Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Forget the Politics. This is Kind of Funny.

I can't remember the last time my writing and the national news had a thematic connection, but here we are. Today, I finished a scene for the new book. The scene pulls from some of my memories of the final year of law school. Just after I finished writing it, a friend from law school sent me a link to an article about the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Department of Justice. Related? You betcha.

By now you probably know that the President of the United States made some remarks about judicial review. National Health Care, Supreme Court, and all that jazz. Don't worry, I'm not about to go off on a political rant. If you were hoping that I was, too bad. Find another blog.

Yesterday, the National Health Care story took a twist. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is also hearing a case related to National Health Care, gave a homework assignment to the attorney from the Department of Justice, Dana Kaersvang. Minimum of three pages, single-spaced, due in two days, covering the legal issues related to the President's recent remarks.

*Hmph*. I'm surprised the Court didn't specify the font size and margins. But no doubt Attorney Kaersvang will look up the court specific rules and use the default requirements for pleadings in lieu of specific instruction on those matters. *Snort*.

Okay, I admit it. I'm laughing. It's funny. Not LMAO, or ROFL. But a quiet LOL. It's a laugh that goes like this: “Heh. Department of Justice got a Memo.”

Ah, the Memo. The 5th Circuit didn't call it that, and the media isn't using that term. But every alum from my law school is calling it that. That's what we called it when it happened to us.

The law school I attended had an intensive, mandatory practicum in the final year. Most law schools, the third year is a breeze. Not the one I picked. I went to the place where fun goes to die, the law school with a boot camp. I still have a t-shirt that says, “At other law schools the third year is a joke. Here, the joke's on you.” And one of the charms of our third year was the Memo.

What precisely is a Memo? Extra homework. Punishment. Teaching tool. Both. Neither. I was never clear on that. But I do know it was hell. Hell to have, and hell to see.

You could get a Memo for answering a question incorrectly in class. You could get a Memo for sitting next to someone who gave a wrong answer. You could even get a Memo if you answered correctly, a rare and painful occurrence that would have the people sitting around you wincing and scooting away out of fear your Memo was contagious.

Sometimes you understood why you were slapped with a Memo and sometimes you didn't. Sometimes a classmate gave a stupid answer to a question but escaped unscathed, leaving you to wonder if there really was such a thing as justice. At the end of the day you just had to shrug and say, “I got a Memo because I got a Memo.” Searching for a motive or reason wouldn't get the Memo done. Take the hit and move on – that was the ultimate lesson.

There was a clear technical benefit to Memos. It taught us to complete a research project fast. It prepared us for mini-trials, and those prepared us for cases.

Here's a little secret you won't read on another blog: a Court asking an attorney to do extra work during a trial is not unheard of. It just doesn't normally make the national news.

And we weren't just trained to take the hit when the Memo came. We were taught to anticipate the extra work. Yeah. Give yourself a Memo before the trial, on any issue you think the Court might question. I wrote them for mini-trials and big trial in school. When I was practicing law, I wrote one. Didn't need it, but I had it. Law school beat the Memo Paranoia into me.

(aside: Memo Paranoia would be a good band name)

Reading about someone slapped with a Memo in real life does force me to do something unpleasant: admit that my professors were right. I don't like doing this. I prefer being the bitter maverick alum; I do it so well. But truth is truth. If any of my classmates had been slapped with a memo by the 5th Court of Appeals, they would have taken the hit, written a kick-ass memo, and turned it in before the deadline. That's what we were trained to do. There. I said something nice. Ugh.

Back to the humor of the 5th Circuit Memo. No one is laughing at the attorney or making light of the subject material. We're laughing with the attorney, because we've had a taste of what it's like. We're laughing at memories. And in the case of at least one alum (me), we're laughing at ourselves, for finally seeing how right our professors were about taking the hits and being prepared.

To Attorney Kaersvang: Good luck. Take the hit, and move on. To my fellow alums and all attorneys out there, if you see Dana Kaersvang, buy that attorney a drink. Chuckle over this together. If there's any fraternity among us, it's fed by shared suffering, dark humor, and the bar.