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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 the jobs that fall so easily to graduates of Harvard and Yale. 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, where the ability to understand the complexities of his clients’ products is a significant asset. 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). From there, it’s a short step to the permanent job offer, and a career in high-stakes IP litigation. So far, so good. Wellen does a fine job of sketching the anxieties of Tier 2 law students as they scramble for summer jobs — or any jobs — and the insecurity that comes from their encounters with their peers at New York University (Tier 1) and the like. Wellen can be very funny, and has an eye for the telling detail. Here he is describing 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 attends 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 (or at, say, New York Law School, where I teach). It’s a sellers’ market for Harvard grads; it’s a buyers’ market for the majority of other grads (especially in this economy). This affects everything from how students relate to their professors, to how well they prepare for their classes, to how hard they work, to how they see their future. A different perspective would be refreshing. 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. Wellen also loses his storytelling grip as soon as he graduates from law school. Nearly one-third of “Barman” is dedicated to Wellen’s experience studying, taking and worrying about the New York bar exam. While this is undoubtedly a grueling rite of passage, it does not merit the nearly 80 pages Wellen devotes to it. Indeed, add the 20 pages he spends describing his post-exam travels in Europe, and another 20 pages for his apartment search and renovation in New York City, and almost half of the book is filled with the kind of accumulated details that can drive a reader to drink. The problem with memoirs of the legal profession, especially those written by newbie lawyers, is that there’s so little to say, and what there is to say is excruciatingly boring. Thus, Wellen pads his book with the aforementioned 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.) 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 his claim seriously that he loved practicing law and loved being an attorney. “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.” This is a surprising pronouncement, given Wellen’s expressed love of the job, and the lack of any real turning point. Wellen himself admits, “I can’t entirely explain it.” One suspects that like so many other young lawyers, Wellen’s heart wasn’t in it from the beginning. But ambivalence is so much more difficult to convey than making simple pronouncements. It’s also much more unattractive. Better to blame the law than a confusing and unpalatable array of choices. 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.

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