If you sent a document to the Engineers in Prometheus in .docx, they would say, 'Kill the one who expects us to convert.'

When most people call lawyers “paper pushers,” they mean it in a pejorative way. But pushing paper around correctly, in an organized and detail-oriented fashion, is a big part of a lawyer’s job. Some might say it’s the most important part of the job. The best lawyers have an attention to detail that can only be matched by research scientists and portrait artists.

If you can’t bring that maddening, borderline obsessive-compulsiveness to the little things, you might not be able to do things like become an awesome Supreme Court clerk — or even make it onto your school’s law review. That’s okay; you still might have other talents. But good lawyers can follow instructions (or afford secretaries who can follow instructions).

It’s an important lesson that three kids who got booted from their school’s law review competition just learned the hard way…

Tipsters emailed us letting us know that a number of people had been rejected from the Maryland Law Review competition for the most pedantic of reasons:

[S]tudents just got disqualified from law review petition process because they submitted .docx rather than .doc files.

Now, if that happened to me in the real world, I’d be pretty angry. Don’t get me wrong, .docx is a crappy, annoying format (even if it’s newer than the .doc format). But still, they are both just formats, and reasonably intelligent people should be able to find ways to open the sender’s document, regardless of format (perhaps by finding a friend or colleague with the appropriate version of Word).

Can’t you just see Homeland Security denying people travel visas for this kind of problem? Just to create bureaucratic friction where none need exist?

In law school, however, such fine distinctions are the stuff that separate the top 15% who will be getting jobs and the other 85% who will spend the next few years trying to “prove” they didn’t make a horrible mistake. We reached out to the managing editor of the Maryland Law Review about the situation. Here’s what he had to say:

Three petitioners were disqualified because they submitted in the .docx format. The petitioning instructions clearly stated that .docx petitions would not be accepted, and students were told this in person at mandatory petitioning meetings, so that all graders could read all files.

It’s a simple rule, made for the convenience of the readers. If the students don’t like that, wait until they see all the crazy formatting rules awaiting them in every American court. The little things are only small when you get them right.

It’s a painful and unfair lesson, but better to learn it in school — a time when you are supposed to be learning — than out there in the real world, when you are working on the client’s dime. I bet those three kids will never overlook a formatting guideline again.

Honestly, that lesson might be as valuable as anything you could learn from actually being on law review.


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