Sunday, August 23, 2009

God Qualifies the Called

When I was an undergraduate, I had considered the idea of becoming a political science or philosophy professor. I decided not to, since I didn't feel like I had what it took. (I don't really fully know what it takes, but for some reason I didn't think I had it.) During my senior year, I contemplated applying to law school, but I felt that the timing was wrong. I decided to go on a mission instead.

After my mission, I went to law school. (I started 3 weeks after I got home.) I was at a 4th tier school with a major inferiority complex and a relatively incompetent administration. (The teachers were good, but the deans and other powers left something to be desired.) I don't remember exactly when it happened, but sometime in either my second or third semester there, I was standing in the 5th floor foyer one foggy afternoon (San Francisco is notorious for its fog), and it hit me. Right there, surrounded by tacky vinyl couches, God called me to be a law professor.

The school I was at got put on probation by the ABA, and the administration panicked. I got caught up in a big purge and got academically disqualified. The irony of the whole thing is that my disqualification letter and my Witkin award* came in the mail the same day. I appealed the disqualification decision, and it was denied. As a result, I had to wait 2 years before returning to another ABA accredited law school.

Last year, my waiting period was up, and I returned to law school at a school much better suited to me. Gone are the foggy days and incompetent administrators, replaced by splendid sunshine, palm trees, and an institution dedicated to the glory of God. A statue of the Savior sits in the middle of campus, inscribed with Biblical reminders to come unto Christ.

On the first day of new student orientation, we met in our legal writing and research class. My professor (Professor A) asked us each to introduce ourselves and tell what we want to do with our law degree. He made commentary on each choice. When my turn came, I said that I wanted to be a law professor. He paused for a moment before getting solemn and saying, "That will be very difficult."

He then proceeded to talk about how unless someone goes to Yale or graduates at the top of the class, it's practically impossible to get hired to teach a doctrinal subject, and that anyone else who teaches will have to teach legal writing and research. I was stunned, since most people only tell me happy things like, "You'll do great," or "Go for it!"

Over the course of the year, I came to really respect this professor and his opinions. He was always honest with me when critiquing my writing, which meant a lot to me. Still, his not so stellar pronouncement about my career prospects has stuck with me. Unfortunately, legal writing and research was not my best subject.

Over the summer, when I took summer school, I decided that it was time to start talking to my professors and finding out how they got started teaching. I asked my legal ethics teacher (Professor B) what he thought, and he told me basically the same thing. I told him I didn't think I was qualified to teach writing and research, and he suggested that I specialize in an area of law that the regular faculty didn't like to teach and then become an adjunct. He suggested I talk to Professor C to get his idea. (Professor C happens to be my copyright law professor this semester, so I'm going to catch him in office hours and find out what he thinks.)

I have Professor A again this semester, this time for appellate advocacy. I've decided to brave his office for another conversation on the subject. I've been mulling it over for a few days, and I'm nervous. I'm afraid he'll tell me what I already fear- that I'm not qualified. The other fear is that he'll tell me that I am qualified, but the black marks on my academic record, as a result of my prior disqualification from law school, will make me nonetheless unhireable.

We often hear in church the popular quote "whom God calls, He qualifies", or my personal favorite rendition of the sentiment, "God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called". I had an amazing epiphany regarding this thought today during church.

We usually think of it as referring to church callings, but today when my mind was wandering during Sacrament meeting, I realized something. It's not just for church callings. He called me to be a law professor, and He will make me qualified. I don't know how it will happen, but it will. I think I have a unique contribution to make to the legal academy because my background is different from the typical professor. I can empathize with struggling students because I've struggled. I know what it's like to fall down and get up again. I know what it's like to have to work while going to school. God doesn't just want some random person off the street to teach - He wants me, and He'll make it possible.

Professor A's pronouncement of a year ago, that it's not going to be easy, still stands, but nothing worthwhile in this life is easy. I'm going to keep plugging along, doing my part, with faith that the Lord will do His part.

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*The Witkin Award is given to the student with the highest grade in each section of each course. I got one in Constitutional Law II just before getting kicked out of law school.

6 comments:

Peter R. said...

Feel free to regard this as unsolicited advice, but you might consider pursuing an LLM from a higher ranked school. LLM's in tax seem to be purely professional, but con law LLM's and the like are common steps on the path to law professorship. An old boss of mine got a J.D. from Miami, but supplemented it with an LLM from George Washington. Last time I heard he was an adjunct professor at GW, so he sort of got what he wanted.

Keri Brooks said...

Thanks for the comment, Peter. I've considered an LLM, but I think I'm a little burned out on school right now. It's something I'm keeping in the back of my head for future reference.

I went to Professor A's office hours yesterday afternoon, and I had a wonderful experience. I was really nervous about going, but I decided to go anyway. When I arrived, he welcomed me into his office and gave me some unsolicited feedback on my writing. (It was useful feedback, though.) Then he asked me what he could do for me. I said that I was thinking about being a law professor, and I asked him how he got started teaching.

He spent the next half hour telling me what it's like in the world of teaching law. He was honest about how hard it is to get started, and about my career prospects. He is really cheering for me, and he thinks I have what it takes, but he said it's probably going to be a long process. He offered to write me a letter of recommendation if I need one, and he said I can come ask him questions anytime. I'm feeling really positive about it.

Stephen said...

Tax is actually a class that they have trouble finding teachers for.

However, let me suggest that you go to this web site and start browsing it:

http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/

The key is to start writing and publishing in law reviews. If you show a real dedication to writing and publishing, and if you are in an area that is not locked out, there are places you can teach.

But, you need to teach, need stellar academics (that Witkin is a good start) and you need to start working towards an appellate law clerk position.

Do wish you the best.

Alex said...

When you are academically disqualified and if you are denied re-admission, does the record remain re: disqualification? or does it start anew after the two years?

Keri Brooks said...

Thanks for your question, Alex.

When I re-applied to law school, I had to disclose and explain my previous disqualification. I got accepted to two law schools. From what I understand, the admissions committee at the school I'm currently at had to place something in my file explaining their decision to admit me. I've never seen what it says. My transcript bears no notation of the prior disqualification. I started as a 1L just like everyone else. It's kind of like repentance; it just got washed away.

I'm sure there's something on my transcript at the school I got disqualified from, but that's hopefully not going to be too relevant to my life.

Alex said...

Thanks for the quick reply. I am dealing with some of similar issues and it has just been the biggest stress ever. I am glad that you were able to sort it out.

Hope all is well