A Whole New World

This is the Law Student issue and it got me thinking back to my own law school days.  I started to wax poetic about how great law school was, but time does have a way of changing our memories. Fortunately, I was married to my wife during law school and she is great at reminding me how little fondness I felt at the time.  The truth is, law school was tough for me. I was newly married, a new parent and a new law student.  Any one of those things is challenging; all three together was grueling (fortunately, I am also a Marine, so I kind of like grueling). The nice thing is that time also provides us with 20/20 hindsight and I thought I might use some of that to share a few lessons I learned in law school.

Law school can be challenging in many regards.  Many of us go from being the top of the class with a top grade point average, to falling somewhere as a blip within the Bell Curve.  This can be distressing at best, but couple that with briefing cases, IRAC, expensive text books, and the Socratic Method (just like the movie Legally Blonde), and you have yourself a whole new world to figure out.  Fortunately, the good folks at Black’s Law Dictionary are ready to help define the terms, you just have put in the footwork to figure what it all means.  And relax.

Relax?  Good luck with that.  Hang on is more like it.  Try to enjoy the ride.  I did and I’m sure we all do to some extent.

The pace gets moving fast and furious and we can start to feel like a deer in the headlights; sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. I recall one time looking up, standing and staring at nothing but headlights coming right at me.

I had made it through my first year of law school and I thought I was getting the hang of things, but life, as it does, knocked me off my feet again.  It was a particularly busy day during my second year of law school at Golden Gate University and I was in a rush to get home and see my wife and two-week-old daughter.  As I entered the freeway on my motorcycle on the First Street entrance on the bottom of the Bay Bridge, I noticed that traffic was pretty light and I could relax and enjoy the ride home.  I passed a bus on my right; on my left was a Toyota Camry. I was even with the passenger side window and I saw a slight movement of the car out of the corner of my eye of it inching into my lane.  No problem, I slid over a little, just a little driver drift, long day for them too, and then their blinker went on and little drift went to full move into my lane, the same space that I happened to be occupying.  I felt the contact with the door on my calf first and it moved me–emotionally and physically–and my motorbike out of its way.  First, I slid.  Then, I toppled and spun.  Finally, I came to a stop bounding up onto my feet facing directly at oncoming traffic remember fondly (I knew there would be some fondly in here somewhere) the bus I passed earlier, and seeing all of the lights quickly coming at me– nowhere to move, nowhere to run.  Thankfully, the traffic stopped.  My first thought was, “this might not end well.”  My next thought, “there has to be a law school closer to Concord.”

My wife wasn’t happy.  Here I was, trying to do this great thing for our family by going to law school and (as she put it) I am insisting on doing something foolish and unnecessary, (commuting on a motorcycle into San Francisco on a daily basis).  Lesson learned: Law school is tough enough, don’t make it more difficult on yourself (or your family).  I am a big fan of that these days–try to see how you can make life easier.

OK, maybe commuting on a motorcycle is foolish and unnecessary for me, but the following story never would have occurred had I not commuted to school on my motorcycle and managed to be aware of the people around me instead of having “law school blinders” (you know what I mean… when the only thing that is important is law school and it blinds you to everything else going on around you).

Every day I parked in an alley across from the campus near the former Greyhound Bus terminal.  Nestled within the parking area was a homeless encampment.  By nestled, I mean right on the sidewalk directly behind where I would park.  After class each day I would make my way to my motorcycle and as I would put on my gear I would make conversation with the people that lived in my parking spot- Mark, Mikey, Jim and various others.  I got to know them and they got to know me over the course of several semesters to the point where I would frequently spend well over an hour talking with them each day after class.  I am chatty and like to get to know people and feel that the greatest gift we have to offer anyone is our time–that treating people well and listening to them is the best way we can treat one another.  I always tell my kids that if you can’t think of a conversation starter just go with the weather, it is always there and everyone always has a comment.

On one occasion as I was loading my gear, one of the guys approached me and asked me if he could give me something.  I was flattered but assured him that I was all right and to be honest I was a bit nervous about what he was going to give me.  He went on to explain that the prior night a group of people brought all sorts of wonderful supplies such as sleeping bags, coats and food.  Again, I expressed that this was wonderful, but assured him that I was ok.  He then went on to tell me that he had too much stuff, way more than he needed and that I would really be helping him out if I could take some if for him.  So I did.  I accepted a scarf, a hat, and coffee.  But then Mark pipes up to everyone, “Hey guys, come give Oliver some of your stuff, he’s in law school and could really use it.” And they did.  They gave me hand warmers, flashlights and an emergency blanket– in the event I find myself in an emergency.  I thanked everyone profusely, stuffed my overstuffed saddle bags and strapped the remainder on top of my seat with bungee cords and set out on my way.

I still have the scarf.  I wear it all the time.  One of the reasons that I continue to wear it is a nice reminder to stay right sized.  It is a simple, but powerful, thought- that the people who gave me this scarf did not feel they were any better than me, nor I them.  They just believed that I could use a little help now and then despite where I may be going.

Hang on.  Go easy on yourself.  Try to enjoy the ride.  Engage with the world around you and don’t be so enamored of your future that you can’t accept (or offer) a helping hand (or scarf) when it is offered.