I had a very cool experience yesterday.
A classmate's father is a newly appointed judge, and as such, is fairly well connected. As networks go, the connections filter down to my classmate, and those of us on a friendly basis with him have reaped a few rewards as a result. You must understand, in law, and in the legal community, networking and who you know is essential to success.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard a case at our school - they do this every year at each of the four Minnesota law schools. It's a great opportunity for students to watch the business of the Court and get a first-hand look at a situation we may very well be faced with in our professional legal careers. We had a breakfast with the honorable justices, and I got a chance to meet a couple of them at that time. They were all incredibly down-to-earth and cordial, very open to answering our questions and encouraging us in our legal education.
At that particular occasion, Justice Paul Anderson (in Minnesota, you have to specify, we have three Andersons currently sitting on the Court) offered my classmate the opportunity to visit him in chambers, as well as a tour of the Court's facilities. "Just give me a call after first semester," the good Justice said.
Yesterday morning, five of us piled into two cars and made our way over to the Capitol complex in St. Paul, and were treated to 90 minutes of Justice Anderson's time. It was a real treat to have an open forum with this learned gentleman - truly, one of the most intelligent and kind people I've ever met.
He himself answered all sorts of questions - we took the opportunity to really pepper him with questions on the Court's current caseload, how they choose cases to review, the overall demeanor of the Court, as well as the state of judicial affairs in the country in general. Justice Anderson himself was our tour guide - I think the coolest experience I had was when we visited the Supreme Courtroom - Justice Anderson led us through the Justices' private entrance, and so we found ourselves entering the courtroom as the justices do - from behind the bench. The courtroom itself is smaller than I thought it would be - but I was impressed nonetheless. It is immaculately kept up and Justice Anderson let us sit at the bench in the Justices' chairs (which...wow.).
We also got to see the Court's private conference room - where the work of the Court really takes place - where they decide cases to take, and where they vote on cases which have been heard. A few of the other Justices were wandering the halls during our visit - I think we caught Justice Barry Anderson on his way back from the loo, matter of fact - and without exception, they were wonderful and generous with their time and advice.
As we sat chatting in chambers, Justice Anderson imparted this bit of wisdom - the law isn't always about justice. As much as we want it to be, it's about other things as well, and the job of the courts is to ensure that the law is applied as evenly and fairly as possible to the citizenry at large. He made mention of justice, mercy and compassion - all of which encompass the purpose of our governmental system in this country.
The other piece of wisdom he imparted upon us at the end of the tour was this: the whole purpose behind his invitation was to pay forward the time and generosity he'd received as a student from a couple of well-connected and powerful individuals (a state senator and Congressman, if I recall correctly). He told us he'd promised himself that if he ever reached a position of influence and power (and certainly - who can doubt that a Supreme Court Justice is such a person) he would do the same for those of us coming up in the ranks. He also asked us to make that promise to ourselves as well. I doubt seriously I'll ever reach the upper echelons of power I experienced yesterday.
But I will pay it forward in any way I can, when I can.