Two Leaders Show the Best of Harvard

As noted in the article “Games Saver” [Spring 2002], Harvard University is fortunate to boast two exemplary graduates of the Class of 1975: Mitt Romney, law and business schools, and George W. Bush, business school. One has restored order and dignity to the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the other has accomplished the same on a national level. Both were inspired and motivated by consummate father figures, one a former governor and the other a former president. Both are strong supporters of family values. Both have had distinguished business careers. Both have run for high office. Both are Republicans. But the accomplishments of these two men transcend partisan politics. They epitomize the Harvard motto of “Veritas”!

Prison Program Taught Student About Life Inside

Passing the Bars” [Spring 2002] reminded me that something like the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) began at least as early as 1967. I was then one of a group of HLS students who went to MCI-Concord to try to become contacts on the outside and resources for inmates due to be released before the end of the school year. I had several visits with my assigned inmate at Concord, and we became friends.

I picked up my inmate on the day he was released. Just the sight of the traffic on Route 2 troubled him. He kept asking, “Where are they all going?” We went to lunch and he started sweating and hyperventilating. Although a young man, he had spent most of his life institutionalized. The simple act of going to a restaurant where people did not arrive and leave in groups under guard filled him with fear.

We kept in touch over the next few months. I visited him at his mother’s in Roxbury. He was a boxer. I went to his matches and tried to find other ways to be supportive. That summer when I was clerking back home, however, my inmate friend was unable to adjust to the factory where he worked being closed for a long weekend. He tried unsuccessfully to get someone to let him in so he would have something to do with himself. Eventually he and a buddy ended up here in Indiana and presented themselves at my parents’ house, where my mother promptly fed them breakfast. They had jumped parole and committed a string of armed robberies along the intervening 1,200 miles.

I failed to convince them to turn themselves in with promises that I would get all the help I could. My friend did return, however. He managed to get arrested after robbing a store in the Combat Zone, shooting a sales clerk, and sauntering down the strˆet with his gun prominently displayed. My last effort on his behalf was letter writing and appearing as a witness at his sentencing. There were some letters in prison, and then we lost contact.

He taught me a great deal about the world behind bars, where he felt at home. I’m afraid I did little for him.

HLS Should Offer More Constructive Course

Your article on the defense of Islamic legal studies at HLS [Spring 2002] is an excellent example of pure sophistry. While funding is important and forms the basis for the Islamic Legal Studies Program, it should not be the driving force in the introduction of law courses that the law school makes available to its students. Indeed, the school neglects another course of study that is vastly more important for HLS students, their career plans, and the world.

In October I attended the 50th reunion of my class and heard Dean Clark boast that 268 courses are now being taught at the law school. However, HLS is not teaching a single course on construction law, a major field of law that involves the second largest industry in this country and annual expenditures of billions of dollars domestically and trillions of dollars internationally. In fact, construction plays an important role in the enhancement of cultural and living standards throughout the world, so much so that large law firms are today seeking attorneys with construction law experience. Yet Langdell library possesses virtually nothing on this subject despite the numerous scholarly treatises, books, and articles that have been published.

The law school would likely offer a construction law course if given an endowment, but would the law of contracts, property, or torts be taught today unless a specific endowment had been received? Has the law school turned its back on scholars of the law and devoted itself primarily to the raising of funds before considering whether or not to teach an important law course? Some law schools have already begun to teach this subject. Why is HLS behind the times on this matter?

Legal Practice Spurs Western Dreams

I read with interest the Bulletin article [Spring 2002] regarding Owen Wister, who 100 years ago penned some of the greatest Western novels ever written, after leaving the practice of law.

One can only postulate that his achievements are, in some indirect way, due to his desire to escape the legal field entirely. In his early legal endeavor, his focus was narrow and defined, while as a Western author his scope was grand and encompassing. His escape to the classic Western tales of taverns, prostitutes, gunslingers, and bloodshed can be best appreciated by those who have toiled as legal grammarians, citation-takers, and brief writers.

His world, a century ago, can appear as a prism of our current state of affairs, with many lawyers today searching for, yearning for, and ultimately pursuing alternative forms of earning their daily bread and with countless others relegating such thoughts to the world of fantastic daydreams, while continuing the pursuit of legal picayune daily details.

The Real Zing

Arrival today of the Spring 2002 issue of Harvard Law Bulletin brought my attention to what a fine publication it is. Perhaps this is the first issue with the fresh new format, or perhaps I’ve just missed recognizing the new format in previous issues. Anyway, the magazine has zing.

I especially want to express my appreciation for the articles about HLS graduates who have done something with their lives other than practice law. The happiest and the most productive HLS graduates I know, and that I know about, do not/did not practice law. Does that say something about them, the school they chose, and the profession they forsook?

Civil War Doesn’t Mitigate Reparations Cause

Kenneth Schild ’69, in his letter addressing the reparations discussion [Spring 2002], declares that the 600,000 Americans killed in the Civil War “was sufficient reparation for the sin of slavery.” He then asks, “Does anyone at Harvard Law School study history anymore?”

There is not nearly enough space here to properly respond to such transcendent obtuseness. Didn’t second-class citizenship continue for another 100 years following the Civil War, augmented by lynchings, random violence, and subjugation of the most depraved sort? And just how were former slaves made whole by the fatalities of that war, which only marked the end of two centuries of legalized involuntary servitude? Isn’t this akin to saying that European Jews are owed nothing as a result of the Holocaust because Allied casualties in the cause of liberation were reparation enough?

Mr. Schild’s knowledge of history is as fuzzy and distorted as his thought processes.

Dropping Out, Dropping In

I was touched by your public confession after 36 years (“Chronic Withdrawal Pains,” Spring 2002) that you were a dropout at the law school. You clearly believe that “immaturity and distractions” caused you to leave HLS in your first year and the loss of an LL.B. prevented you from leading a better, more productive life thereafter. Still, while I admire your candor, I am not sure your conclusion follows your admitted cause.

Graduating HLS does not mean career success, however defined. A decent number of HLS alumni were simply not enamored with the law and never practiced after graduation. Many dropped out early in their careers for various reasons; others left in mid-career. Unless you were in, say, the upper 5 percent of class rank, you in all probability would have had to rely more on other talents to succeed.

Moreover, I question the validity of your evaluation of your chosen career as being “pleasant but not so fulfilling as practicing or teaching law.” Which lawyers and law professors are you comparing yourself with? There would be many, through bitter experience, who would take issue with your comparative assessments based on their own personal histories.

Everyone is different, but my career at least demonstrates that there is life after the law–or any other field. I confess that more often than not I actually enjoyed the challenges and demands of practicing law in New York for over 30 years. Still, when I was as old as you will be at retirement, I began my career as author, consultant, and literary agent. Although the pay is not as good, I nowadays meet terribly interesting people I never would have met as a lawyer and, if truth be told, find this new world even more exciting and richer than the real practice of law, which is a combination of many things but it is not the heavenly city of pure reason.

We all have a tendency to look at exotic activities as being much more exciting and meaningful than our own pedestrian lives that we know all too well. Wherever the truth lies, I see little value pining for a chance abandoned many years ago and much value making the most of the time left to start pursuing something you really enjoy. Seek and ye shall find.

No Regrets

While I can to a degree sympathize with Bruce Silver’s midlife regrets, my own experience as a dropout has been quite different.

I came to the law school in 1955, two years later–thanks to the Army–than my contemporaries from Amherst and other colleges. I entered HLS for all the wrong reasons: (1) I could get in; (2) I had the G.I. Bill from the Korean War; and (3) my father, who had wanted to be a lawyer all his adult life but couldn’t afford it after working his way through college from scratch, wanted me to go in the worst way.

So I had plenty of support and momentum upon entering, but not much personal conviction. For that reason and a host of others, including a preference for spending evenings at Cronin’s discussing literature with the Amherst contingent of Humanities 6, I realized almost instantly that I did not want to be a lawyer. I finished the year, and indeed made a point of getting good enough grades that I could have returned, but I left the law school in the spring of 1956.

After a certain amount of floundering, I entered Yale Drama School in the fall of 1959. I emerged in 1963 with an M.F.A. in playwriting and later received a D.F.A. in directing and dramatic literature. I began teaching in 1963 and kept very happily at it for the next 30 years, retiring in a nice small Virginia college town (the college is Randolph-Macon) in 1994. Now my wife, a former student, and I work occasionally, and for the joy rather than the small amounts we are paid, as professional actors in and around Richmond.

Every year I taught brought me great satisfaction, and often I had the pleasure of working with extraordinary student talent. I suspect that law teachers also foster the outstanding talents they encounter and work very hard to make all the rest at least competent. They introduced me to a great field, and I am glad there are so many good people in it. But they also taught me not to be satisfied with less than the best, and so I followed my own star and found a profession that has requited my love for 30 years.

I may have had a few dark moments confronting semicomatose scholars in early-morning classes, but I have never for the slightest sliver of a second regretted leaving Harvard Law School–a wonderful place, but not for me. I might have lived richer, but I couldn’t have lived happier.

A Mirror Image

I was most impressed by your essay and found one comment, that “[a]lmost no one in command of his faculties sacrifices what he wants most unless he must,” quite profound.

Let me briefly share my story, which in a sense is a mirror image of yours.

After graduating from college in 1966 and turning down the opportunity to pursue graduate work in English at Yale, I went into secondary school teaching. Teaching and I did not suit each other, and the inevitable interruption by military service in the late 1960s offered time to reflect and make a better choice. Sadly, the choice turned out to be law, and I entered Harvard Law School in September 1971. By the following month, I knew it was a terrible mistake and will always beat myself up for not leaving for good at the end of the first year, if not earlier. With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect one reason for sticking it out was the fact that as an older “retread,” it was assumed I would be more mature and know what I really wanted the second time around. It was hard to admit to myself or to anyone else that I had once again made a lousy career choice.

You say your job, while pleasant, has not been as “fulfilling” as practicing or teaching law. I assume that’s correct in your case and am sorry if it is. But if you’ve never practiced or taught law, I wouldn’t assume the work is fulfilling. I put in a couple of years in a very fine Boston firm, tried to escape law by working in state government, and then, after feeling I had a scarlet “L” on my chest that would never go away, returned to the military as an Air Force JAG officer. Two years of my AF time were spent on the law faculty at the Air Force Academy. Suffice it to say, I retired as soon as I could and at the same time, in late 1993, retired from the practice of law. I now type for a living as a medical transcriptionist, which I find not just more pleasant but more fulfilling than most of my work practicing and teaching law.

In short, I look back with some regret on not having left HLS at the earliest possible moment. Having failed to do so, I have some regret at not making a complete escape from law until nearly 20 years after finishing law school.

On balance, though, these are minor regrets. I did escape from law before the end of my working life. I also had the good sense and good fortune to return to the military, where there are opportunities for lawyers who don’t much like being same. Finally, and most important, had I not been in Boston in the mid-1970s, I would never have met my wife of 26 years now.

Still, it’s tempting to think what it would be like to know I am a member of that rare and perhaps not so unenviable set, a Harvard Law School dropout. I believe it would make me proud; sadly, I’ll never know.