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.