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The Falling-Down Professions

Sobering but not surprising--especially for those of us who train professional students.

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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Is it possibly because the sexy "new" jobs are attractive to the "me, me" crowd and the older helping professions had more of a "we, we" appeal? Or am I just way too naive about now and then?

Well, as Gore Vidal said "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."

Cathy, I think this is a most important thread and I hope many contributions will appear.For a number of years. I headed a statewide professional association in the criminal justice field. I also encountered a number of outstanding members of the bar.What mattered was a commitment to some rather clear idea of justice and service, not how man hours could I bill for myself or the firmor politically advance a career.Part of the problem was the slipping ideal of the common good.Similarly in medicine. Here in Los Alamos, an outstanding doc, who serves on several national committes on medical legislatation (also a fellow parishoner), was also my gp, but has pulled back as the pravtrice leader as the practice needs to compete financially.How professionalism functions in the current environment of the gospel of economy as THE gospel is a profound challenge for the young.So they go from place to place exploring (in my experience) looking for the values that I'm sure you and ND espose but society may well not.How to cross that divide??

Jimmy, Maybe you and Bob are naive also. We used to joke about how the Jesuits use to teach us to obey the church and "go out and make a fortune." However, one slices that article, Cathy, it does seem to come down to money and prestige. How does it figure that the Hierarchy has always catered to the aristocracy while Jesus was of the poor class. He never would have been able to hang out. I think that Catholic colleges kid themselves with their token organizations for the poor while most graduates aspire to have a bigger house, better box seat, opera box , etc. than everybody else. Who do bishops and university presidents hand out with?

The key point of the article seems to me to be this: If you want to make money--if that's your basic goal--don't go into law or medicine--go into investment banking. So when law firms--big law firms--start treating their partners and their associates as if what's at stake is merely making money, they are sowing the seeds of their own demise. Yes lawyers are paid well, but the people they structure the deals for are paid more.So I think the big firms are fooling themselves if they think it's just a matter of a "nice job" here and smiley face there. The problem is that the meaning's been sucked out of being a lawyer --the distinctive way of contributing to the common good--out of being a lawyer. No amount of money can compensate for the loss of that.Law--being a beginning associate--isn't a glamorous job. I remember sitting in a room with endless boxes doing due diligence too. That's something, I think, most people could deal with if they saw the larger point of what they were doing. More and more young people don't see something they want to grow into--a life they want to grow into. They look at junior partners (age, say 36, and say... . for what?)On the money thing, well, the less time you have, the more money you need, at least I found. You don't have time to shop discount--you run in and pay full price. You feel deprived, because you're working all the time, and when you finally get a vacation, you take two days in the Bahamas.

I think that in the last thirty years at least society has moved from thinking that the profit motive is an important motive for work, to thinking that it's the most important motive, to thinking that it's the only motive. The (former) "professions" are not the only victims. There is no longer any real sense that people go into public service for anything other than personal profit, either. "Interests" are always personal and by definition always selfish and maximizing. Form and substance are detached; people want to appear to be professional or whatever in order to get ahead. Everyone has a title now and everyone seems to need a better title next year. And the really sad (but ironic) thing is that all of this came from the Right.

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