Monthly Archives: July 2012

What to Read the Summer Before Law School

When I meet people who are about to enter law school, they often ask me if there are things they could read to help them be better prepared for law school. I think there are. In the summer before entering law school, I would recommend that you primarily focus on relaxing and on mentally adjusting yourself to the fact that you are about to enter upon a course of hard work. But in addition to relaxation and mental preparation, there are some types of reading that you can do to orient yourself to the world of the law and the world of law school.

I’d recommend that you consider doing some reading in each of three categories (focusing on the areas in which you feel least prepared):

1)      Readings to ensure that you have a good background understanding of United States history and the basic structure of U.S. government and the legal system;

2)      Readings that will help prepare you for the law school experience itself, and will help you begin to build your identity as an attorney;

3)      Readings that will help you prepare for your legal writing and research class, the class that (unsurprisingly) I consider your most important course in law school.

Readings for Category 1:

*You will spend much of your first year learning about U.S. law by reading individual cases decided by U.S. courts. This incremental building block approach is quite different from the overview lectures that may have made up much of your undergraduate education. To understand what you are reading in the individual cases you read (and how the cases relate to each other), you need a solid understanding of the U.S. system of government, particularly how the three branches of government make law and how they interact with each other. To understand this, in turn, you need a good basic understanding of U.S. history.  You should have gained this knowledge in high school and college.  But….. if you did not…. the summer before law school is a good time to remedy this gap in your education. A few good, relatively concise sources on U.S. history are:

  • Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
  • Paul Johnson, A History of the American People
  • The Federalist Papers
  • O’Connor, Sabato, and Yanus, American Government: Roots and Reform (11th ed. 2011) or a similar U.S. government textbook.

A few good sources for understanding the structure of the U.S. legal system include:

  • Toni M. Fine, American Legal Systems: A Resource and Reference Guide. This book will give you an overview of American legal institutions and sources of law, and presents a guide to the interrelationships between and among those institutions and legal authorities. It’s very short and concisely written in an outline format that makes it helpful as a quick reference guide.
  • Brian L. Porto, May it Please the Court: Judicial Processes and Politics in America (2d ed.). In this book I recommend reading Chapter 2, “American Courts – Structures and Procedures.”
  • Steven J. Burton, Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning.This book will introduce you to the reasoning processes by which legal actors (such as attorneys and judges) create the law and apply it to real-world problems.

Readings for Category 2:

Law school is an experience different from any other experience you’ve had. It’s exciting and exhilarating, but it’s also highly challenging, arduous, and at times, stressful. Your 1L year, in particular, is like intellectual boot camp, designed to transition you into a member of the community of lawyers. Learning the law is also like learning a foreign language. The 1L year is all about teaching you to “think like a lawyer,” so you will probably find it helpful to read a book or two that will introduce you to how lawyers think and the process by which law school will teach you to think that way.

  • Scott Turow, 1L – though written several decades ago, this is still the best account by a law students of what it’s like to go through (and survive) the first year of law school.
  • Karl N. Llewellyn, The Bramble Bush. This book is a thoughtful examination of the common law legal reasoning process – the main skill that every U.S. lawyer must build over time. It also gives law students valuable advice about how to read cases and prepare for class.
  • Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like an Expert. This book will introduce you to the arduous process of reading individual court cases in the depth that lawyers need to read cases.
  • There are also a number of books about how to succeed as a law student. One good example is Herbert N. Ramy, Succeeding in Law School. Lots of similar books are listed on Amazon.com. They all give good basic advice about study habits, time management, and dealing with stress.

Readings for Category 3:

*As I said, I consider legal writing the most important course you will take in law school. This course is crucial for preparing you to practice law, because it teaches you how to apply the law you are learning in your subject-matter classes to a client’s real-world legal problem. Excellent analytic legal writing is indispensable to advising clients and persuading judges, and written legal analysis is different from other types of writing you have done in the past. One important difference is that it is crucial to understand the needs of your legal audience and how they differ from the needs of other types of readers. The following articles will help you begin to understand your legal audience.

  • Anne Enquist, Talking to Students About the Differences Between Undergraduate Writing and Legal Writing, 13 Perspectives 104 (Winter 2005), available at http://store.westlaw.com/pdf/perspec/Winter%202005/Wint058.pdf. This short article will introduce you to the important realization that legal writing differs significantly from the type of writing you likely did as an undergraduate.

 

  • Michael Higdon, The Legal Reader: An Expose, University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 183 (March 9, 2012), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2019728. This article will help you start developing the crucial lawyering skill of identifying the particular audience for whom you are writing your particular legal document, and writing to meet the specific needs of that audience.

Part 1 of Interview with Litigation Attorney Maura McIntyre

As promised, today I’m posting the first part of my recent interview with Maura McIntyre.  Ms. McIntyre is a fifth year commercial litigation associate at Ungaretti & Harris LLP in Chicago. She earned her undergraduate degree from Boston College in English and Philosophy.  She then earned her J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law, where she served as Notes Editor of the University of Illinois Law Review.

In the first installment of my interview, I asked Ms. McIntyre to give us a picture of her daily life practicing litigation at a large urban law firm. As I noted in a earlier post, Ms. McIntyre has graciously agreed to answer your follow-up questions, so feel free to ask follow-up questions in the Comments section following the post. The future installments of this interview will focus on what she learned from her experiences as a beginning associate and on her more recent experience supervising junior associates.

INTERVIEW, PART ONE:

Q [Elizabeth Inglehart]: Where do you work and how long have you worked there?

A [Maura McIntyre]: I work at Ungaretti & Harris LLP in Chicago.  I started working at Ungaretti as a Summer Associate in 2006 and have worked there as a commercial litigation associate since September of 2007.

Q:        What’s your practice area? Or do you have more than one?

A:        I am in the Litigation Department at Ungaretti, but I also work with attorneys in Ungaretti’s Labor & Employment, Healthcare, and Trusts & Estates Departments from time to time.

Q:        What made you choose to join a relatively large firm rather than a small one, and what made you choose litigation rather than corporate or another practice area?

A:        I ended up choosing a large firm for the same reasons that many law students choose large firms – it had a summer associate program.  When I started as a summer associate at Ungaretti, I was interested in a number of different practice areas, including litigation, corporate, and healthcare.  Throughout the summer, I worked with many attorneys in each of those departments and asked them questions about their experiences, what they liked and disliked about their practice, etc.  Before I received my offer, I was asked to rank the practice groups that I would want to work with if I returned as a first year associate.  Litigation was my first choice; I enjoyed most of the assignments I received from the attorneys in the litigation group and I thought that we would work well together in the future.  There was no single deciding factor for me—it just felt like the best fit at the time.   Fortunately, I ended up in the right place, but I recommend talking to attorneys who practice in areas of interest to you and taking your long term career goals into account before committing to a particular practice area.

Q:        What kinds of cases do you work on?

A:        I work on a wide variety of cases proceeding in both state and federal courts, including commercial contract, employment, real estate, product liability, defamation, intellectual property, and insurance coverage disputes.

Q:        Tell us about your daily life as a lawyer. How many cases do you usually have open? How many are usually active at one time? How many hours do you usually work per day? Per week? Per month? What does a typical day look like? What kinds of activities do you do each day and what percentage of time do you spend on each? Anything else you think law students would like to know about your daily practice life?

A:        My daily life as a lawyer has greatly evolved over the past five years.  As a first and second year associate, I was consistently staffed on four or five active cases and assisted with other cases as needed.  If I was staffed on a case, I was typically responsible for researching legal issues that arose during the course of the litigation, drafting various motions, assisting in drafting and responding to written discovery requests, reviewing documents in preparation for depositions, and representing clients at status hearings and case management conferences. As you may have guessed, if I was brought on another case “as needed,” it was often to assist with document review.

            As I moved from a junior to a mid-level associate, I began taking on more responsibility in my cases.  I am currently staffed on twelve or thirteen active cases, including a few pro bono matters.  I try to spend at least a few hours on each matter every week.  My responsibilities vary depending on the complexity of the case and the number of other attorneys involved at my firm.  Typically, however, I am responsible for drafting pleadings and dispositive motions, drafting and responding to written discovery requests, interviewing clients, preparing witnesses for depositions, taking and defending depositions, negotiating settlements, drafting settlement agreements, and representing clients at various court proceedings.

Every day is different.  I try to get into the office every day between 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m., but I never seem to leave at the same time.  Today, for example, I got to the office around 8:30 a.m., spent two hours in state court arguing a number of contentious motions, an hour responding to emails and updating my colleagues on the status of various matters, three hours preparing for and participating in a settlement conference on behalf of a pro bono client, and an hour revising and preparing to file an answer in a new federal lawsuit.  I left the office around 6:45 p.m. and spent a few hours this evening reviewing research performed by a junior associate in preparation to discuss litigation strategy with a partner tomorrow morning.  It was a busy day.  Tomorrow, however, I will likely spend the majority of the day behind my desk reviewing deposition transcripts and conducting research in preparation to draft a motion for summary judgment.

As for my hours, like most firms, my firm has a minimum billable requirement.  With that in mind, I try to bill 170-180 hours a month.  Unfortunately, there is a great ebb and flow in litigation – so I often end up billing 140 hours one month and 215 the next.

Interviews with Practicing Attorneys

Law students are always eager to hear from practicing attorneys about what their professional lives are really like. With that in mind, I will soon post an interview with a mid-level litigation associate at a well-known Chicago law firm, regarding her life as an attorney there.  The interview will be posted in several installments, covering several topic areas:

* Her practice and her daily routine;

* What she learned as a beginning associate;

* Her reflections on supervising beginning associates now that she is a mid-level associate.

As I mentioned, the first of these posts will be up soon.

One of the best aspects of these interview posts is that the attorney has agreed to answer your follow-up questions — so feel free to post your questions to her in the Comments section of each post.

I hope to make this the first in a series of interviews with attorneys, so let me know in the Comments section what kind of attorneys you would like to see me interview, and I’ll work on it!