Law in Contemporary Society
-- By DavidKellam - 07 Jun 2017

An hour ago, I was walking on the beach, thinking about this essay and hoping to use the last few minutes of sunlight to find another piece of green sea glass. I wouldn't be surprised if I was doing the same thing twenty years ago. And honestly, not much else has changed. My 1L epiphany wasn't some newfound cinematic desire to save the world or to one day read an article written about my contributions to modern M&A practice; it was to return to my juvenile comfort and to pursue a career in something I enjoy, data privacy.

Grey Pap

I remember my father relying heavily on "maturity" during his cryptic paternal lectures. I guess I understood maturity as some moment in which I would come online as an adult, leaving my childhood alone on the shore. Law school was, among other things, my last chance to find this moment. I expected to hold my chips for another three years and to finish law school with a new posture; to walk in an aimless kid, still fantasizing about the waves on Hatteras, and to emerge a polished man with a suit and the poise to give the same maturity speech to my children with passable credibility.

Law school, however, was saturated with the same grey pap as undergrad. I was being told how to best build a career that the school could market to future generations of prospective students: to get good grades, go to Sullcrom, do intellectually stimulating work- transactional; to be another affirmative statistic for the school's employment record.

For two semesters, I sat in class, hoping to take better notes than all of my classmates so I could win the approval of professors, many of whom themselves did the same forty years ago. But, it turns out maturity comes in two forms: joining a lineage of acquiescence to financial temptation, or doing something that you love with hopes of making an impact that you are qualified to make. Once I realized Columbia's priorities, I chose the latter.

A Kernel of my Old Identity

I loved a few things growing up. I would surf all day, then go home and read more about Kevin Mitnick or torrent some complex editing program that I wanted to learn. I had an environment that I was comfortable in; but, of course, I got older, left the coast, and reshaped my ambitions to fit those conscribed by the movie characters that I looked up to. In a way, the more pointless 1L was, the more it illuminated my path- the transparency of its senselessness made it obvious that real maturity was holding onto who I am and rejecting the image of success that had been burned into my sensibilities.

My initial, poorly calculated plan was to sell out- to work for the firm with the shiniest handcuffs until I could pay off the debt of my brother and myself, then, years later, to reclaim some kernel of my old identity and break into the DC network of data privacy practitioners. With a bit of evenhanded influence, I realized that I was romanticizing the false sense of martyrdom inherent to this decision, while my actual sacrifice was of an opportunity to start a career doing what I enjoy. Furthermore, there was no need to react to the siren's song of corporate law to pay off loans as long as I was confident in my ability to succeed, an ability much more likely in an environment compatible with my personality.

New Domain

From this, my learning began to guide itself. I tried to cement a relationship with a professor in my field of interest, I instinctively listed the Science and Technology Law Review over the Business Law Review, and I still find myself ignoring the details in the corporate class descriptions for more time researching the data privacy and technology law professors available next semester. Never in my life have I as naturally settled into a position that I was previously so reluctant to embrace.

The ease of this transition, however, likely portends the difficulties arising from an entirely new set of goals. I no longer have the slipshod plan under which I took so much refuge, and an intimidating waste of possibility lies in front of me. My hope is that the excitement I feel towards this new domain will guide the choices I make during the next two years, and that I will leave Columbia with a strategy as replete as the corporate one that it must replace.

The theme of my remaining law school experience should be, I believe, cultivating appropriate relationships and taking the hook of a mentor that can illustrate the steps necessary to find a place in the data privacy community. I plan to capitalize on the handful of classes that will be formative to my understanding of the law's relationship with technology and online privacy, while avoiding professors that may disenchant my passion. Most importantly, I hope to shed entirely my 50th Street illusions, and to revive that kid who loved nothing more than messing around with Java and searching the beach for sea glass.

Empty Command Line

I didn't find a complete answer walking on the beach earlier. I went home knowing only that uninspired competitivism was not the life that I wanted, and that during my 1L year, I had resolved to make an impression on the field about which I am ignited, data privacy. It wasn't until outlining that I realized that a complete answer wasn't necessary. While creating a plan is crucial in light of my current financial obligations, it is equally crucial that I maintain the exciting level of mystery that tempted me from the yellow-brick road of corporate law in the first place.


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r1 - 08 Jun 2017 - 00:33:17 - DavidKellam
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