Just how tough are the country's most prestigious law schools? Most alumni would answer with stories of humiliating "Socratic dialogue failures" in the classroom and all-night, caffeine-fueled cram sessions.
Until now, the traditional concept of the law-school experience was the one presented in Scott Turow's One-L, published in 1977, a dark description of his first year at Harvard Law School. Twenty-four years later things have definitely changed. Turow's book became the accepted primer-and warning-for aspiring law students, giving them a glimpse of what awaited: grueling nonstop study, brutally competitive classes, endless research, and unfathomable terminology. It described a draconian prison and endless work in the company of equally obsessive, desperate fellow students.
Yet, sidestepping terror and intimidation, law students (and new authors) Robert Byrnes and Jaime Marquart entered highly prestigious law schools, did things their own way, earned law degrees, and were hired by a Los Angeles law firm, turning Turow's vision upside down. In their parallel narratives-two twisted, hilarious, blighted, and glorious coming-of-age stories-Byrnes and Marquart explain how they managed to graduate while spending most of their time in the pursuit of pleasure.
Byrnes went to Stanford to reinvent himself-after a false start in politics he wanted to explore the life of the mind. It took him virtually no time to discover that the law was neither particularly intriguing nor particularly challenging. He could play around the clock. When Byrnes wasn't biking he was getting drunk and smoking crack. Finding himself when he discovered the right woman, Byrnes finally moved to Los Angeles during his third year and flew upstate only to take final exams.
Born and raised in a small town in Texas, Marquart had never lived outside the state before arriving at Harvard. Amazed at his own good luck, he approached school with all due diligence. Disenchantment followed shortly thereafter, and Marquart learned he needn't be intimidated by his classmates and teachers. With a mysterious and bizarre companion-another student called the Kankoos-Jaime took up traveling but devoted most of his energy (and considerable money) to gambling, counting cards in casinos around the country.
Irreverent, funny, and downright shocking, Brush with the Law will inspire undergraduates to bone up for the entrance exam, while outraging lawyers and the admissions officers of their beloved alma maters.
Upon realizing how easy it was to get good grades, Jaime relates:
"I approached my second year with [one] goal . . . take classes that required the least amount of work and the least amount of attendance . . . To accomplish my . . . goal, I devised The System, a short instruction manual on the principles behind selecting and ditching law school classes. The System's goal was to screw off as much as possible, with few if any consequences." --from Brush with the Law
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Robert Byrnes and Jaime Marquart graduated from law school in 1998. The authors reside in Los Angeles, where they practice law at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges.
Movies and books such as Paper Chase perpetuate the mystique surrounding law school. Byrnes and Marquart, two young men who embarked on legal educations at opposite coasts, completely debunk the myth. Byrnes had political aspirations, and after a shaky start as a speech writer, he decided to give law school a try, opting for the mountainous Stanford. A student of little means, Marquart was thrilled to be accepted at Harvard Law, where he first felt intimidated by the privileged who populated the hallowed halls but soon learned how to play and beat the system, even graduating cum laude. Surrounded by an eclectic mix of companions, the two students eked by, focusing on enjoying life, including gambling, drugs, alcohol, and girls, much of their debauchery funded by student loans. Surprisingly, both end up at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm, where they met and decided to recount their stories in book form. Their craftiness at sailing through law school should make them good lawyers as well. Mary Frances Wilkens
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