Many years ago, during my first quarter of law school in Waco, Texas, the legal writing professor warned the students that a legal education would forever transform the way we think. We were, of course, skeptical. But as the weeks and months passed, we realized that he was correct. Previously innocuous advertising and billboards prompted warranty analysis. Coupons and advertisements in the newspaper – yes, there were newspapers, then – became subject to contractual analysis. Suddenly, our relationships with our landlords became much more formal, as we, the new law students, actually read the provisions of our leases and discussed them in detail with leasing office employees when problems arose. Armed with just a little knowledge, we were likely annoying.
As most of you lawyer readers know, this reshuffling of the mind continues throughout the rest of our lives. Once one matriculates through law school, you view everything with lawyers’ eyes.
Recently, I was traveling western North Carolina, and I found myself at the registration desk of my hotel. The attendant assigned me a room; it was room 403. Lawyer that I am, I couldn’t help but conjure up the rules of evidence in my mind. Federal Rule of Evidence 403, of course, is the federal rule of evidence governing the admissibility of relevant, though unfairly prejudicial, evidence. You’ll recall that one proper objection, when invoking Rule 403, is that any probative value of the proffered evidence is outweighed by the potential for unfair prejudice.
Now, as I recite that rule, I remember the refrain of my evidence professor, who noted that it was always “unfair” prejudice that the rule excludes because any evidence that one seeks to introduce against one’s opponent is always, by its very nature, prejudicial. It’s only unfair prejudice that the rule is barred against.
And so, whereas a carefree non-lawyer might have simply trekked to his room and began to enjoy his day off, I immersed myself in the rules.