wrestling with life experience and learning law

Yesterday in contracts, my professor contrasted the deductive reasoning typical in legal study with the inductive reasoning of the scientific method. Lawyers study statutes created by legislatures. They also study important cases, which make precedents which sort of trickle down and make up the common law. Scientists do experiments. After they have a lot of experimental results, they analyze and form theories. Social scientists conduct surveys, then consolidate the opinions or experiences of a great number of people in order to draw conclusions.

As he was talking, a small light bulb went on in my crowded brain.

I realized this inductive approach fit the way I have learned immigration laws for the past two years. Basically, thousands of people, including myself, gather on the immigrate2us.net forum seeking a way to reunite their families in the midst of harsh and often unforgiving immigration laws. Over time, someone like me, who reads most of the postings, draws conclusions from the experiences of all these people. I draw conclusions about the process itself, potential pitfalls, and what sort of things, for example, most effectively prove hardship for a waiver.

This is how myself, and many other experienced non-lawyers there, feel comfortable sharing our opinions in the forum. When one of us errs, someone else will catch it. The collective experiences, and our rudimentary knowledge of narrow sections of immigration law, makes us pretty useful for lots of people who simply cannot afford to hire an attorney. We also have the benefit of a few attorneys who volunteer their time for free chats and occasionally answer questions, but the vast, vast majority of the postings come from non-lawyers. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I started actually studying the Immigration and Nationality Act. Unfortunately, it’s just so much less engaging than the real stories of families.

Since becoming an official law student last month, I’ve joined a listserv called the National Immigration Project. Every day I receive dozens of e-mails correspondences between attorneys looking for assistance with matters of immigration law. PC (potential client) is substituted for real names and only the cold, hard, relevant facts make it to the e-mail. This summer, at the American Immigration Lawyers Association conference, I felt and inkling of the transition that was ahead of me. This is what lawyers do. I’m learning that every day. It’s about analyzing where a person’s actions or situation may or should fit into the law. It’s about arguing one side of that, regardless of what you think about it on a moral or human level.

This is the struggle for me, as I adapt to discussing legal matters in class, and also as I daydream from time to time about applying all this to immigration work. So as much as I have become endeared to the stories of families and the experiential view of these issues, I have to adjust. I have to become a lawyer without losing my soul.

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