It’s amazing to me that the “profession” of lawyering gets so much credibility. This line sent chills down spines in this household:
Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums o
f lawyers to read documents for weeks on end.
HVAC technicians don’t get herded like that, but the commodified lawyer still gets more social prestige. Go figure.
That quote’s from an NYT article about electronic aids to legal document analysis. It’s a great read if you aren’t in a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god relationship with the sorts of tasks they’re describing.
The article talks about “sociological” document analysis, using fragments of communications to reconstruct chains of responsibility. There is something called the Enron Corpus, some half-million emails sent within Enron, that has been made public for research use. They’re using this to train software to take millions of communications and figure out who had what authority, who was in touch with whom, etc. Kind of interesting. I can’t imagine how an auditorium full of people would have done that, and I’m glad I’ll never be one of them.
Well, I actually did spend the better part of a summer doing something similar, although since I was working for a non-profit there was only me, not auditoriums full of people like me. That was for a legal defense job. The government alleged that this guy was in cahoots with all these other guys, who were in cahoots with other guys, who collectively constituted a warren of bad guys. It looked like there was one person they could stick firm charges to, and they were just doing all they could to connect anyone they didn’t like to that one guy. The job I threw myself at (see previous post about embracing shitty jobs) was to identify the different sources of allegations, try to drill down to the ‘original’ source (to eliminate situations were one allegation is repeated many times, giving it a false air of authority) and then understand what exactly is happening, if anything, between these people. I ended up mapping the relationship in a way not dissimilar to what the NYT article shows. However in the case I was working on the allegations proved to be very flimsy, so rather than the dense map of connections depicted in the link above, there was, well, nothing, really.
There aren’t many connections so it looks like it isn’t much work, but
it is. That’s the reductio ab absurdum* of tens of thousands of pages of documents from six countries. I put the diagram in an Annex to my research, but it never got used, I don’t think — in the meantime, exculpatory evidence had come out that made it unnecessary.
Honestly, I enjoyed the job. It taught me the importance of facts. Something actually happened, and what actually happened matters. Digging down through the muck of loose allegations and inferences to get to the facts felt useful. A professor had encouraged me not to get involved in that; it was better to work at redefining the crime (appellate work) than to worry about whether individuals were actually guilty of one. But that kind of thinking didn’t feel right to me.
Still, there’s nothing special about that job. Just a bunch of folks in an auditorium for weeks on end, earning paychecks.
* That’s an attempt at a pun in a dead language. Why do I even try these things? The joke is probably unclear and probably wrong. Reduction from absurdity, ha ha ha. But actually I’m not sure what case “from” is supposed to go with, or what the right case ending is. I never could tell a joke…
Previously, on Hard Consonant:
- If right is wrong, I don't want to be wΔz : the problem of living aspirational values
- People with no arguments love people with arguments
- Life is an empirical subject: what to do about the limits of our empathy
- I see your metaphysics and raise you: there's something interesting about law after all
- People with no evidence can't stand people with no evidence