Bad Ideas, Cardozo Law School, Federal Judges, Law Schools, S.D.N.Y., Trials

Unemployed Cardozo Gunner Receives Public Lesson From Jed Rakoff

It's the summer, put your hand down.

It’s hard out there for a law student who can’t find a summer job.

Back in the before times, the summer was this excellent opportunity to make a little bit of money and, more importantly, secure legal employment for after graduation. Now, things are worse. For those who have a summer associate position, the program involves ten weeks of stress, hoping that you don’t screw up your offer while also praying you like the people you work with because there is no 3L hiring market.

For those who are unemployed, I mean, honestly, spending a summer getting drunk and playing SWTOR is probably as good as anything else you can do.

Whatever you do, you probably don’t want to end up like this student. The rule for law students over the summer is very simple: first, do no harm….

Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) is presiding over the Rajat Gupta trial in Manhattan right now. One unemployed student at Cardozo Law School decided it would be a good idea to attend the public proceedings. Heck, she doesn’t have anything else to do, and you can almost see the nods of approval from so-called career counselors and parental types everywhere. It’s the kind of thing that sounds like she’s making the best of a difficult situation. You can even see how this student could have dreams of talking about the trial in her fall interviews.

[Dream Sequence sound]

EMPLOYER: I don’t see your summer position on your résumé.
GUNNER: Well, I wasn’t able to secure a paid position last summer. But instead of just sitting around, I went to the Rajat Gupta trial everyday. I feel like I learned a lot.
EMPLOYER: Boy did you ever! You probably got more practical experience over the summer than any of the hundreds of kids who spent their time with real jobs actually working for lawyers. I don’t have any more questions. When can you start?!

[Gunner awakens backwards in a bathtub. She immediately grabs her totem to confirm she’s back to reality.]

Peter Lattman of DealBook picks up the story from there:

[Benula Bensam] had taken a class in the federal rules of evidence this past semester, and thought it would be interesting to attend a white-collar criminal trial. Besides, she said, she hadn’t landed a summer job, so watching the case would be a productive use of her time.

“I’m an optimistic person and if you can’t get an education in one respect there are other things to do,” Ms. Bensam said.

Ms. Bensam said that she had sent three separate letters to Judge Rakoff about various evidentiary rulings that he has made during the case, posing questions about some; disagreeing with others.

Judge Jed Rakoff

Danger Will Robinson, danger! Any time you find yourself sending three unsolicited letters to anybody, much less a judge, you are in trouble. Any time you want to disagree with the evidentiary decisions of Jed Rakoff based on your law school Evidence class and your own internal “optimism,” you are about to experience something very bad.

If Benula Bensam had asked me if she should send the letters, I’d have respectfully suggested that she leave review of Judge Rakoff’s rulings to the Second Circuit. Actually, scratch that — I’d have turned into Charlize Theron in the Prometheus trailer and said: “If you send those letters out, you are going to die!”

But, Bensam didn’t ask me. So:

On Monday afternoon, as the jury listened to testimony from Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, a United States marshal approached Ms. Bensam in the spectator’s gallery and asked her to leave the courtroom. She said that several marshals then took her into a room and accused her to trying to improperly influence the judge.

“That was certainly not my intention,” said Ms. Bensam, who lives in Woodside, Queens. “They were very aggressive and totally misconstrued what I was trying to do.”

During the sidebar with Judge Rakoff and the lawyers on Wednesday, Ms. Bensam said that the judge politely told her that she should not write him any more notes because it could create the perception that she was trying to influence the outcome of the case.

“I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” she said. “But now I know.”

Insert your own “Cardozo can’t even teach kids how to watch a trial” joke here.

Really, this is the fallacy of all gunners, everywhere. They think their opinions are (a) important, (b) useful, and (c) helpful, to themselves or others. They are not. I bet for most of her life, people have told this girl to raise her hand and speak up and generally be assertive. I bet everybody told her she was God’s own special snowflake, and if she had an insightful question for Judge Rakoff, there was no harm in asking.

But really, after a failed attempt to get a summer job, I wonder how many people counseled her to do some quiet contemplation? Some soul searching? Some friendship bonding? How many people told this student that sometimes just listening was the way forward?

Sometimes, we can’t be masters of our destiny. Sometimes, we have to just ride the wave a little bit and see where we end up. If you don’t have a job this summer, don’t show up and try to gun your way through a major Wall Street trial. Don’t start calling into the Nancy Grace show just because you are jealous that she’s on television while you’re sitting at home surrounded by cold pizza and warm beer (that might have been just me).

Just chill for a second. Stop and smell a rose; don’t uproot it in hopes of finding a map to a clandestine networking event. Take a few weeks to reflect on why you didn’t get a job this summer, and try to figure out what you are going to do next fall to improve.

Sometimes, to take a step forward, we must take a step back.

Gupta Trial Judge Reprimands Law Student Spectator [DealBook]

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