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5/02/2003

 
| Socrates Weeps

Someone died this week. Because of his death I think the world will be a darker place; but what he taught me will shine on. I can name only a handful of teachers that made a real impact in my life. My contracts law school professor was one of them. Tragically, he passed away this week.

He was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the friendliest guy in the world. Those who took his class fell into two camps; you either loved him or hated him. I was the former.

He was an eccentric guy. Apparently, from the urban myths about him that flowed freely at the law school I attended, he was some sort of boy genius who became a law professor immediately after law school. He was brilliant, but had a dark side. He was kind of like Darth Vader. They say the only reason he received tenure at the law school was because a former Dean punched him in some argument and his tenure was some sort of settlement agreement. There was always some sort of rumor like that about him.

The guy was always in a foul mood. He constantly had a look of disdain on his face for life, and for us law students’ feeble attempts to understand contract and tort law. He smoked like a chimney. His office was a pig sty. He always carried a coffee cup with him filled with a mysterious liquid. Some say it was booze. He loved to bet on horses. He always had the Racing Form by his side.

His trademark was his sandals. That was his thing. He wore sandals. With a suit (which he rarely wore), in 20 below weather, etc. You name it he was wearing sandals.

He was not an ordinary professor in any sense of the word. He was a firm believer in the Socratic Method. If you ever saw the Paper Chase you have some idea what this is like. Basically, he never told us anything. He would ask question, after question. We would answer, but he would never tell us if we were right or wrong.

I take that back – if we said something foolish he would lash out in anger or make fun of us. A lot of people couldn’t stand it and felt they learned nothing; but I loved it.

Did you ever see the Karate Kid? In that movie the Karate instructor makes Ralph Machio wax his floors everyday (‘wax on, wax off”) This, of course, pisses Ralph off. One day Ralph confronts his teacher. The teacher begins to use karate against Ralph. Ralph instinctively knows how to defend himself, all because his teacher taught him to “wax on, wax off”

That is how I learned contracts. My professor taught me to think – and think like a lawyer. He didn’t care if I liked him. He loved the law, and he loved brilliance. His idol, and what he taught us to aspire to, was Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Cardozo.

I would like to think he is somewhere right now asking Ben every legal question he ever wanted to know while at the same time watching Man O’ War win him the trifecta.

Thank you for what you taught me – and Rest in Peace.


Judge Benjamin Cardozo in honor of ALS Professor Robert Tyman
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