August 2014 Bar Bulletin
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August 2014 Bar Bulletin

"Why, When I Was in Law School ..."


[This month, we continue with John Rupp's story of his days at the University of Washington School of Law and "old" Condon Hall in the 1930s. When last we left you in July, Mr. Rupp had introduced us to Prof. J. Grattan O'Bryan.]

Sixth of a Series

Leslie J. Ayer was the next senior faculty member and I think was the least respected. It was not that he was a bad teacher, for he did a pretty good job, but his manner was that of an unctuous old goat. Bob Allen's sister, Eleanor ("Bud") Allen, said she was once aboard a cruiser, on which Ayer was also a guest, at a Washington-California crew race and that she spent most of the day dodging around to keep from being cornered in the cabin. We told her it was better to be with Ayer in a railroad yard - "Run for the roundhouse, Nellie; he can't corner you in there".

Ayer taught Agency and Sales and probably some other courses as well. He had once worked for, or represented as counsel, the National Cash Register Company, so he liked to illustrate points by recounting cases he had had for the company. That can be a useful teaching device, and he was good at it. One of his mannerisms was employed when he believed the discussion had gone on long enough to be summed up. He would raise his arms and say, "Come, come, gentlemen, what am I thinking of?" He would usually get a reasonable answer, but the question also elicited some rather irreverent sotto voce comments, e.g., "Martinis", "Girls".

One incident in an Ayer class that delighted me probably has a counterpart in every law school in the country. Professor Ayer opened class one morning by introducing his guest, a friend and former student, named "Windy" Crawford. We had all heard of Crawford because he lived in New York and was always the U.W.'s representative at the drawing for lane positions at the big crew race at Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River. So Crawford sat there with Ayer, and we went to work.

After a while, in the normal course of things, Ayer called on Bill Botzer. Bill was a good student, but he was completely unprepared that morning. For some reason, however, perhaps because we had a distinguished visitor, he elected to recite anyway. In his beautiful voice he proceeded to tell us about the case at hand. He didn't stammer or stumble and he spoke smoothly in complete sentences. The only thing was it made no sense at all. Absolutely none! There never could have been a case anything like the one that Bill was explaining so solemnly. We, of course, didn't want to spoil the act, so we just sat there. Soon, however, Crawford caught on and started to laugh. That broke the ice, and the whole room was in a merry uproar for several minutes.

On many occasions I have heard people attempt to "wing it", and I have done it myself, but Botzer's combination of apparent assurance and smooth delivery while talking nothing but utter nonsense is still my favorite.

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