The snap of the metallic latch of the classroom door alerted at once the law students in rustling attendance that the professor had entered. He had arrived fashionably late and his rumpled appearance was of the kind known as disheveled. Though it was not raining, his gray hair was matted down on one side, and on the other the strands were stretching upwards, waving as he moved, as if they wanted the attention of a nearby Jumbotron. He was in a full suit, slightly ruffled, which he proceeded to undress. He took off his jacket, revealing pitched-soaked underarms, one slightly smaller than the other, undid his speckled red bow-tie along with the top two buttons of his dress shirt, and rolled up both sleeves above the elbow, ready to teach or hoe beans. It was the very image of thinking like a lawyer.
He took a marker, and wrote the word, L-A-W-L-E-S-S, in letters the full height of the board, then stood on a chair and said, “My name is Lawless.”
Prof. Lawless descended.
“Is Ms. Darling here?”
“Mister Darling,” corrected a voice.
“Ah, Mr. Darling.” Prof. Lawless repeated, making a note on his role. “Sorry about that. When I saw your first name was ‘Dana,’ the magic eight-ball in my head indicated that all signs pointed to ‘Miss,’ and miss I did.”
“It’s okay,” absolved Mr. Darling, who was not okay at realizing that this was not role call.
“Mr. Darling,” began Prof. Lawless, pacing about the room, admiring the walls of the classroom absentmindedly, “Is this a breach of contract case?”
Mr. Darling sifted through his casebook for this answer, but his teacher moved on.
“What do we need for a breach of contract, Mr. Darling?”
Mr. Darling reddened a little before offering, “A contract?”
“And?” asked Prof. Lawless, now looking at Mr. Darling squarely in the face.
“A breach?” responded Mr. Darling.
“And what was the breach here?” asked Prof. Lawless.
Visibly nervous, Mr. Darling answered, “Well, the plaintiff slash buyer–”
“Plaintiff Slash?” interrupted Prof. Lawless, resuming his pacing about the room. Mr. Darling didn’t know whether to continue or explain himself, so he laughed nervously. “Slash,” thought Prof. Lawless out loud, “doesn’t he play the guitar? I’m sorry, go ahead.”
Mr. Darling resumed discussing the facts of the case, somewhat unsettled.
“And did the fact that the defendant was drunk prevent the formation of a contract?” asked Prof. Lawless. Mr. Darling indicated that it did not. “What about the fact that the sale agreement was written on the back of a restaurant check? Would it have mattered if it was written on the back of a cocktail napkin?”
Mr. Darling said that it would not.
“Why, Darling?” addressed Prof. Lawless.
“Because,” said Mr. Darling, “an objective observer would have concluded that a real agreement had been made.”
“And why wouldn’t an objective observer conclude that it was ‘just a bunch of two doggoned drunks bluffing to see who could talk the biggest and say the most’?” replied Prof. Lawless. “Are most sales of land concluded on the backs of restaurant checks?” he continued.
“The events that surrounded this particular sale would have made it reasonable,” Mr. Darling said.
“Mr. Darling,” wound up Prof. Lawless, “Are you familiar with the phrase, ‘have your cake and eat it, too’?” Mr. Darling nodded. “I’ve always been curious why that is the best phrase we can come up with to describe that sort of thing. Have you felt the same way? No matter. If you asked me if you could take the Jag out for a spin and go clubbing, and I told you that you could have your cake and eat it, too, would you grab a fork and plate?”
Mr. Darling shook his head.
“Not unless you were Amelia Bedelia,” continued Prof. Lawless. “So if the alleged seller in this case winked, tapped his nose, crossed his fingers behind his back, told everyone within earshot that he was playing a terrific joke on the buyer by pretending to sell his land, and signed the back of the restaurant check, adding the word ‘syke!’ to his signature, would the case have come out the same way?”
Mr. Darling struggled to come up with an intelligible answer, during which time Prof. Lawless inexplicably opened the door to the classroom, looked down the outside hallway, and seemed to gauge the sturdiness of the door. Returning to the front of the classroom, Prof. Lawless changed the subject. “What type of damages should be awarded in this case?”
“I...don’t believe our casebook has that part of the case...”
“That’s correct, but, Mr. Darling, what damages should be awarded?” emphasized Prof. Lawless.
“I think the contract should be enforced,” Mr. Darling finally said.
“It seemed like the seller was getting a good deal,” was the reply.
Prof. Lawless went on. “So the court plays The Price Is Right with the family farm? Why should the court get to decide for the seller what is a good price and then say, ‘you have to sell’? Why does the court decide specific performance is appropriate in this case?” Prof. Lawless asked a random student on the edge of the row, requesting an answer with open arms.
“Uhhh...” was the reply.
“How about you?” he quickly pointed to another student.
“Because the seller mentioned on a previous occasion that $50,000 was a good price?” she said.
“Fantastic!!!” boomed Prof. Lawless without warning, clearing the stillness of room and causing several students to gasp audibly. He returned to Mr. Darling.
“Now Darling, before we adjourn, if you were the defendant’s lawyer, how might you have advised him?”
Mr. Darling thought for a moment, then suggested, “Take the buyer to see the movie Signs and see if he still wants the farm.”