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Understanding the Legal Profession: A Field Report

Interviewing a Legal Professional

For this field report you will need to talk to someone who is in the legal profession (preferably a judge or attorney but also a paralegal or even law student). If you know someone, great.

But, perhaps better, go outside your comfort zone and seek someone out through the York alumni office, the New York City Bar Association, any of the local law schools, or even any of the courts.

You may perform an in-person or phone or zoom/skype/facetime/etc. interview. (You may, however, follow up an interview by asking additional questions via email.) The main theme of the field report should be to try to understand what it is like to be actively engaged in the legal profession.

What is an average day like? What is a special day like? You might start by asking about your subject’s understanding of law.

Does she believe that right answers can be found in law? If not, what distinguishes good answers from bad? Does she remember cases where the "right" answer morally conflicted with the "right" answer legally?

Is such a conflict troubling to her? How does she reconcile the conflict? (Remember our discussion about justice and the law and how they are not the same? How does your subject reconcile this difference?)

Has your subject’s understanding of law changed over time? What in her training influenced her view of law? (Do you think your subject is a "legal realist," or does she seem more formalistic in her approach?) In what ways is she more capable of understanding the world than she was before?

What is distinctive (and useful) about a "lawyer's view" of social reality? Try to get specifics, not generalities. You might also want to explore how the subject's career aspirations have developed over time?

What kind of career was s/he planning before she started in law school? What kind of job does she do now? Is she comfortable with the choices s/he is making, or conflicted? You might also ask your subject about some of the criticisms of law school.

Did law school prepare him/her for the legal profession? What should have been included that wasn’t? Is law school biased against women and racial minorities? Does it promote "male" styles of legal practice and training over "feminine" styles? (Does s/he accept those characterizations?)

How does s/he see the future for a legal career? Does s/he find the law to be political or apolitical? If it is political, liberal or conservative?

Make sure that both you and your subject explain what exactly you mean by "political."If, as we have seen, law is so intricately connected to politics, how is it that a legal professional can think it is apolitical?

Don't feel your field report has to answer all these questions. The best reports tend to focus on a few related areas of inquiry that have generated the most interesting response. You might even spend the entire paper analyzing your subject's response to one particular question.

If you feel that your interviewee didn't have much interesting to say (there are some pretty boring people in the world!) you might consider interviewing other legal professionals to get a range of views on the issues you are most interested in. Boring people make for dull field reports, so look around until you find something interesting!

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