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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Welcome To The Other Side Of The Real World

Mark Reinhardt- Kampala, Uganda

(Note: this post was actually written on May 24, 2011)

It was my first day on the job.  As the Deputy Chief Justice for the entire country of Uganda pushed a case file towards me that I would soon learn was comprised of over 550 pages, a fourth of which were in Lugandan, and half of which were handwritten so poorly that they may as well have been, I began to second guess my decision to come to Africa and clerk for Uganda's Court of Appeals.  As the Justice said, "OK now, here is a file for you, please go and write an opinion for me," the second-guessing bloomed into full-blown regret.

After a day and a half of translating handwriting, I realized that this case was about more then just four women and one man who claimed to own the same parcel of land.  It was about a clash between traditional African and modern Western concepts of property ownership and transfer.  Under the first, development is stifled in a country that desperately needs it and a man would lose his life savings to a bank that was playing fast and loose, but four women would be able to keep the land that had been passed down in their families for generations; under the second view, the legitimacy of law, commerce, and development would be bolstered, but three of the four women would lose all that they had in the march towards progress.

I learned early on that law school is really nothing more than a game where the professors make the rules.  Those students who realize this early on and focus simply on playing the game (fairly) will succeed; at least while in law school.  But when the parties to the case change from the fictitious P, and D to flesh and blood human beings; and when what is at stake shifts from the arbitrary A, B, C, or D letter grade -that we as students fear will define who we are and whether or not we will ever be able to afford that Porsche- to the livelihood or even survival of the individuals in the case as well as the policy direction of an entire nation, the game changes.

Law school in general teaches one to think like a lawyer in a fantasy fishbowl.  My first day on the job and I was asked to think and to perform not just like a lawyer, but like a judge, in the real world, in the developing world, on the other side of the world.  No Property exam could have prepared me for this.

God, help me.  More aptly, God, help these poor people.