Law in Contemporary Society
How To Be A Good Lawyer, Pt. 2

I needed less than a second to know that I did not want to be Tharaud or a lawyer like her, but it took this essay to know whether that was because I didn’t want to be in Lawyerland/lawyerland at all or because I didn’t want to be a certain type of lawyer. Because the two lawyers in Cerriere’s Answer represent both sides of the fight, the former seemed inevitable until I decided that there are other fights. And perhaps even non-fights. In any event, there are at least other ways of fighting. Still, these are lawyers, and it appears that I might be becoming a lawyer myself, so I have quite a personal stake in distinguishing between lawyers and lawyers.

We have heard Thurgood Marshall’s description of a good lawyer: one who knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to get it. Elsewhere, I have complained of the lack of normativity in such an approach that measures only efficiency. There is, perhaps, an alternative method of analyzing a lawyer provided by Tharaud that might satisfy. When describing a former colleague, Tharaud explains: “Lewis was a phenomenal lawyer…Lewis Harris helped change considerably—and for the better—the living standards of hundreds of thousands of people.” The matter of interpretation inherent in Tharaud’s statement is much more important for a character analysis than in approximating an objective measure of lawyering, but it warrants some discussion. In her second sentence, Tharaud might be giving us the additional information of what Harris did with (i.e. how he put to use) his being a phenomenal lawyer, or she might be defining what it means to be such a lawyer. Put simply, the difference is whether it would be more appropriate to substitute “and” or “because” for the ellipsis. Either way, a standard for measuring a lawyer can be extrapolated: a good lawyer is one who changes considerably—and for the better—the lives of a multitude of people. To briefly explain my alterations, ‘phenomenal’ was replaced by ‘good’ for symmetry; ‘living standards’ was discarded in favor of ‘lives’ because, unlike Tharaud, I am not obsessed with money; and decreasing the specificity of the number involved was mere preference. Alternatively applying the two standards to the two lawyers who provided them produces interesting results.

Tharaud meets Marshall’s standards and Marshall meets Tharaud’s, but Tharaud falls far short of her own standards while Marshall far exceeds his. The results are anomalous only in that the lawyer surpassing the higher bar set the lower (only in the context of providing a measurement of a lawyer—certainly not in his personal life). Since I know less than I have already asserted about Marshall, I will elaborate upon Tharaud.

I am willing to accept that Tharaud is a victim of circumstance—more precisely, that she is more of a victim of circumstance than the rest of us or that her circumstances are more victimizing than ours. But whether that means that I hope to avoid her circumstances or that I hope to be less influenced (i.e., victimized) by similar circumstances, the bottom line is that I hope not to become a lawyer like her. Pardon the possible verbosity (especially given the word limit), but nothing short of the previous can justify the following: the countless indignities Tharaud suffered forever relocated the focus of her passion and her career from redefining the American employment relationship/system to vindictively and opportunistically exacting revenge and seeking protection for herself and for herself through others similarly situated. It would be an understatement indeed to assert merely that Tharaud has not forgotten the indignities she suffered; more than rooting themselves in her memory, they have become part of her person. In each and every lawsuit in which Tharaud takes part, one can see her seeking reparations for the transgressions she endured. The transferal of blame from one corporation or institution to another is a natural enough move, considering that each is a faceless entity largely constructed by and consisting of the same type of white males that dominated the industries while Tharaud’s suffering was at its peak; likewise, as marginalized individuals having been subjected to the evils of the American employment system, each plaintiff in the discrimination claims represents Tharaud just as much as Tharaud represents her. Whether or not any amount of money can heal Tharaud’s wounds, it is the only language her assailants understand (or it is the way in which her assailants bleed). Consequently, it is the form her revenge takes, and taking as much of it as she can becomes her goal. This explains why the same vindictiveness and opportunism that keep Tharaud from being a good lawyer such as Harris do not disqualify her from meeting Marshall’s standard. For, after failing to get what she wanted, Tharaud fundamentally changed the object of her desire. Rather than drastically alter the American conception of the employment relationship that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, Tharaud has resigned herself to being satisfied with making a few of the rich slightly less rich, a few of the poor slightly less poor, and—most of all—herself tremendously wealthier.

There might be a tendency to excuse Tharaud on account of the extreme difficulty of the pursuit of her original goal. But even if the task is virtually impossible, that does not exculpate Tharaud after she chooses an easier, more self-serving, more lucrative cause. And before we declare the original pursuit futile, remember that Tharaud is aware of bona fide sweatshops a few blocks away from the chic SoHo restaurants she frequents but neglects to use the incredible amount of power she has (of which Cerriere informs us) to do anything about them. Besides being depraved and evil, the perverts are insolvent, and thus are not worth Tharaud’s or Tharaud Tineman & Conway’s time.

Tharaud traded exactly what she wanted for exactly what she could get. Only by standards of efficiency did she become a better lawyer as a result.

-- PietroSignoracci - 12 Apr 2008

  • Let's begin with a little list of things you got wrong:
    1. Thurgood Marshall never said a good lawyer was one who knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to get it. I said I learned from him that to change the world you need those two things.
    2. He never said that either; I said I learned it from him. I made up that expression of the lesson.
    3. Lewis Harris and Martha Tharaud have the same practice: she does now the work he trained her to do, and in speaking of his work she's explaining the value of her own. Your supposed ability to discriminate between them rests on pure fantasy about fiction.
    4. When Tharaud says Lewis Harris was a good lawyer because he made a positive material difference in the lives of many people, she's not saying that's the only way to be a good lawyer. You intruded that piece of illogic on your own.

  • So this essay depends on a logically deficient comparison of two things, both of which you've either misread or misunderstood. The rest is just high-pressure blather.

  • The present situation is a good illustration of the way cognitive dissonance suppression ensures that editing doesn't work unless it is brutally honest. Your colleagues tried to tell you what I am telling you, but because they are your colleagues they tried to be nice about it. In the nicest possible way they told you this was pompous nonsense based on mis- and over-reading, and, in the nicest possible way, you ignored, dismissed, and bullshitted them back. So now I'm chalking it up where the message can't be missed. For those who want to know "why does he have to be such a pain in the ass?"--this is why.

  • The route to improvement here is to stop writing the same essay each time. Toss this draft and write me an essay on another subject that demonstrates the ability to make careful legal judgments based on a close reading of legal and factual sources. Use rigorous logic and unimpassioned rhetorical restraint.



Webs Webs

r6 - 22 Jan 2009 - 02:09:27 - IanSullivan
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