In Brief — The author retraces his path to becoming a lawyer. [Written in March 2017.]
Making Lemonade When Life Gives You Lemons—
It’s said that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. While a few lemons have come my way, I’ve made my fair share of lemonade. How I became a lawyer is one example of how making lemonade can improve your life.
I’m lucky that I was born white. I’m lucky that a middle-class life has been my good fortune. I’m lucky that I had a bright, humorous uncle who was a lawyer. I’m lucky to have the friends I have. I’ve been lucky in so many ways that I think that maybe we make our own luck in more ways than we thought.
What pushed me to deciding that the law was to be part of my tossed salad life? One of those pushes occurred after the divorce: being told by my former wife and her husband that I couldn’t see my daughter. I felt helpless and had to hire a lawyer. What seemed a curse turned out to be a gift. Another was being married to the bright woman who was my second wife. That pushed me to realize that I should become a lawyer.
Lawyers and politicians were often in our apartment. Seeing them and attending meetings of the ACLU, an organization devoted to protecting our civil liberties, showed me that being a part of a noble profession was more important than laboring in anonymity in the TV industry and attending meetings.
With an attitude of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” I approached the vice president of NBC’s law department with the suggestion that I become a legal intern. In short order I found myself going to law school at night after spending my day researching the law. Day and night. I look back now and wonder how I made it. Motivation was the key. Four years later, I became a full-fledged TV lawyer only to be laid off when cigarette advertising ended.
Then there’s the bar exam. The dreaded bar exam was the nightmare that haunted those few who managed to survive the grind of law school. Two and a half days of answering questions covering the law. While the rest of those anxiety-stricken hopefuls spent each lunchtime worrying about whether they had written the right answers, I was down the street from the cavernous Hollywood Paladium lunching in luxury in the plush office of the temporarily-absent president of Columbia Pictures. Did I mention that my former wife was his secretary?
I dined on delicious food and drank fine wine while studying in comfort for the afternoon session. My fellow would-be lawyers down the street ate from paper sacks or at the local Greasy Spoon. When the exam was over, I refused to second-guess myself, taking a leaf from Zen masters that “What is, is.”
While awaiting the exam results, I volunteered at the Los Angeles Free Clinic (where I later became president) and in my spare time learned Selective Service law from the lawyers there who counseled young men who couldn’t afford a draft lawyer. The killing fields of Vietnam were deprived of another warm body. When I learned that I was one of the lucky ones who passed the bar exam, my mentors recommended me to a law firm in Santa Monica. Days later, I was earning more than I was at the big TV network. What I had learned at the Free Clinic was helping me save lives.
Long hair and hippie garb added to my inner rebel allowing my clients to relate to me. But something was missing. A sign in a pottery studio window allowed me to do something with my hands in addition to working with my brain. Being driven, I soon became good enough at shaping clay to be asked by the owner to teach on weekends. Having learned that most of the students were females, it took me only seconds to say “Yes!” This recently divorced lawyer quickly earned a reputation as a ladies’ man and, ultimately, that reputation almost cost me the love of my present wife. But that’s another story.
I’m now an old guy, but I’m still a lawyer albeit not allowed to practice unless I pay up to get reinstated. Nevertheless, although rusty, I still think like a lawyer. I require reliable evidence before accepting something. Logic is my touchstone. Time has added bone-deep skepticism and a measure of cynicism, but I’m still a lawyer and believe all that work and experience have been more than worth it.
When I shuffle off this mortal coil, remember that Bay was a lawyer…the best kind.
The Weekly Sampler—
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