Friday, May 3, 2013

The Road Not Taken

Bergen County Court House, Hackensack, NJ
When I was in high school, I fully expected to grow up to be a lawyer. It seemed to be an honorable and exciting way to make a living, at least based on the exploits of the legal shows I watched on TV. I didn’t actually know any lawyers. My family circle included loads of CPAs, some doctors, and a bunch of store owners. But that handsome, young Ben Caldwell on Judd for the Defense sure made the law look interesting.

I’m flashing back to my childhood plans for a few reasons. First, I’m on jury duty as I write this. Once every three years, the citizens of my county get themselves to the courthouse to watch a “You the Jury” film and spend one day in the lottery that plucks jurors from the general population. This time, the film struck a chord because it was introduced by Stuart Rabner, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Back in the early 1970s, when both of us were teenagers, our dads were undergoing medical procedures at the same time. I remember the future Chief Justice from the hospital waiting room.

Today there were four possible trials needing jurors, three civil and one criminal. I got called for the criminal pool, but was excused after I informed the judge about my approaching book deadline. (Fortunately, I didn’t even have to make a lame joke about how my editor might turn up on his docket for murdering me if I was too late with the manuscript.) It was a gun possession case with two defendants and three lawyers. From my vast experience watching The Good Wife and the various incarnations of Law and Order, I know that the more lawyers you have, the longer the trial will be.

That’s not the only reason lawyers are on my mind. I also recently attended an alumni conference at my college alma mater, where about 80 percent of those present seemed to be lawyers. Some were corporate attorneys, to be sure, but the vast majority were involved with social justice issues like marriage equality and sexual abuse in the military. I admit I was envious at their abilities to not just talk (or write) about change, but to do the nitty-gritty work of making it happen. While I don’t regret my ultimate career path, I kind of respect my younger self for my good intentions.

So what happened to my aspirations to the law? I took a constitutional law course sophomore year in college and realized that legal reasoning didn’t seem to have much in common with actual logic. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the extent to which semantics dictated the outcome of a case. The “letter of the law” seemed to depend so much on the actual wording of a statue that common sense was lost in the process. I preferred to use words to inform, rather than to debate. So I switched my major from Politics to History and never looked back.

1 comment:

Gretchen Woelfle said...

Though I moan and groan when I get my annual jury service notice, I do find jury selection and serving on a jury intriguing. (I've done it twice.) Lawyers and writers - the two professions that care most about precise language.