BY JONAS BLANK
Those who follow the narcissistic sub-genre of Harvard Law School exposes, which began with Scott Turow’s “One-L” several decades ago, are probably already familiar with its 1990s counterpart, “Brush With the Law.” Written by two Quinn Emmanuel associates who claim to have scammed their way through HLS and Stanford while leading bacchanalian lives filled with drugs, gambling, hookers and very little class attendance, the book sends up its respective law schools as places where a few well-read outlines can get you a long, long way.
One look at the typical HLS student’s extracurricular schedule-with 40-hour weeks spent doing everything from Law Review and Legal Aid to the Parody and Lincoln’s Inn-confirms that thesis rather easily. Many students here have much more time outside of class crammed with sports and journals and drama (and drinking) than cracking the books. But what is so exceptional about Robert Byrnes (Stanford) and Jaime Marquart’s (HLS ’98) story is the way its authors used their utter indifference to law school to fuel lives of unrepentant decadence whose depravity quite nearly shocks the conscience.
Or so the book says. To really be able to make head or tail of the people behind a story about having sex with Radcliffe sophomores in the Massachusetts state house, smoking crack, blowing financial aid checks on blackjack and screwing seafood-farting prostitutes, one really has to have a brush with the authors themselves.
So when I found out that these infamous chaps were participating in a “literary exercise” at Lincoln’s Inn last Friday night, I grabbed my tape recorder and a healthy dose of skepticism and headed over.
Byrnes and Marquart are not conventional-looking guys, at least not for lawyers trying to make nice on the East Coast. Marquart has a scruffy David Spade-with-an-edge look to him, with neck length dirty blond hair that says “recreation” more than “litigation” paired with an old t-shirt and Diesel jeans. Byrnes immediately seemed the more flamboyant of the pair, wearing a sleeveless black shirt with a half-open zipper across the chest and a cell-phone headset in his ear. He had already cracked open a handle of Jack Daniels.
Speaking to Byrnes was a bit difficult-he spent the conversation fiddling with his two cell phones. I tried to ask him a few basic questions about how one goes about scamming their way through Stanford Law School, about whether he expected it to be a joke going in… about anything to take him away from the phones, really. He mumbled an irony-laced comment about “being, like, a fuckin’ genius” and “contributing to the path of legal thought”; he also told me he prefers rock cocaine to powder. (“Byrnes is the only crack-smoker” of the pair, Marquart later told me.) That was about all I got-one of the cell phones rang.
Instead, I spent most of the time talking to Marquart, who graduated cum laude from HLS despite attending two classes his entire 3L year.
“When I was in college, I always wanted to not go back home,” he said. “For me, home was Eagle Lake, Texas, a town of three thousand people. Our mom still lives there to this day in a double wide. I didn’t want to go back there. I get questions like ‘Didn’t you ever want to be David Souter?’ I didn’t know there was a difference. By the time I got to Harvard Law School, man, I was here, and I wasn’t ever going back. That’s all I ever wanted.”
Marquart started law school a scared-shitless, Southern Baptist graduate of a large state school. By the time first-semester grades rolled around, he was neither scared nor Southern Baptist.
“Being a Southern Baptist is no different than being at Harvard Law School,” he said. “You quickly understand that everyone is just transacting on the cachet of the thing, and nobody is really into the thing.”
Certainly not Marquart, who had few good things (or anything at all) to say about most HLS professors, save Professor Charles Nesson, whom he called “kind” and “honest.” “Most of them weren’t very in touch,” he said simply. “They weren’t my kind of people.”
Marquart’s class-passing recipe sounded simple enough-get a good outline from “someone who knows their shit and can get it done in 20 pages,” and do the reading only if you have to. He seems to have slipped through unscathed-only one professor ever sent him an e-mail asking him to come to class once in awhile.
As Marquart answered my questions and sipped his half-fifth of whiskey, Byrnes was busy downing his Jack Daniels-half a handle of which was gone. Today, Byrnes divides his time at Quinn as a bike messenger and a lawyer-and bills his time as such. I asked him what his reaction is to people who question whether the stories of his exploits-the women, the drugs, moving to Los Angeles for his 3L year even this whole bike messenger thing-are true.
“Did I tell you how many fucking times I got laid?” he asked. “I got laid a fucking lot.” The irony, amid all the whiskey, was lost, if ever there.
So I returned to Marquart, leaving Byrnes to try and drink from a full Poland Spring water tank directly from the tank. Marquart declined to share any salacious sex stories, other than the decidedly lurid-and utterly disgusting-tale of the seafood-farting prostitute, which he readily admits is, “the worst thing I’ve ever done…. My mom was a little scared by that story.”
Marquart said that despite the book’s raunchy-and often illegal-content, his firm isn’t worried about he and Byrne’s extracurricular conduct.
“If it said we were writing bad briefs or coming to court high, that would be one thing. But we tell them, look, all that stuff’s in our past. And we do really good work.”
But if Marquart found law school and law school people so detestable, I asked him, did he hate being a lawyer, too?
“The same people who you’re in law school people with are the same people who become lawyers. People sort of prepare to be assholes in law school and then go and excel at it as lawyers,” he said. “But what I like about it is, the law itself is a pretty even playing field. By that I mean, I’m in litigation, and when it really comes down to it, it’s who can tell the better story, just like Nesson says. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, it doesn’t matter what grades you got, it doesn’t matter who your daddy is. You’ve got to go in there and tell 12 people that don’t care who your daddy is a good story, and I enjoy that. I enjoy that it’s real, that it matters.”
To Marquart, honesty is something hard to find in legal types. “The people sitting around right here, you can tell, all these people are cool. The most important thing in law school is finding the few people who are honest, who you can open up to. When you find those people, make them your friends, because there aren’t many people like them.”
So despite the complaints, despite the closed-mindedness and the assholes and the boredom, was law school enjoyable?
“Yes,” Marquart said. “I enjoyed my experience. I would have to say I did.”