In-House Counsel, Law Schools

Inside Straight: An Open Letter To The University Of Chicago Law School

Dear University of Chicago Law School Admissions Committee:

I write to advise you that you can remove my name from the waitlist for admission to the University of Chicago Law School.

I deduce that my application has posed an extraordinarily challenging decision for you. After all, I applied for admission in the fall of 1978, was placed on the wait list some time that winter, and am still awaiting your final decision. I certainly appreciate the effort that you have invested in considering my application during the intervening decades.

As you might imagine, this has not been an easy thirty years for me, either. Every day, through the changing seasons and changing seasons of my life, I have approached the mailbox with trepidation, thinking that I might finally experience the exhilaration of acceptance or the agony of rejection. But it was not to be; I never heard a word. I’ve decided it’s time to spare you the effort of further deliberation.

I’ve thought about you each fall and winter, as you’ve surely re-opened and dusted off my typewritten application and compared it to the new e-submissions that you probably receive today. How do my accomplishments from the late 1970s compare to the accomplishments of my current competitors? I’m certain, for example, that grade inflation has worked to my detriment, as my grades are stuck at the old levels and younger folks get higher grades with each passing year. It’s just not fair.

And what about external events?

Did I have a better chance of admission as law firms went through their explosive growth in the 1980s? How did the recession of the early 1990s, the dotcom boom and bust, and the recent Great Recession affect my chances of admission? Now that fewer college graduates are taking the LSAT, is it possible that I’m withdrawing my application at precisely the wrong time? Is it possible that 2013 might, at long last, have been my lucky year?

You’ll surely be pleased to hear that your indecision has not ruined my life. The folks at The University of Michigan Law School were kind enough to provide me with a legal education. Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the Ninth Circuit was a delightful woman for whom to clerk. Steinhart & Falconer was an outstanding small firm at which to be trained as a young associate. Jones Day was a good place in which to invest a couple of decades (and Cleveland was an outstanding place to raise kids). My relatively recent foray into the world of in-house counsel has been the icing on the cake.

I’ve learned a lot over the years (although not, sadly, from the folks at your law school), and I’ve certainly enjoyed the ride. I’ve had more than my share of professional joys and sorrows. But now, as I turn 55 and begin to spy retirement as a speck on the horizon, it seems as though attending your school would probably yield diminishing returns. (The opportunity cost of attending law school is pretty high even when you’re in your 20s; think about the cost to me at this stage of my career.)

Although I’m taking myself off of your wait list, I will continue to have some interactions with your school. As you know, I’ll be giving my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law to a bunch of your students at noon on April 24. My daughter will be attending your business school beginning this fall. (She had better luck with your “wait list” than I did.) And I’m sure our paths will cross again in the future.

In the meantime, however, I think it’s best to end your prolonged indecision. Please take my name off the wait list for the University of Chicago Law School. Thank you very much for your obviously meticulous, and extended, consideration.

Very truly yours,

Mark Herrmann

Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at

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