Law in Contemporary Society

A Middle-Ground Lawyer

-- By FrankWilliams - 27 Apr 2018

Don't be Disillusioned

I want to be the kind of lawyer that doesn’t believe in false dichotomies. Public interest versus private interest. Helping people versus not helping people. Doing good versus doing evil. I don’t want to fall victim to what Torts Professor Blasi has called “the fallacy of the excluded middle.” Originating as a cautionary phrase to warn students of the dangers of only thinking that torts law existed as negligence or strict liability and nothing in between, I’ve come to understand it as failing to see a middle ground. I want to be the kind of lawyer that relishes in the middle ground. On the one hand, I understand that certain careers in law (often referred to as public interest) are theoretically more conducive to effecting change in terms of inequality and injustice, but I also understand that other careers in law (typically referred to as private or corporate law) bring with them a means of access that a 21st century African American law student would not have otherwise.

I want to be the kind of lawyer who makes informed decisions and who is not disillusioned by the perceived gravitas of the law. I believe money has the ability to change the way I interact with the law, and I’ve come to accept the idea that the law is a weak form of social control. I want to remain critical of the law in this way, and I want to be able to make decisions based on that. For example, I don’t want to accept a job position and not understand that there are advantages and disadvantages to the job. Yes, I’ll feel engaged in such a way that I’m effecting change but that does not mean I won’t get home and have to deal with the psychological burden of that kind of work. And yes, I may be making enough money to send home to my family and potentially help put my brother through college, but once again, that does not mean I won’t have to deal with the psychological and emotional burdens I may have to endure when I come home. I do, however, wish to remain optimistic about the law – optimistic in such a way that I can relish in the nuances of the law and forge my path accordingly.

When Does Humanity Come Into Play?

I am confortable not knowing what I want to do for a career quite yet; which is not to say I won’t be guiding my learning. I have always been a proponent of making informed decisions. I like to have all of the information laid out on the table so I can choose an option that best fits my goals and my needs. I’ve learned in my short 24 years of life that rarely does life present you with all of the information. Sometimes you have to make decisions without all of the information and deal with the consequences. Law school is a unique (and somewhat unrealistic) space where one has the agency to gather as much information as they can and make decisions accordingly. That information can come in the form of black letter law classes; experiential learning methods like clinics, jobs, or externships; or even through personal relationships. I hope to do guide my path to becoming a critically thinking lawyer by engaging in practical study. In my opinion, a theoretical study of the law compares nothing to experiential learning. My entire first year, more or less, has been through a somewhat theoretical lens and this has lent itself not to learning but to cramming, anxiety, and overall dissatisfaction. I seem to think that the experiential learning will be a bit different. I’ll have the opportunity to see and experience things for myself and I will really get a sense of how I’ll feel emotionally doing the work.

I also plan to guide my learning through relationship building. I think many people, especially people of color, are disillusioned by the law’s glamour because they haven’t had the opportunity to talk to and study people who are engaged in the field of law. Their familial history doesn’t include lawyers and therefore, they don’t understand that the other shoe always drops in one way or another. For me, humanity is what takes the gravitas out of the law. That’s why the lawyers on television seem so happy because they aren’t portrayed as real human beings – they’re fictional, often one-dimensional characters. Humanity and human emotion are essentially what spoils the law. Law can be seen as an intermediary between humans and their relationship with society. As such, it is what allows for white liberals to claim to be in the fight for justice but not truly. It’s what allows money to change the ways we interact. It’s also what causes us to be affected by the law in emotional and psychological ways that are unavoidable. That’s what I’m interested in learning.

For those people who are engaged in certain professions within law (i.e. professors, alumni, panelist volunteers), I want to know where their humanity comes into play. I want to know their field, but I also want to know what demons they have to bring home at night. I want to be the student at the panel who asks, “What would you change about your job?” or “Do you see yourself working there long term?” This past year has taught me not be afraid of ascertaining where people’s humanity comes into play because this information will ultimately help me and my future endeavors. It’s one thing to know about the good, but it’s another thing to know and to ask about the bad and the ugly. Over this past year, I’ve learned to be comfortable with the bad and the ugly and also with the middle ground, and I hope this comfort will guide me to a place where I am whole.

This serves well the purpose of a first draft: to get the ideas on the page. The best route to improvement is tighter organization and a clearer expression of your points. Not much time needs to be spent on the false dichotomy, either as a concept or in the particular example. After a semester together we don't need to treat the nonexistence of the "public interest"/"private practice" divide as new news.

The real point of the essay, which should be where it starts, is the idea now rather vaguely denoted as "humanity com[ing] into play." Substantive improvement here means clarifying this idea, and relating it more distinctly to whatever you have discovered about how you want to practice law. The outline of the draft would become the outline of that discussion, where now the paragraphs and the sentences within them don't seem tightly sequenced to the reader. This is a good wandering draft for a writer wandering through his ideas. Now it is time to pull the strcuture together, and tell us—from an initial statement of the primary idea, through its development to a conclusion we can take further for ourselves—not only how you feel about these thoughts of yours, but how they are put together and how someone else can use them.

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r2 - 01 Jun 2018 - 17:10:48 - EbenMoglen
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