While I was still a student at Malcolm Hall, I heard someone say, “you don’t have to love the law to serve the people, but you do have to love the people.” That got me thinking.
I did not love the law then—there was very little about it that I could love; it was (and still is) written in archaic language and embodied concepts that were, to my mind, not directly relevant and even, to some extent, greatly oppressive to the people I aspired to serve. I did love the people I aspired to serve—then as a paralegal and later as a lawyer. It came to a point that I was in despair that I was going to be a lawyer because I felt, then, that lawyering would be useless as the law I did not love had very little relevance in the lives of the people I did love.
Of course, I later did become a lawyer and a law professor—helping to train litigators and form advocates; struggling to instill character and inculcate values; trying mightily to witness to batch upon batch of wide-eyed and idealistic law students the scarred beauty of the law and the limited justice it could render; always, conscious of my role to help each batch passing through Malcolm’s portals understand that the law is but one of the many things a lawyer can use to truly help.
Each year, I look at the graduates and wonder, “did these streams rise higher than the source?” This year, I take a look at you, Batch 2007-2008 and ask myself the same question- “have these lives, these hearts, these souls, been transformed, changed, inspired and moved to become great lawyers and even greater persons?”
I have seen many of you learn valuable life lessons in the year you were at OLA in the many instances of helplessness when you just had nothing to file or argue to help your clients, or nothing left; in the many instances when you held back tears as you empathized with the poverty of resources of the many lives who walk in through Malcolm’s Room 107; in the many instances when clenched fists and whoops of joy were the order of the day as unexpected surprises and wins came our way; in the many instances when you just shook your head in awe at the reality that the cases you simply read before were coming alive before your very eyes. Two semesters is not a lifetime but for all the lessons you have encountered, it might as well have been.
I have seen how, despite the many frustrations and the few joys, many of you marched on with great passion, heedless of the obstacles in your way, mindful only of the rare opportunity you had to show that while you may not love the law you are studying, you love the people you are serving.
All these gives me the confidence to boldly hope that, from your ranks, will come the next great nationalist, the next great professor or dean of law, the next great advocate, the next great litigators, the next great corporate or tax lawyers, or even the next great rebel or social gadfly or simply the quintessential UP lawyer, one who loves the people, if not the law.
Alan Dershowitz, in his Letters to a Young Lawyer, writes, “(i)f you don’t love the law, what should you love. . .? Love liberty. Love justice. Love the good that law can produce. Aspirations don’t disappoint, so long as you realize that the struggle for liberty, justice and anything else worth pursuing never stays won.”
As you temporarily step out of Malcolm Hall (because no one ever leaves Malcolm forever as little fragments of memory remain with us—be it a funny anecdote, a favorite nook in the library, a particularly detested/respected/admired professor), I congratulate you for allowing yourself to be moved by the experience of learning law and, more importantly, life in the years you spent in Malcolm Hall. May you continue loving the people whom the law seeks to serve, the very same people whose toil and tears you have shared and whose very lives have helped you to receive what many only dream of—lessons in life and law learned, grandly.