Law in Contemporary Society


-- By KaiKar - 31 May 2017


My time so far at Columbia has often evoked senses of irony, an awareness of incongruences in my own experiences and understandings with the statements or expectations of my classmates, professors, and, perhaps most potently, OCS. The most prominent examples range from off-handed hypotheticals in professor’s prompts regarding property prices to pointed statements from classmates revealing their own educational experiences (boarding schools are not as common as the Columbia Law incoming class would have one believe).

This irony arises clearly from a difference in class experiences. The poor are raised from an early age to emulate and desire the lifestyle of the leisure class, but the more fortunate are told the same. This creates a blindness in the upper classes that do not (yet) own their own private islands; they must strive for more, so the ones striving for what the upper classes already have are unimportant, invisible, and unnoticed.

The idea that a hypothetical given in class, that owning a summer home pilfered by thieves in the winter months, could be a normal and relatable experience was absurd to me. As funny as I found the example the professor gave, I also found myself laughing alone.

When experiencing this discord between my classmate’s reactions and my own (at many, possibly countless other examples), I was alternatingly frustrated, despondent, and defeatist. How could I survive in this environment when the ones I grew up in were so different?

Why am I seemingly the only one in on the joke?


The obvious first solution was to find others who were in on it.

So I made friends with the other first generation professionals, swapped stories about apartment nightmares and high school jobs, while building a network of people I could relate to.

But it wasn’t enough.

When I had conversations with other classmates whom I respected and knew were brilliant, I felt a tinge of distaste. I hated this feeling. This would not do. I could not limit my intellectual circle to only those in on my jokes at the exclusion of most others around me (well, I could, but it would make for an even more frustrating and isolating experience).

Hoping that I hadn’t damaged relationships beyond repair yet, I examined my discomfort. I wish the progression had been as clear as it feels now.

My unease was rooted in some simple aspects – an inability to empathize with the unfamiliar as well as different rituals than my own. However, some differences are going to take more examination than simply reminding myself that others are sometimes not like me. I still find certain habits at this school insulting to those who cannot afford them (dress shopping for Barrister’s Ball being an oddly stinging one for me, I bought a dress for less than many rented). I find the amount of wealth spent on recruitment by firms disconcerting – it begs the question of why the money needs to be spent in the first place. (The answer, of course, is to throw enough money to make the future associates feel part of that Veblenite leisure class). These questions are important, and they can only arise if I refuse to dismiss those with different experiences from my own out of hand.

It takes more work than I expected. It forces me to question knee-jerk assumptions and encounters. It is extremely rewarding.


The title of this essay is ‘Class-less,’ not because I do not belong to a social class, of course I do, but I feel forced to examine the instances of class division and interaction more often and more closely within the walls of the law school than my peers. This examination, while painful and alienating at times, is valuable. I recommend it. It is a different sort of examination than when you work with the very poor or victimized with some goal of bettering their position or assisting them in a case… to transcend a class boundary with no intention (or desire) of altering it, only coming as an observer. Admittedly, I am not there, for I see waste in many interactions and experiences that I still have to look away from them – it helps identify and flag the aspects of this culture that I want to avoid. Nor should complete objectivism be the goal, for there are toxic and wasteful aspects of pecuniary culture that lawyers fall into easily, particularly a dependence on a much-higher-than-average salary. I should be aware of these pitfalls.

The idea of experiencing and respecting another social class is essential to my theory of social action and the guiding principles in my practice. I acquire knowledge best through experience. Only through knowledge can true understanding arise, and only through understanding can purposeful, substantive actions be taken. Still not knowing the exact type of clients I will work with, the ability to learn from them and understand them from a relatively objective viewpoint is important to me. I do not want to condescend, purposefully or accidentally, to my more financially blessed clients (or friends), just as I do not want to condescend to the financially distressed ones. Understanding allows for empathy instead of pity (or envy). A relationship, professional or otherwise, can be built on the former, but it is very hard to build a relationship between equals if one pities or envies the other.

While I originally asked myself why I felt a discord with my peers, I now understand this discomfort will reward and enrich. I cannot turn my back on it.

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r3 - 01 Jun 2017 - 01:56:59 - KaiKar
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