Thursday, September 18, 2008


There are roughly fourteen-thousand newly minted J.D.’s each year. For as many lawyers as there are in the country (about 1.5 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007), there are probably as many ways to use a law degree. But figuring out how to use one's legal education can be stressful, and may often leave one feeling replete with self-doubt. Personally, I know the battle is between my ears; what my heart wants and what makes the most logical sense do not always coincide. In search of insight on the decisions in front of me, I have spent some time reflecting on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. I find that thoughtful reflection on philosophy and theology are useful tools when anxiety begins to creep into my days.

Heidegger postulated that we are shaped by the environment into which we are born. In his terminology, we are all thrown (Geworfenheit) into the unique nexus of situations (“worlds”) within which we dwell. In Being and Time, Heidegger was concerned with the issue of "Being," specifically, “being qua being” and our self-sentience vis-à-vis the world. Heidegger’s notion of Being was inseparable from the world itself. To understand ourselves in this way, as "Beings-in-the-world," is to accept that no two individuals have shared the identical set of experiences; for this reason, we each see the world and react to it in unique ways.

For Heidegger, we exist in one of two states: authenticity or inauthenticity. Authenticity manifests through concern for the world and those in it. Fueled by the recognition and acceptance of our finitude, the authentic self embraces his uniqueness and turns his attention toward fulfilling his potential. Inauthenticity, on the other hand, results from the failure to differentiate oneself from others. While we exist in the world with others, we cannot exclusively be defined by others if we are to lead "authentic" lives. Often the external influences can become stronger and louder than the internal influence. The problem, as Heidegger pointed out, is that inauthentic existence is irresponsible—it deprives oneself of accountability.

In law school, as a third year student, much of the dialogue with colleagues centers on interviews and career aspirations. No doubt there is a hierarchy of prestige associated with the career paths we choose. For those among us who elect not to follow the route of traditional legal practice, the discussions can feel more like a personal justification than a thoughtful exchange. For me, the philosophical framework helps me to center my attention more productively. My telos must be on how to fulfill the roles for which I am best suited; I need to appreciate that I am on my own journey. And while it doesn't take Heidegger to explain "just because Sally does X, doesn't mean you should," sometimes in life, the truth is not so obvious.

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