Does Studying Law Destroy Your Soul?

Until recently LPC student Cat Pond was an empathetic, liberal type, but the law has changed her…

At the start of my GDL contract law course, the tutor told us to try and visualise the room and all the objects within it as connected by a web of contracts. The coffee cups sat in front of us were prime examples. As contracts for the supply of the cup, coffee beans and milk were both essential to its production. Then there was the contract we had entered into by purchasing the coffee. The tutor joked that we’d soon start seeing the entire world in this manner. Well, so far I haven’t quite ended up with Matrix-style powers to see legal symbology instead of reality, but a legal education certainly puts a particular spin on things.

As a graduate of the GDL who has now reached the half-way point of the LPC, I have studied contract, tort, land, EU, public, business and litigation law, so it might be fair to mark me as slightly elevated above ‘layman’ status in the legal hierarchy. The main symptom of this, to date, has been the higher incidence of violent rage I feel towards the Today programme these days. Every morning now I shout rowdily at a kitchen radio as James Naughtie’s latest victim tries to pretend that they’re “doing all they can”; my feelings heightened because, having studied law, I have a far better understanding of the framework surrounding these issues than I used to.

Cat Pond smahes yet another radio

Learning the law has crystallised my natural cynicism – learnt from a father with a lifelong subscription to Private Eye and a Russian mother who still champions a healthy disdain for ‘capitalist liars’ years after the fall of the Soviet Union ¬ by allowing easy comprehension of exactly what a judicial review entails, or how paying salaries into a private limited company can avoid tax (I’m looking at you, Mr. Student Loans Chief). When that particular story broke, I was able to commence venting at the reporter before the tax explanation for lesser mortals was even broadcast. Clearly this can be chalked up as a valuable side-effect of a £25,000 legal education.

Amid my gladness at receiving these benefits, a question does arise as to whether law students may become warped in some way by their studies. Does the process of training us to become objective and results-orientated lawyers change our political views or reduce our compassion? My reaction to the recent cases of jurors being jailed for contempt of court suggests that it might.

Talking the case over during a phone conversation with a (non-lawyer) university friend of mine, I expressed outrage at the juror for interfering with the justice process in such a blatant manner. Echoing the respect taught in litigation courses for the overriding objective and duty of a solicitor as a court officer I argued passionately on the subject, pouring scorn on the juror’s behaviour. My friend was appalled and countered with the classic argument of, “Well, they didn’t mean to cause so much bother. Have a heart!” When I continued, unimpressed, my friend informed me that I’d changed from the free-wheeling liberal of my undergrad years. I had no choice but to agree with her.

Once influenced by the obligations of the law, which has no space for the benefit of the doubt given by non-lawyers to the stories they hear on the news, people seem to change a little. Maybe there’s some truth in the stereotype of dispassionate lawyers without a shred of human emotion. Or maybe we just really like shouting at the radio.

Cat Pond is currently studying the LPC at the College of Law. Previously she studied history of art, then completed the GDL, and hopes to go on to work for a London firm.

3 Responses to “Does Studying Law Destroy Your Soul?”

  1. Phil

    Interesting. I’ve seen something similar in myself but I think it’s also partly due to growing up and becoming a bit wiser and more balanced in one’s thinking.

    Also, practising law is not about becoming emotionless, it’s about learning not to let emotions cloud your judgement.

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  2. Ian

    I’m also on the LPC after doing a LLB degree and I think the opposite has happened! When I first started law, there was always “right” and “wrong” -never a shade of grey. Anyone who broke the law was in the “wrong” and therefore culpable.

    However, after 4 years of legal education, I now find myself empathising more and more with people who get in trouble with the law -be it the jurors who research their own cases, people who take on too much debt and get their house repossessed, or MPs who “scandalously” over-claim expenses. The legal system is very quick to hold people to standards that, in reality, have no reflection on everyday life. After studying modules such as criminology and human rights (both domestic and internationally), it is clear that societal imbalances lead to ‘offending’ -and much ‘crime’ is really just a form of social control by the rich. And I’m a Tory so I can’t believe I just wrote that!!

    More than anything, though, studying law has made me realise how, in many cases, one factor alone (i.e. individual “choice”) is never the sole cause of an event. Crimes don’t just happen; companies don’t just commit health & safety breaches etc -there is always a chain. The law often targets the weakest link in that chain.

    Whether this more liberal view of the world has come from the university experience, the study of law, or just getting a bit older, I don’t know!

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