Yesterday I flew to Little Rock, Arkansas for an afternoon meeting. I went ahead and flew over first thing in the morning, and rented a car. I decided to go to one of my favorite parks.
I drove up Highway 10 a few miles north of town to Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Pinnacle Mountain, a small mountain (no Arkansas mountains are truly large), overlooks the Arkansas River valley. I stopped by the small visitor's center, and then drove over to the parking lot for the mountain trail. Two routes lead up Pinnacle Mountain. I think of them as the easy route and the hard route. The hard route, in some ways, proves more easy to climb than the easy route. The hard route goes straight up over small boulders. The easy route meanders. The extra stress required by the hard route's ascent fails to outweigh the extra walking involved in the gentle meander upwards.
I climbed Pinnacle Mountain, just as I have dozens of times since my college days. When I attended law school, I frequently enjoyed an afternoon retreat up Pinnacle Mountain. The surrounding woodland yesterday featured Fall color to a far greater extent than we experience in north Texas, because Arkansas Fall comes in a crisp, pleasant chill rather than the warmer Fall in Texas. In Texas, unaided by truly cool air until November, the leaves fall over a span of months, so that only in rare years do we have real color in the trees all at once.
When I reached the top, a huge cloud covered the mountain, obscuring any view of the rolling river valley below. I stood and listened, to birds singing and to motorboats on the nearby river. I watched wisps of fog/cloud rolling up the mountain, sometimes spiralling just a few feet from me. I stood and enjoyed the peacefulness of being alone on a mountaintop for a few moments.
On the trip down, I saw dozens of chipmunks, scurrying among the giant rocks on which I climbed.
I then wandered the city a bit, trying to find a familiar haunt for lunch. I used the towel I picked up on the way to the mountain to dust myself up a bit, and changed into a suit at a local city park restroom. I stopped to eat at Nan King, a hole in the wall off Cantrell at which I often got sweet and sour pork twenty years ago, when I attended law school. I ate chicken with broccoli, although I always forgot to ask the restaurant to use oyster sauce rather than soy sauce.
Little Rock remains a charming city, small and down to earth, with lovely homes. I loved living there, although I also love living where I live now. I intend to go back with my wife for a weekend next year.
I attended the Alumni Board meeting at my law school. My law school moved since I graduated, to an older building that served as the medical school my father attended. The law school folks wrote me some weeks ago to advise me of my nomination for the Alumni Board on the school. I found that several of us, along with the old board folks, attended the function and received similar nominations. This relieved me a bit, as finding that I served with a large group meant that the position offered great opportunities to help without the inconveniece of actually being "directors" on a board. I felt a a slight pang of disappointment that being a "member of the board" proved less stellar as a kudo than I imagined, but I lacked any desire to attend twelve meetings, so that worked out fine. I intend to figure out how I can help.
I liked helping my undergraduate school with college fairs at local universities. Perhaps law school fairs exist, suitable for booth-manning.
Other than the law school dean and the woman who organizes outreach, whom I met briefly before, I knew nobody among the dozens of folks in the room. I came from the furthest away, some 300 miles. Most of my classmates never leave Arkansas to work. I felt that little bit of loneliness that one gets when one realizes that times as vivid as yesterday took place twenty years ago, and everyone moved on.
After the formalities of confirmation of the board members and the (rather staged) election of officers,
the dean of the law school spoke to the group. He pointed out how the school upgraded the audio-visuals in the classrooms. The classroom in which we sat featured these upgrades. As with many law classes,
the seats arrayed in rows of semi-circled tables ascending from and facing a speaker's podium. Microphones provided amplification of not only the speaker, but also of the students, as participation through being called upon (and sometimes confronted) regularly occurs in law school classes. I remembered my own school days, in a huge lecture hall, when a called-upon student in the wrong acoustical part of the room shouted to be heard. The visuals at the new lecture room permitted the speaker to be portrayed on screens, so that even the people at roomside shared views of the speaker's visage, which rather defeats the purpose of sitting in the corner.
The dean enthusiastically described new faculty members, including a professor specializing in critical race theory, a variant of the critical legal studies movement I find an interesting but arguably complete detour from the highest goals of law scholarship. I thought for a moment how I once longed most of all to teach at this law school. I felt glad I came to the meeting, yet I also felt removed and remote from everyone there, at this law school in a different building with different people with a different way of looking at things. I feel a huge debt of gratitude to my law school, though, so that I intend to profit by adjusting to the differences and contributing a bit.
We signed up as to our skills on a sheet of paper, to give us the chance to pitch in as board members. Then the brief meeting ended. I drove by my old law school building, the old Post Office, and smiled with delight to see it is now the United States Bankruptcy Court. I drove by the huge house that served as the law office for the man I clerked for while I attended law school. Another lawyer owns that building now.
I drove to the airport, nothing as always that when the overpass crosses a bit of Arkansas River lowlands, I wished to visit that lowlands area. I thought while I awaited the airplane how although I left law school wanting most of all to be a law academic, I assiduously did none of the things that
my resume demanded if I wished to choose this path. I failed to apply for any judicial clerkships, on the theory that people help best when they help as independent agents for good, arising from the private market, rather than "falling into" the career system of clerkships and large law firms.
I failed to follow the established route--practice for the requisite few years, and then go get an LLM in law from a top school. When the time arose, I felt dissatisfied with my law practice skills, and instead bought a house to impose an obligation (and hence roots) on myself to force myself to work hard to figure out how to pratice law. When, a few years later, I felt ready to teach, I declined to take the financial risks of getting the LLM, as law faculty jobs proved more scarce than when I graduated. I tried to apply for a few, even without the ribbon of an LLM, but never made it past the cut.
Last night I realized how many ways I on paper sought to be a law professor, but in practice failed to do the resume-credit things one achieves to be in the running for such a post. I think part of this arose from a lack of any advice as to what best to do. My deep desire, often exercised, to help college kids and law kids with law school and law careers stems in part from the fact that I never got any advice of any real use. My law school only understood two or three career models, and students pretty much deveoped their own career strategies. Virtually everyone got jobs, so nobody spent any time or concern on "hey, here's what you do with what you have and your interests".
I also realized how much I invested in my idea that I need deviate from the established path, and force my own path. Perhaps owning my own firm, my "fallback" goal, better satisfied my personality in the long run. I still learned the lesson that even today I seek to weed out notions about how things "ought to be", and
work on practical ways to achieve and enjoy what I really want.
I figured out everything I knew on my own, and any gaps in my own knowledge proved to be gaps in my career savvy, costing me opportunities. Now that I see the good and bad in my own choices, I take the time to help others with their law choices. I hope that on the alumni board I help kids with such matters, in one way or another.
I flew home, glad to return to my wife, and tell her stories of chipmunks on the rocks.