The inside cover of America magazine always has a column entitled “Of Many Things.” A recent piece by Edward Schmidt, S.J., focused on the importance of connections. “Connections great and small help us find balance and identity”, he wrote. Is that what I was seeking as we drove southeast from St. Paul headed to Milwaukee for my reunion?
Reunions of lawyers are like other reunions in that they connect or reconnect those that life has flung to places, close and far, from where the original connection took place. But lawyers are sui generis, and I use that term thinking of Justice Hugo Black who, I am told, did not use Latin in his opinions. Our uniqueness comes from our training and what we do. Over the years I have used examples of my “job” such as this past weekend’s match between Nadal and Federer. For every stroke of one, the other quickly and frequently with devastating accuracy counters with a stroke intended to thwart or defeat the other. Not unlike a wide receiver trying to run a post pattern or Dirk trying to stop our beloved D Wade, the lawyer is constantly countered by defenses offered by another lawyer. Unlike athletes, we seldom have throngs cheering our moves. Frequently the cause we advocate is unpopular
What we have done over the years has formed what we have become.
Law students would be surprised to learn how little of my work over the past ten years involves reading a case or statute. I seek a solution for a client; it has always been about the client. I am no longer a law review editor. I have not taken neutral positions. I advocate for a client. That may be in a court or in negotiating a transaction or in fashioning an estate plan. (Okay, I’m unqualified to prepare one.)
I thought about what we do as opposed to how we prepared to do it as I stood at the Harley Museum or the MAC talking to classmates. Of course, Judge Jim Kieffer must know the law as he goes about his judicial duties, but I suspect so much of what he does is trying to find the right solution. I am not, in the immortal words of Spike Lee, trying to do the right thing. I will leave that to Judge Kieffer. I will advocate for my client.
Lawyers are not immune from the harshness of life, and a thirty-fifth reunion certainly reminds one of that. Death, divorce, and dependencies appear to have touched us too frequently. I may be imagining it, but despite the daily traumas which life dishes out, my lawyer friends, partially due to training and the stance taken regularly in the face of adversity, have succeeded. They may not have prevailed – every case has at least one loser – and I am not speaking of material success, but the success that comes with being knocked down and somehow finding a way to stand back up and put one foot in front of the other. It was a joy to see Mark with Liza and see newfound happiness.
Some place along the line, I saw that Marquette chose to define itself with the four words “Excellence, Faith, Leadership, Service.” It may be hokey, but for me it resonated, and I wrote it down. I made the words goals. One does not achieve any of those four goals without many failures or without connections. While at Marquette Law I did not hear much about our Jesuit identity. Ironically, it took a Jew who became our Dean to make me think about that connection. I suspect Father Schmidt would approve of the four words, and the S. J. connects him to Marquette Law.
My classmates, in so many examples, embody those four words. For a few hours we reconnected. With Mark, Eric, Barb, Pat, Paul, and others I laughed, traded stories, and marveled at the new law school. It is fantastic in so many ways I will not begin to catalogue them. The tour Tom, Sam, and I took was led by Lindsay Ruch. Five to ten percent of my law school class was made up of women; today almost fifty percent of students are women. I was struck by how she reminded me of friends such as Barb Maier or Mary Pat Koesterer. They defined feminine as intelligent, forceful, and confident. As wonderful as the new brick and mortar is, my tour guide, personifying the men and women of Marquette, will continue to define the Law School in ways more important than any soaring atrium ever will. Because of the physical plant, the academic standing of admitted students will rise, but without the people skills of the brilliant Gary Williams of my class, they will not succeed as lawyers.
While in law school, none of us would have believed the fact patterns which have presented themselves to us over the years. We have learned and relearned that truth is stranger than fiction. Ultimately, with all the looking back, we laughed. As for spouses of the lawyer, they seem to laugh even more. That may be a trick they learned in order to survive being married to their Nadal.
It was a wonderful reunion weekend, and I will close by stealing a quote from my son’s blog on bookselling and good books: “friends that connect friends through food and books and anything else are certainly a blessing.” http://www.micawbers.blogspot.com/ For all the blessings of this past weekend, the hospitality of friends, the review of sad events, and the glories of family and practice, I thank all of you.