Dean Douglas cut an interesting figure. He dressed like a school administrator, but his haircut was redolent of the Monkees. His face was not unlike that of Gilbert Humph, Bob Parr’s boss at Insuracare in The Incredibles. His demeanor was similar as well. It took me all of 10 seconds, sitting across from him as he hunkered down behind his desk, to realize that The Dean found me about as interesting as a dust mote in a dark corner.
The Dean: [Staring at legal notepad on his desk, pen in hand] Name?
Me: [Confused as to whether he's asking me or the notepad] Um … David McGill.
The Dean: [Scribbling my name on notepad, still looking at it] College?
Me: [Quickly learning that the only way to proceed was to pretend that I was the notepad, and therefore, the most interesting thing in the office to The Dean] Williams College.
The Dean: LSAT Score?
Me: [Reminding myself I'm the notepad] 1xx [as I sit here today, I barely remember the scoring system, much less my score. I know both involved 3 digits. But my results weren't impressive. Hence, my meeting with The Dean of this school instead of The Dean at a different school.]
The Dean: [So galled by my score that he's now locked in on the notepad as if the secrets of the universe are inscribed upon it and looking upon my visage might prevent him from transforming into the godlike creature he aspires to become once he assimilates the information thereon] That’s pretty low. [Looks up at me for the first time to see how I respond to this shot across my bow.] So why do you think you deserve to come here?
Me: [Contemplating his rectangular face, permanent five o'clock shadow, blue dress shirt and Dwight Schrute tie]. Well [I had prepared for this question], tests don’t capture the full picture of a student. Relying on one part of one day to define any person probably isn’t a true measure of the person or their potential. My undergraduate record at one of the finest schools in the country proves I can handle the intellectual rigors of law school [blah blah blah blah blah].
There may have been additional conversation after this answer, but if there was I certainly don’t remember it. The only thing I do recall is finding myself back in the hallway only minutes after I had gone in, fairly certain that things hadn’t gone well.
A few weeks later, I received my acceptance letter.
* * *
When people think of law school, they think of movies like The Paper Chase or (gulp) Legally Blonde. Both of those movies portray the education provided at Harvard Law School as rigorous, intense, and interesting. Movies lie.
Law school is just drudgery. Professors assign more pages than any human can possibly read in the time allotted. Memorizing staggering amounts of information becomes the primary measure of success, rather than teaching people how to actually perform tasks they might need in their professional lives.
I slogged through the first year taking the required courses. I tried study groups but hated working with other students who seemed more intent on proving what they knew than truly collaborating. So I ended up flying solo and spent most of my time not in school doing the bare minimum to get acceptable grades.
As I transitioned from my first to my second year, the primary difference was that I got to choose the classes that didn’t interest me in the latter. The subject area I honed in on for “Law School Courses I Don’t Care About But That Might Be Relevant In My Future Life” was labor law. The brilliant rationale underlying my focus in this area was that it would help me become either (a) the next Marvin Miller, or (b) General Counsel for Major League Baseball. And if that fell through, apparently I was going to move to West Virginia to represent coal miners.
But more noteworthy than the courses was the professor who taught them, a man in his 60′s with a resplendent white mustache that extended in sweeping fashion from his mouth almost to his ears. It was spectacular. I would find myself sitting through lectures focusing not on the words coming from the professor’s mouth, but rather, on the magical expanse of silver carving a path across his cheeks. I wondered how he had ever decided to claim this 18th-century sea captain look for himself as a 20th century lawyer. I mulled over how he could keep it so symmetrical without using a ruler to measure it.
From these comments, it should be obvious why I don’t remember much about the substance of those courses. My clearest memory is of Resplendent Mustache warning us never to go to Barcelona because of “the pickpockets” there. He was adamant about this. Perhaps I remember it so well because he was so much more passionate about this single statement than he was about the subject matter comprising the other 99.9% of his teachings. The Barcelona advice at least had the distinct advantage, compared to what I had so far learned in law school, of being practical.
It wasn’t until my third year that I found something that interested me. I took a course between semesters offered through the National Institute of Trial Lawyers. Following this, I tried out for the University’s trial team and was selected. I had found my calling: I could become a first-rate pretend trial lawyer. (Sadly, it turns out, this is not an actual profession. If it was, I would be earning a pretend $800/hour successfully representing imaginary clients.)
You might think, based upon this experience, that I would funnel my new-found passion into finding a job that got me into a courtroom. You would be wrong.
Instead, I jumped at the opportunity to sit behind a desk for 14 hours a day poring over insurance contracts so that I could draft opinions for our clients – insurance companies – about whether their policies covered a particular claim or not. And no, I had not taken one course on insurance law at any point in the previous three years.
I was getting paid $55,000 to review exactly the same clause in comprehensive general liability contracts over and over and over again. Surely, this was the pathway to a limitless future.
(Next week: Part 3)