Law in Contemporary Society

Lawyering is Balancing Visible and Invisible Bullets

-- By OliviaMartinez - 22 Feb 2021

Lawyering is Balancing Visible and Invisible Bullets

Serving as a lawyer requires a balancing of invisible bullets and actual bullets, and being able to recover from those interactions with deadly weapons.

Tangible Bullets

I’ve grown up around bullets. I know that bullets have a different significance within each culture, and different effects on each community.

In my childhood home, my neighbor’s house was shot while my grandfather was walking our dog on the sidewalk outside. The next week, while I was at the lake with my grandmother, there was a shooting on the shore. In that same year, more people left my neighborhood, destination unknown, than I ever noticed before. There were more police than I had ever noticed before, too. I learned that there is a short distance between increased surveillance and the sounds of police sirens -- one always beckoning the other.

In my second home, we lived about five minutes away from Fort Dix McGuire? military base. I would hear shots constantly, but quickly learned it was nothing to worry about. They were training to shoot someone else, somewhere else. They were practicing to kill people. They were killing people. This was fine. However, when the shot was a little closer, at the El Sombrero Motel four houses down the street from me, police sirens always followed.

Now, I live next to a hunting club. Almost everyone in my town owns a gun, and no one locks them in a gun cabinet. Every year this leads to some kind of tragedy, but it is worth it to keep the guns and to keep the freedom. My town is one of the most consistently red voting districts in New Jersey, but without the wealth of other red districts in NJ and with many of the social issues associated with our Appalachian neighbors. There’s no police sirens to follow the sounds of the shots here, but people do still disappear.

I came to law school to change the disparity in the surveillance, freedom, and punishment different groups experience, and in the ways justice is administered. The management of bullets is only one example of this, but it is relevant when thinking about lawyers and law students, both of whom are battered with invisible bullets.

Invisible Bullets

Invisible bullets are different from real bullets. There’s no red blood or blue lights attached. They don’t kill on site, but they do leave a path of trauma like their tangible counterparts. Invisible bullets come in many forms. They exist in the confederate flags that fly proudly in my town and in the failing school district my family fled. They are what made young students in my hometown vulnerable to military recruitment, and what my neighbors from the McGuire? Base brought back home with them, much like Robinson. They are what make some lawyers work merely for money, what drives lawyers to put humans in prison, and what makes lawyers into Thurgood Marshall’s and Bryan Stevenson’s, changing the course of social justice forever. What gave the lawyer the ability to dissociate so well from their work that they can survive at one of the best big firms, in the most competitive legal market? Certainly, they’ve been hit with an invisible bullet.

Protective Measures: Bullet Proof Vests and Fighting for the Shooter

Bullet Proof Vests

Good lawyering skills are not enough. A good education is not enough. I’m at one of the most expensive, most well-resourced law schools in the country, and still, with every new turn in law school, someone has been shot. The proximity to evil, inherent in the legal profession is constantly, hauntingly felt. There is a need for bulletproof vests to protect against invisible bullets.

Public Defense/Defending the Real Shooter

The irony in this metaphor is that some of us will be working with people who have been shot by or have shot real bullets. Public defense work means representing everyone, because everyone deserves representation. To me it means using this law degree to do good, and forming a bullet proof vest for myself to wage a fight against the evils of the world that lead to bullets being shot and humans being locked in prison. This summer I will work at the Center for Appellate Litigation, serving individuals who are on their last chance. These are individuals who have already shot the bullet, and, in theory, locking them up will halt the invisible bullets society would suffer from if they were free and repair the holes they made. It will not.

Public defense lawyering seems like a balancing act, managing the bullets a lawyer has been shot with, the bullets their client has shot, and the bullets the lawyer has released onto society by the things they have made happen with words. I believe the most powerful way to right the wrongs in society is not to make things equal for a victim, but to make things equal in society. Maybe fighting to do so can help lawyers to heal. Or, maybe, I’ll be shooting myself in the foot.


Trees and Humans

In a tree you can see where there were interruptions of growth due to trauma, and we can determine whether that trauma allowed life to be better in a new way. A human is the same way. If law school is a traumatic experience, this means there is hope that life should be better in a new way after this. For me, this means finding and walking in my purpose. I always thought the best thing I could do for my family and community would be to provide financial stability and give back monetarily and create generational wealth. However, I’m starting to think that maybe the best thing I can do for my family and my community is to continue the fighting they have done for me, for others.


Society has a lot of healing to do. I don’t know how, but I know there are ways to contribute, and I hope to do so by, at least, managing my own bullets.

It's not easy to see how this could be much better. It's an anthem, in form: a celebratory song of self, and like Lawyerland guided by the spirit of Walt Whitman. But you have also drawn up the metaphor of the invisible bullets into a new, more capacious meaning in a larger interpretation. I think that saying "they are hard to name" is a little bit of a cop-out. The things poets are needed to talk about are hard to name, dammit, or we wouldn't need poets to name them. You can do a little thinking and put a couple of sentences there that are as good as all the others.

It's a risk ending an essay with "I'm starting to think ... ." But on this occasion I think you have pulled it off. For all its bravado, which is quite some, this is indeed an essay about starting to think. You've shown just what happens when a strong mind and a clear sensibility light up the burner and start cooking with gas, as the 20th century said.

The trick you're looking to learn is how to whistle this on the inside while saying what gets the job done at the moment and watching everything that isn't nailed down. This is possible, but as my late friend and colleague Kellis Parker would have said, it needs jazz. There's only an endless dynamic balance between presence and absence, grit and abstraction, knowledge and practice, words and music, the truth and what can be proved. Nice start.

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r6 - 12 May 2021 - 18:34:50 - OliviaMartinez
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