Law in Contemporary Society


In college I took a class called "Philosophy of Liberation." For hours a week, we pontificated about liberation, how it may manifest itself, and whether it is even possible. As we went through our discussions, however, I found it hard to silence the voice at the back of my head saying, "for some people it's about staying alive and putting food on the table, not some theoretically sense of liberation." Yet, despite my issues with the class, there were two questions we discussed that stuck with me: "Who am I?" and "What ought I to do?" For most of my post graduate life, I did not think about these questions. However, Professor Moglen's classes about building a practice led me back to the same questions but with seemingly less direction.

Who Am I?

In undergrad, I decided that the answer to this question was unimportant. I knew I was a Black woman, from a low income and immigrant background. I knew I was stubborn, independent, and loved sports. Knowing these facts meant that I knew at least part of who I was. Although I understood that these facts didn't tell my full story, it was enough for my college self.

My law school self, however, wants more. I am no longer content leaving this question unanswered. The toxic Law school culture made me want to be fiercely protective of who I am. However, I am realizing that, to preserve myself, I must first gain a more complete understanding of who I am.

Diversity is trendy and marketable, so of course my law school wants access to my various identities. However, law school wants nothing to do with the realities of those identities or who I am as a person. It wants low-income students until it comes time to help us afford the institutions. It wants Black students until we demand resources and "bring race" into our black letter law classes. It wants disabled students until it is time to give accommodations and make its curriculum accessible.

Law school is not concerned with who I am, but rather who it can make me become. Can it turn me into a corporate robot, philosophizing academic, or smooth-talking politician? Can I spend the school year with my head in the academic clouds and my summers in my black and navy business clothes? Can I be molded?

After months of playing the law school game, when Professor Moglen asked, "well what is it you want," I gave him the typical law school answer. "I want to work in Big Law." "Why?" he asked. "To support myself and my family?" We went back and forth until I gave him two words, "peace" and "security."

My low-income, marginalized self wants security and stability because, as a child, I did not have a lot of that. She is a work horse, persistent, and wants to learn to play the legal game. My health aware self, however, prioritizes peace and good health. She is tired. She likes lazy Sundays, working out, and wine nights. She wants to be a mother, travel the world, and to learn to let go of the anxiety that comes from her low-income upbringing. The question becomes whether the desires of these two selves can coexist.

What Ought I to Do?

Having answered the more theoretical question, I then moved on to the other. What ought I to do, to satisfy my various selves? This question grounds the first. It does not ignore the need to put food on the table, or the barriers that a person must address to achieve their goals. In undergrad I spent most of my time thinking about the second question, but not the first. Perhaps it is my immigrant background, or the Haitian pragmatism I was raised with, but the second question has always appealed more to me. The realist in me has formed the foundation for how I process my responsibility to myself and to my different communities.

My previous attempts to answer this question were not fruitful because I lacked a clear answer for the first. While I had some understanding of who I am, it is not a question I thought I had the time, nor luxury, of worrying about. Survival came first. This meant thinking about "What ought I to do" and worrying about "Who am I" later.

Now that I have a clearer answer to the first question, the key is to balance the seemingly conflicting desires of my different selves. Security, to me, involves making the most money with the least amount of risk. Therefore, beginning my own practice instead of spending time networking and securing a firm job scares me. One option guarantees me a starting salary of $215,000 while the other, especially given my lack of clients and connections, is a huge risk that might lead to even more debt. The fear of not paying off my loans is another one that is tied to my need for security and is pushing me to pursue Big Law as what I ought to do. My desire for peace, however, is pushing me towards building my own practice. As it stands right now, I am leaning towards my need for security. In a few years, however, when who I am and my desires inevitably evolve, this may change.

For my peace, however, I made a list of nonnegotiable as I enter Big Law. For example, there are certain clients I do not want to work for. Pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, and certain politicians, to name a few. I know that when I start as an associate, I will not have much choice on who my clients are. However, I hope to mitigate this by researching firm clients and pursuing firms with clients that most align with my values. Second, if I'm going to Big Law and spending my days working, I want to be working in industries that intrigue me like sports or entertainment. Lastly, going to a firm where pro bono and DEI work is billable is a must. All these considerations, I hope, will bring me some sense of peace as I pursue stability and security at the beginning of my career.


Does personal liberation exist? I still don't know. If it does, I believe that it cannot happen without (1) a combination of those two questions being answered: (2) a pragmatic approach to the second question, and (3) a balance between the ever-evolving answers to these questions. As of now, my prominent self craves peace and security. This semester, I struggled with the last one. Right now, my need for security requires giving up some of my peace. The anxiety I felt over this at the beginning of the semester, however, lessened significantly. I'm hoping that I figure out how I want to balance those two desires. Until then, I don't want them to destroy my present peace.

-- GueinahBlaise - 27 Apr 2022

A fine first draft at getting your ideas onto the page. Let's begin by making some room for improvement with a tough edit: first, every word not doing its share of work must go. Then every sentence should be rewritten to be shorter and use less complex grammar to get its one idea across. Then every sentence that repeats an idea expressed by another sentence in the draft should be removed. You should be able to get back 400 words and you will have a stronger base to build on.

Marx is correct that people make their own history, but not the conditions under which they labor to do so. Your answer to your first question functions in the present draft to define who you are in terms of the conditions only. But you are not merely your conditions, and there is another part top write about. There is not yet a word here about what interests you, about the particular skills you want to acquire, about what you want to learn. Those are inquiries into who you are and who you want to be.

The second question, too, has a side about conditions and one about history. Here also, you have defined conditions of security and peace within which your practice has to be organized. I would wish every young lawyer I teach peace and security as conditions of their practice. May you have the every moment. But that is a statement of the best of conditions under which we each make our history. Yes, I think you are probably correct that you would prefer to earn a salary than to start a business. And also that you can't be sure your preference won't change. So in asking what you should learn in law school you might consider which skills you would want to acquire that life as a salaried lawyer might not teach you. To say that you mean to make the most money consistent with peace and security works only so long as "peace" is a container for the sense of satisfaction that you get by not having to dissociate to shield yourself from the real social consequences of the work you do to earn that money. What should you do to earn your money, and where are the compromises you don't want to make?

You've started doing some really important thinking. Let's see how improving this draft can help to continue the thought process.



Webs Webs

r3 - 07 Jun 2022 - 20:10:21 - GueinahBlaise
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM