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Law and the Sum of Particulars

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law on January 17, 2013 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

It is the lawyer’s errand to analyze complicated texts, ferret out details, argue fine points, and consider the facts of experience in light of their implications for and because of rules and regulations.  The task of the lawyer is to scrutinize and produce particulars.  Rarely is the lawyer afforded the time and privilege to contemplate the sum of the particulars.  That is unfortunate because tasks and particulars necessarily interact to produce the law, and the lawyer ought to know something of the fundamental bases of his profession.

If the lawyer were to add up all of his activities in a single workday—reading his email, drafting his motions, calling his clients, billing his time—the result would not be “the law” as such, but at most a police description of the constituent elements of legal practice.  From these elements he can infer some generalizations about the law as an ontological and epistemological category, but he cannot name or describe the law as a clear concept that will make sense to future lawyers or that would have made sense to lawyers long ago.

Most lawyers are like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave: bound by their daily routines and habits of mind and looking forward at the shadows, those sensible particulars that are merely images of copies of the true forms.  There are a few philosopher lawyers—very few, I might add, for the lawyer is, as Plato indicates, part of the auxiliary class, beneath the philosopher kings—who look beyond the quotidian operations of the workaday world, or the fashionable legislation that temporarily passes for authoritative rules and regulations, or the administrative systems that seek short term solutions to minor and momentary problems, or the endless monotony of calendars and deadlines to see the real objects of sensation and to achieve a higher, more holistic stage of cognition.  These few philosopher lawyers know what the law is despite what the statutes or the judges proclaim it to be.

  1. Amen, Brother!

    I am forwarding this to my pal Al Brophy, UNC Chapel Hill Law Professor and old class mate from Columbia 80s era. As for myself, I wholly agree w/ your entire post. Any thinking JD would!

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