GULC Storm

I graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center — known to students as GULC — in 1985.  In those days, it was a law school that taught traditional courses, like Contracts, and Property, and Civil Procedure, through the traditional Socratic method, where professors posed questions to specific students who were expected to be able to explain and analyze the rules of law set forth in particular cases.  Our professors were of different political persuasions, no doubt, and one professor advocated Critical Legal Studies, but the school was not politicized, or politically divided, in any meaningful sense.

Things apparently have changed over 30 years.  Now GULC is home to an internal political storm provoked by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

scalia702a_1Justice Scalia was a regular visitor to the campus, most recently in November when he came to speak to first-year law students.  When he died, GULC issued a public statement describing Scalia as “a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law.”  The current dean, William Treanor, added that “I am deeply grateful for his remarkably generous involvement with our community, including his frequent appearances in classes and his memorable lecture to our first year students this past November,” and concluded:  “We will all miss him.”

Some GULC professors objected to the release.  One professor wrote to the entire campus community, and said: “I am not suggesting that J. Scalia should have been criticized on the day of his death, nor that the ‘community’  should not be thankful for his willingness to meet with our students. But he was not a legal figure to be lionized or emulated by our students. He bullied lawyers, trafficked in personal humiliation of advocates, and openly sided with the party of intolerance in the ‘culture wars’ he often invoked. In my mind, he was not a giant in any good sense.”  That professor also said:  “I imagine many other faculty, students and staff, particularly people of color, women and sexual minorities, cringed at headline and at the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic.”

These comments provoked a response from the two “conservative” professors at the law school, who said the comments of the other professors said “in effect, your hero was a stupid bigot and we are not sad that he is dead.”  The professors added:  “The problem is that the center of gravity of legal academia is so far to the left edge of the political spectrum that some have lost the ability to tell the difference.  Only on a faculty with just two identifiably right-of-center professors out of 125, could a professor harbor such vitriol for a conservative Justice that even Justice Ginsburg adored.  Only on a faculty this unbalanced could a professor willfully or knowingly choose to “hurt … those with affection for J. Scalia,” including countless students, just days after the Justice’s death.”

The dispute has been covered by the Washington Post, in the story linked above,  by the Above the Law website — which refers to the dust-up as “Scaliagate” — and by other media outlets.  It’s probably the most news coverage GULC has received in years.  It’s not exactly what I would call favorable publicity.

It’s sad, for me, on several levels.  First, I am sad that notions of civility and simple decency appear to be leaching out of our society, to the point where people feel the need to blast out their own negative views about a public servant who has died, rather than doing the proper thing and holding their tongue so that others may mourn.  Surely the professor who depicted Justice Scalia as a defender of “oppression and bigotry” whose intellectual positions were “simplistic and formalistic” knew that others would disagree with those statements and be hurt by them.  So, why say them in the first place, so soon after Justice Scalia’s death — rather than, say, writing a law review article critiquing Justice Scalia’s opinions on their merits, which is what law professors used to do?

And second, I am sad that law schools seemingly have become political hotbeds, where “liberals” and “conservatives” joust in an apparently lopsided battle.  When I went to GULC, it and other respected law schools were viewed as scholarly intellectual bastions, where cases were reviewed with analytical rigor and rules of law divined, in order to help students develop judgment and prepare them for a career in the law.  Sharp political exchanges and name-calling are antithetical to intellectual rigor — but perhaps intellectual rigor is not what law schools are looking for in their professors these days.

As I said, things apparently have changed a lot in 30 years, and not for the better.

On Applying, And Getting Rejected

Richard has begun the second year of grad school, and Russell starts his first year of grad school next week.  It got me to thinking about my law school days, and specifically about the application process.

I was working on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie when I decided to take the LSAT and look at going to law school.  I had a solid undergraduate record, I got a good LSAT score, I had that Capitol Hill job on my resume, and I had a nice recommendation from Mr. Wylie in my application packet, so I aimed high, for Harvard and Yale among other schools.  I was a confident, and foolish, young man.

I was taken down a peg when, very shortly — embarrassingly shortly — after I sent in my Harvard application, I got the standard form rejection letter.  It hadn’t taken them long to figure out that I wasn’t Harvard material.  My rejection from Yale came a few days later.

I soon realized it wasn’t the end of the world.  I was accepted into other good schools, went to Georgetown University Law Center, got a good legal education and met some great people, and have moved on.  I now think that those once-embarrassing rejections were a good thing, because they helped to motivate me to work hard in law school and because everyone needs to experience a little humility in their lives.  And, I’ve also come to believe that it’s not where you go to school, but what you do with the education you receive that counts.

Rejection isn’t the end of the world.  Often, it’s something you can build on and learn from.

Alumni Appeals And Deaf Ears

I received my J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.  I’m proud of the education that I received there.  I root for Georgetown sports teams, I’ve contributed to prior fundraising appeals, and I’ve attended alumni gatherings.

Now, I keep receiving postcard requests to participate in an “important alumni project.”  They ask me to IMMEDIATELY call a “call center,” give a personal ID number, and then confirm “biographical information” for an “alumni directory” — a “definitive reference” that I’ll then have a chance to buy, of course.

I’m not sure how many of my fellow alums have dutifully made this call, but I’m not biting.  Everything about this deal screams unnecessary hassle.  So, let me get this straight:  even though every red-blooded American hates to communicate with the strangers manning phone banks at a “call center,” I’m supposed to call one voluntarily?  And then I’m supposed to give the random person who answers the phone personal contact data — including my cell phone number that is known to only a select few and has saved me from countless telephone solicitation calls?  And after spending whatever precious moments of my life are needed to “confirm” my personal data, I’m going to be willingly subjecting myself to a sales pitch for a directory?

Do the schools that take this approach realize how annoying these pitches are, and how they send a message that your time just isn’t that valuable?  It’s like stores that ask you to go on line for a “five-minute survey” about their shopping experience — you waste your time answering foolish questions, and the store ends up with free information.  I figure giving the store my business should be satisfactory; the promise of a possible “free prize” isn’t going to change my mind.

Of course, we all know what would happen to the information I would provide for the “directory.”  It would be used to ask me to make more contributions in the future, buy more school-related paraphernalia, and attend more gatherings where personal fundraising appeals  can be made.  And there’s always the possibility that my information would be sold to eager telemarketers who would love to add my phone number to their lists and turn our quiet evenings into Solicitation Hell.

The postcards I keep getting show my alma mater knows how to find me if they need me.  I just wish they’d have more respect for my time and my intelligence.

Pronouncing The Unpronounceable

I’ve got to hand it to my law school alma mater.  The Georgetown University Law Center has performed a crucial service for law students everywhere by publishing an on-line guide to properly pronouncing the names of law firms.

It’s critical for two reasons.  First, law firm names tend to be a mouthful.  They’re usually the last names of long-dead people, strung together in no particular order, resulting in some of the most convoluted, unpronounceable business names you can possibly imagine.  Second, most law firms nevertheless think that every rational person — and certainly any law student who wants to get a job — should know how to pronounce the firm name.  If you botch it, you’re probably not going to get an offer.

The Georgetown guide is a set of firm names with hyperlinks to mp3 files of a person correctly pronouncing the firm name.  It’s easy to use and, at least as it relates to the name of my firm, it’s accurate, too.

Law school students everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to GULC.  Of course, the law school’s motive is not entirely altruistic.  If the guide can cause Georgetown law students to avoid the unforgivable sin of mispronunciation, they won’t be disqualified from consideration for jobs by such blunders . . . and if Georgetown grads get hired more frequently as a result, it’s going to make the law school a more attractive choice for prospective students.

R.I.P., Professor Ginsburg

I was very saddened to learn today of the death of Professor Martin Ginsburg, an extraordinary teacher and intellect.  For many years Professor Ginsburg taught Tax Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, and I was privileged to learn from him.  I took my first tax law course from him not because I had any interest at all in tax law, but because other students said his course was not to be missed — and they were right.  Having Professor Ginsburg teach you tax law was like having Michelangelo teach you painting.

Professor Ginsburg’s standard question to his students began “If you were king . . . .”  He emphasized that the federal tax code simply represented a series of policy judgments.  He taught us the existing laws on things like the “hobby loss” and “like kind exchange” provisions of the Code, of course, but also urged us to go beyond the bare language of the federal tax laws to consider the broader social engineering issues lurking underneath.  At some point in the past, Members of Congress had made the policy judgments that led to the Code in its current form — but were they wise judgments?  If we were king, would we have done it differently, or at all?

Professor Ginsburg’s keen sense of humor, enthusiasm, and obvious love for the subject matter made what could have been a dusty or rote learning exercise into something that was enormously stimulating and satisfying.  Although he was a giant intellect in the field, he was neither arrogant nor aloof, and he seemed genuinely interested in what his students had to say.  He was one of those rare teachers who could have taught anything and made it a memorable experience.  He will be sorely missed.