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A possibly forgotten secret of ‘success’

india Updated: Jun 08, 2013 23:14 IST
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Best of Luck and God Bless to the young people presently seeking admission to Indian universities including mine, the University of Delhi. As proof of faith I’d like to share a piece of writing that seems to have worked as an enabling worldview for people in several professions through both good and could-be-better times.

It’s by Justice Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) who was a professor at the Harvard Law School , a proponent of civil liberties and an associate judge of the American Supreme Court. His family had been rabbis for generations in Vienna and migrated to the USA when he was twelve. Come to live in New York’s Lower East Side, he played on the streets, learnt to win at chess and did not miss out on studying though addicted to ‘crap-shooting’ (a local game of dice). At college, he was the editor of the ‘Harvard Law Review’ and graduated with one of the best academic records in the history of Harvard University.

A twelve-year-old boy once wrote to Justice Felix Frankfurter asking for advice on how to prepare ahead to be a lawyer while still in junior high school. As many would know, the judge’s reply became iconic as a secret of success at work and in life, a secular mantra for personal, professional and social ‘sampoornata’ (completeness). Its point was that a degree cannot transcend the awareness of its user. Justice Felix Frankfurter’s ‘Advice to a Young Man Interested in Going into the Law’.

‘My dear Paul:
No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you, I would forget all about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to come to the study of the law as a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give.

No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in the easily available reproductions, and listening to great music.

Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget all about your future career.

With good wishes,
Sincerely yours,
Felix Frankfurter’

— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture