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September 06, 2002

Links & Blogrolls

Thanks to Alice W. for the mention, and for clarifying the question of the "hornbook" (what an awful name—anybody know the etymology?). Also, mad props to the following blogs for adding this site to their blogrolls: Sua Sponte (according to which AI is a "fellow traveller" blog), Two Tears In A Bucket (which calls AI a "political blog"), and Unbillable Hours (which puts AI on its list of "links of legal or public policy interest"). All of these sites have become daily reads for me in recent weeks and I highly recommend them—not just as terrific reads, but also as excellent sources of information on law school and law practice.

And while I'm at this, thanks to the kind lawyers who have offered advice outside of blogspace on the merits of law school. Your perspectives and tips have helped a great deal in giving me a better idea of whether law and I can ever be friends.

Posted 11:17 PM | Comments (1) | law school

Why Law Makes Sense

I was just thinking what my family and friends will think when I tell them I'm headed toward law, something I'm reserving for the future—either once I know my final LSAT score or once I'm accepted at a school. My guess is that they'll be skeptical, hesitant to support the decision, even all-out against it. They'll feel that way, I imagine, because of their preconceived notions of the animal known as "lawyer," and because when they compare that animal to the animal known as "me," the two will seem very different to them. Obviously, the two animals seem pretty different to me, too. I have never been someone who cared about making a great deal of money; I have never been interested in living in cities; I have never wanted to wear coats and ties and slacks and nice shoes; I have always mocked self-important "professionals" and business people, and I have never once aspired to be one (although aspiring to be an academic means aspiring to be a self-important professional, I think most people—my family and friends, especially—take a more romantic view of what an English professor is or does); and I have always made a point of my refusal to sacrifice my values and principles to society, to a job or profession, or to society's idea of "success" or "the good life." In short, I've just never been associated with the kinds of things many people associate with law and lawyers. (1)

But there is a way in which law makes perfect sense for me, in terms of the path I've followed for the last, oh, ten years or so. That path has been, for lack of a better way of framing it, from isolation or independence to community or interdependence. Growing up in the wild west of Wyoming ("like no place else!") I led a somewhat isolated life. I thought very little about politics, social policy, global issues. The problems of the world were far from me, and I was surround by people who lived by a somewhat libertarian ethos that could be summed up as "You can do whatever you want, just as long as it doesn't infringe on my ability or freedom to do whatever I want." But then I moved to CA and started meeting all kinds of people and seeing different parts of the country (and world) and how different people lived; I began to realize how my isolation was an illusion. My girlfriend at that time was a big part of that realization: she helped teach me about the value of community and mentoring and concern for other people. Grad school only deepened that shift, in a serious way, teaching me how little we, as individuals, can accomplish, and how we are all inherently interdependent. In choosing law I'm choosing to head toward society, rather than away from it. I'm choosing to immerse myself in the problems of the world, rather than retreating from them, and I'm choosing to make helping other people and improving society (or at least trying to do so) a central part of my life.

This is how I see this choice: I could continue as an English grad and live my life in the strange, pseudo-isolation of academia, on the periphery, the theoretical margins. Or I could choose to head into the world of work in writing or editing/publishing, which would also be somewhat isolated to the extent that I'd be working at some journal or newspaper or press with a specific and limited scope with only indirect effects on peoples' lives via whatever we were publishing. Or I could choose to dedicate myself to a bigger picture, to a more direct engagement with the wider circle of potential challenges and problems that I might find in the practice of law related to public interest or public policy issues. And while my friends and family have always seen me as something of a "rugged" individual (watch me flatter myself!), an iconoclast, what I have become in the last decade is more like a "rugged" socialist. I hope I can remain something of an iconoclast, but I don't want to pretend I can remain an isolated individual. So the choice to head for law is the choice to head for society, for the social, to work not just for me or for my own small goals or achievements, but for the greater good of us all. (2)

(Tangent: The radio is playing "Flake" by Jack Johnson. I love this song. Does that mean anything?)

This could all just be a rationalization. I understand that. Today I was whining about the fact that I couldn't be more happy about anything than I am about the fact that today is Friday and I don't have to teach for two whole days, even though I know I have a pile of work hanging over my head that I should be doing right now. So basically I was bitching about how teaching is such a full-time, all-the-time job (something I complain about all the time), and my girlfriend pointed out that her sister—a lawyer—leads a similar life. Just about every Friday at 5 p.m. she leaves her firm knowing she has work that must be done before Monday. So she knows she has to go to the office on Saturday or Sunday, or stay late Friday, or whatever, to get that work done. So if I'm looking for something that gives me more real time off, law really isn't it. (See this post at Unbillable Hours for an example, but also this followup, which is a bit more encouraging.)

I knew that. Which suggests I could be trying to rationalize this choice to pursue law. In some ways it's obvious to me it's not a perfect career path for me. But what is "perfect"? The mantra of the moment: "Put yourself in the way of good." I hope by pursuing law I'm doing just that.

(1) Are these traits "many people associate with lawyers"? I don't know, but I think they're probably traits my friends and family associate with lawyers. The animal known as "lawyer" occupies such a contradictory position in our culture. On the one hand, it is highly respected, perennially ranked on the level of "doctor" and considered one of the premier professions within our society. On the other hand, this animal is known as a greedy, unprincipled beast who will stop at nothing to make a buck, changing colors like a chameleon in order to win cases and large monetary awards. But aside from those extremes, I think many people attribute to this animal a level of dedication to profession, of single-mindedness, of somewhat ruthless pursuit of achievement or success, that my friends and family generally dismiss. I think.
(2) Realizing, of course, that law school and the practice of law requires you to specialize, to various degrees, in some small area. I'm coming to terms with the fact that there aren't a lot of professions these days that allow you to make a difference on a large scale, but at least I hope to make a difference in whatever small area I finally find myself in, and I think law will allow me to do that more than many other things.

Posted 11:09 PM | law school

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