CHICAGO, Ill. Ted Scroniger is President of the Cook County Bar Association through June of this year, but as the end of his term approaches he’s disturbed by a troubling trend in the law. “Enrollment is down at law schools across the nation,” he says, a function of high tuition, poor job prospects and the growing consensus that the third year of study is a waste of time. “We need kids in the pipeline,” he says, shaking his head and jingling change in his pocket as he looks out at Lake Michigan. “In a few years we could run out of young people to boss around and make money off of.”
“How could anyone not find this fascinating?”
And so Scroniger and some of his friends at other law firms have decided to “give back” as they near retirement age in an effort to convey to young men and women the excitement they first felt as legal tyros, and how they’ve maintained it over the course of long and successful careers.
“The thing is, you’ve got to get kids hooked early,” Mal Waldrip, an estate planner, says as several teens filter into a conference room at his firm, Delbart Whinney LLP on Wacker Drive. He extends a hand to a young man named Bart Othmer, a high school sophomore whose grades have fallen off in the past year as he’s discovered girls, and how to unfasten a bra with one hand.
“If you kids behave, I’ll let you make some photocopies.”
“Hi there, young fella!” Waldrip says as he extends a hand. “There’s some sandwiches over here, and everybody’s entitled to take home one (1) pourover trust agreement from the credenza over there.”
“Thanks,” the young man replies. “I’m only here because my mom made me come, I’m not really . . .”
“Sure you are,” Waldrip says. “You like vampire movies, don’t you?”
“Well, I deal with dead people every day–it’s fun!”
A few more high school students, some with a more studious air than others, filter into the room and Scroniger clears his throat to begin the day’s program.
“Kids, I know you’ve probably heard bad things about the legal profession, or met some old boring fart like me who’s a lawyer,” Scroniger says. He waits for laughter that doesn’t come, then continues.
“But I’ve brought together a number of very talented and interesting people today to talk to you about how fun and exciting a career in the law can be,” he says with an ingratiating smile. “And now, without further ado, let me introduce my colleague Myrna Flick, who’s not just a corporate lawyer, she’s Chief Sustainability Officer here.”
Myrna, in the bloom of youth.
Scroniger claps lightly, as do the other lawyers in the room, while the kids exchange furtive glances that reveal a thwarted desire to escape.
“Thank you, Ted,” Flick says. “The title of my presentation today,” she begins stiffly, “is ‘The Poetry of By-Laws.’” She coughs lightly, then begins. “By-laws are not what you may think of as laws, because they’re not; they’re by-laws, meaning rules and regulations adopted by a corporation so as to govern . . .” she says in a droning voice that causes even her colleague and peers in the room to stifle little yawns after a while. “Still, to an attentive reader, there is much poetry to be discovered in interesting sections such as ‘Vacancies in Office’ and ‘Miscellaneous,’” she says, warming to her subject.
Alicia Kenard, a sophomore at New Trier South High School whose mother sent her to the confab in order to make her aware there’s more to life than cheerleading, drains her Diet Coke and tosses the can in a wastebasket, causing Flick to stiffen.
“Ah-hem,” she intones with an ominous demeanor. When the young woman doesn’t respond, a staring match ensues until Flick speaks. “You are going to put that in one of our highly-conspicuous recycling bins–aren’t you?”
“Don’t you have like, janitors to do that?” Kenard asks.
“I’m trying to make the world a better place for young people like you, Missy,” Flick nearly spits out. A tense moment passes, then Kenard gets up and replaces the can from trash to the recyclables receptable. “You don’t have to get all bent outta shape about it,” she mutters.
“Perhaps we should move along to our next speaker,” Scroniger says. “I’ve known Mike Cladisaw ever since we were in law school and he’s a real card, let me tell you, so I know you’re going to get a kick out of what Mike has to say.”
Cladisaw is a beefy litigator who specializes in insurance defense cases, and he works to draw out the introverted Othmer like the seasoned cross-examiner he is. “What’s your name?” he asks in a voice trained to project across a crowded courtroom.
“Bart,” the boys says softly.
“You got a last name, ‘Bart’?”
The boy sheepishly and reluctantly adds “Othmer.”
“Okay, great. Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me Bart–how’s your love life?”
The boy’s face reddens while the other teens do their best to suppress laughs.
“I do okay,” Othmer says.
“Anybody special?” Cladisaw continues.
The boy is beginning to crawl out of his shell, and replies “I like to, you know, play the field.”
“So what are you–leg or breast man?” Cladisaw asks.
Beyond embarrassment now, Othmer sneaks a look at Kenard, who averts her eyes so that there’s no possibility of connection. “I, uh, guess I like breasts.”
“Well you’re in luck, my friend,” Cladislaw says. “Because I’m a specialist in breast implant litigation, so every day I get to handle the good stuff.”
“You get paid to feel women up?”
“No,” Cladisaw says ruefully, as if he is about to relate one of his life’s great disappointments. “But I get the next best thing.”
“What’s that?” the boy asks.
“Look at this,” the trial lawyer says as he draws a gob of goo encased in plastic from his briefcase.
“What is it?” Othmer asks. “A jellyfish?”
“Naw–it’s a silicone implant!”