could I have briefed in this time? Shit. I gotta run.

-- AndrewGradman - 15 Apr 2008

Julian, I agree with the criteria you listed, but I would argue that they are too broad. The upside for using broad categories is that they can apply to everyone. The downside is that they don't really help guide us past one or two steps.

To me, those criteria are more like questions. How much money do you need? What work do you find meaningful? Etc. The second question in particular is what Andrew was writing about a few days ago on this twiki, the search for something to feel passionate about. Once you figure out what fires you up, what you want to do in the world, you just have to get someone to pay you for doing it... or at least get someone to pay you for something so that you can do what you want later.

-- ChristopherBuerger - 15 Apr 2008

Well I think I already know what I want. The new question is how to get it.

Also, Here's proof CLS sets you up for big firm work.

Not only does CLS set us up for big firms right out of school, but its the best in the country at doing that (75%). I guess all the Harvard and Yale students go clerk.

Furthermore, even former Attorney General's have trouble getting jobs. -- JulianBaez - 15 Apr 2008

I hope this doesn't come off sounding trite, but...

Do you have ideas about what you might want to do (or even what you might NOT want)? Questions, connections, classes, and opportunities can flow from there a lot easier than just generally asking: how do I not work at a firm?

One thing I found helpful was to start with the scenario of working in a firm (or some other situation where money was not a concern). Then, what pro bono projects would you want to work on? Why? What would you want to do outside of work (for fun or civic duty, whatever)... Generally, then things you'd want to do when money is no object reveal a bit about what we are passionate or at least stimulated by. Then, start asking and thinking about how that can be a bigger part of what you do.

Our safety net for thinking outside of the box is HUGE, as we are given so much privilege and credit (and resources) just for having the Columbia name attached to ours.

-- MiaWhite - 16 Apr 2008

Mia, I think you're right. I'd just like to paraphrase it in language that speaks to me, and maybe to a few others:

Very early in the semester Eben noted that none of our Intro's contained the words "responsibility" or "duty." [or risk.]
I wonder whether we could benefit, by setting aside the question of "what I want to do," and ask "what I have a duty to do, in light of the assets (wealth, education, institutional membership) that the social roulette table has entrusted to me."
I imagine that it's a hard first decision to make -- the decision to ask THAT QUESTION over any other -- but that it makes all the subsequent decisions really really easy.

-- AndrewGradman - 16 Apr 2008

I really appreciate Mia's take on things -- Andrew, I don't find that the passion and stimulation to which Mia refers and the duty to which you refer are the same thing. They may coincidentally merge, or one may have a passion to do that which one finds is one's duty, but often, these end up coexisting, and not interrelating. Am I wrong?

-- BarbPitman - 16 Apr 2008

I regard the line dividing pleasure (internal) from pride (external) as razor-thin. One can easily equate the two. Mia created a thought experiment which reveals how a person defines his passion (internal), but it equally reveals how a person builds his self-esteem (social). You are right: Not everyone has to internalize this equation; until they do, the overlap is coincidental. But I expect that choosing to do so, makes altruism privately rewarding.

-- AndrewGradman - 16 Apr 2008



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r24 - 11 Jan 2010 - 16:55:59 - IanSullivan
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