The law of attraction to the law

For a short, wonderful time at the end of the last century, during the dot-com boom, before kids and homeownership, it looked like Andrea and I would be able to retire. What, I asked myself, would I do with my ample remaining time, once I’d had enough of sipping rum drinks on white-sand beaches? Surprisingly I had a single clear answer in mind: law school. I wanted not to practice law per se but to become a legal scholar so that when I wrote essays and gave lectures about the U.S. Constitution, which is what I saw myself spending my retirement doing — never mind why, I’m not entirely sure myself — I would know what the hell I was talking about. Plus, academic credentials would give people a reason to pay attention to my work.

It didn’t work out that way, which is probably just as well, because I know myself too well to believe I could devote the necessary focus to a single subject for the necessary length of time.

Only after I decided to study the law, then abandoned that idea, did I discover how strangely unoriginal that idea was among my cohort.

My closest friends in elementary school were David, Jon, and Sarah. At the time of Jon’s early death he was studying for the bar. When I reconnected with Sarah after a quarter century I discovered she was practicing law. David recently left his long-time job and is about to start law school himself (congratulations and good luck, David).

My closest friend in high school was Chuck. Upon graduating and moving to Israel, he too became a lawyer.

One of my two best friends in college, Bruce, after a somewhat dissipated lifestyle and careers as a computer programmer, saloon owner, and wrought-iron craftsman, is now also pursuing a law degree.

What gives? Apart from Chuck, I didn’t know about any of these career choices until after I’d decided (and then undecided) to go to law school myself; nor did any of them know that I had briefly considered it; and none of us was the type of person you might have expected to grow up to become a lawyer. So how did the same idea end up in all our brains? What is it about the law, or about my group of friends?

9 thoughts on “The law of attraction to the law”

  1. With Jon, Sarah, you, and I, I think you probably brushed on it in an old post; we were very interested in ideas as kids, not just random playing and make-believe (though of course we did that too). I’m sure we all love arguing too. 🙂

  2. Bob,

    The reason the Law is attractive to you is your love of rules which figures in your current profession as a software engineer, and your avocation, piloting airplanes. These are all intensively rule based and the reason many people love rules is because they believe that reality is chaotic and rules (if followed) gives them the illusion of control. Laws are totally about control and attract those who seek to impose a defined structure upon others whom they FEAR are out of control or would be if given the opportunity because they harbor the fear that they need to be controlled as they would run amok absent codified rules or a self imposed credo.

    Those in the law business (legislators, lawyers, police, judges, jurors, jailors etc.) are persons with control issues to one degree or another. Lawyers are generally attracted to the practice of semantic jousting (remember Bill Clinton?) which often contravenes the “spirit of the law” in order to win cases.

    I wouldn’t want to be in the position of directly insinuating my prejudices into situations which result in imposing the weight of the law on another’s experience. If one transgresses a proscription it must either be ignored or backed up with the threat or imposition of violence which as a pacifist is an anathema to me.

    Anent your final question:

    It is not surprising that one would attract a set of friends who share similar predilections for rules and control. If they were dissimilar, the friendship would be less likely to endure for any protracted length of time.

    As I am also a software engineer, I am compelled to follow the rules an application language demands and have to work within or around its defined structure. Obeisance to the rules in this case is a pragmatic matter and necessary to accomplish the task at hand (and I must confess that it is satisfying to have a creation that has to blindly obey your whimsy.) However beyond my self imposed instruction set as I mentioned here in The Rules I obey no laws with which I disagree and break no laws with which I agree.

  3. Burt, I’m sure you’ve uncovered at least a substantial part of the explanation, though I’d be curious to hear what Chuck, David, Sarah, and Bruce have to say about it. And way to hark back to an earlier post better than me! Thanks too for teaching me the interesting new word “anent.”

  4. Yeah, while I think there is a little bit of something in his basic premise, the extrapolations are ludicrous. I don’t like to trot out the “people who rail against something are closeted sufferers themselves” argument much, but it seems to me Burt has a compelling (and ironic, in the context of his remarks) need to sort people into clearly delineated buckets.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that software programming and law both involve a good deal of interest in applied logic.

    p.s. chalk me up as another software engineer who flirted with becoming a lawyer.

  5. @Bob: Thanks for your gracious response. It’s gratifying to see the proper use of “hark back” instead “harken back” which has all but replaced the former (I like language and grammatical rules but often flout them on purpose.)


    Wow, David take umbrage much?

    Typical response from a control freak law student (ever wonder why lawyers are generally reviled?) – just kidding. Obviously when one opines about human motivations and predilections one must generalize (even specificity except in the most rudimentary of cases barely suffices when applied to an individual.)

    I do not know Bob and my impressions of him stem from what I surmise by reading his blog which I find well written and often enjoy (and the BobG whose musings occupy a tiny corner of my consciousness is wholly my creation and may or may not resemble your image of him and especially his self image. I have gleaned from his written statements that he likes rules and note he has arranged his existence to pursue wonts which require following them. When he muses in print regarding the nature of coincidence and asks for plausible explanation for the synchronicity vis-à-vis his close friends and their more than passing interest in a legal career – I offered an analysis based on opinion and the obvious.

    I maintain in general people who derive comfort from having an imposed structure and operating within its confines do so because they are uncomfortable with uncertainty and unpredictability. This is due to FEAR which is probably the most powerful emotion that exists in sentient beings. So we come to the LAW which exists because people fear that other people will take advantage of them and so seek to mitigate the effects by threat of violence by consensus or fiat. A well known psychological generality is the concept of projection, i.e., external perceptions are manifestations of internal beliefs which is why I assert that it is fear of loss of control that makes people seek solace in defined proscriptions. Inculcated Judeo-Christian mores (Mosaic Law) is a culprit responsible for a large percentage of the world’s population’s belief in law.

    It is my belief that generally lawyers are semanticists and skilled in fallacious formulation for the purpose of suasion and that software engineers like the structured environment of computer programming and the concomitant absolute power that may be wielded but not all are of that bent.

    I notice you are a Boston musician as I once was (Berklee ’73 – keyboards, guitar.) I play jazz and like the comparative freedom from the tyranny of structure (keeping mostly within the bar lines but not always and harmonic structure? A mere suggestion once the head is done.) If you like jazz guitar – I recommend going to see David “Fuze” Fiuczynski – do you know him? He will be at Sculler’s on May 23 with Hiromi – (you won’t be disappointed.)

    If you have any more carps on generalities please specify. I observe human behavior and try to formulate meta-explanations which may account for the individually eclectic and herd responses inherent within.


    Would you care to elaborate on your assertion of ludicrousity?

    I agree that delineation into groups (buckets in your parlance) seems to be the end result of my meta-analysis but that is only for ease of identifying local tendencies within whatever group (pick one) is being discussed. Individuals, are members of many sets (in the Cantor sense,) and are impossible to pigeonhole due to their unique nature. I subscribe to the theory that we are all solipsists and reality is a personal manifestation, so in my belief system I choose which buckets to populate with which ilk and can shuffle them at will when piqued.

    BTW: The ironic thing about irony is that it isn’t.



  6. Law is: philosophy that actually matters.

    You can blather on all day about metaphysics, but when it comes down to deciding who has to be stopped and who has to be punished, things are not so simple. Law is about how we have to come to a consensus about what are the best rules for insuring reasonably stable and predictable futures for ourselves. (How can I get anything done if I don’t know that my stuff is going to be in my house when I get home?)

    Law is: pattern recognition

    Statute must be understandable by the people who follow it. The law must, superficially, sort people into buckets, because it is a mechanical description of a binary partition; approved behavior versus unacceptable behavior. If the description is too vague, it will not effectively delineate the desired behavior. If the description is too specific, too lengthy, it will lack clarity and the typical person won’t be able to follow it. If all of this sounds cold and impersonal, it is. That’s why we have lawyers and judges, since they can look beyond the mechanics to the philosophical intent behind the laws.

    Law is: not about being a control freak.

    No offense, Burt, but did your ex-wife’s lawyer take you for a lot of money or something?

    Law is: hard

    You do not learn the law in law school. You learn how to think. You are expected to learn the law on your own time. It is a fantastic experience, but you can expect to miss out on a lot of your real life as you go through the process. Say goodbye to your wife and kids for at least three years.

    Perhaps, Bob, you have an innate interest in taking things apart to see how they work. Law school is all about that. We live in a complicated world where we are often forced to submit to the wishes of others.

    For my own part, I finally started taking an interest in the world around me and how screwed up it was. I figured that if anyone was going to change the system, it would have to be an inside job.


  7. @Bruce:

    The Law is Philosophy that matters:

    when it comes down to deciding who has to be stopped and who has to be punished, things are not so simple. Law is about how we have to come to a consensus about what are the best rules for insuring reasonably stable and predictable futures for ourselves. (How can I get anything done if I don’t know that my stuff is going to be in my house when I get home?)

    Philosophy that matters because the consensus says so and will mess you up if you don’t do as they say and they find out.

    Deciding who has to be stopped = control (due to fear of whomever one believes requires stopping.)

    Punishment = attempts to control the feared by negative reinforcement or violence.

    Consensus = Tyranny of the majority and usually an ad populum fallacy = control by a larger group.

    Rules = codified control.

    Stable & predictable futures = attempt to control subjunctive abstract concepts.

    I don’t know my stuff is going to be there = Fear of lack of control, one never knows whether or not one’s stuff will be there.

    Pattern recognition: If the statute is to be understood by all then why is it couched in legalese? This ensures that most persons who run afoul of the codified controls need a lawyer to manipulate the semantics. The only laws that are just are: Do not physically harm another and Do not usurp another’s property.

    Law IS about control and those who enforce it or attracted to it are both control freaks and fearful of anarchy. No, my wife of 31 years agrees with my position vis-à-vis the law and I have not yet had to avail myself of a lawyer nor have I had a problem with any (except philosophically if one flouts either of the 2 laws above to the benefit of the majority and the detriment of an individual.

    The Law is hard: The spirit of the law is easy; it’s only hard due to the arcane language and contradictory precedents.

    You do not learn the law in law school. You learn how to think.

    It’s my experience that schools rarely teach critical thinking anymore, perhaps some law schools are different but I have no way of determining whether or not that is the case.

    One learns how think like a semanticist, sophist, and how best to control whatever legal situation benefits a client. It’s almost never altruistic and all about controlling one’s fears. Why else would one place the study of such an inherently flawed and inequitable system above one’s family and life? What is the real motivation? You say the world is screwed up and you want to change it. That’s because you believe the world is out of control and you figure your best shot of controlling it is from the inside as a lawyer???

    The most effective means one has to change the world is to change one’s worldview as the “world” is merely one’s mental construct.



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