Heeding The Call of Law School

I have heard many law students describe their decision to come to law school as a “calling,” and because when you choose to follow a path you also choose its destination, a “calling” to the law as well. Students’ stories of this “call” illustrate a spiritual impetus that moved them here with a hunger to acquire legal skills. I think all of us were called to law school. I wonder how many law school graduates remember that initial call and still feel a spiritual impetus in their professional lives?

Heeding this call isn’t for the faint-hearted. Law school’s reputation is one of hard work, endless preparation, the “Socratic method,” and razor-sharp competition. Why would anyone choose to do this? Law school prepares lawyers. Everyone who graduates from law school can practice in a profession of power.

I’ve been thinking of how I was “called” to the law. My college graduation was looming with undergraduate degrees in English and theatre performance. I had not acquired many practical or employable skills and was wondering what on earth I was going to do: graduate school? Find a “real” job? In one of my last literature classes I recognized a woman who had been in elementary school with me. I asked her what she was going to do after graduation. “I’m going to law school,” she said. She spoke in a nonchalant and even blasé way about this plan, but as I heard what she was saying, I felt the earth move under my feet.

It was 1972. I knew many attorneys—my father was an attorney—but I knew no women who were going to law school. My women friends were either married, planning for marriage, still in school, teaching, nursing, or pounding typewriters.

The idea of going to law school swirled around in my mind making me dizzy. Here was a possibility I had never considered. The more I thought about it, the more possible it seemed for me, too. The seed was planted and it was a good seed and began to swell in my heart. I could do that—go to law school. I loved school. I loved reading. And so, the idea began to grow.

I met my closest friend for lunch soon after and announced, “I’m going to take the LSAT next week. I think I’ll go to law school.” She, too, was floored by such an announcement. Let me set the stage for those who don’t remember more than 40 years ago. In 1973 when I started law school at the University of Utah, there were less than half a dozen women who would graduate that year in a class of one hundred. There were fifteen women graduates in 1976, the year I graduated. I took the bar and became the 100th woman admitted to the Utah State Bar. The first woman had been admitted in 1873 before the Territorial Bar, and 103 intervening years passed before another 99 women joined her in the ranks. In 1972 for a woman to casually announce she was going to law school was out of the ordinary.

“I think I’ll go, too,” said my friend. It didn’t take long for her to plant the seed and for it to grow for her. There was also the fact that she would have a friend there—me.

It was not a blinding flash of light or an audible voice that issued my call to the law. It was planting a seed of an idea, feeling it swell and enlarge, believing it was good, and having it become delicious to me. The beginnings of transforming events may happen simply and quietly in the planting of a good idea. That doesn’t mean that the repercussions of that good idea won’t mean thunder and lightning later on, but the start can begin in a quiet thought, the remark of a trusted friend, a new and sweet inspiration that brings light.

Jane Wise has taught writing at BYU Law School since 1998 and is in charge of publications. She researches and teaches about law and literature and storytelling in the law. She writes for textbooks and in law journals and is a presenter at legal writing conferences. She clerked for the Utah Supreme Court and maintained a general practice. She graduated from the University of Utah College of Law in 1976.


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