Law in Contemporary Society


A law student is a pollywog, through and through. We are not children, despite our sometimes foolish ways, yet we are certainly not attorneys, in mind nor certification. Perhaps that reality is a bit more salient for those of us who never stopped being students, but we all feel it to some degree. Some of us have left a prior profession to come to law school. Of that set, surely some of us will return to that calling, empowered with not only a delightfully broadened knowledge base, but also, hopefully, a new-found sense of confidence in our ability as thinkers, learners, and problem solvers. For those who will move on to new careers, such confidence may prove especially crucial ... Probably a fair, yet vague, forecast of our futures, but in this essay thus far, by jumping right in with lots of future-talk, I've exhibited precisely the psychological trap that, at least for me, has been the source of much frustration, disappointment, and even sadness, over the past few months: fixation on the future.

Fixating on the future sometimes feels like breathing around here. In the very first week of school we were bombarded with future-talk -- faculty members talking about our career prospects at orientation panels, 2Ls and 3Ls sharing advice on how to get a summer job, and of course the ever-persistent bar exam prep companies catering to 1Ls specifically. As first semester wore on, of course, we continued this preoccupation, quite literally. What grades will I get? How will that affect my job prospects? What are my job prospects? How might my summer job set me up with a talking point for my firm interviews next fall? It's amazing we were able to quiet all that chatter enough to actually learn (some of) the material last term.

Despite its pervasiveness, or perhaps because of it, I've found that fixating on the future is both unhealthy and unproductive. For me, it became unhealthy when I started comparing my current self to my "ideal" self. My self who is a bit more organized, a bit more diligent, a bit more "adult-like," whatever that means. The problem with such comparison is that you'll always come up short; you're current self is never quite good enough. Self-doubt fosters anxiety, and anxiety makes just about everything more difficult, and less enjoyable. Fixating on the future is unproductive, on its face, because every moment you spend fixating on and worrying about the future is a moment you could have spent engaging in the present. If you engage in the present you walk with your head high instead of staring down at the sidewalk, you listen when others speak instead of thinking about yourself, you allow yourself to observe things you so often overlook, to learn from every person you meet and every sentence you read. Isn't that what really matters? Observation, learning, understanding? The sooner we stop fixating on the future, the sooner we can do what we came here to do.

My point is not that we should ignore the future altogether or fail to plan, only that we should try not to fixate, on the future. Similarly, we should try not to fixate on the past, for fixating on the past leads to the same problems as fixating on the future. We should process the past, and learn from it, but avoid regret and crippling disappointment. Also, as we learn form the past and plan for the future while focusing on the present, we should acknowledge that our present state is always one of transition. We will always be pollywogs. There's no such thing as becoming a frog and reaching the finish line because learning and growing is a lifelong process. Peter C. Harvey, former attorney general of New Jersey and Columbia Law School alumnus, once noted, "You must always stay green and growing, because the moment you think you've made it, the moment you think you're ripe, you begin to spoil." So as we float here in our pond of uncertainty, flailing yet flexing our new intellectual limbs, the key is that we not despair; the key is that we embrace our status as pollywogs, continue to learn, continue to grow, and find peace in our eternal transition.


My effort having been to help people think about themselves as human beings, the tadpole metaphor doesn't work very well for me. It seems to me that the emphasis on personal metamorphosis as an alternative to "fixation on the future" is peculiarly composed. It's the antithesis of lifelong learning, it seems to me, this emphasis on the present and its brief and violently terminated tadpole stage of amphibian lifepattern.

Evidently, however, that's how it feels, and it's good to have the immediacy of your feelings to correct less lived-in senses with. One wonders if there's a way to combine perspectives.

-- By CarlJohnson - 12 Feb 2012


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r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:19 - IanSullivan
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