Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book Review: The Marble and The Sculptor by Keith Lee

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:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Marble-Sculptor-School-Practice/dp/1614388865/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384100641&sr=8-1&keywords=the+marble+and+the+sculptor


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31 comments:

  1. "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!"

    Greenfield seems to be putting his fingers in his ears and covering his eyes as he says crap like this.

    Most of the "pessimists" are practicing attorneys, and most already have or have had jobs. BL1Y, Subprime, Angel/BIDER, Scott Bullock, Adam B, dybbuk, etc. etc. I would venture most of the comments come from practicing attorneys as well.

    And I'll also note there is a lot of dissatisfaction / negative law school results that isn't reflected on these blogs. These blogs are just a tip of the iceberg.

    And Greenfield is fooling himself if he doesn't think he and his type A boomer cronies would be complaining, as a generation, if they were subject to the same conditions this one has been.

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  2. Renegade killer bees? Let's assume that every lawyer is a shark. Now picture you and 100 other sharks competing for the same slab of meat (i.e., client). Eventually, sharks will turn on each other when there is nothing to eat. This is the culture I am witnessing right now in the legal profession. Saying there are too many lawyers is overstating the obvious. Right now, there will be some people graduating from law school who will be alright (the wealthy and connected who are preoccupied with keeping appearances via Ivy league credential stacking). A true plebeian who has no connection or inside track to the legal profession will become a doc reviewer or solo by default.

    If Lee's book is being sold, then he is trying to capitalize on the scam just like many others, such as the inGenius people who were covered a couple of posts ago. He is still romanticizing the idea of being a lawyer. After 30 years of being a lawyer, I can tell you there is nothing glamorous about this shitty job. The more money you make, the more expenses you have (i.e., higher tax bracket, malpractice insurance premiums increase every year regardless if you have had claims against you, office rent, staff salaries, Obamacare [thanks Obama], office equipment leases, Westlaw, etc.). And the clients? Clients will always look down on you and think you are robbing them when they question a .1 entry for reviewing a 2 page letter from an adversary. When the outcome is favorable, the client will likely not say anything to you. Maybe you will get a "you earned your fee" or "you did what you got paid to do." When you lose a case (and you will), the client will likely turn on you by filing a fee arbitration, an ethics complaint or sue you for malpractice. Truth be told, if I had to do it all over again, I would have asked to be born 40 years earlier when the legal profession was noble. Now, it is a race to the bottom with sharks fighting over scraps.

    A little bit of advice: I saved a substantial amount of money for my retirement. I was going to retire by 2015 but my 3 kids (age range 20-26) want to go on to grad school and have asked me to put them through grad school (I already told them that I would disown them if they enrolled in law school). Tuition is $50K a year nowadays. I remember tuition being under $5K when I went to college. I am contemplating telling my children that I will not spend more on their liberal arts education. My advice, don't have children. They will screw up your retirement plans and will disappoint you. I am actually ashamed of my children but in the end I have myself to blame for giving them everything they wanted and my ex-wife is also to blame for treating them like special child prodigies.

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    1. Liberal arts educations work for the patricians. Plebeians, as you say, should steer clear of such folly. A little tough love there re: law school but you're doing them a favor, IMO. The career trajectory for the average grad who can't find their way into a public service job or in-house is poor. Of course, you need to know people to get those types of jobs, especially public service because of the loan forgiveness after 10 years.

      Children aren't the problem. The problem is the Education / Job Complex which tells everyone that you need a college education and then a grad degree for "good jobs" which either no longer exist, won't last when you become too expensive (salary) or are earmarked for others. And employers want niche experience on top of perfect resumes. The entire system is Pay to Play, like most everything else.

      Kids need to be informed as to the dangers of debt and that going to work after HS isn't such a bad thing. Skills, not education, matter for the plebs, IMO.

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    2. Evaluate your children the same you would as a potential investment in a new or established business.

      Do NOT give them a blank check for liberal arts graduate school unless they have a clear financial plan that's feasible.

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    3. Seconding this. Grad school *might* be less expensive than law school, but a MS in most liberal arts fields won't make them employable, and will cost $50K on up. For practical purposes, it's the same as if you paid for a cheap law degree for them.

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    4. If those kids are good thinkers, good writers, and outstanding students, they can get admitted--with tuition paid and with moderate stipends--to PhD programs in the humanities. Otherwise, they don't have much to offer, and no one owes them a thing.
      They can enjoy their humanities from a distance as they work at Starbucks.

      And the job situation, even though it's grim, won't be any worse with a PhD than with an expensive MA at sticker price from NYU, George Washington, or Boston U, to name some of the worst traps in the current market.

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    5. Its not just law school which is a poor investment, pretty much all grad schools (except maybe medical school) are. I'm not sure if you should be ashamed of your kids, but embarrassed certainly. Asking you to pay for their grad school is just plain cheeky.

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    6. All 3 kids want to go to grad school?!

      My advice as a Phd:

      Don't go unless its elite
      Understand that the job market is horrible and worse every year for sciences, humanities, everything
      Tell the kids to pay for themselves and war them about the horrors of student loan debt... Or only give them part... Don't give your whole pension to them to waste on worthless grad programs

      Kids these days...

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    7. Your kids may not think it's kind, but not financing their grad schools could be the greatest gift you could give them. I'm not saying that no one should get a PhD, but most people should not, and that includes many top students. There just are not enough jobs for PhDs, and the time commitment is huge.

      They could get 10 pay raises in the years it takes them to get a PhD. Even if they have no debt, the PhD still costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages, and they will never quite catch up to where they would be otherwise.

      Sometimes caring for your kids means telling them "no". They are young, and therefore still have plenty of time to change and grow. If they are already immature, grad school is a bad bet for them, IMHO.

      And, I have to say that I think that taking care of your own retirement so you don't have to be a financial or medical burden on them IS the absolute greatest gift you could ever give them. Save your money for home health care and a high-quality nursing home so your kids can focus on their own lives when they are in their 40s. That is a great great gift.

      My boomer parents are gambling addicts who have been depending on their kids for years -- their own depression-era parents, of course, saved up and had money to leave them (it's all long gone now). Believe me, that is no fun. It is very hard to start a life with that weighing you down. Take care of yourselves, so your kids can be free to live their lives.

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    8. Point your kids to the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and the multiple posts urging prospective grad students not to do a PhD unless it is funded. There is a lot of useful information on those forums about the state of higher education. Also, the New York Times has had stories about people with PhDs and University professors on welfare and crippled by debt burdens. A PhD is not something to embark on without serious thought.

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    9. Here's one thread about grad school on the CHE forums. There are many others.

      "Don't send students to grad school--PhDs on welfare"
      http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,89131.0.html



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  3. Keith Lee is an ABA shill. And he's exactly what the ABA has been looking for - some kind of "young" or "dynamic" guy to spread the ABA message.

    Kind of like having a young and "cool" minister at a church to spread the lies to the kids. They listen when it's coming from one of their own and not some white-haired douchebag.

    His book is nothing but shill literature. And he knows it too. I recall seeing on his web site a whole post dedicated to addressing the "lies" and "hate" that would come (implicitly from us) when it was published. It's the same old trick used by law professors. Tell everyone that we're just bitter people who know nothing and then the problem will disappear.

    Keith should be ashamed of himself. Especially when this book is what, like $20. What a sell out.

    Con Law. $3. Puts Keith Moon's turd to shame in terms of utility and honesty.

    I'm surprised that David Lat of ATL gave it a good quote though. Had he not read it before he opened his mouth?

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    1. Hey there buddy, don't confuse Keith Moon with some cheap scammer. Keith Moon was by far the most entertaining drummer ever. This other guy you write about is just trying to use his own meager success to further defame the victims of the debt machine.

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  4. Hi. im xray cat. i can see through wood. and catch the scamdeans.

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  5. Keith Lee - didn't he play for Memphis State back in the 80's? Seriously, the ABA has a lot to answer for. The profession has gone to shit while they sit by and smile. Fuck the ABA and the law schools it covers for.

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    1. The ABA...didn't it merge with the NBA?

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  6. So Scott wrote the introduction to this travesty of a book? Considering his reactionary attitudes, it makes perfect sense that he got mixed up in this.

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  7. "You kids need to get out and network more. And stay off my grass."

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  8. It's too bad, really. Keith Lee probably has "something to say," but it appears to be covered up in the same, old, tired, worn-out Horatio Alger/Macawber way of thinking that if you "just wanted it bad enough," it would happen. I'm sure the all the shills, from the halls of the ABA to the top of the Ivory Tower, are pround, though, and wholeheartedly endorse this message, actual facts and data nonwithstanding.

    The problem is that we have no room in American culture for the "average result" let alone the "bad result." No, we demand the touchdown pass, the knock-out punch, and John Wayne singlehandedly winning the war in the Pacific. If you're not John Wayne, you're a loser, never mind the fact that he played ficticious roles. The fact that much of life is "difficult" or "routine" is dismissed out of hand, and we clamor for the lies while the few are enriched at their expense. Some actual truth would be refreshing, but if you are looking to the shills for that you are wasting your time, as truth doesn't sell.

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  9. CHA CHING!!!!

    (The sound of Keith Lee selling out and writing this dogturd that cashes in on telling prelaws what they want to hear, not what they should hear.)

    What a fucking scammer. This book is a scam on so many levels.

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  10. It is a damn shame that Scott Bullock never wrote a book on his firsthand experiences after he obtaining a "prestigious" law degree from Seton Hall law school. Mr. Bullock has a gift for describing the painful and hard knocks life of an attorney (look on the internet for his story on "White Snow" or "the Crop duster") in a very entertaining and engrossing fashion. If Scott Bullock ever wrote a book, I would buy that book for $50. Mr. Lee's book, appears to regurgitate the same trite and banal advice of "pull yourselves by the bootstraps and network" but told from a non-boomer's perspective. This book was clearly sanctioned by the ABA in an attempt to keep the scam going.

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    1. Link to the White Snow and Crop Duster posts? I miss BDSM.

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    2. Scott Bullock used to post these stories on autoadmit and TLS. Unfortunately, most of these posts were taken down by the lame moderators. White snow was a story about resumes being sent to a doc review agency's fax machine that had dried up ink. The crop duster story involved a supervising staff attorney who splashed too much perfume on her body which offended people working around her. Scott Bullock had a certain panache when telling a story. Although he went to a shithole like Seton Hall, his writing skills were superior to his peers. I don't think I have ever laughed so hard reading stories like I did when I read Scott Bullocks tales, which I suppose contained a hint of gallows' humor. His blog, Big Debt, Small Law, was one of my favorite scamblogs. I wonder why he took it down. Did the Valvoline Dean get to him?

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  11. Imagining the Open ToadNovember 11, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    (from Mr. Lee's blogpost called "The Type Of People Who Should Not Buy My Book")

    "The Marble and The Sculptor is not for people who want to blame others for their lot in life. It is not for people who want to cry over spilled milk. It is not for people who want to whine about being scammed."

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    1. Heh. Talk about a shot across the bow.

      No analysis. No acknowledgement about the real risks. It's all blaming, crying, and whining. Nope, the scambloggers have no real point whatsoever, nothing to see here, move along.

      Lee knows where is bread is buttered, make no mistake. He has cast his lot with the shills. And, to be honest, it is more profitable to shill than to warn.

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    2. Keith is clearly a fool, especially as he issued that warning up front. He knew that he had written a pro-scam piece of trash and he knew the valid criticism that would follow.

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  12. I never heard of a JD factory in Birmingham. Is that in Bama or Britain?

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  13. This Birmingham joint is NOT accredited by the ABA, so whatever success Keith has achieved is evidence that ABA-accredited institutions are unnecessary and overpriced. I wonder if the mighty ABA ever considered that before endorsing his book.

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    1. Hilarious. Lee's "success" proves the point that law schools are de facto scammy, at least the ABA-accredited variety.

      Lee should owe nothing to the ABA then, and in fact should be anti-ABA, except...wait, what would compel someone to join ranks and circle the wagons with someone with whom they have no relationship prior...I know! MONEY! Ding, ding ding! Thanks for playing!

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  14. I assume Lee is referencing Alexis Carrel, i.e. ""Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor."

    If so, (1) Lee seems to be glossing over the "suffering" part that most law grads endure, becuase the argument seems to be rah rah law and boo hiss critics, and (2) while Carrel did advance the field of medicine, he was also pro-eugenics and accused of being a Nazi collaborator and sympathizer for his views, so, well...hmmm. Unless you are trying to say something about the law and the ABA, I'm not sure this was the best quote to draw from...

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    1. This might be the worst "blog to book" since Mr. Infinity's laughable "Derailed at my law school". I thought very little of the ABA before, but publishing Keith's paper-based ejaculations is a new low.

      The only thing lower would be publishing our brush-bearing buddy's blog novel.

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