Robert Knox gave me some excellent advice about law school. “Know yourself and your values before you start, because it has the power to change you to someone you don’t want to become.”
I suspect that this is true for many professional graduate programs, but particularly for law school. Law school has a clearly defined career path for most students (BigLaw). Those who enter with an inchoate vision for their future can be caught in that stream. BigLaw isn’t necessarily bad; it is a good choice for some. The danger lies in how what is a good choice for some becomes the default choice for many.
Robert went on to say that many people that he knew become more jaded, more cynical, and more materialistic from their time in law school. I can very much see those tendencies in myself. This is why I am thankful for family and friends who can help me stay grounded and have vision for my work.
For what sustains me through school isn’t competence, or diligence, or intelligence. Those are implements, tools, devices. It is vision. Vision for why this work matters, why it is important. And vision goes hand in hand with reflection.
One of the best compliments I have received at the law school came from Adam Decker. He told me “Joel, you’re one of the nicest guys at the school. You’re almost as nice as Michael Lanahan.”
I consider this very high praise. Almost everyone in the school knew Michael: the students, the professors, the staff who cleaned the rooms and watched the front desk. He even put together a fundraiser to help a woman who worked in the law school cafe pay for her fiancé’s funeral. Every time I would see him, whether at school or at church, he had a great big grin on his face.
What made Michael’s gregariousness even more remarkable was how involved he was in the life of the school. There is a saying that in the third year of law school, they “bore you to death,” reflecting a detachment and lack of motivation. Michael was not that way at all. He took challenging courses and was dedicated to the work of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship, helping low income business owners with legal issues. He was involved with various student organizations, from the Law School Musical to the Federalist Society. He continues on this work in St. Louis; he is a part of a group of volunteer attorneys helping small business owners in Ferguson, MO.
What I admire most about Michael is how he balanced conviction with compassion. He held very strong beliefs and values, but aways approached those who disagreed with him with humility and consideration.
All of this is to say that I am very much looking forward to seeing Michael and Maria Lanahan in St. Louis in a couple weeks.
Yesterday at the post office, a woman cut to the front of the line. Another woman called her out, and they started yelling at each other. The woman who cut said “You don’t know me!”
It struck me as odd that she would respond this way, as it did not seem a logical rejoinder. Certainly, the two women were strangers, but that does not justify cutting the line and disregarding everyone else. Was she claiming that she had a special status that justified cutting to the front? In effect, she was declaring that her time was more important than the time of everyone else in the line, although she offered no proof for such claims.
Still, it is a curious question. How often do I claim that my actions are justified because of my status? How often do I engage in activity that I would disapprove were it done by someone else, but I give myself a pass because of some claim that I assert? In such instances, I want to be able to justify my claims on solid ground and not brush off critiques with a brusque “You don’t know me!”
Today I had to go to the post office to pick up a package that didn’t get delivered. I had gotten an email informing me that it was at the post office. I walked in to find two lines. I asked another patron, and she said that there were two lines: one for general services, the other for package pickup. I joined the package pickup line, which was moving terribly slowly.
I finally got to the front of the line, and the clerk at the window informed me that there was in fact only one line. She did help the two people in front of me, but ordered the rest of us to join the main line. Exasperated, we joined the line, which frustrated the people who were already in the line.
As I got close to the front of the main line, a woman somehow cut in front of all of us to get to the window. Another patron got angry and started yelling at her. Soon, both women were yelling at each other. It was a frightful scene.
Eventually, the two women left, and I got to the window. I gave the woman my ID. After she looked around in the back for a few minutes, she returned and told me that my package wasn’t there. She advised me to check the status on the website again on Monday and see if it shows up.
In all, I spent over an hour at the post office. I will admit that it was a frustrating experience, but while I was there I reminded myself over and over “Don’t let this steal your joy. You can choose how to respond to this situation. Choose joy.”