I went to Sac State and got my degree. It was a useless major, made more useless by the fact that I did little to lay the groundwork for a meaningful job in that major. So, I marketed the only marketable skill I had — I could type fast — and got a job in the Faculty Office at McGeorge School of Law.
It was the summer of 1987. I was a receptionist/word processor.
I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. A year later, I enrolled in a Masters program. In International Relations at the aforementioned Sac State. I continued to work full-time. After about a month, I dropped out of the Masters program. There was no way I was going to be able to do both. The amount of reading and presentations and reports and everything else the program required simply wouldn’t work in combination with the full-time job.
I looked around. By that time, I had moved on from the initial position to Executive Secretary for the Assistant Dean of International Programs, where I provided support to that dean and a handful of professors.
I looked around some more. Hmmm… If all these other idiots could go to law school, maybe I could too. I knew this. There was no way I was going to do what I was doing then for the rest of my life. There was something more for me.
So, I enrolled in the evening program at McGeorge. I continued in my Executive Secretary position for two years and then did a few other things the last two years of my law school life. And four years after enrolling, I graduated with a law degree.
And I had done the same thing. While a law degree is not as useless as my undergrad degree was, I had really done nothing to lay the groundwork for a good job, the right job, after graduating and passing the bar.
The truth is that there was a lot about law school and becoming an attorney that wasn’t really me. I was doing it to escape a thing I didn’t want to do without really knowing what it was I was ready to do. I knew I didn’t want to be a litigator. I knew I didn’t want to go work for a large law firm being one of the cogs in the wheel, working 80 hours a week and rarely seeing the sun.
I interviewed at one law firm as graduation approached. It was a small, local family law firm. I didn’t get a second interview. But when they told me they would probably start me around $35,000 a year if they hired me and I did the math on my drive home — they would probably make $150,000 a year while paying me that $35,000 a year — I decided even more that the law firm life wasn’t for me.
I ended up getting another job at McGeorge. A staff attorney and administrative hearing officer. I worked that job for four years and then went on to other opportunities.
All told, between that first job, four years of education,, and the follow-up job, I spent eleven years at McGeorge. It’s been almost 20 years since.
It’s probably been at least a decade since I’ve been back. The people I got to know there started to retire, pass away, go on to other opportunities, and the connection I had to the place grew weaker. There was a time when I knew everybody who worked there — from the campus cop to the Dean to the secretaries to the maintenance workers. That went away a long time ago.
The other thing is that I didn’t necessarily leave the place with the warmest feelings. The whole law school experience involved $55,000 in debt that I’m still paying on and a feeling that I was just a number to the law school — a source of revenue. Which is really odd given my connection to the school because of my prior job and subsequent job. As I was graduating, there was a group of students who talked about “Not One Red Cent,” meaning they would never donate money to the school. While I wasn’t necessarily a part of that idea, the reality is that I have never donated money to the law school and have been somewhat cynical about the whole law school thing ever since I graduated.
And the other issue is that I left my post-law school job at McGeorge primarily because I simply could not figure out a way to squeeze a reasonable salary out of my boss. He was tight-fisted and with a growing family, I needed to make more money. So, I left, without much in the way of fond memories or reasons to stay connected to the ol’ law school.
Except for the people. After eleven years there, it was almost like a second home filled with a second family. As the years went on, that feeling faded as well.
Today, I was back on campus for a symposium on a subject I’m working on in my current job. During the morning session, I took my own personal break and walked through the hallway near the classroom we were in, looking in the display cases that are still there all these years later.
I came across this picture.
It’s a painting of Claude Rohwer, a good man who taught at McGeorge for 40 years. When I was Executive Secretary for the Assistant Dean of International Programs, Claude was one of the professors I also supported. He was always good to work with. In my last year of law school, he was my professor for Remedies.
One of the things that worried me about going to school there after working there was that all of the professors knew me. That could be good. Or it could be bad. Some of them might ignore me, not taking advantage of the fact that they knew me. Others might look at it differently.
My Con Law professor, every once in awhile, out of nowhere would suddenly turn and say, “Mr. Paxson, what do you think about X?” And I would curse him for this. Claude did that as well in that final year course. I was somebody he could always turn to to question about a case or a law or whatever. Not necessarily that I got the answers right, but there I was in his class, an easy mark.
But, he was a good man and he was a part of my life for years back then.
As I walked down the hall and saw that picture, I felt a bit of nostalgia for a place I thought I had left behind. After lunch, I went for another walk, throughout the campus. Back to the Faculty Office and through the building with most of the professors’ offices. I ran into John Myers. I took Juvenile Law and Criminal Law from him. He was one of the more relaxed professors in class, just teaching the subject and not putting too much pressure on us students. I worked as a research assistant for him for a semester or two and co-wrote an article with him. It was a nice moment to stop in and say “hello.” He seemed happy to see me.
I continued my exploration of the old campus and ran into another professor from way back then. Another professor I worked for when I was an Executive Secretary. He had a stronger memory of me and was thrilled at the professional success I have achieved.
It’s interesting. I started working at McGeorge in 1987 — 30 years ago. There are still at least a dozen professors who remain all these years later.
And this far removed from the whole thing, I feel a bit of nostalgia about the whole thing. These people who were in my life then. They came and they went. As so many do. It’s always been one of those interesting questions to me. How do we go through life with all of these people passing in and out and figure out which are the ones that really matter? The ones that we need to keep closer and not let go. Did I make a mistake by not holding on to some of the people from back then?
I was reminded of how I felt about the friends my kids made in their earlier years. I remember seeing them making “best friends” each year and remembering the best friends I had as a child and realizing that I lost track of them many, many years ago. It seemed sad to me then, when I looked at my kids and their best friends and realizing that in a matter of just a few years, those best friends would be nothing more than a memory.
It’s the same thing that I experienced today.
People come, people go. It’s a shame.