lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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The Internet Gives Law Grads Career Advice

Anastasia at Ruby Red Slipper has reminded me that the internet can actually be useful sometimes with her wonderful post Talk Amongst Yourselves….. She lays out the following scenario and gets some fantastic comments from folks across the country.

Okay, I’m attempting to facilitate a discussion on the blog. Anyone can contribute. However, when you comment, please indicate if you are a: law student, practicing lawyer, law grad without employment, law grad working in a non-traditional job, or other. This all relates to finding your first job after law school.

My hope is to get a realistic evaluation from people who know. Sometimes an ‘interim’ position can really end up hurting your chances over the long haul, so I’m trying to figure out what people like me should be taking into consideration.

Which of these should you consider/not consider and why when you are actively looking for a full-time associate position, but need something in the interim to either keep you afloat or help make your resume more attractive?

1. Consider taking a paralegal job while looking for work?
2. Consider doing contract work?
3. Take a full-time law clerk position?
(I’m clarifying this one; when I say ‘law clerk,’ I mean working full-time at a firm as opposed to a court. I would definitely do the law clerk thing at a court if I could find that.)
3. Take a very low paying Associate job? How low? 40k? 35k? 30k?
4. Take a job that more than pays your bills, but has nothing to do with law?

Feel free to add other options in the comments. I’m curious to hear what you guys have to say. For example, the paralegal option could work either way. I once took a job as a secretary in order to get my foot in the door at a company, but was amazed that after being hired, management only perceived me as a secretary despite what I’d been told in the interview. To make matters worse, when I was trying to get out of that job and look for something better, I only seemed to get calls for secretarial work despite recently graduating with a business degree. Is it like that in law as well?

Are you damning yourself professionally if you go lower salary, lower position, or outside the industry? Or, are you creating a richer resume?

“N” Procrastinating Law Students

Procrastination is a wily foe of many forms. On our final day in Law and Economics, Prof. Volokh mentioned one of his first papers, N Guilty Men, a Penn Law Review piece published before he even went to law school and praised by widely admired, if perhaps partial, legal commentators. It occurred to me, succumbing to the slippery rationality of a law student soon to face the executioner exam, that perhaps this mention was no mere mention. I decided I should, nay must, read the paper on the off-chance it had some greater, GPA-affecting significance.

“Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” 2 says English jurist William Blackstone. The ratio 10:1 has become known as the “Blackstone ratio.” 3 Lawyers “are indoctrinated” with it “early in law school.” 4 “Schoolboys are taught” it. 5 In the fantasies of legal academics, jurors think about Blackstone routinely. 6

But why ten? Other eminent legal authorities through the ages have put their weight behind other numbers. “One” has appeared on Geraldo. 7 “It’s better for four guilty men to go free than one innocent man to be imprisoned,” says basketball coach George Raveling. 8 But “it’s better to turn five guilty men loose than it is to convict one innocent man,” according to ex-Mississippi executioner and roadside fruit stand operator Thomas Berry Bruce, who ought to know. 9 “It is better to let nine guilty men free than to convict one innocent man,” counters lawyer Bruce Rosen from Madison, Wisconsin. 10 Justice Benjamin Cardozo certainly believed in five for execution, 11 and allegedly favored ten for imprisonment, 12 which is a bit counterintuitive. Benjamin Franklin thought “that it is better [one hundred] guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” 13 Mario Puzo’s Don Clericuzio heard about letting a hundred guilty men go free and, “struck almost dumb by the beauty of the concept . . . became an ardent patriot.” 14 Denver radio talk show host Mike Rosen claims to have heard it argued “in the abstract” that it’s better that 1000 guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned, and comments, “Well, we get our wish.” 15

Or, perhaps, it may be merely “a few,” 16 “some,” 17 “several,” 18 “many” (and particularly more than eight), 19 “a considerable amount,” 20 or even “a goodly number.” 21 Not all commentators weigh acquitting the guilty against the conviction of one innocent man. A Missouri district court said in 1877 that it was “better that some guilty ones should escape than that many innocent persons should be subjected to the expense and disgrace attendant upon being arrested upon a criminal charge.” 22 And in Judge Henry J. Friendly’s opinion, “Most Americans would allow a considerable number of guilty persons to go free than to convict any appreciable number of innocent men.” 23 It is unclear whether “considerable” is greater or less than “appreciable.” 24

n guilty men, then. The travels and metamorphoses of n through all lands and eras are the stuff that epic miniseries are made of. n is the father of criminal law. This is its story.

So, now 30 minutes later, I may be no closer to grasping the intricacies of the expected value of a legal claim in settlement negotiations or offering a normative critique on the legal system’s effect on wealth and inequality, but I am now cognizant of the contribution of Geraldo to our criminal jurisprudence. Surely the opportunity cost of my neuroticism is a foreseeable harm from such careless mentions, warranting either reliance damages of a corresponding allowance of time on the exam or expectation damages of the value of point-scoring I might reasonably expect from such knowledge.

In that same class, Prof. Volokh let slip a similarly gnawing comment when he noted that perhaps the most efficient approach to teaching Law and Economics would be to tell us that the exam would be exceedingly difficult and important, but then not to give an exam at all, since our studying for the exam is the more important part of imparting knowledge than taking it. Were this any other professor I could be sure that this was kidding, but now I’m not so sure. Better to let n procrastinating law students go free than make an overly neurotic one unduly suffer?

Mistaken Identity in the Courtroom

The Tex Parte Blog carried this priceless exchange on cross from a criminal trial in Dallas County:

On Nov. 11, George Milner Jr., a partner in Dallas’ Milner and Finn who’s considered the dean of the Dallas criminal-defense bar, was defending Marc Needham, who was accused of misdemeanor assault. Both Milner and his client are older gentlemen. When Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Brian Poe asked a witness during direct examination to identify the defendant, she pointed to Milner. Poe asked her if she was sure, to which she replied: “He’s the only one in the blue suit with blue tie. He stood up and objected. Him — that’s him there.” After Poe passed the witness, Milner didn’t miss a beat, telling Judge Angela King: “Your honor, first of all let me enter a plea of not guilty,” then he began cross-examining the witness. When Milner asked her what she remembered, she said: “Well, sir, I hate to tell you this, but the first thing I heard was you pointing a gun at me and saying, ‘Now do you want to F with me?’ Don’t you remember that?” “No. My memory is about like yours,” Milner said. “No, mine is very sharp, sir,” she replied. During redirect examination Poe asked the witness, “Would you be surprised that the person you’ve been talking to for the last 25 minutes is actually named George Milner? He’s a prominent attorney here in town, and he represents Marc Needham?” She replied, “Well, that’s a good trick they played, because he looks just like him to me.” The jury found Needham not guilty.

Speculation on future U.S. Attorney in Southern District of Texas

Texas Lawyer has an interesting article on the political angling of those vying for the U.S. Attorney in Houston. There are 93 such federal prosecutors throughout the United States and it remains one of the most prestigious and sought-after jobs in the law despite recent controversy over the politically-motivated dismissal of several U.S. Attorneys in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and elsewhere. U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, so Obama’s election essentially means an new slate in the office.

In the Southern District of Texas, U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle resigned his post on Nov. 8 to become a partner in Fulbright and Jaworski in Houston. Tim Johnson, DeGabrielle’s former first assistant, is now acting U.S. attorney for the district. Johnson says he is not interested in pursuing the appointment.

One lawyer mentioned as a contender to take over for Johnson is Larry Veselka, a partner in Houston’s Smyser Kaplan and Veselka who practices criminal defense. Veselka sought the U.S. attorney position in 1993 after Clinton was elected president, but the job went to Gaynelle Griffin Jones.

“I think it would be fun,” Veselka says of being U.S. attorney. “They could tell me ‘no’ if they want to, but I’m going to ask.”

Veselka says he plans to call the office of U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi — the most senior member of the Texas Democratic congressional delegation — to express his interest in the position as well as call U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who Obama considered as a possible running mate before selecting U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. Many lawyers believe Edwards may be influential in helping the Obama administration select nominees. Edwards did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Philip Hilder of Houston’s Philip Hilder and Associates sought the U.S. attorney position unsuccessfully during the Clinton administration. Hilder is a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who was in charge of the Houston field office and a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District. He did not return a telephone call seeking comment on whether he is currently interested in the U.S. attorney post. Neither did Susan Strawn, a former DOJ attorney who now is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Strawn ran as a Democrat for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this year but was defeated in the Nov. 4 general election.

“It’s common when you make a strong showing in a statewide election, you get an appointment,” says Susan Hays, a Dallas solo who formerly was chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party. “And she’s got a long career in the Department of Justice.” Harris County Democratic Party chairman Gerry Birnberg could not be reached for comment.

It’s interesting to note that no similar political maneuvering is taking place on the other side of counsel’s table. Federal Public Defenders are officers of the court, appointed by the respective Circuit Court of Appeal for a four year term. This both precludes the conflict of interest of having opposing sides appointed by the executive branch and shields the position from untoward political pressure.

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