Sunday, March 23, 2014

In memoriam

A few days ago we learned from the New York Times that our universe evidently really did result from a stunning “inflation” in first instants of the Big Bang. It’s nice to see a scientific theory confirmed; it even suggests that the universe is orderly and that humans are in the process of mastering it. But of course the discovery is confirmation that actually the universe isn’t orderly at all; apparently most of the theories that embraced “inflation” also assert that other universes are exploding into existence all the time. This is unsettling!

For me, for reasons I can’t claim are exactly logical, the idea of universe after universe exploding into simultaneous existence makes me question an argument for the existence of God that I always thought was a pretty good one: that Someone had to start the whole business rolling. Something about this new scientific account makes me doubt that logic; I feel as if a universe like this one is just so immense that the idea that it needs a starter of some sort loses its force. Maybe it just was and always will be this way.

Of course one could then call the universe God. But that seems more like sleight of hand than a real argument for the existence of God – and certainly that kind of God doesn’t have any apparent connection to our little existences. (I admit that the Starter theory doesn’t particularly suggest a God taking any part in our current lives either.)

It would be nice to think, as I know some do, that we ourselves are God – that the communities we form are truly greater than ourselves, not just as social structures but as something more spiritual. The strongest argument against that, though, is that we ourselves are such a problematic bunch; the sum of our highest and best impulses might be godlike, but the actual societies we form are far from it.

Meanwhile today I attended the memorial service of a friend who died at the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer. He was an Episcopalian, and the very warm woman minister from his church spoke of asking him, just a few days before his death, whether he was scared. He answered, in a way that she said radiated peace, “No, actually I’m a bit curious.”

That’s a good way to go. And this, as a British friend of a generation ago would have said, is for absent friends.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Law school today: a path to "almost guaranteed legal employment"?

In an article posted just a few days ago (and published at 27 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 55-69 (2014)), with the striking title "Keep Calm and Carry On," René Reich-Graefe of Western New England University School of Law makes the equally striking claim that "over the next two decades, the legal profession market is moving statistically into the direction of almost guaranteed legal employment for all law school graduates." (68) Briefly, his argument is that the legal profession in the US currently is quite old, and so "[o]ver half of currently practicing lawyers in this country will retire over the next fifteen to twenty years" (62) -- and will need to be replaced; that the population of the country is rising rapidly, and for that and other reasons the need for legal work will increase; and that, as a result, "recent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country." (66)

It is conceivable, of course, that actually the way that legal problems are handled is in the process of being transformed so radically that even with retirements and increased legal needs, lawyer jobs will not keep up. (More paralegals, or more lawyers paid less in other countries, might do more of the work, for instance.) Many people fear that this is the case. But Reich-Graefe says that many of our fears are the result of panic, and he illustrates his point by dissecting one fairly prominent journalistic prediction of disaster. He suggests that lawyers' conservative and defensive inclinations, not to mention their tendency to depression, mean that "lawyers ... often respond to any perceived crisis by means of collective hysteria--rather than by the same measured, pragmatic and productive righten-the-ship-and-proceed-calmly approach which they generally employ so well and successfully on behalf of their clients." (56)

Needless to say, as a lawyer and law professor, I would like to believe Reich-Graefe is right. He acknowledges that "he makes a living as a legal educator" (55 n.*), so he too may be swayed by self-interest. But his numbers look powerful to me. Many people have indeed worried that everything is changing for lawyers, but perhaps those worries rest less on numbers than on anecdote. Anecdote can reveal truth before numbers do, yet it's also easily shaped by panic. (I realize there may be more cogent worries that I haven't focused on.)

Suppose Reich-Graefe is right. In that case, the huge upheaval in the law school market, fundamentally based on the impression that the massive student debts graduates have incurred won't earn them the prospect of rewarding employment, was a response to a painful period in the job market (there certainly has been such a period, beginning a few years ago), and not to long-term realities. I hope it is so.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Nelson Mandela remembered at New York Law School

A few weeks ago New York Law School held this remembrance of Nelson Mandela. The speakers – I’ll just say this about the other speakers besides me – were very interesting, and the gathering included a number of striking first-hand recollections of Nelson Mandela. If you'd like to watch a recording of the event, it's available at

And just in case you're interested, my talk begins 43 minutes in, and lasts16 minutes from there. As you’ll see, I argued that the fact that Nelson Mandela was a lawyer – as well as a revolutionary and a law-breaker – was actually very important to his overall achievements.