On Saturday afternoon we drove the two hours from my parents' home in Camden up to Little Rock. We went to the new law school, right off the interstate in downtown, across from the park which commemorates General Douglass MacArthur. The "new" law school is located in the "old" medical school building where my father began medical school fifty years ago. The interior had been gutted and rebuilt into a very impressive law school.
They had a reception with wine and cheese. I rarely drink wine and prefer my cheese on pizzas. But we enjoyed the function nonetheless. I got to see a couple of old professors and shake their hands. They remembered who I was, which was nice. I could not think of anything great to say to them, as I never was someone who was a particular "buddy" of my professors, though I liked most of my professors.
The reunion was for all the classes ending in 4. A lot of people came, but only three from our class of 1984 came. We stood around and talked about what became of everyone we knew. It was great to see old friends and relive old memories. I had heard Friday night from our "out there" friend Jeff, so that those of us at the reunion could share amusing stories about curious things he had done during law school and the twenty years thereafter.
We talked about two people whose lives have not worked out that well for them. That made me a bit sad. The other two kids leaned over to my wife and said "You know your husband was the smartest person in our class", which was, in point of fact, not true, but was very flattering. Most of the people in my class came out fine, and still live in Arkansas. I believe that few of them attended the reunion because they see the people they like from class all the time.
The function was very well done, with no subtle or not-so-subtle requests for money and no dross. Perhaps they should have given a bit more notice, but that's a trifling matter.
I thought as we drove home how I took to law school like the proverbial duck to water. It transformed me from soneone aimless who had no idea what he was to do in life into someone who knew he could do one thing in life. Sometimes I look at roads not taken, and sometimes I imagine other things I might yet do. Who knows? I might take up a new career in later life. But I'm grateful to my law school. It was so down to earth and practical and yet so liberating and fascinating. I loved the intellectual dilemmae of the law, and I love them yet.
I loved the way law school lived in the question, and not in the answers. Answers are in the library. But questions are so much more elusive. I loved Socratic queationing, as the professor tried to illustrate the case by fencing with a student--question after question after question, until the student's position had taken an absurd turn. I loved that the issues were very practical, but the rules were often theoretical. I loved the people who, by and large, took law school very seriously.
Almost nobody flunked out of our law school. But dozens of people left within the first few months. They did not like the confrontational nature of law classes, in which the professor singles out individual classmates for extended Socratic debate.
They did not like that it takes more to excel than a good memory. In many cases, they came to realize that there are fields of study leading to kinder and gentler professions than law.
The decision to go to law school was very difficult for me. I wanted to do something that would help people, and I was concerned that being a lawyer would amount to "being co-opted". But law school proved a wonderful thing for me. I've always been grateful for my law school.
When I left law school, I was sure I'd practice for two years, go get an LLM, and then become a law professor. Instead, I've now practiced for nearly twenty years.
It's been a demanding life, but in many ways a good life. What would my life had been had I done graduate work in English instead, as I originally meant to do? What would my life had been had I accepted the job in the small town paper I was offered, or if I had gotten the job as a safety engineer? What if I had gotten an Ivy League L.L.M. and gotten a teaching job? What if I'd studied hard in school and become a doctor like my father? Who can say?
I've had a career in which I've worked very hard, but had a materially comfortable life. I am almost never bored, and I spend my days untying intellectual knots. I get to do good for people in ways I always hoped were possible sometimes. Sometimes lately I notice I can work a miracle with one letter.
It's perhaps a bit maudlin to be deeply grateful to a school, where I toiled for three years before beginning my career. But I am deeply grateful to my law school.
Law school days were among my happiest. The training I got at my law school prepared me so well that I seemed to start my practice knowing a lot of things that the other kids did not know. I think this is because at my school, they taught a lot of practical stuff, because my school produced few "thought leaders", but many
good old fashioned practical lawyers.
I always hoped one day I would teach at that law school. When I applied there to do so once, I got merely the form "lotta applicants" letter back. I thus more or less learned that I never will teach there. This is not surprising, as most academic places want to bring in people from "top" schools, to burnish up their faculty list. It's one of the ironies of practical little law schools that they can be as "status-conscious" as anyone, even as they generate graduates who practice among "status" graduates without hesitation. Although law schools and some large law firms care about things like "school rank", I never yet found that any graduate from any solid little law school had a disadvantage in practice against the "name schools". The issue literally does not come up in practice. In order to have a chance to teach law school, I'd need a "name" LLM degree, and even then, my odds would be only roughly fifty-fifty. Each time my wife and I considered this option before we moved to Texas, this seemed an untenable risk and expenditure of funds. We chose setting up my own business with a friend instead, and I think we made the right choice.
But maybe there is something to be said for building houses instead of teaching carpentry. I have a somewhat unique practice these days, in which at 9 a.m., I might be helping someone with a five thousand dollar problem, and then at 2 p.m., be on a conference call about a billion dollar project. This is the type of practice I always dreamed about having. Law has always been a financially very workable thing for me, although I've never made the massive sums that some lawyers do. I learned once that after x dollars/year, the only difference resulting from making x + y dollars/year is in things that don't matter, like a fancier car or a bigger house. I do not live my life in deep need to grasp fancy houses or eight hundred dollar suits. I can buy a chess book on eBay, and dinner at the local Persian restaurant.
I always meant this journal to be a journal giving advice to kids going to law school, after I used to be a "regular" over at the vault.com law career boards, telling people what the "down to earth" practice of law truly proves to be. But
this journal is instead a concentrated guide to trivia of my life, and I stopped posting at vault.com roughly because they decided to start charging people for viewing their own message board postings after 60 days and because the board had become so negative as, as happens so often, a few trolls spent way too much time posting their stories of personal bitterness about going to law school or, in the case of one would-be wit, obviously fake posts about being a "rich" lawyer and the supposed license that gave to belittle others. I was amused, though, that one fair critique of my posts on the board was that I encouraged people to work hard. Another fair critique was that I was upbeat. I think that law school is not for everyone, but for some people I think it's just right. It was just right for me.
I even managed to stop being a "resident expert" on www.allexperts.com, because during a business trip I failed to answer a question within the required three days.
I miss giving advice to potential law students, even though on allexperts.com, I seemed to answer far too many "homework interview for 11th grade" questions.
Maybe I will set up an LJ or a website about law careers again someday. But right now I have a lot of things to focus on at work. I have a very heavy court schedule in May. But it was fun to remember law school, and relive those days again, if only for a moment with a few.