Denver Bar Association
August 2001
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Straight from the 1L's Mouth

by Karen Bries


Tom Finn describes his first year in law school and even dishes on his professors.

By Karen Bries

So his first year of law school is over, and everyone wants to know if Tom Finn survived.

Does this ring any bells? "I consider law school to be a means to an end. My first year has changed my mind about some issues and served to reinforce some of my beliefs and feelings," he says.

As some of our readers may remember, before law school, Tom Finn was an environmental engineer for seven years with "too much of my time spent in a rubber suit cleaning up hazardous waste sites while the responsible parties used the law for their ‘protection.’"

He designed water and waste water systems and lawsuits, which he says were always jokingly mentioned along with each project.

Even after his first year of law school he says, "I’m sure that I have a different perspective than some experienced lawyers who have been working in the field."

He still thinks America is a little lawsuit happy; and people don’t take enough responsibility for themselves or their actions.

"I do believe that there needs to be recourse for wrongs or negligence (a word that I can now spell correctly on the first try), but there needs to be limits.

"I do know the impact that lawyers have and the perception that the public has of them. I think it is somewhat sad how the legal profession is thought of by the general public; it is a profession that is based on truth and justice. Yet, at times, the law seems to lack common sense and has some questionable ethics."

Tom says that no other profession generates more material for jokes than lawyers " . . . of course being a blonde engineer from Texas seems to generate quite a few as well."

His first year makes him think that lawyers need to police themselves as much or more than they police others, and they should have an elevated standard of ethics.

"Most people see lawyers as the problem. The law has so much potential, and although it’s less than perfect, it is an incredible system," he says.

And he’s got a lot to say about those who taught him the system.

Tom says his torts Professor Stephen Pepper was very much for plaintiffs’ rights: "Needless to say I had difficulty grasping some of the concepts he strongly believes in, but thankfully people have different views, even though I think they are wrong. I sound more like a lawyer already."

Students either seem to enjoy or not enjoy contracts Professor Burt Brody—"he talked about his Mustang a lot."

Tom thought the best lessons were provided by Professor Sheila Hyatt, who taught Civil Procedure. "She stressed that lawyers need to maintain a high standard of ethics and made the class enjoyable even with the F.R.C.P. And it was an amazing experience to be taking Civil Procedure while all the Florida election suits were happening."

Professor Sam Kamin taught him about Criminal Law, which "was my most enjoyable class, due to Professor Kamin's approach. "Tom says his teaching style actually made him consider criminal law as a profession.

Robert Anderson was Tom's Lawyering Process professor and assured him that, "it is not important to enjoy law school to be a good lawyer.’ Thank God. If not for his reassurances, I would think that all lawyers tend toward sadomasochism."

Professor Jimmy Winokur taught Tom Property, and he says, "I will not be able to go to a music festival and put out my blanket in the grass without thinking about his example of adverse possession."

Tom says, overall, "I have learned a great deal from my professors—even the ones I disagree with. I don't really have a strong dislike for any of them. I am sure that they are all decent human beings outside of the classroom, regardless of how arrogant and intimidating some acted in the classroom."

Before the year came to an end, all the 1L’s thoughts turned to summer internships and then parties after finals.

"The gunners in the class were competing for the ‘big’ money in the large firms."

Tom headed to Bosnia-Hercegovina. "Not a lot of big money there," he says, "but a chance to work in a country to implement the rule of law and help people recover from war and move into democracy.

"It seems to me that this is what being a lawyer is about, not lawsuits, but helping to effect positive change."

According to Tom: "After the first year of law school, Bosnia will be a piece of cake."


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