Monday, August 30, 2010

Key to law school success: taking a break

A funny thing happened to me during my second semester in law school: I stopped studying as much, and my grades improved dramatically. That's actually a bit misleading. I still studied quite a bit, but I stopped obsessing about every assignment for every class. More importantly, I spent more time with my family and friends, and I didn't worry about exams as much. I'm trying to take the same approach with my second year of law school, balancing work and play. It's not an easy thing when you have massive reading assignments almost every night, on top of summer job interviews, law review assignments, and obligations with various student organizations. Still, I feel like I've done a pretty good job of blowing off steam lately. And especially this time of year, there are tons of cool things to do in the Louisville area and beyond. For example, last week I took my kids to the Falls of the Ohio, where we splashed around in the river and scrambled on the rocks (see super amateur cell phone video, above right).

This past weekend, my wife and I took the kids to Kings Island, an amusement park just outside Cincinnati. We're planning a trip to Holiday World, an amusement park in Indiana, later this month. And for Labor Day, we're joining a bunch of other families on a camping trip to the Red River Gorge, a mecca for rock climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts (that's me at the Red in 2003, at left, with my oldest son, who is now eight).

Anyway, the idea here is that success in law school means taking a break every once in a while. By the end of September, I will have taken enough breaks to last the entire school year, but for now I'm still on top of my classes and I feel much less stressed out than I did at this time a year ago. Got a de-stressing activity of your own? Post it in the comments field below.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Photo of the Week: Prof. Abramsom

Today's photo of the week is a vintage portrait of Leslie W. Abramson, Frost Brown Todd professor of law at U of L, much-loved master of civil procedure and other topics, and all-around fantastic teacher. Photo is from fellow student Vince Kline. Pop quiz: without tracking down the photo itself (it hangs somewhere in the law school), what year was this image taken?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Etiquette 101 for upper-level summer OCI

In the strange world of summer law jobs, 2Ls such as myself are now in the thick of the hunt for associate positions that will begin in May 2011. The selection process is based, not on our second-year performance, but on grades from the 1L year that we wrapped up four months ago. The first wave of interviews begins next week with what is called OCI, or On-Campus Interviews. Students submit "bids" for 20-minute interviews with employers, who then select a dozen or so students based on resumes, grades, writing samples, grades, personal references, grades, grades, and grades. You get the picture. 
If you're lucky enough to get past the first interview, the second round usually takes place a few weeks later. This "callback" interview can last several hours, and is much more demanding. I had one last year that included one-on-one meetings with five different associates and partners, back to back, at the firm's downtown Louisville offices.  Plenty of students don't even bother with OCI. The process can be stressful, and the odds of success can be fairly low compared to the required investment in time and research. I didn't land an OCI job last year, but I still had an incredible summer experience with a solo practitioner who hired me based on a recommendation from a close friend. Still, I plan to take a second bite out of the OCI apple starting next week. To prepare, I listened yesterday to a 90-minute presentation on etiquette that was hosted by the law school's fantastic Career Services Department. The presenter, Terri Thompson of Etiquette in Action (photo, above right) agreed to let me share a few of her tips: 
  • In a sit-down interview with an employer, always remain standing until you are offered a seat.

  • Always thank the interviewer twice: once after the face-to-face meeting, and a second time in writing with a thank-you card.

  • Speaking of thank-yous: use blank cards, colored white or cream, in a plain envelope. Apparently, they shouldn't even have the words Thank You printed on the front. Email is an appropriate way to supplement written cards in some circumstances, but you should still send the card itself.

  • At an interview meal, place your napkin on the left side of your plate if you must leave the table.

  • Attire for law students should be extremely conservative. For guys, shirts with either traditional cuffs or French cuffs with links are OK. For women, long hair should be pulled back at the nape of the neck unless you can sit through the entire interview without repetitively "tucking" your locks behind your ears.

  • Men no longer need to wait for a female interviewer to offer a handshake first. Although there was some disagreement about this during yesterday's panel, Thompson says social etiquette for handshakes is now completely gender neutral.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Law School Photo of the Week

Here's a new blog feature: photo of the week, taken somewhere inside the law school. For our inaugural image, taken with my cell phone, we have a portrait of the faculty (and students) of the Class of 1895, which hangs on a second floor wall just outside the Law Review offices. U of L is one of the oldest law schools in the nation in continuous operation. Today's classes are a bit larger, with around 135 students.
Got a photo of your own to submit? Send it to me at

Monday, August 16, 2010

Start of 2L year brings mixed emotions, new shoes

Today is the first day of the school year for upper-division law students. As I scurried around organizing my office and books last night, I realized that the mix of excitement and hope that I felt at this time a year ago was, well, a bit faded. I am sure that other 2Ls and 3Ls feel the same way. Back to the stress, back to the crushing work load, back to not earning a paycheck, etc, etc. At the same time, it could be a lot worse. This morning, as I cruised through the Highlands and Old Louisville on my motor scooter, my attitude perked up. The sky was a crisp blue, the temperature was something less than 140 degrees, and it truly felt like the first day of school. There are certainly drawbacks about being in law school (see above sentence about crushing work load), but in general I am still very happy to be here. My knowledge of the law after one full year of school is embarrassingly small, and I look forward to adding new layers of legal armor to my resume. Here is my schedule (with last name of instructor):

  • Constitutional Law (Trucios-Haynes)
  • Evidence (Powell)
  • Professional Responsibility (Ewald)
  • Business Organizations (Blackburn)
This is going to sound corny, but I look forward to engaging with each of these professors in the months to come, both inside and outside the classroom. Each of my professors has impressive credentials, which you can read about by clicking here. And while the reading assignments can be unrelenting, life could be far worse without the case study method. Each legal rule is embedded in the narrative of a lawsuit, complete with characters, plot, and moral. Sure, we have to read about 115 pages of them each day,  but as an English major I am grateful for a little story time. Finally, my wife bought me new shoes (see photo, above right) last week, completely unsolicited, and it's hard to have a rough first day of school with new shoes, no matter what happens. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Top 10 Things I Did at My Summer Law Job

It's easy to forget, in the midst of law school exams, briefing cases, and talking to professors, that the reason most of us are here is to eventually find a job. This summer, I spent twelve weeks working as a full-time law clerk for a divorce lawyer in downtown Louisville. So what does a law clerk do? At larger firms, clerks often are consumed with massive research projects, such as the dreaded 50-state survey. At smaller firms, clerks play more of a jack-of-all-trades role. My experience was closer to the latter situation. My Top 10 list: 

10. Clock and Drop: this is the legal slang for filing papers with the court. You grab a stack of documents, walk a few blocks to the courthouse, insert the cover page into the time stamp machine, i.e. the "clock" and then place, i.e. "drop," the entire mess of paperwork in a file drawer for the appropriate court. 

9. Billable Hours: as my boss told me early in the summer, you have to put gas in the car if you want to drive. The car is the law firm, of course, and the gas is the billable hour. Over the course of three months, I learned to translate every phone call, email message, and clock and drop into billable hours. 

8. Drafting: at least once I day, I cranked out a motion, a subpoena, an affidavit or some other legal document. Computer software makes the routine documents amazingly easy to create. Punch a few buttons, enter a case number, and, voila, it's ready to print. In more complicated situations, it might take a couple of days. 

7. Killing trees: this is also called document management. Almost everything gets copied three or four times, scanned, and entered into a file, either electronic or hard copy. In my family law, we do this for hundreds of documents for each client, including tax returns, retirement accounts, letters, mortgages, and pay stubs. Copies are filed in court, provided to opposing counsel, etc. Bottom line: we chew up a lot of paper. 

6. Diet Coke or Lemonade: I am 34 years old, the owner of a real estate company, the father of two children, and in many other respects not a fresh-faced teenager or twenty-something. However, as a lawyer, I'm as green as it gets. So when the boss asks for a soft drink, this law clerk heads for the fridge. On the double. Yes sir. 

5. Runner: this is a variation on #6. I delivered packages to other attorneys, picked up boxes of documents, even drove the boss to depositions and trials in his car so he could work on the way. On the double. Yes sir. 

4. Meet and greet: I met dozens of other lawyers this summer, in what was possibly the best three months of networking in my life. My contacts file is four times as large as it was in April, and I got a terrific chance to watch some of the finest lawyers in Louisville in action. 

3. Watch and learn: most clerks spend a lot of time sitting in conference rooms watching the real lawyers practice. I mostly took notes, wrote summaries, and kept my mouth shut. However, I feel fortunate that my boss allowed me to speak up at times, to ask questions, to offer comments and opinions. 

2. Negotiation: this may have been the most rewarding aspect of my summer clerkship. I had a lot of interaction with clients, and even played a leading role in settling a handful of cases concerning child custody, parental visitation, child support, and alimony. About 85 percent of all family law cases are settled in mediation or some other stage short of trial. Knowing the law is only one small piece of the puzzle. 

1. Stress and Fun: there were times this summer when I felt like the entire world was going to swallow me up. The pace of work in a small practice is frenetic, and can change ten times in the course of an hour. I started the summer knowing almost nothing, and I ended the summer not knowing a whole lot more. Along the way, there were hundreds of tiny skills to master, from copying documents to navigating the firm's servers to learning all of the software programs that we used to handle our cases. I must have asked the paralegals a millions questions. They were so patient. And with thousands of dollars on the line each day, the stress was sometimes overwhelming. Yet at the same time, we had a ton of fun. The same kind of dry humor that filled my journalism years was a mainstay at the firm all summer. Twelve weeks of stress, perhaps, but also twelve weeks of fun. 

New year of law school, new blog focus

With my second year of law school just a few short days away, I am gearing up to resume regular posts on this blog.  For the next year, I will be writing about careers, job interviews, the transition from 1L to 2L, and other random snippets of life at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. I highly encourage folks to check out the school's new 1L blogger, Sharon Wright, at

In the weeks to come, I will be writing about my summer clerkship with Louisville's finest divorce lawyer (in case you're reading, Mr. Hoge), and about the on-campus interview process for upper-level law students this fall. I also will be touching on the experience of being a member of the school's law review, which, so far, has been just like a free trip to Disney World. Well, OK, that's not true at all. But it has been rewarding. More on that later.