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“Brush With the Law: The Turbulent True Story of Law School Today at Stanford and Harvard” by Robert Byrnes and Jaime Marquart Renaissance Books, an imprint of Renaissance Media Inc., Los Angeles, 332 pages, $24.95. This book, while on its face an honest report, is deeply disturbing. “Brush With the Law: The Turbulent True Story of Law School Today at Stanford and Harvard” purports to describe the law school careers of Jaime Marquart and Robert Byrnes, bright but troubled young men who land at two of our most revered law schools, one (Jaime) at Harvard and the other (Robert) at Stanford. Apparently meant as a coming-of-age tale, it reads more like a coming-of-corruption tale laced with heavy doses of cynicism. Written in alternating chapters, the book details each man’s life chronologically by academic stages until they converge at the start of their professional careers. While their chronicles display an obvious attempt to create a jarring, if not frightening, picture of America’s budding legal rainmakers, what the author’s have actually produced is a ranting compilation of sexual conquests, drug-induced babblings and self-indulgent anecdotes. Nonetheless, disturbing as it may be, overly long and written in a confusing style as it is, the story generally holds the reader. There are times, though, that the subject matter is so unnecessary and distasteful that it is hard to bear. The tales of each character are also difficult to follow due to the alternating chapters and the detail presented. I had a hard time keeping track of whose girlfriend was whom and who was friends with which character, much less which minute incident happened to which author. We first meet Jaime, a young Texan of meager beginnings whose academic talents have won him admission to Harvard Law School. As his law school career progresses we find him a bitter and confused 3L gambling away his financial aid check on a hand of blackjack and pondering the journey that led him to that moment. Jaime’s tale is that of a brilliant, albeit skeptical, underachiever who spends his days at Harvard planning casino adventures and analyzing his classmates. When he’s not gambling, Jaime contemplates the competitive nature of law school and how it manifests itself in his classmates. He cynically refers to his fellow classmates as “zero-summers” which means that for each person’s happy moments someone else must experience tragedy or loss. “And so all zero-summers have a personal stake in each other’s unhappiness.” Although Jaime says he detests the pettiness and conventionality he finds in almost all of the students at Harvard, ironically, by spending so much time criticizing others, Jaime is not only as petty, but he reveals apparently abundant feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. It is easy to understand those feelings given his every effort to skirt his responsibilities at law school. While Jaime is sometimes insightful and his descriptions clever, the reader is ultimately left not with the tale of one true soul amongst a sea of dishonest back-stabbers, but rather, that of a brilliant young man with an addictive disorder and a generally negative outlook on life. Although sometimes amusing, he failed to convince me that laziness, wasting your talents and still landing on top yields an admirable law school experience. Robert Byrnes is equally skeptical of his fellow students at Stanford, but his story differs from Jaime’s. Robert went to law school largely because he had gotten in and had nothing better to do. Law school seemed to please his hometown elite, and so he went, leaving behind his dream of pursuing a career as a magician or, believe it or not, a bicycle messenger (the latter of which was, in fact, his career when he wrote his postscript to the book). Robert regularly skips classes, and spends most of his time riding his bike, talking about sex or smoking rock cocaine with a classmate on the floor of a dirty bathroom. Like Jaime’s, Robert’s story contains some insightful and well-written descriptions, in which he relates themes learned in law school to events in his own life. For example, after a torts class which distinguished “but-for” from “proximate” causation, Robert ponders the potentially infinite causal history of the events in his life and how each one ultimately contributed to the orgy he had with four law school classmates on Halloween night. Thanks for sharing. It is honest, though, and that is the real dilemma posed by the book: Are we so flawed and immature as law students or are we generally better than that? The answer is obvious: both. There certainly are many truly devoted, hard-working students bent on learning the law. But how many Jaimes and Roberts are there? Maybe more than we think. “Brush With the Law” has an obvious goal: to dispel the notion that law students are upstanding citizens with noble goals. We forget, that in many cases, they are young people with little life experience — children becoming adults. They drink, gamble and have sexual escapades. The desire for academic success does not eliminate typical adolescent behavior. While it is surely true that lawyers are not all angels, this book fails to pay homage to the many lawyers who do study and practice law to honorably present and defend their clients’ rights. The authors, though, take their goal to the extreme, and try to show lawyers as blinded by competitiveness, driven by greed, and able to goof off endlessly and still succeed. The honesty of Jaime’s and Robert’s approach is one thing, but their tale is saturated with completely inappropriate detail. While some shock may help to make a point, there is no conceivable purpose to their drawn out descriptions of sexual conquests or drug-seeking adventures. As I read about the death of Robert’s drug dealer or Jaime’s unsatisfying encounter with a hooker, I found myself wondering, “What does any of this have to do with either of these young men becoming lawyers?” The authors stick our faces in disturbing and inappropriate scenarios to the point that the purpose of the book is lost to disgust. In the end, I found “Brush With the Law” to be an enormously cynical, self-indulgent and very immature tale of two young men who want us to think that they are the norm. For the good and welfare of us all — we surely hope and definitely believe that they are not. To buy this book is to bless a puerile journal with credibility it does not deserve. Jeffrey R. Cohen is an attorney and founding partner of Cohen Goldstein & Silpe, a matrimonial law firm in Manhattan. Jacqueline E. Mark is an associate at Cohen Goldstein.

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