Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting Mad at Stupid People?

A few years ago I had an epiphany; I had been wrongfully and unfairly getting mad at stupid people. But let me back up to the beginning, or sort of the beginning.

I am a lawyer. I suspect I'm a borderline autistic-savant whose talent lies in the interpretation and application of the law. I may be a complete moron in other aspects of my life including social relationships and even motor skills (I have been known to walk directly into a wall). But I'm damn good at researching, interpreting and applying the law to a given set of facts.

I had never planned to be a lawyer. I was at loose ends after graduating undergrad with a B.S. in Speech/Theatre/Education. That's right, a B.S., not a B.A. That in itself is odd in that most people with a degree in the theatre have a Bachelor of Arts degree and not a Bachelor of Science. I have a B.S. because I launched my undergrad career with the idea of being a geologist and so I had more science courses than humanities. But this is all beside the point.

I was at loose ends after graduating with my almost totally useless degree. I had tacked on the education courses to have the "Education" part of that degree with the idea in mind that I would teach speech and theatre in high school. But I hated student teaching. And really didn't have much use for teenagers frankly...

So I'm visiting my mom at Christmas and my older sister is there. Older sister is now a law professor with her L.L.M. (that's a Master's law degree) from Harvard. But at that time she was a first year law student who was doing quite well in her classes. She had made the top score on the practice exam in her contracts course. She was telling me about the question on the exam and I told her what I thought the answer should be. And guess what? I was dead-on right. I didn't use the proper legal terminology because I didn't know it at the time. But my answer was right. So older sister says: "Why don't you go to law school? I think you would be good at it." Remember, this was Christmas.

So that February, without any preparatory courses or anything, I took the L.S.A.T. I scored high enough to be admitted to any of the law schools in my state (I didn't apply out of state) and to qualify for some scholarship money. So I enrolled and the next August began law school.

The end of my first year I was third or fourth in my class. The end of my second year I was first in my class and I stayed in that position until graduation. I have a little plaque in my office with the award for graduating with the highest cumulative grade point average in my class.

Between my second and third years of law school I got a summer job at the law firm in which I am now a partner. That summer, I wrote an appellate brief that won a reversal and resulted in a published opinion. I had no idea how extraordinary that was until after I became a lawyer and saw the succession of law students we hire summer after summer, many of whom are incapable of writing a reasonably coherent memo.

I thus embarked on a practice focusing primarily on appeals and commercial litigation. I have many more published opinions to my credit than most lawyers who have practiced over twice as many years as I. During the course of this career I have gotten downright mad many many times at briefs I have had to read from opposing counsel when I feel they are misrepresenting the law. I mean MAD! I care passionately about the proper interpretation and application of the law. (I know, that's more than kind of weird...). My partners have laughed at me at times as I have ranted and raved about how this or that lawyer was a dishonest scum bag because "that case doesn't stand for that proposition at all!! He's completely twisting what the court said!"

And then... one day...a few years back...I got a research memo from a young lawyer in our firm. I had to write a brief on the subject he had researched for our client. Ordinarily, I don't like to rely on someone's else's research. But I was pressed for time with a deadline to meet. So I wrote my brief based on his memo. But I decided I'd wait and look at it with a "fresh eye" in the morning.

In the morning, I decided to check one of his cases. And guess what??? That case didn't stand for that proposition at all!!! In fact, the case said the exact opposite of what the young lawyer in our office thought it said. He just didn't understand it. (By the way, that young lawyer is no longer with our firm.). And it was then that I had my epiphany... not all (some maybe, but not all) of the lawyers who had made my blood boil over the years were evil, dishonest, unethical pirates willing to lie about the law in order to win their cases. Some of them were just stupid. I had wrongfully and unfairly been getting mad at people for being stupid.

Well I have to tell you, I felt some pretty mixed emotions about this epiphany. I felt really bad that I had, even if only privately, accused some stupid people of having evil intentions. And I felt really bad that there were so many stupid lawyers. On the other hand, it was uplifting to know that there probably weren't nearly as many evil lawyers as I had previously thought.

And the problem ever since the epiphany... how do I tell the stupid lawyers from the evil lawyers so I know at whom I should get mad? But wait... I feel another possible epiphany coming on... maybe I just shouldn't get mad. Ya think? Maybe I should just focus my efforts on demonstrating why they are wrong and let it go... hm... food for thought.

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