Friday, November 04, 2005

A Lawyer Walks Into A Bar...

(Jack McCoy, Assistant District Attorney for NYC)

Lawyer jokes have been an enduring comedic phenomenon for centuries. The opportunity to profit from exigent cirumstances, posit wildly improbable but possible theories, and act legally instead of morally are all valid justifications for such. I never really found any of them persuasive, however. The common law system that we have inherited functions only because of the adversarial context and our shared belief that we would rather a guilty man go free than an innocent man face prison time. If we did not provide the most morally depraved and culpable among us with the due process, we begin to slip down a slope where people are not treated equally under the law. Lawyers make the system work. Shakespeare's famous line from the Henry VI is frequently and unfortunately misquoted. The call to 'kill the lawyers' is a backhanded compliment, in fact. The suggestion was proposed by a group of rebels as a way to rid themselves of capable advocates of their adversaries.

Cool? Or, I guess you could go ahead distrusting the profession...until you find yourself in need of its services. In which case, I bill by the hour.

So, in that line, I'd have to say that criminal prosecution is where I see myself at this point (at least for the coming summer). There are so many panels and discussions around here concerning 'prison reform' this and 'legal aid' that. Is there something wrong with actually punishing criminals? There's a reason why so many prosecutors and district attorneys shift from the practice of law into lawmaking. Being tough on crime is generally a popular label with the people - and it sits well with me too. I would love to sit Martha's ass in jail for obstruction, Libby's smugness in the hole for perjury, and the Juice in the can for Murder with a capital M. There is something right and just about these pursuits. I definitely want to experience them first hand. Jack McCoy knows what I'm talking about.

Working for the public interest isn't something that is all too popular here. 2 out of 3 graduates go on to work for large, prestigious faceless law firms for a starting salary of $125K. That's hard to turn down, especially if you have student loans to pay off. I don't blame the culture here. But, I would blame myself if I fell into that track because it is easy and typical. One 3L told me that a pulse and a degree will get you that kind of bank. That's great. But, how else would you define a sell-out than as someone who blindly chases money at the expense of their principle interests and desires? I won't let that happen to me. I can't. If it makes sense for me down the road, that's a different story altogether. But, I know already that I need to find a career that pays in more ways than the bottom line.


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