Law-ding over us

By Aoife Dowling

Question: what do Law School and the X-Factor have in common?

Answer: famous alumni.

While many lawyers keep a low profile, a surprising number make their way to the dizzying heights of worldwide fame. Here’s five famous law graduates.

So, in no particular order:

Gerard Butler. Also known as the guy from 300 who yells ‘Sparta!’ No, he’s not Irish, he just put on a very dodgy Irish accent in P.S. I Love You. He’s Scottish, actually. Before he turned to acting, he studied Law at the University of Glasgow. He was president of the Law Society and graduated with honours. After two years of practicing law, he turned to acting. He later claimed in an interview that he “wasn’t the most academic of guys”. Uh, if you say so!

Barack Obama. Yes, before this man had the job of running the USA, Barack ‘Barry’ Obama studied law at Harvard. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, and went on to work as a junior lawyer on civil rights issues. He discusses his law studies in his book Dreams From My Father. He wrote:  “law is… memory, the law records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.”

John Cleese. One of Britain’s best-loved comedians, John Cleese, actually has a law degree from Cambridge. He never practiced, though while he was there, he joined the Footlights Theatrical Club, where he met his future writing partner, Graham Chapman. Cleese caught the theatre bug and never looked back. He’s been at the helm of countless successful productions, including Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.

Henri Matisse. The renowned twentieth-century impressionist artist initially studied law in Paris. Receiving little encouragement to pursue his artistic aspirations, he passed his law exams and took up a job as a law office clerk. Sickness drove him to paint – when he suffered appendicitis, his mother bought him art supplies to pass the time. When he returned to work, he took drawing lessons in his free time before abandoning the law in favour of his new, consuming passion, art.

Jerry Springer. Sometimes, the hit U.S. Jerry Springer Show can seem a bit like a pantomime version of a courtroom – audience booing, angry cross-examination, brash accusations and tearful confessions. Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that the host was formerly a lawyer.  Before becoming a politician (then scandal journalist) Jerry Springer earned a Juris Doctor degree from Northwestern University.

Mahatma Gandhi. Political and spiritual leader of Indian Nationalism, Mahatma Gandhi studied law here in London – at University College London. He studied Indian law and jurisprudence, training as a barrister at the Inner Temple. Law provided a foundation for Gandhi’s life-long passion for political and social justice.

Admittedly, these people shot to fame in the disparate fields of politics, tv, acting – not in law. Regardless of their disparate positions and pursuits, there is one thing they share in common: a passion for their chosen sphere. Passion is what brought them success in the study of law, and it’s what brought them fame in other spheres.

In the 2001 film Legally Blonde, girly lawyer-in-training Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) discovers that law is not ‘reason free from passion’. In the closing graduation scene, she tells her classmates: “On our very first day at Harvard a very wise professor quoted Aristotle,‘ the law is reason free from passion.’ Well…no offense to Aristotle, but in my three years at Harvard I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law…and of life. It is with passion, courage of conviction, and strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world.” Cheesy it may be, but that speech sums it up: law students are a pretty passionate bunch.

 

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