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September 21, 2004

Yin-Yang Flowerpot

Not all Mondays are the same. On some Mondays, it seems like nothing happens—just another tiring start to the week. But not on all Mondays. Mine yesterday: 8:50 a.m.: Prof. Labor starts off class with this: “Mr. Ambimb, if you're an average worker starting a new job and your contract says you have to become a 'union member in good standing' within 30 days, what do you think that means?” I know Prof. Labor wants me to say that this language will confuse me and mislead me into thinking I actually have to join the union, when in fact the law says that the only thing a union can require in a contract is that new employees become “financial core members” (that they pay initiation fees and dues). Prof. Labor thinks the courts have erred in ruling that the “member in good standing” language is ok. I disagree, so I tell him, “If I was an average employee, I'd wonder what it meant to be a 'member in good standing,' so I'd ask about that, and my employer and the union would be legally obligated to explain that it meant I didn't have to join the union, but just pay initiation fees and dues.” Prof. Labor didn't like that, so he moved on and I didn't have to answer any more questions. I wasn't trying to be difficult; I just think that the deck is stacked against both unions and workers (and Prof. Labor started out the semester saying the same thing), so even if the “member in good standing” language might be misleading, that's a tiny little advantage the union and the worker deserve. Also, we typically apply the principle of caveat emptor to most contracts, why not here? The employee should read his/her employment contract, and if he/she has questions, he/she should ask for clarification, right? (For more on this, see the NLRA § 7 (I think—I forget where it addresses union security clauses) and Marquez v. Screen Actors Guild, 119 S. Ct. 292 (1998)). But the best part of it was, this was the first question of the morning, so it was just reviewing material we'd covered yesterday—the fact that I'm behind in the reading didn't show! 11:00 a.m.: Interview w/“K Street Non-Profit.” This was my first (possibly only) interview this fall, but it was for a job to start immediately, not next summer. It sounds like a great position, and the people who interviewed me were very nice, but I completely dropped the ball from the get-go. They started like this: “We were intrigued by your cover letter. You said you'd written something about modifying John Rawls' 'original position' as a basis for a more equal distribution of social goods. Can you tell us more about that?” My answer was basically: Uh, no, not really. Of course I didn't say that, but I'm sure that's how it sounded. See, I wrote that paper about four years ago, and what I write in my cover letter about it is really about all I remember about it, except that Rawls was fairly tangential to the paper, and I'm not an authority on him by any means, and I wasn't outlining any modifications to the OP or the “veil of ignorance” so much as arguing that some version of these ideas would be a better basis for equality in law, and since that's saying nothing new (it's just restating what Rawls said), I obviously shouldn't have mentioned it in my cover letter at all. There's a little more to it; if I reread the paper I could talk about it more intelligently, but that's the point, isn't it? That's what I should have done before going to the interview! So there's definitely a lesson here: Don't talk about anything in your resume or cover letter that you're not prepared to talk intelligently about in an interview (or later if you get hired). Who knew someone who read my cover letter would be a fan of John Rawls!? It might not happen often, but if you're going to talk it, you better be able to walk it. This is like job-hunting 101 advice, which makes me feel all the more foolish for overlooking it. Yeah, interviewing is fun! But it was, and, like I said, they were very nice about it. They also asked about my union organizing experience and asked me to pretend I was a university administrator explaining why grad students should not be allowed to unionize. I mention it because it was another unexpected question, a smart question on their part which I assume was intended to determine whether I understood more than “my” side of an issue that was important to me. I think I did fine there. The work this non-profit does is pretty cool, but, although I felt good about the interview, something in their closing handshakes tells me I'm not going to get the job. Still, it was good interviewing practice, and obviously I needed that. 1:40 p.m.: Try to stay awake through Evidence. Should the fact that a married person is having an affair be considered evidence of “character.” What kind of “character” has an affair? What does that tell us about the person? More Harrison Ford courtroom video clips from a movie I don't recognize but assume is fairly popular (Ford is the defendant in a murder case). Also a clip of Joan Cusack racing through an office with a videotape, also from a movie I don't recognize. I do wish Prof. Evidence would at least identify the movies he's showing clips from. It would make them more interesting and allow me to add them to my list of movies I need to see. 3:50 p.m.: Prof. Corporations starts the discussion part of class with: “Mr. Ambimb, say you're an investor and the directors of the company you've invested in decide to do something that will cause the company to lose $26 million, even though they could do something a little differently and only lose $18 million. How would you feel? Mr. Ambimb, Kamin v. American Express.” That's how Prof. Corps starts a class. He doesn't ask you to tell him about a case, he just names the case and you have to start talking about what you think is important about it. If you start off with “this case stands for the proposition that...” or some similar attempt to reduce the case to a rule, Prof. Corps will cut you off and demand to hear something interesting about the case. I had little of interest to say about Kamin, so I threw out a few tidbits about why it was just another in the endless line of cases that reaffirm's the law's insistence that the purpose of the state is to promote the unchecked and uninhibited accumulation of private profit. We quickly reached the limit of my technical knowledge of buying and selling stocks and fiduciary duties and duties of care, etc., all of which were somewhat important to what Prof. Corps wanted to talk about in relation to this case, so Prof. Corps moved on. I was only in the hotseat for about 15 minutes! Now, I'm virtually guaranteed to be left alone in that class for the rest of the semester, which as Half-Cocked points out, is going to make it rather hard to focus on the reading. In fact, at this moment, I'm writing this horrendously long post when I should be reading for corporations, but I no longer need to be concerned about such things. Isn't life grand?!? So, like I said, not all Mondays are the same. On some, little happens besides you being exhausted and behind from being lazy all weekend (if you're me). On others, you learn:
  1. If you disagree w/some professors they'll just move on and leave you alone. (Don't get me wrong; I really like Prof. Labor, we just disagreed here a little and that didn't fit well into what he was doing yesterday).
  2. If you mention something on your resume or cover letter, you better be prepared to talk about it intelligently later in an interview.
  3. If you can demonstrate that you've read the material but that your knowledge of the context of the material is seriously limited, some professors will move on and leave you alone.
All very valuable lessons. YMMV.

Posted September 21, 2004 12:32 PM | 2L law school

Well, the Harrison Ford movie is Presumed Innocent, adapted from the book by Scott Turow. Definitely worth watching.

I'm not sure about the Joan Cusack one.

Posted by: Jim at September 21, 2004 01:55 PM

"I wasnít trying to be difficult; I just think that the deck is stacked against both unions and workers . . . , so even if the 'member in good standing' language might be misleading, thatís a tiny little advantage the union and the worker deserve."

Isn't that trying to be difficult?

Posted by: Anonymous at September 21, 2004 11:51 PM

"Mr. Ambimb..."

Last year I had two professors that called on people by their first names, and it was so nice not to be address as Mr. in a condescending way. I still have classmates whose first names I don't know.

Posted by: Steve at September 22, 2004 12:18 AM

Why is it trying to be difficult to disagree? I would have explained my position to my professor, but he's not really big on student input and discussion. He likes to ask you questions that are generally cearly and explicitly answered by the reading, so that if you've done the reading, you can just tell him exactly what he wants to hear. That's fine, except the more labor law I read, the more labor law I dislike, so rather than give the programmed answer, I'll continue to respond with criticism where it's warranted. If that's being difficult, then I guess I am, and happily so.

Steve: The "Mr. This" and "Ms. That" bit is really preposterous, but as you point out it allows profs to keep a nice condescending distance from their students (they won't deign to even try to learn first names), and it's also a nod to the fact that a class of some 100 or more students is likely to have more than one Mike, Heather, or John. I've only had one class where the Prof. called us by first name and that was a class of 12 taught by a practicing attorney, not a law professor.

Posted by: ambimb at September 22, 2004 12:54 PM

all my professors call us by first names. but that's my school for ya'.

but why aren't you disliking labor law?

Posted by: monica at September 22, 2004 08:57 PM

The Joan Cusak quote was probably from Broadcast News -

Posted by: mr. fun ball at September 24, 2004 10:13 PM

Monica: I like labor law because there's power in the union and I'm power hungry! And as my professor always says, I'm not kidding. I think collective action is the solution to the world's problems, including things like the health care crisis in the U.S., unfair taxation policies, other poor economic policies that cause unnecessary harm to people, etc. Organized labor helped civilize and reign in some of the worst abuses of economic power in the first half of the 20th century. It's been largely crushed in the last 50 years, but I believe it could come back, and I'd like to help make that happen. So while I like criminal law, labor law is kind of where my heart is. That makes it endlessly fun to learn, even though it's also depressing because so many of the decisions are blatantly and unnecessarily anti-labor.

Mr. Fun Ball: Thank you! I'm betting you're right...

Posted by: ambimb at September 25, 2004 01:21 PM

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