By the time this column is posted, the twice-yearly hazing ritual that is the bar exam will be over. Any suggestions for a better way to test knowledge? Just asking. I am too late to give bar examinees my usual pre-exam harangue (you all lucked out), but I am just in time to give you two pieces of advice post-exam:
Rule Number One: Do NOT under any circumstances, including, but not limited to pain of death, trashing of smartphone (a pain worse than death), discuss your answers with another examinee, an already barred lawyer, or anyone else for that matter. That will only make you more crazed than you already are. You then start to doubt yourself and your answers.
What makes you think that other persons answered correctly, and you didn’t? That is especially true for the MBE, where one answer might be “close enough” but is not the right answer. DON’T DISCUSS WITH ANYONE if you value whatever is left of your sanity, and that may not be much at this point.
Rule Number Two: when in doubt, see Rule Number One. End of harangue, but critically important if you are to survive the waiting game for results.
There has been an interesting conversation on Fishbowl about law school education, or lack thereof; comments from lawyers at various career stages are spot on. Educators need to stash their egos somewhere and pay attention. These newbie lawyers paid a shitload of money for law school, and you need to respect that, the sacrifices made to go to law school, to graduate, to pass the bar, and then practice. Just because you did it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t appreciate the sacrifices and efforts that the current law school grads have endured, especially during these COVID-19 times.
The question posed on Fishbowl is “What is something you wish law school taught you about the practice of law/firm life/being an attorney?” Since many tenured law school professors barely practiced in law firm/corporate law department/solo settings, their advice is not as valuable, I think, as that of the adjuncts who know, from experience, what the real world of law practice is like. And it’s not pretty.
Here are just a few of the responses (and my snarky comments in parentheses).
“How crushingly boring it can be.” (So stipulated. I have railed against lawyer television shows that were based on trial work; all those TV attorneys were members of the clean desk club. Wait, what? One offender in my mind was “The Good Wife,” where there was not a banker’s box in sight in a trial lawyer’s office. How do you lawyer that way? Don’t tell me that everything needed is in associate/paralegal offices. And don’t get me started on discovery and motion practice, two of the most boring parts of being a lawyer that law school never talks about but made me want to stick a fork in my eyeball.)
“Being a lawyer isn’t worth the student debt.” (Amen to that, and I’ll throw in a “res ipsa loquitur” for good measure. And if you have never read John Grisham’s novel “The Rooster Bar,” do so. Hilarious, but so true.)
“Being a lawyer isn’t worth it, period.” “This profession is so awful and boring.” (Too many peeps have confused having a professional career, e.g., a license of some white-collar sort with having a satisfying career, time for a personal life, and some money in the bank.) A corollary comment about what you don’t learn in law school is “how much the practice of law would mess with my mental health.” (Even the occasional ATL reader knows that mental health issues finally have come front and center to the profession. How many deaths by suicides? How many cases of substance abuse, depression, and the like has it taken to get our profession to get a clue finally?)
“How to network, bring in clients, start your own firm, and know what to expect as to work and pay of common areas of law (e.g., insurance defense).” (Again, since many professors are clueless about law practice, this again falls to the adjuncts or those seeking tenure, who have spent time in the law-practice trenches.)
“More experiential learning.” Other comments include “wish law school taught us how to litigate cases, write motions, build your own practice, market clients, what to say and do in court as a very junior attorney, prep for and take depositions … I could go on for days.” (‘Nuff said. Law schools, are you paying attention?)
“Law school doesn’t teach you shit about what an actual lawyer does. Biggest scam in higher ed.” (Too many newbie lawyers feel ripped off, hosed, or whatever adjective you choose, and they are not wrong. No argument from me.)
“More writing.” (Many professors don’t like grading essays, but it’s a necessary part of the law school experience, and the more writing the better. The goal should be to write like a practicing lawyer, especially since so many newbies solo right after admission. It’s more than just thinking like a lawyer, it’s writing like one too. No judge ever wants a law review discussion.)
“More about the business side of being a lawyer, especially if you are working in a small firm.” (How about some marketing education? Even some fundamental accounting principles? Getting and keeping business?)
Law schools proclaim that their job is to make you “think like a lawyer.” That’s not enough. It’s the doing, the writing, the client relations, and all the other little details that you don’t learn in law school. It’s time for legal educators to learn from their students.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.