Law School: It Speaks for Itself
The first assignment to read hundreds of pages before the next morning set the tone for the next three years. The classic orientation speech in which the students, sitting as a mass, are told “Look to your right and left – one of you will not make it through the first year,” just reminded me that I had something to prove.
I had been cautioned all through undergraduate school to have a “plan b” because I would not make it through law school. “You’re not law school material,” said my advisor; “I know some lawyers, and you’re not one,” said the guy at church; “You look like one, but you just don’t have the academic ability…” Blah Blah Blah. I was determined to prove I could do this, and to prove the discouragers wrong.
Further, I was well settled into my faith now, and I meant to prove that a “Christian Lawyer” was not the oxymoron so many people said it was.
So, once again, the books were my most reliable and present friends. The guy below is obviously not me, as I could never grow that mustache. But the picture (from Paper Chase) does represent my condition for the first year in Jackson.
Aside from the professors “teaching us how to think like a lawyer,” they drilled several points into my head that first year:
Your opinion is worthless (as an attorney) until you wear a black robe. Therefore, always give authority for your points.
Specific words have specific meanings. If you use them recklessly, don’t blame someone else for their misunderstanding of your thought.
Stick to your argument until proven wrong. If that happens, accept it and move on.
Don’t just state conclusions. Be ready and able to give the premises and rationale behind every conclusion.
Be professional. Have some decorum. Address people by Mr./Ms. and their last name until instructed otherwise.
Dress well. People will judge you by your attire whether they should or not.
Living alone in an apartment encourages self-reliance as far as cooking and cleaning and such, and it also allowed loneliness and depression to mushroom where it may have been suppressed in the busy-ness of London and Alaska. But the reading – the books – was the escape. Where many of my classmates visited socially to escape the books, I spent more time with the books to escape the social, as my loneliness has always been the worst among people. Loneliness is a dish best enjoyed alone; otherwise it is very bitter.
My aversion to the people and my habit of replacing social interaction with books was probably exactly what proved the old advisors wrong. The people who prophesied that I wouldn’t make it didn’t count on me learning to use my social issues as a tool. But that’s what smart people do with “handicaps.” Blind people develop the other senses that much more. A friend in high school who could not use his legs developed stronger arms than most of the other guys. When I thought I was prepared for a class, I read more as an excuse for not going out with people. Had I not done that, I might have been in a different profession today.
Law professors – at least some of them – also have a way of instilling boldness, assertiveness, in students who will have it. Some call it the Socratic Method; others call it intentional humiliation. I understand the difference in these two, but I am also very familiar with how they mesh. My professors had quite a skill for making a student stand up to answer a question about last night’s reading, insist that he defend his answer, and then after several minutes of forced defense, explaining just how wrong he was in front of the class. That was motivation to prepare well.
I ended my first year neither at the top of the class nor at the bottom. I was NOT one of the people from the orientation class who didn’t make it, though the prediction was true about many students.
Since I have previously commented about how oblivious we can be to the world around us when we are soaked up in our own affairs, I will take the time to say that I met the Hinds County Prosecuting Attorney at the time – Bobby DeLaughter. I didn’t know it then, but he was working on the case of his lifetime then, and I just happened to have landed in Jackson, Mississippi at the right time to watch some history. That’s a subject for the next entry though.
Law school trained me to argue and trained me in solitude. I enjoyed both before, but now I was gaining skill at those arts.