Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

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Thane Messinger
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Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Thane Messinger » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:22 pm

MOD EDIT: This is an advertisement for the OP's book, available on Amazon.com. While normally we do not allow such unsolicited advertising to stand, I am leaving this excerpt from the book here so you can read for yourself how truly awful the book is and make an informed decision not to buy it. If you want further reinforcement, you can read through all 5 pages and see various people point out the worthlessness of this poster's advice. Have a good day.

All –

I’m going to do something that will likely cause trouble, and perhaps flames or worse. But it seems to me sufficiently important to counter misperceptions.

In other (heated) discussions, we seem to talk past each other. I do not recommend what I think most responders assume I recommend, and so it occurred to me to lay out these truths from my perspective, as a long-ago (and rather successful) law student and as someone who, by odd coincidence, has over the past decade and a half been part of a network of practitioners and professors who deal with these issues directly, every day (well, as to the latter, when class is in).

These are the first (and likely last) original posts I will make. These three posts combined are here (and will be duplicated in two other forums, concurrently), for a simple reason: to alert soon-to-be 1Ls that there is a different way, and--agree or disagree--to consider, deeply, their own paths. This is not in “argument” with others, necessarily, but instead to walk through these issues in a way that is unlikely to happen in any other way, for a group desperately in need of a heads-up.

If there’s interest and not too much vitriol, I’ll see if I can post a foreword for a new book, Law School Fast Track: Essential Habits for Law School Success. [The foreword is morphing into a discussion of just this issue. Had you asked me years ago, by the way, whether there could possibly be room for any more advice on law school I would have thought you crazy . . . yet I continue to get manuscripts that share remarkably good advice. This is one of them, a fast read and inexpensive--because I think law students are already forced to spend way too much. It should be available fairly soon, I think.]

With respect,

Thane.



From Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold):

[Yes, this is one very long paragraph, as is explained a bit later.]


Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Here’s the scene: a group of eager new law students file into the front doors of a law school sometime late in August. Filled with nervous energy, they’re nearly bouncing off the walls with excitement. The halls bustle with this energy. Anything seems possible. Yet much of this energy is channeled negatively. To cover intense feelings of inadequacy and nervousness, nearly all seem to blurt their life résumé when meeting each other: “Hi!…I’m Chip!…Yale undergrad and Exeter!… Heard of it?” “Hey!…I’m Suzy…just got back from my second summer in [pick some Third World spot]…guess it helped me get in here…did I mention I went to Princeton?” It’s amazing more students don’t pass out; they’re so busy racing through their life accomplishments they don’t seem to have time to breathe. And so it goes. For anyone within earshot (which is nearly everyone, as voices rise to eardrum-piercing levels), each self-flattering declaration causes, simultaneously, even more self-conscious nervousness, pangs of inadequacy, and, more than occasionally, dry heaves. Like electrons, students bounce nervously from one to another, eager to electrify others with their impressive credentials. Like spastic, autistic caricatures of themselves, many morph into almost-unrecognizable, egocentric boors. “Me, me, me!” Someone then mentions that the assignments for the first day’s classes are posted, and more than a few students gasp. Huh? You mean we really were supposed to have prepared? Quickly they make their way to the poster (or web page), jot down (or download) the assignments. They grab their casebooks, and start reading. Ohmygod. This isn’t like any reading they’ve ever seen. They attend a presentation on how to brief a case, and of course are eager to get started. They already have a dozen to do! Okay, they buy the extra highlighters and start to brief cases. Dutifully. Painstakingly. Man it seems to take forever. Each case seems to take hours--and it’s sometimes hard to focus halfway through on what was just read. Their minds start to wander ninety seconds into the first “hereinafter.” A holding? Huh? Procedural history? Gah! In the first week it seems that they’re spending every second of free time reading and briefing cases--and they’re supposed to go to class too! In class they take notes. Lots and lots of notes. Surely this will help to make sense of the Greek (well, Latin) they’re reading in the cases and hearing from the profs and other students. Oddly, the notes don’t seem to help. At the end of the week, they look at their piles of notes and it’s hard to tell what they’re even about, much less to help understand the cases. If they forget to put the class name on the note, they can’t even tell what the subject is! If they get out of order, they’ve no idea which way they go. So they put them in a stack that grows ever more disheveled, and on and on it goes, week in and week out, as they bumble through their first week, second week, and then first month. Someone mentions another task--outlines!--and now they’re starting to panic. How can they possibly do more?! The cases are taking all of their time, and they’re struggling just to keep up. Class is getting to be a joke. It’s fine to pretend to know what’s going on, but they’re worried about getting called on and goodness that is a sure killer, right? Then they’re called on. Ohmygod. I’m dead, they’re thinking. If only I understood that case! The facts! The holding! What are they getting at?! The prof must think I’m a real moron, you fear silently. Everyone feels this way--even the cocksure gunners (who hide their fears by having their hands nearly constantly raised). Surely they know how lost we are and will help. Now it’s a real panic. It’s the middle of the semester, they’ve been attending classes like clockwork, the professors are certainly nice, but it’s just not making sense. Gosh it’s hard. Hmm, outlines have been forgotten…there’s no time! …but with exams just around the corner, they know they have to start doing something. They’ve also read they’re supposed to practice with exams, and gee-it-would-be-good to have a study group. No way! This is a madhouse. It’s hard enough to keep up with the readings, much less deal with others and their peculiarities. Especially not those a--holes! Didn’t you see how so-and-so looked at some other so-and-so? Exams! They’ve always done well. Surely these won’t be that bad. The semester is drawing to a close, and panic hangs in the air. Students are wide-eyed with fear. In just about every class something is said that brings utter dread: what are they talking about?! Some are like the undead…they’ve never come close to failing before. But will they pull this off? The law still isn’t making sense. It seems mysterious, even bizarre. All these phrases they’re supposed to know. What do they mean? Well, cramming worked before, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much choice now anyway. Exams are right around the corner! So, just like in a scene in The Paper Chase, cramming it is! “I’ll show them!” says nearly everyone to themselves, silently. More silently, they’re praying just to make Bs. Maybe one A, just to keep some dignity. Students huddle together and separately (this might seem an oxymoron, but that’s what will happen…like an academic fetal cry for comfort, students will almost hug themselves). Some will seem as if they’ll burst into tears at any moment. Others have distant looks, as if they see something important far, far away. Anywhere but here, they seem to say. Just let this be over. Taut faces and even shorter tempers give their fears away. Panic is contagious. Even those who were doing a good job and who do know the law succumb to a foreboding dread. Like cattle to the slaughter, they file into the exam rooms. Even with polite chatter, they can sense their impending doom, and the certain knowledge that they’re just not ready. If only a meteor hit, destroying the exam rooms and giving them even just 24 hours more! Perhaps ancillary fires will engulf the neighboring buildings, buying a week! Sadly, no meteor hits, and three and a half hours later they leave the exams knowing they could have done better. If only, if only…. Their thoughts trail off, and they pray that they’re not one of the ones in the bottom half, as by now they’ve seen and heard what happens to students in that dreaded statistical pool. Now starts the bargaining. Just give me this, Oh Lord, and I promise I will be good. Even committed atheists begin negotiating with deities great and small for their future lives. Like a bad science fiction movie, they stagger the hallways, putting on a show but knowing all the same that their dreams for a high-paying job are dead--along with how they feel. Many start acting out, and many of those go to the dark side--secretly planning to cheat, lie, or otherwise do whatever it takes to reverse the fate that’s been so unjustly handed them. Or they profess never to have cared at all. But they know better. Before, they’d been the best. Everyone had said so. Now they were a whole heap of nothing. Not just fighting for a good job--fighting for any job. With anyone! Pleeese? It’s so humiliating. The winter holiday is hardly worth enjoying as the stress of the semester never quite leaves--how can it with exam scores still hanging in the balance? Somehow, they eat the turkey and smile weakly through the family accolades. The new semester starts, and one by one grades start to come in. The reactions are painful, and predictable. A few positive surprises, but mostly very, very long faces. With the curve’s uncaring median, nearly everyone is seeing grades far below what they would ever have expected--or have ever gotten. For those hoping for an “A,” it’s a long, long way down. From undergraduate classes where nearly everyone gets an “A” or a “B,” in law school even a “B” seems shockingly rare. It’s as if hundreds of students are hearing the worst news they’ve ever heard--and for many, that’s exactly right. Classes are already a few weeks underway, and in a sort of post-traumatic shock, the whole process starts up again. Cases. Briefs. Notes. Panic. Frenetic worry. More notes. Panic. Cramming. More panic. Another, final set of exams. This time, however, the exams count. Spring fills with even more intense dread, if that’s possible, and for most, very little that’s remotely positive or productive. In less than a year, hundreds of the most intelligent, most decent individuals who’ve excelled in college have been reduced to a quivering mass of despondency--a surprising percentage of whom have suicidal thoughts. (But who won’t confide in a counselor for fear of an impact on bar examiners’ committees for fitness to practice law, which can investigate even intensely personal counseling.) Even the lucky few who actually did well--if you asked them privately--would find it hard to explain just how they did it. I would have, then. So the next year somehow starts with the undead wandering the halls, putting on their brave faces, and watching as an eager new crop of law students bounces off the walls with excited, expectant faces to class.

* * *

The above, admittedly way-too-long paragraph might seem unbelievable. It is unbelievable. It certainly was to me, and to everyone I knew. Yet this is what happens, year in and year out, at every law school.

You’ve been at the very top of the academic heap. You’ve been praised for sixteen years for your intelligence, qualities, promise. Why should the next three years be any different? Although you read variations of this story in nearly every book about law school--each telling you that it is different--you still don’t believe.

That’s understandable. This is a reality that doesn’t quite hit…until it hits. And, for at least half of every law school class, the “hit” will be very much like a mental version of what we see after a train derailment. Tens of thousands of tons of metal, twisted at places beyond recognition, all because the wheels somehow jumped the track.

If it helps in the important process of understanding-- really understanding--just how true this reality is, I’ll recount my own experience. I attended the University of Texas Law School, which is generally regarded, give or take, as being in the middle of the Top 25. Within Texas it’s pretty much a Texas-sized Number One, and so “UT” strives mightily to compare itself not with any Texas school but rather with the dozen or so schools above it (naturally) in the rankings. In short, UT is the best law school for a thousand miles: you can pretty much drive to the coasts or Chicago before finding its equal. Why so much (more) ink about rank? Because of the experience I had graduating in 1991. The bottom had fallen out of the job market, and we students stood aghast as firm after firm cancelled their on-campus interviews, often just days before they were scheduled. To say that panic set in would be to report a mild version of events.

The national firms--which considered UT as very much a secondary school in their recruitment--required the standard Top 10%/law review standing, which of course few had. As mentioned, in 1989, when I entered, law school applications were at a peak, with intense competition pushing qualifications ever-higher at every school. The bust led to a steep drop-off, which took years to recover. There were a few firms, mostly regional or local, that would consider Top 25%, or perhaps even Top 33%. As the firms interviewing shrank, so too did job prospects. And this at one of the top law schools in the country! I write this not for self-flattery, but to reinforce that, in a bad market, even those in Tier 1 schools suffer. And, in a winner-take-all system, everyone lower down feels the crunch earlier and harder, in a steeply cascading tumble. As I had lined up a position in Honolulu, I was embarrassed even to repeat that among fellow students--half of whom had no job at all. To repeat, this was at a Tier 1 law school; the job market makes a big difference in the level of anxiety and near-psychosis among law students.

The atmosphere in those days was heart-wrenchingly depressing. The scenario above is a reflection not only of what exists now, but of what has existed for many decades, and is true at every law school. The only difference is where the drop-off starts. In a good market, Tier 1 students must still rank in the top 10-25%, usually, for a top job; the exception might be for students at a Top Five law school. But even there, the top jobs still go to the top students. Students at “lesser” schools must rank ever-higher for the same chance. In a poor market, the odds grow progressively (and steeply) worse. So, even if attending a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school, the job market has much to do with the level of success (and failure). At every law school, for a majority of students the scene described above plays out, exactly as above. Year in and year out.

It should not. Break the pattern for your play.

If you follow the above screenplay (and fall into even one of the above trapdoors), chances are high that you will fail. This is not mean that you will literally “fail” (usually), but you will be lucky to earn “B’s,” and will probably see more than you want of “C’s” and even “D’s.” And, believe it or not, you’ll have no idea why you earned each grade…but you will know, deep down, that you didn’t really deserve a better one. I suspect that, if you’re like me, a “C” is worse than failure. Even an “F” can be explained away a little less awkwardly--you were deathly ill, you were prescribed the wrong medication and being wheeled into the emergency room, the exam was held in the wrong city. Just try to explain away a “C.”

This is a crushing experience for a dismaying number of highly talented, intelligent, caring individuals. An “A” might be an expectation, but law schools strictly limit number of “A” grades. That means that just about nine out of ten of those highly talented, intelligent, caring individuals--you and your future colleagues--are about to experience one of the worse experiences in their lives: failure.

Break this pattern. If you sense any of the above happening, stop.

Stop! Something is wrong. This is not the way law school should be. It is especially not the way law school should be for you.



Copyright Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold. All rights reserved.
Last edited by Thane Messinger on Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

blsingindisguise
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby blsingindisguise » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:37 pm

Is that a John Ashberry poem?

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mallard
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby mallard » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:39 pm

This is an actual book?

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Mr. Matlock
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Mr. Matlock » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:42 pm

mallard wrote:This is an actual book?

Thane Messinger
Author of:
Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold
The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book: A Survival Guide

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ozarkhack
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby ozarkhack » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:47 pm

Thane Messinger wrote: Stop! Something is wrong. This is not the way law school TLS should be.

Go away. I'm not buying your goddamn book. And from the looks of amazon.com's rankings, nobody else is either.

Thane Messinger
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Thane Messinger » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:50 pm

ozarkhack wrote:
Thane Messinger wrote: Stop! Something is wrong. This is not the way law school TLS should be.

Go away. I'm not buying your goddamn book. And from the looks of amazon.com's rankings, nobody else is either.



Fair enough. I write to a more important group, lurkers, who might just learn something. What's interesting is how much this atmosphere, nominally democratic, mirrors the one in law school, where gunners dominate, only to be (mostly) silenced when grades come out.

This is often taken as sarastic, but is meant here: Best of luck.

Thane.
Last edited by Thane Messinger on Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Thane Messinger
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Thane Messinger » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:53 pm

Thane Messinger wrote:If there’s interest and not too much vitriol, I’ll see if I can post a foreword for a new book, Law School Fast Track: Essential Habits for Law School Success. [The foreword is morphing into a discussion of just this issue. Had you asked me years ago, by the way, whether there could possibly be room for any more advice on law school I would have thought you crazy . . . yet I continue to get manuscripts that share remarkably good advice. This is one of them, a fast read and inexpensive--because I think law students are already forced to spend way too much. It should be available fairly soon, I think.]



I suppose the answer to this is "No."

= : )

Renzo
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Renzo » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:55 pm

1,572 words, one paragraph.

Thane Messinger
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Thane Messinger » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:57 pm

Renzo wrote:1,572 words, one paragraph.


It might be silly to write, but had you read it you would understand why. More specifically, the part just under the three asterisks.

Thane.

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Mr. Matlock
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Mr. Matlock » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:58 pm

Thane Messinger wrote:
ozarkhack wrote:
Thane Messinger wrote: Stop! Something is wrong. This is not the way law school TLS should be.

Go away. I'm not buying your goddamn book. And from the looks of amazon.com's rankings, nobody else is either.



Fair enough. I write to a more important group, lurkers, who might just learn something. What's interesting is how much this atmosphere, nominally democratic, mirrors the one in law school, where gunners dominate, only to be (mostly) silenced when grades come out.

This is often taken as sarastic, but is meant here: Best of luck.

Thane.

Have you considered posting this over on autoadmit and JDUnderground? I hear they're pretty open minded.

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TheTopBloke
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby TheTopBloke » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:58 pm

I did not realize we could promote on the forums. I've got product every student wants. This is a potential goldmine.

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KmissP
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby KmissP » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:59 pm

I'm available for editing services at a very reasonable price.

Renzo
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Renzo » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:04 pm

KmissP wrote:I'm available for editing services at a very reasonable price.

How much do you charge for paragraphs?

ram jam
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby ram jam » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:15 pm

All these phrases they’re supposed to know. What do they mean?


... fucking magnets, how do they work?

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KmissP
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby KmissP » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:22 pm

Renzo wrote:
KmissP wrote:I'm available for editing services at a very reasonable price.

How much do you charge for paragraphs?


For his "paragraph", you mean? I have my thick black pen ready to line through entire quadrants of that thing.

Renzo
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Renzo » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:28 pm

KmissP wrote:
Renzo wrote:
KmissP wrote:I'm available for editing services at a very reasonable price.

How much do you charge for paragraphs?


For his "paragraph", you mean? I have my thick black pen ready to line through entire quadrants of that thing.

No, I was just thinking about buying him a few paragraphs to use in his post.

rando
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby rando » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:50 pm

Like a trainwreck. Couldn't take my eyes off. Kept reading and chuckling.

Why is that posted? The only relevant thing to be gleaned from that rambling storyboard is that too many law students coming in thinking they are going to beat the curve but forget that half won't. For Median. Let alone top 10%.

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mallard
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby mallard » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:52 pm

Thane, how did you end up doing at UT?

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jmhendri
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby jmhendri » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:53 pm

If this is the format OP uses to peddle his book, I'm fairly certain he has nothing to teach me.

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BaiAilian2013
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby BaiAilian2013 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:57 pm

Thane Messinger wrote:
Renzo wrote:1,572 words, one paragraph.


It might be silly to write, but had you read it you would understand why. More specifically, the part just under the three asterisks.

Thane.

I did, and I don't. Is the wall of text like a literary device thingy to convey how overwhelming the law school experience is? I really think whatever stylistic value it might have is absolutely outweighed by the fact that it scares away 90% of possible readers and leaves the other 10% rubbing their temples and cursing you.

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mallard
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby mallard » Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:00 pm

I also loved "Like electrons, students bounce . . . , eager to electrify each other." lol.

Danteshek
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Danteshek » Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:00 pm

The man can't write.

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Cosmo Kramer
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby Cosmo Kramer » Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:02 pm

Posting an excerpt is probably going to hurt sales. Now everyone knows how much it sucks.

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sundance95
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby sundance95 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:03 pm

¶: Learn it, use it, love it.

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danidancer
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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Postby danidancer » Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:03 pm

:shock:




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