Law in Contemporary Society

The Choices We Make

-- By ManuelLorenzo - 4-22-12

Choosing Clients

The choices we make in law school and the years that follow shape the direction of our legal careers and reflect the ways we utilize our license. A few years ago I had the opportunity to shadow a criminal defense attorney who worked primarily out of the Bronx. While he was not exactly a “Robinson,” he had strong convictions about the type of work he did within the criminal justice system. During my time at his office I watched as he prepared for a cross-examination in a double homicide trial. He was representing one of the defendants, a young man who seemed to be no older than 25. Before we headed to court, I innocently asked him if he had any moral dilemmas about representing people who had committed violent crimes. He then responded that he was not going to get upset with me, because I was young and I did not know any better. He told me about a time he met a woman at a dinner party who had asked him a similar question, but his response had been not nearly as kind. He explained to me the importance of providing legal assistance to low-income individuals, especially those coming from violent and dangerous neighborhoods. He talked about the lack of access to adequate legal services within poor communities, especially among minorities. He spoke about his belief in everyone’s right to a fair trial. Although I only spent a day at his office, I came away with a very different understanding of the law and the choices attorneys must make in determining the clients they want to represent as well as the kind of lawyers they choose to become.

Making Choices

Early on in his career the criminal defense attorney had made certain choices about the type of practice he wanted to develop. As I venture down my own path of self-discovery and evaluation, I find myself at a crossroads, unable to clearly articulate my ultimate goal. Prior to this semester I felt as if I was on a type of mental cruise control and only now am I taking a step back to examine where it is I actually want to go. I know that I will be forced to make difficult choices as I decide between a more lucrative legal career versus one that will be more emotionally fulfilling. I do have a genuine interest in working in a corporate legal environment, particularly in transactional work. I could envision myself someday switching over to the client side, helping to formulate deals and employ other attorneys to tie everything together. Yet no matter how I envision it, I know that this path will never give me true satisfaction as a lawyer. Eben constantly encourages us to develop our own practices and control the clients we choose to represent. One of the most memorable moments of my time with the criminal defense attorney was just listening to him talk about his work and describe the passion he felt for his clients; a passion I knew I could never feel for a multi-billion dollar corporation (even if corporations are people too). Although he probably could have made more money in the private sector, he was truly happy with the decisions he had made. I am beginning to realize now more than ever that the choices I make during this time period will help shape the type of lawyer I will eventually become. As a result, I have begun to more closely examine a legal career serving low-income clients, a group of people in need of skilled lawyers.

Fighting the Good the Fight

In class, we discussed the idea that the legal system is often kind to the rich and just to the poor. It is hard to argue with this concept given the vast amount of real estate poor people occupy in our country’s prisons. Robinson highlights the idea that being a lawyer gives someone the proper tools necessary to navigate the legal system. Unfortunately, many individuals from low-income neighborhoods lack a proper legal education and often do not know their rights and sometimes put themselves in vulnerable positions even when they have not committed any crime. It is the lawyer’s duty to come to the defense of these individuals and make the arguments his client is unable to make. It is therefore ironic that many of the brightest legal minds in this country do not choose to work for those who probably need their services the most. As someone who is in the process of deciding how I want my legal career to unfold, I find myself wanting to buck this trend. Although I worked very hard to get where I am, I am very aware that I am extremely fortunate to study at an institution such as Columbia. I know that there are many people out there who did not catch the same breaks as I did or have the same opportunities I was afforded. Despite my own personal ambitions, I feel a need to use my skills as a lawyer to give back to those who are less fortunate. It is for this reason that I know that a career spent solely in corporate law will leave me with a sense of emptiness inside. While I am still in the process of making my own choices as a law student, I am beginning to get a clearer image of my eventually goal of developing a practice geared towards helping low-income clients. This essay, however, only represents a step in that direction. I know that as I grow older certain obstacles (supporting a family, student loans, the temptation of a lucrative corporate career) may get in my way. My hope is that I will be strong enough to persevere in order to reach my goals. One of my greatest fears is that I will stumble along the way, only to wake up in twenty years realizing that I never got there.


Webs Webs

r9 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:40 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM