The last spring break is over.

It occurred to me recently that this is not just the end of law school for me, but in all likelihood the end of school, period.

That’s really fine with me. I’ve always been pretty good at school but I can’t say I’ve ever really liked it that much. The 12 years I spent out in the world after college were much more enjoyable than either college or law school. Not because I’ve had bad school experiences—I just find the format a bit repetitive & limiting.

That’s not true of everyone. I know there are people who pursue much lengthier graduate degrees than I have. I have friends who are avowed school-lovers and claim they would become professional students if they could.

It’s sort of amazing to me that in 39 days, I will be an ex-law student.

02 Apr 07

Comments

Let the countdown begin!

Posted by: MD at April 2, 2007 11:57 AM

Unfortunately, in 39 days we will all still be BAR/BRI students.

Posted by: at April 3, 2007 10:47 AM

and after the bar exam, unless you have to move to another state or just become too old and feeble to competently drive, you won’t have to take another legitimate test for the rest of your life.

Posted by: at April 3, 2007 12:03 PM

BarBRI is like summer camp. Quit your kvetching.

Posted by: MB at April 4, 2007 07:23 AM


The lone gunman.

A professor pointed out today that one of our readings was an article cowritten by a law professor and a third-year law student. That was the first time I’d ever seen a professor / student collaboration.

This made me wonder: why is it that almost all legal scholarship is the product of solo authors? Collaborations between professors are rare; collaborations between professors and students are almost nonexistent.

Intuitively it seems that there are strong incentives to collaborate: co-authors can fill gaps in each other’s knowledge and skills. A co-author will be your best editor.

Co-authors get their names on more articles with less work. I won’t assume that co-authoring an article is half the work of writing it solo—divisions of labor are never that efficient—but it must represent some time savings. More articles means more ... of whatever satisfaction people get from publishing, I don’t really know what that is.

Well, maybe I can guess. Legal scholarship can be separated into three types: 1) the kind that professors write when they’re first looking to achieve tenure; 2) the kind they write when they have tenure but they’re looking to be poached by a better law school; 3) the kind they write when they have tenure and they’re just interested in the topic enough to write about it.

Category (3) is the smallest. Some professors have a steady law review publishing career after they get tenure. Others move on to writing casebooks or other legal texts (though arguably, that may pay a few bucks, but it’s not scholarship in the sense of exploring new academic terrirtory).

But most tenured professors’ publishing habits become, shall we say, sporadic as their career wears on. I’m too lazy to do an empirical analysis. It seems true.

Category (3) also looks like it might be the best opportunity for collaborations. Wouldn’t a non-tenured professor or student benefit by co-writing something with a professor established in the field? But we still have the problem of what incentive the tenured professor has to participate. Very little. That professor can exploit student labor without having to grant a co-writing credit.

As for working with another professor, one problem is that profs tend to focus on very narrow areas of legal thought. You can build a whole career around something like “the death of the irreparable injury rule”. How many other people are likely to share your interest? Very few. So the realm of potential collaborators may be, in practice, quite small.

Category (1) might be an inappropriate place for collaborations. On the one hand, profs do want to get published. Frequently if possible. I know tenure committees say they value quality over quantity, but the more you write, the more you have a chance of publishing something that gets noticed.

But a non-tenured prof’s main goal in publishing is to prove that they have the smarts, skills, diligence, etc. to merit tenure. So there’s more value to solo articles, because everything in that article (for better or worse) is attributable to you. If you went before a tenure committee with several great but co-written articles, you’d have to explain what your contribution was.

And that assumes that the result of the collaboration is good. When you’re co-writing, you still have the risk that you’ll spend six months on an article and it will suck. If that happens, you would’ve been better off on your own.

There’s probably also some cultural heredity at work—solo writing has been the model for a long time. The profs reviewing your tenure application all had to suffer through writing their own articles. They probably think that you should get to suffer too.

That leaves category (2). Which perhaps is indistinguishable from category (1).

Apparently I’ve answered my own question. Go back to whatever you were doing.

03 Apr 07

Comments

How does this reconcile with your earlier post where you proposed that one reason for going to law school instead of B school is “joy of working alone”?

Also interested to hear your thoughts on the Commencement Speaker chosen for the graduating class of 2007.

Posted by: Another law student at April 5, 2007 09:43 AM

If I choose to work with a person whose skills and talents I respect, that’s much different than someone requiring me to work with random people whose skills and talents I know nothing about.

I don’t know who the commencement speaker is. I imagine it’s someone chosen more for their symbolic value—embodying the liberal ideals that most UCLA law graduates will not be pursuing at their corporate litigation defense jobs—than for their ability to deliver a competent speech.

More relevantly, since I’m not going to commencement, it’s hard for me to care.

Posted by: MB at April 5, 2007 12:23 PM


I have only five more class days.

And it feels good. Just wanted to share that.

09 Apr 07

Comments

Congratulations, MB. I’ll miss your law school thoughts.

Posted by: Bruce at April 12, 2007 05:16 PM


Diplomas.

I was wondering how the law school can give you a diploma on May 11 when the term ends on May 10. The answer is: they don’t.

Apparently everyone at commencement gets to enjoy the rare pleasure of sitting in the sun in a black wool robe for 2+ hours, and then walking to the podium to collect—a blank piece of rolled-up paper.

It seems like if anyone could solve this problem, it’s a law school. Why don’t they just give you your real diploma with a disclaimer? The fine print at the bottom could read:

WARNING: This diploma is offered to you (the “Student”) provisionally in contemplation of Student’s completion of the requirements set forth in the UCLA School of Law Summary of Academic Standards, Art. I, Subparts A-F. UCLA School of Law retains the right to revoke this diploma at any time in the next twelve (12) weeks, or until Student’s last exam is graded, whichever is longer, if it is found that Student has not successfully completed the course of study as specified in the abovementioned Summary of Academic Standards. Student’s taking possession of this diploma signifies Student’s acceptance of the terms and conditions herein. Student acknolwedges that this diploma is not a license to practice law. No warranty, express or implied, is made as to Student’s future likelihood of passing the bar exam, Student’s future salary level, or Student’s chances of making partner. UCLA School of Law hereby explicitly disclaims liability for any claims arising out of this diploma. Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, Student further agrees to take affirmative steps to prevent any doors, screened or otherwise, from hitting Student in the hindquarters on the way out.

11 Apr 07

Comments

usc students get theirs on the day of commencement. go figure.

Posted by: at April 11, 2007 03:24 PM

what are your plans for next year?

Posted by: at April 12, 2007 11:27 AM


You’ve been in law school too long when....

...you try to persuade a person to do something by saying “come on, be a rational actor.” Which is worse: that I said it, or that it worked?



Meanwhile, I’m busy tying up loose ends. I just stopped by Diddy Riese in Westwood for a $1.25 ice cream / cookie sandwich, which I’d never had. The end is near, my friends.

16 Apr 07

Comments

$1.25?? Just a few months ago, those were still only a dollar.

The end is near indeed.

Posted by: at April 16, 2007 06:36 PM

Chocolate chocolate chip & walnut cookies + vanilla ice cream, in case you were wondering. I felt like the cookies are what DR is known for, so the ice cream should play the supporting role.

Posted by: MB at April 16, 2007 06:40 PM

First time in 3 years? What on earth have you been doing this whole time?

Posted by: Bruce at April 17, 2007 07:37 PM

writing a blog

Posted by: at April 18, 2007 08:51 AM


Seduced by the dark side.

Multiple choice quiz: according to the most recently available ABA figures (2000, but don’t cheat), 48% of lawyers in private practice work where?

a) in solo practice

b) in firms with up to 100 lawyers

c) in firms with more than 100 lawyers

The answer is (a) in solo practice. 38% work in firms with up to 100 lawyers, and only 14% in the big firms with more than 100 lawyers. Did you get it right?

You might wonder if this has changed since 2000. Probably not. Sure, there have been lots of mergers, but those turn big firms into really really big firms—not solo practices into big firms. In 1980, the largest law firm in the survey was 51 (!) lawyers. But there were 49% solo practitioners. So in 20 years, despite the arrival of the megafirm, roughly half of lawyers are still in solo practice.

If you go to UCLA or a similarly posh school, I’m guessing you got this question wrong. Because while UCLA grads go into private practice at about the same rate as lawyers at large (75% of all grads), about 60% of these go to firms of 100 or more lawyers and the other 40% to firms up to 100 lawyers. Pretty much none go solo. (This is according to a Powerpoint slide provided by a professor from last year. I can’t link it. You’ll just have to trust me.)

You could reasonably argue that the two pictures aren’t incommensurable: it’s more common for a lawyer to start in a big firm and open their own practice later on. So we’d expect to see recent grads go to big firms, and the balance shifting toward small firms and solo practices as time goes on.

Sure, but still. The view from a top-tier school is distorted. At UCLA, it seems like everyone goes to a big firm. But the farther down the US News rankings you go, the more selective the recruiting becomes. (I tried to get some figures from NALP for you but shit, it’s the last week of classes.)

So if these law school grads don’t go to big firms, where do they go? Well, many of them go to smaller no-name firms, and another group, lacking any better options, go solo.

Now this is funny, isn’t it? The idea of going solo out of law school chills a UCLA or USC graduate to the bone. But these folks are likely in much better position to succeed in a solo practice than a person from a 4th-tier school who’s pushed into it out of economic necessity more than preference.

Let me break the trend: yes, dear readers, after I pass the bar, I’ll be setting up a solo practice. (But don’t tell UCLA Career Services—I plan to keep reporting on their surveys as long as possible that I’m “unemployed”).

Now, this isn’t as momentous a decision as it might be for other law grads—I was self-employed for most of the time between college and law school, so the thought of having to generate my own client base and not having a steady paycheck doesn’t faze me. I’m used to that.

If anything, the idea of going to a firm and helping some fat partner upgrade his Mercedes is what fills me with loathing. (Not that there’s anything wrong with working in a big firm. Just be honest with yourself about what you will & won’t get out of it.)

I’ve been reading Jay Foonberg’s book on setting up a solo practice. If anyone has an inclination toward working solo in the next 5 years, I recommend getting this book now. (Sweet $40 discount if you’re an ABA student member and you buy it through their site.)

The book has two main purposes: to convince you that you can have a solo practice, and then to show you how to do it. The best point Foonberg makes is that having your own firm is a combination of three skills: practicing law, handling clients, and running an office. If you’re willing to develop those skills, you can be a solo attorney. Not rocket science, I know. But Foonberg is also good at making these tasks seem less intimidating, for those who are intimidated by them.

I’m not. Maybe I should be. Ah, so what? Can 48% of American lawyers be wrong? It’s not brain surgery. It’s just law. Have you ever tried designing a font? Now that’s hard.

18 Apr 07

Comments

Also, at a big law firm you don’t get a frosted-glass door with your name stenciled on it. Nor, for that matter, are you authorized to keep a bottle of scotch in your desk drawer.

Posted by: at April 20, 2007 11:42 AM

May I ask why you intend to report to UCLA Career Services that you are “unemployed?” Did I miss the sarcasm?

Posted by: at April 20, 2007 01:37 PM

It (trivially) pulls down the employment rates for the class of 2007, which is a metric the school reports to U.S. News and other authority figures.

If OCS had been helpful to me, I’d feel differently about helping boost their numbers. I’m sure the folks at OCS are very kind & well-meaning people, but they’ve got very little useful information for anyone who’s not going to a big firm.

When they heard I was interested in consumer protection law, they offered to send me a list of firms in the field and a list of UCLA alumni who practice consumer law. Okay, sounds good.

The firm list was basically a Martindale-Hubbell search results page. The alumni list contained a whopping nine names, though I was warned by Career Services “this list may be outdated”. Only one was in Los Angeles. Another was in Germany.

The truth is, with big firms soaking up so many UCLA grads, there isn’t much incentive for OCS to develop other competencies. In turn, UCLA students are less likely to be aware of other options. And so it goes.

To be fair, OCS does an on-campus small-firm recruiting event. But small firms don’t hire preemptively the way big firms do, so this arguably isn’t the right model for promoting small firms.

Posted by: MB at April 20, 2007 02:31 PM

Wow. So you’re doing it to penalize OCS (and all UCLA students) by harming our ranking? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Posted by: at April 20, 2007 03:37 PM

You’re right, that’s cruel of me. Forget it. I’ll lie and say I’m employed, even though I can’t practice law until January.

Come to think of it, I’m probably the main reason UCLA hasn’t cracked the top 14 yet. Good thing this blog is ending.

Posted by: MB at April 20, 2007 03:51 PM

Good for you, MB, going into solo practice. It takes seriously balls to have the option to make guaranteed money being some big firm’s bitch and choose to take the risky path of hanging your own sign. I hope you have some contacts that will turn into potential clients. From your blog, it sounds like you have the attitude and aptitude for succeeding (unless, like biglaw, setting up a solo practice requires being a total ass-kisser).

Good luck!

Posted by: Bruce at April 20, 2007 03:52 PM

I don’t recall suggesting that your employment status would make any meaningful difference in UCLA’s ranking. I merely stated my belief that hiding your status from UCLA because you are angry is immature.

“But don’t tell UCLA Career Services—I plan to keep reporting on their surveys as long as possible that I’m ‘unemployed’).”

Moreover, I never encouraged you to lie. Quite the opposite. My suggestion is that rather than reporting “unemployed” you consider reporting “not seeking employment” and make a note that you are going solo. That’s all.

I understand that you’re angry about your experience, and feel compelled to do something about it. But please try not to damage the UCLA name any more than you absolutely have to. Some of us are still looking for jobs. Best of luck with your new practice.

Posted by: at April 20, 2007 04:22 PM

Ah, then I was unclear when you mentioned “harming our ranking”. I thought you were referring to, you know, harming our ranking.

If my experience with OCS was not representative of what others have shared with me, I wouldn’t mention it.

I’m not ‘angry’—I got exactly what I expected out of them. What I find comical is how they wait until I’m nearly out of here, find my name on some “status = unknown” list, and then send a flurry of emails with offers of help.

Actual suggestion from OCS: “I don’t know if you’ve started to try to gain experience in the field by working as a law clerk...”

If someone hasn’t considered “gaining experience” by the 10th week of their last semester, they have problems that OCS can’t fix.

...

PS to Bruce: my dear friends who are going to work at firms are not “bitches”. Go insult your own pals.

Posted by: MB at April 20, 2007 08:01 PM


The eagle has landed.

Today is the last day of school. I’m writing this before class, because afterwards, I’m going to park myself in front of the strongest margarita I can find. I’ll be there for a while. Like a month or so.

I sort of miss yearbooks. The kind where you’d get your copy and then you’d try to get all your friends to sign it. And then years later, you could look back and see that your friends only said two things: “what a long, strange trip it’s been” and “your a good kid, don’t ever change” [sic].

Don’t ever change. What a curious sentiment for one 14-year-old to convey to another. I’ll try to do better for you, dear readers.

At the end of your 3L year, it’s hard to say whether law school is really easier than it was first semester, or if your head is just numb from the repeated blows. I feel smarter than I did when I got here. I know more about how parts of the world work. My politics have shifted slightly. I have some new marketable skills.

Some of you may have mistakenly inferred that I’m a bitter law student. Not so. Overall, I’m glad I went to law school, and I’m glad I went to UCLA. I made many friends here that I hope to stay in touch with. I had classes with a few great professors. I also met my future wife. That’s right, soon there’s going to be a Mrs. MB. Crazy!

Thank you, readers, for your steady patronage in the last 32 months or so. I started this blog mostly for myself, so that when I was 89 I could read stupid stories about my school days. Then it became a way of communicating with friends and family back home so I didn’t have to send 25 separate emails. Then it became America’s most popular web site. Well, pretty close, anyway.

This won’t be the absolute last posting here—I’ll come back in a few months to tell you how the bar exam was, and then how my solo practice plans pan out—but this is the last time you’ll hear from me as a law student. That’s a good feeling.

Over and out,

Matthew B.

24 Apr 07

Comments

Thanks for the memories, MB.

Posted by: KN at April 24, 2007 01:44 AM

Great blog, made me laugh periodically. Best of wishes.

Posted by: AA at April 24, 2007 02:07 AM

the donkey kong analogy is great.

Posted by: at April 24, 2007 06:29 AM

I will miss your blog :-) It’s actually in my “favorites”!

Posted by: AM at April 24, 2007 10:06 AM

Have a great summer! Keep in touch! BFFE! Ok, that’s my best yearbook writing. On the reals - thanks for keeping up the blog - I think it was great to have a place where people could share their perspectives on our law school experience.

Posted by: TR at April 24, 2007 11:39 AM

Thanks for making me feel over-emotional on the last day of classes. I never even for around to taking you up on the offer of a guest post!

Posted by: BCH at April 24, 2007 01:50 PM

Thank you for the great commentary and musings. It will be missed.

Posted by: AH at April 24, 2007 03:27 PM

matthewb @ ucla
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