Thursday, September 15, 2011

Break time

I may have to take a few day off from posting on this blog. I've mentioned before that I began this project in the hopes that it would prove a cathartic experience, allowing me to work through some of the anger and bitterness I've stored up over the last three years.

Instead it had pretty much just pissed me off. Each and every time I post. And, since I've been posting daily for three weeks now, I've been pissed off every day for what will soon be a month of my life.


I'll take a day or so, regroup, and just chill. I have a lot more stories. Most of them are in the form of a few notes or paragraphs written here and typed out there. I think I will be putting them together and posting them, just to get them off my desk and out of my friggin' life.

It is as if I am writing these message out on a piece of paper, rolling them up, stuffing them in a bottle, and heaving them into the ocean. Currents, take this pain away from me. Sun, warm my soul. I have been down too long.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A family with two lawyers

During the many informal exchanges I had with a faculty member over the course of my law school experience, I was commonly asked the question of what my wife did for a living.

I would answer, “She is an attorney.”

My professors handled the news in different ways. The most common being the neutral response indicative of not really giving a shit. That was OK. I took no offense to such conduct. In fact, I came to expect it. Look, we're just making small talk here. We both know it. How 'bout that weather, how are your kids, couldn't care less, couldn't care less. I too played the same game.

One professor told me his wife was also an attorney. And, as if it had any relevance on a man already well committed to his present educational endeavors, he added, “A family with two lawyers, huh? Just so you know, my wife and I didn’t have a weekend off together for the first two years of our marriage.”

Wow. Thanks, Sparky. That's a real game-changer.

I was already all-in, having pushed my chips to the center of the table, sold my home, packed everything we owned into a truck, moved to new city, and purchased different house. My wife had started a new job as well. What did he expect me to say, gee thanks for pointing that out, I’m going to drop out of school now and figure out something different to do with the rest of my life that leaves the weekends free?

Did I mention I was 38 years old and married for a decade at the time he said this?

I simply demurred and said something about a case we read or some artwork on his office wall. I really don't remember what I said. But, I do recall what I was thinking: "Yeah? Well let me break it to you, chief, some people work. And I've been one of those people. I’ve worked a lot of weekends in my life, including several years while married."

Not much point in going down that road, eh? So, instead, I let the wise old sage share his nuggets of wisdom. Just as I did with all the jokers I met in law school.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A dog is not a child

I started law school with two young children at home. Maybe not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. But, I assure you, no one ever accused me of being smart.

Two different female classmates said to me, “Oh, I know just what it’s like for you going to law school with two kids… because I have a dog.” This happened in first 2L, and again in 3L. Unreal.

I bit my tongue each time and just let it go. Discretion, I suppose. Just keeping your mouth shut from time to time ain’t a bad idea either.

Still, it bothered me. The fact is that neither of these two clowns had any idea what it was like to attend law school with two young children at home. No. Idea. At. All.

How do you respond to a comment like that? What can you do?

Because, really you'd think it obvious. A dog is not a child.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Taking a pass

Another day, another blog post. This is another law school memory near and dear to my heart. I once saw this cute, young, twenty-something, law review, top-tenner get called on in class. She answered, simply, “I’ll think I’ll pass.”

And the professor let her!

Mid-pack, cannon-fodder students like myself, well, let’s just say we did not get the same treatment. We were expected to stand before the class and embarrass ourselves fumbling over our thoughts as we attempted answer the question presented. The Socratic Method, right? Good times.

Oh, that one really sucked. Nothing quite like being reminded that you really just don’t matter in the slightest. Always a positive moment.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Legal education as a closed loop

There is something I have found very strange in legal education. There is this odd recycling of personnel between student and teacher. It seems that the students with the top grades do not last long out in the world practicing law (for any number of reasons). They then return to the academic community they just left to become law professors (instead of actually working as a attorney). These are the very people whom are tasked with educating the next generation of law students, rewarding like behavior in the classroom and creating another crop of people whom will not practice law. A quick review of the curriculum vitae of, say, five random law professors at damn near any school tells the same story: straight from undergrad to law school, less than 24 months at Big Law firm, and then right back to the comforting confines of academia.

In essence, the closed loop is as such: Good at law school game, bad at the law game, right back to the law school game.

One of the most egregious examples was a professor whom recorded a review lecture of evidence I watched a few times. He was leaning forward, smiling at the lectern, saying, “That’s where you really get ‘em on cross. You get that defendant on the stand. Isn’t that fun?”

(I should note, I've worked selling all manner of widgets. I know bullshit when I see it. This guy was talking out of his ass.)

So, I googled him. Yep, he did about two years at some civil firm before becoming a law professor. He never cross-examined a criminal defendant in his life.

So, why lie? I have no idea. I guess it made him feel more credible somehow. Of course, once the ruse is exposed, any credibility is gone.

Now, this is where it gets interesting (at least for me). As Christine Hurt put it, “Studying the law and practicing are two different exercises, which appeal to different personalities and skill sets.” (

I proffer that those that excel in law school are people whom posses a certain personality and skill set, or narrow range of personalities and skill sets. In my law school experience (admittedly little more than anecdotal commentary, but it’s my blog, so there), the top ten kids in my graduating class really seemed to be cut from the same cloth. There was a social awkwardness about them, a stammering manner of speech, and an odd sense of fashion. These people were difficult to interact with socially. I can see how these traits would not lend themselves well to dealing with clients and coworkers.

A second anecdotal comment: As I have undoubtedly mentioned in earlier post on this blog, my wife is an attorney. She graduated from law school back in 2004. I can look to her former classmates and see much the same situation. One of my wife’s good friends graduated third in her class of 90-something. She is a sharp girl, that one. But, man, is she difficult to be around. Now, all these years later, the girl can’t seem to manage working more than three days a week. I don’t want to mention her position, but it is one that requires an extremely bright person who can write extremely well. She has never had a client and never been to court. Not once. She reminds me of several professors I had in law school.

These top law students, whom invariably go on to failure at the actual practice of law (or “choose” not to do it any longer than 24 months), go on to educate the next generation of law students. I believe the educational system itself remains more or less static (it’s the same damn cases and essay exams, year after year), and these former students newly minted as professors then cultivate, recognize, and reward the personalities and skill sets that they themselves possess, rewarding top honors to like students. This new bunch at the head of their graduating class are either are doomed to failure at practice, or they will grow bored with it, or they will choose to leave, or whatever, and then they come back to the safety of academia themselves. And then the cycle begins anew.

This is a very inefficient way to educated students in the practice of law. In fact, I'm not even sure anyone is pretending this is an attempt to teach at all. There is a disconnect between what is taught in law school and what is needed to practice law. And this float between the competency rewarded in law school and the actual knowledge base and skills needed in the field is indicative of this problem.

I'm not entirely sure how one can fix this sorted mess. But, not hiring those who can't cut it in the trenches to train the next round of recruits might be a starting point.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The value of a legal education

What is it that a student learns in law school? How to practice law? How to pass the bar?

Law school does not prepare anyone for the practice of law. This "think like a lawyer" line is a bunch of crap. You can figure that out in one year, if not one semester. The bright bulbs among us could probably figure it out by reading one book over the span of two weeks.

Instead of being prepared for the practice of law, a recent graduate must find an employer whom is willing to put the time in to convey the requisite knowledge. This is basically an apprenticeship, where the mentor invests in the mentee's potential for future success. This investment is what proved to be too expensive for many firms in recent years. Across the eastern seaboard, large portions of the graduating class were not offered employment in 2008. Big firms which could have certainly absorbed the losses instead chose to let the new grad drown in the street. That lost generation of graduates gave rise to the scam blog movement. We have that to be happy about, I suppose.

A bar exam review course is essentially the mandatory seventh semester of law school. I really think the majority of my third year was a waste of my time and money. I won’t get too deep into it here with this post, but my time could have been better spent. And the expenditure of capital was unconscionable.

I’d like to see an effort in law schools to incorporate something similar to a bar exam preparatory course and real, hands on work, during the third year. My wife spent her entire sixth semester clerking. She did not take one class. That was worth her time. She claims to have learned more that one semester than she did her entire second year. I would have been better served spending my last semester doing something similar to the BarBri course I took over the summer. Not only does law school fail to educated students on how to actually practice law, but law school also fails to prepare students for the licensing examination. It is insane.

In the state I am licensed to practice law, the bar passage rate is around 70% most years. It is often in the high 60% range. And it was 80% once in the past decade. I question the value of curving the exam in this manner. There is no reason that three out of ten, or one out of five in the lone good year, should fail the bar exam. If that many people cannot pass the exam, one of two things is true; either the exam is too difficult or law school is too easy.

If a ABA accredited law school takes three years of a students life and six figures of funds, and then awards that student with a degree certifying competency in the material, it follows that she should have little difficulty with the bar exam. I am not suggesting that it should be a cake walk. But, spending six to eight weeks studying material a student should already know is ridiculous. Having 20-30% of those students fail the exam is a joke. The passage rate should be in the 90-95% range, with failure a rarity. These people need to get into the market place and start generating income. Many have debt load that will require service. It is a cost to us all when they cannot begin employment promptly.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Still waters run deep

When I began writing this blog, I had hoped it would be a beneficial exercise. You know, work through all that BS I went through over the last three years while I wait patiently for my bar exam results. Alas, it has not been beneficial as I had hoped. Rather, it has been absolutely exhausting.

I thought a few funny stories about some of the ridiculous people I was surrounded with over the last three years would get a few laughs. I thought it would help me work through some remaining bad feelings from that dark period.

Yes, I just described law school as a "dark period." I'm not trying to be overly dramatic. I have read where people say that law school was great, fun, challenging. Well. Good for you.

I found the grading random and completely subjective in nature, the people insufferable, the monetary costs unreasonable, and the "challenge" aspect totally overrated. Do I enjoy learning? Yes. Do I like to challenge myself? Yes. I am a curious fellow. Yes. But, those last three years were, for the most part, unrewarding drudgery.

Whatever. Call me a whambulance. I have a lot more stories, and I will share them here, in this space I carved out in a distant corner of the web.

Still, though, there isn't any way around it. This has been one big bummer. Maybe that's the point, eh? Work through it. No reason to keep it buried. Sigh.

I'll tell you this much, friends, not a week has gone by since I graduated in May that I haven't regretted the choice of pursuing a legal education.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Grade revision

Another day, another blog post. Not once, but twice, during my regrettable three years in law school there was a “mistake” in grading. I have no idea how this occured, and it was never explained to use students.

In each instance, the same process occurred: grades were distributed, an email notification came out a week or two later stating there had been an “issue,” and a correction was made.

Of course, the email always said it has been through no fault of the school. Yeah, sure. Whatever.

It was always a downward revision. Always. Damn near across the board downward revisions for the entire class.

Seriously. That happened.

Downward is heavenward.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The curve

Rarely has anything so unsparing been inflicted upon so many hapless and unaware human beings as the law school grade curve.

It is a zero-sum game.

Great horrors were inflicted upon my contemporaries in a seemingly random manner. Some won, most lost, and none seemed to enjoy it very much.

That’s not entirely correct, now that I think about it. There were a few that rounded out the top five at the end of 1L year that really seemed to relish their new-found status as supreme, all-knowing beings. Enlightenment has its upsides, I suppose. It was something to see. Quite a show.

The law school I attended graded on a C curve. The distribution was as follows: 15% of the class got an A, 25% got a B, 45% got a C, and the remaining 15% got a C- and below. Every class, every semester. I was once in a class comprised of a grand total of nine (9) students and it was curved. Nine. File that one under stupid.

I had no idea that this was the case until I started 1L. I really thought all law schools graded the same way. I thought wrong.

There is a rather grim justification for a hard C curve. Here in the land of low ranked law schools, they fail out people to preserve the school's bar passage rate. That’s how they roll.

And it’s baloney.

The first semester of law school always has a degree of attrition. It's the same story in every law school in the country - some folks don't come back after Christmas. The difference here is that people simply disappear from at TTT and FTT at the end of the second, third, and fourth semesters as well.

You want my advice? Properly prepare for the LSAT and get into a highly ranked school. Go to a school that curves on a B. Go to a school that has a recognized name, alumni support, and the promise of employment upon graduation.

If you can't get into a highly ranked school, don't go to law school.

Life is substantially easier at the higher ranked schools. The purpose of giving everyone A's and B's, as I understand it, is to make the students less competitive with each other and to create a more pleasant environment for all involved. If so, wow. That would just about be the exact opposite of what I recently went through. The concept could not be more alien. Where I was the last three years, people carved each other into pieces.

There is a list on Wiki to illustrate the wide discrepancy between schools:

How nice would it have been to cruise through law school with a grading system like this one over at Georgetown (assuming it’s still current):

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The real text book

A big part of the law school game is figuring out which book the professor is actually teaching out of.

Sounds crazy, I know. All through undergrad, you enroll in a class, buy the book and there you go. In law school, it’s not always that easy.

In fact, it is never that easy.

In many of my classes, the professors utilized two different books. It is really not much better than any shady businessman who keeps two ledgers, the first with the reported income and second with the actual ill-gotten gains recorded. There is the one book the professor tells you to buy. This is the casebook you will be assigned to read throughout the semester. But, it is not necessarily the book you will be covering in lecture. Nor, will it necessarily be the book that contains the material you will be expected to demonstrate competency in on your examinations.

I couldn’t believe it when I first heard of this. I thought, what? C’mon! They don’t hide the ball like that. You can't be tested on things you haven't read.

But, you know what, the same thing happened to my wife back about ten years ago. There was a class where none of her friends in her study group could figure out what the professor was talking about during his lectures. These girls are smart, capable people. They had all done the reading. They discussed the readings prior to class. They could not follow the lecture.

It turned out the guy was lecturing right out of some random hornbook. Once they discovered this real textbook, after a search where they all started reading every book they could get their hands on until they found the right one, they stopped reading their fake casebook altogether and focused instead on the hornbook. The test was on the contents of the second, secret book. Really. This actually happens in law school.

The first time I figured it out myself, it was in the second semester of my first year. I knew after the first semester exams that I had been lied to. A professor once told me, during a one-on-one visit in his office, that “everything you need to know is in here” as he waved about the assigned casebook in his hand.

That was utter bullshit, and I'm pissed at myself for falling for it. My whole life, I've been told to believe my teachers. That what they tell you is the truth. His exam was not on the contents of that book he waved around. And he fucking knew it, too. He lied right to my face.

The first time I figured out what the real text book was, well, that was the first time I got an A in law school. I studied the shit out of that second book, the real textbook for the course. I kicked ass on the exam. It angered me more after the semester ended, when I had some time off to reflect. The more I thought about it, the worst it became.

Why was I being asked to purchase and read a textbook that had nothing to do with the class lecture or the exam? The books are expensive, and the reading is time consuming. I’ve only so many matches to burn. Just tell me what I need to learn. Don’t hide the ball from me.

You know, I hate to say it now, but I did not share my find with my classmates. One thing about law school, you soon learn to keep such cards close to your chest. It’s a brutal game. There are winners and there are losers. I wanted a win.

I’m not proud of myself for it. But, others did the same to me. That, and worse, every chance they got.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The aspiring models

Two of my classmates had professional photographs of themselves taken during law school. They sat in front of me, in different classes and different semesters, but the story is the same. Each sat in her chair clicking through image after image on her laptop. All of herself. Headshot, full torso, standing, sitting, leaning against a wall, staring blankly through an open doorway, attempt at conveying emotion, looking off-camera left, and looking off-camera right, with smile, without smile, pursed lips. Click, click, click.

Yes, each selected one of the images of herself for her desktop wallpaper.

Need I mention neither of these girls is what I’d refer to as a head turner? They both looked like ten miles of bad road.

It was awful. I couldn’t look at it, and I couldn’t look away. It was like a traffic accident. God, I shudder even now.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Black eyes

It was during my first semester, right after Thanksgiving break (which isn't a "break" at all), when two of my male classmates arrived back on campus with black eyes.

The first told everyone what would listen that he was the victor in the particular altercation. So, you knew right off that he had really lost. Badly, from the looks of it.

The second claimed that he had not been in a fight. He claimed to have tripped and fell, all by himself, while crossing the street. So, basically, you knew he had kicked the shit out of someone.

I later told this story to one of my wife's former coworkers at firm. The woman laughed her ass off. 

Then she apologized to me about how law school was "full of douchebags."

Yeah. Pretty much.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The nightmares

I don’t remember when the nightmares began. The came on heavy about the time I really started digging in for 1L exams.

My wife had taken to watching multiple episodes of a television show called Dexter after a friend loaned her the first couple of seasons on DVD. I was about a young man named Dexter Morgan who was a serial killer ( There was one episode, or a series of episodes, that dealt with the origins of the protagonist’s deadly rage and desire to kill those he considered evil. His mother, and perhaps a few other adults, were killed in front of Dexter and Dexter’s older brother by a group of men in a gruesome manner. They were cut into pieces with a chain saw.

I know, it’s not my kind of television either.

The image that was burned into my brain at this time was that of Dexter’s mother kneeling before a hulking dark figure of a man, pleading with her then three year old son to “not watch” and to “look away” as the man pulled the cord on his chain saw. Her cries that “Mommy loves you” are something that I can still hear, even now. It was grotesque. It was shocking. It was deeply disturbing. It struck me to the core.

When the stress level was unbearable, and I was getting five hours of sleep a night, if that, I could hear and see this scene in my mind even during waking hours. It was like a hallucination. It was always there.

Another haunting villain was the Other Mother from the 2009 Henry Selick film Coraline ( This film did not feature the same blood soaked over-the-top shock value horror of Dexter. Rather, it crept into my unconscious because it had scared my daughter. the fact that my daughter watched it and was scared by it.

My daughter, who was three years old at the time, asked questions about the characters, their motivation, and why certain things happened the way they did. I realized she was exploring the boundaries of evil. Her fears became my own. The imagery of abandoned children with button eyes became a staple of my own fear of failing as a parent in my second year of law school.

Another part of the film which struck a chord was that Coraline’s father was busy in his home office and did not pay adequate attention to his child. This lack of being there, both physically and emotionally, led to her exposure to the evil which was the antagonist, the spider woman called Other Mother. The theme of not being present hit me squarely in the gut. Really, as a law student going full throttle, I wasn’t there at all.

That damn spider got into my head and would not leave.

In a third example involved an older boy, a bully, who appeared in my dreams. I would be running along a path, through the trees, along the edge of a small lake. The bully and my daughter would be on a dock, and he would be laughing and pushing my daughter's head underwater as she screamed. The screams. It was terrible! Of course, I would be running to save her, and I would never get there. It was as if the distance to the dock continued to get longer not matter how fast I ran. Classic nightmare material. I would wake up with her screams echoing in my ears.

There were others, some repeated, others one-time occurrences. All shared common themes of endangerment to my children and my inability, or outright failure, to help them in a time of great need. Helplessness. Danger. Failure to protect. Over and over again.

Many did not include the horrorshow of Dexter, with death, blood and dismemberment, but rather were built upon a core of failure and that the consequences of that failure would not be good. One I can remember now involved some lack of foresight or planning on my part so that my children and I ended up having to walk in the snow barefoot. The basic "showed up to class naked" stuff, really.

There was a thread of real darkness about most of them. Despair. Anguish.

Although walking in the snow seems relatively harmless now, something one could laugh about in hindsight, at the time I would lay awake staring at the ceiling. Then, like now, it was all about trying to make sense of what I had gotten my family into with this whole law school thing.