Friday, January 27, 2012

What I'm learning about in law school: reptiles, health care, and how to avoid a long stay in prison

The Pinto -- like U.S. healthcare?
In my second year of law school, I wrote a blog post about the things I was learning in Con Law, Evidence, Professional Responsibility and other classes. This semester is turning out to be completely different from any other so far. Four of my five courses are taught by adjunct faculty, and none of them are part of the core curriculum. But even so -- or maybe because of this -- I'm learning a lot about the law and life in general. Here are a few tidbits.
  • Advanced Trial Practice: in a class of just seven people, it's hard to hide. But who would want to hide when your teachers are two grizzled trial lawyers who teach law by swapping war stories, and organizing role playing activities in class. This is probably my favorite course of the semester so far. One of the techniques we're learning is David Ball's "reptile" method of trying cases, in which you convince the jury to make decisions that protecting themselves and the community, and avoid danger. 
  • Medical Malpractice: doctors, social workers, nurses and other medical providers have a duty to warn certain people who are not their patients if they diagnose someone with a condition that could be dangerous to others. We're also reading about the finer points of informed consent, physician liability, and the laws that govern hospital emergency rooms.
  • Health Law Seminar: this is a two-credit class that focuses on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. We're learning about how health insurance works (or doesn't) and how our country has somehow managed to have a healthcare system that costs as much as a Cadillac and runs like a Ford Pinto.
  • Negotiation: arguing with an insurance adjuster about a car wreck case is way more than starting high and settling somewhere in the middle. Our main textbook, Getting to Yes, shows how to negotiate like a pro, focusing on interests instead of positions, and inventing creative options for mutual gain. It might sound like hocum, but it works. 
  • Public Defender: I wish I could say more about the criminal cases I'm working on this semester for the public defender, but, well, I can't. They involve real people facing looooong prison sentences for serious crimes, and the students in our externship program get to do actual work on their cases, including appearances in court, and in some cases arguing motions before judges. 
Although my last semester of school is chock full of great experience, perhaps the biggest lesson I'm learning is patience. At this point, many 3Ls, myself included, are ready to kick off the training wheels and dive into real practice. But we can't. Yet. It's sort of like the time you bought your first house (or car), and you're waiting for closing day. It's going to happen, but the waiting is torture. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Louisville attorney flies blind, wins jury trial

The trial bar is buzzing in Louisville this afternoon following a story that I'm going to share as an inspirational tale for law students. A local attorney, Randy Ratliff, took a case at the last minute this week after the plaintiff fired his Florida-based lawyers. Law students may remember that Mr. Ratliff spoke at the law school when he was director of the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program, a position he held from January 2008 to 2011. Full disclosure: he is Of Counsel in the law office where I will be an associate after graduation.
In the case in question, the general expectation was that the judge would grant a continuance so Mr. Ratliff could get to know the facts, prepare a plan, etc. After all, preparation is the key to a successful trial, right? Well, the judge decided the case would go to trial the same day Mr. Ratliff made his initial appearance. And according to the Kentucky Trial Court Review, which also maintains this Facebook page, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff this afternoon in the amount of $131,000. The last settlement offer had been for $30,000. Not a bad week of work. Congratulations to Mr. Ratliff and his client.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Job report: why OCI is so hard at Louisville Law, and why you shouldn't worry about it

This weekend brings the annual mock interview program for 1Ls here at Louisville Law. This relatively recent tradition is an excellent opportunity to get your feet wet in the summer clerkship game, and it will be closely followed by the infamous On Campus Interview season, or OCI. I wrote about OCI last year in this post, and in my opinion most of those comments still hold up.

OCI is a big deal at some law schools, but here at Louisville the number of available jobs is quite small, and the chances of getting one are brutally long. Many will enter, few will win. In fact, in my graduating class, I am aware of only a small number of students (maybe ten) who have landed full-time permanent jobs at large law firms through OCI. The fact is, large law firms have been shrinking in recent years, and there aren't that many in Louisville to begin with. This is not to say, of course, that these jobs don't  have merit, or that it is not worth pursuing a Big Law job, especially if your first-semester GPA was, say, 3.3 or better. The paucity of OCI positions also doesn't mean you won't find a job at all. There are scores of area jobs available through smaller firms, non-profit groups and fellowship programs, and the nice thing about some of these positions is that you are in control of the process because you choose where you put your networking energy, i.e., plaintiff work, family law, public service, etc.

Even if you don't participate in OCI, it's a good idea to start thinking about the summer if you are a 1L. You might call a few lawyers (even ones you don't know!) and ask for a job shadow, like this one or this one that I did during my first-year winter break. You might also think about knocking out some of those volunteer hours for graduation, which will put you in contact with practicing attorneys. You also should visit the fine folks in Career Services, study these job interview etiquette tips, and think about professors who could serve as references (tip: if you contact a professor for a reference, make sure to clearly identify yourself, send a copy of your resume, and give them plenty of time to respond; requesting a reference in person usually works best; do NOT ask them to fill out forms for you). The bottom line, as my tax professor might say, is that there are many options, and OCI is just one of them. The job market overall is tight, but there are lots of available options, and many of them are just a few miles from the law school. You also must learn to have nerves of steel when it comes to job interviews. My overall record with OCI in my first two years of law school was 1-16, as in sixteen interviews, and fifteen rejections. But that one offer resulted in a great clerkship, which eventually turned into a full-time job offer that I happily accepted. The end justifies the means. If you have a job question or comment, post it in the comments field below, or email me at

Thursday, January 12, 2012

High GPA = passing score on bar exam (maybe)

Just walked out of an hour-long primer on the Kentucky bar exam, which most 3L students will take in July at this local hotel. Among the tidbits offered to aspiring exam takers were these stats on the correlation between law school grade-point average and success on the Big Bad Bar:
  • For students with at least a 3.0 GPA at U of L Law (usually the top one-third of the class), 100 percent passed the exam last July on their first attempt. The same students in previous years have passed the exam at a roughly 98 percent clip. 
  • Students with a 2.6 GPA or lower had a 74 percent pass rate on the same exam. 
  • Overall, the school had a roughly 90 percent pass rate last year, compared to an 86 percent statewide pass rate. The 90 percent rate was down a bit from the previous year, but in line with the last five years overall. 
There are, of course, exceptions to the above rules. Bonnie Kittinger, general counsel and director of the Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions, told us it is not uncommon for otherwise high-achieving students to study lightly for the test and then assume they can hang loose for the rest of the summer. Some still pass. Others do not. We also discussed dozens of other details, including the grading process, filing deadlines, even the definition of a law school application. Perhaps the best advice came from Eric Ison, one of the state's seven bar examiners, who asked us to take the bar seriously, but also to remember to breathe. "Don't be consumed by the bar," he said. I will try to keep this in mind over the next seven months. I imagine it will be easier said than done.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Law school class photo day: time for a moustache?

Today is class photo day for graduating law students here at U of L.  It's an occasion that doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but then again maybe it does. Large framed class photos line the hallways of the law school on its first and second floors, stretching back to the late 1800s. Gazing at the bygone fashions of eager young attorneys is a fascinating way to waste 15 minutes of your life when you really ought to be studying. The class portraits also become a source of attention when a lawyer does something particularly embarrassing, or especially impressive.
The magnificent (and short lived) moustache
For me, photos have always been yet another opportunity to do something eccentric. For example, I have a photo of myself in high school with my eyebrows shaved off. In another, taken in my mid-20s, I'm hanging upside down inside a ski gondola. Which is why, last week, I figured it would be a great idea to take my law school photo with a giant moustache. At home, our family is obsessed with the moustache. The kids wear fake ones, my wife decorates moustache mirrors, and we take notice of moustaches in public. I even went so far as growing a 'stache (see photo, above right) in honor of this under-appreciated form of facial hair. But after careful consideration, I've decided to sport a clean shave, a starched dress shirt and tie, and a dark suit coat for the class photo.
My decision reflects two things that I've learned in law school. First, I've learned to seek advice from those around me before making rash decisions. I am at least two or three times as likely to consult other people for advice today compared to before law school. In this case, everyone I talked to about the moustache class photo told me it was a terrible idea. Second, I've found a new level of appreciation for the art of discretion. It's taken almost three years to drill this concept into my head, but I now hold my tongue way more frequently than at any other time in my life. I still enjoy a good joke, and don't shy away from controversy, but I am keenly aware that reputation is everything in this industry, and if you're going to clown around, you'd better think about the implications carefully. So long moustache.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome to 2012: Resolutions of an almost-finished law student at the University of Louisville

The law school is dead quiet today, and I'm getting tons of work done. Here are a few snippets, resolutions, and random thoughts to start off the new year.

1. Since I now have a job lined up as a lawyer after graduation, I solemnly swear that I will not join the class-action mess involving more than a dozen law schools that allegedly fudge their employment statistics. I'm also grateful that Louisville is not a defendant, and hope it stays that way.

My bar exam application (just kidding)
2. Almost finished with my 25-page Kentucky bar exam application. Got my traffic history, my criminal record, my five character references, and even figured out the day I was married. Most intriguing question on the application so far: "have you ever been known by another name other than a nickname?

3. Really looking forward to my last semester of law school. Part of this is because, well, it's the last one, but it's also shaping up to be filled with great hands-on experiences. I'm working 12 hours a week at the Louisville Public Defender's office, taking a seminar on Obamacare, and doing my second trial practice class - where you practice mock cases and present opening and closing arguments, etc. I'm also looking forward to Negotiation, which will hopefully improve my skill at sending the kids to bed on time, and Criminal Law - Judicial Procedure, which I will hopefully never need for myself.

4. Entering law students at U of L are now looking at a schedule with fewer classroom commitments in their first semester under a new plan approved by the school. Looks like they're ditching Property for the fall, and starting Civ Pro a bit later. Details:

Fall Semester:
Basic Legal Skills
Legal Research
Torts I
Contracts I
Criminal Law
Civil Procedure (starting approximately September 24th)

Spring Semester:
Basic Legal Skills
Torts II
Contracts II
Civil Procedure II

5. Getting back to resolutions, I am going to start 2012 with a cheesy pledge to be a nicer guy (Alex, you catch more flies with honey, an associate at work recently told me), to help someone else at least once a day, to not dwell on past mistakes (including that wretched Negotiable Instruments exam), and to stop eating four times as much food as I should at every meal. Good luck to everyone this semester. If you are applying to U of L Law this year and have questions or concerns about anything, email me at and you'll allow me to knock out one of my daily resolutions!