Starting the Law School Grind after Resigning from the Navy

(Joan, Shiva, and Dan at Berkeley Apartment)click to expand

Accepted at Golden Gate College of Law in San Francisco, if my grades were high from hard study, a poverty law program might select me and fulfill my dream. Was it the right path? I was determined to give it my best shot. After paying my first quarter tuition, I went to a Berkeley bookstore to purchase my first-year books where a number of students waited in line. A female ahead of me held a book bag from Golden Gate College of Law, “What have you heard about the first-year courses?”I asked.


(U.C.  Berkeley during anti-Vietnam protests 1969)

“If you pass each course for three years, you earn a law degree, but to practice law you have to pass the California Bar Examination, the most difficult in the country. Less than fifty per cent pass the three-day marathon. The timed exam is brutal. Some don’t ever pass.” With a worried look on my face, I viewed first semester books: Real Property, Contracts, Criminal Law, Torts, Procedure, Legal Research and Writing. I thumbed through them, and wondered how I would measure up. Each volume was more than five inches thick. It occurred to me a long, tedious, and winding road was ahead to becoming a civil rights attorney. Classes began in September. Excited for my new opportunity, and determined, I hoped this path would help me find a new identity.

The law professors dressed in expensive three-piece suits, fancy ties, dress shirts, and three-hundred dollar-shoes. I wore jeans, a sports coat with a dress shirt, and tennis shoes. So did the majority of my classmates. Perhaps one in five wore business attire. Some students appeared laid back, others arrogant in fashionable worn-out clothing. San Francisco in the sixties reflected a time when dress codes were eclectic. The students were astute. Golden Gate College of the Law did not have the elevated status of Boalt Hall at Berkeley, but for the most part we read the same texts.

The first week I drove over the Bay Bridge and back and studied until midnight. Law book vocabulary immediately confused me. We studied appellate cases that assumed the reader knew procedure, evidence, and the law that applied to the facts of each case. Absorbing legal concepts like a sponge, I only saw Joan for breakfast, dinner, and in bed.

Wondering if I could persuade Hastings College of Law to reconsider my application, as their classes didn’t start for another month, I contacted the Dean of Student Admissions and asked for an appointment to discuss why they rejected me. Dean Muenster responded. Fortunately, a former naval officer, he invited me for next morning.

(Hastings College of Law)

With transcripts in hand, in a three-piece dark green suit, white shirt, narrow blending tie with a Windsor knot, and shiny black dress shoes, I appeared an hour before my appointment at the Dean’s office and sat on a maroon leather couch. He opened his clouded glass door and said, “Are you Mr. Lavery?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please take a seat.” The Dean’s desk was surrounded by legal texts and research. File cabinets lined the back wall. He sat in a high back black leather chair across from his neatly arranged desk with a folder containing my application materials, and rifled through my transcripts scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad. After fifteen minutes he said, “Mr. Lavery, I’m impressed with your background. Why do you want to become a lawyer?”

“I had an early interest in the law from a close friend who had attended Boalt Hall, received A’s on research papers at Cal State Long Beach in History and Psychology classes, which involved legal issues, had a double major at Annapolis that included English as well as a B.S.E.E., and achieved A’s in most History, and English classes as well as in my electives."

“I am impressed with your background and frankly don’t understand why you weren’t admitted, but since there isn’t an opening, I wish you good luck at Golden Gate Law School and for your future.”

Shaking his hand I said, “I enjoyed speaking with you Dean Muenster. If a position appears for first year would you please consider me?”

“That seldom happens, but if it does I will consult the Dean.”

Exiting his office and down the flight of stone steps to the streets of San Francisco, I drove across the Bay Bridge and glided into Berkeley where Joan had just returned from class. “At least the Dean spent an hour looking at my transcripts and listening to me.”

Her hazel eyes and smile consoled me, “You never know. Stay positive.”

(People's Park Berkeley1969)

After I arrived home at Berkeley from Golden Gate on October 1, 1969, the phone rang:

“This is Dean Muenster,” rang out a familiar voice. “I have good news for you. I have reserved a spot for you in our first year class!”

“Hallelujah!” I exalted, “What fantastic news!”

“We’re proud to have someone of your background at Hastings.”

“When can I pick up the class schedule and purchase the texts?”

“I shall put all the paperwork in the mail unless you happen to be in the area.”

“I’ll be there in an hour and save you the postage.” I drove over the Bay Bridge, parked close to Hastings, ran to the entrance, and announced my presence to the secretary.

“Dean Muenster wants to see you.” He came out of his office with an envelope under his arm and a smile on his face,

“Welcome to Hastings, Mr. Lavery, I am pleased to have you join us.”

“And I’m so glad to be here.”

“We expect you to study law with the ‘Old—Navy’ enthusiasm.” After completing the forms, handing them to the secretary, locating the books for classes, reviewing each course syllabus, I registered at the health office. Since Hastings was a part of the University of California, residents of California paid a minimal tuition that included health insurance.

(Auditorium for Law School Lectures)

I wandered through Hastings’ campus, their lecture halls that seated over one hundred and fifty students, the moot court with high bench and counsel tables in front of over a hundred seats for the audience, and finally the huge law library that dwarfed Golden Gate’s. Breathing in the atmosphere where I would be spending three years learning from some of the best legal minds in the country, I thanked my lucky stars.

(Law Library) While driving back to our apartment in Berkeley, I sang at maximum volume, “I’ve been waiting so long, to be where I’m going,” from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” At our apartment, I walked past the German shepherd who guarded the landlord’s property, patted him on the head, jolted up the steps to our second floor dwelling, and swung open the screen door. Grabbing Joan for minute-long hug, “We’re going to celebrate. Hastings accepted me! They cover me for most health issues, have a medical staff, and the law school is fantastic!” We turned up the music, opened a bottle of wine, and danced.

My smile was permanent as I attended classes at Hastings the next week. The opportunity to improve myself, gain knowledge of the law, and become a lawyer made a giant leap in my self-esteem. If I applied myself, I would be an authority on legal problems and could assist any cause or person with my knowledge and enthusiasm. It was a dream come true.

(Hastings College of Law)

Reality set in as the grind of reading countless cases, briefing them on a specific set of facts, and understanding how the holding impacted the law, was the most difficult task I had ever encountered. Our professors had earned fame in their field and all but one belonged to the “65 and over club.” Professor William Prosser in Torts, Updegraff in Contracts, Green in Civil Procedure, Perkins in Criminal Law, and Faulkner in Evidence comprised the team. Rene Rubin taught Legal Research and Writing and was the only female on the faculty. Every professor but Rubin used his own treatise. Despite my eighteen years of education, I had never had a teacher lecture me on his own treatise. A bounce in my step remained even in tedious explorations.

(Hastings College of Law Emblem)

Each text of five hundred pages required us to use a back pack and a brief case for notes. Fortunately, my schedule included only three courses a day. When I stacked my books at the apartment, it occurred to me that I would not be the same person after a year. There was no time for watching sports, movies, or late comedy on TV. a href=""> Trust

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