Odd memory to surface: I was 14, parents were trying to get my father divorced from his estranged wife (1973, remember). I'm sitting in the lawyer's office getting a serious lecture on what may happen in the court room: accusations, recriminations, threats, etc. Guaranteed miles of extremis ahead in the process.
From the get-go I just had a bad feeling about the lawyer; nothing I could articulate, he just seemed shifty, skeevy, and somehow--and this was the clearest impression--dangerous. But at age 14 one's ability to parse the fruits of instinct may not be fully developed, and my parents seemed to be okay with him and it was their adult business, so I just sat there and kept my mouth shut.
During the coaching...for some reason long forgotten...probably to get the point across that this was indeed Very. Serious. Business...the lawyer told me a personal story about having to do what you need to do to get ahead and succeed. Because that was the sole point: success. I awaited some inestimable gem of wisdom, that for the many years ahead of me, I could recall in times of struggle and set myself back on the straight path.
But what I got was the following, and what you get, retold some 44 years later:
“So, kid. Lissen up. Two things about law school. (I'm picturing solemnity, hallowed halls, John Houseman gravely laying down the (pun intended) law.) First was the convocation. The president of the college up at the podium—you know what a podium is, right? Up at the podium and he looks across the hall at all of us sitting there and he says, from the podium, 'Look at the person to your left, then the person on your right. Now shake their hands. Good. Because in four years only one of you will still be here.'”
And I'm thinking...okay... that sounds pretty ominous. He made it through, I guess, one out of three and there's a diploma on the wall that says he a graduate (And no, I don't remember the institution).
“So I work myself like I've never worked before. You have to do this or you'll end up as nothing. So my fourth year comes along and our theses are ready to hand in. This is what will determine if we graduate or not. Now I'm an assistant for one of the adjudicating professors, a man revered in his field--by everyone--and he tells me to take all of the collected theses—mine included--and bring them to his house that afternoon. And in this huge pile I see my fellow student Joe Blow's thesis. Now Joe Blow is by far the brightest guy in the class and his thesis is twice as big as anybody else's. It's huge. I take it out and look at it and I see it's in three parts. So I take out the second two parts and only deliver the first part. Lesson is, if you're gonna get ahead you gotta find a way to beat the competition.”
True story. And one that has come back over the years at different times. I keep thinking (as an adult) why would my parents hire somebody this dishonest? Because, simply, they wanted someone who could get the job done, and my Dad's divorce would not be an amicable or easy one. So they hire a guy who can impress with his git-er-done, them-or-us tactics.
But what I ultimately take away from all this is the way he told the story. He clearly thought he had done the necessary thing, therefore the right thing for the situation. He knew it was dishonest. He clearly did. But in his mind he did what any good lawyer needed to do to edge out the competition. Why tell me this? He was looking to impress me. A 14-year-old.
Make what you will.