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Every year, when the time comes to make formal offers to summer associates and begin fall recruiting at campuses across the country, someone at my firm will mention that students with significant prior work experience adjust better to law firm life. They point out that most major business schools have long required that their applicants work for several years to gain industry experience before applying. The reason for this is plain – work and life experiences after college instill a measure of maturity, personal responsibility and worldliness rarely achieved with the typical summer and part-time jobs that fill the r�sum�s of those who proceed straight from college to law school. Taking the hypothesis a step further, if real world experience is good, real real world experience is better. And few jobs are more real than a career in the United States military. I have twice had the pleasure of working with attorneys who served their country before they entered law school. At first blush the two were very different from one another – the first, a West Point-educated former Army intelligence officer and Stanford Law alum, was a smooth talking and keenly intelligent New Yorker; the other, a former Naval surface warfare officer and University of Virginia Law alum, was a wise, willful and politically-savvy Texan. Despite their disparate backgrounds, they shared an impressively broad understanding of geopolitics and international institutions. As a former engineer who never studied politics or traveled beyond North America, I knew little about the world beyond the United States when I finished law school. I hadn’t exactly squandered my youth; I worked for years as a computer engineer and consultant before I even thought about taking the LSAT. But I must admit some jealousy over my friends’ ability to insightfully discuss international current events as easily as I might discuss college football. I wonder how much more I might have gained from having served in the Navy and seeing the world beyond my native shores. I recently had an opportunity to make up for lost time when a patent case required that I take about 20 depositions in two foreign countries over a three-week span. My first week was in Singapore where even the brief stay left me drenched with new cultural experiences (but that’s not all I was drenched with; the average relative humidity is just over 90%). Jogging around the popular Marina Bay and Crawford Park, I was astonished to overhear a new language spoken by nearly every group that I passed. What surprised me most, however, were the conversations I had with taxi drivers as they shuttled me between my hotel and opposing counsel’s offices. Twice I told the drivers that I was an attorney from America visiting Singapore to conduct depositions. The first driver chastised me with a lengthy and educated tirade about the inefficiencies in the American legal system and the economic effects of a society over-dependant on litigation for dispute resolution. The second driver exclaimed with an air of condolence that the American legal system is “too, too strict” and asked whether I was relieved to be abroad where people had more freedom to do as they pleased. Certain he was joking, I proffered my limited knowledge of Singapore’s criminal laws: the notorious case of American student Michael Fay who was caned for vandalizing cars in Singapore in 1994 and the infamous Singaporean ban on chewing gum, the use of which is punishable by one year in jail and a $5,500 fine. This touched off a crisp but lighthearted war of barbs regarding our homelands’ respective societal mores. My driver won with a masterful coup de grace: “In America, you have more lawyers than prostitutes in the yellow pages. In Singapore, it is just the opposite;” proof positive that citizens of a perceived puritanical society can be the subject of authentic pity from the citizens of a perceived totalitarian society. For the next two weeks of depositions I traveled to Munich, Germany where my trip overlapped with the centuries-old May 1 pagan celebration of summer called “May Day,” which coincides, quite antithetically, with international Labour Day – a socialist holiday. As no one works on May Day, I had a break from my depositions and took the opportunity to walk and jog throughout Munich. My first stop was the city-center, at a place called Marienplatz (Mary’s Square), where I pretended to understand as speakers from various labor unions and socialist and communist organizations enthusiastically addressed a growing audience through a loudspeaker. (Coincidentally, the vandalism laws under which Fay was caned were originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti in Singapore.) Upon learning that I spoke not a word of German, a young pamphleteer sat with me for a while and translated the booming propaganda. Later, as we walked together, weaving through the crowd of mostly working class Germans, he explained that the Labour Day holiday in Germany actually has its roots in an incident that occurred in Chicago, Illinois on a May 1 in the late 19th century. According to my new guide, striking workers in Chicago were set upon by police and several workers were killed. In a subsequent rally in support of the workers, a bomb was thrown at a cadre of policemen, killing eight and sparking a riot. In the aftermath, eight people, including five German immigrants, were charged with the murder of a police officer on the theory that they had incited whomever threw the bomb that killed him. When a jury convicted all eight defendants and sentenced seven to death by public hanging, the ensuing international outrage ultimately resulted in a yearly commemoration that became Labour Day in many countries except, ironically, the United States. Disturbed by a growing presence of Polizei (German Police) wearing Kevlar and handguns, many of whom by all appearances were too young to shave regularly, and my guide’s subsequent revelation that the Nazi Party had usurped Labour Day for a brief period in the 1930′s and that Neo-Nazis continued to engage in sometimes violent demonstrations during the holiday, I took my leave. I next jogged through Munich’s Englisher Park, which is similar to New York’s Central Park, but with considerably more open intoxicants and full-frontal nudity. I marveled at how my puritanical and democratic roots made me much more a stranger on this day than my inability to speak German. The brief cultural immersion program offered by these depositions gave me a small glimpse of the international stage and filled me with even greater respect for my two attorney friends who had experiences of this sort years ago while serving in the Army and Navy. I’m not certain that if I had it all to do over again I would have joined the military rather than work in private industry, but I am certain that the benefits would have been immeasurable and everlasting. Ellisen Turner is an associate at the Los Angeles office of Irell & Manella LLP where his practice includes intellectual property litigation and patent prosecution. You may reach him at [email protected]

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