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Thursday, December 9, 2010

During winter break, you might want to read something inspirational.

Did exams get you down?  Are you wondering if law is really for you?  There are all sorts of things that you might want to read during break to rev up your excitement about law school.

Some of our favorites:
  • The Autobiography of an Execution, David Dow (here):   yes, we're friends with David and Katya, but we'd like this book even if we didn't know them.
  • Gideon's Trumpet, Anthony Lewis (here):  a classic, and Gideon spent a week in Orange, Texas (NBR's home town).
  • A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr (here):  the movie (here) is good, too.
  • We don't agree with everyone on this list of lawyers to study (here), but it's certainly a nice start.
  • We haven't seen every movie on this list (here), but NBR likes The Thin Blue Line.
  • And, for fun, there's nothing quite like the movie My Cousin Vinny (here).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Note to future law students: as you start thinking about which law schools you like....

Don't rely too heavily on the U.S. News rankings.  Here are some stories highlighting how those rankings can be gamed:  see here and here.

Although we aren't fans of any ranking system that implies real differences among schools that are basically equivalent, we do think that you should pay attention to three factors:

1.  Even though placement percentages can be gamed, you should still care not only about whether you can get a job after graduation, but where that school tends to place its graduates.  See here for some sobering information.

2.  It's hard to get a law job if you can't pass the bar.  Pay attention to a school's bar passage rate.

3.  Not too long after you get your J.D., you'll have to start repaying any loans that you've taken out.  Realize that the higher your debt load, the fewer job choices you may have--and realize that not all law grads get high-paying jobs.  See here. (And virtually all loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy:  see here.)

So, as you're sorting out those schools to which you plan to apply, pay attention to data points that will matter to you.  How fewer than 700 people rate your school, based on returning a survey, shouldn't be the top reason (see here).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Between now and Thanksgiving--some advice for 1Ls.

OK, 1Ls:  you're probably exhausted right now.  You're working on your Legal Writing papers--which to many of you will feel as if you're writing in another language, on another planet--and you're starting to outline your first-semester courses.  You feel as if you've been drinking from a fire hose with all of the information you've been learning.  And you are starting to get heartburn / nightmares about finals.  What should you be doing right now?

1.  Legal writing matters.  Don't blow off your Legal Writing papers, even if your school makes the course a pass/fail course.  Legal writing = legal thinking, so for every minute that you spend drafting your papers, you're actually building your skills for exam-writing.  Think of your papers as two-fers:  fulfilling a course's requirements and learning step-by-step legal analysis, which is the skill that exams will be testing.  Moreover, most legal employers now are bemoaning the execreble (look it up!) writing skills of baby lawyers.  You'll be able to stand out later if you work hard on your legal writing skills now.

2.  Outlines are a tool for answering exams; they're not an end in themselves.  Our book gives you several different options for outlining your  courses.  There's not a single outline format that works best, and your professors aren't going to grade your outlines, so you need to figure out what type of outline will help you prepare for step #3.

3.  Start taking practice exams.  Yes, we know:  you don't know "the law" yet.  You haven't (a) started outlining or (b) finished outlining.  But here's the point:  MOST OF YOUR GRADES WILL BE BASED ON YOUR EXAM PERFORMANCE.  You've never taken law school exams before, so you need to learn the skill set that exams require:  issue identification, application of the facts in the hypo to the rules of law; ignoring red herrings; and prioritizing your discussion points to maximize your grade.  (Yes, we have two chapters devoted to exam-taking.) 

4.  Prepare to be unprepared.  Roughly two days after your courses end, you should STOP OUTLINING and start drilling for exams, even if you haven't finished your outlines.  It's more important to find out what you don't know (by taking practice exams) and to build your exam skills (yep, by taking practice exams) than it is to finish your outlines. 

5.  Prepare to work in groups.  Even if you prefer going solo during the semester, take practice exams with some of your law school colleagues.  You'll see where your blind spots are--and get a feel for the many ways to write exam answers--if you compare notes on your practice exams.

6.  EXERCISE.  Then exercise some more.  Exercise = reduced stress.  Reduced stress = better exam performance.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bragging a bit on the law students at the William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV.

I'm teaching the basic Professional Responsibility course this semester, and as part of the course, students sign up to present the day's material to the rest of the class.  (Ideally, the participation does two things:  (1) helps the presenting students really "own" that day's material, and (2) helps the rest of the class in its participation with the presenting students, on the theory that students won't want to let each other down.)

The students have absolutely knocked their presentations out of the park.  They've interviewed lawyers, found film clips on point, made their own movies, drafted their own negotiation exercises, and come up with memorable ways to teach the material--all without the use of a traditional casebook.  I'm exceptionally proud of the students in this class.

Here's just one example of what the students have used:  today, they used this YouTube clip (here).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yay, Stanford Law School!

Stanford's dean Larry Kramer talks about revamping legal education here.  Of course, we happen to agree with him (see here).

We're siding with Lucy Kellaway on this issue.

In today's Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway points out that Steve Jobs was right (and impressively--and clearly--terse) in refusing to do a student's legwork for her homework.  See here

The best lesson that you can get from her column today is that your need to get some information may not correspond with your target's obligation to give it to you (absent, of course, a legitimate subpoena).  The second best lesson is that asking for information respectfully is more likely to help you than is demanding it based on a sense of entitlement.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Quick and dirty way to get our book.

Thanks to Dean Jim Chen of the University of Louisville, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law (with some possible assistance from Gil Grantmore):  for the shortcut to our book on Amazon, click here.

1Ls: just how freaked out are you right now?

If you're feeling as though you're drinking from a fire hose, you're not imagining things.  Your professors are throwing so many concepts at you that you should feel overwhelmed.  (If you don't feel overwhelmed, you either come from a family of lawyers or you are excellent at repression.)

Now's a good time to pull out our book and read (re-read?) Chapters 3 and 4.

And don't forget to breathe.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are your law professors really the right ones?

One of NBR's buddies, Brent Newton, has published an article that's already received a lot of good press (see here for TaxProf Blog's take on the article; see here for the Law Librarian Blog's take on it).

One of us is busy working on his day job right now, but the other one of us (guess who?) does have her own take on the issue of faculty credentials. 

As Prof. Newton points out, professors--like every other employer--have a tendency to want to duplicate themselves with their new hires.  What more self-affirming act is there than hiring someone who is almost exactly like you?  But just as universities do best when they have a mix of theory and practice, so should law schools.  We shouldn't want all Ph.D.-J.D. faculty members, and we shouldn't want all "find your way to the courthouse" faculty members.  We need both. 

But, as Thomas Sowell has pointed out time and time again, what we really need is folks who know what they don't know.  Some theory-based faculty members can argue cases quite well in real life (e.g., Kathleen Sullivan, one of my heroes).  Others are better at theory than practice.  (I've actually been quite impressed at how many faculty members coming from practice are really good at theory, but I'm not a bit surprised.  Great lawyers use theory in their practice all the time.)

What I think we really need is a law faculty hiring process that focuses on how best to create a mix that will add to legal knowledge (scholarship) and add to legal expertise (teaching).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Welcome back to law school, upper-level students!

The best thing about coming back to school is seeing the brand-new first-years wandering around and reminding yourselves how far you've progressed.  (No!  Even if you're tempted, do NOT hit on the brand-new first-years!  They have enough stress in their lives.)

We wish we could tell you that the job market has bounced back, but we can't.  Our buddy Scott Unger just passed along this link (here) demonstrating how disappointed many law school graduates are in today's job market.

What can you do to improve your odds of getting a (good) job?
  1. Work on your writing skills.  If you don't write well, it's difficult to analyze issues well; sadly, if you can't analyze issues well, you can't write well, either.  If you don't have strong writing skills, figure out how to make them better, either by taking more upper-level writing courses or by working one-on-one with a professor to improve your skills.  (That's what NBR did when she was in law school.  She entered law school committed to using passive voice, and thanks to Bob Weisberg, she exited law school committed to destroying passive voice except when she intended to use it for a specific purpose.
  2. Work on your teamwork skills.  Lawyers tend to work cooperatively in teams, if not with other lawyers (howdy, solo practitioners!), then with their support staff.  If you are a lone wolf, you're doing yourself a disservice.  Brush up on your "people skills."
  3. Network, network, network.  Go to every law school event at which actual lawyers are speaking.  Chat them up.  Give them a (good) reason to remember you.  And for good measure, write them a nice follow-up email (which is fine) or note (which is better).  They're volunteering their time to come to your school, so make them feel appreciated.
Now go out there and have fun resuming your courses!

Welcome to law school, first-years!

Things you might be feeling as you start orientation:
  1. Fear.  Hey, law school is new.  New things are scary.  We get it.  But you have some choices about how to deal with fear.  That "fight or flight" feeling that you have is human nature, and you'll be feeling it a lot over the next few weeks.  You can let it get to you (unproductive), or you can talk yourself into thinking that the feeling in the pit of your stomach isn't fear but excitement.  (Same butterflies, but a much different spin.)  Excitement is productive.  Recalibrate what you're feeling.
  2. The impostor syndrome Lots of smart people go to law school.  When they meet other smart people at orientation, they start thinking that they themselves don't belong:  Admissions must have made a mistake in letting them in.  Nope.  The Admissions Office rarely makes a mistake.   What scares smart people is that, before law school, they did things that were innately easy for them.  (Sort of like Matt Damon's character in Good Will Hunting.  Math came easy for him.)   Then they turn around and devalue what they've been doing because they've decided that anything "easy" for them can't be difficult for anyone.  And law school turns around and wallops them with the demand for a lot of new skills, not all of which are innate to most people.  Guess what?  Law school may be more difficult for some of you, but that doesn't mean that you don't belong in law school.  Your mantra?  "I can do this.  I can do this.  I can do this."  If that mantra doesn't work for you, try "No one can die from embarrassment."  That one worked for us.
  3. Want to give yourself a little more reassurance?  Two of our buddies, Tania Shah and Melissa Gill, have posted a free law school prep course (here).  One of us (NBR) has known both Tania and Melissa for years and has worked alongside Melissa for the folks at Emanuel Bar Review (here).  You might want to check out Tania's and Melissa's tutorials.
  4. Give law school everything you've got.  Well, not to the exclusion of your loved ones, but our point is that you only have one chance to do well in law school, so buckle down and try to absorb all of it.  (But don't forget to work out regularly, too!)
For more tips, of course, there's our book....  Have fun during your first few weeks of law school!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Welcome back to school this month. Now, about plagiarism . . . .

As law school resumes later this month, students think about the high cost of a legal education (as you should), and professors think about the increased rate of plagiarism (as we should).  Plagiarism may be a generational "thing," as today's story in the New York Times suggests (see here), but--like other generational "things" (anyone remember disco?)--the fact that it's "generational" doesn't make it right. 

Using someone else's work and passing it off as your own is theft, pure and simple.  (The fact that one of my heroes, Lucy Kellaway, has admitted to some plagiarism in her Financial Times column this week has caused me great consternation, even though it was her alter ego, Martin Lukes, who committed the plagiarism.)

The best explanation of what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it is still the explanation provided by the writing program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's College of Law's Writing Standards in Law School (see here).  Read it.  Learn it.  Use it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

For those of you who are counting down to this July's bar exam....

Some well-timed humor, courtesy of our buddy Allison Hayward (see here and here--but if you're easily offended by cuss words, skip the second link).

And some last-minute tips from us:

1.  Your stress is ramping up, so ramp up your exercise program.  (But don't do things that are likely to cause you to break, say, a finger on your writing hand.  That happened to one of Nancy's friends right before he took the bar exam, and he had to learn to write with his other hand.)  Try to do something physical every day, even if it's just for 30 minutes.  Yes, yes; you can listen to bar review tapes while you exercise, if you really can't spare 30 minutes just to relax.

2.  Memorize.  Now.  Memorize the rules and the exceptions to the rules (and the exceptions to the exceptions.  BUT...

3.  Once you hit mid-afternoon on the day before the bar exam starts, STOP STUDYING. It's time to get in the zone:  watch a really stupid movie, read silly magazines, play video games.  At that point, there is nothing new that you can cram into your memory, so stop trying.

Good luck to all of you who will be sitting for the July bar!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What do law students want, and what should they want?

Our buddy Bernie Burk has been talking with us about this post (see here) by Howard Wasserman over at PrawfsBlawg.  (You'll want to read the comments to the post to get a feel for how passionate the debate about theory vs. skills can be.  You'll also want to read related posts, here.)  Here are three of our favorite comments to the post:

. . . It is true that there is not one thing that all law students want. But, there is something that about 90-95% of law students want, which is to be able to practice as a minimally competent attorney when they graduate.
Yes, professors have different strengths and weaknesses, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be the norm to have students read pleadings and have a drafting exercise. If your weakness as a civil procedure professor is that you're not good at drafting or analyzing pleadings, you probably need to reconsider your career.
If you don't understand mechanical things such as discovery, that's not an excuse to only teach theory. Get up off your ass and learn the basics of the subject matter you're teaching.
Posted by: BL1Y | Jun 18, 2010 11:07:47 AM

BL1Y really does have a point. "Student-centeredness" in no way presupposes that there is "exactly one right way to teach any law school class." What it does (or ought to) mean is that a teacher needs to take into account the needs (intellectual and practical) of his or her students, not focus on what he or she imagines that she does, or likes to do, best. What students think they need may not always be what the teacher thinks they need. That's what makes you the teacher. But one ineffective way of thinking about what students need is to think about what you like about yourself.
Posted by: Bernie Burk | Jun 18, 2010 3:16:58 PM

Vladimir and BL1Y:
Interesting discussion. Here's a view from a long time practitioner AND law professor (me) interested in highfalutin' theory (that is, given my odd background, I think I could teach a jurisprudence class, a trial skills class, and a transactional skills class.)
How the legal academy came to its present configuration wasn't the result of some logical exercise, but a matter of historical happenstance. That's not uncommon. Most intractable social and political realities arise that way (see Northern Ireland or Israel-Palestine). The reality now is that you are both correct in your fundamental observations: there IS a gap between what most law students want (unless they go to Yale) out of their educations, and what most law professors want out of their careers. It may well be that something like the financial crisis of the last couple years, and the shrinking of big law firms engenders a complete restructuring of the legal academy into a Ph.D. like "department of jurisprudential studies" with its place in the College of Arts and Sciences, and more trade school like professional schools, but I doubt it for two reasons that undercut both polar positions.
1. Law professors can't merely be theorists and have their gravy train survive. What allows so many law professors to engage in theory is the fact that their students who have little such interest fund the theoretical pursuit. First, law schools are notorious cash cows. When is the last time you heard of anyone organized a proprietary or for-profit sociology department? The cost of providing the education, unlike in the hard sciences or med schools, is relatively low compared to the market price of the tuition. Second, it's the salaries in private law firms that by and large set the benchmark for law professor salaries. Even if you take a pay cut to move into academia from the big law firm that is the typical immediate pre-professor job, you aren't getting paid like an assistant professor in the English department.
2. Law students don't REALLY want to be trained in the legal equivalent of the barber college or truck driver school. While law students may get frustrated with the theory often foisted upon them by their professors, the present paradigm in the academy (and, honestly, this preceded the influence of US News, because the elite schools in US News were the elite schools when Bob Morse was still wearing short pants), they show over and over again that they are significantly influenced by the brand of the law school, regardless of the specifics of the pedagogical program. And the brand, as the institution of the legal academy has developed, has a lot to do with all that theoretical stuff law professors are churning into law review articles. I'm not arguing that is good or bad (although I wouldn't be a law professor just to teach; it's the theory that floats my boat after all those years of practice); it's just the reality. Seriously, tell me that a rational student, faced with the choice of Stanford or UCLA, with all those practice-challenged theorists, or an excellent "skills-focused" third or fourth tier school, and no significant difference in tuition (see point 1) (and maybe not even then, but that's an interesting econometric question), wouldn't choose Stanford or UCLA?
My "dean speech" (that nobody has asked me to give) is that this is an intractable polarity that the profession is simply going to have to manage by way of leadership that provokes empathetic perspective at both poles. The poles aren't coherent, and there is no rule of nature that says they have to exist, much less coexist. But they can, just like lots of polarities continue to coexist. Faculties simply have to make concessions to the concerns and needs of students or their gravy train is going to disappear; students and alumni are going to have to acknowledge the driving forces of academic prestige and advancement, or they are going to lose that patina (and brand, and earning power) that comes with a law degree other than from ITT Tech, DeVry, or the University of Phoenix, all of which would be perfectly capable of offering what BL1Y wants (InfiLaw already does).
Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jun 19, 2010 11:13:18 AM

Here's our take on what you, as law students, should not want:

1.  You should not want an education that spoon-feeds you.  When you enter law school, your first-year professors will teach you how to find "the law" and how to think about it.  Your upper-class professors will expect you to figure out much of what we call the "black-letter law" by yourselves, in part because we know from our own experience that the difficult part of being a lawyer lies in figuring out to do when the black-letter law doesn't apply or when two black-letter law rules conflict (or when there's no law at all on the subject).  Litigators don't litigate easy cases--those never reach the courthouse, unless there's something psychological going on with the client.  Transactional lawyers don't get paid for cookie-cutter deals; they get paid for innovating.  There's nothing that'll tick a professor off more than being asked to spoon-feed a group of students.  You're smart.  That's how you got into law school.  Learn to figure some things out for yourself.  (For some great advice on this subject, see Austen L. Parrish & Cristina K. Knolton, Hard-Nosed Advice From a Cranky Law Professor; How to Succeed in Law School.)

2.  You should not want professors always to do what's always "been done."  Part of what distinguishes good law schools from bad ones is that, at good ones, professors are always engaged in thinking about how to make the law (and legal education) better.  Sure, you're risk-averse.  Sure, you feel more comfortable if your law school does things the way that you've seen in those movies and TV shows about how law school "works."  One of us had the opportunity to take part in Stanford Law School's Curriculum B experiment, which allowed 1L Civil Procedure students to learn Civil Procedure by drafting complaints, interrogatories, etc.  She didn't take Stanford Law up on that offer, because she was afraid that she wouldn't learn CivPro if she didn't learn it the "traditional" way.  Who knows if she would have learned more by giving an experiment a try?

What should you want?  If you're one of the lucky ones who (1) knows what you want to do after graduation and (2) is absolutely, positively sure that your correct about what you want to do after graduation and (3) isn't fooling yourself about whether you're correct about what you want to do, then you should go to the type of law school that will help you do what you want to do afterwards.  If you're like the rest of us, and you don't know what you want to do after you graduate, then you should want a mix of teaching styles, law professor backgrounds, career options, and courses.  Don't just stick to the tried-and-true methods of law teaching, and don't resist the experiments that your professors try.  Innovations come from experiments.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two slices of life about the current law student job situation.

Hat tip to Above the Law for both of these stories (as well as to two buddies of ours who pointed them out to us).

First, Michigan Law is being direct with its students about the upcoming year's market for law students (see here). 

Second, if you're looking for a job, the story of one outrageous law student falls under the "don't try this at home" category (see here).   Not only did this student jeopardize his future career, he's likely going to have some explaining to do to the state bar before he is allowed to sit for the bar.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy news about the Law School Survival Manual from U. Mass.-Dartmouth!

Thanks to Tania Shah and Melissa Gill of Law Tutors, we just found out that U. Mass. School of Law is making sure that all of its incoming 1Ls will be getting a copy of the LSSM.  Thank you, U. Mass.!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Should you really go to law school?

Hat tip to TaxProf Blog for posting this warning about most law schools' business models (here).  See also a related post (here) for the role that the U.S. News rankings may play, and see Prof. Tamanaha's original post (here).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Question from a blog follower:

In a comment to an earlier post, Anonymous said:

Any thoughts on how to handle unethical and/or unprofessional conduct by attorneys during a summer associate position? I don't feel lucky to have this position -- rather, I feel like I've made a mistake that will follow me around to future firms...

Our answer:  

hanks for your question, Anonymous. First question: do you have enough information to form an understanding about whether the conduct is in fact unethical? If so, does your firm have an ethics committee?

Here's what you might want to do:

1. IF you trust the mentor to whom you were assigned, raise the issue w/that mentor.
2. IF you don't trust that mentor (i.e., the mentor is the one behaving unprofessionally), what about the partner who interviewed you? Can you raise the issue with him or her?
3. If your firm has an ethics committee, you might consider raising it with that committee.
4. If there's no one at the firm whom you trust, then you know that you don't want to work there after graduation. If things are really, really bad and you can resign before the end of the summer--and do anything else to make money--consider doing that.

I'm so sorry that you're experiencing this problem.

BTW, there IS always the chance that you aren't seeing both sides of the matter. If there IS someone at the firm whom you trust, please do try to parse the issue with him or her. GOOD LUCK!

More on the shifting law firm paradigm.

Another great article from our buddy Bernie Burk, who found this in the AmLaw Daily (here).  If you're lucky enough to have a summer associate job, you might well be doing more interesting work than summer associates did in years past, and you should still report all of the hours that you've billed to the work that you're doing.  But fewer clients will be paying for your work on their matters, reflecting some sea changes in how law firms are running their business (see here).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Watch those loan balances--and make sure that you really want to go to law school!

Our buddy Jim Cossitt pointed out this article from the New York Times (here).  We want to make two points about this article and the concepts that it discusses:

1.  Don't go to law school (and amass a large student debt load) unless you really know why you're going.  Probably, you want to become a lawyer.  You might just want a legal education to help you in your own work.  (If you want to be a public interest lawyer, check this out.)  Those are both good reasons to go.  Not a good reason?  Your family thinks you would be a good lawyer (because you love to argue), and you don't want to tell your loved ones that you'd rather be anything else.  And don't go to law school before checking out things like the school's placement rate and bar passage rate.  Placement rate can be manipulated, but bar passage probably can't.  And if you're going to crank up those student loans, you darn well want to be able to pay them off with a j-o-b afterwards.

2.  Most student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  (You'd need to prove undue hardship, which is devilishly hard to prove, or have something very odd going on with that loan.)  So as that loan tab adds up, realize that you will be paying off every penny.

Law school isn't for everyone.  If it's for you, then go in with your eyes open.

Monday, June 7, 2010

More good advice about exam-taking.

It's too late for the spring semester, but some of you will be taking courses this summer, and the rest of you will have exam "joy" again this fall.  Here's another good piece of advice, forwarded again from Nancy's dad (here).

Another cautionary tale about a job-seeker.

This one comes to us courtesy of Nancy's dad:  here.  To steal a line from humorist Dave Barry, we are not making this stuff up.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why we are such sticklers for deadlines.

One of us has a hard-and-fast rule for her take-home exams:  turn the exam in within 72 hours of checking it out, or face severe consequences, such as flunking the course.  The emergency "out" to this rule is that, if the student sees that he or she isn't going to make the deadline--for a good (read: sudden-onset emergency) reason, that student is supposed to contact someone in the administration to explain the problem and get an extension.

The practice in such a case--when the emergency is real, as opposed to just a failure to follow the rules--is for the student to file a Motion to Accept Late Filing, just as the student would have to do in a real-life legal emergency.

Some students, over the years, have learned their lesson well:  some have done a full-blown Motion, and that motion worked.  At least one has simply filed a rambling apology that never answered the question of why the student didn't just pick up the phone and call the Registrar to explain the situation, as the exam rules provided.  We fear for the future clients of that student.

Why be such a stickler about the consequences for missing deadlines?  Because, in real life, lawyers who miss deadlines are committing malpractice, and their mistakes may well prejudice their clients' rights. 

Too many law students see law school as an extension of their undergraduate education.  But law school is professional school.  The habits learned in law school will carry over into the practice of law.

We wouldn't want engineering students to say, "OK, the calculations are off, but our design is close enough that we'll sign off on it, even though the design won't work."  We wouldn't want medical students to say, "Well, we know what most of the organs in the body are called and what they do; that's close enough."

Lawyers take people's lives in their hands:  sometimes literally (death penalty cases), sometimes figuratively.  That's important work.  Deadlines matter:  see here

Lesson:  If you're going to law school to learn how to be a lawyer, start behaving like one while you're in school.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dear Abby reinforces our point about following instructions.

When we read Dear Abby this morning (here), we saw this letter:

DEAR ABBY: The company where I work posted an ad online and at our state unemployment job board for a position that needed to be filled. The ad detailed simple but specific instructions that included asking applicants to write a cover letter to address certain questions. It also said -- in large letters: "YOU MUST FOLLOW THESE DIRECTIONS OR YOU WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED FOR EMPLOYMENT."
Of the 133 resumes we received, 76 did not contain the information that was requested. These applications were moved to an "Incomplete" file and not considered for hire. What's sad is that judging by their resumes alone, several of these applicants had the qualifications we were looking for.
With unemployment being what it is, I was surprised that the majority of the applicants did not comply with the simple instructions. Please advise your unemployed readers that a job is out there for them, but they must follow instructions. -- TRYING TO BE HELPFUL, TUMWATER, WASH.
DEAR TRYING TO BE HELPFUL: Consider it done. Now I'll offer another suggestion: Always proofread what you have written to ensure there are no spelling or transposition errors.

Just as we pointed out that following exam instructions is key (here), we want to emphasize that following instructions when applying for jobs is key as well.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Exam-writing mistakes of the semester (so far).

One of us is in the process of finishing her grading for the semester, and here's the top 5 list of exam-writing mistakes (so far):

(5)  Reiterating the facts without using them in the answer.  Especially for a page-limited exam, the only facts a student should mention are the ones that the student will use in his or her analysis.  Even for non-page-limited exams, wasting space = wasting time.

(4)  Incoherent answers.  If the professor can't follow the structure of the answer, then the professor can't assign points for the answer.

(3)  Making unsupported assumptions.  It's OK to make assumptions that help the student answer a question; it's not OK to make assumptions that bear no relationship to the facts in the question, just to be able to demonstrate knowledge of a topic that the question doesn't itself raise.

(2)  Failure to proofread.  If someone has a take-home exam, it's useful to proofread it before turning it in.  The worst mistake this semester has been someone who turned in an exam where the answer to question 2 was also the answer to question 3, resulting in zero points for question 3.

And the number 1 mistake?

(1)  Failure to follow instructions.  If a take-home exam has a 72-hour deadline, then 72 hours and 4 minutes (without a prior excuse) is equivalent to the failure to turn the exam in at all.  And if the professor wants the exam file named a certain way and the student doesn't use that naming convention, then the student has thrown away points.  Points are hard-earned enough; don't throw them away out of carelessness.

Why is #1 the most important?  At least for students who intend to be litigators, all courts have rules:  page limits, font sizes, deadlines, etc.  The failure to follow the rules might mean that a filing gets rejected.  And a rejection right before a deadline might time-bar a client's relief.

Oh, and one last thing:  students who have earned a Bachelor's degree in any subject need to know how to communicate, so law students need to know, at a bare minimum:

(1)  "Its" and "it's" are different words, and they mean different things; and
(2)  It's impossible to make a noun plural by adding an apostrophe and an "s."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A great comment from one of our readers:

Hat tip to Elena, one of our readers, for this great point:
Based off of what I saw during Fall OCI the last 2 years what to wear for an interview needs to be revisited once again.  Platform heels with a peeptoe?  Not a good idea.  Men:  the bottom of your tie should hit the top of your belt.  Also, get your slacks tailored.  Ladies: think about what shoes you are going to wear with your slacks, as you are then stuck with that height.  Also, ladies:  If a skirt hits higher than the top of the knee, it is too short for work.  Just a thought.

Elena, many thanks!  Students:  Remember, those TV shows with the "lawyers" wearing trendy, cool clothes?  They're actors, and the shows are fiction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What not to do as an admitted student, part 1.

See here.  Holy cow!  At some point, law school is supposed to teach students how to communicate their arguments persuasively.  Apparently, this student missed those classes.

Hat tip to our buddy Bernie Burk.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Deadlines. They're there for a reason.

We were having dinner with a friend of ours last night (he's an East Coast partner), and he mentioned how frustrated he was by new lawyers who didn't seem to understand how deadlines are supposed to work.  To him (and to us), a deadline for a court filing means that the document needs to be finished a couple of days before the filing deadline, to allow for last-minute emergencies.

Want to impress your boss?  Get the draft ready long before the deadline, so that you have time to polish it before it's due.  Proofread the document carefully; you don't want your mistake to get publicity like this.  We call those news stories "career-limiting moves."

We guarantee you:  wait until the last minute, and Murphy's Law will ensure that you can't file the darn thing on time.  ECF will go down; FedEx will misdeliver the document; an earthquake will close the courthouse.  (Each of these things has happened to Nancy.) 

Monday, May 10, 2010

How to make small talk at your summer job.

This week's tip is about making small talk when you're at social events organized by your employers.  Yes, even though the days of lush summer outings are gone, you'll still have to make small talk at lunches, dinners, and the other ways that your employers are testing your social skills.  (Oh, you didn't realize that the social occasions are testing your social skills?  They are.  Your employers need to make sure that you can work well with others socially as well as intellectually.)

If you're shy:  the easiest way to get over your shyness is to get the other people to talk about themselves.  Talking about yourself, if you're shy, is miserable.  Asking a question so that others talk is much better.  Try asking people about their hobbies:  "What do you do for fun when you're not working?"  You can safely ask about whether people have pets, if they're going on any interesting trips in the future, and similar topics.  As you well know, politics and religion are both tricky subjects.  You can talk about these issues, if you're clearly respectful of others' views, but you might want to wait until someone else initiates those topics.

Even if you're not shy, part of your mission this summer is to learn about your potential co-workers.  Are these people with whom you could see yourself working?  Nancy's test was always whether she wanted to be with her potential co-workers on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings at her job, which was when relationships with equally tired co-workers were tested the most.  (Yep, she worked her share of full weekends, and she worked at a law firm in the good old days.) 

People shape organizations.  If you like the people, you may end up liking the organization (although even the most likable of people can lead an organization astray--see Ken Lay).  Dislike the people, and your psyche may be giving you clues about why--see Blink, Malcolm Gladwell's book about instincts and why they're useful.

If you have any questions for us, just click here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

There's never a second chance to make a first impression.

Several of you are heading off to summer jobs soon, and most of you will be doing your level best to impress those who've hired you for the summer (unlike this clueless soul--see here--who has managed to take snottiness to a new low).

Some tips to get you started:

(1)  Everyone who works where you're working is important.  Among these important people:  the administrative assistants; the Of Counsel lawyers; the paralegals; the folks in the mailroom; and your fellow clerks.  Treat any of your co-workers poorly at your peril.  You don't know who's friends with whom, and you'd be amazed at the internal connections within an organization.  There's no reason to be uncivil or disrespectful--ever--while at your summer job.

(2)  "Overdress" on the first day.  Maybe your organization is "business casual" (whatever that means).  But on your first day, when people are forming impressions about you based on all manner of things besides the quality of your work, err on the side of over-dressing, rather than going for a casual look, unless you've been given specific instructions to the contrary.  Guys:  this means ties.  Gals:  this means giving serious thought to pantyhose if you're wearing a dress (and that dress had better cover what needs covering).  We know; we know:  ties and hose are the tools of torturers.  But endure, at least briefly, until you've figured out the real dress code.

(3)  Pay attention to your organization's procedures.  You'll get training in your organization's policies and procedures.  It'll feel like drinking from a water hose:  lots of information, but no context.  Try to take notes so that you can refer to those notes when you get confused about such things as how to bill time, what format you need for memoranda, etc.  Helpful notes may include such things as (1) we bill in [quarter hours] [tenths of hours]; (2) we can find a form bank for memos at [insert part of firm's drive where the form bank is located]; and (3) a list of abbreviations for billing tasks is available at [insert where that list is located]. 

(4)  Make eye contact and give a good handshake.  Connect with your new colleagues.  Two of the best ways to connect are to look people directly in the eyes and give a strong but not bone-crushing handshake.  Please don't give one of those dead fish handshakes.  You know the type:  it feels as if you're holding the sushi form of sea urchin.  If you're shy, look people in the eyebrows instead of directly in the eyes.  That might be a little less unnerving for you, and it accomplishes the same thing.  Shy people, remember:  no one is spending nearly as much time thinking about you and how you're doing as you are, so cut yourself some slack.  We're both rather shy when we don't have established roles to play somewhere,* and we tend to cope by finding ourselves credible roles to play, such as talking to people who don't have others talking to them.

Watch this blog for more tips throughout the summer, and please ask us questions.  Oh, and that title for this post?  It comes from Nancy's dad, who has seen a number of entry-level employees blow their chances for first impressions.

*People who know Nancy well should stop laughing now.  She is somewhat shy.  She just hides it very well.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Welcome to our blog!

Welcome to our blog!  Aspen Publishers / Wolters Kluwer is publishing our book, Law School Survival Manual: From LSAT to Bar Exam, this summer (see here for info).  Our book has the following chapters:

Chapter One--Before Law School Begins
Chapter Two--Orientation:  Welcome to Law School
Chapter Three--Some Universal Truths
Chapter Four--The First Two Weeks
Chapter Five--The First Month
Chapter Six--Some Advice About Writing
Chapter Seven--Preparing for Exams
Chapter Eight--The Marathon Aspect of Exams
Chapter Nine--First-Semester Grades
Chapter Ten--The Upperclass Curriculum
Chapter Eleven--Summer Jobs
Chapter Twelve--Evening (Part-Time) Programs / The Nontraditional Law Student
Chapter Thirteen--The Judicial Clerkship Process
Chapter Fourteen--The Bar Exam
Chapter Fifteen--A Few Last Survival Tips

We hope that you'll enjoy our book.  We also hope that you'll use this blog to check out some survival tips and to ask us questions about survival.  You can send us emails by clicking on "Contact us" (on the right) or by emailing Nancy at

Welcome to law school (if you're starting soon), and congratulations on making it through law school so far (if you're already there)!