Lawyers in Motion Stay in Motion
Shulman credits his success, in part, to Michigan Law’s willingness to take a gamble on him. At age 16, he graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School, where 6,000 students attended. He was just 19 when Michigan Law accepted him, a risky move not just because of his age but because his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland was in physics, an uncommon preparation for a legal career.
In high school, Shulman struggled with physics because it made no sense to him. But after he mastered the subject, he came in first among a thousand students taking a physics exam.
A key turn in his law school experience came when he took Professor Arthur R. Miller for Civil Procedure.
“Some people came out of that first class terrified” by Miller’s famously demanding questions, which seemed to flow to those least prepared to answer, Shulman recalls. “I knew I would do just fine if I was thoroughly prepared, and being too young to drink, I spent Friday and Saturday nights in the Law Library studying.”
Shulman wanted to be an environmental lawyer. He spent a semester of law school in Washington, D.C., where he expected to work on pollution issues. Instead, he was assigned to handle FCC issues at the Center for Law & Social Policy because he was the only law student who knew physics—a possibly valuable asset in radio and television broadcast cases.
While Shulman mastered the art of preparing for class, he says he had no clue about how grades and connections got one onto the Michigan Law Review, which could open doors to the best-paying jobs. But looking back, Shulman says he’s glad he sought jobs he wanted, not the biggest paycheck.
“Take a job based on what is emotionally and intellectually satisfying, not what pays the most, and you will have a much happier life,” he says. “You don’t have to live in one place; you don’t have to do one thing if you practice law.
“Never feel intimidated, and remember that lots of hard work makes up for inexperience,” he adds. “And when you know enough that you can take responsibility for the growth of younger people, empower them to grow and to be both fearless and passionate.”
Shulman took his own advice while still a young lawyer himself.
Howard Weiss, a law student at The George Washington University when he joined Shulman’s litigation team, recalls working for him as a great learning adventure, although it distressed his girlfriend at the time. Weiss did legal research on how to frame the WJIM license challenge and push back against efforts to limit discovery.
“Harvey’s a good man and brilliant lawyer,” Weiss says. “He was hard to please because he has a steel-trap brain and he never forgets anything. My girlfriend said I was out of my mind because I was working so hard and making maybe $3.50 an hour when a law firm would pay me $8. I told her I thought we were doing the Lord’s work.”
Jim Backstrom, a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who later became a Justice Department senior lawyer, says, “I would have been happy just to carry Harvey’s bags for him.” When he arrived in Lansing, he expected their little band of lawyers to be sent packing quickly.
“We were taking on Leo Farhat, a locally famous lawyer, and Arent Fox, a big D.C. firm with former FCC people, and I knew right off Harvey had no litigation experience,” Backstrom recalls. “I figured we would get hometowned. But the raw intelligence of this brainiac and his determination kept it all afloat. His energy level was mind-boggling. His commitment to the ideals we were fighting for was fantastic.”
The one thing the team did not like was Shulman taking the wheel of his yellow Dodge Dart as they drove all over the Midwest, cajoling former employees who had gone on to other stations into giving affidavits. Finding Shulman’s driving not so smart, they made sure Karen Tomb—the team’s hardworking paralegal whose own path to law school was inspired by the case—was more often behind the wheel.