TWENTY COMMANDMENTS FOR NEW LAWYERS
by Edgar J. Steele
March 30, 2005
are way too many lawyers, but not nearly enough good ones."
--- should be considered conventional wisdom
mp3 audio file of this column: http://www.conspiracypenpal.com/audio/command16-44.mp3 (1.5 mb, 14 min) (streaming version)
Sooner or later, most with whom I speak
say something like, "You know, I always
considered going to law school," or "I've been thinking about going
back to college and studying law." It seems like everybody
at one time or another considers going to law school. Few of those who
actually do so should have done so. A young man recently told me that he
soon would enter law school and
sought my advice. Here is what I
1. Everything your
law school professors will tell you about not using commercial outlines and
case summaries is a lie. If you can't read 50 appellate opinions
and get the drift, you should not become a lawyer.
All you really need for law school is what is known as "black letter
law." In my third year of law school, there were some classes
for which I never even bothered to buy the assigned texts - just the
commercial case summaries and legal outlines - I got As. Buy all the texts
your first year and read some of the opinions, but also buy the stuff that
everybody tells you not to and make them the centerpiece of your classroom
The main point of law school is to prepare you to deal with
more work than you possibly can do, in order to stay focused through complexity and
be able to choose what not to do, day in and day out. You never can do all the homework
assigned...never. Don't even try. Prove your worthiness to be
a lawyer and cheat by using outlines. Law school is designed to breed
mindless and obedient little exercise-wheel-spinning
rats for the big law firms to put in harness for 60-80 hours per week and
bill out so that the partners can afford to drive their new luxury cars
home to their mini mansions and their trophy wives (see Commandment 16, below).
No relationship withstands law school. Do not get married until
long after you recover from the process of becoming a lawyer.
If you want to stay married, don't go to law school. Kiss your girlfriend
goodbye. Law school breeds a**holes. It makes bigger
a**holes out of those who are a**holes to begin with and it attracts a**holes
like moths to a flame. Guard against feeding into your hostile side. Consider taking
some sort of "personal growth seminar" during the summer after the
first year to help counteract the influence.
Law Review is for weenies and sycophants. Moot court is for real men. Externships, if available, are well worth the time. After
graduation, the best job you can get is the one nobody wants: working for
peanuts in the DA's office, where you will get more trial experience in your
first month than most lawyers get in a lifetime.
There is no relation between law school and legal practice. I
hated law school, but I have loved being a lawyer. Everybody I
knew who liked law school hates being a lawyer. Go figure.
is no transfer from law school to the bar exam. The prep course is
mandatory. Make outlines of your outlines, then make outlines of them.
When you finally have everything reduced to acronyms and notes that fit on a
single page that you review the morning of the bar exam, you are ready. If
BarBri (bar exam prep course) has an "early bird special," buy it.
Their legal outlines are superlative, albeit less complete than what you need
for class. If they let you audit the prep
course in the summer after your first year, DO IT!
It will be a great help with learning how to write law school essay exam
There is no relation between the bar exam and legal practice. Everybody
starts from ground zero. The bar exam is like a job interview in that no
skills learned for it will transfer.
8. Map out all the possible states in which you might
ever want to practice law and take those bar exams serially (i.e., one every 6 months) right after
law school. You need to really book it for only the first couple (I took
my fourth bar exam with zero preparation and passed). Though I could pass
any bar exam today blindfolded, never again will I be allowed to take another in any
state, due to my politically-incorrect status.
9.Those who can't do, judge. Those who can't judge, teach. Both teachers and judges hate practicing lawyers, believing themselves superior and envying the money they see some lawyers make. The natural enemy of the trial lawyer is not the county clerk, as commonly thought, it is the judge. Any time you encounter law professors after law school (as expert witnesses, most often), they will be your enemy, too. You are in enemy territory until you graduate. Then you will be in enemy territory every time you enter a courtroom. Keep that in mind and wear your flak jacket.
a litigator. Like all true warriors, litigators are born, not made. You must enjoy
grinding the other guy beneath the heel of your boot. If you don't want to
do trial work, then do yourself a favor and become a CPA, instead.
trust a woman litigator. They don't play nice and they always go for
the jugular (something to do with playing with dolls as a kid instead of toy
guns, I suppose, though brain wiring has a good deal to do with it, too).
As a beginning trial lawyer, you have precisely one advantage over
your more experienced opponents: a willingness to prepare your
case for trial like it is Judgment Day. They never will.
Today, I could try most cases by being handed the file on my way in to pick a
jury. When you begin to think like I do, it is time to retire.
A great deal of lawyering is smoke and mirrors. The sizzle often
is more important than the steak. Never underestimate the importance of
appearance, bearing, posturing and phony self-righteous indignation.
Always remember to deliver the freight, though.
it comes time for either you or your client to go to jail, always make sure it
is your client. No client and no case are worth breaking the law
and nobody ever breaks the law unless, at the time, they are certain they will
not be caught.
Lots of lawyers get caught.
Lots of lawyers get caught.
15. Make a difference. Have an internal moral compass and never violate it. Do the right thing, not the smart thing. Be able, always, to stand tall and be proud.
Lots of money just means a newer car (the new wears off after a week), or a bigger
house (you can only be in one room at a time), or a prettier wife (with higher
maintenance requirements and the sex wears off after 6 months) or any of a
number of other things that you don't need and won't want once you get them. My happiest years were when I
was young and poor. If youth is wasted on the young, then surely
money is wasted on the old. (Corollary: No fool like an old
Remember: If you are bored, you are boring. (Corollary:
If you want to be loved more, be more lovable.)
Marry a genuinely nice person, someone who can stand to be around you.
Someone exceptionally forgiving, as you will require a great deal of
forgiveness. It helps if she actually thinks you are cool, too.
Don't even think about dating or marrying a law school classmate (see
Commandment 11, above).
Don't even think about dating or marrying a law school classmate (see Commandment 11, above).
Have kids. This is the only way to learn how to love someone else
more than you love yourself, perhaps the single most vital lesson that life has
20. Have fun. When it stops being fun, do something else. Always plan on eventually doing something else and prepare for it (beginning with taking your undergraduate degree in something truly useful, like History or Philosophy and certainly not Business or Political Science). No legal career should exceed 20 years. Most litigators are toast after ten. Litigation was not my first career and it certainly won't be my last.
(Yes, I know that I am a sexist pig. That's Mr. Sexist Pig to you. Please spare me your invective in that regard and don't tell my wife, who seems not to have noticed, even after twenty years. All other invective cheerfully received.)
New America. An idea whose time
Copyright ©2005, Edgar J. Steele
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