Law in Contemporary Society

The Funnel

-- By ElliottGrund - 1 June 2017


It was Monday. After a long weekend of awkward social gatherings and not-really-optional panels of esteemed speakers, I sat in the underwhelming lecture hall fresh-faced and nervous, a new 1L, waiting for the professor to walk in.

I know my story. At least the one that I tell people who care enough to ask. Some spiel about my background in political science and my goal to effectuate change in society that I had cooked up a year prior to impress admissions officers. The story worked. So here I was, somewhat eager to learn, but really more worried about fucking up. And not just fucking up that dreaded cold call, but fucking up the incredible opportunity I had been told by everyone that I had. At the same time, I knew I wanted something more: some sort of meaning out of the choice I made.

The beginning of law school was anything but unexpected. The professor walked in without an introduction, went down his seating chart, and called out a name. The unfortunate student whose named had been picked nervously acknowledged her presence, marking the climax of our heterogeneity. Here we were, as a class, at the top of the funnel: all with different dreams and ambitions, keen to put our future legal degree to use in a myriad of distinct ways, some long awaited, some still undiscovered. Either way, the one thing that was omnipresent was optimism.


Substantively the first day of law school went on to become like every other day of law school, but gradually, deliberately something began to change. I barely noticed that the time continued to pass me by. The nervousness had dissipated. I was settling in. Still it didn’t feel right. I kept thinking about it, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on what was developing. Pretty soon, it began to seem like it didn't really matter. And this was the problem. I like to think of it as a funnel. The first day of class had resembled a vast plain of opportunity. As 1L's, the world was our oyster, so to speak. At least we thought it was. Whether you came here with a specific purpose, or, like me, had meandered into the seat through the right chain of circumstance, the moment seemed to culminate into some unrevealed channel into the future. As a class, we were seemingly on the brink of greatness. Or if not greatness, at least on the brink of novelty.

Yet, by halfway through the first semester we had become a bunch of mumbling, grumbling, sleep-deprived law drones. Someone would ask 'Hey, did you do this week's tort reading?" If I had read through the week, I would cheerily give my answer in the affirmative. Maybe add a sentence or two about my newly formed thoughts on products liability. If I hadn't, the distinct feeling that I was "fucking up my opportunity" would creep back. Yes, Dad, I know that law school is expensive and will put me in debt. But that was ok before because it was in pursuit of something that mattered. Work piled up and sleep continued to decrease: it didn’t feel as ok anymore.

And that's how it happens. The funnel that is. Finals were upon us in a flash. Somewhere in between the casebooks, coffee, and forgotten dreams a lunatic had been elected President of the United States. But the moment had passed me by, an instant in between contracts and civil procedure. I wanted to do something about it, but it was finals. This would determine my future they told me. The good folks in career services had already begun to send me a barrage of emails about my destined summer employment, just another organ of the funnel channeling me through. And then there was the frightened gossip of my classmates. It was a murmuring rumor, a wind of fear rippling across us students, like a hushed zephyr undulating through blades of grass in a savannah. The feeling did not have a directly identifiable source, but gravity continued to push us together, deeper into the funnel like groupthink, so that we could no longer see the top where we had once started.


Three tests and a break later and I felt that my still unattained summer job had somehow moved me closer to failure. The herd moved again, and I followed; some combination of fear, pride, and competitiveness wouldn't let me out of its grasp. The funnel continued to narrow, squeezing us. Everyone I knew in law school seemed the same. The diverse group that I had started with had been fully homogenized. We still had our external differences, but internally we had become clones of each other. All of our emotional capacity strained to motivate us towards the enigmatic goal. People say it's a career, but it seems like masochism to me. All in pursuit of the opportunity to do something we will likely never enjoy. "Suck it up now, and you'll be set later." So I do. I've always had a high tolerance for pain.

Lawyering is making things happen in society using words. Plenty of people need legal help, never more so than now in the era of autocratic flirtation. Yet the funnel creates an unstoppable flow urging us to to loan out and hang up our future licenses for the path most trodden like a young violinist lending out his newly acquired Stradivarius for a hunk of change and the false promise of happiness. It would turn our once beaming optimism into a plaque of rust. It is still here: a vigorous force continuing to push us together, but somehow it seems less meaningful now. I can’t claim that the gravity forcing us down the funnel that has created the mindless, indistinguishable 1L will no longer ever bear influence on me, but I am now more prepared to recognize it and accordingly disarm it.

From the formal point of view, you can improve the draft by removing words that don't need to be there, of the "take two steps back" variety, replacing them with representations of ideas rather than the neo-realistic detail of experiences. (I too think the pizza customs of the law school are worthy of interpretive anthropological attention, but not on this occasion.)

Substantively, what I miss is anything material about the material image of the funnel. What is it made of? Surely the most interesting thing about your use of an object metaphor is the fact that this object is completely imaginary. Only the converging insecurities of the students—deprived of feedback, let alone of guidance or leadership—produces this funnel, because of course whatever was the condition of world-oysterness in September had in no way altered by December. (The issue of the exaltation of the literally meaningless first-term grades can be left for another time.)

A draft recognizing—and, one might hope, thereby disintegrating—the insubstantial nature of the funnel would be a very good thing for the author to have written.

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r3 - 02 Jun 2017 - 04:12:20 - ElliottGrund
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