One could say I was “wired” to be a lawyer.
When I was five ro six I watched television shows about trials. “Perry Mason” seemed like a joke, relative to law. Other shows seemed more realistic. When high-profile cases took place, with their sketch-artists’ renditions of that day’s events—the trial of the Chicago Eight, then Seven, is a good example—I listened to the details.
When I shopped for colleges, I did so largely with the idea of a major that would feed into law school. (Everyone assumes political science is the ticket, but English probably has more to offer someone whose aim is a legal career.)
For various reasons I chose DePauw University. As I acquired a liberal arts education, I dropped the notion of law school. The 1970s had a way of changing people’s goals and perceptions.
I graduated with a vague idea that I wanted to write. I had hitch-hiked a few thousand miles and felt I had earned some sort of wings to enable me to tell interesting stories. By the time I graduated, law school definitely was out of my plans. I had had enough of formal education, swore of school, and decided to create stories and poems.
For eight years I did various, weird things. I did my Christopher Marlowe period—I lived in a basement in a slum, downstairs from members of a motorcycle gang. I did stand-up comedy in Chicago. I worked as a clerical assistant in University libraries.
I also wrote. I had about ten short stories and a couple of dozen poems published. I had a small following—just realized the unintended pun there—of my work, a fan base of sorts. My income, however, was derived from an hourly job behind the desk of a library.
Along in there, my old man told me that if I ever decided to go to law school, he would pay “every penny.” (When I asked, during the same conversation, if he would pay for graduate work in creative writing, he said, “Not a dime.”)
I was hired by Northwestern University and worked as a clerical assistant in the School of Law, just north of Navy Pier in Chicago. I was frustrated because my writing had gone nowhere, I made very little money, improved no one’s lot in life, and yet the students who used the library were no more intellectually adept than was (or am) I. The law school had a marvelous library, including a dedicated Lexis terminal the size of a 1972 Chevy Nova.
As a result of various circumstances I quit that job, moved to West Lafayette, and obtained employment as a clerical assistant in another library, this time at Purdue.
Shortly after I turned 30, I realized there were people with whom I had graduated from DePauw who were no more, and in some cases far less, intelligent than I am who were making a lot more money with less stress and who were accomplishing things, that benefited other people, in their lines of work. In the meantime, I checked out books for people in libraries.
One morning I awoke, walked over to the pay phone next to the Village Pantry, and called my old man collect. I told him I was taking him up on his offer about law school. I do not think he believed me, but I studied for the LSAT, scored in the 93rd percentile, and was accepted by the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis. Tuition at the time, as I recall, was $65 per credit hour. I lived in the dorm. I enjoyed the subjects we studied and the process of learning to “think like a lawyer.” My old man was not good at his word. I paid the second half of my legal education.
Jobs were available then. The future was bright. The legal profession, since, has changed.
On “Civil Discourse Now” today we shall talk about law school.