NEOPHYTE LAWYER: YEAR ONE
Day Thirteen: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Welcome to the first of what I plan to be a weekly series of articles dealing with starting a legal career. Specifically, my legal career. This really isn’t something that we covered in any of my law school classes. One day, you’re reading casebooks, studying for finals, taking
finals, and all the other stuff you’ve been doing for the past three years (or longer, in some cases… ). The next, you’re shaking the dean’s hand, posing for a photo, and flipping the tassel from one side of that silly-looking hat to the other. Congratulations, Mr. Black. You are now a lawyer.
I’ve been reading a lot of news articles and blog entries recently about the downside of going to law school. Lawyerist recently wrote about Law School Transparency (LST), a Tennessee non-profit organization trying to bring more accuracy to law school employment data reports. Above the Law has published a series of articles dealing with the infamous U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, the effects of said rankings at Emory Law School, efforts to get the ABA and the DOE more involved in punishing law schools for inaccurately reporting post-graduation employment data, and on and on. I’ve even read articles in The Economist and the NPR website talking about whether even going to college is a good idea.
So, with all this negativity, why choose to go to law school in the first place? And why now, of all times? At this point in my career, with the ink newly dried on my diploma, my brand-new Utah Bar Association card in my wallet, and my certificates of admission from the Utah Supreme Court and the United States District Court waiting to be framed and hung on the wall, perhaps a little navel-gazing is in order. How did I get here?
Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to write a journal before. So a lot of this will be
filtered through my memory. Or, as Mac MacAnally put it:
It’s a semi-true story
Believe it or not
I made up a few things
And there’s some I forgot.
But the life and the tellin’
Are both real to me
And they all run together and turn out to be
A semi-true story.
“Son, why don’t you go to law school?”
The law has always been at least a peripheral part of my life. I come from a family
of lawyers. My dad, the epitome of a plaintiff’s lawyer, was always working on, or waiting for, the next “big case.” That was just part of our lives growing up.
As I was reaching the end of my high school days, like many of my classmates, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I certainly did not want to be a lawyer. So I engaged in minor acts of rebellion. Seriously. Emphasis on the “minor.” I went to an out-of-state college (A major act of rebellion would have been to go to B.Y.U. But you have to draw the line somewhere…). I didn’t major in Political Science (History and Theatre). And when I graduated, I applied to graduate programs in History and Theater. No law schools.
After my first year in graduate school at Northeastern, I came home for the summer.
One day, after Dad got home from work, he came downstairs to the basement. Out
of the blue, he looked at me and said, “Son, why don’t you go to law school next fall?”
Caught rather off-guard by this, I answered, “Well, Dad, I’m already in the middle of
one graduate program. And I haven’t been accepted into any law schools. And I haven’t applied to any law schools. And I haven’t taken the LSAT.” He thought about that for a moment, then said, “Oh. Okay.” And went back upstairs. I guess the process of applying for law school was somewhat easier in the 1930s. I don’t know.
The subject never came up again. I resumed my studies. Dad continued to work on the
next “big case,” ably assisted by my brother and sister.
“Well, why not?”
It took me 17 years to find the real answer that question. In the meantime, I earned two Master’s Degrees, moved from Boston to Los Angeles and back to Salt Lake City (with a brief stop in Arlington, Virginia, for a summer internship), drove all the way across the country and back, watched the smoke from the L.A. riots rise above the city from the Griffith Park Observatory, got a job as a runner at a law firm that I was ridiculously overqualified for (and stuck with for far too long), taught History at Salt Lake Community College for so long that I can’t actually remember when I started there, and helped take care of my Dad after he suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side and
limited his ability to speak, read, and write.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the answer before Dad died. My wheels still had to spin a bit
more, I guess. But finally, I came to the realization. Despite the way it is often depicted in popular culture, there is nothing inherently dishonorable with the legal profession. It is, as my sister often says, a noble profession. It sounds a little sappy, and perhaps naïve to say that out loud. But it is true, nonetheless. It has to be, if you think about it. Otherwise, chaos reigns.
Why didn’t I go to law school back in 1986? The answer was, and is, simple: I wasn’t ready, mentally or emotionally. I needed a few more miles behind me, in order to figure out who I was, where I was going, and what my best talents were.
None of my relatives entered the profession for wealth, fame, or personal glory. They did it to help people. Ultimately, that’s what it is all about. Helping people navigate this foreign land we call the “legal system,” and successfully resolving their problems. I didn’t understand that when I was in my twenties. I had glimpses of it when I was in my thirties. The glimpses have started to make more sense now that I’m in my forties.
Will I make a fortune at this? Probably not. Will there be frustrations along the way? Probably more than I can count. Will it be worth it in the end? That remains to be seen, but I have reason to hope.
And so, as I begin this voyage, I am reminded once again of the infinite wisdom of the late Jerry Garcia.
What a long, strange trip it’s been, indeed.
So. That’s my story. What’s yours? For my fellow law school survivors out there, what brought you to the law? What challenges are you facing, either in law school or out? If you’re willing to share, I’m willing to listen.