Archive for the 'Advice' Category

Dec 16 2009

Following In Our Footsteps [or: Why Starting Your Own Firm Is Not All Glitz & Glamour]

Published by under Advice

Having recently started my own law firm, today I rode to a program in Raleigh sponsored by the NC Bar Association called Start Up Boot Camp. The seminar featured a series of speakers on topics related to starting one’s own small/solo law firm. Topics ranged from malpractice to fee setting to blogging to ethics.

On the way there, my colleague and fellow Elon Law grad (who also started her own firm) told me that she’d heard a rumor about Elon Law students. “A rumor at Elon!?” I exclaimed. “Surely not.” Indeed, she’d heard a rumor that certain members of the Class of 2010, having seen the blazing success of their predecessors in starting solo law practices, had stopped seeking jobs and intended to follow in the footsteps of so much of the Charter Class.

My friend and I are equally aghast at this idea. Oh, kids. Take heed: starting one’s own law firm is NOT all glitz and glamour!

If starting your own law firm is something you’ve contemplated a long time and have always wanted to do, then ignore this blog by all means. You’re all excited and I encourage you to follow your ambitions!

However, if you’re like so many who came before you and started out on your own simply because there wasn’t anything else, I still won’t discourage you, but CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:

1. It takes money. A lot of law students come from money or at least have someone to pay their bills until they make money. Be sure you fall in one of those categories before you attempt this feat. Or be sure you have a nice line of credit. Starting a law practice is NOT CHEAP, even for the frugal among us. Space, equipment, filing fees, software, insurance, and advertising are all things you need and all things that have you bleeding money before you’ve made any. And bleed money you certainly will. If the sight of monetary blood leaves you queasy, consider sending more resumes and fewer PLLC filing fees!

2. It takes time. I am blessed with independent contract work to supplement my meager law firm income. However, every hour I spend earning $15/hr to pay my bills is an hour I’m not working on a firm that will potentially make me $150/hr. And every hour I spend building my firm (for free) is an hour I’m not billing as a contractor. Every hour I spend at seminars telling me how to do what I need to know how to do is an hour I make NO money. It’s a delicate balance and I spent the vast majority of the first month working 80+ hours per week. If you’re not ready, able, or willing to do that (consider your children and spouse before committing), then DON’T.

3. It takes skill you don’t have. Unless you were extraordinarily fortunate in your summer internships, and perhaps even then, you can bet that 95% of the issues crossing your desk will BAFFLE you. Seriously. Even stuff you just studied for the Bar will send you scurrying to friends and colleagues for the simplest advice. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. It does NOT teach you how to BE a lawyer. It does not teach you what a “shuck” is or what to do with one or where to find one. It does not teach you what the plea options are for felony possession. It does not teach you what to charge your clients or what type of fee arrangement to make. It does not teach you how to navigate the courthouse or file your own claim (sans paralegal) or balance your office accounts or certify your IOLTA or create invoices or…. Well, you get the point. You will be lost all the time. Trust me. If fear frightens you, don’t start a law firm!

4. It takes clients you won’t have. Unless you have very naughty/unlucky friends begging you to start a practice and help them, you’re going to be clientless for a while. Advertising is expensive and hit-or-miss at best. Example: a business-size ad in the yellow pages is over $300/month. The traffic offense lists for direct marketing are around $185/month. The ESC list is $300/month. And stamps are $.44 a piece. All that adds up FAST. If you’re a schmoozer, GREAT! But make sure you schmooze people who need lawyers and need them now, otherwise that’s hit-or-miss, too. Oh, and those nice business cards you schmooze with aren’t free, either. Lawyer referrals are also great if you’re not all competing for the same clients, which a lot of us will be. And everyone is on the court appointed list these days. Point being: it’s going to take a lot of time, money, and work to get clients. And you’ll be poor until you do. If you’re broke, tired, and shy, DON’T start a law firm!

If I haven’t scared you yet, great. Pick a formation type and start writing checks on your way to seeing your name on the sign out front (also not cheap). Otherwise, please don’t look at all the Charter Class members, convince yourselves that we’re playing golf on Fridays with our new-found wealth, and strike out on your own on that basis. Starting a law firm is a LOT of ridiculously hard work and if you’re not in it to win it, reconsider.

If you are in it to win it, ROCK ON and GO ELON!

One response so far

Oct 14 2009

Passing the Bar

Published by under Advice,Best Practices

A lot of wonderful folks yet to take the Bar ask for my advice these days, and I think it’s time to share my enlightened wisdom with the masses…

1. To Thine Own Self Be True

By the time you sit for the Bar, you’ve been through three long, hellacious years of law school. And passed! By now, you ought to know what works for you and what does not when it comes to studying. If you don’t, then you can stop reading now because nothing else I say is likely to help you. Really. I mean that. Just stop.

Realizing that different material often requires different study techniques (e.g. I flow-charted Con Law, flashcarded (not a word) the hell out of Torts, and outlined Wills until my eyes blurred), take some time to seriously asses the beast you face and the best way to kill said beast. Will you make flashcards? Outlines? Practice hypos? All of the above?

The only correct answer is the one that will enable you to pass the Bar, regardless of what your professors, BarBri, and your ever-wise friends may tell you to the contrary.

2. It’s NOT About the Hours!

The single most asked question regarding the Bar exam is, “How many hours are you putting in??”

The single best answer to this question is, “Who gives a crap!? Bugger off!”

Passing the Bar is NOT a question of hours spent studying! IT. IS. NOT!!!! Do not be fooled by the “Oh, I arise with the dawn and study ceaselessly until the bewitching hour” idiots. They’re probably going to fail. Because they’re “studying” a lot, but they’re probably not studying well.

Studying for the Bar, in my humble opinion, should be a checklist, not a stopwatch. Make a list of things you must accomplish before you sleep. Then make a list of things you’d like to accomplish, but could always do on Sunday if sleep finds you sooner rather than later. Crack down the list until the list is finished. Then STOP.

If it took you 12 hours, oh well. That’s life during Bar study. If it took you four hours, DO NOT FEEL GUILTY! GOOD FOR YOU!! W00t!!!

Now, in the manner of Jesus, a parable to prove my point:

Two lumberjacks competed to see who could cut down the most trees (in the pre-environmentalist days … today it would be bamboo, but I digress). The first lumberjack worked day and night. He took no breaks. He barely ate or slept. He was a machine. The second lumberjack took a nice lunch break every day. He took an equally charming dinner. Called his wife to tell her he loved her (I added that part).

When the time came to see who won, low and behold! It was the second lumberjack. The first was confounded. “I worked around the clock! I never stopped! How did you beat me!?”

The second lumberjack replied, “Easy. I cheated.”

JUST KIDDING!!! THAT’S NOT WHAT HE SAID!!!

The second lumberjack replied, “It’s true that I took breaks. But I used those breaks to sharpen my axe.”

Cool, huh?

3. RELAX!!! Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

Stressing yourself out will NOT help you pass. IT. WILL. NOT!!! Admittedly, stress is part of the game. It just is, so accept that fact and don’t let it eat you alive. And DON’T make it worse!

I suggest easing into Bar study. The first week of BarBri (or whatever) is not an ultimate predictor of success. It’s a time for you to figure what the heck is going on and what happened to your once happy life. Ease in. Remain calm. Everyone else is just as lost, hopeless, panicky, and freaked the heck out as you are. EVERYONE. (And if they say they’re not – like on Facebook – they’re lying.)

After about a week or two, kick it into gear. Now you have an idea of what’s going on and how little you learned in law school. Make your checklist. Attempt finishing it every single day. DO NOT EXPECT SUCCESS. The point of BarBri is to set you up to succeed … eventually. If you could pass the Bar in the first week of the class, you wouldn’t need the class!! So relax!! Everyone else is failing to some extent, too. EVERYONE. (And if they say they’re not – like on Facebook – they’re lying.)

When BarBri (or whatever) ends, you’ll be a couple weeks out from the Bar. Ease out. OUT!!! I SAID OUT!!!! If you’ve kept up with your checklist, then you’re right where you need to be. If you made 1,200 flashcards (ahem), now would be a good time to learn them. While sitting on your balcony. With a beer. Then a coffee. Then a Bible. Now is also a good time to write practice essays. And re-write them. And RE-write them. (We Charter Class members are quite good at re-writes. Just ask us. We’ll tell you. We’re “masters.”)

When you’re a week away, accept that Jesus still loves you even if you fail; that you cannot possibly know everything you will need to know for the exam; that you’re powers of BS are exponentially higher now than they once were; and that now would be a good time to review, as opposed to learn. You will not learn. Anything. Nothing. Zero. What’s there is there. Sorry. Deal with it.

If you ease in, crank it up, then ease out (a lot like certain other pleasant life activities that work kinda well that way .. ahem), you’ll arrive at the exam a lot less stressed than a lot of people. Again, you WILL be stressed. But it’s better to be stressed, well-rested, and well-fed than just stressed. And your chances of success should increase dramatically.

4. Here’s What I Did, So If You’re JUST Like Me…

Again, I stress that success on the Bar depends on doing what works for you. That said, here is what worked for me.

I am NOT an outline reader. I do NOT have a photographic memory. I don’t care which genius professors tell you to just read outlines (ahem), if you can’t recall and use what you’ve read, then it’s useless. Needless to say, reading outlines and taking notes on said outlines is the thing I did the week before the Bar when I wasn’t going to learn anything anyway. It is NOT something I did prior to that point.

My checklist:

BarBri in the morning. No laptop. NO LAPTOP! GET OFF THE INTERNET YOU FREAKING CHILD! THIS IS THE DAMN BAR EXAM! GROW UP!!!!!

Excuse me. Terribly sorry. Where was I?

Right. After BarBri, I made an outline (made, not read) of the lecture notes. Then I typed flashcards based on that outline (50-100 per subject).

If I was still awake, I worked practice MBE problems either in the BarBri books or online.

Then I went to bed. Sometimes having (gasp!) not worked practice MBE problems! Oh, the shame!!!

Saturday was a day of practice essays. All day. Like 30 essays. In a day. Every Saturday. Sometimes I’d write the same one five or six times in a row until the law was nailed into my brain. But then, I really enjoy legal writing so it was kind of fun. Yep, I am that much of a dork.

And then I’d play golf.

Sunday was a day of rest on which I always felt too guilty to rest so I’d review flashcards. While watching golf.

All the other advice you [don’t] need will be heaped upon you in droves, rest assured. And whatever happens, you’ll most likely survive. And the sun will still shine. And all will be well in the end.

2 responses so far

Jun 04 2009

Three Things I Learned Writing a Book about How to Succeed in Law School—Part III

1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School This is the third and final installment of guest posts derived from my recent book: 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School (Thomson West 2009). Part I addressed psychological distress in law students. Part II explored the perilous second semester. This post discusses academic research that provides answers to a hodgepodge of important/interesting questions about legal education and success in law school.

III. Surprising Empirical Answers to Law School Questions You May have Wondered About

Scores of studies have been conducted about law students, legal education, and teaching and learning in general, yet this research data is often overlooked in giving advice to law students.

Did you know that the LSAT is not nearly as strong of a success predictor as most people assume? That students who sit in the front of classrooms get higher grades than those who sit in back? That women participate in law school class discussion at lower rates than men? That, contrary to student belief, the brain cannot multitask in class without one of the tasks suffering? That the conventional wisdom to not change initial answers to multiple-choice questions is completely backwards? Read on. (As with my other posts, I’ve omitted the citations, but can provide them on request.)

LSAT Correlation to First-Year Grades. Most law school applicants and students are aware that the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the most heavily weighted factor influencing law school admissions. I’ve served on admissions committees at three different law schools. At each school, I’ve protested while seeing students with undergraduate GPAs barely above a 2.0 get admitted because of a good LSAT score, while students who have proved themselves through four years of college with outstanding GPAs get rejected because of average LSAT scores.

Validity studies do show a positive correlation between LSAT scores and first-year grades, but the correlation is not nearly as strong as most law students believe. Correlation is measured by a coefficient for which 1.00 represents a perfect correlation and zero shows no correlation beyond one attributable to random chance. In 2005, the Law School Admission Council, the good folks that administer the LSAT, conducted a validity study using data from 181 law schools.

The median correlation between LSAT scores and first-year grades was only .34. The correlation varied wildly among schools, from a high of .56 (reasonably strong correlation) to a low of .04 (virtually no correlation). The correlation was higher when LSAT scores were considered together with undergraduate GPAs, ranging from .24 to .65, with a median correlation of .46.

So take heart. While the LSAT does measure several important abilities―primarily the abilities to engage and manage complex text―your LSAT score does not predetermine your fate. Like all law profs, I’ve seen students with low LSAT scores excel and students with chart-topping scores flunk out.

Seat Location as Tied to Academic Performance. I always encourage law students to sit in the front of the classroom, convinced it enhances their law school experience. Now I have some research to back up my recommendation. Non-law school educators have conducted a variety of studies on the relationship of seat choice to student personality type and academic performance. They support one proposition quite clearly: students who choose to sit in the front of the room are disproportionately better students. They have higher GPAs, participate more frequently in class, and receive better grades in the course. One study, for example, found that students sitting in the front received higher percentages of As and students sitting in the back received higher percentages of Ds and Fs.

Several studies have linked this better performance to personality differences between students who choose to sit in front and those who choose the back. In other words, with regard to the cause and effect relationship between seat selection and academic performance, research suggests that students who sit in front by choice do better because better students choose to sit in front. But at least one study suggests that sitting in the front is actually causally related to better academic performance.

Don’t be a backburner! Grab a seat near the front in all your classes.

Class Participation Rates between Men and Women. Unsurprising to anyone who has been involved in legal education for any period of time, several surveys show that female students voluntarily participate much less frequently in law school classes than male students (although my Torts class this past year was a notable exception). For example, a survey of students at the University of California at Berkeley found that a majority of women, and also persons of color, never asked questions or otherwise voluntarily participated in class, while almost two-thirds of white male students reported doing both. The survey is dated, but the results are consistent with current experience.

Reasons offered by scholars as to why the Socratic method negatively impacts women include increased feelings of alienation and fear, the adversarial and competitive nature of the method, sexist conduct by certain male professors, an interest in protecting the sanctity and integrity of one’s beliefs, less willingness to engage in grandstanding, a lower interest in dominating class discussion, and—I love this one because it’s so true—better recognition by women than men of the limits of one’s knowledge. In short, male students, as a group, are more willing to engage in the adversarial, competitive “sport” of the Socratic method than women. As noted, the same surveys show that minority students also participate at lower rates.

This data is important because class participation carries several benefits with it, some tangible and some intangible: (1) Active student participation in class discussions adds to the energy level and sense of community in the classroom, making for a more lively and memorable experience for everyone; (2) You will better remember the classes in which you participate and feel more satisfaction about your law school experience; (3) Participating sharpens your oral communication and group speaking skills, essential abilities for all lawyers; (4) Your professors want to get to know you, but with so many students, we can=t realistically accomplish that unless you speak up from time to time; (5) It is an established fact of legal education that if you volunteer even once in a while, you will get called on less often when you are not volunteering; (6) Finally, many professors raise grades for class participation.

Multitasking with Computers in Class. The use of computers in law school classrooms is quite controversial among law professors, with some professors banning them and others threatening to do so. Profs Kibosh Students’ Laptops blared a headline in the American Bar Association Journal. The Washington Post published an op-ed piece by a Georgetown law professor advocating a classroom computer ban. Every time I think the great law school computer debate is about to die down, some prof will stir it up again on the lawprof listserv, igniting yet another torrent of email on the subject.

A primary concern professors have with computers is that too many students check out of the class discussion to web-browse, check email, send instant messages, etc. Gen Y and Millennial students respond that they are so skilled at multitasking that they really can learn law and check sports scores at the same time.

Is it true? Research suggests the answer is “no,” or at least “not as effectively.” Studies regarding the ability of the brain to engage in simultaneous tasks show “almost without exception” that the performance of one or both tasks directly suffers.

In one study, researchers tracked the wireless computer activity of students during class. Not surprisingly, the study showed students used their computers for a wide range of functions unrelated to the class, such as email and web-browsing. The researchers then divided a class into two groups. Prior to a lecture, one group was told to use their computers as usual, while the other was asked to close their computers. Afterwards, the researchers gave the students a surprise test. The students who used their laptops during the lecture performed significantly poorer on the test. Two months later the researchers replicated the test by switching the two groups of students and got the same results.

Another study suggested that even if multitasking does not necessarily decrease the overall ability to learn, it negatively affects the kind of learning used to acquire new concepts and information and to engage in deep analysis—learning abilities that are critical to law students. Researchers did MRI brain imaging of fourteen twenty-somethings engaged in dual-task learning. The brain imaging showed that multitaskers engaged in “habit learning” rather than “declarative learning.” Habit learning relies on a portion of the brain used for repetitive skills, whereas declarative learning involves a portion of the brain used for storing and recalling information. Basically, the researchers concluded that even though people can learn while multitasking, they can’t learn the material as well or be able to adapt it to changing conditions.

Even if you’re adept at multitasking, the research suggests you can’t do all the tasks well because of the brain’s limited processing ability. So if your professor is defining the Rule Against Perpetuities at the same moment you’re updating your Facebook status, something has to give.

Changing Answers on Multiple-Choice Questions. Ever since I was in elementary school, teachers have admonished not to change initial answers to multiple-choice questions because it’s more likely you will change an answer from right to wrong than from wrong to right. Well, guess what? The advice is completely backwards. Study after study, some of them dating back to the 1920s, consistently show that changing multiple-choice answers is more likely to increase—not decrease—test scores. An example: a study of upper-level accounting students showed that 95 percent of the students changed answers on their multiple-choice examinations (changing a total of 5.6 percent of the answers). Fifty-six percent of the answers were changed from wrong to right, while only 21 percent were changed from right to wrong. The remaining 23 percent were changed from one wrong answer to another wrong answer. These results are consistent with other studies.

Conclusion. Thanks to the CELL blog editors for giving me the opportunity to share some of the things I learned in writing my book about first-year law school success.  It’s been fun!

One response so far

May 22 2009

A Legacy Of Dissenting Opinions

Published by under Advice

“I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.” Edward R. Murrow spoke those words in 1958 during a notorious speech in which he railed against the very institutions that allowed him to attain his legendary notoriety and success. “We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information,” Murrow insisted. I agree.

Murrow began that speech with the famous line, “This just might do nobody any good.” This blog, too, might just do nobody any good. And, as per usual, it will probably end up insulting the very institution that allowed me to attain levels of notoriety reaching the coveted SBA “Most Likely To Make A Sarcastic Comment” Award. Yet, a week from graduation, it seemed to me suddenly important to impart a few feelings on the topic of legacy.

It always seemed to me that a law school was a place to train advocates. Black’s Law defines an advocate as a person who assists, defends, pleads, or prosecutes for another. Is that what we’ve done? Or have we trained people to be wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent? Have we trained them to look adversity in the eye and tell it where to go, or have we taught them to not to rock the boat – keep the waters calm at all cost – owing to our own built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information?

I realize the line between advocacy and complaining is a blurry one, and I am quite guilty of helping to blur that line. I realize there is a time and a place for “correct” answers and a totally different time and place for honest ones. But it always seemed to me that when the cause was right, the risk of blurring that line and being honest was one worth taking. Whether it was our excessive waste of paper, gender issues, the need for a strategic plan, the quality of the education, or the direction of the school in general, all those causes seemed awfully worth the risk of expressing a dissenting opinion.

And a legacy of well-placed dissenting opinions is one legacy I hope the Charter Class leaves behind. “Dissent: it makes the good things better and the bad things crumble.” Sometimes dissent sounds an awful lot like whining and other times it’s audacious enough to widen the eyes and raise the eyebrows of giants. But more often, dissent is the only form of communication with any power whatsoever to achieve any real change. Making the comfortable uncomfortable and getting the complacent off their “wealthy surpluses” is the only real way to accomplish much of anything an awful lot of the time.

Yes, the boat will rock. Yes, eyebrows will raise. Yes, people will get awfully uncomfortable and shift uneasily in their chairs. But, if the cause is right, the risk will be worth its taking. And maybe – just maybe – instead of churning out wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent yes-men, we’ll churn out some advocates instead.

Our history will be what we make of it, Elon. From one member of the Charter Class to those who remain, here’s to hoping the legacy my class left behind will help in some small way to make that history great.

3 responses so far

Nov 14 2008

Stand up! Stand Up!

Published by under Advice

Good posture is a critical aspect of effective communications.  How you stand, with your shoulders back, stomach in, and torse erect but not rigid, will affect both the impression you leave and the quality of sound you produce.  When you slouch, your airways are crunched and you won’t be able to use the air you breathe to insure full, rich, sound.

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Oct 02 2008

Forget “At Ease”

Published by under Advice

Though many of us have been told to stand in an “At Ease” position, such a stance is anything but “At Ease”.With legs apart and knees locked, one cannot stand for long periods of time without rocking, swaying, shifting, or bouncing. Such movement causes distraction to the audience and tires the speaker. Instead, stand with weight evenly balanced on both legs, placing one foot slightly forward of the other and keeping your knees flexed.You will be able to hold that position for long periods of time without tiring or succumbing to unnecessary and distracting movement.

2 responses so far

May 21 2008

Thinking Like a Lawyer

Published by under Advice

Like many entering law students today, I came to law school with the understanding that its purpose was not to teach me rules, but to teach me how to think like a lawyer. This puzzled me because we seemed to spend a lot of class (and exam) time on rules. And I was never sure if or when I was thinking like a lawyer.

If you are or are about to be a 1L and you share my understanding of the purpose of law school, I hope what I’m about to say here is helpful. You do have to learn a lot of rules, but knowing rules is not an end in itself. You learn rules so that you can make arguments about their application to novel factual situations, and the process of making such arguments (in the classroom and on exams) is what you may consider thinking like a lawyer.

Because rules are helpful to you only insofar as you can use them to support or undermine their application to new factual contexts, you should also be suspicious about the advice to identify an opinion’s “holding.” All holdings are contingent, because their meaning depends on how they are interpreted in future cases. In other words, what a case “stands for” is a matter of argument, and an appellate court judge can no more forever determine what a case “stands for” than an author or a painter can forever determine how readers or viewers will interpret their works.

I hope that this general perspective on what law school is all about, particularly for 1L’s, is helpful to you.

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May 18 2008

Too easy? NOT!

Published by under Advice

There’s this weird worry I get as a teacher – that I am making things too easy. Fortunately for my students, I chant the mantra of a senior colleague: “you can’t make it too easy.”

So true. Each time I write problems or tests, I worry that students will lose all respect for me. That they will resent studying so hard and then being tested only on the easy stuff. I will be revealed to be an intellectual lightweight, a complete law professor fraud.

And then I remember the mantra. If I were a student taking a test, would I really be mad if the test were straightforward and easy? Answer: No. I would be relieved and happy. I would be ok being able to leave an exam early.

To get a reality check, I have a colleague read the exam. How long does it take just to read the test? What distracted you? What was confusing about the call of the question?

This spring, students had spent a lot of time working on problems – essentially a series of mini essays, similar to those on an exam. I had provided lots of sample answers. The exam was open book, open everything. I worried. Too easy?

I gave the exam to my colleague. There were 3 essay questions, yes, all with subparts. My colleague said it was not too easy. She suggested that the first question looked basic, the second a little more challenging, the third more complex. I agreed. I stopped worrying.

After the exam, I ran into some of the students. Another reality check. Too easy? No, they said. In fact, it was hard to complete the exam within the three hours. These were bright bright students, the ones who soared in all their courses. It’s hard to make an exam too easy. Even when we think it is simple, we forget that we have years of experience and legal training that gives us such an edge over even the most studious 3L.

Too easy? Not!

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Apr 17 2008

Catching Preconceptions about Students

Published by under Advice

Thursday, April 17, 2008, 01:11 PM –
Posted by Sophie Sparrow

Over the past few years I have visited 2L and 3L students doing full-time externships. Most of these 2L and 3L externs I have never taught before. At each visit I have been impressed by the students’ professionalism and performance. The students are savvy about how their experience fills in the gaps left from classroom instruction. They notice where they need to improve; they realize how complex law practice is. In short, they learn many lessons that are taught, but not necessarily learned, in law school.

The supervising attorneys note areas where the student externs can improve, but they also almost always comment upon how much the students have contributed and grown over the course of the externship. Supervising attorneys praise externing students for their work-ethic, ability to take constructive criticism and interest in making the most of their externship experience.

When I return to the law school, I rave about how exciting and inspiring it is to see students on the cusp of their profession rising to the challenge and doing so well. I tell any colleague who will listen about how uplifting it is to see 2Ls and 3Ls engaged in their work and excited about their future opportunities.

Contrast this to the response I sometimes get: “You saw THAT student? THAT student is doing a good job?” followed by comments that in another course THAT student was unprofessional, unprepared, disengaged, etc.

As the parent of two teenagers, I take great comfort in the phrase that “the best indicator of who your children are is how they behave around others.” I realize it is a lesson I need to apply to students. Our students are who they are with others, not just in our class. The next time I get frustrated with a student who is unprepared or unprofessional, I am going to try not to fall into the trap of only seeing that side of the student, but instead to envision the student in a suit, working for a supervising attorney and doing a great job.

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Feb 25 2008

Beneath the Stamp of Preeminence: A Student’s Take on the Big Blue Books

Published by under Advice

What makes a textbook preeminent in its field?

So far, I’ve used two “preeminent” textbooks, and while I have no idea what that word means to the mysterious committee of trained professionals wielding the power of the Stamp of Preeminence, I can tell you what the word means based on my own experience. Based solely on the two preeminent texts I have been assigned, I have formulated the following 10 criteria for achieving preeminent status:

1. The book must be written either by your professor, by the good friends of your professor, or by the former professors of your professor
2. The book must exceed 1,200 pages
3. At least 750 of those 1,200 pages must be law review articles placed specifically to confuse, rather than explain, the given subject (but that’s okay because the articles were written by the same category of chaps listed in #1, supra)
4. The book must cost no less than (US) $300. Used. (couldn’t find a currency translator, but I’m told $300 is a LOT of ngwee)
5. The book must have a new edition each year making it utterly impossible to use/purchase a used one
6. The book must be hardbound with a blue cover
7. The book must have at least four authors
8. The book must be light on case law and heavy on pages containing naught but sentences ending in question marks while failing utterly to provide any means by which to answer said queries (begging the question: if I could answer the questions, would I really need the course..?)
9. The book must be infinitely and preferably replaceable by the preeminent supplement which, if used instead of said text, will actually get you a better exam grade (…um…or so I’m told…)
10. The book must provide better use as all/any of the following: a yoga block; a paperweight; a giant coaster (suitable for parties); and/or a good bit of kindling for the fire (toasty!).

OK, how close was I to the real criteria??

Interestingly, of the 4 dictionaries sitting on my desk, neither Black’s Law nor Black’s Law Pocket Edition nor even the Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary define “preeminence.” I had to resort to my $1.99 Webster’s New Pocket Dictionary to find that, in its view, “preeminence” means “outstanding.” (HA! HA, I say! What bloody rubbish!) However, this same dictionary defines “outstanding” merely as “prominent.” And on that basis, I suppose I understand how my books achieved their revered status. I mean, the things weigh a combined 40lbs and could easily double as body armor in most armed-combat situations, so they’re definitely “prominent.” So if that’s the standard, then I can see how they’ve achieved it.

But this is all just my analysis of “preeminence” as applied to legal textbooks. I’m curious if any members of the reading audience are on the mysterious committee charged with wielding the Stamp of Preeminence and, if so, whether you’d be willing to shed a little light into this dark, dark topic. Enquiring minds, empty wallets, and plummeting GPAs most decidedly want to know.

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