Judge Griffith: “No member of my court would feel comfortable with the description of the D.C. Circuit as the second most important court in the land. None of us has any idea what that means. But our parents like to say that about us.”

Judge Thomas B. Griffith spoke last Thursday as part of a career lecture series at Brigham Young University, his alma mater. Before and after his career advice, Judge Griffith offered these words about his job on the D.C. Circuit and his path to the law:

About the court:

No member of my court would feel comfortable with the descriptions that the media often uses of the D.C. Circuit. Sometimes in the media it’s referred to as the second most important court in the land. I have no idea what that means. None of us has any idea what that means. But our parents like to say that about us.

About the work of an appellate judge:

[I]f you like reading and if you like writing you’ll love it, because that’s what we spend most of out time doing. . . . If you are an extrovert and enjoy interaction with a lot of different people , you ‘ll be sadly disappointed. I happen to be an extrovert, and so therefore I except invitations to come out and meet people and speak. I enjoy this a great deal. But most of my time is spent by myself reading and writing.

About writing opinions:

I’ve heard Justice Scalia say he typically has five drafts of the opinions that he writes. Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit–the rumor is that he goes through about sixty drafts of opinions. I’m somewhere in between, but I’m a lot closer to Justice Scalia.

About choosing the law:

The job I really wanted growing up–I really wanted to be a minister. I was an Episcopalian. Man, if we [the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] had a paid ministry that’s where I’d be. That’s my first choice. But–dagone it–there really were gold plates, so that sort of limited my options that way. This is clearly a second choice way below that. But for somebody who’s majored in humanities and comparative literature there weren’t too many options.

About quitting law school (He went back):

I’ll tell you why I quit: Because I was really terrified. My classmates just intimidated me to death. I went to BYU and I did really, really well here. I had great grades, I was valedictorian of my college, and I had a lot of self confidence.  I went to the University of Virginia law school, and I felt completely overwhelmed by my classmates, most of whom had gone to Ivy League schools and had done well there. And I just thought, “ah, I just, I can’t . . .” Truth be known, I just–I chickened out.

The BYU student newspaper reports on Judge Griffith’s advice to the current students of his alma mater:

1. Be nice to people. “You never know who the people you deal with now are going to be,” Griffith said.

2. Pay attention to detail. “The good things have all come when I took my time and did the hard work to get the right answer.”

3. Learn to write, think and speak clearly. “Bad news . . . it takes time. Get better at it.”

4. Build the Kingdom. “See if you can find, in your motivation for your work, the Atonement of Christ.”

Judge Griffith graduated from BYU in 1978. He was Assistant to the President and General Counsel of BYU from 2000 until his appointment to the D.C. Circuit.  He is an adjunct faculty member at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School where he teaches a course on Presidential Power.

Video of Judge Griffith’s talk is available here from the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.

(Hat Tip: Mitch Staley, Federal Judge Thomas B. Griffith imparts wisdom at David M. Kennedy Center (Oct. 7, 2011))

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