Thursday, October 29, 2009

"A lawyer's time and advice are his stock in trade." Abraham Lincoln

Sitting here in my office today, I just noticed that the big, framed "Supreme Court of Pennsylvania" bar admission certificate indicates that as of October 27, 2009 I have been a practicing attorney for six- SIX- whole years.

I still remember that butterfly-excited/dreadful feeling in the pit of my stomach while I scrolled down the on-line list of applicants that had taken the Pa. Bar Exam that July...and the utter excitement and jubilation I felt seeing my name on that screen! I honestly don't know if I could have lived through another exam season if I hadn't passed. Of the 5 associates I worked with at the time, we all passed but one.
If it's any indication of the stress of not passing...I am not lying when I say I never saw or heard from that girl again. She left work the day the results came out and never returned. She didn't call in sick, she didn't quit. She wasn't fired. She just went home and moved onto a different non-lawyering life. She didn't even clean out her office before going.
When you pass the bar exam, you still have to have a practicing attorney "Sponsor" your admission. Some associates kissed up to their bosses or partners and asked them, but I wanted someone that I really admired and looked up to in the legal profession and who taught me that a lawyer can be human.

I chose my favorite law school professor: W. Edward Sell, "Dean Sell". I took his Corporations class my second year. He had a reputation for NEVER canceling class, and being very difficult. Many 2nd and 3rd year students advised me NOT to take his class because another professor was an easy "A". But, Corporations was on the bar exam and I wanted to learn it--he was the foremost expert and actually authored the textbook. He also had a bust and plaque dedicated to him in the law school after 50 years of teaching. Do you know how daunting it was that first day of class, passing this on my way:It was a great class and he quickly became my favorite teacher of all time.
After that semester, he often persuaded my 2 friends and I to enroll in his other classes--and we did- in legal topics that we were not too interested in: Agency and Partnership, Sales etc. but we always looked forward to our hour or so a day with Dean Sell. We relished the stories and tales he would tell. Some students were very adept at probing questions to get him off topic and telling some colorful tales...(and he loved to tell slightly inappropriate jokes, with a wink, of course).

Dean Sell passed away the year after I became a lawyer. The day I dreaded had come. There was always some comfort in knowing he was only a phone call or short drive away. Over the past 6 years there have been some rough waters and some times that I have questioned what I was thinking when I applied for law school, but on those days, I look at his name on the certificate on my wall and I think back to how proud and honored he was to sponsor my bar admission and I try to remember that I have his legacy to fulfill. He saw something special in the quiet, frantic note-taking student that was afraid to raise her hand...and he seemed to instinctively know when to call me out and force my bluff...

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