Law in Contemporary Society
Eben, I would like to continue to edit this paper.

Journey to Justice

-- By JuliaCatania - 28 Apr 2012

What is Justice?

I spent my undergraduate experience analyzing borders (physical and metaphorical), and learning about social change and revolutionary movements in Latin America. When I graduated from college I wanted to work with undocumented immigrants. I wanted to do work that mattered on a personal, individual level and aided concrete social change. I volunteered with Greater Boston Legal Services for their Latinas Know Your Rights Project, helping undocumented women who were victims of domestic violence get restraining orders and, if lucky, visas for themselves and their children. I felt that I was contributing to justice; it was easy to see that I was.

I moved to New York and sought similar work. I ended up at a medical malpractice firm downtown. Even though the work was overwhelming at times and carried a stigma (ambulance chasers), in the beginning I was proud of the service the firm was providing. I was working with individuals and felt like I was helping them achieve justice.

Early on I was working closely with a partner helping him finish a Motion for Summary Judgment; the case was a botched kidney transplant of a donor – pretty gruesome, life altering. One day in the office, the Partner began to speak candidly about the client’s prospects. He broke down the possible settlement figures, subtracted the legal fees, the expert’s fees, etc. While I was still processing the reality of our client’s prospects, he turned to me very gravely and said, “Look, I think it’s important for you to understand that what we do here isn’t justice.” I felt as if the rug had been pulled from under me.

I spent two years at the firm before ultimately going to law school, and that piece of advice was with me everyday. I saw that financial compensation for injury met certain disposable needs, but after you sit-in with one grief-stricken client after another, or take a call for an attorney deliberately avoiding an angry client, you can’t help but feel profoundly that justice is not being served. The financial compensation did not make the clients feel like they had been made whole and the doctors and hospitals hardly held accountable for their negligence as insurance companies put on the real defense. I felt empty and frustrated; justice did not seem as clear a concept as simply helping people.

Justice (Re)defined

Martha Tharaud does justice and she measures the greatness of a lawyer, specifically, her mentor, Lewis Harris, by the number of people whose living standards he changed for the better. Labor and Employment law is an area in which compensation (justice?) is financial. Cases are taken for the same reasons they are taken in medical malpractice; the lawyers believe they can win. Nonetheless, Martha accomplishes justice while the medical malpractice firm does not.

Is it the wanting to change something for the better institutionally that creates the justice? If this is the demarcation then it is easy to say that Martha does justice and the medical malpractice firm does not. The medical malpractice firm wants to get the most for themselves and their clients (not completely different from Cerriere’s self-protecting version of what Martha does – signs complaints). While on the other hand, Martha has spent her career fighting for change in employment standards. She wants to improve workers’ quality of life. More than that, she wants to change our society’s class structure – class being defined as “the amount of economic control you have over your work.”

Martha does justice by attempting to shift the current power structure of the employment relationship, dominance of the employer over the employee. However, one could view the medical malpractice firm’s practice as symbiotic to the negligence of doctors and hospitals. Their practice is stagnant, there will always be negligence and there will always be (or should be) the ability to right the wrong in the only way possible to do so, with money. But this does not mean it is justice. I was too na´ve to see the difference. The difference is not in the type of remedy, financial compensation, or the focus on the individual, but in the goal.

It is difficult to define justice in terms of a larger goal because it is more complicated than helping people. To have an end goal that is to change or right some entrenched wrong feels like setting yourself up to fail, because this goal is unreachable and will surely bring disillusionment. This is fear and the poem speaks to it. The attainableness of the goal is not measured by one person’s lifetime, nor should attainableness affect the purpose to which you dedicate your life. To do justice is not to have a general solution to a grand problem, but to actively work towards the grand problem one person at a time. Martha makes sure people don’t get eliminated.

Reaching the Goal

Coming to terms with justice can be an ever-evolving pursuit, but the work on this journey must keep the simple goal of helping people as the anchor. I wish Martha’s path seemed more tangible. Finishing my first year I have but a flicker of the original goal that motivated my decision to attend law school still clearly in reach; a very profound split occurred. I can better analyze the motivations behind this original conception of a career in law, based on the simple notion that the goal is to help people, but this does not bring it nearer. I feel detached and tired. It resonated with me when Eben said, “every choice involves loss,” because it seemed to be getting to the point: nothing is painless and nothing is easy. Maybe this struggle is necessary.

Imagine a practice. One part of your book is med mal. You work with established practices, taking advantage of your experience to offer them parts of their workflow with high efficiency, at predictable price and quality. The other part of your book is work that makes a difference, connects you to the people you need to work with and for, joins one to something much larger than oneself, tries to make justice. You learn, adding new capacities, finding new ways to support your justice-focused practice, developing a richer human network that opens more possibilities. Are you happy in that practice? Si, se puede.


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r3 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:09:59 - IanSullivan
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