You go to law school, and you quit after five weeks. You wind up doing something else, and do well at it. Still, a part of you wonders what might have been, with that thing you didn’t do. Why would someone concern themselves about that? I don’t know. But I suspect “crazy” has something to do with it.
I went to law school because it was September, and you always go to school in September. Even today, September comes, and I feel like I should be in school. The doorbell rings, I think it’s the “Truant Officer.”
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“That’s no excuse.”
I quit law school because I panicked. I quickly realized that in law school there was too much material for my traditional, formerly successful studying process to absorb. From Day One, “Failure” had me inescapably in its crosshairs.
More importantly, however, law school meant that when I came out of it, I would be a lawyer.
For the rest of my life.
It’s hard to understand today, but when I was growing up, life for a college graduate offered a limited number occupational choices. There were the (suit and tie) professions – lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant. You could go into a family business if they had one. (Mine by that time did not, as a bankruptcy had occurred, but that was never a meaningful possibility for me anyway.) You could work for a large corporation, though, in my day, when the recruiters would come on campus, we’d laugh at them. (“Proctor and Gamble for ever? I don’t think so.”)
And there were the “helping” professions – teaching and Social Work, for people who didn’t care about money, which was not, unless all else failed, me.
So – lawyer. No calculus. No cadavers. It seemed the least unimaginable option. Besides, my brother who is a consummate arguer but no scholar made it through. An “A” student like myself? Piece ‘o Cakerama.
Looking back on “The Road Not Taken.”
If I had settled down, and gotten my attornalistic “sea legs”, how might I have fared?
Fundamentals: What do lawyers do? They assist people with their legal problems. (Invariably created by other lawyers.) I’m sorry. I have to watch the “attitude.” Even in the brackets.
Lawyers, whether in courtrooms or in contractual negotiations, present arguments on behalf of their clients who can’t do it themselves because it’s too complicated. (Because other lawyers…Okay, I’ll stop.)
I like arguments. Not the yelling kind, the kind where your job is to prepare, arrange and present your position in an effort to persuasively win your point. I think I’d be good at that. My logic and organizational proclivities would undoubtedly be a plus.
But what if I prepared, arranged and presented my argument impeccably and I still lost the case? Not necessarily because the other side’s argument was better, but because my legal adversary was something I wasn’t. Naturally charming. Socially connected. Tall.
What if my legal adversary was more confident in their delivery, quick on their feet, and willing to do whatever it takes to win, utilizing their entire bag of “dirty tricks”, while I, being me, played it honestly, straight down down the middle. How exactly would that feel?
“I’m sorry I lost. Would you mind paying me anyway?”
Could I really see myself doing that?
I’ve heard lawyers say that, when you come down to it, what they’re really doing is telling a story, and that the story that “grabs” them the most generally wins. I can tell stories. That’s what I did, and still do. And I’ve “grabbed” them a goodly number of times. Maybe I could have done it in a suit. (Not a lawsuit. The kind where the pants and the jacket are the same material.)
Lawyers are performers, whether addressing juries or directors in a Board Room. I’ve got “performer” in me. An acting teacher once told me I had “a certain quality” (going on to say, “…but I wouldn’t call it acting.”) Would not that “certain quality” work to my advantage in my lawyering?
Discipline. An organized mind. What I’d like to believe is integrity. And a little flair. Humor? I’m not sure that fits in, but, used sparingly, who knows? It might be a welcome relief.
I think, maybe, I could have done it.
If I ever saw myself as a grownup.
Which I never did. And today, even with children (and a grandchild)…still not so much.
Undeniably, show business is a serious undertaking. There is enormous effort required. There is (often big) money on the line. You have egos to accommodate, reputations to maintain. You are confronted with constant deadlines, pressured to give everything you’ve got, work yourself exhaustion and beyond.
Still, it is not in the end a grownup profession.
Show business is all fantasy. Actors dress up costumes, and put “brown stuff” on their faces. Writers? You write something bad, you throw it away. There are no “life and death” situations. In war pictures, everybody goes home. Including the casualties.
What’s the business’s most pressing concern?
“The show must go on!”
What if it doesn’t?
“The show didn’t go on.”
“And what happened?”
“It didn’t go on.”
Though it may feel otherwise at the time, in show business there is nothing ever earthshaking at stake. That’s why people who can’t see themselves as grownups are drawn to it. They – okay, we – cannot face the specter of actual work with meaningful consequences.
In the “big scheme of things”, show business is trivial. My career doesn’t work out – nobody pays for it but me. My client’s convicted of First Degree Murder?
“I’m sorry you’re being executed. Would you mind paying me anyway?”
Why do I even think about being a lawyer, if, when you come down to it, it was never really a viable option? Because of the only advantage I can think of.
That one thing.
When you’re a lawyer, you can practice your profession till you die.
When you do what I did, unless you’re an exceedingly rare exception…
I am reminded of the joke where a guy is asked if he jogs, and he says, “Never.” “But I’ve heard jogging adds two years to your life”, he is told. “I know,” he replies, “but you spend them jogging.”)
You can be a lawyer forever. But you spend it lawyering.
I wonder if it’s worth it?