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"I start thinking about the closing argument the day I'm assigned to a case." Morrison & Foerster partner Arturo Gonzalez after winning a $36.3 million verdict in a trade secrets case this week.

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If you're still in school, and're undecided about what classes to take, here's a contrary view: Do not take classes because you think they'll be helpful for the bar exam. You'll spend time enough with bar-review study, and having taken a course in, say, commercial paper will be only marginally helpful--if at all--in the exam.

Sure, if you feel the litigator rising from your bones, you may as well load up on evidence, jurisdiction, and trial courses. (Clinics are good for non-litigators, too; they'll give you a taste of what you'll be missing.) And if you're destined for that glorious tax practice, you should excise all thoughts of Pre-Renaissance Entertainment Law of Southern Europe and encumber yourself, instead, with other exciting, if somewhat more exacting courses. (Even better, if you know what and where you'll likely practice, read the state's statutes for that topic. You'll be parsecs ahead of everyone else.)

You should take courses in Family Law and Wills & Estates: two areas in which all lawyers are expected to have ready dinner-party answers. Remedies, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Conict of Laws, Jurisprudence, and the like are nice components of a legal education. Consumer Protection, Employment, Environmental, Immigration, International, and Tax law courses are other prospects, depending upon your desires. (Unfortunately, each is usually too concerned with depth, at the expense of breadth or sense, to be of true benefit to most students.) Survey courses, if available at your school, are a nice way to learn an area of law, without wasting time on details that will change, if not fade immediately from memory.

You should also take courses offered in other disciplines. Business courses, though time-consuming, are a natural complement to future commercial lawyers... and they're really fun. (Well, most of them--although all are a nice break from the negative world of law.)

You don't like money-grubbing? Take courses in the other social sciences, the hard sciences, the arts... whatever. If you have a sincere interest in something, you'll likely be able to talk your dean into approving law school credit for... just about anything. It'll transform your law school years into the intellectual delight that they should be. It'll rarely make any negative difference to interviewers (if it does, would you really want to work there, anyway?), though it might make a positive difference to some. Much more importantly, it'll make you a better person... and a better lawyer.

Don't feel bound by your law school catalog.

And don't listen to those who insist that you must take the most boring classes ever offered to succeed in practice. It ain't so. When necessary, you can prepare yourself adequately in the real world by reading an outline over a weekend. (And don't worry... you will.) They won't be the most enjoyable weekends, true, but once you've learned about law, generally, condensed references are the best way to learn about law, specifically.

A legal education--indeed, all education--is not supposed to teach you... stuff. That's called training. Rather, education should teach you how to learn... and how to figure out how to apply learned knowledge. Clichd as the saying is, this won't sink in until after you've practiced awhile: the law you learn in school will not be the law you practice. Besides, there's a word for relying on your law school lectures for law practice details: malpractice.

So how do you practice if not from memory? Later, Junior. For now, don't make yourself miserable for what's left of your law school career in the misdirected hope that it'll make more than a modest difference. It won't.(*)

* As a contrary view to my contrary view, there probably is a correlation--but not between classes and success. Rather, it's probably between boring-class temperament and practice success. An editor asked if I meant that "those willing to get down in the trenches are more likely to succeed than those with their heads in the clouds." ...Exactly.

Excerpted from The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book, by Thane Josef Messinger, a graduate of the U. of Texas Law School, where he was an editor of the Texas Law Review.
Copyright 1996, The Fine Print Press

* Important Message From the Library Staff To the Library's Beloved Patrons * A lawyer/editor/psychotic friend raved about this book and insisted we'd love it, so we read it and liked it so much we bought the company -- opps, wrong commercial... Let's try again... After reading this new [11/96] book, we liked it so much we contacted the author and coerced him into giving a Special Deal to Library visitors who order it.

So, while we hesitate to do anything that might encourage further spread of The Lawyer Plague, if you already made up your mind, we strongly encourage you to find out more about The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book, and to order and read it immediately.