How to Communicate with Today’s Law Students


Each year, Wisconsin’s Beloit College releases its Mindset List, a list of what entering undgraduate students have always known as their pop culture reality. Which got us to thinking, what about law students? With an average age just north of 22, most new law students were born in 1989, the year of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and starting BigLaw associate salaries of $70,000. But forty-two new law schools and more than 850,000 new attorneys later, it seems like yesterday. Or not.

If you are an old codger like a few of the veterans left on the Bitter Lawyer staff, there are a few things you should know about dropping pop culture and other hackneyed legal references around new law students. Here’s a quick primer.

1The phrase “two hairs past a freckle” has absolutely no meaning to most law students. What’s a wristwatch? And, by the time they graduate, time-based billing will be near dead (or should be), so who needs one of them Dick Tracy talking wrist devices? And, speaking of Dick Tracy, remember Charlie Korsmo, otherwise known as “The Kid” in the 1990 Dick Tracy movie? It’s Professor Charles Korsmo to you, as he’s now teaching law students as a visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School.

2Don’t joke about finding a pubic hair on your Coke. Students will think you’re a perv, not a Supreme Court justice. For most enrolling law students, Justice Clarence Thomas has always been on the U.S. Supreme Court, having taken a seat on the bench 20 years ago this fall. And most law students have never heard of Anita Hill, unless they happened to take a course from her at Brandeis University, where she teaches. Until ConLaw teaches them otherwise, Marshall and Brennan are just trendy names to give to your kids.

3AOL is a web site for old people or old school retro lawyers. Or unless you are a troll and need a fake email address for downloading porn at work or commenting on Bitter Lawyer or cracked.com.

4If you are a professor of law, don’t kid around about parents calling or texting you. They will. Parents have now been calling college professors for years, to talk about grades, how Johnny is doing in class, and why Amy didn’t make law review. Thing is, Jeff Spicoli would now be pushing 50 and quite possibly a parent of one of today’s law school kids. Not that he would call up Mr. Hand or anything. And were not talking Learned Hand.

5Google debuted in the late 1990’s, when most law students were pre-adolescents. Accordingly, today’s law students find things by going “Google-style,” typing haphazardly into any search box that appears on a web page. Luckily, Google Scholar now exists for case law, and Fastcase introduced a free iPad app in the last few years. But what about Time Matters, the market leader even today for practice management software? It started shipping in 1989, the year most of today’s new law students were born. Why it still leads the market, however, is beyond us.

6A pager was a device once featured in Tribe Called Quest’s hit “Skypager.” It’s now something you use at Panera to know when your order is ready. It’s doubtful a law student today ever owned a pager. But they’ll probably learn soon enough whether information in a pager is discoverable and how much they can pay a vendor to get access to that data.

7Law students are tired of the endless ad nauseam debate over DOMA, otherwise known as the Defense of Marriage Act. Most law students were eight-years-old when it passed. Today, with more than 581,300 same-sex couples in the United States, including 50,000 to 80,000 who are legally married, most law students are bored stiff with the issue. But a little bit of ConLaw will cure that.

8Be patient as the law school kiddos first conclude that eDiscovery is some sort of online portal for the Discovery Channel, which they’ve always had available (Shark Week started in 1988, right around the time most law students were born). Little do they know that eDiscovery is now a mantra used by nearly two hundred million practice management solution vendors, otherwise known as former law students.

9If your intent is to discuss what constitutes an original work and you drop the name of Milli Vanilli, don’t expect a rousing discussion. Most law students will think you are talking about an ice cream flavor at Cold Stone Creamery. Milli Vanilli was conceived the same year most of today’s law students were, well, conceived. And they were two-years-old when Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus won a grammy for lip synching their way through their records. If anything, today’s law students will know Morvan as a DJ in Los Angeles, not a frontman for a fake band. Funny thing, though. The whole lip-synching issue now seems so prude. Quaint even.

10The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was not named after a 1970’s pop singer. It was named after U.S. Representative Mary Bono’s husband, who was Mayor of Palm Springs and a former U.S representative from California’s 44th District. Sonny and who? Married to whom? Any rendition of “I’ve Got You Babe” in front of the class, even if spot on, will be met with dumbfounded silence.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

2 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    August 30, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    I might add that you must be current in the joke department in order to keep the students amused. Here is an interesting joke that can be used in mixed company:

    As an airplane is about to crash, a female passenger jumps up frantically and announces, “If I’m going to die, I want to die feeling like a woman.”

    She removes all her clothing and asks, “Is there someone on this plane who is man enough to make me feel like a woman?”

    A man stands up, removes his shirt and says, “Here, iron this!”.

  2. Jake

    September 1, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Number of new lawyers in 22 years is unrepresentative because in that time many have changed fields or retired, and the population has increased along with litigation, so maybe annual practicing lawyers per capita would be better. There is a recession, so hiring is slow and salaries low. If lawyer numbers are as inflated as suggested, then report how that compares to other professionals like doctors or engineers. Otherwise it sounds like propaganda, which does not connect with students and deal-breaks the intended humor. If this is not a serious blog then make a new joke out of it.

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