The year was 1974. I had four years of military service behind me. I had recently graduated from college and been accepted into law school at the University of Texas. A young man of meager means and the G.I. Bill to help me pay for tuition and books, I had found a small apartment in East Austin. It was what I could afford. My air conditioner was really just a machine that blew hot air. No respite from the heat there.
Law school did not operate like college. I had a list of courses with the starting dates and times. Each professor posted on a bulletin board the books they required each student to have, along with the initial assignments, which were plentiful. Each professor expected each student to be fully prepared to discuss materials in the first class.
My first day of classes was the next day, and I had four classes scheduled for that first day. There would be one hundred fifteen students in each class. I knew that at 8 a.m. the next morning, my law school experience would take off like a race car.
As I sat at that kitchen table, I read for the umpteenth time the four pages which made up the opinion written in the mid 1500s. Written in Olde English, the opinion was very difficult to decipher, even the words I could recognize. Then there were the words I had never heard before, words which were seldom, if ever, used in modern legal parlance.
My textbook of case opinions was old and tattered. It had been used by many law students before me. Each student had highlighted the case opinion in his or her own way, which meant a multitude of markers in a variety of colors had been used. Yellow, blue, green, pink, orange and even red ink covered segments of the opinion. It did not help that every word of every line for the four page, single-spaced opinion had been highlighted by someone.
After reading and rereading the old case many times, I concluded that I simply could not understand what they talking about, beyond a few facts that stood out. Even though I had read many, many books and other materials in the military and in college, nothing had prepared me for this task. I remember looking out that kitchen window and hearing myself say out loud "I wonder if I should have tried going to dentist school."
The next day, I learned that a central point the professor wanted to make was that studying law meant learning a foreign language - the lingo of law. He told us to get a Black's Law Dictionary and to look up each bit of legalese we read in the case opinions we studied. Lesson learned.
© 2014, Jim “Pappy” Moore,
All Rights Reserved.