Book of Rejection Letters Includes One from Princeton ‘Law School’

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Updated: Harvey Wax can’t attribute his inspiration to lawyer Lionel Hutz, the Simpsons character who by some accounts claimed to have a law degree from Princeton Law School.

It was 1957, and Wax was writing to Ivy League colleges for law school applications. One school turned him down. “In reply to your recent letter, I regret that we must inform you that Princeton University has no law school,” the letter read.

Wax’s letter is featured in a new book by Bill Shapiro called Other People’s Rejection Letters, CNN reports. The book includes an Andy Warhol rejection by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and an early rejection letter left on the author’s camp bunk bed. The disappointing missive read: “Billy, I like Jason.”

But Shapiro told CNN his favorite rejection letter was Wax’s. “I love that because the guy who applied to Princeton’s ‘law school’ just didn’t know,” he said. “He ended up getting into Harvard and graduating from there. He ended up being extremely successful. In the end, there was life after rejection.”

Wax can attest to that. He currently is a lawyer with the Michigan law firm Zausmer, Kaufman, August, Caldwell & Tayler where he practices employment and discrimination law. He recently attended his 50th reunion at Harvard Law School.

In a telephone interview with the ABA Journal from Madrid, where he is vacationing with his wife, Wax said the letter became “family lore.” At the time, he said, “I thought it was fun, maybe a little embarrassing.” He lost track of the letter for 20 or 25 years until his daughter discovered it in a box of photographs and other family keepsakes. His daughter is a friend of Shapiro’s, and Wax allowed him to use it in his book.

His letter has now gotten publicity on CNN, National Public Radio and the Huffington Post. “This was my 15 minutes of fame,” Wax says.

In the NPR interview, Shapiro says his advice is to save rejection letters, since they are “really a badge of courage.” Wax seconds that idea. “If you don’t get rejected, you don’t reach out even further, you don’t stretch yourself,” he says.

Although Wikipedia says the Simpsons character Lionel Hutz claimed to be from Princeton Law School, a fan website, the Simpsons Archive, instead says he claimed to have attended Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, the Sorbonne and the Louvre.

Updated at 7:20 p.m. to include Wax’s comments. Updated on June 28 to include more information on Lionel Hutz.

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