Do-It-Yourself American Law


I’ve never been as calm and confident as the morning before I took the bar exam. My life until that point was a menagerie of tests I walked into unprepared.

For the last 20 years of school, I never prepared for a single test or worked hard enough to know that I would receive an “A.” As a result, my life plateaued at a 3.2 GPA, which is exactly what I deserved. Knowing I could walk into most situations cold and do better than average was both a blessing and a curse.  However, when it came to the bar, I knew better than to risk it.

I don’t know what possessed me, but over the course of three months, I was a different man. I worked through every page of material BarBri could throw at me. I did all of the practice questions, wrote the outlines, quit drinking—even ran a marathon. I was on task when nobody was looking over my shoulder. I got right with God.

The swell of confidence I felt was so intoxicatingly different than my usual bravado of knowing I could just wing it. Vis a vis my peers, all my years of slacking had instilled an unflappable confidence in my natural ability to get by with the least amount of preparation. Having made it through undergrad and law school without doing the work, I was suddenly addicted to realizing what I could accomplish if I actually put in the hours. For the first time in my life, I felt the illuminating satisfaction of readiness.

I walked into the bar exam knowing I was going to own that test. It was almost kind of, well, fun. Results day was not nerve-racking for me, it was a release. I already knew I had no hope of ever landing a BIG firm job, so there was no potential upside to “passing with flying colors.” That mild December evening, I merely enjoyed a validation of my work ethic.

As a lawyer, I still see the virtue in being diligently prepared, but at a chop-shop boutique, I realize that BIGs are the only ones who get to own that type of fastidiousness. I will never experience that feeling again. But, I likewise quickly realized that my slacking days were also behind me. Obviously any lawyer best be able to “fake it ‘til they make it,” but simply getting by on natural ability is no longer an option for me. (It’s also disrespectful to my opposing counsel.) My energy is now completely focused on amassing experience. So far, there’s been no shortage of baptism by fire.

My first big case came two weeks after I passed the bar exam. I was given sole authority over a $9-million plaintiff’s securities case. My guy got screwed, but the company he was screwed by was absolutely judgment proof. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn on the fly. Anything I accomplished was “found money,” and there were no expectations. The client was the named partner’s father.

I worked my ass off. I had never been forced to dive into the deep end so quickly. There was no time to get adequately prepared. No one briefed me. When I got the case in December there were six redwells. Three months later there were 15. I filed ex partes by the handful. Civil contempt. Motions to compel. Motions for reconsideration. Two appeals. Defended six demurrers, an anti-SLAPP, and a motion to disqualify the judge. It wasn’t perfect, but I was getting it done. Then, once I had moved mountains and finally caught a few of the individual defendants in a couple of lies, they declared bankruptcy. But there’s no trading what I accomplished.

Boutiques can’t afford an army of paralegals. Instead, we get “interns” from local law schools to do most of the paralegal work while we supervise. When I was an intern at the very firm I work at today, I wrote two motions for summary judgment, a half-dozen complaints and about 200 meet-and-confer letters. The average unpaid student clerk at my firm has more experience than a third-year at Gibson making $225K a year. Go figure.

You BIGs like to taunt guys like me, but I always find it surprising. If there’s one thing particularly American, it’s the notion of do-it-yourself projects. Churning out results from your own labor while under the constant yoke of the Protestant Work Ethic is respected and revered in our culture.

So while you’re off doing research for motions you’ll never get to write, all while relying on paralegals to accomplish the brunt of your work, ask yourself what you’re accomplishing. Research is the providence of first-year associates who brief cases all day long, but rarely do you ever know why you’re briefing the case or why it’s important. At the end of your first year, you don’t have a lick of drafting experience and have yet to learn how to read cases with the mindset of: How can we spin this case for our side? There is no possibility of taking 100% responsibility for your work product.

I know that I am smarter than my boss. He’s really a simple man, but he’s got 20 years of experience. You cannot fake experience. Once you’ve done something countless times, you know all the moves. Others may be smarter, but if you’ve been where they’re going, and that’s a major leg up.

Last week, I was before the Labor Commissioner down in [redacted] trying to get a plaintiffs’ lawyer to convince his clients (who no hablo inglés) that they don’t have a claim against my client and they should take $1,500 in “go away” money. Mind you, this conversation took place in the dingiest hallway in the world, a far cry from the ivory towers of plasma-screen-filled conference rooms full of complementary Fiji water that the BIGs consider practicing law. Oh, no, my friends.Try dealing with La Razas and envelopes of cash.

That’s experience. That’s doing it yourself. That’s American.

Mr. 162 may have fallen short of the first tier, but in these crazy economic times, “small is the new big.” Mr. 162 provides a “learner, more efficient” account of the fast-talking, no-support-staff lifestyle of a Los Angeles boutique associate. Read more from Mr. 162.

25 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    August 7, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Giving an entire case to an unsupervised first year is malpractice.  I’ve done plenty of stuff here at big law on my own, but we’re smart enough to have a partner, counsel, or senior associate look over it and give us the green light.  I get experience, and the client doesn’t get shitty representation.  We don’t get Fiji though.

  2. BL1Y

    August 7, 2009 at 11:07 am

    (Because the site editors haven’t added comments to polls yet…) Anyone else want to mark their place as both Great, As Far As Law Goes and No, Definitely Not Great?  Definitely not mutually exclusive answers.

  3. lawyer Bob

    August 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

    @ bl1y,
    enough already with the comments for polls. write the editors a letter. learn to write code yourself. just stop sounding like a broken record.

  4. Alma Federer

    August 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    This fellow (Mr. 162) would be banished as full of himself.  He pretends that he is doing big work, but it sounds to me like the cases were worthless, and if he had done nothing, he would be in the same place as he is now.  Doing a zero securities litigation for some old geezer whose father is a name partner and against a judgment proof entity is like doing small claims work, only worse.  And the $1500 case in a dingy hallway is not much better.  I say I would not want to date a boutique-ey kind of lawyer for this very reason.  I want a big firm lawyer with a personality, if one exists.  I have yet to find one.

  5. Alma Federer

    August 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Oh, and glory be, I do agree with BL1Y, at least about the polls.  What do these dunces do with the results of the poll, anyway?  I usually respond, but never see the final results.  I recommend the results be shown, at least for a day afterward.  As for comments, I suppose BL1Y has a point, but there I have to ask, after all this time, why isn’t BL1Y now BL2Y?  He should by now have enough brown-nosing experience.

  6. BL1Y

    August 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Alma “I’m smart, gorgeous, and the more personable, infallible, divine person in the world” Federer criticizing someone for being full of himself?  Shockin’ awesome.  As for why I’m still BL1Y, who the hell starts big law life in August?  I’ll probably keep using the name anyways though.

  7. Alma Federer

    August 8, 2009 at 2:58 am

    BL1Y, I am just one woman “just trying to get by in the big city.” I know my experiences are not that different from other young attractive professionals who are all trying to balance the work and personal sides of our lives.  I was always taught to be good to myself—I was told to work hard, respect others and seek the respect you deserve.  When it comes to relationships, the same rules apply.  I will respect men who respect me and the goals I have set for myself.  That means that they must share my desire for success.  The man I am attracted to is smart, respectful of women, and has a plan for life that does NOT include going out with the guys 4 nites a week, drinking and stying out late with skanky girls who service them in the hopes of a relationship (ha), and then texting me or ringing my doorbell at 3 in the morning stinking drunk looking for some sympathy.  Well that is not going to score any points with me.  If you need to be stinking drunk or high, and still have a woman’s scent on you when you come to me for sympathy, you won’t get any.  No, my man must be very focused on success and our relationship together.  I did not work for 6 years as a lawyer to have to play nursemaid to men (boys) who do nothing more than playing anatomy with 26 year old girls who are worried that they’ve lived in the city for 3-4 years now and are not married.  I have my legal skills to fall back on, so I don’t have to settle for a drunken slob who might have a nice watch but no money in the bank and no long-term plan.  In 5 years, I hope to be married to a nice guy with at least 1 kid and live in a nice 2 bedroom co-op in a doorman building on a tree lined street in Manhattan.  Is that too much to ask for—I am worth it, and good men know it.  If the women on this sight want to bash me, that is their problem, but deep down, they share my values.  Some men are surely snickering, but if they could share this life with me, they would be very happy, and they know very simply that they can’t because they don’t measure up.  So there, BL1Y.  Now you have my side of the story.

  8. Straight Shooter

    August 8, 2009 at 5:03 am

    LOL Alma.  Girls like you with a dramatically overinflated sense of self worth are a dime a dozen in the city.  How about you offer the man the ability to stay home and take care of the kids while YOU earn the family’s living and pay for the co-op?  Of course not – the world is full of dumb b—hes who think giving it up every once in a while entitles them to live the high life on a man’s hard work.  No thanks lady, there are plenty of women out there who will give that to us whenever we like, so if you think we should keep working while you get to stay home and play house, you’d better be bringing a lot more to the party, and so far, you haven’t said a thing that indicates you’d be worth it.  Not by a long shot.

  9. BL1Y

    August 8, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Hmmm…does the average young professional in NYC want someone like Alma who will criticize him for any boyish tendencies he may have and who wants to keep him on a leash and make him play by all of her rules, or does he want a free spirited girl who actually enjoys going out and getting wild with him.  Wow, it really is a tough call.  Anyone notice how misogynistic Alma is?  She’s more than willing to roll out the stereotypes and prejudices when it comes to younger, prettier, more carefree girls.  As the Joker might say, “Why so chauvinist?”

  10. Guano

    August 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

    I now do not find Alma worth dating, and certainly not worth mating with.  I am afraid if I married her and took her home to my country, she would take up with my cousins, who have more land and cattle than I do.  She seems to be a bit too high-maintenance for my tastes, and I doubt that she is much better than many other women that will do similar things for us men.  I will therefore not seek to marry Ms. Federer.

  11. SDL20

    August 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    i want to be guano’s friend

  12. Anonymous

    August 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    can’t ignore experience.

  13. Guano Dubango

    August 9, 2009 at 3:10 am

    SDL20, at this point I have enough women “friends” in my life… I need more–specifically, a woman interested in sharing her life and body with me, preferably marriage and a family, and eventually, a return to the hill country in Ghana.  If you see yourself fitting this description, you may respond.

  14. Alma Federer

    August 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I would never date you, Guano, let alone marry you.  Can you imagine me, Alma Federer, married to Guano Dubango?  I would neve be Alma Dubango.  That sounds so silly.  I have plenty of maie suitors here in NYC, many just waiting for me to give them the green light. If I wanted to I could already be married, but I don’t want just any shleppy guy, even if he does have a law degree. Thats why guys like BL1Y just won’t get to First Base with me.  In law school, I was known as Charlize from 30 (feet) and with good reason.  I am tall, willowy, and very personable.  I expect to be married within 3 years and my husband will work while I take care of our Manhattan home.  That is what I always envisioned for myself, and I will stick to my goals.  I can do that because I have both brains and beauty.

  15. BL1Y

    August 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I’ll take a Roomba and Fleshlight over Alma.

  16. Future Mr. Federer

    August 9, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Alma will rule my world, because I’m so afraid of being alone, given my utter lack of success meeting real women, that I’ll marry her and deal with her ego and demands until I can’t take it anymore, and will either start sleeping with whores, shoot myself, or perhaps even grow a pair and start nailing my secretary.

  17. Bill

    August 10, 2009 at 2:03 am

    “Future Mr. Federer” does not look right for Alma either.  She is looking for a guy with confidence, and this wimp won’t get past the first date.  Alma wants guy to marry who will end all of her troubles; the problem is, if she found and married such a guy, HIS troubles would just be beginning!  Guys who have a paycheck or money in the bank should have absolutely trouble finding babes.

  18. BL1Y

    August 10, 2009 at 3:26 am

    When Alma eventually does get married, do you think her husband will refer to her as “Wife #3” or “Wife #3 of 4”?

  19. Bill

    August 10, 2009 at 3:29 am

    I vote for wife #3.  With her tenacious grip over his private parts, I doubt he will have the cohones to divorce her.  She’d bankrupt him if he did.

  20. NELT

    August 10, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Alma, I’ve taken the liberty of obtaining a personal ad for you.  It reads:  “Petty shrew with overinflated self image seeks non-existant man with seven figure salary.  People say I look good from thirty feet away, I think it’s a compliment.”

  21. Ace in the Hole

    August 10, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Ouch.

  22. Alma Federer

    August 11, 2009 at 2:59 am

    You guys are just jealous losers, because none of you will ever get to first base with me (or for that matter with other women like me).  So stop whining and move on to more reasonable prospects.  As I said, there are so many men just chomping at the bit, waiting for me to give them the go-ahead, but I admit I am picky.  I won’t just give myself to any sweaty guy who has bought me dinner.  That does not entitle them to the nite of their lives.  Instead, I insist on having a guy who respects me and will be my equal.  Nothing wrong with that.  My parents agree that I am special and not to settle for anything less.  You turkeys are all much less than what I need.

  23. KateLaw

    August 11, 2009 at 6:36 am

    Would you get off yourself, Alma.  No one believes you.  I bet you look more like America Ferrera (un-glamorized) than Charlize Theron.

  24. NELT

    August 11, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Alma, so your response is, “My parents think I’m special”?

  25. Guano Dubango

    August 15, 2009 at 6:15 am

    KateLaw is hot.  Too bad she is not available to marry me.

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