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The Law School is a Dungeon, and You are Its Prisoner

In Plato’s book The Republic, there is a famous chapter called “the Allegory of the Cave.” In the story, Socrates leads his pupil Glaucon through a cave and they discuss what they see. In the cave there is a group of prisoners chained on benches and bound to look forward to a wall. Behind them are puppeteers, hidden from sight, who operate marionettes in front of a fire, which projects a play that appears on the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners cannot see the puppeteers, and having been locked in the dark cave for their whole lives, the shadows are not shadows at all. For them, these ghostly figures are very real.

Socrates and Glaucon know better because they walk freely in the cave and can see both the prisoners and the puppets. They have a better purchase on reality because their perspective allows them to see things others cannot see.

From time to time a prisoner is released from the shackles. At first, he resists being released; the cave has been his home and is all he knows. He also refuses to look back at the fire, because it is too bright. It blinds him. But he is forced to take it in, for his own good. In doing so he realizes that the shadows are not real. For the first time he sees the puppets and he sees the fire.

This new reality is both astonishing and painful. Astonishing, because it is hard to believe. Painful, because it is a total disruption of the prisoner’s sense of reality. Then, he is forced to climb further, out of the cave altogether, into the daylight world he has never known. Now he sees things the way they really are. The cave, the puppets and the fire; all of these things he understands for the first time.

At the end of the allegory, Socrates and Glaucon consider the condition of the poor prisoner that has been released. Socrates asks an interesting question: Would any such prisoner want to return to that prior world of darkness and the lack of understanding of reality that came with it? No. He never would, they conclude. Understanding the truth is too important.

The One L year is a lot like Plato’s cave. It’s dark and mysterious. There are puppets and there is a fire. You are being shown a shadow world that doesn’t exist. Even so, it seems real because you simply don’t know anything else. And there is a chorus of voices from every direction reinforcing your distorted understanding of the world surrounding you.

At the end of nine months you will get escorted out of the One L cave and you will see the light. But, you will pay dearly to obtain your sight. You will think to yourself: “if only I had been aware of the world I was in, I could have handled it so much more effectively.” And that would be a true statement.

There is a reason Two Ls can go have a beer at three on a Tuesday, or walk into a class with confidence though they haven’t read the assignment. They are outside of the cave. They see the shadows and they have seen the fire.

My goal is to pull you out of the cave now, before you go in, to give you the perspective you would otherwise have only after you had gone through it. You need the insights that the freed prisoners have. My goal is to give them to you.

One Comment

  1. Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    I am a man whose ordeals and life challenges have made it impossible to achieve the dream of getting a law degree!
    Can you help me?

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