Friday, May 23, 2008

The Choice of Law Analysis

Barely 1.22 quarters into law school, I'm already wrangling some tough professional choices. Primarily, what the hell I'm going to DO when I get out of here. A wise reader would counsel that I'm years away from needing to specialize, that a law school specialization doesn't have too much bearing on real-world employment, and that young lawyers switch practice areas all the time. And I would tell that reader to shut up and leave me alone, their advice is horrible. The way I see it, everything here is a step toward a professional life--a professional life I want to kick ass in. So what good does it do me to sit back and enjoy the ride, without some kind of rational goal in mind? And with a long August break and OCI's coming up, it's really none too soon to start thinking about my future practice.

I'm almost positive I want to do litigation. I think I've got a knack for logic and advocacy, and it's what I enjoy. So I've got that going for me, which is nice. But that determination is just the beginning. It's like saying, "Well, I'm pretty sure I want to be a professional athlete, now I just need to pick the MLB or NBA." (My excellent sports simile aside, don't pick me for your baseball or basketball team--you'll be disappointed)

I came to school with criminal law in mind, mainly due to some thinly disguised political aspirations and a general desire to see justice done. I'm sure a lack of knowledge about other practice areas was a part of it, too. I suppose I thought that once I got here and waded in, an angelic hand clothed in shining samite would reach through the mist, lightly touch my forehead, and divinely reveal my future career. Well, either the weird angel thing would happen or a great professor would give me a real love of their subject. The problem is, all my professors are talented, and I enjoy the material in all of my classes. And anyway, this is my decision, and shouldn't really reflect how good or interesting a professor was. So my universe of choices has expanded quite a bit as I delve into other areas.

So far I've got two solid contenders. Criminal law is still big for me, because it's hugely important to our society, and I've got some limited (but very positive) experience with it. But property law has kind of crept up. My grandparents had rental property and businesses as I was growing up, so I was always exposed to it. "Rent's due on the first" was a great truth I learned early on, right alongside "God is Good" and "Don't touch that, its hot." Whatever I go into, I'll probably have property on the side, so it'd be a natural area of practice. And believe it or not, I kind of get a kick out of it. One of my very favorite websites for a long time was the Denton County Central Appraisal District database. Is a normal person supposed to like digging through tax records, comparing random property values, and thinking about how his town is zoned? Maybe my odd sort of hobby and family legacy could be a career.

I can't pretend money's not a factor, either. A prosecutor does just fine, but it's tough to have a lake house and boat on that salary. Not to mention the fact that every time I see a disused piece of property, I've immediately got a hundred investment ideas for it. That stuff takes capital, so maybe this is another check in the property column. And the money's not just about me. Diana and I want kids, and we want them to be comfortable. And we want to give back, to our church, school, and community at large. Obviously the more you have the more you can give. I'm not even going to mention paying back loans, many because I don't want to think about how my school debt is likely to be more than our first two mortgages combined.

There is some time to think about these things, but it's running out faster than you might think. Maybe in August I'll volunteer for a firm or office that specializes in whatever I'm leaning away from at the time. That way I can either give that option a fighting chance, or put the final nail in its coffin. I've got places to go, folks, and no time to waste.

EDIT: As one of my more astute colleagues has pointed out, no, prosecution is not the only pursuit available in criminal law. It's just the opinion I happen to be looking at. All due respect to the defense bar.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Culture of Ownership

As anyone who has recently suffered through a conversation with me can tell you, Diana and I just moved into our new house. And I tell you what, I'm feeling downright patriotic about the whole thing. It might be the twenty-foot flagpole a previous owner installed out front, but I think there's more to it. Like, I don't know, Ward Cleaver.
The post-modernists made a big flap about the fifties, what I like to think of as the mullet decade. Business up front (a very straight-laced and even-keeled facade, economic prosperity), party in the back (Jack Kerouac, the beatniks, the Korean war, Bing Crosby beat his kids, and all those nasty little blips). And good TV folks like the Cleavers personified the business side of things, often disregarding reality to the point of ridiculousness. Ward Cleaver, in particular, was a god among men. A walking, talking American dream, leading his 2.5 kids (the dog had to count for something) boldly onward toward the promise and majesty of the American century. Sure the Cleavers and their ilk were a farce, a patent misrepresentation of middle America and a blatant disenfranchisement of the lower class. But it was a damn fine ideal, and it gave ya' something to believe in. And boy did we stick it to those commies. (let's just forget Southeast Asia)

More recently, when times were a bit more prosperous, the Bush administration tried to recapture some of the "American Dream" sentiment that served to placate the masses so well in the fifties and early sixties. The watch-words this time were "Culture of Ownership," and conjured up images of 200 million Ward Cleavers sitting in the den of their own home, smoking a pipe and reading the evening news. There are plenty of logical arguments for buying a house, like the tax break and excellent performance as a savings vehicle. But there's a power in the "Dream" rhetoric that reaches beyond all that, and I'm falling for it.

There's something primally satisfying (maybe primarily for men) about owning territory and carving out a place for your family to live. Sure our family is the two of us, two dogs, cat, a fish, and a guinea pig, but the idea's the same. A man's home is his castle, someone once said, and I'm diggin' it. Every splash of paint and every leaf of grass snipped is a "barbaric yawp" proclaiming my dominion. Every gutter cleaned or rosebush pruned is a bit of American pride shining bright into the gloom that those in other countries must live under. Again, like the fifties TV personalities, it's ridiculous to the point of comedy, but damn what a fine ideal.

I'm not going to get into the politics of class disparity in our country, but is there anything better than self-motivated, self-aggrandizing ownership to get things moving? I've lived in poverty--there's being poor and there's living poor. If you don't believe me, just take a drive through the poorest neighborhood you know, and see the difference from house to house. Some folks take pride in whatever meager things they have, and that pride radiates out in how they present their home. Mown lawns, no trash in the yard, all of that. Other folks get a nice letter from the city about how their lawn is so high, it's going to be mown for them for $50 they can't afford. Ownership, for all its vague moral evils, really gets the ball down the field. Ward knew what I'm talking about.