On Friday night there was a dinner for PopTech speakers and organizers. I asked one of them to give me a thumbnail sketch of his talk and almost immediately started challenging him. We had a friendly but fairly probing back-and-forth. It took the form of me questioning him, and him answering me, and me finding fault with his answers, and asking him to try again. It was a bit like a professor grilling a law student with the Socratic method. I liked what he had to say, and agreed with it at core, but thought he was being imprecise with his language, and wanted to push around to find the edges of his philosophy. The topic was property, and I was trying to get him to drill down into the rights and obligations he thought were appropriate, and those he wanted to reject. You can't just dismiss the concept of "property," after all. It's a bundle of rights, and all that. He was gracious about my challenges, assuring me he enjoyed being pushed, and although the subject matter was fairly abstract, the tone was warm and friendly.
There was a small group involved in the conversation, although the primary back and forth was the two of us. One of the fellows in the circle was a first-year law student, listening with big ears. (Another was my friend S, who pulled me aside afterwards and said, "I love your mind. I just love to watch you think." That compliment, along with the conversation itself, was one of the highlights of my weekend. I haven't gotten to think, where other people could watch and join in, for a long time. I enjoy it.) Partway through the conversation I began to wonder if I was being a legalistic ass. Still, I didn't want to let go of my questions. I didn't think his answers were clear. I also began to notice that I found him very attractive. I realized the attraction was distracting me, and I couldn't be sure whether I really liked his ideas or just his eyes. I had to concentrate on what we were saying, while fighting the urge to reach out and touch his arm.
At dinner I turned my attention to a different speaker, asking questions about things he hadn't covered in his talk. Much easier. And fruitful -- one of the biggest ideas I'm mulling over from the conference came from that exchange. My crush was at our table, and from time to time I got pulled back into their conversation, a couple of seats away from me. He would nod or gesture toward me when saying something about "the legal system." By this time I was frazzled and self-conscious. 'But I'm not a lawyer!' I protested. 'I'm a sailing coach.' "Yes, but you think like a lawyer," someone pointed out. It's true. And it's really fun, sometimes. I found myself feeling pretty glad about my law training. I tried to distinguish between legal concepts and language, the framework for describing rights and obligations, which I think can be enlightening and helpful, and the functional bureaucracy and expense of the process of settling disputes through legal means, which doesn't work for a whole lot of the population. Just because legal dispute resolution sucks doesn't mean disciplined, principled distinctions, clearly articulated, aren't useful. I turned to the law student and shrugged. He's still being indoctrinated, but already he knew what I was getting at.
Later, at a party, I stood on the deck overlooking the water with the law student and my crush. The law student told me he really liked seeing people who'd been to law school and weren't working as lawyers. I was still backpedalling, not wanting to be seen as someone who fusses over technicalities. I kicked the acorns around on the porch, and we talked of other things, and I wondered about my self-consciousness. Am I happy about my law degree? Yes. And I'm happy about having practiced law. I enjoyed it. Law school is a really fun kind of thinking. I know I'm sharper, and a clearer thinker, because of law school. Law practice is a whole different set of skills, and I'm glad to have sampled it. Still, I'm even happier to be a recovering lawyer. I feel boxed in if people think of me as a lawyer, first and foremost. It's such a pejorative label.