Law in Contemporary Society
After class on Thursday, I decided I'd track down a copy of Lawyerland for the weekend (as it turns out, there's only one copy). It's a short read. In any event, I thought I'd share my reactions.

The book makes you hate lawyers. And pity them. Numerous snapshots of lawyers flit by: egotistical, insensitive, insecure, angry, troubled, and unhappy. There's a debate between three attorneys over whose paycheck is bigger. There's a lawyer who decides a conversation consists of two things: his opinion, and everyone listening to it-- rebuking anyone who tries to chime in with a contribution. There's the federal judge who regrets dedicating her life to achieve a position that has so little power; as she puts it:

"Real power doesn't exist in the courts...You have discretion in this job, but you'd be surprised how little. It's taken me an embarrassingly long time to realize that there's a big difference between having a bit of discretion and having real power."

Most importantly, there's the recurring notion that lawyers are unhappy because they are routinely made to do things that they do not want to do. That practicing a career that treats moral compromise as a necessary part of one's day takes a high toll. It is this ever-accumulating internal disgust which leads lawyers to focus on external signs of success--big apartments, nice suits, large paychecks, etc.

Still, even if lawyers trade a bit of morality for money, isn't it a personal issue? In the grand scheme of things, how much damage can a lawyer really do? The best example given is one whose real-world ramifications could not have been appreciated in 1997. The lawyer in question is meant to be seen as one of the "good ones": introspective, critical, and telling the story of how his under-educated, street-smart, union steward uncle had a better moral compass and greater sensitivity to the systematic wrongs perpetrated by the law than the majority of lawyers. What stands out in retrospect, however, is a half-paragraph where the lawyer is discussing his current practice. What does he do?

"I've been doing some mortgage securitization...I'm not sure I know what it is...You make mortgages into securities. There are all these new finance techniques. Lawyer creations. A mortgage securitization is when a bank purchases mortgage portfolios, then places them in trusts, or in newly created corporations. You use the trusts or the new corporations to issue new securities...the debt payments to the mortgage holders are paid with the cash flow from the mortgage portfolios. The client...gets the difference between the payments it receives from the individual mortgages and the coupon it pays on the...securities. Me, I think--well, everything depends on the money coming in on the mortgages. The economy starts to drop--if the mortgages aren't paid, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But that...ain't my problem. When it happens, we'll do what we did when all the junk from the eighties went bad--we'll just shift over into bankruptcy."

Page 157.

-- RonMazor - 13 Feb 2010

Separately, I've begun to watch The Deep End. It's a new show. Hulu's got it covered.

In watching, I've realized something mildly troubling--it is pleasurable to watch unhappy lawyers. Chalk it up to schadenfreude, I guess.

One thing the show had in its pilot, and which it stepped away from, was forcing the new lawyers to make morally ambiguous choices and sublimate themselves to partners' demands. I guess the writers figured it wouldn't be fun for people to watch a constant parade of lawyers making ugly decisions.

Additionally, it seems to take some liberties on the realism front. Example: A court certifies a class in a product liabilities case. The case continues. In Civ Pro, we spoke a bit about how class certification is often the trigger for settlement, because no company wants to risk losing.

One aspect of the show struck home, though. It is the same thing that NPR finds hard to believe:

"For another, the young lawyers aren't given much -- other than hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt -- to wrap their intensity around. They seem to be at this prestigious firm simply because it's a prestigious firm; they seem to be lawyers just because."

-- RonMazor - 13 Feb 2010

I've been watching the Deep End as well. I would say it is nothing more than "good" television. I think the article about the television show from The New York Times was right when it said it features the "old school" pre-Recession days of firms when young attorneys were living a more leisurely social life while getting paid big bucks. I have a few friends who have actually said -- in response to the show--"maybe I should go to law school". I always laugh and let them know that it is just tv.

The Deep End is interesting to me because it really does work overtime to set up the different archetypes of lawyers: Dylan: the young idealistic, ivy league graduate who says "Justice. That's why I went to law school", but then works at the big firm, or the partner Cliff who battles with the managing partner Hart about doing too much pro bono work. (See for more). It is quite entertaining but unrealistic. I also think the NPR quote is interesting because the show seems to put feature social issues every episode and show how young lawyers are doing substantive work that is changing "everyday people's" lives. I wonder how real this is at big prestigious firms. I doubt it's as present as it is on the show.

Just my thoughts on the show.

p.s.- the acting is pretty horrible.

-- KrystalCommons - 16 Feb 2010

After today's discussion about Robinson, I'd like to add a different interpretation of his "Lawyers and Greed" speech.

Robinson hates that his fellow lawyers get caught up in a meaningless pursuit of money. He doesn't understand why they have become so lost. And he probably can't, because his experience is not that of his fellow lawyers. It serves as a good introduction, because like Robinson, the only perspective the reader has regarding the multitude of "greedy" lawyers is that of an outsider peering in.

It's not the full story. And as the book progresses, the reader gets an inside glimpse of the lawyers that Robinson eviscerates in his opening oration.

Through further vignettes, what emerges is that the greed is often an escape. Many lawyers are dissociative, but the culprit is their own uneasiness at the realities of their life. Deep down, their jobs make them uncomfortable. They hate their own skin, so they throw themselves into materialism and routine. They drink and they marry and they splurge and they jetset and they cheat and they divorce and they repeat. In short, they do everything in their power to keep their inner world distracted and quiet.

In the context of the larger book, Robinson has mistaken a symptom for a cause.

-- RonMazor - 16 Feb 2010


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r5 - 17 Apr 2010 - 14:50:05 - NonaFarahnik
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