Saturday, September 30, 2006

Reflections on Law School

Someone recently asked me why I didn’t like law school very much, and it came down to one thing: the law is a serious business and, frankly, I am not a serious person.

I like jokes, and the law is no joke. One day you’re arguing in a wood paneled room, the next day 10,000 convictions are overturned because of a ruling. The WASPy dad from Legally Blonde was right; “Law really is for ugly, serious, and boring people.”

The more serious the subject, the less I cared. When my classmates would passionately make arguments about constitutional law, I didn’t bother to analyze them. All I could think was, “Jesus, he actually believes in this stuff.” I couldn’t imagine myself ever making a constitutional argument beyond some DUI search and seizure issue.

When guest speakers who were judges, clerks, or big firm attorneys told us that their greatest pleasure was “making an impact,” I made a mental note to steer clear of that hornet’s nest. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of the law being this end-all-be-all concept that most of my classmates perceived it as.

I never once imagined myself as a judge or big firm lawyer. My parents both own small businesses. To me, the law seemed like a skill set for a small business. I picked up what seemed applicable, and left the rest to the eggheads.

While most of my classmates used every moment to buttress their future careers of power and prestige with studying and activities, I just went with the flow. This contrast seemed especially clear to me during Trial Ad when we each had to pick an evening each week to present. My classmates fought tooth and nail to get the evening they wanted, ex: “I can’t do Tuesdays; I take depositions from victims of Asbestosis who are only conscious from 6 to 9 on Tuesdays.”

Finally, when my name was called and the professor said, "Russell, do you want Thursday or Tuesday?”

I replied, "Either is okay. I'm just happy to be here."

People say they always want a “Pit bull of a lawyer”. Alas, I am an easy going Golden Retriever type.

P.S.: No wonder some counties have banned pit bulls.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare 1500 Dimes?

I was was making enchiladas the other day when my cell phone rang. I answered, hoping to hear about a job, but instead I was disappointed. And, it should come as no surprise that the source of this disappointment was my law school.

"Hi, Mr. [Mike]," a bubbly voice greeted me. "My name is Sarah and I am a freshman here at the University of ________, and I am calling on behalf of the University of _______ School of Law Alumni Association. How are you this evening?"

"A little bit disappointed," I said.

"Excuse me?"

"Never mind, what can I do for you?" (Knowing full well she wanted money.)

After getting my new address, the conversation changed abruptly. "So,when was the last time you visited the law school?" she asked. The question sounded rehearsed, and all the stranger coming from her bouncy, high pitched sorority voice.

"The last time I was at the school was the day I turned in my final take home exam," I said flatly.

"Oh okay…", she said. My caustic answer seemed to throw her off. "Well, are there any fond memories of law school you'd like to share for the alumni newsletter?," she inquired.

"Sure," I said, laughing. "The last day of school when I turned in my final take home exam, that was the best day of law school ever."

Sarah started giggling, and continued to do so throughout the next question. "So what are you up to these days?"

"Makin' enchiladas. Want to come over for dinner?"

"Hehehe...No, I meant career wise." Her giggling was getting out of hand.

"Still looking," I told her, not wanting to explain my job hunting situation to a giggly 18 year old.

"Okay, well, the reason for this call is…"

Here we go: She went into a long, choppy spiel about the law school, and new features it has added, and efforts to raise it's profile, etc., all stuff I knew to be just lip service. The proposed changes meant virtually nothing in reality to any current or future students. So when she finished, and asked for $150, I was ready.

"Sarah, here's the thing; as we just discussed, I don't have a job yet, so I don't have an extra $150 sitting around to donate. Why don't you call me in a few months, when I will have a job and presumably some extra cash, so when I decline to donate, I can actually look at the extra $150 I have and decide I'd rather waste it on something else."

There was another pause. I was afraid I had offended her. But, she burst out laughing. "You're much more entertaining than the other law school alums I call all night", she said.

"Sarah, you don't know the half of it."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Best Email We've Ever Had

Reading your 'why is law school so much like high school' piece, I, a 1L at a well known southern law school, suddenly became a little more at piece with the world... I was, for a moment, no longer one of the 85% who sits about despising the 15% despised.

I let it all go, man. I saw through all the bullshit, it all got so clear: I even remembered the name of the girl from 10th grade whose name I can never remember when trying to count how many women I've slept with...


Then I further remembered last Thursday, when one of the bopping socialite butterflys fluttered about to every pastel colored polo in the room whispering plans for a secret, "cool people only, ghetto-fabuluz 40oz theme party".

my clarity fogged over.

and as for Thursday night: 15% of the 1Ls attended a secret party. 82% studied or had a drink with a friend. and, luckily, the 3% of our class who are black, were somewhere being grown-ups.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Job Search Post #4

Interviewing is an inherently fake activity. The interviewer is being fake, in that he or she is trying to portray the company and the job in the most positive light possible, conveniently omitting the fact that your future boss has little man’s syndrome and coffee breath. You, the interviewee, are being fake in that you are trying to portray yourself as an idealized version of you, sort of the “you” without the lazy side and drinking problem. Both sides know that this is the case, and yet no one is willing to admit it. Is there any other social situation where two people can sit across from each other and lie, where each knows the other is lying, but accepts the lying as a better alternative than the truth…Well, other than dating? If employers knew everything there is to know about the people they interview, they’d never be able to fill the position because no one would ever be good enough. Conversely, if job seekers knew the full truth about the job and company they were interviewing for, no one would ever want to accept a job because all jobs have a downside.

The worst interviews are the ones where the interviewer doesn’t really know what he or she is doing, and has to fall back on a series of inane questions for which the desired answer couldn’t be more obvious. “Tell me about a time where you showed leadership abilities,” I have heard often. Unless you commanded some Army Rangers in Afghanistan or took charge of a hostage situation, there isn’t an answer for this question that really shows any actual leadership ability.

President of your fraternity? In my frat, we elected the least irresponsible person, hardly a ringing endorsement.

Student government? Is it really leadership if the organization which you led has no actual power?

Organized a project for the rest of the interns one summer? That just means you weren't competent enough to do a real job.

If I told an interviewer about my real leadership examples, I’d never ever get a job. No matter how qualified I was, I just don’t think they want to hear about how I successfully organized a large scale garage hopping expedition when I was 17, or how I talked a Mexican cop out of arresting my friends and I when I was 19 without bribing him. (Note: If you don't know what garage hopping is, send me an email or IM and I'd be happy to fill you in.)

So, regrettably, when presented with that question, I pause, put on a brave face, and go on about how I “took charge and saved” an important group project during my last year of college, while the interviewer nods encouragingly, knowing that I am feeding him a line of bullshit, which is exactly what he wants to hear.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Story Contest Winner

From Don:

There were 160 victims - I mean students - who were accepted into law school with me. The first week of our first semester involved mandatory student orientation. All 160 wide eyed, naive, “Perry Mason wannabes” were crammed into the law school's largest class room/court room. We were told how lucky we were, we were told how proud they were to have us, we were told how much better our law school was than the ratings reflected, we were told how great a class we were - standard bull-hockey. We were told who was who, what was what, and where everything important was. We heard from the Dean of the Law School, the Alumni Director (prepping us to donate to alumni crap was obviously higher on their priorities than just about anything else) (as a footnote I tell them every year when they call asking for donations that until I feel like I got my moneys worth and until they stop bringing in every crackpot liberal they can find to brainwash future lawyers I am not the least bit interested), the Career Services lady (can you say "teats on a bore hog"?) then the Dean of Student Affairs.

Finally some useful information? He proceeded to tell us that unlike undergraduate (exactly like kindergarten I realized much to late in life) 1Ls have no discretion in their classes, their professors, or their schedules. In alphabetical order we were arbitrarily assigned to sections based on nothing more than the first letter of our last name (the arbitrariness of this was a precursor to the whole experience and the profession). We were all given the same classes, the same number of credit hours and we were informed that there would be no change whatsoever. Since our next two semesters were preordained and non discretionary we were told that unlike those who had attended undergraduate school at the university there was "no registration process for you." He then politely asked if there were any questions. Of course someone immediately raised their grubby little hand and asked "so when do we register?" Dead silence. The Dean of Student affairs quickly scanned for the Candid Camera and then very nicely and amazingly non sarcastically said "well as I said earlier you don't register we have already assigned you your schedule and classes and it is mandatory." On cue another brainiac raises there hand - “Yes” says the dean, to which the 1L says "where do we go to register for our classes." (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP). I pulled a muscle rolling my eyes as the Dean reiterated that he had already registered everyone (even the stupid ones). I knew at that point that law school was going to be much more tedious and mind numbing than I was prepared for (if only I had had the insight to act on that knowledge!).


In fairness I must point out that neither of those two “goobers” made it out of the 1st year of law school (but I am quite sure that I have appeared before more than one judge in my career that was capable of making the same bone headed question) - but my first impression of law students was quite an impression.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You know what is really sad?

We have a war going on where a dozen or more Americans die weekly, with no end in sight and no real point anymore...

A college degree is now required for jobs that didn't need a college degree a generation ago, and even then, nothing is guaranteed...

On top of that, the cost of education is soaring...

The government is slowly eroding away our constitutional rights...

And the one thing that gets young people really mad, finally ready to band together and fight, is the new facebook features?

Seriously, get a fucking life.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Look at a Cliched Topic

Russ and/or Mike,

I am a 1L, and have been in school for a few weeks now, and I have to ask...Why is law school so much like high school?!?!?!

I’m sure you have a good answer for this.

Kristy



Kristy,

First of all, way to make a fresh observation. Next up, are you going to ask why they don’t make the whole airplane out of the little black box? Perhaps a few President Clinton cigar jokes?

But despite the clich├ęd nature of your question, it is still valid nonetheless. While most law students make the inevitable law school/high school comparison at one point (and often, much more frequently), to my knowledge no one has ever tried to explain why this is the case, beyond the whole “lockers/assigned classes” theory.

In order to understand it, we must first examine the social structure of high school. If your high school was at all typical, then it broke down like this: 15% of the student body-the attractive, the athletic, and the dynamic- were the envy of the other 85%. Those 15% set the standard of cool. The 85% could either strive to be like them, or seethe with jealousy about them, or pretend not to care about them, but no matter what, those 15% directly or indirectly dictated the behavior of the rest of the student body.

Law school is made up primarily of the former 85%-ers. Without the attractive, athletic group to either emulate or despise, law students all jockey to fill the void at the top of the social hierarchy. Some do this by striving for academic excellence; others try to become socialites. But no matter the method, they are overlooking one major element: this is no longer high school! Social standing doesn’t determine who is cool and who is not.

At some point during the undergraduate years, the definition of “cool” goes from the standard high school definition to a more fluid, expandable definition. At this stage, “cool” is all about embracing who you truly are, and being comfortable with that. So if you like Star Wars and playing Halo 2 all the time, you are a dork. But if you admit that you are a dork and embrace it, then you are cool. Some law students miss this concept entirely. Still stuck in the high school mentality that social status determines coolness, they try to be something they are not. Instead of embracing the person they are, they try to be better than that person. This isn’t self-improvement; it’s self-denial.

Granted, not all law students act like this. In fact, many do not. But just a few people can bring down the maturity level of the entire class. Here is how it happens: Someone wants to be looked up to and admired, to be in that 15%, so to speak. But what they don’t realize is that the 15% doesn’t exist anymore, at least not like it did in high school. Nobody looks up to them because they are on law review or are the most obnoxious drinker or anything else. (If you want to be on law review or be the law school drunk because that’s who you are, then do it. But if you are doing it to improve your standing in the eyes of your peers, then you are part of the problem.) Their classmates get disgusted with them and their posturing, and start to complain about it, which makes the classmates the de facto 85%. So an odd balance is struck; even though the days of high school social structure should be over, they come roaring back, but instead of being split between the cool and the uncool, it is a split between the despised and the despisers.

But at a personal level, you can escape it. I was having a discussion with a 1L once, who was complaining about the high school feel, and continually bad mouthed and gossiped about many of her classmates, including some of her friends. When she asked me what she how she could escape the high school feeling, I told her that if she didn’t want to feel like she was in high school, then perhaps she should stop acting like an immature teenager herself. She didn’t like hearing it, but it’s true. If you can ignore the idiots around you and try to act with some semblance of maturity, you won’t feel like you have been transported back to the 10th grade quite so much, although you’ll never be able to fully escape it.

On the bright side, at least now you can stay out as late as you want…So that’s something…

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Time For Another Story Contest

Okay folks, lets hear your best 'getting called on on the first day of class' stories. It can be something that happened to you, or to someone else, or even be a law school urban legend. The winner's entry will be posted.

Also, 1Ls...how has law school been different than you expected? Is it better or worse? Any other impressions you have, we'd love to hear.

Send anything to barelylegalblog@gmail.com

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sour Grapes

I hated law school. In fact the more I think back on it the more I disliked it.

The objective ranking of subjective talent, the endless lectures about boring minutiae, the obsession with citation. I hated it all.

One thing I didn't really hate, however, were my classmates. Sure, lots of them were boring, pompous nerds but, realistically, so am I. So, if I ever disliked them I was only displeased with their features that I actually saw in myself. Most law students are actually surprisingly thoughtful and well spoken people compared to the general public.

But there was one guy who I did truly hate. Let's call him "Tim".

Tim was a short little wiener with a squeaky voice who, in my darkest law school days, I could point to and think, 'at least I'm not him.'

Tim was always happy to be in class. Never volunteering but always prepared when called upon. He never carried the scowl of being flustered or the empty look of boredom that most law students do.

In other words, he annoyed the hell out of me.

Then one day, he and I got to talking about our spring breaks. I always go somewhere really cool for spring break and was ready to do some well deserved bragging. Tim listened politely and then told me he was going to umpire some tennis tournament in Florida that spring break. He also mentioned Maria Sharapova was competing and he looked forward to calling her match.

"Well, try not to pop a boner on the court," I said, trying to minimize his accomplishment while I gritted my teeth in jealousy.

Another day in class some other student was thanking Tim for stitching up a wound. Tim shrugged it off and said, "It was easy. I get kids with open wounds every night."

Turns out, Tim was also a medical student who worked in the emergency room each night while I was at home complaining about 30 pages of reading.

He disgusted me.

A few months later one of the class' sweet, pretty and overtly Christian girls (there's always one) commented to Tim that she had seen him at church the previous Sunday. Tim smiled and said, "Yeah, most people don't see me there because I'm usually in back playing the organ each Sunday."

I wanted to throw Tim off a cliff.

Tim, if you're out there fulfilling your next accomplishment with ease and modesty, bypassing once again the angst and self-doubt the rest of us are cursed with, I want you to remember one thing: I'm taller than you and always will be.