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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

3 Accidental Lessons

As many of you know, 3 things has been on sabbatical of late; largely as a function of a self-imposed exile to study for the Nevada Bar Exam. The Bar Exam has the same relationship to the practice of law as true love has with ABC’s The Bachelor (or Lord help me, the Bachelorette), and studying for it is a lot like dating in Los Angeles: painful, expensive, and an unbelievable grind just to score something average. But similar to life in Los Angeles, the best part of it is when it’s over, and thankfully, I can finally now enjoy the afterglow of a July spent living like a shut in. The myriad of useless things that one is forced to learn for the Bar Exam is mind boggling. From bits of the Constitution that no one will ever care if you know to lawsuits that will never be filed, my brain hasn’t been this awash in utterly valueless knowledge since I thought winning at Trivial Pursuit might get me laid. It didn’t. But along the way, a funny thing happened, and I actually did learn a few things that not only did I not expect, but that actually might prove useful someday. As you might expect, not one of them was in my prep course syllabus. And so, in the interests of finally being back, here are 3 things I accidentally learned while studying for the Bar:

1. The Live Long Day. For the majority of my adult life, I have had the enormous good fortune to either (a) spend my days doing things that I like doing or (b) spend my days doing things I don’t like doing with someone’s boot up my ass to make sure it gets done. As a result, my days have always seemed woefully short. Just when I start to get up to speed, the sun’s setting, and it’s almost time to reload. I haven’t kept regular “working hours” for as long as I can recall, and if I’m awake, I’m usually trying to squeeze just a bit more into my days. But with a good, solid month to put work aside and try to channel my law-school self, I discovered that when you’re doing something you don’t really want to do and there’s no one there to motivate you - days are long. Like a rush hour trip on the 405 long, Out of Africa long, last-day-of-school-before-summer long. Never has the difference between having to do something and wanting to do something been more painfully obvious. I usually have to be reminded to eat lunch - and usually some time after one in the afternoon. But more than a few times in July I checked the clock three times before ten hoping it was noon. Even more depressing was realizing that there are actually five or six usable hours after dinner (which I had to use for something other than watching Law & Order re-runs and re-mastering Mario Kart). One thing I learned for sure, whoever said that “life is short” was definitely not studying for the Bar.

2. Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? My regular readers know that I lamented many times over the unwanted changes that three and a half decades (or so) have wrought on my body, but always comforted myself with the corresponding gains my mind has made over the same years. It turns out, however, that not all of the changes to my mind have been as positive as I had hoped. I used to be really good at school. I mean, really, really good. I had a nearly insatiable appetite for classes, homework and tests. I didn’t just have a tolerance for pedagogy, I had a need for it. But in the intervening 15 years or so since I was last truly engaged in academic pursuit, my knowledge of the gap between what you learn in school and what you need to know to be successful has broadened to the point where I have approximately the same amount of patience for classroom-based academic instruction as I have when running a few minutes late and driving behind a minivan in the left-most lane on the freeway (trust me, it’s not a pretty sight). It’s not that the classes have changed that much - white boards instead of chalkboards and laptops instead of notepads, but still the same repetition, outlines, flash cards, practice tests, etc. And I couldn’t be less interested if it were a class on the Neo-Freudian nuances of Sex and the City. I once had the romantic notion that I might go back to school someday - get a Master’s degree, maybe even a Ph.D. I also once suspected I might be a superhero who simply hadn’t located his powers yet. Turns out there’s a better chance that I can fly.

3. Legally Gone. There are a lot of things not to like about being a lawyer, but the absolute worst part of the profession is having to spend time around other lawyers. Of course, I’m not saying that all lawyers are the same sort of insufferably self-absorbed, vastly over-apprised of their own worth and intelligence, shits that give rise to an entire subset of pointed humor and a nearly universal revulsion amongst the public, but it’s a large enough majority to warrant not betting against it. I have been out of the firm practice for over four years, and in that time I had almost forgotten how painful it is to not only spend time around people far enough up their own ass as to nearly come out their own mouth, but to be associated with them. It took me less than a full day into my Bar prep course - overhearing two attorneys talking at lunch - to remember. It was that day I committed to taking my review by video lectures at home, lest I have to endure another minute. There hasn’t been a group of people so poorly over-advised of their social value since the Kardashians, and it should come as no surprise that their patriarch was similarly licensed. I had once hoped that my revulsion to my professional colleagues was born of simply going to the wrong school and working in the wrong city. Nope, we really are mostly assholes.

* * *

In the end, taking the Bar Exam was an instructive process. A reminder of a few important principles that I may have lost in my otherwise focused practice, and of the breadth of knowledge that the public expects from us. It was also instructive on just how long it’s been and how far I’ve come since the last time I sat in a room with that many other JDs. Six years is an otherwise unremarkable amount of time. After all, it took more time to get the education I needed to take the exam, to get from voting eligible to rental car eligible and from puberty to non-virginity (yes, I know). But in that time, I went from someone who had memorized a good bit of the law, to actually being a lawyer; the kind of professional that people entrust with their lives, their livelihood and their future. And while it took this kind of exam to start to figure out that I could do that, it’s going to take a whole lot more than another one to tell me that I can’t.


Cheryl P.W. said...

Thanks for your insights Glenn. As I painfully work on finishing my doc quals paper and dissertation, I hope I can come up with great lessons too. However I definitely already agree with #1 & 2!

Kristina said...

Stop making fun of my minivan (and I don't drive slow, just because it's a minivan) :)

Law School... so you know why there's a place you have to slow down on your way to California for a "fruit" inspection...

That's all I got. This is why I will never leave Nevada while I am an attorney: I am never, ever doing that again. Studying for the bar was pretty much the worst 6 weeks of my life. In fact, I didn't even join all my friends when they went to take the AZ bar.

Jen and Tonic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen and Tonic said...

First, I'm glad you survived the Bar. I had no doubt you would, but I'm happy nevertheless.

I couldn't agree with you more about #2. I'm so surprised by asshats who get their MBA degrees and then think they know what it takes to run a business. You want to know what it takes to run a business? BALLS OF STEEL, not a piece of paper.

A double-header this week, what did we do to deserve this?

OZ101 said...

So glad to see 3 things back! It's always a bright spot in my day.

Anonymous said...

whoa...heavy G heavy stuff. Congrats on making it through! -Jessie

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