If I haven’t mentioned it before, my wife and I teach a law school course for students engaged in public interest internships. This story is less about the course than about one of the many students who pass through our class. His name wasn’t Ed, but that will do for this story.
Ed was in his final semester of law school. We spend a lot of individual time with our students, so we got to know him pretty well. Ed had gone to law school because his parents are lawyers, and he had no other particular direction for his life. Nearing the end of his formal schooling, Ed confided that he didn’t think he wanted to be a lawyer and had decided not to take the bar exam.
As nice a young man as he was, you could see something resembling surrender in his eyes. When he spoke in public, I could detect a stammer in the soft voice that came from his always downcast face. We took a particular liking to Ed, not in spite of his lack purpose, but perhaps because of it.
After my first year of practice, I had similar doubts about whether the law was my calling. The adversarial approach to practice and the necessity of pursuing clients for your own profit troubled me, as it did Ed, who clearly didn’t have the heart for that rat race.
We both encouraged Ed to take the bar exam and continue to look for a role for himself in the law. I tried to tell him that there was a place for a lawyer who preferred helping by solving others’ problems, rather than fighting to win. When we parted at the end of the semester, he promised to keep an open mind.
Time passed and students have come and moved on, each one different, but none have been as conflicted and as honest about it as Ed. We hear occasionally from students, but the email from Ed was a surprise. He wanted us to know that he had passed the bar and taken a position at his local legal aid organization. He thanked us for encouraging him.
Life doesn’t make much sense as you live it day to day. Sometimes you search for a direction or wonder if you have taken the right path. People come and go with the days and both seem to run together in muddled memories. Just often enough though, someone or something special stands out that you realize you had a hand in.
In Ed’s case, we believed in him when he doubted himself. Now he will be able to do the same for his clients. Who knows but the chain may go on and multiply in others’ lives.
I often think there is not enough good in the world to justify having hope. Then an email like Ed’s appears, and I am encouraged to carry on. Who knows what the seed of a kind word may sprout by and by.