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
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
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:
11 Apr 07
...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
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
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,
24 Apr 07
Epilogue 8: Buy my book
Epilogue 7: Recessionaires cont'd
Epilogue 6: Schill quits UCLA
Epilogue 5: recessionaires
Okay, I lied. Epilogue 4
Epilogue 3: The End (really)
Epilogue 2: Nov 2007
The eagle has landed
Seduced by the dark side
You've been in law school too long when...
I have only five more class days
The lone gunman
The last spring break is over
Someone saved your life tonight
Dean Schill & the Pussymobile
Help me yet again