A KEEPER OF THE WORD: SELECTED WRITINGS OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW (1994) (Ed. Bill Wylie Kellerman)
A Lawyer's Work
When I began law studies, I considered that I had few, if any, romantic illusions about becoming a lawyer, and I most certainly did not indulge any fantasies that God had called me, by some specific instruction, to be an attorney or, for that matter, to be a member of any profession or any occupation. I had come to understand the meaning of vocation more simply and quite differently.
I believed then, as I do now, that I am called in the Word of God - as is everyone else - to the vocation of being human, nothing more and nothing less. I confessed then, as I do now, that to be a Christian means to be called to be an exemplary human being. And, to be a Christian categorically does not mean being religious. Indeed, all religious versions of the gospel are profanities. Within the scope of the calling to be merely, but truly, human, any work, including that of any profession, can be rendered a sacrament of that vocation. On the other hand, no profession, discipline, or employment, as such, is a vocation.
Law students, along with those in medicine, engineering, architecture, the military, among others, are subjected to indoctrinations, the effort of such being to make the students conform quickly and thoroughly to that prevailing stereotype deemed most beneficial to the profession and to its survival as an institution, its influence in society, and its general prosperity. At the Harvard Law School, this process is heavy, intensive, and unrelenting, though I imagine that such indoctrinations are all the more so in pseudo-professional institutions, like those training insurance agents, stockbrokers, or realtors. Over and over again, while I was in the law school, I was astonished at how eagerly many of my peers surrendered to this regimen of professionalistic conditioning, often squelching their own most intelligent opinions or creative impulses in order to conform or to appear to be conforming.
Initiation into the legal profession, as it is played out at a place like the Harvard Law School, is, as one would expect, elaborately mythologized, asserts an aura of tradition, and retains a reputation for civility. All of these insinuate that this process is benign, though, both empirically and in principle, it is demonic. One notices that the medical establishment has gone much further than has the legal profession in indulging this sort of mythologizing, with the conspicuous collaboration of commercial television, and, before that, the movies. (After all, the mythological forerunner of Marcus Welby was Dr. Christian.) I think none of the other professions has countenanced such pretentious and gratuitous self-images as the medical profession has, but the same issue of mythologizing is associated with all the professions and with most other occupations as well. There is radical discrepancy between myth and truth in internal indoctrinations focused on conforming practitioners and external publicity propagated about the various professions.
I understand in hindsight that the vocational attitude I had formed in London and, later, the experience I had as law student apprehended the legal profession specifically, and the professions, disciplines, and occupations in general, in their status among the fallen principalities and powers engaged (regardless of apparently benign guises and pretenses) in coercing, stifling, captivating, intimidating, and otherwise victimizing human beings. Te demand for conformity in a profession commonly signifies a threat of death.
In that connection, my commitment to vocation instead of career began, while I was still in the law school, to sponsor far-reaching implications for how I could spend the rest of my life. Anyway, I suffered the overkill ethos of the Harvard Law School - I think - with enough poise as a human being to quietly, patiently, vigilantly resist becoming conformed to this world.
The upshot of that resistance was that I emerged from the law school as someone virtually opposite of what a Harvard Law School graduate is projected by the prevailing system to be. I do say that proudly and gladly.
Do not misunderstand me: I enjoyed the law school, but I did not take it with the literally dead earnestness of those of my peers who had great careers at stake. I respected the intellectual vigor of its environment, but I was appalled by the overwhelming subservience of legal education to the commercial powers and the principalities of property. I thought that a law school should devote at least as much attention in its curriculum to the rights and causes of people as it does to vested property interests of one kind or another. I also thought, while I was in law school, that justice is a suitable topic for consideration in practically every course or specialization. Alas, it was seldom mentioned, and the term itself evoked ridicule, as if justice were a subject beneath the sophistication of lawyers.