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Interview: Martha Kimes, Author of Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student

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Take a little bit of The Paper Chase but without those awful sideburns. Take a little bit of Legally Blonde but with a bit less irony and fewer gadgets. Take a bit of Scott Turow's memoir, One L, but change the gender of the main character. Mix.

They say the sum is the greater than all of its parts. Martha Kimes' new memoir, which comes out on May 15, is definitely proof of that adage. Her book is entitled Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student. While she acknowledges and name drops each of the movies and book previously mentioned to make her points, along with other cultural references like Breakfast Club, her book is much more than any of those cultural artifacts, alone or combined.

Hers is a story of a woman of pluck, energy, wit and cleverness. She left life in Wisconsin and entered Columbia Law School in 1994, shocked that she was accepted and immediately wondering whether her presence was some kind of huge mistake. She graduated in 1997 and worked at several New York City law firms before deciding to take a job at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

I want to excerpt one part to give you a glimpse into her sharp, witty style. This comes in the book's first 10 pages as she considers going into a career as a lawyer:

"I have no idea what to do with my life," I responded. "Count me in."
"I don't know what to do with my life either," Joe told me. "Let's get married. I'll stand by your side while you get your law degree, then I'll get to ride the gravy train once you're a highly paid attorney!"
"Yes!" I answered, to the world's most romantic proposal. The dual coups of marriage and law school would undoubtedly transform both of us into serious, respectable, mature adults."

In her biography for the book she concludes "she lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their two sons, who she sincerely hopes never decides to become lawyers." I, of course, called on that statement during the email.

Speaking of the interview, let's start that:

What were you trying to accomplish with this book? Did you achieve it?
I guess I was really trying to poke a little fun at our system of legal education and to poke a little fun at myself. To give a modern-day peek behind the curtains of an Ivy League law school, and to show that, indeed, there can be some humor there. I was trying to write a book that would be entertaining and accessible to everyone – not just law students or lawyers. I think I achieved it. I certainly hope so!

What inspired you to write this book?
I know that before I headed off to law school, I gobbled up everything on the subject that I could find. I must have watched The Paper Chase fifteen times over the course of four months – I was desperately trying to picture exactly what was going to happen once I arrived. Of course, that served no purpose other than to leave me shaking in my boots with fear. I could have used a book that would have told me to just lighten up, already. I hope this book will inspire others to relax a bit and enjoy the ride.

You mention you hope your sons don't follow you into law. What if they rebelled against you and decided they wanted to go into law school? What would you tell them?
Of course, I want them to do whatever will make them happy. But, if they decided to pursue legal careers, I would want to make sure they were making well-informed choices instead of just going to law school because they didn't know what else to do after college. That's pretty much what I did, and it's not necessarily the most auspicious start to a happy career in the law.

Who did you let read this book before publication? Family? Former law school colleagues?
Very few people. My editor, my agent, and my husband were the only ones who read any of it until the manuscript was finalized. And I just sent my mom a copy of the book a week ago — I figured that, after giving birth to me and raising me, she had probably earned it. Everyone else has to pony up 23 U.S. Dollars to buy their own.

If you could say three things to all law students what would they be?
1. Breathe.
2. Life won't actually come to an end if you don't make Law Review.
3. Yes, Property class really is that boring. It's not just you.

In your author's note you wrote "I intentionally omitted all references to the Rule Against Perpetuities – a small kindles that will undoubtedly be appreciated by anyone d who has ever attended law school." As a non-law student I don't know what to make of this. What does the Rule mean and why is it nice of you to omit it?
The Rule Against Perpetuities is a short but inordinately complex rule that every student suffers through learning in Property class. Basically, the rule tries to prevent people from placing too many strings on property that they transfer. But, somehow, when you learn about it, legal fictions like "fertile octogenarians" and "unborn widows" start popping up, and it all becomes utterly incomprehensible. During a lecture on the Rule Against Perpetuities, it's not uncommon to see about 40% of the students in tears at any given moment.

Aren't you sorry you asked?

Which comes closer to portraying what law school is like — Paper Chase or Legally Blonde?
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. The Paper Chase is outdated and sexist; Legally Blonde is entertaining but silly. Take the stress of The Paper Chase, the cattiness of Legally Blonde, toss in some alcohol, and tone it all down a bit. That would give a fairly accurate portrayal, I think.

There was an email exchange in the book about pro bono work. Were those the actual words or were they changed along with the names? It was hilarious!

I don't have the actual e-mails that were exchanged, so — as with many of the other conversations in the book — what I've written there is my best recollection/recreation of the fiasco, with a small bit of embellishment and commentary. I do specifically remember a ranting e-mail beginning with the phrase, "As I sit looking out my window at the sweeping view of the Statue of Liberty," however. It was patently ridiculous because we all lived way uptown on the Columbia campus — it wouldn't be possible to see the Statue of Liberty from there no matter how you tried!

Is there anything about the book you wanted to say that I didn't give you a chance to say?
I want people to know that I did enjoy my time at Columbia Law School. I don't think I realized it at the time, but it really wasn't so horrible. All in all, going to school beats working.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!