Law in Contemporary Society
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Ambition, the Law, and Bartleby

-- By StefanRinas - 24 Apr 2012

Two years ago, a family member I both respect and am very close with told me that they could never admire someone who lacked ambition. While that statement did not consciously contribute to any subsequent decisions of mine, it has stayed with me and has become increasingly relevant over the past year. The consequences and value of ambition both categorically and with respect to particular aspects of my life entail questions that I am struggling to negotiate now more than ever. Specific and general forms of ambition informed my decision to study, and to continue to study law, and how to act upon the consequences of those decisions may be aided by a consideration of their relation to the character of Bartleby.

Prior to the beginning of the school term this past Fall I worked for six months in a grocery store near my family’s home. I was subjected to no external intellectual demands and whatever thought I did not want to pursue, I could set aside with the equivalent of “I prefer not to”. There was, as compared to law school, no language acquisition involved and I often felt like I was better for it. While the work was mundane, I was back home after living abroad, close to family and friends. The reading I did for pleasure was uncompromised by any sense of responsibility other than that which the piece itself inspired. A separation of my work and personal interests seemed to make the pleasures of the latter more pronounced. Strange as it now sounds I felt at times as if it were possible that within a range of greater breadth compared to the types of work I am now considering that the nature of the particular work I was doing was immaterial to my personal happiness.

After a challenging year of law school, I am often left wondering if my having moved to a different country to study a discipline in which I have often had a marginal interest has or will continue to be worthwhile. I wrote on a scrap of paper in Legal Methods in response to the question “Why did you decide to come to law school?” that I had wanted an “intellectually challenging experience”. This class has contributed to the conclusion that for my purposes neither the process of obtaining another degree while maintaining a given level of performance as a matter of ambition, or the studying of law under and the auspice of education for education’s sake are sufficient justifications for continuing to do so. It now seems to me more ambitious to answer the question of what it is law has to offer me and how I can use it to contribute to the work of those who share my interests. Also, while there are alternative means of acting on this desire I have been left with reason to doubt that I would have been able to remain content in my previous job.

Over the past year I have become increasingly dedicated to the idea of working for a not-for-profit arts-related organization, but when my Dad called a few weeks ago to tell me that a lawyer he works with had a connection at Paul Weiss and that it represented the possibility of a summer associate position, the excitement of my response was genuine. My desire to work for a not-for-profit hadn’t lessened, but I was forced to acknowledge an aspect of my personality that I am still trying to rid myself of, namely, an inability to be satisfied with something in the absence of an opportunity to turn down the alternative. Acknowledging a desire for choice and the commensurate sense of control isn’t especially revealing, and that is part of what left me disappointed in myself following that phone call as the potential of a choice with it’s ability to mask a lack of an affinity for a given option gave me the lift it did.

If Bartleby’s preference to not continue working can be seen as a gesture either affirming or questioning the value of his own life in the face of a meaningless or unsatisfying task, it may not be the value of his own life that he is seeking to affirm, or possibility question, but that of the other occupants of the law office by inspiring them to question their own motivations and choices. This interpretation seems to be driven in part by a desire to see Bartleby as giving something of value to his employer in return for the latter's efforts. This is manifested in my desires to see Bartleby as having a motivation rather than being defined by apathy, and, to see in my own writing after reading my classmate's wide-ranging essays, a helpful reminder or exercise of my lack of interest in law as a substantive subject and not pure narcissism.

I wrote in an earlier draft that I believed in the value of a summer emphasizing personal reflection rather than accelerating a process I found myself to be losing control of. Well, while I am working in legal services, but if it is any concession to that past aspiration, the work is less than full time and I like to think I have enough time to reevaluate how I feel about the interests I had before law school and have neglected more than I had imagined I would. One advantage to working in the capacity I am now is that regardless of what I had done this summer I am almost certain I would have come back to law school. If I choose to leave after next year I will at least be able to comfort myself with the thought that I worked at least once in the industry I would be walking away from. But I can imagine that choice will be one over which the notion of "sunk costs" may have a greater influence than it does now.

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r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:17 - IanSullivan
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