Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

One way to consider our glamor profession is as consisting of three silos. There are the academics, the judges and the practitioners. As a person who teaches aspiring lawyers I think of myself as a law professor, even though "Professor" is an academic rank which I have not attained, and even though I have not produced the sort of writing that the legal academy regards as legal scholarship. I have actually produced a fair amount of legal writing, but it has mostly appeared in the sorts of publications that practicing lawyers read, as distinguished from law reviews which mostly nobody reads. My approach to legal pedagogy is likewise oriented towards the skills that lawyers employ rather than towards the theories that legal academics teach- and that I was taught. The theory is important, I think, in constructing persuasive arguments, although for the most part the people who do the deciding - that is to say, judges- have nearly as little interest in the theoretical underpinnings of, e.g. contract law, than even practicing lawyers. Practicing lawyers are, for the most part, wanting to obtain the best outcome for their clients, and shed theoretical considerations the way a duck sheds water.

Although legal academics sometimes become judges this is increasingly rare, I think. And although practicing lawyers sometimes become academics the reality is that the pathway to a teaching gig is pretty distant from the ordinary realities of actual lawyering. Generally speaking legal academics graduate at the top of their class, take a judicial clerkship or two, or maybe a very fancy gig a a governmental agency- DOJ is a good one- and then briefly practice in a niche specialty at a large firm. When they've had enough, which is usually within ten years of graduation, they  get out, and then when I meet them at fundraisers or the like they tell me, "I used to be a litigator." Friends, I didn't know shit about law for the first ten years I practiced, and while I will stipulate that these cats were better law students than I was I would put it to you that my time in the trenches blessed me with a lot more insight into how the system works than the path I have just outlined could ever generate.

Judges are a whole 'nother thing. Judges are political. The baseline qualification for being a judge is a broad familiarity with the outlines of the law, and when I say broad I mean extremely broad.

All of this brings me to this excellent piece.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Recommended: The Paris Review Podcast. Beautifully produced, with material that inspires thought. A highlight for me is Jason Alexander reading Philip Roth's "Conversion of the Jews". I haven't read the story in years and years, and thought I remembered it. There is, it turns out, a lot more there than I'd thought I remembered- it is clever, but also contains beautiful, unpretentious writing. Also, Mr. Alexander does a fine job of playing the humor against the commentary on the nature of our common humanity.

I may have mentioned here that lately I have come to think that American culture might be best understood through the lens of the African experience in the New World. (New to Europeans and Africans, I mean. The story of the native peoples of the Americas is another matter altogether.) While I hold to that it is certainly also true that the American experience also has to be described through the eyes of the people who have come here and made lives for themselves, assimilated and, maybe, not quite assimilated. The post WWII American novel was profoundly affected by the emergence of writers documenting the Jewish-American experience. Roth's work is about a lot of things, but certainly it is about the pain and alienation that accompanies assimilation. As jazz is to the African American experience, maybe, one can say that there is a streak of dark humor running from the Jewish theatrical tradition through vaudeville and film and Roth and Saul Bellow.   

Thursday, March 12, 2020

I don't suppose there's a good Camus novel to be trapped in, but I'm really not enjoying this one. I'm sure my mother is relived though

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A while back I thought I'd track down some old teachers I'd had, write to them, and thank them. At the time I was teaching at my law school and so in touch with some of the faculty there, and my efforts to find a high school teacher that had a major effect on my life were bootless. Some, it turned out, were dead, but one- Edward Janosik, wrote back and we developed a bit of a correspondence. Dr. J taught American Politics and Legislative Process, and a lot of other things that were interesting and important to me, and was a delightful presence. I've just received word that he has died, at the age of 102, and I am musing about my good fortune in having him as a teacher when I was at such a formative age, and as a friend in his later life.

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