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For all the bites I have taken at the law, I always maintained the belief that most of that tar-mountain called What’s Wrong goes back to the attitude some people take when first entering law school, attitudes whose implicit cynicism will shape the next three years instead of the growth-oriented converse. That in mind, I snared embryonic law students to find out why almost real people go to that almost real place, law school. Susan is 26 and was as honest with me as to her motivations as she is with herself. “I need money so my family has stability and security. My dad had a ‘minor stroke’ last fall — don’t you love how doctors euphemize? — and it occurred to me that my brothers, much as I love them, are in no position to take care of themselves or each other if something happened to my folks.” “Didn’t you say you’re the youngest?” “Only in years. I feel a responsibility to make sure the family will be OK no matter what happens. With law school, I’m just three years away from $120,000.” “So it’s a necessary means to a noble end.” “That’s what every career is. I actually feel more comfortable with law school because I won’t be the only one thinking this way. You can’t tell your study buddies in med school you’re there for the money. In law school, that’s almost the only thing you can tell them.” “So there’s no good or bad here, just a family to take care of.” “I’m not itching to defend kiddie-porn rings. But I’m not out to change the world either. If I thought I could leave this world with brothers who could take care of themselves, I’d choose something based on my preferences — a real luxury.” “It’s funny. A lot of doctors, priests and artists say they hear a calling. The few lawyers who do are more — “ ” — the crusader type, right? I hear a calling, but it has to do with family.” There’s no arguing with Susan. Two generations ago, the family lamb would work in a factory for his or her kin’s food, shelter and enough crates to sleep on. Now widespread education affords those with the will the opportunity to take care of their entire family, now sleeping on the cushion of a higher tax bracket. I changed my tack. “Do people in a position of new power gain new moral responsibilities?” “I won’t appreciate what you say. My moral responsibility is my family. It’s going to be hard enough. The law has been around for a long time and I don’t think it’s going to be any different for my having been there. “My family will never be one thing for my being here — desperate — no matter what it takes.” Charles is inspired by his kind of love. At 25, he has his degree and his convictions and not much else. “I used to teach English all over the world. That was my life — six months at a time. When I got to Brazil, I found the perfect life. I lived in a tree house in the rain forest and slept in a hammock. I worked 20 hours a week and had all the money I needed for all the drugs and books I could consume. It was heaven in every way.” “And now you’re going to law school.” We both laughed. “And you want to know why. It was perfect, that little world I lived in. But that’s just it: it’s not such a little world. I taught English in Turkey, in El Salvador, in China, in Armenia. And you know what? Not killing people being a bad thing? That’s still up in the air in most of the world. How about not torturing animals by dropping them alive in boiling oil to cook them? That’s lunch. And fencing off toxic waste so it won’t kill those little kids until they’re adults? That’s an inconvenience. “I’m not a pansy liberal from the fluffy burbs waving his pamphlets like little flags of agenda. I’m not some clown-ass moralist asking people to recycle so I and they can feel that advertised sense of self-righteous pride for fifteen minutes. This isn’t the hell you look for. This is most of the world happening every damn day. It’s reality. I could either live in my bubble and ignore the world I knew was happening or I could do something about it.” “And the law is your way to change things?” “The point of a J.D. is the sudden power it brings you. I have to work from the inside.” “Shove that theory into that practice!” “I’m OK with people not loving their mothers. I’m OK with people not paying their taxes. I’m OK with senators getting laid with my tax dollars. Those issues are flopping red herrings until what explodes me meets a human standard.” “Will doing this make you happy?” “Sure, but … you don’t get it. Even that can’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether I’ll feel satisfaction or believe in what I’m doing. Don’t you see? It’s war. War. This hell has succumbed to the blas�; people will dismiss this article like any another hollow statistic. Well not me. I didn’t dismiss a thing. Feeling bad accomplishes as much as feeling nothing. I’m not even going to waste my energy hoping someone reads my words and gets inspired. Everyone knows what I know, knows it goes on around the world, everyday, right … now. I knew it, too. But I saw it, and that made all the difference.” Charles never said it, but he suddenly illuminated law school as one large choice of what to do with sudden power. After three hard years, everyone comes out powerful in a way they never would be, coming out of medical or business school. Many simply accrete to the well worn path of power satisfying its own interests. You don’t even have to be conscious to make that choice: just follow the money … until you become it. Eric turned 30 and now feels it’s time to do … something. “I was leading a pretty chill life reading gas meters. I’d wake up, get a buzz on and start work at 10 for $16 an hour, plus benefits. There was no hardship in my life. I had all the freedom in the world and no responsibilities.” “In other words, Goldmund, you felt lost and depressed after a year.” “Two years; I have a lust for leisure. I decided that I needed to do something with my life.” “Law school is the apotheosis of somethings. Make your miscellaneous dreams come true.” “Well that’s part of the reason I’m going: to find out why I’m going.” Eric always had a wonderful sense of logic. But he also represents the most common version of the seeking-to-seek 1L: someone who wants direction more than they care which direction that is. “Does it matter what you do?” “In a way, no. Because no matter what I do, I’ll be doing something. And that something I’m sure to find.” “But this is your career we’re talking here.” “I’m not looking for a cure-all. I’m 30 years old, and I haven’t a clue what I want to do with my life. Pathetic, isn’t it? Law school is just going to be another game; the only rule is you have to play.” “Do you think playing law school will help you find what you want?” “I’m just trying to cure how I live by living differently. If the problem is nothing, the answer is anything. The problem with freedom is it’s too enjoyable to use it what it’s for: exploring. I enjoyed it like just another drug.” “Now having a purpose is your new drug?” “It’s just as seductive. Having any purpose eclipses the fact that this may be the wrong one.” “But you’re going through with this!” “I’m going to remember that this is a game, and I’ll try to remember not to get too sucked in.” “You’re selling out to Father Time!” “At some point, everyone surrenders and becomes a real person with real responsibilities. I’m just getting real, and all your romance doesn’t have an answer to that.” While I had been waiting for Eric at the restaurant, I overheard two women debating whether one of them should accept a recent marriage proposal. Although she had her doubts, she had just turned 30; now “was no time to be picky.” I think people get nervous about turning 30 because that is when they feel compelled to make big choices — even stupid choices. “You won’t be happy. All your purpose can’t answer my romance.” “Being practical means not having to have that kind of answer. That’s what people are practical for.” Every year more and more people matriculate to law school with reasons ranging from family obligations to genuine conviction to confused nebulousness. Once inside the game, they are all on the same path, one so consuming, it’s frequently hard to remember how or why one got where he did. A journey of a thousand miles may start with that first step, but none of the rest will ever be the same. If they scare you to death your first year and then work you to death the next, it’s hard not to forget that the reason you’re in law school is just that — the reason you are there at all. It matters whether you want to make a difference, make money, or just make anything. It matters whether you know what you want or want to find something or just want to find anything. The way you enter determines a career that encompasses your morals and life choices just as it does your income and living choices. No one questions the forty-year-old staring out his window, Vodka Gimlet in hand, mid-life crisis out of hand, wondering how and why he got to the hollowed nowhere that he is. Everyone just agrees to hope they won’t become him with an ambiguity matched only by their reasons for going to law school. Free-lancer Mitch Artman, who lives and writes in New York, is a frequent contributor to law.com. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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