Pomp, Circumstance, and Gainful Employment

BY GREG LIPPER

It’s been 22 consecutive years at eight different schools – including the venerable Pixie Pre-School (Spotswood, NJ), where I learned how to color, interact with other children and play with blocks. Now, with just over a month until I am sent off to the “real world,” I must confess to being scared out of my mind. I have never NOT been a student, nor have I ever been in any particular hurry to change that. I suppose it’s a good sign that I am reluctant to leave – it reminds me how much I have enjoyed this place, and how lucky I have been while here. So goodbye Harvard Law School. And hello world.

Until now, lawyering has been an exercise in make-believe. The clients were invented out of whole cloth by Michael Meltsner’s brain (a term I use loosely); the factual and legal issues were crafted such that each side had an equal shot on the merits; and at stake was not money or liberty, but rather bragging rights over Fenno (for which I am, of course, grateful to have acquired).

Prof. Meltsner did actually say one useful thing this Fall: arguing before a Supreme Court Justice in the Ames Competition is not as important as representing an actual, real-live client in actual, real-live court on a matter even as small as a traffic ticket. Indeed, a life of attending lectures, lawyering in front of classmates and editing the products of the ivory tower satisfies for only so long. It will be nice to have somebody actually care – for reasons other than his or her personal like or dislike for me – about the job I do as a lawyer. It will also be nice to have something actually at stake – other than my own ambitions – when I assume the podium.

But it will also be strange to lose some control over the product of my efforts. Up until now, every exam that I have taken and every competitive activity that I have participated in has been designed to be purely a measure of ability. There was never really a worry about being dealt a loser of a case, and even if it happened, judges would make sure to take that into account. Sure, judging was sometimes random and arbitrary. But on the whole, one could take comfort that a given exercise was designed to reward intelligence, talent and hard work.

The “real world,” however, does not exist to measure brainpower or legal talent. Cases come with damaging facts and bad law. Winning might just be the product of drawing an easy case, whereas drawing a hard case might mean that clobbering your opposing counsel still won’t get you a win. Being the smartest lawyer won’t be dispositive; appearing too smart will often be a liability. Sometimes, “winning” will require swallowing your pride and falling on your sword. Other times, “winning” will mean getting a result that your client desires but that you think is irrational. There will be no fancy trophies, no impressed professors and – gasp – no Sears Prize.

At the same time, this world – though far more random and uncertain than the sheltered environment that I have occupied for the past two decades or so – is rich with opportunity. There are so many fascinating cases, so many interesting clients and so many challenging legal questions. And for those who let themselves take advantage of it, there is an opportunity to stop worrying about amassing grades and awards and concentrate – finally – on the would-be career that likely motivated so much hard work in the first place.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Before I graduate, I must survive the day of servitude that Amanda Gregory and her band of Federalist marauders purchased from me at the Auction. (Come to think of it, it’s not surprising that the Federalists have entered the market for uncompensated labor, given the topic of the intra-national dispute that created the “states’ rights” movement.) And those of you who just had a brain aneurysm upon reading the previous parenthetical can take comfort in the fact that next year, I will be drafting judicial opinions that are binding on four states!!! In any event, one thing is clear: this is the last item that I will write for The RECORD. Having made an impulse decision last spring to take a stab at amateur-journalism, I am thrilled by how much fun it was. To everyone that has labored through my words during the year, thank you for reading. I hope that I have entertained and challenged you.

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