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September 09, 2004

So You Say You Want A Resolution

Two recent events in my life. The first, I'm beginning to realize how grumpy I've been. Maybe it was leaving Japan to come back here to work. Maybe it's the tension of balancing law review and my workload and interviewing and... and... and... (okay, deep breaths). Or maybe it's the screeches of both sides in the presidential election, and the almost physical psychic tension of the Republican Convention in New York. But whatever, the more cheerful, humorous character who used to write things like the case brief to Freddy v. Jason hasn't been heard from recently.

Secondly, I've been reading Chesterton's classic Orthodoxy, just a little each night. Some of it is joyful, while other parts make me want to scream with frustration. Chesterton never met a paradox he didn't like or a contradiction he couldn't reconcile. In an aphorism this is admirable, but it can make for quite a heavy writing style when it extends across a book. Sometimes I want to shake my fists at the heavens and yell, "G.K., if life were really such a paradox, no man could ever boil an egg. He'd get stuck wondering whether he was letting the yolk from the shell into the universe, or whether the universe was in some perverse sense actually inside the egg breaking out into the yolk. He'd never just crack the damn thing."

Nonetheless, there's such a good-spiritedness to his apology for Christianity that I can't stop reading it. Some of this just boils down to the kind of man he was, as described in the introduction by Philip Yancey:

Chesterton cheerfully engaged in public debates with agnostics and skeptics of the day, most botably George Bernard Shaw--this at a time when a debate on faith could fill a lecture hall. Chesterton usually arrived late, peered through his pince-nez at his disorderly scraps of paper, and proceeded to entertain the crowd, making nervous gestures, fumbling through his pockets, leaughing heartily in a falsetto voice at his own jokes. Typically he would charm the audience over to his side, then celebrate by hosting his chastened opponent at the nearest pub. "Shaw is like the Venus de Milo; all there is of him is admirable," he toasted his friend affectionately.

Cosmo Hamilton, one of his debating opponents, described the experience,

To hear Chesterton's howl of joy...to see him double himself up in an agony of laughter at my personal insults, to watch the effect of his sportsmanship on a shocked audience who were won to mirth by his intense and peahen-like quarks of joy was a sight and a sound for the gods...and I carried away from that room a respect and admiration for this tomboy among dictionaries, this philosophical Peter Pan....It was monstrous, gigantic, amazing, deadly, delicious.

When I turned thirty this weekend, this was the passage I read and re-read in the morning: the laughing patriot and the joyful footsoldier. That spirit ran through everything the man wrote, and has probably done more to win me towards his views than any particular argument he ever mustered. And yet looking back on what I've scribbled down here and elsewhere recently, my own ability to access that sort of style and to see the world through mirthful eyes has diminished precipitously.

It's too tempting to get annoyed at some ill-made political argument or to curse an IT system when it falls flat and refuses to send my email. It's too easy to get aggrieved when some non-torrential rain shuts down the 1/9 train downtown and makes me late for a major interview. Sometimes when I'm shaking my fist at the heavens, it's not to issue mild rebukes to dead poets.

And that's a shame. One of Chesterton's best maxims, that "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered," used to grace my wall. A lot of this initial 2L year has been wrongly-considered recently: not that I've done anything spectacularly wrong as such, but I've certainly not looked at it with the spirit it deserves.

Anyway, let's see if we can change that. This is the beginning of my thirties, and as good a time for a change as any other. Maybe I won't have a pair of pince-nez and a huge belly to match my literary mentor. (Then again, there's a new freshman in the building who does wear pince-nez, and the sedentary lawyer lifestyle makes girth an easy option.) But I can at least borrow his rose-tinted spectacles every once in a while. Life all too often seems too short not to do so.

In the meantime, there's a few people I'd like to thank belatedly for their contributions over the last few days:

  • Thank you to all my friends who, in some way or another, helped me celebrate my thirtieth last weekend, in the midst of callbacks and classes and starting reviews.
  • Thank you to PG and Chris, who sent good wishes from afar.
  • And thank you to my family. I couldn't make it back this year over the Labor Day weekend, but I've been told my brother (a bartender par excellence, besides his other business skills) mixed drinks for a toast. Hope you had a Manhattan for me, brother o' mine.

September 24, 2003

Legal Depression

Probably because it's the beginning of my first year, and I'm not really 'assimilated' into the culture of law yet, I'm being struck by a few observations. The foremost of these is that, at least by all appearances, lawyers may be a generally wealthy group, and may, on average, be smarter than their peers, but they do not seem to be a happy lot.

With the single exception of The Civ Pro Blogger, I don't know of a single practicing young lawyer (not in pro bono work or with some burning issue driving them) who would consider themselves mostly happy with their work, surely not enough to wax lyrical about it. It's a matter of legend (though I could probably provide blog references if I weren't up to my eyeballs) that people working at Big New York Law Firms are depressed and overstressed corporate drones. One young female lawyer who serves as a role model for me has, I've found out, decided to take a retreat to a Buddhist monastery this summer to get away from it all. (So that's why there weren't many emails.) On a slightly more academic level, one of the better pieces in Looking Back on Law's Century discusses in great detail the low level of job satisfaction endemic in the profession.

This doesn't bother me too greatly on a personal level: I have my own reasons for going to law school and becoming a lawyer, and whatever the problems, it serves my needs. But it does make me wonder why a lot of very intelligent people have managed to develop a system that makes them, at the same time, almost unjustifiably wealthy and yet certainly not proportionately happy.

While I'm learning about Civ Pro, Torts, Contracts, and Criminal Law, I also want to spend some time wondering about why we've set up the profession this way, and what can be done to change it. So far as I can tell, for all the pro bono craziness that goes on in this place, it might not be a new Kuntsler or Cardozo who's needed. Perhaps, and it's just a thought, the greatest public good might be done by a new Hammurabi or Solon, particularly with a bent towards making the practice of law more humane not just for society as a whole, but for the profession itself.

If anyone has any suggestions for places to look for more information on this topic, it would be appreciated.

Update: One of my fellow 1Ls was discussing the 'morale' at the law school with me the other day. I was reminded of a P. J. O'Rourke saying that I can't quote directly, but it's from Give War a Chance. Roughly, he said, "Asking about morale is talking about how well things are going when they're not really going well at all. No one asks about the morale of a good drunken orgy or a summer picnic."

Thanks go out to anyone who can provide me with the proper quote.

Update II: I should probably point out before I get any further responses that the depression referred to in the title of this post is not mine, but a general depression I'm sensing in the profession.

Update III: I have been advised to read On Being A Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhealthy, Unhappy, and Unethical Profession by Patrick J. Schiltz, which seems to be quite a comprehensive law review piece. So far as I can see, it's good advice.

July 27, 2003

Blogging, Boundaries, and Guilty Voyeurism

I've spent the day doing two things:

a) Trawling from one blog to another to another, starting from a friend's site and wandering off. The blogosphere is an enormously diverse place, even disturbingly so. Through this seven-clicks-of-separation voyage I've wandered across marriages, divorces, a stripper in Minnesota and a guy pondering what to have for lunch.

It's bizarre. You'll note that there's not very much of a personal nature on this site, and that's likely to remain: this is a 'professional' blog, of sorts, and open to all. If I were keeping this as an online diary, I'd want to use something with better security, like Livejournal, where I could at least restrict my audience somewhat.

As it is, there's something of the creepy voyeur to bouncing about the net like that. As a friend of mine back in the UK used to say, "The Internet: bringing people together by keeping them in little rooms far apart."

b) I was considering blogging a response to Professor Solum's major entries on stare decisis, in which I proposed that a lottery by the President to determine which Supreme Court opinion would become the decision of the Court in any given case would work better to promote judicial formalism. Then I discovered that I'd done my numbers wrong and would have looked dumb if I posted it. Still, it was a fun thought, and I still think Professor Solum's second game setup is incorrect in assuming that both a textualist and a realist will derive the same benefit from a strong and consistent rule of law.

June 08, 2003

Some initial resolutions

Only about a month and a half until I travel to New York. I think it's time I make some resolutions. Of course, sheer inexperience suggests that many of these may be wrong, or even impossible, resolutions, but I think you should start out with goals. We'll start with seven.

1. I will keep up with the reading. Every law student I've talked to has told me that this is the most important thing about first year law. While I'll follow the same triage system I used at Oxford ('what's really important, and what can I skip?') the goal is 100% of the reading list covered.

2. I will keep within my budget. Believe it or not, I think this will be more difficult than (1). New York is an expensive city (though not as expensive as Tokyo) and I'm out of the habit of sacrificing for student life. Still, I'm working on putting together a budget and I should be able to keep to it. Working in the library costs nothing.

3. I will not take this too seriously. On the one hand, I want to treat Columbia as a chance to be at my most competitive, working with people who I'm pretty certain are better than me at many of the important skills of the legal profession. On the other hand, I know how easy it is to drive oneself into the ground over 'failures' that are actually pretty successful. We'll see how it goes, but I don't intend to kill myself for a diploma.

4. I will keep an open mind. Even more than Oxford, Columbia is pretty legendary for its leftward-leaning tendencies. Whenever National Review does a piece on conservative newspapers being stolen and the administration doing nothing, etc. etc., Columbia is usually the first or second school mentioned. It's difficult not to think 'I'm going into enemy territory.'

But this would be nonsense. And if my beliefs about liberty and the limitation of government aren't up to that kind of challenge, then I shouldn't be there.

5. I will see New York. After five years in Europe, I'm shocked at how little I actually travelled, how little I actually went ahead and tried to discover. While I'm in the Big Apple, I promise I'm going to go see Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and all the stupid 'tourist' things. After all my years in Oxford, I never went to the top of Carfax Tower, and I refuse to repeat that mistake.

6. I will do things that require my Japanese skills. This shouldn't be that hard, if only because Columbia has the Center for the Study of Japanese Law. But I've promised this before, and yet every translation I do this summer ends up being a 'refresher' course of some kind. Not again.

7. I will not get stuck in the 'professional' mindset. The idea of 'professions', jobs which you cannot practice unless you've had a certain minimum amount of training and passed some monopolistic examination held by other members of the profession, has always smacked of medieval guilds to me. I know people who are very proud to be 'professionals', and it's sparked all sorts of nonsense. The business fraternity at the University of Alabama considered itself a 'professional' fraternity when it was nothing of the sort--you don't need a license to practice business, and a bloody good thing that is, too.

In the end, while I'll keep an open mind, I'm still fairly convinced that 'professions' are market-restrictive practices, and that if it weren't for the close linkage between politicians and lawyers, the Bar would have died away years ago. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, and I'll take pride in doing a good job, but I have no intention of getting big-headed for becoming a 'professional.'

Giving The Devil His Due

So You Say You Want A Resolution (4)
Len Cleavelin wrote: Belated birthday wishes; sorry I mi... [more]

Legal Depression (31)
hudi wrote: I am a 2l I finished in top 11% of... [more]

Blogging, Boundaries, and Guilty Voyeurism (4)
A. Rickey wrote: Yep, and from there I think it led ... [more]

Some initial resolutions (9)
JCA wrote: I'm of two minds on the "chill out,... [more]

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