To study the law, I sought out Central Texas. I wasn’t from the South, but I was eager to see how the South shapes the people that live there. Stereotypes and incomplete descriptions were always readily available to sketch out an initial picture, but I wanted to know what filled the gaps between hackneyed imagery such as: Republicans, Guns, Cowboy Hats (and Boots), Country Music, and that stylish Southern twang that’s embedded in their language.
So I went to Central Texas, to Waco, a city mostly known for the drama and tragedy that resulted from the FBI’s violent confrontation with the cult group known as the Branch Davidians. And we started with Civil Procedure. And Contract Law. And Torts. And a class with the acronym LARC (Legal Analysis, Research, and Communication). It was fascinating to read real-life cases of real things happening to real people – and how we steadily, block by block, built a judicial system that maps out the American moral landscape.
When people ask, I say it didn’t hit me until somewhere between the 1st and 2nd year of law school, but looking back, it was something that had taken a hold of me from the very beginning: I was at law school to be a Student, not a Lawyer. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the law, but had no desire to practice it. I soon came to see the law as the instruction manual behind the board game of life – sure, you can win in this game without knowing all the rules, but it sure helps to know them. And although I had no interest in becoming an “attorney,” I learned the rules pretty well. But that wasn’t the only thing I learned.
I learned about Texas. Having lived mostly on the East Coast, I was well acquainted with how it becomes rather fashionable to assume a level of intellectual superiority over those that reside in the middle. But I quickly found that not to be the case. In this small town of Waco, I met brilliant people, savvy people, hard working people. I learned about their dedication to faith, which is quite strong. I debated and learned from people who lived by an intelligent brand of conservatism – where things like hard work and self-reliance (mixed together with a healthy dose of southern hospitality) become pillars that they live by, and not just words or talking points within an insulated pseudo-intellectual discussion.
But what of that law degree? What does a person, uninterested in practicing law, do with that fancy law degree? Well, he first prepares himself for some scorn and pity. He knows that there are questions lying just around the corner from those that mean well as well as from those that are just plain nosy –
“Don’t those three years feel like a waste?”
Often times, he feels like it’s a delicate dance, trying to convince people that are so invested in the equation of “Law Degree + Not Practicing Law = Complete Waste,” how the knowledge gained from those three years constantly inform his everyday decisions, how he feels like he’s been through some top notch training in learning how to go right to the heart of matters, in extracting significance from complicated situations, how it helps him speak, listen, and understand on a level far enhanced than before. He might explain and explain until he is out of breath – only to have that handy equation thrown right back in his face. Sure, they will say, that sounds nice, but:
Law Degree + Not Practicing Law = Complete Waste.
And he will think about how there are days when he wonders if they’re right and he is wrong.
And perhaps one day it will teach him how to overcome his inferiority complex and accept his path as his own and no one else’s. How succeeding in convincing the unconvinced would be nice, but is by no means vital to that path. That would be nice.