“Law school? You? You’ll be 50 by the time you finish.” After marriage with two children and very little college, that was the reaction I got when I announced to my friends and family that I was planning to go to law school.
Over a six-pack of malt liquor, my neighbor asked me: “Schmidt? Are you ever going to amount to something?” We both had both been married since high school and we each had a couple of kids. We were working full time and going to college at night. He had 12 semester hours; I had nine.
After an hour of rather loud debate, we made a pledge. He said he would get a PhD in English if I would get a law degree. From the kitchen, I heard one of the wives say, “I think they’ve had a little too much do drink!”
It took me 10 years, five years in law school, to do it; it took my neighbor a little longer. But we both accomplished our goal, in no small part due to the dedication and support of those skeptical wives. For 10 years my wife saw me off to work at 7:00 in the morning with two packed lunches and welcomed me home at 10:00 in the evening.
From Hope Dashed to Dream Realized
In Richardson, Texas, bar candidates found out if they passed the exam by reading the list of names in the “Dallas Morning News.” I was sitting in my office when a classmate called and asked if I had read the morning paper. I hadn’t. He said: “We didn’t make it.”
We met at the coffee bar to commiserate and discuss where we would go from there. It was a depressing conversation. I returned to my office and my friend called again. “We passed. I just called Austin. The reporter who picked up the list for the Dallas area overlooked Richardson.”
With that good news, I immediately started looking for a “real” lawyer job. While in law school, I had been working as a contract administrator for a major corporation. I contacted a small law firm that was looking for a law graduate who was mature but cheap. It was a perfect fit.
Trial by Ire
That isn’t a typo. Judges and court clerks don’t like new attorneys because they don’t know how to do anything. Young lawyers come to court expecting the clerk to tell them which pleadings to file and expecting the judge to ask the questions he needs answered before deciding the case.
My first case was a waiver divorce thrown at me, literally, by the senior partner as he walked out the door. The file landed on my desk, sending papers flying. It was 8:15 in the morning and the hearing was at 10:00. I looked through the file and found the name of the client and the number of the court.
I arrived at the courthouse, met the client, and got directions to the court room. I handed my case file to the clerk, who, with a glare, leafed through the documents for the ones she needed. When she file-stamped them, it sounded like she used a nail gun. “Judge will hear it in chambers.” She threw the file back at me.
The judge was kinder, but not much. He guided me through the process of proving up the petition, and asked to see the waiver. I asked him what it looked like. He described it, and I fumbled through the mess of papers and found it, along with the order he needed to sign. Divorce granted. The attorney may now breathe.
Luckily, it got better. With my feet wet and my appetite whetted, I found a niche in administrative law. For 30 years I made a very satisfying and rewarding career out of appearing before federal and state regulatory agencies. My clients were business associations and corporations and my witnesses were professionals. To my old neighbor, I’d like to say: “Yes, Mr. Jones. I am going to amount to something.”