I went to law school for the same reason many people do: with a bachelor’s degree in English, I didn’t have any better ideas.
My first year of law school was a dispiriting struggle. I mistakenly followed my professors’ advice NOT to use study aids such as Emanuel Law Outlines® or Nutshells®. The law school method of learning – exposing students to disparate details and having them try to intuit what “the law” is – was unnatural and counterintuitive to me. I studied as hard as I could, and got mediocre (or worse) grades. I felt I had finally met my match.
In my second year, it all suddenly clicked. I bought Emanuels® for each of my classes, and found that by starting the semester with an overview of the entire subject, all of the cases I read and all of the class discussion finally made sense! This was my first encounter with one of the basic tenets of my teaching philosophy: that learning works best when there is a framework of reference for things to stick to.
I wrote my way onto law review (resulting in me being one of the few people in my class to get my note published) and was elected managing editor. In my last semester of law school, I thought I was developing a heart condition, but a cardiologist assured me my heart was fine. She asked me about my life, and summarized my responses back to me: “You are in your third year of law school. You have a job on the law review that takes 30 hours a week. You are also working part-time at a law firm about 15 hours a week. Your commute to and from law school takes a total of three hours each day. Your wife, who you married a month before law school began, is due to have your first child around the time of your last semester finals. You are then going to be taking the bar exam, and starting your career at a big high-pressure New York law firm. You are experiencing stress, not heart failure. Breathe.”
I started at Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler shortly after taking the bar exam that summer. The partner in charge of the care and feeding of first-year lawyers steered me into the banking practice, notwithstanding my stated desire to be a litigator. In hindsight, I realized that he had astutely sized me up as having the kind of consensus-building personality that put me more in the transactional mold.
I had a great experience at Kaye Scholer, getting the opportunity to work directly with partners and to do a lot of contract drafting. The deals I worked on were smaller, simpler and slower-paced than those that are common today, so a partner had the luxury of time to give me three days to do a first draft of a credit agreement, which he would then have the time to totally rewrite before it was sent to the client. I learned a lot. Unfortunately, that model of associate learning-by-doing is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
After four years, I moved to Skadden Arps, at the very height of the deal boom of the 1980’s. It was crazed and exciting, and the learning curve was once again steep. I was given great amounts of work and responsibility.
My training activities started as a fifth-year associate, the year after I arrived at Skadden. Without being asked, I wrote a 46-page memo — An Introduction to the Practice of the Banking and Institutional Investing Group — to give the new lawyers an overview of what our deals were all about. Even then, I recognized that the incoming lawyers needed a framework to understand their assignments and what was expected of them. From there, I developed an annual set of twenty to thirty one-hour training sessions for the first-year banking associates, provided by different partners and counsel from my practice group.
In 2002, after being asked many times by associates attending my in-house training sessions to recommend a book on contract drafting, I wrote one: Working with Contracts: What Law School Doesn’t Teach You.
I am proud to say that my book has been in print for eleven years and has sold more than 30,000 copies.
While writing the book, I had an epiphany that has guided my training work ever since: most of what experienced deal lawyers know how to do are things THAT WERE NEVER TAUGHT TO THEM; they were learned through trial and error and by osmosis. As a result, experienced deal lawyers often fail to recognize that these skills need to be taught, and so they are often ineffective at teaching them.
In 2004, I realized that my training activities at Skadden had become more satisfying to me than representing clients. I also started thinking deeply about the relationship between time and money. Not the economic principle of the time value of money, but this: When I was young, I had no money and what felt like an infinite amount of time. Over time, I had accumulated a respectable amount of money, but I realized that time was becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. In effect, I had reached a point in my life where time had become more valuable than money.
So I decided to leave my lucrative and prestigious partnership at Skadden to start up a consulting and training business, Fox Professional Development LLC. (Many of my partners thought I had lost my mind; others were envious.) Since then, I have engaged in the activities that you can read more about elsewhere on this website. I love what I do, and I think it is very important work.