Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I went to see a screening this evening of a documentary called "Inside the Bubble," a behind-the-scenes look at the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign. You can watch a trailer here and read a (largely negative) review here, from today's New York Observer. There was a blurb in the Daily News about the movie earlier this week, about how it was a scathing look at the Kerry campaign's inner workings, and it sounded cool, so I found out where it was screening and bought a ticket. And it was disappointing. It's just not that interesting.

The film follows Kerry's road team -- his traveling chief of staff, his press aides, his personal assistant, his communications director -- with some cameos from a few semi-famous names like Mike McCurry, Bob Shrum, Joe Lockhart, and, um, Kerry himself. Kerry's not the star of this movie, and you don't really get much of a feel for Kerry beyond what you already know. He doesn't come off badly. This movie, even if lots of people see it, which I doubt they will, since it's not that good, shouldn't really make anyone who likes John Kerry think otherwise. He's hardly a focus of the movie.

The featured staffers, however, mostly come off as pretty un-thrilling. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with editing. The movie wasn't looking to show anyone doing actual work. It doesn't show anyone doing anything useful or productive for the entire movie. Film anyone for a few months and I'm sure there's going to be downtime where people are saying dumb offhand things, and forget there are cameras around, and don't think about how they're looking. Film anyone for a few months and I'm sure you can make them come off however you want. No one does anything corrupt, no one comes off as a criminal, no one comes off as truly incompetent. They just come off as people who had moments of frustration or immaturity like anyone else has.

If you saw the series "Staffers" on the Discovery Times channel last summer, which followed a bunch of the candidates through the primary season, this is similar. Too similar, actually, which was part of my disappointment. But most of my disappointment was that there just weren't any revelations here, nothing learned, nothing shocking, nothing unexpected. The press aide who gets the most airtime may find it hard to get a job on another campaign, I guess, if people see the movie. But not because of any demonstrated incompetence, but just because he doesn't come off as a very likable person. And that's the biggest problem with the movie, I think. No one comes off as likable. Because the movie just cherry-picks these moments of unpleasantness, there's no counter balance. There's no success. No one does anything nice in the movie. No one helps anyone. No one solves any problems. No one says anything nice about anyone else. I'm sure that's not the reality of it. I'm sure the communications director is a perfectly pleasant person. Or at least maybe she is. But you don't get the chance to figure that out, because all the movie shows are the things that make her look stupid.

The saddest thing about the movie, I think, is that it could have been more. It could have focused on strategy a bit. Successes and mistakes. Good decisions and bad ones. It could have focused on how things actually get done (or don't get done) on the campaign trail. It could have painted a real picture of what this world is like, instead of just isolating the moments on the bus when people complained about the press. There's minutes spent watching Kerry's assistant making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, licking the knife before he spread the peanut butter around, giving the sandwich to Kerry, and then realizing he licked the knife and apologizing on camera for how that must have looked. Great. This is the best they could find in months of footage. This is what they decided to make a film about.

So I'll concur with the New York Observer on this one, unfortunately. Nothing groundbreaking.
Breaking news you should be reading about elsewhere: John Roberts confirmed as Chief Justice by a vote of 78-22.

Other things you can find out by reading the New York Times homepage today:

1. Governor Pataki has banned the Freedom Center museum from the "memorial quadrant" of the Trade Center site, which contains the footprints of the Twin Towers. There was opposition because of the sacred nature of the site. However, plans remain to place a McDonalds, a Starbucks, and a Virgin Megastore at the site.

2. Tom DeLay has been indicted, for a bunch of ethical violations involving campaign contributions. He is being replaced as House majority leader by Michael Brown.

3. It turns out that most of the stories about chaos in New Orleans were borne out of fear rather than reality. It turns out there wasn't a hurricane at all, but it was just the condensation dripping from someone's air conditioner. Well, not quite. There's a quote in the article: "'Not one piece of educational material was taken [from Walmart] - the best-selling books are all sitting right where they were left,' Captain Canatella said. 'But every $9 watch in the store is gone.'" I think that's an interesting quote, mostly because I think if the opposite happened, it would be pretty amazing. "All of the cheap electronics is still on the shelves, but every copy of James Frey's 'A Million Little Pieces' is gone from the shelves. Because what everyone needs in the aftermath of a hurricane is reading material." Amazing.

4. Here's a quote from a Times story that I'm not making up: "If eBay is merely a feast for gluttons, a groaning table of stuff, craigslist is 'an atlas for life,' she said." Play with that one for a while.
This is a somewhat bizarre piece about blogging by the screenwriter Nora Ephron. Someone surely must have something interesting to say about this piece, but it's not me. I just thought it was worth flagging, and worth a quick read.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I read a really neat book today. Bat Boy, by Matthew McGough. McGough was a batboy for the Yankees during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, and the book is a memoir of his experiences. It was the basis for a TV show last season called "Clubhouse," on CBS starring Dean Cain and Christopher Lloyd, but it only lasted a couple of episodes before it was cancelled. What's interesting (to me, a little bit) is that the TV show based on the book existed before the book came out -- the book was published this past May. The book's awesome, actually. I couldn't put it down. All about what it's like to hang around a major league clubhouse, paints a really vivid picture of life in the locker room, has some cool stuff about some players. Jim Abbott and Don Mattingly come off seeming like pretty awesome people. If you're a baseball fan, even if you're not a Yankee fan, it's really a good read. McGough writes well, the pages fly by pretty quickly, and in a lot of ways, even more than a book about baseball, it's a book about being a 16-year-old in New York City, and the process of growing up. Good stuff. I've got nothing negative to say about it at all.

Plus, even better, McGough went to law school. Making this somehow relevant.
I've lost track of who's responding to who, but here's a response to the response to the response of those e-mails I've been posting.

Anyone has the right to say they are unhappy and I am sympathetic to people when they are unhappy. With that being said, people choose their own destiny to a certain degree and sometimes their complaints are not valid. An individual who decides to work in a mega law firm knows they are in for long hours and many difficult, uncomfortable encounters. They know this before they sign on the dotted line. The trade off (and maybe its not an equal one) is that they do make a ridiculously large amount of money. How sad am I supposed to feel for these people? They are not chained to their office chair. They are free to move on to another job if they want (which, may I add, you did). This isn't the former U.S.S.R. Its a free market, man. I'm sorry your experience in a big firm was so painful, I really am. But I'm also happy to hear that you spoke with your feet (by leaving).

I'm sorry but I just get sick of hearing people complaining about their jobs and a complete inability to own up to the decisions they made. Take my Aunt, for instance. She is an English school teacher in Queens. She works from 9 a.m to 3 p.m and maybe after school she spends an hour or two preparing for class the next day. She also has over 3 months off a year (counting: July, August and numerous vacation days). If I got a dollar every time my Aunt complained about her income; I'd have more money than Donald Trump (although not more women :). Never mind the fact that she is making 75k a year and that when she retires (from working nine months a year) she will get a pension for about 60k a year for the rest of her life.

If there is one thing I want you to get out of this response, is that just as you made the decision to join a big law firm; she made the decision to become a school teacher. She knew what kind of income she would be receiving by entering into this possession and still choose it. And people who decide to work for a big firm make the same decision. I feel bad for anybody who has undergone a serious trauma. But when somebody is currently collecting major pay checks and still whining about the workload/dealing with mean people; that I have a little trouble with.

I'm a little cranky as my Jets are in shambles.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A response to the response below (if this is getting confusing...):

i am sorry that you are having a tough time finding a job after law school, and i hope that you find something soon. but you are making a lot of assumptions about my situation and i'd like to address them. first, you say that "people who are in a terrific situation sometimes forget how difficult it is for people who are trying to find their niche in the professional world." yes, i did go to big name schools, but i also graduated from said big name college without a job and struggled for months to find a job, any job. furthermore, while i readily acknowledge that having good educational credentials does make some things easier, i must tell you that i -- and many many of my friends with similar schooling -- are having a very difficult time finding our niche as well. i presently find myself hopeful and happy about my professional future, but this is a state of mind that i have come to only through sheer force of will, after about 6 months at work which involved crying every day, a complete loss of appetite, etc. in short, it was complete misery and i would not wish it on anyone.

you say that you "see a lot of people stuck in bad, dead end jobs and its very sad." i would say precisely the same thing of many of the people i know at big law firms. many of them leave the law altogether because the megafirms are so impersonal and straight out mean. there are many people who, when hearing someone make 6 figures complain, say hurtful things like "stop whining, you are making a lot of money." we are all entitled to our own opinions and if we are unhappy, we have the right to say so. the huge salary i was being paid during those 6 months, during which i was so miserable that i would spontaneously start crying while just sitting on the subway, did not make an ounce of difference. it saddens me greatly when people respond to others' unhappiness so coldly. if someone is unhappy in their life, my first response is to try to comfort them, not to criticize the validity of their pain.

anyway, i do wish you the best of luck.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Some responses to recent stuff.

A response to Post #21 from the writer of the post referenced therein (Post #14):

I had actually written an e-mail to Jeremy after he had published my post. My post stated, that, among other things, that "there is no middle ground" and "that nobody is happy." I felt bad about it and admitted that it was a little extreme. Obviously there are happy people out there and generally speaking I would like to think of myself as a happy person, albeit a cynical one.

People can be happy but I think it is significantly harder in a capitalistic environment because there is such fierce competition among one another. If you don't have special skills or exceptional intelligence you are stuck in a rat race with everybody else. I think that is something the person who responded to my post missed. This person obviously is very gifted, otherwise a big firm would not have hired her. Furthermore, due to this person's intelligence (and I assume hard work) she has a lot of options, more options to chase her dreams. For the rest of us, who didn't go to a great school or were not in the top 10 percent of our class, we are struggling to get by. We don't have "dreams". We want to survive. We want to get a job (any job). We want to be able to move out of our parents house. I haven't given up on my dreams, but you'll forgive me that if after three years of killing myself in law school I'm a little jaded that its next to impossible to find a decent job.

I'm not just referring to the legal profession. Its incredibly difficult to "break through" and find a profession where you really enjoy your work, be in sync with the people your working with and make a decent amount of money. I see a lot of people stuck in bad, dead end jobs and its very sad. I haven't given up on my dreams but I recognize how exceptionally difficult it is to make it in the good old U.S.A. I read that the US recently overtook Japan as the hardest working country in the world. I don't have an aversion to hard work, but I also don't like the idea of working six in the morning until 8 at night every day like my father worked just to make a half decent living.

I know, again, that this is a bit of a rant. But I just think sometimes that people who are in a terrific situation sometimes forget how difficult it is for people who are trying to find their niche in the professional world.

And a note from one of the displaced Tulane students, about what I posted yesterday, that seems pretty sensible:

Of course I want to support Tulane, and I will gladly go back to New Orleans in January if the school can ensure that it will be a safe, clean place to live. I just don't want to feel like my physical/mental health is being sacrificed to keep the school from losing some tuition money. Also, this situation is not a "back door" into a better school. I do not expect to receive a Harvard Law degree; HLS is just helping me get the credits I need to graduate on time, and I am grateful for that.
What's It Like To Live in New York?

I get asked that every so often. I'm never prepared with an answer, because it feels like an odd question. I grew up here, so it's not completely a new thing. But this is the first time I've lived in New York not with my parents. And the first time I've lived in New York where Manhattan is actually accessible. My parents live in Brooklyn, but in a part of Brooklyn that's beyond where the subway lines end, and so the trip into Manhattan ends up taking about an hour and a half, involving a half-mile walk, to a 25-minute bus ride, to 45 minutes or more on the train. I went to high school in Manhattan, and the trip was close to 2 hours each way, because I did it by bus. Last summer working for the law firm, I left the house by 8:00 to make it to work by 9:30. As far as I'm aware -- and, verified by a phone call, as far as she's aware -- my mom has not been to Manhattan since my high school graduation, over 5 years ago. It's like a different city. My grandmother, who lives 5 blocks from my parents, goes into Manhattan with friends fairly often. But it's a trek.

So, in a way, now that I'm a relatively speedy 25-minute subway ride from Manhattan -- or, if I'm in the mood, a do-able but fairly solid walk (about 3 and a half miles, according to Mapquest... or a little under an hour, taking a slightly indirect route, for me last Sunday night) over the Brooklyn Bridge -- it's a different experience living here than it was before. At least I feel like I live in the same city as people who are living in Manhattan.

Which gets me back to the original question. What's it like to live in New York? Well, it's neat. When I was a kid, I never thought I'd want to live in New York as an adult, because it seemed crowded and dirty and unsafe. Part of that is because it was, at least more so than it is now. Part of that is because my family thinks it's true to a greater extent than it is. Part of that is because when I was a kid (and to some degree, even now) lots of things seem crowded and dirty and unsafe. Even if they're not. But I think most of it is that as a kid I didn't realize the good things that New York has to offer.

I lived in Austin, Texas for a year and a half in between college and law school. I lived in Cambridge for law school and Princeton for college. So, not a great variety of experiences, but a little bit I guess.

The coolest thing about New York is that there's an amazing amount of cultural stuff to do. I can go see some relatively cheap theater or music or an independent movie or a museum or a book reading every day of the week and still wouldn't come close to scratching the surface of what's around. Some of those things I don't do even though I can. I haven't been to a museum in New York since last summer, and the third most recent time I went to a museum in New York was probably for a high school art class, 6 or 7 years ago. I've been to one book reading in four months. I've seen three musical performances. But I've probably seen a few dozen comedy or theater events -- if I combine improv comedy, stand-up, and "real" theater. Most of it pretty darn cheaply (like, less than 20 bucks). And that's pretty cool.

Or maybe the coolest thing about New York is there's lots of interesting and cheap food.

Actually, the coolest thing is probably just that a pretty big proportion of my friends and family live in New York, and if they didn't, I'd probably want to live wherever they did, and that would override any of the other factors.

But I wasn't the one who asked the question.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A displaced Tulane Law School student sent me an e-mail about Tulane's recently-announced policy not to allow the displaced students attending other schools this fall to remain there for the spring -- in other words, students at other schools this fall have to return to Tulane in January. At first glance -- and maybe even at second glance -- this seems harsh. I read the post by the Deputy Dean -- see below -- and now I don't really know. Any alternative is a bad alternative. It's a bad situation. I don't know what the best solution is. The student who e-mailed me wrote, "The short version is money and politics w/in academia is why the schools can't allow people to stay. No one in higher ed wants Tulane to close, and I suppose the students will be made to bear the cost." Which ia true. But it's hard not to feel some amount of sympathy for the law school, not wanting to end up with a faculty and staff and no one to teach. Read the post below. I don't know what I think. On the one hand, it's a hardship for the students to have to go back. On the other hand, it's been awfully generous of these other schools to take them in, and it seems only fair that if Tulane is once again operating, that's where they're students, and it's fair for Tulane to demand they come back. I'm expecting an e-mail that says, "Wait a minute, these students didn't get into the schools they're going to now -- of course they should have to go back! Otherwise, it's just been a back door into being a student at a better school!" Which, again, I guess is true, but it's also not something they ever asked for, and I'm guessing there aren't many of them glad there was a hurricane and glad their lives got disrupted like this. So. Two sides. I hover in the middle somewhere, waiting for a reader to point out how the answer is obviously... something.

I want to explain to everyone the decision we have made not to allow students to visit at another law school next spring absent the usual compelling circumstances that would have justified a visit away before the storm. As you might imagine, there are a substantial number of our 2L and 3L students who have been forced to relocate to another community, find living accommodations, and settle in for the fall semester. Many have lost many of their possessions and their residences back in New Orleans. Some have spouses who have found jobs. Often they have settled where they want to return upon graduation and where they intend to look for a job and take the bar exam. For all of these students, they quite understandably would find it much more convenient to remain where they are through the spring semester. Everyone at the University and the law school understands this perfectly well and is sympathetic to these student desires. Unfortunately, the request by each of these students to visit away from Tulane for the spring semester cannot be granted.

Everyone has to appreciate that these are truly perilous times for Tulane and the law school. The financial cost of the storm and having to shut down operations for a semester will run in the tens of millions of dollars. But an even greater cost is the loss of credibility with prospective students, faculty, staff, donors, government, and the many other constituencies upon all of which Tulane depends for its viability. It is absolutely imperative if Tulane is to emerge from this disaster as a strong and viable institution that it not only minimize its financial losses (which is why we absolutely have to receive all student tuition revenues for the fall semester) but also that it get back to running a full and vibrant university as soon as possible so the world will know that Tulane is back and will survive as a major university. Failure to do so would result in irreparable damage to Tulane and possible jeopardize its very survival.

In that regard, it is simply not possible for Tulane to allow its students to remain away for another semester. The arrangement other schools have made to take our students for free or at minimal cost so that Tulane can receive the tuition revenue it needs to pay its faculty and staff and to repair its campus is one few would likely be able or willing to continue for another semester. Thus, for every student who continues to visit away in the spring, Tulane would lose substantial revenue that it desperately needs. Furthermore, even if Tulane could collect that revenue, the absence of a substantial percentage of its students would leave the academic environment decimated and a mere shell of what it needs to be. If you all are going to have an institution around to award you a degree that is worth the paper it is written on, Tulane needs to bring back in the spring both most of its normal revenues and most of its students.

Recognizing this harsh reality facing Tulane and other New Orleans schools, we are told that most U.S. law schools and undergraduate colleges will refuse to allow displaced New Orleans students, including those from Tulane, to stay at their institutions during the spring. Remember that our students attending other campuses are not really students of those schools but simply Tulane students paying Tulane tuition and taking their courses this semester on another campus. Once Tulane’s campus is again open for business, these students need to return. We know that a few deans or assistant deans at some schools have told some students that they could stay for another semester, but this kind gesture was made at most institutions by those unaware of the overarching policy decision made their by senior university administrators or boards of trustees in an effort to preserve the viability of their New Orleans sister institutions.

If only a handful of students were in the situation of finding it much more convenient to remain somewhere else in the spring, there might be some flexibility in the University’s position on this under these extraordinary circumstances. But it is not just a few students. Every day we are receiving requests from a dozen or more law students alone who are asking that we let them stay where they are through the spring. Each of their stories is moving and their requests reasonable. But there is no way to grant just one or two of these requests without granting virtually all of them. And if we were to grant all of them, Tulane University, including the law school, would have so few students in the spring that it would be unable to run a credible academic program and it would likely be insolvent. By next August, there might well be no Tulane University or law school. On the other hand, if most of our students return in the spring, Tulane can survive this catastrophe and come back strong. That is why everyone within the University has been working day and night to make sure that we are up and running at full steam come January 9 – there is simply no other choice.

I realize that requiring all of our students to return in January will impose a significant inconvenience and expense on many. (However, as noted above, the University is going to extraordinary lengths to make sure that all of its students have comfortable and healthy housing and all of the other amenities needed to live at little or no incremental cost above what you would have normally spent. Thus, the inconvenience and expense will probably not be nearly as great as it might seem today.) This decision and its effect does not make anyone at Tulane happy, just as it makes no one happy to tell the faculty that their sabbaticals, leaves, summer grants, book and travel money, and summer free to do research are all being taken from them. But the alternative is just too unacceptable to do anything else. And from the student standpoint, what good is convenience and saving some expense if there is no institution worth mentioning left to grant you a degree. I hope that all of our students understand this. Hurricane Katrina has upset all of our lives to an unprecedented degree. It has required and will continue to require everyone to make substantial sacrifices. Tulane’s leadership has taken the students’ best interests into account in all of the decisions it has made, but the decision not to allow students to remain away for the spring was one decision that could not be made any other way.
The Return Of What This Was Before

I feel like I've been on a week-long blogging vacation, even though there's been more new content on here than there's been in a while. I hope the stuff I've been posting has provided some value, and that people have found it interesting to read. Someone e-mailed some other questions I may pose at some point -- and feel free to do that too, or tell me if this was dull, or if it was great, or... whatever... tell me how I can use the fact that a fair number of people read this every day to help you, personally.

I'm listening to a CD right now by songwriter Hugh Prestwood called "The Fate of Fireflies." It's really awesome, if you like country-tinged singer-songwriter stuff. It's in whatever genre you'd put James Taylor in, I guess. Go to the website and listen to some samples. He's a quality songwriter. A lot of music is pretty uninspiring, but this isn't. Along those same lines, I'll do another plug for "Wearing Someone Else's Clothes by Jason Robert Brown, who writes musicals. This is an album of him singing his own songs. "Someone to Fall Back On" is a terrific song. Ben Folds' latest, Songs for Silverman is also pretty awesome. And there's a song called "Doubting Thomas" on a new album by a bluegrass-folk-pop group called Nickel Creek that's stuck in my head and a really cool song. I'll finish this paragraph with a plug for Dog Years, a comedy CD by Mike Birbiglia. These picks are influenced by nothing except my own taste. I paid for everything on this list. :)

I read Joe College by Tom Perrotta this week, which was OK but not as good as Perrotta's Little Children, which was really good. I'm reading Perrotta's The Wishbones at some point soon (just got it from the library), to complete my survey of Tom Perrotta books and I'll let you know where it ranks. I also read a biography of Billy Joel that was OK. I also read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell this week, and thought it was OK as well. Vowell writes about the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. I liked the Garfield chapter best, but that's perhaps because I wrote a chapter of my own about Garfield's assassination that never got where it was supposed to go, but was still cool to research and learn about.

And in case this got buried in the week's worth of posts from people who aren't me, go see the movie Proof because it's really good. Roger Ebert agrees with me, and gives it 4 stars. He writes,

John Madden's "Proof" is an extraordinary thriller about matters of scholarship and the heart, about the true authorship of a mathematical proof and the passions that coil around it. It is a rare movie that gets the tone of a university campus exactly right, and at the same time communicates so easily that you don't need to know the slightest thing about math to understand it. Take it from me.

The West Wing season premiere is in a half hour. I didn't watch The West Wing last season much at all, but back in its Sorkin days, I was pretty addicted. I'm going to watch tonight and see if it sticks. I watched the premiere of Everybody Hates Chris and liked it.

And that's a quick tour through what I've been consuming lately. More substance coming soon.
Post 21, and a good way to end this string (for now), even though there could very easily be a post that says exactly the opposite of this. (Which I'll happily post if someone wants to send it to me.)

I wanted to respond to this posting from one of your readers:

Nobody is happy. The person working the horrible job that pays crap isn't happy and the person stuck at a big firm making lots of money isn't happy either. There is no middle ground.

This, and a lot of the other postings, make me sad. We all have the capacity to be happy and we should not accept anything less. We will have to make compromises, but we can all be happy if we put our minds to it. It's just a question of figuring out what will make us happy, be it a big firm job, small firm job, legal services, or not practicing law at all. My feeling is that the people who are least sympathetic to others' dreams are those who have already given up on their dreams -- i.e., I can't be happy or do what I want, so why should you? Anais Nin said something roughly along the lines that we don't see things are they are, we see them as we are. I've worked at big law firms for a few years now and have decided that it's not the life that I want and that I want my life to be a more compassionate, positive place. Because this is how I am, this is how I see the world, and it makes me hopeful and happy.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Post #20:

I graduated from a top tier law school. One advantage of my school is that it is located in the state capital, which offers a greater selection of non- firm jobs. I currently work for a state agency and while the pay is less than half of a large firm, it is a nice place to work. During my second year I noticed this remarkable change come over me and my friends, along with the rest of the class. I did not want to work at a big firm, but all of the sudden I found myself submitting all of these resumes and going on interviews. I found myself at a heightened state of crazy as I waited for callbacks or rejections at places I knew I would not be happy. I began to panic when I realized my salary would not be above $50,000. And that is when I realized I was being ridiculous. I am barely 25 years old, just starting out in my career and I deserve exactly what I am getting paid. I also owe myself a life outside of the job. While when the loan payments come in December I may think otherwise, I am glad that I am not at a big firm. At my job I come in at 8 and leave at 5. I get 10 paid holidays and today I am wearing jeans. The people that I work with are nice and the majority are not lawyers. I chatted with my boss yesterday for 30 minutes, not once mentioning work. Look around, consider the options and do not beat yourself up simply because you are not working at a large firm.
Post #17

From a 1L who was ready to go to Tulane:

I'm supposed to be reading property, but somehow I can't bring myself to read it. I know the worst thing to be doing during 1L year is to have personal issues, but sometimes life happens. Regardless, I find myself less than a month into law school, but already looking to transfer. I love my classes, professors, and the other students, but for reasons outside of my control, I cannot stay at the law school I am currently attending. Under normal circumstances, transferring can be pretty difficult, but with my circumstances, by the time I finish my 1st year, I will have already attended two law schools. The one I'm currently attending cannot let me stay for the year, and the one I'll be "returning" to in the spring is no longer the school I wish to get a degree from. I learned in class that law is supposed to diminish uncertainty, but all the law school I paid tuition to has done is increase uncertainty in my life. I probably sound like an idiot whackjob, but I'm not really sure if I should withdraw from law school entirely or if I should pray that I'm able to transfer. I probably should do the reading so that transferring remains a realistic option.

Post #18

A perspective from academia:

I was just reading through all the letters you've gotten. For the past month I've been a prospective law student; for the past three years, I've been on the track to getting a PhD from Harvard.

I think a lot of people end up disillusioned with academia because they've never tried anything else. But it looks to me like a lot of people get disillusioned with law because they've never tried anything else, either. I've spent the past three years - and more generally, a big chunk of my life - working on living out my least practical, most purely intellectual dreams. I have been paid to spend time with amazing people, listen to fascinating lectures, sit in the library and read, learn languages. I have gotten money from the university to spend the summers (and occasional mid-semester trips) traveling to exotic locations and the working part of those trips is...going to museums.

It sounds like the life but I am sick and tired of it. It's really depressing to realize that I could graduate with a doctorate from one of the best universities in the world - the best in my field, certainly - and not have a job. Or be forced to accept the first offer I get, because there will only be one, and it might be in Michigan or Texas. The politics are a pain in the ass; the limited resources make everyone more or less vicious; and since the only thing academics can really earn in quantity is pride, there is much too much of it. It is not fun to think of barely being able to make ends meet at 40 - professors that aren't tenured are very lightly paid - but more than anything, the biggest problem with my dream-life is that the ivory tower really is as isolated and isolating as it sounds.

It's no fun having work that is so solitary and anti-social. It's no fun knowing that most professors could take their life's work and toss it in the fire and nobody would notice. It's no fun realizing that as much as I may benefit from my knowledge, the buck pretty much ends there.

Why does law sound so appealing to me all of a sudden? Because tedious, mercenary, competitive, and dry as it can be, law careers present you with real choices; you live in the world, and affect how it operates, more surely than any self-indulgent intellectual or artiste. It's uglier in a lot of ways, but everything is uglier than just opting out of the world. I am an ambitious person, and I am looking for a bigger field of action. I don't want to bury myself before I hit thirty.

A lot of people seem to be complaining about the long hours that lawyers work. Why complain that ambition itself has a price? That's true no matter what your line of work. It's certainly not particular to law.

Post #19

Another perspective from Australia:

I am a lawyer in Australia and wrote the attached article for a lawyer's career's website - not sure if the website ever got off the ground or if the article was published.

Just thought it would provide another insight into the practice of law. It is relevant to the public service, and what I hear the public service is the same all over the world, and French Electricity according to a recently published book by a current employee of that company.

Therefore while all the figures are in Australian dollars and it is mainly aimed at the Sydney market, you can decide whether it is universal enough to post.

I don't work for the public service any longer, much happier working for a major firm.

The article:

As a public servant the basics are thus - in trade for a work/life balance you are paid less than the market rate. But there is a lot more to this story than what seems like an attractive lifestyle options package.

Primarily, the pay is atrocious. The most you could expect to earn would be about $90k pa. But, most people earn between $50k and $70k pa. This has many ramifications for life in the modern world. The first is you cannot have a life. The public service champions the cause of the work/life balance, however, your bank balance says that you cannot have a life. This is basically because there is no money left, after rent and expenses are paid, to go to a good restaurant, a decent club, and have some drinks (the usual night out for anyone under 40). Moreover, because you are on a mediocre salary you are either forced to live with your parents (at 25yo), live out in the sticks (anywhere west of Pyrmont), find cheap and nasty share accommodation in the city or get your parents to pay for the house for you, which puts you in their debt, which they will not let you forget. All of these options have other associated costs but the detail is boring - consider travel, food costs or social costs of having your mum cramp your style and turning in to a mummy's

The second ramification is you will never get off the renting treadmill because you cannot save to a sufficient extent to be able to buy a house. The average house price in Sydney is now $500k, requiring at least $100k for stamp duty, legals etc. Moreover, you can forget buying a decent car, unless you want something cheap, which is not why we did law ;>

The work/life balance becomes more of a joke at the senior levels. Senior people can be at work 12 hours per day, 6 days per week. These people may earn only $90k-130k pa and can have anywhere from 20 years to 40 years experience in the public service or in the private sector. So if you want to earn some decent dollars then you have to turn around and give up your life anyway. Compare this to a partner in a law firm who can be earning anywhere from $400k to $1m pa for the same hours and after just 10 or so years.

Another consideration is the regimented and bureaucratic processes of the public service. Decisions are not made because they will achieve a better outcome that is more efficient, of greater quality or add value, but because someone just wanted to change something or it is what the "systems procedures manual" said you have to do. Any semblance of original thought is removed from individuals and placed in the hands of a management hierarchy. There are many consequences of this. The major, and most considerable one, is employment and promotion prospects. There can be things called "jobs freezes" (caused by a lack of funding) which means no-one is promoted or placed in a necessary position for upwards of a year. Therefore, you can be stuck in the same area on the same pay level for 12 months or more.

Tied to this is the issue of actually gaining a promotion. The process is not so much based on logic, performance and ability, but whether how you can satisfy the written selection criteria. These are a series of open-ended questions to determine a person's suitability for the job. Jobs are made available to everyone to apply. Basically it becomes a creative writing exercise. Even if you were acting in the position for some time someone else can get the job because they wrote a better selection criteria than you. So you are left without a job or training them on how to do the job that you were doing.

Due to the nature of the public service you do not get complete exposure to being a lawyer. You have very little case management as part of your duties (unless at senior levels) and rarely follow a case right through to the end. Basically, you only see one part either the research and analysis of the law, the front end of litigation, the administrative side of things (eg are the correct forms filed) or something of that nature. Very rarely are you required to handle all issues. This may sound good on the surface, but you get very little experience and variety of work.

Because of this, and the nature and reputation of the public service, you can be typecast and stereotyped and thus find it difficult to gain outside employment. Take from this what you will, but you will find your choices to be limited the longer you are there.

A job for life does not really exist even in the public service. The nature and role of your job may change thus making you redundant. Even though redundancy does not happen as often as in the private sector, you will need to consider your prospects and experience you have gained, especially in relation to the last paragraph regarding stereotyping.

The old chestnut about the superannuation entitlements of public servants does not apply anymore either. It is the same as everyone else, to an extent. While the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme is still a defined benefit scheme the best you would get out of it after 20 years contributing would be about $50k pa in current terms - that will not get you a comfortable retirement, more heading down to the local rsl for the $5 lunch special.

Basically, at the end of the day, you are a number. You have little control over where your career is headed and basically will have to take whatever comes your way. There are opportunities to network within, but you may not gain a permanent position due to the promotional prospects outlined above. I think this treatment stems from the knowledge that most people are in the public service for the "easy life" rather than the achievement of life goals. Thus you are not credited with a lot of personal dignity. You can be replaced due to the mechanised and systematised type of work by having most decision making power in the hands of senior staff. However, the people in your team may be a delight to work with, but it depends on the situation.

All in all, if you are a dream-oriented, goal-focussed type of person who did law because it would earn you a lot of money/power/prestige/job satisfaction/challenging opportunities and all that that entails then stay clear of the public service. But if you can settle for a life of mediocrity, banality, meaninglessness, no goals and no achievement and work until you are 70+ then go for it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Some useful job search advice from one reader:

Post #16

The job market is extremely tough for law school graduates if you didn't go to Harvard :) and you don't have an offer from wherever you worked during law school -- whether it be as a summer associate at a large law firm, or even just as a law clerk for a smaller place. I worked for a year and a half at a medium sized firm that doesn't hire first year associates as a rule. I got good experience there, but now I'm just an unemployed law school graduate with good grades and some decent experience, but still not enough experience to really make an impact anywhere. People will look at my resume and say that it's good, but that they don't really need anyone like me. Or "we're not hiring, but with that resume, you'll have no problem finding something." Thanks. In Illinois, the bar results still have not come out -- I guess that's not the case in some places. But I'm not convinced that people who aren't doing any entry level hiring will all of a sudden do so in two or three weeks just because the bar results have been released. Maybe they will, who knows. Nonetheless, I refuse to blame this all on career services. People who come from second tier schools (like myself), or really any tier outside the top 20 or 30 schools, often complain about how the career services office does nothing to help them get a job unless they are in the top 5%, 10% or whatever. The reason it seems that way is because the only firms that have the resources to sent people to do a full day of on campus interviews are the firms that are only interested in the top students. Blame the firms, don't blame the career services office. Beyond that, all the career services office can do is try to put together events where practitioners talk to students about how they got their jobs and promote jobs when small or medium sized firms or agencies call them to say they have openings. The rest has to be done on your own. But I will say this: there are a lot of things that you can do on your own that career services does not do a good enough job of telling you. So here are some things that you can do as a law student that I wish I had known more about when I was a second year student.

1) Pursue the lesser know firms. If you're a second year student right now, there are LOTS of firms that have summer associate programs, not just the ones that come on campus to interview. I'm talking about firms that have 30, 40, 50 and 60 attorneys, not the giants. Some of those firms will be a little less competitive because not everyone knows of them. Send them your resume. Email random associates at the firm and ask them to meet you for coffee to give you the scoop on the firm hiring process. You'll be surprised at how many people are glad to do that. And do it now because by the time you get into my position, it's too late because they only want people with 2, 3 or 5 years of experience.

2) Go to Bar Association Events. I know that Bar Association meetings might be worthless for the most part, but they are good ways to meet people who might be able to help you get a job sometime in the future. I admit that I'm not comfortable walking up to some strange law firm partner and striking up a conversation, but I think it's something we just have to get over. What really bothers me about it is that I feel like I would be a burden to them. But they wouldn't be there if they didn't want admiring law students like yourselves to go up and ask how they got where they are. So just introduce yourself, be personable and tell them that you're interested in what they do. Once you've gotten the introductions out of the way, then you've made a contact, and that is a person that you can touch base with periodically who might eventually have or know of a job opening. You've got to figure that if you do that 10 times, that opens up lots of doors for potential jobs.

3) Publish articles in an area that you want to work -- even if it isn't through your own school's journal. There are a ton of law journals in this country and most of them will take submissions from anyone. At my school, there is only one journal -- the law review. And you have to be in the top 7% to work on it. When I was still in school, I didn't realize how many other options there were for publishing articles, so I'm working on one now and it would have been much easier if I could have done it for a law school seminar or something, rather than having to self-motivate. The bottom line is that it will prove to an employer that you are seriously interested in a subject and aren't just saying so in your letter, or even in your interview. For example, I've had one interview since graduation and it was in a specialized area in which I am genuinely interested, but they couldn't tell. The firm was looking for someone who either had experience, which I didn't, or a "demonstrated interest" in the area. Courses that I chose apparently didn't count. But a published article certainly would have. In the end, they went with someone that was two years out, but I'm convinced that if I had an article that I could have pointed to to show my interest, I would have gotten the job.

4) Look for externships. There are a lot of large firms that will hire people as law student externs during the school year. Granted, this might only apply if you go to school in the city where you want to work. It might not be advertised, so just email some partners in practice areas that interest you and see if they would consider taking on an extern. You can probably get credit for it through your school with only a minor adminstrative hassle. And if you do get one, try to go above and beyond and get involved with different projects and get to know people. I have a friend that did an externship with a large firm and ended up getting an permanent associate offer because he did exactly that. And he wasn't the type of student they normally would have hired directly out of law school. And again, this isn't something you can do once you are out of school. I've actually contacted a few places and offered to work as a volunteer on a temporary basis, but have been uniformly rejected. I guess they figure if it's through a law school it is enhancing the firm's reputation, but if it's just bringing on some random person with no experience, it creates unnecessary administrative hassles.

Hopefully this helps. The most important thing is to be a little creative when you're searching. The mass mailings don't work. I did it each year of law school and got nothing but rejection letters out of it. And I even took the mass mailing to another level by sending one letter to the HR person, and then several other letters to partners in the areas in which I was interested. But that only resulted in getting multiple rejection letters from each firm, presumably because the partners would just forward the letters to the HR person who would then send out a rejection. So try something different.
A few e-mails arguing the flip side of what the rest are saying:

Post #14

I've been reading the blogs you have posted on your blog and I am disgusted with the constant whining. I agree with blog 10. If you don't want to work for a big firm; then don't. You can work for the government or try to find a small firm. You don't even have to practice law if you don't want to. The majority of us (law school graduates) don't have that luxury. Most of us can't get jobs until we get our bar results (which, if you are in NY, is not until mid Nov.) To say its depressing would be putting it mildly. But to hear these intellectual wimps complain about whether or not they want to work at a job that pays them six figures a year is really aggravating. You guys don't know how good you have it.

Nobody is happy. The person working the horrible job that pays crap isn't happy and the person stuck at a big firm making lots of money isn't happy either. There is no middle ground.

Post #15

Well, I've been reading a lot of the messages from readers, and it's prompted some extra reflection on my part. I'm a 1L at a top law school. I've barely started, so maybe it would be wise for me to hold off judgment. But all the dissatisfaction makes me feel like someone ought to say something good about law school.

Maybe reading about how good things are is less interesting than all the bad stuff. Maybe it's contrary to the law school culture to discuss the positive (a lot of my section's bonding has been accomplished through complaints). And maybe the fact that I'm one of the "lucky ones" who got into the law school of my dreams means that I should just shut up.

But I can't help wanting to say something good about law school. I step into class, and I get to dive into a world of ideas, a world where critical thinking is encouraged. The professors and students around me are some of the most accomplished, interesting, and (occasionally) fun people I've met. Yeah, we read a lot, but we also spend *a lot* of time enjoying ourselves.

Granted, it's a little sad how much time goes into looking for jobs. But I was out in the so-called real world for awhile, and I think that that's just how life is. When I was unemployed, I was wondering if I'd ever find any work at all. After getting a job, I was excited for a few months before I started thinking about what else I could be doing.

At least going to law school has opened up some new possibilities I never had before. I'm not exactly certain what I'll do when I get out of here (I have a bunch of ideas, but nothing is set in my mind). I just plan on soaking up the great stuff here in law school, dealing with the bad, and letting the future take care of itself. Because whether you're in law school, clerking, working at a firm, government, or nonprofits, it seems to me that there's always the choice to be happy.
A few more law student e-mails, reacting to the previous ones I posted:

Post #12

I'm a 3L, at a top tier law school in California. But I did not do the Big Firm Job last summer, instead I did public interest work. So now, I have to find an actual job, that pays, for after graduation. And this isn't fun. I think I've got a few things working against me: I'm not top 10% or anything special. I'm just top half. Because first year and I did not get along. Second, my school is not especially well known. ...

Back to my job search:
I've sent out 116 clerkship applications. So far, a couple of polite rejections, and a few "thanks for your application, we'll be in touch." Now I'm no idiot, I didn't expect the phone to be ringing off the hook, but I thought maybe one or two would get me a call. I applied to the middle of effing nowhere. Who else wants to be a clerk in those places?

I also am applying for multiple fellowships. The pay is jack but at least I'd be doing something interesting and relevant and hopefully, for the common good. It will be months before I hear anything.

I am currently working on the law firm application process. I had one interview last week and it went pretty well. Smallish firm, so I don't know how soon to expect a callback or letter of rejection. I'm now trying to decide where else to focus my energies. The big name firms pay a lot but require too many hours. Plus most of them do absolutely nothing which interests me. Not even stuff I could fake an interest in. And small firms aren't even thinking about hiring yet, if at all. And I wonder, not only which firms should I be applying to, but should I apply to other states? ... Do I want to sit for multiple bar exams?

The whole thing is incredibly frustrating. I came to law school thinking that even if I decided I did not want to be a lawyer, that other doors would be open to me. I just wish I could figure out what those other doors are, and when they might be open.

On a lighter note, I also find the pay at law firms to be truly hilarious. $100K? To me? I'm 24! I am not worth $100K. I am sorry, but I'm not. The very numbers which law firms toss around are so ludicrous as to be hysterical. In what other profession would we pay entry-level positions $100K or more? Lawyers do not come out of law school with all that much professional training. We sat in a classroom for three years. Sure we did some clinics or we externed or we took trial practice, but nothing really prepares us for what working is like, and then they pay us like we're actually capable of doing stuff? So funny. I hope I get a law firm job just so I can laugh at my paycheck every month (and then cry at the size of my loan payments every month).

Post #13

I'd like to respond to the comments made by the Australian law students and offer my 2 cents on the issues they raised.

As a preface, I did the much hyped "summer clerkship" at a BigLaw firm last year, and I'm now in my final year at law school. So I have "been there, done that" so to speak. I raise this because some of the following comments will be made with the comfort that I have secured some kind of graduate employment, and therefore some of the following comments may biased and more downplayed than if I had not completed a summer clerkship and was desperately searching for a job right now.

In any case:

I understand that people act competitive but really the competitiveness is ridiculous. This is the case because the summer clerk programme is GROSSLY over exaggerated as the be all and end all of your legal career. To put it in perspective, treat the summer clerk programme like the HSC (high school exit exam). It's all a means to an end. The HSC gives you a Universities Admission Index (UAI), which gets you into a degree. It doesn't paint the whole of your future career. I didn't get the requisite UAI to get into the "prestigious" law school in the beginning, I transferred in. Similarly, if you don't initially get into a BigLaw firm through the summer clerkship process, there are other avenues of entry. Just like how today no one cares about what UAI you got and it's all about what you have achieved since you got into university, likewise in a few years time no one will care whether you got into the firm through the summer clerkship or graduate recruitment or lateral transfer - it will be about what you have contributed to the firm up to that point.

Yes most large firms in Sydney receive 1000+ applications for a maximum of 30-45 positions. But understand that those 1000 people are the same people applying to all of the law firms. So really there are around 200+ spots open for around 1000+ applicants. Not 40 for 1000. Just try to relax.

Forget about the HR person making mental notes thing. By and large, the only bad impression you can make is if you act like a snobby wanker and disregard everyone else to suck up to the nearest partner. People can smell it a mile away and nobody likes it. Just be natural and friendly - there is no reason to snub a friend in order to try to articulate some discreet aspect of stamp duty law with a partner. In fact the more you talk about law (which you don't know much about compared to the partner) the more you expose your lack of knowledge. Your point that if you spend the night talking to friends "then you will be seen as socially maladjusted and not sufficiently interested in long-term career prospects at Firm" is highly fanciful - you are over analysing the crap out of the situation! Unless you are turning up to a small firm cocktail party where there are less than 50 people, chances are you will just be another pretty face.

You say that "this is IT; this is crunch-time". Whilst that may be true to some extent, my advice is to not believe all the hype. This is IT for you? Maybe if you want to spend the rest of your life using every waking moment working in a top tier law firm then this MAY be IT. It's great that you are so motivated and you sound like the type of person who will be the model summer clerk candidate, but for your own sake try to adopt a broader life view, otherwise you will end up as Anonymous Lawyer.

"If I don't get a job at one of the large firms I don't know what I'll do when I graduate." That is exactly what the big firms con you into thinking. They call it "churn and burn". Be proud of yourself and what you are as a person, and remember that they want and need good people like you as much as you want and need big firms like them. It's really a two-way street.

Well that's my advice for now. Good luck guys and I hope to see you around the traps this summer!
I saw the movie "Proof" last night and really liked it. I didn't see the play it's based on, but that's supposed to be pretty awesome. The movie was solid. It's about a mathematician who loses his mind, and his daughter struggling to cope, and her fight not to lose her mind like he lost his. All the performances, I thought, were really good -- Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Hopkins, and Hope Davis. Anyway, Proof's an intelligent movie and definitely worth seeing. One of the best things I've seen this year, for sure -- although I haven't seen a ton of movies this year, so I'm not sure how much that's really saying.

I also just watched the season premiere of "The Office," which was funnier than I remember last season's episodes being. And the other day I saw "Everybody Loves Chris," the new sitcom with Chris Rock as narrator, and that was pretty good too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More readers respond, about law firm job offers:

Post #9

It's September and I'm about a month removed from the bar exam (I took New York) and I'm currently job hunting. Its been a disaster so far. Now a month of job hunting might seem like nothing, but its not really a month, its more like 3 years of continuous job searching. After the first semester of law school, your "job" at law school is really to find a job once you're out of law school. I think I did everything right. Although my school isn't great, its a respectable 2nd tier school, with (I think) great professors, mostly hailing from the Ivies. I was an editor on a journal, I published two notes, I did a total of 5 internships throughout law school, I joined student associations, I participated in events, got decent grades, and I'm jobless. What's incredibly frustrating is that the OCS at my school, and many other schools (from what I hear), all seems to focus their efforts at finding work for the top 10% of the class. Hello!! they don't need your help! I do. And stop telling me to go to Bar Association meetings. I've been and they're pointless.

Another thing, it absolutely kills me when I hear people complain about having an offer from a top firm but they're somehow struggling with it. What?! If you can't justify selling your soul to a law firm then don't, nobody is pointing a gun to your head and chances are if you got the offer, then you at least look good enough on paper to get a lower paying job, where your soul will remain intact. But please stop whining about it, at least you will be able to pay the bills next month.

Post #10

As an Australian law student, my experiences are not directly transferable to a US context - for example, we don't have the same ranking of law schools (at least, certainly not in such a regimented and recognised manner, though of course some law schools are more prestigious than others). But there are some universal truths, I think.

If you are someone who is never satisfied with your achievements, getting a job at a Big Law firm will not help. I know, because I am one of those people. I have accepted an offer with the law firm that I wanted to go to, and I'm delighted that they wanted me - but the euphoria and feeling of invincibility lasts maybe two days. In the long term, it doesn't really help to validate me in my own eyes. If you accept an offer, do so because that's where you want to go - not because you think that it will suddenly make you feel that you're a smarter, more successful, better person than you were before. It won't.

Even though I went into the process with my eyes open and I made my choice happily and easily, that doesn't mean I'm not scared. Scared that I will change so much in the process and become a carbon copy of the Anonymous Lawyer, ending up divorced at the age of 45 because I never saw my family... scared that I will get on the treadmill and find that I can't get off... scared that I will not fit in with everyone else... scared that I will fit in and become the sort of person who cares about whether I'm wearing Armani and driving a BMW convertible... scared that I will not be able to handle it all and be sacked within the year. I did a clerkship at the firm that I am going to, and chose it in the end because I liked the people that I worked with, I liked the culture, and I liked the reputation that the firm had. But now that I've accepted, I read stories about it in the newspaper or hear stories about what it's really like from people at the firm, and I'm scared that I've made the wrong decision.

But you can't be paralysed by your fears, and ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that whatever choice you make, we do not live in a gulag. You have the ability to shift careers, to protect your integrity, to be the person you want to be. Sure, it may mean making sacrifices - if you decide to drop out and change careers, you may earn less; you may be unemployed for awhile; you may need to return to university. That's why I plan to live below my means and keep saving up - I hope I never reach a stage where I feel like I can't change jobs because I have to have designer clothing and a new car every year, and lots of meals out at expensive restaurants.

Post #11

I am a law student [in Australia, and I'd like to respond to the post from yesterday.]

First of all, people are acting competitive because, like it or not, clerkships are a highly competitive process, Most of the large firms in Sydney receive about 1000 applications for a maximum of 40 or 45 positions. The fact that some of your friends would rather talk to partners than their friends at law firm functions doesn't mean that they have suddenly turned into evil and heartless clerkship monsters and are now "pushing good people away." It simply reflects the fact that the reason we are at these functions is to meet the people who work at the firm and to find out about the firm and what it might be like to work there. It also reflects the fact that there is probably an HR person busily walking round the room taking mental notes and if you spend the entire "cocktail party" (ie torturous contrived social event) taking to your friend in a corner -- while others talk to the partners that have made the effort to leave their desks for an hour and come down to grace us with their company -- then you will be seen as socially maladjusted and not sufficiently interested in long-term career prospects at Firm -- goodbye clerkship!

I know the type of stereotypical "Law Students" that you refer to who hide library books (they also like to rip articles out of law journals; an act of sabotage that is no longer as effective as it once was now that most law journals are available on the net!) But I don't think it's fair to put people who are taking this clerkship process seriously into the same category. We are not sabotaging anyone else's success, we aren't lying or cheating, we are just trying to make the most of an opportunity that most of us have worked hard for throughout year 12 (the last year of school in Australia) and 4 years of Uni. It's great that you are so blasé about clerkships and graduate jobs and all of that but you have to understand that for many of us (I'd say most of us actually) this is IT; this is crunch-time, this may be our only chance to go out and get what we have been striving for.

I don't think that caring about "money, jobs and exam results" makes you a bad or immoral person, or that caring about those things means you don't care about friendship or about other people; they are not mutually exclusive priorities. I'm sorry you feel you need to "insulate yourself" from the crazed savages you seem to think your fellow law students have become.

Speaking for myself, practicing law is the only career I ever wanted. I worked hard to get into a good law school, I worked hard to get good marks and to maintain the extracurricular activities and other "CV bling" that marks out the "all-rounder" firms look for. So now that clerkships have rolled round I do feel like it's make or break time. Unlike students whose other degree is a practical one like Commerce or Science, I as an Arts student (I don't know what the US equivalent for that is, but it's basically a humanities degree) don't feel I have many alternatives. If I don't get a job at one of the large firms I don't know what I'll do when I graduate.

Yes this whole process is competitive and torturous and fake ("what distinguishes Firm from all the other top tier firms?" all partners invariably say as they cue the power-point for their presentation "it's the CULTURE, the PEOPLE...) and perhaps even dehumanizing but that's the way it is and I don't think those who recognize it for what it is and try to make the most of it are thereby losing sight of the important things in life or becoming corrupted (that'll come later... once we're working... :-))

Monday, September 19, 2005

A lot of words that aren't mine

Okay. A smart blogger would take the e-mails he got in response to the post on Saturday looking for people's thoughts about law school and being a lawyer and figure "okay, cool, one a day, that's a week of content." But it feels like I'm cheating if I do it that way, because it's just a gimmick to get people to come back and to save me from having to think of anything to say. I hate it when I go to weblogs that'll, say, do an interview with the GM of a baseball team [Athletics Nation, an awesome blog that doesn't deserve my tiny little complaint here] and split it up into three parts and make me remember to come back. So here's a heck of a lot of really interesting content. People's thoughts on being a law student and a lawyer. This is cool stuff, and I want to just throw it all out there right now, and then worry about whether there's any common theme or what I have to say about it later. So... besides the one I posted yesterday, here's most of the rest of the responses I've received -- I'm saving one for tomorrow, about the LSATs, since it's different from these. (Note to people who e-mailed me: I'm assuming everyone wants to be anonymous, and done some small editing in brackets to make an effort to keep you anonymous. If for any reason you don't want to be anonymous, e-mail me and I'd be glad to put down your name.) If more come in, I'll post 'em as I get 'em. I hope they keep coming. This is interesting stuff to read.

I. Prospective Students

Post #1

Unlike most applicants, I was well into my late 20's before I realized that law school was something I was interested in. As a biochemistry graduate student it was assumed that I would follow the well-established path to becoming a research scientist, either in my own lab or at a pharmaceutical company. However, I'm now in my 6th and final year of graduate school, and for almost 3 of those years I've known that the bench was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

Where could I find a profession that allowed me to use my love for and knowledge of science without forcing me to do benchwork? I considered the handful of alternatives that are most common, such as science writing and others, but it was law that appealed to me the most. Instead of tedious research, I could work for a company or a firm and be handed all the freshest and most interesting research.

Not surprisingly, I have received some criticism regarding my decision to leave behind the benchwork and the research for law. There is a general feeling among research scientists that intellectual property, however necessary, can get in the way of advancing knowledge. Others wonder why I'm spending 3 more years in school instead of finally getting out into the work force. The vast majority of graduate students do post-doctorate work after they defend their thesis and graduate. The post-doc can last as long as five years, and although they do have a salary during this period, it is much less than a full-fledged research scientist makes. So I usually bring up the point that instead of making little as a post-doc for 5 years, I'm going in the hole for 3 and then entering the workforce. I still don't know who wins that particular argument.

I'm now in the middle of obtaining my Ph.D. and working on entrance to law school, including LSAT prep and writing the all-consuming personal essay (both of which I should be working on right this minute!!). Added to those monumental challenges is the myriad of small ones. Can I afford law school? Which school do I go to - the big name or the great program? Can my wife, infant son, and I survive on her salary alone? Will she be able to find a job wherever we decide to go? Is intellectual property a field I will always love working in? Will I succeed at law school?

Amazingly, identifying the course of my life was incredibly simple compared to the many decisions I must make in the next 10 months. Hopefully, 25 years from now as I look back on my life, I'll have made all the right ones.

II. Current Law Students

Post #2

What I wish were different about law school:

I attend a 2nd tier law school in New York City. The pressures that press are different, I think, than those on students at NYU or Columbia (or *shudder* the dreaded Harvardlings & Yalies). I love my school. As a focused and driven student, I get a great deal of individualized attention from incredibly accomplished professors. As this same focused and driven student, I encounter a great deal of awkwardness [from fellow students].

Having obtained multiple offers from top ten law firms in NYC, I am part of a [very small group of people] at my school. Of the rest of the student body, about 10% has managed to land a job somewhere in BigLaw (very few in top twenty firms). The rest flounder - if they wanted to be here, they couldn't. Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trust some of my fellow students in a padded room with a sharp stick, but others are quite bright, and just had an off day at the LSAT, or didn't have a private school college education, or whatever, and should be landing in the top 1/2 at NYU, where they'd have everything they wanted, instead of the top 1/2 at my school, where they're left with few opportunities for lucrative work; instead, my friend at the 25th percentile, who speaks [a number of] languages, who has international project management experience, and who spent this past summer in [a foreign country] learning about [its] legal system, is unable to get an interview at an NYC firm.

I would change law school so that the entrance requirements for the elite schools, and thus the job opportunities for the elite jobs, were not so stringently based on factors that correlate so closely with class and race privileges. If, indeed, the elite law schools actually attracted the best and brightest, then they would attract fewer of the whitest and richest.

I chose this law school despite it being ranked lower than other schools to which I was granted admission because I never imagined that I'd have the opportunities that seven (of eight) good performances on pressure-filled essay exercises (aka "exams") would give me. I wanted the lower debt burden (having been awarded a scholarship at entrance) and its concomitant freedom. Ironically, I am now poised to accept a position at one of the best law firms in the world, earning more money than 90% of my classmates, and I get more financial aid than all but 4 others, whose packages are equal to mine. Am i the one who needs it? Hell, no! Will I turn it down? Hell, no!

I have no beef with my success - I worked very hard, and would come out on top at any school. But . . . it's obvious that the system is broken, that it favors those whose achievement comes not because of hard work, but by dint of being born to families with connections to Exeter, the Ivies, etc. It's not that there's NO possibility of someone lacking those connections achieving that success (I'm an obvious example), but that those connections determine success more closely than do talent and intelligence. Ultimately, I just wish that more of my smart friends could have these chances, instead of the students at the bottom of the class at more highly ranked schools.

It'll be weird having lunch with the Ivies next summer...

Post #3

I study at [a law school in Australia]. The law degree has to be combined with another degree like Commerce or Engineering etc which means it takes 5 years to complete our undergraduate studies. (It's supposed to give us a broader education or something... or maybe it's just a torture device - I haven't quite figured this one out :) )

What I have noticed throughout law school is that there are a lot of Law Students. Not just law students according to the usual definition "those who study the law". But the stereotypical ones. Usually, their most annoying characteristic is hiding books in the law library's air conditioning vents so others can't find them.

This year, being my 4th, I have to apply to be what you call Summer Associates at megaginormous law firms (we call it Summer Clerkships Programs). And I've noticed that this process brings out the inner Law Student in many people.

They would say things like "I've heard so many people say they are not applying for clerkships and I used to encourage them to apply but now I just think 'oh good, one less person to compete with!'"

People you would normally say hi to and have a 10 minute chat, suddenly become schmoozers who would much rather speak to the partners at a law firm's information functions than undistinguished characters like their friends. They would strive to impress with sugar-coated phrases while reciting that partner's CV as well as their own.

And I guess that's what most annoys me about law school. It makes some people so competitive that it is not a place where we can learn from each other any more. They care more about money, jobs and exam results than who they have in their lives. Sure law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. But I can see that law school might also make you think that is the only way to think and if you truly believe that then you end up pushing a lot of good people away.

I am glad, though, that it's not all doom and gloom. I have made some great friends in law school and we always laugh together and learn together. I suppose in this kind of competitive environment, we have to adapt and insulate ourselves to some extent or else we would go mad. I have also had some very good lecturers who say to us "never forget the way you thought before you started". Through the clerkship process, I have met some lawyers who are passionate about what they do and they love going to work each day. And these are the kind of experiences I hold onto because they inspire me to be a better person/law student and they remind me that we are all in this together.

Post #4

I just spilled tomato soup on my offer letter and contract. It’s all signed and sealed, waiting to be placed in the mail. Once I mail it, I will have officially accepted a full-time position at a big law firm, to join their corporate group. Most of my peers at school are jealous. My parents could not be more proud. I’m already tallying up my budget for next year according to the generous salary I’ll be provided. However, the letter sits on my dining room table, and soup gets spilled on it. I’ve walked down to the mailbox 7 or 8 times in the past few weeks. I open the mailbox, slide the letter in, and immediately pull it out again, run back to my house and lock the door. I’m not the only one of my peers that has done this. I just can’t do it. I can’t willfully accept this job. It’s almost like standing on the balcony of a high rise in New York City and putting your toe over the edge. Much like that would be, my body’s survival instinct kicks in and sends me flying back inside, searching for something sturdy on which to lean.

It’s not like the summer was so terrible. I was really challenged and enjoyed a lot of the work I did. I almost wish I hadn’t done an associateship. The good parts of it tempt me to mail the letter; the bad parts keep me from actually doing it. I kept my eyes open this summer, and noticed too much. I wish I was ignorant, I wish I could be optimistic about my future at the Firm, but I know too much, about myself and about the Firm. I know I can find something there to keep me afloat, I’m just not sure I want to live my life with only my head above water. I’d prefer to work in a career where I’m not just barely hanging on to my sanity and family and friends.

But I really have no choice. My paralysis leaves me with few options. I’ve not looked anywhere else, and I’m too frightened to jump back in to the pit of a job search. My grades are good enough to get a government job, I could always hop back on the public interest train, and I could probably get a job at a smaller firm, one where I’d be a human instead of a mere cog. However, the inertia has sunk in. I’m sure I’ll accept the offer. I just need to get a clean envelope, a bottle of vodka, and a friend to mail the letter for me.

Post #5

I worked for 10 years in consulting before I headed back to school. I'm at [a 4th tier law school]. It's small here, and it's not fancy. We’re getting a good, practical education. The profs are pretty down-to-earth and accessible, and many of them are even brilliant.

Very few of us will even get a crack at working for a law firm. I have mixed feelings about this, but basically it means that the law firm culture doesn't really permeate the school culture here like it does at higher ranked schools. Most of us go into family, real estate, or immigration law, which is not what I’m interested in.

The coolest thing about where I am is that we actually get to think about what we're interested in, and pursue it. There are many paths and sometimes I feel as though I have more options than your classmates do.

So what am I afraid of? When I figure out what I want to do, I'm not sure I will really be able to do what I want. There are a lot of lawyers who graduate from [other] law schools [in this city], and a lot of them want to work here. Most of them go to better schools than I do and probably have better grades. And they will get looked at first, and second, and so on.

III. Law School Graduates


I went to law school, graduated a little over a year ago, practiced law for a short time, and have since become a high school teacher. I get much more satisfaction from my current job.

I am currently living in New York, but went to law school [elsewhere]. The school is ranked low, and basically unknown in New York. My options were limited when applying for legal positions, and although I ended up with a fairly decent job, the fact that I wasn't making all that much money made it a bit easier to walk away. For that reason, I am thankful I attended a lower ranked school; simply put, I doubt I would have had the will power to walk away from those New York legal positions paying top dollar. I do believe in time I would have ended up where I am anyway, but more time would have been wasted in a job that I'm sure I would have thought I had to hold on to.

Often you've posted about people wasting their talents by accepting jobs in law firms only for the money. Those posts always get me thinking. Perhaps if the reasons people end up unhappy in law firms were specified, the aspects that lead to satisfaction within a job might be easier to understand. In other words, if a reason why so many people are not satisfied in law is because the job lacks a creative output, then creativity might be a significant factor in job satisfaction.

Perhaps it is the number of hours most lawyers work that leads to unhappiness. That's the easy answer; all that's needed is a shorter work day to solve the problem. I don't think that's it, though. When I worked as an attorney I often thought about how even if I did everything right, and was able to produce work of the highest quality, the end result of that work, and how that work affected others, did not excite me. How is one supposed to strive to improve if the reasons for improving are not apparent?

In contrast, I am constantly trying to improve as a teacher. In doing so I might be able to get through to my students in ways I would be unable to without the improvement. I have an incentive to work hard. Money, even if my potential was greater as an attorney, did not provide that incentive. Even those who do quite well monetarily are often dissatisfied with their jobs, so I have to believe I am not alone in that respect.

We spend so many hours of our lives working, so the questions you've posed and your apparent concern with finding satisfaction within your profession is something I share. Of course, the greater the importance we attribute to this decision, the more difficult it becomes to find a truly satisfying job. I think it's worth the effort, though.

Post #7

So, I just got my bar scores. I passed the multistate but failed the [state] section. I won't know by what margin for a few days, but I know enough to know that a) I am not a lawyer and b) even if it was close, it wasn't close enough.

Things I Do Not Want to Hear:
- "You'll get it next time." (There may not be a next time. I'm really not sure I want to go through this again.)
- You'll feel better tomorrow. (Fuck you.)
- Any sentence or phrase involving the words "JFK Jr."
- "Wow! Are you disappointed?" (No, I've got Botox coarsing through my veins. Emotion? 404: File Not Found.)
- "That's a shame. (Insert name here), who isn't very smart, passed."
- "You'll get it next time."

Things I Do Want to Hear:

- "I've got this plane ticket to Paris that I'm totally not using. Wanna go?"
- "I've got this gift certificate to Georgette Klinger for a hot stone massage that I'm totally not using. You want it?"
- "There's this amazing art school that is totally hiring and pays well. The principal owes me like 50 favors. Do you want me to make some calls?"
- "I need a housesitter for my villa in Tuscany. Are you busy?"
- "I'm buying the margaritas."
Someone found this blog by searching for "connecting tetris to exercise bike." I'm still trying to puzzle out exactly what they could have been trying to do. I don't have any answer for them, unfortunately.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

See the post below if you haven't. I've gotten a handful of responses, and they've all been really interesting. Here's the first one. I'll post people's comments to this if anyone has any and e-mails them.

I fit in the "prospective law student" category. I am a paradox in that I grew up knowing I would be a lawyer someday but have taken a "long way 'round" to get there. I sit here on a September night trying to do anything BUT write personal statements and work on my applications. This will be the fourth fall (in a row) that I have faced the application process. All that faces me has never seemed more daunting.

Although my LSAT score is not stellar (I think I can do better -- who doesn't? -- and may have the chance), my undergrad GPA was fairly strong and, as someone who has worked as an intern in a state legislature and now full-time in a law-related field for nearly two years, I believe that those elements which make me a "non-traditional" applicant are what makes me a strong candidate. These experiences have certainly refined my long-term interests and goals and will give me the drive once I get to school.

But, that is the angel on my one shoulder; the devil on the other spins a very different tale. I am married (2 years next month) to a wonderful professional woman whose job may be affected by my enrollment choices (and vice versa). This, combined with concerns of cost-of-living and having to move a home environment that is just starting to feel "right," adds even more pressure to the decision(s) of where to apply. Then there's the aforementioned LSAT score. It likely comes down to a fear of rejection at the hands of strangers on an admissions panel but acknowledging that fact has yet to make things easier.

The bottom line is that I can recite nearly word-for-word what I want to write in a personal statement or what I would say to an admissions officer, but when facing the keyboard in recent days I have frozen. This isn't writer's block for a term paper; this is holding me back from something that in one form or another I have been preparing for my whole life.

I started this ramble by saying that I grew up knowing that I was destined to go to law school and become an attorney. It was always an exciting, inspiring, and driving thought. I still feel that way; but now it has become a thought that scares me.

I don't write this to hear motivational thoughts from a desktop calendar or what your pre-law advisor told you years ago (or last week). I write it because Jeremy's use of the word "afraid" really did "strike a chord," this is cathartic, and it is cheaper than therapy. Besides, my wife and friends are sick of hearing about it. And now you are, too.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Your Turn

Obviously, I've had very little to say lately. So I want to try something. I have readers and I'm wasting them. There's good stuff in the archives, but I owe you more than that. So I want to open this up to guest writers. Anonymously or not, I don't care. I'm interested in what law students (or prospective law students) are afraid of, whether that relates to law school, or being a lawyer, or something else related. I'm interested in what law students wish was different about law school, or what lawyers wish was different about their jobs. I'm interested in what law students and lawyers would want to do with their lives if money was no object. I'm interested in parents and spouses of law students and whether they feel law school has changed their child, husband, or wife. I'm interested in what's wrong with the legal profession, and what's right with it. I'm interested in inspiration, and how that relates to any of this -- does what you're doing inspire you, or if it doesn't, what would need to change for it to do that.

If any of this strikes a chord, I'd love for you to write me an e-mail. 50 words, three hundred words, a thousand words, it doesn't really matter. I've written a lot about what I think about some of these things, but I'm interested in what other people think, and I think it would be neat to post some thoughts and maybe get a bit of a dialogue going. Everyone has at least weblog post inside him or her. :) That's my hope, at least.

This could be cool. Send me stuff.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I saw the movie "The Aristocrats" earlier today. It's a documentary about a dirty joke, with a whole bunch of comics telling it in their own way, and a bunch of talk about why it's funny and how to make things funny and an interesting look at comedians when they're not on stage. It was okay. I thought it would be funnier. And it felt really long. I was disappointed, but it's not like it was terrible. I'm glad I saw it. First movie I've seen in a while.

I hear good things from a number of friends about "Grizzly Man," so I may check that out sometime before it's out of theaters.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ten things a few months of subway travel will teach you how to do:

1. Balance without the need to touch the dirty subway poles.

2. Pretty accurately figure out where the exact middle of the platform is.

3. Predict, based on how many people are waiting on the platform, how recently a train came, when the next one will arrive, and how crowded it will be.

4. Identify the liquids dripping from the ceiling, as between "non-toxic water," "toxic water," "safe strangely-colored goo," "unsafe strangely-colored goo," and "blood."

5. Hold a book and turn its pages even when there's barely space to breathe.

6. Not make eye contact with anyone, yet still be able to tell if they're about to lunge at you.

7. Identify subway panhandlers before they begin their speeches about Jesus, so you can pretend to be engrossed in your magazine and not have to pay attention.

8. Identify whether something on the seat is sticky or dry without having to touch it.

9. Predict which fellow patron will be falling into you when the train lurches.

10. Determine, from the subtle hints given by the conductor in his or her announcement, whether the delay causing the current stop is going to be brief ("we will be moving momentarily"), not so brief ("we will be moving shortly"), or really really long ("we will be moving as soon as we can").
I have a short story. I'll reveal the moral first. The moral is, "Don't steal jokes."

This past Wednesday was the first day of my level 2 improv comedy class, at Upright Citizens Brigade. One of the exercises we did was short 3-line scene starts. One person says a line, you say something in response, they say something, end of scene. The point is to get good at starting scenes. So it was my turn, and the other person started, and opened up his imaginary trenchcoat and said, "Pssst. I've got some good stuff today. What do you want?"

There's a stand-up bit I've seen, done by Mike Birbiglia, who's a really funny stand-up comic I've seen live a couple of times and mentioned on here once or twice, where he talks about how there was a drug dealer on his street, and he passed him, and wished he sold Snapple, because he was thirsty... I'm not doing it any justice here, but it's funny.

So, that's what popped into my head in the improv class, and I stole his joke and said "You have any Snapple?" and it got a chuckle and whatever, it's a 3-line scene in a class, who cares, and I forgot about it.

Whatever you think the rest of the story is going to be, lower your expectations by about 80% and you can probably figure this out.

So... I just got back from seeing a stand-up comedy show at the same place I take the improv class, Upright Citizens Brigade -- it was a Hurricane Katrina benefit, $10 and you get to see a bunch of stand-up comedians.

The host did a little routine, and then announced they had a special guest who wasn't listed on the website... Mike Birbiglia. Which was cool, because, like I said, he's funny and I've seen him before and I think he's really good.

And he did about 6 or 8 minutes of material, I think. And, yeah, he did the drug dealer-Snapple thing.

Now, I don't even know if anyone else from my improv class was there, but it's certainly plausible they were. Certainly I don't expect *anyone* in the improv class could possibly remember this tiny 3-line scene I did where I used his joke. It's inconceivable anyone would ever think this hard about it. But *I* know. And so I feel marginally bad about it. Like, not really actually bad, because it's a class and it's one line, and it's improv and it's the first thing that came to mind. But I feel like this was an amusing coincidence. Worth sharing.

The headliner of the show was a guy named Demetri Martin, who was very very funny in a Steven Wright kind of way. Dry one-line observations. Good stuff. Also funny was Christian Finnegan, who I think does a bunch of those VH1 "I Love The Ten Minutes That Just Passed" shows.