Law in Contemporary Society
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The Anxiety Over Freedom

“The way we';re going to know whether you can free people is by whether you can free yourself. Freedom is a thing we make. If it';s made for us, it isn';t freedom. “ – Eben Moglen

As the legal market adapts to the Recession, more questions have emerged amongst law students about how to carve out a space for themselves in the legal field. The anxiety over freedom (whatever “freedom” is) has consumed the minds of law students as big firm options diminish and loans abound. Who and what we will become seems to be at the forefront of our minds. The goal for many is to make money while still having a career that allows us freedom, meaningful practice, and the usage of our skills to better someone else';s reality. I concede here that this is more of a brainstorming exercise than an offering of any real answers. I';m only a 1L.

I. What is freedom? The beginning of a definition.

The anxiety over freedom begins with a simple question -what is freedom? After completing only one semester of law school, this seems the only place to begin. Envisioning freedom and determining what it means on an individual level seems to be the most important step in beginning to build a career.

Freedom begins with making choices for yourself instead of letting them be made for you. Defining a legal career starts in law school- what classes we choose, the extracurricular activities we get involved in, and the professors we choose to work with or under. Many go for prestige over substance. It seems that getting a wide array of exposure to different areas of law would be important for determining one';s passions, definition of justice, and where a license can best be used. I assume that that search would lead to the discovery of a practice free of others'; impositions.

The problem is that there are several obstacles that present anxiety over freedom: grades, getting the coveted firm position, or even being rejected to join a Legal Methods study group. (personal experience)

The exterior pressures imposed on the 1L student create a set of fears and anxieties that all suggest that one';s best is not good enough. While Mr. Robinson is not “beholden” to anyone, the 1L seems bound and weighed down by everything. The issue is that freedom seems bound to everything and contingent on everything but the character of the self. At every turn, it seems that external pressures and “advisors” have input and advice to offer to suggest what exactly freedom is. This imposition makes it hard for the 1L student to determine or even begin to ask questions that are a result of their own thought process and discovery. Undoubtedly others'; anxiety, desire for competition, and fears swallow even the most level-headed and rational 1L student.

II. Freedom and BigLaw: Mutually Exclusive?

There has been a lot of talk about pawning one';s license to BigLaw. Entertaining the idea of working at a big firm seems to be the beginning of a decision that is counterproductive to attaining one';s freedom. Can working 80 hour weeks serving the “man” act as the underground railroad to freedom? While exaggerated, the slave analogy is poignant nonetheless. As a 1L, there is no certainty about what a big firm job entails. We know only that the hours are long and an entering associate is at the bottom of the food chain. Yet, no one really offers any alternatives. Public interest acts as the counter-narrative to big firm but between debt and trying to establish a new life, the quickest and easiest way to begin that life, the most accessible means to an end, is the big firm. Financial stability is important and without ingenuity and creativity, BigLaw appears the best alternative for beginning the trek to long-term stability. Only 26% of lawyers are self-employed either as partners or solo practitioners. ( The other 74% are beholden to someone else. Can';t freedom be attained by carving out a particular niche and then working up the food chain? Does working at a big firm mean you must consume someone else to avoid being eaten in an attempt for freedom?

It seems that BigLaw is appropriate as a temporary stop, less so as a permanent station. However, maybe it';s somewhat like speed dating. Trying different things -- BigLaw, public interest, government -- for the delegated five minutes (or rather years) and then determining who you';re most compatible with and can wake up to in the morning.

III. Social Action as a Means to Freedom?

Oliver Wendell Holmes suggests that if we learn the law by thinking like a bad man, then the law would be more salient in its application. Does this make sense for a lawyer seeking to achieve social justice? Learning how the “Other” thinks in order to eventually achieve justice would likely help in one';s fight for social action. The conception of what is right and wrong, just and unjust, seems to drive the nature of the practice some of us will engage in and delineates the work we find repulsive and oppressive. A little morality and a lot of justice would have been good for Sean Bell. Unfortunately, the roadblocks to creative practice (resources, time, and a lack of evidence) disabled social justice. (

Free lawyers have new creative ideas. But how? As a 1L, it seems creativity consists in a much narrower scope only for the purposes of arguing both sides on an exam. While only one semester down doesn';t generate a strong foundation for initiating reform of the structure of law school, I think the question of creativity has some correlation to freedom and if it can be aided then that would be an interesting addendum to the current curriculum.

Creativity begins with thoughts about social action which in turn could potentially lead to freedom for individuals outside of myself. Yet, first, one has to free themselves. Is this circular? I am anxiously awaiting my opportunity to make freedom.

-- KrystalCommons - 25 Jun 2010


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r5 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:14:20 - IanSullivan
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