Steele's Twenty Commandments for New Lawyers
by Edgar Steele
1 April 2005
"There are way too many lawyers, but not nearly enough good ones." -- should be considered conventional wisdom
Sooner or later, most with whom I speak says something like, "You know, I always considered going to law school," or "I've been thinking about going back to college and studying law." It seems like everybody at one time or another considers going to law school. Few of those who actually do so should have done so. A young man recently told me that he would soon enter law school and sought my advice. Here is what I told him:
1. Everything your law school professors will tell you about not using commercial outlines and case summaries is a lie. If you can't read 50 appellate opinions and get the drift, you should not become a lawyer. All you really need for law school is what is known as "black letter law." In my third year of law school, there were some classes for which I never even bothered to buy the assigned texts - just the commercial case summaries and legal outlines - I got As. Buy all the texts your first year and read some of the opinions, but also buy the stuff that everybody tells you not to and make them the centerpiece of your classroom preparation.
2. The main point of law school is to prepare you to deal with more work than you possibly can do, in order to stay focused through complexity and be able to choose what not to do, day in and day out. You never can do all the homework assigned...never. Don't even try. Prove your worthiness to be a lawyer and cheat by using outlines. Law school is designed to breed mindless and obedient little exercise-wheel-spinning rats for the big law firms to put in harness for 60-80 hours per week and bill out so that the partners can afford to drive their new luxury cars home to their mini mansions and their trophy wives (see Commandment 16, below).
3. No relationship withstands law school. Do not get married until long after you recover from the process of becoming a lawyer. If you want to stay married, don't go to law school. Kiss your girlfriend goodbye. Law school breeds a**holes. It makes bigger a**holes out of those who are a**holes to begin with and it attracts a**holes like moths to a flame. Guard against feeding into your hostile side. Consider taking some sort of "personal growth seminar" during the summer after the first year to help counteract the influence.
4. Law Review is for weenies and sycophants. Moot court is for real men. Externships, if available, are well worth the time. After graduation, the best job you can get is the one nobody wants: working for peanuts in the DA's office, where you will get more trial experience in your first month than most lawyers get in a lifetime.
5. There is no relation between law school and legal practice. I hated law school, but I have loved being a lawyer. Everybody I knew who liked law school hates being a lawyer. Go figure.
6. There is no transfer from law school to the bar exam. The prep course is mandatory. Make outlines of your outlines, then make outlines of them. When you finally have everything reduced to acronyms and notes that fit on a single page that you review the morning of the bar exam, you are ready. If BarBri (bar exam prep course) has an "early bird special," buy it. Their legal outlines are superlative, albeit less complete than what you need for class. If they let you audit the prep course in the summer after your first year, DO IT! It will be a great help with learning how to write law school essay exam answers.
7. There is no relation between the bar exam and legal practice. Everybody starts from ground zero. The bar exam is like a job interview in that no skills learned for it will transfer.
8. Map out all the possible states in which you might ever want to practice law and take those bar exams serially (i.e., one every 6 months) right after law school. You need to really book it for only the first couple (I took my fourth bar exam with zero preparation and passed). Though I could pass any bar exam today blindfolded, never again will I be allowed to take another in any state, due to my politically-incorrect status.
9.Those who can't do, judge. Those who can't judge, teach. Both teachers and judges hate practicing lawyers, believing themselves superior and envying the money they see some lawyers make. The natural enemy of the trial lawyer is not the county clerk, as commonly thought, it is the judge. Any time you encounter law professors after law school (as expert witnesses, most often), they will be your enemy, too. You are in enemy territory until you graduate. Then you will be in enemy territory every time you enter a courtroom. Keep that in mind and wear your flak jacket.
10. Be a litigator. Like all true warriors, litigators are born, not made. You must enjoy grinding the other guy beneath the heel of your boot. If you don't want to do trial work, then do yourself a favor and become a CPA, instead.
11. Never trust a woman litigator. They don't play nice and they always go for the jugular (something to do with playing with dolls as a kid instead of toy guns, I suppose, though brain wiring has a good deal to do with it, too).
12. As a beginning trial lawyer, you have precisely one advantage over your more experienced opponents: a willingness to prepare your case for trial like it is Judgment Day. They never will. Today, I could try most cases by being handed the file on my way in to pick a jury. When you begin to think like I do, it is time to retire.
13. A great deal of lawyering is smoke and mirrors. The sizzle often is more important than the steak. Never underestimate the importance of appearance, bearing, posturing and phony self-righteous indignation. Always remember to deliver the freight, though.
14. When it comes time for either you or your client to go to jail, always make sure it is your client. No client and no case are worth breaking the law and nobody every breaks the law unless, at the time, they are certain they will not be caught. Lots of lawyers get caught.
15. Make a difference. Have an internal moral compass and never violate it. Do the right thing, not the smart thing. Be able, always, to stand tall and be proud.
16. Lots of money just means a newer car (the new wears off after a week), or a bigger house (you can only be in one room at a time), or a prettier wife (with higher maintenance requirements and the sex wears off after 6 months) or any of a number of other things that you don't need and won't want once you get them. My happiest years were when I was young and poor. If youth is wasted on the young, then surely money is wasted on the old. (Corollary: No fool like an old fool.)
17. Remember: If you are bored, you are boring. (Corollary: If you want to be loved more, be more lovable.)
18. Marry a genuinely nice person, someone who can stand to be around you. Someone exceptionally forgiving, as you will require a great deal of forgiveness. It helps if she actually thinks you are cool, too. Don't even think about dating or marrying a law school classmate (see Commandment 11, above).
19. Have kids. This is the only way to learn how to love someone else more than you love yourself, perhaps the single most vital lesson that life has to offer.
20. Have fun. When it stops being fun, do something else. Always plan on eventually doing something else and prepare for it (beginning with taking your undergraduate degree in something truly useful, like History or Philosophy and certainly not Business or Political Science). No legal career should exceed 20 years. Most litigators are toast after ten. Litigation was not my first career and it certainly won't be my last.
(Yes, I know that I am a sexist pig. That's Mr. Sexist Pig to you. Please spare me your invective in that regard and don't tell my wife, who seems not to have noticed, even after twenty years. All other invective cheerfully received.)
The Nickel Rant
Many prefer the spoken word and I have fielded many requests for sound files of my articles. While I have considered reading each of them into a sound file and posting those files on my web site, and may yet do so, the bandwidth requirement is daunting.
In a bit of a compromise, I'm running a trial with what I call "Nickel Rant" sound files (because they are precisely 5 minutes long), available for download or streaming listening from my web site: www.ConspiracyPenPal.com. I will put one of these rants up about once a week. I grant permission for anybody to use them in rebroadcast, either live or archived on the Internet, either copied or linked directly to my web site, profit and nonprofit alike, so long as they are used in their entirety. In fact, I encourage radio show hosts to use them freely. If I have fun with them and you find them useful, then I will continue them.
While I doubt Rush Limbaugh will be running my rants on his show, I certainly invite anybody else to do so. I draw the line only at their being sold or repackaged (as on CDs) and then sold. I'm trying to touch lives and make a difference here and, while I make nothing from them (at least until such unlikely time as I can figure out how to make money from this sort of thing), I absolutely refuse to allow others to profit directly from my work.
Download the first Nickel Rant directly from the following link: Inconvenient Lives (concerning Terri Shiavo in particular and euthanasia in general). This first rant's file is a bit larger than it needs to be, and for now available only in mp3 format, but I do all this on my own and am working on figuring out how to pare the size down. The advantage of the larger file size is that the sound quality is excellent, which will appeal to anybody who wishes to use it as part of their own program.
Inconvenient Lives also is available in the new "Nickel Rants" section of my main page at www.ConspiracyPenPal.com.
For now, there are no written transcripts available for "Nickel Rants."
Let me know what you think.
New America. An idea whose time has come.