Barman: Ping-Pong, Pathos, and Passing the Bar

Overview      Alex Wellen is an excited, ambitious, and overwhelmed twenty-something law student trying to integrate into one of the most powerful and promise-filled cities in the world—New York. As he moves from graduating student to licensed lawyer—the second most important nine months he ever spent “gestating”—Alex fantasizes about the glitzy, high-powered lifestyle of a Manhattan attorney. He imagines hobnobbing with the elite, eating at the best restaurants, and being a guest at the most coveted social events—but in this city of overach See more details below
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Overview

  

 

Alex Wellen is an excited, ambitious, and overwhelmed twenty-something law student trying to integrate into one of the most powerful and promise-filled cities in the world—New York. As he moves from graduating student to licensed lawyer—the second most important nine months he ever spent “gestating”—Alex fantasizes about the glitzy, high-powered lifestyle of a Manhattan attorney. He imagines hobnobbing with the elite, eating at the best restaurants, and being a guest at the most coveted social events—but in this city of overachievers, he is reminded every step of the way that he did not go to Harvard. Can he overcome the profession’s snobbery by wearing overpriced ties from Barneys, seat-filling at the VH1 fashion awards, cavorting with B-list celebrities, and throwing TriBeCa loft parties?

Is it enough for him to look and play the part?

Along the way, we meet his fellow sufferers in the dread-inducing bar exam cram courses, his girlfriends and roommate, the law firm recruiters interested in hiring him (and those who aren’t), and the new associates who work with him at a high-profile law firm, some of whom, the odds are, won’t pass the bar.

Savvy and entertaining, Wellen’s story is The Paper Chase meets Sex and the City—a career memoir for anyone who has discovered his or her life’s goal, yet must overcome tremendous obstacles to attain it.

Barman is an honest, revealing, and hilarious portrait of a lawyer as a young man.


 

 

About the Author:

ALEX WELLEN co-created, executive-produced, and co-hosted the award-winning high-tech crime newsmagazine program CyberCrime on the TechTV cable television network. His columns, breaking news stories, and contributions appear in print and on radio and television, including NBC News, ABC News, CNN, and MSNBC. He is currently an independent producer and freelance writer living in San Francisco.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although this volume expounds on the tribulations of those seeking to enter the legal profession from "second tier" law schools, it is nothing more than a self-congratulatory rant about how young Wellen overcame the stigma of a degree from Temple Law School to pass the New York bar exam and join a prestigious Manhattan law firm. As he banally puts it, "I was the bicoastal, high-powered New York attorney that I'd always dreamt of becoming." Of course the reality of the litigation life proves less glamorous than an episode of L.A. Law. Wellen spends his first year as an attorney poring over thousands of documents related to a patent dispute involving ink-jet printers. Small wonder that he quits after a year. All this would be tolerable-maybe even entertaining-if Wellen's writing were witty or insightful. Wellen seems to derive no intellectual pleasure from the law; instead it is all about punching the ego ticket. Perhaps because his insights into the law are so minimal, Wellen pads his book with digressions that have nothing to do with its legal premise. Readers accompany him and a friend on a whirlwind backpacking tour of Europe, which consists of worrying about trains and "speed-seeing" sites like the Parthenon. His lack of preparation, not to mention sophistication, is constantly on display, such as when he and his friend disembark on the Greek island of Naxos and he blithely confesses, "Neither of us had ever heard of it." Other digressions include the saga of finding a loft in lower Manhattan, which no one outside of New York will care about and New Yorkers themselves will find dull. In the end, Wellen cares only about spending money on things that validate him, whether hanging out at Au Bar or buying a $3,000 chair. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Newcomer Wellen describes simultaneously cocky and paranoid progress toward life as a lawyer. Young Wellen nurtured aspirations to be a kick-ass New York attorney. (To him, "attorney" sounds better than "lawyer," by the way.) He wanted the image and he wanted the money. But though dressed in great suits and square-toed black shoes, he had one handicap: he was attending a second-tier law school, not one of top 50 according to an annual survey. (Every other lawyer Wellen encountered is labeled "Tier 1.") After year two at Tier 2, engineering-school grad Alex, inventor of a unique table tennis paddle, was ready to endure law-firm recruitment rituals. It was chitchat hell, of course-"you should be Mirandized before a lunch interview." Then, after he finally landed a good job offer, came the real rite of passage: the bar exam. Wellen itemizes the requisite preparatory cram course's tribulations-charts, codes, notes, hornbooks, outlines, flash cards; all the law in nutshells-which pale in comparison to the abiding terror prompted by the exam itself. Probability of failure, degradation, and ruin was precisely calculated during the months of waiting through ailments, European backpacking, and securing a Tribeca loft. Of course, he passed. Thence to work at a major intellectual-property firm, lugging the ubiquitous litigation bag on trips to the Northwest, where inkjet cartridge arcana were disclosed to him. (He now kindly passes it on to us.) Also shared in imaginative detail are his relations with family (kid brother, parents "Oracle" and "Optimist"), friends, colleagues, and many comely women (the tone smacks occasionally of singles-bar wit). Though happy to keep his bar membership, Wellen nolonger practices law. He has fallen into the TV business, where the image and money may be even better. At once clever and shallow, glib and entertaining: legal studies lite, pretty close to Tier 1.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400048915
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/16/2003
  • Pages: 307
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.05 (d)

First Chapter

CHAPTER 1

I WAS GETTING a little panicked. Hundreds of unsolicited resumes and cover letters, two dozen on-campus interviews, seven callbacks, and I had nothing, nada, zilch. The callback interview with O'Connell & Price was starting to feel like my last hope. O'Connell & Price, based in Philadelphia, was your basic white-shoe large general-practice law firm. Most of the associates graduated from top law schools, the firm's clients were gigantic corporations and wealthy investors, and the firm handled sexy, complex legal work. O'Connell & Price was exactly what I wanted in a summer internship.

The callback interview was nothing special. Like most, it lasted four-plus hours and included five interviews, with everyone from the recruiter to a senior partner, plus lunch. Dennis Braise, a senior associate with the firm, was my fifth and final interview. He was in his early thirties. Like the rest of the attorneys I met that morning, he dressed and looked rich. He wore an expensive dark suit and was perfectly manicured. During our interview, Braise reminded me of the Cheshire cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. At first I found his demeanor a nice change of pace, but by the third or fourth question, I wanted to smack that exaggerated grin right off his face. To be fair, by the time I met him, I was all talked out. After having given the same answers to the same questions four times, I couldn't possibly have come off as genuine. But for whatever reason, he liked me.

"I'm not supposed to tell you this," he confided as he walked me through the reception area, which looked more like a museum with its fine art and white marble floors, "but I gave you afive-point-oh. That's a perfect score. The firm doesn't even want us to give those."

"That's great. I appreciate that," I said.

Then he began whispering: "We're meeting later this afternoon to discuss everyone who has interviewed with us this week. If I learn anything else, I'll give you a call." I thanked him for the umpteenth time and stepped into the elevator feeling as good as you can about the process.

Three hours later, Dennis Braise called personally to inform me that an official summer-associate offer would arrive in a few days. I'd landed myself a superb summer job following my second year of law school. Praise the Lord.

"Meanwhile, here's to an expensive dinner on O'Connell and Price, Alex. We'd like to take you out and talk to you about the firm. How about steaks and cigars this Thursday evening at Morton's? Wear a jacket. I'll meet you at the bar."

I hung up with Dennis and scribbled down, "Thurs., eight p.m., Morton's, jacket," and, staring down at the suit that I was still wearing from the interview, I wrote and underlined, "No blue suit, no red tie." Finally, I had an offer.

I'd underestimated just how competitive these internships were. Part of the allure was that they paid remarkably well--summer associates were paid at a first-year associate's rate. The money I stood to make in one summer could subsidize an entire semester of tuition. I was relieved. I was thrilled. I was important. I mattered.

That evening I arrived fifteen minutes early. Dennis was already at the bar crouched over a drink.

"Mr. Wellen. Good to see you. He'll have a Finlandia vodka gimlet with a twist," he said to the bartender, then to me, "Let's have these, and then we can sit down at the table and feast. Have you ever had a gimlet?"

I hadn't. I thanked him for the invitation. "So, are we waiting for anyone else for dinner?"

"Maybe one other guy in Litigation. I invited him earlier this afternoon. I tried to grab a couple of other associates on my way out of the office, but no one was around. I guess that's a good thing. You see . . . eight o'clock on a Thursday night, and everyone's already left the office. The big-firm lawyer life doesn't have to be all that bad . . . just mine." He took a sip of his drink and complained about his workload and the incompetents who worked for him. We finished our gimlets, grabbed a table, and ordered another round.

The conversation started off sedate, but by the time we received our appetizers and a third round, the dialogue had become much more frank. Now Dennis was sounding off about the internal politics of making partnership, and confessing the firm's dirty little secrets.

"Yeah, it's a good thing the hiring committee smartened up and gave you an offer. For whatever reason, they haven't made any other Temple Law offers yet this year. I hope you decide this is the right place. If you don't, I'm not sure whether they'll make any more offers to Temple."

Excuse me. Why exactly did the hiring committee have to "smarten up"? Why wasn't Temple getting the offers? And why should that affect my decision?

It was all U.S. News & World Report's fault. The magazine published an annual law school survey that categorized every accredited U.S. law school in one of four quartiles. When U.S. News first published the report in 1987, it gained instant notoriety. For years the legal community had been clamoring for some guidelines. Now it had an industry standard. Dennis Braise, for example, was Tier 1. He had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law, one of U.S. News's top fifty schools.

On the other hand, Temple Law was not among the top fifty accredited law schools. It was one of the top schools in the next best fifty, Tier 2 (read: second rate). It didn't matter that Temple's trial advocacy program was ranked above that of Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and every other Tier 1 law school in the country. Who cared if Temple offered its students riveting lectures from accomplished professors, a diverse curriculum, and hundreds of international programs, legal clinicals, and internships? None of this improved the U.S. News ranking. Year after year Temple bore the same brand: Tier 2.

It seemed a Tier 2 ranking was a tough badge to shake. The most significant factor U.S. News used to settle on its ranking was reputation. They surveyed hundreds of influential deans, faculties, lawyers, hiring partners, and judges and asked them to rank every law school. Those personal opinions counted toward 40 percent of the total ranking. Nothing seemed to change those opinions. Temple Law, like every other non-Tier 1 law school, had a stigma attached to it. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy--once a Tier 2, always a Tier 2.

The remaining 60 percent of each ranking was divided among three factors: faculty resources, career-placement success, and selectivity. Faculty resources included everything from how much money a law school spent on each student, to the student-teacher ratio, to how many books were in the law library. From what I could tell, Temple's faculty resources were fine.

As for Temple Law's career-placement success, well, that was a problem. Over the years I'd taken some informal surveys throughout the Temple faculty, administration, and student body. My sense was that our employment rates were only slightly above average. The market was tough enough these days, but Temple Law students made it even harder. Many of my fellow students were locals. After graduation, they wanted to stay and practice in the Philadelphia area. That meant they limited their options. Perhaps if our career placement were more national in scope, our ranking would improve.

Temple's low ranking in the selectivity category was self-inflicted. The school was very selective, but not always in the classic sense of the word. The law school application read: "The Temple admissions committee is willing to recognize criteria not always reflected by grade point averages and LSATs [legal standardized admissions test scores]." This organic approach to admissions guaranteed Temple diversity, but it also guaranteed students with lower grades and lower LSATs, and accordingly, a lower overall ranking. Temple Law even admitted certain students using a discretionary process it called the Special Admissions and Curricular Experiment, or "SpACE" program. It was hardly an experiment anymore: Temple had been admitting applicants under the program since 1972. Someone who had overcome great financial obstacles or served in the Peace Corps, for example, was considered desirable despite low LSATs. There were more than a dozen other exceptions.

The fact was, I'd probably been admitted to Temple thanks to the SpACE program, likely under the category of "applicants with an undergraduate degree of unusual merit." I'd applied to Temple with an engineering degree from a state university and good grades but mediocre LSATs. I should have been the last person to complain about Temple's selectivity adversely affecting its overall ranking. But I did. To borrow from Groucho Marx, I guess I didn't want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member.

Then there was Temple's school slogan. It wasn't good: "I chose Temple." Actually, the entire slogan was: "I could have gone anywhere, but I chose Temple." The real question? Who chose that godforsaken slogan? It struck me as some sort of self-help expression meant to reassure everyone that Temple was a legitimate choice, that it wasn't my last choice, that it wasn't my safety school. I chose Temple, and it was a shame U.S. News didn't care.

I threw back the rest of my gimlet. Did I really need confirmation of my darkest insecurity? Yes. "Why do you think Temple law students are getting snubbed in the interviewing process?" I asked Dennis.

"I dunno. The senior partners are all from the Ivy Leagues, and for some reason they're on this Ivy League kick. They want more Harvards, Yales, and U-Penns. Something about increasing overall percentages as compared to the other firms in the city. Last year we hired two Temples. The year before that, three. It's now some informal, unspoken rule. Hire only from the big schools.

"Look, I'm not trying to stress you out or say that it's right," he continued, "but I think they figure if they go out on a limb to make you an offer and you decline, they'll look stupid. To whom, I don't know. But they'll take it personally. You just do what you gotta do."

The mixture of Dennis's blatantly elitist comments and the vodka gimlets was starting to make me feel nauseated. I excused myself to go to the men's room. At the sink I began throwing cold water on my face. I was alone.

"You are so drunk," I said in the mirror as I rubbed my entire face with both hands. "Soooo drunk. What am I doing? I've gotta get a grip. Got-to-get-a-grip. I gotta stay focused, not look drunk, ask smart questions."

The toilet flushed, and a waiter stepped out of a stall. He smiled. I smiled. I fixed my hair, straightened my tie and jacket, and went back to the table as composed as possible. Dennis and I finished our dinner. At the very end of the meal, he offered cigars and after-dinner liqueurs. At this point the decadence was getting obscene. I declined, and we stepped outside. It was freezing.

"So, what are you going to do now?" Dennis asked me after I thanked him for dinner.

"Tonight? I'm crashing. I have class in the morning."

"Well, I wouldn't worry about that too much anymore." He laughed. "Do you want to come back to my place?"

I paused. I couldn't be sure how long I was staring. I blinked. "Nahh," I said. "I appreciate it, definitely, but I'm just going to grab a cab and go to bed. Thanks. I appreciate it." Did I mention that I appreciated it?

"Another time, then. I just got this great Star Trek collector's telephone. It's shaped like the U.S.S. Enterprise, and it plays the Star Trek theme song when it rings."

"Good stuff," I said, trying to recall whether I'd feigned interest in Star Trek at any point in the evening. He smiled, I smiled, we shook hands, and I got into a cab.

"Ninth and Clinton," I told the cabdriver, and sank into my seat.

Oh my God. What just happened? What exactly just happened? I began piecing it together. A senior associate invited me back to his place to check out his Star Trek phone. Was that a euphemism? Had this man hit on me? Geez, it hadn't even occurred to me that we were going down that path.

"Oh no," I mumbled.

"Something wrong?" the cabdriver said over his shoulder.

"Nothing. Thanks," I said. Only then did it occur to me that perhaps I never had an O'Connell & Price offer to begin with. And if I had one before dinner, did it still stand? Did I still even want it?

Copyright© 2003 by Alex Wellen
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2004

    A Must Read

    This book is a must-read for any law student at any school, not just the 'Tier 2s' Mr. Wellen refers to in the book. The book is one man's journey from over-eager law student to big firm lawyer to non-lawyer, with a lot of life in between. I recommend it wholeheartedly as an entertaining and enlightening read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2004

    I Laughed, I Cried

    Alex, I loved your book!!!! I am a mother of a 2nd year law student at NYU (Yale Grad) all first tiers and can relate so well to your angst. I cried - I laughed out loud and have been touting your book as a must read. I am going to buy a 2nd copy and send it to my son - no sense in his reinventing the wheel. I am glad everything worked out for the best and thanks for sharing your story. Joyce

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2004

    BARMAN is inspiring and humorous!!!!!

    Mr. Wellen's BARMAN is a great read. It is inspiring and humorous for anyone who is attending law school, or even thinking about going to law school. His experiences with the New York bar exam are so realistic, that you feel like you are right there with him taking the bar exam! Kudos to Mr. Wellen on his first book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2004

    Barman Nails It!

    Alex Wellen really nails the law school experience ! The funniest book I've read in a loooong time - and that includes my Torts text - If you're considering going to lawschool or know someone who is: read this book! If you just want to laugh: read this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2004

    BARMAN is an instant 'classic !'

    FIVE (5) TYPES of people should definitely purchase this book: 1) ASPIRING law school students; 2) CURRENT law school students; 3) ANYONE who has sat for a bar exam and enjoys a good laugh, or cry; 4) ATTORNEYS who would enjoy reminiscing about the beginning times of their legal career; 5) LAW PROFESSORS so that they may re-aquaint themselves with this painful and at times absurd process. BARMAN will endure over the years as recommended reading for aspiring lawschoolies because it is honest, funny, self-deprecating (in a good way), and most of all it is accurate. I know because I just took the bar exam and read BARMAN as if it were my own personal journal. Go buy it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2004

    Barman/Everyman

    I picked up 'Barman' looking for information, any information, on what law school, post law school experiences were like for someone not coming from Yale or Harvard. What I learned from Alex Wellen's book was not just what the process of becoming a lawyer was like, because during the process--with he relates with wit and honesty--Wellen seemed to discover for himself that passing the bar, and becoming a lawyer didn't necessarily define who he was or his worth. It didn't change who he was. I think it's worth remembering for anyone considering law school. What I got out of reading 'Barman' was that if I try, whether I fail or succeed, I will come out a different person on the other side of the experience, but still a person; one with value and who deserves happiness. It's a healthy way to approach law school, life or any other challenge, and maintain a sense of self without getting swallowed up by the process. I'm sure it's a book I'll refer to again as I continue my own process of getting into law school, and beyond.

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