2nd year litigation associate Anna Johnson didn't think her life would turn out this way. When she entered law school her plan was to study criminal and family law in order to assist victims of domestic violence. However, as her debt mounted Johnson realized that she would have to accept a firm job to make ends meet.
"I never though I'd let myself be exploited at a large, 500 lawyer firm but I simply needed the money," admitted Johnson. "My plan, though, was only to work there for as long as I was in debt. At least that's what I told myself."
According to the litigation association, despite an aversion to everything the firm stood for her six figure salary became too attractive to give up.
"Man, the money is so damn good that it sucks you in," remarked Johnson. "I make more in a day/night of lawyering than I could in a week at a normal job. Even if you hate the work you get used to that salary and the luxurious lifestyle it affords."
Johnson and others like her report that in addition to incredibly generous base pay, associates get higher tips, or bonuses, the more work product they put out. Such compensation only makes it more difficult to escape a life that many are ashamed to partake in.
"Honestly, I don't even tell my parents what I do," said a forlorn Johnson, wiping away a tear and adjusting her pantsuit. "I'm embarrassed so that I tell them I work for legal aid."
Exacerbating the regrettable situation is that because they pay such high rates, clients expect young associates to do whatever they ask, no matter how degrading.
"Clients often see me as no more than a piece of meat meant only to do their bidding," stated an angry Johnson. "Because of their ridiculous deadlines I've had to miss friends' weddings and my dad's 60th birthday party. It's all so demeaning."
An unfortunate side effect of law firm life, avers the litigation associate, is that now more than ever she has a negative view of men.
"After two years on the job it's hard not to feel animosity towards the opposite gender," claimed Johnson. "Almost every day I have old male partners who ogle me and clients who refer to me as 'sweetie' and 'honey.' I thought this was the 21st century."
Sylvia Fields, a professor of psychology at Duke University and author of the book "Legal Whore" believes that exposure to law firm life can be profoundly damaging for young women.
"This type of work, while well-paying, takes a tremendous toll on these girls," remarked Fields. "They are never the same even if they can eventually escape the life."
Fields' comment begs the question of how long associates like Johnson can sustain themselves in the legal industry.
"Eventually I am going to get too old for this," said Johnson. "I don't think my mind or body can continue to handle the toll of working long hours in an unhealthy environment. Hopefully I will find the strength to break free. Until then, I need to finish all this doc review by tomorrow. God save me."
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Due to an economy that remains bleak, law firms across the country have begun announcing that this year's summer program will be discernibly less cushy and extravagant than those in the past. According to a number of hiring partners, the worldwide decrease in the demand for legal services means that full time offers will not be guaranteed and the normal accouterments of the summer internship - fancy lunches and opulent outings - will be curtailed if not completely eliminated. In other words, say analysts, law students will have the same experience as any other normal human being trying to get a job.
"It is undeniable that this summer will be considerably different for law students," remarked Karmen Skinner, a legal correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. "For example, rumors have circulated that certain firms will only hire 50% of their summer classes. As a result, there will be real competition among those in the internship program to obtain long term employment with the firm. It will be interesting to see whether students can adjust to this drastic and novel change where they will, like everyone else, have to work hard in order to get ahead."
Due to the fact that legal employers will not be giving offers to nearly everyone in the summer class, it is expected that assignments, instead of being busywork, will serve as indicators of whether the intern is actually qualified to work at the firm.
"I know this comes as a shock but we plan to thoroughly and seriously evaluate all our summers' work product this time around," admitted a New York law firm hiring partner who wished to remain anonymous in order not to scare away potential associates. "We cannot take everybody so we decided what better way to choose than to evaluate based on the ability to work with others, adeptness at following instructions and the quality of memos, documents and research projects. This whole thing is new to us too so hopefully it will work out ok."
While thankful that they have employment, many students are nervous about a summer experience that will be unlike any in recent memory.
"I guess I'm lucky to even have a job this summer considering the economy," said Claudia Marion, a 2L at Duke University who went straight from undergraduate to law school. "But I must admit I'm quite concerned about the fact that my program will only be 8 instead of 12 weeks, there will be fewer summer lunches, and my salary will not go up from last year's $3100 per week. I feel like I can now really understand what others, who have been affected by this recession, must be going through."
According to interviews, very few Americans, if they are or have ever been employed, sympathize with the current predicament of second year law students.
"Oh, I truly feel for the students who are facing this new internship reality," related Dennis Marsh, an unemployed programmer who was laid off from Sun Microsystems last November. "Demonstrating competence, fighting over limited openings, adjusting to fewer perks; God forbid they are exposed to a process familiar to the millions of us currently looking for gainful employment."
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Lillian Bittker, a thirty six year old junior partner at the Atlanta firm of Christopher, Bridges & Donk, met current client Olin Julow at a cocktail party almost one year ago. Julow, an independently wealthy businessman and friend of another firm client, was introduced to Bittker at the soiree and they immediately hit it off. From that moment on it seemed like an extremely happy attorney-client relationship had been born.
In fact, both parties agree that there was period of nearly four months when the pairing looked like it would last forever.
"From March, when I met Olin, to about July things were wonderful," remembered Bittker. "He would send me small tokens of appreciation whenever I assisted with one of his company's deals and spoke highly of me to many of his friends and colleagues. After a while, though, the Olin I knew changed for the worse. I realized then that the honeymoon phase of our relationship was over."
According to the junior partner, Julow became increasingly distant and cold. He often sent subordinates to attend meetings with Bittker and steered noticeably less business the firm's way. Despite the discernible change in their association, Bittker did not want to give up on something that had worked so well in the past.
"I am a little ashamed to say this but when Olin started acting strangely I assumed it was because of something I had done," admitted Bittker. "Therefore, I made a real attempt to act extra cheerful and constantly asked him if there was something I or the firm could do to make him happier. He never gave a clear response though so I eventually gave up."
After six more months of dealing with Julow's rapidly worsening behavior, the Christopher Bridges partner realized that decisive action was necessary. She decided that she had to break up with her client before things deteriorated any further.
"One day I woke up and thought to myself 'Lillian, you are a smart and successful lawyer at a prestigious firm," stated Bittker, recalling the exact moment at which she worked up the nerve to end it with Julow. "I then said out loud, 'Why are you taking Olin's crap when there are a million attractive clients just like him who would be dying to have you as a legal advisor.'"
Bittker claims that while there was a lot about her and Julow's arrangement that augured poorly for any lasting affiliation, there were a few specific aspects that convinced her to permanently separate from her client. She relates that Julow became progressively more abusive, asking her to work longer and longer hours, often forcing her to miss important events such as a child's birthday party or an anniversary dinner. Moreover, Bittker avers, her client suddenly never said 'thank you' for work well done and, as the relationship proceeded, took her out to incredibly cheap restaurants for closing dinners.
"Worst though was the fact that he never returned my calls," said Bittker with a sigh. "Towards the end it was hard if not impossible to get the man on the phone. I realized it just wasn't worth the effort."
When the time for the actual breakup came, Bittker attempted to act professionally despite the difficult nature of the conversation.
"I admit I was extremely nervous when I met Olin at ENO, this great Mediterranean-themed restaurant we always went to when we first started working together," remarked the junior partner. "Towards the end of lunch I steeled myself and told Olin nicely but firmly that this just wasn't working and that we had to break up."
Bittker continued: "Yes, I did actually say to him that, 'it's not you, it's me' and that he 'was a really great client who I am sure will find someone amazing to take on his business matters.' Of course that was total bullshit because I was really hoping that no other firm would ever represent him and that he would spend the rest of his life sad and lawyerless. After all, he put me through hell and I hope he suffers for it."
Surprising the 16 barely awake students in Law 254: Real World Contract Drafting, Ashton Kutcher barged into seminar room 4041 yesterday to reveal that the entire class had just been "punk'd." Rubbing their eyes and looking around in disbelief, the 2Ls and 3Ls in the Duke Law School upper level course could not at first understand what was going on.
"About 15 minutes into Professor Brock's tedious lecture my head started to bob and I began dosing off," related Andrea Aguillard, a 3L, describing what normally happens to her at the beginning of every awful Contract Drafting class. "I was then suddenly awoken as this camera crew, followed by that guy who is married to Demi Moore, rushed into our room. After a few minutes we gathered that the entire course was an elaborate hoax which, in retrospect, totally makes sense considering how chalk board-scrapingly dreadful this experience has been."
Kutcher is the star of MTV's hit series Punk'd, a show where viewers watch as celebrities fall victim to extravagant practical jokes. As the show has gained in popularity its producers have found it increasingly difficult to find unsuspecting prank targets.
Therefore, Kutcher and his team decided to switch their focus to law schools. The idea was simple: create a thoroughly unpleasant class and record the reactions of students when they were finally told of being tricked.
After getting the go-ahead from the network and Duke Law administrators, the show's content directors began creating the intricate ruse, purposely making the class sound appealing to entice unwary upperclassmen.
"Though the class was at 8:00 in the morning on Mondays I thought it would be worth it," mentioned Sam Gupta, a Duke 2L. "I am interested in transactional law and believed that a course taught by a practitioner about tangible legal skills would be quite useful."
From the very beginning, however, Gupta and his classmates were confronted with a carefully hatched series of pranks meant to engender high levels of stress and outrage.
"Professor Brock starts introducing the class and right away tells us that it will bear little relation to the course description, even though that was major reason why I took the class," asserted an angry Emily Stout, another Law 254 enrollee. "He says that he was surprised that previous classes did not have the requisite contracts background so instead of focusing on something cool like drafting the course would be a review and further exploration of fundamental contract law. I remember thinking, 'Holy shit is this fruitcake serious?'"
Though certain students dropped out, the majority stayed, hoping that the class would still be useful. Kutcher and the Punk'd crew were expecting this and made sure the class' professor, a trained actor and comedian, ratcheted up the course's appalling nature in the weeks to come.
According to students, the fake teacher started assigning at least 10 cases a week, totaling hundreds of pages of reading. Not only was the workload tremendous but he made sure to cold call students every class, asking them about the most inane and irrelevant details of often indecipherable court decisions.
"I remember around the third or fourth week complaining to a classmate about how Professor Brock should be disbarred and how it wasn't fair to make upperclassmen relive the 1L cold call experience" remarked Aguillar, the 3L. "I also recall saying that wouldn't it be great if whole thing was just a terrible joke. Who knew that I would be literally correct."
According to MTV, Duke was at first hesitant to allow the prank but eventually acceded when key officials, including the Dean, mentioned that they were fans of Kutcher's show and needed "some entertainment to help break up the day." After viewing initial footage from strategically hidden cameras, those who remained concerned quickly dropped any reservations.
"Oh my god, I can't tell you how amazing it is to watch some supposedly checked out 3L be cold-called three classes in a row, especially when you've had a long day of meetings," stated Duke's Dean of Student Affairs, Donald Smith. "Seeing the pure, red-hot hatred emanate from that student's face as he was forced to recite minute factual details finally convinced me that we were right to allow this practical joke to occur."
According to students, after the class was able to process of the shock of being punk'd, the mood turned from one of anger and confusion to extreme joy.
"Sure at first I was angry about being made to sit through an excruciatingly painful class taught by a guy who didn't know what he was talking about," admitted Gupta, the 2L. "But then I perked up after realizing that there would be no more Real World Contract Drafting in my life. After all, many of my real law school classes are just as bad but, unfortunately, they aren't practical jokes concocted by Kutcher's sick and twisted mind."
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
One of the most tangible skills that law school imparts is the ability to scrutinize complicated problems and determine the applicable legal solutions. This ability to "issue-spot" is particularly tested on final exams where professors pose long, fact-intensive hypotheticals and ask students, by applying relevant law, to explain potential concerns or give the invented client cogent advice.
The emphasis on this brand of analysis has resulted in a new and, according to some, unfortunate phenomenon where law students increasingly point out what's wrong or questionable about their friends' stories, assertions and remembrances. According to sources, so-called conversation issue spotting is on the rise at institutions all across the country, especially now that 1Ls have completed their first set of exams.
"Though they increasingly featured a lot more case names and jargon, our discussions during 1st semester of law school really weren't that different than any normal chat ," asserted Colleen Calmes, a Duke Law School 1L. "However, starting during finals and worsening as the new semester dragged on, I witnessed people unabashedly drawing attention to all sorts of inconsistencies in classmate statements."
Naturally, much of the critiquing has centered around supposedly weak legal theories and propositions.
"I was sitting in the library and overheard this 1L arguing how Congress should not be overly constrained by the courts when it wants to pass legislation," remembered Talyor Blackwell, a 2L at Duke Law. "She mentioned how 'Scalia's decision in the Bern case was clearly ridiculous and that Congress must be able to pass laws that protect the free exercise of religion.' All of a sudden, a girl at another table interrupts and says quite loudly, 'First, I think you meant the Boerne case; second it was Kennedy not Scalia who authored the Court's opinion; and third free exercise concerns must necessarily be balanced against encroachments upon the Establishment Clause.' I hope my conversations are never issue-spotted like that."
The new form of friend criticism has moved beyond legal claims to encompass a wide variety of pronouncements.
"My friend Anthony kept talking about how he hit it off with this amazingly hot girl the night before at the Environment School/Law School mixer," remarked Alan Verner, a 3L at Harvard Law School. "So I felt it was my duty to issue spot his declaration by pointing out that his inebriation made him barely understandable let alone suave, the girl was barely a 5 out of 10, and the number she gave him was for the local Domino's."
Sources report that these deconstructions have also been applied to affirmations about preferred sports teams, recollections of episodes from TV series and even averments regarding favorite dinner spots. In each instance crushing, detailed logic is used attack arguments such as "UNC is clearly the best team in the ACC," "The funniest Seinfeld episode is the one with the Soup Fascist," and "Why would anyone in their right mind go to Hooters?"
Conversation issue spotting has developed so thoroughly that students are even applying it to relatively minor concerns.
"If one more classmate tries to correct my grammar I am going to lose it," declared Sam Chen, a 2L at the University at Chicago. "I realize that prepositions shouldn't end sentences but I don't need that pointed out to me by every god damn English major gunner in the school."
According to non-law school friends, seeing law students act this way reinforces the decision not to become a lawyer.
"After seeing this behavior from a University of Michigan law student friend of mine, I was glad I chose not to go to law school," stated Ernest Farr, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Illinois. "Though I won't be making as much money, I much prefer researching and eventually teaching about things like the Alabama Bus Boycott and momentous Greensboro sit-ins."
Stephanie Odierno, a Duke Law 1L, responded that conversation issue spotting is getting a bad rap.
"Critiquing people's assertions keeps me on my toes for exams and ensures the sharpness of my legal analyses," retorted Odierno. "People like that history grad student should stop their judging and stick to their endless research projects. By the way it was the Montgomery Bus Boycott you tool."
Quiznos, a sandwich franchise with over 5000 locations nationwide, is used to scoring well on Health Department inspections. Especially in less competitive markets, the stores consistently receive high marks for their cleanliness, clear signage and lack of vermin. According to those close to various franchisees, this early success eventually got to Quiznos' head.
"I guess because he always did so well on previous inspections, Daryl [Yarbough, owner of a number of North Carolina Quiznos stores] was extremely and outwardly confident," related Fred Gaver, a Hillsboro, North Carolina Subway franchise proprietor. "He would always brag at sandwich conferences about how much he knew about keeping ingredients shielded from customers and proper refrigeration. Sometimes we would even make snide remarks about other people's low scores. I am pretty sure he once made a Jersey Mike's owner cry."
In part due his franchises' previous good grades, Yarbough opened a new Quiznos branch a few months ago in the relatively larger market of Durham, North Carolina. Like his fellow restaurateurs, the sandwich shop had to pass Health Department inspection, the results of which were released last Friday.
"Though some of the other chains, particularly the newbies, are nervous I am quite calm," asserted Yarbough who was first interviewed just prior to when the grades were made known. "I have scored well throughout my career and I am utterly confident that nothing is going to change even considering there are many competitors here with considerable food safety knowledge."
Since the Durham Department of Health (DDOH) releases its scores online and all at once, restaurant owners across the county were anxiously glued to their computer monitors as they awaited the results. At 12:30 p.m., the grades were posted and the DDOH's website almost crashed due to the high traffic.
According to the Health Department, establishments are judged by various criteria including worker hygiene, food freshness, infestation prevention and kitchen cleanliness. The restaurants are graded on a curve with a 95 being the median. The lowest mark an institution can receive is a 90 and the highest generally is 100, though certain exceptional businesses can be bumped up an extra .1 - .3.
By certain accounts, the Durham Quiznos did not fare so well.
"Though I am not sure the exact score Daryl received it couldn't have been good," remarked James Loomis, owner of a competing Subway. "All of a sudden, when we'd see each other he was quite subdued, lacking the typical braggadocio. It seems the sandwich gunner was finally humbled."
At the same time other, usually quiet, franchisees became a little more confident. According to Loomis, Donald Longan, a usually introverted Jimmy John's store owner, was spotted walking around Durham with more swagger than normal. He and other storeowners surmise that Longan must have scored exceptionally well on his inspection, boosting his self-assurance tremendously.
Despite the setback, Quiznos is determined to do better on the next health inspection. Already Yarbough has begun studying the relevant DDOH regulations and asking more experienced stores how they have approached the examination.
The problem, say some, is that no matter how much an establishment improves, it's difficult to overcome poor first year grades.
"Consumers place disproportionate weight on a restaurant's initial scores," stated Theresa Meritt, a food industry expert. "However unfair, initial impressions are so important in this business that even if a restaurant's grades later drop people really don't care. I wish Quiznos luck because that is about the only thing that can save it now."
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Law schools across the country are paying close attention to a lawsuit recently brought in a North Carolina Federal District Court. According to publicly available documents, Duke Law student Greg Bell is suing the school's administrators, professors and even former students claiming that they falsely and fraudulently advertised the last year of law school as easy, relaxing and enjoyable.
"Duke has unfairly and deceptively held out 3rd year as a pleasant experience, a counterweight to the difficult and arduous 1st and 2nd years of law school" read Bell's pleadings. "By misrepresenting the nature, characteristics and qualities of year three the law school has unquestionably violated federal law."
Bell has brought his claim under §43 of the Lanham Act which has been utilized to prevent fraudulent and misleading commercial activity. According to the statute, a claim is viable when an advertisement is either literally false or, though literally true, is likely to mislead and confuse.
The 3L avers that, as seen by copious amounts of evidence, the proffered image of the 3rd year is clearly deceptive.
"Between mock trial and moot court tournaments, clinic work, journal edits, the MPRE, volunteer commitments and taking care of bar-related responsibilities, I barely have time for my classes," stated Bell. "I was mislead, plain and simple."
Not only, claims Bell, is 3L year fraudulently filled with numerous time-sapping commitments but the coursework is much more laborious than one would think based on the prevalent marketing.
"Third year was heavily promoted as a time when I could slack off and take easy classes," said Bell, shaking his head in disbelief. "But the reality is far different. Though I will have to take fewer finals this semester, I am in all these weirdo seminars that require countless journals, papers and presentations. Really, it's just a different type of suffering. Instead of a quick and deadly blast of exams, I am subject to a slow death by a thousand reflection papers."
The Duke 3L's pleading also mentions that, per the judicial requirement, the sham propagated by Duke was material in his choice as a consumer.
"There is no question that I would not have bought into this whole law school thing if I knew ahead of time the pain of the first couple of years would not eventually subside," said Bell with emphasis. "In fact, I don't believe anyone would purposely fork over all that tuition unless they were tricked into doing so from the beginning."
Bell underscored that Duke's material deception has resulted in a number of clear, incontrovertible injuries. He points to his decreased sleep, increased nervousness and elevated blood pressure as just some of the consequences of a 3rd year that has been more grueling than expected. Moreover, the 3L emphasized that by not having the time do things like go to Vegas for a long weekend or buy a golf membership he has suffered tremendous emotional strain.
In addition to the university, Bell is suing previous upperclassmen who allegedly told him "a whole host of horseshit about 3L year that didn't end up being true." According to the complaint, the third year blames these students as much as the administration because they helped prop up an extremely "treacherous and damaging ruse."
As a result, the 3L is seeking injunctive relief to enjoin both the school and its students from spreading any more lies as well as damages to compensate him for pain and suffering.
The law school has responded with a statement from its spokesman, asserting that Bell's claim is unfounded.
"Mr. Bell's lawsuit is utterly without merit," maintained Amelia Bish, assistant Dean for Public Relations and a Duke Law School graduate. "As a former Duke 3L, I can say without qualification that the last year of law school was a breeze for myself and the majority of my classmates. Just because Mr. Bell, by being careless in his course and commitment selection, didn't properly follow the directions on how to complete 3L year doesn't mean that Duke is liable.
Bish added: "Instead of bringing suit, Bell should learn to use third year correctly. Go out, drink, enjoy an opulent spring break at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. Just do something fun and stop wasting our time."
Despite impassioned lobbying by their son Dylan, a 1st year law student at Duke University, parents David and Brenda Maloney unanimously voted 2-0 today to deny a requested bailout of approximately $1400. The 1L reportedly lost the considerable sum during winter break while playing in a series of online poker tournaments.
"After a brutal finals period I needed to unwind and usually gambling does the trick," remarked Dylan. "However, after a string of bad cards and even worse beats I lost a assload of money that I need. Without some sort of assistance I'm screwed."
The 1st year related that considering his recently raised rent, his girlfriend's proclivity for fine wine and the two weddings he has to fly out to this semester, his loan money will not be enough to cover costs. Furthermore, considering the recession, it's unclear what, if any, paying jobs will be available for students in Dylan's position.
"I'm told that past 1Ls in my situation could rest easy knowing that summer employment would be available with a firm or some other paying employer," stated the youngest Maloney." However due to the economic downturn, I can't be sure I'll find a job let alone a salaried one. C'mon Ma, Dad I need some money!"
U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports the Dylan bailout and was dismayed with the Maloneys' decision, particularly considering the role Wall Street has played in the current crisis.
"While Dylan did act irresponsibly the reason he's truly in trouble is because of the reckless and shameful behavior of Wall Street" exclaimed Pelosi. "Without the current economic recession, precipitated I must add by greedy financial firms, Dylan would not be in such dire straits. We must protect the Dylans of the world from falling victim to a global crisis created by much more powerful forces."
Pelosi and other bailout supporters added that giving Dylan the money would also help prevent devastation to businesses that rely on the 1L. They argue that without ensuring his financial stability, local bars, restaurants and other stores would suffer substantially.
"Without Dylan my business would take a substantial hit," related Anthony Grieve, manager of the Erwin Road Chipotle. "That boy's unnatural love for burritos is one of the reasons I can stay in business during these tough economic times. His appetite is too big for him to fail."
Mr. and Mrs. Maloney disagree, arguing that by bailing Dylan out they would only be encouraging more foolish behavior.
"If we give our son the money we are essentially saying that he doesn't have to take responsibility for his reckless actions" emphasized David Maloney, Dylan's father. "Instead, by withholding funds we are encouraging his behavior to self-correct. In other words, let the boy go out and get a goddamn job."
A recent Zogby polls shows that parents overwhelmingly agree with the Maloneys' decision to veto the Dylan rescue package, with 76% of respondents answering "no" to whether they supported a bailout. This, says certain Republicans, further demonstrates the absurdity of government involvement in the markets.
"The American people have spoken and they are sick and tired of rescuing the irresponsible," remarked Alabama Senator Richard Shelby. "As I predicted, once Congress saved Wall Street a deluge of people would be looking for handouts. I say no bailouts for bankers, no bailouts for the auto industry and no bailouts for Dylan Maloney."