I met Lawrence 17 years ago. It was the first week of his first year at Harvard Law School. He came to a social event sponsored by a journal I edited. You couldn’t miss him — and not just because he was a head taller than everyone else. Think Legally Blonde, except this movie is about an earnest, salt-of-the-earth Montanan who comes to Harvard to mix with the boarding-school crowd. I could relate. Only two years earlier I’d come to Harvard Law after graduating from a small Christian college in the Midwest. I remember thinking, “This guy is going to get eaten alive.” I resolved to take him under my wing. I showed him how I took notes and studied for exams.
Turns out he didn’t need much help. He came to show me his grades after the first semester. I’d never had a friend do so well. I graduated, and he went on to make Law Review. He remained the same humble, affable, salt-of-the-earth Lawrence.
We stayed in touch, and I recruited him to come work at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the Washington, D.C., law firm I had joined. It was raining the day he came to interview. He wore a bright-yellow rain jacket. Instead of hanging it in a closet, he balled it up and held it on his lap as he went from office to office. I guess he didn’t want to burden anyone. That’s Lawrence.
He graduated magna cum laude and joined me at the firm. He still had the same earnest, cheerful, almost-overly-friendly, eager demeanor he had the first day I met him. Harvard hadn’t changed him a bit. Strike that. Harvard had changed him in one respect: The gentle giant from Montana was now laser-focused on appellate litigation and valued well-written legal briefs the way others value fine art.
He’s one the most thoughtful and caring friends I know. Lawrence and his wife were raising three children when we worked together in D.C. Meanwhile, my wife and I struggled with infertility. He walked with me during that lonely and difficult time.
He moved to Texas, then to Montana for what he thought was his dream job, then to Nevada. I moved to Charlotte, became a partner at King & Spalding, and ended up with three beautiful girls. Earlier this year, when I wanted advice about whether to leave the law firm to become a law professor, he was the first one I called. He dropped everything and met me for lunch.
Not long after that, Lawrence was nominated to the Ninth Circuit. A woman from the ABA called to ask about his temperament and qualifications. The conversation was short — five minutes or so. At the time, I assumed the interview was so short because there was no real question about Lawrence’s character and fitness.
I hope I haven’t embarrassed my friend by sharing these memories. Without them, I’m not sure it’d be possible to convey just how flabbergasted I was when I read the ABA’s upside-down evaluation. Arrogant? If anything, he’s humble to a fault. Entitlement mentality and lazy? Far from it. He and his family have sacrificed greatly to help that earnest kid from Montana become the solicitor general of two states.
What’s behind the ABA’s evaluation? I suspect some are troubled by his deeply held Christian faith. To them I say this: The Bible teaches that Christians should live out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s how the Lawrence VanDyke that I know treats all people.