Law in Contemporary Society

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DavidAlpertSecondEssay 1 - 08 Jun 2017 - Main.DavidAlpert
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It is awfully nice to walk in New York

  _What time is it inside you? _ 

It was over. I walked up Central Park West on the last night of finals. It was 4am, and it was done.   

I walked past The Dwight School, which educated such luminaries as Truman Capote, Roy Lichtenstein, and Paris Hilton. I walked under tony awnings for some of the country’s priciest condo buildings, heading north to where CPW turns into Frederick Douglass, and my Harlem neighborhood.   

And suddenly I was dancing. Not just shuffling a little bit, but out-and-out bounding across the crosswalk to Jamie xx and Popcaan singing about Good Times. I kept it up over the next several blocks, guilty of a spin or two.    

Until I saw a homeless man pressed up against a church door sleeping. I realized the profanity of my dancing, and I was just grateful that I didn’t have to see the fear in his eyes.   

My job over the last 9 months has been to grow my brain, and the vanity involved in my doubts, first about whether Columbia was good enough for me, and then, whether I for it, seemed very small.   

I was walking through the pages I scanned in Property. Behind me was 40 W. 67th St. whose condo HOA kicked out Pullman. Merrill joked about how he was the world’s worst tenant, and while he certainly wasn’t wrong and I didn’t fault my classmates for laughing, there was still the unmistakable whiff of mental illness lurking. Shit, that was only 14 years ago. What if that was Pullman sleeping behind me?       

I wouldn’t make it back there that night, but I also recalled running through City College on a study break. I thought of shirts reading, “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams.” I know those shirts weren’t meant for me, but remembering my Holocaust-surviving Zeide who went to night school there a half-century ago while bagging groceries by day, I think one might fit me too.   

As I continued walking, I could feel my back to the footprint memorials of the twin towers. I remember the first time I peered into those waterfalls at the conclusion of the Jewish Day of Atonement and I’m reminded of the interplay between presence and an absence that can swallow you whole.   

Memorializing a year through this walk is all terribly dishonest. I’ve taken these long nighttime walks infrequently. A true montage of my year would largely consist of me sitting at the rickety pub table in my living room trying to decipher a case, and then moving into my bedroom so as not to take up too much space when my roommate got home. Pick up and set down my personal tracking device a couple dozen times. Rinse, repeat.   

In fact, that’s one of the most significant things I’ve been wrestling with in the wake of this year. I’ve spent so much time alone and so much lonely time, the two sometimes, but not always, related. I feel both stronger for it and partially broken by it. I remember the weekends during finals I didn’t leave my apartment at all, the Sunday I didn’t once speak until I greeted the woman working the gym front desk at 6 pm. I spent so much time locked up in my apartment, and many more hours locked up silently in my head.   

It’s enough to make this extrovert feel a bit crazed. So, do I want more of this? I presume it gets better. But on the days I want the brains of Moglen, the political presence of Pozen, the civil rights pedigree of Johnson, (and the clerkships of any of the three), I realize such successes come with certain costs. I’ll have to spend many more hours locked up in my head. I can do it. I’m not as naturally gifted as any of them, but I’m probably not so far behind to render it impossible. 

If do I want more of this, what exactly do I want? I came to law school because I hated the injustice of black Americans getting killed disproportionately by law enforcement, and the injustice of Muslim Americans being surveilled by their government. I wanted to do something about these injustices. 

I still do.

I had almost no interest in big-law a year ago. I was ensnared by the same exact marketing pitch in undergrad – training, network, prestige – and found myself deeply unfulfilled by the opportunities at a consulting firm. I’ve since advised younger grads that consulting isn’t necessarily a bad career move, but that if you have any inkling of what you actually want to do, you’re much better off directly pursuing it. I now know the civil rights and/or government work I want to do, so I told myself I wouldn’t fall prey again.

Yet the network in law seems realer. I’ve read about who cycles in and out of these firms, and the amazing government roles they leave for. So I’ll summer (partially) somewhere to be a tourist and get a taste of the network from the inside. But I’ll be sure to pair that summer with an ACLU or LDF-type organization that will help me advance towards my substantive career goals. And I won’t pawn by hard-earned license unless the payoff is much more than money.

I will guide my learning in the coming years by building my network, and stuffing more relevant classes and experiences into my license.  

I started well, with lunch talks being my preferred vehicle. This has led to relationships with ACLU lawyers like Ben Wisner, Lee Gelernt, and Vera Eidelman, and possible working opportunities with Gelernt on immigration and Michel Paradis on defending Guantanamo detainees. The lunch talks are one of the greatest gifts CLS has to offer, and I will continue to take advantage of them. I further commit myself to building relationships with the faculty, one of the other great gifts of the institution. And to a few more late night walks for my gratitude, sanity, and health.

Revision 1r1 - 08 Jun 2017 - 07:04:51 - DavidAlpert
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