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Author Topic: More on Success in Law School and Beyond  (Read 2123 times)

Thane Messinger

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More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« on: August 03, 2009, 08:24:14 PM »
Aloha, All -

I was unable to respond in the earlier thread, Sucess in Law School and Beyond, which I assume is attributable to an assumption that that was spam.  While I would hold a different definition of "spam," my apologies if that was the case, as I am clearly a visitor here.

To respond briefly, part of why I posted the various recommendations was in a brief scan of the threads, and in the sense of deja vu: the same frustrations that I encountered, and felt, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  My own experiences are unimportant, except that they might serve as an aid to others now.  Here's why:  I have been appalled at how partners I've seen over the years have treated associates, on more than a few occasions.  I have come to understand, however, why this is so.  A large part of this is the reality of law practice.  Some is a result of who is attracted to law school, who is attracted to practice, and who is motivated toward and achieves partnership.  An aggravating factor is the economy, to be sure.  Still another part--a good half--is the associates themselves. 

I sense a frustration and even anger on the part of and underlying many posts.  Without getting too deeply into this, the important point here is that if a partner--any partner--gets even a whiff of insubordination, or insolence, or even irreverence, some will make it their life's mission to destroy that associate's career and life.  (And that doesn't even get to the basics of accomplishing the job, which many never get.)  Worse, what I've seen over the years is a worsening of the generational divide.  I wish I were joking, but it's repeated all too often at firms large, mid-sized, and small.  One post mentioned that of course he would never act out what he thought (which is of course easier online than in person), but that, I think, misses the point.  Even thinking these things is dangerous.  Sure, we all get frustrated, and need to vent.  I had a few choice thoughts about bosses along the way.  But that too misses the point.

Here's the truth:  If you, the reader of this note, do not read at least one of the recommended books [note, I did not write "buy," but read, and I did not write that you had to read one of mine], there is a strong possibility--even probability--that you will fail.  Whether that's making partner, paying down your debt, gaining independence, changing the world, whatever.  This might well be seen as self-interested on my part, despite the references to others' work, but that makes it no less true.  (The fact that three authors long out of law school approach the same problem with three solutions that practically dovetail each other ought to be reason enough to consider this as more than mere spam.)

I shall not likely be active in these groups, but as a pro bono effort of sorts I welcome any comment, question, or critique.  I'll check in a few times, and have posted my email.

I wish you all the very best,

Thane.

PS:  As it happens, my time in Cambridge was not as an undergraduate.  I try not to use that address, but am more alergic to multiple addresses that cannot feed into a single program.

nealric

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2009, 12:42:12 PM »
We are trying to avoid any use of the board as a forum for advertising. While you may be altruistic in your desire to distribute the aforementioned books, the fact is that your previous post came off as a long-winded sales pitch.
Georgetown Law Graduate

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Now who's being naive?

Thane Messinger

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2009, 05:38:57 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,

Thane.

lovelyjj

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2009, 11:58:46 PM »
I don't think this is true only of the legal market. The society functions this way. Students can never know what the real work environment will be like until they get there and individual experience can differ tremendously depending on where she comes from. :P

EdinTally

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2009, 12:43:29 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.

Thane Messinger

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2009, 04:03:11 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,

Thane.

Thane Messinger

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2009, 04:27:24 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,

Thane.

EdinTally

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2009, 12:55:00 AM »
For me, the miscommunication isn't generational since you are probably only a few years older than I.  However, I do have difficulty with your writing style.  It seems like you are having a dialogue in your head but only some of it winds up on the page.

Your colleagues are radical and were fire brands in their day but have determined that students don't get it.  Without intent to nitpick, I find this very confusing.  What don't students get?  The institution of law school?  The law?  Life? 

As to the Generation Gap, I am amused that every generation down through time thinks the generation behind them will be the downfall of humanity.  If we start with the proposition that twenty-somethings have a sense of entitlement (or whatever it is that makes their transition in the working world difficult), then how did they get there?  Did an entire generation, uninfluenced by the outside world, unilaterally decide to stomp their feet and scream "I deserve it!".  Hardly.  You can't have a serious discussion about a younger generation without looking at your own.  As humans we find this self diagnosis difficult. 

Would that we could sit down, have a scotch, and solve all the worlds problems. 

Cheers *clink*

Matthies

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2009, 11:28:38 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.

Seriously, and this is a good point. Things change, life changes, what you have today may not be there tomorrow. Ten years ago I was near broke then five years ago I was part of the wealthy landed gentry. Today through no fault of my own other than not seeing the writing on the wall and selling off my rental properties at the top of the market Iím much worse off than I was before I started law school. Material wealth comes, goes, ebbs, flows. There are good times and bad, and nothing lasts forever.

So you start over. At least successful people do, I donít know anyone I consider successful that has not had to start over at least once in their lives. Its builds character, part of that character is a bit of fear, fear that someday it all might be taken away from you, lose that fear and when it does youíre not mentally ready or able to start over, and that is where many people fail. Being successful is spite of failure or setbacks is what separates successful people from lucky people. Lucky people remain successful as long as their luck holds out, successful people are successful regardless and in spite of what life gives them because they make success happen on their own.
*In clinical studies, Matthies was well tolerated, but women who are pregnant, nursing or might become pregnant should not take or handle Matthies due to a rare, but serious side effect called him having to make child support payments.

EdinTally

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Re: More on Success in Law School and Beyond
« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2009, 09:03:23 AM »


Seriously, and this is a good point. Things change, life changes, what you have today may not be there tomorrow. Ten years ago I was near broke then five years ago I was part of the wealthy landed gentry. Today through no fault of my own other than not seeing the writing on the wall and selling off my rental properties at the top of the market Iím much worse off than I was before I started law school. Material wealth comes, goes, ebbs, flows. There are good times and bad, and nothing lasts forever.

So you start over. At least successful people do, I donít know anyone I consider successful that has not had to start over at least once in their lives. Its builds character, part of that character is a bit of fear, fear that someday it all might be taken away from you, lose that fear and when it does youíre not mentally ready or able to start over, and that is where many people fail. Being successful is spite of failure or setbacks is what separates successful people from lucky people. Lucky people remain successful as long as their luck holds out, successful people are successful regardless and in spite of what life gives them because they make success happen on their own.

A fellow survivor!  I built my little empire in south St. Louis; 81 apts.  I thought I had life licked, then 17 months of marriage, a biased (female) magistrate, and a poor choice of attorneys *boom* all gone.  But like you said, successful people make their own luck and move forward.  Seven years ago I saw myself going to law school and today I'm writing this from campus; life is good.   ;)

I'd be willing to bet it won't be too long before the both of us are carving out chunks of real property, for ourselves, again.  There is just something about real estate once it gets in your blood!?