Yesterday I received an email announcing that my Contracts professor, E. Allan Farnsworth, had passed away. He was a genuinely kind person and a prolific scholar, and a generation of lawyers has relied on his treatise to get through consideration, the parol evidence rule, and the statute of frauds. I’ll always remember him, though, for scaring the heck out of me as a first year.
Anyone familiar with The Paper Chase, or Scott Turow’s 1L, knows that the first year of law school tends to induce fear and loathing, even among the most balanced students. All but the foolhardy and arrogant spend the first few weeks of the first year, at least, hoping and praying that they are not called on in front of 150 of their classmates. I was no different. My strategy was to sit on the back row, preferably in a corner, and bury my head in my laptop. But on the very first day of first year classes, my fears were realized. Professor Farnsworth, looking all the part of a scholar-gentleman, opened the Contracts class with an obscure quotation about keeping one’s obligations and fulfilling one’s contracts. Then, while scanning the large classroom, he said, “Greg Call, do you know who said this?”
What??? How did he get my name? Was this in the reading? Is this a trick question?
As I felt a hundred or so sets of eyes focused on me, and with my face warming up, I cleared my throat and spit out, “Umm, no.”
“I’ll give you a hint,” Professor Farnsworth said, “your alma mater is named after him.”
Aha — this I knew the answer to. “Brigham Young,” I responded with relief.
Professor Farnsworth went on to explain that the Brigham Young quote was the only statement he has ever found in which a moral or spiritual justification is given for keeping one’s contractual obligations. I thought this was interesting, but mostly I just felt relief for having my first in-class exchange with a professor behind me. Over the course of the semester I made a few comments, and visited occasionally with Professor Farnsworth in his office. He was always gracious and open, and even offered to write a letter of recommendation for me after the semester was over. All of this, of course, had a much bigger ultimate influence on me than that first-day cold call, but somehow I think that memory will be one that sticks.