Law in Contemporary Society

My Terms

-- By DanielYoon - 26 Apr 2018


When I committed to a career in law by accepting my offer at Columbia Law School, I knew only that I planned to do “good work”. After eight months at law school, I have not clarified or elaborated on what such “good work” really entails, but I have learned a few other things. First, there are many ways to do meaningful work in this world, and people settle into their own conceptions of good work in mysterious ways. More importantly, I have learned that although work is a priority for me, it will always come secondary to my personal interests. As such, the way I actually contribute to the world does not matter, as long as I enjoy what I do.

Lessons Learned

1: Arbitrary and Capricious

The first lesson I took to heart at Columbia is that nobody really knows what their calling is. Barring some exceptions, most people I have spoken to seem to settle on a career path in a rather arbitrary fashion—they met a speaker at a lunch panel, they instantly connected with a professor, or they attended a student association event, and each of them descended a spiraling path into whatever career happened to follow. Some people like to use the word fate, but I prefer to call it chance. Eight months ago, I attended a Windows on Death Row event which both fascinated and disgusted me, and I decided then and there that I would practice criminal justice. I could not articulate why this field in particular is more relevant or important to me than voting rights, human trafficking, or environmental regulation, but it seemed right at the time. Two semesters later, I actually believe that it is in my best interest to do something in this field. Maybe that would explain why I am doing an internship in the summer and an externship in the fall at organizations in the practice area. But most likely, there is no good reason for it. It is good work, and I care about it. Is that enough? It struck me as very sad when I first realized that the actual substance of my work did not really matter to me. The people who go out and effect change in society must care so much about what they do, and I wondered if I could be nearly as effective if I could not explain just why I chose my career path over a hundred others. What would I say, years later, when bright-eyed first-year students asked me how I chose my particular job, except that it was a dart thrown blindly at a map?

2: Affected Posturing

Fortunately, one year at law school has taught me something that I have always known but have never been comfortable admitting to myself. Let's clarify: I do care about the work that I perform; I care enough that I know I would never be happy working at a private firm; and I have known since I was a twelve-year-old schoolboy fundraising to end slavery that I would never be satisfied with anything less than working directly for those who need me most. However, I have realized after two semesters of worrying about arbitrary grades, participating in useless extracurricular activities, and plotting for meaningless accolades that there is nothing more important to me than raising a family and finding my own personal satisfaction outside of my work. I have learned that the worst thing I could ever do at law school is to get swept up in competing to be the best, in making myself busy, and in defining who I am by what I do. It was only after a particularly stressful week in March that I realized that none of this posturing matters. After all, there is very little I can do now that will radically change the outcome of my future in any meaningful capacity. Thus, when I return in the fall, I am coming back to do what allows me to graduate and what makes me happy. The degree itself is a tool that lets me be who I have always wanted to be without making any personal sacrifices, whether those might be ethical or practical. It will enable me to happily and effectively do meaningful work. Beyond the essentials, however, I will be prioritizing the things that I actually want to do, rather than what others tell me would help my career.

The Return

When I used to ponder what kind of lawyer I would be upon graduation, I would consider different practice areas, geographical locations, and work environments. I would imagine myself as ethical, hard-working, conscientious, and effective. Furthermore, after a year of law school, I have seen what great work my classmates and future colleagues can perform, and I laud them for it all; I hope I will be able to match them in fervor and efficacy. But no matter how the rest of my career turns out, I have no doubt that I will do good work, contribute to society, and leave a considerable impact on the lives of others. The only thing left for me to worry about is making sure I am happy along the way, and that probably means not letting my profession define who I am. I will continue to do law school at my own pace, by my own terms, and for my own good. Let the other students suffer. I’m here for me.

The best route to improvement, I think, is to write about what is important, rather than what is not. On the basis of this draft, it would appear that what is important at the moment (because the spouse and children comprising the family that is of greatest importance are not here to be described or discussed) is something having to do with criminal law that exemplifies what you want to think about. In the midst of all the other aspects of your education that you want to view as chance, or not very relevant, or as posturing only, writing about what you think concerning that which does matter is all the more important.

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r2 - 01 Jun 2018 - 17:30:55 - EbenMoglen
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