Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I doubt that anybody watches it these days, and it is probably mostly remembered as a TV series, but back in the day "The Paper Chase" was a movie that defined what our law school expectations were. It dates, I think, although that's pretty much how we dressed, and it mostly gets the haircuts right. By the time I got to law school the anxiety level was still like that, but the pedagogy wasn't. Still, in our anxiety we thought we were living in Professor Kingfield's class, and that's all that mattered to us.

Watching it now, I found myself mostly rooting for the curmudgeonly Kingsfield, instead of Timothy Bottoms' Mr. Hart. Hart is secretly dating Kingsfield's daughter, Lindsay Wagner, (before she became a cyborg), and a source of conflict in the relationship is that both of them are unsure if Hart's feelings towards her are genuine, or part of his obsessive efforts to get into the mind of his professor. As I watched, it seemed to me that I could identify types that I went to school with, but that no-one who takes my class would fit into any of those roles. And one other insight: the Kingsfield character is brilliant and intimidating, but as I watched it occurred to me that it is not particularly difficult to intimidate a class full of law students. A little experience teaches us a couple of moves, and that's all it takes to stay two or three questions ahead.

I wonder if the shift away from the sort of Socratic method the movie shows turns out better lawyers. We are still Socratic (although I haven't been, particularly, this term), but at least at my school we are much gentler. I would hope that this makes us better at counseling our clients by making us less Olympian in our outlook. Maybe it does. Our glamor profession attracts people for a number of reasons, of course. There are, of course, the people who are here because law school is the terminal liberal arts degree; and of course there are the people who go to law school because they think law is a good way to make a lot of money. A lot of the people I went to school with in the latter category actually have made some pretty impressive coin, so I shouldn't disparage that, even if, to quote another movie, "it's no trick to make a lot of money... if what you want to do is make a lot of money." That's not quite true, after all. If you are going to make a lot of money practicing law, you are going to work very hard at it. (Last night on Theme Time Radio Dylan quoted Jean Cocteau: "We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?" I must be in a generous mood.) Oddly missing from the Harvard students in Mr. Hart's milieu, which was, after all, in that late 60's early 70's time when even William Rehnquist had long hair and sideburns, were any aspiring activist lawyers. (Maybe the woman in the front row of Kingsfield's Contracts class-- the one with the red hair and the southern accent-- but I doubt it.) We went to school with quite a few of those, and for the most part they seem to be happy with the choices that they've made.

My class this year is smaller than usual, but the students impress me as well-intentioned and prepared to work. Both of these are good qualities in lawyers, and I expect that when they are turned loose on the world they will do well by their clients. They mostly seem to enjoy what they are doing, and that is the most important thing-- lawyers who don't like the law are legion, and it makes me sad when I see them.

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