Barman: passing the bar

I am a sucker for books like Scott Turow’s One L, as gripping as any thriller, on law school in the USA. So I finished Alex Wellen’s Barman recently.

Wellen doesn’t write about the first year of law school and the Socratic method – presumably One L and The Paper Chase have filled that slot.
He emphasizes that he studied at a ‘second-tier’ law school and concentrates on job searches, the bar exam and the first couple of years of employment in New York at an intellectual property firm (his first degree was in engineering). He has a weblog about tours to sell the book.

The book was a real page-turner most of the way through. The sections on job interviews (invidious questions you can only answer wrong, choosing what to wear) and the bar exam (with details of the kinds of question and the difficulties of answering) were the best for me, and the process of writing for law review, summer internship and starting work were informative. What I was less interested in was what seemed like a fair amount of fill-in: Wellen has a line in slapstick, extending to the behaviour of the washing machine on a backpacking holiday in Europe, and moving into a run-down New York loft entailing a spell of building labour before it was habitable.

I had heard of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) but never in detail. Wellen writes:

bq. In any jurisdiction across the United States, lighting a warehouse on fire would be considered arson, but under the law tested on the MBE, it wasn’t. This was the bar administrator’s attempt to level the playing field. By establishing a special set of laws, what I referred to as the “bar code,” nearly every law student … was theoretically on equal footing …
The bar code was an imaginary set of tens of thousands of outdated, antiquated laws that everyone needed to be familiar with for the single purpose of passing the bar. For most of us, the laws were inconsistent with anything we’d learned in school and would have no practical application when it came to practicing law.

That makes the book sound a lot drier than it is. You can read some at It’ll be off to ebay for mine soon though.

Another law book not so easy to classify that I need to re-read is Lawrence Joseph’s Lawyerland. What lawyers talk about when they talk about law. It’s a curious fly-on-the-wall look at, or rather listen to, New York lawyers.

Finally, the House of Butter reports a new genre: the Christian legal thriller.

bq. Charlotte based lawyer, Robert Whitlow, is working on his 5th Christian legal thriller. His last Life Support sold 35,000 copies and his 2001 novel, The Trial sold 90,000 copies.

Here’s the source:

bq. All his novels feature Southern lawyers grappling with faith and ethics. His overarching theme, he said, is that “God is real and wants to interact with us.”

Kafka would have been mystified. I wonder if I could create a genre of German legal thrillers where people with websites are targeted by lawyers suing them for not having an Impressum?

One thought on “Barman: passing the bar

  1. Thanks so much for the Paper Chase refs. When the Am. film Legally Blond (Part I) came out, I unsuccessfully tried tracking down at the local video shop the Paper Chase I remembered from 30 years ago. I was sure it had been plagiarised in part, but next-generation film critics weren’t picking up on the point.

    Certainly, the Eng. BVC – Bar Vocational Course – with its eclectic mix of 10% legal knowledge and 90% compulsory practicals like drafting, negotiation, advocacy and conference skills – can’t be accused of being out of touch with reality. However, even successful students trained in the art of criticising have ungratefully slagged off the course at the main provider-institution as expensive and useless. It’s only the praises that get into print, though.

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