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Shaping a Vision

The idea of what is the social vision of law schools has permeated many of the posts here. These views remind me of a class I took in high school called Individual Humanities. We read The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, St. Joan, Don Juan, Faust, Don Quixote, Man and Superman, and Huckleberry Finn. We also used many sources such as Maslow, Ericson, Mill, Bellow, and others to engage with the text. Despite all these stimulating sources, one idea animated the course. It comes from Einstein’s writing about education:

Sometimes one sees in the school simply the instrument for transferring a certain maximum quantity of knowledge to the growing generation. But that is not right. Knowledge is dead; the school however, serves the living. It should develop in the young individuals those qualities and capabilities which are of value for the welfare of the commonwealth. But that does not mean that individuality should be destroyed and the individual become a mere tool of the community, like a bee or an ant. For a community of standardized individuals without personal originality and personal aims would be a poor community without possibilities for development. On the contrary, the aim must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals, who, however, see in the service of the community their highest life problem. – Albert Einstein

Professor Chemerinsky has stated “the law school of the 21st century must do a far better job of encouraging students to use their training to help the unrepresented and advance social justice.” Dean Smolla notes that law schools serve “many noble missions, including the education and preparation of students as future legal professionals, contributing to the marketplace of ideas and the evolution of law and policy through scholarship and other forms of intellectual endeavor, serving the public through pro bono activity, public service, and civic engagement, and contributing to the larger world of the university and higher education.” Dan, Frank, and Nancy have also touched on the social connection a law school has and how it operates. I suggest that the simple but powerful idea Einstein offered and my high school teacher, Laurence McMillin, embodied, should guide law schools and lawyers. In addition to public interest law, small businesses and individuals require legal services. They can pay something but not the rates of large firms. Many families need basic trusts and estate and living will advice. Indeed, working for a large corporation can have beneficial effects and serve society as well.

The basic idea that an attorney must look to service of the community may be too idealistic. Still, it can animate much of what a law school or lawyer does. One may argue that views of “service to the community” vary and of course many factors will shape how an individual sees that phrase. Nonetheless, it seems that if, as Frank notes when he quotes Duncan Kennedy, law school exerts “social-psychological pressures that work to make entering students into lawyers and citizens who will participate willingly in the reproduction of the system, making it seem like something natural,” this idea can work to shape a different attorney, an attorney who maybe re-embodies the ideals Tony Kronman and more recently the Carnegie Report argue have gone much to the detriment of the profession.