The Path of Crystal Clarity
This is the path of individuals who always knew what they wanted to do when they “grew up.” These individuals gained a broad education with depth in at least one area (the major) and are now working in a field directly related to it.
My first memory of wanting to be a lawyer was in 7th grade. I told my mother, and she immediately began to tell others that I was going to be a lawyer. That’s my mother (Lillie Turner)—always the encourager and the nonstop cheerleader in my life.
In high school I found that I loved reading and writing. I read books about trials. Lizzie Borden, Sam Sheppard, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and others. I thought that representing people in criminal trials was something that I wanted to do. The stories surrounding these cases were fascinating to me. I had no idea where I wanted to attend college. My guidance counselor at Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights set up interviews for me with representatives from small Midwestern liberal arts schools.
Perhaps she chose liberal arts colleges because of my love for reading and writing, and because she knew I would do better in a small college rather than in a big university with thousands of students. My family visited Cornell, and I knew it was the place for me.
Cornell College fit me. It offered a liberal arts education—perfect for someone planning to go to law school. Trial lawyers talk a lot, but all lawyers must be strong communicators. Reading, writing, and critical thinking skills are the key. I gained training in these skills at Cornell as well as exposure to a variety of disciplines. To earn my B.A. degree, I had to struggle through precalculus, astronomy, and biology, as well as the courses I loved: sociology and politics. My favorite courses were Constitutional Law and the Sociology of Education. I also loved an English class on Shakespeare. The professor read from plays as he walked on top of the table. I think he must have wanted to be an actor! I spent a semester at American University in Washington, D.C., where I worked for the public defender at St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital. This was an eye-opening experience because it was the first time I had been that far away from home, and also the first time I had been in a real courtroom. The lawyers assigned student interns to go to the wards and interview new clients. Great semester!
During the fall of my junior year, a recruiter from the U.S. Marine Corps came to campus and ultimately I signed up and spent the summer between my junior and senior year in Quantico, Virginia, at Officer Candidate School. All Marines are basic warriors, so I had to be trained as a warrior before becoming a judge advocate. The JAG program promised immediate experience in court. That’s what I wanted to do, so it was attractive to me. To get into the JAG program, I had to complete officer training as well as get into law school.
I attended Creighton University Law School, in part because it offered a full scholarship. I graduated in 1983, served 10 years as a Judge Advocate, followed by six years as managing attorney of the Georgia Legal Services Program in Albany, Georgia. I was at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law for 16 years teaching and serving as an administrator.
On Jan. 4 I started a new position as dean of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law.
Cornell College gave me a great foundation in writing and critical thinking. The courses required that I read challenging material, synthesize information, and write. These are the most important skills of a lawyer. Thinking, reading, and writing are the basis for everything a lawyer does in court. Oral advocacy comes easily, at least for me.