A brilliant, though heartless, law school professor of mine, off-put by a specious, rambling discourse by one of my less bright classmates finally interrupted him with this brutal response:
“Mr. Jones, some of what you have said is important. And some of what you have said is correct. Unfortunately what’s correct is unimportant, and what’s important incorrect.”
In a different law school class another student, seeking clarity on some issue or another, asked a question that began like this:
“Is it always true that … ”
To which the professor,who had relentlessly preached for entire year that in the law the pursuit of certitude is a futile and unworthy exercise, disdainfully responded:
“It is true, sir, except when it isn’t.”
This is among the most useful pieces of generalized advice — applicable to all manner of things — that I have ever received.
The photo provides only a glimpse of a quote from Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, preserved on a wall at UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall) School of Law to which I almost transferred in pursuit of a clerkship with my idol, the legendary Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who only choose clerks from his alma mater Boalt Hall. Alas, I was broke at the time and for financial reasons elected to stay at B.C. Law School, where I was happy and thriving, but have always wondered what might have been.
The full inspiring Cardozo quote, directed particularly at first year law students, follows:
“You will study the wisdom of the past, for in a wilderness of conflicting counsels, a trail has there been blazed. You will study the life of mankind, for this is the life you must order and to order with wisdom, you must know. You will study the precepts of justice, for these are the truths that through you shall come to their hour of triumph. Here is the high emprise, the fine endeavor, the splendid possibility of achievement, to which I summon you and bid you welcome.”