Friday, February 16, 2007

It's All about the Lincolns

(Warning: Wildly random meanderings follow.)

Well, really just the one. I went to the Lincoln Memorial Banquet last night, which is the Peoria County Bar Association's yearly big formal dinner thing where they make speeches and give out community service awards and whatnot. I'm always a tag-along at these events with Hinshaw & Culbertson, my husband's firm, so if you happen upon a bar event, that's the table you'll find me at. I particularly appreciate this because Hinshaw lawyers are a HOOT. Some lawyers are really dull to hang out with, but Hinshaw is great fun.

The Lincoln Dinner is always billed as "business attire or black tie," which sends me into a tizzy every year. I absolutely HATE that kind of dress code -- if I'm the only woman who shows up in a gown, I look like I got lost on the way to the prom. If I'm the only woman who shows up in a suit, I look drastically underdressed. (Eyebrows has a holy horror of being underdressed.) So every year I dither about it for two or three days and subject my husband to whining, and every year I pick gown because half the women always show up in gowns and I'd rather be overdressed anyway.

I never wear black gowns or cocktail dresses (almost never -- I have a totally cute black silk summer cocktail dress) because I had an extremely traumatic clothing experience in college. Notre Dame hosts an event called Junior Parents' Weekend, where, as you might guess, the parents of the entire junior class are invited to campus for a long weekend, on the theory that parents usually come for Freshman Orientation and Graduation, but they don't get invited during the time you're active in the school. So lots of department events to meet the profs, that kind of thing, and then it culminates in a big formal dinner.

I threw on my handy little black dress (LBD) for the big formal dinner, and when I got there, there were literally TWELVE HUNDRED other 20-year-old women in basically the same little black dress. I found this terrifically traumatic, not because I object to wearing the same thing as someone else, but I do kind of object to wearing the same thing as 1,200 other people (not to mention all the moms who also wore the LBD). I think it was that it was almost a dronish uniform that bothered me, and lots of my dorm-mates were actually AFRAID to wear colors for dressy. It was just so ... Clone Wars. I vowed never to wear black formalwear again.

Anyway, the point of this diversion into clothing trauma is that I wore purple last night.

Music was provided by the Heritage Ensemble, which is always spectacular, and the keynote speaker was Lisa Madigan, who is TINY in person. Something I geek out on a little bit is how people deliver speeches, because we had exhaustive training in preaching class in Div school, and most people do a horrible job because they either don't prepare or don't know how to speak in public. Madigan was a good public speaker; she must either have a natural gift for it or have done some rhetoric in high school or college. (I must confess I didn't really listen that closely to the content of the speech once it stopped being about Lincoln.) I swear, I go to a lot of these events, and all I want to do is put a call in to the Dominicans at Aquinas in St. Louis and have them come give a seminar for lawyers to teach them how to talk in public. (The Dominicans are a preaching order, people. They PWN public speaking.)

So the thing about Lincoln is that he hovers over everything we do. If there was a patron saint of lawyers in the U.S., Lincoln would be it. When people bitch about the evils of lawyers and say, "NAME ONE GOOD LAWYER!" the answer is always "Lincoln." (Although Clarence Darrow was an Illinois lawyer as well. He gets such short shrift just because he has the misfortune of being from the same state as Lincoln. Just once I'd like to see someone have a Clarence Darrow Dinner. Darrow's most famous opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was born here too, and practiced here for part of his career. Illinois has a talent for lawyers.)

Peoria is a much nicer place to practice law than other places we've been. Part of that is because it's a smaller city -- bigger markets like NYC and Chicago are always more cutthroat and nasty, partly because you typically don't see your opponent every week when at your kids' T-ball games. But the presence of Lincoln is so TANGIBLE here. Historic courthouses -- like Metamora's -- survive partly because Lincoln argued there. He's all over the place in statuary, portraiture, and little historical displays about "what famous thing Lincoln said in our county" at courthouses. (Lincoln, it must be pointed out, could be something of a smart-ass, so many of these famous saying are funny. Or at least lawyer funny.) When I first moved down here, I felt like I was absolutely drowning in Lincolniana, at least as far as the lawyering goes. It makes me wonder if the lingering presence of Lincoln makes Central Illinois lawyers a more thoughtful group about the power of what they do, more professional. Or maybe I just have a Lincoln hangover this morning so I'm feeling abnormally elevated in spirit about lawyers.

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