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Messages - Thane Messinger

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Exgratia & All -

I hate to keep doing this, but there's a book on this very topic.  It's The Insider's Guide to Getting a Big Firm Job.


PS:  As to both pocket squares and pink shirts, no and no.  Not even a close call.  Do you want to make a fashion statement, or do you want the job?  Paradoxically, to get the job, you want the opposite of attention to your appearance.  You want the interviewers to not even know why you look so sharp.  Just that you do.     

PPS: But don't take my word for it.  Here's a colleague who, as it happens, wrote the foreword to Insider's Guide:  "Personally, I was as clueless as can be during my interviews in law school.  Some of my missteps mostly seem cute in retrospect, like wearing a carefully fluffed bright red pocket-square during interviews.  I was new to wearing suits, and had no idea about the finer points – I thought I looked quite dapper.  Other missteps were more egregious, and almost certainly cost me several call-back opportunities, like taking interviewing tactics from Grisham’s The Firm (the book, not the movie).  Lo and behold, reality is different from fiction."

Current Law Students / Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« on: August 13, 2009, 02:14:13 PM »
Do you have any advice for a young person just starting law school regarding school matters & life in general? :P

Aloha, Lovely JJ & All -

Young or not-so-young, how about two answers:

Starting with the second, life in general, be good.  Seriously.  This might sound corny or overly idealistic, but it's important nonetheless.  It's easy to get caught up in a hyper-competitive environment, especially in the world that is law school, but it's equally important to try to rise above it.  For one, employers couldn't care less who hid the reference to xyz memo so that others wouldn't find it, or who spread rumors about so-and-so to take them down a notch.  What they will care about is seeing someone with whom they can envision spending day in and day out of a stressful work life.  Being in good spirits is a big part of that, of showing your better self.  Too, being a good person is simply better.  You'll sleep better, you'll feel better, you'll be happier. 

As to law school, for those already in or about to start, read Planet Law School and the "Getting Good" part of my book, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold.  Self-serving?  Yes.  But there it is.  Among other reasons, the conventional wisdom in law school is almost completely wrong; the techniques commonly employed are ineffective or counterproductive; and the answer is obvious only after the opportunity to excel has already passed.  These are true because law school and law exams are very, very different from anything that has gone before: they test being a lawyer, not being a student.

For those not yet in law school, The Slacker's Guide to Law School has probably the best section on "Should I Go?" that I've seen.  Worth reading.

Above all, keep in mind that--while law school IS competitive--that doesn't mean we need to act badly in the process.  Keep your integrity, keep your eyes focused on the prize (learning the law well and getting great grades), keep your chin up, and as EdinTally and Matthies state, bouncing back from any setback is far more likely.


PS:  EdinTally and Matthies, as to sitting down with some scotch, I think we might just be able to track down a few solutions.  = :  )  And, by the way, I've been in real estate as well, starting in construction at 13.  No kidding.  As someone who's been involved with and consultant to any number of start-ups, I couldn't agree more with both of your statements.

Current Law Students / Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« on: August 09, 2009, 01:27:24 AM »
Aloha, All -

I'm in the middle of a fairly new book, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before, by Jean Twenge.

Twenge's thesis mirrors what I see from the podium and overheard in the hallways.  There's a lot of frustration out there, and that's understandable.  There's also a generational mismatch that, I suspect, is a large part of the shock both in law school and in the transition from law school to one's first law job. 

Much has been written on the law school experience, and as to Twenge's thesis (the difference among generations is substantial, and irrevocable), the key point is that law school is education designed one hundred years ago.  The demands of students appears increasingly out of sync with this, and law students increasingly less willing to put up with that disconnect.

As to law practice, here's the rub, and the reason for my rather blunt posts.  Regardless of age, the law office culture is exceedingly resistant to change.  This is for the simple reason that the client is the ultimate arbiter, and is a tough, ah, client.  They could not care less how a firm is run . . . but they damned well want the result they want.  As a consequence, everything about the firm is structured to meet that demand.  Much is written and whispered about different firms, fun firms, yada yada, and while there are differences, there is far greater consistency where it counts:  a firm is designed around your grandfather's expectations, at-will presuppositions and all. 

This can be quite a shock, and IS quite a shock.  I have known many, many good people who have fallen away.  Sometimes they don't like what they see.  More often they make needless errors.  There is almost no forgiveness in a firm.  All associates will make mistakes; partners know this.  They won't like it anyway, and the mistakes MUST decrease, and how.  This is why I'm writing this instead of reading another book and finding the nearest bottle of wine.  Well, okay.  I've got the wine.

With aloha,


Current Law Students / Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« on: August 09, 2009, 01:03:11 AM »

I've already made it.  Book or no book, I don't really have to worry,
Pride cometh before the fall.  It wasn't so long ago I shared your naivete.  Justice is not blind, so no one is immune to the arbitrary rulings handed out by courts.

Of course, I wish for you and yours only the best.

EdinTally & All -

What I meant by that was that I graduated law school nearly 20 years ago.  I've been practicing and then teaching.  This was not intended as an ego-centric boost, nor as an insult.  Rather, it was intended to convey just how serious this is.  I suspect a major component of the miscommunication is generational.  It's funny, in a sense.  Colleagues on the faculty are about as radical as they come, and were the firebrands in their day.  I have to be honest, however.  Many professors look at current students' attitudes and actions and, sadly, come to the conclusion that the majority simply won't get it, and so they (the professors) mentally wash their hands of nearly the lot of them.  I do not write this in concurrence.  In fact, this is one of the reasons I am posting here, to convey just a taste of this, so that whoever reads it might, might not fail where otherwise they likely will. 

I made many mistakes when first practicing.  I made mistakes before and during law school.  As to the former, The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book was written to work some of my frustrations out of my system, years ago.  As to the latter, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold was written because I felt that no resource was available to tell students what they really needed to hear, in a way that might help.  Following the crowd and doing law school the way it "has to" be done is a near guarantee for sub-par performance.  In this market, I shouldn't have to add that that's enough to make all the difference (to the negative).

As to LovelyJJ's comments, I couldn't agree more.  These are lessons that apply everywhere.  What's important is not then that one shouldn't worry about it, which seems the implication.  Rather, not going in with some frame of reference seems willfully blind.  Short of asking the nearest three senior partners whether individual experience really does make the difference, I would offer that that really misses the point.  While one's experiences can differ, the practice of law is the practice of law.  How could one *not* want to know a little bit about what to expect?

This brings to mind a comment by a colleague, who remarked upon being told by an associate, essentially, "What's your problem?" . . . well, this is a lie, as there was no comment.  The partner came in to my office, told me what happened, looked at me in amazement, shook her head, looked at me again, shook her head some more, and in that look confirmed that that associate would be asked to leave faster than planned.  I couldn't disagree, as he *did* have a bad attitude.  This is one of the keys:  knowledge counts for almost nothing in a firm (or any law office for that matter), at first.  Attitude is (almost) everything.

I mean it when I write that I too wish you all the best,


Current Law Students / Re: Interview tips?
« on: August 07, 2009, 12:36:31 PM »
I'll no doubt get into trouble, but actually I've gotten quite good at that over the years.

There's a new book out on this. 

So we've heard...stop shilling your damn book.
--post edited by EC

Current Law Students / Re: Exam in 2 weeks - Hitting a wall.
« on: August 07, 2009, 02:58:47 AM »
Aloha, Frog & All -

This is, unfortunately, the timeline when most law student freeze in horror.  So, please don't fret (too much).  You're not alone.  Here are a few cents worth from an ol' battlehorse prof . . .

First, the only thing that counts about the exam is the exam.  The law exam is not a memorize-and-regurgitate exercise.  Thus, everything that worked in college will not work for the law exam.  If you're falling back on your old habits, that's a tocsin...a warning bell.

What your professor wants to see is a lawyer jumping off the page.  Not a law student.  A lawyer.  This does not mean "advocate," but rather a fully fledged lawyer who can walk the prof through the fact pattern, pointing out lovely rules, interesting exceptions, notable details, and connect all of the above, almost as if absent-mindedly. 

We often talk about "knowing black letter law cold," but in our minds this easily comes back to a "memorize and regurgitate" pattern.  No.  This will not work. 

Knowing black letter law cold means knowing how to *construct* a legal analysis, drawing upon specific rules, exceptions, and so on.  There is no credit for black letter law, per se.  In fact, by itself it is almost meaningless.

Okay.  All that by background. 

With two weeks to go, I suggest that for the next four days you take one practice exam each morning.  These should be a real exam, taken closed book.  (If your prof's exams are available, don't do these first.  In honesty, it doesn't really matter.)  Time yourself short: give yourself 15 mintutes less.  You will then spend the entire afternoon digesting and re-digesting every conceivable aspect of that answer.  Did you catch everything?  Every pair?  Every possible cause of action?  Every defense?  Cross-check against your outline.  If you missed something, note that for the next exam.

On the fifth day, up it to two exams per day.  That's right, six hours per day taking exams.  Another six hours digesting it.  Then you sleep.

Note:  You're not there to "learn" black letter law, or even to refresh it.  You're there to internalize it.

On the seventh day, no rest.  This continues until the next to the last day, when you take your last practice exam.  Then you rest.  By then you'll know not only the law, but also you really *will* get that "A." 

This no doubt seems wildly excessive.  Perhaps.  But in law there is no second chance . . . in law school or in the practice thereof.  Thus, the entire life of the law is a life spent over-preparing. 

I hope this helps,


Current Law Students / Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« on: August 07, 2009, 02:38:57 AM »
Aloha, Nealric and All -

Again my apologies, as it had not been intended as a sales pitch, long-winded or otherwise.  (Indeed, some of the long-windedness was in giving fair credit to those other than me.)

In any event, in reading a few of the recent notes it strikes me that there are two potentially deadly outlooks that contribute to much of law student unease.  ("Deadly" in terms of career and personal satisfaction, if not physical or emotional health.)  The first relates more to OLs, so I'll post it in the pre-law thread.  The second applies to any rank or age of law student, especially in this market.

Having been involved in both legal education as a professor and practice as a practitioner, and having conversed with many colleagues over a fairly extended period, here are a few additional thoughts for all to stir the pot a bit more:

The transition from law school to law practice is perhaps the most treacherous the graduate will face.  Even military service is, in many ways, less disorienting.  This danger is not because the law graduate is somehow incapable of doing the work.  Quite the opposite.  By attending and graduating from law school and passing the bar, there ought not be any question as to underlying ability.  Indeed, this is one of the constant mis-assumptions new associates take into their new workplace, very much to their harm. 

The firm almost could not care less about your intelligence.  An insult?  Not really.  By this is meant that the firm and its partners, senior associates, secretaries, staff, etc. *assume* you are intelligent.  They wouldn't have interviewed you otherwise.  ["Firm" applies to all law offices, and is used here for shorthand.]  The meaning of "assume" is paramount here.  The firm is not designed around pulling your expansive knowledge.  Rather, the firm is designed around one thing and one thing only.  The client.  Whether that's a Fortune 500 company, a blue-blood aristocrat, a government agency, whatever . . . that is the defining purpose and central point of the entire enterprise.

This is important because nearly every element that was true for the successful law graduate is turned on its head.  You're no longer there to shower policy talk, or illuminate with brilliant insight about jurisprudential underpinnings.  You're there to answer an absurdly narrow question, on an absurdly short timeframe, with zero tolerance for error and nearly zero patience. 

For these reasons, I encourage everyone not to assume that everything will "be okay."  If one takes incorrect presuppositions into a position in any firm, you will almost certainly not be okay. 

I've already made it.  Book or no book, I don't really have to worry, absent a metastatic event or stray asteroid.  Where I worry, it's for individuals utterly unprepared for the *psychological* framework of practice, and the impact that that has on the firm and on clients and, yes, society.  For you, preparing for the very different world of practice might be the difference between an embittered post a few years hence, or a silent thank you.

Here's hoping for the latter.

With aloha,


Current Law Students / Re: Question for 2l and 3L
« on: August 04, 2009, 12:55:45 AM » read cases for more reasons than just "understand[ing] a single point of law."  Cases are especially important as a 1L because you not only learn the single rule of law at issue, but you learn how to parse out facts - what's important and what isn't.  You also learn how to spot policy arguments in cases and begin to understand how courts use those policy arguments.

Jacy & All -

I genuinely hope this is not read as a flame, as that is not the intent.  I appreciated your response and care in elaborating your points.  This might, however, be one reason law school is so perennially (and needlessly) hard for so many law students.  While individuals do indeed learn differently, that doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a better, easier way to learn the law. To a large extent, the answer is staring us in the face.  (I write this somewhat assertively because I too was misled by the crowd and common "wisdom" when I was in law school.  Though I did well, I learned later just how mushy my efforts were.  To a large degree, my exams were less bad than everyone else's.)  The answer is provided by how lawyers actually use cases.

As to the case method generally, there are several possible responses, but the most responsible one is, no, a case is there for one reason and one reason only: to highlight a SINGLE point of law (or exception, or exception-to-an-exception).  It's true that policy rationales, etc., are in the case, and might well be hidden in the open, but that's not often the best way to learn that, and it's certainly not how a lawyer goes about case preparation.  True, a lawyer already knows, or should know, the contours of that area of law, and is to a large extent searching for a specific answer to a specific question, given a specific factual framework.  That, to a large extent, is the answer to "A" grades with less effort.  (More discipline, but less effort.)

You're quite right about the importance of fact-spotting--which goes to the point about the single point at issue--and also the policy rationales behind that point.  But it's absolutely essential not to get trapped in a case by looking for more than that single issue.  In fact, one should pinch oneself in law school when going beyond that single point.  Why?  That's a rabbit hole down which many a law student has been trapped, not to be seen again until exams.

This is not to state that one cannot dance rings around a case (in, say, a classroom discussion . . . although it's better not to dance too noticeably with a professor).  The key is to read the case only AFTER one understands why the case is there.  This is why understanding that single point of law is so vital.  Once that is understood, everything else falls into place.  An attorney can read a case's facts in one minute and practically out-talk anyone.  Not because of an ability to spew nonsense, but because the facts of that case fit within the broader framework of that area of the law.  In law school, the challenge is to build the framework, one rule at a time.  The cases are merely there to highlight those rules, one rule at a time. 

Cases are not the donut.  They're the hole.

I hope this helps,


I have a similar situation, but in regards to biglaw firms. 

i have a 3.1'ish GPA at an HYSCC law school... i landed a summer job that has undoubtedly catapulted my legal research, writing, and analytical skills to a level far beyond what I ever acquired as a 1L. despite the amazing, incredibly educating experience, i have this awful gpa hanging over my head.  same question as the OP minus the drop-out consideration: am i totally screwed for biglaw firms in this economy, with this gpa???

Aloha, Mallow -

Um, totally?   = :  )

Not quite.  One of the paradoxes of BigLaw (and all other offices of law) is the unique nature of each passage.  In essence, each passageway (LSAT, Law School, First Year, Clerkship, Bar, Job) opens to a new chamber.  In that new chamber, in most respects everything that happened before entering is irrelevant.  There's a sort of collective amnesia at every new step.  (This is one reason so many so often so badly misconstrue the LSAT.)

So, once you've clerked, to a large extent THAT determines your future.  The key is to absolutely shine.  If you've not read any of the books I suggest on practice as a new associate, I *strongly* recommend them, if not *all* of them.  Why?  Because, to a large extent, the partners and senior associates (and senior secretaries and staff) will rely upon your performance, not your resume, to decide upon the final hire decision.  If it's a judicial or other job, the same rule applies...a single sentence (or even a single word, pronouced a certain way) uttered by your judge or other employer will, to a large extent, determine your fate.

Clearly, in this market, the total number of slots is likely to be smaller, and thus the odds are increasingly stacked against any individual.  But please don't put too much stock in your past.  (This applies to all.)  Focus instead on your future, including on every aspect of what you do in the office.  I cannot stress this enough:  avoid the mistakes that nearly all new associates make, and read ALL of the four practice books.  If you pick up even one tip from each, that might be enough to make the difference.  Chances are, based on the mistakes nearly all associates make (including me, way back when), this will make the difference.

I hope this helps,


Facts: Private NYC school (the one in between Fordham and Brooklyn). Already in debt from one year. Bs and B+ grades only (below median - 3.04 GPA, median = 3.16). Public interest/government future.

Should I drop out? I'm below median. I want a public interest/government career, but the economy is horrible right now. I have plenty of family connections, but my grades are kinda poo. Is there any way to get them up during the next two years?

Please, any advice would be great. I have no idea what to do right now. I mean, I'm really good at actual law ... I received an A on my appellate brief, and in my internship I keep getting compliments on my briefs and research. But still, grades are everything in this career.

Aloha, mzing12 -

Perhaps a different, even corny, question that has shockingly little to do with the economy might help (although the market does indeed present an immediacy to the question):  Do you love the law?  Do you even like it?

I'm serious, actually.  If the answer is no, then get out.  Don't waste any more time, or money, or emotion.  Figure out what it is that you truly like, and march like anything toward that goal.

If the answer is yes--and it sounds as if it is, at least in part--then the challenge is twofold:  how to get back on track, including your own sense of self-worth in your studies, and tactical considerations given the market.

Part of this relates, as you mention, to the importance of first-year grades.  Sadly, there's not much that second and third year grades will do in the context of many jobs.  It's unclear whether your statement about government/public interest is a preference or a resignation, as that makes a big difference in the advice.  If it's a preference, then the challenge is to find a government office somewhere--perhaps one that's received stimulus money--and secure even a part-time job.

Once you've answered the above question(s), and whatever the answer, consider what else it is that you like.  If it's an academic program, such as an MPA, it might not be a bad idea to branch out to another program--depending on any number of other factors.  If there is a genuine interest in a dual program, the delay will likely not be a harm.  Also, getting a part-time law job--nearly any part-time legal job--will be a benefit as well, in a number of ways.

I've posted my email in the "Success..." thread, if you'd like further help.

Best of luck,


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