Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Being In Sync, Syncretism, and Syncronicity, or is There Such a Thing as "The Law"?

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

synchronous (inflected and abbreviated as: in sync):

1. a. Existing or happening at the same time; coincident in time; belonging to the same period, or occurring at the same moment, of time; contemporary; simultaneous. Const. with. b. transf. Relating to or treating of different events or things belonging to the same time or period; involving or indicating contemporaneous or simultaneous occurrence.


1. Attempted union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices, esp. in philosophy or religion;


The name given by the Swiss psychologist, C. G. Jung (1875-1961), to the phenomenon of events which coincide in time and appear meaningfully related but have no discoverable causal connection.

Before going to law school, I didn't realize how splintered the study of law can be. When you are a liberal arts major in college and do not have lawyers in the family or as acquaintences, you kind of just think that you'll go to law school, you'll study the law, and be a lawyer. The definite and indefinite articles are important, reifying very abstract things. What kind of law will you study? What kind of lawyer will you be? You realize that these are questions you should have asked before going to law school.

I knew, as an avid fan of criminal procedure shows, that there was criminal law. I knew that in the criminal justice system, "the" people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate the crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders, and that these are their stories. I knew that.

But I honestly didn't know how I would be learning seemingly discrete topics of law taught in separate classes: civil procedure law, tort law (I didn't even know what tort law was before law school!), contracts, constitutional law, constitutional law (which you know, I thought was everything but apparently not), property law, and of course, criminal law. And then in the second uear, there were ever more different topics of law and permutations of those different topics to choose from: intellectual property law, tax law, land use law, environmental law, civil rights law, employment law, etc. etc.

But oddly, it wasn't until my third year of law that I realized, "Hey wait!" All these various topics and subtopics are not so different, they are all a part of the great corpus of "the law"--that there are tort, contract, criminal, procedural, constitutional, property issues in almost every legal case and certainly in every legal course. Okay, this may be a no brainer to you all. But when you think of how the law can be taught as a series of discrete topics, not until you take a holistic course like "Remedies" does it all really start to come together. And once I took Remedies, I began to think of the law holistically and syncretically. Employment Discrimination Law is one such great end-tying course, as it definitely integrates procedural, constitutional, tort, and contract law and remedies (to learn about laches in two courses was a revelation).

Which brings me to the above definitions: Do you, dear law professor people, try to teach your courses in a holistic manner? Do you try to impress upon the minds of your young, confused, "I went to law school because I rocked the LSAT and it seemed like a good idea at the time" students that "The Law" (unlike either political party) is a "big tent" and each seemingly discrete topic is inextricably related to any other? If you don't, it would be a good thing to impress upon students right away, the first year, that first course. I considered myself a "social justice" law student as a J.D., and didn't take nearly enough corporate law or tax courses thinking that they were irrelevant to my intellectual project and thus useless or "boring." And you know, now that I read articles on how the tax laws or bankruptcy codes have disparate impacts on minorities, I think "damn I should have taken those courses." No student should limit him or herself as being one "type" of law student or lawyer. We wil concentrate eventually, but while we are learning it would do us good to expose ourselves to many topics of law and think of legal education as an integrated enterprise. To go for breadth in addition to depth. To learn the law in all of its many forms and see how they are all related and inevitably become a part of the same corpus.

I wonder if professors limit their course's reach out of a fear that it'll be information overload for the students, or too complicated to understand. But for myself, I loved realizing that I shouldn't think of torts having this remedy or contracts having that remedy or employment discrimination as entirely separate from either, but that they're all different versions of the same legal problems. It somehow felt good to know that my education wasn't piecemeal, and that there was something greater, something bigger than me or any class that I was learning.

As an LLM, I'm only taking two courses in addition to The Thesis, and they are seemingly unrelated. Statutory Interpretation, taught by Avuncular Sweater Vest Prof, and Sociology of Law, taught by I'm A Sociologist Not a Lawyer Prof. And in each class I'm studying Title VII of the 1964 act. In each class, I'm examining the history and development of the EEOC as a regulatory body and how broader statutory interpretation increased the reach and enforcement powers of the EEOC. At first this appeared an almost random coincidence, a Jungian moment of synchronicity, until I remembered that I'm not just studying legislation or sociology--I am studying The Law, not just "A" type of law, (see how definite articles matter), and so it is natural that the two courses should overlap. It's not even syncretism, since these aren't truly different areas of the law--they're just different approaches to the same topic, a statutory construction approach or a sociological approach, which is still different from the employment discrimination approach. But I'm still studying the same thing--just from different angles. Everything is synchronous, or "in sync."

But when they overlap, what a thrill, to have my knowledge reinforced, to feel a part of something bigger. to realize that I'm a lawyer and a law student (again), but I'm always studying something that I can call "The Law."


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