LATIN LOVER

 

Attending law school and becoming a lawyer were never aspirations of mine.  However, with graduation looming and the prospect of teaching MacBeth to seventh graders completely unappealing, I became just another Dickinson English major signing up to take the LSAT’s.

In some ways, 1977 was a period not unlike the present.  We wore similar clothing, though more colorful than now.  Hair styles were scruffy, but not as different from now as those of the Founding Fathers’, for instance.  We traveled by car and plane, and we rooted for most of the same teams.

In other ways, however, the late 1970’s were positively paleo-lithic.  There were no personal computers, cellphones or test-taking preparation courses.  My LSAT preparation consisted of gathering two pencils and walking to the designated classroom.  I may have had a cup of coffee in the expectation that it would increase my alertness and stamina for the three hour test.  Red Bull did not yet exist.

The LSAT was not even the most important event of the day; we had a soccer game scheduled only one hour after the conclusion of the test against our main rival, F & M, and I took the test dressed in my uniform.  Any sweaty palms or pounding heartbeats that I experienced that morning were more attributable to the game than to the LSAT.

Nine months later, I found myself enrolled in law school at George Washington University.  The run-up for me had less to do with preparing for a profession than the logistics of moving and finding an apartment.  When I finally focused on what lay ahead, only three or four days remained before the first class.  My brother had kindly given me an old law dictionary as a “good luck” gift, and I opened it for the first time.  It consisted primarily of Latin phrases.  “Can’t hurt to memorize these,” I convinced myself.

So it came to pass that I was conversant in the style of legal argument last prevalent around 1700.  I learned that res ipsa loquitor is a great phrase to accompany throwing up one’s arms to indicate: “What else can I say?”  Quid pro quo is a succinct formulation for “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”  And, my favorite, post hoc ergo proptor hoc, means, roughly, “because it happened after that doesn’t mean it happened because of that.”  Along with about twenty other such nuggets, I headed to my first class.

As soon as I arrived in the back row of Contracts, I realized I was in trouble.  No one else was speaking in Latin.  And my cavalier attitude about law school, though shared by a fair number of refugees from the liberal arts, was not shared by everyone.   When I noted to the girl alphabetically placed beside me, that there were only 1,090 days until graduation, she looked appalled and informed me, icily:  “I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was five years old and no one with a bad attitude is going to ruin it for me.”  I was persona non grata for the remainder of the semester.

The following weekend, our class was invited by the law school to a picnic at a park in Northern Virginia.  This event formed the totality of the social orientation program.  I looked forward to an informal afternoon of hot dogs and volleyball until I saw that several of my classmates arrived in suits.  It was 93 degrees!

Because I apparently failed to give off the right “Do Not Approach” vibe, a long-standing problem for me, one of the suited attendees strode right up to me and offered a firm handshake.  He told me his name in a strong Boston accent, and demanded:  “What was yaw bawd skaw?”

“What?” I asked, uncomprehending.

“What was yaw bawd skaw?  Mine was six-fawty,” he said.

I realized he was asking what I scored on the LSAT.  I had the presence of mind to add one hundred points to reality before responding, which effectively shocked him.  But I still found myself stunned by yet another early encounter with a law school classmate.  The first year of law school was destined to be my annus horribilis.

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