Screw-Ups

By now, many of you have heard about or seen the video of a Clifford Chance “trainee lawyer” making some unfortunate remarks that could be construed as his views about the practice of law. The video has received coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, and it could cause the young lawyer to lose his training contract with the firm — i.e., his job.

But should it? Let’s check out the clip, which gives new meaning to the term “Downfall Video,” and discuss its career implications for the trainee in question….

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We’re in the middle of law firm interview season. We’ve offered you both cheerful and depressing takes on the summer associate recruiting process.

Speaking of depressing things, interviews are frequently followed by rejection. Trust me, I know; I’ve received many rejections over the years. I recently contributed one of my “favorite” rejection letters to an online compilation (see page 27 of the pamphlet, or page 15 of the PDF, reprinted with the permission of Justice Scalia).

That was a kind and gracious rejection letter, which is what you’d expect from a genteel institution like the U.S. Supreme Court. When Biglaw firms turn your dreams to shame, they aren’t quite as nice….

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The day after the July 2013 bar exam concluded nationwide, we broke the news about a young woman of Muslim faith who was taken to task by a proctor over her religious headwear, a hijab. The proctor didn’t approach the examinee before testing on the Massachusetts exam started, or even during the lunch break — instead, the proctor passed her a note during the morning session of the exam, instructing her to remove her headscarf (even though the examinee had already received approval to wear it).

To interrupt someone during the bar exam and break their concentration over something that could’ve been taken care of when testing was not in session is not only incredibly rude, but also incredibly stupid. This is a professional exam that will determine if and when a person will be able to start their legal career. Why do something that could put their chances of passing in jeopardy? On top of that, why do something that could make it look like this was religiously motivated? This was a bad move on many levels.

From the Council on American-Islamic Relations to legal academics to the internet at large, people were upset about the way that the incident unfolded. Now the state is doing something about it…

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The bar exam is next week tomorrow. Good luck, test takers. I hope you guys are firing on all cylinders as you prepare for this important test.

Certainly, the people who administer the exam are ready to bring their unique brand of pathetic administration to your big day.

I feel like every year, the New York Board of Law Examiners competes with the New Jersey Board of Law Examiners to come up with the biggest exam screw-up of the season. NY BOLE holds the all-time lead — they once accidentally released the entire pass list online, then tried to pull it back and to deny the accidental release. Of course, New Jersey once lost the exams, so it’s a pretty close race.

This year, New York is taking the early lead in the clubhouse. It appears that NY BOLE doesn’t know how to use the “Bcc” field when emailing test takers with their personal exam ID numbers. So, that’s pretty embarrassing….

(Please note the UPDATE at the end of this post.)

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Imagine returning home from vacation and finding your home cleaned out. The thieves grabbed all the furniture, all the gadgets, all the kitchenware, and left you nothing. That’s what happened to an Ohio woman recently, and the police are refusing to help.

That’s because the perpetrator was First National Bank. Except Katie Barnett was not behind on her payments; the bank just repossessed the wrong house.

Fair enough. Mistakes happen. The bank is going to pay her back though, right?

Right?

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What Mr. [Richard] Trenk did was so egregiously sloppy that I’m told his name is entering the legal lexicon: “To Trenk” means “to show a lackadaisical attitude toward the law, with catastrophic results for the client.” A usage example might be: “We were doing great until the lawyer missed the filing deadline and Trenked the whole case.”

Jake Freivald, owner of the domain name westorange.info, in public comments made during last night’s West Orange Township Council meeting. Freivald received a cease-and-desist letter from Trenk, and Freivald’s lawyer, Stephen Kaplitt, responded with a snarky letter that went viral globally.

(What else happened at the meeting? I attended, and it was a hot mess, jam-packed with shouting and even tears. Read on to get the juicy details….)

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg takes a lot of heat. From the smoking ban, to the soda limit, to the bike share program, it seems like nothing he supports can avoid polarizing the public. I’m not defending every idea that the diminutive Mayor Tyrion proposes, just noting that every idea gets a lot of flack.

Bloomberg is so opposed in some corners that a Biglaw firm has taken directly contradictory positions against the city just to stick it to Bloomberg. And like many of Bloomberg’s rivals, the firm got smacked down by the courts.

It didn’t help the anti-Bloomberg brigade to submit a filing complete with some embarrassing typos…

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[Please note the UPDATE at the end of this post.]

Late Friday afternoon, we got multiple tips that a major law school had axed its admissions director and turned over the whole department to a 3L.

Why would the school fire a long-time admissions director while still chasing down prospective students? Why did the school tap a student to run the program? Does this represent a philosophical shift to bring the admissions process closer to the live student experience? Is this a completely Mickey Mouse operation?

But after some poking around, the whole thing got crazier. The school claimed it hadn’t made any personnel changes, but tipsters kept forwarding us emails sent from the school to prospective students that identified the 3L as the “Interim Director of Admissions.”

Now we had something. Either a law school cover-up (or screw-up), or a rogue 3L with delusions of grandeur (if you define “grandeur” as “director of admissions at a law school”)…

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Partner asks for a draft brief by Wednesday. It doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks Associate about the brief: “I wrote it, but the dog ate it. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, Partner asks for a draft brief by a deadline. The brief doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks about the brief: “I left the finished draft in a briefcase in my car, and a thief broke into my car and stole the briefcase. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, the computer crashed at the last minute. And on the assignment after that, a junior lawyer doing some research for the brief fell ill, so it wasn’t possible to get the brief written on time.

For Partner, the solution is easy: “This clown is irresponsible. There are other associates around here who actually do things on time. I’ll stop working with the clown, and my life will be much easier. And I’ll report on the clown’s annual review that he’s irresponsible.”

For Associate, the situation is baffling: “I do great work, and I turn things in late only when fate interferes. Why doesn’t Partner work with me anymore, and why did he unfairly say on my review that I’m irresponsible?”

Another example; the corporate analogy to law firm life; and my stunning conclusion all after this enticing ellipsis . . .

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‘If they hadn’t done what I told them not to do, they’d be alive.’

It’s final exams time, which means it’s time to start our semi-annual series on law professors who are too busy to write novel exams for the students who pay their exorbitant salaries.

I really don’t understand how this happens every semester. You know how in children’s stories there’s often a key plot point that revolves around the child/hero being specifically told not to touch something or else horrible things will happen to them, but they touch it anyway because they’re just kids, but the “horrible thing” doesn’t kill them? That’s what this feels like.

Every semester we write stories about how one professor’s laziness in question usage screws up entire transcripts, and yet every next semester it happens again. Either writing exams is one of the hardest thing to do on the planet or there are way too many law professors who don’t care one iota about the careers of their charges.

I don’t know about you, but I’m leaning towards the latter….

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