A gentle rebuke to some Columbia law students

Re: “Columbia University Law School is allowing its students to reschedule their exams if they feel traumatized by the recent grand jury decisions in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases.” Jacob Gershman, Columbia Law School Lets Students Postpone Exams Due to Grand Jury Decisions, Wall Street Journal LawBlog (December 8, 2014)

Dear Columbia Law Students,

I mean this in the kindest way possible: If you postponed your exams because the Garner and Brown cases “traumatized” your psyche, there is a distinct possibility that you are unfit to practice law. If you are one of those who claimed “trauma,” and you still want to practice law, you must toughen up before you agree to take on a client. The practice of law is not about you.

downloadIn the world where practising lawyers toil, life is far more harsh than what you have experienced within the confines of your fine law school. Let me give you three examples of what I mean, expressed in the words of the lawyers* who lived those experiences:

1.  I’m not sure if this is what you are thinking of but I did ask the Fifth Circuit once to delay argument in a case because I was on maternity leave after my first child was born and still breast feeding. I don’t think i asked for that long a delay, maybe a month? but they were having none of it — it was an en banc argument and they were anxious to reverse i think — and denied the request. I doubted the court thinks of maternity leave as a valid reason for a delay in any case, which is an arguable point. I went to the argument, brought my breast pump with me. It broke on the way there. things were uncomfortable, you might say distracting, as a result. 🙂 They argued amongst themselves during argument, and Judge Jolly, acting as the Chief Judge, had to reprimand some of them to keep them in line and to allow me to answer questions. They kept cutting me off to argue with the questioner. I needn’t have been there at all which is of course sometimes true in these matters. (Punctuation, capitalization and “People Emoji” as in original.)

2.  I represented a woman in an employment discrimination and ADA case in Southern District of New York. Judge had set a discovery deadline. A week before the deadline, client was set to appear for a deposition. But then her mother died suddenly, and I was out of the country. Client was bereft and in mourning, and incapable of dealing with it. Judge said no extension. So I had to get another lawyer for her and she had to show up that week.

3.  We started o[u]r new law firm in January 1995. That month, one of my senior partners (I was the junior of the four of us) dropped dead in the office on a Saturday preparing for a trial on Monday. I saw the judge Monday morning to request a continuance because of my partner’s death. The judge insisted that this was a landlord-tenant case and therefore a high priority. I explained that no one else at the firm [k]new the client [or] had spoken to any of the witnesses. The judge was not moved. I kept pleading. Finally, the judge asked me when the funeral was to be held. I told her the funeral was Thursday, so she set the trial for Friday. Needless to say, I was not as well [prepared] for trial as I would have liked to be.

I wish you all the best, but I fear that you will be ineffective unless you heed this warning. Far more importantly, I worry for the clients that you may one day represent if you fail to heed this warning. Allow me to restate, the practice of law is never, ever about you.


*None of the lawyers who gave me these examples knew how I intended to use them.


Please view the following from Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice:

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