Keith Lee, a graduate from Birmingham School of Law and blogger on Associate’s Mind, recently published The Marble and the Sculptor: From Law School to Law Practice. The American Bar Association has supported this book about how to be a successful young lawyer in the post-apocalyptic world of law. As you can imagine, this ABA-blessed work has none of the real life tales of new graduates facing stunning desperation in Biglaw or no-law. It makes no mention of the important statistic that half of everyone graduating from law school will never practice law. It makes no mention of the scamblogs and indeed takes tangential digs at the “pessimists.” The only warning to prospective lawyers comes in the form of a gloss-over chapterette about how one should think hard before deciding on law school. Oh, and one should work at a firm for six months.
The prose in Marble express none of the urgency of Con Law or any of the depressingly entertaining stories all over the internet by talented writers (from Scott Bullock to Paul Campos). For the most part, it provides the detached voice of an instruction manual. The collections of mini-chapters, each about two pages long, provide brief advice on everything from how to act in law school, how to write, how to speak, how to dress, etc. No topic is covered in great detail or with useful examples. For the most part, the advice delves about toe-deep into an average person’s commonsense.
While the author’s voice sounds sincere enough, he mostly advances cleaner versions of the cliché advice of law schools. And we all know how useful that advice is! The tone of many sections of the book mirrors the finger-waving that boomer lawyers, scam-deans, and lawprofs offer in an attempt to blame students for their own plights without taking a shred of responsibility. Even the introduction, written by Scott Greenfield, tries to convince potential readers that new lawyers have a “bad attitude” and that instead of spending our time fighting law schools and scammers, we should read Marble and relish this visionary positivity!
Perhaps old-timers like Greenfield remain unaware that many scamblogers have fought their way into some level of “success” — at least the watered down version of success that our generation is stuck with today — yet we still try to shut down the fat-cat law school liars who continue to ruin an entire generation. We’ve seen a thousand times the diversion tactic of “don’t look over there at the collapsing mess of the legal profession, look over here, look over here, look over here!”
Unfortunately, the majority of the content in Marble simply advances misleading information. The simplest of inaccuracies within offhanded statements, scattered throughout the book, annoyed the hell out of me. For example, a short section near the beginning entitled “Reputations and Networking Begin in Law School,” which advises students to start thinking of themselves as professionals from Day One, discusses the long odds of people practicing outside of their law school's geographic area unless they graduate at the top of the top schools. Yet, the book holds back on the true limitations that law school places on people by stating (untruly) that “You’ll likely be getting a job, in state, near the law school you attend, along with the rest of your graduating class.” (p.11). As we all know, this is patently false. Most law students, who are not graduating from the top of the top schools, will have no jobs. The same paragraph goes on to warn that, “the other people in law school with you are going to be lawyers too” and that you don’t want to be know as the goofy party guy. Again, the available facts overwhelmingly prove that most of these students will not be lawyers. Many from lower-ranked schools will fail the bar exam (see Michigan’s 55% pass rate) and the majority of those who pass will still never practice law (locally or elsewhere).
These simple misleading statements collectively provide a lot of bad advice to the anxious groups of law students who need to be told the truth to prepare for the blight that awaits them on the other side. For example, another section repeats the untrue advice that after five years of practicing law, no one cares where you went to school and what your class rank was (p.20). In our hyper-elitist “profession,” your GPA and school of origin will forever predetermine what doors will be open. After five years of solo practice or small-law trudging, you will not suddenly transition into Biglaw, in-house counsel, or a federal job — just as if law school and GPA did not matter. For the majority of law students, your options forever will be 1) shit-law or 2) no-law.
Also, the book restates many of the platitudes that have become comical memes on scamblogs. A section on “networking” advises students to get out there, schmooze, and kiss butt during a professor’s office hours. This sort of vague advice has become such a punch-line because so many scam-deans and lawprofs repeat it even though the majority of gunner law students slam into the same brick wall as everyone else after graduation. I can attest that my enthusiastic recommendation letters from my network of judges and attorneys, some of whom have argued before SCOTUS, have amounted to zero connections, zero job offers, and only the occasional nod of approval from an interviewer before they trash my resume and hire someone from the top third of a Top-14 school. Outside of the slow day-to-day development of a career, networking has zero relevance because most other lawyers are just as financially desperate as the rest of us and don’t want to share any pieces of the pie.
In this era of unending financial misery, I have a problem with the ABA and even Mr. Lee selling this book. The authors of this blog have spent a lot of time writing volumes of free material because we believe in our cause. JeffM has promoted his free 70-page strategy guide for new solo lawyers that — frankly — provides better advice about lawyering than most of the vagueness contained in Marble. This type of book, especially from the ABA, comes across as another attempt to squeeze a few more bucks out of the desperate masses panicking after graduation. And it provides a publication credit. Yes, the ABA or Lee won’t be getting rich off of this volume, but the idea of squeezing a few more bucks from those who’ve already been squeezed into lifelong debt leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Although Marble was not my cup of tea, I think Lee may have something valuable to say about the state of the profession and the way forward (even if he does not say it here). This book comes across as a restatement of much of the advice that the ABA and the prior generation tries to pimp out in an attempt to assuage their guilt or to blame young people for their own stupidity. I’d like to see an original point of view about how to overcome the flaming shitpile left to us by Generation Greed. Something tells me that Lee has more to say.
It’s too bad because Lee’s tight writing and occasional directness shine through in flashes. In one section, he recalls an entertaining story passed along to him by a professor telling the story of a first court appearance where he knew nothing about where the courtroom was or how to sign in a case (p.59). For those who will read this book, I won’t ruin the punch-line, but let me say it rings true from my first experiences in new courtrooms with unfamiliar judges or local procedures. It also provides some valuable insight that seems to be lacking from the generic sections on “networking” and “acting like a lawyer” and “learning from mistakes” and other nebulous platitudes that we’ve heard a million times. If the book had consisted of these stories, including more organized vignettes from Lee’s own experiences attending a dojo and monastery (the only engrossing personal story), I think he would have conveyed more successfully his subtler messages about accepting failure and developing a strong psyche (p.97).
Only the specific can explain the universal. Instead of Lee’s vague sensei advice, mostly in the form of summarizing other people’s work, I wanted to read about his problems with taking care of a wife and children on barely enough money to pay bills (or did that ever happen?). I wanted to know about his surviving Biglaw and transitioning to wherever he is now. Perhaps he comes from money and does not understand true desperation and hunger? (Which would explain why he had thousands of dollars to spend on a trip to a foreign land for a religious experience.) This guide for surviving hard times without explaining his own survival of true hardship creates an unfixable problem for a reader like me.
The collection of advice columns fail to provide concrete guidance for one simple reason: it ignores the reality of law schools pumping way too many lawyers into an economy where no one except the rich and/or the desperate can afford thousands of dollars for a newbie lawyer (or the glut of experienced lawyers for that matter). Therefore, these advice columns feel like a dated revamping of boomer koans. In one section, Lee argues that all new lawyers must be “renegade killer bees” and not “worker bees” (a Kill Bill reference), advice that ignores the 2:1 overproduction of lawyers and the even harsher lawyer-to-job ratio for entry-level positions. Just as we cannot all be special snowflakes, we cannot all be renegade killer bees running successful solo practices or climbing the corporate/government ladder. There are just not enough clients and jobs! Based on the numbers, most of us have to fail. It is how the prior generation set up the current market—very deliberately.
For anyone contemplating law school and/or Biglaw, read Con Law: Avoiding or Beating the Scam of the Century and Inside the Law School Scam.
For anyone wanting a collection of positive advice for trying to get out of their current rut, read Keith Lee’s The Marble and the Sculptor: From Law School to Law Practice available at Amazon.com:
Visit, read, review, and comment!