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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Practice and Theory

Some thoughts on my last week of practicing in a large NYC law firm before becoming a full-time academic.

I didn't want to practice law.  For that matter, I didn't really want to clerk either.  With clerking, it was a means to an end: even though I was getting a Ph.D., a clerkship is more or less a prerequisite for an academic job.  I only wound up practicing because my first year on the job market was unsuccessful.  Still, these two years being a real part of the practice of law were truly invaluable for my understanding of the social practice that I am used to studying from the distance of an academic.  As someone mostly interested in theory, I rarely found myself very close to the law even while writing about it.  These years have been extremely educational and I am certain my scholarship and my teaching will be enriched by them.

Just what have I learned?  That legal realism is at least partially true; that the law is at least partially autonomous; that the judiciary has severe institutional limitations; that clerks have a lot of power and those who teach them can have immediate impact; that politics is only relevant in the marginal cases in the lower courts; that being an advocate can be redemptive; that ethical questions pervade the profession; that practicing can be as intellectual and rigorous as any theoretical enterprise; that serving clients can make one feel extremely useful and selfless; that representing the poor or thinking through the cases of the dispossessed is an ennobling experience; that hierarchy and commitment to it is very damaging to legal institutions.  These aren't huge insights, of course.  But practicing helps one internalize these lessons in a manner more convincing than any article can possibly be. 

Posted by Ethan Leib on May 31, 2005 at 10:33 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Ethan Leib, who is about start teaching at UC Hastings College of the Law, writes about what he learned from two years of legal practice: Just what have I learned? That legal realism is at least partially true; that the law is at least partially autono... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 1, 2005 8:58:38 AM


Having been one, to more than one judge, a clerk's power is directly related to the laziness of the judge. Private practice, particularly in a large firm, is a morass of billable hours and egos. While academia is attractive, I've found that the most satisfying job is as in-house counsel, for a company that truly wants to be ethical. In private practice, I looked for ways to avoid the law. In house, I look for ways to comply. And none of it has to do with SarBox.

Posted by: savich | Jun 2, 2005 7:19:36 PM


Here you are waxing poetic about practice. No one is *forcing* you to teach, you know. ;-)

Posted by: anonymous | May 31, 2005 10:52:56 AM

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