Our legal careers have a series of firsts. First job, first meeting with a client, first day in court, and of course, the first of the first: our first day in law school.
Lawyers remember their first day at law school. We remember emotional things. And whether conscious or subliminal, that first day was emotional.
So, I’ll go back into my own memory. It’s a day of firsts. It’s our first day of class. We’re sitting in our law school’s largest auditorium. We two hundred first-year law students await the first words from our first law professors. The opening act to our chosen profession.
I look around and recognize only one person, the Dean of the law school. His reputation proceeds him. The presiding judge of our local superior court while only in his mid-thirties. Bar teacher to some of California’s most famous luminaries. Best friend to America’s most famous attorney actor.
Legal advisor to our state’s rich and powerful. Mentor to a future United States Supreme Court Justice. And now, on that first day, a legal sage. Sharing the foundation of his legal career with a few hundred first-year law students. The law is a jealous mistress.
The Dean said it. He didn’t tell us to remember it, but I did. I was twenty-three years old and newly married. I couldn’t say much about a jealous mistress then, and after forty-eight years of marriage, I still can’t.
Still, I got the point and later learned the source of the quotation, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. The decision to have a long and constant courtship is a choice. It’s a choice not made by all law students, lawyers, or even judges. And it might simply be a question of lessening life’s tensions between professional and personal life.
Or, waning exuberance for an early career choice. It might even be a frustration, that conquering a particular subject matter, can allude us. Then, what we know, know what we don’t know, and don’t know what we don’t know present challenges to exercising good counsel to those whom we serve.
Particularly the don’t know what we don’t know, part of the trilogy. That’s the part that can bite us. This is like our best laid 2020 plans that evaporate in a world pandemic. We didn’t expect to be working from home, seeing our courthouses closed.
Seeing cases timed for resolution kicked into an unknown future. When crises present themselves, our personal aspirations to be better, to do better, are critical. The quest for knowledge and for good judgment, however, interrupted, is a continuing and meaningful journey.
Early, even late pronouncements, of mission accomplished often boomerang. Proverb’s wisdom, some three thousand years old: That pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Still rings true. Law’s demand for lavish homage doesn’t disappear with age.
So I pass on to you that which was passed on to me. Excellence in law and lawyering is a long and constant courtship. A courtship that lasts throughout our professional lives. Our calling, our career can be gratifying and a source for much good.
If it is merely a job, it’s rewarding will be mere. Now, for today’s bonus law fact. Michael discussed Justice Joseph Story’s jealous mistress analogy. Let me share the first half of that quote, which deals with a more extreme dedication to the law than the jealous mistress: “I will not say with Lord Hale, that “the law will admit of no rival, and nothing to go even with it….”
In other words, complete and total dedication. The person behind this quote was Lord Matthew Hale, a noted 17th-century English jurist, who was completely committed to the law. After college, he was required to study law for two years, which he did by reading law for 16 hours a day.
During that time he stopped going to any form of entertainment as he found it clouded his judgment. When he wanted entertainment, he spent time reading the histories of England in Latin. Thankfully, the practice of law is not that extreme today, so enjoy some entertainment from time to time.