Sunday, July 24, 2005

I might know the law

Here's a fantastic piece I found about a 3l at Haaaaaaaavaaaaad who is exactly the kind of brilliant, self-effacing individual I would expect to find occasionally at such a school; someone who doesn't buy into the mythology surrounding the profession, or the intellectual potty-training we call law school.


But it turns out that the assumptions just aren’t true. And so we carry around our secret, a little bit ashamed, a little bit amused, a little bit concerned, a little bit puzzled, a little bit resigned, and a little bit angry.

Here it is: I don’t know any law.

That’s an overstatement, but not by much. I don’t know that I really thought about it before I started law school, but I feel like I must have assumed I’d graduate having more of a clue than I do. I’ve been noticing more and more lately. People cut you some slack when you say you’re just a student, but you tell them you’re about to graduate and they expect Perry Mason. After watching a segment on The Daily Show last week, I had a conversation with a friend about whether they would be allowed to film on the Harvard campus without permission. Neither of us had any idea. I have no clue what the difference between robbery, burglary, larceny, theft, and just plain stealing are. My cousin is a teacher. She asked me whether it’s legal to handcuff her students. I mean, it sounds illegal... but is that really a more informed answer than I would have given three years ago?

I plugged the words “what every lawyer should know” into Google. I found pages that tell me what every lawyer should know about today’s paralegal, what every lawyer should know about computer forensics, what every lawyer should know about electronic evidence and discovery, what every lawyer should know about the Florida code of judicial conduct, what every lawyer should know about reciprocal discipline, what every lawyer should know about title surveys, what every lawyer should know about the Plain English rules, what every lawyer should know about representing deaf clients, what every lawyer should know about winning and defeating summary judgments, what every lawyer should know about crop insurance, what every lawyer should know about Texas residential landlord/tenant law, what every lawyer should know about brain injuries, what every lawyer should know about lurking liability in business practice, what every lawyer should know about the role of psychologists in custody cases, what every lawyer should know about parliamentary procedure, what every lawyer should know about about anti-SLAPP motions under Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16, what every lawyer should know about trips and slips on public sidewalks, what every lawyer should know about minimizing and responding to attacks on corporate information infrastructures, and much, much more. I don’t know anything at all about any of these things, and can’t imagine too many of my classmates do. Yet we’re all going to be law school graduates very shortly (barring any disasters in the upcoming weeks). And if we pass the bar, we could actually represent clients. Yikes. If I was a client, I would not want me as a lawyer. Sorry.

It all makes me start to wonder about doctors. Now that I know what we know after law school, I have to ask – how much medicine do doctors know after medical school? Do they have to run into their offices after every patient and look up the difference between the kidney and the spleen? Do they need to double-check the number of toes we’re supposed to have? Are they not quite certain what color healthy phlegm is really supposed to be? It’s frightening if they know as little about medicine as I know about what’s legal and what’s not. Then again, they’re dealing with life and death. We’re only dealing with freedom and justice. So who cares?

But you know what? It’s okay. I’m cool with it. Because here’s what I’ve learned in three years of law school. We can all find the law. What I can do that I couldn’t before law school is make the arguments. I can make stuff up that sounds credible enough. I can make my uncle think I know what I’m talking about when I tell him it’s illegal to buy milk on Tuesdays. I can make my grandma think I’m serious when I tell her giving a tin of brownies to her friend without charging is a violation of the antitrust laws. I can use big words, compound words, Latin words to make stuff up. And if they know I go to Harvard Law School, they believe me. This is an awesome power, and I waste it by telling my mom she’ll forfeit her U.S. citizenship if she makes an illegal U-turn, or telling a friend that you’re allowed to steal cable as long as you file the right paperwork with the local public library. We have the tools at our disposal to say anything, and have people believe us. It’s crazy.
Of course here at Empire college, which embarassingly enough is attached to a nursing school and an IT school (I actually think they aren't even nurses, they are nursing assistants, who by the way, are all about three hundred pounds and smoke like a chimney) although a superior court annex as well, we have actual lawyers teaching us. We may not be able to engage in an esoteric discussion on the vagaries of the commerce clause and the slaughterhouse cases, but people like me who CAN aren't really highly regarded. People who go to Harvard make public policy. People who go to empire, if they are lucky, get a public defender position or a good salary and develop a clientele. They end up in litigation over a tree stump bought for it's quality of wood after the tree it was attached to landed on the house and the company who sawed the tree down didn't get paid by the company from down south who discovered the wood wasn't such high quality. I'm not making this shit up. Is that bad or good? I don't know. I probably should have gone to Harvard but was more interested in wandering around the woods for a decade or so and didn't grow up until now. Assuming I have.

Public policy, esoteric arguments are cool. But I understand where 3l is coming from. I'm not sure how much I know either.


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