Kenneth Dam (1957)  

My First Day of Class

In the first minute of my first class on the opening day of my law school education, I encountered for the first time Edward Levi, then Dean of the Law School.

This was no politically correct experience.

Levi glared, looking at each and every one of us disapprovingly. Finally, he opened his mouth: “This,” he said loudly and threateningly, and we all waited for what could possibly follow: “…is intellectual boot camp!” Silence followed. We all wanted to look at one another to be sure we had the advantage of numbers in the face of what seemed to be a maniac.

Finally, he spoke: “You,” he shouted. Again silence. Then: “…you will never be the same again!”

And we weren’t. Law School fundamentally changed me. Let me count a few of the ways.

First, Law School was actually the beginning of my education, though I had learned a great deal at a state university. The focus on analysis and especially rigorous analysis, rather than on learning and memory, transformed my way of approaching almost every professional issue.

Second, under the method used by Levi, Blum, Kalven and Meltzer, the four great stars of the then Law School, where nearly every case led to a policy discussion, I became immediately interested in public policy issues. My subsequent career in government and in public policy institutions followed quite naturally.

Third (and this does not exhaust the list), under Levi’s Deanship, students were directly exposed to a number of leading figures of the day. I recall particularly having dinner with Attorney General Francis Biddell and listening to a talk by an enormously intelligent and compelling lawyer named Abe Fortas -- then unknown to the world at large but later a major, albeit in the end somewhat tragic, public figure. Such occasions, relatively infrequent to be sure, made me see not just that law was a profession (as opposed to what seems today more like a business) but also that a life at the law could open to us the great political and social issues of the day.

It may not have been “boot camp,” but for me it was at least “officer training school.”

Kenneth W. Dam, Class of 1957.