Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Law Schools, Practice Pointers

House Rules: How Did I Get Here?

Talking Heads was a teensy bit before my time, but some of you know the above lyric. I came into my own with music right around “Burning Down the House.” It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started to appreciate the world of music instead of my world of music. Living in New York City at the time of Dinkins showed me just enough rough trade to appreciate what New York was like in the 70s. Today, clubs like CBGBs and Wetlands are but mere memories for those of us with enough memory remaining. If you want a taste of “old” New York, I recommend watching “Dog Day Afternoon,” or even “Do the Right Thing.”

These days it’s almost embarrassing to walk through Times Square with its Disney-fied atmosphere. I am all for safety when walking the streets of Manhattan, but velvet ropes outside of my old dive bars in now gentrified neighborhoods make me long for the days when the City had some edge. Some of you may not believe this, but Bryant Park was once avoided like the plague after a certain hour. There used to be a bar guide put out by some enterprising young men, and my then-girlfriend — now wife of 20 years — once highlighted the names of the watering holes we had visited. When we realized we had been in fully 70% of the bars in the book, we knew it might be time for a change.

The 70% part is absolutely true, but the real reason we left Manhattan was that she got into school in Boston and my acting career was at a standstill…

So, I gave up on the dream and moved to Boston where I waited tables in a jazz bar, worked in a Hotel, and managed a local eatery. I went back to school and obtained my undergrad degree in Speech (a B.S. of all things) and wondered what to do next. I was good in front of people, I had acting chops, and I loved to read — seemed like law school was an obvious choice. Had I possessed the stomach to deal with bodily fluids of any sort whatsoever I could have gone the med school route, but even people’s feet skeeve me out. I gave little thought to the loans I had already incurred to finish undergrad, and knew that there was free money for going to law school, and decent jobs awaiting law school graduates, so I took the LSAT.

I applied around to schools where I wanted to live, and attended the best school that accepted me and which offered me the best financial aid package. This is the same mantra I offer to folks who ask me how to pick a school. Best school/best financial aid, and in the location where you want to reside. For me, that was Brooklyn Law. I knew going in that BLS was not a top tier school, but I also knew, having done my research, that top of the class at BLS would still end up in Biglaw, with the salaries to boot. It is a respected school in NYC, and graduating with honors will give you entrée to some of the better firms in town. Not all of them, but many.

You won’t be attending OCI taking place in large floors of mid-town hotels. Instead, BLS students submit their resumes to the Career Center and firms pick you for an initial interview in tiny offices on campus. From there, if you are lucky, you’ll be granted the callback lunch or day, and then it’s up to you to seal the deal. I was naive enough about the process that I remember being amazed, and envious, of students from top tier schools who had firms and judges courting them instead of the other way around.

But, schools like Brooklyn, which I am proud to have attended, do a great disservice by not educating their students on the ways of the real world. Sending clerkship application packets by the dozens does nothing. Applying to judges who have already recruited their own clerks from top schools is a waste of time. Trying to obtain an interview from Gibson Dunn and Crutcher will never pan out if you don’t attend certain schools. And so on. The ways of the real world are nowhere to be learned in the stacks of the BLS library; though you might find some risqué filming going on — sadly, way after my time there.

Going even further into the real world, a class on how to work in a firm environment would have been mightily helpful. Instead, I spent my summer at my firm like a nervous-nellie wondering if I would receive the golden ticket of an offer. This was 1998-99 mind you, and people basically had to vomit on the managing partner not to receive an offer – and even then, if they had the right connections, well, the dry cleaners could take care of a bit of Absolut and tonic, right? Looking back, it seems to me that not only would students benefit from real world counseling (financial aid counseling before attending law school goes without saying) while in law school, but the firms and the profession at large might benefit as well. Maybe that is what we could use that third year for – teaching law students a little something about becoming lawyers.

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