Last Saturday, I went to a party in Detroit hosted by the National Lawyers Guild. I was active in the Guild for three years while in law school, twenty years ago. When I moved to Port Huron, I lost touch with many of the lawyers in Detroit for complicated reasons. I missed them all.
So Saturday I saw two people I hadn't seen in twenty years. The time peels away, and we reconnect as if no time at all had past. Now that I am single and able to freely do what I want without negotiating (except with babysitters) I want to renew these great friendships.
I was reminiscing about the first time I met Ernie Goodman, a co-founder of the Guild. It was a defining moment for me. Now I'm one of the old farts. The Guild's organizer, who could really be my daughter (she's that young), asked me to write something about my memories of Ernie. You know you are old when a person young enough to be your daughter asks you to do this.
So, this is what I wrote:
A irony strikes me now: I started law school and met Ernie Goodman in 1984. Reagan was well on his way to a second disastrous term. I had been a public benefits paralegal with a rural legal aid office in Michigan during his first term, when the term “welfare Cadillac” came into the public lexicon. I didn’t have any client who drove a Cadillac. Law school seemed like more of the same newspeak
The student chapter of the Guild organized a gathering of first year law students to hear Ernie talk about his years as a Guild attorney. Now I recognize that meeting as mentoring: then I just felt as if for the first time since I started law school I could breathe inside that building.
I worked with tireless, dedicated attorneys who were brilliant advocates for the poor: Guild attorneys like Marilyn Mullane, Susan McParland and Kathleen Gmeiner. I had no sense of the work being done outside of Legal Services for social justice. Law school and the private sector seemed like a wasteland to me.
But there in the basement of Wayne Law School, Ernie sat with his wry smile: a co- founder of the Guild, an old guy who still had the spark of young person, a lawyer in private practice who had held onto his ideals and politics through years of practicing law. I can still hear him say, as he pointed at each of us, that trademark twinkle in his eyes, “You really can do well by doing good.”
That initial evening with Ernie blossomed into meeting Bill Goodman, Deb Choly, Julie Hurwitz, Ken Mogill, Neal Bush and Guild lawyers working with Detroit’s peace community as they the protested against Reagan’s foreign policy in Central America. We law students got to work with those lawyers to organize the Civil Disobedience Conference. By the time I started practicing, my ethical and political perspective had been both broadened and honed by gifted Guild lawyers. I had a sense about the wide range of work for justice that could be done.
I’m not saying I would have gone over to the dark side had these lawyers not been present during my legal education, but they gave me something to balance the Oceania of law school.
I probably never said anything to Ernie about the significance of our meeting that night. I know I never thought to thank him. But that one contact with an experienced lawyer, doing good work, and doing well after years of practicing might have changed a lesser person, has stayed with me. The presence of experienced Guild attorneys as mentors during my three years at Wayne was priceless: all of them did good by me.