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Bar News - September 5, 2008

The Doctor-Lawyer Debate: Why the Legal Profession Rules


This year’s Ross Essay Contest asked ABA members to address the topic, "Why do you believe the legal profession is the greatest profession in the world?" The contest and $5,000 grand prize is supported by a trust established in the 1930s by the late Judge Erskine M. Ross of Los Angeles and is administered by the ABA Journal. A winner will be announced and published in the August magazine. Eva W. Cole is a finalist the contest.

During my third year of law school, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) was planning to go to medical school. As a future litigator, I thoroughly enjoyed using the future doctor to hone my skills by what I called "debating" (and he called "fighting") over just about anything.

Though we engaged in many heated "debates" that year, ranging from whether we should move in together to the merits of the death penalty, one in particular stands out in my mind: Which profession is greater—law or medicine? As the daughter of two doctors, and soon to marry another, perhaps I felt a greater than usual need to win the debate, which is perhaps why it escalated into something a little less than civil so quickly.

The future lawyer: "The law exists on every level of society—and as a lawyer, you can choose which level to focus on. … The possibilities are endless." The future doctor: "Yes, but you know the saying ‘Without your health, you have nothing,’ and doctors ensure that everyone—even lawyers—have their health."

The future lawyer: "And lawyers—by creating laws, the very backbone of our social order—ensure that the world functions without devolving into total chaos." The future doctor: "Well, medicine exists on the most fundamental level …"

The future lawyer: "So what?! Medicine is in the details. But, the law, well—the law is everything!"

In my four short years of practicing law, I have learned to be a bit more sophisticated in advocating for my client’s positions than I was on that day advocating for my own. And, although my husband still makes fun of me for my grandiose conclusion—"The law is everything!"—I have also learned that it holds true with just a slight adjustment. The law is in everything and has a little bit of everything in it, which is why the legal profession is the greatest profession in the world. No offense to the doctors.

First, from a global perspective, the law is, indeed, in everything. It structures society from the most basic level to the most complex. It permeates every aspect of life from birth and marriage to business and politics. It allows different cultures and countries to come together on matters of global importance like free trade, fair competition and human rights. We have seen it triumph over things like gender and race discrimination in this country, and we see it working to triumph over things like human trafficking, terrorism and poverty both here and abroad. Those in the legal profession not only participate in discussions on these issues and many others but—by organizing, revising and maintaining a system in which achieving justice becomes possible—also help shape the future of our world.

In addition, from a more detailed practitioner’s perspective, there is a bit of everything involved in the practice of law. One must be part researcher, writer, strategist, psychologist, manager, businessperson and scholar, just to name a few. No other profession allows—and in fact requires—its members to be so versatile. Each case, each contract and each deal brings with it a new set of facts, necessitating an understanding of a different industry, a different individual or a different set of relationships.

For these reasons, I am never bored, consistently stimulated and always grateful that my profession is one that both demands that I be and allows me to be so involved in … well, everything.

Eva W. Cole is an associate at Dewey & LeBoeuf in New York City. Her essay was posted July 16, 2008, in the online ABA Journal and is reprinted with permission.

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