Law in Contemporary Society

Law School, Parenthood, and Fulfillment

-- By MelissaMitgang - 15 May 2009

The Problem and the Solution

Each time I sit down to work, I go through a routine. I check Gmail, Facebook, and The New York Times' website, and then I begin to work. I adhere to my routine because it helps me feel like a real person; it reminds me that I’m more than just a workaholic law student, and more than just a harried new parent. These websites help me connect to my pre-law school, pre-parenthood self, the Melissa who actually had time to procrastinate and guiltlessly check out her favorite websites, the Melissa who felt better connected to the world around her. As this semester progressed, however, I found something puzzling occuring: I became unable to resist the pull of the Internet. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to spend with my husband and son; I didn't have time to see my friends; I certainly didn’t have time to get enough sleep. But I found myself wasting precious time on silly websites – minutes, not hours, to be fair, but time that I could have used in much more meaningful ways.

I’ve learned many things, about myself, about the law, and about how I want to think about the law, over the course of the school year. I think the most illuminating thing that I’ve learned is also the simplest, and it is closely connected to my internet use: the “secret” to remaining or becoming an integrated person is to allow yourself to grow because of new experiences rather than being defined by them.

Why I'm Here

I’m in law school, in part, because becoming Bartleby (Bartleby the Scrivener), a man devoid of an intellectual and emotional life, is my biggest fear. It’s a fear that I’ve had ever since I watched Sarah, a distant relative of mine, give up a career to become a full-time parent. She became a detached, lifeless robot, going through the motions of her life without seeming to feel – well, anything. And so I resolved that I would never become Bartleby, or one of Wiley’s “conscious schizoids,” described by Lawrence Joseph in Lawyerland (Lawyerland p. 39) ; I would build a meaningful life, one full of diapers and birthdays and adorable, toothless smiles, but one full of personal achievements and career milestones, too.

What I've Learned (Link: DoYouDoAnythingDifferently)

This semester, and particularly this course, helped me realize that out of fear of subsuming my identity to my role as a mother, I ran the risk of allowing myself to be engulfed by my identity as a law student. All of that time wasted online was a subconscious grasp of the old “me,” which only felt necessary because instead of allowing the life-defining experiences of law school and motherhood to help me grow, I tried to use one experience to bar the other from becoming my sole identity. Instead of synthesizing the joys and stresses of both motherhood and law school and incorporating them into my self-concept, I unintentionally compartmentalized them, creating separate parts of me that didn’t fit together.

And so I came to law school hoping to ensure that I would continue to be a thinking, feeling person – and, it turns out, my good intentions brought me dangerously close to just the opposite. Instead of enjoying family-time and truly connecting with my son and husband, I spent too much of my time with them worrying about school. Instead of achieving the continuous, focused drive for which I strove while working, I spent some of my work-time yearning for a connection – both to the real me and to others. It was only when I realized the disconnect between how I wanted to think about myself – happy mom and successful law student – and my actual life that I realized how faulty my approach had been, and how much was missing from my life, despite the fullness of my day and the thickness of my planner. Avoiding the disassociation of different aspects of my life is not just something I have to worry about in choosing a career path– it’s a challenge that I have to meet each morning.

I’ve also come to realize that being a successful law student doesn’t necessarily entail thinking intellectually. I discovered this when I sat down to write my first paper for this course, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t had a single truly unique thought or intellectual experience during the first semester of law school. Of course, I had grappled with difficult doctrines and mind-numbing cases, and I had competently applied my knowledge on exams. But thought for myself? Considered a doctrine and its implications in the real world, beyond what it meant for doing well on a test? Not once. My desire to be an intellectual person, I have finally discovered, is yet another thing that I have to synthesize – it doesn’t come neatly attached to another goal or endeavor, just like Sarah’s parenthood didn’t come packaged with an emotional connection to her children.

While my 1L experience was a bit different from that of my classmates and friends, I think we all shared this risk of allowing law school to override our identities and self concepts – keeping up with hundreds of pages of reading a week, briefing, and outlining will do that pretty easily to a group of overachievers who are suddenly brought together in the most competitive environment many of us have ever experienced ([OnWhyIAmReluctantToTalkInClass]]. While I’m sure a great number of us rose to the challenge of incorporating law school into our identities rather than allowing law school to become our identities, some of us retreated into our schoolwork, becoming the internal, antisocial beings Wylie characterizes (see Wikipedia), before any of our feet have even touched a carpeted law firm floor. I hope we’re each able to bring it all together, to make law school and our future careers part of who we are and an expression of our beliefs and values, instead of the sum total of our identities.

And now I’m off to find the energy and time to do just that, “to just slow it all down a little,” (link text, p. 56).

  • A toothless smile:

  • I think this is an interesting and valuable essay, and I'm very glad you wrote it as well as having lived through it. I think the desire to sum over the whole of the year's effect — which is understandable and important in serving the function the draft serves for you — takes away from the space and focus you could well choose to employ explaining more clearly and at large some of your more general insights. On the difference between what you call "thinking intellectually" (a phrase that it seems to me could stand improvement) and the work of learning in the courses, in particular, I think we could benefit very much from more.


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jpg ari_bath.jpg props, move 29.1 K 15 May 2009 - 19:30 MelissaMitgang A toothless smile
r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:43:04 - IanSullivan
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