George Covington — To Lawyer Or Not To Lawyer?

Circa 2007

Everyone goes through life with at least one nagging question. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Why did I move to Alpine?” or “What’s a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?”

Sometimes the question is more complex. For instance, an outsider might be asked: “What do you think of the human race?”

From the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s, when I lived in Washington D.C., my albatross was a rather simple question that had a complex answer: “Why don’t you practice law?” people asked me all the time. “You’ve got a law degree from a respectable law school and a valid license,” they would goad me. They pointed out that in Washington, D.C., the “big money” went to lawyers, real estate developers, government swindlers or a combination of all three.

Though I had not simple answer, my first reaction was to blame it on ‘Perry Mason syndrome.’ I grew up watching the dramatic TV series, which ran from roughly the mid-50s to the mid-60s. Each week, defense attorney Perry and his wonderful and mannered secretary Della Street saved innocent victims from the cannibalistic prosecution.

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I wanted my clients to be innocent and my secretary to look like Della Street. But in the brief period I actually practiced, I discovered most of my clients were guilty as sin, and my secretary was as rough as an unpaved street. Some of my clients were so guilty, I considered turning in my law license to appear as a witness for the prosecution.

This is not the proper attitude for a lawyer. And lack of a proper attitude may have been the key to my problems. Almost from my first day of law school, I knew I didn’t have one. On an early exam I wrote, “This issue is about as relevant as tits on a boar hog.” When I got the test back, my professor had written in large red letters: Or in law school, I thought to myself.

Toward the end of my first year, I dreamed that the final exam was to watch three members of the Red Brigade herd an old lady to the front of the class, see them shoot her in the knees and yet remain objective through it all.

In my dream, two students who rushed to her aid were expelled for overreacting. Others who flinched were humiliated and told they belonged in dental school. The only reason I made it through that test was because it was a constitutional law class and I was asleep.

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Most law professors never mentioned the term “proper attitude.” Instead, they used the phrase, “Think like a lawyer.”

I’ve heard deer hunters say, “You’ve got to think like a deer,” and in old Westerns I’ve heard the hero say, “You’ve got to think like an Indian.” You’ll notice that in both examples, the purpose of “thinking like” was to ensure that the object was shot. After three years of law school, I became convinced that if the general public ever started “thinking like a lawyer,” the average lawyer might come to know the feelings of the Indian in a John Wayne flick or a deer in November.

In answer to my albatross question, I have perfected a comeback to what most people consider a compliment. When they say, “You’ve got all it takes to be a great lawyer,” I reply, “Most people are born with everything necessary to become psychopathic serial killers, but fortunately few of us carve out that career path.”

by George Covington

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