An alumnus and his previous professor met at a small Chinese restaurant on the University Boulevard Strip, nestled at their usual table, in the corner by the window and with their favorite server. Most of the lunch was spent catching up.
“We were having lunch at Surin and we hadn’t seen each other in a while,” said Betty Florey, the previous professor and mentor of Nathan Cordle, 25. “We were laughing and talking and he said, ‘I’ve already tried law for two years in Pensacola; I just decided I want to teach.’”
Florey told Cordle his best chance at teaching was creating a course for his alma mater: the Honors College at The University of Alabama.
“I decided that I wanted to take a couple of really neat trials that were unique to the South and discuss them in depth and look at them from a different light and figure out why they’re sensational,” he said.
Cordle’s course, “Sensational Trials,” focuses on cases like the Scottsboro boys’ trial and even that of Tom Robinson from To Kill a Mockingbird. Cordle doesn’t think the fictional nature of the trial makes it irrelevant.
“It was set in Alabama, and a lot of our thinking about the Civil Rights era and just the way we think about race relations in general in the courtroom stems from the trial in this novel,” he said.
His main goal of the class is to pique students’ interest in the law without intimidating them.
“Law school is its own beast, and I don’t want to scare any freshman or sophomores off that want to take the course,” he said.
Florey said she recognized Cordle’s enterprising attitude from day one of her UA Honors class, Behind the British Mask, his freshman year in 2008.
“I liked him immediately. Always prepared, very dry wit, always got the point,” Florey said. “He’s just a scholar … because he’s interested in so many different areas and he’s good at them.”
They were fast friends, and he took another class with her the next year and an independent study the year after that.
Cordle kept in touch with Florey even after he graduated, he said he confided in her often, which is why he went to her with his summer problem.
He explained that his summer was unusually slow compared to his typically industrious life, so he wanted to try adding this position to his repertoire, saying he always likes to be drowning in work.
“Honestly it’s who I am. That’s my make up. If I’m not stressed or overwhelmed then I’m not doing my job,” he said.
Like any other adjunct professor, Cordle’s inspiration comes from his life experience working in law. After receiving his law degree from The UA School of Law, he traveled around the country with the American Bar Association. Now he works in Tuscaloosa as a law clerk with his real estate job on the side, focusing on estate planning and probates.
His undergraduate freshman year, he worried about what to do with the business degree he was pursuing, especially if the whole “lawyer thing” didn’t work.
“I started looking into real estate when I was 19 as an intern at my RE//MAX office and I loved it so much,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to go to law school, but a lot of the time law school doesn’t work out, so I wanted to have a backup plan.”
Apparently he didn’t have to worry since he started his law clerk position in August 2015. He said he’s happy to be making money with his law degree, but he’s not ready to leave real estate.
“I’m not abandoning real estate; I love it too much,” he said. “I’m probably going to shift my focus so I don’t have to be lifting and selling and showing (houses). I can focus my daytime job on the law. Getting clients, actually doing the thing I went to school for.”
However even this change is not permanent for Cordle.
He said he wants to “fight the good fight” in Alabama, the place he feels he can do the most good and needs the most change. He said not many people are willing to work for little to get a big social payoff, but he wants to put in the work, perhaps even landing himself on Pennsylvania Avenue one day.
“I mean you make your own difference in different ways, and you gotta find that way that works for you,” Cordle said.