Law in Contemporary Society

Eben's Going to Kill Me

-- By KahlilWilliams - 27 Feb 2009

Statement of Facts

“Eben’s going to kill me.”

That was one of my first thoughts last Friday when I accepted a job at a law firm for this summer. I shook hands with the recruiter, contemplated death, and was then whisked away to lunch, where I gingerly tried to assess how much of my soul I stood to lose in 10 weeks. I winced at the prospect of doing tobacco litigation (it’s tremendously interesting, with complex questions of civil procedure!) or white-collar defense (everyone needs lawyers, right?). To avoid death, I had to come up with a couple of projects that wouldn’t get too much blood on me: maybe I could bring in a pro bono project or spend a couple of weeks at Legal Aid to salvage things.

But even after the fresh mozzarella, and the lamb chops, and the warm chocolate cake, and the ginger ale, served with extra helpings of justification and rationalization, I remember being pretty sure that Eben was still going to kill me.

The Complaint

It’s oversimplistic to say that I’m getting killed because Eben doesn’t like law firms. Law firms are bad for _him_--they don’t do or allow him to do the work he would prefer to do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad for all individuals. Despite the conversations we’ve had about the immorality of corporate practice, it’s not clear to me that those discussions are addressing what he’s been saying thus far.

As I understand it, if what you do on a daily basis doesn’t square with your notion of justice or your stated goals, then that’s a problem, and you can call it whatever you like. That’s not the same as saying “being a corporate lawyer is immoral”. Rather, it suggests that “corporate law is unwise” or a “terrible idea” if what you’re trying to do is make a change in the world using words. Whether or not it’s morally objectionable or simply a misuse of our time is not particularly important, because both are bad and will almost certainly lead to unhappiness. And that’s not what we want.

But what Eben wants doesn’t really matter. The real reason he’s going to kill me isn’t because I didn’t do what he wanted, it’s because I’m not doing what I said I was going to do. I said I wanted to make changes in the world using words, not reviewing documents or getting rich guys either off the hook and/or more money. I came to law school to because I wanted to help enforce the newest Voting Rights Act, assuming the Court doesn’t strike it down because Congress couldn’t prove a negative. If I’m lucky, I’ll figure out a way to help draft the next version of the Voting Rights Act if enough people buy my message. Whatever I said, it wasn’t this. This isn’t what intended to buy. I came to the market for something very specific; I planned to get it and leave. Instead, I ended up with something different. Something else.

Affirmative Defense

I got something different because I got conned. Didn’t’ I? I was given something of great value to them, but of little cost to me and vice versa (p. 116). Eben (and Leff) probably saw this coming from a mile away: as soon as the firm called, I stepped into role and the play began. But if Eben saw it coming, then he can’t kill me, right?

What kind of con was it? Perhaps a Psst Buddy, in that the economic crisis has made 1L firm jobs scarce and exclusive. But in the Psst Buddy, the demand group is small, not the supply group (p. 33), even though the recruiter’s reaction to my acceptance made it seem as though I was “doing right by the firm” in taking the deal.

Nope, this was a straight-up Squaresville pitch, with a bargain existing because of imperfect information about the product. The Pay-off here is ostensibly straight forward, while the downside is usually described only as a suboptimal quality of life, plus some less lucrative opportunity foregone. Without those variables factored in, of course it looked like bargain. Worse yet, even with those factors, it still looks like a bargain, mostly because the opportunity costs will only become clear ex post. So, right now, maybe it’s not a con, it’s just a sale? Eben’s really going to kill me because he’s already told me the answer, and I’m pretending as if I’ve just discovered the question. “This is not a bargain”, he says, “don’t do the deal.” And the fact that he has to explain that this isn’t a bargain is quite telling. Because I’ve never placed an actual value on doing what I want to do (I suspect few have), and I haven’t deemed it priceless, I’m able to accept the proposition that it’s worth substantially less than 160K per year, despite the drudgery and unfulfilling nature of big-firm practice that I expect to endure.

Summary Judgment

Even if we view the facts in the light most favorable to me, Eben’s probably has cause to kill me, but won’t for two reasons. First, it’s not really Eben. The voice saying “Don’t do the deal” isn’t even Eben’s. It’s mine. In not listening, the only ire that I’m drawing is my own, because I’m not disobeying teachings so much as I’m ignorin=g a set of values I’ve explicitly stated.

Second, he won’t kill me because it’s not my time to go. The learning isn’t over yet, and I can still find a way to own my time at the firm, to develop tools that help me do what it is I want to do. I hope it’s not already too late. I hope I never have to make that call to Eben, telling him I'm miserable.

Because then he’ll kill me.

  • Okay, fine. I cannot say much, it seems to me. I suppose you were entitled to spend an essay on this, but I think you should do something very different next time around, because I think this is small game for you.


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r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:10:13 - IanSullivan
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