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Remember the big picture

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007

Two weeks ago, my friend Shauna and I were carrying out our plan of attack for first-semester law exam preparation. We had finished our class outlines and made hundreds of flash cards. We'd obtained old exam questions and set a time to complete the tests. And we made appointments to speak with our professors about our practice answers.

Our first meeting went predictably for the first half-hour or so. Because we had handed in our sample test ahead of time, our professor gave us a copy with his comments, and proceeded to explain what we had done well, and how we might do better on the real exam. Shauna and I took diligent notes, writing down nearly every word the professor said. Later, looking over my scribbles, it occurred to me that somehow I'd written out four pages in 30 minutes.

But what we didn't realize in that first half-hour was that the most important advice he would give had yet to come. He leaned back a bit in his chair and looked at each of us for a moment.

"You know," he began, "it's not an easy process. But we do this to make you better lawyers."

I nodded, unsure of what exactly to say, and out of the corner of my eye, saw Shauna's head bobbing as well. He went on, and sensing a change in the conversation, I laid down my pen.

He related a few stories to us about how young lawyers have to pay their dues, but how in the end, if we worked honestly and hard, it would pay off. He talked about staying true to yourself, and to your own goals, explaining how he turned down a big-city job because that lifestyle wasn't for him.

"It's important to think ahead," he said. "Think about where you want to be when you're sixty, and figure out a way to get there. You've got to plan for the future."

He continuing offering insight and advice, but gradually, the hour with him came to a close. As we gathered our things to leave, my mind went back to where I might want to be at age 60.

I thought of the old Beatles song -- "When I'm Sixty-Four" -- and of my hopes to marry the love of my life, to have children and grandchildren. I thought about the day when I might be able to place my child in the arms of my parents, and about the day when my children would place their babies into mine.

I pictured my law career: myself at 35, trying a case; at 50, mentoring a young associate or perhaps teaching in a classroom. I wondered where I'd live: Would I stay in the South• Would I ever move back to the Steel City• I dreamed about travelling, about going to Europe and Asia and Australia, and about writing, about my column and maybe books or magazine articles.

And as I thought big, far ahead into the future, I realized this is what our professor wanted us to do. He wanted us to see beyond the two weeks of law school exams, the two years of legal education, the bar exam. He hoped that we would realize how much was in front of us, that we would find motivation, and perhaps comfort, in the idea that we still have our whole lives ahead. We can, at this point, do anything we can dream. It's just a matter of working hard to get there.

Perhaps I laid down my pen a half-hour too early. When it came to important advice, my professor had just been getting started.

Megan Bode of Upper St. Clair is a first-year law student at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

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