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Messages - Morten Lund

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General Board / Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« on: August 18, 2011, 03:49:11 AM »

Given the alternative prospects for many graduates of today's schools, I don't think a solo practice is an unreasonable aspiration.

This is an excellent observation, and there is more than a dash of reality there.

That said, I still shudder every time I hear of any fresh graduate putting up a shingle.  This is based perhaps mostly in my recollection of just how useless I was upon graduation (and for quite some time thereafter), but frankly I am hard pressed to think of more than a handful of fresh lawyers I have ever met who I would view as even marginally capable of operating unsupervised without committing wholesale malpractice. 

For this simple reason, and this reason alone, I generally oppose hanging shingles after graduation.  In fact, I would favor some type of post-doc internship requirement, MD-style, for bar admittance, but that is perhaps a different subject.

But, as you pointed out, this may be the only viable option open to many folks in today's situation, and you make do with what you can.  But for those who seek to open up shop right out of school, I would offer a suggestion/observation or two: 

- Chances are that you are far more incompetent than you think you are.  One of the features of incompetence is that it is often self-masking:  The incompetence keeps the incompetent from realizing his own incompetence. 

- So take a good hard at yourself and try to honestly evaluate what you do and do not understand.  Read and study - a lot.

- Try to limit your practice to relatively simple matters, and try to get repetition whenever possible, so that you may build expertise quickly (a tall order I know for a new solo, who will take any work available, but still).  Recognize your rookieness and try to mitigate the damage.  Marketing also becomes a lot easier if you can tout a particular skill or experience rather than general awesomeness.

- Get supervised.  Just because you are solo doesn't mean you are without resources.  "Consult" with other lawyers you know - relatives, friends, the guy in the next office suite, whatever (all within the bounds of the rules of ethics, of course).  Just find someone whose brains you can pick.  Heck, pay someone to shoulder-surf once in a while if you have to.  It is not uncommon in some professions to supervision requirements (which the bar mysteriously does not have) to simply hire more senior practitioners to supervise.  That could work for you too.

- Get involved in the local bar association.  The localler the better.  These groups are populated almost entirely with small firms and solos, and can be an invaluable source of information, education, supervision, client referrals, assistance, and perhaps even a job.  Good bar associations are the small firm support group.

- Beyond just the bar association, network.  A lot.  Firm lawyers have a huge networking advantage, as they can tag along with other lawyers in the firm, and benefit from those pre-existing networks.  Not so for the solo - you have to do it all yourself, and it is easy to put it off without a senior partner bugging you to go to the mixer.  But most law practices are ultimately a relationship game, so you should build as many relationships as you can.

(Ok, more than two)

Law School Applications / Re: importance of extra curricular activities?
« on: August 18, 2011, 03:19:47 AM »

In short, choose one thing, and be a leader.

To add to this (and Professor X' point), one of my old partners was an interviewer for a good school.  He told me on several occasions that when evaluating applicant resumes, he would rather have the guy who was the captain of the tiddlywinks team than the guy who lettered in five sports but was a leader in none.  He loved Eagle Scouts, but thought regular Boy Scout experience had no place on a resume.

More than anything else, law schools (and law firms) look for initiative and leadership.  "Participated" doesn't count for much in most cases.

During the totality of my legal career, I have read ... let me think ... ZERO law review articles for professional purposes.  I'll occasionally read an article for personal interest and amusement, but professionally?  They are completely irrelevant, at least to my practice.

Actually, there is a caveat:  Occasionally a client of mine will get a hold of a law review article and want to act on what he read in that article, which so far has been impossible or illegal 100% of the time, thereby requiring me to spend time explaining that a discussion of how the law ought to be, or might be, is different from how the law actually is.

So the result for me is that law review articles have had a net negative impact on my professional career.

Non-Traditional Students / Re: Wanting to go to Law School but...
« on: July 05, 2011, 11:06:35 PM »
There are plenty of Marines and other former servicemembers--many of them bonafide war heroes--seeking T14 school seats.

Indeed.  There were several recently decorated combat veterans in my law school class (shortly after the first Gulf War), including graduates of the various military academies.

Our current conflicts are unfortunately generating war heroes at a faster pace than the last time we were in the Gulf, and it is reasonable to expect this to be reflected in law school applications, at every level.a

I graduated into a dismal market (in 1991)... 

That is part of the key right there.  This is 2011.  If she graduated in 2008, give or take, then she graduated in the beginning/middle of the worst job market the legal profession has seen since 1991 - at least.  She came out at a time when most firms were busy firing associates as quickly as they could - the idea that she had any reasonable expectation of employment in that environment is ludicrous.

... and that is for graduates of any law school.  I graduated a couple of years after Thane, but things were still slow when I was looking for work.  We both went to pretty good law schools, and what Thane describes was not unique.  I certainly did not have employers falling over themselves to hire me (I recall stacking rejection letters up in the windowsill - it was a very tall stack before I got even an inkling of interest).  Several of my classmates graduated without jobs, and many more had the job they could get, not the job they wanted. 

And that was then - things are far worse now, and know that most current graduates from top schools are quite grateful for any job, and cannot afford to be picky.  And if graduates from the top schools are struggling to find jobs, on what planet are T4 graduates likely to get any job other than what they basically create for themselves?

I am not quite ready to call her out for not trying hard enough, but I am more than ready to call her out for being delusional about the job prospects of any fresh law grad today, let alone one from Jefferson.

In a sense, this makes it even more important to evaluate these data points well . . . as employers WILL.

The "customers" of law schools are not students, but firms; students are the product.  And, for their own reasons, firms like the system as it is.

I came here to say this, and to add additional cynicism.  From the employer side, rankings are useful, and have no downside.  They provide several benefits to us, including: 

- Basic information about the place in the world of an unfamiliar law school.  We don't necessarily care about the quality of the education - that's pretty much the same everywhere.

- Basic information about applicants from unfamiliar law schools.  We can use the ranking as a proxy for selectivity, and use that in turn as a proxy for candidate quality.  Sure, it is a blunt instrument, but it is very helpful for triage.  Helpful for the employers, that is, even if innocent students are harmed in the process.

- Resume-padding.  If we can say that we only hire from "top law schools," that has value to us.

- Corporate shelter.  A hiring partner will take little flak for hiring a recruit from a well-ranked law school, even if it doesn't work out.

These are all true even if we know that the rankings are a bit thin on substance.  The rankings rely heavily on reputation, and reputation has real value in the real world.  Also, because the firms all compete for graduates of the higher-ranked schools, the firms that has the most lawyers from those schools is the "winner," and that has local value as well.  The rankings are, to a large extent, self-fulfilling prophecies, and that works just fine for us.

In fact, I would suggest that the USN rankings may actually near perfect, in a very real sense.  It all depends on what the rankings are trying to achieve.

What is the difference between law school A and law school B?  Not the professors, the curriculum, or the materials - it is well covered that the "quality of education" received from various law schools is essentially identical.  Moreover, we all know that nothing much of value is actually taught or learned in law school.  The real learning comes after - law school is just foundation-laying, and barely even that.  A ranking system based on "quality of education" would be of limited value.

Instead, I propose that there are basically two substantive differences among law schools:  the quality of the students, and the reputation of the school.  For all the reasons I noted above and more, selectivity and reputation are very valuable to graduates and employers alike.  And, as it turns out, those two factors (selectivity and reputation) are at the core of what drives the USN rankings.  Perhaps the rankings actually create or define the reputation value of middle- and lower-ranked schools, but that isn't a weakness.  Instead it is added value.

USN is like the popular kids in junior high who declare which bands are "cool" and which are not.  The quality of music and legitimacy of the designations are irrelevant - the real subjects are coolness and social standing.  The popular kids provide a valuable service by defining the social value of the various bands, as this allows the other kids to help define their own social standing in part by their choice in music.  Without the popular kids' declaration, nobody would know which bands were cool, and chaos would ensue.

Arbitrary and unfair, perhaps?  Sure - but the process still creates social structure, which has real value far beyond the choice of particular bands/schools anointed as cool.

To bigs, thank you.  This is why we go to law school.  = :   )

Indeed.  I always enjoy your posts, whether I agree or disagree.  Perhaps even more when I disagree.  I suspect you will make a fine lawyer - and you may even enjoy it!

For example the legally blind guy who got a 173 on his LSAT could have gotten into some elite schools. However, he was legally blind had a hard time getting around and  had a wife (who had a good job in Chico) and kids who lived in Chico.

Side note:  There was a legally blind guy in my law school class.

To OP:  Even if the ABA is a "monopoly" for purposes of anti-trust law, that does not automatically make the ABA "illegal" in any way.  It is not illegal to be a monopoly, it is only illegal to abuse monopoly power - and I am not sure what the ABA is doing that would constitute abuse of monopoly power.  Perhaps if the ABA were conspiring with US News and World Report...  that would make for a good story.

General Board / Re: Nervous About Law School Dress Code
« on: June 09, 2011, 12:45:44 PM »
I'm pretty sure HLS doesn't have a dress code, but I think maybe the practice of law isn't for you.

I see what motivated you to write this, but I think your conclusion may be a little broad.  Plenty of people buy their first suit in law school (myself included), and many a fine rugged individualist has been successful in the corporate world.

To OP - BikePilot's very legitimate point is that the practice of law is, to a large extent, inherently formal.  While office dress codes have relaxed a bit over the last 20 years (I am currently wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but my office is a bit unusual), the underlying "our way or ... no, just our way" mentality is as strong as ever in most any field of law - and, frankly, in most of big business as well.

Success as a lawyer will require the ability to suppress your inner non-conformist, at least for a while, and instead just do it the way The Man wants it done, the end.  As the years go by, the rules change a bit, and (IMO) all the best lawyers are non-conformists at heart - but even then playing within the rules that matter.

Lawyering is by definition a rulebound existence.  If the idea of being subject to inflexible rules chafes you, then BikePilot is entirely correct.  If your concern truly is just about attire, then you should be fine, so long as you can wear what you are told.

General Board / Re: Nervous About Law School Dress Code
« on: June 08, 2011, 01:45:59 PM »
I understand that you have to dress professionally in law school.

I'm not sure who told you this.  It may have been true in 1954, but I don't know of any law school where there is a formal dress code at all, or where the informal dress code is any different from the rest of the university students.

Dress as you please.

Now job interviews while in law school, that is of course a different matter.

Law School Applications / Re: Resume Question with Unpaid work
« on: June 07, 2011, 05:28:47 PM »
I think this type of story would make for part of an excellent personal statement.  Working in the family business, helping when and as needed, performing duties ranging from managing ledgers and permits to pouring concrete - all as the first native English-speaker in your family, and while doing well in school?  I can practically smell the bootstraps from here.  Admissions will eat that up.  Don't undersell this.

I wouldn't feel the need to mention the "informality" of it at all.  Most family businesses are run that way - I don't think most children of store-owners get paid for minding the cash register, any more than farm kids get paid for milking cows.  I wouldn't hide it, for I see nothing to hide - but I wouldn't mention it because there is nothing worth mentioning.

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