I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for years. Can’t remember when it started, but if you would have given me an aptitude test in grade school, “lawyer” would have come up top 5. I’ve always argued dispassionately and felt more confident arguing a position than talking about what I believe. But perhaps some of my aptitude and disposition towards the profession is not a cause but an effect.
I always thought that if any girl was going to like me, I would have to buy her affection. I understand the utter foolishness of this statement, but I clearly remember thinking it for years. I didn’t have lousy parents or anything, but I also didn’t have anyone ever sit me down and tell me how the world works. Alcohol was involved.
The main reason I went to law school was the promise of $125,000 per year. From when I was about 16 and through my “off year” between undergrad and law school, that’s what a BIG associate made. And where I come from, nobody makes that kind of cake at a young age. To me, that salary guaranteed adoring hot chicks. I had no self-esteem for a long time.
So my plan was to reverse-engineer my way into one of these mythical positions. For a number of years, Skadden was my target. I interviewed for a file clerk position during my “off year” and got to see their office in LA. Still today, I have to admit that, next to Jones Day, those may be the sickest offices downtown. (But, until you’ve been to some Hollywood production companies’ offices, you have not seen the Promised Land, my friends. Live and learn.)
The requirements to be a BIG associate can be listed and proven on a sheet of paper—and it’s inherently racist, elitist, sexist, and generally biased. But, I was hell bent and wanted the cash. I wasn’t thinking straight. Because no 16-22 year old male thinks logically. Between obsessing over girls shallower than a blow-up pool and pleasuring yourself, there’s not a lot of introspection and deep thought going on.
I am a product of public schools. I was state academic decathlon champion in 2000. My high school GPA was 3.2, mainly because my favorite number is 32 and the cost-benefit analysis between smoking cigarettes in the parking lot and doing my AP Chemistry reading usually resulted in an extra cig. I took the SAT test twice. The first time I was hungover, and I got a 1390. The second time I wasn’t, plus one of the essay questions was the same as the first time I took it. I got a 1490.
My friend Dean got a 1540. His IM screenname is still “Dean1540,” which makes it safe to say that he 1) still uses IM; 2) has a doctorate in music theory from Columbia and does not shave often; 3) has slept with more than one girl who turned lesbian soon thereafter.
I went to a prestigious liberal arts college. There I studied under ambassadors, met President Clinton, wrote a grant to study political trends in Germany and rubbed elbows with other trust fund babies. My undergraduate GPA was 3.2—mainly because my favorite number is 32 and the cost-benefit analysis between smoking cigarettes outside the library and doing my kinesiology homework usually resulted in an extra cig.
Senior year, I took the LSAT. I bought a $29.95 LSAT book four weeks before the exam.
Actually, my parents gave me $2,995 for the Kaplan course that I was supposed to take for six weeks, then rock the test (similar to how I handled the SATs) and then get into a top law school despite a lackluster work ethic as measured by my 3.2.
When I got the check from my mom, it was impossible not to speculate how far $3K could go in Vegas. After a four-hour drive and three hours in the craps pit at Caesars Palace, I had exactly $800 left. After another five hours in the poker room, the entire $2,995 was gone.
Some people have to learn lessons the hard way, and to say I am stubborn is an understatement. I was headstrong and committed to accepting my eight-hour loss of a potentially prosperous legal future as a lesson on disciplined spending. I could have easily owned up to my mistake and asked for another $3K, but like I always say, “Better to act like your s#!t don’t stink than admit weakness.”
I got my LSAT results shortly before graduation: 162.
“It’s not a terrible score,” I thought. I surmised that I had an outside chance at USC, and my backup was Loyola. Both had good track records of placing students at BIG law firms. So long as I completely reinvented myself over the summer and became the type of student that got A’s instead of B+’s, I’d be okay.
First denial letter in: Columbia. Expected. Then I got denied at UCLA. I got wait listed at USC. And I got into Southwestern. I took a year off.
I worked as a budget manager for a real estate company. I reapplied to schools. But ultimately my bed was made, and I enrolled at Southwestern. (If you’re not from LA, you haven’t heard of it.) I graduated in the top 20% of my class—the law school equivalent of a 3.2. I smoked outside of the library.
The upper echelon of the legal world truly is a rat race. If you deviate even a little from “the plan,” the system will chew you up and spit you out. There is no margin of error. I cannot change what happened, and I cannot change my law school.
Since my 2L summer gig, I have not spent five minutes feeling sorry for myself. No, I am not one of the BIG associates. Never have been much of a worker bee. But I am where I am supposed to be.
I call it a boutique, you may call it whatever you like. We do some plaintiffs work. I work in business lit. I win more than I lose. There’s no fear of being laid off. I get to wear jeans to work while enjoying the hottest interns UCLA and USC can provide. (Youth is wasted on the young.)
And I’ve never played craps at Caesars again.
A boss that I otherwise hated once told me, “One of the most important things you can do as a lawyer is sit and think about a problem.” I had no idea what he meant. After a couple of years at a firm, I know exactly what he meant. Associates are smart: Really smart. If you give your brain enough time to work on a problem, you’ll come up with stuff nobody else did. But you gotta have faith in yourself and your skills. Brute mental force will not get anything done without a confidence to fuel the fire.
Sometimes I feel bad for the small group of lawyers who dotted their “i”s, crossed their “t”s and still missed the BIG boat. Too many of those sorry sops are toiling away in midsize firms for half of what they “should” be making. That is not fair. But screw them, we all end up where we belong and need to own it.
Before you work a single day as a lawyer, you’re inundated with the belief that if your law school isn’t elite enough or if you fall short of the BIGs, you’ll forever hate yourself and regret your life. I now believe it’s the other way around.
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
Without ever having felt sorry for itself.”
I own my legacy and enjoy my life. The rest of you are nothing but haters.