if you had told me six months ago that i will be applying to law school, i would have laughed at your face. i have long held a bias against lawyers–i was raised by a liberal mother with an “unconventional” career path (at least, only few would perceive being an artist as a standard 9-5 deal), i attended liberal institutions where people often called lawyers soulless liars, and my closest blood relative (upon whom i do not look very favorably) is possibly the most famous lawyer in korea.
on top of that, i have always lived by a (perhaps childish) rebel principle. i have to do everything differently from others. my ideas have to be fresh and unique; if a lot of people wear a certain kind of color, i wear the opposite. i come from a korean household, whose culture insists that lawyers, doctors, or multi-billionaire business people are the embodiments of success. i don’t agree with such a narrow definition of success. although i have toyed with the idea of med school for my dream of becoming a surgeon, i never wanted to do any of those things just because they spelled success to certain people.
i always loved reading and writing. i was that kid at dinner who was reading a different book everyday, who had to be told to put her book down because we have to eat. i wrote story after story in volumes of notebooks which i illustrated. i loved (still love) pictures and language. in high school i studied three different languages in addition to the two i knew. i went on to study art and literature in college, then wrote criticism about art while doing translations.
i found immense satisfaction in studying the way languages work, how they’re used, how miscommunications occur. all this i did through writing and reading fiction, essays, criticism, theory, etc. but i often got the sense that a lot of it felt detached from the real world. it’s fun, and sometimes revelatory, but so what? i come back down from the cloud and things remain the same.
then i found a new toy: law. i am ashamed to admit that i would skip over news about certain policy changes, court rulings, etc., because i thought, ultimately, the world is going to shit anyway so why should i care? but one day i realized that what lawyers do is just another way of manipulating language in order to achieve ends, sometimes with very high stakes and very direct consequences.
think about it: nothing is stable. we have things we call “facts” because they resemble states of “being” that are “generally” thought as stable enough for us to give them a name. but many of us know that regardless of what the dictionary says, what one understands by a certain word or phrase might mean something quite different from what another thinks. that’s why we communicate–communication through language is the constant method by which we put “our” definitions to play with others’, constantly reaffirming and/or readjusting through negotiations. these definitions come from our own experiences of understanding things in the world. and honestly, there isn’t always a clear-cut right or wrong in beliefs. how else could it be? we each think with a brain located in separate physiological units.
legal language asserts a standardized system of language that (i think) is theoretically supposed to serve as the common ground by which we communicate so that we can coexist in a fairly orderly society. however, legal language is not and cannot be a democratic common ground–by a strict definition of democracy anyway. language requires interpretation, from which no legal language–no matter how seemingly straight forward–is exempt. thus, on the level of practice, the use of legal language is essentially a fight between groups of people about ontology and beliefs. a certain belief (interpretation) will be held as correct (the “definition”), depending on who holds more power among those who can speak this language.
but do the masses of people who are able to speak this language (through legal education) necessarily represent all the different kinds of ontologies? here, i am thinking about art: when policies and decisions are made about art, does the law recognize the different understandings of art? the discourses taking place? what its role is and what it should be? do the legal speakers, practitioners, advocates, decision-makers?
probably not. if some do, probably very few, because the idea of “specialized” professions gives the false illusion that certain realms are irreconcilable, when sometimes, it is just a matter of translation–moving between different languages. people shy away from these imaginary walls and try to stay within their “own boundaries.” but when people shy away from legal discursive activities, they also relinquish their power of speech as well as their system of beliefs. this is all very cliche and frequently thrown around american ideals, but seriously, do many legal practitioners know that richard prince’s appropriations are art, not just because of their purported monetary value?
luckily powerhouse artists like prince can afford attorneys who can win their cases, but what about others? sure, this is not just an art thing–many people can’t afford lawyers–but i have a feeling that there aren’t enough people who can speak and manipulate legal language in addition to being attuned to the current dialogues, developments, and beliefs in artistic practices–that is, the “definitions” of art.
my aspiration is to be a translator, a role which requires an understanding of both languages. so i have decided to learn a new language–this is my defense for pursuing a legal education.