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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Larry Dieker Jr.’s book “Letters from Law School.” AUGUST 13 “So how do you know Mr. Reese?” the lawyer asked me. The truth: I didn’t know Mr. Reese at all. A letter to him had landed me an interview with his law firm, Bradford & Bain, a mammoth firm that occupied several floors of one of the newer office buildings towering over Capital Square in downtown Columbus, Ohio. While I was home to be married, I had lined up several interviews for the following summer. Bradford paid its summer associates something in excess of $20,000. A good job. A glamorous job. It might lead to an offer for full-time employment following graduation, and in any event it was certainly experience toward a full-time job, whatever awaited me beyond that black curtain at the end of three years of law school. I knew Mr. Reese was a partner with the firm. But I could not have recognized him. We had never even spoken. “He’s a friend of the family,” I said. But sounding out across the wide desk, the response had a feeble edge. The casual words seemed to get lost in the expanse between us. The lawyer looked at me a moment as if he were trying to make sense of the fragments. His eyes narrowed. With a flourish of his hand, he referred to a note attached to my resume. “His son and your brother are friends?” “That’s right.” A tenuous connection, perhaps, but by no means ridiculous. I knew where Mr. Reese lived. I had picked up my brother from the house once. I had even delivered his newspaper as a substitute carrier. Mr. Reese liked his newspaper in his mailbox. It was a big metal box painted like a flag. I had been granted an interview, hadn’t I? There was some connection. But the lawyer, the chairman of the firm’s hiring committee, was busy tossing other obstacles my way. In my rush to put my resume together, I had omitted details about the law firm where I had just spent the summer — Simoneaux, Troy & Walters — little details, like where the firm was located and how many attorneys it employed. The fact that Simoneaux was of comparable size, with more than a hundred attorneys, should have been a point in my favor, but the chairman let me know he found the presentation of my life confusing. He moved his finger along the page, searching. He stumbled over words and looked at the ceiling, balancing my future like a ball on the tip of his nose. “What type of law do you think you’d like to practice?” he asked, finally. “Perhaps it’s too early to tell.” “I think I’d make a good insurance litigator,” I told him. On this point I felt prepared. The night before I had looked up Bradford & Bain in Martindale-Hubbell, a directory of lawyers and law firms, to get a sense of the firm’s primary practice areas, the background of some of the firm’s attorneys, the credentials of recent hires. One question that came up frequently during interviews was what type of law the student might want to practice. Law students who sit and stare out the window with no concept of the future, no career goals to speak of, without mentioning so much as a class they particularly enjoyed, are adrift in the water. Bradford & Bain seemed to have a basic corporate practice. With my undergraduate degree in English, corporate law was something I always had trouble embracing with any apparent conviction. My connection, Mr. Reese, was, among other things, a member of the Ohio Insurance Association. Bradford & Bain probably represented the insurance industry. That was okay. I had done some insurance litigation work over the summer at the Simoneaux law firm. Strong points exist on both sides. Industry cannot be an insurer for every injury tangentially related to its products; on the other hand, there are some very injured people out there … He let me explain, encouraging me whenever we made eye contact, his eyes flashing. When he was certain I had finished, he said, “We don’t really do much insurance litigation here.” I struggled to understand. I felt as if I had been hit. Dizzy, I tried to regain my balance. Wasn’t this Bradford & Bain? Mr. Reese? The Ohio Insurance Association? One thing was certain: The interview was over. I didn’t imagine his flash of satisfaction, quickly contained. The chairman reached toward his pocket for something, thought better of it, started to rise, but readjusted himself and crossed his legs instead. I hadn’t moved. I hadn’t breathed. I couldn’t. I was still upright. If he wanted to knock me down, I thought, he would have to do better than that. “The smaller firms in town tend to do the insurance-related work,” he went on, and as he spoke I realized with a gulp that he had knocked the air out of me and I was falling of my own accord. “You should try a firm like Ravetz Liskoff. They do a lot of insurance litigation. Have you applied with them?” I shook my head. A few minutes later, as he escorted me down the hallway to the elevator, I made a last, desperate attempt to continue the interview: “Where do the clerks work?” The sound of my voice seemed to take him by surprise. He winked involuntarily at another lawyer waiting for the elevator. I pressed on, momentarily revived. “Where I worked last summer all the clerks worked in a room off the library.” It was pointless, but I went on anyway. “The clerks have offices,” he said. “Usually two clerks will share an office.” I tried to seem interested. He had to appreciate the effort. Stepping off the elevator, he paused to show me the firm’s famous boardroom. We looked in from the hallway. A cavernous room, high ceiling, portraits on the walls, dominated by a giant round table of dark polished wood. But before I could absorb the whole scene, the door was closed and we were moving again down the hall. The giant table, the portraits, the tradition, power, prestige, all vanished before my eyes. The problem was I had no idea what the future held. But I couldn’t just blurt out to the chairman of the law firm’s hiring committee that my future was uncertain, that I had at best some vague notion that I would do … whatever it was lawyers did. My secretary would sit behind walls somewhere outside my door. My lunches would be scheduled. My kids would come to visit, marvel at the frosted glass, and run like orphans through the halls… During my interview with Gaines, Duncan, Duffy & Gray, a few days before, I had paused so long to ponder the question, ponder my future, that one of the lawyers excused herself. And Gaines, where I had worked in the library the summer prior to starting law school, the law firm that handled my uncle’s legal affairs, had been one of my best prospects for landing a job back in Columbus. Where did I see myself in five years? The reels spun. I waited. They waited. The world waited. Someone somewhere was talking. Why was it now so quiet? Fuzz. The tape was erased. Nothing. No words. Only fuzz. The essays you write for the law school admissions office, I quickly discovered, just do not sound convincing when spoken: nobility of the profession, benevolence, social consciousness, fascination with the law, omnipresence of the law … It sounded like an empty tin can hitting the floor. No ring to it at all. Besides, you would have to be an idiot to believe half of those things. These people were all tall. They were all attractive. They all looked alike. I was short, plain, African, Asian, German, Indian, Hispanic, English, overweight, unsure, and undefined. With strong toothy smiles, they all wanted to know what I was doing there, taking up their time. Why do you want to be a lawyer? Perhaps it’s too early to tell. Gaines had been one of my best chances for landing a job in Columbus. And now I had missed my opportunity with Bradford & Bain. AUGUST 15 My final interview in Columbus before returning to Tulane Law School in New Orleans was with Brunnett & Carne, a firm with offices in Columbus, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. With no guarantee from the Gaines law firm, and my chances at Bradford & Bain doubtful, I double-checked all my facts. I wanted very much to return to Columbus the following summer. If I was to avoid flying back to Columbus for more interviews during the school year, this firm was my final chance. And from the start, Brunnett & Carne seemed to take me seriously. While I had become used to meeting with associates whose job, I finally decided, was to see if I reminded them of themselves, at Brunnett, I met with partners right from the start, two partners and two associates from the hiring committee over the course of a morning. I was also leaner, meaner. I was now more familiar with the kinds of questions being asked of second-year students, more rehearsed with my answers. And with several misfires behind me, I was a little desperate. This could be my last chance. I had questions. They had answers. Brunnett & Carne was perhaps best known outside the legal community for representing the Stromburg family in business and divorce matters. By the time I walked into the final interview, I was thinking I just might be around next summer for an invitation to Stromburg Farms, where the family’s thoroughbreds are trained and where two World Series trophies are on display, guarded by a crack security staff and a stuffed prowling panther. The final interview was with a middle-aged patent attorney, a graduate of Northwestern Law School. The diploma was the only thing on his wall. My resum� was the only thing on his desk. He was bald with a thick mustache and, from the moment I was shown into his office, seemed bent on discovering how, with law students wandering the land like refugees, I had gotten a summer job at Simoneaux, Troy & Walters, the ancient New Orleans firm where I had just spent the past 10 weeks. “How is the job market in New Orleans?” he wanted to know. I admitted that it was bad, that I had been lucky. He waited for more. “My grades improved dramatically my second semester,” I explained. To many interviewers, rising grades would have shown a certain adaptability, that I was a quick study, full of potential. But to an old lawyer, an experienced detective, someone who could smell blood, my explanation was an admission that my grades had been merely mediocre after my first semester, which made my job at Simoneaux even more of a mystery. 1Ls interview in the spring on the strength of their first semester grades. If the grades aren’t in, they occasionally interview on the strength of their LSAT score. He understood the situation immediately. “How was your LSAT score?” he asked. “One fifty-nine,” I admitted. It was hard to admit. I could have said 161. Perhaps I should have. There was no way he could have known differently. But I blurted out the truth: One fifty-nine. It wasn’t a terrible score. It had placed me in the top 20 percent of those who had taken the test, presumably a pretty intelligent group. Largely on the strength of that score, I had been accepted to a number of good schools: Villanova, Case Western, Marquette, Tulane. All the same, I had the feeling, as he scratched the number with sharp strokes across the top of my resume, that, contrary to what he later told me, I would not be given every consideration when the hiring committee convened later that month. Lawrence Dieker Jr. graduated with honors from Tulane Law School. He practices law in Ohio, where he lives with his wife and their three children. “Letters from Law School” is available at all major online book retailers or can be ordered directly from the publisher by calling (877) 823-9235. Copyright 2000 by Lawrence Dieker Jr. All rights reserved.

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