I learned about a month ago that my high school law teacher, Walter Lubelczyk, passed away at the young age of 66 after a courageous battle with a stroke. Mr. Lubelczyk taught high school constitutional law to thousands of students in Manchester, New Hampshire over the course of his 37-year career at Manchester High School West. I spent 20 years of my life in school. Mr. Lubelczyk was by far my favorite teacher. He was the Mr. Holland of West High School.
I know he was also many of my classmates and contemporaries’ favorite teacher, including Seth Meyers, who spent five minutes on his Late Night show remembering Mr. Lubelczyk. As Seth noted, a great deal of Mr. Lubelczyk’s students, including myself, went on to become attorneys. Mr. Lubelczyk instilled in me a love of the law and, after I finished his class, I knew I would become an attorney. There’s an old saying that, if you love what you do for a job, you’ll never work another day in your life. And, in large part because of Mr. Lubelczyk, I can honestly say that I’ve never worked a day in my life.
Mr. Lubelczyk taught a “case based” law class where students learned the law by actually trying cases each week. About two days each week, the class conducted trials where teams tried cases against each other. So, for example, we’d try the flag burning case (Texas v. Johnson), where one team would represent Texas and the other Johnson (the flag burner). One member of each team gave an opening argument, others acted as witnesses (the flag burner and the police officer who arrested him), and there’d be direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments. A student acted as a judge and ruled in favor of one side or the other, and articulated the judge’s reasoning. And then, inevitably, the losing side would shout “jury nullification” which sent the final decision to all of the students in the class who voted for a side by a show of hands, with the most-hands side declared the winner. Mr. Lubelczyk, sitting on a table at the side of the classroom (he gave up his comfortable desk chair for the student judge) acted as the “super judge” and all around master of ceremonies by, e.g., ruling on objections, making sure cases moved along in a timely manner, and otherwise providing guidance and wisdom. The next day, Mr. Lubelczyk told the class how the Supreme Court actually decided the case. He taught the class with humor, dignity, and a sense of seriousness and high purpose. And that’s how we all learned the law.
I’ve never been in a class, in high school, college, or law school, where the students were so passionate about the class, their roles, and learning the subject matter. It was truly magical. Our respect for Mr. Lubelczyk was so great that there was not one word uttered throughout the year by anyone in the class about anything other than the law. There was no gossip, no talking about other classes or other things, etc.—when we stepped into his class, everyone focused solely on the law. I’ve never seen anything like it and it is a true testament to his passion and the respect given to him by his students.
For many of us, Mr. Lubelcyzk’s class was synonymous with senior year in high school. He somehow managed to make every student, not matter how interested (or uninterested) in law at the beginning of the year, become passionate about the law by year’s end. And on those days where a particular team had a member absent, Mr. Lubelczyk would “pinch hit” for that team by becoming a member of the team—I cannot remember him ever stepping into a case and losing. I’ve dealt with a lot of attorneys over the last fifteen years—Mr. Lubelcyzk, although not formally an attorney, was better than 99% of the ones I’ve come across, myself included.
Back in 1996-1997, I learned more about the practice of law—the actual practice of law, including giving opening and closing statements, performing direct and cross examinations, and working as a member of a team to put on a case—in Mr. Lubelczyk’s class than at my two law schools and at some of the leading law firms in the United States combined. Ask me to choose between a random senior in Mr. Lubelczyk’s law class and a random attorney licensed to practice law in the United States to try an actual case, and I’d pick Mr. Lubelczyk’s student every time.
Mr. Lubelczyk was universally loved by his students, including by myself, and I’m sad for his family, his loved ones, and his students that he is no longer with us on this Earth. I can only hope that he is smiling down upon us from above, and that’s he’s proud of us and what we’ve become.