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Barman: Ping-Pong, Pathos Passing the Bar, by Alex Wellen; New York: Harmony Books; 306 pages

Alex Wellen is the kind of guy you want to root for. A graduate of Temple Law School � a Tier 2 school by his own reckoning � and a former engineering major from Rutgers, Wellen is not the obvious poster boy for a high-powered legal career. As he notes, the big firms don’t come knocking for Temple graduates. Instead, Temple students � like those at most law schools outside the top 20 � must use a combination of luck, pluck, and hard work to get good jobs. Wellen, as this memoir reveals, has all three in good supply. For one thing, he can claim law review membership. For another, his engineering background and his patent of a wraparound Ping-Pong paddle (more on that later), make him a natural for a career as a patent litigator. This, plus a natural bonhomie, lands him a summer job at the prestigious intellectual property law firm “Nickels & Reed” (transparently, Pennie & Edmonds, where Wellen worked). Hanging In The Air So far, so good. Wellen does a fine job of sketching the anxieties of Tier 2 law students as they scramble for jobs � and the insecurity that comes from their encounters with their peers at Tier 1 schools. Here Wellen describes his first meeting with Molly, whom he will date over the summer: “We introduced ourselves. Neither of us mentioned the name of the law school we attended. Saying where you went to school right away was like skipping foreplay, or like revealing your religion and political party in the first few minutes of a conversation.” Soon, Wellen learns that Molly attended Columbia (Tier 1). “In general,” Wellen writes, “I could deal with Columbia Law. Even though it was a Tier 1 school, at least Molly hadn’t said Harvard. Harvard � God, when someone said Harvard, it just hung there in the air.” Harvard’s shadow lingers over this book. Most books that mine the same territory � from The Paper Chase, to One L, to Double Billing (by yours truly), and most recently, Running from the Law � have been written from the Harvard perspective. The anxieties that plague students (and graduates) of the Harvards of the legal world are decidedly different from those that plague the Temples. It’s a sellers’ market for Harvard grads; it’s a buyers’ market for the majority of other grads (especially in this economy). Unfortunately, Wellen never lives up to his auspicious beginning. The book quickly devolves into the typical story of the overworked first-year associate, complete with document production in a warehouse in a faraway town. We have the overbearing senior partners, the kind-hearted but clueless midlevel associates, and the flirtatious paralegals. Nothing, in other words, is distinctively “Tier 2″ about any of this. The problem with memoirs of the legal profession, especially those written by newbie lawyers like Wellen, is that there’s so little to say, and what there is to say is excruciatingly boring. Thus, Wellen pads his book with the rigors of preparing for the bar exam, which only makes it worse, and his sexual conquests, which actually come as a welcome relief. (Give me Wellen trying to have sex with a Prada “fit” model over his reviewing bar exam flash cards any day.) Ping-Pong Paddle Wellen might have used the pages to explain what drove him to law school in the first place, but all we get is a story about how a patent attorney didn’t take his attempt to patent a wraparound Ping-Pong paddle seriously. And because Wellen lasts only 16 months at his firm before fleeing for a new life as a television producer, it’s hard to take seriously his claim that he loved practicing law and loved being an attorney, but became burned out and disillusioned. “Eventually, I just decided that the deal no longer interested me. I was unwilling to endure daily drudgery in exchange for a highly lucrative job and an extravagant lifestyle. I was not going to live my life in billable hours, and I was not going to spend the next nine years working to become a partner in a business that didn’t really suit me.” No doubt the law is partly to blame for driving its youth away. But the youth are not blameless, nor are they truly na�ve. After all, they’ve read the books, heard the warnings, and been summer associates. Fortunately for Wellen, he’s escaped all that. For the rest of us, he’s left another reminder that it’s not always a good idea to write about what you know.


Stracher is the publisher of the New York Law School Law Review.

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