Search This Blog

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.