Category Archives: Law School

My thoughts on the law and law school.

Kuhn Rogers PLC

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Grandpa, me, and you, Harvey, in front of the back door to the new Kuhn Rogers PLC office. Our prior firm merged with another firm in town, and the rest is history. This move was the result of a long summer of moving and discussing. The end result was an exciting beginning to another chapter of our careers.

Techie Lawyers

From You Can’t Make Lawyers into Techies: 3 Lessons About LPM:

Certainly, lawyers are not Luddites, determined to resist progress and deny any change. It’s that they are lawyers, not IT types. So that’s Lesson One: You can’t make lawyers talk IT; IT has to learn to talk lawyer.

Lesson Two is that lawyers insist on immediate gratification. They will happily sacrifice technological sophistication with its attendant steep learning curve for instant utility.

Lesson Three is the need for patience when introducing any sweeping change that seriously impacts traditional behaviors.  Lawyers don’t welcome transformative changes, but they will accept sequential phase shifts if only because their competitors do.

Law Practice: Two First-Year Points of Practice

Two things I’ve learned the hard way during my first year practicing as a lawyer:

  • The Michigan Court Rules are extremely handy and offer clear directions in most situations. It’s good to read them thoroughly, and then revisit them for each specific matter.
  • Reading on paper is easier and “better” than any digital replacement for paper. This statement might surprise a few of my co-workers, but as I head into my second year, I’m trying to better strike a balance between using paper and striving to be paperless. The idea of going paperless is nice, but there has to be universal access to all files when out of the office for it to really be a benefit. I’m finding it easier to simply plan for work out of the office and take specifically what I need. Working out of the office is tricky because I usually forget exactly what I need to really get down to work. This is where I’d like to have greater virtual access, but that requires diligently scanning everything and then ensuring it’s on the server and in the right place. Baby steps!

Death and Taxes

The saying used to go, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” That is not the case this year. As 2010 nears an end, there is still little indication as to what will happen with the Federal estate tax. In 2009, the exemption was $3.5M and anything over that was taxed at 45%. In 2010, the Federal estate tax was repealed. (Good year, if any, to die if you have a sizable estate!) In 2011, the exemption will revert to $1M and anything over that will be taxed at 55% percent. Get used to saying, “Nothing is certain by death and (insert snarky comment re: Federal government decision making here).”

Note: The Future of the Federal Estate Tax blog is an easy way to keep up with the latest news on the topic.

Seat Number: 00728 — PASSED

I passed the Michigan bar examination! It was pretty darn exciting to scroll down the online document and see, “Rogers, Christopher Guy” listed… easily one of the happiest and most satisfying days of my life.

I keep comparing the feeling of passing the Illinois bar to passing the Michigan bar, and there’s no clear winner. Although, I will say that I felt like there was a lot more on the line while taking the Michigan bar. In Illinois, I was well insulated from most everything that could get in the way of studying and there were far fewer people anticipating my results!

Woo hoo! Jump up and down! (Now back to work… haha.)

I Passed The Illinois Bar Exam

I was hiking Old Mission Point Park with the labradoodle and the husky when I heard that the Illinois bar results were starting to be released, and made my way home to check online. It took a few minutes to read the comments on Above the Law to figure out that ibaby.org was overwhelmed by test-takers checking for their scores. This didn’t surprise me, however I hope that the Illinois bar examiners are able to remedy the problem for next year. It’s not fun receiving an email that tells you your results are up and not being able to login!

October 9, 2009

Dear Mr. Rogers,

We are pleased to advise you that you have passed the July 2009 Illinois bar examination.

Our records reflect that you have satisfied all of the requirements for admission to the bar of Illinois pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 704 and will be certified to the Illinois Supreme Court as eligible to take the oath of admission.

Very truly yours,

Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar

This makes me very happy! Thanks to my family and friends for their support, the Franklin Pierce Law Center for teaching me well over the past three years, and the Starbucks on Halsted Street in Chicago’s Greektown where I spent most of my summer with my blue BarBri books and notecards.

Thoughts on Trust & Estate Law

Towards the end of law school I became interested in Estate Planning, so today I was pleased to find in my Google Reader a post titled, “Small Law Firm Open Thread: Trusts & Estates.” (Link) The meat of the post is in the comments section, which was surprisingly thoughtful and focused for a popular blog comments section. I’ve noted below some of my thoughts on points made in the comments which I found insightful.

  • Tax and Real Estate Knowledge is a Must – This should be obvious to anyone who knows even the slightest amount about Estate Planning. In school it was often difficult to distinguish tax planning from estate planning, especially when we started talking about bigger numbers. I can only imagine the levels of tax that must be considered on some larger estates.
  • Billing – There’s mention in the comments of fixed fee billing as opposed to hourly billing. For example, charging a client per will or trust as opposed to billing for the number of hours put in. This is irrelevant as far as I am concerned. A more experienced attorney will be more efficient and will thus complete more work – whether it’s more hours or more completed projects, it matters not. (The concern about not getting enough work seems to come from those attorneys commenting from “BigLaw.”
  • Referrals – The comments emphasize the importance of developing solid referrers of work. Initially, making connections who then, via word of mouth, refer business to you, is more about marketing than legal skills. However, doing good work may be the best marketing you can do for yourself, so we kind of have a “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation.
  • Criticism – There is some criticism of the Trust & Estate area as being soft, stuffy, or proper. I can understand this, however, because, regardless of the client, what they are discussing is both very private and very important to their livelihood and that of their family. It doesn’t seem too much to ask of a lawyer dealing with such clients to come off as professional and reserved if that’s what it takes.
  • How to Break In – “One way to get into a trusts & estates practice from a non-law firm profession is to try to get a position with a bank that has a trust department. Many banks have them but call them “private client” groups. That is also a good way for trusts & estates lawyers to take a break and learn how to properly administer a will or trust. Also, once you have had to administer crappy documents because the lawyer who drafted it did not think outside the box when he said to keep a house or business in trust, you will never make that same mistake.” ~ Comment 23
  • Small/Medium Firms – It seems that most estate planning takes place in small/medium firms. This appeals to me as I’ve never been interested in BigLaw. (I was spoiled by working for a start-up company out of college.)

My Thoughts On BarBri Thus Far

First, a short history on BarBri. “Bar” refers to “Bay Area Review and “Bri” stands for “Bar Review Institute.” The two were merged in 1974 and marketed thereafter as “BarBri.”

I’m nearing the end of the third full week of my BarBri bar exam review class. The first week was the Multistate Advantage; since then it’s been the “official” class, which covers the substantive law topic-by-topic.

With each new topic comes a new professor / presenter. I’ve had four professors thus far, and have been pleased with each of their presentations. However, Michael J. Kaufman of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, who covered Agency, Partnership, and Corporations, is my clear favorite. I think my classmates would agree. He came off as eccentric in an effective and energetic way, and conveyed the outlines memorably. (It helps that he’s got an MA and a JD from the University of Michigan.)

The other presenters were:

Richard Conviser, who happens to be the Founder and Chairman of BarBri and a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He presented Torts over the first two days. While not as memorable as Kaufman, he was clear and efficient in his delivery.

Michael I. Spak of Chicago-Kent School of Law finished his presentations on the sleep-inducing areas of Commercial Paper and Suretyship yesterday. My first read of the long outline for Commercial Paper was frustrating because of the amount of information and multiple levels of detail. However, what BarBri does effectively, and what Spak did clearly was to reduce the information to a memorable shorter outline that targets what I need to know for the bar exam. Spak possesses an interesting combination of grandfatherly expressions and off-color jokes pertaining to various sexual acts, which, commendably, are not easy to slip into a presentation on Commercial Paper.

Faust F. Rossi of the Cornell University Law School presented Evidence today and will continue to do so for another four hours tomorrow. His outline boils down evidence law to logical sequences that seem to be easy to remember. I remember taking evidence in law school and feeling, at times, quite lost. His lectures highlight a distinction between studying for the bar and studying in law school. The emphasis when studying for the bar is on knowing and understanding the law, not knowing specific cases or rules. That’s a good thing! One less level of information to remember.

The class in general:

The review class is huge. I thought the class size would shrink when the “real” review classes started because there would then be morning, afternoon and evening sessions. I was completely wrong. There are far more – hundreds – of fellow lawyers-to-be. It’s weird coming from the lone law school in New Hampshire, which cranks out approximately 150 new lawyers a year, to the third largest city in the US and being amongst more students in this one review location than in my law school class. (I’m probably making an obvious point, but still – there are a lot of them!)

Studying outside of class has been bearable, but not easy by any means. I commend those classmates that work part-time and do the review. I’m sure they sacrifice their studies to a degree. There is definitely enough review and practice problems to keep me busy for the majority of the waking day. Plus, with getting settled in Chicago, I’ve been absolutely exhausted about once every seven days.

The advantage of being in a new place, however, is that when I grow restless in one study location I can take a long walk to another one. It’s fun to people watch and get some fresh air.

Greektown has been good to me thus far. I’ve had more Gyros in the last three weeks than I had in the previous three years. At six dollars for an over-stuffed gyro, fries and a drink, how can I not eat them two or three times a week? I usually go to Mr. Greek’s Gyros on the corner of Halsted and Jackson because they have free drink refills. However, I need to try the place across the street.

Good stuff. More soon!

Movie: The Great Buck Howard

I’ve been waiting to see The Great Buck Howard since I missed it at Sundance two years ago. It wasn’t the greatest movie (quasi-pun intended), but I liked it well enough. Here’s why.

  • The main character is a kid who hates law school and only went because his father corralled him into it. I chose to go to law school on my own terms, but my father is a lawyer and I am in law school. (Strangely, and this goes for only a few people in law school, but I seem to have an affinity for books and movies about “the law.” By that I mean that I willingly and eagerly seek them out. Some of my classmates, instead, run the other way.)
  • The main character wants to be a writer. I would love to be a writer, but I’m not sure I’m willing to sacrifice the earning potential presented by the legal field. However, considering there are not yet any crops in my legal field, I may be just as well off either way. Hello, Hollywood?

That’s really where the similarities end. I wanted “the law” to play a bigger role in the movie, but it wasn’t. Except that “law school” is used as a symbol of oppression from which the main character escaped. I like the message – do what you love … no matter what … and enjoy the journey.

Spring Semester: Final Week of Classes

I am halfway through the first day of my final week of law school classes ever. There have been some tweets to this fact by a few of my fellow law school tweeters. The mix is from excitement to sadness. And I fall at both ends and in between. Or, at least I plan to.

The excitement hasn’t quite hit me yet. I still have a good deal of work to do to finish the semester in good fashion. But, come the end of finals, whether that is the end of next week or the week after (it all depends on how much I want to pack my days versus spreading the work out and delaying the ultimate end), I plan to be excited. I can imagine how it will feel. I’ll walk out of school after dropping off my last assignment. I’ll close my eyes for a second to adjust to the late-spring sunlight, and then I’ll smile. I’m not one to scream or jump around. Not about things like this, anyway. (I save that for the golf course and tennis matches and watching Michigan football games.) My smile will turn into a grin and my shoulders will relax. It will be a relief.

Inevitably, I’ll feel a sense of something short of disappointment that stems from my always wondering if I could have made the entire experience better, more efficient, more fun, etc. Something can always be improved. But instead of being disappointed this time, like I was when I left Washington D.C., I hope to accept that I’ve learned many things about “the law” and about myself during the past three years. It’s amazing, when looking back, how fast – how absolutely fast – the time has passed.

Looking back will be easy. There is a definite end to things. My last day of class. Finishing my last final. Receiving my diploma on graduation day.

Looking forward is less concrete. The rest of my life is going to start on May 17th when I get into my Ford Explorer and start driving west to Chicago, Illinois. I’m working diligently to bring the unplanned into focus. I’ve sorted my storage shed into “ship,” “sort,” “sell” and “toss.” I need to find an apartment in Chicago, a task I generally leave to the very last minute. (This past semester, I didn’t find an apartment until the day I arrived in town.) And most of all, I need to find a job while studying to pass the bar.

This is just me rambling. I could go on, but I have my third-to-last class in ten minutes, so I’ll end my commentary here.

Spring Semster: Masters Week

School is as busy as ever, but the end is in sight. I am preparing for a team negotiation in Copyright Licensing. My team is representing a website developer who has been contracted by a small toy company. The essence of the project is to negotiate and come to an agreement on the controlling contract.

My final Judicial Opinion Drafting order is due one week from yesterday. I am writing as the Supreme Court of New Hampshire deciding whether the Superior Court erred in affirming a Department of Labor decision to award wages and liquidated damages to a peeved former employee who was denied her previous-year’s bonus when she left her job as an insurance agent with a small family insurance company for a larger insurance company. I’ll spend the weekend doing this, but at least I’ll be mostly done with one of my five classes.

Nothing much else notable regarding school work. Four of five of my classes have take-home finals. Most of my exam weeks will be spent writing documents from home, which should be less stressful than the typical “cram-dump” exam routine.

Barrister’s Ball is this weekend. I didn’t get tickets, and the only ones available are going for 100 to 200% above face value. It would be fun to go, but partaking in law-prom ranks quite low for me.

Putting all of the work in perspective is my anticipation of The Masters broadcast this weekend. This is by far my favorite golf tournament of the year to watch on TV. I’m hoping Tiger Woods makes a run for the green jacket, but that the contest is close. Who do you think will win?

Spring Semester: March Madness

I have ten minutes to write this. Go, me!

On Court: My bracket is holding up well with all four final four teams intact. The first weekend of the tournament really is one of the best weekends of sports all year. I’d put it up there with the Majors in golf and Tennis.

Off Court: This entire month has been a whirlwind of activity. I’m running in circles trying to keep up with my tasks that seem to be swept further ahead with each passing day. I have two major assignments in the immediate future.

1. A Business Entities Taxation midterm, which is falling very late in the semester. It will cover exclusively partnership law. The good thing is that the final will not be aggregate, so we’ll be able to “forget” partnership tax to the extent that it does not apply to corporations. I have a feeling we’re not going to be allowed to forget enough.

2. A presentation on Justice Benjamin Cardozo for Judicial Opinion Drafting. I will be discussing the persuasiveness of six of his opinions that I’ve carefully selected. While this isn’t exactly public speaking, it still involves speaking in front of people – something of which I’m not a huge fan. In preparation, I’ve Googled “presentation advice” and perused some tips on what makes Steve Jobs an effective presenter. I’ll let you know in a week if the advice translates to my classroom discussion.

My ten minutes is up. Say hi if you want. There’s a woefully underused Contact page in the top right of your screen. Have a good day!

Getting into Character

I just read an interesting post on Kottke.org titled, “Getting into Character.” It talks about how actors, athletes, and business people wear two different hats – a private one and a job one.

Many of us see our parents do this to a degree when we are growing up. There is an added awareness, more than anything, of where they are and what has to be done.

I think back to my time at Ruckus and K12 knowing that I could have cultivated and displayed a more consistent work persona. I worked hard and was attentive, creative and efficient, but these things varied from week to week. (This ties in with the concept of having a defined approach to work.) What I’m trying to say is that I was not always able to get into character and stay there all day.

As a lawyer-to-be, I’ve been thinking about interacting with clients. Regardless of what area of law I end up practicing, one of the most important aspects of both being successful (garnering clients) and being effective (doing good word for my clients) will be getting into a consistently professional, knowledgeable, and compassionate character while working.

Spring Semester: Week 9

I’m doing these “Spring Semester Reviews” more for me than you. Years from now, when I’ve long since outgrown my blogging britches, I hope to be able to revisit these autobiographical entries for a brief chuckle. “Oh, the glory days of FPLC,” I’ll say to anyone who will listen. “Those were the days.”

Classes: Classes are going well, although for the first time I’m finding myself envious, from time to time, of my classmates who have externships. Maybe it’s the “gotta get a job” cloud that’s suddenly set in fast and low. Or maybe it’s the fact that the word “externship” does not exist in most dictionaries. Either way, I’m looking forward to working when the day comes.

  • Business Entities Taxation: Going well, but slow. We started with partnership taxation and are still in the “middle” of the life of partnerships. Our midterm will fall in early April, unusually late. As with most code classes, the weekly struggle here has been to learn how to best navigate the code and recognize when exceptions apply. Once I get a semi-working knowledge of a topic, it’s far more enjoyable.
  • Environmental Law: I don’t know what to think of this class. The material is very dry, and I didn’t see that coming when I registered. We deal mostly with massive federal statutory schemes – National Environmental Police Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act. What I enjoy most about the class are the historical, geographic, and scientific aspects of the cases.
  • Copyright Licensing: This class is nuanced and very hands on. I like it. We are given a hypo going into each class, must review select clauses from a license, and then negotiate with the opposite party (licensor and licensee). I will leave a more capable contract drafter and a more skilled negotiator.
  • Estate Planning: This class was largely review up until last week. We’re finally getting further into taxation issues and more detained trusts. I like this area of law, so I look forward to the three-hour Estate Planing-a-thons.
  • Judicial Opinion Drafting: Drafting orders is a unique writing experience. I’ve quickly learned to be very careful in how I frame the arguments. I’m liking legal writing more and more with each passing day.

Getting to Done: Week nine is coming to a close. Spring Break (week seven) felt like every other week of this semester, except I attended fewer classes. My grand plans – I always have grand plans via lists, emails, and other web applications – were not fulfilled. I failed to apply to hundreds of jobs, read weeks ahead, and start a new business as a side project. The result of this was that I sought and found a more structured way to accomplish tasks. I found a very simple solution: at the beginning of the week, make a list of three things to accomplish each day. This has gone pretty well with one blaring exception – applying to jobs daily. Here’s a sample-list for one day:

Monday P G
1) Read Environmental Law
2) Work on JOD Order
3) Apply to 3 jobs

P = newspaper and G = gym. The three tasks vary daily. I’ve found this is a good way to keep things in check. The downside is that the system is meant for someone who works and has eight solid hours to accomplish their tasks. I’ve excused my failures in accomplishing all three daily tasks each day, yet hope to be more successful in the future.

Donating Blood: I donated blood today at school. The beds were set up in the Jury Box (cafeteria), which seems like an odd place to be performing medical procedures. The woman assured me that lunch was loud and hectic and people were not deterred from eating.

Sleep: I got two hours of sleep on Monday night and it has messed up my entire week. I’ve had to nap, I’ve overslept, and I’ve been living in a fog. This never happened in college, or I didn’t care. I could play poker all night, go to an 8:30am class, sleep during the afternoon and start over without the next four days being a disaster. Now, and this aligns with my “Getting to Done” above, I’m finding consistent sleep invaluable.

BarBri Early Start

I’m about to start the BarBri Early Start program. For some reason the name makes me think of a sober house or clean living – preparing for the bar is quite sobering, albeit less of a health risk.

This is the beginning of my formal bar training. It seems far too early, but there’s a few of us here – the few who have paid at least $1500 out of $3000 due to be re-taught what we’ve learned during the past three years of law school.

These Early Start sessions take place on each of the next five weekends, take about five to six hours each, provide general test-taking advice, and cover broad legal topics often tested on the bar exam such as Torts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Property, Evidence and Constitutional Law.

I arrived early enough to get my seat at the top/back of the tiered classroom and donuts were provided – I got my butternut. Cheers to a fun Sunday of bar prep followed by more work! At least it’s sunny out.