Gary Muldoon, a politician, attorney and budding author, pulls no punches about the legal profession in his newest compendium of short stories, lists and life lessons. While some of his advice is slightly purple (e.g. turn off your goddamned cell phone), the majority is sound and some is pure genius. For example, one paragraph, buried in the early third of the book bears repeating, and it should probably be read to every single law student before they sign their first loan commitment letter:
If you don’t like the economics of law, go into some other line of work. But if you enter law, don’t expect the mega-salaries that a few make when starting out in the biggest law firms. Most lawyers are members of the middle class. Many others have a hardscrabble life, and many graduates getting out of law school are stranded, without any job. Being a member of a profession is no guarantee of financial success.
The beginning of the book discusses life in preparation for and during law school. He’s dead on in his assessment that: 1. You will need a mentor; 2. You will work hard; and 3. You should try to keep in shape. The most insightful thing he says during that section, however, is simply that we should all strive to be well read.
As a hiring attorney, Muldoon offers insights that I have never heard. A small firm’s hiring practices are usually opaque at best, and he does an excellent job explaining how a small firm goes about bringing on a new hire. Furthermore, his advice on applications, though somewhat obvious (no typos on your cover letter, format your resume, dress like a professional, turn off your cell phone, be nice to office staff, send a follow-up letter not e-mail) is well worth the somewhat steep $50 price tag on the back of the book. Also, comment on life as a new lawyer is brutally honest yet refreshing: “the first six months after becoming a lawyer, you are a threat to Western Civilization as we know it.”
Some great advice offered by Muldoon: stand up when talking to a judge, listen to your paralegal and visit the scene of the incident. Furthermore, he explains the roles attorneys can take in a law firm using rhymes (minders, finders, binders and grinders), reminds you to always CYA and most importantly, to have a sense of humor and stay positive.
Once he starts discussing practice areas, Muldoon shares with the readers his tact and approach in dealing with a myriad of issues in family, criminal and appellate law. While I disagree with his assessment that personal injury lawyers are not real trial lawyers (I took three verdicts last year alone), his thoughts on criminal law sound in honest self-reflection and concern.
“We don’t enjoy representing someone we know to be innocent. Our screw-up, or even doing a great job, may end up with an innocent person being convicted and imprisoned. It eats our insides while we’re handling the case and doesn’t stop when the case ends.”
Also on trial practice: “Trials can establish which side was more prepared, which attorney was better, overseen by a judge as fraught with weaknesses as the attorneys and parties. Sometimes it provides justice.” It seems like these are thoughts any trial lawyer has had, and something most of us ultimately have to accept as the reality of our adversarial system.
Throughout the book Muldoon makes an active effort to relay and instill his own moral compass. Yet another great piece of advice that every lawyer should know and remember: “The attorney is an advocate, but is not there to lie for the client, or to allow the client to lie.”
He goes on to discuss nuts and bolts of trial practice (stay up to date on the law, write one page memoranda of law and whenever possible, try to prevent the judge from having to think too hard). It goes without saying that you have to go into a case prepared, but no one has ever given better advice when dealing with a difficult adversary (refer to them as my learned counsel); and always remember, though not lawyers, the jury can tell if one of the lawyers is being a jerk.
Along similar lines, Mr. Muldoon talks about the profession at large and how to build your career. He stresses the importance of networking and CLE. More importantly, he reminds us all that the bar is in fact a small playground and we should all endeavor to play nice. He says, “I don’t want to be known as one of those slash and burn attorneys, shunned by others, one who may eventually crash and burn.” Words we should all try to remember.
By the end of the book, you feel like you’ve really been given some sound advice from that seasoned lawyer down the hall. More than that, the last few pages of the book give you some heartfelt insight into the author’s life and family. In short, Muldoon comes across like someone with a plethora of real world experience who has mulled it over and wants to impart some sound advice to you, the law student or young lawyer.
The Education of a Lawyer is an insightful, well-written handbook for the would-be or budding attorney. While some of the chapters were more pertinent for me at this point in my career, each chapter was finely crafted and passed on some really sound advice. This book is a must read for anyone considering law school or any young lawyer trying to navigate their way through the legal profession.