I was recently posed an interesting question which I thought would make a great topic for discussion and,while I’m unsure of how this post will be received on the faculty blog, I hope it will spur conversations as interesting as those I’ve had about the subject over the past month.
Next year I will graduate from Marquette Law School along with my fellow classmates. What is particularly noteworthy about our class is that, having first come to campus in the summer of 2017, we will be the first class to graduate who started law school under the current presidential administration. Whether you voted for Donald Trump or not, one cannot deny that his presidency has created an interesting climate not just in politics, but for the law in general. So, I was left to ponder how that interesting factoid has colored my law school experience and might affect the legal field for first year lawyers next year and in the near future.
My first intuition when pondering that question was to discuss how divisive politics and social media appear to be impacting the teaching and practice of law, but I can’t presume that my class is novel in thinking that these are tumultuous times in the legal field. I can’t personally speak to the law school climate in the past, but in my own experience being a law student can be a bit a political minefield, especially outside of Eckstein Hall. Throughout my time in law school, all of my friends and family have been eager to ask me about or to debate about constitutional issues the president has raised that month. But that is almost to be expected, as I have been told by some of my family members who are in the field.
What I was not prepared for was how politics would influence my interactions in my various intern experiences as well.
I always assumed that people tried to keep politics out of the workplace, but that has not been the case over the past couple of years. Perhaps it has more to do with the political leanings of those I’ve come into contact with, but everyone’s opinions are amplified by social media and it seems like walking the delicate line of expressing political opinions has become as important to an internship as the actual work being produced — at least when it comes to developing professional relationships. And for what it is worth, I know several classmates who have noticed a similar trend. I feel that this an unfortunate reality which can be attributed to the polarizing political climate created by the President.
However, polite conversation and workplace decorum are hardly issues that shape the legal community and adversely impact the future for the class of 2020. To understand how this class will be different I really needed to focus on how the current administration has changed the way we practice law or might practice law in the future; after all, my class hasn’t known a different climate. It has been my opinion that the biggest change has been in the regard we hold for the current state of the law.
Every day we see new issues bring even more contempt for the Administration. Whether it’s a narrow supreme court nomination marred in scandal, an alleged abuse of emergency powers, or and ongoing investigation into election tampering, it seems that with each passing day the Administration loses support from even those who would consider themselves ideologically aligned with the President. As a result we see that the laws he passes and the executive actions he takes are treated with a similar lack of support and disdain.
This is not necessarily a bad way of looking at things. Being unsatisfied with the current state of affairs is necessary for creating any positive change, but it can go too far. The rule of law is important, and that seems to have been lost to a degree as contempt for the administration grows, especially at the state level. For example, the President has made immigration a central political issue for his administration and while he has used his office to try and limit immigration and amnesty, states have been unwilling to comply. Some have even gone so far as to directly disobey federal mandate and establish sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Going even further, we have seen individuals so emboldened as to directly reject federal authority. For example, earlier this year a Massachusetts district court judge was found to have helped an undocumented immigrant sneak out of a courthouse despite ICE officers being present to execute a warrant for his arrest. While the immigration is a hotly contested issue and there are probably no right answers for such a difficult question, it is worthy of pause when we see breakdowns in the legal system based on disdain for the policies of the current administration.
I personally support and encourage a new generation of legal professionals who question authority and ask how they can make a positive impact in their communities once armed with a law degree, but it is a dangerous state of affairs when zealous advocacy of the underrepresented turns into an outright disregard for the legal system. This will be especially important for the newest generation of law students who will now spend their early years finding the right balance between trying to affect positive change in a system many no longer trust and upholding the duties that that system requires of them as they swear their oath next summer in Madison.
Now, perhaps some of my observations are a little short-sighted. Admittedly, I can’t pin down how things have changed as I have no reference for how they used to be, nor can I predict the future; but, I have noticed differences in how newer legal professionals think about the law and the various apparatuses of the legal system. Differences which aren’t easily explained by variations in age or experience. There are no right answers, but I am interested to hear how others feel about the Administration’s impact on the practice of law and the regard which we lawyers must hold for a system that we trust less and less every day.