April 2017 • Volume 105 • Number 4 • Page 10
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A Tale of Two Courts
For all our differences, we lawyers share the highs and lows of a long journey from there to here.
It was a typical over-scheduled and very rewarding week for an ISBA president and practitioner. I was on the tail end of a round-trip from my home in Naperville to central Illinois for the third time in five days. I turned the radio off to enjoy a quiet moment alone with my thoughts as I drove north on I-57. I found myself reminiscing about the path that led to the privilege of writing this ISBA president's page.
I dreamed aloud of becoming a lawyer when I was a small boy. I recall the raised eyebrows of a few people, signaling they doubted whether it was a realistic goal. When I graduated from Joliet Catholic High School, I chose to attend the University of St. Francis in my hometown, largely because I was offered a basketball scholarship. I was already mindful that law school was going to be expensive. I strategically chose my college major of business administration. I believed it would give me solid credentials for law school admission and a safety net if I changed my mind.
My experience as a small-college basketball player had none of the glamour of the NCAA tournament. I played in only one nationally televised game. We never traveled by airplane. We traveled to away games in long white vans with heat vents located only in the very front of the vehicles. The guys in the front seats were sweating, wearing only their practice shorts and t-shirts. The guys in the back wore coats and hats, yelling to the guys in the front to turn the heat up.
I remembered a road game against Wright State University, located in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. They beat the 1983 short-shorts off of us, and they chuckled aloud about it after the game as the two teams walked through the same tunnel to our respective locker rooms. After the game, we traveled through the night, arriving back at the Marian Hall dormitory the following morning sometime after 4 a.m. I had an 8 a.m. class.
There was no special dispensation for the term paper that would be due the morning after an away game or for an exam scheduled that morning. I would study in the frigid rear of the van, sometimes by flashlight. It was farther from the heat, but it was also farther from the blaring radio music in the front.
My circumstance was different from that of many college athletes. I didn't just need grades good enough to stay eligible. I wanted to go to law school. I needed to make very good grades in challenging classes. I also needed to impress the instructors from whom I would eventually request letters of recommendation.
I was rewarded for my efforts to get into law school with recognition as an Academic All-American at the National Catholic Basketball tournament in 1985. Who knew? I gladly accepted. The award hangs in my office.
While in college, I worked as a summer park district manager and at McDonald's on the weekends. While in law school, I worked as an academic skills advisor and as a summer law clerk. During that first year of law school I really came to appreciate how fortunate I was to have had the college scholarship and the jobs. So many of my classmates started with unfathomable student loan debt, and they were taking on even more to attend law school.
I thought about how much I hated the first year of law school. Thirty years later, I still do. I graduated without a job offer. A few days after I was sworn in, I started my first job as an assistant state's attorney, with a salary of $25,600 per year. I had turned down an offer after college from a fortune 500 company that offered $12,000 per year more.
I had no regrets, though. What I really wanted was immediate trial experience and within a year of my admission to the bar, I tried my first case before a jury. I found the well of the courtroom to be every bit as thrilling as the basketball court, and I was living the dream of my boyhood.
As I reminisced about my journey, the one thing I had not imagined was that I would have the privilege of writing this ISBA president's page. I hope reading it provokes someone else to take off the lawyer cape for a moment and reminisce about the journey to and through our noble profession. Keep the cape close. We can't daydream too long. We still have a world to save.