Law in Contemporary Society

A Lawyer's Epitaph

-- By MilesGreene - 23 Apr 2018 [997 words]

On the tombstone of a lawyer like Roy Cohn, you might find the elegantly restrained inscription "Boy, he hurt a lot of people." As a foil, Martha Tharaud offers the memory of her mentor, Lewis, as someone whose legacy could be summarized as having improved "the living standards of hundreds of thousands of people." After a year of law school, it's important to articulate the fact that I want to be the sort of lawyer who spends their career in Lewis's category of lawyers. I want to strive toward using my degree and my life as a lawyer to become someone who is remembered for having helped, and not hurt, people. This notion would have seemed insultingly obvious to me before this year began, but I can see now just how essential it is to verbalize and reaffirm, especially because I still haven't discovered what my practice will consist of or what my career path will be.

After a year of law school, the truth is that it's easier to identify the type of lawyer I don't want to become. I don't want to become a lawyer that hurts people for a profit or unleashes the violence of the law to serve the ends of injustice. I don't want to become a lawyer that is motivated purely by power, partnership prospects, and the number in my bank account. I don't want to become a lawyer that ignores the billboards addressed to me. Instead, I want to be the sort of lawyer who sees the billboards, avoids the temptation of repressing or denying their messages, and who takes action within my slice of the legal world to produce some positive remedy to the problem.

This class has showed me that all lawyers stand somewhere on the battlefield for justice. Whether one advances injustice, passively maintains the status quo, or actively fights for the eradication of inequality, by becoming lawyers we are stepping onto this field armed with the ability to effect change. Law-Contemp-Soc has also demystified the idea of what a legal practice can and ought to be. It has shown me that there is no mandatory path or compulsory time-trading that I am predestined to participate in. Finally, this class has revealed that the most recent brand of American injustice is perpetuated in part by the people from the Roy Cohn category of lawyers and businesspeople that have seized power. I want to be the sort of lawyer that is remembered for using his voice and position to challenge and resist that injustice.

Professor Moglen shared that upon the Justice's retirement, Thurgood Marshall was asked how he wanted to be remembered. His response was a modest yet moving epitaph: as a person "who did what he could with what he had." I am still trying to figure out what exactly it is that I have, and what it is that I can do. Until then, my epitaph remains unwritten and my path remains unknown.

Leaving the Room: How can I consciously guide my learning to become that lawyer?

In the Fall, the most important way that I can guide my learning in order to become this lawyer is to uncover the path that inspires me while avoiding becoming an automaton. We have seen that the first year of law school consists primarily of language acquisition. This consistently reminded me of John Searle's Chinese Room Argument, a theoretical experiment that attempts to demonstrate that artificial intelligence cannot ever be truly conscious. Searle posits that AI is merely capable of the simulation of thought. I, and many of my peers, seem to be stuck within an analogous "Room," where we are being trained to merely simulate legal thought by referring to a book of instructions, formulaically decoding input legal language, and producing responses that are unintelligible to our own minds. To guide my learning and discover my path, I need to break out of that Room and begin having real experiences and conversations with the law.

I need to take steps to avoid being a person who regurgitates information through rote habit, unthinking efficiency, and soulless processing of cases and statutes. I need to shake off casebook amnesia by actually interacting with content in critical and meaningful ways. When I return in the Fall, I hope to break out of the four walls of this Room at law school by participating in experiential learning opportunities and working directly with attorneys who represent clients in need. I have been fortunate enough to be placed within the Low-Wage Workers Externship with Legal Aid. This class may grant me a chance to break down the door and leave the Room. My mission will be to discover new tools and mentors, and to experience a real ecosystem of legal advocacy. I will be able to go beyond passing symbols underneath the Room's door, and can observe the direct impact that these legal messages have on the outside world. If I stayed alone in that Room for another year, it would be possible to remain blissfully unconscious of my purpose and of my life's billboards.

Lewis, a figment from the verisimilitude of Lawyerland, found a way to use his specialty of labor law to effect positive change. He and Justice Marshall, now an icon of history, are lawyers that changed the world for the better. But first they had to come back in the Fall and leave the Room. Once I'm outside, I can search for what Frank Putnam called the "Aha Moment," which he defined as a "profound flash of insight that changes everything going forward." Surrounding myself with practicing attorneys, real clients, and diving into legal matters that have consequences will bring me closer to generating that moment and discovering the type of lawyer I need to become.

After a year of law school and especially after a semester of this class, I understand that no "Aha Moment" was ever conjured by remaining in that Room, and no worthy epitaph was ever earned by remaining unconscious of injustice.


Webs Webs

r4 - 27 Apr 2018 - 06:32:21 - MilesGreene
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM