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Back to School at VLS

Today was the day. A cordial bustle of how was your break” and “what classes are you taking” that didn’t skip a beat from the “where are you going for Christmas” excitement that closed 2012. Friendly faces in the local restaurants in South Royalton. A mad dash of planning upcoming events, and reading for classes.


The night before our obligations began to loom again, my friend and I went to watch “The Promised Land” at the Nugget in Hanover. Funny thing is, we’re friends first and law students second; we don’t have those conversations about the books, and grades, and gossip about classmates when we’re together. But, strategizing poorly and neglecting our last chance for freedom from law and the environment, we dived back into Big Ideas with a movie about a hydrofracking rep (Matt Damon) experiencing a crisis of conscience as he tries to sell the monorail to the rural Pennsylvania equivalent of Shelbyville. At the film’s climax, an older man in the community shares a cup of tea with Damon’s character on the porch, and tells him: “You’re a good man. You have so many of the things people nowadays lack. I just wish you would do something else.”


Sure, Matt Damon bought a zoo for his kids last holiday season, taught himself the law in the free public library, and was Jason Bourne.


But what are we being asked to see in his latest role?


What do people lack, nowadays, that his latest character’s got in abundance?


Spoiler alert; fearlessness.


Our return back to Vermont Law School today was for a 2L bar preparation. It was an earnest and casual effort by the Academic Success Program, with Woodchuck ciders and a spread of pizza, cheeses and boneless wings. It was well-timed, when students were upbeat and energized following a hiatus. It raised good questions, about where best to sit for the bar, reciprocity, saving money, dedicating the 8-hours a day for two months that it will take to score a passing grade. Graduate, but don’t get married that summer, our advisors warned. Do not be lured into non-stop celebration. No back-patting marathons. Your time is not yet your own.


It also had a dark moment. Not everyone, not here, not anywhere, passes the bar on their first try. This seems to put fear in people. But why?


Having worked before getting to law school, I see nothing but opportunity to be a better person through this process, a fuller person, a more able contributor. The work world takes; education feeds the mind and the spirit. We are on one of the three most highly regarded professional tracts in the modern workforce: doctors, engineers, and lawyers (okay, maybe quantum physicists study harder, but they’re kind of unsung heroes and some end up scratching formulas into windowpanes).


So the old man in “The Promised Land” is disappointed in Matt Damon’s salesman, because he only sees the success in his life as defined by the company he works for. But the man also recognizes things in Damon’s character that are lacking nowadays, like conviction, and courage, and confidence to refuse to be defeated by somebody’s else game.


And that’s the other part of law school, the part that no paper or computer test can draw out, but day-to-day interactions do. The experience teaches one to respect people, from baristas to barristers. The case books are filled with true stories of people from all different fields and walks of life across hundreds of years, turning to legal counsel to help them communicate. The experience teaches to not waste words, because the stakes are too high; to not waste time, because staying ready, healthy, and sane requires a careful accounting of hours. The experience makes a person one of the smartest in a lot of rooms, but at the same time teaches them to hold back and to listen as much as talk. It demands confidence; it begs for individual, well-informed moral choice.   


There is so much more to it than memorization of statutes and rules. It builds completeness of character.


It can develop so many of the traits that the old timer in the movie says are lacking, nowadays.   


And there is no proper test for the strength of those traits than to own them and just keep going.   


One Comment

  1. Posted March 11, 2013 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Just had the best time reading your blog. It seems as though this is more influential then perhaps you thought when writing it. I feel a bit voyeuristic, ease dropping. I just wanted to hear what the top 1% of the 1% are talking about. So far I’m impressed. I’m a lay person probably will remain that. I used the last bit of cash to go to art school in 1995-8 I attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The equivalent to VLS in the design universe. Ranked top 1 or 2 depending on which poll.

    This economy really does suck but when you want to build that dream Eco Home. My first consultation is free.

    I too had high expectations I still do. I believe we can do much better. I strongly believe that while I may have the passion and desire I feel I lack the stamina and the financial ability to move forward.

    But just incase I stumbled across the next bright star I would like to know your feelings on two subjects.
    1) whole systems design, 2) the liberation of industrial Hemp.

    Thank you for letting me share, thank you for reading.

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