Law in Contemporary Society

Distinguishing

In this course, we have encountered a recurring proposition: that we should seek meaningful work in addition to adequate compensation. I have, at times, erroneously equated this proposition with a second: that we have a responsibility to improve social justice. But these propositions are importantly distinct. The first is an observation, and a seemingly uncontroversial one, even though it is one to which not many young lawyers adhere. The second, of course, is a personal conviction.

Re: Proposition One

Meaningful Work: What is it? Who does it? Is it worth pursuing?

“Meaning” is difficult to define. In some contexts, it means what is intended (ex. what is the meaning of this?). In others, it hints at significance (i.e. a meaningful wink implies an understanding between the parties of something underlying the wink). This usage is most similar to how we are using the term in class, where we seem to be defining meaning as “the end, purpose, or significance.” Pursuing meaningful work seems to mean pursuing work for which there is an end outside of remuneration.

Our mothers always told us, “Do what you love.” And we said, of course, of course, we would. But now we find ourselves here at CLS, on the cusp of interviewing for jobs which we are fairly certain we will not love, and on the cusp of undertaking work for which we could not care less.

In response to this tension, we admirably have been discussing, and figuring out ways, to do meaningful work. The thought is, if we make a thing that has value, people will pay us for it. We thus should pursue a line of work that is meaningful to us and within that framework produce value; adequate compensation will follow.

Many big firms have the formula backwards. They pursue money first, then profess to inject meaning into their firm’s work through pro-bono activities. But this somehow feels false; indeed the transparency of the arrangement was aptly described in class: pro-bono is like a piano in a whorehouse.

So, from this foundation, we seem to have answered the first two questions from above. The third, which was the focus of the first draft of this paper, is still on the table though. Is meaningful work worth pursuing? Since I have defined meaningful work above as work for which the purpose is something other than earning money, that definition needs refining here. If a person is not concerned with money, but just wants to harm others, that might fit my definition of meaningful work. So, to refine: let meaningful work be that which, outside of being a path to money, one finds personally significant and worthy of pursuit. For example, say I work to improve living conditions for immigrants. I also get paid to do this. Is this work more worthy of my doing than a job where I do pretty much whatever I am told in return for getting paid?

We have been presented with some information in class showing that corporate lawyers, in the long run, suffer from a high prevalence of alcoholism, depression, career dissatisfaction, and so on. Are there some lawyers (who are pursuing money and money alone), that will not fall victim to such things? Certainly. I have friends who are on a money-driven path but do not seem to be heading towards such negative outcomes. However, these people are still young, and the results of their choices are not yet fully manifest.

Moreover, many of them find meaning in their hobbies or in their family-lives. Is it possible, then, to separate career and extra-career activities? Can one pursue solely money at work, then solely meaning outside of work? I don’t have the answer to this question, but the information given in class seems to suggest that the answer is no. Even if a separation of work/meaningful pursuits is possible, it still seems that a better route, a route that will lead to greater personal satisfaction, is one in which meaning is the focus of all of one’s activities, and adequate compensation just a positive (and necessary) outcropping of those activities.

Re: Proposition Two

Is the work of improving social justice meaningful?

For many, I think the answer is a resounding yes. It is tempting, as I did in my first draft, to explore possible “tainted” motivations. Perhaps a lawyer who is pursuing social justice is motivated by the same few ends as the corporate lawyer: wealth, recognition, power, etc. The lawyer pursuing social justice is doing work that “society” respects. He is given recognition and is considered a good person. That gives him influence and power.

That might all be true, but it isn’t worth speculation. If social justice gives a person meaning, then that is enough. If some are ultimately motivated by wealth and power, and simply use social justice as a means of gaining these things, that is of no consequence. It is the others, those whose end is to improve social justice, that matter here – these people will find meaning in their work.

Now, are there other paths that give meaning? Sure. Many philosophy professors find meaning in contributing to human knowledge. Many psychiatrists find meaning in helping others to find meaning. But, for a lawyer, social justice seems a natural fit. Lawyers have the training and the positioning to influence the societal framework, and that cries out for justice-motivated change.

Final Thought on Paper One

While my conclusion in this second draft is certainly not radical, or even close to interestingly original, it is vastly different from the one I professed in my first draft. And, more importantly, I think it leaves me with a firmer foundation from which to progress.

  • Though you say so, in the end your writing doesn't seem to have convinced you. It reads more as though it's supposed to convince me. "Is the work of improving social justice meaningful?" On your account, that depends on the exogenous preference schedule in meanings maintained by whatever internally autonomous process it is that determines what we find meaning in. (The possibility that meaning is not a synonym for consumer preference is not really considered in your argument. Looking into that might help.)

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r10 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:03:37 - IanSullivan
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