POETRY: “On Contracts”

The birth of “On Contracts” was a result of the confluence of a series of fortuitous circumstances. In another, earlier lifetime, I had tried my hand at writing poetry on a fairly regular basis. Several of my poems were included in my high school’s literary journal, and I continued my efforts as part of my creative writing classes in college. Law school, however, was a different matter as all my time was consumed with taking/preparing for classes, working a part-time job, and trying to maintain some semblance of a meaningful relationship with my future wife (we were married and had a child while I was still attending Temple Law). There simply seemed to be no time for more “creative” pursuits.

Law school was such a life-changing experience for me. I vividly remember struggling to complete my very first homework assignment . . . reading and trying to understand/absorb a half a dozen or so cases from my contracts textbook–Kessler and Gilmore. It seemed to take forever as I had to look up the meaning of what felt like every other word in my legal dictionary. I had seen the movie, “The Paper Chase,” during high school and now could fully sympathize with the misgivings of Hart, Ford, Bell, et al. and their efforts to adjust to such a different way of life and thinking. To be fair, Professor Jerome (Jerry) Sloan was by no means a pompous, overbearing pedant as was Professor Kingsfield (portrayed by John Houseman). However, my initial exposure to the “Socratic method” hammered home for me, in no uncertain terms, that I “wasn’t in Kansas anymore.”

Life was proceeding along about as well as could be expected for a law student when during my second year (1978), I heard that “The Paper Chase” was going to become a prime-time TV series. For some strange reason, this inspired me to pick up a pen and attempt to share the wonders of law school–as embodied in contracts class–with an unsuspecting public. Then it occurred to me: What better way to capture the strange, mind-bending experience of law school than by “borrowing” from the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, and his most famous and revered work, “The Raven”. Thus, “On Contracts” was born and as Alanis Morissette so aptly put it, “Isn’t it ironic?”

Well, like most of the written/printed material I accumulated during those years, the poem was put in a manilla folder, later placed into a cardboard box, and then relegated to storage (in this case my parents’ basement). It remained there moldering for over three decades until I rediscovered it just last year while going through boxes that had been removed from my folks’ home following its sale. To tell the truth, when I first saw it, I had totally forgotten it existed. But as I began to read, the years just melted away, and I was suddenly back in contracts class experiencing all the feelings I experienced when I first encountered the bane of Kessler and Gilmore. As crazy as life seemed back then, from my vantage point today, I realize I made the right choice and that it was worth all the sacrifice and effort. People in our profession have the capability to make a real difference and greatly affect the lives of others in many meaningful and positive ways. So what if we have to put up with a few years of mental “torture” and learn a “foreign” language to get there!

“On Contracts”

(With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)

Once upon a weeknight dreary, while I studied growing weary
Over many a faint and torturous page of Kessler and Gilmore
While I nodded, eyeballs tearing, suddenly my mind was searing
And to my horror I kept hearing names of cases by the score
Boston Ice, Carbolic Smoke Ball, Hadley, Baxendale and more,
As the tome fell to the floor

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was on a bright September
Smiling, each and every member of our class stepped through the door
Whereupon we were all greeted by a person calmly seated
Who at once spoke and repeated ancient words of legal lore–
Status, contract, breach and bargain, promisee and promisor,
Detriment and several more

How our virgin minds were shaken, as the notes were slowly taken
To a man we felt forsaken, cast upon some foreign shore
As we sat there senses reeling, eyes transfixed upon the ceiling
Suddenly up rose our mentor with great passion to implore
And his words echoed like thunder as he strode across the floor
(Even now I hear them soar)

“Listen to me my dear students, practice but a bit of prudence
In this world of caveat emptor there is much ground to explore
Promises of which we’ve spoken, some are kept, while others broken
As you’ve seen it’s no small token to distill them to their core.”
(Then pausing for effect he turned to share with us his stock and store
And these words he did outpour)

“Read for yourselves and do not dwell on Gilbert’s or Emanuel
To take such shortcuts you will buy more trouble than you bargained for
Ask yourselves the proper questions, answers will not serve alone,
Seek what holds the threads together, pick ‘way the meat to find the bone
Only when you know the symptoms can you then effect the cure.”
Quoth the Professor, evermore–
As he exited the door

Although the years may swiftly pass, I think back fondly on that class,
Of what became of him, alas, to this day I have heard no more
But those sage words he did impart have been kept nestled in my heart
Tis due to them that I survived the bane of Kessler and Gilmore
Thanks, thanks to you, oh wise Professor, for those fine words
Shared once before
My gratitude–forevermore!

Do you have a poem, story, or other work of memento from law school that might interest readers of The 10-Q? If so, please let us know by emailing businesslaw@temple.edu.

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