When Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson Jr., JD/MBA ’76 (BA ’72), Robert E. Paradise Professor in Natural Resources Law and Perry L. McCarty Director of the Woods Institute for the Environment, joined the Class of 1990 at its reunion dinner last October, he asked those at his table what they had learned in law school that proved valuable after graduating. While he received many interesting answers that night, this one, which came via e-mail after the big weekend, stood out. Here is Pat Greene’s response to Buzz.
There are many things I think I learned from law school. Most of them are obvious, and I probably should have picked them up before I got to Stanford. I have tried to teach at least some of them to my children, and they in turn have tried to teach some of them to their friends (at least according to conversations I have overheard). Knowledge can be contagious. Just a few of the things I learned at law school, aside from actual law:
I learned to argue rationally and calmly. (This comes in amazingly handy when dealing with teenagers.) More importantly, I have learned to analyze the arguments of others, to separate wheat from chaff, and to not be swayed by demagoguery or appeals to emotion or prejudice. That skill is increasingly useful these days.
I learned to write, hopefully clearly and persuasively.
I learned that very few things in life are black or white. Some shades of gray are maybe darker than others, but they are still gray.
I learned that good people with honorable intent can look at the same problem and come up with wildly divergent answers. I learned that disagreement does not always mean some- one is wrong and, more importantly, that someone being “wrong” does not mean that they are “evil.” (One of the nicest things about attending alumni weekend was the reminder that there are still rational and thoughtful conservatives in this country.)
I learned that the justice system is just that, a system, where the rules of the game often mean more than the outcome. But I also learned that the answer is not to give up on the sys- tem but to try to make the system more just.
I learned that rights not staunchly defended can be, if not lost, then watered down.
I learned not to take the Constitution for granted.
I learned that there are almost always externalities: that the “cost” of an item and its “price” are often radically different and that one of the most dangerous things we as a society do is to ignore this fact. I have learned to look for the hidden costs, whether they be in financial or human capital, and to point them out to others where possible.
Discussions of Prop. 65 and its effects taught me about the law of unintended consequences and never to vote for a ballot proposition unless I understand exactly what it is going to do.
I was reminded that law is a human creation and people are fallible and occasionally un- predictable. And that judges—and justices—are people.
I discovered that learning law irretrievably warps how you view the world around you.
So, all in all, I think my years at Stanford had a profound effect upon my life. I hope that answers your question.
—Pat Greene ’90