Chapter 59: I Begin at Stetson


September 25, 1902
Stetson University
DeLand, Florida

Flagler Science Hall. This was the location of the original Stetson University Law School

I stood outside Science Hall at 7:30 am Thursday morning, September 25; it was a clear day, a cool morning, but I was sweating and nervous. I hadn’t had anything to drink since I arrived on campus day before yesterday; I’ve been too busy getting settled into the dorm, and, getting ready for the entrance examinations. I had to pass them, absolutely. If I failed, I’d have to go back to Marianna and work with Cephas, save up again, prepare again…and I really didn’t think I’d have it in me to do it all over again. I took my handkerchief out of my coat pocket and wiped my brow, and my mouth.

Paul H. Carter, from the 1899-1900 WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archives.

I heard footsteps behind me. I turned; it was Paul.

You ready? He said.

I guess so.

We both entered Science Hall together, and headed to the examination room. Paul and I had prepared each other, quizzing each other on what would be on the exam for over a week. Even though Paul was already a barred attorney in Florida, he’d still have to take the entrance exam, like anyone else who wanted to earn their law degree at Stetson.

Between working for Cephas all summer, and being quizzed by Paul, I felt well prepared, but I felt the pressure, too, to succeed, and I was stressed.

Being around Cephas this summer was probably the best thing that could have happened, to prepare me for law school; I didn’t want to admit that at first. While I learned a lot working for Judge Jones, Cephas was the tougher mentor. Cephas wasn’t also as diplomatic in his criticisms of my work; he demanded perfection out of me at all times in his legal work, and when I’d complain, Ceph would tell me that I probably wasn’t fit for the bench anyway, and if I thought the law was some soft or cushy job, maybe it would be better if I went back to the telegraph office, or just planned on clerking the rest of my life, because I’d never make it as a lawyer.

Cephas had me doing research on cases, drafting documents, running errands to court and to other offices, composing letters. Occasionally, Ceph would let me accompany him to court, where I would listen to him argue cases in such a manner that often made me feel proud, embarrassed, and afraid all at the same time. Cephas was an eloquent speaker, a gifted debater, and always thoroughly prepared. Ceph’s presence in the courtroom was something you could not overlook: He was tall, broad, distinguished, polished, commanding. He looked — and was — a force to be reckoned with, and he was absolutely respected, even by fellow attorneys who plainly did not like him. I was often amazed at the audacity Ceph had in representing his clients: He was always of the mind that he was going to win, period, and so, Cephas would not stop at anything in the service of his clients, or his own self-interest. This meant, occasionally, that he would resort to what I considered low blows — essentially, ad hominem attacks — things which may not have been completely substantiated, but Ceph knew how to weave those things into his arguments in the courtroom.

Cephas Love Wilson, 1906. Source:

He’d then get called out on it by the judge, who would then admonish the jury to disregard Cephas’ words. Ceph knew that even if a judge and the opposing counsel deemed his comment immaterial, and the jury was instructed to ignore or disallow what was said, that he had planted the seed of doubt in certain jurors’ minds about his opponents, and their characters, which is what often made the difference in the outcome of his cases.

As Paul and I walked down the hall towards the examination rooms — as a lawyer, he would take his exam in a different room than I — he said, “Remember, the law is a whore. Don’t forget to put that on your test.”

I laughed out loud. You sound like Cephas, I said, as we parted ways.

Yeah, well, he ought to know, Paul retorted with a chuckle. See you outside when you’re done.

As I took my seat in the classroom, and waited for the proctor to distribute the test, I remembered Cephas saying the same thing. “You have to take what you need and get what you can out of the law for your clients. Then, move on, and not think about. You can’t get caught up in clients’ personal lives. It’s all about business, it’s all law, plain and simple. None of it is ever personal. You get into trouble, you lose, when you let it get personal.”

The proctor called the room to attention, and started explaining the administration of the exam.

I realized this summer that Cephas may not always use the most ethical means to win his cases; and in fact, he did get personal with some of his clients and their business, all behind the back of Lula. I never said anything to her or anyone else; I knew better. I didn’t like everything he did to win; but he was right — it was about winning. He had the reputation of a winner. That meant he was prominent, wealthy, respected — a force to be reckoned with. I wanted what he had, too. I said as much to Cephas, too.

Cephas replied, “You need to toughen up, first, and sometimes, put your high sense of moral ethics and integrity in the background, else you will be held back. And you need to be the absolute best at everything you do in this profession.”

“All right students,” the proctor said. He looked at his pocket watch. “Open your test booklets, and begin.”


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