Si a jure discedas vagus eris, et erunt omnia omnibus incerta

or: If you depart from the law, you will go astray …

Legal avatars were walking with me every night right up until dawn. Most of them were missing something, something that was living and breathing in the legal clients who had come to the law office and had told their story of need and desire to the attorney but that somehow had got lost when the client´s life subsequently had been translated to fit in a file. Every day for about 15 minutes after lunch time Mr. O´Leary gave me a short introduction to the new cases he had Ms. Cavendish put on my desk in the morning. He was a very good narrator, mentioning details about clients that a less practiced observer would have overlooked or found insignificant. He was incredibly generous with me, 15 minutes is a long time for a lawyer whether he gets paid by the hour or contingency fees, that I knew even back then. And yet, the gap between his narrative and the legal brief I was supposed to write was so wide. Not unbridgeable but wide enough to truly humble me.

I still remember seeing the avatars slipping out of the files and silently pacing the room waiting for me to finish up. It started one night at about the time when I had been practicing my hand at writing briefs for about three months, practicing day after day with the many different cases that appeared in sets of three or four on my desk in the morning.
In the beginning it me had taken me a really, really long time to come up even with a just-so acceptable brief. By the time I brought the file back to Ms. Cavendish, Mr. O´Leary´s formidable secretary, I had read and reread the case close to a hundred times until I felt that I had either identified all the relevant information that I needed to actually write the brief, including the issue, the facts, the holding, and the relevant parts of the analysis, or, more often, that I had arrived at that kind of sinking, sick feeling that you have when it´s still not good enough but you just cannot do any better. Perversely, I had liked studying law for just that reason: it had made me small and humble and human insofar as it made me fail over and over again and that was perfectly in sync with my Puritan upbringing. I had been raised an atheist Puritan who had the severe character fault of having a creative streak. So if there ever was a law student who should have studied something instead it was me. And yet I continued in a distracted, untechnical, unstructured but seemingly still just-so good enough manner, because „not quitting“ had been ingrained into my personal code since my terrible-twos, and it continued to be my great weakness well into grown-up life. I was too stubborn to quit law school even as I was painting and dreaming and visiting museum after museum, I just couldn´t quit, it was as simple as that.
Generally speaking, before I had decided to go to law school I had been seriously suffering from delusions about what I could do in life, like: really anything. I had been convinced that I could do just about anything that I would set my mind to, you name it, math, sciences, language arts, and I´d be brilliant at it, and yet here I was, a few years later and not even being a quite good enough lawyer.

I simply had no clue what people were like and why they acted the way they did. I had no clue what other people actually wanted from life. No clue whatsoever. And you just can´t be a good lawyer if you don´t get people – on both sides of the law. You need to understand what drives a person and you need to understand what makes the law want to rule that very person in or entitle it to do as desired, you need , with other words, to have a good grasp of societal goals and values. Or, in the absence of such an abstract understanding, you at least need to believe that there is an order to things, a somewhat natural state of being that you will recognize when you see it.
If, on the other side, you are a multifaceted, spacey kid who lets the winds that blow through the city grid take a hold of you and push and pull you into any which direction it pleases, if you are but a drifter, if you live in books and if you cry while reading Sylvia Plath and if you are stricken by a certain Yellow in a Miró painting as if your life´s meaning depends on it, Miró, of all painters, if you are completely content with the universe for the view of the tar beach on the roof of your rental building on a freezing but fiercely clear morning, still barefoot and in your PJs and with a mug of coffee hot enough to burn the skin between your thumb and index finger (your stereotypical European intern kid), if you are happy with cheap Asian food from the corner store for weeks on end, if you are content with sharing your cramped studio apartment with a guy who works crazy hours at a food truck  and crashes on a mattress underneath your dining table, if you get a kick just out of running around Central Park in worn-out-no-brand sneakers trying to keep up with the Mexican runners for a few minutes before collapsing on to the Great Lawn, if you feel insanely alive for a split-second just because the light over Manhattan illuminates the Avenues looking south with toxic quick silver, and if on top of being this incarnation of a European nerd you think that your kicks are what makes all people around you stop dead in their tracks for excitement, then you might be on to something great for life, but as a lawyer you know next to nothing. If you don´t get what actually makes people fight for their very own piece of Lexington Avenue, small or majestic as it may be, you will be but a pathetic excuse for a lawyer.
So night after night, after I had closed the last book, feeling exhausted and ready to loose myself in the city, the avatars were quietly slipping out of the files and following me down the long hallway, past the pale light of Mr. Letterman´s office, into the creaky elevator and down, through the marble tiled lobby and out into the night. As we left the building, the avatars and I, and I was walking out into the night, they were following me and I was to them like the one eyed king amongst the blind. Si a jure discedas vagus eris, et erunt omnia omnibus incerta.

The invisible Mr. Letterman opens an umbrella on 34th street

No matter how late I left the offices Mr. Letterman never once left before me. The door to his offices remained closed throughout the day and throughout the night. I never saw him coming, I never saw him leaving. I never saw him at all. That might have had something to do with the amount of time I spent in the file closet that was the intern´s work space, basically only leaving for brief meetings with Mr. O´Leary and during office lunch time. I spent a lot of time, really a lot of time, figuring out how to do the most basic things like legal research or how to write a memorandum, more like a first year law student than a graduate preparing for a professional career. In the evening I did a lot of reading. I was never in a hurry to go home. As I had studied in Europe I knew next to nothing about the American legal system when I started my internship. I did not participate in any academic program or training  as I was lacking the funds to pay for that kind of education.  So I spent hours studying, mostly reading up on cases. Mr. O´Leary must have had his own reasons to offer me the internship  during which – strictly speaking – I received more of a general education concerning the legal history of the US than a preparation for any kind of specific legal work. Mr. O´Leary corrected my assignements but he never commented on how long it took me to come up with results. Sometimes a painfully long time. The truth was that I was not qualified at all to fill out the position even as an intern, but Mr O´Leary must have had his own reasons to extend his offer to me.  On my first day he had given me a copy of a handwritten list of chronologically ordered cases decided by the United States Supreme Court . The list concentrated on cases decided during the Rehnquist Court, the tenure of Chief Justice William Rehnquist from September 26, 1986 through September 3, 2005. But there were also cases decided during the Warren Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren from October 5, 1953 through June 23, 1969, like Watkins v. United States 354 U.S. 178 (1957) , on the rights of a witness in refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee, or Brandenburg v. Ohio 395 U.S. 444 (1969) on the freedom of speech, incitement to riot, or the during the Burger Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger from June 23, 1969 through September 26, 1986, like the New York Times Co. v. United States 403 U.S. 713 (1971) on the Freedom of the press, national security and the Pentagon Papers. And so, I had started reading up on these cases at night, eating take-out at my desk and acting out my very own American dream. At around 6.30 pm most of the staff had left the offices. Mr. O´Leary was gone by 9 pm the latest, having a reservation at his favorite restaurant shortly after each night. Mr. Letterman and I stayed on. Every moment I was aware that my time in the closet was a transient state, to the point of being surreal. And this transient state was somehow counteracted by the reliance of the invisible presence of Mr. Letterman in his office. Sometimes I thought that this balance was the true reason why Mr. O´Leary had offered the internship to me, a transient lawyer who reasoned with the legal avatars who had escaped from the files chosen and who definitely had too much of an imagination to be a lawyer.

If I had theories about Mr. O´Leary, it was really Mr. Letterman who – being invisible – intrigued me. Like all things unknown or unknowable his existence behind the pale glowing door made me curious and inspired me to make up stories. The human mind is wired to fill the gaps with some kind of narrative. And so I invented and then reinvented  Mr. Letterman on my nightly walks through the city that never sleeps.My legal avatars  kept me company for a while and often I did not know who was real and who was invented by me or by someone else, who might be equally subjected to insomnia and trying to people the landscapes of his restless mind. with late night company.  One night it suddenly started raining so hard I took a cab from Bank Street back uptown because I was so tired I was afraid I´d fall asleep on the subway. The rain on the windows of the cab washed down like tears and blurred my night vision of traffic lights and movement  on the street resembling a Gerhard Richter painting in progress. When the cab passed 34th street on Fifth avenue I looked down the street and thought I saw a lonely man with an old fashioned macintosh step out from our office building and unhurriedly opening an umbrella.I recognized him  instantly because he was exactly how I had invented him. I thought about how the act of unhurriedly opening an umbrella could tell you all about a man that you needed to in order to know what to expect of him, what kind if man he was. The moment passed quickly. There was little traffic on Fifth and the cab kept moving. I asked the driver to stop and let me out. By the time I had paid the fare and hurried back to 34th Mr. Letterman was nowhere to be seen. I continued to walk east and kept looking for him without any real plan as to what I would do should I find him again. It felt very urgent to find him but I did not see him or any other man in a macintosh. I carried no umbrella and got soaking wet within minutes. I ended up walking home. That was the only time I ever saw Mr. Letterman.