This is Woolfoot’s entry into the 2006 Ross Essay Contest sponsored by the American Bar Association. Lawyers were invited to submit an essay describing how life in the law has changed them. I had counted on winning, but wound up an also-ran (they did “publish” this in their weekly e-newsletter but no coin for yours truly). I liked it though, so I'm sharing
If I had been good at math, and or science, I could have been a doctor. But I was not. The only thing I remember about 10th-grade geometry is the time a classmate came to the front of the room to get a hall pass and barfed all over the one teacher in school who had a PhD. That is vivid. I can’t remember one theorem. About one week into 11th-grade chemistry, the teacher started talking about “atomic weights.” I fled. Chemistry wasn’t required for high school graduation.
Within the first few weeks of law school I learned that the capacity for logical thinking, math/science-style thinking, would be required for graduation. And so, in my late 20s, I was forced to forge new pathways through my swiftly hardening brain. One of our first assignments was to write a memo analyzing a torts fact pattern that involved the balance of probabilities. This did not quite make blood come out of my ears.
Writing that memo was a do-or-die moment, and I did it. I managed a respectable law school career and have now been practicing law for 10 years. I have worked in a small firm doing general legal work, then for a few years as a prosecutor, and now as a family law attorney at the biggest law firm in our state. For better or worse, I now can think like a lawyer. In fact, I can’t stop thinking like a lawyer. This is the great change that The Law Hath Wrought in me. I am still not very handy with numbers, but now, my mind is forever, completely unbidden, processing equations of the following sort:
• 1 North American Woman + 1 Man from former Soviet Republic x (1 Child + 1 Child) + Money Problems = Legal Fees requiring Grandma to take a 2nd Mortgage.
• 5 Boys between ages 17 and 20 + 1 Campfire + 1 fifteen-year-old Girl passing by who knows 1 of the Boys + 2 cases of Bud Ice + 1 Marijuana Cigarette + 1 Cargo Van ≈ minimum of 7 Misdemeanors and 2 Felonies.
• 1 Stock Boy + 1 Long-Handled Dust Mop + 1 Friend of Stock Boy behind Service Desk with Time on his Hands + 1 Woman with Multiple Sclerosis and Associated Vision and Gait Problems = 6 to 18 Months Employment for Insurance Defense Counsel.
And while, as noted, geometry was never my strong suit, I now understand that where two neighbors with a long set-back from the highway share an interest in a rectangular area of driveway where their properties meet the road, the cost and number of legal problems that will arise is directly proportionate to the size of the rectangle times the disparity in income between them.
Needless to say, this is not how normal people, process the everyday situations that confront us. Recently, I was discussing a terrible plane crash with my sister, a nice “civilian” who teaches middle-school social studies. She said it had never occurred to her that lawsuits might follow after a passenger plane went down. I had to tell her that was generally the first thing that occurred to me.
It is in moments like these that I wish I had been smart enough or good enough to be a doctor or an artist or whatever. Still, if there’s one other thing I have learned in the last ten years it is that our world, with all its constant conflicts, actually needs and desperately relies upon people who can work things out the way we lawyers do.