My first week working here, I got a kind email from a longtime ATL reader. He welcomed me to the team and asked for a small favor — he wanted me to turn ATL’s comment section back on. Not only did it occasion a good chuckle (the answer to reinstating the comment section was and will remain no), it perked my ears and sights for chances to get real time comments and questions about the legal community at large. And where better to look than Reddit, the front page of the internet?
On r/LawSchool, u/Newlawyermoney asked:
How important is morality and social responsibility to you with regard to your practice? I’m a 2nd year healthcare corporate/M&A attorney and sometimes feel it conflicts with my desire to do good in the world.
They are far from the first lawyer or law student to ask someone else how much a dollar cost. I remember being in one of those three-credit interim negotiations roleplaying classes your law school makes you take a couple years ago. I don’t remember the exact details of the conflict but I know the gist — Money McMoneyson had a legal problem and I had just the know-how to make it evaporate. For him, it would be a few pennies, for me, a world of difference. The simulation was a joy. I’ve been many a teacher’s bane since Pre-K. I liked talking back as a kid and the intellectual prodding continued well into an undergraduate debate career — the JD is just the recent proof of a longstanding commitment to rhetoric and sophistry. I’ve read my Robert Greene and my 3D Negotiation — it all came together in the simulation such that I did not achieve my client’s goals. I surpassed them. And it felt good. Very good. Until I realized what I did. Even though it was just a simulation, I got that yucky feeling in my stomach. Some viscous element of the experiment got stuck in my skull and I just had to ask the teacher about it. How do people go about doing this, like actually doing this, everyday? She felt my concern and responded with an “everyone deserves representation” response which mind you, is all some folks need. But the unease didn’t pass. Responding to OP’s question, u/greengirl213 responded with this gem:
If you are feeling like it is conflicting with your moral compass, it doesn’t matter how other people feel. A lot of people (and a lot of lawyers) see themselves as just cogs in the system, and that the system will exist whether they participate or not. One of my best friends worked at a major law firm in NYC after graduating from law school and after about 5 years, she had to leave. She felt like every day she went into work and helped make insanely rich people richer, defend even richer people from being held accountable, and just generally did not feel like her work was having a positive impact. She works at a non-profit now and is happier than ever. She said every day she wakes up excited to go to work and even when things don’t go her way, she can go to bed at night knowing that she’s making a difference, even if it is a tiny one. This was really eye opening for me (when she told me about this) and therefore, morality & social responsibility is #1 on my list of priorities with regards to where I want to work. Everyone has a different calculus.
This is a hell of an answer. One in that it poignantly gets at the heart of a complicated ethical and pragmatic problem. Also in that it rebounds the question onto the asker. It’s one of those perennial questions that sprouts back up, be it because your reflection catches your eye in a way it usually doesn’t after you finally submit that complaint on behalf of a sketchy client or, you know, a country decides to invade another country. But it’s an important one to mull and ruminate over when it presents itself.
Is it a question you think about often? How satisfied are you with how you answered it? Let me know at email@example.com. Answers will be anonymous unless you request otherwise. Let’s figure it out together.
How important is morality and social responsibility to you with regard to your practice? I’m a 2nd year healthcare corporate/M&A attorney and sometimes feel it conflicts with my desire to do good in the world. [Reddit]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.
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