November 18, 2009
26 miles 385 yards
At some point someone told me that law school was a marathon not a sprint. As I approach finals again, I think I have come to view law school as a series of intense sprints strung together to make up a marathon. As I entrench myself in the process of writing briefs, memorizing black letter law, outlining notes that are often indecipherable, and complaining about life (or the lack thereof) in general, I sometimes ask myself, “where is this going?” I think of Pheidippides who finished his (the first) marathon and promptly dropped dead. I must confess that, at times, I feel that I will get through law school, utter the borrowed phrase “I have won,” and occupationally and emotionally expire.
Part of the problem, I suppose, is that, unlike a lot of people I meet in school, I don’t know what it is I want to do when I finish. I look with envy on the certainty that some of my friends have about where they are going, or where they hope to go, when they graduate. All of their decisions seem so directed and clear; they know what classes they want to take; they know what activities and internships to pursue; they know which professors and alumni to target for networking. I, on the other hand, find myself immersed in whatever is in front of me at the moment. Yesterday, I was deep into my Appellate Ad. brief and the idea of appeals work seemed possible. Today I am outlining Property, and land use or real-estate law doesn’t appear that bad. Tomorrow I have to work on Con. Law, and I’m sure that civil rights litigation will look plausible. Without that light of conviction shining on some far off aspiration, I find myself, particularly at the end of a semester, mired in the here-and-now focus on rules and tests and uncertainty.
Strangely, just when law school starts to feel very grey and colorless, something will happen which allows for a little radiance, which brings me back to why I ended up here after all. Last year, in the fall, I was lucky enough to see Frank Langella in A Man for All Seasons. At first, when we got the tickets, I was too busy, too stressed and thought I might skip it, but my wife convinced me I needed a break. During the play, Thomas More, a man who will not compromise his principles and who places a tremendous value and trust in the law, has the following exchange with Roper, a man whose beliefs seem to shift with any unpopular tide. They are arguing about the importance of respecting the law.
Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Looking at the exchange on paper it’s hard to imagine the passion and fervor behind the lines, but I as I left the theater I reconnected with the feeling of wanting to be a lawyer.
Recently in Con. Law we were assigned Justice Brandies’ dissent in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927). I sat at my desk, harassed with the million things I needed to do, disappointed with my lack of time and focus, feeling as if law had become wading through too heavy textbooks and divining the perfect placement of commas and italics in overly formulaic citations. Frankly, I was in a testy mood, and then I read this:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty … [T]hey knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.
Id. at 375.
I was dumbfounded and not a little embarrassed. It’s hard to hold onto petty complaints when faced with something so profoundly inspired.
When I read something like this, or see (even in a play) the passionate belief in the rightness of the rule of law, or watch a “wise Latina” refuse to be provoked by small-mindedness, the rules of easements and servitudes are still maddeningly mysterious, the blue-book is still consistently impenetrable, and finding a career is still beyond my ken. Yet it doesn’t matter so much. As I sprint through my marathon I find myself sustained by these bright flashes -- the connection the law can make to the better angels of our nature. In the moments of academically just putting one foot in front of the other with any end far out of sight, that can be enough to push me forward.
2L Day (Class of 2011)
Hastings, New York
BA in English from Columbia University
Pace Law Review, and Advanced Appellate Advocacy