Thursday, May 04, 2006

I've received a number of e-mails asking me if I have any advice for law students about to take their final exams. I have only one piece of advice: Do Well. When I'm looking at a hundred virtually identical resumes, there aren't many ways for me to make distinctions.

Of course I throw away any resumes that list any interests outside the law, anything that flags a student as a political radical on either extreme, anything that indicates an affiliation with a religious or cultural group that might take precedence over their loyalty to the firm, or anything that makes me think the student prefers the Giants to the Dodgers. But I'm still left with dozens of resumes, and grades become one of the only ways to tell people apart.

It doesn't matter, in the grand scheme of things, how a student does in Civil Procedure. Almost any law student is capable of looking things up and figuring out answers to the kinds of problems they're faced with as young associates. Problems like how to make reservations online for some of the city's top restaurants. Problems like how to program their voice mail. Ability to perform the job doesn't really factor into it much. Most students would be capable of the work -- at least until it gets more complicated after a few years -- even students from second-tier law schools.

But we have to make choices, and grades are a proxy for the ability to please. Law school grades indicate how well the student was able to give the professor the answer he or she was looking for. I'm not saying that's the same thing as legal knowledge, but it doesn't matter. All we're looking for at the firm is people who will please us. Associates who will read our minds and produce the kinds of things we think we're asking them for, even when we're not so clear about it. If I tell an associate I need a memo, and what I really need is an excel spreadsheet, I want the excel spreadsheet, and if the associate gives me a word document, I'm going to yell at him. It doesn't matter that it's not his fault. It doesn't matter that he gave me what I asked for. It doesn't matter what I ask for. It matters what I want. Same thing with law professors. They ask for all sorts of things on exams, but it's not always what they want. Sometimes they don't even realize they're not asking for what they really want, because their grading scheme is illogical and they're giving lower grades to better answers, just because they didn't think through their point system. It doesn't matter. I want to find the students who can figure out the tricks and game the system. I want to find the students who know how to please, even if they don't always have the best answers. Because that's what we need at the firm.

So my advice isn't to learn the law. The law doesn't matter. You can look up the law. My advice is to do well. That's the only way your resume is going to stand out, and the only way you're ever going to get a job. And the only way you'll ever really be happy in life. Do well. It's all that counts.

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