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My whole life I’ve eavesdropped on conversations. It’s not hard to do — I can even do it among Spanish-speakers. I’m very disarming that way. Who would suspect? And so it was that I came to listen in on two Cuban law students in the subway: “Crap, Professor Hayden keeps asking for extraneous research for this project. He wants me to learn things that have nothing to do with this article. The invasions of privacy some of the anti-terrorist legislation is gonna bring don’t matter to the topic. Getting my article into the journal matters. We can write this IP article without mentioning personal privacy or public policy. All I need is to point to my published name as a reason for a firm to hire me and not their other token minority candidate. He’s making this harder than it really needs to be. Crap. Meanwhile, Hayden keeps trying to get me excited about his field. What a sadist! He knows I’m only doing this for my resum�. Why can’t he be happy if I do a good job without learning?” “Oye, chico. You and I both know Hayden is a freak that way. He wants everyone to care about the law as much as he does. Just give him his satisfaction by acting like you’re interested. No big deal.” “Mira. It is a big deal. This guy was once a law student. He knows the game. He should know my job is to do things I don’t like so I can put them on my resum�. That’s what a resum� is: showing your ability to excel at something you have no interest in but has great practical value. That’s how they’ll know I’ll make such a good lawyer. [Laughter.]“ They got off, and I followed them. “Entonces … What do you want the guy to do?” “Look, law school is just one big means. Right now it’s hiring season in an economy that’s suddenly going to crap thanks to the new-and-improved Crusades. I’m just trying to get my gravy train firm job. OCI is now, and that’s what matters and that’s all that matters. No need to pretend otherwise. Accept that or get out.” Big deal. I always thought that, on some level, a lot of law students looked at law school as a series of unhappy means to some enigmatic payday end. But hey, that’s why I’m jaded instead of making bank. I did, however, want confirmation, and figured truth would rear its head if I just asked honest lawyers what made them happy and unhappy. It was 12:30 in the afternoon, and I just knew I could find plenty of lawyers in the three bars on this downtown block. On the way, I wondered whether it was a coincidence that there are three law offices on this same block … At the first bar sat a lone man with perfectly manicured hands and nicotine-stained fingers draped around his martini. Though his movements were slow, his eyes followed everything in the room with a calm defensiveness and a posture that just couldn’t relax. Lawyer. Dan remembers his family’s home being foreclosed on when he was a child, yet he now wears a $20,000 Rolex. I asked him if it was worth it given that, unlike his opulent time-teller, my $20 Swatch wasn’t running two minutes behind. “You get to a point where you have so much money that you don’t quite know what you’re supposed to do with it — especially if you grew up without a lot of money, like I did. At the same time, you face as much stress as your clients, who are facing prison sentences for embezzlement. So you figure you should spend your superfluous sums … if you don’t have much time to spend it, enjoy it when you can on what you can.” “Do you enjoy your watch, Dan?” “That’s not the right question. Understand that if any of us in the office stop playing this game, the whispers will come. Understand that you have to have the right look, eat at the right places, et cetera ad nauseam. Same old story. You think my client will think I’m the winner who will get him off no matter what he did if he saw me wearing that Swatch thing? This Rolex is an investment that conveys my sense of power to my client and to the jury and definitely the judge. In my career, I consider my Rolex almost as important to my success than being bar-certified.” “How does it make you feel?” “Like a snake who can’t shed his skin.” Which got me wondering, “When you retire, will you wear it?” “No. I could do without the damn thing. I haven’t insured it and keep thinking some future client of mine is going to steal it.” Dan was already where the Cuban cynic wanted to be — rich and unhappy in the land of this means to that means to who knows what end. I asked Dan whether he had looked at law school as a grand means to the grunt end of being the type of lawyer that he is. “It was a way to support my family,” he explained to his vodka martini. “And to what end does being a lawyer bring you?” I asked. “Being a lawyer means — it’s not much of an end for most.” “When you win a case, is that justice?” “You can’t understand any of this by mixing those two contexts — winning and justice. Is it justice that I, who make ten times what the overworked prosecutors in this city do, consistently get my guy off? Is it justice that my having worked at the prosecutor’s office for thirteen years means I get sweeter deals on plea bargains than my colleagues who didn’t?” I gave it one more try. “But justice, I mean, justice. Isn’t that the end, not of you as an advocate but of the law as a whole?” “Let me preface by saying that I don’t think any one person out there understands the law. My take is that the law is this amalgamation of both lawyers opposing each other, and the decision of the court … the judge, the jury, the weeping widow in the front row and even the emotions of the defendant all coupled together. OK? Everything. Justice is the by-product of that big everything. “But the pieces that make up the whole do not facilitate the workings of the whole cooperatively. So they don’t really work as part of the whole. They work for themselves. As they’re supposed to in the adversarial system. “But if the law is the sum of all those parts, then the end of the law is the end of all those parts. If your suggestion that justice is the end of the law is right, then you’d have to understand justice as containing opposing and contradictory ends due to its opposing and contradictory parts. The end for me is that check, for the client, his freedom, and for the jury, to think that it came up with the right decision. The end for the prosecutor and defendant is winning, only winning entails diametrically opposed outcomes. Then we go home and figure, if it came out of a court, we may as well call it justice. “Understand that in all my years I never once met a guilty defendant who, having been convicted, felt he got justice. He just saw that he lost.” I wanted to counter that justice was about truth and not opposing agendas. But I think that by focusing on personal agenda instead of truth, Dan was trying to show more than tell that justice is nowadays construed in terms of agenda rather than truth. I thanked Dan and wished him an enjoyable retirement. Bar # 2, and I scan the suits to spot the lawyers. I find a pack with a fluid combination of profanity and SAT words; tight pronunciation, quick laughs and a nervous energy akin to a soldier on sentry duty the day before the war is supposed to end. These troops were all ASAs (Assistant State’s Attorneys) — Illinois’ prosecutorial pride. I asked them what I had asked Dan: If they believed that those Cuban embryonic lawyers were right, that those who spend their lives in the law are caught in a cycle of means with no real end. Will said that there is indeed an end for him in law that is not a means to something else. “Of course. See, I tote one of the highest batting averages [conviction rates] in the office. And every piece of garbage I get off the streets at some point in the trial undergoes a moment of truth and realizes: shit, this is it, I’m not going to get away with it. He truly understands that The System is going to put him away. Then the scum looks at me. I look at him. And my look tells him: You lowly f***, I’m the guy who did this to you.” As he talked, Will smiled like a child watching his magnifying-glass fire consume the anthill. The chill in the air made me down my Irish coffee. I proposed to Will that most lawyers do what they do because they think — or once thought — that the law functions as a means to make them happy in some way; or because the law was a means to fight for justice. So, was his carnivorous power trip making him happy or promoting justice? “Law as a system — from a large-scale perspective — cannot function towards justice. The resources disparity between those who benefit from the law and those who need help from it — sometimes because those benefitting from the law have them by the balls — is too great. Justice would be reconciling that resources disparity. “Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to recruit you for a battle for which they themselves cannot muster the energy or the succesful effort. As for happiness, whatever you garner is despite, and not through, the system … “ “And the look?” “As for giving the scum the look, that’s something I do to keep me going until the next trial.” “And then?” “And then I get to give the look again.” “Does that make you happy?” “Hm. Na�ve of you. Na�ve and not germane to this discussion. I can’t define my career in terms of happiness. The law isn’t about making you happy any more than it is about making you unhappy. It just doesn’t care about you. You don’t think of a successful career as one that made you happy per se. It’s about winning, just like it’s about winning for whomever my adversary is. Talk to a defense attorney and he’ll tell you the same thing.” “So that’s the end of being a lawyer? Just the winning?” “My thing is: I come in early. I stay late. Maybe I drink too much and maybe my health sucks. But I’m good at what I do. I may not enjoy my job as much as Sammy Sosa does, but I don’t care. I didn’t become a lawyer to be happy.” “Is there any justice?” “Any time I beat a lawyer making eight times what I do, that’s what I call justice. That may not necessarily be the just outcome, I admit. But I don’t define my trials in terms of justice attained per se. My function is to win. Nothing else matters. The court functions towards justice. I function towards winning.” “Justice is when you win?” “Justice is me doing my job, opposing counsel doing his job, and the jury figuring out who did their job.” I wondered whether justice had to be any more logical than Will. “You say you can’t give the look if you don’t win. But you don’t need to win for justice to happen, according to you. It doesn’t seem you can define your career in terms of justice anymore than you can happiness.” At this point Will made me admit that I had majored in philosophy as an undergrad and refused to continue the discussion. He was unjust and I was unhappy. If law is a series of means, what is the end? Justice for society in general? Happiness for the lawyer in particular? What are the means? Get the resum�. Get the power look for the right or wrong reasons. Get what you need to get the job done. For what, the power? Is it like Al Pacino said in “Scarface”? “First you get the sugar. Then you get the power. Then you get the women.” Is the law about a series of unhappy means to the happy end? As Will pointed out, justice has become a dynamic run by, and on, resources rather than truth. Happiness has become a sideshow that lawyers may not have the time or optimism to catch. For some lawyers, the ideologies of happiness in the personal sense and justice in the general one are a dying breed. Justice and the highest bidder go hand-in-hand like a tyrant pillaging his defeated enemy’s village. The cryptic clue is, if you can find “successful” lawyers so easily, where are all the happy lawyers? OK. You’re thinking: of course I found lawyers who had horrible things to say about the law (and me) if I only looked for diurnal drinkers. The happy lawyers aren’t getting tanked for lunch. I was terribly skewed in my selection of interviewees, right? Possibly. But my point is: they were very easy to find. Law is frustrating for those who entered it in the name of justice. Yet those who focus their lives on a mission they believe in are on the whole, satisfied. Law is almost never satisfying for those who entered it in the name of power. Power is like cocaine that way — you can never have enough. And cocaine, after all, makes one feel … powerful. The problem and solution to the joys and horrors of a legal career begin before trial, before the bar, before law school. The problems and solutions begin and end with the real reason a person went into law to begin with. The catch is, most of us don’t know why we entered to begin with. The point is, we’re here now. Free-lancer Mitch Artman lives and writes in Chicago.

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