Your Old School Is Probably Irrelevant.

“Alma Mater:” In Latin, the term means “fostering mother.”

But in the United States, we use it as the term to refer to our beloved school, college or university that we attended.

I personally loved my alma mater, Vassar College, which was Yale’s sister school and went co-ed in 1969 (See? It’s not a “girls’ school”).

However, apparently some people take their alma mater waaay too seriously, in this true Tale from the Front, told with a little help from Will Ferrell.

My firm represents a large telephone advertising directory. In almost all cases, we proceed against defendants as corporate businesses, as well as individuals who sign clear personal obligation guarantees that create joint and several liability.

On one such routine case, we sued “Speaker City,” and it’s owner, Bernard Campbell. Bernard’s attorney, Mitch Martin, sought to dismiss our complaint on the basis that the matter was not properly plead, in that we failed to allege that the matter was a consumer credit transaction.

I explained to Mitch that the fact that we sued his client individually did not create some consumer transaction, when the basis of the claim was a business advertising in the directory.

It wasn’t Bernard who placed an ad, I explained. It was Speaker City, and not Bernard placing a personal ad. Mitch proceeded to argue with me by saying, “I went to Duke. I know the difference between a consumer and business transaction.”

I assured him that his alma mater didn’t bear any impact on the law. He begged to differ and stated that, in regard to his alma mater, that he would “make it known to the judge.”

Suffice to say, when the papers were filed with the court, Mitch’s papers were bereft of any references to his university. And, of course, with regard to whether or not the matter was characterized as a consumer or business debt, well, the court was firmly in my court.

A few weeks later, on a credit line case from a bank — where again there was a personal obligor, with a similar joint and several clause — the attorney on the other side tried to make a similar argument.

When I quickly dispelled her misconception, and she was converted to my way of thinking, she apologized. “I don’t always grasp the business side of these things,” she said. “I went to Bryn Mawr.”  I told her, “Don’t worry, I know an idiot who went to Duke.”

Timothy Wan is a partner in the firm Smith Carroad Levy & Wan in Commack, New York, and can be reached at twan@smithcarroad.com. Tim firmly believes there’s a Frank “The Tank” everywhere, but not at Vassar, since fraternities were outlawed.

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