My Life as a Lawyer – The Day I Got Disbarred

After three years of law school, you might think my study days were over. You’d have thought wrong. I then went into two months of intense study, spending my mornings in review classes and my afternoons with practice exams and more review materials as I prepared for the bar exam, a three-day test that takes a toll on you mentally, physically and emotionally. But I passed, and then practiced as an attorney for about 7 1/2 years.

And then suddenly - poof – my life as an attorney came to an end when I received a telephone call from the Governor’s office telling me I was being appointed to the bench. It wasn’t a complete surprise, since I’d applied for the appointment long before and spent the preceding two years going through the extensive process of being vetted and interviewed and vetted some more. Still, it was a surprise in the sense that there were other qualified attorneys who were up for the position, and there was no deadline for the Governor to make an announcement. The first time anyone outside the Govbernor’s inner circle knew was when they told me.

I called my wife right away and, being the ever so clever guy I am, said, “May I speak to Judge Fall’s wife?” There was a bit of squealing on her end of the line as it sank in. This was just the start of a huge change in our lives.

Losing My Bar License

You see, the day I got sworn in as a judge was also the day I got disbarred. The law here says that judges cannot hold licenses to practice law, so by virtue of taking the oath of judicial office I automatically removed myself from the roll of attorneys.

When I first learned about this I wondered what that meant for ever practicing law again, so I called the state bar office and asked what would happen if I wanted to return to being an attorney after I stopped being a judge. My main concern was summed up in the question, “Would I have to take the bar exam all over again?” (Remember, that’s a three-day test in this state.)

She reassured me that they would let me right back in with no need to re-take the bar, since, as she put it, “We assume judges have stayed up on the law during their careers.”

Whew.

It’s not that I’m planning on returning to law practice any time soon. I’ve been on the bench for almost 18 full years, and I expect to be here for a dozen or so more. Still, it’s nice to know I have the ability to fall back on being an attorney should this judging thing not work out.

Yet even though I’m no longer an attorney, I’ve never stopped being a lawyer. How can someone be a lawyer yet not an attorney, you might wonder?

Simple. An attorney at law is a person licensed by the government to practice law, to represent the interests of someone else in court or provide counsel to people needing legal advice.

A lawyer, on the other hand, is merely someone schooled in the law. That’s me. That’s also anyone else who graduated from law school, whether they ever went into the practice of law – or even passed the bar exam – or not. So I’m a lawyer, but not an attorney.

(Sidenote: since I’m not a licensed attorney, it’s illegal for me to practice law, even for free … even for friends and family … even for people who just want to run something by me on their legal issue. You don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain this to people. And then how many times I have to ask them to stop asking me questions about their legal issues - No, I can’t tell you how to get out of your traffic ticket … Please stop asking me … Pretty please … Pretty please with sugar on top … Oh for the love of Pete, LEAVE ME ALONE!” I’ve actually never said that last part.)

An Even Bigger Change

There’s another change I experienced once, one more drastic than losing my license to practice law when I became a judge.

This one is irreversible.

I went from being dead to being alive, from having a nature that is corrupt in its deathly putrefaction to one that is new and spotlessly clean in its vitality, from one that is forever separated from God to one that is joined to him for eternity. My old self is not just made better, I am made new, and nothing will ever change that:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28.)

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27 Responses to My Life as a Lawyer – The Day I Got Disbarred

  1. Jeannie says:

    Although your title led me to expect something a little more juicy :-), this is a very interesting look at your profession, Tim! Thanks for sharing that, and for the connection to our spiritual lives too.

    It must be irritating to be always asked legal questions all the time. No one ever corners me at a party to ask about their misplaced modifiers.

    • Tim says:

      “Hey look, Jeannie’s here.”

      “Oh good, I’ve got a dangling participle I want her to look at. It’s been irritating me to no end.”

      • Adriana says:

        I have considered asking you a question a time or two, Jeannie! :D

        • Jeannie says:

          Well, while you’re pondering that, I’ll just LET EVERYONE KNOW that it was Adriana’s birthday yesterday, April 10. Humble woman that she is, she kept it quiet, but Facebook blew her cover. Happy Birthday, Adriana!!! :-D

        • Tim says:

          Happy Birthday Adriana!

          And now a birthday song:

          Hippo birdy two ewes
          Hippo birdy two ewes
          Hippo birdy deer ewe
          Hippo birdy two ewes
          … and many moooooooore

        • Adriana says:

          Oh my! Thank you both so much! I’m really touched. :)
          Love that birthday song! My kids will like that!

  2. Adriana says:

    I know I’m supposed to be hiatusing, but your post title sucked me in.
    Nice spiritual connection. As Nick said the other day — personal examples are always good. :)

    P.S. I have always wondered what was the difference between a lawyer and an attorney.

  3. Nice transitional post.

    I learned a lot because I don’t know much about lawyers and judges. I do have a lawyer though if I ever need her (she was my former youth leader and we’re still close). I think it is really awesome that you can have an understanding of what the laws of this world and culture are AND the laws of the Bible too. Is that ever conflicting for you?

    • Tim says:

      I suppose the conflict comes up when the law allows something that I think the Bible says not to do. For example, I’ve signed divorce decrees when the people meet the legal standards for marriage dissolution.

      • I never thought about that.
        Do you think it is possible that you can refuse since it goes against your Biblical stances? I mean, I think of doctors who have refused to give abortions for the same reason, so couldn’t the same be done for you? For you have a higher master to abide by than the world’s law?

  4. nmcdonal says:

    Always love hearing about your experiences in the courtrooms, Tim. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    Thank goodness we can’t fall back on our “old Life” as a spiritually dead person!

    • Tim says:

      Great point, Aimee. That whole not-snatching-out-of-God’s-hand thing is a marvelous bit of God’s grace. I remember hearing Davif Hocking once say, “You can jump around from knuckle to knuckle, but you can never jump out.”

  6. KSP says:

    Very interesting–with great spiritual applications, as usual, Your Honor!

    • Tim says:

      And now you know how I got the job! Well, the story of how I got the job is a lot more complicated. But this was the final step in shifting from Bar to Bench.

  7. michellevl says:

    When I’ve stood before a judge in traffic court (sad to report that I’ve had to make 3 or 4 appearances over the years due to my need for speed), it is a deadly serious experience. I am trusting that the person on the bench is saturated in every nuance of the law. Even the ones about being 17 over the limit. But until I read your words, I always imagined that a judgeship meant that a lawyer had really mastered every jot and tittle, and that the robe was a reward for being the best student in the class, so to speak.

    (Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this.)

    Two things: I’m glad you’re still a student, and not resting on your laurels. And I’m grateful for God’s “Not Guilty” verdict in Christ Jesus.

    • Tim says:

      On still being a student, I think you’d find most judges are the type of people who don’t stop studying and learning. I also do a lot of teaching judicial education, principally in judicial ethics. I taught three classes for a total of 7+ hours at a judges conference a week ago, and another three hours last Friday afternoon for another group of judges. More to come this week. Judges teaching judges is the model for judicial education here in California, whether it’s ethics or the latest developments in criminal law or whatever you might imagine judges need to stay up on.

      And I completely agree about our verdict before God. We have a well-justified not guilty verdict, since the justification is in Jesus himself. What an awesome and gracious judgment!

      • Tim says:

        P.S. As for knowing everything already, not a chance. We hear cases and then look things up if needed. Sometimes I already know the law that applies quite well, but I can’t know it all so then I do the research.

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  10. Bronwyn Lea says:

    I have often wondered how to describe my background as someone who studied law and the taught it for a while, but never practiced. I have used the term “lapsed lawyer”, but that sounds a little corrupt. Thanks for sharing your story and clearing that up!

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