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It’s cool to be a free-lancer when you do your research in bars. I’m still waiting for my gainful employer to pay for a round as part of my expenses … And while I’m waiting, I’ll share the fruits of my research. These are the ten best new year’s resolutions by successful lawyers — as well as lowly law students — that I heard. 1. “This semester, I resolve to focus in class besides those last two weeks before finals.” This is what a Peter Pan-syndrome disc jockey would call an “oldie but goodie.” With the magician’s bagful of class-going substitutes (because that’s what hornbooks, study guides, etc., frequently function as — the Cliffs Notes of law school) available at every campus bookstore, no law student is really dependent on going to class to excel, despite what the ABA may insist. But the real killer has to be those laptops. You can download games online and play them during class. With free Yahoo chat, you can waste time with other slovenly friends in class, or in the class next door, or even with that friend who actually got into Yale and is himself screwing around. If you think I exaggerate, just sit in the back row of any law school class. Half the students bring in their computers, with half of that group frittering time away. That’s one-quarter of America’s future lawyers! And we’re talking about those students who do attend class. Maybe they all just end up suing each other for malpractice. 2. “I resolve to be the student who challenges the greatest professor in the world — Hastings’ infamous ‘Professor Marks’ — and come out on top.” Let me 12(b)(6) you out of the water, guppy: It ain’t gonna happen. 3. “I resolve to be more honest in my job next year.” Aw … this one’s cute. Our lawyerly friend didn’t really pledge to be honest, just less dishonest. Maybe he’s plea-bargaining with his conscience. Reality being what it is, however, practiced morality usually turns more on shades of ambivalence than it does clear-cut positions dedicated to either the nefarious success or the seraphic deed. The guy next to him was at least creative; he resolved to promise to be more honest. 4. “I resolve to have fun and goof off on this, my last free summer [aka the 1L summer].” This sort of commitment is ambivalent. On the one hand, this person sees his window for living irresponsibly closing, and wants to enjoy himself while he can. On the other hand, anything worth doing is worth doing all the way. Enjoying the legal life while one still can is opportunistic, but doing anything halfway isn’t much of an opportunity. 5. “On this graduating year, I promise not to sell out [once I get my job] and to go to the public defender’s office as soon as my debt is paid.” Funny how you typically hear a lot of people who could get firm jobs talking about morality. The jury’s still out on this one. No one can truly make this kind of promise because, at the time they make it, they are about to graduate and are above all, optimistic. Despite their summer jobs, they do not know what full-time, year-round firm jobs are like. Further, they don’t know how that experience will change them. They could love it and stick with it. They could hate it but be hardened into stomaching it. They could see that, after five years, they’ve put in too much time and energy not to commit for even more years and go for partner. They could decide that they’re too accustomed to posh living to sacrifice a whole digit of their salary. So resolving to work at a firm for a specified amount of time is more of a new decade’s pledge than a new year’s resolution. 6. “I resolve to do one great thing for a public interest clinic and not put it on my resum�.” Hot dog! I bought this legal lorax another Hogaarden. 7. “I resolve not to just take bar classes.” I’m going to admit this one came from a 3L who had already taken most of her bar classes her first five semesters and was just itching to enjoy sports law during her upcoming and final semester. The profs who did care usually stressed to us to take what interested us so long as we didn’t entirely neglect that behemoth called the bar. As in with the selling out resolution, number five, where does one draw the line? You’ve been pragmatic in life by going to law school. Nine out of ten students from your school pass the first time. You’re not in the dumbest ten percent, are you? And as for the one out of ten who did fail the first time out, were they the hard-working students like you who enjoyed maritime law at the expense of wills and trusts? Would they or you otherwise have passed but for that class? While the bar is going to be a factor in any law student’s schedule for all three years, daring to take some personal interest classes usually is not the difference between passing the bar and being a really interesting paralegal with a J.D. who mumbles during restless dreams, “If only … “ Maybe people wouldn’t be so hesitant with this resolution if they simply stated, “I resolve to take classes I will enjoy and will therefore work harder at, and learn more from since I’m busting my ass to pass the damn bar anyway.” 8. “I resolve to be valedictorian when I go to law school next year.” We all remember those jerks who told everyone during orientation that they would graduate top dog. I, for one, 9. “Resolve never to give notes to such creeps.” 10. “I resolve never to forget what I told myself I would and would not do while I was in law school.” If this guy sounds mature, it’s because he is. Mark returned to law school after riding his motorcycle and working in the Peace Corps for ten years. He figures he may indeed change, but if so, he’s going to see it happening, and notice what that change is. So, in the end, we frequently resolve to make amends for what we should have done the past year, but did not. We all know that some of these resolutions will be realized while others will be forgotten. Time is always going to change us. Debt continues to compound and accumulate while legal salaries go up or down. This new year, you cannot promise yourself that you will be the one who turns out right while everyone else brags of hocking their soul at Satan’s Pawn Shop for an opulent life of gold-dipped, cocaine-coated misery. Maybe that firm job is just what will make you happy. We really don’t know what a year’s time will do to us. But remembering what we pledged to ourselves gives us, at the very least, some way to measure the changes that come. Free-lancer Mitch Artman lives and writes in Chicago.

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