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Two hundred years ago yesterday, on September 14, 1814, a Washington, D.C. lawyer penned the words to what would become the United States’ national anthem. Today that man, Francis Scott Key, is better known as a lyricist than a lawyer. But at the time, the judge’s son, born to a wealthy slave-owning family in Maryland, was well respected in Washington’s legal and political circles. This week, On Remand looks back at Francis Scott Key’s legal career and some laws and lawsuits featuring Key’s composition, The Star-Spangled Banner.

By 1814, the thirty-five-year-old Key had already argued several cases in front of the Supreme Court. The most famous case, Mills v. Duryee, was the first time the Supreme Court construed the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause. Key argued that a judgment from one state, when presented in another state, was merely one piece of evidence to be weighed with all other evidence. Justice Story, delivering the majority opinion, thought little of Key’s argument, writing that it would render the Full Faith and Credit Clause “utterly unimportant and illusory.”

Key’s power of persuasion didn’t lead to victory at the Supreme Court. But, a year later, Key’s advocacy for a prisoner of war brought him near the frontline of the War of 1812. What he watched “o’er the ramparts,” then observed afterwards at “dawn’s early light” from a ship in Baltimore Harbor, became the inspiration for our national anthem….

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Two years ago, the LSAT was given to more than 104,000 people. Last year it was given to 52,000 nationwide, a 50 percent drop. Law is no longer seen as the golden calf. This is very hard work. It’s not Boston Legal.

You don’t walk into the office and pop open a scotch and sit around chatting with your partners about the ball game. It’s emotionally draining. You’re only as good as your last trial, your last settlement. You are constantly looking for more clients. Going to law school is not the automatic $120,000-a-year job.

Terry Robertson — the dean of Empire College School of Law, a school accredited only by the California Bar, without any employment statistics to speak of found online — commenting on the state of the legal profession.

Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.

I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own first novel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.

Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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When we covered the American Lawyer’s annual summer associate satisfaction survey last year, we noted that “[b]eing a summer associate just isn’t what it used to be.” All work and no play may make summer associates dull boys and girls, but it also makes them highly confident they’ll receive offers of full-time employment when their programs end.

Despite the fact that it’s a “buyer’s market for law firms,” many of them tossed out offers to their summer classes like Mardi Gras beads. Summer associates were no longer praying for offers, as they were in certain years past; no, this summer, they almost expected offers to be handed to them.

These were the conclusions drawn from the American Lawyer’s 2014 Summer Associate Survey. Am Law polled 5,085 law students at the nation’s largest firms about their summer experiences and used the results to rank 96 programs. This year’s crop of would-be lawyers was seemingly at ease about their situations, despite the fact that there is still a general unease permeating through Biglaw.

This summer’s overall rankings were overwhelmingly positive. If you’re a law student trying to figure out where to spend your summer, you’re probably asking: which law firms came out with the highest scores?

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Louie C.K. has the definitive statement on the legal standing of corporal punishment (it’s Louie C.K., so I shouldn’t have to tell you NSFW):

” ‘Stop hitting me, you’re huge. You’re a giant and I can’t defend myself.’…

Kids are the only people in the world that you are allowed to hit… They’re the most vulnerable and they’re the most destroyed by being hit but it’s totally okay to hit them. And they’re the only ones. If you hit a dog, they’ll f***ing put you in jail for that s**t. You can’t hit a person unless you can prove that they were trying to kill you. But a little tiny person with a head this big who trusts you implicitly, f**k ‘em, who gives a s**t, let’s all hit them…

Let me say this, if you have kids and you do hit your kids, I totally get it. I’m not judging. I get it. My mom hit me. I don’t hit my kids… I’m not better than my mom, it’s because she was poor and I have money… I work two hours a week sometimes.”

That’s pretty much the law right there folks. Of course people shouldn’t hit their kids. It’s freaking barbaric. It’s proven to be an ineffective and damaging form of discipline.

But the law accepts the premise that some people are going to hit their children from time to time. Once you’re there, once you abandon a “zero tolerance” policy on corporal punishment for children, it’s exceedingly difficult to parse “reasonable” from “abusive” punishments…

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We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.

Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.

Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.

From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.

Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)

In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?

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My firm’s clients often ask how their contracts with Chinese companies should be signed and/or chopped (affixed with the company seal). We typically respond with something like the following:

Each Chinese company has only one “legal representative” (a term of art under Chinese law), who is identified as such on the company’s business license. Any agreement signed by a Chinese company’s legal representative is binding on the company, whether or not a chop is affixed. However, to enforce a contract that is not chopped, you must prove that the signature on the contract really belongs to the Chinese company’s legal representative. Therefore, if you can get the contract chopped, you should.

Larger Chinese companies often do not have their legal representative sign their contracts. In this situation, you need to be particularly vigilant about securing a proper chop.

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She doesn’t needed to be educated about rap music.

* “Operas can get pretty gory. I should have put that in my brief.” In the upcoming Supreme Court term, it looks like law clerks will have to educate their justices about the intricacies of rap music’s sometimes violent lyrics. [National Law Journal]

* The pay gap between equity and non-equity Biglaw partners is growing wider and wider. According to recent survey, on average, equity partners are bringing home $633K more than non-equity partners each year. [Am Law Daily]

* Hackers are targeting Biglaw firms to acquire their clients’ important secrets. Unfortunately, no one is brave enough to step up to the plate and say their firm’s been hit — admitting that “could be an extinction-level event.” [Tribune-Review]

* Which Biglaw firms had the most satisfied summer associates this year? There was a big rankings shake-up at the top of the list this time around, and we’ll have more on this later today. [Am Law Daily]

* In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, Adrian Peterson screwed up many of your fantasy football teams after he was indicted for hurting his child “with criminal negligence.” He’s now out on $15,000 bail. [CNN]

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace died six years ago today, on September 12, 2008. The author of novels such as Infinite Jest, The Pale King, and essay collections such as A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again hanged himself in the garage of his California home. DFW was 46.
David Foster Wallace was a lawyer’s writer, if ever one could use that label without intending insult. DFW was not a lawyer, though he famously became friends and collaborators with legal writing expert Bryan Garner. Garner’s co-author Justice Antonin Scalia is also said to be a fan. Countless attorneys who haven’t cracked a novel in years will brighten at the mention of DFW. Analytical, language-obsessed, and neurotic, he may have captured the modus operandi of many lawyers as well as any novelist or essayist could.

David Foster Wallace, especially for a fiction writer, was logical, analytical. He never quite left behind the mindset of the analytic philosophy student he once was. Wallace’s senior thesis in modal logic was published posthumously. His senior thesis in English became his first published novel, The Broom of the System. He wrote lit for STEM geeks and logic nerds . . . including the many STEM geeks and logic nerds who later ended up in law. (Myself included.)

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* Mexican drug cartels are moving beyond shipping cocaine and are starting to grow the stuff too. As long as they stop hijacking lime shipments and driving up margarita prices. [Vocativ]

* The prosecutor who admitted Ray Rice into a pre-trial intervention program (and there are pros and cons to that decision) specifically denied the same option to a working single mother of two who didn’t realize her out of state gun permit wasn’t accepted. She was offered a 3+ year prison deal. Because, you know… prosecutors. [Huffington Post]

* If you’re planning on getting arrested in New Orleans — and who isn’t? — don’t get arrested at night. [The Times-Picayune]

* A federal judge is accused of sexual misconduct with a clerk. I had to check twice to make sure this wasn’t just a plot point in David’s upcoming book (affiliate link). [Waco Tribune-Herald]

* Defense lawyer allegedly drives drunk… to the courthouse. [Indianapolis Star]

* The complex legal tapestry of sandwiches. [The Atlantic]

* “Mathew Martoma’s Parents Raise Some Good, Less Good Points.” [Dealbreaker]

* If you were interested in the mélange of issues surrounding privilege, whistleblowing, and litigation finance, here’s a primer. [LFC360]

* Jimmy Kimmel asked some New York Fashion Week attendees about Justice Scalia. Hilarity ensues. Video embedded below… [YouTube]

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Kate McGuinness writes about the different “selves” all lawyers can find within throughout their careers.

I have several different selves rattling around inside. No, I’m not suggesting multiple personality disorder. I’m alluding to the varied interests and aptitudes that have led to different careers over time.

My nurturing, playful self became an elementary school teacher. She was followed by the brainy, kick-ass self who became a lawyer. Then the creative, reclusive self came forward to write my legal thriller Terminal Ambition (affiliate link). Now the compassionate, wise self is stepping up as a coach to guide clients through growth and change.

Just as Harry Potter discovered that he had a “good self” and a “bad self,” each of us has many selves.

A lawyer may be hiding a self who longs for deeper connection with others and a helping role as a therapist as well as another self who longs to be an academic and another self who longs to be a chef.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

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