Editorial: Good Experience

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Imagine a lawyer, three years out of Harvard Law School, whose two greatest professional accomplishments consist of (1) sitting beside someone being questioned by another lawyer, and (2) speaking on the phone with a slightly older lawyer working for a corporation. This imaginary lawyer calls the first event “defending a deposition” and the second, “client contact.” He calls them both: “good experience.”

Don’t strain your imagination too far. (You’re headed into the legal profession, after all; creativity is discouraged.) But talk to anyone who has recently graduated from this law school. They’ll tell you the same story.

Better yet, ask your OCI interviewers what sort of work their young associates can expect to encounter. Your interviewers will boast about their firms’ great Deposition Defenders and Client Contactors. That is, unless your interviewers’ talking-points extend only as far as “collegial work environment” and “a genuine commitment to pro bono.”

If this is what Harvard Law students have to look forward to, think what our counterparts at other law schools — less “prestigious” law schools that may afford their students fewer choices — have ahead of them. They’ll probably have to settle for work in district attorneys’ offices or, worse still, plaintiff-side personal injury firms. How will these soon-to-be shysters spend their days? Why, they’ll try cases in court (a place where, if you didn’t know any better, you might mistakenly believe Harvard-educated lawyers would want to venture from time to time.) If only we weren’t so busy accumulating “good experience” that we’re compelled to record it all in six minute increments, we might have the time to pity our “poorer-educated” peers.

One lawyer has summed up the contrast by asking law students this question: “Did you go to law school to be a lawyer or a librarian?”

He poses an attractive contrast, but it puts alliteration before accuracy. Corporate lawyers are nothing at all like librarians. How many librarians do you know with the stamina to sit in front of a computer screen for ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day? Further, a librarian’s job is to share knowledge and to help us find what we’re looking for, not to obscure and obstruct discovery under a mountain of motions.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This objection is not to the services that corporate law firms provide. (Let’s leave the conspiracy theories about Evil Corporations and their undue public influence to Ralph Nader.) If companies want to pay often obscene amounts of money for work that should be accomplished in a quarter of the time it’s billed for … well, that’s their business. What we’re concerned about is calling a job by its proper name.

A final anecdote will illustrate. One of our summer mentors was a first-year associate in a “litigation” department. (We insist on using scare quotes around “litigation” when used in the corporate law firm context.) When we arrived at our firm in mid-May, our mentor had just removed a wrist-brace that he had worn for the previous four months. You see, after only half a year at work, our mentor developed tendonitis in his wrist. He had turned too many pages during document reviews.

It’s not a joke.

It’s good experience.

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