Before I became a lawyer, before I went to law school, one of my favorite things to do was to drive by the law school, very late at night, when no one else was around, stop in the middle of the street and just admire it, look at it with respect, so impressed with it, almost overwhelmed with it, in awe. Just looking at it made me proud and happy and hopeful and nervous.
I returned to the law school today.
I cant say it was the first time in 6 ½ years since I’ve been back, but I was surprised to realize I have not been there in quite a while, and have not driven by it to just admire it either. Walking in the parking lot and through the doors gave me the same feelings. Its just a very important building, its very impressive. And I worked really hard to get into that building. Then I worked really hard to get out the other side of that building, when I became a Law School graduate and no longer just an admirer or a student.
I had returned for one of my Professor's memorial service. Someone who had some responsibility in me getting to that other side of the building. We met at the start of my second year when I randomly answered some ad looking for a research assistance which brought me to her office.
Tax law. Now that’s something to avoid.
You know the joke. You became a lawyer because you cant do math. Theres a lot of truth to that.
But somehow, this Professor persuaded me that I could, and when I argued with her that I actually could not, she practically forced me to take one of her classes. I continued to explain to her that, although I somehow got myself into law school, I’m really not bright enough to tackle tax law. I mean, its one thing to do legal studies and quite another thing to do tax law. I mean, really. I'm no Rhodes Scholar here. I just cant do it.
She wasn’t listening. She was busy signing me up for her class, giving me my first assignment and telling me how much fun tax law is and on and on she went. "Tax law is sexy", she would say, which always made me laugh really hard. I left her office with a job, my first tax class and feeling tricked.
So, I spent my second year at law school sitting in a tax class and working for a tax Professor, sitting on the dusty fourth floor of the library, deep in the area where no one frequents, the area where all the tax books are kept, researching and writing tax codes, of all things, all the while convinced that I was going to fail, get kicked out of this impressive building, and I am doing her more damaged than good, because... tax law. come on. I just cant do that.
But she taught me tax law.
And she taught so much more than tax law.
At some point, asking her to explain the tax code, turned into taking about marriage and children, jobs and money, careers and home and being a woman in this profession (or any profession, really). Sometimes she would ask me to drop off or pick up work at her home, sometimes she would have me walk with her and carry her things to her car, sometimes she would call me at home and ask me to go to the grocery store for her. She was very open about her life, talking to me like a colleague and not a student. Every moment alone, she took advantage to speak encouraging words to me, about tax law and about life. Always with the same general theme, "you can do it, you are much smarter than you think you are, believe in yourself".
Somehow I won the award that year - the one that the school gives one student from each subject area. I also won a small scholarship. It was the only class I would ever receive the award in and the only time I got that scholarship. So, the second year passed by, I took my award, my good grade and my name mentioned in a credit in writing a few articles with her, and I moved on. Someone replaced me in the job, while I took other classes with other professors (I even took three more tax classes without feeling like someone tricked me into it).
Since graduation, I've written her twice. Once to send her a wedding invitation and once to quickly jot a note complaining about the job I had at the time. She wrote back and said it was a good time to get an LLM (an advanced degree in tax) and practice tax law. I laughed out loud again. But, of my many excuses for not doing so, I just cant do it was not one of them. I can. I can not only do the things that I thought I could not do, I can excel at them. And I did not know that before my second year in law school, before sitting, alone, on the empty fourth floor of the library, before crying in the bathroom while taking my final exam, before meeting this professor.
I'm now going to reinstate my late night drives by the law school, and I have another reason to stop and stare at the building with admiration, because of a woman who was my tax professor who is no longer here.
Her husband reminded all of us at her memorial service today, of what she was really teaching her students:
1. Believe in yourself
2. Work hard
3. Take every opportunity that comes your way