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What I Learned from the Judge!

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

Having concluded Volume I of my "What I Learned" series and while I am working with my publisher on getting it polished and published into my first book, I am now moving on to blog about the second volume entitled: "What I Learned from the Judge." I suspect you will enjoy getting to know the Judge as much as the Admiral and as I did!

I clerked for the Judge as young lawyer from 1994 to 1996. It was my first job right out of law school.

Like the lessons I learned from the Admiral, these lessons have been with me for years and have framed my military, legal, and business success as I continued in my life as an early follower and active learner.

After my time as an admiral's aide from 1989 t0 1991, I returned to South Carolina and enrolled in law school at the University of South Carolina School of Law in the fall of 1991. At the same time, I transitioned to the Navy Reserves and immediately joined Patrol Squadron 62, the P-3 reserve squadron back at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. It was there that I would start there a 24-year career in the reserves after six years of active duty.

I graduated from law school in the spring of 1994. By the end of that summer, I had taken the South Carolina Bar Exam in miserably sweltering Columbia, South Carolina.

As early as my second year of law school, I had begun to look for my first job. At the time, many practicing lawyers had told me that one of the best ways to get started as a new lawyer was to get a job as a law clerk, working for a judge. That sounded pretty attractive to me and a lot like working as an admiral's aide. I could do that, I thought, as long as my academic record remained competitive.

I was most interested in working at the trial court level so I could see trial lawyers in action in the courtroom, and I was focused on federal judges in South Carolina. Most federal judges had two full time lawyer law clerk positions. My top choice was the federal court in my hometown of Charleston, but I also applied to federal judges sitting in Columbia and Greenville.

I got called for interviews with two federal judges: one in Charleston and one in Greenville, SC. The interviews were scheduled for the same week, with the Charleston interview being first.

The Charleston federal judge was David C. Norton. He was appointed to his lifetime federal judge position by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. And before going to law school at the University of South Carolina, he had actually served in the Navy three years.

He had an incredible reputation and was known for his exceptional judicial temperament. I prepared for my interview with him and was elated when he made me an offer within a day of the interview.

Here I was, as a second-year law student with another year to go in law school, and an offer for fulltime employment more than a year later from one of the best federal judges in my home state and my hometown! It seemed like the risk I had taken to leave active military service to go to law school had been the mitigated, and my decision was the right way to go!

With the offer in hand, I still had a second interview scheduled with the federal judge in Greenville, SC and was not sure how to cancel it. I thought I might have to proceed with the second interview and hold off on accepting the offer from Judge Norton. Surely, I could not just call the Greenville federal judge and cancel the interview. Unlike Judge Norton, this judge was not known to be very cordial or for his judicial demeanor.

I thought as a professional courtesy that I had drive up to Greenville to interview with the Greenville Judge and inform him in person that I already had an outstanding offer from Judge Norton. That was going to be very awkward, but seemed to me to be the best way to handle the pending interview with an outstanding offer. I knew I wanted to practice law in South Carolina and also knew federal judges are appointed for life, so I did not want to make an enemy of the Greenville judge. At the same time, I did not want to waste his time, get an offer from him or -- waste my time.

I told Judge Norton of my dilemma and asked if I could have few days to respond to him so I could wrap things up in Greenville. What he did at that point convinced me that he was going to be a great boss in addition to a great jurist.

And that's how the next series will start. Here we go!

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1 Comment

TD Smyers
TD Smyers
Jan 15, 2023

Starting this new series off with some suspense! I like it! 'Anxious for the next episode.

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