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Education of a Negotiator

Wendeen will proceed down the path, independently.

Last December I decided to pursue a Masters of Legal Studies (MLS). Never heard of such a thing?  It was a new -fangled concept for me, last year, but once on my radar screen, I took it seriously, as part of my plan for an enforced renewal program, post accident.  Eight months after being hit by a taxi, I plunked down a $600 “commitment deposit” to Washington University Law School for the predominantly online MLS program with intermittent “immersion” credits available on campus, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

In the course of questioning the education of 50+ years of experience, my over-arching goal was to re-think negotiation and decision strategies–in which I purport to be an expert–through the lens of an adult student. I expected from such a program, an opportunity to acquire a boatload of new ideas for masterful negotiations and decisions– to optimize legal talent.

Drop-out changes the scene.

In my early twenties, I intended to make a big splash as a Ph.D. student, but I got sidetracked–frightened by financial pressures that come with three toddlers in tow. So, I disregarded my freshly minted BA degree with a combination of courses that put my major studies in philosophy and psychology as my intended brand and hunkered down instead at blackjack tables with a computer program, until I could win pretty consistently.

And, just in case I blew my growing wad of Hamiltons, I also took up residence as a cocktail waitress at the best cocktail lounge in town. Dreams of a graduate degree fell by the wayside, with my undefended thesis that predicted exponential growth of the legal profession, nothing more than 3X5 index cards en route to the trash can.
I did not complain and I did not explain my decision to concentrate on a business plan with only the sketchy further education of a blackjack counter, “hatchick,” figure and “stand-in” model with the paycheck and title of a bunny.

At twenty-four, I took the plunge with a pitch for funding of the first search firm exclusively for practicing lawyers. My preparation was a mix of chutzpah, moxie and deep breathing exercises to control worries of rejection with $1800 of cold cash savings to contribute to the venture. Failure was never an option!

I scored seed money, quickly. It was a lucky break, not a brilliant business plan that put me in the game.  I began my journey in business without a plan for growth but in search of a global footprint. My business grew organically–without my understanding of the term or the benefit of such a policy.  I am as shocked as I am grateful 50+ years later, that I still love my work and continue to learn — on multiple levels.  And I admit,  I have decided that I am not yet ready to enroll in any law school program–yet.

For years I  toyed with the idea of returning to school. Until this year, I had no defined purpose other than reversing inner misgivings about previously ditching graduate studies. But, following a freak accident, last May, I had to find my way back to optimism and the active pursuit of my core belief in rebirth and improved renewal–no matter the immediate challenges. Law school was on my mind, but after computing the full cost–some sixty thousand dollars for the masters in legal studies, I took stock and threw my settlement money into two grand vacations instead.

What a crash! 

On May 2, 2018, my life changed in an instant.  One minute I was dining in a beautiful restaurant with a client, and the next minute I was lying in the street, on Fifth Avenue, a stone’s throw from Trump Tower amid the squadron of terrorism police and Secret Service agents that descended upon me.  Following my luncheon, I had crossed the street uneventfully.  At the crosswalk, I hailed a cab. My hand attracted two drivers; apparently, they both saw me as drop-dead gorgeous!  This is my only explanation for what happened next.  The driver in the middle lane cut off the driver in the left lane, trying to reach me. The driver in the left lane protected his car by swerving into me.

Just before I dropped to the ground for a nap, it seems that I threw a  punch at the taxi medallion seal on the hood of the car.  My fractured hand and wrist along with the crushed bones in my leg, ankle, and foot brought scores of law enforcement officials to the scene, to rule out a vehicular terror attack while a team of fire department EMTs arrived promptly and got to work on me.  They fit me with back, neck, and head braces for the trip to New York Hospital-Cornell Weill’s Trauma Center. Neither shock nor pain disrupted my return to semi-consciousness and a flashback to earlier in the spring when I decided, on a lark, to apply for WASHU Law School ‘s MLS program.

My prospects for a full recovery looked pretty grim after the first emergent procedure.  I eyeballed the fat temporary dressing that extended down my leg, to the tip of my toes.  While the IV bottle was dripping an opioid into the veins to control the pain, I took up the position of a lookout– for any scrap of good news. Finally, I saw smiles all around me. The head, neck, and back braces that had constrained me for hours were about to come off. There were NO back, head or neck injuries. The chief surgeon then turned to a discussion of next steps, explaining that further surgeries would be needed, but that I was inoperable for the time being. We would have to tough it out together for a couple of weeks.

It pays to recognize good news.

There was plenty of reason to fret,  but my refusal to acknowledge the precarious uncertainty about next steps brought a moment of peace.  I thanked the trauma team, for their handy update, and thanked my lucky stars my brain remained intact. While waiting for further news, I pondered school days past and the possibilities of returning to school.  Once home from the hospital—with my leg, ankle, and foot successfully fused, my fingers, hands, and wrists repaired, and my shoulders and ribs on the road to recovery,  I made up my mind to push forward with plans to enroll in the  MLS program at WashU.  I soon bought the law book required for my first course, even though I knew I would have to defer my start date, probably for a year–until July 2019.

Master of my destiny!

On January 1, I celebrated the New Year with a graduation party–moving from a full-time wheelchair to a part-time walker.  Soon I began meeting clients, regularly at a  breakfast haunt, near my new corporate “headquarters”– an apartment that offered easy access to physical therapy at Hospital for Special Surgery. By spring, I was back to work, full time and I will soon vacation by before hunkering down at the World Series of Poker.  And I soon expect to be cooking up a storm in my kitchen for family and friends and meandering onto the dance floor with salsa, swing, or tango partners or at ping-pong tables with my college days spin from 10 feet back.  But I am opting to put off my further education in studies at WashU in favor of worldly travels that ensures the best is yet to come. And my dream of law school–for the fun of it, is still on my mind–as a future treat!