THE STORY OF Elizabeth Warren’s career in education— at least in legal education— begins with one word: assumpsit. It is literally the first word of the first case she had to read for the first class she ever took as a 24-year-old law student at Rutgers University in 1973. She has recalled, in vivid detail, the fear and confusion she’d felt as a young mother, former public-school teacher, and unlikely law student when her first law professor walked into the room and called on a student whose name began with A, asking her, “Ms. Aaronson, what is ‘assumpsit’?” Ms. Aaronson had not known, and neither had the next several students he called on after her. Ms. Warren also had not known what assumpsit meant, despite having done the reading for the day. Since her last name was at the end of the alphabet, Warren was spared public humiliation, but she left her first law-school class badly shaken, with a degree of clarity about how she must move forward: “Read all the words and look up what you don’t know.”
In the following years, Warren became a law-school professor: first teaching night classes at Rutgers and eventually landing at Harvard, where she worked for 16 years before becoming a U.S. senator from Massachusetts in 2013.
In 1999, more than 20 years after Warren attended her first law class at Rutgers, Jay O’Keeffe, who now works as a consumer-protection lawyer in Roanoke, V