Flagrante Delicto!

..

I didn’t decide to go to law school until I was a senior in college. Up till then my career plans were as vague as a foggy mountain winter dawn. I realized I had to do something, you know, to make an actual living. I didn’t know much of practical use at 21, but I had a pretty strong hunch a liberal arts degree wasn’t going to get me a good job, especially in the weak economy of 1970.

By the end of the summer of that year I did have a wife –  a wife who worked and, even better yet, a wife who was willing to continue working if I decided to forgo regular, full-time employment to continue going to school. This good fortune, however, was counter balanced by the shocking unwillingness of my parents to continue supporting me in the modest circumstances to which I had become accustomed. Something about good money after bad, they claimed.

I had a part time job, too. I worked a three hour late night shift at United Parcel Service. Virtually the entire nightshift crew was college students. The work wasn’t horribly hard and, for that time, it paid a decent wage. It also helped that in those bygone days tuition at the University of Tennessee was quite modest for instate students and I would not be forced into debt as students are today.

So, with a working wife, a part time job, no real debts, and not needing much ready cash to continue my education, I decided to try law school in the spring. I wasn’t worried about getting in; 1971 was well before everyone, all his siblings, most of his first cousins, (and many of his second) was besieging every law school in America and clamoring for admission. I aced the LSAT, then wasted a month or so before school started.

The first quarter I took the curriculum seriously. I studied hard, spending hours and hours in the law library (we had something called books back then). Despite working part time late at night and having early morning classes, at the end of those first three months I had one of the highest GPA’s in the class. I felt so proud of myself! Wow, I thought, I must be really good at this stuff!

Of course, once I realized law courses weren’t all that hard (no math, after all), my dedication to study soon atrophied, as did my GPA. I didn’t care. I knew I was still good at this stuff. I mean, when was the last time you asked your lawyer, doctor, accountant, or plumber what her GPA was in school?

Looking back, my legal career now seems as if it was inevitable – like Custer’s Last Stand, the sinking of the Titanic or the explosion of the Hindenburg (only without all the press attention). Now, after thirty-eight years fiddling third violin in the back row of the frequently dischordant legal orchestra, I am now  resigned to never becoming the soloist out front.

But, by God, I’m still good at it…

I’ve only recently realized I was, at birth, fated to practice law – it was inevitable! The signs were all there. And those signs continued to appear over the next twenty-one year! If I had only paid attention to them I’d be a high income plumber today!

First, I was late to my own birth. I hung around in that cozy uterus for as long as I could. Now I don’t know a lawyer who isn’t late, at least to court. When I was in my early days of practice, there was a Knoxville lawyer I admired, Joe Levitt, who was known, particularly by judges he practiced before, as the late Mr. Levitt. He had a habit of arriving to the courtroom an hour or two after his case was called, wearing a brown rumpled suit and carrying his battered brief case in one hand and a half eaten sandwich in the other.  Sadly, now that appellation is literally true. Of course, if I had been really late for my grand entry to this world, say weeks instead of days, I’d be a judge by now.

After I was born I whined and complained to both my parents. Not understanding the justice of my demands, they seemed callous judges. I thereafter learned to talk and by two I could say habeas corpus, caveat emptor, ipso facto, and coitus interruptus. It was only years into my law practice, however, I learned, and truly understood, the phrase vigilantibus non dormientibus aequitas subvenit. 

 In another obvious sign, when I was about ten or so I developed an absolute aversion to any kind of physical labor. That year my Pater familias wanted me to cut the grassIn the summmer heat! This was long before we had either a self-propelled or ride on mower. We had a stubborn push mower and a large, moderately hilly yard. It took almost an hour to do the entire job; when I was done I felt like Lawrence of Arabia deep in Wadi Rum, but not as well dressed.

I honed my verbal skills to convince Dad to excuse me from my agrostological chore. It was easy. He was an engineer and knew only three things: water flows downhill, you can’t push a rope, and you get paid twice a month. Of course, I was aided in my brief by the the mere existence of my youngest brother Pat, now old enough to assume my duties. I assured him cutting the grass would be a promotion for him, several steps up from emptying the trash. But he balked. Luckily for me, his only skill at argument to counter my suggestion to Dad he replace me was his ability to stomp his foot, shake his head and moan, “Jeez, Dad, its not fair”, a modus operandi our parents had long before learned to ignore.

Perhaps the surest sign of my future vocation came in 1962, when I was fourteen. The summer before beginning high school,  I engaged in my first serious debate. The venue was our neighbors’ front yard one late summer afternoon; my adversary was Donna, their pretty fourteen year old red headed daughter. Our audience was a handful of other neighborhood children. The subject of our debate, chosen by me, was female genital anatomy.  Although I had no sisters, after having avidly studied my parents’ 1945 plain black jacketed marriage manual and its copious, if sadly schematic, black and white anatomical drawings, I felt fully prepared and confidently argued to this girl she was clearly wrong about what lay between her own two legs. My arguments were cogent, logical, and, if I do say so myself, elegant in both composition and presentation – yet shockingly proved futile. Declaring me guilty of argumentum ad ignoratiam, she remained unyielding in the face of my attempts to seduce her with my tongue to the truth.  Still, anyone who watched our great debate would have surely concluded by the last light of the day I was destined to excel at the law.

My only regret other than my inability to convince Donna of the theoretical soundness of my position was my failure to demand she allow me to fully discover her demonstrable proof she claimed supported her position before starting the debate (it was nearly another fours years before similar discovery came to hand for close and frequent study and my juvenile erratum were at last revealed to me).

Of course, if I had actually convinced Donna what she saw in her hand mirror when she examined her nether regions was wrong, I would not only be a lawyer today, but a very, very, very rich one as well…

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Dear reader, should you think ill of my tales, or doubt their veracity, I urge you to recall this Latin phrase:

Dubia in meliorem partem interpretari debent

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