Welcome. My name is Keith Bybee, I’m a professor
at the College of Law and the Maxwell School. In conjunction with Dean Arterian, I organize
the 1L Convocation Speaker Series. And this is a series that selects distinguished individuals
and brings them to campus for lectures that are open to the university community but that
are really designed for the interest and benefit of the 1L class. And this year’s series kicks
of with a lecture by one of our own faculty, Professor Greg Germain. The title of his lecture
is Good Lawyer, Bad Lawyer: What Makes the Difference. Professor Germain joined the College
of Law in 2002. He teaches and conducts research in areas of taxation, commercial law, bankruptcy
and corporate law. He publishes widely on the subject of bankruptcy. In 2009, Professor
Germain, working with legal services, established an internship at the College of Law that is
now actually a clinic, through which 2nd and 3rd year law students work with people going
through bankruptcy. Students help gather information, prepare filings, and represent clients in
court. Before Professor Gemain came to join us in 2002, he practiced law for 17 years,
first as an associate and Latham and Watkins in Los Angeles, then as an associate for Landis,
Ripley, and Diamond in San Francisco. He was also a judicial extern for the Honorable Lloyd
King, Chief justice of the US Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, and
later he was an attorney advisor for the Honorable Renato Begley of the US Tax Court. Professor
Germain has been around the block, and he’s here to tell you today about his trip. Before
I turn over the lectern to Professor Germain, let me just tell you a few things about protocol.
We will conclude today by 12:50 at the latest so you have an opportunity to get back to
your classes. After Professor Germain is done speaking, there will be an opportunity for
Q&A. If you do have a question, I just ask that you raise your hand and Katie Lipp has
a wireless mic, and she’ll come over to you so you can speak into the mic. This will allow
your question to be heard not only by your peers but also by Professor Germain. I also
ask that you turn off all of your phones and electronic devices, so that we don’t have
any disruptions during the talk. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Professor
Greg Germain. [applause] Thank you all. My name is Gregory Germain, and I do teach here
in the College of Law, and I know some of you back there are my students in Contracts
this year. The first rule I wanna talk to you about is that a good lawyer always takes
responsibility for his or her mistakes, rather than trying to blame them on others. And I
think that’s particularly important today because you are all here, attending this mandatory
convocation during your first midterm exams. So I’m sure you’re not thrilled to be here.
And I just want you all to know that I had absolutely nothing to do with the scheduling
of this convocation. [laughter] In fact, it was all Keith’s fault. [laughter] So, what
I’m gonna talk to you today about is not very academic. It is not the result of kind of
double blind studies and scientific theories. I’m going to be giving you some opinions that
I have formed as I approach my 30th year of law practice, as to what it is that makes
a good lawyer, and how you can become a good lawyer. And so I want to give you a broad
disclaimer, since I’m a contracts teacher: What I’m about to tell you may be wrong, and
more importantly, it may be wrong for or about you. But I think that what I have to say may
resonate with some of you and may help you, especially next year, when you’re selecting
classes and thinking about how to prepare for a legal career. As you approach your first
set of midterms, some of you are probably asking yourself, “Is law school a good idea?
Is this a good investment?” After all, it is very expensive to go to law school, and
there has been a broad academic debate going on, especially recently, with the recession,
in law school employment, about whether law school is a good investment. There has been
a recent academic study, looking at how much people make out of their law school career,
taking the present value of their future salaries, based on historic data, and deciding how much
is a law degree worth. And the conclusion of this study, written by two professors,
is that the median present value of a law degree is one million dollars, making it look
like a pretty good investment, huh? It’s more than that for people who graduated in the
top of their class. And for people in the bottom 25% of their class, the median value
of a law degree was $325,000. Still not bad, but not a great return on investment. But
I think there’s two important points that we have to think about when we’re looking
at an academic study like this. One of them is that these numbers are based on past data.
And we don’t know how much people are going to make in the future, and so your future
salaries may be different than salaries have been and incomes have been in the past. And
secondly, these are medians. Which means half of the people make less than these amounts,
and half of the people make more than these amounts. And so we’re looking at statistics
that don’t tell us much about how much you’re going to make over your legal career, and
whether law school has been a good investment for you. What will determine whether law school
was a good investment for you, and I submit it is whether at the end of your career you
have had a fulfilling and lucrative legal career. And so the focus of my presentation
today is how you can develop a fulfilling and lucrative legal career. So what are the
characteristics of lawyers that succeed and have fulfilling law practices? That’s what
I want to talk about. The first piece of advice I have for you is not to focus too much on
the short term. I see a lot of people, and I was one of them when I graduated from law
school, very focused on going to work for a law firm that had a fabulous reputation
and that paid the highest salaries. You know, I was very interested in going to a large
firm, and I did. I went to work for Latham and Watkins which is one of the largest law
firms in the country. And I left after nine months. One of the reasons I left was some
of the advice that I received after my first week on the job. And so I want to tell you
about that. At the end of my first week at the firm, the firm had its annual retreat,
at a very fancy resort hotel, the Ritz Carlton, in Laguna Nigel, right on the water in Orange
County. It’s an absolutely beautiful resort facility. I don’t think I’d ever been to anything
that kind of fancy, and all the lawyers, from all the offices, about 800 lawyers, flew in
for this retreat. And it was my first week on the job. I didn’t know anybody there. And
my first evening, I entered the dining room for dinner, and there were all these tables
around, filled with lawyers having a wonderful conversation with each other. I didn’t know
any of them, and I saw a guy sitting at a table in the back of the room, all by himself,
an elderly gentleman, and I thought, “well, you know, he’s sitting all by himself. I’ll
go sit at the table.” And so I walked up and I said, “Hi, do you mind if I join you?” And
he said, “no.” And I said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m one of the new employees at the firm,
my name is Greg Germain.” And he said, “Nice to meet you, my name is Clint Stevenson, I’m
the managing partner of the firm.” Well. The next hour, I learned why nobody wanted to
sit at the table with him. He proceeded to take my deposition, finding out every little
facet of my very inexperienced life during that hour, and I didn’t get to eat any of
the fabulous shellfish that was in front of me. But one of the questions he asked me was,
“Why did you decide to come to Latham and Watkins?” And I didn’t have a very good answer
for that. “Well, you know, it has a great reputation, you know, blah blah blah.” I mean,
I didn’t know why I should pick a term. But I decided to turn the tables on the managing
partner, and I asked him, “Based on all your experience after all these years, if you were
a young lawyer choosing a firm, what would you look for in a law firm?” And he paused
for a minute, I don’t think he was expecting to be asked questions. After all, he was the
managing partner of the firm, but he gave me a very honest answer. He said, “What I
would look for is a firm where I could be involved in the direction of the law firm.
I’m a builder, I wanna help build the law firm, I wanna be involved in management, and
feel that I have a role in the success and future of the institution that I’m working
for.” And that had a lot of resonance for me, over the next 9 months, as I looked at
this giant boat that was Latham and Watkins, and thinking, “It’s gonna be pretty hard to
get up there to the captain’s seat, and have any influence on the direction of the firm.”
And so I decided for me, that it is so important to be involved in feeling like I’m a team
and in building the practice, and my own practice, that I really needed a smaller firm. So I
went to a smaller firm in San Francisco, that was a much more fulfilling practice with me
than it would have been, I think, if I had stayed at a large law firm. And so you gotta
think for yourself, what is it, long term, that I’m looking for? Am I looking for a job
where it’s 9 to 5? I’m looking for a job that is not 9 to 5 and I’m contributing to the
future success of the law firm. And that may have something to do with whether you decide
you want to be at a giant law firm, or a small law firm, or another institution. So what
do I think you should be asking when you are looking to go to work at a firm. Where are
you going to learn the most? Where are you going to have the opportunity to become a
partner and to grow as a lawyer? For most of you, your legal careers are going to be
long. I’m now looking back on 30 years of experience. Probably I’ll have another 10
or 20 or 30 more. So this is a long endeavor. Your starting salary in your first job is
very unlikely to be the end of the process, and so, thinking about bettering yourself,
for the long term, is far more important than your initial salary that you get right out
of law school. Now, the legal market is quite different than it was when I graduated from
law school. When I graduated, the legal business was growing very fast. I had basically offers
from every law firm I interviewed with. All the firms were growing at a very high rate,
and so there wasn’t a kind of short supply of jobs. I remember one of my classmates,
Theresa Woody, had a job interview at the largest firm in San Francisco at the time,
called Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro, and she wasn’t really interested in working there,
particularly. She wanted to interview, but she wanted to go back to where she was from
in Kansas City. She went to this job interview, and they were a little bit disorganized that
day, and they said, have a seat the waiting room, and we’ll be right with you, and she
waited and she waited and waited and she went up to the secretary and said I’ve been here
a half hour, what’s going on? They said, oh we have some confusion today, just have a
seat and wait a little longer. She said, you know I don’t really want this job, I really
want to go back to Kansas City anyway. And so after another 20 minutes or so, she left.
She just waked out. Two weeks later, she received a letter from Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro,
saying how much they enjoyed the interview, and offering her a job. So, you know, those
were the good old days. I think things are a little tougher now, and firms are gonna
be looking at you and deciding what do you bring to the table? What distinguishes you
from the mass of resumes that all these employers are getting? Some of the things are obvious.
Legal skills. Do you have good legal skills? Do you have good knowledge of the law? Do
you have the ability to figure out what you don’t know? Are you able to apply the law
to facts? Those kinds of things are of primary importance to an employer, but how do they
judge them in the 15 minute interview, or from your resumes, which after all are not
going to have tremendous amounts of experience in them, you’re right out of law school. And
so, the hard truth of the matter is, they’re going to rely on your grades in deciding what
your legal skills are. If you’re at the top of your class, they’re gonna assume you have
pretty good legal skills. If you’re at the bottom of your class, they’re going to assume
you don’t have good legal skills. They may be wrong, but that’s going to be the first
cut that they make, because that’s what they see. So, it’s very important to master the
subjects that you’re studying in this first year, to put in absolutely your best efforts
all the time, and to do as well as you can. Because that’s going to be of primary importance
when you go out on the job market. Secondly, are you reliable? Can an employer trust you
to handle a case properly? In large part, this is about communication and diligence,
and I’m going to talk more about some of my experience in supervising students and young
lawyers when I was a partner in a law firm, about some of the problems I see with communication
and taking responsibility. Work ethic. I think the law is a terrible profession for someone
who wants a 9 to 5 job. There are lots of 9 to 5 jobs around, but very few good lawyers
that I know work 9 to 5 jobs. They have to work on weekends when things are busy, they
have to work at night when things are busy, they have to work in the morning when things
are busy. That’s just the reality of the practice. You have to do whatever is necessary to do
a good job on your case and work doesn’t come in from 9 to 5. And it means there are going
to be times in your life when you have to put your work ahead of your personal life,
and some people don’t want to do that, and I think they have to think seriously about
whether the law is really right for them. There may be positions in the law, kind of
in-house positions, or gov’t positions, where you can work a 9 to 5 life, but that’s not
true for private practitioners. And so I think that having a realistic notion of the work
ethic is important. Another characteristic is what I call a winning attitude. By that,
I don’t mean you need to be one of those fake happy people that always has a smile on their
face. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one of those people, and … But what it means
is you have to be able to figure out how to win your case. It is not the job of your supervisors
to figure out how to win your case. It’s your job. One problem I constantly have, supervising
students in law cases, is their failure to kinda take the bull by the horns, to say,
this is my case, and I’m going to look up and find the solution. Instead, I get a lot
of questions like, what do I do, what do I do next, how do I do this, and that’s not
what lawyers do in practice. If we hire an associate at my firm, we give them a case
and expect them to come in and tell us. To do the analysis. To do the research, to try
to answer all the questions before they come in, so they can tell me, give me suggestions
on how to handle the case. I may disagree with them and say, no I want to go in a different
direction, but I want a self-starter, who figures it out, and comes in with a solution.
Not a secretary or receptionist who just passes on the client’s questions to me. And I get
a lot of that in the pro bono and bankruptcy clinic, where students say, client asks a
question, and they just pass it on to me. Client says they want to know blah blah blah.
Well, go look it up! And then come talk to me about it. I want to be here to, I mean,
I don’t want you to make the final decisions, as a first, second year lawyer, but I want
you to think about it before asking me the question. You’ve gotta take that ethic into
the practice of law. It’s your case. You’ve gotta solve the problem, and you need to figure
out a solution. Not just go to the supervisor and say, tell me what to do. Personality is
of course a very important factor. Successful lawyers are good at generating business. As
a new first year associate, you may not be expected to generate business, but it won’t
be too long before you are. And the people that succeed and become partners and are successful
at a law firm are good with clients, and get additional referrals from the same client,
because they handled the case well and they start building what they call a book of business,
which is the coin of the realm in the world of partners transferring from one law firm
to another. And so, being good with your clients, returning their calls promptly, showing that
you care about their problem, and that you’re going to find a solution to it is absolutely
of fundamental importance. And your personality in being able to do that is going to be an
important skill that you have to develop. So what did I look for when I was hiring young
lawyers at my law firm? We don’t have very much. We have your resume. What do I want
your resume to read like if I’m hiring a lawyer? The first thing I’m looking for is somebody
whose resume shows an interest in my area of the law. So if I’m hiring a bankruptcy
lawyer, I want a resume that demonstrates that the person has some interest in bankruptcy,
knows something about it. That doesn’t mean I want to see only bankruptcy courses, or
something like that…. The core bar courses are core bar courses because they’re fundamental
courses for the practice of law. So I want to see a resume that shows that most of the
fundamental courses in law school have been mastered. In addition to that, I want to see
courses in my area of specialty. And all of the courses should reflect a plan and design
to show that you’re interested in a particular area of law. If I get a resume where people
have (woop, sorry!) If I get a resume where people have all kinds of scattered courses,
that have nothing to do with each other, I think, who is this? What are they going to
do? It shows a lack of organization and thought. And so, you’re relieved of most of the responsibility
of selecting your courses in the first year. We do that for you. But next year, you’re
responsible to select your own courses. And you should do so in an intelligent way. What
direction are you going? You may not know exactly what you want to do, but you should
have a pretty good direction, even after the first year. Do I want to be a criminal lawyer
or a civil lawyer? Do I want to be in business law or tort law? You should have a general
idea after the first year, and you should be structuring your curriculum in an intelligent
way, to obtain the kinds of classes and education that you need to be a good lawyer in that
area. And we’re here to help you with that. All of the professors, I think are more than
happy to get a call from someone saying, Hey, I’m interested in bankruptcy law or estate
planning, and will you help me go through my scheduled and suggest some better classes
that I can take to move in that direction? Or criminal law, whatever it is, I’m not meaning
to pigeonhole you in any particular areas. But take advantage of the advising of the
people that know their fields around here, and ask for help with course selection, and
I think you’ll end up with a resume that is much more organized than someone who selects
their classes because they’re only the in the afternoon and you like to sleep in or,
you know, only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I also want to see on a resume someone who
shows initiative and is willing to volunteer their time to learn and become a better lawyer.
So, I’m very impressed with things like participating in moot court competitions, writing a good
law review article, getting a job as a research assistant, anything that shows a little extra
initiative is impressive. Ok. Let me tell you a little bit about bad lawyers. First
of all, bad lawyers don’t do research. If you ever find a lawyer that says, I never
do research, you can be pretty sure that that’s a bad lawyer. And there are lots of them out
there. They hate doing research, they don’t really like talking about the law, and if
they ever have to write something for court, they grab a couple of headnotes out of a secondary
source, and cite the headnotes. They don’t go back and read the cases, or read the statutes,
or really understand what they’re doing. And you’re guaranteed to fail. Because at least
if you’re up against someone who’s a good lawyer, they’re not going to just read the
headnotes. They’re going to read the case, they’re going to read the statute, and that
headnote that you cited is going to be taken out of context, and they’re going to nail
you on it before the judge. And so, you’ve gotta do the work. There’s no alternative
to it, and frankly, you gotta like doing the work. If you don’t like the law, if you don’t
like reading it, if you don’t like talking about it, if you don’t like studying it, you
probably shouldn’t be a lawyer. Cuz that’s what we do. Number 2: Bad lawyers don’t communicate.
So let me tell you a story about a local lawyer, that I had a case with, recently, within the
last 2 years. The clients hired this lawyer to file a bankruptcy petition for them. A
very nice couple, having financial problems, job losses and things like that. They had
a house, they had cars, and they wanted to keep them, and so they filed bankruptcy and
proposed a plan that would enable them to keep their property. Unfortunately one of
them lost their job, they fell behind on their payments to the plan, and they were in default.
The trustee, as is his job, moved to dismiss their case for failing to make their plan
payments. Now, what a good lawyer would do is meet with the clients, figure how whether
there’s some way to modify the plan based on their new circumstances, and propose a
modification, and not allow the case to be dismissed. This lawyer told his secretary
to tell the clients that unless they had the money to cure the default in full, he would
not speak with them. So their lawyer wouldn’t talk to them. They’re facing dismissal of
their case, which would mean the loss of their home, and their cars, and a lot of their personal
possessions. They’re being represented by a lawyer who won’t talk to them to see whether
there’s a solution, and they heard about my clinic and they came in begging for help.
What do we do?? And I felt sorry for them. I agreed to take their case to try to help
them, and I sent a substitution of attorney to the lawyer, and I said, send me the legal
file. I’m gonna represent them. You’re not. Here’s the substitution of attorney. Send
me the legal file. And the rules of professional responsibility, which you’ll learn next year,
say that the old law firm is required to promptly provide the new lawyer with a copy of the
legal file. Well, I called three times and he wouldn’t send me the file. And so I sent
him three letters over a month and a half, and he wouldn’t send me the file, so I drafted
a complaint to the state bar, saying that I requested for the last month and a half
copies of the legal file for my client’s case, and he won’t send it to me, and I sent it
to him, saying I’m filing this tomorrow. And of course the next day I finally get the legal
file, along with a letter saying how offended he was that I would threaten to turn him in
to the bar. The file was a mess, as you might expect, random papers stuffed in the file,
including, right on the top, a letter from their home creditor saying, if you don’t call
us back, we’re going to move for relief from stay in the bankruptcy case to foreclose on
their house. And of course he didn’t call them back, and so of course they moved for
relief from stay. Just gross incompetence. If you’re going to be that kind of lawyer,
do us all a favor and drop out of law school now. My god, if you can’t comply with professional
standards, if you can’t return your client’s calls, what are you doing? That is not a professional
law practice. You gotta say to yourself, I’m going to do this business. I’m gonna return
my clients’ calls the day I get them. If there’s some reason I cant, I’ll return them the next
morning. There’s no reason to not timely return peoples’ calls. And the same with opposing
counsel. We’ve got these rules here to protect the clients, and it’s your responsibility
to make sure you follow the rules. So, return client calls promptly, return calls from other
lawyers promptly, send confirming letters to confirm conversations, to confirm deadlines.
Read and respond to email promptly, and always meet deadlines and responsibilities. That’s
the bare minimum that’s required for the practice of law. Bad lawyers don’t prepare. Last year,
my research assistant took an externship. As part of the externship program here, we
offer an externship class, where they’re required to do some projects. One of the projects that
he was given was to go to court, watch the court proceedings for a day and write a journal.
And he thought, what a stupid assignment. I’m gonna write a journal, give me a break.
So he goes to the bankruptcy court, actually, and he sits in for a day, and he was shocked
at what he found. He found lawyer after lawyer coming up before the judge with their file,
having not read it before going up before the judge, being asked questions that they
didn’t know the answer to, and fumbling through the file trying to find the answer to the
question. He said that the whole day there was only one lawyer that had read the file,
and came in prepared, and knew the answers to the judge’s questions. The rest of them
were a joke. And that’s what I see too. I see all of these really bad lawyers out there,
who don’t bother to read the file before they go before the court, and they get what I like
to call battered attorney syndrome when they get there, because they’re like hiding from
the judge, who’s asking them obvious questions about the case, and they don’t know the answer,
and their papers are falling all over the side, and it’s an embarrassment to the legal
profession. If you go to court, you gotta prepare. You’ve gotta review the file before
you get there. You’ve gotta know what the case is about, and you’ve gotta be prepared
to answer the judge’s questions. There may be a question that you don’t know the answer
to, that you have to look up, but not simple questions like, when did you file, what’s
the case about, basic questions you gotta know. And if you’re arguing a motion, you’ve
gotta know the law, you’ve gotta read the cases that you’ve cited in your brief. It’s
so common for lawyers to show up to argue cases, they’ve cited these cases in their
briefs, and they’ve never read them. And the judge says, didn’t so and so happen in the
case, and they’re like, yeeeeeah I don’t know, your honor, I haven’t read the case recently.
You’ve gotta read the case. That’s part of your job. That’s one of the things we’re trying
to teach you here in law school: When we call on you class, we’re trying to get you in the
practice of knowing that you’re going to have to respond to a judge’s question some day,
and they’re gonna be a lot tougher than the ones we ask in class. Bad lawyers don’t ever
overcome their fears. We all have fears. Some of you have a fear of public speaking. You
sit in the back of the class, praying that you’re not going to get called on today. And
when you get called on, your mind suddenly goes blank, and you can’t answer any questions.
This is very common. Sure there are other people whose hands are waving all the time,
but most people are hiding and we’re in the business of communication. We can’t hide.
I don’t think you can be a successful lawyer without being able to speak in public. That
is a fear that you simple have to get over. You have to force yourself to get over it.
You have to sit yourself in the front of the class and try to participate. You can’t hide
from it. You have to take a trial practice class, and videotape yourself responding to
questions and see how to improve. It is a learned skill. I was shy, afraid to get up
in front of people and speak when I was in law school. And you get over it. You force
yourself to do it and you get over it. So, fear of speaking is something that can be
overcome. Fear of confrontation: The law is a very confrontational process. You’re going
to have people yell at you, and you’re going to have to respond in a polite way and not
get flustered. One of the hardest, I think, is a fear of losing. One I’ve had trouble
getting over. And I wanna tell you about two outstanding lawyers that I’ve worked with
that kind of illustrate the idea of a fear of losing. These two lawyers were the two
top partners in my law firm. Their names were Jon and Jim. Jim graduated from Boalt law
school at the top of his class. He worked in the criminal division of the Justice Department
for 20 years, and then he was appointed to run the civil division of the Justice Department.
He was very proud of the fact that he never lost a trial his entire time at the DOJ. He
was always impeccably dressed, very smooth, and he was the highest-paid partner at the
firm. Jon had a somewhat similar legal background, but a very different personal background.
Jon came from a blue collar family, he was a commander of a boat during the Vietnam War,
he graduated first in his class, not from a prestigious law school like Boalt. But he
also worked in the criminal division of the Justice Department for 15 years, and then
ran the civil division after Jim ran it, before he went in to private practice at our firm.
Jon had tried many more cases than Jim, and he lost a few cases. He had about a 90% win
record. And he was the second highest-paid partner in the firm. And there was a lot of
discussion in the firm: Which of these two guys was the better lawyer? Well, I was at
a retreat once, and Jim, having imbibed a little too much alcohol, and in a reflective
moment, told me that he thought Jon was the better lawyer. And he told me that the reason
is that the reason he had a 100% win record was that if there was any chance of losing
the case, he would settle. He did not want to lose a case. He was very concerned about
protecting his record, and very concerned about losing a case. He had a fear of losing.
Jon, on the other hand, was willing to take the tough case to trial. He had the internal
fortitude, and the belief in his case to say, win or lose, I’m going to go forward with
this case. And so he had a very good win record, but he was willing to take the tough case
even if it meant he might lose. He wasn’t afraid of losing. And I think everyone in
the firm pretty much agreed with Jim that Jon was the better lawyer. When you worked
with Jim he was always second-guessing himself, he wasn’t confident in his decision. He was
second-guessing everyone that worked for him, which is a very unpleasant thing to have happen
when you’re working on someone’s team. Jon, on the other hand, made you feel like you
were part of a great team, and you were gonna win the case. He was Teddy Roosevelt, charging
the troops up San Juan Hill. Everybody liked working with him, and he got fantastic results
because the other side knew he wasn’t bluffing. He was willing to take the case to trial,
even if it was a tough case. And most people on the other side weren’t willing to take
the risk. They were both great lawyers, but Jon was the more confident, better lawyer,
because he was willing to risk losing. After 30 years of doing this, I don’t have the level
of confidence that Jon has, but I try. I try to recognize that all my cases, I am willing
to take it to trial if that’s what I have to do. I am not going to settle the case cheap.
So, if I can’t get a settlement that my client deserves, we’re going to fight it out all
the way through trial. That approach, I think, makes me a better lawyer, and gets better
results for my clients. You’ve gotta kinda overcome the fear. You may lose a case here
and there, but you’re going to win a lot more than you lose. Bad lawyers don’t build relationships.
No one is successful on their own. Our success depends on the connections that we have with
others. Some people are lucky enough to have family connections. Others have to build connections
from scratch. But you must learn to build strong relationships, and you should start
that process now that you’re in lawschool. Your colleagues in law school are all potential
referral attorneys. They are potential partners of yours in a future law firm. When I was
not happy with my first job at Latham and Watkins, it was one of my close friends from
law school who said, come and work at our firm, it’s a great place, and recruited me
to join the firm. And I stayed there, became a partner, and we became partners in the same
law firm. He not only built bridges with me, but with numerous other people in the law
school who regularly referred him business. He was involved in bar activities. He was
involved in training young lawyers in trial practice. His legal work was always top notch.
And everyone thought he was a great lawyer. He built a strong practice and he is now a
professional mediator, aribitrator, getting referrals from other lawyers. And very successful
at it. Building those relationships is key. Although you are kind of technically competing
with your classmates, you really aren’t. And showing a little courtesy, and a little respect,
and being a good person to the other people that you are in law school with is as important
as your law school studies. The last person I want to tell you about is my friend and
law school classmate, Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson has an entire row of his living room library
devoted to his law school casebooks, all of which, he is very proud to say, are still
in the original shrink wrap. He never opened them. He likes to say he graduated second
in his class, because he graduated in the Spring of his third year, when there were
only two people graduating. He passed the CA bar on his seventh attempt. Which means
he was not in practice for the first three and a half years of his legal career. He worked
as a paralegal, at a very low salary, and he had a family with three kids, and he had
a very hard time those first three years. He became a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer,
and he has only tried, in his entire legal career, two cases. He lost both of them. He
took them to trial and he lost. And one of them, he was telling me about the case before
it started, and I thought, this is the unlosable case. A 35 year old mother of three is having
extreme headaches, is cross-eyed, goes in to the doctor, and the doctor sends her home
with an aspirin. She has a stroke and dies. And he got defensed. [laughs] That takes real
skill. So, he’s not what I’d call a lawyer’s lawyer. But, he is a very good businessperson,
and has developed a thriving practice handling rear-end car accident cases. He’s made more
money in the practice of law than anyone I know. He loves what he does. He wakes up every
morning hoping for rain, because if it rains there’s going to be more car accidents. He
keeps up with all of his referral attorneys, and he gets a lot of referral from his clients,
who seem to get in an awful lot of car accidents. They get into car accidents, and their extended
families get into car accidents. And he has very strong skills outside of the law. As
I said, he’s very good at dealing with referral attorneys and adjusters. He’s good with clients,
he communicates regularly, and I think maybe most important, he knows his limitations.
After his two defeats, he has not tried any more cases. In anything that goes to litigation,
he refers out. He’s basically an adjuster. He gets the cases in, he writes a demand letter,
he haggles with insurance companies, and he gets a settlement in these relatively small
cases, and in anything bigger than that, he farms out to someone who knows how to litigate
a case. He’s done very well in the law, he likes what he’s doing. I think he does a good
job for his clients, except for the two he took to trial. So there are roles in the legal
profession where you don’t have to be a great kind of technical lawyer. They’re hard to
find, and they take a lot of planning to get into them. And if that’s you, you’ve got to
do the planning up front, to get into a position where you can utilize your skills. But I think
for most of you, you’ve got to decide, do I love the law? And if you do, if you like
talking about it, if you like thinking about it, I think you’re going to find that this
is a good business. So, to kind of sum up, in law school you’ve got to take the right
kind of classes, in an organized way, and get advice from people on how to do that.
You need to seek out the kind of experiences that will develop your skills and impress
potential employers. You need to challenge yourself in areas in which you are weak, rather
than avoiding your weaknesses. You don’t want to be like the student who came to my office
in tears at the end of her third year, telling me no one would ever hire her, and she couldn’t
blame them, saying, I’m never gonna get a job. Who would ever want to hire me? And I
took out the box of kleenexes, and I tried to be sympathetic. But the truth was, she
was right. No one is ever going to want to hire her with that attitude. If you don’t
have confidence in yourself, if you don’t seize the law school experience, to better
yourself, so that you can explain to the world what you have to offer, why they should hire
you, then I fear you’re not going to have a happy legal career. On the other hand, if
you squeeze everything you can out of the law school experience. If you love talking
about and thinking about the law, if you plan your professional life in an intelligent way,
I think you’re going to look forward to a bright future as a lawyer and your investment
in law school will pay off handsomely. And so now I would like to answer your questions.
[applause] We have time for one question. Actually maybe we have time for many questions
and no answers, but one question…? Okay, the practice is to raise your hand if you
have a question. Hi there. Yes? Oh. — You were just waiving goodbye. — H was warding
me off. — Okay, well, good luck with your midterms. Do well, and I hope to see all of
you over the next couple of years.