I imagine this will sound like sour grapes (but hey doesn’t the whole blog anyway). I wasn’t in the top 10%; didn’t even break the top 25%. I will say in my defense, I wasn’t trying to be for many and various unrelated reasons. Everyone in law school has heard that you need to kill yourself to be in the top 10%. You see the summer internships which require top 25% standing or higher… You want to be Order of the Coif so badly you can taste it (I had never even heard of this until graduation day when everyone started asking why some people were wearing dots on their hat). Does it help? Sure. Can’t hurt. But herein is the interesting side of it as well, and while I am sure it doesn’t apply to everyone, it’s strange how often it does apply.
At one point in law school I was dating someone who was an attorney at one of the largest and most profitable law firms in the US. Over dinner one night I made a comment about how I wasn’t in the top 10% and they laughed and said don’t worry, you don’t want to be. They told me that their firm likes to emblazon on their propaganda that they only hire the best of the best and that 99% of their new hires were in the top 10% of their graduating class etc. etc., but what they don’t put on their pamphlets is that they don’t keep them. They hire them and either they quit before a year is up, or the firm lets them go. They told me the average time the top 10-ers last is 9 months. Their particular office had, in the many years they had worked there, kept only 2 new hires in the top 10. EVERYONE ELSE WAS A LATERAL (much much more on this in later posts).
This seemed like the opposite of everything I was being told in law school. They then told me that basically it boils down to this, a lot of the same people who excel academically are unable to use that knowledge and ability to spew back a professor’s inanities into a beneficial job skill. Professors in my law school (particularly some of the bigger tools in that toolbox) liked saying that they weren’t teaching us to be lawyers or pass the bar… they were teaching us to think like lawyers.
One of the main things this attorney told me was that many times the very top people in the class are effectively socially retarded. Think aspergers… gifted academically but not so much socially. And the legal profession is first and foremost a service industry in which you need social skills. I thought about the top person in my class and it fit. They were a freak and a half and walked through the world with no concept at all of what was socially acceptable. So was #2… and I started trying to think of where the dividing line ran in my class for where the normal people started. It was an interesting thought experiment.
To illustrate the point, They told me a story of a top 10-er in their office. This guy had been hired from a summer position to be an associate. Great academics and all the right stuff on the resume, but he was a bit odd. Anyway, his work was acceptable and they could give him projects and they would be submitted at the deadline as needed. Apparently people started seeing him less and less at the office, but the work continued to be done so he was soon forgotten. Eventually a custodial worker in the office approached a partner and said they had an issue which needed attention. The custodian requested that the associate in question stop defecating into his office garbage can. (read that sentence again…) The partner was obviously very concerned and went down to the associate’s office, to find that the associate had moved into his office and basically, had not left the room in many many days. The associate had a mental breakdown a couple weeks prior and no one had noticed. The EMTs actually had to forcibly restrain him to get him out of his office.
One of the other great things to take away from this story is that this large law office cared so little for their associates that one of them could go insane and as long as the work was still done, they didn’t care.
minor update : Interesting read slightly related to this post over at Above the Law, The Best and Brightest 11/28/12