Lawyers and Literature
James R. Elkins

Exercise 1-5 | Making Yourself a Subject of Study

In legal education, the primary focus is on what you learn and your ability to perform certain kinds of skills: answering examination questions, legal analysis, brief writing, practicing the skills that lawyers use. While these skilled feats of mind are expected of a law student and form the basis of a professional identity and a competent professional, they may, ultimately be inadequate.

Being a student, a law student, engages more of who we are as persons than we would like to admit. The way a person expects to live out the lawyer story affects the way law is learned. Your values and beliefs, and the conflicts they create as you try to live them out, constitute a story that deserves attention.

In law school, you embark upon an educational endeavor that turns out to be more than simply education, and by almost every account, more than what might crassly be called professional training. In short, legal education and professional life involve one's self in the most profound ways. It is difficult, if not impossible, to go through law school, to become a lawyer, without confronting difficult and sometimes confusing questions:

What am I doing in law school? What did I give up to come to this place? Is it worth it? Am I getting enough out of it to justify the sacrifices I am making? What am I actually learning? Will I be a good lawyer? How does one learn to be a good lawyer?

These questions suggest that to make yourself a subject of study, you must engage in reflection and introspection. We might begin by looking at the term introspection. It derives from a Latin root meaning to look inside, to examine what one is thinking, to engage in an examination of one's thought process and experience. Reflection means the act of directing ones thoughts back upon oneself.

Introspection and reflection illuminate, in literary critic Robert Scholes's terms, "the nature of our own confinements and possibilities."

It is important to develop a sense of who you are as a person, even as you struggle to become a lawyer and take on a Legal Mind. The effort to learn the law, solve legal problems, and utilize lawyering skills requires the development of a searching mind; attention to detail and form; perseverance and the desire to get things done right; detachment and objectivity; acquisition of performative skills; and, finally, a moral/ethical sensibility. From this rather short list, it is possible to see that becoming a lawyer demands a great deal; it can demand all one has to give. And in some cases, it may demand more than we can deliver.


The Vantage Point of the Self in Jurisprudence:
"In all matters that involve looking at and trying to influence aspects of the social process, the ultimate instrument of both observation and choice is--you, the individual personality or the self-system, those interactive elements that operate within a person and that influence perception and choice.

Two points are of major importance here. The first--involving vantage--is the need to view things not as a member of the group or the community you are observing but as someone disengaged and separate from it. This is, of course, a way of thinking, not an actual physical withdrawal. . . .

A second point of importance is the need to observe yourself as the instrument of observation and choice. All of us are subject to a variety of influences and conditionings which determine the way we view and choose and which have the potential for distorting both of those actions. There are three potential sources of distortion: (i) emotional and sometimes neurotic tendencies which exist in all human beings; (ii) parochial tendencies which are a result of acculturation within groups, nations and language systems and to which we are all prone; and, finally (iii) the distortions which derive from intense training within certain institutional settings, for example training in the law. For each of these, the responsible decisionmaker or appraiser should develop methods for scrutinizing the self-system and determining the extent to which emotional tendencies, sub-group parochialisms or institutional biases are distorting or skewing observation and choice." [W. Michael Reisman & Aaron M. Schreiber, Jurisprudence: Understanding and Shaping Law--Cases, Readings, Commentary 13 (New Haven, Connecticut: New Haven Press, 1987)]


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