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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

One step enough for me

In this space, I have, in the past, invoked St. John Henry Newman’s hymn “Lead, Kindly Light.” But “remember not my past, but lead me still,” as Newman would say, since as my time at Notre Dame Law School draws to a close, the words “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me” ring out once again, calling me as they always have to trust in the divine providence of our Heavenly Father. And how providential he has been these last three years!

God’s providence was clearly at work when heinspired Fr. Jenkins to keep Notre Dame in-person for the fall of 2020, in spite of immense public pressure to the contrary. Being in person, with all that entailed at the peak of a global pandemic, meant that I was blessed with three full years of law school, rendering me able to more vividly learn the doctrinal underpinnings of torts, contracts and criminal law from esteemed professors at the top of their fields while interacting with colleagues and making new friends. 

The summer of 2021, I was blessed to begin working as a research assistant to Professor Paolo Carozza, another one step enough for me. I had had Prof. Carozza for his international human rights-focused jurisprudence course as my 1L elective, and I was beyond intrigued by his work at the Venice Commission. I was honored to help him suggest amendments to two Venice Commission opinions, including an opinionwhich made recommendations on Russia’s “foreign agent” law, many of which were adopted and incorporated into the advisory opinions that the Venice Commission ended up issuing in those cases. In my spare time that summer, I converted the outline I had developed for 1L Civil Procedure into a full-fledged piece called “Excerpts from the Model Rules of Dating Procedure,” which, though satirical in substance and in form, got the attention of scholars at other law schools — I distinctly recall Fr. Bill Dailey informing me I had become “Twitter famous!" Just last week, some classmates of mine informed me that the piece continues being used as an example of law being “found” rather than “made” in Prof. Christian Burset’s History of the Common Law course, and I surely hope that, when folks stumble upon this piece in the distant future, it may give them a chuckle or two.

I found other writing outlets, of course — my paper on legislative time stoppage (which saw me email dozens of state research librarians who responded in kind with gems of information beyond all telling) and my paper on equitable contempt (which saw me fly all the way to Montana to nail down a missing property record, only to find that it never existed and that was the whole point) come to mind. But my civil procedure dating manual remains my most read piece of scholarly work, and that’s not all: It gave me an anecdote, yet another one step enough for me, as I interviewed to work for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in the summer of 2022. The CPSC is somewhat notorious for having social media with a distinctly zany brand of infotainment, so when the Fund for American Studies informed me that one of its commissioners was a friend of their fellowship, I knew it would be a perfect fit, and when the CPSC’s unique culture came up in the interview, my dating manual came perfectly in handy to signal to my colleagues at the Commission that I was indeed their kind of odd.

My last, most recent “one step enough for me,” though, is quite the full circle. After graduation, I’ll be clerking for the U.S. Court of International Trade (an interest spurred by my time at CPSC), in the chambers of Judge M. Miller Baker. That one step enough came as I was recommended to Judge Baker by Ed Whelan, for whom I have been serving as a research assistant since last June. That one step enough itself came as I was recommended to work for Ed Whelan by Professor Richard W. Garnett. “Lord” Garnett, as we affectionately refer to him to distinguish him from the likewise-distinguished “Lady” or “Baroness” Garnett, was my 1L Criminal Law professor (I later had him for a seminar on criminal sentencing), but he was so much more than that. Lord Garnett was the first professor at Notre Dame to write to me, writing before I had even committed to coming here. The advice he gave throughout the process helped me take the “one step enough for me” that led me to Notre Dame in the first place, a step facilitated by the fact that it was Lord Garnett (among others, of course) who had read my application to come to Notre Dame in the first place, the application where I had said, in the first place, that while I was unsure of the “distant scene” of my legal career, I knew Notre Dame Law was the “one step enough for me.”

So now, as I prepare to graduate, clerking for Judge Baker has become the next “one step enough for me.” However, that does not mean the sun has completely set on my time at Notre Dame. Things will be different, for sure, as I transition into working full time, but I’ll be staying in the South Bend area. I’m blessed to have been asked by Dr. Andrew J. McShane to continue my involvement with the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir through the next school year, and the Notre Dame Quiz Bowl team has seen fit to name me its coach (I believe my unofficial title is “Coaches Don’t Play, Esq.”) for next year too. Thus, while I’ll be bidding farewell to my classes, my journal and, yes, my biweekly column space here in the Observer, it won’t be too big a leap: One step’s enough for me.

Devin Humphreys is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. When he isn’t serving as the sacristan at the Law School Chapel, singing with the Liturgical Choir or Chorale or competing at a quiz bowl tournament, he’s sharing his thoughts on the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. For advice on law school, hot takes on Mass music and free scholarly publication ideas, reach out to Devin at or @DevinJHumphreys on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.