In the 1957 Broadway musical and 1962 movie, The Music Man, peripatetic confidence man Harold Hill (played by Robert Preston) sets out to swindle the residents of an early 20th-century Iowa town.
“Professor” Hill’s literal and figurative fast-talking might best be displayed in his exhortation, “Ya Got Trouble.”
Moments after Hill confides to a confederate that “We must create the desperate need in your town for a boys’ band” (that he will fraudulently solicit money to equip), his persistent patter promises parents that a pioneering pool parlor perils their progeny’s principles and prospects:
“Either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community. . . .
Ya got trouble, folks
Right here in River City,
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool!
. . . .
“Gotta figure out a way to keep the young ones moral after school!”
On a vastly more valid and legitimate level, the “client alerts” on many law firms’ Web sites highlight the issues and implications of the latest technological and cultural developments, statutes, regulations, and court decisions.
Some firms combine their memos, videos, and/or podcasts—commonly found behind a link labeled “Insights”—with “News” items that trumpet their achievements and distinctions, and how they conduct their own operations. By demonstrating the tenor of law firms’ attention to and engagement with particular issues, this content helps them drum up business from existing and potential, clients.
Yet in nine practical ways, law students and pre-law students can apply client alerts for their own purposes.
First, and most obviously, these abbreviated updates identify possible topics to explore in more detail in one’s own law review articles, seminar papers, or blog posts, or even simply to bring up for discussion in classes.
Second, comparing different firms’ treatments of the same item can be a useful education in styles of writing and analysis for clients.
For instance, how much specific operational insight, as opposed to general summary, is each firm “giving away”? How much is each alert self-contained, rather than linking to previous material that the firm posted (or assuming that readers already know the relevant background)? How detailed (as much as Harold Hill’s?) are the firms’ depictions and predictions of the problems purportedly posed?
Third, client alerts might well be tailored to the communities and cultures of different kinds of clients. For example, a firm that represents primarily management might present and assess labor law issues from a different perspective than would a firm that usually represents unions or individual employees.
Are there differences in the levels of legal sophistication and expertise that different firms seem to assume of their own intended audiences? Do some “Insights” appear to address new or emerging (or, merging) types of clients? If so, who are those clients, and what might be their special concerns?
Fourth, colleagues’ collaborations on client alerts can illustrate the interactions among (and within) various practice groups of a firm, and of their respective domains of law—for example, in overlapping issues of labor law and intellectual property law, or of the various fields in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) law. Students interested in a particular type of practice might choose to add courses in these related topics, and maybe also to write about their common, or contrasting, concerns.
Fifth, the degree to which, and topics on which, associates (and particularly junior associates) are publicly credited as the authors or co-authors of client updates could reveal not only specific firms’ willingness to pass the baton (at least temporarily) to them, but also the areas in which newer lawyers might find the most opportunity for recognition, and the most traction for advancement.
Sixth, readers might discover useful trends and patterns by examining, on firms’ Web pages for individual lawyers who write client alerts in specific areas, their backgrounds, credentials, and other practice specialties and related professional activities.
Seventh, interested students could build their professional networks by contacting some of those lawyers to ask for advice on career opportunities, paper topics, background reading (such as specialized blogs, magazines, books, and podcasts), and/or on other networking opportunities (like professional organizations or activities) in a particular field of practice.
Eighth, acquiring and demonstrating familiarity with this aspect of a firm’s marketing efforts—such as being able to (diplomatically) compare a firm’s client alerts to those of other firms—could help distinguish an applicant during a job interview.
Ninth, although this might be an inadvisable, or at least very sensitive, subject to raise or address in an interview, students could examine individual client alerts, and their supporting architecture on firms’ Web sites, from the standpoint of professional ethics. For instance, are there conspicuous disclaimers that the content does not constitute legal advice, and that (particularly for older items) it does not necessarily reflect the current state of the law?
Harold Hill is introduced as a charming but contemptible liar with plenty of brass, looking to snare credulous townspeople. However, swayed by love from his base inclinations, he winds up as a symbol of redemption.
Perhaps The Music Man’s most important long-term lesson for law students—and one certainly relevant to reviewing client alerts on a regular basis—appears in its opening scene: both in keeping track of, and on track with, developments in the law and the relevant legal community, “Ya Gotta Know the Territory.”
(With a capital “T,” and that rhymes with “C,” and that stands for Career!)