Of Two Veterans and the Value of a Legal Education

By Colleen Murphy in Honor of Veteran’s Day, November 10, 2020

“You should go to law school. With a legal education, you can go on and do whatever you want.” These words were frequently said to friends and even strangers by my late father, James

W. Murphy, a veteran and a law professor.

As an Army infantry officer in WWII, my father led a rifle platoon along the French/German border. After the cessation of hostilities, he was assigned for two more years in Europe to serve as a war crimes liaison officer, investigator, and prosecutor (likely because he had earned an undergraduate law degree before the war.) He was involved in the many U.S. trials of war criminals at the Dachau concentration camp. Upon return to the United States, he eventually became a law professor and rose to the rank of Colonel in the Army Reserves.

My father often said to me, “Everything I am, I owe to the Army.” He was also the biggest believer in the value of a legal education that I have ever met. For my father, it wasn’t enough that I was a young lawyer and my brother was in law school. He wanted my mother to go to law school too. My mother, who really wished she could have gone to seminary, replied, “No, I’m not going to law school. Someone has to pray for all the lawyers in this family.”

Many years later, it was time for my father to go home from the hospital to die. An ambulance was arranged to transport him. My mother sat beside the driver, thinking about the sadness that was ahead. But then she heard a sprightly voice from the back saying to the medical attendant, “You should go to law school. With a legal education, you can go on and do whatever you want.”

After my father died, my mother met and then married another veteran, Steve Golnik. My stepfather completed 30 years of active duty in the Army. He would often say to my mother, “Jim would have liked me,” and my mother, in a running joke, would reply, “Yes he would, but only if you went to law school.”

On October 16, 2020, my stepfather, having been very impressed with how a journalist had questioned a presidential candidate the night before, sent me her Wikipedia entry that mentioned that she had earned a law degree. My stepfather texted me that the journalist “is a classic example of what your Dad always said about everyone going to law school. It makes her a better interviewer.” Those were his last words to me; he died unexpectedly that night.

These two veterans, I am certain, would applaud you for pursuing a legal education—especially in these very hard times. As another veteran, the author C.S. Lewis, said during a time of war, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable.” I admire you for continuing your law school education when the conditions are less than favorable, and I wish you all the best as you finish your degree and then go on and do whatever you want.

About the Author: Colleen Murphy is a Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island.