Monday, April 12, 2010

Basic Ideas Post 3: Words

You may have noticed that when we talk about basic ideas, we’re using words. You may also have noticed that in talking about the Bible as a source of fundamental knowledge, this also involves words since the Bible is a book written using words. Furthermore, we called it God’s words. If you haven’t noticed, the God of the Bible is a very verbal being. In creation, many of God’s acts of creation are described as speaking. God spoke the world into existence. He spoke something out of nothing. The Hebrew tradition concerning the Ten Commandments isn’t to call them the Ten Commandments; it’s to call them the ten words. In the scriptural account, it appears that God created Adam and Eve with knowledge of language. They didn’t invent language or discover it; they simply awoke talking and thinking in words. They were able to communicate with God and each other in words. Of course, Genesis also explains at the Tower of Babel, the Divine origin of the confusion and multiplicity of languages. Throughout the Bible, God seems quite unconcerned with the fact that language is a useful medium for his revelation. It appears that he takes it quite for granted that while words might have some ambiguity in the fallen human mind, they are more than an effective way to communicate. God also describes Jesus as the Word of God or the Divine Logos, a word that means more than word, also logic, reason, argument, order etc. But it does also mean word. When the prophets speak in the Bible, they often say “the word of the LORD” or “the word of the LORD came to so and so” or “proclaim the word of the LORD” and such phrases. There is constantly an emphasis on word, or words, or messages from God in human language.

The postmodern person who thinks that language is a human invention, or the nominalist, a person who doesn’t believe that universals exist, all this reliance on language as a way of trying to communicate truths that are allegedly objective could be a bit troubling. But it really shouldn’t be. I believe the traditional answer of Christian theologians and Augustine in particular suffices. God created human beings in His image. Part of this creation of humans in His image is that, like him, human beings are verbal beings. We are able to understand language and express ourselves in language. Furthermore, the language that we understand is not purely referential. We don’t merely have words for things we can point to and see. We also have words for things we can’t ever see but yet we know what they mean. Words like justice, freedom, unity, truth, beauty, property, negligence, agreement, consideration, law, justification, mercy, tenderness. All these words are what we call universals, that is, words that everyone seems to know and understand the meaning of but that no one has ever seen in their pure form, that is, unless perhaps you have seen God. It is also the tradition of Augustine and many other Christian theologians that the positive universals are embodied in God himself. As Plato said, and we’ve mentioned before, God is preeminently the measure of all things. He is the origin of language and the origin of the meaning of the universals. The positive universals in one way or another describe aspects of God. For this reason, while they each have a distinctive core meaning, the meaning of positive universals tends to get fuzzy the more broadly you examine them. It’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes between righteousness and justice, or beauty and goodness and while each of them is distinctive, they tend to blend together at the edges. This is because God is one and you can’t really divide Him up into pieces or sections. And yet, all of these words find their referential in God’s character, personality, and nature. Negative universals are those things that find their opposite or find their meaning by being unlike God such as evil, hatred, bitterness, envy, and other sins and destructive impulses, emotions, and ideas.

Now, in saying this, we’re not saying that human’s understanding of language is perfect. Our understanding and use of language was affected by our fall into sin, just like every other aspect of our personalities. But language is still practical for working purposes. While it may take a lot of discussion for us to come to an agreement about justice, we all, more or less, know it when we see it, provided that we’re honest with ourselves and others. We often times want to redefine justice in order to justify ourselves or to make a complicated concept simpler than it really is. While there have been many attempts by philosophers to define words like justice, they fail. It simply isn’t possible to provide a perfect definition of any universal in words, deeds, examples, or concrete reference other than by reference to God himself. And yet we can talk about what those universals mean in various aspects. So, while many definitions of justice may tell us something about justice itself – Socrates idea that justice is doing your work excellently and minding your own business – Plato’s idea that justice is living by what we know of the divine – Aristotle’s idea that justice is giving to everyone according to their deserve – or Justinian’s three fold concept of justice that includes hurting no one and rendering to everyone his due – are all good, but are not the last word in Justice. For the last word on Justice we have to look to the Word of God Himself.

Monday, April 05, 2010

10 Tips for looking for a legal job after law school

1. Learn the common areas of practice.

When you apply for a legal job, the lawyers interviewing you will ask you what areas of practice you’re interested in. Of course, the optimal answer is that you’re interested in the very area of practice that they themselves work on and are hiring an associate to help them with. So in order to properly answer this question you have to first find out what the common practice areas are. Legal practice is divided into a variety of unofficial practice areas. Lawyers usually concentrate on cases within a particular practice area or a couple of practice areas. Sometimes, sole practitioners will do some things in several different practice areas but most lawyers find comfort in sticking to a definite practice area. What are the major practice areas? Here are a few: criminal prosecution; criminal defense; insurance defense law (representing defendants in personal injury cases where you are hired by the insurance company for the defendant); plaintiff’s personal injury; real estate transactions; real estate litigation; entrepreneurial business practice; corporate business practice; securities law; entertainment law; wills, trusts, and estate; intellectual property; mergers and acquisitions; maritime law (in which there are sub-practice areas of plaintiff’s personal injury, insurance defense, cargo loss, and some even more esoteric divisions); tax law; environmental law; bankruptcy law; and workers compensation law. There are other areas, but these are the most common.

2. Decide what you can do and what you love to do.

Once you know the practice areas, the next important question is: in which practice areas is it reasonable for you to believe you can get a job? And of those practice areas, what do you really love doing? It may be that in the beginning you’ll have to be happy doing something like insurance defense cases that focus on auto accidents even though your real desire is to be a specialist in products liability law. If the area you love and the area you can reasonably get into are two different things, try to pick something close to what you love. People are most effective in their work when they enjoy it. So what do I mean by asking what you can do? For example, many of the firms that do mergers and acquisitions law are large, powerful, corporate law firms that only accept graduates from the top of the class in the top law schools. As a result, unless you’re able to find a smaller firm in a smaller city that does mergers and acquisitions work, it may not be reasonable to think you can get into that practice easily if you’re from a small law school or were not in the top of your class.

3. Find the firms that engage in the practice areas you want to target.

There is a lot of information about law firms and what they do on the internet. It is also worthwhile to talk to people and network to find firms that have particular practices. Knowing someone in a firm is often the best way to find information about a viable job. Look for as many firms as possible since you will probably have to talk to more than 100 firms to find a job in a tight market like the one that currently exists.

4. Research the target firms.

To be successful in a legal interview, it not only helps to be a good candidate, but to know as much as possible about the firm you’re interested in. You especially need to know their practice areas. If you know what their partners do, where they went to school, what interests they have, and what published cases they may have been involved with or what major litigation they have been involved in, you can ask and answer questions intelligently and you have a chance of demonstrating to the firm that you picked them because you really are interested in their particular practice, not because you’re merely applying to every law firm in Southern California.

5. Write a good resume and cover letter.

You need to explain in your cover letter what kind of job you’re looking for and why. What attracted you to this particular firm? In your resume you need to present personal information about yourself, your education, and your job experience that demonstrates you have the qualities that a law firm would be looking for in a potential candidate. That would include things like proof that you know how to work hard, proof that you’re intelligent, that you’re capable of thinking on your feet, that you’re a good legal researcher, that you know how to write, that you’re good with public relations, that you have an excellent memory, etc. It is definitely worth getting advice from someone in the legal field about your resume and cover letter to be sure it meets with the expectations of the industry. In addition, you must carefully proofread the resume and the cover letter. Many many people have failed to obtain jobs because of spelling errors or errors in spacing or consistency in their resume. When employers are making a snap judgment of who to interview by going through hundreds of resumes, small difference make a big impact. You also don’t want your resume to be ugly, too plain, or too ostentatious. You want a resume that is businesslike and well-balanced. It should be appealing to the eye and provide the information the reader wants quickly and easily.

6. Send your resume and cover letter to as many target firms as possible.

In particular look for firms that are advertising openings. The daily newspaper provides a list of law firm classified ads at the back in every daily issue. Firms also sometimes advertise online. Word of mouth, though, is probably the best way to find an opening. Don’t be skimpy in the number of firms you apply to. The more you apply to, the more likely it is that you’ll get a job.

7. Follow up on your letter.

You need to find out who in the firm is responsible for hiring decisions or who that person’s secretary is. Follow up with the secretary to be sure your letter and resume were received and to find out what, if anything, the next step would be.

8. Be persistent.

Hard work pays off in seeking a job. Don’t nag the people who you’re applying to, but make sure that you apply to many places and that you follow up with each of them.

9. Network.

As I’ve mentioned above, a personal contact is the best way to get a job. When you’re looking for a job, you shouldn’t only do the things mentioned above. You should get involved with networks which may lead you to a job source. Join chapters of the local county bar association, especially chapters that deal with the practice area in which you are interested. If you’re a conservative or libertarian, it doesn’t hurt to become a member of the federalist society. If you’re a believer, you may want to join your local Christian legal society chapter. Having attorneys as friends may help you get a job and may also give you an opportunity to refer cases to someone, to obtain referrals, and to occasionally get advice and help. The best way to make friends is to be a friend. If you talk to others, listen to them, and encourage them, they may be able to help you as well.

10. Be positive and thankful.

In the brutal world of looking for work it’s easy to feel bitter. But any kind of bitterness, resentment, or unthankfulness will show on your face and make you look bad to potential employers. You need to remain positive and thankful for whatever it is that you have and the opportunities that you face. Prayer is an important part of any job search. Knowing Jesus Christ is the one thing that can help you be positive and thankful throughout the unpleasantness of the job search experience.