The year before I started Law School I saw James Bridge’s film The Paper Chase. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of first year (or 1L in the law school nomenclature) law student James Hart portrayed by Timothy Bottoms. The opening scene is the first day of class. Just after Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Housman) enters the room he calls on Hart to recite a brief of a case in Contracts. Hart is befuddled and admits he hasn’t read the case. Kingsfield snarls at Hart for being unprepared and chastises him for not looking at the notices on the bulletin board where assignments were posted. When class mercifully ends Hart bolts to the men’s room and loses his breakfast.
Sometimes life does actually imitate art. Because of the movie I checked the bulletin board before my first class in Contracts at the Detroit College of Law. Sure enough there were reading assignments posted there. I also attended a meeting sponsored by the law fraternity where they showed us how to use the wide margin note paper and properly “brief” a case (IRAC; Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion). I showed up for my first class prepared.
Professor Matthew McKinnon was a brilliant Detroit College of Law student who was offered a teaching position immediately after he graduated. He was younger than a lot of us but he did his very best to take on a Professor Kingsfield persona. He walked into class, flipped through a deck of 3×5 cards with our names on them and said, “Mr. Einheuser please tell the class about the case of Hawkins vs McGee.” It was one of those surreal moments. Did I just hear my named called and pronounced perfectly?
“Is Mr. Einheuser here?”
“Yes, I’m here. Um this is a contract case”
“Mr. Einheuser the name of the course is Contracts; they are all contract cases”.
I remember I spoke slowly and unevenly but managed to explain the facts of the case, the issue that confronted the court, what the rule of law was, how that rule was applied to these facts, and the court’s conclusion. I remember he shot a few more questions at me which I muddled through. And then he called on someone else.
My tentative but adequate performance was not what he hoped for. The point of the first session of law school is to scare the shit out of everyone so they wouldn’t even think about showing up unprepared. He was able to make his point with the next two or three victims he called on who apparently hadn’t seen the movie.
It’s always good advice not to peak too soon. You know – not be that guy that starts out strong and then goes into a steady decline. But that was my law school experience. I had a full time job as an Executive Assistant to the Mayor during the day and I didn’t always give my night classes the time and attention they demanded. I would not have graduated without the grace of God and the support of my Study Group.
I got word last Friday that Harry Dalsey was taken by Pancreatic Cancer. It’s the devil’s disease! Harry was one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known. His was a Seinfeldian kind of observational humor. He saw and made jokes about life’s simple absurdities. He livened up our Study Group and made Law School more tolerable.
His acerbic wit almost got us all into a bar fight. It was after the final class of our final year. Only exams stood between us an graduation. Around 9:00 PM we went to the neighborhood dive bar The Elwood. There was a great rivalry between the day students and the night students and several day students were already there having spent the afternoon enjoying their own celebration. Harry opined as how the night students had a superior education and would make much better lawyers.
“Why?” asked one female day student.
“Because we have much more real world experience than you do”
“I have experience”
“Oh, have you ever………”
His salacious question had a similar suggestion as last week’s controversial joke by Stephen Colbert. Her boyfriend jumped up, his chair when crashing across the floor and now everyone jumped up and faced off. Cooler heads moved in between us. I’d like to think I’d rush to the defense of my Study Group member and fellow night student. But I’d have preferred that the cause have been a bit more noble.
Harry is the second member of our Study Group that we’ve lost. Gerald Van Vliet collapsed and died while jogging on August 3, 2012. As I contemplate what life will be in my Third Act I feel enormous gratitude toward Harry and Gerald and the others who made my career and livelihood possible.
Go gently on your journey, Harry. You’ve profoundly touched many lives, including mine.
רוך דיין אמת
Baruch dayan emet (Blessed is the True Judge)