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Story highlights

A former law student remembers the teaching styles of his two former professors

They just happen to be a former and possibly future president named Clinton

(CNN) —  

Former President Bill Clinton’s personal reflections of his wife in his “I met a girl” speech at the Democratic National Convention utilized a series of anecdotes to span Hillary Clinton’s entire biography. Some of the earliest memories he shared were of the times early in their relationship when he tried repeatedly to persuade her to marry him.

“I finally got her to come visit me in Arkansas, and when she did, the people at the law school were so impressed they offered her a teaching position,” Bill Clinton said.

She accepted the job. They weren’t married at first, according to university records. The wedding took place in 1975, in the living room of a house Mr. Clinton said he purchased because his future wife said she liked it. By that time, they had already established themselves as highly desired lecturers even though they were just a few years older than the students they were teaching. By many accounts, Hillary Rodham was a demanding professor.

“She loved teaching,” Bill Clinton said, “And she got frustrated when one of her students said, ‘What do you expect from me, I am just from Arkansas.’ She said ‘don’t tell me that, you’re as smart as anybody. You just got to believe in yourself and work for it and set high goals.’ She believed anybody could make it.”

From 1973 to 1976, both Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham were on the faculty listed as assistant professors. The pay was sparse by today’s standards. During the 1973-74 school year, Bill Clinton made $16,182 according to school records, though he took a leave of absence for the fall semester to run for Congress. When he lost the election, he returned to teaching at the school. Hillary Rodham made $16,450 teaching from 1974 to 1975. And for a brief period in Arkansas, some students had the privilege, or even the misfortune, of taking classes with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham in order to graduate. Today, those who survived both Clintons in law school can say they studied under both a former President, and depending on the outcome of the November election, a possible future President as well.

“She taught Crim(inal) Law and he taught Constitutional Law. From my perspective I was there trying to keep an average,” said Dallas attorney Hiram McBeth, who was a trailblazer at the University of Arkansas. He was one of the first black athletes ever to make the university’s Razorback football team. After completing his undergraduate degree, he decided to become a lawyer, and was one of only a handful of African-American students admitted to the university’s law school in 1974.

Hiram McBeth, far left, with Bill Clinton.
Hiram McBeth
Hiram McBeth, far left, with Bill Clinton.

By his own admission, McBeth was an average student, feeling his way through the school’s core legal curriculum, and navigating student life in the seventies. He studied Criminal Law with Rodham, and says he got a “C” from her. He views Rodham as the tougher instructor.

“She was no-nonsense, strict (on) construction of the law – not a lot of anecdotes – by the book with a feminist bent,” McBeth said.

When students had to explain or “brief cases” in class he said they had to make sure it was good, or “she’s going to come back (at) you if you don’t have your analysis right.”

On the other hand, McBeth said Bill Clinton’s teaching style was more freewheeling –interspersing storytelling with legal principles.

McBeth said Bill Clinton had a common-sense understanding of politics and people, and that Clinton was especially interested in the “civil rights of the time.”

“He talked about contributions blacks made to the law,” says McBeth.

But one thing Bill Clinton lectured about has stayed with him; He “held up a legal textbook that was 600 pages long and said if it hadn’t been for African Americans it would be 100 pages long. “(Cases like) Plessy v Ferguson made us understand the importance of African Americans. It made us feel good about history, good about what we could do as attorneys.”

McBeth said some of his classmates became civil rights lawyer after taking Bill Clinton’s class.

And while McBeth said both instructors made a lasting impression on him, he concludes that as far as the practice of law goes, Hillary Clinton comes in first, ahead of her husband.

As far as which one is the “sharpest lawyer,”…McBeth said he would give the title to Hillary. “She was a cracker jack lawyer.”

McBeth considers himself a conservative Democrat and he contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign both in 2008 and during the current cycle. He’s also been involved in local politics running for a judgeship in Texas in 2008.

Hiram McBeth

He says he has stayed in touch with the Clintons over the years. When asked about the honesty and integrity questions that have dogged her in polls, especially the controversy over the private email server she used while serving as secretary of state, McBeth said, “It really wasn’t a good move. But in her defense, I don’t think the law, the protocol was really set, when she did what she did with regard to the emails.”