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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Buddy, Can You Spare A Lawsuit?

I used to know a lawyer who had money displayed on the wall behind his desk.

I don’t mean money in the abstract, commercial sense you would have with, say, a valuable work of art, nor do I mean one of those quaintly framed dollar bills you see on the wall in mom-and-pop stores. I mean the guy had a broad still-life portrait of U.S. currency – stacks of coins and bills in all denomination -- suspended above his head. If you could get past the decorum issue and the depravity of it on the whole, you had to admire his candor. If I’m suffering at the hands of a deep-pocket insurance company, I know right off the bat he’s in my corner. If I’m suing the dog groomer for giving my emotionally traumatized poodle a bad haircut, I’m at least afforded the dignity of giving myself the bum’s rush.

I like money, too, or, rather, I imagine I would, in the unlikely event I were to acquire it. I toiled for some time in an industry that placed a lower premium on my time and emotional stability than I did, so my definition of success is to keep the lights on without playing that endless round of bill roulette we refugees of journalism have come to know. That’s why the altruist yields to the establishment when the loans fall due. It can be a tricky balance to strike. A lawyer’s got to eat. But a lawyer’s got to sleep at night, too.  

I’m not sure what brings all this to mind. Maybe it’s the cynic who lurks within, and, despite my efforts to keep her tranquilized, rises up now and again to cast her gloss all over my landscape. It could also be the spring rites of law school – the feverish preparation for on-campus interviews, the mass purchasing of black suits and wristwatches, the subtle sabotage of the scurrilous few who seem harmless enough but who leave you with the vague urge to check your valuables. Then again, it might be that the second wind many of us have been expecting since classes resumed a month ago has yet to kick in, except in a savage, literal way.

The law-school beast is always hungry. It wants and wants and wants, and then continues to impose designs on the time you would spend fulfilling its needs. But time rolls on with or without you and sometimes you just have to latch on and let the self-analysis wait.

In terms of workload, the fall semester in retrospect seems like a practice round. Law school is extinguishing one fire after another and time is a luxury we’re rarely afforded. I don’t have time to nurture old friendships. I don’t have time to stock the pantry. I don’t have time to write this sentence. The twin fires ablaze at the moment are the requirement to complete a 4,500-word brief and the search for a summer job that bears some resemblance to the practice of law. All money-grubbing jokes aside, the reality is that paying gigs for first-year students are hard to come by, especially if you’re expecting top dollar.

Against this backdrop, even the logistics of getting to class have devolved into anarchy. The University of Louisville employs what appear to be the only construction crews in civilized society that do not suspend work in the dead of winter. The worksite at the corner of Third Street and Eastern Parkway has mushroomed into what the Kentucky League of Cities might consider a fourth-class municipality.

For several weeks, we pedestrians relegated the sidewalk closure to suggestion status, snaked around the orange cones and just kept going. I’m not your traditional college student, but I can adopt a pack mentality when circumstances dictate and proceed on the prevailing theory that a single wayward vehicle won’t kill all of us, even if the margin of error is reduced to virtually zero. But now the school has put its foot down and offered us two alternatives. One is to take a more circuitous route, which extends the journey considerably and demands an up-hill lean into a high-level wind shear and a gamble as to whether an extra 40 pounds of book weight will equalize the competing forces of wind and body mass. The other requires a double jaywalk across four lanes of traffic. To its credit, the university has fashioned something of a crosswalk at the entrance to the Third Street parking lot. The rub is that it consists of white slashes of paint with no corresponding signal, which is really the key feature of a crosswalk.

Not to belabor the point, but creating an additional obstacle for a first-year, second-semester law student seems a little like gilding the lily.

And now I return to the aforementioned brief, which is not brief at all and which feeds on the flesh of little children and fuels itself on my tears.