When you think of a law professor you probably imagine whiteboards, textbooks, and a red pen, but the life of a law professor is often not confined to the classroom. In this episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast, host Caitlin Peterson talks to professor Benjamin Davis about his experience as a law professor including the process of research, the important experiences he gained through his ABA membership, and what makes his job so fun. He also shares advice to law students about how to foster a relationship with a professor and the advantages of such a relationship.
Professor Benjamin Davis teaches in the areas of contracts, alternative dispute resolution, arbitration, public international law, and international business transactions at the University of Toledo.
ABA Law Student Podcast
The Life of a Law Professor
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast, where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step. You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Caitlin Peterson: Hello and welcome to another edition of the ABA Law Student Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am Caitlin Peterson, Delegate of Diversity and Inclusion for the Law Student Division, and a 2L at Washington and Lee University here in Lexington, Virginia.
Our show today is sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division, and in this monthly podcast we cover topics of interest to you, law students and recent graduates. We hope this show is a trusted resource for all our listeners.
For this show professor Benjamin Davis, a Professor of Law at the University of Toledo joins us today. Professor Benjamin Davis earned his JD from Harvard University School of Law, and he is now Professor of Contracts, Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the University of Toledo. He is also a very involved member of the American Bar Association, and today he has agreed to talk to us about issues that pertain to his ABA membership, being a professor and general advice that he has for students in fostering good relationships with students and faculty.
Thank you professor for joining us today.
Benjamin Davis: Great to be here Caitlin, and please call me Ben.
Caitlin Peterson: Yes, so Ben, again we are so glad that you’re here today, and so I think I just want to start out, because I met you in Chicago just this year and you had such a friendly persona to many of us students there, and you kind of got started talking a little bit about your professorship, but I would like to know more about it.
So, what got you started on the academic path of being a professor?
Benjamin Davis: I graduated from Law School in ancient history of times, 1983, and at that time I actually did a JD-MBA, and at that point I basically had no idea, I was 27 that I would ever want to be a law professor. I went off to Europe to work as a development consultant, the management consultant, and then I worked in international arbitration for about 14 years.
And when I was coming along around 42, 43, looking for the next step in my career, I thought about all the lawyers I have been working with and the happiest lawyers I met were the law professors. They had a lot of autonomy, independence to do research that they wanted to and all; and so all of a sudden really then, it started to dawn on me.
One of my former professors invited me back to speak to a group of students in a seminar for JD-MBAs and I enjoyed being there, talking about what I was doing and so I put my name into the process for hiring as a law professor, and at the time I was being told or the information I read said that if I was over 27, there was no possibility. But, I just went ahead and applied and was able to get a position which I started at a Texas Wesleyan Law School in 2000, and then from there about three years in, I came up here to Toledo where I’ve been ever since.
That’s how it really happened. It seemed to me that the law professors I met were thinking to have really nice and interesting lives and a lot of freedom to do what they like to do in terms of the research and then they work with students developing. So, I was a big part of it.
Caitlin Peterson: Yes sir, I hear that from a lot of my law professors too that they like to help students develop and that it’s an easier lifestyle. Can you go a little bit more into how being a professor is different from the rest of your legal career?
Benjamin Davis: So, yeah, I will say a couple of different things. When you are a professor, let’s say a tenure track, that’s a certain number of years, there is an evaluation made, whether you’re going to tenure or not. There are basically three parts to the job. One is your research, what you write about; one is your teaching, how you teach your classes; and the third is, service, service to the law school, service to university, and more broader service. So, you really have to focus on just those things.
For example, one of the things that really helped me a lot when I first got into this, I was advised not to become a member of the Bar in the State where I was teaching.
Why? Because then you’re not tempted to take clients, working with clients less than a year at a clinic is not to say something that is going to be considered significant in a situation where your really — your research and your teaching are the most important things to do.
And so, what you do basically as a law professor, heading on to different schools that you are at on a tenure track is that you work on those three things you find their topics. For example, things that I had seen when I worked that bothered me or in what I had seen and it happened in a case and/r something then kind of bothered me, so using research about that and development.
For example, I remember when I first came in to teaching there was a thing called the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution procedure that was being created for dealing with what we used to call cybersquatting where people would steal domain names. There was an alternative dispute resolution mechanism put in place, and I was curious about how this works, because it was essentially a contract-based system where the standards to be looked at by the particular dispute resolution person was — were contractual standards. They weren’t law, they were things that were written into the contract. And so, I was curious about that and so I wrote a paper about that.
You get curious about different things you see along the way, when a lot of the torture stuff came up, I was very interested in that, and started doing a lot of research about that.
One thing I was curious about was do we ever prosecute high-level civilians or military persons for torture in the United States? So, I did some research on that. So just this process of seeing things that interesting for your research and then writing about them, and submitting them to law reviews, making presentations at conferences, all of that is a part of the job.
In addition to that there is learning how to teach. And someone told me early on when I started teaching, you are the engine in the room. So, if you are not giving lots of energy into what’s happening in that room, the room is not going to be vibrating.
So, I was fortunate to be able to teach first your contracts, contracts is fun, and also upper-level arbitration, ADR, international business transactions, international law, and your book, the book that you choose to be the book that you’re going to use for the class, it’s kind of like a musician’s instrument. You have heard of the Stradivarius Violin or something else. Each musician is comfortable maybe with Stratocaster guitar. Each musician is comfortable with the instrument they use, and you had to choose a case book that you are comfortable with, that you thought would help you to be the best teacher possible.
Now here at Toledo one of the things that I really like about it, is that you are reviewed every year by the faculty. So, at the end of the first year that faculty would come in, and senior faculty come in and watch the classes. Your whatever articles you have written are sent out to be reviewed by peers and their comment on them, and the fact is, the whole looks at what you’re doing and seeing what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong.
And I like that because at the end of each year you would see whatever the things you should keep doing and what are the things that you should correct. So that made the process at least I think simpler for me than what happens in some other schools where the person might only get a review in say the third year, right.
So, they have been working two-and-a-half years, and what happens if absolutely a third year, everybody on the faculty doesn’t really like what they write about. Well, they usually done on five or six tenure track, all of a sudden, they have got to make up a lot of ground in the fourth and fifth year, that could be I imagine very stressful. This way I knew each step along the way what the faculty wanted and can correct.
Similarly, my teaching was reviewed but was reviewed by several of my senior faculty members and so that way you can get a sense of ideas and people who shared very willingly their ideas on how to improve how you teach in a classroom. And that’s what enormously helpful people also help you by for example, looking over your draft exam and see if it seems like it’s reasonable, if it needs some changes, that’s the kind of collegial thing that can happen at the law school.
On the server side there are law school committees, there are University committees in which you can work, and then there is also work out in society.
For example, I was contacted one day about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s around not too far from this time, where I got an email, I don’t know why it was sent to me where it said, can you be in Geneva in two weeks. And knowing from my experience that those are opportunities where you have to say yes right away, at 5:01 I said yes.
And ultimately the Society of American Law Teachers had me going to Geneva to present a Shadow Report of the Society of American Law Teachers about legal education to one of the UN human rights bodies that was evaluating US compliance with some of its human rights obligation.
So, all of a sudden, I was — by saying yes on that Friday afternoon, all of a sudden, I was in Geneva two or three weeks later interacting with these members of this UN human rights body, and those are the kind of things that in service that you can get involved with, obviously amicus briefs or something that you work on too, really the breadth of service is up to you.
So every year you look at all three and that gives you a sense of how you are doing and then you come to a point where there is a decision about tenure and that’s a process that would start with your faculty, then the Dean will make a recommendation, then maybe for your university, the university will make a recommendation, then the provost will make a recommendation, then the president will make a recommendation, and it will be the board of trustees of the university that will make the final decision whether you have tenure.
It’s a long — and I am not going to minimize the fact that it can be stressful, it can be arduous to go through, but it is the standard process to become a tenured professor and you just have to understand how it works, the particular school you are at and do what you need to do.
As somebody once said to me, all tenure is local. So, the group of people who are evaluating you are the people who are at that particular school that you are at and so you have to see how well things go with them.
The other thing I would say is that one of the things that really helped me along the way in this process was, he is now dead, but a senior faculty member, who was very distinguished, told me that back in 1972 his tenure vote had been four yes and three no, and I realized that you didn’t have to please everybody and have everything to be unanimous. And that was really very important to realize that if I have things that I want to work on, that I think are important, even though maybe there are some people who are not interested in it, that’s fine.
Another thing that I would like to say about being a professor is that if I get hit by a car tomorrow, the only thing that really remains of what I have done as a professor are the students I have taught and the articles and writings that I have done. So rather than try to conform my writing to my articles, to what I think might be, maybe somebody’s idea of what I should write about and not actually develop my own voice and my own research agenda, that thought got me to say, you have got to write what you think you want to write, do the best job at it, so that if — for posterity, that’s your addition to the edifice of legal education.
And for students, one of the blessings when you are a professor, especially where you have students who are maybe the first law student in their family, maybe even the first one to go to college, but it’s a blessing to be able to have these conversations with these students about their dreams.
Sometimes I think that I am the only one that they have ever really told their dreams to or can understand what their dreams are because no one in their family really understands what it is to be a lawyer. And so, part of the pleasure is seeing students start off a little hesitant, gain confidence over the two or three years and then see them go out and do far better things than I have done out in the real world.
We just had elections on Tuesday here in Toledo and one of my greatest pleasures in life was voting for two of my former students who were running for judge in two different races. I actually ran into one of them at the polling station. It is just an enormously wonderful feeling to see how far they have gone in the path that they have taken.
So those are a couple of things. Obviously with the service, when you feel like you are helping something to progress, that’s also a good thing too.
It’s a little long-winded, but I hope it gives a sense of what the fun of being a professor is.
Caitlin Peterson: Yes sir, it does. Thank you. I know that you talk a lot about service and we have talked a lot about your service commitments too and so just I met you through the American Bar Association and we talked about some of your research, but as a professor, why do you feel that being part of the ABA is still valid? There are many professors who feel that being part of an organization like the American Bar Association may not be so valid, because it’s so big, nobody really knows what it’s doing or that it’s not really going to help their research. So why have you through all these years maintained a strong ABA presence and how do you feel that it has helped your service or your professorship or any other aspects of your legal career?
Benjamin Davis: Well, sure. Well, one thing is how I got started in it. I was living in Paris when I was working with the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration and I became interested in technology and dispute resolution when I was there. I led a team who did the creation of the first case management system there. I think it was 1989-1993. It was during the transition from a DOS to Windows. It will tell you how aged this was. And we created the system while the technology was fundamentally changing pretty significantly.
So that got me interested in how technology could help dispute resolution, and in fact, I think in some of the presentations that I did when I was being considered by law schools, it’s called the job talk, they are during the course of the interview when you are invited back to a school, you have to give a presentation to the faculty at lunchtime, commonly called the job talk. But I talked about this stuff and I actually wrote some articles before I got to teaching law school on topics related.
So, I am giving you that background because when I got to teaching down in Texas Wesleyan, one of my colleagues there, who was an ADR person, pointed out that the ABA had created a task force on dispute resolution and electronic commerce and that was exactly up my alley with what I was interested in working on.
So, I did some research, found out who was the Chair; it was a guy named Bruce Meyerson, and I wrote to him, shamelessly promoted myself, I have to be in on your work, I have to be part of it. I don’t care what I do, but please let me work on this. And the nicest thing about him was; there are lots of things that are nice about him, but what was really nice for me is that they created a position called Assistant Reporter and I am working on that project.
And so, there was my first experience with the ABA on this task force on stuff that I was really interested in. We did a report. The report, I think if you take a look at it, it is robust, it’s still valid, a lot of the things that it talks about, how to do dispute resolution generally in electronic commerce and all that, but that got me involved with the section of dispute resolution in particular.
I am also the member of the international one because of all that international experience, but in the section dispute resolution and basically from then on in it was pretty much when somebody at the ABA would ask me if I would do something, I said yes and that’s what it’s been for 17 years, and I keep doing these things because they have all been tremendously interesting.
Now, once in a while I have had to shamelessly self-promote. There are presidential appointments sometimes, every year with president of the ABA, the new president will make appointments of people for the different parts of the organization. I mentioned before that I have done some work on torture and so I kind of got into the national security space with my international law work too. And so, I put myself forward to try to become a member of the Standing Committee on Law and National Security, which is the oldest standing committee of the ABA.
And I was at a diversity event and I met a former president of the ABA I think at that and told him just in passing, I really would like to do this. I didn’t really expect I would be appointed to this, but lo and behold, about a year later that current president named me to that Standing Committee on Law and National Security, which was also wonderful, because then I started to go to these meetings and I met people; Michael Hayden and others and everybody talks about Mueller now; I met Mueller, and I got to ask them questions directly about what was on my mind.
And there was the Standing Committee’s annual review in DC, which is next week, and where you would have 600 people who were all from the National Security establishment. We got to go to those things, and I guess they have done it before, but now it’s going in, I had a really great opportunity to talk with people about the different national security issues that bothered me.
I was very fortunate to meet a former head of the FBI, who judged the sessions, who shared my concerns about the torture stuff, and that was to seeing such a venerable person to share the same concerns about torture as I did was like really reassuring that I was not crazy, that in fact it was a totally legitimate way of looking at it. And those are all things that came through my ABA experience.
As I have gone along in the section, I know whatever the committee they had, they asked me to work on it. I said, sure, I was a liaison to the pipeline committee of the ABA at one point, and I learned a lot about complex issues of the pipelines get into law school and elementary to K-12 education issues around the country, I was able to read some really interesting stuff that actually then helped me with drafting a significant part of a Society for American Law teachers shadow report on legal education for say it was 2012 or 2013, where I went to Geneva again.
So, all of these things kind of wind together and give you deeper and greater knowledge, and what I like is that you are in the world of lots of lawyers. I would mention one other thing, I hope this isn’t least funny, which is that as a member of the International section I was on LISTSERV, and there was a guy in the Netherlands who was complaining about something and decided to write a resolution and he presented it on the LISTSERV, and I said, that looks good to him, and he came back said, well, would you like to sign on? And I said, yeah.
And so, it ended up 12 ordinary members of the ABA, not a section, not a division, not a form, just 12 members sign this and it was submitted to the top entity of the ABA, the House of Delegates, and was on the agenda at the House of Delegates meeting in Toronto at that time. And it turned out that under the rules it was required that somebody had to present these two proposed resolutions. And Toledo is only five hours from Toronto, the guy was in the Netherlands, and so I said, well, after that, and so I drove up to Toronto with my son and I presented these two resolutions to the House of Delegates.
It’s an extraordinary experience if you’ve never been there where you have — I don’t know it’s like 200-300 people that are there, big jumbo trans and all that and you are there presenting these resolutions to everybody.
They ultimately had a very low chance of passing, members only, it hadn’t been really talked with other sections and divisions to get their support, but it was a tremendous growth experience for me to go up there and make the pitch. So, these are kind of things that come out of the blue.
Another thing that’s wonderful, I would say I do dispute resolution law. Last week we had a request for expedited blanket authority, which means that a section can speak directly to government on its own rather than with an ABA meeting there was a request in the section on international law with regards to what they wanted to present to the US Trade Representative about the dispute resolution mechanisms in the negotiations of NAFTA right now.
So, this came to me as the Chair of the Section. I think it came on a Thursday and it was supposed to give our answer of whether we objected or not by Tuesday. And so, in that kind of short period, thanks to the wonderful work of our council members, of our Executive Committee members, and of our Committee Chairs, basically shared the docking with them and asked for feedback to know whether we should or should not object.
And in the course of lots of wonderful ideas were brought forward, concerns and all that, and we got – and seem like a consensus was reached which was that we were not going to object, but we pointed out a number of things that we thought should be looked at by the people drafting.
And so, in that modest little way we’re helping, and I get the chance to help, there is this professor from Toledo, Ohio to help with maybe, helping shape the future dispute resolution mechanism for the NAFTA treaty. That’s pretty fun stuff for a guy who is an international guy.
Caitlin Peterson: Oh yeah, very fun. And so, it sounds like in your ABA career and with your professor career that you tend to work a lot collaboratively and you’ve made quite a name for yourself, as I am sure you know of being just a very good friendly dude inside of the ABA, and also, I am sure with being a friendly dude in the ABA, I am sure your students also regard you as a pretty friendly professor. But I guess now what I’ll ask is that of course there are professors who are less friendly or less outgoing, at least on the outside, and so for students — sometimes especially students like me who could be quite shy, you wonder what is the best way to foster a good relationship with a professor, especially sometimes if they may seem a little bit less willing or less open to form those types of relationships with students outside of class?
Benjamin Davis: So, I think that there — professors believe it or not are human beings, okay. I am sure that you have run in as students to all kinds of people, people who are friendly, people who are more taciturn, people who are not friendly. Well guess what, professors make up all that bunch too.
So, there is a couple different things that I really empathize with students and feel that fear because I was the first lawyer in my — first law student in my family. I would walk up to professor’s door at Harvard Law School and open the door and there was sort of a scowling secretary, what do you as a 1L dare come in here, and want to speak to the great man, so to speak?
And so, I understand that feeling of intimidation, all right? But what I would say is that we are human, and secondly, if you are a student in a professor’s class you have to figure out what that professor is trying to teach you and make sure you understand it; whether the person is a nice person or not, it makes no difference. The exam is going to come and you will either show your stuff in a way that the professor thinks is great or you won’t.
So, it’s incumbent on you to kind of get out of your fearful space and focus mainly on I would say making sure you understand the material in the class. So, I’ll take contracts, I teach contracts in the first year, all right. So, when a class topics is offered, do you know really how to think about an offer? If you are not sure at the end of the class that you’ve got it, go see the professor and say, Professor, this is what I understand, have I got it, have I not got it? And listen to what the professor says. Write down the notes on it.
If a professor has passed exams that you can look through, go through and look at all of his or her exam. The essays, take a look at the essays. If they are timed essays, like usually they are, 30-minute, 90-minute, are they open book, are they close book? After you’ve done your studying it was close book, close the book. Sit down with a pen and write out your best answer to the essay. Maybe the first time not within the time limit but overtime, because on the one hand there is your knowledge of the subject from all your hard work, and then the other hand is during the stress of the exam it’s being able to get your knowledge down. That’s the thing. There are people know a lot, but don’t get their knowledge in.
One of the things for example that students sometimes forget in the first semester contracts was, I call it making contracts in first semester. We have a two semester contracts class, so first-half making, second-half breaking contract.
One of the things students sometimes forget is they get so hung up on writing the manifestation of mutual assent and often acceptance and do this absolute bang-up job on that. They don’t mention anything about consideration. You got to have consideration. You have a class of contract. Well, those kind of blind spots that by practicing writing out the professor’s exams or if not that, some other essay and have them looked at by your professor. Give me some feedback long before any exam happens to help you understand.
Now one of the things that’s nice about that is that you and the professor are focused on the topic that this professor loves to teach, and that you are trying to learn.
And as that happens is that you have more contact with professor about those things, I think you find out that they are in fact, just human beings. And I will give you an example. I remember I had a student who early on, when she came into my office, she couldn’t look me in the face, she couldn’t look me in the eyes, she was always looking away like very much into deference, finally after – and she was working very hard and she was showing me really good work that she was working on.
When I said to her finally, please just stop looking away, just talk to me. We will work that stuff up, I know you’re working hard, I appreciate you’re working hard. And you saw her just finally relax and just go ahead and ask her questions and answer and all that. She did tremendously well at the school. I think she is in the JAG Corps now. And it’s just an example of that interaction with the professor.
One of the things that really probably doesn’t help me always is if it’s like six weeks into the semester and you ask the professor, do I really have to learn the rules? I mean, if the professor said you have to learn the rules the first day, the professor is serious about it. And sometimes I felt like saying, you will have to learn anything, okay. There will be an exam and you will take it, and hopefully you’ll have some stuff. But you really have to take it upon yourself to really — can’t emphasize enough, make sure you understand what the professor is trying to teach.
And if you’re not sure that you understand then you don’t know it. So, you make sure you go see the professor, to make sure you understand. You may like the professor, you may not like the professor, hopefully it turns out to be a good relationship and that’s a great thing, because then that professor could be a reference for you for down the road. For example, clerkships I learned when I was going through the process at 45 or good things to have if you’re going to think about being a law professor. I didn’t know that when I was going through law school, found that out later.
So, I see students applying for clerkships. They are asking me for letters of recommendation to help with those applications or job references.
Another thing that can happen also is like here we have advanced research writing, we have to write during the time over the three years. You have to write I think four or five papers. Well, you can choose the professor with whom to write that.
Now, some people say, well, what will I write about? And I tend to tell people it’s really quite simple. You can write about something that you saw in your classes that bothered you, that’s it, one thing. What another thing might be? There might be an area of the law that you think you might be interested in working in.
So, find a topic in that area and work on that, and that way you’ll learn about the area, you also can meet a lot of people who work in that area, and then you work with a professor on fine-tuning that paper.
Another thing is I will give you an example. We have a program which is students that go, in our human rights observers, they’re on Guantanamo, all right, and it’s an opportunity that’s pretty straight forward for the students. They get nominated and they are accepted by the Military Commission, they go down there and watch for a week. Every student who has gone down there, it’s an alumni too, has found it an enormously amazing experience.
So, the student has an enormous amazing experience like that or they have it in a clinic or they have it working in a summer job to write a paper about it, and that helps them to fine-tune their understanding of that experience, and then writing those papers is an opportunity working again with a professor who will critique their writing.
If I could add one thing here I would just want to say to you that I was very fortunate in 2008 to go out to Yellowstone to visit my best friend who passed away, I was right out there by his dad, and when I was out there to go fly-fishing, one of the friends of his dad was there was Sandra Day O’Connor, I mean, Justice O’Connor. I couldn’t believe it when I walked into the breakfast room, there she was, they had been friends since college. And so, I went fly-fishing with Sandra Day O’Connor and about half the weeks there, and I asked her if she had a son or daughter in law school what would she advise about what they should learn?
And Sandra Day O’Connor said to me, first thing is learn to write. So, all those writing teachers that you have, all those working through those memos and briefs and all that stuff, sometimes that’s a lot of pain for people. Well, Sandra Day O’Connor says, that’s the most important thing you need to do, learn how to write.
The second thing she said is, you need to look at the equal protection jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, because it’s kind of like that’s where the dogs are buried in the Supreme Court.
So, there is an example of how these things that you’re doing with the writing teacher for example, something in your Conwell class. With little bit of knowledge of things like that can take you a long way, or its understanding what’s going on and hopefully having a good relationship with your professors.
Caitlin Peterson: Yes sir, thank you. And so, you have actually answered a lot of my questions about like exams and things and speaking just now, and so I just got one more fun one for you, but before we get to that again I would just like to thank you for coming on the show today, and for all the help that you’ve given me in listening to my hopes and dreams and helping make some of those things come true.
So, I will look forward to seeing you at ABA Midyear this year in Vancouver, and again, just thank you so much for coming on the show today before we answer this last question.
Benjamin Davis: Okay, happy to be here. It’s fun. It was great meeting you.
Caitlin Peterson: Yes sir. And so, the last question I guess I will ask is you said Sandra Day O’Connor had her advice, but then what is your advice if you could give one piece of advice to law students now, especially something that you think is a hidden gem or that we don’t know? What would be that one piece of advice that you would give?
Benjamin Davis: Well, what I would do is I would give you the advice that is stood the test of time for me, okay. I came out of Law School at 27, JD-MBA, and now I am almost 62, all right. So that’s 35 years, and in case any of you folks don’t know this out there, that 35 years went like a snap of the fingers, okay. That’s how fast it went. That’s deep when you think of it.
So, I am going to pass along to you the things that I say to the students here, the things that I say to my own kids, you can take it, you can leave it, whatever, but the stuff that stood the test of time for me.
First is this, if you’re in your 20s, do all the studies, advanced studies you imagine you’d ever want to do. So, I was actually, I don’t want to go ahead and do an MBA when I was coming out of undergrad, I went to work for a couple years, and it was there I started to see how much the law was important, and there was a guy I worked with me told me that, and that really opened my mind to going through the JD. And so, I did the JD-MBA and that made all the difference, because obviously at 45 when I saw — I mean I saw I could have this opportunity to go towards being a law professor. I was already well prepared, I had these opportunities that had prepared me and made it possible for me to go forward.
So that’s the first thing. If you’re in your 20s obviously, if you are not in your 20s, if you are in 30s and all, it’s a lot harder sometimes especially if you have family and kids and all that going on. I’m not saying that but it doesn’t matter if you want to do it, just do it, because again this life goes so fast.
So, first thing is to — if you’re in your 20s, do all the studies you imagine you’ll be trading on that the rest of your life.
The second thing, this is what my contract professor told us first year, and it stood the test of time, is that that famous life, that life you dream of having out there after law school, that thing you live, what you want to have is that life that you imagine that maybe you not have told anybody else.
In case you wondered when that life starts, that life starts the day you leave law school. So, you need to do and go towards that life right away when you come out of law school. What does that mean?
It means that when you’re looking at different jobs especially if you’ve got student loans and all that, sometimes people will look for a job and they will take the job it’s the highest paid, because they say I can pay off my student loans with it, but if it’s not in something that you particularly like to do or interested in doing, you may be placing yourself in a trap. And the trap is the following, you don’t like doing it, it pays really well.
And then what happens is after a couple years or so it doesn’t work out. So now you’re looking for a new job, but you have to sell. It’s the ability to do something you don’t like to do. It’s really hard to make the leap to the thing you want to do from the thing that you don’t like to do.
So that’s one of the risks of taking the high paying job, it’s something that you actually don’t want to do. It might be to your advantage to take a lower paying job and I know student loans, trust me, I understand it, but that is closer to what you think you would like to do. Why, because you think you would like to do it. You will do a better job and you would be able to explore that particular thing.
So that’s the thing that I tell students is go. For me, I had a choice of being a lawyer in New York or go and go over and doing development consulting in Paris. My vision was being an international guy, and I listened to that advice and I decided to go to Paris right away rather than be a lawyer in New York City.
Both, in each time, I have had to make a decision, that’s the question I raise, what other thing I’d like to do. In addition to doing that is that as we work along, and this is what my professor said too. After a couple, three years maybe sure, you wake up and you either love what you’re doing, so keep doing it or you don’t.
If you don’t, then, what you need to do is change to something else. Now what is this something else to change to? Generally, it’s going to be really simple. You change to something you think you would like to do. It’s really all it is.
And one thing also is as you have more jobs in your career, you can make a list of all the jobs you’ve had and the things you liked about each job and the thing that you hated about each job, and you will see a bunch of characteristics that are the things that you liked about the job. That’s the kind of environment where you maybe need to work and where you will blossom, and so you need to look for those kinds of things.
Another thing that I would say to you, which is kind of fourth in this series, is really simple. Whatever you’re going to do you have to pay your dues. You have to learn how to do the job, and so as a consequence, it doesn’t matter what area of the law you’re in, you will have to learn what you need to do.
And so, what you need to do is to try to look for people who you would be working with would help you to master what you need to know to become that great lawyer. Everybody pays their dues. I don’t know anybody has come out of Law School been put on the Supreme Court. You got to earn, you got to earn your way and even if you have the top grades at your law school, you don’t know the practice in a particular town or particular area of the world until you’re out there doing it and achieving kind of issues that arise.
So, a little bit of humility even if you were number one of the number one of the number one, is useful because everybody has to pay their dues. But there is a corollary to this, which is that, the only power you have and you need to guard this jealously is your power is in deciding where you’re going to pay those dues, where you’re going to spend your precious life learning how to be a lawyer. It may not feel like much when you’re there desperately looking for a job or something like that. But ultimately you have that one power to decide whether you will let your time be spent with this group or that company or whatever, or you won’t. And you have to think very crucially about it, that is the way we place that. You think that you will be able to pay your dues and to learn to be the kind of quality lawyer that you want to be.
And so, a little bit of power, you may think I’m just fooling around with it, but it really is because ultimately what you’re doing is you are spending your life. I have one comment about student loans. If you were rich or your family was rich you could finance your education out of your pocket with equity. That investment is paid for with equity.
If you’re not rich, if you’re poor then you will be financing that education more with debt, you may have some scholarships that help you, you may be working a job, all these, there is a combination of things. Basically, these are the ways that you are financing what is this investment you’re making in yourself which is the legal education and law degree.
I’d like to analogize the law school cost that you pay. It’s like a mortgage and when you buy a house and you will have to pay for it with the mortgage, the idea in buying that house and living in that house is the life you’re going to have in that house. It is not about paying the mortgage, but it’s about having the life raising your family.
Right now, here at Toledo it’s a lot of breaking leaves maybe, but it’s living that life in that house, that’s why you’ve got the loan. That’s the investment that you made to have that life. I’d like to think of your law degree is like that. This is investment that you are doing so that you can live a certain life that you dream of.
And so rather than having the tail wag the dog, which is the student loans dictating the life, you should have to make sure your life is the one that has meaning for you, and that you pay your student loans on.
And by the way when I came out of law school in 1983, I think I owed $12,000 in student loans. It was the most enormous number I could ever imagine. I didn’t know how I was going to pay it off, okay. People out there who were listening to this is probably the laughing scene, you have no idea, dude, but I’m just saying to you. That panic feeling about how you are going to do it, I had it, everybody had it, but you figure a way up, and in figuring it out, make sure you don’t lose perspective of the important thing of how you’re living your life. If that life is that life that you dreamed of, if it’s — for me international is being overseas, okay. So, I’m seeing myself overseas, but it was really overseas working with people from a lot of different countries.
So, when we got to work at the ICC there we were working with arbitrations with disputes between people from a hundred countries, you see, and I was like, in this international space and it wasn’t at the State Department like where my dad was when he was representing the United States, I was just a private citizen. So, I didn’t have the weight of representing a country in everything. I just can be myself. All these kinds of things were like me finding the path that made me feel — it made me feel happy in living a life that I was trying to do, coming here to Toledo.
Another example of that the possibility to teach the kind of classes that I like to teach, plus 46:44 the kind of students that I had so much fun working with, the ABA stuff. Again, lots of fun working with lots of different people. The amazing thing, learning from it.
I learned so much recently about Ombuds from one of the members of our Council. A couple of members are working on a resolution on that. It’s all of that. If anybody has ever seen the movie ‘Tomorrowland’ there’s this great life that stuck with me. I just watched it on TV the other night. I know it’s going to sound corny because it’s a Disney movie.
But he said there is basically the things dad says to his 16-year-old daughter which is that there are two wolves. One wolf goes towards despair and destruction, the other wolf goes to hope and opportunity.
So which wolf wins? Really simple. The one you feed. So, which one of you feed? Are you feeding the despair and destruction, are you feeding the hope and opportunity?
I am here to encourage you feed the hope and opportunity side of things, because there is a lot of important work that you can do and will do.
Caitlin Peterson: Yes sir. Thank you. And so, thank you again, Ben, for coming on the show and we hope you’ve enjoyed another episode of our podcast.
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I am Caitlin Peterson and thank you for listening to the ABA Law Student podcast here on Legal Talk Network. Until next time, take care.
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