Law in Contemporary Society

Final Thoughts

-- By AlexanderUballez - 23 May 2009

End of the line?

While we can write about anything, I have the urge to respond to the larger themes of our discussions. To ignore the work we’ve done just seems unfair to the course, but in considering these topics I have found it difficult to bring something new to the table.

It is reasonably simple to sum up the (very general) conclusions reached in this course: as lawyers, we have a responsibility to not be lazy or greedy. We have to take the time to learn a worthwhile skill, to discover the good you can do in the world, to research the people you work for and the effects of the work you do. And don’t let your decisions be guided by external indicators of success, whether they be an A+, a Vault top firm, or a six digit starting paycheck, or by destructive competition unrelated to building skills.

Likewise, it is reasonably easy to find these conclusions when dissecting any one aspect of the practice, especially law school. For those of us who naturally tend to agree with Moglen, it can be hard to discuss a topic such as exams, teaching method, or firm life without coming to the same simple realization: Pay attention to your ideals in choosing your life’s work.

I feel no need to push the matter. I’m pretty happy with this conclusion. I was before we started.

So what’s the next step?

It is not an intellectual exercise, but a real one. This is difficult to write about because we have no experience on which to base our projections. I think that law school would be better with smaller classes that taught practical laweyring skills in connection with real casework (ie clinics), and I think that I would have learned more this year if I had more feedback instead of one final exam in each class, and I think we could do with less focus on “tricks that will distinguish you from your peers so you can get that firm job” and more on “how to be a lawyer.”

That all makes sense to me, but in terms of argumentation does not get me far on a paper because, after only one year in law school, I know very little about the lawyering profession. Beyond a general wish that I had learned useful skills this year instead of how to cram a casebook into an outline the night before an exam, I am finding it hard to make an argument for any course of action or path. The best I can do is think through a plan.


I had considered working for a non-profit public interest advocacy program, fighting the good fight one oppressed soul at a time, but concluded that not only was this too incremental, it was a last resort against a system that had already done it’s damage. Beyond inefficiency, the work takes an emotional toll that I am not sure is worth the marginal benefit such services provide. I’m also not convinced that broader litigation efforts are the most effective way to change policy.

Where private firms choose their clients and represent their specific interests, the public servant represents the public at large, balancing the interests of all citizens. The public servant interacts with his/her clientele every day, and must live in the society s/he shapes through policy. Ideally, the government lawyer’s job is to make our nation a better place to live.

However, our government is not perfect and there are many limits on achieving specific goals that a private practice could simply decide to address. On the other hand, policy making skips long, costly and sometimes ineffective litigation by simply requiring other governmental agencies to be in compliance. Being the man has its benefits, even though there are always opposing interests and regulations limiting your actions.

Taking Moglen’s advice and setting up a private practice is a viable option down the road, but right now I don’t know what area of the practice I would specialize in and I need the mentorship of experienced lawyers at least for the first few years out of law school. Working for the government can expose me to a diversity of practical problems and solutions, linking broader policy and legal interpretation with their real world effects.


Find a job in local or state government that allows me to implement legal policy decisions that will, on balance, improve the lives of people in the community. I’m strongly considering working with the office of a State Attorney General. The State AG’s, serving as the chief legal counsel for state agencies and administration, are in a unique position to influence state policy through opinions, public advocacy and investigations.

Maybe someday I will set out on my own personal crusade for a worthy cause. But as far as first steps go, I plan on starting my career in local government, observing how the law affects our lives and learning the tools to direct governmental institutions. I want to be in the position where people can come to me with problems and I will have the knowledge to know what to do and the power to effectively solve them.

  • I think this is, as usual, clear and coherent. You're right that this is not an argumentative, but rather a contemplative, exercise; you do it well. Your conclusions about your own capacities and intentions seem to me (little as I know about the matter) well-judged. Jim Tierney would be a good teacher for you, and the State AG Program a very hospitable base; I think you have correctly described your best learning style, and made a reasonable judgment about a satisfactory career path for yourself. Congratulations. Now—if you give yourself permission to make a complete change of plan in the event that something else comes along that you just love and want to do—you are very well-placed to take advantage of what law school has to offer you. You've used your first year with strength of mind, humility, and integrity. Good for you.


Webs Webs

r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:46:02 - IanSullivan
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