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January 07, 2004

Good Start

"There is never a deed so foul that something couldn't be said for the guy; that's why there are lawyers." —Melvin Belli

For Christmas my mother bought me a "Lawyers Jokes Quotes and Anecdotes 2004 Calendar," from which I took the above quotation. Excerpts from the calendar may become a regular feature. We'll see.

But this quote is appropriate for the moment, since I've been thinking a bit about what it would be like to be a criminal defense attorney. Another Christmas gift (I had an incredible Christmas), this one from L, was How Can You Defend Those People? by James S. Kunen. The book details his experience as a public defender in DC for 2.5 years in the late 1970s. So far, it's quite compelling and makes me think I'd fit as a PD better than I would in many other types of practice. One thing I certainly seem to have in common with Kunen is a lack of respect for law school. Here's how Kunen describes it:

School is school. You sit in chairs that are attached to the floor. You write down what the teacher says (or borrow the notes of someone who did). When the time comes, you memorize it and spit it back out. . . . Law school is not, contrary to the mystification heaped around it by people who have done time there, difficult. Boring would be a better word, but not tremendously or profoundly boring, just boring in the ordinary, everyday sense, which leaves room for the occasional peak of interest by which the valleys of torpor are defined (25).

I'm not sure about the boring part. It's hard to nail down what it is I feel sitting in class with a hundred students, watching the time tick by and knowing that there's absolutely no way we're going to talk about more than one (if even that) of the interesting questions I thought were raised by the previous night's reading. It's boring, but it's also frustrating, disappointing, discouraging, even aggravating because it seems destined to end up doing a disservice to society by producing lawyers who think well in terms of the formal and technical aspects of law, but not necessarily so well in terms of people and reality. Kunen has something to say about that as well, noting that the reading in law school covers every kind of human behavior, but does so in a horribly detached way:

No one seems to suffer in all these tales of woe, the pain having disappeared with the people who felt it. One gets the impression that human life is like nothing so much as an unending Saturday morning cartoon—woops! pow! oof! (26)

I'll get you, you wascally wabbit!

But really, the failures of law school and the law are almost infinite. One of my goals for this semester is to watch for the brighter moments and make the most of them, and after the first two days of class, I remain very hopeful that ConLaw will provide plenty of bright spots. It certainly started off well. Here's how ProfConLaw introduced the course:

The guardians of our liberties are lawyers. There's always been some kind of crisis (right now it's terrorism) and liberties are placed under pressure. The reason liberties withstand this pressure is because of lawyers. Learning constitutional law is almost a duty, an obligation you take up when you become a lawyer.

It's an obligation I'm glad to take up. Can you think of a better epitaph than "Guardian of Liberty"? Yeah, probably, but you could do worse.

Outside the mystified halls of law school, tonight is 2004's first Meetup for Dean, and as Jim Moore says, if you haven't done it already, there's no better time to pick a campaign and get involved. If you don't, the choice will be made for you, and why would you want that?

Also, don't miss the 15 final contenders in the Bush in 30 Seconds ad contest. They're all very impressive and I can't wait to see any one of them on national tv, but my favorites are probably "In My Country," "Polygraph," and "Gone in 30 Seconds." And, of course, the absolute minimalist, Mac-loving best: "Desktop"! (All links are to "high bandwidth" versions; lower bandwidth versions are available at the Bush in 30 Seconds page.)

Posted 06:52 AM | Comments (3) | election 2004 law school

Amazon: the Wal-Mart of Books?

A bit of a tangent: After reading a post and comments at Glorfindel of Gondolin about why she doesn't link to when she refers to books and other kinds of things Amazon sells, I'm experimenting with alternatives myself. One thing I've seen people do rather than link to Amazon is to link to a google search for the title, which allows those interested to easily get more info about the book or whatever, but gives them the choice of whether to go to Amazon or some other source for that info.

I'm not really sure how I could give up Amazon for a lot of things, and I'm extremely ambivalent about whether doing so is really necessary. Is Amazon the Wal-Mart of online stores?

In the "yes" column, Amazon probably dominates a lot of online sales categories, and this is almost certainly hurting lots of smaller players and local businesses—it has absolutely decreased the sales of many local bookstores. These are bad things.

In the "I don't know" column, does Amazon pay workers poorly and mistreat them? Does Amazon give its employees quality benefits? I doubt Amazon is unionized, and I'm almost certain that Powell's Books is.

In the "it may already be too late" column, so many independent booksellers have already been forced out of business by competition from Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon, that probably the majority of those left standing have a loyal customer base that's not going to be affected by online links to competitors.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this...

Posted 06:34 AM | Comments (4) | life generally meta-blogging

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