Today’s post weaves together the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the music of Nellie McKay, and Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.
But it seems so creepy. Winning can leave you feeling sleazy. – Nellie McKay, “Beneath the Underdog.”
On May 2, the New York Times quoted one of the approximately 30 unfortunate law students that lost his summer employment with the fall of Dewey: “A firm may look like a corporation, yes, but we’re all part of a fraternity of lawyers.” Two days later, James Stewart’s NYT article asserts that Dewey’s demise “shatters the perception” that “law is at heart still a guild . . . a profession more than a business.” Stewart supports his premise with a former Dewey partner’s lament that firms are partnerships in name, but that attorneys have become free agents and thus destabilized the legal profession.
The debate that Sandel seeks to further in What Money Can’t Buy seems to have an important place in the changing landscape of the legal profession. In short, we have transformed from a market economy to a market society. This transition has been done thoughtlessly, has resulted in negative consequences and it is time to have a robust debate about where market systems should not exist or at least have greater limitations based on moral considerations.
While I share the optimism and belief of the law student quoted above about law being something more than a business, my experiences since law school lead me to simultaneously share the sentiments of Stewart about the legal profession (to a degree) and Sandel about our national dialogue beyond law. To be sure, money cannot be wholly extracted from the legal profession, nor do I believe it would even be a positive development, let alone a practical one. But, the calling of justice certainly cannot be solely (or most likely predominantly) market based without losing focus on the role that the profession of law plays in society.
As for Nellie McKay, she is an eclectic, edgy, independent musician whose lyrics often seem apropos as I reflect on the events of the day. Another great line from her song quoted above: “I don’t get people. I don’t get the things they think are reasonable.” Here’s her somewhat bizarre video for Beneath the Underdog. Another song that may be of interest to the Lounge is her Song for Troy Davis.