Law in Contemporary Society


-- By LindaMuzere - 23 May 2012


As my final major contribution to the wiki I decided to write a retrospective on my first year of law school in the context of major themes from Eben’s course. Critical introspection poses tough questions requiring honest answers. This was incredibly difficult for me as I confronted some hard truths about my character. But by being candid with myself I’ve become constructive about my future. Perhaps others will relate to my reflections and I can forge some missed connections with my classmates.

(First year of) Law School

First semester I was under the na´ve impression that law school would teach me how to become a lawyer; maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much. After my liberal arts education at U Chicago and working in finance for years, I looked forward to returning to an environment in which I could learn something new every day. I had unwavering confidence in my decision and I was happy to work diligently because I knew why I was here.

But by November the warm weather had barely cooled and I was already being asked to consider where I wanted to work the following summer. By second semester the rhetoric went from internships to law firms, and I found myself planning two years in advance for a career path I wasn’t even sure I understood. As the emails from Career Services changed, so did my perspective.

Successful law students fall into roughly one of two categories: 1) natural geniuses, and 2) very bright people who work obsessively hard. But in a grade fixated academic environment and contracting job market, learning how to be a lawyer is filtered out by the distraction of a single final exam. If you don’t want someone else getting the job that you may potentially want, you’d better figure out which group you belong to.

I did.

Law school is not about learning with the goal of becoming a great lawyer; it is about learning with the goal of getting a job. I acknowledge that a JD is a professional degree and that people go to law school with the expectation of getting a legal job. To an extent, one cannot fault Columbia for providing a service and filling that demand. But for all the reasons we discussed this semester, I think we can agree that our school chose an irresponsible and destructive way to go about it. Law school helps students get jobs by breaking us down without reinforcing the skills of great lawyers; what a shame.

I like learning law but I don’t like (Columbia) law school. So why continue?

Motivations (Fear)

In my first paper I wrote about my parents and their survival instincts. To escape the consequences of civil war my parents opened their own doors by becoming the first in their families to go to high school or college. Because of their influence, fear of insecurity and the aggressive pursuit of opportunity became the foundation of my family’s values.

Growing up in the suburbs by no means compares to life in southern Sudan. But even in America my family and I are still motivated by a lingering fear for our future.

My father is a professor and is easily the most educated person I know. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the top universities in Uganda and Kenya. He has a PhD? in math from Northwestern and a PhD? in finance from Wash U. On paper it would seem he had secured a very high base quality of life. But in 2008 my father did not receive tenure and he found himself unemployed alongside many others with much lesser qualifications, including myself—a recent college graduate.

Like most immigrants my parents came to the U.S. with no savings and a host of financial obligations. My dad actually went back to school for his second PhD? because he could barely support our immediate and extended family on a math professor’s salary. These past few years were draining on our entire family and served as a cautionary tale for those of us resting on our private school education.

Academia is notoriously cutthroat, but so is today’s legal industry. We discussed “covering your nut” in class and rationalized our pending financial burdens. But considering my family’s experiences, and the thought of graduating with $300k in student loans and huge family commitments, I cannot help but be motivated by the immediate fear of starting my career in an unstable, antagonistic job market.

A law license is the right to live and practice the life you want. This is not to say that I’m justified in selling my license. But my life has made me very risk averse and I plan on starting my career by pursing my most profitable interests at a law firm.

I will become a lawyer. But what kind of lawyer will I be?


In “Lawyerland” it was easy to spot the protagonists and antagonists. I want to be in control of my career like Robinson, without being forced to split myself like Wylie. I want to be shrewd and effective like Tharaud but conscious of how I define success, unlike Cerriere. I want to understand the power of the law and use it to my advantage, like Judge Day.

But how will I know who I’ve become?


Whether right or wrong, John Brown had the courage to act upon his principles in the face of the law. He didn’t ignore the responsibility of “knowing what should be known” and “doing what should be done.” I need to embody this level of self-awareness and courage before I proceed in my career. This begins with understanding the behavior, functions, and limitations of the law.

My work experience motivates many of my interests, so I hope to enter the investment management practice. Accordingly, my legal career will start at a law firm and end when I can no longer dictate the integrity of my license.

I may not be a lawyer forever.



Webs Webs

r7 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:02 - IanSullivan
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