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May 2015 Archives

Just in time to update your summer reading list, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has declassified "Osama's Bookshelf." The list details the 400 some pieces of writing Osama had on hand when his bunker was raided and he was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011. So, what beach reads could you take from Bin Laden's library?

Amongst the list are some predictable jihadist texts, which frankly are a bit too heavy for a summer read. There's also several conspiracy texts and a lot of pieces about Osama himself. Perhaps most surprisingly, Osama bin Laden seems to have been studying the law.

Defense Lawyers: How to Deal With Defeat

You've tried your hardest, but in spite of your best efforts, your client still got convicted. What is there to do? What did you do wrong? What could you have done better?

Cheer up, that's what. Losing is a part of being a lawyer; no one wins all the time. Take solace in your defeat, though. It's a learning experience, and hey, it might not even be a defeat for long.

The legal industry has seen plenty of technologically induced changes over the past decade, as e-discovery, online marketing and advances in legal research reshape the way lawyers work. As part of a symposium on the "legal profession's monopoly" last year, legal scholars argued that "machine intelligence" is on the verge of further revolutionizing the legal industry. The changes could be similar to the undoing of print journalism following the rise of Internet media.

Are such legal futurists just applying the typical clichés about "disruption" and the need to "adapt or die" applied to the legal industry? Absolutely. But there could be more to it than just that.

Cass Sunstein on 'Star Wars' and Constitutional Law

Chief Justice John Roberts once famously criticized the irrelevancy of modern-day law review articles (even though he cites to them often in his opinions). Who cares about "the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something"?

There's one thing we can all agree on, though, and that's "Star Wars." Cass Sunstein, currently a professor at Harvard Law School, lived the dream: He wrote an article, to be published in an upcoming edition of Michigan Law Review, about how "Star Wars" informs constitutional law.

What's the Most Important Thing to Study for the Bar Exam?

Welcome to our series about bar prep, something that we know you eager young graduates are concerned about. You thought studying for a law school exam was crazy? Well, welcome to a whole new level of lunacy as you study for the test that determines whether you get to actually be a lawyer.

So, you're wondering, how could I possibly fit all of this studying into one summer? Because I have an economy of time, what's the most important thing to study?

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

The billable hour is one of the defining characteristics of working at a firm. Like the Socratic method in law school, it's often hated, often criticized and yet remarkably intransigent. If you're starting as a new associate, get ready to start organizing your day, and your life, around the billable hour.

Don't worry, though -- the billable hour isn't always as fearsome as it's made out to be. With some skill and finesse, you can learn to master the system, maximizing your billables so you're not stuck in the office twelve hours a day. Here's some tips:

Voters in Ireland go to the polls today to vote on whether the Emerald Isle will legalize gay marriage. If the vote is successful, Ireland will be the first country to adopt marriage equality by popular referendum.

Meanwhile, gay marriage fans and foes alike in the United States are left waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether the Constitution protects an individual's right to marry a same-sex partner. According to some, they might have a hint of how the Court will eventually rule, based on a figurative wink and nod Justice Ginsburg gave as she officiated a same-sex marriage last weekend.

They don't make many T.V. dramas about IRS attorneys. John Grisham has yet to write about the sexy world of EPA rule making. But that doesn't mean a job in a regulatory position isn't exciting. Working in government regulation, whether for a regulated industry or for the government itself, can be an engaging and rewarding career.

Your work in regulatory affairs can affect the operations of entire companies, industries and even whole government agencies. That is, if you know how to get the job.

Beards were once fairly common in the legal profession, even if they were never the norm. Portraits of the Supreme Court under Justice Waite show a few Stonewall Jackson look-alikes, though the last Justice to sport a full beard, Justice George Sutherland, stepped down in 1938.

A few generations later, beards are booming again. From Brooklyn hipsters, to college professors, to Hollywood stars, beards are everywhere. But, are they appropriate for lawyers?

The last episode of AMC's "Mad Men"aired this weekend, bringing to a close the critically acclaimed, booze-soaked series. While the show focused on the advertising industry in the 1960's, there's plenty that lawyers can learn from the chain-smoking, heavy-drinking characters.

Besides the best way to mix a cocktail before lunch, or why you shouldn't smoke a pack a day, here's five important lessons lawyers can take from "Mad Men:"

Lawyers don't just carry their clients troubles on their shoulders -- we also have to drag along notebooks, filings, legal pads, computers and even the rare law book. Some days it's enough to make you feel like a highly-paid Sherpa.

That's no excuse for wearing a backpack, though. Or even a bad briefcase. As a lawyer, you need to look the part -- back pain be damned.*

It's Bar Study Time! 5 Tips to Make Your First Time Your Last Time

Congratulations; you've graduated from law school! Three years of hard work and dedication have finally paid off. At long last, you'll be able to take a break from late-night studying sessions.

Just kidding! You have one more teensy-weensy hurdle to overcome before you become a lawyer: THE BAR EXAM. With any luck, you'll only have to take this thing once and then it will be smooth sailing. Here are some tips to make sure your first time is your last time.

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

Welcome to the firm! Get ready to start writing, because the bulk of many new associates' workloads will be research. It's easy to sit down and begin researching a question -- be it something simple, or something juicy -- and find yourself still sitting there, still researching hours later.

You could spend a lifetime looking through Westlaw or Lexis for that perfect case and still never find it. So, how do you know how long you should research an issue before you say enough is enough?

3 Great Movie Judges

Nerds around the world rejoiced at the news that Natalie Portman would play Justice Ginsburg in a biopic about Ginsburg's extraordinary life.

That got us to wondering about judges in movies. They're fairly common -- every dramatic courtroom scene needs a judge, after all -- so who are some of the great judges in movies?

When I first started working in law, several people told me that if I wanted to impress, I should make sure I was the first person partners saw when they came in and the last person they saw when they left. I never considered that could mean actually moving in to the office.

But that's just what one young California lawyer did -- after graduation, he gave up his long commutes and high rent in order to live out of his office, unbeknownst to any of his colleagues.

7 Things I Wish Law School Taught Me

Being out of law school for a few years and actually practicing, it's startling how unprepared I was, both substantively and in terms of practicing. Law school, it's well understood, doesn't do a very good job of preparing you for anything.

What it does do (maybe) is teach you how to think like a lawyer, but not how to actually be a lawyer or what to know as a lawyer. Here are some things I wish law school had taught me.

Want to be a happy lawyer? Even just a sober lawyer? Stop going after that BigLaw paycheck or partner track position and take up a low-in-pay public interest job.

No, really.

According to researchers who surveyed over 6,000 attorneys, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money reported the most happiness -- and less drunkenness. The results of that survey, published in the George Washington Law Review, show that markers of prestige such as making partner don't pay off with greater happiness or well-being, even though they might help you get rid of your loans a bit faster.

Whether you're on the job hunt, searching for a mentor, or just trying to connect with other professionals, you're going to want to network. Developing a strong professional network lets you keep ahead on industry developments, helps inform you of new jobs and legal opportunities, and provides support should you need advice or assistance.

But, making a connection takes more than a handshake and a business card. If you're a bore -- or a boar -- while networking, you may be doing more harm to yourself than good. So, keep from turning off potential connections by avoiding these three common networking faux pas:

Unlike those getting doctorates in French Polynesian poetry or theoretical mathematics, very few of us end up in law school out of an intrinsic desire to learn about the law. Rather, we want to take on massive amounts of debt -- and maybe get a job some day. Thankfully, while law schools still have many gaps they need to fill to support students, they do try to get you work.

You law school's career services office is there to get you hired, so make sure you make them work. Here's five tips to get the most out of your law school career services office:

Your Life as a New Attorney -- in Limerick Form

Did you know it is Limerick Day? Well, now you do. And in honor of said day, we present to all of you soon-to-be Greedy Associates a poem on what it's like to be a brand-new attorney.

It's not too late to go to culinary school, you know.

Marilyn Mosby, the Prosecutor Taking on the Baltimore Police

In the wake of prosecutors who seem to have tepid interest in charging police officers for shooting unarmed black men, Marilyn Mosby, the State's Attorney for the City of Baltimore, is a breath of fresh air. Last week, she announced criminal charges against six police officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray, who was arrested and placed in a police van, then emerged half an hour later with a severed spine.

The police officers have been charged with crimes ranging from assault to second degree murder. Who is the lawyer who's willing to take on the police?

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

If you're starting a new job at a firm, it can be difficult to decide what to wear once you're there. Sure, you suited up for the interview, but do you need to wear one every day? Can you take your slacks to the cocktail party, or should you go home and fancy up first?

You may know of the blog What2WearWhere. It's a great resource for advice on what to put on for the Kentucky Derby or the Whitney Museum's new opening -- but not a Tuesday morning at a law firm. Here's some advice that seeks to fill that gap:

Getting, and Acing, Your Second Interview

You've submitted your resume and cover letter, and you've got an interview. Do that well and everything will be great -- right?

Not so fast, Jack. For many law jobs, your first interview is just a stepping stone to a second interview where you'll be evaluated by a hiring committee. That first interview? It was just to make sure you were a real person. Getting a second interview means you're a serious candidate for the position. So here's how to get, and ace, that interview.

3 Attorney Mentors to Avoid

We've written a lot in these pages about mentors -- how to get them, why you need them -- but we've never talked about mentors you don't want.

Having these people as mentors could hurt your career, either by giving you bad advice or by being associated with them and their bad reputation. So try to avoid these people; you can do better.

Lawyers aren't generally known for our soft hearts and boundless sense of appreciation for others, but if there's one person who can crack our jaded, Scotch-soaked exterior, it's Mom.

As James Joyce so elegantly wrote nearly a century ago, "Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother's love is not." So, as Mother's Day approaches once again, make sure you're prepared to say thanks for all she's done.

When it comes to signs of affection, a card is fine, a phone call is better, a bouquet of roses does quite nicely. But if you're really looking for something special, consider these three tips to help express your Mother's Day appreciation:

Just a week after the Supreme Court heard arguments over whether states must allow same sex marriage, the question may become moot. Indeed, the advancement of gay and lesbian rights from Stonewall on may be reversed as the result of a stunning legal challenge filed in federal court in Omaha.

Sylvia Driskell is suing, as a personal representative of God and Jesus, all the homosexuals and their allies. She wants to court to determine, once and for all, "Is Homosexuality a sin. Or not a sin." There's no word yet if the Holy Ghost will submit an amicus brief.

A Benchslap on Appeal for 'Carnival Fun House' of Arguments

California's Sixth District Court of Appeal, located near FindLaw's Secret Volcano Headquarters, was clearly not pleased last week as it issued an opinion in Cypress Semiconductor Corp v. Maxim Integrated Products.

The case is about misappropriating trade secrets, but that's not really what it's about. As it turns out, Cypress was using the threat of a lawsuit to get Maxim to do what Cypress wanted, and as the Court cogently observed after turning into a giant green monster, "COURT SMASH!"

Wonder why some lawyers insist on printing out all their cases and briefs? Not because they hate trees, but because a physical copy can help with retention and comprehension. Research shows that comprehension is greater with physical media, like paper, than electronic media, meaning that whoever reads your snail mail letter is likely to remember the contents better than if it had been an email.

So, when you're looking to make an impression, remember: email isn't the only option. Sometimes sending a card or letter via snail mail -- that is, the actual, physical postal system -- can really make you stand out.

3 Things Lawyers Can Learn from 'Star Wars'

If you're wondering why today is Star Wars Day, consider that it's May 4th and then make a list of all the terrible "Star Wars"-based puns you can think of based on that.

There aren't any lawyers in A Galaxy Far, Far Away, but that doesn't mean lawyers couldn't learn a thing or two from George Lucas' universe. Here are some takeaways for you -- from the original trilogy, of course.

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

There's no way around it. You are going to embarrass yourself at work. Whether it's something simple, like forgetting a name, or something more significant, like botching a client meeting, embarrassment is bound to get you sooner or later.

While you may feel like you want to crawl into a hole and die, realize that this too shall pass. In that spirit, here are some things to do when, not if, you embarrass yourself:

Whom Do I Talk to When I Need Something Done?

Unfortunately, a lot of a lawyer's life involves going to other people for help, whether it's a clerk, a secretary, a senior associate, or even opposing counsel. You can't do the job just on your own.

There's a learning curve to figuring out who you should talk to in which situations. You can waste a lot of time by talking to the wrong person. A lot of billable time. So who's the right person to talk to?

Workplace committees aren't the most glamorous things. Sometimes they're even openly derided. Think, for example, back to "The Office," which often pilloried the petty tyranny of the Party Planning Committee.

Don't give much weight to the jokes. Firm committees do a lot more than setting up the holiday party. In many firms, committees are a way to get involved in important firm business, such as employee benefits and recruiting strategies. Working on a committee can allow you to demonstrate leadership and help you stand out from the herd.

Of course, it isn't all sunshine and lollipops. So here are some things to keep in mind if you're considering joining a committee at your firm: