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April 22, 2006

Happy Blog Birthday to Life, Law, Gender!

Denise is celebrating her 2-year blog birthday today—congratulations, Denise! As I said over there, Life, Law, Gender contibutes immeasurably to broadening the understanding of its readers and is unique (as far as I know) in at least the law school blogosphere. Denise writes helpfully and with great honesty about being transgendered and about how political and social developments are affecting the transgender and gay and lesbian communities. Those are obviously valuable contributions to the law school blog discourse, but Denise also has a vast amount of life experience in many other areas, as well, much of which she blogs about from time to time as a way of sharing some of what she's learned along the way. In short, Life, Law, Gender is a great blog and a daily read for me. If you haven't visited recently, I recommend you check it out. Oh, and wish Denise a happy blog birthday while you're there!

Posted 10:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 25, 2006

Cost-effective searching on Westlaw

For those of you about to graduate law school: Your infinite supply of “free” legal research crack is about to come to an end. Many of you have hooked up with a new pusherman (e.g. a firm that's going to bill your continued Wexis access to its clients), but it's unlikely your new dealer is going to be as generous as the one on which you've come to depend. Looks like it's time to check into rehab!

To help you get started, here are some things I learned recently from our Westlaw representative:

Westlaw offers three main pricing options. First, “Plan A” is kind of old school. When you log into Westlaw with Plan A you'll have to choose whether you want your session to be billed hourly or by transaction. If you choose “hourly,” the clock starts the second you log in and it keeps ticking at the same rate regardless of what you do. If you have this option, use it only when you know exactly what you want and you can dive in, grab it, and print it, then get out. If you choose to be billed by transaction, you'll only be charged for the actual searches you conduct. There is no charge for logging in; charges basically begin once you enter a search query and hit “search.”

The second and most common pricing plan is called “Special Plan” (creative, huh?) and it's basically a negotiated flat rate for searches w/in some subset of Westlaw's available databases; each subscriber negotiates which databases are included in their “special” plan. You can do as many searches as you want in databases included in the plan; searches in databases outside the plan cost extra. This is a common arrangement in many firms and government agencies. Talk to your firm/agency librarian to find out exactly what is and is not included in your special plan.

Westlaw's last pricing option is called “Pro Plan.” It's a “mini flat rate” designed for public interest organizations, solos, and really small or boutique firms. You pay a flat rate each month for access to only a couple of sources you know you need. For example, if you're practicing criminal law in Alaska, you'd probably have access to Alaska and maybe 9th Circuit criminal cases, as well as Alaska criminal statutes, and that's it. You'll be shut out of everything else. (I assume you could always have a second login for searching on a transactional basis on your own dime.)

If for some reason you're ever stuck searching on a per-transaction basis, here are some things to keep in mind to keep costs to a minimum:

  1. The larger the DB, the more expensive to search. Pick the appropriate size db for your research task.
  2. The more specialized the database, the more expensive it is.
  3. Use the “directory” to narrow your search (look for the white “directory” link at the top of your screen after you log in). This makes Westlaw a little more like Lexis in that it allows you to choose the most appropriate (and narrow) database for your search.
  4. In the Directory, the sources on the right side are more expensive than those on the left.
  5. In the Directory, use the “Topical Practice Areas” to narrow your search.
  6. Charges begin once you enter a search string and hit “search.”
  7. Once you get a list of results they are included in the transaction; you can read through them w/out extra charge.
  8. When you want to search, write out the search on piece of paper so you don't waste time and money experimenting w/search terms inside Westlaw.
  9. Also, before you search, call 1-800-Westlaw; tell them you want to run search but you're not sure of the results. They will run it for you and tell you how many cases you'll get. If it's a bad search, they will help you craft a better search. This is free!
  10. Over time you'll get better at formulating searches, but until that point, don't hesitate to call for every single research assignment you have.
  11. If you just know the issue but don't know what kind of search to run, you can also call that number and they will help you formulate your search.
  12. Within a search result, “Results Plus” results (in the frame on left side of screen) cost extra.
  13. Internal citations w/in cases count as extra transactions. If you just want to click on citations and print them out, use the hourly search.
  14. If you accidentally hit “search” before you were finished formulating your search terms, call the number and tell them you messed up and they will credit you.
  15. A “transaction” does not depend on the number of hits you get. Make sure your search is not too narrow or too broad. 40-150 might be pretty good number of results.
  16. Narrowing in a search: use Locate in Result—does not count as transaction.
  17. Use “Field” searching to get a quicker answer. E.g., author, attorney, synopsis digest, etc.
  18. The Synopsis Digest field restricts search to summary and headnotes.
  19. The Synopsis field restricts to that.
  20. “Digest” restricts to headnotes only.
  21. Words/Phrases will search for any part of the case that talks about the definition of a term; use for definitions of legal issues related to a word or phrase.
  22. Keycite is a transaction; use it only for those cases you absolutely know are going into your brief.
  23. Keycite is probably the least expensive transaction on WL.
  24. Use “limit keycite display” at the bottom of a keycite results page to narrow results for no extra charge.
  25. Research Trail keeps history of your searches; print this trail for every assignment you do to give you a research record for every client/assignment.
  26. You can return to those results before 2 a.m. on the next day.
When I started law school and learned about the way Wexis gets law students used to unlimited service and then yanks it away at graduation, I knew it was going to be hard to deal with when the time came. As I think about not being able to just sort of go exploring inside Wexis anymore, I know I'm going to miss that freedom. A lot.

Posted 12:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 19, 2006

Sunday Sermon: Teaching Integrity

What makes lawyers behave badly? And how can we teach them to do better right from the start?

These questions spring from the big legal news of the last week (besides the little fact that our representatives in Congress seem to think the president is above the law)— the prosecutorial misconduct in the sentencing phase of the Moussaui trial. While countless others have already made many interesting points about this attorney misconduct (see, e.g., Concurring Opinions here and here,, and Scoplaw), I want to raise it now in connection with the fact that the faculty at GW law are convinced their students are completely untrustworthy cheaters. I believe this sort of law school faculty attitude helps produce attorneys who act unethically.

You see, at GW law you must take your exams when they are scheduled; there are no exceptions of which I'm aware. Therefore, when you pick your class schedule, you must also check to see that none of the corresponding exams will overlap or conflict w/one another. This sometimes means students cannot take the classes they would like to take merely because the exam schedule doesn't work. Therefore, students recently proposed more flexibility in taking exams so that not everyone in the class would have to take the exam at the same time. Professors said (and I'm paraphrasing) “no way; then our students would cheat!”

Students at GW (and any other law school where the faculty act in similar fashion) are getting the message loud and clear, and that message is: I'm expected to cheat. If students then do, in fact, cheat, they are only fulfilling the expectations set for them by their professors.

So we have law students learning that they are expected to behave unethically and break the rules whenever they can get away with it. Is it any wonder we have attorneys like Carla J. Martin, the rule-breaking and unethical lawyer in the Moussaui case? She was just living up to her profession's (and society's) expectations of her as a lawyer—expectations she probably learned well in a law school that didn't trust her.

(As an aside: Putting the President above the law does relate to questions of professional ethics. If our elected leaders don't have to follow the law, why should any of the rest of us (professionals or not) have to follow it either? And if laws are made to be broken, how much more fungible are rules of ethical conduct?)

In the February '06 edition of Student Lawyer Magazine, Professor Lori Shaw addressed similar questions about exam policies; she asked whether cheating really is a problem in law school, and if so, what should be done about it. (The article is not available online.) Professor Shaw is conducting an online survey to collect responses to these questions—I'm sure she'd love it if you took a minute to complete the survey.

The questions Professor Shaw raises are good ones and I look forward to hearing what she learns from her survey. But even without knowing those results, I have little doubt that policies like GW's exam policy are sending exactly the wrong message to law students who are learning to become members of a profession that is supposedly self-regulating.

Hence, the sermon: Law students need to learn from day one that they have an extremely serious obligation to behave ethically and to report ethical breaches (cheating) by their peers. This is vital because they must regulate themselves and each other while in practice. No one likes to tell on their friends, but so long as the legal profession continues to maintain that that's the best way to regulate legal services (a dubious position, to be sure), law students and lawyers are going to have to do exactly that. It takes work to get people to actually become the ethical actors and tattletales that a self-regulating profession requires them to be; that work needs to begin in law school.

(Read on for a couple of the questions from Professor Shaw's survey and my responses to them.)

17. Who within the law school should be responsible for identifying cheaters? Law students often find themselves extremely uncomfortable in the role of accuser, but most law school honor codes place the responsibility for reporting wrongdoing squarely on students. Is that where it belongs?

Students should have the responsibility to not cheat in the first place and to report cheating if they see it or learn of it. If this is going to remain a self-regulating profession, that needs to begin in law school. If you teach students that you don't trust their integrity, you'll teach them to have none. Currently my law school teaches exactly this, which is why I'm not surprised to hear about lawyers behaving badly. Of course, it goes both ways. Law students see that in practice they will generally have to be *seriously* unethical to suffer any serious sanctions, so that may also teach them that breaking the rules a little here and there is no big deal and is expected and accepted by the profession.

19. What is the proper punishment for a law student found to have cheated on exam? What should happen to cheaters?

They should get an F in the course but also a letter that will be forwarded to all the state bar where that student applies for membership upon graduation. The letter should also remain in their professional file permanently.

20. In recent years, many universities have taken the position that the undergraduate years are a time of growth and that even a student's serious error in judgment should be viewed as creating a learning opportunity. Should the same standard apply in law schools, or should expulsion be the rule? Has the time for “living and learning” experiences passed, or is youth still a viable defense? What type of punishment fits this crime? Should we be seeking to rehabilitate, to deter, to punish, to denounce, to incapacitate, or some combination of the foregoing? Should law schools adopt a zero-tolerance policy?

Law school is a learning experience, so no, the punishment for cheating should not be so permanent as expulsion. The goals should be deterence, punishment, and rehabilitation. That's why I think the appropriate punishment is to fail the course and have a letter sent to the bar association in the state where the student applies for admission to practice. This is a serious penalty, but it should not destroy the person's legal career. (Of course, that's assuming the state bar association does not decide to refuse admission to anyone with such a letter. But again, there's no reason for them to be so draconian. Instead, state bars should take such letters as a warning that they need to look over this application more carefully and look at all other factors of the applicant. But mostly the letter should just remain in the student/lawyer's professional file for the rest of his/her life as a reminder and added incentive to follow the rules as a professional.)

22. If cheating is a real problem or is perceived as a problem, how should law students and law schools address that problem? Are there ways to change the culture?

I don't really think it's that big a problem. But regardless of the size of the problem, law schools should teach ethical behavior and put the responsibility on students to meet high expectations. If there's a problem w/bad ethical behavior in the legal profession, part of the reason for that has to be that students learn that they are expected to behave badly (see answer 17 above). We can start changing that by setting higher expectations and showing law students how a self-regulating profession is supposed to work.

(As an aside: If cheating is a problem in the legal profession I also think you can attribute much of it to the rise of law and economics and its cost/benefit analyses that encourage any sort of behavior so long as the benefits outweigh the costs. If that's true, then penalties for cheating need to be greater -- for both law students and practitioners who act unethically. However, this only makes it more important for law schools to teach students that as professionals they are expected to adhere to very high expectations. Exam policies that rely more on the honor system and less on surveillance and suspicion are one great way to start teaching those lessons.)

Posted 09:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 14, 2006

Law School Prison Blues

Mother In Law writes:

Waaayyy back in December, just after finals were done, I received an early Christmas gift from a student at my school. He and another law student had written a parody of Johnny Cash's Folsum Prison Blues called Law School Prison Blues. I had every intention of posting it back then, but ran into some technical problems and couldn't get it done. But I got a little help from ai, and now here it is for your listening enjoyment. Kudos and thanks to Ryan Kasak and Eric Staples!

The brilliance and talent of law students shines again!

See also The Hearsay Exceptions Movie created by one of E. Spat's classmates. And isn't there at least one more brilliant law school musical creation I'm missing?

UPDATE: The song I was missing, again courtesy of Energy Spatula: Come and do your evidence homework with me!

Posted 08:29 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 18, 2006

Beginning of the End

Congratulations to Monica who has finished her last class of law school! Her last class came a bit early compared to the rest of us graduating this spring because dhe attends Northeastern, which is on a quarter system and also requires that students spend every other quarter (I think) working. So she has a quarter left but will spend it “working” Florida. Sounds pretty good, no?

And so the end begins—the end of law school for the Blawgging Class of 2006. According to the calendar, I still have 13 weeks, but three of those I'll be spending on vacation in Wyoming, so it's really 10 (my one and only final is May 4th). Kind of hard to believe it's so close to over—especially when I have so much to do right now.

So I wonder: What is going to happen to this Blawgging Class of 2006? Will the blawgs live one? Will they be abandoned? Destroyed? Will the blawggers keep in touch? Blogging as a lawyer seems, in many ways, more challenging than blogging as any other sort of person b/c there's so much about what you do that's confidential. That said, lots of lawyers have great blogs, so it's obviously possible.

Here's another question: Can anyone think of a good example of a law student blog that has successfully transitioned to a lawyer blog? A couple of examples: L-cubed and Sua Sponte apparently hung up the keyboards (although I sort of suspect they're still posting somewhere and I'm just not privy to the info), and the blogger behind A Mad Tea-Party started blogging at bk! after a year or so hiatus. Andrew Raff, Screaming Bean and E. McPan have all continued blogging, but will that change when they all get the legal job of their dreams?

Do law students quit blogging after graduating because they are afraid to continue? Do they quit because they no longer find it enjoyable? Do they quit because they no longer have the time? Or is there something else going on?

Whatever the case, it will be sad if/when so many of the blogs I read regularly end up on permanent hiatus. That's not to say the imbroglio won't suffer the same fate. We can never tell what the future holds, can we?

Posted 02:34 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Pity the downtrodden landlord

Look! It's a right-wing screed against law school legal clinics! It condemns those clinics for attempting to help those among us who have the least because, well, that's “activism” or something. Instead, it advocates these clinics teach law students to help capitalists and crime victims—those for whom the existing legal and criminal justice system already work. It all makes eminent sense, don't you think?

Thanks to JD2B for bringing this screed to my attention.

Posted 11:54 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 08, 2006

Congratulations Caravan4Christmas

Congratulations to Law-Rah for successfully collecting and delivering a truckload of toys to needy kids whose Christmas was dramatically changed by hurricane Katrina. The project was a big one and she and her team had to overcome many obstacles along the way, but they did it and it looks like it was a huge success!

Posted 12:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 06, 2006

Hello, Accuracy

The Accuracy Blog appears to be a new blog about law school, politics, and current events by law student Chris Laurel. In one recent post he/she decries the sorry state of legal education and proposes a relatively simple fix: more frequent testing to measure progress and more teaching assistants to help students learn. That sounds like a fine start to me, although I would still add that the 3rd year seems unnecessary, at least in its current “more of the same” form.

Anyway: Welcome to the law student blog thing, Chris!

Posted 03:12 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

Holy Tons Of Public Interest Money, Batman!

According to Harvard's new admissions blog, Harvard law gave out over $1.5 million dollars in subsidies to its students engaged in public interest work last summer. Apparently, if you work a summer public interest job, you're guaranteed $4500 from the school. Harvard also has an Office of Public Interest Advising that employs 9 attorneys (full-time, I assume) helping students find public interest jobs.

Just for the sake of comparison, GW gave out something near $160,000 last year in public interest subsidies, and that includes some stipends during the school year so the summer amount was less. GW has no office of public interest advising or anything that would even approximate such a thing, and, as far as I know, it has one attorney and one career office assistant who each spend half their time helping students find public interest jobs.

Obviously it pays to go to the top school, but I never realized just how much. Unfortunately, it looks like Harvard didn't participate in the Equal Justice Works E-Guide to Public Service at America's Law Schools so I can't make more direct comparisons between the two schools. It's not like I'm surprised to learn of Harvard's huge advantage here, anyway, it's just the size of the difference that shocks me.

Posted 06:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 08, 2005

GW Law Profs Blogging Like MadMEN

I noted the other day that GW's SBA seems to be getting its online house in order, but I would be remiss if I did not also note the veritable explosion of GW professors entering (or already in) the blawgosphere. As far as I know, blogging GW professors include:

Ok, so that's only four, but hey, what other school has that many? Yeah, University of Chicago maybe, since it just started its Faculty Blog, but that's kind of cheating, isn't it?

And speaking of blogging professors, why are so many of them male? Or to put it another way, why are so few female?

Ok, I am so wrong about GW's 4 blogging profs being even a little impressive. According to The Conglomerate, the U of Wisconsin Law School has about 16 faculty blogs, at least two of which are by women—Ann Althouse and Nina Camic. And, of course, Christine Hurt is another female professor blogging at The Conglomerate, so maybe there's more balance out there than I realize. Her institution, Marquette U. Law School, also has at least six faculty blogs, so again, GW's four is looking more anemic all the time.

Still, even if GW is not on the top of schools in terms of numbers of blogging profs, these four are four more than existed (or at least four more than I knew about) when I started school two years ago, so I consider this great progress. Blog on, GW profs, blog on!

Posted 10:47 AM

October 05, 2005

Get Your Foundation Laid People

Remember that Hearsay Exceptions movie that Energy Spatula gifted us with a few months ago? Well, if you enjoyed that, then check out the new Evidence Song, also courtesy of Energy Spatula. Yes, she had a really talented evidence class!

So again I'm thinking that this should be a whole series. There must be lots of musical talent running around law schools these days—why not set more legal lessons to music? I'll set up if you people will bring the noise. Maybe we could get Andrew Raff to rock something up for us. His band certainly rocks (I especially recommend Teenage Symphony—I love that song), so why not?

Posted 08:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 27, 2005

Rock the CasBar

No one who is taking the bar this week is going to be reading blogs, and this may come late (some bar exams, like Virginia's, were yesterday, I think, and Pennsylvania's is already on its second day), but who cares? As Kristine says, good luck to you all anyway!

And for those of you who have finished, Congratulations!! How did it go?

Posted 06:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 01, 2005

Did You Consolidate?

A month ago I was all about consolidating loans. Divine Angst offered lots of helpful information about the process, but did I do anything about it? Of course not! Not until yesterday when I hurriedly filled out an online form at Access Group. The form said that it was sufficient to lock in the lower rates—filling it out was all I needed to do at this point and Access will process everything in the next few weeks. I'm skeptical, to say the least, but I guess that's what I get for waiting until the last minute. Damn! I've got to stop doing that!

On a lighter note: I must regretfully decline your invitation to appear in court on July 28. Shane! Shane! Come back, Shane!

Posted 07:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Thanks GW Class of 2005!

This just in from the GW law school student body president:

This year was the first time a graduating class of our law school has done an organized gift from the law school graduates. The Class of 2005 selected its donation to go to the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to benefit graduates going into public interest jobs.

The 2005 Class Gift had 52% of the class make a donation, raised over $10,000, and had an alumni donor match the gift 4 to 1 because the class reached 50% participation. In addition, this year's Graduation Speaker, Senator Harry Reid, donated $3,000 to the gift. In total, this year's class provided $56,250 to directly provide assistance for the LRAP program.

Color me impressed! I'm hoping to make GW pay for most of my student loans through this LRAP dealio, so thanks to everyone who donated—and especially to that alum for the 4-1 match! You people rock!

Just because I'm curious, does anyone have any anecdotes about other schools doing things like this?

Posted 06:21 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

Aaack! Consolidate Loans or You Will Spontaneously Combust!

Memo to college law students: Consolidate your loans now or pay more later.
“The rates in effect right now are the lowest in the history of the student loan program,”   he said. “It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Yeah, that's right. Rates are low, but they're going up on July 1. You wanna pay even more for this already insanely-overpriced education? I don't think so. So what to do? Well, Access says it will consolidate for you. Access owns my soul, so perhaps I'll let them consolidate it, too. But if you don't want to go that route, NPR did a piece on this recently that might have more options. I'm assured that consolidation is possible even if you're still in school, which is a new thing. Probably everywhere you look you'll find banks jumping to help you with this. They know you're going to pay them lots of money over the life of those zillion-dollar consolidated loans. Mmmm. Feeding the machine. Satisfying, isn't it? Ok, so no, but still, what choice do we have? So consolidate your loans already, will you? You can send the money you save right here. ;-) UPDATE: It appears I don't know as much about this as I thought. (Shock!) If you know more than I do about loan consolidation pros/cons/strategies, or know where I (and others) could learn more, please do share!

Posted 08:30 PM | Comments (8)

May 25, 2005

Hearsay Exception Movie!

Energy Spatula offers up the very best way to learn about hearsay exceptions—The Hearsay Exception Movie!

The maker of this movie is without a doubt a rockstar. What a great way to study! And he got credit for it, too! My evidence class does not even begin to measure up.

Extra points to anyone who can name the song on which the Hearsay Exception Movie tune is based.

Posted 07:00 AM | Comments (2)

May 11, 2005

Call Me Killjoy

I was just going through old email and noticed an announcement for a GW end-of-year party that was apparently last Friday at a local bar. I'm sure I wouldn't have gone even if I'd known about itI was sleeping off a 24-hour paper-writing binge at the time. It's only worth mentioning because apparently the student government sponsored the event and paid for the first $3000 in drinks.

Does any other "profession" enable alcoholism the way law does?

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big beer fan and free drinks are really the best kind, but this just strikes me as, well, not the greatest idea. I mean, it's great that the student government organizes and sponsors the party, but why do they need to buy drinks? Law students who want to drink to celebrate the end of the year are going to drink regardless of whether someone else is buying, so if the student government has an extra $3000 to throw around, why not create a summer grant for a needy public interest law student or something?

Yeah, I'm obsessed with funding public interest law students.

Posted 02:40 PM | Comments (5)

April 24, 2005

Choosing a public interest law school

A reader wrote in recently with a dilemma: He has been offered a “full-ride” scholarship at a school at the higher end of the top 50 in the U.S. News rankings, or no aid but admission at an upper top-20 school. He'd like to do international public interest law related to poverty issues. Which school should he choose? Also, more generally, what factors should he look at for each school to compare them and make this decision?

If you have any thoughts, please share. For starters, here's a slightly edited version of my response to this reader:

First: Congratulations! Getting a full-ride to a top-50 program is an awesome accomplishment!

Second: Knowing what I know now after two years of law school, I would definitely take a full-ride at a top 50 school with a very solid reputation in my desired area of specialty. No question. Why? Because my impression has been that school rank or prestige are probably helpful—even in public interest law—but the difference between upper top-20 and upper top-50 is just not worth the $90-$150k dollar difference involved in a choice like yours. That said, I really don't know what a PI employer (esp. one in international poverty law, for example) would do when faced with a selection of candidates from these schools. My guess is that, most things being equal, the employer would likely want to hire someone from the higher ranked school. Yet, it wouldn't be that simple because you've obviously already distinguished yourself enough to get this scholarship, and I bet whatever earned you that (your previous work in the field, I'm guessing) would also earn you special attention from employers.

So, another way to put this: You're clearly shoulders above the average upper top-50 student, which is why you got the scholarship. That distinction will show through to employers, so I would say your career chances at the upper top-50 school will be nearly as good (if not exactly as good) as at the upper top-20 school. If you were going into BigLaw, the choice would be much harder. But in PI law, my impression is that school rank just isn't that huge a factor. Your resume will be strong from either school so employers will give you a serious look, either way.The quality of your legal training probably won't vary much between the two. Graduating with zero debt (or very little -- I assume “full ride” includes room and board) is huge because it makes you more flexible -- you'll be able to consider a wider variety of jobs w/out making your heavy debt load a major factor in your career decisions. From where I sit, your choice is clear: I would choose the full ride at the upper top-50 school.

HOWEVER, I'm just a 2L and what do I know? Not so much. I'm just speaking for me. You may have different considerations. How do you feel about the possible debt you'd accrue at the top-20 school? Do you see any differences in the two programs (besides the obvious factors of cost and location) that make you lean one way or the other? You may have tried this already, but what if you did this: Remove cost from the equation; assume both schools would cost the same. Which would you attend and why? Now remove cost AND rank from the equation—which would you choose? Doing this will force you to focus on other, possibly more important factors, such as:

  • Classes: Look at the courses offered at each school and make a list of 8-10 courses you think you'd really like to take. Does one school have more classes that sound great? Also, call the registration people and ask how often your most desired classes are offered. Many schools list a number of courses in their curriculum materials that are actually only offered rarely. If that's the case, you may choose a school partly hoping to take one or two classes that won't even be offered in the two years you'll be there and taking electives (you probably won't get electives in your first year). The registration people should be able to tell you if this is the case.
  • Faculty: Then look at who teaches the classes that really appeal to you. Read their bios. Do any of them sound like people who have done things you want to do and/or who are connected to institutes, nonprofits, gov't orgs or NGOs that you'd like to get connected with? Look at what they've published; you may not be able to read much of it, but you could skim some of the papers and/or read abstracts (many are online via SSRN and other places). Are any of these people doing interesting work? Do any of them make you say, “Yeah, I really would love to know that person and maybe have him/her as my mentor”? In your first year, faculty won't matter nearly as much, so look beyond to the electives you'd want to take.
  • Journals: You may have no interest in being on a journal, so this may not be an issue. But if you have even a vague interest, you should look at the journals at each school and also at how you qualify to be on staff of one. If there's one that especially appeals to you (like the “Journal of International Poverty Law” or something), you should contact someone on that journal (phone or email or whatever) to find out how you could get on staff. Do they choose based on grades or writing competition, or both? If grades are a factor, how big a factor? How competitive is it? How prestigious is the journal in its field? Being on a journal in a subject area in which you want to work can be very fun and very helpful to your education b/c you'll read and write on specialized topics in that area.
  • Clinics: Clinics are important to PI law and if either school has a clinic or two that grabs you, you should give that school extra points. If there's a clinic that would let you do exactly what you think you want to do, that's a huge bonus. It'll look great to employers and again, it will be excellent training for you. If you want to go further with this, call the clinic director and ask to speak with students who are in or have been in the clinic. Then ask those students what they did in the clinic and what they are going to do for their summer jobs or careers, and whether the clinic was helpful or worthwhile, etc.
  • Career services: Does either school have someone one staff who is dedicated to helping PI students get PI jobs in summers and after graduation? GW has a person who does this as part of her job. This is nice, but it means that there's no one working full time year-round to maintain connections with public interest employers, research jobs and connections for you, and generally help you in your PI career building. In contrast, Georgetown has an entire PI office dedicated to this sort of thing. The more resources the school gives to this, the better it will be for you. In addition to what the career services office tells you, try to talk to students who are doing things you think you'll want to do. The career services people should be able to give you a couple of names you could email so you could ask about their satisfaction w/the school's career services, etc.
  • Summer funding: As a PI student, you are not so likely to find summer jobs that pay; therefore, it's good to know what grants will be available to you in the summers. For example, GW gave out $165k this summer, spread among approximately 50 people; at least 100 people applied for this pool, meaning only 50% who wanted funding got it. You should be able to find those kinds of numbers for each school. This shouldn't be a deal-breaker factor for either school, but it's one more piece of data that might help you make a choice.
Those are all the big factors I can think of now. I think if you gathered as much data you could get on these variables and tried to compare the programs, you should be on your way to making an intelligent and informed choice here. I don't know how much time you have, but even if you can only surf their websites and make a couple of calls for each school, I think doing so would be worth your time. Once you have some data on these points you'll have to make the choice about what the debt means to you. Before starting school, I figured the debt was no big deal. Perhaps that will prove to be true, but now it looks like a huge deal. Even if it doesn't affect my life or career too much, it weighs on my mind and adds a sort of general anxiety to the future. Living without that would be worth a lot to me, but that may just be me.

Posted 10:10 AM | Comments (14)

April 17, 2005

Money Milestone

The deadline for financial aid applications at GW is tomorrow and, of course, I'm just getting around to filling everything out. There's a reason I put this off: Filling out all these forms forces me to face the fact that I have sold my soul. Exactly to whom or what I sold my soul, I'm not sure (did I have a meeting a couple of years ago with Satan, or was that just a dream?), but it certainly does not belong to me any longer.

For the record, today I officially owe the government and various banks just over $100,000. Yeah, that's six figures. Quite an achievement, don't you think? About 1/4 of that is not accruing interest at the moment; the rest grows like every day like some mutant spawn. Including that interest and what I will have to borrow in the coming year, the total should approach $150k before all is said and done. Cool.

You know those counters that show the national debt skyrocketing? I think someone needs to devise one of these for students so we can program in our loan amounts and interest rates and watch our debt grow. Yeah. And we can post these things on our blogs and show the world how poor stupid we are.

How much do you owe? Generally when you hear people bragging about money it's because they have some surplus of it, but hey, I'm all about making lemonade here. Shall we start a $100k and more club?

Posted 10:21 PM | Comments (13)

April 07, 2005

GW EJF Auction Today!

When haven't been busy not reading and failing out of law school recently, I've been working behind the scenes to help ensure a successful EJF Public Interest Auction. The auction is today, and with 60 cases of beer, 150 large pizzas, costumes, a giant balloon rainbow, and gregarious faculty all set to entertain and auctioneer, it promises to be an absolutely awesome time. And that's not even mentioning some of the incredible donations on offer. I constantly complain about GW's support for public interest law, but I commend GW's faculty for stepping up at auction time to make this a real success. Thank you to all who have donated! See you at the auction! Note: Anyone can help support public interest at GW by donating via PayPal!

Posted 08:22 AM | Comments (3)

March 29, 2005

About Macs at GW and GW Generally

A reader has requested advice about using a Mac at GW (and attending GW generally). GW requires incoming students to have a laptop, and it all but orders them to buy one of two or three Dells with certain features. It explicitly states it does not support any other platform and will not provide any assistance whatsoever to anyone using anything other than a PC. If you choose to use a PC but not one of the recommended Dells, you'll still get some support, but not the full package (whatever that is). So it's basically a PC-only school, yet I've used a Mac there for the past two years, and I'm not the only one. So what's the deal? For anyone who is interested, here are the problems you will *definitely* encounter using a mac at GW: 1) You can't print to the network printers. PC users can print from anywhere in the school via the wireless network to printers located on the second floor (and maybe elsewhere; I don't pay attention since it doesn't work for me). To print anything, you'll have to email it to yourself, check your email on a school computer (there are two PC computer labs where you can always find an open computer), and print from there. I just bought a $125 laser printer and print everything at home except for emergencies when I do the above. Note: Both Lexis and Westlaw give students free printing from their services. This works fine on the mac. 2) You will feel very sad that your computer doesn't crash or freeze or just stop working every couple of weeks or months. You will not be on a first-name basis with the computer help desk -- you may not even know where it is (I don't). You will generally have far fewer things to bitch about so far as your computing goes, and law students really hate not having things to complain about. ;-) That's all I can think of, really. If you've got access to a PC laptop for taking finals, that's all you need. And if you're a relatively comfy mac user who is not phased by the above sort of printing issues or lack of access to a computer help-desk on a regular basis, etc., you'll be fine. If you're someone who maintains his/her own machine now and is going to be comfortable continuing to do so in the future even after you've become a suddenly helpless and pampered law student, you should be fine. Note also: GW tries to further scare you into buying a PC by mentioning that you'll be required to use special PC-only software for your 1L legal writing classes, but they've made this claim for two years now and so far they haven't started using that software and I've heard no further mention of it outside this computer policy rhetoric. My guess is they just throw that around as an extra threat to discourage people from ignoring their orders that you buy a Dell. Whatever. If anyone has other questions about GW, send them along and I will respond and ask any other GW people to respond as well. (That goes for the above, too—if you're a GW student, alum, or professor and have thoughts on computing at GW, please do share!) Generally, it's a fine school, lots of opportunities, some really great professors, good wireless access, sort of crap library but ok if you like old maze-like study environments (and some do), rank-focused, very intent on helping students become BigLawyers and get judicial clerkships, small but still very worthwhile clinical program, supposedly great IP and international human rights programs (I don't know, but that's what I hear), pretty sad public interest support but I'm told it's better than some other places, and....? That's all I can think of right now, so again, I open the floor to any GW peeps who might agree/disagree w/my assessments or have anything to add. I will thank you for explaining why GW is better than I think it is b/c regardless of what I think, I'm stuck here for another year so if you can help me appreciate it more, please do! (And that is not to say that I don't like the school or whatever, only that I think it leaves much to be desired...).

Posted 09:25 AM | Comments (15)

March 20, 2005

How Can Law School Be Different?

I linked to this a couple of weeks ago at Blawg Wisdom, but a group of 1Ls at GULC (including the Scoplaw and Swanno) have started a new site called Law School Can Be Different (LSCBD) as a way to maintain and advance a conversation they have been having about improving legal education so that it better serves both students and society. It's an awesome project and is definitely worth checking out. So far they have focused on a bit of the history of Section 3 at GULC, as well as where legal education stands today as far as they're concerned. I would like to see them expand this into a nationwide dialogue about the purposes of legal education and how more schools could learn from Section 3 and start thinking critically about their own curricula. I have suggested a nationwide conference on the subject. Let's make it in Spring '06, about this time next year, maybe during the Cherry Blossom Festival here in DC so that can be an added incentive for people to come. Invite law students and legal scholars from around the country, but especially try to get participation from those who have written extensively on the subject of reform in legal education. Next year could be the perfect time to do this since it would coincide w/the release of the first Equal Justice Works Guide to Public Interest Law Schools. Anyway, as I mentioned on the LSCBD discussion board, if you're interested in changing legal education, you might also be interested in this recent discussion at in which Stephen Friedman, the new Dean of Pace U. LS, talks about how he wants to change legal education. He says:
We need a powerfully different way of looking at what we're doing as law schools. What I'm talking about is a revolutionary notion. There is a lack of alignment between legal education and the needs of law firms. The legal world has changed. Firms are bigger, they have to train associates much longer, and law is becoming more specialized. We have to train our students to hit the ground running. What's fun about being a lawyer is being a lawyer -- not a first-year associate. The faster we bring students to being productive lawyers, the happier they'll be.
Yeah, let's align legal education more closely with the needs of firms. That'll be good for society. Right. Some of the other things Friedman says sound a little better. I'm thinking Mr. Friedman should be on the list of speakers at at the upcoming “Law School Can Be Different” conference? What do you think? UPDATE 03-21-05: I've been meaning to say something about this for a while, but on the subject of what's wrong w/law school and how it could/should be different, this critique of law school exams is very helpful. An excerpt:
And, of course, the key lawyering skills -- the ones that separate highly successful practitioners from mediocrities -- are barely taught in most law schools, outside the clinic, let alone tested: tenacity, diligence, thoroughness, collaboration, consultation, fact investigation, and, crucially, the willingness to admit error and start over from scratch. Those qualities will actually put you at a disadvantage on law school exams. Far better to rely on flashes of insight and an ability to write on the fly.
The rest of the article explains why the typical law school exam is flawed and goes on to denounce the MPRE and the multistate bar exam. Great stuff.

Posted 12:23 PM | Comments (6)

March 09, 2005

BigLaw Review, Or Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love LittleLaw

Now that the GW journal competition is over (it officially ended at 8 p.m. Monday night), I send my congratulations to those who competed. You probably now know more than most people about sex offender registries and you've produced a small piece of what's probably some very good legal writing. Regardless of what you learn in July about being on a journal, you should feel good about what you've done just by completing the thing. In that spirit, I also wanted to comment on the comments generated by this post from late last week. To summarize, a GW 1L had written asking for advice on the journal competition. I offered my two cents, including a few words about how someone might choose which journals to rank highest in their “preferences” list. Self-described BigLaw senior associate and GW alum David Kaufman wrote in to say:
I (and keep in mind this is one BigLaw lawyer talking) couldn't care less if you were on an irrelevant journal or not, if it's not Law Review. So if you're interested in Gvt Contracts, I'd go for that journal over “realistic” ranking, because I don't much care about journals that aren't Law Review to begin with, but being on a relevant journal to the field you're interested in getting into would help you. If that's not clear, let me know.
He later clarified a bit and Professor Yin and Energy Spatula added some helpful perspective. What I wanted to add is that this is a perfect example of why BigLaw is so not for me. My experience has been that Duncan Kennedy was absolutely correct when he described legal education as training for hierarchy (in an essay by that name), and this discussion about law review v. other journals v. no journal at all is a perfect example of how that training works. Law school is very good at teaching students to think in high stakes, either/or terms about their career choices. It begins with taking the LSAT and applying for schools, where the conventional wisdom is that you must have the highest scores you can possibly get and you must attend the highest-ranked school to which you can gain admission—otherwise, you might as well not go at all. The training continues in the first year with the myriad competitions where you either win and receive congratulations and accolades, or lose and retreat to your outlines to ponder whether you're really good enough or smart enough or whatever to make it in this racket. And, of course, the training goes on throughout school, with still more competitions, ruthless grading curves, and the constant cycle of interviews and job-seeking that sorts people into the best—and everyone else. Isn't that what the “law review or nothing” mantra means? These lessons of all or nothing hierarchy are drilled into most 0Ls to such an extent that they often make foolish choices and end up in programs that don't fit them as individuals and which do not serve their career goals. But quickly they learn that, whatever goals they may have had when they started applying to law school, the only legitimate goal of any self-respecting law student—nay, the only possible goal if they do not want to live a life of shame and poverty, or worse—is to scrap and scrape for every little “distinction” that will earn them a coveted spot w/in the miserable and too often morally questionable corridors of “BigLaw” where they can help perpetuate the dispiriting cycle for the generations to follow. As I've said before, Kennedy's essay is well worth reading in its entirety, but his comments on the firm hiring process are especially relevant to this point. He writes:
The final touch that completes the picture of law school as training for professional hierarchy is the recruitment process. As each firm, with the tacit or enthusiastically overt participation of the law schools, puts on a conspicuous display of its relative status within the profession, the profession as a whole affirms and celebrates its hierarchical values and the rewards they bring. This process is most powerful for students who go through the elaborate procedures of firms in the top half of the profession. These include, nowadays, first-year summer jobs, dozens of interviews, second-year summer jobs, more interviews etc., etc. This system allows law firms to get a social sense of applicants, a sense of how they will contribute to the nonlegal image of the firm and to the internal system of deference and affiliation. It allows firms to convey to students the extraordinary opulence of the life they offer, adding the allure of free travel, expense-account meals, fancy hotel suites and parties at country clubs to the simple message of money.   . . .   By dangling the bait, making clear the rules of the game, and then subjecting almost everyone to intense anxiety about their acceptability, firms structure entry into the profession so as to maximise acceptance of hierarchy. . . . If you feel you’ve succeeded, you're forever grateful, and you have a vested interest. If you feel you've failed, you blame yourself. When you get to be the hiring partner, you'll have a visceral understanding of what's at stake, but by then it will be hard even to imagine why someone might want to change it.   Inasmuch as these hierarchies are generational, they are easier to take than those baldly reflective of race, sex or class. You, too, will one day be a senior partner and, who knows, maybe even a judge; you will have mentees and be the object of the rage and longing of those coming up behind you. Training for subservience is learning for domination as well. Nothing could be more natural and, if you've served your time, nothing more fair than to do as you have been done to.
As Energy Spatula pointed out well, it's not only students who are poorly served by the myopic mentality of this legal hierarchy, but the profession itself suffers because BigLaw employers too often hire based merely on the “numbers” and credentials, without looking at the individual characteristics that might make a prospective associate a real asset to the firm. She writes:
My point, as always, is that if law firms hired according to other factors, such as demonstrated practical skills, experience with high-pressure work situations/past career experience, interviews that weren't just grade screening sessions, etc., perhaps there wouldn't be big firms whining on about how Gen Y doesn't have any work ethic and no one wants to work hard anymore. I *always* advocate for individualistic hiring practices based on some kind of interview that is more than perfunctory and that establishes a rapport between interviewer and interviewee where interviewer gets an actual glimpse of whether interviewee might be a valuable asset to the organization. I could write a book on my terrible law firm interviews...stupid questions, interviewers that hadn't read my resume, interviewers that totally depended on me to push the interview along, firms that told me, point blank, that I was lucky to even get an interview with them because my grades aren't perfect and then just sat and stared at me for five minutes...waiting for my gushing thanks no doubt. We joke all the time in school about how law schools push for diversity in admitting students and then spend three years making us all the same...and unfortunately, “the same” that they're making us is someone no one wants to work with and who is hired based on things like law review and grades, which, while important, are not Important.
This, in turn, damages society because it produces a cadre of professionals who have never learned what it means to be a “counsellor at law” or a guardian of liberty because they've been too busy gunning for the illusory golden ring and making sure everyone who follows in their footsteps has to pay the same exorbitant price they paid for the privilege. It's sad, really, and I want as little to do with it as possible. Of course, I'm absolutely certain that there are happy, well-adjusted, kind and humane people working in BigLaw (I know a few of them); it's not satan's own playground, by any means, and I applaud those who recognize that the system is badly in need of change and are trying to do something about it. Still, evidence abounds that the BigLaw hierarchical model is still going strong at all levels of the legal profession. See, for example, the recent discussion on many blawgs about whether it's necessary to attend a top-10 law school to become a law professor. E.g. Preaching to the Perverted here and here (including links to other voices in that discussion). Again, the brutal hierarchy perpetuates itself. Is there some hope in the news that “Gen Y” lawyers are balking at the hierarchy's demands? Perhaps. At the very least, it's sparked some terrific discussion, including this giant comment thread at the Volokh Conspiracy. (See also: Thoughts from Anthony Rickey.) However, reading around that discussion only adds to my cynicism about BigLaw. First, I agree with this comment that much of this could just be normal generational squabbling; in about 1993 I wrote an article for my college magazine about those slacker Gen-Xers, and now it appears I could write the same thing about Generation Y. Another commenter puts it this way:
So to those who think they have sussed out something new: not quite. We all billed over 2000 hours back in the day, and I hit 2400 most years. We neither expected nor received loyalty from the firm (although it was rare for an associate to be shafted by a partner - why bother?). We knew even then that the big money was on the client side, but most of us lacked the social skills to thrive in a more entrepreneurial environment. And like today's associates, Generation Schmuck paid a price for our work that was measured in more than foregone vacations: plenty of marriages (my own included) did not survive our law firm tenure.
That's a great comment because it captures the bitterness and resentment of those who have spent their lives trying to rise in the hierarchy. That bitterness and resentment destroys any empathy these battered practitioners may have once had for those following in their footsteps, leaving them, again, with the pyrrhic satisfaction of being able to make sure their successors pay the same high price they paid for their misery. As Kennedy puts it, “[n]othing could be more natural and, if you've served your time, nothing more fair than to do as you have been done to.” If that's not enough, this discussion also offers little hope that anything is changing because it simply reinforces the fact that the legal “profession” has become nothing more than the pursuit of profit for a large and unfortunately influential swath of practitioners. (See, e.g., this complaint that $120k/year really isn't a very big salary.) Perhaps this is the logical endpoint of the hierarchy—like the proverbial snake it begins to eat its own tail. As Kennedy writes, “[t]raining for subservience is learning for domination as well.” Or perhaps not; perhaps what's at work with these “gen-Y” associates is not that they are becoming “rational actors” in the self-serving sense of pursuing their own profit at any cost, but that they are realizing that there's more to life than billable hours and climbing a ladder that may very well lead only to more rungs. For their sakes, and for the sake of society, I hope so.

Posted 08:05 AM | Comments (5)

March 03, 2005

She's Back!

Hooray! Ditzy Genius has escaped her evil squirrel prison!!! Get on over and welcome her back to the wacky world of these funny little electronic blawg things! Oh, and she made the law review editorial board, as well, so: Congratulations and Welcome Back, DG!

Posted 10:10 PM

GW Journal Competition Coming Up Again

A reader who will remain anonymous writes roughly:
Everyone and their brother is giving us advice for the upcoming Journal competition. I figured I should turn to one of my “blog-idols” as well:-) Got any advice or tips? Post something before 4pm... after that, we are in hiding!!!
Well, reader, about all I can say is: Good luck! But I can also say that I enjoyed the competition last year and it really needn't be hard or onerous. Therefore, my advice is to try to have fun with it. The bluebooking isn't all that bad. One way to do it is to look at the shortcuts in the front (or is it back? depending on the directions for the competition, I guess) cover of the bluebook and cite everything based on the examples you see there. Then go through each citation one-by-one, read the rule(s) that govern it, and make sure you've dotted every “i.” If a rule sends you to another rule for some reason, go read it—it might tell you something you've forgotten. Remember to abbreviate appropriately w/case names and other places where abbreviations are allowed/required. Don't forget subsequent history where necessary (according to the rules). What else? That's what's on the top of my head. I've found that when bluebooking, it's best to be as thorough as I can be, then put it aside for a while, then go back and start checking my work against the rules one last time. I always always always find at least some little thing I'd forgotten the first one or two times through. The fun part is summarizing the cases succinctly and constructing an argument from the materials. Make the argument you want to make, not the argument you think some judge wants to hear. If you write what you want to write, it will be better, even if your judges disagree with it. A good strategy may obviously be to summarize the cases first, then free-write your argument quickly, writing it like you would if you were writing a note to a friend or something—casual, your own language, just getting the points down that you want to make. Then go back and revise and expand that into something slightly more formal and support it all w/good citations. That's how I did it, anyway. Oh, one more thing: I'm pretty sure I made it on a journal in large part b/c of how I ranked my choices. If your grades aren't stellar (mine aren't), the best choice is AIPlA b/c it's the only journal that doesn't consider grades. Other than that, obviously make your choices based on whether the subject matter of the journal interests you (your choices are obviously severely limited at our wonderful school w/its paltry four options; not that I think the world really needs more legal journals, but...). I bet I haven't told you anything you haven't heard already, but this is the best I can do. There's really no secret that I know except what I said already: Try to make it fun. If it's not at least a little fun, you probably shouldn't even do it b/c it's not like the work will get better once you're on a journal. I'll be curious to hear from any 1Ls (after the competition, of course) who would like to share how things went for them. Best of luck everyone!

Posted 11:49 AM | Comments (10)

March 02, 2005

Advice To Law Schools: PI-LRW Sections

I guest-posted today on Notes from the (Legal) Underground. Briefly, the piece argues that law schools could easily boost their support for public interest legal education by filling a small section of their 1L writing programs with public interest students and teachers. Thanks to Evan Schaeffer for graciously providing the forum for the piece. Please comment here or there with any thoughts you might have on the specific idea or on public interest legal education in general.

Posted 09:02 AM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2005

Didn't Wouldn't Couldn't Don't Won't Phooey!

As I work on this paper, I'm reminded: The prohibition against contractions in legal writing is as pretentiously ridiculous and meaningless as is the attempt to make a serious distinction between “lawyer” and “attorney.” To quote tph:
People. Get over yourselves.
See also tph's followup on the lawyer/attorney distinction, emphasizing the counseling aspect of legal practice. Excellent points. Why don't law professors talk like this more often?

Posted 08:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 26, 2005

2L Summer Job Update

Thanks to everyone who threw in their two or twenty cents in response to my question about the 2L summer job. You all gave me a lot to think about and I was able to make the decision feeling confident I'd considered nearly all angles. The decision? I took the job with the PD office where I worked last summer. Although in an ideal world I would be able to get experience with a different PD's office this summer, I think this was the right choice for several reasons:
  1. I know the office and the people and they know me so I can hit the ground running and get more experience and responsibility, hopefully making it into court representing misdemeanor defendents on my own all the sooner.
  2. It's getting a bit late to be looking for summer jobs around here and the GW summer stipend deadline is approaching, so it seemed better to take a job where I knew I'd get good experience rather than holding out for a hypothetical job I might not even get and which might not give me the same level of experience even if I did get it.
  3. While I almost certainly could have found another good PD job somewhere for the summer, I live with my girlfriend and my dog and I'd really rather not leave them for the summer, not to mention the added expense and hassle of doing so.
  4. I'm currently in a civil law clinic and plan to take at least one crimlaw clinic next fall, plus I've been working for a civil law nonprofit for the past six months, so I'll end up with lots of diverse experience, despite working in the same office for two summers.
  5. The next several weeks are going to be busy enough; it will be nice to be relieved of the worry of whether I'm going to have a good job this summer.
There are probably other things I'm forgetting, but that's the gist of it. The decision was complicated a bit by a really great interview with excellent people at the crimlaw policy nonprofit, as well as by a callback from another crimlaw policy place with which I also interviewed a couple of weeks ago. In the end, I realized that, while I do hope someday to work on the policy aspect of criminal justice, right now I feel compelled to work directly with people and do what I can on that level. Again, I thank everyone for helping me consider the options here, which special thanks to Blonde Justice and Arbitrary and Capricious who generously shared their first-hand perspectives. I'll definitely keep you posted on whether this turns out to be the right decision...

Posted 02:32 PM | Comments (5)

February 24, 2005

Tuition Dreams & Nightmares

Now that people are filling out FAFSAs and thinking about financing another year of law school, Mackenzie, a law student at the University of Wyoming, offers some thoughts on UW's proposed tuition hike:
It appears that the Law School may get a tuition increase of somewhere in the range of 40% over the next few years. Strangely enough, I'm ok with this. It's a big change, but these funds will be given directly to the law school, which is the big benefit (otherwise, I'd be up in arms). The school really needs the money, considering our entire budget is about $4 million. And it's not that our tuition will be that expensive relative to other schools. We're already probably the least expensive school in the country. To give non-UWLaw people an idea, my (resident) tuition and fees this year is south of $6k.
Damn! I should have gone to the University of Wyoming for law school! Imagine getting a J.D. for under $20k for the whole shooting match! Of course, if you add in cost of living, maybe you double that, but the in-state Wyoming tuition-payer would still be getting three years of law school for what I pay for one year. Excuse me, I must now return to selling my soul to satan.

Posted 08:19 AM | Comments (9)

February 22, 2005

2L Summer Job Question

One year ago at this time I faced a dilemma about what to do for my 1L summer. Several of you, my kind readers, offered advice that proved invaluable—you said work for the public defender, I did, I loved it, and now I'm planning to make that my career. With that in mind, the time has come to make another career/summer job decision, and once more I seek your advice. Here's the situation: I worked last summer for a great PD's office where I had a great experience and learned an incredible amount about being a PD. It's a small office (only about a dozen attorneys) in a medium-sized city. I'm thrilled that they have asked me to return this summer, and I'd love to do so. But my question is this: Should I go back to the same PD office I worked in last year, or will that look bad to future public defender employers? The benefits of going back to the same job are that I know them and how things work in the office so I should be able to help them out more and get more responsibility in return. The office is also in a jurisdiction that allows 2Ls to get a “second year practice certificate” so I could represent misdemeanor defendants in court (w/a licensed attorney present and ready to step in at any moment if I start to screw up). Also, returning to the same job should send a message to future employers that I did well there, they liked my work, which seems like a good message to send. So basically, it would be an awesome opportunity that would give me some really good experience. The drawbacks I see are simply that if I return to the same job, my only real knowledge of being a PD will come from this one office and it just seems like it might be a good idea to see how another office does things. What do you think? If you were looking at hiring a new PD, would it matter whether the candidate had spent two summers in the same PD office, or would that make no difference? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated. (Please feel free to throw in your two cents even if you're not a PD yourself or never have been. I'm just trying to make sure I see all the angles here.) Thanks!

Posted 08:51 AM | Comments (16)

February 19, 2005

More Thoughts for Future Law Students

After Brett's question the other day, and thanks to the Scoplaw's recent note about Duncan Kennedy, I went back to the archives and found an extended discussion about the value of a law school rank in attending law school, along with a bit more about my impressions of GW as of last fall. The discussion is in the comments to this post, and those of you who are currently trying to figure out where to attend law school might be interested in some of what you'll find there. The discussion started when reader Phil asked whether I was satisfied with my decision to go to law school. I answered, in part:
I have not gotten to the point where if I had it to do over again I wouldn't go, but, I know this: If I had it to do over again, I would have done everything possible to minimize the cost. To do this, I would have picked schools to apply to based on cost first, location second, and rank third. I probably would have gone to a state school, and in order to get in-state tuition I would have moved there for a year and temped or whatever in order to qualify for residency. Unless you want to work at a firm, I really think the rank business is a crock of crap. So the most dissatifying thing is the cost and the way I'm feeling increasingly strait-jacketed with debt. Another source of dissatisfaction is the classes themselves, which I've complained about before b/c they're so large, allow almost no discussion of material, don't even attemp to teach critical thinking or a critical approach to the matieral [sic], etc.
GW professor Orin Kerr (who writes regularly at the Volokh Conspiracy) joined the discussion, and I especially recommend it to those of you thinking about GW b/c he offers his view of student satisfaction at the school. He also offers tips on getting the most out of law school that could probably apply to any school. For the record, I continue to disagree w/Prof. Kerr about how important school rank is for many public interest jobs. He argues that public/private employers give similar weight to where you went to law school and what your GPA was, but I've been told by countless public interest employers that that's just not true. Public defenders, for example, certainly care about your school and GPA, but they care just as much—or often more—about your extracurriculars, your demonstrated commitment to social justice, public service, and the kind of work they'll ask you to do (in this case, criminal defense). A high GPA does not necessarily correlate in any way with a commitment to the principles and mission of a public interest employer, and since there won't be a big fat paycheck to motivate their new hires, it only makes sense for public interest employers to care much more about demonstrated commitment than about grades or school rank. As I mentioned, this post was sparked by the Scoplaw's mention of Duncan Kennedy's essay, “Legal Education as Training for Hierarchy.” I can't help but point out in this connection that, according to Kennedy's logic in that essay, law professors, law school administrators, and many legal professionals will always tell you that rank, prestige, and GPA are important factors in your success as a lawyer. If you dare to think that's not the case, you'll be breaking out of the hierarchy for which law school is preparing you, and we couldn't have that, could we? Because I think tangentially, I'd also raise in this connection the whole idea of Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) statutes as yet another way the legal profession protects its status quo, preserves this hierarchy, and stands in the way of a legal system that really serves people rather than simply protecting property. That's a debate for another day, but I mention it only b/c, hey, if you're thinking about going to law school, it's another part of what you're getting yourself into. UPDATE: See also: Does Law School Rank Determine Success? [link via JD2B]

Posted 09:52 AM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2005

GW Summer Stipends

Reader “brett” writes:
Hey ai, lurking gw prospective student here. Two quick questions: is there a lot of competition for those summer stipends (the 5k ones) - would a 1L have a shot at one? Also, how does the “ask-a-student” program on the gw admissions site work - are these students hand-picked trolls or random honest students?
I wish I had more to tell you, Brett. First, the summer stipends are pretty competitive, but I have no idea how many people apply and don't get anything. I get the impression that the big variables are whether the funding committee thinks your job is worthwhile (and they seem pretty liberal on that), but also whether you've shown some commitment to public interest law. If it looks like you're just taking a public interest job b/c you couldn't land a firm job and you're going to go to a firm ASAP, I think the funding committee is not as happy about that. I knew several 1Ls who got the $5k grants. A good way to ensure that you're one of them is to spend as much time as you can in your first year working for the EJF or some other public interest-type student organization so that you'll have some good stuff on your resume that shows your commitment to this type of work. You could also volunteer for pro bono legal stuff, or perhaps you're entering law school with a good public service and/or volunteering background so you've already demonstrated that commitment. All of those things will help. The ask-a-student thing I don't know much about. I don't recall using it when I was deciding whether to go to GW, and that's the only time I've heard of it. That suggests to me that the people who participate are self-selected or more hand-picked (b/c otherwise I would have seen some notice for volunteers around the school sometime in the last two years). That's just a guess though, I really don't know. Generally, I will confirm what you probably already know: GW is very concerned about its rank and giving prospective students a good impression, so it's very unlikely to leave that to any schmo who is enrolled. I imagine this is true of any law school. During this decision process, take everything you hear from GW or any other school with some serious salt—they want your money, and once you're locked in, they'll be much less responsive to you. This doesn't mean everything is awful once you accept and begin attending, only that as you make your decisions you should try to filter out the sunshine being blown up your skirt from the more substantive things that really are important: Cost, courses offered, professors you think you'll like (read their publications to see if they're working on anything you'd like), courses offered (e.g., I wanted to learn about labor law and many smaller schools don't regularly offer courses in that area, but GW does), location (considering especially where you'd like to work after you graduate), and whether they support macs. Oh, wait, that last one may only be important to me. ;-) For more insight on GW, I highly recommend you also consult others on this list of GW-related blawgs, but esp. Life, Law, Libido (written by GW grads who were very pleased w/their GW experiences), Extreme Indifference to Human Life (who is now apparently running for student body president), Luminous Void, and Idlegrasshopper. The more perspectives you get, the better decision you'll make. Note: I'm always trying to find other GW bloggers, largely for this reason—so that when people like Brett are looking for info about the school they'll have plenty of perspectives. If you're a GW student w/a blog, please say “hi” so I can add you to the list and send mountains of traffic (little tiny mountains; mountains that would look large if you were a flea) to your site. UPDATE: I just glanced at the above again and realized I forgot to include WonL on the list of highly-recommended GW bloggers to query about life at GW, and she should have been top of the list! I'm very sorry for the oversight. Partly in response to this post she has posted some thoughts on her experience thus far.

Posted 06:48 AM | Comments (3)

February 16, 2005

Overloaded Update

I'm in law school, although you may not always be able to tell from the content here. Often, I talk about anything but law school, which is because I often think about anything but law school, and I sometimes wonder if I should take that as a sign: Is this really something I should be doing if I'd so often spend my time doing something else? But school is not practice, so I dismiss the question. In my spare time (what's that?) I'm trying to read Should You Really Be A Lawyer?. Perhaps that should be filed in the “better late than never category,” but I do wish I'd read this book before taking on somewhere near $100k in debt.* To those of you who are going crazy with anxiety before even starting law school, I say: Go buy this book or check it out from your local library. Read it. Challenge yourself to give it the time and real consideration it suggests you devote to the question of its title. You'll be glad you did, and this will be an excellent use of this interstice between applying and actually going to law school. And why would you want to take this decision very seriously, even if you're already at the point where you've applied or even accepted admission somewhere and already feel pretty committed to going? Well, for one thing, law school can suck. But wait, this isn't supposed to be a big fat advice post. No, this is a big fat whining post. Or just an “oh my gosh I've been busy recently” post. Last weekend alone I had interviews on Saturday (they went well, it seemed), I had to pretend to judge a “client counseling” competition for the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Board,** and I had to complete an “editorial competition” in an attempt to become some sort of editor on the journal next year. It was a busy weekend. Today I have three different interviews to become a “Dean's Fellow,” which is what GW calls the group of 20 or 30? 3Ls who help teach a small section of the first year writing and research course. This weekend I have to finish the second draft of my “note” for the journal, and although I never quite got around to posting what the editors thought of the first draft, I vaguely recall their comments ranging from, “What's the point?” to “This would never work.” So, yeah, still a bit of work to do there. Meanwhile, I'm about 60 pages behind in every class (1-2 assignments), which is actually about the most caught up I think I've ever been at this point in a law school semester, so that's kind of a bright spot, actually. Another bright spot: I got a call-back from one of the employers I interviewed w/last Saturday so I've got interview #2 coming up. It would be an awesome job (the more I think about it, the more I like it), and, if they offered me a job in the next month I may qualify for a GW summer subsidy, so that would be nice. Oh, and did I mention that we're currently days away from a 3-day weekend? It's true. As part of our v-day celebrations, L. was kind enough to give me Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando for the PS2 that has been gathering dust on a dark shelf of our entertainment center for, oh, about the last 18 months or more. Will this 3-day weekend include at least a teeny bit of PS2 time? Um yeah, I think so. (Yes, Ratchet & Clank is kind of a kiddie's game, but I'm kind of kiddie player; I haven't even made it through the first one yet—I gave up at a tough spot after playing the same screens for days. Oh, and I started law school and didn't have time to fight the evil robots and fight for truth and justice and the American way all at once. Now that I see that truth and justice are basically dead and I no longer understand “the American way,” I'd really rather play Playstation.) (I'm kidding about the truth, justice, American way part. Really.) * Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and will review it in full as soon as I finish it. From what I've read so far, it's worth the price of admission even if I'd had to pay for it—at least for me—but you should know that that opinion is so far based on just a brief skim of the whole book and a close reading of only the first chapter. ** Congrats to all who made the Board; I saw three very professional and polished teams. I hope if you competed you saw the humor in seeing 250 law students (mostly 1Ls) running around dressed up in dark suits and carrying pleather portfolios and bottles of water for their clients. Someone remarked that it looked like GW was holding mass funerals over the weekend b/c of all the dark suits (both for the ADR competition and the job fair.) Incidentally, I was shocked almost speechless by the 1Ls who actually gave their clients four-color business cards; I guess the student government's business card sale last fall was pretty popular with the 1Ls. Scary. I know, I shouldn't be scared of 1Ls with business cards that say “Juris Doctor Candidate” or whatever, but um, I am. Please keep your crazy cards to yourselves, thanks.

Posted 08:31 AM | Comments (18)

February 13, 2005

Leading by Example. Not.

I had two interviews yesterday, both of which went much better than the horror of last week, even if they were perhaps not for jobs I'd like as much. Who knows? Maybe I'd like one of these jobs even more? But the interviews were part of the GW/Georgetown Public Interest/Government Interview Program, and since the US Army and Air Force JAG Corps were there interviewing, the program marked their names with an asterisk followed by this disclaimer:
This employer discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual persons under the authority of 10 U.S.C. section 654. The George Washington University Law School policy on equal opportunity prohibits unlawful discrimination. The Association of American Law Schools — of which George Washington University Law School is a founding member — and the National Association for Law Placement each have policies forbidding discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual persons. The presence of this employer at the George Washington University should in no way be construed as an endorsement of this employer's practice of discrimination.
While I was pleased to see this disclaimer, and also pleased that it is so bluntly worded (“this employer discriminates”), I still wish there was more GW could do. And since GW and Georgetown were in this together (GULC had its own disclaimer, more or less similar), it seems they could take this as an opportunity to “make a federal case” out of this. I mean, these are big law schools; what if they gave the JAG Corp the finger and dared the federal gov't to take away all federal funds? I'm thinking the case would probably make it to the Supreme Court and the Solomon Amendment would be history. Or maybe not. Can someone clarify what is going on here? I mean, I see here that the Solomon Amendment was found unconstitutional, yet GW and GULC still apparently fear its consequences. So what gives?

Posted 09:54 AM | Comments (5)

February 09, 2005

Stay Tuned...

I've got to prepare for class (reading Hart and Wechsler's!) so no time for a real post, but come back later today for a special treat—a guest post from a legendary blawgger! Oh, and on the Hart & Wechsler's, I feel compelled to clarify that I understand many of the questions are not intended in the least to be anything other than questions. Much of the material the book covers involves legal issues to which there really are no “correct” answers, so the book is attempting to raise the issues and get readers to think for themselves. That said, I still think it's a crap approach b/c the authors certainly have opinions about the issues they raise. I'd prefer they state their positions, then discuss competing views as thoroughly and fairly as they can. The pretend neutrality they attempt to achieve through the questions is disingenuous and a little bit condescending, as if the authors thought readers would just blindly follow their positions on these issues if they (the authors) were more honest and straightforward about what those positions were. Wait, didn't I say I had reading to do? More later....

Posted 07:50 AM | Comments (3)

February 08, 2005

Reading Hart and Wechsler's

If you're in law school and you take a course with a name like “Federal Courts” or “Federal Jurisdiction,” chances are probably 100% you'll either use or hear a lot of references to a text that was originally written by Henry Hart and Herbert Wechsler and first published in 1953 (at least that's the earliest publication date listed in my 5th edition). Many people find this book maddening, because it asks as many questions as it answers. However, after reading several hundred pages, I've learned a trick: If you read most of the questions as statements instead of questions, then it's really much more clear. For example, H&W will often write something like: “Haven't courts recognized a power to enforce executive compliance with statutory duties since Marbury v. Madison?” That looks like a question, but it's not. What that really says is: “Courts have recognized a power to enforce executive compliance with statutory duties since Marbury v. Madison! (Duh.)” Do you think most of the questions are really statements? Would you be likely to enjoy reading a book written like this? Is writing in questions a sign of intelligence or a good way to teach, or is it just really, really asinine?

Posted 07:11 AM | Comments (6)

February 07, 2005

Picture Worth Thousands and Thousands of Words

Once again I thank everyone who has sent paintings in response to my request the other day. The gallery is getting rather large and I'll definitely be making a special display page for all your masterpieces just as soon as I can. Meanwhile, because the paintings are disappearing from the “front” page here, I just wanted to make sure you see this one in action: Lawrah with “Law Student View” (action!) Lawrah Ai If you go to GW you'll know that Lawrah has almost precisely captured the experience of sitting in most large lectures there. I have a funny feeling the picture is not too different at many other law schools around the country. Absolutely frakkin' priceless (nodding to BSG for the otherworldly adjective). Painting is therapy, and come on, you know you could use some of that. If you haven't painted a picture on ArtPad yet and sent me a link, um, why not? ;-)

Posted 09:36 PM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2005

Margin Notes to the SCOTUS

If you're a law student, do you make notes in the margins of your books as if you were talking to the writer of the book or the case you're reading? I do. It's kind of like talking to the tv, which I also can't help doing, much to the dismay of everyone who watches television with me, I'm sure. Example: I was reading the opinion in Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547 (1978), in which the Supreme Court held that the “critical element” required to justify a search warrant “is reasonable cause to believe that the specific 'things' to be searched for and seized are located on the property to which entry is sought.” The facts of the case are that the cops thought a newspaper photographer had taken photos of some “demonstrators” who “attacked” a group of police officers. Since there was no reason whatsoever to believe the photographer (or anyone else at the newspaper) had committed any crime, did the police have “probable cause” to get a warrant to search the newspaper offices for the photos? Of course, the Court said “yes.” Then it turned to the newspaper's First Amendment argument that such a search infringed upon the guarantee of freedom of the press. The Court wrote:
There is no reason to believe . . . that magistrates cannot guard against searches of the type, scope, and intrusiveness that would actually interfere with the timely publication of a newspaper.
My margin note: “The timely publication won't matter much if the content is vapid b/c the paper's free expression has been trampled by intimidating searches!” The opinion continues:
Nor, if the requirements of specificity and reasonableness are properly applied, policed, and observed, will there be any occasion or opportunity for officers to rummage at large in newspaper files or to intrude into or deter normal editorial and publication decisions.
My margin note: “That's a lot of ifs.” And finally:
Nor are we convinced . . . that confidential soucres will disappear and that the press will suppress news because of fears of unwarranted searches.
My margin note: “Well, you're stupid, then, aren't you?” I know my notes don't do any good for anyone, but they do make the reading more entertaining. Speaking of which, I've got some more “entertaining” reading to do....

Posted 07:59 AM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2005

Interview (f)art

So I had an interview yesterday for a job l really really wanted. Here's the whole story. UPDATE: For the low-tech, and for the sake of posterity, the gist of the story is here.

Posted 06:46 AM | Comments (12)

February 02, 2005

Tsunami Point Drive

The Tsunami Charity Drive I mentioned yesterday has been wildly successful, exploding into something like a blawg “meme.” The proof is at Jeremy Richey's Blawg, where you can see that more than 26,000 Lexis points have been donated. At $1.60 per 100 points, that' s just over $400. The goal is now set at 50,000 points by February, so if you have any Lexis points you were just going to selfishly exchange for personal swag, donate them to tsunami relief and let Jeremy know you did so so he can add your points to the total. I threw my points in, despite my own reluctance to do anything to help Lexis look like a good member of society. If I can do it, you can too. Come on, you know you want to. ;-)

Posted 08:00 AM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2005

Blawg Tsunami Charity Drive

Jeremy Richey is encouraging law students to donate their Lexis “Ultimate Rewards” points to tsunami relief. He's hoping people will donate 4000 points by Friday. I have 2990 points at the moment, and I'd be happy to donate them all; they're relatively worthless to me and I've always thought the whole points thing was a stupid gimmick to get law students to like Lexis and forget how evil it is. Still, I hesitate because
  1. I don't know how much money Lexis will give to the Red Cross if I give my points. Are 100 points worth $1 for the Red Cross, or what?
  2. I don't want to help give Lexis any credit for doing anything positive b/c I think Lexis, West, and their competitors are parasites on society. (They take public information (legal decisions, statutes, constitutions, etc.) that is and should be free to the public, package it in complex ways designed to maximize their profit, then sell it back to the people it belongs to in the first place—you and me!) Lexis is probably going to take the points that law students donate and cut a check to the Red Cross, then release a statement congratulating itself for being such a good global citizen. “Lexis generously donated $5000 to the Red Cross today....” Lexis should be making a donation to this effort, sure, but law students shouldn't have to give points for that to happen.
  3. I get the impression the tsunami relief effort has been pretty well funded already. I could be wrong.
  4. There are many other worthy causes that need our attention and aid as much or more as the tsunami relief. For example, as I noted here (quoting this editorial), “ Each month more than 150,000 African children die of malaria; that's about the death toll of the Asian disaster. Yet those deaths do not sear the public's mind.” Yet Lexis, the good and generous corporation that it is, does not offer us any options for charitable point donations except tsunami relief. Why not? When this donation opportunity expires on Feb. 4th, will Lexis replace it by giving us another worthy cause to which we can give our points?
  5. I'm a cynical, mean, cold-hearted person. I don't think so, but I bet a lot of you will when you read this. ;-)
All that said, I may throw my points in, anyway. Like I said, they're largely worthless to me, and since I think the whole idea of the points is evil to begin with, this would at least be some way to squeeze something good out of them. Anyway, if you're less cynical than me, please join Jeremy's campaign. He's trying to collect a total of how many points have been donated, so if you give, drop him a comment so he can add it to the tally.

Posted 06:52 AM | Comments (4)

January 29, 2005

Blawg Roundup #3

This week's spin around a few blawgs is full of great critiques of law, law school, and law professors, plus a note about two upcoming public interest conferences. Blawg reading time is very limited these days, but this is the best of the little bit I've been able to read in the past week. First up, Buffalo Wings & Vodka's attempt to find a sponsor for his blog via eBay has ended. Since the reserve for the auction was not met, you can still sponsor BW&V through private negotiation. Next, Bad Glacier is dishing out the good stuff early over at his new home, so get on over and check out the strippergrams he got from the University of Michigan Law School admissions office (sorry, no pictures, just a mention). A little more seriously, he has an interesting little taxonomy of how different top-tier schools approach the admissions process, from Michigan's “we love you!” to Yale's “screw you” (I'm paraphrasing), it's a bit of insight into the workings of the upper echelon for those of us lower down the food chain. Dave! of Preaching to the Perverted, guest--posts on Notes from the (Legal) Underground, offering 6 tips for law professors. It's a great post, as are Dave!'s responses in the comments. Sticking with the critical theme, Musclehead emerges from hibernation with two excellent critiques of law school and the legal profession. In What's Wrong With Law School, Musclehead writes:
in general, law school does a very good job at putting blinders on its students, getting them to focus on micro issues of black letter law to the detriment of dialogue about whether a particular law is just or efficient or equitable.
And in What's Wrong With the Law?, Musclehead's thesis is that the legal profession has gone too far in placing the wishes of its clients above all other values:
I would argue that our problem is with our priorities. We place far too much emphasis on the primacy of clients to the detriment of our obligation to our profession, our society and ourselves. No other profession requires such allegiance to a client- doctors can refuse to perform a procedure they feel unnecessary to the patient, accountants can end their work for a client they believe is bending the rules of GAAP, teachers can teach evolution even if a parent demands creationism, etc.
Good stuff, Musclehead! Finally, two public interest law conferences for law students are coming up very soon: Reblaw 11, February 18-20 at Yale, and the Robert M. Cover Retreat, March 4-6 on Long Island. The Reblaw registration fee is a slim $30, and the conference will feature GW's very own Paul Butler as keynote speaker. The Cover Retreat I know less about, mostly because it costs $125 and what public interest law student has that kind of freaking money?

Posted 08:37 AM | Comments (2)

January 16, 2005

Blawg Roundup

Ok. I've been resisting for a long time, but I can't help myself. Evan's idea for a weekly summary of notable posts and links on law student blogs is just too good to not blatantly copy. Plus, now he's doing his via podcast, so my all-text version may fill a bit of a void. Or not. But in the spirit of imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, I give you my own Blawg Roundup, which will purport to be a quick list of links I've seen in the last week that were notably notable—comment-worthy, even—in some way. First, sadness: Mixtape Marathon is talking about going gently into that good night, as in, ceasing to blog. Her posts have been rather sporadic recently, but still always smart and witty and fun and enjoyable. The Marathon will be missed, but her readers can take heart that she's considering starting up something else, somewhere else. I hope so. In lighter news, who would have thought someone could make a trip to the automatic car wash sound so funny? I certainly didn't, but second person singular's recent experience at the robo-wash (complete with hilarious tangent about the childhood trauma attendant to coin-operated rocking horses at the supermarket) had me rolling on the floor. I'm telling you, this guy can write. Elsewhere: Nudum Pactum, a 1L at the U of Chicago, notes that fornication is now legal in Virginia. Such a progressive state, Virginia. Those folks better be careful or they're going to find the foundations of their civilization crumbling thanks to “liberal” reforms like this. The First Annual Section 14 Mustache Contest finished this week with participants categories entered in categories such as Most Redneck and Most Pornstar. Pictures are available for the 'stache fetish in you. Monica is going to spend her spring quarter in Alaska working for the Anchorage Public Defender. This is old news, but I just found it and it makes me insanely jealous. I want to go to Alaska. I want to be in a school were a full year of actual legal work is required to earn my degree. I still can't believe, in all my attempts to find a good school for public interest law, no one ever mentioned Northeastern to me. I still may have been stupid and ended up at GW, but least I would have done so knowing I had options. JD2B (possibly the most-linked blawg) was full of tasty links this week, including the fact that the Sentencing Law and Policy blawg was cited by Justice Breyer in his Booker dissent. Is this the first time a blawg has been cited in a Supreme Court decision? JD2B also notes that it's possible to get a J.D. in two years in the U.S., thanks to a recent ABA rule change. It's a little late for me now, but good to know, nonetheless. The blawg formerly known as Sapere Aude, which “intends to be a source of information by and for the students of Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis,” has changed its name to IndyLaw Net. For now you can access the site both at its old blogspot location and its new URL. Also, if you haven't seen it, IndyLaw Net points to the story about the two men in NY who got arrested for telling lawyer jokes in a courthouse. They're charged with disorderly conduct, and have already received an offer for free legal assistance from, um, a lawyer. According to Overlawyerd, the offer was one of many. Finally, Whatever Remains offers a possible solution to some of the most active MT spammers—some MT Blacklist expressions to block the spam. I'll give it a try. Speaking of which, if you have trouble posting comments for some reason (your comments are being filtered out), please let me know and I'll see if I can fix it.)

Posted 12:30 PM | Comments (1)

January 09, 2005

Peggy Browning Fund Deadline

FYI: If you're interested in labor law and would like to make at least $4000 this summer practicing a bit of it, the deadline for the Peggy Browning Fund Fellowship is this Thursday, January 14th. Applications are here.

Posted 08:30 PM

Welcome Luminous Void

Hey, stop the presses! There's finally another GW blog (or blawg) to add to the scant three that I know of already.* Welcome to Luminous Void, a GW 2L who has so far written almost exclusively about RFID law and technology. He/she has a good little RFID primer for us mere mortals who only know enough about the technology to think it can't be good. If you're interested in IP law, Luminous Void promises to be an interesting place to visit. *The other GW blawgs I know of (besides this one) are:
  • Actus Reus, the 2L writer of which I recently learned is a friend of mine. “Hey, do you write a blog?” is just not a question that comes up often in law school so, although he may have known my “real” identity for some time, I had not a clue of his. The gulf between the digital and the physical world can be wide, it seems.
  • Idle Grasshopper, a 1L I haven't met and who hasn't posted in recent weeks, but he's made many interesting observations about law school from the perspective of an evening student balancing both coursework and a full-time job.
  • Veritable Cornucopia, which started as a group blog, but which was maintained primarily by Sam, a GW 3L (who was a 2L when the blog started). Unfortunately, it largely seems he's given up on the project.
  • Life, Law, Libido (aka “L-Cubed”) is written by two GW grads (Matt graduated from GW, too, didn't he?), but since they've graduated, it's a bit of a stretch to continue calling it a GW blog.
Is that it? Am I missing any? If not, again I ask: Why don't more GW students blog? Or perhaps they do, and I just don't know about it? If you're a GW blogger, Hi! Please say hello sometime. I won't bite, I promise.

Posted 09:25 AM | Comments (6)

December 11, 2004

BlawgCoop & WordPress

Welcome to Legal Fictions, a new 1L member of the BlawgCoop! Legal Fictions is currently undergoing the finals process along with many of us, but he's keeping a healthy perspective on the whole thing. If you have time, wander over and say hello. Incidentally, BlawgCoop (or Co-op) is open to all, and now supports WordPress as well as Movable Type, thanks to the generosity of Dreamhost, which just tripled our bandwidth allowances and added one-click support for installing WordPress. Pretty cool. I've played a little with WordPress and found it to be a very nice and robust blogging platform. It seems to have just about all the functionality of MT, and then some. For example, it allows you to post “private” or “secure” posts to which you can control access—might be nice for when you want to rant about your professors or fellow students, but don't want all the world to see. I fear that could cause some trouble, though. What if I posted a “private” rant to which I gave you access, then you quoted my rant and blogged about it on your own site? I'd still be in the same trouble as if I'd just made the post public in the first place, wouldn't I? My thinking is that any idea of posting “private” stuff online—material you don't want other people to see—is just asking for trouble. But that's a tangent. The really cool thing about WordPress is that it's released under the GPL, which means no one will ever be able to tell you what you can or can't do w/your installation of it, something Dive Into Mark called Freedom 0. That's certainly something to think about if you hope to be blogging for more than a little while. I know some people (like Dive Into Mark) jumped from MT to WordpPress when MT started its new licensing scheme a few months ago, and some of those people wrote extensive comparisons of the two programs. Here's one from Burningbird, another discussion here, a comparison of the template systems in WordPress, MT, and Blogger, and an essay by the same person on why he decided not to switch from MT to WordPress. In all, it sounds like the consensus is that WordPress remains a bit more difficult to customize than MT, but may be easier for newbies to manage apart from fiddling with templates and stuff.

Posted 12:18 PM | Comments (1)

Conlaw Too

Two-L final two was . . . Well, I don't know, actually. The only thing certain is that it's over. I got to the final and started looking through my outline and realized I'd printed it out with some of the items collapsed.* Oops! Outliner-Example2 This meant my outline was incomplete for two questions and I had to rely on a downloaded outline I'd brought with me to fill those gaps. I don't think that was a big deal, but who knows? It felt mostly fine, but I finished 15 minutes early, which is an ambiguous sign. There were 9 questions, some with subparts, and the directions informed us that most questions could be answered in 2-3 sentences. I wrote a lot more than that for most, but not for all, so we'll see what that means. Generally my post-exam thinking (and not just for this exam, but for all of them) is something like: Initial euphoria—It's over! —followed fairly shortly by a period of increasing concern that I totally failed, followed by a period of not caring/not thinking about it, followed by learning the actual grades and dealing w/whatever the reality ends up being. Concidences: This was a ConLaw II exam, and it was in the same room as my ConLaw I exam. I also finished that one early and got my best grade so far in law school. I'm not going to interpret that to mean anything. The ConLaw I final included a multiple choice section, and I was a pretty good edumacated guesser, I think. On to Corporations, the class I took so I could “know my enemy.” I'm just kicking myself now for not taking it pass/fail. The exam is Monday morning. Here's a sample question from an old exam in that class:
Assume that Ellie Mae has won. She moves to include Mayberry, inc. in the valuation of Clampitt Oil Co. to determine the value of her shares in dissolution. Please write your opinion disposing of this matter.
Ha! That makes me laugh! I have no clue even where to begin with something like that. It's going to be a loooong weekend. * I take notes and assemble outines in NoteTaker, which is—tadah!—an outliner! The image above and right shows you what it looks like. The arrows pointing down mean that section is “expanded,” showing you all subsections, while the arrows pointing to the right mean that section is “collapsed,” with all subsections hidden. This is super-convenient when you're sorting through information b/c you can “hide” what you don't need at the moment and focus on just what you're dealing with. It's also nice for making study outlines b/c you can put all the extraneous stuff in the “collapsed” part, and just print out the essentials. Of course, that only works if you remember to expand the right sections before printing...

Posted 09:59 AM | Comments (3)

December 10, 2004

What Will We Miss?

Studying for finals is like writing a paper in a way—it can be an enjoyable process of discovery, learning, understanding; however, too often it gets rushed (thanks to my good friend Procrastination) and that makes it much less fun. One day between finals is just not enough when you haven't done a good job preparing ahead of time. Number two exam for 2L goes down this afternoon. As I studied last night, desperately trying to condense due process, equal protection, and free speech doctrine into my tiny little head, I had an odd thought. When this is all over and law school is long behind me, will I miss this? I know I will. I mean, I'll miss something about it, at least. Will I miss the studying for finals? I don't think so, but I'll miss things I can't even think of now, I'm sure. Life is like that. Or nostalgia is like that. Sometimes life and nostalgia merge. It's always easier to appreciate things in hindsight. I just wish I could learn to appreciate those things in presentsight. Like now. But then, it's good to want things, isn't it? Perhaps we'll miss things like this: Twas the Night Before Lawschool Finals.

Posted 07:15 AM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2004

That's One

Finished with 2L Final Numero Uno (of four). Cake. Ok. Not, but I'm telling you, law school exams are way overhyped. Way. And I'm not saying that b/c I'm so smart and studied so hard and knew everything and am trying to be scary or jerky as Naked Furniture notes blawgers are sometimes wont to do. In fact, I studied very little and was pretty nervous going in. I'm just saying that it turned out that just showing up to class most of the time, writing down what the professor said, and organizing that into a quickly-referenceable (is that a word?) format was really all it took to do a passable job on that final, and that's usually all it takes. Ok, I won't get an A, but that's still me doing a public service for everyone else in my class. I wouldn't want to blow the curve for everyone else, would I? Oh, but for the record, there were some holes in my outline dealing with federal preemption in the realm of labor law, union work preservation clauses, and something else that I could tell was supposed to be an issue but I couldn't for the life of me figure out. So like I said, no A on that exam, but definitely middle-curvish, I'm thinking, and that's superfine with me. Law school really is much nicer when you stop worrying about the first letter of the alphabet. Three more to go. Onward!

Posted 08:34 PM | Comments (1)

Suggestion for law professors

I'm off to 2L Final Numero Uno and I just re-read an email I got from the Prof. in response to a question I'd asked. It strikes me that professors would do well to announce the following policy: If you want to ask any questions of the professor about the class via email, you must CC the entire class. The professor will then CC the entire class on the reply. This would have two potential benefits. First, it might reduce frivolous emails to professors for silly questions students can figure out for themselves. If you know the whole class will see your email, you might be more careful about what you ask and only ask questions you're really stuck on. Second, everyone in the class could benefit from the professor's response, rather than anyone getting an unfair advantage. I imagine some would say this is unnecessary b/c if you are a gunner (or just a good student) who wants to have a lot of interaction with a professor, you should reap the rewards of your efforts in asking legitimate questions and you should not have to share those rewards w/everyone else. This makes sense if you see law school as a competition. However, if you see law school as a series of learning opportunities, the “everyone shares alike” policy above seems more likely to produce more of those opportunities, generally.

Posted 12:50 PM | Comments (7)

Going to war with the army you have

So my first final is today, and I just learned from Mr. Dumsfeld, er, Rumsfeld, that “you go to war with the army you have,” not the one you might want. I wonder if my law professors will understand that explanation next spring when I'm digging around in local landfills (their offices) for armor for my vehicles (passing grades). (Yeah, it's a tortured metaphor, but finals will do that, ok?) UPDATE: I just noticed that Naked Furniture applied the Dumsfeld logic to finals hours before I did, and her post is much much better, so go there. Now. You won't be sorry.

Posted 09:07 AM | Comments (4)

December 07, 2004

Oh final exams, how I loathe you!

As I study for finals once again, in this, the third finals season of my law school “career,” I once again find myself having difficulty studying. I need to run an ad like this, too. Apparently, fear is a bad motivator for me. But as I try to make myself study, I'm also hoping that these stupid tests won't be as hard as I anticipate they will be. I've come up with a great rationalization for convincing myself that they won't be. I used to be a teacher; I've written and administered final exams. So I know that one of the things teachers do, collectively, almost without realizing it, is attempt to convince students that their exams are very difficult and important and must be taken seriously. This is because teachers have so little means by which to encourage students to actually study and maybe even remember some of the material covered in their classes. But I also know that my final exams were never as hard as I tried to make them sound; I knew that a smart student could get an A just by showing up in class most of the time and remembering a few of the things I'd said. I can only assume that law school exams are the same. While none of my professors has tried to make his (yes, all male profs this semester) final seem overly difficult, they don't have to; the difficulty of law school exams is legend. But that's just it—there's no way they could live up to their purported difficulty, is there? Spot a few issues, write a few essays about them. How hard can it be? ;-) One other thought on finals: This is the time when I once again become convinced that I am not cut out to be a lawyer, that I don't have what it takes, that I'm not good at the the things the legal profession requires and values, that I, in fact, hate the law, and that it hates me. I start thinking about what I will do when I drop or flunk out of law school. There's this guy who owns a little quickie mart a few blocks away where I go sometimes and he always seems happy; he just hangs out and reads books and listens to the radio and rings up a customer now and then. At finals time I start thinking, maybe I could do that, too. Maybe that would be just fine. Thankfully, now that I have a little, teensy weensy bit of experience working in legal offices, I can look at these feelings of inadequacy and imminent failure with a bit of perspective. When I was working last summer at the public defender's office, I didn't feel inadequate; in fact, I enjoyed just about every part of what I saw of that job. And when I've gone to work this semester at the civil law nonprofit where I've been working, I've enjoyed that a great, deal, as well. When I'm faced with a “real” legal task, I seem to be able to complete it just fine, and to even get some enjoyment out of the work. It's only when I'm faced with a law school final, and with all the anxiety, stress, and oh-my-gosh-my-whole-future-is-riding-on-this-grade hoohaw that goes with it—only then does my confidence crumble, my desire to complete this degree evaporate. So the lesson is simply that the cliche has proven true so far for me: Law school is not law practice, and just because you hate the school part doesn't mean you'll hate the practice part. (And btw, I don't hate the school part; I hate the finals part. The rest of the school part is ok, although it does leave a lot to be desired.) Um, but if anyone has some great study aids (I'm thinking killer concise reference charts or tables, stuff you can glance at for an overview or reference) for an introductory course in labor law or a standard sort of Con Law II survey, please do share.

Posted 10:30 AM | Comments (4)

December 05, 2004

More Law School Reform

Welcome to Don't Know It From Adam, a new blog from Adam Wolfson, a U of Michigan law student who formerly wrote Cicero's Ghost (which has now been shut down). One of Adam's early posts takes off from the recent 5-by-5 on the question of how to improve law school. Adam notes that Michigan has recently begun discussing how to improve the grading system; he supports “moving to a more sophisticated version of 'Pass/Fail,' like the ones implemented at Boalt Hall (Berkeley’s law school) and Yale Law.” He offers good reasons for why such a system would be preferable to the standard A, B, C, and plus, minus system in many law schools. Sounds great to me. One other reform I forgot to mention before: Law schools (and the ABA) should create more flexible ways for students to get academic credit for internships and externships and remove or at least qualify the ridiculous restriction that prohibits earning credit for any work that also earns a paycheck. As I understand it, law students who want to work and get practical experience during law school currently have a choice to make. They can either get paid for their work, or they can get academic credit for the work, but they can't ever get both. I'm told this is one of the ABA's rules schools must follow if they want to be “ABA-approved.” This is ridiculous for two main reasons: 1) Law school is already too expensive, so anything students can do to reduce their debt should be encouraged. 2) Practical work experience can provide an invaluable education for law students, and can be far superior to sitting in classes in terms of actually learning to practice law. What's so evil about allowing students to reduce their debt and get great practical experience at the same time? UPDATE: I just noticed that Michigan's possible grade system changes are the topic of considerable discussion over at Letters of Marque.

Posted 09:38 AM | Comments (4)

November 29, 2004

Blawg Wisdom Lives & 5 x 5

Holy dormant websites, batman! Blawg Wisdom has been updated, this time with three hot new requests and some better late than never admissions tips. For the good of your fellow students and the future of humanity, please browse on over and offer some helpful advice if you have any. Thanks! Also, your humble blogger recently participated in a Five by Five: Law Student Edition over at the [non]billable hour, along with four highly esteemed colleagues. Since now is the time in law school (finals time) when we all have plenty of complaints about the monster, you might enjoy some of the suggestions over there. It appears a majority of us believe that law school should be either shorter or more focused on practical experience, or both. In fact, possibly the most consistent thread in all the suggestions is that law school should give students a better, more realistic idea of what it means to practice law. Or, as Jeremy Blachman so aptly puts it (in his point 2), “If law schools are trying to train their students to be practicing attorneys, no one has told the people writing the curriculum.” So sadly true. But since law school can't be everything to everyone, why not allow different schools more freedom to do different things? That would be the point of Anthony Rickey's first point, which suggests we eliminate the ABA's accreditation system. You won't hear any complaints from me. In addition to possibly making law school less expensive, would fewer accreditation requirements allow schools to offer different curricula to serve different learning styles? Perhaps you could have more practical schools, more theoretical schools, more firm-oriented schools, more public interest oriented schools. Sure, we have that now, but the differences could be greater, and that could be good. You could also have one, two, or three year programs, and that would be excellent b/c it would allow different students to choose the level of education they could afford. Here's another idea I had reading through all these suggestions and thinking about my own: Law school should last two years. (That's not the idea; lots of people have suggested that.) The first year should be general and broad, much like it is now but even more so, including more history, theory, and providing a better idea of the terrain of law so students will understand as early as possible what their options are. Then, the second year would be more focused. You would have to choose whether you want to do criminal law, tort law, corporate law, tax, etc. You specialize, just like you do as an undergrad, and you take a focused curriculum that gives you excellent skills in your chosen field. Then you go to work. And if you ever decide that you chose wrong, you can go back. For example, if you decide after your first year that you'd really like to be a corporate lawyer, but then you go off to a firm and hate it, then you go back to school for one year and one year only and take a focused and concentrated course in some other specialty. You'd always be free to go three or more years at the beginning to take multiple specialties—if you were rich and could afford the luxury, or if you just couldn't make up your mind what area of law you wanted to specialize in. But the option to save $30k-$40k would be there for the rest of us. This way, you get a more thorough education in your chosen field, and you only have to pay for the classes you really need. Why not?

Posted 07:52 AM

October 19, 2004

Dreaming Failure

Reading evidence, trying to catch up on the rule against hearsay, which seems straightforward until you get to all the exceptions. Maybe it's more difficult because I'm so behind and I've missed so many classes. You think? Nah... I had a dream last night that I was enrolled in a class that I have only attended once. In my dream, I just suddenly remembered one day that I was supposed to be in class, then I realized I'd been missing the class for weeks, then I thought about the ways to get out of the class and realized there were none, and then I panicked and thought I was going to fail out of law school. And then I woke up. It was an awful dream—a nightmare, even. Apparently my subconscious is preparing for finals. A quick count says there are five and a half weeks of class left before final exams, but maybe it's closer to six weeks since there's a half-week in there for the fall break (Thanksgiving). Needless to say I'll have a lot of catching up to do over that little “holiday.” NaNoWriMo fits into this where? How? Is this what's known as a reality check?

Posted 03:00 PM | Comments (2)

September 24, 2004

Criminal Duct Tape

“Every criminal uses duct tape for something. Matter of fact, that's the sine qua non of being a criminal. Every time I pick up some duct tape I start to worry.” —Professor Evidence, speaking of U.S. v. Trenkler, 61 F.3d 45 (1st Cir. 1995) (where the court found that the fact that two bombs were both constructed with duct tape was evidence suggesting that they were made by the same person). Other comments of note from recent classes:
  • Random hypo comment from Prof. Evidence: “I met him at Denny's. Good place for a drug deal.”
  • “There's kind of a King Learish quality to this case” — Prof. Corporations speaking of Francis v. United Jersey Bank, 432 A.2d 814 (1981) (in which two scumbag sons are also officers and directors of the family corporation from which they're stealing millions; mom was a drunk, daddy's dead).
  • “You don't send a man to jail just because he's done some bad acts in the past. Gosh, if that was true, we'd all be in jail—especially the prosecutor.” —Prof. Evidence when discussing the O.J. Simpson case and FRE 413-415, but he's not necessarily referring to this case or the prosecutor in this case.

Posted 08:02 AM | Comments (2)

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 12:32 PM | Comments (7)


It was actually almost cold riding to school this morning in tevas, light shirt and shorts. Is it really going to decide to be fall? Please!? The home internet is down again, so who knows what that means.

Posted 08:49 AM

September 20, 2004

On Being Behind

It strikes me that in my second year of law school I should know some things I didn't know in the first year, and I'm sure I do, but that's not stopping me from making the same mistake I made last fall, which was to fall behind right from day one. Stupid stupid stupid stupid! This semester I'm taking classes on topics I like and am interested in from the outset, and classes I'm sort of predisposed to dislike. The “good” courses are labor law and evidence, but also ConLaw2. The “bad” class is Corporations, which I'm only taking under the “know your enemy” theory. Also, the only Prof. that uses a strict random socratic method is Prof. Corps, who calls on people randomly and grills them for an hour (really) in a very exacting way. My other profs either don't call on students at all (or almost), or demand very little when they do call, so you can fake it or simply beg off if you have to. So far, none of the reading for any class has been bad, as in really dry and hard to follow. Still, I always want to do the labor reading, and there are parts of ConLaw and Evidence I want to read, while I'm always procrastinating doing the Corps reading. But since the Corps reading must get done (b/c I never know when I'll be in the scorching hot seat in there) I have to do it first all the time. And since it's the reading I want to do the least, I put it off as much as possible. And perversely, that means that I also put off doing the reading I actually want to do. So basically, since I don't want to read for Corporations, I'm not reading at all, and that's killing me. Our compressed 13-week semester is already almost a quarter over—we only have 10 weeks left and I feel like I've barely started! Do not be stupid like me. Do your reading so you won't have to hate Mondays! This message has been a public service from your friends at ai.

Posted 07:11 AM | Comments (4)

September 15, 2004

Welcome GW Bloggers!

Say hello to Idle Grasshopper (don‘t miss his great post on Schadenfreude) and Neil Chilson, two new 1L bloggers (or blawgers) at GW law school! That brings GW’s blawger total (or rather, the total number of GW blawgs I know about, since I‘m guessing there are others) to a humble 5. They include ai; Life, Law, Libido, which I’m still counting even though Scott and Matt graduated; and Veritable Cornucopia, which I‘m also still counting, even though it hasn’t updated since May. (Maybe if I keep linking to it, it will wake up?) That still seems very sad. Georgetown, Michigan, Indianapolis (see the special sections in the blogrolls of these sites for links to school-specific blawgs), and probably others are putting us to shame. (Does anyone know of other schools that have a large concentration of blogging students?) I wonder if the day will come when schools actually encourage students to blog as a recruitment tool. I mean, will blogs/blawgs become a factor in people‘s admissions choices? Have they already? Did anyone out there use information gleaned from blawgs in making your choices about where to apply?

Posted 07:14 AM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2004

Blawg Wisdom Requests

Blawg Wisdom announces: The Wisdom Request Form! This new feature allows readers to request wisdom on specific topics. However, it won‘t work without you, the wise and generous readers of ai and other blawgs. Please visit Blawg Wisdom occasionally to see if there are any new requests (they’ll be collected in the Requests Category), then respond to those about which you have something to say. Also, please spread the word about this new feature and encourage others to share the love. Our first request has already arrived! If you have any thoughts about buying a laptop for law school (or would like to suggest other resources to investigate), please share! Remember, you don‘t have to provide definitive answers; thoughts and opinions are welcome. As always, if you write or run across law-school-related advice, please submit it to Blawg Wisdom! And as the Bartles and Jaymes gents used to say: Thank you for your support.

Posted 11:53 AM

September 12, 2004

Reality is good

L. and I had the pleasure of meeting The Scoplaw and In Limine for coffee yesterday, and it was terrific to finally meet two bloggers I‘ve been reading for some time. We met at Tryst, but not surprisingly it was packed so we crossed the street to The Left Bank, which turned out to be a calm, airy place to chat. The Scoplaw and In Limine are both 1Ls at GULC, but they both seem to be taking the first year in stride—busy, taking things seriously, but keeping it all in perspective. The Scoplaw is enrolled in the infamous “Section 3,” which I guess is officially called “Curriculum B”:

Curriculum “B” was developed in 1991 by a faculty committee charged by the Dean to comprehensively rethink the first year of law school and offers an innovative and integrated approach to the study of law. ... The “B” curriculum, available to one section of full time students, requires seven courses different in emphasis from those in the “A” curriculum: Bargain, Exchange, and Liability; Democracy and Coercion; Government Processes; Legal Justice Seminar; Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis; Process; and Property in Time. The “B” section emphasizes the sources of law in history, philosophy, political theory, and economics. It also seeks to reflect the increasingly public nature of contemporary law.

In other words, the “B” curriculum (which all the GULC students I’ve met just call “section 3”) sounds like a dream curriculum to me, and the more I learn about it the more jealous I become of the lucky students who get to take it. Which would you rather take, Contracts and Torts (boring blackletter bullshit), or Bargain, Exchange, and Liability? And any class named “Democracy and Coercion” has got to be terrific. *sigh* If only my LSAT had been a few points higher...

But, and so, I look forward to hanging out with The Scoplaw and In Limine again sometime so we can continue plotting our route to complete world domination.

But in addition to making me pine for an alternative law school curriculum, coffee yesterday also made me wonder: Where are the GW blogs? If you check out The Scoplaw‘s blogroll, you’ll see nearly a dozen blogs by GULC students. If you check out my blogroll, on the other hand, you‘ll see one blog by a former GW student: Life, Law, Libido. There’s also one blog by a current GW student, Veritable Cornucopia, but it hasn‘t been updated since May. So I’m wondering, are there others I don‘t know about? Unfortunately, if I search for “gw blogs” I get lots of stuff about GW Bush, and that’s really not what I‘m looking for.
Is there something about GW students that makes them less likely to blog? Or, is there something about GULC students that makes them more likely to blog?

I do not know. It would be interesting to try to create a school-by-school blawg directory—has someone already done that? According to the blogroll at Cooped Up, IU Indianapolis also has a large number of blogs. So why do some schools have lots of blogs, and others so few?

Anyway, if you’re a GW law student w/a blog, hello! How ya doin‘? Please say hi sometime!

Posted 10:20 AM | Comments (5)

September 11, 2004

Juristudents for Mac: Notetaking Tools Review

After using the law school note-taking/outlining software Juristudents for a few days, I'd say I'm going to stick to my tried and true OmniOutliner.

Note: Dave has already reviewed this product and I largely agree with everything he says.

More about Juristudents and some notes on other outliner options...

Juristudents provides a great structure to help you record important information in an organized way so it will be meaningful to you later. The multi-pane working environment works well. When you open a class, you have a side pane called the "Course Outline" that includes "topics," cases, rules, and statutes, and a main pane for notes. Click on any topic or case or statute, you'll get the text you entered for that item. Creating a case brief is easy, and you can customize the blank brief template to eliminate repetitive typing. The default template prompts you for case name, citation, page in book, facts, issue, rules, rationale, and holding. I learned on my own to create these kinds of sections for a case brief, but it would have been a lot easier in my first year of school if I'd had something like this to remind of what to look for and to cut down on my work in taking it down.

The "Course Outline" pane is seriously lacking. Currently, the program does not allow you to move the notes and topics around in your "Course Outline." Or rather, the only way to do it is to copy the contents of an item, e.g., a case brief, then create a new item where you want to move the case, paste in the contents of the first item, then delete the original. This is cumbersome at best, a deal-breaker at worst. How many of us create outlines with such precision that we don't need to move things around? Not me. I move sections of notes all over the place all the time. Also, as I've been getting used to the software, I've ended up creating subtopics and case briefs under the wrong main topics simply because I didn't understand how the software worked—when you create a new item, it doesn't always show up where you want it or expect it. Now I need to go back and correct those errors, and that should be an easy process. Instead, it's quite time consuming.

I often find that I'm taking notes on topics and realize later that many of those topics fall under a larger umbrella topic. Without being able to move topics around easily in the "Course Outline," it's nearly impossible (a potentially massive amount of cutting, pasting, and renaming of topics is involved) to change the "level" of an item in an outline and add an umbrella topic.

What if you want to insert a subtopic between two other subtopics? You can't do it w/out, again, a ton of cutting, pasting, and renaming.

Bottom line: Moving items around in an outline should be fast, simple, and follow standard outliner conventions. Without that ability, the software is simply crippled. The model should be something like the mailboxes window in Mail, but even better would be to make the "Course Outline" behave more like a real outline (a la OmniOutliner), including "indent" and "outdent" commands. Also, the "Course Outline" feature should give you options on how to "auto-number" items in your outline, just as OmniOutliner does. OmniOutliner calls this "styles" and allows you to choose whether a topic heading begins with an A, a, 1, i, I, etc. You can specify these preferences by "level" in the outline, so that all top-level headings are A, B, C, second level are 1, 2, 3, etc. You an also speciify whether they're bold, italic, etc. Juristudents should give users this kind of flexibilty with its "Course Outline"—that's what an outline is all about, right?

One other deal-breaker for me: although it lets you export your outline, the exported file has zero indentation. All levels of your so-called "outline" are flush left. The exported file indicates different level headings via bolding and changing the size of the font, but the levels of the "outline" aren't indented as a regular outline would be. In other words, the software doesn't produce a real outline, even though it says it will. The ultimate for me would be if Juristudents could create an OPML file that I could then open in OmniOutliner or any other program that supports the format. The beauty of such a file is that you can expand and collapse levels with ease, allowing you to see as much or as little of your data as you wish. This is how I create outlines, and this is what I'd like a law school notetaking tool to help me do. The ability to see your entire 40-50 page outline collapsed to 1-2 pages of main headings or expanded to whatever level you'd like to see is great for studying around finals time. I've learned to take notes in such a way that what seems to be the most important information is in the top headings, with miscellaneous class discussion below in subheadings that I can just collapse (and largely ignore) when it comes to studying for an exam. Very handy.

Miscelleneous other drawbacks:

  • Command-H should hide Juristudents; this is a standard command across all Mac apps. Instead, Command-H brings up a find/replace dialogue. Why?
  • Command-C doesn't seem to work for "copy" in some of the fields, even though the Edit menu indicates it should.
  • Case brief and statute titles should accept punctuation such as colons and commas. I like to put the entire case title and citation in the "title" of the case brief so that all that info will show up in the outline. You can do that with Juristudents, but not if you want to include a comma or colon.
  • Typing in a large text field slows down the more text you type. It gets worse with different fonts, so that you may type a whole line of text and you'll only actually see what you've typed after a few seconds of lag. I've seen this a lot in newer, unpolished applications. I have no idea what causes it.

Final Suggestion:
A product like this is a great idea, but Juristudents still needs some work. I don't think most students create what I call "real" outlines; for most people who just use Word to create "outlines," this software may simplify the process and produce a product like that you're used to. It could definitely help first year students because it creates little informational spaces for you to fill, reminding you of the things you need to look for and helping to make sure you don't miss important bits. However, like a lot of new software, I'd say Juristudents needs to work out a few bugs before it'll be really worth the $50 its maker is asking.

Other Options:
There are several other good outliner/notetaking options for Mac users, including my favorite, OmniOutliner (with a complete version of the U.S. Constitution in outline form! see the "Sample Documents" download on this page). More feature-rich (but therefore more complicated) options include the closely-related Circus Ponies Notebook and Aqua Minds' NoteTaker. These programs apparently started from the same code base, so they are similar in lots of ways. I've spent more time with NoteBook and I really do like it; it's elegant and feature rich, but I've had difficult adapting to its outliner conventions—I just can't type notes as fast w/it as I can w/OmniOutliner. One cool thing NoteBook does that I'd like to see more programs do is it creates an automatic index for all the words you've entered anywhere in your notebook. This has potential to be a valuable study tool. For example, if you wanted to find every instance of "perpetuities," you can flip to the index and see each instance in context so you can quickly find the one you're looking for. Unfortunately, since the program indexes every single word, the index quickly gets large and rather unwieldy; it would be nice to be able to index only certain key words, but I don't think this is possible yet.

Finally, another info manager that many people rave about is DevonThink. I used this a great deal my first year in law school; it has a clipping service that makes it easy to copy text from the web into your DevonThink database, so I clipped all the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that I was going to be tested on into a database and had them at my fingertips in class and during finals. (NoteBook also has a similar clipping feature.)

As Dave mentioned in the comments to this post, Windows users might want to try Storelaw (he didn't like it) or Notemap.

See also:, "archives from the golden age of outliners."

Posted 01:01 PM | Comments (7)

September 10, 2004

Mathematics, a veritable sorcerer

Class QOTD: "I know you're sophisticated law students, but you can still laugh like hell. He made up the statistics!" —Prof. Evidence Prof. Evidence was referring to People v. Collins, 550 F.2d 1036 (1968), known as "the probability case" because it discusses what's required to to establish that evidence of probability has been properly introduced and used by the prosecution in a criminal case. The court wrote:
"As we explain in detail infra, the testimony as to mathematical probability infected the case with fatal error and distorted the jury's traditional role of determining guilt or innocence according to long-standing rules. Mathematics, a veritable sorcerer in our computerized society, while assisting the trier of fact in the search for truth, must not cast a spell over him. We conclude that on the record before us defendant should not have had his guilt determined by the odds that he is entitled to a new trial."
Take that all you statisticians and numbers wonks! Your sorcery is not welcome here!

Posted 10:28 AM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2004


A good friend just sent me a link to Juristudents, a new cross-platform law school note-taking and outlining software package. Looks interesting. It competes with a similar package I've seen before from West or LSAC; I can't remember now what it was called and I can't seem to find any links to it anywhere. Does anyone know what I'm talking about? And does anyone use anything like this?

Posted 07:36 AM | Comments (6)

September 03, 2004

Wasting Time In Class (In Law School)

Energy Spatula's Friday Funnies on Blawg Wisdom today includes a link to Justin R. Adin's guest-post at Notes from the (Legal) Underground with the scoop on How to Read Weblogs During Class. I wouldn't recommend actually reading blogs in class very often, but it's good to be prepared for those days when you'd rather shove needles through your eyeballs than listen to one more rule of civil procedure. Matt Schuh has another idea for passing time in class via computer—playing with shortcut keys and colored text. More proof that a good part of making it through law school is simply being able to find ways to make it through class w/sanity intact. If I were going to be serious about this, I might suggest that all these strategies for passing time in class are proof that the dominant teaching model in law school is ineffective at best, sadistic at worst. There's no reason time in class should be so mind-numbing the people would rather play with shortcut keys than than pay attention and participate. Oh, but you can't really participate in a classroom of 100 students, can you? Oh, and professors often limit participation within iron bounds of their choosing, don't they? Oh, yeah, these are good ways for people to learn. I forgot. But since I'm not being serious, instead I'll just mention, in response to Matt's comments on function keys, that option-6 is the Mac keyboard shortcut for the section symbol (§), and option-7 will give you a paragraph symbol (¶). This is true across Mac software, not just in Microsoft Word. Oh, and hats off to Energy Spatula, Queen of the Funny Wisdom. She's doing a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious job!

Posted 04:53 PM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2004

Gunners Smunners

New-to-me blawger quasi in r.e.m. (not to be confused with Quasi In Rem) may be a gunner. I'm not sure what law school she's attending (it appears to be somewhere in the "bay area"), but wherever she is, her peers are at least lucky she realizes she may be a gunner. The first step to recovery is realizing you have a problem. I'm kidding, of course. I don't care about so-called gunners. We all learn in different ways, and while some people do just try to show off in class and monopolize the professor's attention, often these little tangents are more interesting than what might be happening otherwise, and I don't usually feel cheated by them. Worse than gunners, in my book, are people who come to class unprepared (and I'm definitely guilty of this) so that when the prof calls on them, they take forever to spit out an answer, one that is likely wrong anyway. And worse still are the profs that then basically bring class to a grinding halt to humiliate these unprepared people and highlight their lack of preparation by continuing to ask them questions until they admit they're unprepared. Some profs will even go beyond this, forcing the unprepared student to look up the answers while everyone sits there twiddling their thumbs. What pedagogical goal does serve? Stupid. So gunners, you go. Ask your questions and get what you need out of class; just recognize what you are and try to make sure your colloquy's w/the faculty are interesting or entertaining to someone besides yourself. Thanks.

Posted 05:53 PM

August 26, 2004

1Ls Get Rolling

In addition to the old faves I mentioned the other day who have started school again, many new 1Ls are now beginning classes . . . or, at least, the exotic rituals known as orientation prior to doing so. The Scoplaw has moved in, shopped, and been clipped by a car already. What's a Scoplaw, you ask? Read the Field Guide to the Scoplaw for all you ever wanted to know, and more! Anyway, it sounds like the Scoplaw's socialization and adjustment to law school (at GULC) is going swimmingly. The same goes for In Limine, also at GULC, is also quickly becoming socialized, but not w/out some invaluable introspection as he tries to find his place in the new crowd of school.

From my limited experience I'll say this: Orientation (and its accompanying parties, nights out, etc.) rewards the outgoing social butterflies, the party animals, and the gunners. A surprisingly large number of law students seem to think they have to try to fit into one of the above categories in order to succeed in law school; however, this is not true. Once things settle down there will be much more room for many more types of personalities and approaches to social interaction. There's no need to think you have to compete with the neon kiddies. (This is not intended as advice to the Scoplaw or In Limine; they both sound like they're fine w/who they are and where they're going to fit into things.)

In addition to the 1Ls just getting underway, Half-Cocked has already started his second year. I'm sure others have started, as well, including all 1Ls at GW. Lucky for me, 2Ls don't start until next monday (just four days away!). I'm so not ready, but that's how these things go. I'm currently trying to figure out how drop/add works so I can nail down my schedule and buy books. Then there's getting a locker, making sure my financial aid comes in (must have September rent!), and probably other things I'm forgetting. The next week should be interesting.

Best wishes to all, and to all a good semester!

Posted 11:11 AM | Comments (3)

August 01, 2004

Collected Wisdom

Law students who blog are constantly offering advice to other law students-to-be. This means there's a wealth of up-to-date information available for those who are interested, but it's not always easy to find. I wonder if we could devise some sort of advice aggregator, some central location to collect all this wisdom (or at least links to it) so that people would know where to go when looking for advice from people who have gone before them.

What do you think? Would it be good to have a blawg about blawgs (that would be a metablawg), specifically focused on advice from law students to law students? It seems like the alternative is what has been happening, which is that law students who blog all just randomly collect the advice we see here and there and hope people just happen to find it. That means we might spend a good amount of time and effort putting down some thoughts that we hope will help someone else in the future, yet that effort is wasted if the people who need it can't find it. Also, I've found numerous times that I read some good advice somewhere, but don't really need to think about that topic until later. Then, when I need the advice, I can't remember where it was. If we had a central repository of links to all the advice we read or write or know about, maybe it would be easier to find the exact information you need, when you need it.

So I propose this:

Blawg Wisdom: Advice about law school from those who are in it.

The idea is to create an advice aggregator. If you write or read a post from a law student, professor, or legal practitioner primarily containing advice about any aspect of law school or job searching while in law school or immediately after, please tell me about it (via email) . Tell me where it is (the URL), and if you can, provide a short summary of what readers will find there. I will post a link to it with your summary (or mine). Eventually, we should end up with a nice collection of advice that will be easily-accessible to all who are interested.

If you are a coding wizard of some sort and could help create a web form to collect advice submissions (so that people don't have to do it via email), that would be terrific.

And if you would like to share in the joy of keeping Blawg Wisdom up-to-date, let me know and I can add you as a poster. If you're part of the BlawgCoop, you'll be automatically set up to post at Blawg Wisdom, as well.

Posted 05:02 PM | Comments (4)

July 26, 2004

Blawging Around

For some time (19 weeks, it seems), Notes from the (Legal) Underground has featured a nice little weekly column its esteemed author, Evan Schaeffer, calls the "Weekly Law School Roundup." The latest edition is chock-full of terrific links, such as a list of blawgers who have recently expressed an interest in working as criminal lawyers, including Ichiblog, DG, ambulance chaser, and law v. life. Don't miss it!

Now, in the spirit of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I hereby present a little tour around some of the blawgs I've read recently.

First, Evan also notes that legal weblogs are starting to get more non-web press. As an example of new developments in legal blogs (or "blawgs"), he links to The Blawg Channel, a group blawg written by attorneys who are already prominent blawgers in their own rights. Could be interesting. I'm wondering if my little story is going to seem stale by the time it comes out (probably months from now). I guess that's just how these things go.

In the land of law students, congratulations to Scteino, who is transferring to BC Law and has upgraded (by necessity, it seems) to MT 3.01D.

Congratulations also to new-to-me blawger and self-proclaimed member of the "vast right wing conspiracy" Jeremy Richey, who made the journal at his law school (Southern Illinois University)—congratulations! He also has a good tip on using Wordperfect w/Linux for only $2.49.

Parenthetical Statement is another new-to-me blawg written by a soon-to-be 1L at American University. He's not a cutter, but he is a Star Wars geek and he's supporting Kerry for President.

Learning of another new DC blawger reminds me: We really should try to get together sometime (DC blawgers, that is). Perhaps we could do it before Energy Spatula leaves town?

Speaking of Energy Spatula, she's getting hit on by creepy pizza guys and wondering if OCI is worth her time. I'd tend to say "No," but then, what do I know? Although, Fitz-Hume of Begging the Question offers some good advice along those lines:

Speaking as a government employee, if you are certain that you want to work in government rather than for a law firm, then spend your efforts and energies on something other than OCI and cover letters to employers you don't want to work for. Your time is too valuable to waste on useless cover letters, and the added stress is not worth it. Better instead to spend time working on your grades or trying to get on a law journal or doing well in moot court competitions - all those things that make you more attractive to Uncle Sam.

Sounds good to me. Oh, and speaking of Begging the Question, Millbarge has a great post over there about blog crushes and "speaking blog." How different are our blog (or "blawg") selves from our in-the-flesh selves? It's a good question, but I think others will have to be the judge of that. Oh, but Scheherazade at Stay of Execution posits that blog crushes are unlikely to turn into anything real, but has offered to go to dinner with anyone who would like to convince her otherwise. Something tells me she's going to have more than one taker for that offer.

And quickly:

Posted 06:47 AM | Comments (4)

July 21, 2004

That Journals Thing

DG has rounded up a number of blawgers who deserve congratulations for recently winning spots on their respective law reviews, herself included. So:

Congratulations, everyone!

I'm sure there are many more blawgers out there who have made it on their journals this season, or who will be notified soon that they have. Congratulations to them, as well.

The journal is a big deal for many law students, and while I previously mocked our journal competition, I did enjoy the exercise. That's partly why I was thrilled to learn last Sunday that I did manage to earn a spot on the American Intellectual Property Law Association's quarterly journal. It's not our law review, but it ain't nothin', either. I'm told that this is a great compromise as far as the four journals at GW go because, although a position on the AIPLA journal may not carry the prestige of one on the law review or one of the other journals, it also (reportedly) doesn't require as much time or stress. According to an email from the journal, my workload will consist of three major tasks:

  1. Preemption Check. For each article that we consider for publication, we ensure that the subject matter has not been "preempted," i.e. already published. Each article must address a novel issue or take a new twist on something already out there.
  2. Compile collection. For each article, our staff is responsible for verifying that the material cited by the author actually exists. We retrieve a hard copy of each source cited and highlight the area referenced by the author. This is to avoid plagiarism and to ensure that we only publish articles grounded in fact.
  3. Blue Booking. The article must be BB perfect. In those instances were several blue-booking methods are acceptable, we must ensure that we chose those methods that conform to previous AIPLA issues to ensure consistency.
I assume and hope that we'll also be writing a note at some point. I think the AIPLA journal would be a good place to argue that Lexis and Westlaw are abusive and antisocial uses of intellectual property protections, don't you?

Posted 08:37 AM | Comments (7)

July 15, 2004

Want a "job" blogging?

From the email inbox:

The American Constitution Society is seeking volunteer Blog Editors to research and write content, moderate comments and edit submissions on a progressive blog monitoring legal news and public policy. Blog editors will interact with ACS staff and distinguished guest bloggers to create a national forum for progressive legal and policy discussion. Blog Editors will be expected to contribute approximately 3-5 hours a week to writing, editing and moderation. Their principal duty will be assuming responsibility for all blog content for one day each week, including daily news roundups and breaking news summaries.

It's about time the ACS got a blog. I'm not sure how all this volunteer blog editor business will work, but at least it's a start.

Posted 06:56 AM | Comments (2)

June 10, 2004

Blog Conversations

Thanks to everyone who responded to my request for anecdotes, opinions, and comments about law students and blogs. So far the best response has been from Pre-1Ls and new bloggers. Anyone else out there care to comment? If so, please email or comment on this post or the earlier one.

My question and its response raises more questions. First, why do people prefer to email rather than comment on the blog? Second, why do you think a post about ironing elicits so many comments, while posts about more "serious" things (i.e. blogs and law school or myriad posts here and elsewhere on subjects of politics, current events, history, social justice, etc.) elicit none? This may relate to my thinking out loud about the effect of blogs on the public/private sphere: Do blogs encourage talk about personal/non-public issues at the expense of discussion about public or social issues? Are law school blogs as popular as they are primarily because they give us an outlet for narcissism, a chance to revel in the daily travails of wrinkled shirts and annoying classmates who talk too much and professors who teach badly? And if so, is that really valuable? Or are law school blogs doing something more?

Again, I'm just thinking out loud. All/any comments/thoughts definitely welcome.

Posted 06:42 AM | Comments (12)

June 07, 2004

Blogs and Law School

Perspectives Wanted: I'm working on a short article about law students and blogs. If you are a law student (or soon-to-be or recently-graduated law student) or a law professor and you have any thoughts about the relationship between blogs and law school that you'd like to share, please comment or drop me an email. I'm specifically looking for thoughts and/or anecdotes in the realm of the following:

  • Why do law students blog?
  • What can law students gain from blogging? (Does reading and/or writing blogs help you get better grades? Does it make school more fun or interesting? Does it make you feel less lonely/scared/anxious/etc? Does it add something to your law school experience?)
  • What do you find most enjoyable or valuable about reading or writing a blog? (If you're a reader, what are the best posts or blogs to read and why? If you're a blog author, what have been your best experiences with blogging?)
  • Have you made any contacts via blogging that have led to professional advancement of some kind? For example, has anyone gotten job leads via a blog that actually turned into a job? Or have you learned about any other opportunities via blogging that have somehow been good for your legal career?
  • Does your school have a "blog community"? By that I mean, do you know and/or interact with other bloggers at your school?
  • Do you have any thoughts about law professors who blog? Do you find law prof blogs interesting or helpful in any way? Would you like to see more of them? Or do you find law profs who blog generally talk about things that don't interest you?
  • If you're a law professor with a blog, why do you do it? What have you gained? Do you read student blogs? Do you think blogging is a valuable activity for law students? If so, why? If not, why?
I could go on, but you get the idea. I obviously have my own experiences and thoughts on all of the above, but the more perspectives I can get, the better. I look forward to hearing from you. (And for the few of you I've contacted already about this, I hope to follow up with you soon!)

Meanwhile, this project has provided a good excuse to do a little research into the nascent field of blog history. A few interesting tidbits: According to Matthew Haughey and Peter Merholz, the word "blog" was coined by Merholz in about May of 1999. Blogger was born in August, 1999. This FAQ by Jorn Barger on RobotWisdom also offers an interesting snapshot of where blogs were in September 1999. It suggests the What's New page at Mosaic may have been the first blog, way back in 1993. Dave Winer says the first blog was the first web site built by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN. According to Rebecca Blood's history of weblogs, Barger was also the first to apply the term "weblog" to what we know today as blogs. The BlockStar Timeline puts all these pieces together.

According to this article, blogs are booming today:

Technorati, a San Francisco research company, says there are about 2.5 million blogs, with 10,000 being created each day.

The Pew Research Center estimates that between 2 and 7 percent of adult Internet users write a blog, and 11 percent visit blogs.

As for how many of those blogs are "blawgs" (or law-related blogs), the Legally-Inclined Webring currently has 449 members. If there's a better way to gauge the size of the legal blogging community, I'm not sure what it is. For comparison purposes, Denise Howell's blogroll at Bag and Baggage is quite extensive and clocks in at approximately 138 law student blogs (those "Learning the Craft"), around 52 "Academic" blogs (most of which are presumably written by law professors), and about 215 blogs in the "Practicing" category. So, according to these sources, the legal blogging community currently numbers

Posted 05:47 AM

May 11, 2004

Pre-Law School Summer Reading

Along with the handful of requests from people wondering about GW in particular, I've also received a handful of requests for advice on pre-1L-summer reading and preparation in general. All I can offer are my own impressions of what was helpful or might have been helpful; many others have been down this road before and if you look around you'll find terrific insights on these topics on other blogs. That aside, I'd say that as far as preparation goes, I wish I'd spent the summer before 1L working in some sort of legal position—volunteering for a judge or an attorney or a nonprofit, or even working in the mail room at a firm or temping at a legal copying service or something. Anything that gets you thinking about the practice of law and in a position to at least observe the profession at work should be a good way to spend the summer. Of course, a law-related summer job isn't necessary; I'm just saying that if I had it to do over again, I would have tried a little harder to get one. It will give you a taste of what you're getting into, and it won't look bad on your resume when you're trying to get that first summer job after your first year of law school.

Other than that, there's the reading. About a year ago I was thinking about books I might read in preparation (and here). In those posts and comments you'll find a very short survey of the most likely suspects. I did end up reading Law School Confidential, and once I got to school it seemed like a very high percentage of my peers had read it too. I guess I'd recommend it as a general primer, but the study schedule it suggests is just insane.

I also worked my way through most of Getting to Maybe and I found it to be indispensable. It's both an exam preparation book and a way to think about law more generally, so it's something you can read at any time. I found it a bit hard to read before I'd started class because it seemed too abstract, but once I'd started school it was hard to find time to read it, and you should really read it before your finals. If I had it to do over again, I'd try to get through more of it before school started, then I'd finish it in bits as the semester progressed.

But while those books are useful, they're not necessarily fun summer reading. For that, I turned to Brush with the Law by Robert Byrnes and Jaime Marquart , and the infamous One L by Scott Turow. What follows is a review/comparison of the books that I wrote upon finishing them but never posted.

The first, Brush with the Law, is a rather new entry in the field of law school accounts. (Note: It was slowly being serialized here, but it looks like all that's available now is the last installment.) The book offers parallel accounts of the authors' experiences at Stanford and Harvard, respectively. In a nutshell, Byrnes was a bike-riding crackhead who never went to class and did just fine at Stanford [note: I'm not sure his drug of choice was actually specified, but it sounds pretty cracklike], while Marquart began as a sort of sincere straight-arrow at Harvard, attending every class and trying to dot every "i," but gradually became a gambling-addicted slacker who never went to class and, you guessed it, still did just fine at Harvard. Their stories are at once hilarious, insightful, and strangely deflating, like a confirmation of many of my worst fears about law school. Rather than participate in the mythical account of law school as "America's most demanding post-graduate curriculum" (that's really the title of a book), Byrnes and Marquart describe two of the United States' most prestigious law schools as little more than empty facades behind which mostly wealthy, self-aggrandizing students and professors play out their fantasies of what law school is supposed to be. Meanwhile, the "smarter than you" bad boys are learning to laugh at the whole grand show. And while it's refreshing to see law school cut down to human proportion like this, it's also disappointing and dispiriting because it raises again one of the main questions that makes law school seem like such a bad deal, namely: If law school is such a big joke, then why do students have to spend so much damned money, not to mention three years of their lives, to practice law? (I'll leave that question hanging for the moment to spare you a rant against the cartel that is the ABA.)

I then picked up the infamous One L, which, as I mentioned before, struck me as melodramatic in the extreme. As strange as it sounds, I'm glad to have read these books together—they're like antidotes for each other. For every instance in which Turow tries to mystify, aggrandize, or otherwise inflate some aspect of the law school experience, Byrnes and Marquart offer an anecdote to mock, belittle, and otherwise eviscerate the same aspect of law school (probably along with a few others at the same time, for good measure). Jeremy Blachman offers the best summation I've seen for One L when he writes:

I read One L. I recognized it for what it was -- one guy's successful battle to have a miserable time at law school. Read it for an illustration of everything you don't need to do unless you want to be sad.

The best aspect of One L for me was its historical value. I found myself thinking again and again that little has changed since 1975. One of the first points where I noticed this was in Turow's notes about coming to terms with "legal thinking," which he at first finds "nasty" (86), but later seems to realize is valuable once he accepts that "there were no answers" (101). I fear humanity is doomed if we don't start learning the difference between "nastiness" and "critical thinking," but again, that's another rant for another day.

One thing that has changed in the last 33 years is the value of a dollar:

A poll taken during interview season and published in the law-school newspaper [circa 1975] showed that the 1Ls responding hoped for an average income of $28,000 in their twentieth year out of law school and a starting salary of $13,000. (94-5)

Can you say "inflation"? The same poll also showed that 80% of students at Harvard in 1975 said they'd prefer something other than corporate law practice (BigLaw), i.e.: "public interest work, political work, work on behalf of the poor" (95). Have those numbers changed, or has it just become
harder than ever to follow that path?

Apparently, law students thought school was already pretty expensive in 1975, so students wanted to know why their classes were so big. According to one of Turow's professors, schools adopted the Socratic method because it enabled a professor to effectively teach 140 students at a time, and this made a legal education "cheap" (122). Perhaps this is true, but if so, the cost savings were never passed on to students. (Cue silent rant against ABA Cartel, take II.)

So law schools still have large classes, and they still charge rapacious tuition, but do they still serve the status quo? On this point Turow writes at length about a speech he heard Ralph Nader give to the students at Harvard in November of 1975 in which Nader pointed out that the law taught at U.S. law schools is largely the law of "the well-to-do [who] could afford the huge legal fees of prosecuting an appeal, of bringing a case to the stage where it was likely to be reprinted in ... casebooks" (133). Turow's description of this speech alone makes One L worth your time. He writes:

There were wrongs, [Nader] said—violations of law, legal problems throughout the society—which were never the subject of courtroom battles and case reports. "How many sharecroppers," [Nader] asked, "do you think sue Minute Maid?"

[Nader] talked about the model of a lawyer's work that the steady stream of appellate cases suggests. Weren't we really training to be lawyers who only interview clients and write briefs and argue before courts—the kind of lawyers Legal Methods was teaching us to be? Where were we shown images of lawyers as organizers, determined advocates, rather than the disinterested hired hands of whoever could throw the price? Did we honestly believe, as was sometimes suggested, that the most intriguing legal problems were those presented in cases? Was it really more absorbing to fuss over the details of some company's tax shelters than to face (as our education so seldom asked us to do) the gravest legal problems confronting the society—corporate and government corruption, the bilking of consumers, the dilemma of bringing adequate legal services to the poor? (134)*

Yes, nowhere, no, and no. Sure, the Dean's welcome speech at GW touched on these issues, but the fact that a law school Dean feels he needs to place special emphasis the public service and social justice aspects of a legal career show that those aspects are still tangential to the mainstream of legal education and legal practice. (I doubt many Deans feel the need to remind students that they could work for big law representing corporate interests; that's the default.)

The results of Nader's speech on Turow are a terrific example of this. Turow leaves the speech "feeling high ... full of hot purpose," but "not sure where those feelings could be rightly aimed" (134). Then, in a typically melodramatic turn, Turow aims all his "hot purpose" at agonizing over whether to join his fellow students in trying to censure one of their professors for being an ass in class. Um, Scott, I'm pretty sure that's not what Nader had in mind. What's more, if legal thinking is "nasty" at all, it's not because it asks its practitioners to think critically about the world, but because—thanks to "law and economics"—it too often encourages them to dehumanize situations and events, and to reduce questions of justice and equity to naked economic equations.

That said, I can't condemn law school as an evil tool of wealth and privilege that hasn't changed at all. For example, I'm pretty sure most law schools today have much more robust clinical programs than they did in 1975. Besides, according to Brush With the Law, none of this matters because it's all just a big joke, anyway, and the key to getting the most out of it and getting on with your life is to never take it too seriously. That's good advice, regardless of what you hope to do with your JD.

* This is what I was trying to get at when I mentioned my frustration in my first Torts class when my professor spent an hour discussing the merits of the "sausage beater" case. Our culture gives plenty of attention to pro sports and other tangential issues as it is; meanwhile, countless injustices never get press or time in court (or appearances in casebooks). PTorts could have chosen many different cases to introduce us to the subject; why did he choose this case?

Posted 06:33 AM | Comments (1)

May 10, 2004

Thinking About GW?

I've received several emails in recent months from people thinking about attending GW. They often have similar questions, and some other readers who haven't asked may wonder about the same things, so although I'm guessing this comes too late for most since most people have probably made their choices for this fall, below is the most recent wondering-student email (in italics) and my responses.

As a general preface I'll say that whether a school is good for you really depends on what you want out of your law school experience and what you hope to do w/your JD. Know before you go, if you can! Also, visiting your top schools in person before you make your final choice is vital; you need to feel comfortable with a place and the best way to see if you do is to spend some time there in the flesh. I've not made much of a secret of the fact that I haven't loved GW, but I try not to be too negative about it b/c I hated it when I visited in person and decided to come anyway—mainly for the rank and location—so I got pretty much what I deserved. Which reminds me, rank can be a really poor way to choose a school if you care at all about being happy. Go where you think you'll enjoy your three years! GW has provided about what I expected, and it's grown on me a bit; it's a fine place, excellent for many students. Don't decide not to go just because I haven't loved it.

Finally, many other wise people listed in the ai blogroll have given great advice for choosing schools—surf around and do some searches for "advice" on their sites and I'm know you'll come up with some excellent wisdom nuggets.

Without further ado, the wondering-student email and my quick responses:


I'm a soon-to be 1L. A friend of mine--who's also going to law school--directed me to your web site. I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on this and that and hoped you might take the time to answer a couple of questions for me. (I tried askastudent@gw...but got no response. Guess I should write at a time other than finals.)

1) How is the general environment? Do people charge after grades and study constantly? Or will I have time to catch up on TV?

I found the environment at GW to be about as competitive as you make it, which means if you want to be watching tv, it doesn't have to be competitive at all. I slacked all year and never really suffered. 80-90% of your fellow students are likely to be very nice and willing to help if you ask (allowing you to borrow notes, recommending the best hornbook that works for them or even letting you borrow theirs, pointing you to other resources and info, etc). Check out Dubitante's law school study group curve—I think a lot of people at GW see things this way when it comes down to study time.

On the other hand, I knew people who got so stressed they became sick, unable to sleep, very very unhappy. Why, I don't know, but they were basically competing against themselves and perhaps a handful of other people who were "gunning" for the straight-A or A+ grades. Unless you're just astoundingly brilliant or find the whole read, memorize, regurgitate (w/analysis) evaluation method very easy, you will have to work very hard to get top grades, but that's probably true at most schools.

2) Is the career planning/placement office helpful? I'm fairly clueless about what I want to do in the future and how to get there.

The career office has been helpful in the sense of the people being nice and available to respond to questions, but I'm looking at public interest career options and they're really only mediocre when it comes to helping in that area. Don't get me wrong; they're great people and they try, but there's only so much they can do. If you want to work for a firm, I get the idea that helping you get the firm job is the reason the career office exists, so you should be fine. They did offer 3-4 ok sessions throughout the year on the subject of "what can you do with a JD" so they can be helpful that way. If you're clueless about your future, you may not want to go to law school. If you're determined to go for whatever reason, I'd definitely at least visit the "Career Boot Camp" at Decision It will at least give you a hint of what you should be looking for in a legal career, and will also help you start learning what your options are. I also highly recommend NALP's "Official Guide to Legal Specialties." I read it basically cover to cover before I passed in on to another law student who was as clueless as I am. It's a great introduction to the major "fields" of law and should help you narrow your career choices a bit.

3) Is a car necessary? I averaged about one accident per year of driving when I had a car, and that was in a rural area.

Car not necessary, especially if you live downtown or on the blue or orange Metro lines — GW is at the Foggy Bottom metro stop). If you live on the red line, Farragut North is about a 5-10 minute walk from the law school. Many students live in Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Adams Morgan, or in Virginia near the Rosslyn, Courthouse, or Clarendon stops. Plan to pay at least $700 if you live with a roommate, or probably $1000-1200 minimum to live alone. The cost blows. But getting back to your question: The public transportation is very good. I share a car w/my girlfriend, but we really only use it to get groceries and dog food. Even that's not necessary since there are grocery stores at several metro stops, but it's a luxury we've decided to maintain for the sake of convenience. Many GW students don't have cars and they do just fine.

One more piece of advice I tell all who will listen: Despite what the computer "support" people tell you, you *can* use a Mac at GW. They won't help you support it, but I can help with many of your questions and I simply haven't had many problems using mine. The only thing you can't do w/a Mac at GW that you can do w/a Windoze machine is print to the network printers from your laptop (that's easy to work around), and take finals. The finals thing is kind of a big deal, so I have an old used Windoze laptop I use for that, but otherwise, my nearly 3-yr-old iBook got me through the first year w/ease, and w/much less hassle and headache than a lot of of my colleagues had w/their Dells.

Good luck with your choice! Let me know if you end up at GW so I can say hello and answer any more questions you might have with your first year.

UPDATE: Oops. This post edited to remove my name, which I had cut and pasted from the email I sent to the inquiring student. As I said, I'm not trying to remain anonymous, only to remain below the "google radar." Thanks to Sam for pointing out the error. I guess that's what I get for trying to convert an email into a blog post.

Also, Sam kindly offered to share his experience w/GW if anyone has more questions, and Scott who just graduated (or will formally graduate very soon) is another potential source for great GW info.

Posted 07:36 AM | Comments (3)

May 08, 2004

DC Touristing

Ed. note: The following post was composed sometime in early March, but I never posted it for some reason. I'm posting it now b/c my family is in town and we're seeing the sights.

One of the benefits of going to school in D.C. is, of course, being in D.C. with all its monuments and museums and national treasures and whatnot. In a small attempt to appreciate some of that cultural/historical goodness, I took a tour of the White House yesterday with a small group from my section at GW. (The first-year class at GW is divided into four large sections of approximately 100 people who take all classes except legal writing together, plus one night section of equal size.) It was fascinating but short; the public is only allowed in a very small part of the building.

Humorous note: It was cool out, so I was wearing a jacket that just happened to have a "Dean for America" sticker on it. I believe I was in the Green Room and I asked one of the guards if she could tell me anything about one of the paintings on the wall. Rather than answering, she looked at my sticker and said, "It's pretty brave of you to wear that in here while George Bush is president." I didn't know what to say. How are you supposed to respond to that? So I just said, "It's a free country last I checked," and tried to smile politely. The guard also smiled and then looked up at the painting and began her well-rehearsed speech about it. Lesson: Be sure to prominently display your support for Democratic candidates if you take a White House tour. The guards enjoy the diversion.

A few ideas for when people visit you in D.C.:

Take them on a tour of the White House. Not very practical because you need a group of at least 10 or more and you have to sign up way in advance.

More practical might be: Tour the capital building! You have to line up in the morning of the day you visit to get tickets, but you need to write your Congressperson in advance of your visit if you want tickets to view the actual Senate or House chambers. I'm told it's well worth it.

Law students and their families might especially enjoy a tour of the Supreme Court. (more info)

And, of course, all those museums. I wouldn't recommend the zoo right now, though. Bad stuff happening there. Tragic, really.
Posted while listening to: The Golden Age (Live) from the album "Garage D'Or (Disc 2)" by Cracker

Posted 07:28 AM | Comments (5)

May 07, 2004

That's that.

The Property final was not so bad as I'd feared. I was still too fuzzy on when and how benefits and burdens of covenants run with the land, and maybe too squishy on the remedies available to a commercial tenant for breach of either express or implied warranties, but you know what? It doesn't matter now. It's done.

One thing though: Prof Property asked a policy question based on the Barry Bonds homerun ball question—should the kayaker who catches the ball get to keep it, or what about others who put work into trying to get it, or should it belong to the batter or the ball park or the baseball team or the government? It was a good question and fun to answer because it called for us to think about what we're protecting via property law, and why we might protect it. These are good questions to ask. But I was thinking as I answered, why is this question based on such a meaningless scenario? In fact, why are nearly all law school cases and hypos (except in crim law) based on such meaningless things as a coffee company's rights? What about a homeless person's rights? What about a single mother's rights? What about the rights of Guantanamo detainees? Why doesn't law school ask students to think about things that matter? By focusing almost entirely on middle class and business interests, law schools end up allowing students to ignore vast swaths of society, and then we wonder why poor and traditionally "underserved" groups don't have more and better legal representation. Broken system.

But more on that another day. I have a week of vacation with the famdamily (my sis arrived last night and my parents arrive today), then the job starts. All fun ahead. Meanwhile below is a list of links I haven't had time to read or comment on, but which are worth a look and which I hope to return to later. Enjoy!

Oh, and to anyone who still has more to go in the law school thing—best of luck!

Posted 08:28 AM | Comments (14)

May 06, 2004

JD v. MBA v. PhD/MA

Greg over at Law is Fun, who recently finished 2L finals, offers up a detailed comparison of life as an MBA student vs. life as a law student. I know next to nothing about what business grad school is like, but I can tell you how law school differs from my experience in English grad school:

Reading: I've found the reading in law school to be generally much more tedious, especially in CivPro and Contracts, but less so in Crim Law and Constitutional Law. I'm sure that varies by person.

Class: Law school classes are a complete waste of time compared to English grad classes. In my first year of law school, I've spent 15 hours/week in class. A typical week in grad school included about half that. Of course, I was always teaching 6-8 hours/week, as well, but that's another story. My English grad classes were small—8-16 students each—and probably about 50-80% of class time was devoted to class discussion. My law school classes have been very large—100 or more in all but the first semester of CivPro (about 40 students) and my legal writing section (12 students). So far, I've seen almost no discussion in the larger classes; the so-called "Socratic method" is a sick joke that allows law schools to pretend they have a pedagogical model when really they've just become degree factories. (Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

Assessment: There is simply no comparison here. In English grad school I was evaluated on my class participation (meaning class attendance was basically just assumed; if you weren't there your Prof might be more offended than anything else), my ability to write short (2-10 pages) and long (15-30 pages) papers, and often my ability to present a short paper to the class. In law school I'm evaluated just as Greg says—everything basically rests on how you perform on one final exam. Like the huge class model, I think this method of assessment leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its accuracy, fairness, and value to learning, but there you go.

I might have more to say about this another day. Right now, I've got to do half a dozen practice property questions. At 5 p.m. my first year of law school will be over and I will be glad. Very.

Posted 05:53 AM | Comments (3)

May 05, 2004

Discovery & Disclosure

Ok, my first year of law school officially ends tomorrow at 5 p.m. and I have a question for all my dear and beloved readers: Who am I? Do you know? Would you tell me if you did?

I ask b/c Favorable Dicta just posted about being "found out," and DG has disclosed her identity to some friends. Like them, I've taken a few small steps to actively conceal my identity (like not posting under my given name), but for the most part I assume anyone who wants to know who I am could figure it out. Referral logs tell me that at least someone at GW reads ai fairly regularly, and there have been indications that at least a couple of people have made the physical connection. I don't think about it often, but sometimes I wonder. Who reads ai and how many of those readers know me? How many do I know? As I think about starting the summer job, I wonder even more.

So: If you read ai and know me, please say hello. I've only kept my name off of these pages to stay, as the Energy Spatula puts it, "below google radar." I haven't really talked about ai with my classmates because it's simply never come up. One friend asked me once if I had a blog. I said yes, and that was that. She didn't ask any more about it. Perhaps she was just confirming what she already knew.

Anyhoo, I believe at least a couple "blawgers" will (likely?) be in D.C. this summer or fall for summer jobs or for school. If that group includes you, please look me up (email always works) so we can make our plans for legal world domination in person, rather than just virtually. Coffee's always good.
Posted to the tune of: Dark Center of the Universe from "The Moon & Antarctica" by Modest Mouse

Posted 05:54 AM | Comments (10)

May 04, 2004

ConLaw Craziness & Notes

ConLaw is over. It was closed-book, no notes, three hours, three essays, and 30 multiple choice questions. If I hit the median, I'll be thrilled.

In celebration of finishing my ConLaw exam, I've posted the notes I used to study for it. At that link you'll also find my CivPro notes. (Click the bullet points to go to the notes themselves, or you can navigate by clicking the curled page corners in the top right, or via the tabbed dividers on the right edge of the pages. All this fancy-shmanciness courtesy of Circus Ponies NoteBook, "The $50 Valet for your iLife." (in my case it was only $10, but who's counting?).) As I explain here, these note come with no warranties, neither express nor implied. The main point of putting them up is just to show how a real outliner (that allows you to collapse and expand your outline as you wish) can help make studying easier. It works well for me, but in online form it might make pages slow to load.

Mac users have lots of choices for OPML-compliant outliners, beginning with OmniOutliner, which I believe comes loaded on all Macs these days. If you'd like to try using a more functional and dynamic outline next fall and you don't use a Mac, I'm sure can find a Windoze outliner that supports OPML somewhere. I guess OneNote can handle it, for starters, so soon the capability will be built into M$ Office. [link via Scripting News] I'm telling you, the expand/collapse feature makes outlines much more useful.

Only one more exam to go: Property. Thanks to all who helped out with my Landlord/Tenant and Covenant questions the other day. I'm going to try to get back into it so I may have more questions for you soon!

Posted 07:46 PM | Comments (2)

Newly Minted JD

Congratulations to Scott at L-Cubed on completing his final final. He are purty much an laywer now! Oh, and happy (one-day-late) birthday, too!

Posted 05:36 AM | Comments (1)

May 03, 2004

Remote Controlled Teaching

This story about teachers using "clickers" in university and law school class rooms is fascinating:

For these and other professors across the nation, the newest aid in the classroom is a small wireless keypad, linked to a computer. Students answer questions not by raising their hands but by punching buttons, with the results appearing on a screen in the front of the room.

Although some skeptics dismiss the devices as novelties more suited to a TV game show than a lecture hall, educators who use them say their classrooms come alive as never before. Shy students have no choice but to participate, the instructors say, and the know-it-alls lose their monopoly on the classroom dialogue.

Professor Wilde has her students answer multiple-choice questions to gauge whether she is getting her point across and adjusts her lectures accordingly. "I can instantly see that three-quarters of the class doesn't get it," she said.
. . .

The devices look and work much as a television remote does, sending infrared signals to a receiver at the front of the classroom. The receiver is connected to a computer, which tabulates and analyzes the responses. The data can be displayed by an overhead projector, incorporated into a spreadsheet or posted on a class Web site. Responses are anonymous among the students, but not to the teachers, who can identify students by the serial numbers of their clickers.

Doesn't that sound awesome? I'm not sure how these clickers would integrate with discussion; it seems a teacher would have to be well-prepared and very flexible to encourage regular, productive give-and-take of classroom discussion in addition to having time and opportunity to make the clickers useful. But that's just it; if teachers are forced to think a bit more about how they present information, and if students are constantly forced to engage, I bet learning improves. Maybe it's just the tech-fan in me, but I would have loved to try to make use of these things in the English classes I used to teach, and I would have loved to use them as a student in the past year of law school. [link via JD2B, which also links to an abstract of a forthcoming journal article on the subject of using clickers in law classrooms]

Posted 06:24 AM | Comments (2)

May 02, 2004

Meandering Mind

Studying is overrated. In fact, it blows. It's spring and it's time to move. As Transmogriflaw has been posting recently, now is probably the worst time to be inside making outlines. Meanwhile, Scripting News is on vacation in Germany, and it sounds wonderful:

On the train yesterday I had a lot of time to think about all kinds of things. It was May Day, so everywhere the train went, there were families having picnics and riding bikes and walking. From my vantage point it seemed these people sure know how to live. No air pollution, lots of green, all the trees in bloom. Inexplicably they have graffitti, just like we do in the states. Is Switzerland and southern Germany really heaven? From the train it, in May, on a national holiday, it sure looks like heaven.

I had the same impression when I biked through Germany years ago, and the Germans I've known have only confirmed that impression: Germany may not be heaven, but they've got a lot of things figured out. A standard 4-6 weeks of paid vacation and health care for all citizens are great places to start on the list of things Germans enjoy that most Americans don't. Quality of life could skyrocket for most Americans if we had more vacation time and fewer worries about health care, don't you think?

Can I go there now, please? Or anywhere but here, really?

Oh no, I can't. As Monica says

There Will Be More Sunny Days

And so we have judicial review, justiciability and standing and prudential concerns and mootness and ripeness, federalism, separation of powers, the commerce clause and the negative or dormant commerce clause, executive powers and immunities, and the state action doctrine. And those are just the highlights! Time to stop whining and start studying.

But first, speaking of ConLaw and judicial review, did you hear that Justice Souter was assaulted on Friday night? D.C.: A fun place to live, work, and jog!
Posted to the tune of: You May Know Him from "Moon Pix" by Cat Power

Posted 08:59 AM | Comments (2)

May 01, 2004

Proper Property

Questions for those of you who might know:

  1. My notes tell me that a landlord can't waive the implied covenant of habitability. However, can a landlord waive the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment?
  2. What's the simplest way to determine whether a covenant (both benefit and burden) runs with the land? (I'm afraid there is no simple way, so I'll settle for any way since I seem to have missed those lectures almost completely.)
I think Scoplaw was right when he said that the best way to learn something is to explain it to someone else, so if you're studying for property yourself, I'm happy to be the audience for your explanation on these or any other topics. Thanks!

Posted 04:11 PM | Comments (4)

April 30, 2004

EJW Summer Corps

If you're a law student doing public interest legal work this summer, be sure to check out the Equal Justice Works Summer Corps. It only takes 10 minutes to complete the online application, and you could get a cool $1000 for your efforts, so long as your job qualifies. EJW started taking applications Wednesday, and they're considering them on a rolling basis, so the sooner you apply, the better your chances. Think of it as a $1000 study break. Who wouldn't want that?

Posted 05:35 AM | Comments (3)

April 29, 2004

Contracts Schmontracts

Yeah, ok, the contracts final wasn't so bad. I'm in no hurry to get the grade, but I'm sure it could have been worse. On to ConLaw and ppppppProperty!

But not just yet. First, I want to read about Dick Cheney's absolute right to know and not tell, which is much more fun after a CivPro exam than I'm guessing it would have been before. I'm all over that writ of mandamus!

I also want to see what John Kerry Is A Douche Bag But I'm Voting For Him is all about. I mean, I think I can figure it out, but I'll take a few moments to ponder the implications, nonetheless.

And what about Operation Take One For The Country!? I think this will take some rigorous analysis. [UPDATE: Link via Three Years of Hell. Sorry I forgot to mention that in the first place.]

Then maybe I'll put my music library online with iPlaylist so you can all mock my musical knavishness, then add some recommendations to the Music Recommendation System for iTunes. Seems like a good idea, at least in theory.

Or maybe I'll just watch some crap tv. ;-)

Posted 07:22 PM | Comments (1)

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

1L Spring Exam #2 coming up in just over an hour. The pre-test feeling is much different today than it was on Tuesday. Instead of feeling calm and collected, I'm jittery and anxious. I still haven't been able to nail a practice question, whereas before my CivPro final I was pretty comfortable with my ability to produce a fairly lucid and complete answer to just about any question. Contracts and Sales seems somewhat logical, it seems simple, but there are so many twists and turns a case can take that it really becomes much more difficult than it looks. I get bogged down in the details of one claim and forget what I was going to say about another one, then I run out of time.

Nevermind. I could have studied more during the semester instead of saving it until the end. I should have done that. And I would have except, well... wel... I don't know why. I like pain? I think what I'm really saying is I'll be really really glad when this exam is over and I swear I will never ever ever procrastinate my studying like this again. Never ever. (Now when next Sept./Oct. comes around, will someone please remind of this? Thanks.)

Posted 11:54 AM | Comments (3)

April 28, 2004

Contractual Panic

Doom, doom I tell you. Contracts final tomorrow and I'm bombing out. I look at practice questions and my mind goes mushy. I see the issues as if through a fog; I vaguely recall lots of talk about assignees, battles of forms, implied warranties of merchantability and fitness and the ever-present constructive condition of prior performance by the other party, but my grasp on these concepts is so tenuous that I can't seem to pull them out of the ether as I need to do in order to cobble together some semblance of a response to the fact pattern.

This is not good.

I look not for sympathy or encouragement, I'm merely venting. 24 hours from now, it won't matter, will it?

UPDATE: I can no longer despair now that I have Mr. Buffalo's Contracts Cheers to power me through my studying and exam taking. Thanks to Energy Spatula at Will Work for Favorable Dicta for the tip! And in case you haven't been acquainted yet, Energy Spatula is a superhero! Who shoots guns! Definitely a welcome addition to the roll de blawgs.

Posted 06:37 PM | Comments (2)

Libel La Law

Here's a fun lawsuit/study break: A website called has a big "traitor list" featuring names and photos of prominent people who are supposedly "traitors" because they've been critical of President Bush. According to the site:

Traitor: If you do not support our President's decisions you are a traitor.

Obviously a lot of deep thought went into that. In fact, so much deep thought went into it that now the site is being sued for libel by former U.S. Sen. James Abourezk whose name and photo were added to the "traitor list" last year. Abourezk is suing for $2 million in damages. Nice. has been kind enough to post its own brief in support of its 12b6 motion to dismiss (PDF), as well as Abourezk's response. The motion was denied.

Speaking of slightly bizarre links having something to do with libel, check out these short "movies" from some law students at UVA. My personal favorite is the first one: We salute you, 1L's long-distance boyfriend who is going to lose your girlfriend to a 3L! According to the website, these movies are connected with something called the "Libel Show,":

The Libel Show is an annual comedy program at UVa Law, now finishing its 96th year, that lampoons our professors and life at the law school through a variety of impersonations, song parodies, and skits.

At GW, we have something similar called the "Law Revue" which is really very well done and always very funny (I'm told; I'm a loser and I missed it this year), but it appears they're going to have to step it up a few notches if they're going to compete w/UVA—technologically, anyway.

Finally, no post about libel would be complete w/out a nod to elle who also started exams yestertoday. Instead of posting to her blog, she's probably studying for her next exam. Hmm, maybe I'll try that...

Posted 07:21 AM

April 27, 2004

Whew. Three to go.

CivPro is byebye. Issues I "spotted":

  • document requests
  • motions for dismissal
  • compulsory joinder of parties
  • objections to document requests (including attny-client privilege, work product doctrine, and overly broad or overly burdensome requests)
  • motions to compel discovery
  • motions for summary judgment
  • choice of law (Erie)
  • standards for appellate review of different issues
  • JMOL motions both at close of evidence and after the verdict (a.k.a., JNOV)
  • motions for new trial
  • appellate review of JMOL, new trial, and interlocutory appeals under collateral order doctrine and/or 28 USC 1292
Now that's what I call fun!

If there was anything about preclusion doctrine on there, I didn't see it. In all, the exam was either awful or terrific; I was done with my first take on all nine questions in just over two hours. Problem: It was a three hour exam. I went back through to check answers, polish some things, add in more obscure issues, etc. I found some problems and holes to fill, but not too much. So either I just knew it and type really fast and got it all down, or I missed some big issues. Probably the latter, but we'll see. Doesn't matter much at this point, does it?

But it does matter in that I'm trying to figure out if there's anything to be learned from this experience as far as study habits go. Last semester I labored in obscurity on every exam, making my little outlines and running through practice questions on my own. That worked, um, just ok. For this CivPro exam, I worked much more with other people, trading notes, discussing issues, and running through sample questions and answers in a group setting where everyone could point out what anyone else was missing. So the question is: Which works better? The solo or the group method? I guess I'll learn something when grades come out this summer.

Now, it's time for contracts, sales, and UCC for you and me. Or me, anyway.

Posted 04:53 PM | Comments (7)

Game Day

Six hours until CivPro, and I'm feeling, well, fine about it. If I can feel this prepared for the other three, all will be well. I may not get A's, but I don't think I'll crash and burn in to the GPA cellar, either.

Running through practice questions yesterday w/friends who did much better than I did last semester I learned that I often think I've answered completely, when really I've left things out. I mean, it's like we know and understand the same things, we I just don't get them all down on paper. Apparently I sometimes just skip over elements of a rule or test that are in my outline, as if my brain is filling gaps in my answer even as my typing fingers create the gaps. I'm not yet sure how to prevent this, other than to remind myself to write down every damn issue from the fact pattern, somehow, then be sure to tick through every single possible step in my outline related to that issue. Perhaps I just need more practice. Yeah. There's still time. Yeah, that's it.

Posted 06:53 AM | Comments (3)

April 26, 2004

Practice Testing

In a review session this morning w/Prof. CivPro she said we shouldn't worry overly much about things we didn't spend a lot of time on. For example, she said, we just rushed through preclusion doctrine at the end, so it probably won't be a very prominent feature of the final.

Guess what's featured in nearly every single practice exam she's made available? That's right: Preclusion doctrine.


Posted 04:35 PM | Comments (3)

You need backup

One of the best lines from "About A Boy":

Suddenly I realized — two people isn't enough. You need backup. If you're only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you're on your own. Two isn't a large enough number. You need three at least.

So true, but in this case I'm not talking about family and friends, I'm talking about your outlines, your notes, the study aids you've meticulously prepared (or are currently meticulously preparing) to get you through your final exams. Have you backed all that up recently?

If you haven't, you probably should.

This has been another public service message from your friends at ai. We dunno nothin' —nah-theeng! — about collateral estoppel, but we no longer care. We have backup!

Posted 07:58 AM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2004

Timing, Mooting, Injustice

Sounds like ConLaw, but no, we're in the land of CivPro here. I now understand the "Collateral Order Doctrine" re: interlocutory appeals. This is a small triumph. No applause please, again, just throw money.

But then there's that damned preclusion doctrine (a.k.a. collateral estoppel and res judicata)and mutuality and offensive v. defensive preclusion and what's a countervailing federal interest on the RDA side of the whole Erie/choice of laws analysis? Nevermind. I'm not really asking. Just spewing random bits at this point.

My brain was not made for this.

Posted 04:58 PM | Comments (3)

Two Day Tick-Tock

The countdown is on. I'll spare you the angst and just recommend another bit of music to study by.

Hovering helicopters provided the soundtrack almost all day yesterday, presumably surveilling the IMF/World Bank protest. Barriers everywhere down town. Police overkill. Today they'll probably repeat the performance for the March for Women's Lives. I hope to take a study break and go, but I was introduced to so much new material in CivPro yesterday that I'd just never even seen before that I don't know if I can afford the break. Who even knew additur and remittitur were words!?

UPDATE: Just to note the great links recently at Three Years of Hell (who appears to have entirely too much time for political commentary at the moment—I can't keep up!) and buzzwords.

Posted 05:55 AM

April 24, 2004

ConLaw Practice Exam

Since I'm supposed to be learning all about Constitutional Law for a final, um, in a week or so, I'm a little concerned that I don't have more complete responses to the Constitutional quandaries in the headlines. Therefore, as a public service to any law student studying for ConLaw, I present two real-life ConLaw practice exam questions:

Question One:
Health and Human Services (HHS), an agency under the executive branch, is refusing to release information to Congress (and the press, but that's a different story). What arguments can HHS make to support its claim that it doesn't have to comply with a Congressional request for information?

Question Two:
The U.S. is currently holding more than 600 foreign nationals at a military base in Cuba as suspected terrorists. The Supreme Court recently considered whether these prisoners should be accorded any due process rights, or if they should be denied those rights because the executive says they are "enemy combatants." What arguments can the executive make to support its position that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over these prisoners, that these prisoners have no due process rights, and that the executive has complete discretion to decide these matters?

In a related question, Yaser Hamdi, one of the Guantanamo prisoners, turned out to be a U.S. citizen. Does that change the executive's power to detain Hamdi? Does the executive have unreviewable authority to deprive a U.S. citizen of his Constitutional rights? What arguments can the executive make in its favor? What are the flaws in those arguments? (A bit more on these questions here.)


How would you answer these questions on a ConLaw final? They say practice exams are a great way to study. Feel free to practice in the comments! ;-) Click "more" for my very superficial/general thoughts on these questions.

General Thoughts on Question 1:
Can HHS withhold information from Congress under executive privilege? If so, does the executive's need for confidentiality outweigh the public's need to know this information? The answer to that probably depends on whether you'd like to see a second Bush term. If you'd like to see Bush reelected, then the public doesn't really need to know how duplicitous the executive was here. If you'd prefer to see Bush leave office, then the public's need to know this information is quite urgent.

This issue might also raise other, more difficult Constitutional law questions, such as: What happens if an executive agency lies to Congress about the cost of a program, then Congress appropriates money for that program, and then the executive says, oops, we need more money? I mean, I guess there are no Rule 11 sanctions to impose on the executive branch, but really, there should be. I'm guessing the only "sanctions" are accountability to the public—if people are angry enough about the executive's duplicity, they'll indicate their anger at the ballot box. Let's hope. Of course, if voters can't get the information, or if the information remains clouded in enough controversy that voters can convince themselves the executive may not, in fact, have lied here, then that ballot box accountability becomes a bit dubious, doesn't it?

General thoughts on question 2:
At a basic level the enemy combatant cases present questions about the extent of the executive's powers under the "commander in chief" (Art. II, § 2) and possibly "vestiture" (Art. II, § 1) clauses. But then, these seem to conflict a bit with the executive's responsibilities to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" (Art. II, § 4). I mean, especially in Hamdi's case, since he's a U.S. citizen, we do have laws about due process that the executive has an obligation to uphold, right?

Posted 09:31 AM | Comments (4)

April 23, 2004

Math class for English majors

What happened to Math Class for Poets? Judging by the last post, its author went to work, and isn't/wasn't liking that too much. I wonder how that worked out...

Blogs blawgs. So temporary. It's sad when one stops, isn't it?

The reason I was thinking about this in the first place (besides the fact that thinking about anything other than CivPro is just irresistible right now) is that I was thinking if law school is like math class for poets, poetry is like math class for English majors. That's why I never "got" poetry. I don't do math. (I don't want to go into what I mean by "get" —maybe some other time—but let's just say I'll never be much more than a poetry tourist. Also, if the logic of these analogies seems twisted beyond reason, that's because it is.) And I was probably thinking about all of this because Scoplaw has been posting poetry and, well, it makes you think, is all I'm saying.

So, full circling, tph of Math Class for Poets, if you're reading this, here's hoping you figured out some way to cope with that job situation and everything is going well. Your blog will be visited and read again should you decide to resume posting there.

Posted 05:31 AM | Comments (6)

April 22, 2004


I got a big scare yesterday that I'd missed financial aid application deadlines. I've since learned that's not true, but it GW's "need-based aid" is pretty much first-come, first-served (for those who qualify), so I went ahead and did all the outstanding paperwork. It's pretty sobering. At the end of one year of law school at GW (yeah, ok, the end except for those pesky finals), the numbers are:

Current educational loan debt: $68,025 (includes roughly $35k in undergrad and previous grad school debt)

Estimated expenses for 2004-2005: $49,495 (as estimated by GW)

Amount that will be borrowed to pay for 2004-2005: Probably all of it, unless GW comes through w/some aid, but that's looking unlikely. Borrowing it all will put total indebtedness a year from now at $117,520.

Bottom line: Law school is making a PhD in English look pretty cheap. And it's worth all of this, why? Oh, and keep in mind, I'll be lucky to make $40-60k/year upon graduation as a public interest lawyer. Many many starting positions pay much less. Very discouraging....

I guess this is why the good kids do their financial aid way before finals, huh?

Posted 08:30 AM | Comments (15)

April 20, 2004

Transfer Tip

Thinking of transferring law schools? Check out JCA's ginormous list of links to transfer policies at various schools. Ah, if wishes were fishes....

Posted 06:35 AM

Honor Roll

Thanks to Venturpreneur for adding ai to its Law Student Blog Honor Roll, even though ai didn't win the poll. Thanks also to all who voted for ai. ai loves you.

I'm not sure what this honor roll means, but since it's w/out doubt the only honor roll your humble blogger will have any chance of making this semester, I'll take what I can get. Congrats to the others on the roll, as well! No offense to Venturpreneur, but here's hoping you all make certain more important honor rolls in the coming weeks.

BTW: What's up with the U of Wisconsin Law School and blogs? Venturpreneur's UW blogroll has a dozen entries, and he may not be including them all. Does any other single school have more? Why do some schools have many bloggers (including faculty), while others have almost none? GW has a student body of at least 1600 students and I know of three GW blogs, including ai. What's up w/that?

Posted 06:29 AM | Comments (4)

April 19, 2004

Two more days

Today and tomorrow. Two more days of 1L classes. First final is a week from Tuesday. I write these things to remind myself. This is serious. 1L is almost over. Must focus on finals. If Dubitante is correct and a law school semester is like a golf tournament, I'm in big trouble. I've been following something like Jeremy's Four Week Exam Plan for, well, all semester really, except I haven't looked at any supplements at the bookstore or checked out any treatises from the library. I have stapled some stuff, though, and it felt very satisfying. In fact, where is my stapler. It's a red swingline...

Posted 07:01 AM | Comments (1)

April 17, 2004

Future Self Failure

One year ago yesterday I decided to attend GW. One week from this Tuesday I'll take the first of four finals that will complete my first year at GW. I'm not sure which makes me feel worse: Thinking back on the decision I made a year ago, or thinking ahead to the finals I'm so not prepared for.

Now is not the time to think about the past. Now is the time to think about the fairly immediate future. There will be plenty of time for navel-gazing three weeks from now when the finals are finished. Nose Down, Keep Going.

Thank you for reading my inner dialogue/self-pep-talk. I'm going to study now. Really, I am. Contracts, sales, UCC glee, all day long! Professor Contracts, who seems to be one of the most popular and beloved professors at GW, finished our final class last Thursday by teaching us sales law in three easy lessons:

  1. What is the P's claim? Always the same: You made a promise and you didn't keep it, you dirty rat. (Keep your eyes out for implied promises such as those of merchantability and fitness of goods!)
  2. What can the D say in his defense? Make a list of possibilities. It may be quite long. Along with each possible defense, list all the possible exceptions to that defense which the P might raise in response. This is where the fun is!
  3. What remedies might the buyer or seller seek? There is also fun here: The UCC provides for lots of fun remedies, each of which is available in only specific situations, which you must also know. Enjoy
I know. Lots of 1Ls already had all this fun last semester, but GW spreads contracts over two semesters and puts all of sales in the second one. That means the UCC and I have really only been casual acquaintances up to this point; now is the time for me to try to make us fast and intimate friends. Emphasis on the fast part. Why didn't I study more and blog/surf/watch tv less? Yeesh.

In addition to teaching us Sales in three easy lessons, Prof Contracts also congratulated us on how far we'd come this semester. We learned a lot about contracts, yes, but in addition, he said, "Your mind has changed. For better or worse, you'll never think about things the same way again." Hm. True. I think. The problem is that better/worse part. I can't decide which it really is.

But that's not really important at the moment. It's time to study. Meanwhile, if you're still looking for advice on how to construct a schedule for your 2L year, Slithery D has some advice and links to others' thoughts. Is it just me or does GW's schedule seem way ahead of that of the majority of law schools? We had to plan our schedule weeks ago and the final GW final will be over by May 7th. I finish May 6th at 5 p.m. It's gone quickly, but I'll shore be glad when that moment rolls around. Yessir. So very glad.

Posted 07:18 AM | Comments (4)

April 14, 2004

Streaming Law School

I've missed some class recently (shock!), but thanks to Passover, at least one of my professors videotaped several of the classes I missed. As I watch these taped lectures, I realize once again how broken the learning model is at a major law school like GW. What do I miss by having not been in class and watching the class on video instead? Absolutely nothing. Sure, there was the one day per semester in each of my classes where I had to "perform" the ritual of regurgitating the day's reading, acting as little more than a foolish foil for my professors' otherwise largely canned lectures, but aside from those 4 days of class, I might have watched the whole semester on video. I would have learned just as much. In fact, I might have learned more; it's nice to be able to rewind to listen again to the confusing parts.

So what do I pay for in law school? Why doesn't GW just package videos for me to buy, rather than making me move to DC and actually show up on campus for classes? I can think of many reasons—attending class is only one part of a full law school experience—but it's hard to shake the feeling that the attendance requirements are just a mask for the fact that big law schools are just degree factories that long ago sacrificed learning models for business models. Sure, we do learn this way, but let's just drop the pretense, shall we? Charge me half the tuition, send me the videos, I'll watch them at home, and we can all stop pretending there's really a need to pay for the plasma screens in the lobby that no one even looks at. Grrrr.

I'm not dissing my professors. They are almost uniformly terrific this semester (as they were last semester, w/one notable exception), and their lectures—canned or not—are generally very very good. Also, I'm not really advocating online learning; it comes with its own problems. That doesn't change the fact that when you're dealing with classes of more than 100 students each, actual physical attendance seems to add very little value.

Oh, but don't mind me. I'm probably just bitter that I've missed so much class and am going to do so poorly on exams. ;-)

Posted 06:10 AM

April 13, 2004

Welcome Scoplaw!

Venturpreneur's first poll* for his "Law Student Blog Honor Roll" seems to have spurred (or been a pivotal part of) a mini-boom of interest in law student blogs and pre-law blogs. Adding to this mini-boom, Venturpreneur's first poll has been followed by a second, and accompanied by Legal Underground's comments about those polls, including a little list of new pre-law blogs and a kind word about ai. (Thanks, Evan! No need to feel bad; I'm just that very rare beast: an anti-competitive law student. More on that later, perhaps.)

All of which is to say: If you're looking for a great new pre-law blog, say hello to Scoplaw. What could be more interesting than a poet going to law school? A poet who bikes to law school! Ok, I don't know if he's going to bike to law school, but he rides bikes, he has a garage full of bikes and bike parts, he refurbishes old bikes -- how can you not love this guy?

But yes, Scoplaw is also going to law school, and he's going to blog about it, which promises to be fascinating. How will a poet w/an MFA react to law school's demand that you replace creativity with regimented banality? Will he find a creative way to adapt, or will he feel like he's landed on an alien planet where nobody cares about the thoughts in your head except insofar as they mirror a blackletter law outline? ;-)

Ok, it's not that bad. But still, I can't wait to hear how things go for Scoplaw, because in some ways he and I may be a lot alike. Granted, a poet w/an MFA could be very different from a former candidate for a PhD in English, especially when that English PhD program was more cultural studies/critical theory than literature. For example, the English department I was in had a sort of invisible wall between the MFA program and the MA/PhD program, an oil and water type thing based on politics and petty power struggles, mostly, but also on what seemed to be a mutual disdain. The creative writers seemed to scoff at the seriousness with which the "Lit" people took their theory and cultural studies, while the "Lit" people scoffed at what they assumed was the creative writers' free-floating superficiality and lack of critical consciousness. The two groups did different things, and therefore had different goals, but that's exactly why Scoplaw's experience of law school should be so interesting. I imagine it's a lot easier to go from lawyer to poet/creative writer than the other way around, but I'd be very happy if Scoplaw proved me wrong.

At any rate, check him out, and wish him luck. We all need that.

* Note: Speaking of that Venterpreneur poll, if ai is going to lose any contest, it would be hard to think of a better blog/blogger to lose to than Mixtape Marathon. I'm not familiar with Sapere Aude, but I'll be checking out out in the future since it's so well loved.

Posted 05:43 AM | Comments (7)

April 12, 2004


My first final of the spring semester is two weeks from tomorrow. At this point, I've done about nothing to prepare. This is not good. Loose ends still remain to tie up before I feel I can focus on finals, but that focus is going to have to come soon or I'll be seriously testing the conventional wisdom that no one flunks out of law school (because the school wants your $$!). Those loose ends include:

Summer Job Update: Thanks in no small part to all the good advice from you, my readers, my summer job dilemma has been resolved for some time now -- I took the public defender job. At first I was very torn and regretted having to make that choice, but since then I've been very very glad to have the job thing settled and to be doing something this summer that will provide such great experience. Taking that job also allowed me to qualify for a GW Summer Subsidy, which I was awarded last week. (Last week was an incredibly full week!) So the summer is looking like it will be terrific -- exactly what I need. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to say about the details of the job here, but I'll certainly post what I can.

FYI: I'm not working in the D.C. Public Defender's office. That office is known as one of the best PD offices in the country, so it would be great to be there, but I'll be spending my summer at a nearby PD office. I didn't even apply to the DC office, mostly because the job hunt went so quickly I just never got around to it. I'm

Scheduling for Next Year: Thanks to everyone who also offered advice about my course scheduling questions a couple of weeks ago. For now, the schedule for fall looks like this: ConLaw II, Evidence, Labor Law, Admin Law, and probably the Moot Court Competition for one additional credit (for a total of 14 credit hours). This might change during drop/add in the fall, but that's it for now. I'll probably be taking the Consumer Mediation Clinic in the spring, along with CrimPro, Ethics, and other things I can't think of at the moment.

Property Review: A couple of weeks ago I offered to share my notes from a Property review session. For those who expressed interest, the notes are here. I've since learned that those notes are even more superficial/surface than I at first realized (if you rely on them for the rule against perpetuities or to navigate through the maze of servitudes, you'll be in a world of hurt), but they still provide a good big-picture overview and might give you some structure on which to hang your own outline.

Posted 06:54 AM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2004

That Decision...

Falconred has made a decision about where he's going to law school this fall. Almost exactly one year ago I was making the same decision, thinking about the Legal Activism class at GW and whining about trying to get more financial aid. I made a choice based on rankings, and I've since learned that I might have been wiser to base the choice on other criteria, but there you are.

Someday I'll post something about the things I wish I'd done between the time I chose a school and the day school actually started, but that's going to have to wait a bit. As the ai coundown (right) indicates, finals are just a bit more than two weeks away and ConLaw beckons...

The bad part about being finished with the auction: I now have no excuse for not doing my reading or going to class or polishing outlines or taking practice exams. In other words, I have be a law student again now for at least three more weeks. Ick.

Posted 09:18 AM | Comments (5)

April 09, 2004

Not Dead Yet

The 2004 GW EJF Auction is now history (thanks to anyone who voted in the eBay auctions—they turned out quite well), so things may get back to normal around here soon. Catching up on email, I see that I've just about missed the competition for the Law Student Blog Honor Roll over at Venturpreneur. For whatever good it does, it's always better to make a nice showing in the polls, and currently ai is sadly lacking in the love department. If you have a spare moment, please click ai a vote and I promise to share more stories of law school madness! Or not. Finals are coming, after all...

UPDATE: Um, never so much mind the request for votes in the Venturpreneur poll. I just read the criteria for making the honor roll and I don't think ai qualifies:

To make the Honor Roll, a blog must be by a law student or law strudents and must relate primarily to law or the law school experience. The blog must have content! No once-a-week postings here. I am looking for a steady stream of insights. Good writing of any sort is the lodestar. Of course, I am not attempting to set myself up as the ultimate arbiter of law student blogs; these are just some that I liked very much. In addition, one technical requirement: since I am using Bloglines, the blog must have an rss feed.

ai has an rss feed, but on the whole, I'm not sure ai is primarily about law school or the law school experience. Really, it's primarily about its author and whatever random thing he decides to post about, much of which just happens to relate in some way to law school. Also you won't find a steady stream of insights here, only a steady stream of random observations and thoughts and many questions. For insights, I'd definitely look elsewhere. ;-)

Posted 07:15 AM | Comments (3)

April 06, 2004

GW EJF Auction

Hi. Apologies for the radio silence. ai has temporarily taken a backseat to other things, most notably the Equal Justice Foundation Public Interest Auction at GW. Much like similar student groups at many other law schools, GW's EJF holds an auction every year to raise funds for those working in the public interest during the summer. As part of that effort, GW's EFJ has opened eight eBay auctions so that anyone, anywhere, can contribute to this good cause:

Do you have family or friends who need a terrific hotel to stay in when they come to D.C.? Do you know any country music fans, REM fans, Washington Caps fans, Baltimore Ravens fans, or Elizabeth Dole fans?

If so, the EJF has just the thing for you: The First Annual EJF eBay Auctions!

Faithful and generous ai readers:

Although I've tried to avoid begging you for cash on a regular basis, for this I make an exception. Can you help out the GW EJF by bidding on one of these eBay auctions or passing the links on to someone who might? It's a great cause, your bids (up to fair market value) are tax deductible, and if you're a fan of one of the stars or teams mentioned above, you'll get a great collectible for your efforts. But hurry, the auctions will close very soon!


Note: ai will return to its regularly scheduled programming sometime next week. Maybe. I hope. Of course, I hear finals are three weeks away, so no promises at this point...

Posted 07:54 PM | Comments (2)

April 04, 2004

That's Done

The moot court competition is over. Thank goodness. It's fun if your judges seem to like you (as indicated by their post-round feedback, not necessarily their questions during the round), but not so fun when the judges clearly don't like you (or your arguments).

It turns out, despite what Tom Petty might say, the waiting isn't the hardest part. The hardest part is dealing with a practicing attorney who's pretending to be a judge but who has not prepared nearly enough and who does not understand the statute at issue in your argument. It's also hard when your panel of judges tells you to begin, and while you're painstakingly laying out your argument, the judges proceed to ignore you while they have a little mini-conference about which one of them is supposed to be keeping time. Finally, the waiting is hard. Round two for me was this morning at 9 a.m., so I had to wait from about 9:40 to 1:30 to learn if I was going to the final round, then wait another hour for the final round to begin, then wait an extra five minutes for judge three (also a practicing attorney, also demonstrably lacking in familiarity with the issues and cases you're arguing about) to park his car.

After all that, I'd say the chance that I made the board is about 10%. But hey, it was good fun, I learned a bit, and at least two out of four panels of judges really liked my argument, so it's all good.

Posted 04:00 PM | Comments (1)

Moot Wait

GW's annual first year Moot Court competition is currently, at this very moment, nearing its final round. This year the competition is being run in tournament format. Preliminary rounds were yesterday, semi-finals were this morning, and now the law school is all aflutter with nervous, business-suited 1Ls waiting to hear whether they're advancing to the final round.

Too bad GW didn't build a nice sound system into the student lounges when they remodeled last summer. Now would be a great time for a little Tom Petty.

Posted 11:48 AM

April 01, 2004


What day is this? Oh yeah, it's the day I quit law school.

Posted 10:02 PM | Comments (3)

March 31, 2004

Sick and Cranky

Welcome to the spring headcold. Your head swells three sizes and feels like it's going to explode. Your nose runs constantly and no drug seems capable of stemming the flow. You cough and sneeze explosively and constantly. Avoid quick movements—they only make your head throb more. In fact, avoid all movement, if possible. Stay in bed. Sleep. Read. Drink juice and tea. Be sick, get better, life will be good.

Oh, but you're in law school. So you go to class. Shall you take some perverse pleasure in the fact that you're likely spreading germs to all those around you so that they can be sick during your moot court competition this weekend, too? After all, if law school is a zero sum game, your reduced capacity is their gain, and their reduced capacity is your gain, right? So yes, you should go spread germs liberally, hoping to decimate the ranks. Then, just when their colds are peaking, yours will be on the mend, and you'll win all the marbles!

See, going to class when you feel like crap and would really much rather stay in bed could have a silver lining!

Meanwhile, maybe it's just that I'm sick and easily amused, but I don't think this will ever get old so even if you've seen it, treat yourself again to the Rumsfeld Fighting Technique.

Posted 06:12 AM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2004

Not Now, After Finals

It's still crazy time. In fact, recently I've had lots of "oh crap I have so much to do I'm going to suffocate or explode" times. And I even worked hard this past weekend. Er, harder than usual, that is. So if I've got so much to do, why is it so damned hard to concentrate on what I'm supposed to be doing?

I ran a 5k Saturday morning that was a huge amount of fun. It just felt great to be pushing myself hard for a finite, concrete, tangible goal that I was fully capable of achieving. And it felt good to do better than expected at something for once (that hasn't, um, exactly been my experience in law school thus far). I came in at just over 26 minutes for the 5k, which isn't great, but not awful for someone who hasn't been inside a gym or done any sort of regular exercise program in, oh, about a year or more. Yes, I'm a lump, but maybe that's why it felt so good to get my lumpishness moving like that. I don't think I've run a 5k since high school, when for two seasons I was on the "cross-country track" team, always bringing up the rear. I was never much of a runner; I kind of hated it when I started, but the cross-country track team was good training for the cross-country skiing team, and that I loved. I grew to like running, too, and I think maybe I've missed it. Yes, I have.

It's good to be reminded forcefully and unequivocally of things you enjoy. The last thing about which I had such an affirmative reaction was, strangely enough, the journal competition the first weekend of spring break. Before that? I dunno exactly. And that's at least partly because law school has become such a slog. It's work. I'd almost say drudgery. But then, it's not so bad. There are bright spots, sure, but should it really feel this, um, unfun?

It's that question that keeps making me wonder whether I should be here at all. The other day Falconred, who is applying to law school right now, wondered aloud whether going to law school was really a good idea for him. As i considered what advice I might offer (not much, really), I wondered: Does it mean anything that my first reaction was to tell him not to go?

I'm apparently not alone in asking this question. Over at Stay of Execution, Scheherazade recenlty wrote: "Don't Go To Law School." She explains:

Don't go to law school because you're not sure what else to do, or because your parents really want you to. Or, at least, don't go to a really expensive law school for those reasons, unless you have the means to do so without incurring big big debt. Don't go to law school, in other words, to avoid making a decision about your life as an adult and what you want it to be like. Because if you incur big debt and make your peer group an extremely competitive and perhaps atypically unhappy group of people you will limit your ability to make that decision, clearly and well and for the right reasons.

Brilliant, as usual. And so, well, why does that seem to hit me right where I live? Is it just because of all those "oh crap I have so much to do!" moments? Is it simply that the pressure's beginning to mount at the end of the semester and I'm getting anxious about all that I have to do in the next 6 weeks? Or is it because I suspect that really, well, I just came to law school to avoid making a decision about my life as an adult and what I want it to be like?

Which brings us back to running, in a roundabout way, because it's something that woke up my body and brain and said unequivocally, "Hey, this is good." Law school doesn't do that. Almost nothing even remotely connected to law school does that. The journal competition sort of did that, but what does that mean? What does any of this mean? Does it mean I should be thinking of doing something else come Fall 2004?

And the answer to that question is clear: Not now, after finals! The unexamined life may not be worth living, but there will be plenty of time for that examination—after finals! I wish I could go to Florida "to think about where I want to be and what I want to do after this semester." But I can't. I can't even think about it. Not now. After finals.

Posted 06:38 AM | Comments (2)

March 28, 2004

Property Review

After nearly 7 hours of review yesterday, thanks to the entertaining and straight over the top Professor Paula Franzese, Professor Franzese reviews property for BarBri I have now reviewed estates in land, conveyancing, recordation, adverse possession, landlord/tenant basics, and a drop of water rights, among other things. I didn't attend any of the BarBri review sessions last semester, so I can't say how this one compares, but if Prof. Franzese comes to your school (via the BarBri video), I'd recommend going to the review. It's long, but it seemed to be a nice summary of the general 1L introduction to property law. Plus, you'll learn the Bobby Brown rule of property, the Destiny's Child Doctrine, and the Greg and Marsha Brady rules of co-ownership and tenancy. And you thought property was boring, didn't you? (If you'd like the notes I took, just ask.)

Beyond property, those of you heading into another season of finals might get a little lift from Franzese's advice on grades:

Only you create the reality that your grades represent. No one else. View them as an opportunity for learning, self-knowledge and growth. Throughout, keep your head high. Do not be cruel to yourself. Beyond a healthy discipline, be gentle with yourself. Hold tight to your dignity, integrity and belief in yourself. You are precisely where you should be. You have succeeded before. You are a success now.

That advice appears to be connected to something called "Humanizing Law School" from Florida State University College of Law. The program offers more advice for law students, if you've got the time to check it out.

Posted 11:17 AM | Comments (4)

March 24, 2004

Elle's Back

Liable returns and she's doing well:.

While I have 2 years and some odd weeks to go, [law school] has thus far been one of the greatest, most horrible, most terrifying and most rewarding experiences of my life.

I'll second at least parts of that. The good ones. Really. Yeah.

Welcome back, elle!

Posted 07:35 AM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2004

Wait, I have to learn something?

The hustle currently consists of: preparing and practicing oral argument for moot court, attending Supreme Court oral arguments for a court-watching assignment, trying to pull the auction together (now accepting any and all donations — please!), planning that course schedule for the next two years, trying to start outlining for finals, keeping up with financial aid deadlines, oh, and maybe doing some studying and going to class where I can. Needless to say, most of this is being half-assed, at best. But this long task list explains why I can't do much more at this moment than point you to some great writing and thinking about law school, being a law student, and practicing law.

From Stay of Execution: Why Should I Stay In Law School. Great question. Possible answers: Power and because "feeling bad accomplishes as much as feeling nothing"; rockage; and because, as Musclehead puts it:

there [is] something terribly wrong with a society that places such a higher value on helping the rich get richer than helping suicidal kids get better.

Related: A symposium from De Novo about Being and Becoming a Student, including followups here and here. Yes indeedy, I'd love to read all that. Maybe someday I will.

Posted 05:21 AM

March 22, 2004

Get thee to the loo!

Speaking of scheduling, GW scans every written comment students make about their professors and then puts them online as PDF files so we can try to get an idea of who we want to take our classes from. crim law made me pee my pantsAs you can see, some of the comments can be quite humorous (click image for larger, more readable version). This was an actual comment about my very own ProfessorCrim last fall, and I really only agree with the last part—he kept us on our toes and was a terrific teacher. He was also rather stern most of the time, but scary? Not so much.

Posted 06:43 AM | Comments (1)

Ambivalent Scheduling and Career Imbroglio

Hi. Now seeking any and all advice about "planning a balanced curriculum" for years two and three of law school. GW offers so many options that sound good, I really don't know how to choose.

That's right, no more will all my classes be chosen for me and handed to me on a silver platter schedule (or shoved down my throat, depending on how things go any given day); instead, I must figure out some plan that will get me from here to "public interest lawyer" in two years or less. Depending on many variables (whether I make journal, how many clinic hours I take, whether I do any outside placement at any time, whether I do mock trial for credit next fall, and probably other variables I'm not thinking of at the moment), I probably have 15-20 classes left to take over the next two years. So far, the classes that seem indispensable include:

  1. CrimPro
  2. ConLawII
  3. Evidence
  4. Labor Law
  5. Federal Income Tax
  6. Professional Responsibility (required)
  7. Admin Law
  8. Corporations
So, unless some of those are not as indispensable as I think, that leaves maybe ten or so "electives" left to fill. A few high priority ideas include:
  • Federal Courts
  • Secured Transactions (I was told by a trusted advisor I should take at least one course focused on the UCC)
  • Environmental Law
  • Negotiations and/or Mediation and/or Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Consumer Mediation Clinic
  • Employment Law and/or International Labor Standards and the Global Economy
  • Antitrust
  • International Law
Those alone would just about fill up the schedule but then I have a longer wish list that includes:
  • Public Justice Advocacy Clinic
  • Federal Criminal and Appellate Clinic
  • White Collar Crime
  • Race, Racism and the Law
  • Literature and the Law
  • Higher Education Law, Communications Law, Legislative Analysis and Drafting, Campaign Finance Law, Lobbying and the Law, Products Liability and/or Toxic Torts, Consumer Protection, Public Interest Lawyering, Legal Activism, and Housing and Community Development Law
See what I mean about lots of choices? I'm really just a dilettante who doesn't want to specialize -- at least not yet. At the moment I see about four different career possibilities that I might aim for:
  1. Public interest/non-profit work, possibly to include lobbying, for a group like MoveOn or Public Citizen. This would likely require a longer stay in D.C., at the prospect of which I'm not exactly thrilled. Also, a variation on this would be to work for a federal agency, such as the FCC or FEC, helping draft and enforce legislation.
  2. Becoming a public defender or legal aid lawyer in a small town somewhere (preferably or probably MI, MN, CA, or any of the "mountain" states).
  3. Becoming a general practitioner, either with a small *gasp* plaintiff's firm, or on my own, again in a small town in one of the above locations.
  4. Something completely different where my J.D. is only incidental, such as working as a legal journalist somehow. This is a pretty vague and unformed option, obviously. Getting away from direct practice of law, I could also see myself enjoying/being fairly good at career counseling for law students.
So there you go. The ambivalent scheduling and career imbroglio. Any tips, thoughts, or suggestions? Am I hopelessly misguided either in my scheduling or career thoughts, or do some of the above options sound more realistic than others?

Posted 06:23 AM | Comments (5)

March 21, 2004

Cardozoian Wisdom

From City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617:

[The Constitution] was framed upon the theory that the peoples of the several states must sink or swim together, and that in the long run prosperity and salvation are in union and not division.

Right. So gated communities, private schools, private health care, and all the trappings of the grossly wealthy minority in the U.S. are unconstitutional, right? ;-)

Posted 03:57 PM | Comments (5)

March 17, 2004

GW Email Bonks

As longtime readers know, I've been supremely unimpressed with GW's computing regime since the day I was admitted, but today tops everything. This is the message you get if you've tried to access your GW webmail any time since 4:45 p.m. today:

3/17/2004 4:45PM System diagnostics have indicated an imminent hardware failure with the E-Mail system. System administrators are working to resolve the issue. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Nice. But what makes it better is that GW allows no alternative to webmail. You can't use a mail client with GW's system because they've got everything locked down so tightly. Ok, you might be able to set it up to work with IMAP, but I haven't played with that in so long I can't remember how it would work. Bottom line: Since 4:45 this afternoon, GW students were w/out email. I won't pretend I hate saying "I told you so." I love saying "I told you so!" That's what happens when you rely on Micro$oft!

Posted 09:02 PM | Comments (3)

March 16, 2004


Follow the action: Heidi of Letters of Marque is pissed off because of some of the comments people have made about this post in which Heidi pointed to Professor Brian Leiter's scathing review of a student note in the Harvard Law Review about so-called "intelligent design" theory.

As you can see from the links in the Heidi's comments the conversation on Letters of Marque is just a small taste of what Leiter's review has stirred up. Leiter has an update here, including a link to a National Review Online story in defense of the student (or his note, I'm not sure which), and many links to sources that support Leiter's view that intelligent design is a bunch of hooey. I don't have time to actually read all the back and forth, but it's certainly fascinating.

Oh, and another bit of potentially great reading comes in the form of De Novo, a new group blog by most of the former contributers to the now-defunct En Banc.

Posted 06:13 AM

March 14, 2004

Nose Down, Keep Going

Ugh. This is the last day of spring break and honestly, I just don't want to go back to school. Can I quit now?

Ok, so I'm not quitting, and I'm sure it won't be as bad as it seems. But I do need to get my mind focused on school again for this final two-month push to the end of 1L. Partly as a way of doing that I just re-read Shelley's law school advice, part 1 over at The Menagerie. (She's also posted a few more tips here.) I've been meaning to point to this advice for some time; 1Ls-to-be might find it especially helpful to bookmark and return to in August or something. Reading her tips again was helpful at the moment though because they reminded me that everyone has doubts, law school isn't fun for most people, and that's just the way it is. Her last tip is especially helpful at the moment:

As intimidating as it can be at time, this law stuff really isn't that difficult. There's just a lot of it to learn and not much time to learn it. It's a lot of work, but just put your nose down and keep going. The first semester is the worst, and you'll get it -- things will start to click. Just relax (as much as you can -- yoga breathing) and believe in yourself. You'll be fine.

This will be my mantra beginning tomorrow: It's a lot of work, but just put your nose down and keep going. Nose down, keep going. Nose down, keep going.

This plow through to the end will be capped, of course, by exams. Make joyful noises everyone. If you're starting to get just a little worried about those exams (even if you've done them before), Scheherazade says it's normal to be like this:

You are moderately anxious and set yourself an arbitrary goal: "I'm going to study for six hours on Saturday for Class X". And then it's 2 PM on Saturday and you're lounging over brunch reading the paper in complete denial, and then you feel like a miserable undisciplined louse, but you still don't want to study. And then you finally sit down to study at 4:30 and you go "HOLY MOLY I DON'T KNOW EVEN A FRACTION OF THIS AND I DIDN'T LEAVE MYSELF ENOUGH TIME TO LEARN IT AND ALL THE SUCCESSES I'VE HAD BEFORE ARE GOING TO BE PROVEN AS THE LUCKY ACCIDENTS THEY REALLY ARE BECAUSE THIS TIME I REALLY AM A COMPLETE UNPREPARED IDIOT!" And then in this panicked hateful mode you study for about forty-five minutes or an hour and then notice that you've wandered off somewhere else in your head and are making a list of the sailing gear you really ought to buy for next summer and you think, maybe I need a break, or maybe I'm cracking up here, and you take a break and next thing you know it's 10 PM before you're sitting back down to study and the crazy panic sets in again.

This is totally normal, or at least it was for me....

That's it, she nailed it! That's exactly what studying for exams is like for me, too; in fact, any studying is like that for me, recently. So I guess it feels good knowing I'm not alone.

Nose down, keep going.

Rounding out this little tour of topics that may be causing anxiety and some level of depression or dispiritedness in the hearts and minds of courageous 1Ls everywhere: How's that career plan looking? The one thing everyone asks when you tell them you're in law school is: What are you going to do with that? And as Transmogriflaw points out, a lot of us don't have a much more precise answer than, "I don't know." That's why it's so important to hear from the "pros" —so we can figure out what our options are before we make these decisions. In response to Transmogriflaw's post, Scheherazade at Stay of Execution talks about what transactional lawyers do and why she's not interested in litigation, with some good discussion in the comments. This kind of "insider" perspective is invaluable to 1Ls because it's so hard to figure out what different kinds of law practice might actually be like. I wonder how much this dearth of useful information contributes to the fact that more law school grads are leaving the law. Since we don't know what we're getting into when we start or even when we're part of the way through, we're sadly disappointed when we find out what practicing law is really like? Let's hope not.

(Tangent: See, here's another chapter for the blawg book—how blogs are helping law students network and filling in the gaps in their education through the mentoring that practitioner and professor bloggers provide. Oh wait, no time for such tangents now. Nose down, keep going...)

Posted 02:10 PM | Comments (2)

March 12, 2004

The Law Blog Book

Thinking about the law student blogs I read regularly and all the other law blogs out there gives me an idea: The history of blogging does not stretch back too far, and specifically, blogs by law students seem to be a relatively new phenomenon. Wouldn't now be a good time for a book about law school blogs and maybe law blogs more generally? I mean, as a sort of document of their development, a snapshot of this phenomenon before it goes nuclear and everyone has a law blog?

Some content ideas:

History and General Scope: Who was the first law blogger? The first law student blogger? Is there any sort of evolution that can be traced from the first law school blogs to those of today? What are the most popular law school blogs and why? Are there any common denominators among law school bloggers (other than the fact they have blogs)?

Blogs in School: What role do law school blogs play at different schools? This could be a main focus: Some law school bloggers report that their profs read their blogs -- is this a good thing? Does blog content come up in class or office hours? Do any schools take an "official" position on blogging (as in, do they try to control who has blogs and what they say)? There was a mini-brouhaha at Michigan about the "White Lancer" who apparently crossed a line by "bashing" a professor and a fellow student. Are there more examples of this? More important, are there good examples of law student blogs actually having a positive effect on the classroom environment or the quality of legal education in general?

Faculty and Blogs: This may be a subset of the above, or its own "chapter," but there are lots of fascinating law professor blogs. What role are they playing? Do students commonly read their professors' blogs? Are professors finding this channel of communication to be helfpul? (Presumably yes, otherwise they wouldn't blog, but we could try to learn more about this.)

The Future of Blogs in School: Blogs could be a dynamic teaching tool. Are any profs using blogs specifically as requirements for class (i.e., requiring each student to post once or more in a semester)? In what ways could blogs be used to improve the impersonal (and deeply flawed) assembly-line/mass production nature of legal education? In what ways might blogs only make that "teaching" model worse (i.e., will blogs encourage moves toward online education rather than classroom-based education)?

And why stop there? Why not a chapter on Practitioners' Blogs? Judicial blogs? Paralegal blogs? The future and different legal questions raised by blogs in different legal contexts (ethics, conflicts of interest, privacy, etc.) It need never end! The general point would be a populist/academic look at blogging the law. The target audience would include (in something like this order): future and current law students, current law faculty, all legal practitioners, the blogging community in general, anyone else w/an interest in blogging and/or developments in the law.

This could either be a solo project or an edited collection of essays, or it could take some other collaborative form. Could a book like this be written online? On blogs? (I'd say yes.)

So who wants to do what? Come on, you've got nothing better to do this summer, do you?
Posted while listening to: The Amendment Song from the album "A Song For All Seasons" by The Viper and His Famous Orchestra

Posted 06:44 AM | Comments (6)

March 09, 2004

Journal Competition Notes

It is done! Spring Break has begun! In fact, it began yesterday afternoon around 6 p.m. In all, I spent a fairly concentrated three days reading eight cases, one snippet of congressional debate, two articles from law journals, a collection of four essays, a newspaper article, and an article from Reason magazine. It was about 200 pages in all, from which I produced a table of authorities and a 6-page "note." You might think I'm crazy, but all I want is you. Er, I mean... You might think I'm crazy, but I actually kind of had fun writing that note. I enjoyed it. In fact, it may have been the most enjoyable part of law school so far. Maybe. But it was definitely the best writing assignment so far. I'm still trying to figure out exactly why that is, but I know it has a lot to do with the fact that this assignment called for a type of creative critical thinking I haven't found a way to employ in my briefs and memos.

Anyway, the subject was generally violence in the media and the First Amendment. The subject case was Sanders v. Acclaim Entertainment, Inc. (PDF), a suit brought by the widow and stepchildren of Dave Sanders, the teacher killed by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine High School in 1999. The plaintiffs argued that the makers and distributors of the movie "The Basketball Diaries" and several violent video games were negligent in making and distributing these materials, and were therefore liable for Sanders' death. A Colorado judge dismissed the claims on the defendants' 12(b)(6) motion, and argued that, like so many similar claims, these were barred by the First Amendment.

Doesn't that just sound fascinating? It was and it wasn't, but it was fun to argue that all these cases are silly because the media don't kill people, people kill people. Ok, that's not exactly what I argued, but sort of. It's hard to be very nuanced or original when you're limited to six pages and a set group of authorities. The point is, it's done, it was fun, and spring break has begun. I'm off to Tahiti. Have a nice week, everyone!

Note: ai is not going to Tahiti unless Tahiti is somewhere in Washington D.C. around 20th and J street. However, where ai goes in ai's mind is entirely up to him. So there.

Posted 07:06 AM | Comments (1)

March 07, 2004


And then it was brief-writing time, which is over for me, but not apparently not for others. So, for anyone who would like to format a Table of Contents (TOC) in Word where the page numbers are all aligned nicely on the right-hand side with dot leaders between the TOC sections and their corresponding page numbers, the easiest thing is to make Word generate the TOC for you. Go to: Insert -->Index and Tables.... --> TOC.

But then, if tabs elude you, then I'm guessing Styles are not your friend, and you must apply styles for Word to do its TOC automagically. So instead of a primer on Styles (which maybe I'll do another day if anyone's interested, though I'm sure primers on these things abound elsewhere), here's a "brief" bit o' tab magic (pun intended):

  1. Before beginning, "Save As" a copy so that if you mess things up, you can revert to what you've got. ;-)
  2. Select (highlight/drag mouse over) the text you'd like to align. Go to Format --> Tabs.
  3. In the "Tab Stop Position" box, set a tab at 6.5 or 7", click the box/button for a a RIGHT tab, and click the box/button for a "dot" leader.
  4. Click "Set." Then click "ok."
  5. Go back to your TOC, and delete all the periods you put in between your section headings and the page numbers.
  6. Once all periods are gone, click at the end of your section headings and hit the tab key. Your page numbers should now jump to the right side of the page with a dot leader in between. They will now all line up perfectly.
Note: This won't work if you have any additional tab stops set between your section headings and your page numbers. To see if you have extra, unnecessary tab stops set, click w/in your TOC and look up at the ruler just above your "page." If you see a bunch of little triangles or right-angle arrows, those are tabs. If everything on the left side of your page is supposed to be flush-left, then the only tab you'll need is the right tab you set in the instructions above, so you can just drag all the "extras" out of the ruler and they'll disappear. Or, if you find it easier, go to Format --> Tabs, click "Clear All," then reset the right-tab according to the above instructions.

I hope that helps. For a time in my past I was a professional Word jockey, so I have a little Word-fu if you have more questions or if my instructions are unclear.

Now it's back to that journal competition thingy for me...

Posted 10:05 AM | Comments (7)

March 05, 2004

Let the fun begin!

As of today, Spring Break has begun!

Except that it hasn't.

In a brilliant bit of scheduling, the beginning of spring break at GW just happens to coincide perfectly with the beginning of the journals write-on competition. So, instead of flying off to warm and sunny locales to forget about the law for a whole week, GW 1Ls are hunkering down with their computers, highlighters, and bluebooks to dig into over 200 pages of the most fascinating reading they've ever encountered. Doesn't that sound like fun?

Thus far this competition is distinguished by the seriousness with which it takes itself. For weeks I've heard a steady drumbeat of cautions against violating any of the competition's rules, followed always by ominous threats of the consequences for such violations. My favorite threat: You may be disqualified from even taking the bar exam. Horror of horrors! Say it isn't so! The rules are much like those of "Fight Club," so of course the first rule is: You don't talk about the journals competition. Yeah, that's the second rule, too.

Oops. Did I just mention the journal competition? I may have just violated the whole honor code and rules of the thing. Ssssh! Don't tell anyone!

So, ok. I have until 8 p.m. next Monday to get through this packet, Bluebook a list of about 17 sources, and write a 6-page note. And since I can't say more than that, I won't.

But I will say that I can't wait to be finished with this so spring break can begin for real. In the past month I've prepared for and competed in a Client Counseling Competition and a Mock Trial Competition, and I've written and turned in a brief for the Moot Court Competition, which will actually take place at the end of March. Sheesh. And I'm doing all these competitions why?

Oh well, no time to think about that now -- it's Bluebook time!

Posted 04:12 PM | Comments (9)

They're Alive And Well

The other day I was wondering what happened to Lawless Gal and Liable. It turns out, they're both alive and well and living in Finland. Er, I mean, they're alive and well and attending their respective law schools with much success, if not without challenge. Lawless has picked up the blogging stick again (and she got a summer job -- congratulations!), and Liable provided a brief update of her own progress:

I'm still reading blogs occasionally, but after spending all day typing I just can't make myself do anymore typing in the evenings. But I'll give a quick update: 1. I like law school, but I'd give it all up for a couple rainy Saturdays spent in bed, just lounging. 2. I will be working in a small firm here in the MWU city this summer. The job searching phenomenon was stressful, but turned out for the best. 3. I'm WAY behind right now, as LW has taken up most of the semester. Spring break = I'm in the library, outlining. 4. Fall grades were good, and included a CALI. 5. Practice orals were stressful. Final rounds are nexty week.

Thanks, AI, for letting me update here. Maybe once LW is over I can blog a little...

Glad to be of service! And I'm more glad to hear that Lawless and Liable are doing so well. I don't even know what schools they attend, but I still feel like we're all part of the same "class" -- the same cohort, if you will, the "blawg class of 2006." I'm sure they'd each populate the class a little differently according to which blogs they've followed most closely throughout the last year or so, but for me the class is a rather small one, including Lawless, Liable, and DG. Theirs were the blogs I read last summer as we all planned and prepared to start this law school thing, and theirs are the blogs I continue to check daily, just to see how everything's going. The class has grown since school started to include other 1L blogs I read daily (or close to it), such as Glorfindel of Gondolin, Letters of Marque, Transmogriflaw, and Musclehead. Of course, I read a lot of other blogs regularly, but my fellow 1Ls have a special place above the others. I guess you could call it a sort of class pride.

Posted 02:29 PM | Comments (5)

February 29, 2004

Brief Travesty

The weather today in D.C. is arguably the nicest it has been in months -- sunny, clear, and around 60 degrees. All that sunshiny spring goodness is just begging for people of sound mind and body to get out for a hike or a bike ride or a stroll along the shore of the Potomac. But the weather is mocking me, because instead of going out and enjoying this first great taste of spring, I'm sitting inside, hunched over this damned machine, in a death match with my final legal writing/moot court competition brief.

Law school, I curse you.

Posted while listening to: Holdin' On - High On Hope from the album "Tuff Jams - Speed Garage" by Various Artists - Ultra Records

Posted 11:15 AM | Comments (1)

February 26, 2004

Advice for Insomniacs

If you ever have trouble sleeping, try reading about the Rule Against Perpetuities (RAP) in a property law textbook. I guarantee you'll find yourself falling asleep almost immediately. That is all.

Posted 07:33 PM

February 25, 2004

Owning Precedent

Aside from being today's model of bad writing, Peralta v. Heights Medical Center comes in a line of CivPro reading about dismissing cases (Rules 55 and 41). The reading raises the question:

Who "owns" the judgment of a court? In legal systems in which the judges do the primary investigation of cases (as is true in most civil law systems), the question seems to have a clear answer: The court does. In a system like that of the United States, in which the parties do most of the work involved in presenting evidence and arguing law, do they thereby gain a moral claim to "ownership" of the ensuing judgment? .... The opinion in Bonner Mall rejects such a view, quoting from a dissent of Justice Stevens, in which he contended that "precedents . . . are presumptively correct and valuable to the legal community as a whole. They are not merely the property of the private litigants. . . ." One coudl think of this statement in a number of ways. One would be as a matter of cost accounting: Court "costs" paid by litigants do not come close to paying the expense of operating the judicial system, which is heavily subsidized by tax dollars. What if they did? Should it matter that the parties offer to compensate the system for the full costs of adjudication? Stephen C. Yeazell, Civil Procedure, 5th ed. 601-602, Aspen Publishers, 2000.

What an intriguing set of questions. We already live in a society where an individual or corporation can copyright or trademark a word or phrase, how far are we from private ownership/control over legal precedents? When or if such a thing became possible, it would likely be only a matter of time before huge new corporations sprung up to buy and control as many precedents as they could, licensing them for use at extortionate prices that would increase the costs of litigation by orders of magnitude. Can't you just see this as the basis of some great dystopian sci-fi novel? Blade Runner meets The Firm?

Posted 07:11 AM | Comments (1)

Passive Voice Be Damned!

An open plea to everyone who writes, but especially judges writing decisions and lawyers writing briefs and memos: Please write in an active voice!

Here's just a small sample of the kind of obtuse and just plain sloppy writing law students and lawyers have to read every day, with my increasingly disgruntled questions for the writer (Justice White) in brackets:

In June 1984, appellant began a bill of review proceeding in the Texas courts to set aside the default judgment and obtain the relief. In the second amended petition, it was alleged [by whom?] that the return of service itself showed a defective service and that appellant in fact had not been personally served [by whom?] at all. ... It was also alleged [by whom!?] that the judgment was abstracted and recorded [by whom!?] in the county real property records, thereby creating a cloud on appellant's title, that a writ of attachment was issued [by whom!?], and that, unbeknownst to him, his real property was sold [for great sakes, by whom?] to satisfy the judgment and for much more than its true value. Peralta v. Heights Medical Center, 485 U.S. 80 (1988).

In some cases it's hard for a writer to determine who is responsible for an action, but then, part of your job as a writer is to make yourself clear, and if that means rewriting or doing a little more research to figure out exactly who did what, then that's what you should do. But no, not judges and attorneys. Instead, they just resort to endless strings of passive voice that get so tangled up and knotted that frustrated readers have no recourse other than to throw up their hands and beg for mercy.

I'm begging, but not for mercy, just a some subjects to go along with these verbs, please. Subject, verb, object. Spot is running. Peralta alleged. Heights Medical did not serve Peralta at all. Peralta also alleged. The Texas court (I assume, but I'm guessing) abstracted and recorded the judgment. The Texas court issued a writ of attachment and the sheriff sold Peralta's real property to satisfy the judgment.

It's really not that hard, plus it makes you look smart and clear and precise so that all your readers will love and praise you through the ages. And really, what more could a legal writer want?

Note: Like Three Years of Hell, I'm well into that tired and cranky point of the semester, so if this sounds overly harsh, a slight lack of sleep and generally low levels of patience would be why. Still, please write in an active voice! Thank you.

Posted 06:31 AM | Comments (3)

February 24, 2004

You Are Rule 8(a)!

You are Rule 8, the most laid back of all the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. While your
forefather in the Federal Rules may have been a
stickler for details and particularity, you
have clearly rebelled by being pleasant and
easy-going. Rule 8 only requires that a
plaintiff provide a short and plain statement
of a claim on which a court can grant relief.
While there is much to be lauded in your
approach, your good nature sometimes gets you
in trouble, and you often have to rely on your
good friend, Rule 56, to bail you out.

Which Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

[quiz via Three Years of Hell and Not for Sheep]

Posted 06:31 AM

February 22, 2004

Lessons from a Mock Trial

I spent yesterday (from about 8:30-3:30) inside the DC Superior Court pretending to be a prosecuting attorney. It was fun, exciting, exhausting, and just extremely difficult! I wish I had some great lessons or advice to share after the experience, but probably the best I can do is confirm what you'll hear from anyone who's done it before: There's just no such thing as too much preparation.

I can't emphasize that enough: If you're doing mock trial, you have to know the facts -- every one of them -- cold. I didn't, and I got nailed a couple of times for it. Of course, you should also know the Federal Rules of Evidence pretty much backwards and forwards, as well as how to introduce and use exhibits to the best advantage. Why don't law schools just make this part of the first semester curriculum? I mean, wouldn't an intro to trial procedure, evidence, and advocacy be a good introduction to the law? A school could replace contracts or torts with one a more practical class like this, and I think its students would be well served.

But we don't learn evidence or trial procedures or advocacy in our first year, so we just had to wing it. Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched or participated in about four mock trials based on the same case materials (that's counting scrimmages and participating as a competitor in one instance and a witness in another), and each "trial" was very very different from the others. This tells me that you have to be prepared for anything, and have contingency plans for any approach your opponents might throw at you. So again, the main lesson is: Be prepared.

In all, I learned an incredible amount, but participating in Mock Trial has only deepened my ambivalence about being a trial lawyer. While the preparation part seems enjoyable and satisfying, the actual trial part seems like a crap shoot. Does the judge like you? Do you have the right "style"? Does the judge or jury like it that you cross your witnesses aggressively, or did you lose them there? Did you wear the right clothes? Did you hold your notes in an acceptable manner? All of these things seem so hard to predict or control.

But worse: Can you really think fast enough on your feet to solve all the random problems that might arise in a trial? Can you recover and reroute on the fly when your own witness gives you the exact opposite answer you were looking for and threatens to torpedo your case? Can you remember the exact spot in the deposition where the opposing witness impeached herself? Can you keep in your head the five different points opposing counsel misrepresented so that you can effectively explain and spin them in your close? And even if you can keep them in your head, can you find that effective spin in the two minutes you have to actually prepare that close?

I admire trial lawyers even more after doing mock trial. They have to be brilliant, no "ifs" or "buts" about it. But do I want to be one? Do I have what it takes? For now, I guess that will remain a question of fact to be left to the jury....

Posted 09:34 AM | Comments (3)

February 20, 2004

1L Summer Dilemma -- Help?

I expected and feared that the 1L summer job hunt would be long and arduous. Instead, it's looking like it might be short and sticky. Here's the deal:

I've been offered a great summer position w/a nearby public defender's office. This job would give me time watching trials, interviewing clients, collecting evidence, helping to write memos, and even conducting mock trials w/my fellow summer interns. In short, it would give me incredible experience and I'm excited by the opportunity. They've offered me the job and they want to know within a week or so whether I'm going to accept.

However, I was also lucky enough to get an interview with a major labor union offering a summer fellowship through the Peggy Browning Fund. This would also be an incredible, but very different experience. The big trouble is, the interview isn't for 2 more weeks and then I'm sure they won't pick a candidate for at least a few days after that. That means I won't know if my interview could really be a job for possibly three more weeks.

So the question is: What should I do? My options appear to be roughly:

  1. Take the public defender job I know I've got and just plan to say "no" to the union if they offer me a job. (I think I should go to the union interview either way for the experience and the "networking.")
  2. Try to stall the public defender job for 2-3 weeks until I know whether I'll get an offer from the union, then choose.
  3. Say "no" to the public defender job I know I've got in the hope that I'll get an offer from the union.
The pros of the public defender job are that I know I have it and it would give me great experience. If I want to be a public defender, it would seem to be the perfect 1L summer job. (Of course, it would probably be great experience no matter what type of law I end up practicing.) The cons are that I'm not sure I want to be a public defender (it's high on the list of possibilities, but I'm still not completely convinced). Also, the position comes with zero dollars so I'd have to find funding through GW or elsewhere. Another con is that it's too far away to be bikeable and it's not very convenient by public transportation (at least an hour each way). Do I really want to have to drive to and from work every day? (Woman of the Law and Stay of Execution have been having car trouble that makes me glad I don't really have to drive at all in my current situation.)

The pros of the union job are that it would be a big step toward a career as a labor lawyer, which really sounds great to me. While I remain unsure about being a public defender, I'm nearly certain I'd be a great labor lawyer and that I'd love doing that. Another "pro" is that the union job comes with money and whatever "prestige" a Peggy Browning Summer Fellowship would grant. Finally, the union is very nearby; I could bike to work in about 5-10 minutes every day. The big cons of the union job: I don't have it yet. I only have an interview, and that's still a long way from a job offer.

So what should I do? Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.

Posted 08:19 AM | Comments (12)

Rule of BadLaw

There's a fascinating discussion going on over at Letters of Marque in response to Anthony's complaint: The "pious guardians of the rule of law" (Anthony targets the NY Times as an example) complained about former Judge Roy Moore's fight to keep the Ten Commandments monument in his courtroom; however, those same "pious guardians" are not now complaining as San Francisco Mayor Newsom allows gay couples to marry. (Incidentally, Anthony's complaint seems to be a right wing meme, although it looks like Anthony posted before Rush did.)

My favorite comment thus far (scroll down) comes from the arbitrary aardvark:

As a government official, the mayor took an oath of office to uphold the constitution and laws of california and of the united states. If california, by initiative, passed a (statute - i think that's the term i want) saying blacks could not marry whites, the mayor would be obligated to ignore that and issue marriage licenses to mixed race couples. Such an initiative would not be law, because it conflicts with the equalprotection clauses of the california constitution and is void. Similarly, the South Carolina constitution until recently banned mixed-race marriages, but this clause was void due to the Supremacy Clause and equal protection under the federal constitution. Our obligation, as lawyers, lawyer wannabes, office-holders, some of you may be veterans, anyone who has sworn to uphold the constitution, is to do so. Now, today, not to wait for a court. I'm under the impression the mayor genuinely believes he is following the california constitution. Failure to do so can be malfeasance in office, a federal felony (18 usc 241?), and a breach of ethics. Moore, on the other hand, as far as I know, was deliberately acting in defiance of the constitution. I deal pretty much daily with government lawyers who seek to enforce unconstitutional statutes. I consider this profoundly unethical, as well as illegal. I am aware that my position is a minority one. But I'm right :).


In random "blawg" news, enbanc, a group blog with which I was very very briefly associated, has met a mysterious and unilateral end.

Ripping straight from the headlines at JD2B, don't miss the six kinds of law students (Survivors rule!), a rhymed rendition of Marbury v. Madison (also brilliant!), and appellate blawger extraordinaire Howard Bashman's thoughts on how to become an appellate lawyer. Somehow I fear Survivors do not often become appellate lawyers, you think?

Finally, the National Coalition for Students with Disabilities has a new blog and is looking for submissions. They're also looking for interns and volunteer help, so scoot over there if you've got some time to spare or are looking for a good public interest gig for the summer.

Posted 07:32 AM

February 19, 2004

Cold Call Close Call

Only one of this semester's Profs uses the old cold call method to elicit class participation. ProfContracts is sticking with his wonderful method of simply moving methodically up and down each row, calling on each person in turn, so you can always know well in advance if you're going to be one of the people called on in the next class. ProfProperty uses a completely volunteer system, at least until he gets down to that frightened little core that can't bring themselves to ever raise their hands, at which point he's assured us he'll cold call, if necessary. ProfConLaw uses a fairly inefficient row-by-row method, so you can know if your row is going to be "on call" on a given day, but you don't know if you'll get called on that day or not. It's inefficient because she doesn't seem to be able to keep very good track of who she has and hasn't called on, and I don't think we're moving through people at an adequate pace to get to everyone this semester (which is fine by me). But whatever. It's ProfCivPro who's sticking with the straight cold-call method, leaving us all wondering, every single day, if this could be our day to be in the hotseat.

Apparently, yesterday was my day.

Somehow I wondered if it might be. I had a feeling. I don't know why, but it may have had something to do with the fact that I skipped the last class last Friday (there were reasons!) and hadn't looked at the material at all in about a week. That's always a good way to put your name at the top of the cold-call list: Go to class completely unprepared. So I'd prepared a good response if she called on me. It was going to go like this:

ProfCivPro: Mr. ambimb, could you tell us what Justice Harlan was thinking in his Hannah dissent?

Me: Well, um, is failing to read a criminal offense?

ProfCivPro: (baffled) What? Why do you ask?

Me: Because I'd like to plead the fifth.

Wouldn't that be really funny, ha ha? But of course, when ProfCivPro called on me, I didn't say anything like that. Instead, I read from the book. Luckily, I had read the material she was asking about; it had just been so long since I'd read it or looked at it that I didn't remember what it was about. So ProfCivPro would ask a question, I'd scan the sentences I'd highlighted sometime last week or the week before, and just start reading one that sounded like it might be on the topic of her question. At the end of the sentence, I'd raise the tone of my voice so it would sound like I was asking a question, i.e. "is that the answer you were looking for?" I hoped this would signal ProfCivPro she better not press me too hard because I didn't really know what I was talking about, and mostly it worked. She'd just start talking and fill in the explanation that she'd really been looking for from me. Overall, the strategy worked, and by the time she'd finished questioning me, I actually understood what we'd been talking about. My final bit of luck came when ProfCivPro moved on to her next respondent at precisely the point where my previous reading (and highlighting) had ended. She even congratulated me on a job well done.

Not bad, considering I'd entered class planning to just throw myself on her mercies if she called on me. I'm thinking I better be extra careful for a while because my personal storehouse of luck is now completely empty. I guess that means my mock trial opponents this Saturday are going to have a pretty easy time of it.

Posted 06:59 AM | Comments (4)

February 17, 2004

You Object Again?

Against most of my better judgment and the requirements of sanity, I'm competing in GW's mock trial competition coming up this weekend and I'm chagrined to report: Mock Trial is hard! For a 1L who has spent a total of about two hours in court and who has never enjoyed watching "Law and Order" type shows,* trying to learn the mechanics of a trial (requests of the court, motions in limine, openings, objections, crosses, objections, directs, objections, redirects, objections, closings), plus the federal rules of evidence, plus the facts of the case -- it's been a huge task.

That said, I'm happy to report: Mock Trial is fun! Although I wasn't excited to play a criminal prosecutor, I've really gotten into the role. It's a fascinating exercise to pore over witness statements and evidence, to plan your direct examinations and prepare your witnesses, and to try to imagine what the other side is going to throw at you. I now understand why trial lawyers can often be great fiction writers -- to prepare for a trial, you have to create the perfect (and perfectly plausible) story to explain how all the facts fit together just right to make your case to the jury. I've literally spent hours just coming up with my questions for a direct examination of a witness, but the time just flies. I'm sure I'd feel differently if real lives and real futures were on the line, but for now, when it's all just make-believe, I'd much rather prep trial than read cases and go to class.

The hardest part so far: Learning how to question witnesses without every question raising an objection, while also learning how to listen to opposing council's questions to know when I should be objecting. My nightmare scenario is that our entire case in chief gets destroyed by the other side's objections so that we leave the jury without a clue of our theory of the case. Competition is Saturday. Isn't going to class optional?

* I just saw my first episode of "Law and Order" a few weeks ago and was completely underwhelmed. Why do people like this show? The acting was flat and monotonous; every line was rattled off as if by rote in a mechanical, the-clock-is-ticking-here style. Plus, the plot was so completely predictable, why bother watching?

Posted 06:22 AM | Comments (4)

February 13, 2004

What Better Profession?

In response to Transmogriflaw's post about brief-writing, and Legal Undeground's post about Richard Ford, Stay of Execution once again offers a tantalizing gem of insight into what it's like to practice law, and why it can sometimes, well, suck.

Sherry's whole post is certainly worth reading (and it's not long), but here's the heart of it for me: After explaining that the key to a good brief is to separate your own feelings from your client's interests, Sherry writes:

When Evan asks the rhetorical question of what's not to like in this profession, that would be my answer. We stop being principals in the world and act instead as the agents of other people. We defend their positions, not our own. We look out for their interests, zealously. We articulate their arguments, not ours, even though it is we who are coming up with those arguments. It requires something that on one hand is pretty cool -- a precise ability to parse out arguments and set aside emotion, to be extremely clear about just who you represent at any moment and just what is and is not their (and therefore your) concern right now. It is the essence of that mysterious "thinking like a lawyer" phrase that sort of happens to you sometime late in 1L year. But on the other hand it is an abdication sometimes of our own agency, our own voice. And that is something I still struggle with sometimes.

That may be the best argument I've yet heard for doing everything you possibly can to find a legal job that fits you, rather than one that just pays well or gives you prestige or credentials or whatever. Does job satisfaction directly correspond with the degree to which your client's values and interests match your own?

Beyond that, I find this description of lawyers as split selves -- one self that advocates zealously for the clients' interests, one that lives the rest of the lawyer's life -- just a little disturbing at the moment, making me wonder yet again: Is this really the life I want to live?

Perhaps I'm just scared of something -- the debt, the pressure, the stress of practice. But the context of Evan's question (the question to which Sherry was responding) raises two other possibilities. Evan wrote:

But to someone who wants to pay the money and serve the time to get the degree--what better profession is there? A world of possibilities and options are available to lawyers. Only the unimaginative are cut off by their embrace of the “calling of law.”

So maybe I don't really want to pay the money and serve the time to get the degree. Or maybe I'm just unimaginative.

Oooorrrr..... maybe I should quit thinking about things like this and do my reading, brief-writing, and mock trial preparation. Yeah, maybe.

Posted 06:47 AM | Comments (1)

February 12, 2004

She's now a Rockstar

Congratulations to Bekah, who just took what sounds like a dream job.

Posted 05:58 AM

February 11, 2004

Dubious Honor

Thanks to Falconred, I've learned that ai is currently the number one Google search result for "law school sucks." This is a dubious honor, at best. I mean, law school does, in many ways, suck, I certainly don't think ai is the best resource for people looking for more information on that particular search string. Sure, I do complain about law school pretty much all the time, but I'm sure many other people out there are doing a much better job. Can you recommend any good candidates to which I can redirect these sad searchers?

Posted 06:30 AM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2004

Not Waving, Drowning

Only a year ago it seems I was already thinking about what I would do if I found that law school sucks. Unfortunately, the helpful comments I linked to on that day over at Nikki, Esq. are gone (scroll down to Feb 7 to see where they were), because Nikki has closed up shop. The problem with relying on blogs (or any web site, really) to save information -- they can disappear any time and without notice. Will ai one day just be a bunch of links to nowhere?

But I'm not finding that law school sucks, exactly, I've just been trying to get some perspective on it. Perhaps that perspective is too much to ask at this point, while I'm in the middle of it, juggling obligations and, to borrow a metaphor from the inimitable Famous P., waiting for the train. So meanwhile, here are two point five questions for anyone with experience in this stuff or an opinion or a thought:

1. Should a 1L really try to write on to law review, or would my time be better spent trying to get a note published? (Part of the context of this question is Stay of Execution's argument that law review is a waste of time, and Legal Underground's counterargument that it's worth it.)

1.5. Can anyone recommend a good online source for journal notes so that I can read some examples before making the decision on #1, above?

2. Do all 1Ls compete in all these damned competitions (ADR, Client Counseling, Mock Trial, Moot Court, um, what else?), or am I just at an insane school? Another option: Am I just insane?

Posted 06:50 AM | Comments (5)

February 08, 2004

Sunday Morning

sisu says hi

The weekend supposedly means a chance to breathe again. The pace of this semester has seemed to ratchet up on an almost daily basis, to the point where I spend almost no time with L., no time for proper correspondence, no time to step back and try to see what's happening outside my little world of school and politics and school and school. Even my supposed dog just sniffs at me when I come in the door, "Oh, it's just you," then walks away.

About this time a year ago, I was giddy with relief and pride and happiness because I'd finally been granted admission to a couple of law schools. Oh for those halcyon days of yore! Excitement about law school, where have you gone?

Ok. I can't resist melodrama. Law school isn't bad, exactly, it's just a whole lot more tedium and work than anticipating law school was. To be honest, hardly a day has passed since school started last August that I haven't thought about leaving. "You gotta get out of here" is sort of like a broken record in my head. I'd probably think that meant something if I hadn't lived with some form of it for nearly my entire life. Ambivalence is a curse, unless it's a virtue. ;-)

So today, well into second semester, I don't think it was a mistake to come here (D.C.) and do this (law school), but I don't think it was the right thing to do either. Call me a world-champion second-guesser, but as L. seems to move closer every day toward the kind of writing career I've always dreamed about but thought impossible, I can't help but think how ridiculous it was for me to think law school was a good idea. I think about this for a while every day or so, then I quickly drown it out with the myths or mantras that got me here: "It's only money. It's about doing something meaningful; you get your J.D., and you'll be in a much better position to do more of what needs to be done in this world. The point of a J.D. is the sudden power it brings you." Or something like that. Other times the internal monologue is more pragmatic: "You can't leave now; how would you ever pay off all that debt?"

All that debt, indeed. In a brilliant little post entitled "law school decision time myths," Transmogriflaw lists "it's only money" as numero uno, and she couldn't be more right. The trouble is, if you don't allow yourself to believe this myth, how could you ever start law school?

Here's how: Go to the cheapest school you can get into! That was my plan when I started this adventure. I talked myself into it after seeing a friend earn a full ride to a quality school on the basis of a high LSAT score and a great application essay. I figured, hey, I can do that. Looking back, it seems that was the beginning of a slippery slope I'm still descending. If I can go free, why not? I thought. And if I can't go free, at least I can earn some good scholarships and grants to bring the cost down into the reasonable realm. And if I can't go for free, and if I can't earn enough scholarships and grants, I can always just go to an inexpensive school. And if I can't go for free, and if I can't earn enough scholarships and grants, and if I can't go to an inexpensive school, I can just not go at all. That will be a clear indicator that I shouldn't be going to law school. See: "But I've already decided that I won't go if I have to pay more than $30k for it, so that's a little easier."

Yeah. That's what I thought. Somehow all that thinking morphed along the way into something completely different. Transmogriflaw's Myth Three began to operate, working overtime to make me ignore my nagging doubts. "The debt won't matter so much because I'll be able to get a job that pays well enough I won't notice those big loan payments. And if I don't get a job that pays very well, I'll use my school's LRAP to take care of those big bills. And if my school's LRAP won't take care of those bills..." I never really found an answer to that one, but here I am, anyway.

And somewhere along the way, Myth Four kicked in. Yes, I had to apply to the top schools I could reasonably hope to get into, and yes, I had to go to the best one that admitted me. Looking back, I'm sure Myths Three and Four worked together. When I started thinking about law school, I didn't think this way at all, but it became a sort of inevitable, self-generating process. The more I learned about law school and getting in and all that, the more I had to seriously confront the likelihood that I would have to incur incredible debt to go. And the only way to get my mind around all that debt was to try to believe that whatever job I got would cover it. And in order to get that "job that pays enough," I had to go to the best school I could get into. I had to. There was no other option. After all, isn't that the law school applicant's Prime Directive?

So now, here I am, in law school, in debt, less than thrilled about the whole thing. Not miserable, not thrilled. Just trying to understand where I've been so I can figure out where I'm going. In a comment on the always excellent and inimitableStay of Execution, "tex" writes:

At some point, you've got to quit doing things you don't want to do to get to where you think you want to be -- otherwise, you'll end up somewhere you *don't* want to be...

So true. So true.

Where do you think you want to be? Are you doing the things it takes to end up there? Maybe a better question is: Can we ever really know the answers to these questions?

In addition to drawing thoughtful comments like those from "tex,"Scheherazade, an attorney practicing at a small firm in Maine, also recently posted some thoughts about how dispiriting the practice of law can sometimes be. She writes:

My job is just fighting about money with people who will all, at the end of the day, go home and sleep in their own beds. Partly I do this work because fighting about money is fun and interesting, but I know another reason I do it is because at the end of the day it's not so bone-crushingly HEAVY. And when I get glimpses of what I'm avoiding it makes me really sad, and it makes me feel like a fake and a liar.

Perhaps feelings like these can be reduced by the type of law a person chooses to practice, but the more I learn about it, the more I doubt that's true. It's begun to appear almost inevitable that, no matter what direction I choose to take in law, I'll end up having to represent clients I don't want to represent, who want me to accomplish things I believe are wrong. It may be impossible to know where you want to go in life, but it's generally a bit easier to know where you don't want to go, isn't it?

Posted 07:24 AM | Comments (6)

February 07, 2004

Public Defender Interviews

Any 1Ls still looking for a job for the coming summer?

I just interviewed for a position with a public defender's office and it sounds like it would be an incredible way to spend the summer. Days would be packed with client interviews, factual investigation, memo-writing, court-watching, and weekly mock-trials with practicing attorneys and your co-interns. If, like me, you hope to use your J.D. to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted, there may be no better way for you to spend your time.

My interviewer suggested that the biggest challenge to working as a public defender is managing the moral or ethical challenge of defending people who are often guilty. As a public defender, your job isn't to find the truth, it's to defend your client. (In fact, often you'll work to suppress what appears to be the "truth" because it's prejudicial to your client's goals.) Obviously, it's not for everyone, but our legal system would crumble without people to defend the accused, who, after all, we must presume innocent until they're proven guilty.

Tip: As with any job, if you're going to interview for a public defender internship, think about how you might convince the interviewer that you understand the unique challenges involved with the job and that you're prepared to meet those challenges. Also, be sure to visit the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers so you can sound like you know a bit more about what you'll be getting into. It might also be good to have a clue about recent high-profile criminal cases in your area and who defended the accused in those cases. Finally, is there a well-known criminal defense attorney you admire? Dropping Johnny Cochran's name might not score too many points, but how about Judy Clarke, "the patron saint of defense lawyers"?

I have another interview this afternoon and obviously I'd love to have more in the near future. Any other tips for such things? Even better: What's the best way to get the interview in the first place?

Posted 10:17 AM | Comments (2)

February 06, 2004

ConLaw "Jeopardy Moment"

Is law school a super-geek paradise, or what? In an attempt to lighten the mood, Prof ConLaw opened class the other day with a "Jeopardy Moment." She said the U.S. has had eight presidents who were born in Virginia. The challenge was to name them all, Jeopardy-style. Prof ConLaw became Alex Trebek, and four students became contestants. This is what passes for good times in law school classes, but now you can play, too! Can you name all eight?

  1. This president famously handed in his sword at the end of the Revolutionary War.

  2. This president, beloved by all, was actually a rather scheming character.

  3. This president started out as a nationalist, but became a state's rights kind of guy, and was the mentee of the lying scheming president we just discussed.

  4. This president was only an infant living in VA, a president of the deeper south, always rough and ready.

  5. This president was the first really to use federal power for significant internal improvements. He had is own doctrine.

  6. There's not much to say about this president because he was only in office for a month.

  7. This president was famous for the four principles or something like that. The four freedoms?

  8. Lucky for him, this president, who at the time was known as "his ascendancy," was the first Vice President to succeed a president who died in office.
For the answers, click "more."


  1. Who is George Washington?
  2. Who is Thomas Jefferson?
  3. Who is James Madison?
  4. Who is Zachary Taylor?
  5. Who is Monroe?
  6. Who is Harrison?
  7. Who is Wilson?
  8. Who is Tyler?

Oh, and in other "law fun": We glanced at laws governing western water rights in Property this week and Prof Property recommended "Chinatown" (in which people apparently get killed over water rights) and the "Milagro Beanfield War." You know, if you've got some free time...

Posted 06:40 AM

February 05, 2004

Code v. Common Law

Just a random thought: As we learn about the U.C.C. we get another chance to think about the pros and cons of a "continental" system of law—where every law is written into statutes, or codified—versus a common law system, where the law develops sort of evolutionarily through judicial decisions, each building on the other. My thought is this:

Codified or "continental" systems are very "modern" in the sense of 19th and 20th century modernity and its almost infinite belief in the perfectability of systems and human progress. When you set out to write every law into formalized statutes, you seem to be making a sort of implicit claim that it's possible to eventually write the law down exactly as it ought to be, in its most perfect form, and thereby have a complete and perfect system of law. Codified law assumes solid foundations and fixed rules.

On the other hand, common law systems are actually more "postmodern" in the sense of postmodernity's rejection of the idea of perfectability and certainty in almost every subject. By refusing to write the laws down in explicit, formal form, you're implicitly admitting that you'll never get the law "right" -- you'll never find the perfect statement or formulation that captures the law as it "ought" to be, in its best form; therefore, you're admitting that this decision is merely temporary, applicable to this set of facts only, and subject to change by all future decisions. Common law assumes contingent foundations and differance.

Yes? No? Is anyone familiar with any scholarship on this subject?

Posted 05:11 AM | Comments (3)

February 04, 2004

Lightly Kept in Bounds

We made the acquaintance of the U.C.C. in Contracts this week, and here is what I learned:

It is fair to say that the draftsmen of the Code had an anticodification or antistatute predilection. They did not want to codify the law, in the continental sense of codification. They wanted to correct some false starts, to point the law in the indicated directions, and to restore the law merchant as an institution for grwoth only lightly kept in bounds by statute.

Yeah, I'll bet. Got to give the "invisible hand of the market" free rein to work its magic, right? That invisible hand is sure working well in media markets, don't you think?.

Posted 06:34 AM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2004

Commissioner Copps

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps called for change yesterday in the way federal elections are covered in the media and suggested that the FCC place free airtime for presidential candidates higher on its agenda:

We really need to do something about [free airtime for federal campaigns] because what passes for political coverage in this country is a travesty.

Speaking at George Washington University Law School, Copps also said that recent media controversies -- including CBS censoring, Janet Jackson's bare breast at the Superbowl halftime show* and the censoring of the Dixie Chicks -- are "smoking guns" that prove that media concentration has gone much too far. Copps explained that most of America's media operations (including (tv stations tv networks, tv production operations, radio, cds, internet portals, movie studios, movie theatres, concert venues, etc) are owned by a handful of big media companies.

They own the methods of production and distribution. If that's not the classic definition of a monopoly, I don't know what is.

The event was entitled "Is Media Concentration in the Public Interest?" and was sponsored by the American Constitution Society.

Copps began with a brief overview of recent developments in media deregulation and the situation as it stands today. According to Copps, it's not a pretty picture. Last June the Commission voted 3-5 to relax media ownership rules, giving already huge corporations a chance to get even bigger. Copps called this a "tectonic shift" across a whole range of media issues, saying that with this and other recent actions, the Commission seems to be "rushing pell-mell toward breathtaking change" -- all while doing everything it can to keep the citizens who own the airwaves (you and me) from having any input in the process.

Copps argued that media concentration matters to regular citizens because it threatens the free exchange of information and ideas necessary for democracy to function.

According to Copps, the FCC has been and continues to face a choice about how American media will function. On the one side are the free-market cheerleaders, friends of big media who are pushing for more media control by fewer corporate giants, as if the media is just like any other business: Chairman Powell (son of Colin, yes, the Secretary of State), Kathleen Abernathy, and Kevin Martin. On the other side are the friends of democracy and American citizens, the Commissioners fighting for more local control, diversity, and competition in media markets: Copps and Jonathan Adelstein .

While, Copps said the free-market advocates have recently been winning the fight, there's still hope that their rush to deregulate the media can be turned around. That hope comes in the form of an unprecedented coalition of citizens and advocacy groups who have joined together to stand against media concentration. That coalition helped encourage the Senate to pass a resolution of disapproval against the FCC's changes last June. The resolution has been bottled up in the house by Republicans and the President who don't want it to come to a vote.

But Copps said the best way to save the media is to get involved. For more information, read anything by Robert McChesney, one of the founders of, where you'll find all the information you'll need to understand the problem of media consolidation, including ten things big media doesn't want you to know. NOW with Bill Moyers also reports frequently on the issue.

* Note: I personally think the brouhaha over Jackson's bare breast is insanely ridiculous; we have much larger things to worry about. Why didn't we hear this much public and official outrage when CBS censored MoveOn and PETA? Why were there no official inquiries and condemnations when Clear Channel censored the Dixie Chicks? We unleash all the indignation and anger we can muster when a breast appears on tv, but we hardly bat an eye when the complete disregard for freedom of speech threatens our very democracy. Sad.

Also, think for a minute about the ad CBS refused to run It's simply a reminder that huge deficits are probably bad for America's future. But CBS refused to run it because CBS would rather subject Superbowl fans to ads about crotches and fart jokes (the Budweiser ads, for example). At this rate, crotch and fart jokes will be the future of our country. Or are we already there?

Posted 06:27 AM | Comments (8)

February 02, 2004

Jobs and Journals

Now is the time in our law school careers when we despair.

As DG notes, the process of applying and interviewing for 1L summer jobs is in full swing, and there's nothing like this process to beat all hope and self-confidence right out of even the least neurotic law student. Case in point: I had a mock interview Friday, so I went to school in my monkey suit, which prompted the following conversation w/a fellow 1L who spent several years working in some business-related pursuit before coming to law school :

Fellow 1L: Why the suit?

Me: Mock interview.

Fellow 1L: Oh, do you have any interviews scheduled for the public interest interview program?

Me: Yeah, but just one -- out of 15 bids!

Fellow 1L: I didn't get any, but I don't really care about public interest.

Me: That's surprising, since you have some good work experience that I figured employers would love.

Fellow 1L: Yeah, but I didn't try to hard w/those applications. What about you? Don't you have some work experience?

Me: Sure, I spent the last four years teaching college English classes. I figured more employers would like to see that, that I'd get more than one interview out of 15 apps.

Fellow 1L: [frowns] Yeah, right. No one's going to want to hire you when they see you've never been in the real world.

Me: Oh. Yeah. Sure.

See? Conversations like that just make your day! I mean, what a great confidence builder! And I don't think the guy had a clue what a callous and ignorant insult he'd just delivered. But whatever. I went to my mock interview with a great guy from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. When it was over he said I did fine, and that the message my resume sent wasn't "academic who has never been in the real world," but "this guy sure has done a lot of things" or something like that. He said I had a good "story" that tied everything together and made my choice of law seem like a logical progression from my past work experiences. Like I said, he was a nice guy, but even if he was just trying to build my confidence, I appreciated it. For most of us, I don't think law school comes with nearly enough confidence-builders.

So now is the time on Sprockets when we dance! Not.

I mean, it appears that now is the time in law school when everyone gets incredibly pissy and jealous and neurotic about grades and jobs and did I mention jealous and anxious and scared? So people lash out at other people, maybe. Like a few people lashed out at Glorfindel last week, and more recently, the Ghost. Jealousy is an evil mistress, but I do hope Adam will reconsider: Don't give up the Ghost!!

As I glance at my bank statements and write yet another huge check for the huge amount of rent I pay in order to live close to school, the thought of possibly not getting a job this summer is, frankly, terrifying. The thought of getting a job that provides legal experience but no paycheck is only slightly less terrifying. But that's just the thing about this law school deal: If you happen to be lucky enough (or work hard enough, or whatever) to get a piece of good news like a good grade or a job offer, even then you don't get the props you deserve. Grad school was the same way -- an elaborate system of ritualized hazing.

And speaking of lack of confidence-builders and elaborate systems of ritualized hazing, GW's journal write-on competition is next month. I started law school thinking I'd try to write on to a journal for sure; now I'm much less certain. Luckily I don't have to decide in a vacuum: Stay of Execution says law review seems seriously overrated, while Notes from the (Legal) Underground says it was a great experience. I'll probably maybe give it a whirl. Probably maybe. Shockingly, I'm pretty ambivalent about it. ;-)

The next few weeks promise a furry of extracurricular confidence-busting opportunities. Next week includes my first oral argument for the brief I turned in last week (only 5 minutes under very relaxed conditions), an interview, a "Client Counseling Competition for the ADR Board, meetings for mock trial preparation, watching the final round of the upper-class moot court competition , and probably some other things I'm forgetting. The mock trial competition itself takes place in three weeks, and that journal write-on competition will be in about a month. I feel like Three Years of Hell: Where did January go? Is it just me, or does every 1L at this point feel like classes and reading are just something you do in your spare time?

p.s.: Happy (late) Birthday to Bekah!

Posted 05:57 AM | Comments (4)

January 30, 2004

Grade Explosion

Glorfindel of Gondolin dares to post his 1L grades—and gets kicked around for it in the comments. Yikes.

One of the more thoughtful commenters writes:

I've always considered that grades in law school (or any school) are like salaries at an office. You can bitch about them, talk about them in vague terms, but it's just impolite to talk about them. Why? Because the next guy might be doing the same job, just as well, but getting less money (for whatever reason). It's not fair, it's life, and it's polite just to leave that stuff off limits.

But see, this is the problem. So long as we keep salaries and grades secret, relegated to the realm of the "impolite" and the "personal," they'll retain their power over us. The issue of talking about income is the best example: We try to pretend that how much money we make doesn't matter, that we live in a classless society, that we're all middle class, etc. But rather than helping smooth social differences or improve our society in some other way, this willed ignorance about the huge income inequalities in the U.S. simply acts as a screen to hide the brutal effects of those inequalities from our collective "middle class" consciousness. We don't need to worry about poor people, because we're all middle class, right? And so long as we make sure we don't talk about income, we can also be sure our little "middle class" fantasy remains intact. Yay.

Grades work a little differently, I think, but they do seem to be much more powerful and influential as dark secrets we hide than they would be as bits of information we openly share. I suspect that the people who most fiercely refuse to discuss grades are those to whom they mean the most, either because those people have really high or really low grades, and either very proud or very ashamed of those grades. As with income, so with grades—the people on the extremes fear they have something to hide. If you have top grades, you don't want to tell because you're afraid people will think you're bragging, or that people will expect more from you, or that people will be afraid of you or more competitive with you or whatever. If you have bottom grades, you don't want to tell because you're afraid people will think you're stupid, they won't want to talk with you or study with you, they'll be unable to take anything you say seriously, etc.

But imagine a scenario where everyone gets their grades and then freely discusses them. Wouldn't that drain all the power from those little symbols? Wouldn't that show the world that grades are just stupid letters? Wouldn't that make law students collectively seem much smarter, much more mature, much more wise, showing that they understand that those letters have a huge arbitrary component and exist for one rotten thing only, namely, to divide law students into different brackets for employers to choose from? And most of all, wouldn't it show all those people on the top and bottom that nobody really cares half as much about their grades as they do?

Maybe. Maybe not. But after the rhetorical trouncing Carey got for publishing his grades, I'm less optimistic that people are ready to give it a try.

Posted 05:19 AM | Comments (10)

January 28, 2004

SCOTUS Humpty Dumpty

After overdosing on Democratic primary news recently, we now return to our regularly scheduled programming, which, at the moment, is a memo in support of a post-trial motion to acquit on charges of using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

In U.S. v. Sumler, 294 F.3d 579, 583 (3d Cir. 2002), the court is discussing what it means to "use" a firearm in connection with 18 U.S.C.S. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). Specifically, can a person "use" a firearm when that person receives the firearm as payment for drugs? (The SCOTUS has settled the question of whether giving a gun in exchange for drugs is "use," but the circuits are split on the question of receiving.) Eventually, this court says "yes, receiving a gun as payment for drugs is 'use' for purposes of this statute," but along the way it has to respond to the counter-argument that "there  is no grammatically correct way to express that a person receiving a payment is thereby 'using' the payment." United States v. Westmoreland, 122 F.3d (7th Cir. 1997). To this the Sumler court says:

Although we grant legitimacy to that argument, we cannot evade the brute fact that the Supreme Court in both Bailey and Smith explained that the word "use" means "barter." We recall Judge Learned Hand's admonition, "but it is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary . . . . " Cabel v. Markham, 148 F.2d 737, 739 (2d Cir. 1945). Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass stated it best when he said, "When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less." L. Carroll, Through the Looking Glass & What Alice Found There 124, reprinted in Journeys in Wonderland (Derrydale 1979). We too are not free to ignore a dictated definition.

The Third Circuit just compared the Supreme Court to Humpty Dumpty! I'm loving that.

Posted 07:05 AM

January 24, 2004


Four out of five are in, and they're fine. Not awful, I don't think, but clearly not great. It's hard to tell; how fine are the distinctions between "bad" and "ok"? I assume some of our profs will be giving us grade distributions sometime soon so we can all see more precisely where we fall in the pecking order, because that matters, right? And, of course, the torts grade remains a mystery, and I suppose it could change the overall outcome significantly downward, but I doubt it. I put in the same sort of performance in that class and exam as in the others, so I assume the results will be similar.

Thanks to everyone for the comments about how grades are working at other schools. My only real concern with the fact that grades come so late at GW (and apparently at many other schools, as well) is that there's so much money on the line. If law school tuition weren't extortionate, it would be a different story; but that's not the world we live in.

In the end, I guess it's no big deal. I'm sure having to wait three weeks into a semester for last semester's grades will end up ranking among the least of the annoyances with which I'll have dealt by the time law school is over. Perspective, right? As Transmogriflaw pointed out in his comment, the real problem is simply the obsession with grades in law school. His analysis, I think, is spot-on—the legal world simply has few other ways to divide and categorize students, so grades take on an inordinate importance. However, it's not that there are no other evaluative measures; what about participation in extracurriculars, performance on skills boards, work and volunteer experience, former career and educational experience, etc? So perhaps it's not a lack of measures, but a culture of quantification that only understands measures when they're reduced to hard numbers. Of course, these difficult-to-quantify measures might not be very good predictors of success in the practice of law, but are grades really good predictors of that?

Posted 08:33 AM | Comments (9)

January 23, 2004


If you're a law student: When did you get your grades?

I ask because at GW, we're going to get our grades today. Yes, today—a full three weeks after the semester began. That seems pretty late to me, and pretty disrespectful on GW's part. It's as if the school is saying: "We know you got almost zero feedback last semester and you'd really like to know how you did so you can start figuring out how to do better, but, well, too bad for you!" But perhaps its standard practice for law schools to wait to release grades until everyone has already accepted their loan checks and made a fairly significant commitment to the spring semester—great business practice! At least we know where these schools' priorities lie.*

Whatever. We'll get our grades today, so yesterday ProfCivPro gave us three reasons to keep grades in perspective:

  1. They're 1st semester grades. You've got lots of time to improve.
  2. They are only grades. Grades are not an accurate reflection of intelligence, knowledge, or capability; they're simply the only thing we've come up with that's workable.
  3. The Big Picture: Keep in mind that a few weeks from now, your grades won't seem very significant, nor are they significant compared with the rest of your life.
All helpful advice. But the trouble is really on point 2. Yes, they're only grades, but do prospective employers realize that? Some do, but I'm sure some don't. Knowing that some employers weed out potential candidates on the basis of GPA alone makes the "grades don't really mean anything" argument a bit less persuasive.

Still, point 2 is absolutely correct: Grades are very close to meaningless. As a teacher, I tried to find ways to avoid giving grades at all, but that wasn't really possible in a school that required me to fill out grading bubble-sheets at the end of every semester, thereby reducing everything my students had done for three months to a single letter. The best I could come up with was a self-grading system that I won't go into here. A lot of very smart people have made a lot of very smart arguments about the evils of grades and have proposed much better systems of evaluation that would give students better feedback, and thereby do more to help them learn. These systems would also give employers or anyone else who cared to look at the evaluations a much better idea of the student's strengths and weaknesses. But such systems are not "efficient," they take time, and in our system, we care less about quality than we do about quantity. Reduce everything to numbers, then we can crunch them and compare them and make fast, simple decisions with zero thought or meaning! Yay!

* "Law school" is perhaps a misnomer; "law business" or "J.D. factory" would probably be more appropriate. Also, I anticipate that anyone wishing to defend GW or law schools who release grades late generally will argue that law profs grade their own exams, and they each have 100 students or more, and it just takes time. All true. But to me that's just another argument for smaller classes and perhaps for longer breaks between semesters.

Posted 06:34 AM | Comments (15)

January 22, 2004

Organized Resistance

If you're in D.C., check out the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR) happening this weekend at American University. NCOR's brief description of the conference:

The National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR) is in its seventh successful year. In years past, this conference has played a significant role in coordinating a dialogue between activist groups, and sparking in-depth discussion of the strategies and tactics of our various social justice movements. This year, NCOR again envisions being a forum for cutting edge discussion for people of all different levels of involvement. Last year, over 1,000 people converged on Washington, DC for a weekend of experience, discussion, planning, and protest. Don't miss this year!

It would be interesting to poll attendees. Who is the presidential candidate of this social justice crowd?

Posted 06:47 AM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2004

Welcome Back

Lots of people started law school again last Monday, and it doesn't sound like there's a heckuva lot of excitement about that. Welcome back to DG, Mixtape Marathon, and Cicero's Ghost. Bekah was greeted with locked doors and spilled coffee, while the Ghost's Socratic dialogue with himself about the experience of returning to law school sounds like the loop my head's been playing for the past week and a half. And we'll have fun fun fun 'til the law school takes our free time away...

Posted 07:04 AM

January 12, 2004

You Deserve a Break Today

Today's Quote: "People are getting smarter nowadays. They are letting lawyers, instead of their consciences, be their guides." —Will Rogers

That would be funny if it weren't true. Somehow I've developed this idea that there has been a shift in the U.S. from a culture in which people tended to refrain from doing Act X because they thought Act X was wrong, to a culture where people only refrain from doing Act X if there's a law against it (and they think they'll get caught). In hugely general terms, it seems plausible to argue that such is shift is visible in the switch from some idea of "natural law" (say, in the 18th and perhaps early 19th centuries) to the more secular view we have today of the law as a social creation. But I think there's more to it than that, something having to do with a late 20th century shift in society and its laws from some sense of community responsibility to a near obsession with individual rights and liberties at the expense of all other values. Maybe. It's Monday, I'm just thinking out loud here.

And really what I'm thinking about is how great it would have been to have an extra week of holiday break, pace Three Years of Hell (which has undergone a nice redesign over the break), DG, and Musclehead (which has also been redesigned, but which may not be back to regularly scheduled programming yet). I suppose the bright side of starting earlier is that GW should also finish up a little earlier in the spring, something for which I'm sure I'll be grateful when the time comes. Next year the effect could be even more pronounced: GW is currently considering switching 2Ls and 3Ls from a 14-week semester to a 13-week semester. I haven't been following the issue too closely, but it sounds like the change would require us to switch from 50-minute classes to hour-long classes or something. Sounds fine with me.

If my holiday break had been longer, the main thing I would have done with the extra time would have been applying for summer work. I spent the bulk of yesterday sharpening the resume and crafting 15 cover letters for the upcoming Georgetown/GW Public Interest/Government Interview Program. I also investigated the Peggy Browning Fund Fellowships, applications for which are due (meaning must be received by) Jan. 15th. Looks like I'll be sending some overnight mailings in the next day or two.

What is that they say about rest for the wicked? Oops! My cauldron's smoking—gotta run.

Posted 05:38 AM | Comments (1)

January 10, 2004


It's Saturday, which means week one, semester 2, of law school is technically over. Yet, now is when the work begins. The first week was a whirlwind of new classes and readings, writing and research assignments, meetings, and reminders of all the things I simply don't have time for. After a semester, I feel much more sure about what I need to do to be prepared for finals. Good thing there's no chance I'll get the time to do much of it. Case briefing? Yeah, right. Outlining? Yeah right. The briefing is hardly necessary (at least not in the way I used to do it), but frequent post-class summaries of what we've covered in the past few days would be a great way to build an outline. Maybe I'll shave off a couple of hours sleep time and squeeze that in.

And don't mention applying for jobs. What? When? How? Whatever.

On the positive side, ProfProperty is proving to be a fun guy w/a great take on things. In fact, for two days running he's taken potshots at last semester's ProfTorts (my ideological nemesis) and the Chicago School of law and economics, which is certainly starting off on the right (or left, as it may be) foot. I'm loving ConLaw and, well, Contracts and CivPro... Yeah.

Also on the positive side, the GW/Georgetown Public Interest/Government Interview Program is coming up Feb 7. You can see from last year's list of participating employers that it's a pretty big deal, and therefore I have high hopes it will provide a great way to get a summer job. The other day, in preparation for the program, GW invited seven recent GW graduates who now work in public interest law to come tell us about their experiences and what they look for in interns/employees. As far as what they're looking for, they all said much the same things:

  1. Demonstrated commitment to public interest work. They're looking for concrete evidence on a resume, not necessarily in their own particular area of work, but in some position or volunteer experience that shows you're not just looking for a brief fling with the "little people."
  2. Related, but different: A real interest in the organization you're interviewing with. Research the organization so you can show that interest intelligently.
  3. Good writing skills, which you can best demonstrate on your cover letter.
  4. A memorable and entertaining interview. Especially in a big "career fair" atmosphere, it's important to impress your interviewer in some way so they'll remember you. Try to have a conversation with your interviewer. Make the interviewer's day interesting. A sense of humor is often good. Be interested in and be interesting to him or her. The best way to do this is to research the organization ahead of time and practice your interview skills.
In addition to those interviewing tips, they gave some great general advice for people interested in public interest work, including:
  • Commit your life to using the law for social change. Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comforted.
  • In law school, volunteer instead of working on a journal.
  • Be aware that you might trade the stresses of working in a firm (stesses mentioned included overwork and a huge lack of satisfaction in the work you do) for the stresses of being broke. All agreed they weren't rich, but all agreed they wouldn't trade their lives for any other. How many firm lawyers can say that?
All of this was music to my ears. Finally there were people at GW speaking my language! Plus, the room was filled with students who had come to listen to the speakers, which was a great reminder that not everyone at GW is there just to make as much money as they possibly can.

So that's all good, once I get time to actually fill out all the paperwork to participate in the interview program. Standing in the way of that goal is a good-sized research project about someone charged w/use of a gun in connection w/selling drugs and the applicable standard for a post-trial motion to acquit. And reading. And planning an auction. Yeah.

If posts are less than frequent for a while, the above is why.

p.s.: Apologies to Glorfindel of Gondolin, whom I mistakenly suggested was female. Glorfindel is male. Thanks to Heidi for the clarification.

Posted 10:06 AM | Comments (2)

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)

January 05, 2004

Happy 2004!

Whoop! Here it is. Ready or not, 2004 (and for me, the second semester of law school) is upon us. I know, I know, it's actually been upon us for several days now, but I've been out of town and far away from blogability. In fact, I was so far out of the news and information loop, I didn't even realize I was supposed to be on heightened alert. The past two weeks were filled with ping-pong, pinochle, and poker, ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling, driving, getting stuck in the snow, getting unstuck, wrapping presents, unwrapping presents, playing a newly discovered card game called Wizard, and eating lots and lots of very good food. Best of all, I spent the whole time with friends and family and hardly thought about law school at all. :-)

But now it all begins again—law school, that is. GW Law School will begin this semester on a sad note, mourning the unexplained death of a one-L whose body was found floating in the Potomac the morning after finals ended last semester. It looks like "foul play" was involved, but regardless of how it happened, it's a tragic loss. Welcome to the nation's capital, everyone!

Of course, we'll all have to move beyond that, and this semester should be packed, not only with classes, but also with the summer job search (which I've yet to begin) and the planning and execution of an EJF Auction. Of course, the classes are supposed to be the priority. This semester they'll include two carryovers from last semester—Contracts and CivPro—and two new contenders: Constitutional Law I and Property. I'm looking forward to ConLaw because, well, I'm more big-picture than fine detail, and questions of Constitutional law are more often big issues. Property I'm just not going to speculate on; I've heard bad things, but then, I can say that about every class/subject. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt; innocent until proven guilty and all that.

Good luck to everyone. May we all have a great 2004. (Only 10 short months until Bush loses in a landslide and gets a one-way ticket back to Crawford, TX!)

Posted 06:33 AM

December 17, 2003

Post-Crim Stuff

CrimLaw is history. For now. Although the exam was no picnic (6 questions, 5 of which had two parts each), it didn't feel quite as onerous as torts and contracts. Now, like Transmogriflaw, only one exam remains: CivPro (a.k.a. "that juris-my-diction crap"). By noon tomorrow, it's all over.

Meanwhile, there are many more interesting things in the world than Civil Procedure, don't you think? For example, following up on last weekend's big news:What does the capture of Saddam mean? Alternet has a bunch of good articles on the subject, including an argument that the media orgy (Saddamania!) was obscuring a lot of other important news, like the Halliburton fraud scandal, for example. William Rivers Pitt voices the sentiments of many when he says we caught the wrong guy: Where's Osama? But Pitt's bigger point is that the current instability in Iraq and the fact that all those American troops are there makes the place a playground for anyone who would like to attack the U.S. by killing Americans; Saddam's capture doesn't really change that. And Robert Scheer basically sums things up:

As far as I can tell, catching Saddam is not going to fix Iraq's economy, build a functioning democracy, prevent a Sunni-Shiite civil war, or bring back the Americans and Iraqis who have died and will continue to die at the checkpoints, home invasions and while driving their Humvees down the nation's roads.

This was the basic gist of Howard Dean's comments on the matter in his national security address, delivered Monday in California. Dean said the capture of Saddam is a great thing, but it doesn't change the fact that Bush's unilateral foreign policy has angered and frightened the world, making the U.S. less safe, not more. It sounds like some people don't like hearing this (no permalinks, look at entries for 12/14-15), and Dean's opponents continue to try to tar him with the "irresponsible" or "incompetent" or "unrealistic" or even "delusional" brush. Lieberman's got the best soundbite with the accusation that Dean's fallen into a "spiderhole of denial" if he doesn't think Americans are safer w/Saddam in custody. Howard Kurtz rounds it all up in depth (again, no permalinks so look for today's looong entry).

Only time will tell who's right. I think Dean will again be proven correct in the long run, but it may not have been wise to make this question ("Is America safer w/Saddam imprisoned?") an issue. The real issue is whether America is safer in the long run as the world's bully, or if it's safer as the world's leader and peace-maker through dipolomacy and international cooperation. The funny thing that Dean's critics seem to want to ignore is that Dean isn't necessarily saying we should not have gone into Iraq, or that we should not have captured Hussein; he's simply saying we did it in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons, and that's why all this violence isn't accomplishing the goals it's supposed to accomplish.

Enough with the political analysis, already. There are other important things going on. For example, Sandra was the Sole Survivor—hooray! Did she tip off her friends that she might be the winner so they could make money betting on her? We'll probably never know. Once thing we did learn from this season (something that diehard discussion board readers probably already know) is: There are really only two rules in Survivor: 1) You can't hit anyone. 2) You can't conspire to share the money. That last one explains everything; the show really is like "real life"—there are lots of structural barriers to cooperative action.

In the "there's still hope" file, did you hear about the shoe company that gave its employees a Christmas bonus of $1,000 for every year they've worked at the company? That would be SAS Shoemakers, which doesn't have a website that I can find. Why can't more companies be like this? Treat employees well, produce a good product, share the profits with the workers and the community—it's not so hard, is it?

Ok. Must think about CivPro.

But then, what's the point? Mixtape Marathon says law professors seem to let their satanic tendencies loose when grading law school exams, leading to a situation where students get bad grades when they think they performed well on an exam, and good grades when they think they performed poorly. So MM has a question for law professors:

Query (to use language to which your kind is accustomed): Given this information, how can it possibly be said that law school exams are an accurate measure of a student’s knowledge? How is a legal “education” accomplished if students can never be sure whether or not they actually understand the material? Let me explain. In law school, a student can make it through the semester, really feeling confident about his coursework, only to discover, by proclamation of one grade, that he did not understand anything after all. Conversely, someone may think, “Golly gee, I don’t get this stuff and I didn’t really work at all in this class. I’m screwed,” and end up with an A. What, may I ask, is the function of such an academic system? And where might a student who is rewarded for studying less and punished for studying more get the motivation to study at all? Might she rather decide to watch Joe Millionaire and alphabetize her cd collection? (Don't strain yourself. The answer is: yes, she might).

So aren't I better off not studying? No, probably not.

But one more thing before I go: Yesterday JD2B posted links to some new blogs by Michigan law students, and while I don't have time to check them all out, at least one is definitely worth repeat visits. Glorfindel of Gondolin is an MD working on a JD who supports Dean, registers as left-liberal on the political compass, and links to this cool political map with fascinating analysis of how the 2004 election might shape up. Great reading.

Oh, and Think Inc. is a philosopher who doesn't like capitalism, so you know she rocks.

I think I went to the wrong law school. If I'd studied harder for exams I might have a chance of transfering to Michigan (or Temple or Columbia). It's certainly a thought. But now: Personal and subject matter jurisdiction, venue, pleading, and joinder. This is doable. By noon tomorrow, it will all be over.

Posted 09:17 AM | Comments (4)

December 16, 2003

Professorial Quotes

Studying for finals means going through my notes, which are excessively detailed. The excess makes it hard to sift through for what's important, so in the future I won't be taking notes like this, but the benefit of so much detail is that I captured a few choice comments from my professors. The best two are from Prof Torts, who, for the sake of context, is a graduate of the U of Chicago law school (bastion of the law and economics school of thought), a former Scalia clerk, and a dedicated proponent of Judge Learned Hand's "BPL" cost-benefit analysis—Prof Torts seems to think we should apply the BPL to every situation possible. He even went so far as to spend an entire class period arguing that HMOs should be allowed to dictate (a.k.a., "withhold") medical treatment on the basis of the BPL, and to introduce cost/benefit evidence as a defense when patients die and the HMO doctors get sued for malpractice. Doesn't that sound like a great idea?

So anyway, here's what Prof Torts says about tort law generally:

Tort law is social engineering. It's like the common law version of the big bad government agency trying to regulate your conduct but without all that bad administrative overhead.

Ah yes, government is mischief. Is it true that the more money you have, the more you loathe the government?

Now here's ProfTorts on government today and how politicians feel about the BPL:

Both left and right now accept that cost/benefit analysis must be undertaken, even when it's hard to find numbers. When it's hard, we just have to proceed as best we can. Inside the beltway cost/benefit analysis is increasingly reigning supreme.

I'd like to make an argument that this goes beyond "bare non-disclosure" of information to the contrary and borders on fraudelent misrepresentation, but I'm done with contracts for the semester and we've both got better things to do. Oh, but speaking of contracts, ProfContracts was a bit lighter, if not more encouraging:

"Legal research is boring and takes a lot of time, but it's a lot different when you're being paid by the hour. That really changes everything."

This is a great example of the kinds of jokes 4 out of 5 of my professors made all semester—jokes about the shortcomings in the law or the practice of law, with punchlines about how those shortcomings don't matter because, well, what matters is money! Ha ha ha! That's so funny! Not.

Approx. 500 new recruits begin studying law at GW each fall. A certain percentage are almost certainly going to law school because they'd like to make the world a better place somehow, not just for themselves, but for other people, as well. These 500 students then spend the next three years sitting in lectures punctuated by jokes suggesting the legal world sucks and the one thing that makes it palatable is cash. Many of these jokes also involve admissions that the law is patently unfair in some way; the punchline? "You don't have to worry about that because you'll still get paid!" So, after three years, how many of those 500 law students do you think will have given up on making a positive contribution to society? Why should they care about anything other than making money when their profs keep telling them that money is what really matters? Yay!

But one of my professors did not make jokes about scrupulous lawyers making money from injustice, and that was Prof CrimLaw. Instead, he told us to look for those places where the law seems unjust, or where society doesn't seem to be working as well as it could, and to ask questions and to try to come up with answers. On the last day of class, Prof CrimLaw made some self-deprecating comments about how law professors like to hear the sounds of their own voices, then he gave us some "wise words" to think about, including this semi-joke:

Statistically, law students have a better chance of becoming criminal defendants than criminal lawyers.

Gee, why would that be? And if it's not actually true (it probably isn't), why would it even sound plausible? See mini-rant, above.

ProfCrim went on to advise and encourage us to take CrimPro, since it's important and will teach us the kinds of things people expect you to know when they hear you're a lawyer. And he finished with a call for us to take seriously what we learned this semester. A rough paraphrase (at the time we were discussing the insanity defense and had just finished readings about the case of John Hinckley shooting Ronald Reagan):

I hope you appreciate the complexity of the issues we've covered this semester. The government has an awesome power to hurt people, or stigmatize them, or punish them, and that's something you need to take seriously. When and how should it use that power? I never felt more proud to be an American than the day John Hinckley was acquitted. That someone could shoot the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world and be acquitted was a testament to ideals of justice and the strength of our criminal justice system. Some people say cases are stories; if that's true, then you, as lawyers, may get to decide what the morals of these stories are. Remember that.

My transcription doesn't adequately capture what he said, but you get the idea. ProfCrim was joking when he said he had some "wise words" for us, but those don't sound like so much of a joke to me. The main point is how starkly these sentiments contrast with those of ProfTorts and ProfContracts. I'll certainly be taking a closer look at a career in CrimLaw, but first I guess I better try to pass the final exam...

Posted 07:19 AM | Comments (5)

December 12, 2003

Goodbye Contracts I

The Contracts final yesterday was about as fun as standing beneath a shower of canned goods for three hours, but it's over. Stay of Execution says it's normal to feel like you've been dragged behind a bus after you take a final. I didn't really get that feeling after the Torts final last Tuesday, but yesterday, yeah, kinda like that.

For the entire semester I sat in Contracts class and thought how simple and easy it all seemed, but then I got to the exam and, well, let's just say I had a great teacher who made it look easy. I've learned a lot this semester about what I need to study and how I need to study it, and especially about how to organize my notes and outline as I go, so I'll look forward to Contracts II next semester. I mean, I don't have much choice, do I?

Now it's time to party on to Crimlaw and CivPro. Both are 3-hour funfests; Crimlaw will allow book only (no notes or additional materials), while CivPro is open note, open book. I'm kind of looking forward to Crimlaw—it's been my favorite class all year. But CivPro? Mega-ugh. If anyone out there likes CivPro, I'd love to hear something that might make me care about this subject. I mean, the way my prof taught it, the whole subject seems to be a way for lawyers and parties to avoid dealing with the merits of disputes by screwing around with procedural hocus pocus. Sure, jurisdiction and the due process the rules are ostensibly meant to ensure are vital the justice of our system, but in my ideal world, I'd be able to leave the procedural issues to someone else. If wishes were fishes....

Posted 06:26 AM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2003

Bye, Bye, Torts; Hello Contracts

Torts exam is history. Thank goodness. It wasn't so bad; 6 single-spaced pages of a fact pattern revolving around the mishaps of two rich California heiresses spending a month on a back-country farm for a "reality television" program (a.k.a. "The Simple Life"). Yay. The exam was divided into four parts. First, one of the girls got into a "scuffle" with her host mother, who then locked her in her room for the night without dinner. Assault? Battery? False Imprisonment?

Second, one of the girls brought her pet dog, who was carried off by her host farmer's dog, who turned out to have rabies. The dog bit the girl. Possible issues of negligence on the part of several people (including, potentially, the cameraman who was witnessing everything, but case against him probably weak).

Third, the girls made a bet with each other to see if they could get the two brothers in their host family to fight over them. Possible IIED? The boys did fight. Possible intentional torts? Other issues were embedded in here as well.

Finally, the girls went out one night and bought alcoholnegligence per se on the part of the store that sold the beer because there was a statute forbidding such sale to minors. The girls then went drinking and driving (negligence?), had to swerve to avoid a rock that had fallen in the road because of a coal mine's recent blasting activities (strict liability for ultra-hazardous activities?), swerved again to avoid hitting a deer (hooray for intervening causes to make causation simply impossible!), and ended up running off the road and straight into someone's living room.

There were lots of other issues in there, and I'm sure I missed many and analyzed others poorly, but the important thing is, it's over. It's also curved, so how poorly could I have done? Nearly 9 pages of typing in 3 hours, 3,900 words (Extregity is so abysmal, but at least it has a word and page counter), and it's over. Over. Bye, bye Torts! I will not miss you.

Now, on to Contracts, tomorrow at 2 p.m. Offer? Acceptance? Status to contract? Fraud, misrepresentation, duress? Is a writing required? Would restitution be appropriate? Ugh.

But you know, it's actually great to finally be taking exams. It's like a relief. People have been warning me for about a year about how hard the first year of law school is, about how the exams are so horrible. And no, they're not really fun (although, if you knew you weren't being graded, you might be able to enjoy the sort of adventure sleuthing aspect of picking up clues to spot issues and the remedies/arguments your professor has embedded in the facts), but none of it's really that bad. I will live, and I'll live a lot better when these silly rituals are over. I've been spending time longing for a paper to write instead of exams to study for because I'm better at thinking more slowly and in depth than I am at memorizing and spilling my brains out on a tight schedule, but the great thing advantage exams have over papers is this: If you just wait long enough, exams will be over. And that's true. Regardless of what I do for the next week, by noon on Thursday, December 18th, I'll be finished with the first semester of law school, and I have to say that will be a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile, I guess I'll study a little...

Posted 09:48 AM | Comments (4)

December 09, 2003

Super Study Break

Have you noticed how many extremely fun things beg for your attention when you're supposed to be doing other things (like studying for finals)? There are so many diversions, it's hard to know where to begin.

But first things first: Be sure to chew gum during your exams! It supposedly improves your memory performance. Thanks to Ditzy Genius for the tip (and these other tips), and congrats to her as well for surviving exam numero uno.

On to study breaks and things to think about other than law school exams! First, Three Years of Hell (TYH), who is also studying, recommends the "I Hate Republicans" song, which is certainly entertaining, if a bit bracing. The same site ( also created this "Mission Accomplished" animation, which it then adapted for the Dennis Kucinich campaign. TYH doesn't agree w/any of this, by the way, but it was nice of him to point it out.

In a similar vein, you might enjoy FOXed, which ingeniously combines that disconcerting "Matrix"-themed Poweraid commercial from last summer with clips from those fair and balanced folks at Fox. Sure, it's a 2.2 MB download, but you can study while you wait!

If you feel like doing something a little more than watching movies, you could chip in a few dollars to a good cause. Here's an appropriate one for me at the moment: "Procrastinators for Dean." Or donate something for the troops via a USO Care package. Donate in someone's name as a Christmas gift to them, or donate in your favorite candidate's name as a way to promote your candidate. Or just donate. It will build good karma that you can harvest on your exams.

Want a break from politics on your study break? Then take a gander at this gigapixel image of Bryce Canyon National Park. Very cool, but what will we do with gigapixel images? I mean, yikes, it's almost too much information, isn't it? And here's another great gift idea: The Pop-up Alice in Wonderland. If you don't feel like buying, you can listen to an interview with the bookmaker, or even better, make your own pop-ups!

Finally, you could begin getting into the Christmas spirit by reading or listening to John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story (sappy/touching), or listen to David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries (hilarious).

I'm off to a torts final soon. I just hope no one assaults me along the way. Again, good luck to all test-takers!

Posted 09:43 AM | Comments (2)

December 08, 2003

Torts Nightmare

I'm not very well prepared for finals, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised I'm starting to have nightmares about them. Last night it was torts. First, at a Q & A between my entire 1L section and the dean and our other professors, I raised my hand and asked, "Are we supposed to be getting a general introduction to torts in our first semester, because all we got was negligence and strict liability. Isn't there more?" ProfTorts (in my dream) responded, "I'm glad you asked that; we're going to cover everything else today."

Then I got lost on the way to class.

When I finally got to class, ProfTorts had a surprise for us. Without saying a word, he simply started handing out exams! Everyone around me started working industriously on theirs, but I could only stare at mine in disbelief. This was supposed to be the review session! ProfTorts looked at me and smiled. "I thought we'd just get it over with," he said.

Finally, I imagined I typed my exam on a PDA-type device (like a Palm), and that there was no way for me to print it out or transmit a copy to my professor. Total nightmare.

I think I better study harder. Torts final is tomorrow. I'm wondering about suing myself for negligence in exam-taking. My theory of negligence is that I should have studied at least two more hours every day since November 25th (just before Thanksgiving). If I run the BPL, it seems that the cost of such a precaution would have been fairly low—I probably would have simply needed to cut my web-surfing time and studied instead. Meanwhile, the likelihood that I'll do poorly on exams because I didn't study those extra two hours seems rather high, and the seriousness of the injury I'll incur by doing poorly also seems pretty high (though certainly debatable). I suppose those two variables would be left to the jury; what would a "reasonable person" say?

Is there such a thing as a reasonable person when it comes to deciding how much studying for law school finals is sufficient? You certainly couldn't use a "reasonable law student" because, on this question at least, that would be a contradiction in terms. Some law students would certainly be panicked if they'd studied the same amount as I have, but then, perhaps those people aren't khaki. It's so true: No one sees my grand master plan!! But will that be a sufficient defense if I'm found negligent?

My defense against my theory of negligence might be that law school grades are infamously arbitrary; more studying does not necessarily mean better grades. Therefore, it's a mistake to assume that my negligence caused my bad grades. Other possible explanations include the capriciousness of the grader, what I had for lunch before the exam (what should I have? I wonder...), and the fact that I had to use a Windoze computer to take the exam. It's been statistically proven that people who use Windoze are less likely to be smart. (Ok, I made that up. Is it ok to make stuff up on exams?)

Here's another question: Would failing your law school exams allow you to use a res ipsa loquitur argument to get to a jury in your negligence action against yourself? But for the fact that you can't sue yourself, I think so. I mean, it's pretty much a given that if you study, you'll pass, so failing would likely give rise to an assumption that someone has been negligent, don't you think?

Posted 06:02 AM | Comments (5)

December 02, 2003

December Already

December already. Hard to believe, isn't it? Where did November go? For L, it went into writing a novel—congratulations, L!
L wrote a novel!
Fifty thousand words (approx. 200 pages) might not sound like much, but try pulling 50,000 words out of your head in 30 days or less and you may find it's not as easy as it sounds. I stalled out at almost 28,000 words, but I did find some interesting characters and an interesting story I might come back to someday. Perhaps I'll return to it in March for NaNoEdMo.

The campaigns for president are heating up. Bush is raising money like crazy and his campaign claims it wants to build the biggest grassroots organization the U.S. has ever seen. That's a scary thought. Dean and Gephardt are locked in a tight race for Iowa. Meanwhile, continues to grow and gain attention—both positive and negative. This weekend, MoveOn is sponsoring nationwide screenings of the new film, "Uncovered: The whole truth about the Iraq war."

The Dean campaign continues to grow; however, the dirty laundry is beginning to come out. Apparently, Dean sealed his records last year to diminsh the amount of ammunition his opponents will have against him. One source of ammunition may be statements he made about judicial appointments. Hmmm.... This appears to be politics as usual, which is what makes it so disturbing. The big advantages Dean has as far as I'm concerned is that he seems to be doing something unusual with his campaign—he appears much less compromised by special interest money than the other candidates, and he appears willing to stand behind his ideas and actions. So why seal his records? I understand his fear that his opponents won't play fair with whatever they might learn about his past, but the idealist in me would have more respect for him if he'd simply say, "Hey, I've done things that people are going to say were wrong and bad. I'm human, and I learn from my mistakes, just like everybody else." The idealist in me says Dean should believe in voters enough to trust that we'll be able to tell when his opponents are unfairly smearing him, and when a past mistake really does matter. But, of course, we don't live in my ideal world, do we?

Another election development I just learned about: America Coming Together plans to campaign to defeat Bush in 17 swing states. Great idea, no? One problem: their website only offers one way I can help—they, like everyone else, want me to give money. I don't have money. I don't even have time. But I coulde "make" time, and I do have skills and energy they might use if they'd provide a way for me to do so. This really is one thing that has made the Dean campaign very different—it says "help us," then it provides the tools for you to help in whatever way you can. Just about every other political group that would like to change U.S. policy on some issue would do much better if they'd stop simply asking people for money and start giving them ways to take action for their cause.

Oh, and Dennis Kucinich hasn't found love yet, but it sounds like he's having fun looking.

I'm supposed to be thinking of nothing but finals, but I'm having trouble focusing. Stay of Execution has some good, practical, and calming study tips for 1Ls, although it feels a little late for making posters. Still, posters would be better than outlines; Mixtape Marathon has restored my faith in the humanity of law students (a faith I think I pretty well lost somewhere in November, but that's another story) by noting that law school outlines are evil. Some of my professors have sometimes sounded as evil as the outlines we're supposed to create for their classes, so I fear section IV of Bekah's wonderful outline could begin: "Many law practitioners transfer the soullessness of their outlines and exams straight into practice." I guess we'll see.

Posted 07:31 AM | Comments (2)

November 19, 2003

Christmas is Coming

I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but you know how time flies this time of year; it's really not too early to place an order for the perfect Christmas gift: the Pants on Fire doll!

If you're not into the consumption thing .... um, you're probably on the wrong planet, unfortunately. But if you're still able to enjoy gifts you don't have to buy, the Massachussetts Supreme Court handed down a great gift to U.S. citizens yesterday. Yeah, so "young adults are split on gay marriage," and older people are against it 4:1. So what? I'm sure if someone had been polling in 1860 they would have found that young and old adults were "split" on slavery at the time, too. It's called equality people, and our constitution says it's a foundation of our country, so, well, Merry Christmas!

A couple of time zones away, thousands of people in London are getting into the Christmas cheer early this year. They've assembled to promote peace, love and happiness (isn't that what Christmas is all about?), but some people are apparently pretty worried about all this positive energy, so they've turned London into a fortress for Bush's visit. As the lovable Jon Stewart said on Monday's Daily Show, Britain has deployed thousands of troops, just in case the people love Bush too much. And don't forget, London is the capital city of our closest ally. Of course, FOX News says Bush hasn't heard the "hecklers," so I guess everything's going to be ok.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., back in the U.S., back in the U.S.S.... oops! I was channelling those Brits there for a second. Back in the United States, the U.S. House is apparently in a festive mood—it's trying to give some whopping gifts to the energy industry. MTBE producers alone would get $1.75 billion from the bill, but hey, why should anyone complain about giving billions of dollars to people who make the chemicals that are ruining our environment? Those complainers just must not be in the right giving spirit.

And even more locally, if you're a law student, finals are also coming, so you've got some built in Christmas cheer right there. Think of your finals as gifts from your professors. Yeah, that's it. Your professors have spent hours (maybe) constructing intricate fact patterns that will wow you with their mind-numbing complexity. The best of them—the ones who really want to give you the best gifts—have buried all kinds of little pseudo-facts and red herrings in their hypos so that you'll have extra fun sorting the meaningful from the irrelevant. What could be a better gift than that!?

So yeah, Thanksgiving's coming soon, but I'm thinking we all better start getting into the Christmas spirit as soon as we can. You don't want to be left out, and from the looks of things, we're going to need all the good cheer we can muster in the next few weeks...

Posted 06:04 AM | Comments (2)

November 15, 2003

Fantasy Justice

Here's some possible weekend fun: Lawpsided's Fantasy Supreme Court League. I'm just the messenger.

And now it's back to memo revisions (damn! I'd been hoping the draft wouldn't need so much work the second time around) and class outlines. But first, NaNoWriMo has begun beckoning again and I haven't been able to resist its siren song.
NaNoWriMo 2003 Participant badge

Now I'm 12,000 words into some schlocky thing about cab drivers and tv watchers and Professional Finders (thanks for the idear, seester). So words words words! Studying for finals in law school is so way overrrated, don't you think? ;-)

Posted 08:18 AM | Comments (1)

November 12, 2003

Inflatable Justice Playthings

For your reading enjoyment: Yesterday's CrimLaw hypos (we're covering inchoate crimes, a.k.a. attempts):

Hypo 1: Prof CrimLaw has "an anatomically correct, life-size, inflatable Justice Clarence Thomas plaything." It's so real that if you saw it, you'd think it really was the Justice. Prof CivPro doesn't like Justice Thomas, so when Prof CivPro sees the plaything, he pulls out a gun and shoots it through the heart. Is Prof CivPro guilty of attempted murder under the MPC (Model Penal Code)?

(Answer: Probably, because he had the requisite intent. See MPC 5.01.)

Hypo 2: Prof CrimLaw has the same "anatomically correct, life-size, inflatable Justice Clarence Thomas plaything," but he tells Prof CivPro it's not a plaything, it's actually an authentic Voodoo relic. Prof CrimLaw further explains that if a person were to stick 20 needles into the relic, the real Justice Clarence Thomas would die. Prof CrimLaw leaves the room, and when he returns, he finds Prof CivPro inserting the twentieth needle into the "anatomically correct, life-size, inflatable Justice Clarence Thomas relic." Is Prof CivPro guilty of attempted murder under the MPC?

(Answer: Probably, but see MPC 5.05(2), Mitigation.)

I think Prof CrimLaw just enjoyed saying "anatomically correct, life-size, inflatable Justice Clarence Thomas plaything." Try it; it's fun.

Posted 06:12 AM | Comments (2)

November 10, 2003

Pre-Finals Reminder

As DG has been noting, it's getting to be that time when the library is full of intensely studying peoples and the stress levels start going into interstellar orbits. So of course there's no better time than now to pause and consider Dahlia Lithwick's "Letter to a Young Law Student" for a quick reminder of what you're doing here in the first place. [Link via Professor Yin.] Remember Lithwick's sage words:

If there is one law of law-school thinking it's this: "If everyone else wants something, I must want it, too." Not since the days of the Tonka backhoe and Malibu Skipper will you have so lunged for stuff in which you have no real interest, just because everyone else is lunging. Law school manages to impose odd new values on virtually everyone. And each step of the way, law students make choices—to interview with certain firms, take certain classes, apply for certain clerkships—based on an impoverished sense of other options and the fear that other people will get all the good stuff if you don't grab it. This is hard advice to give and harder, I expect, to take. Fear and conformity dig some pretty deep paths at law school. Don't just follow because they are there.

The other day, So Sue Me posted her advice for incoming 1Ls which I also recommend, especially tip #7:

If you are not comfortable with idea that you will become cynical, do not apply to law school.

I'm wondering if perhaps the two peices of advice go together. Does the massive pressure to conform actually produce the cynicism?

As for me, I'm honestly just tired of it all. I'm tired of reading cases and never getting to really discuss them (the Socratic method is absolute shyte, pedagogically speaking—just ask Professor Leiter), and tired of talking about outlines and study habits and whether to attend the next BarBri review session and what's going to count or not count when I'm working for a firm. That reminds me, I think I'm going to get a t-shirt to wear every day that says: "No offense to you if you're hoping to get a firm job, but please don't assume that I sympathize with your hopes because, well, I don't."

Oops, that cynicism might be getting the better of me.

"Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm." —Wilco.

Anyway, good luck to all you 1L peeps in getting through this November hump. May your outlines write themselves and may all your cases be short from here to December.

Posted 07:58 PM | Comments (2)

Law and Economics (Chicago School)

What is the value of Chicago School style Law and Economics?

Exhibit 1: A scene from "Fight Club" in which the Narrator (played by Ed Norton) is on a plane describing his job to a fellow passenger:

Narrator: "A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now: should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one."

Business woman on plane: "Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?"

Narrator: "You wouldn't believe."

Business woman on plane: "Which car company do you work for?"

Narrator: "A major one."

Exhibit 2: Judge Learned Hand's decision in U.S. v. Carroll Towing Co., 159 F.2d 169 (2d Cir. 1947) in which Hand describes how to determine a barge owner's duty to provide against injuries caused by barge acccidents. Hand says the duty is a function of three variables:

(1) The probablility that she will break away; (2) the gravity of the resulting injury, if she does; (3) the burden of adequate precautions. Possibly it serves to bring this notion into relief to state it in algebraic terms: if the probability be called P; the injury, L; and the burden, B: liability depends upon whether B is less than L multiplied by P: i.e., whether B [is less than] PL.


Posted 07:53 AM | Comments (2)

November 06, 2003

Fun Legal Quote:

Lord Chancellor Northington said:

"Necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men."

Vernon v. Bethell, 2 Eden 110, 113 (1762). I couldn't agree with him more.

Posted 05:28 AM

November 04, 2003

Crazy Legal Fact

How many lawsuits would you guess are filed each year in the U.S.? Before starting law school, I would probably have guessed a few million, at most. I would have been wrong. According to Joseph P. Glannon's Civil Procedure: Examples & Explorations, I would have been very wrong:

In 1998 an astounding 91,000000 cases were filed in the courts of the fifty states, while some 1,700,000 were filed in the federal courts (56).

Holy litigious society, Batman! Yikes.

p.s.: Batman can't fly, but the batmobile can. Discuss.

Posted 06:01 AM | Comments (11)

November 03, 2003

Poor Representation

Just "finished" memo number two. The question presented was:

Will an immigration judge or the BIA grant asylum to our client on the basis of his political opinion, given that, a) he and his family were attacked numerous times after he wrote an article critical of a local political leader, and b) that political leader’s influence may extend beyond our client’s home region?

Fifteen pages, way too many of which are facts. What I really wonder is: How many people get poor legal advice because bumbling associates and junior lawyers procrastinate memos and end up submitting half-baked approximations of legal arguments rather than well-researched and well-written legal advice? Too many, I fear.

Posted 06:12 AM | Comments (5)

October 30, 2003

Case Reading is Fun!

In a personal injury suit in which Erma Veith's car "veered across the center of the road into the lane in which plaintiff was traveling":

The evidence established that Mrs. Veith, while returning home after taking her husband to work, saw a white light on the back of a car ahead of her. She followed this light for three or four blocks. Mrs. Veith did not remember anything else except landing in a field, lying in the side of the road and people talking. She recalled awaking in the hospital.

The psychiatrist testified Mrs. Veith told him she was driving on a road when she believed that God was taking ahold of the steering wheel and was directing her car. She saw the truck coming and stepped on the gas in order to become airborne because she knew she could fly because Batman does it. To her surprise she was not airborne before striking the truck but after the impact she was flying

See Breunig v. American Family Insurance Co., 173 N.W.2d 619 (Wis. 1970). The court did grant that Mrs. Veith's hallucinations might vitiate her negligence if she could show that she'd had no warning that she was going to suffer a hallucinatory episode while driving. However, the jury thought Mrs. Veith should have known of the risk and refrained from driving. Imagine that.

Posted 09:04 PM | Comments (5)

Less than a week

The Matrix: Revolutions arrives next Wednesday, November 5, at 9 a.m. Are you counting the days, hours, minutes, or seconds? I'm just wondering when and how I'll be able to see it. Wednesdays are the worst. If you want a bit of the pre-release coverage, USA Today offers a brief interview w/the major players, and a quick and facile FAQ.

I'm sure there's lots more out there, but I've got to go read CivPro. Yesterday we read American Nurses' Association v. State of Illinois, which suggests that employers are free to discriminate on the basis of gender so long as the majority of other employers are also doing it. Nice. And there's the frustrating thing about CivPro: We often read cases that are interesting because of their subject matter, but since we're only focused on procedural questions, we have to leave all the fascinating legal questions for another day (or another class). It's like walking into a candy store and buying nothing but empty wrappers (or something like thathelp me out with a good analogy, would you?)

Posted 07:08 AM | Comments (1)

First Feedback

Caution: This post may contain higher than normal doses of whining.

We got our first memo back the other day and it was a bit humbling. As a former English/writing teacher, I feel a bit of pressure to do well in the legal writing aspect of law school. But more important, I, like so many others, would love to work for a journal, and in my third year I'd like to be a writing TA for the introductory LR&W sections (GW calls them "Dean's Fellows"). Of course, those goals would seem more realistic if I did well in my own legal writing assignments, and the first memo turned out, well, just ok. My writing is fineno unnecessary passive voice, no filler, my memo is concise and precise. The problem: I didn't follow the right format.

The lesson is that in legal writing (or at least in my LR&W class), form is just as, if not more important than, function. You can communicate all your points clearly and concisely, but if you don't do it in the expected format, you'll do poorly. And that means following the format to the finest detail; virtually no deviation will go unpunished.

My instinctual reaction to that is resentment; I always taught my students that their primary goal should be to communicate clearly, and that form should follow function. However, I also taught them that good writing is all about pleasing the 800-lb gorilla, and if the gorilla wants your writing to take a certain form, you're not going to communicate clearly unless you follow that form. Too bad that lesson is sometimes hard to swallow.

I lost points for big things: My headings did not follow traditional outline format and I organized my discussion by level of authority rather than by legal issue. It made more sense to me to do it that way because several of the cases spoke to multiple issues. Oh well, I learned: Organize by issue.

I also lost points on some little things. My writing adjunct told us that our explanation should consist of paragraphs that begin with topic sentences that do not cite authority, but my writing TA didn't get that message and took points off for topic sentences with no citations. We were also supposed to use double-spaced, 12-pt, Times New Roman. I did, but since I use a Mac and Macs set type differently than does Windoze (and also maybe because there are multiple versions of Times New Roman produced by multiple font houses), my TA thought I'd cheated on font size and spacing to stay w/in the page limit. Strike another black mark on the long list of reasons the Microsoft computing hegemony is so so wrong.

But the font thing gets worse: When I explained the font size difference to my TA so she'd know for the next memo that I really am following the rules, she cautioned me that the judges of next spring's journals competition won't care about any explanationsif you don't set your type in 12-point Times New Roman (double-spaced) on a Windoze box (probably using MS Word), they will severely penalize your writing sample.

Hmph. That's good to know. Perhaps I should contact the people running the competition and ask them to be specific; if they're going to require people set their type on a Windoze machine they should say so, and if they're going to require competitors to use a specific word processor for setting that type, they should be clear about that, also. But that's the trouble with the Microsoft monopolythe people running the journals competition probably won't feel a need to specify these things because they will assume everyone is going to use Windoze and Word. Yet they will penalize people who don't use Windoze and Word.

So not only does the Windoze monopoly potentially jeopardize national security, but it may also jeopardize my chances of writing onto a legal journal. Yay!

Posted 06:56 AM | Comments (5)

October 27, 2003

Crazy Time

Last week the rubber began hitting the road and my racecar of law school started zooming down the track. At times, I felt like it was leaving without me. First, there was the midterm I went on and on about, follwed by a visit to DC Superior Court to observe both a civil and a criminal proceeding.

The civil proceeding—a wrongful termination suit against the DC Dept. of Corrections—involved lots of people wearing suits and was mind-numbingly boring. The criminal proceeding—a misdemeanor charge of crack possession—was much more interesting. The defendant basically claimed that the police planted the crack in his pocket, and he had witnesses to corroborate that testimony. The police claimed the defendant was simply lying. Implausible as his story seemed, I was actually believing the defendant until the judge opened his drug test records and they showed he was actually high on cocaine the day he was busted. The defendant's credibility went out the window when the judge asked both him and his attorney if he could swear he hadn't used cocaine yesterday, and he wouldn't do it. But imagine this: The defendant was 43 years old and had no prior record for anything. Why would a person start using crack at 43 years old? Aside from that, I was surprised to see that one of the greatest difficulties about that criminal proceeding was the communication gap between the defendant and witnesses on one side, and between the judge and attorneys on the other. It appeared that neither the defendant nor any of the witnesses had completed high school, while the judge and attorneys obviously had years and years of high-quality formal education. This left meant they almost spoke completely different versions of English. The biggest problem seemed to be that the "uneducated" side used lots of pronouns w/out making clear connections to their referents ("which 'guy' do you mean?"). Meanwhile, it was sometimes unclear whether the "uneducated" side really understood the "educated" side's questions. One thing that would have helped bridge the gap would have been a whiteboard or something to allow both sides to draw the situation they were trying to describe (people on a street corner) in order to increase the likelihood that they were understanding each other. Big takeaway (condensed into a simple point): Our legal system rewards education, but our educational system fails too many people.

Around midweek I attended the final round of GW's Mock Trial comeptition, which was interesting and very well done, but time-consuming. I had to leave before I learned whether the lawyer-defendant was guilty of murder. Mid-week also saw the introduction of En Banc, which I haven't been able to properly follow or post to because of time constraints.

The end of the week featured a mini-meltdown in Torts involving a probably unreasonable amount of anger at ProfTorts for presenting the Coase Theorem as value-neutral. Sure, in the abstract any theory is value neutral, I suppose, but it's disingenuous for a law professor who is obviously very smart and who could probably not avoid being at least somewhat familiar with the critiques of an idea to present that idea without at least giving some consideration to those critiques. Does it matter if 100 more students internalize the idea as "theoretically good" without even considering its possible pitfalls? Perhaps not. But I'm disappointed to be attending a school that creates the possibility in the first place.

Finally, and thankfully unrelated to law school (I just needed a breather), the week was capped by a Friday night trip to the Apple Store in Clarendon, VA, to pick up a copy of Panther, the new version of Mac OS X. Expose is very cool.

I blinked and the weekend was gone: I went to a 1L job search talk Saturday morning (which I hope to say more about later), helped someone move move most of the rest of the day, played a few hands of poker Saturday night, twiddled with a memo about asylum most of yesterday, and bang, here we are on Monday morning and the memo isn't ready and I've hardly done any of the reading for the week. Time; there simply isn't enough of it.

Someone asked me last week how law school compares to grad school in English and the answer is they both seem difficult, but in very different ways. I'll save the explanation of that for another day.

Happy Monday, everyone.

Posted 05:59 AM | Comments (1)


I keep getting these messages from something called the JD Academic Research Council (JDARC), which describes itself as:

an Internet research community of law students who agree to the confidential assessment of their Internet usage habits. By aggregating the data that we collect in an anonymous fashion, we are able to help companies understand the needs and interests of law students - while maintaining your privacy.

In exchange for information about "internet usage habits," JDARC promises to pay me $10 for registering, $5 for staying through January, and $5 more for staying through May.

I'm sorry, but, no thanks. First, why would I want to help "companies understand the needs and interests of law students"? Do I really want to provide them with more and better ways to convince me I need and want more stuff or services? No. If there's anything I I'm sure I don't need it's better marketing targeted at me. And second, do they really think my time is worth so little? Sure, I've registered at lots of internet sites for free, but those sites didn't insult my intelligence and imply I'm a money-grubbing dolt by offering me a paltry payment in the first place. Without exploring it very far, it seems clear to me that JDARC offers zero value to law students, so it has to offer the illusion of value by offering tiny cash payments.

No thanks. Jerks.

Adding insult to injury, the JDARC website shuns the Safari browser; it won't even load a home page unless you're using IE or Netscape. (I assume a variant of Mozilla would work, but I'm not inclined to try to find out.) Double no-thanks. Doublejerks.

What I want to know is: Did GW sell JDARC my email address?

Posted 05:24 AM | Comments (5)

October 22, 2003

Mid-semester Ouch

Ok, so the one mid-term was all great and good and I learned a great deal from the experience and yadda yadda yadda. So what? Today I'm sick of Torts, and sick of reading and briefing cases. Sick and tired. Ugh.

So instead of saying anything intelligent about anything, I'll just suggest you go visit En Banc, a new group blog to which I hope to contribute something just as soon as my head stops spinning from all the other things I'm supposed to be doing now. Thanks to Unlearned Hand for proposing the project, inviting me to join, building the site, and posting like a fiend to get the ball rolling.

Posted 08:37 PM

October 21, 2003

Midterm II

Tow other things I learned from the experience of taking one midterm: First, one midterm is better than three. See Not for Sheep's experience for more on that. (Question: Under what testing conditions would a 50-page outline really be helpful? I'm thinking it could be great for a take-home exam, but otherwise, who has time to flip through it? Index? Brilliant idea!)

Second, I should have read Getting to Maybe last summer like Sue suggested. I've read bits of it, and that's enough to know it's worth reading in full.

To prep us for the exam (or was it to further convince us to give them lots of money?) the BarBri folks sent USC law prof Charles Whitebread to give us some exam-taking tips. Whitebread is the author of The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance In Law School, which BarBri gives away for free by the truckload. Whitebread's talk consisted of a 40-minute shorthand version of everything in the book, so if he comes to your school, I'd say go listen to him because then you won't need to read the book. The best tip I think he gave was to take the first 10-15 minutes of your exam period to get thoroughly familiar with the question and to organize (outline) your answer. If you do that, you'll have a good plan to follow and then you can just type out your plan.

Another great tip of Whitebread's was to use "the magic words": "But if there were.... but if he has...." The real magic word seems to be "If" because it allows you to explore more options with the facts and increases the chances you'll hit the issues and rules your prof was looking for when he/she wrote the exam. Of course, I have no idea how I did on the test so it's hard to say if this really works, but I can say that the sample answer my prof gave to a sample test used lots of "ifs" and I found it helpful.

Both Whitebread and Getting to Maybe were helpful in advising me not to waste time citing cases or quoting authority, and both encourage students to get right to the point; i.e., begin with "The first issue is...." But while Whitebread advocates the IRAC method for those issues, Getting to Maybe thinks IRAC might just get in the way of exploring the issues fully and that it might also lead students to be too conclusory. I didn't really use IRAC, exactly, for whatever that's worth. And in the end, I guess it's hard to say what advice was good advice until I know how I did. I'll let you know when they tell me, supposedly sometime before Thanksgiving.

Posted 05:48 AM | Comments (4)

October 20, 2003

Law School Midterms

Apparently, the law school midterm is a strange duck—not too common. Today I took my first and only midterm for the semester, a one-hour, one-issue-spotter exam over personal jurisdiction and venue, and I have to say, I highly recommend the whole mid-term experience.

That's not to say it was fun. I spent many many hours over the past weekend reducing a horrible mess of a 20-page outline down to about 1.5 pages of essential material, plus another 7-8 pages of statutes and more complete notes on cases so I'd be covered if I blanked. The question was taken straight from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," except that the "queer eyes" were called "Fab Five, Inc." and instead of being on tv they were a consulting firm in NYC that offered fashion and etiquette tips to men. The main issue was that Fab Five had given advice to a client who was a resident of New Jersey, and when the advice produced bad results, the client brought a suit in diversity against Fab Five in NJ. He also sued the French manufacturer of a tanning spray Fab Five recommended; a third defendant was Allen, one of the Fab Five consultants (the plaintiff was suing Allen for activities that were not directly related to his work as a Fab Five employee). The question was, of course, if the New Jersey U.S. District Court had jurisdiction over these defendants, and if venue was proper.

I spent about 15 minutes reading the facts and organizing an answer, looking through my notes for relevant bits. Then I spent about 25 minutes furiously typing the answer, which left me with nearly 20 minutes to wonder what I'd missed. I'm thinking that's not a good sign, and that will probably show up on my grade. So what I learned from the experience was this:

  1. I need to take much better notes. Thus far I've just been doing the standard Facts, Issue, Holding, Reasoning, Disposition, Random Notes categories in my case briefs. The Random Notes section becomes a catch-all where I basically transcribe most of what happens in class. This leaves me with a bunch of miscellaneous garbage, and when it came time to study I had a hard time sifting through it all to what what was most vital. The lesson is, don't just take down everything that happens in class; prioritize and make the priorities of bits of information clear in your notes.
  2. Another note-taking lesson for me: I need to spend more time with my notes after I take them. I've heard this advice before and now I know it's good: After class each day, spend a few minutes (or more) reducing the notes from that day to a concise outline of the most important bits. This will help you when you study for exams, but it will also force you to make connections between cases you've previously read, and it will highlight those things you still don't understand so you can ask the appropriate questions in the next class or during your prof's office hours.

So in all, the experience was good because it shook me out of my complacency and reminded me that I need to work a lot harder if I'm going to be prepared for and do well on final exams. Yay! I love working harder! I really do!

Posted 07:37 PM | Comments (3)

October 17, 2003

Stuffy Professors Suck

Note to professors: Please do not begin email to your students with "Attached hereto is...." Sorry, but there's really no need for humans to talk that way, even if they are lawyers or law professors. Thanks.

Posted 06:02 AM | Comments (2)

October 15, 2003

Just Wait

To the person who came here looking for "what to do as a law school flunk out ," just wait a couple months and I might have some great ideas for you.

We have a midterm in CivPro on Monday and people are really starting to worry about grades. I've never cared much for grades, and although I know everyone is right when they assure me that grades do matter in law school, I just can't seem to make myself care. I mean, of course I care, but not probably not enough. Put it this way: When it comes down to reading or watching "Survivor," I choose "Survivor." At lunch w/professors a few weeks ago (all four have invited us to lunch in groups, which is nice; one of them even picked up the tab) ProfTorts said the best piece of advice he could give to law students would be to "kill your television." He's right, of course, but that's like telling people to stop shopping at Wal-Mart; it would make the world a much better place, but it ain't gonna happen. ;-)

Now is the time in the first semester when I'm disgruntled. Wait, I'm always disgruntled. Perhaps I should change the name of this blog to "Slanted and Disenchanted" in a blatant Pavement ripoff that would more correctly portray its usual bent. But really I'm too ambivalent about my cynicism and disenchantment to do that much about it.

Instead perhaps I will chuckle at the self-importance of the GW journal write-on competition. It happens next March and already they're warning us to save the date and begin our planning. That's somewhat understandable, given that the competition is the first weekend of spring break and lots of people might be making spring break plans already. What's funny is the precision with which they describe the procedure for competing:

You will pick up the competition packet between 3 P.M. and 8:00:00 P.M. on Friday, and you must return or postmark your completed competition by 8:00:00 P.M. on Monday.

Got that? If you turn your packet in at 8:00:01, your out, buddy. I hope they have a plan for synchronizing our watches, or we could be in trouble.

Posted 08:57 PM | Comments (2)

October 14, 2003

Driving tanks: Not yet a usual activity

Continuing the torts thread of liability for abnormally dangerous activities, such as blasting or keeping tigers in your apartment, yesterday's reading revealed that in determining what qualifies as an abnormally dangerous activity we should consider, among other things, the extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage. Restat. 2d Torts, § 520 (1977). Helpfully, my torts textbook informs me that:

An activity is a matter of common usage if it is customarily carried on by the great mass of mankind or by many people in the community. … Certain activities, notwithstanding their recognizable danger, are so generally carried on as to be regarded as customary. Thus automobiles have come into such general use that their operation is a matter of common usage. This, notwithstanding the residue of unavoidable risk of serious harm that may result even from their careful operation, is sufficient to prevent their use from being regarded as an abnormally dangerous activity. On the other hand, the operation of a tank or any other motor vehicle of such size and weight as to be unusually difficult to control safely … is not yet a usual activity for many people, and therefore the operation of such a vehicle may be abnormally dangerous. (654)

Thanks, Professor Epstein. It's good to know driving tanks is not yet a usual activity, but we better hurry up and file our class action against all Hummer drivers before it becomes so.

Posted 06:29 AM | Comments (3)

October 13, 2003

Legal Eye for the Homicidal Guy

Last Thursday was game day in CrimLaw. I guess after a couple weeks of intense discussion about rape,* ProfCrim thought it would be good to lighten the mood with a little game about homicide. Yeah, that's just the kind of class it is.

In a well-planned exercise, ProfCrim handed everyone in the front row a poster describing a different crime. A few of the posters read as follows:

  • My boyfriend tried to have sex w/me after I said no and I killed him.
  • I drove home after drinking and killed a girl.
  • I'm a police officer and I shot a burglary suspect in the back.
  • I'm a hit person for the mob and for big bucks I killed one of the Sopranos.
  • A guy called me a crossdresser and I killed him.
  • I greased my son's steering wheel like I saw on Jackass and he had an accident and died.
  • My dear mother asked me to kill her when her Alzheimer's made her a vegetable and I did.
These student/"criminals" stood in front of the class holding their posters so that the rest of us could read them, and then ProfCrim asked one student (the "Legal Eye") to grade the punishment each of these "Homicidal Guys" deserved (although they weren't all male). The grades were felony 1, 2, 3, or misdemeanor, following the guidelines set up on the Model Penal Code (MPC).

Out of a class of approx. 100, no one agreed w/the way the student ranked the crimes, showing what a difficult task such ranking really is, and what a big job lawyers and judges and legislators have in making distinctions between different types of killing. But speaking of killing, I continue to be surprised at how willing people seem to be to use the death penalty. Some of them seem wholly ignorant of the growing opposition to the death penalty (also here). My peers never cease to amaze me.

In other law school news, this weekend I finally spent the weekend studying like a real student. We turned in our first legal memo last week, and our next assignment has already begun. The issue: Whether our client is eligible and likely to be granted asylum in the U.S. I spent hours researching asylum law, but unfortunately most of that time was spent fighting with the online legal research services I love so much. At first glance, I prefer Westlaw because it's just easier for me to find things there, but for some reason Westlaw crashes Safari like nobody's business. So I had to turn to Lexis, where it's much more cumbersome to search in different databases. Is it even possible to search multiple databases at the same time via Lexis?

On the plus side, I discovered DEVONthink ("Your supplementary brain!") is a great legal research tool. Whenever I find something on Lexis that seems relevant to my topic, I just highlight, hit shift-command-0, and bang! that bit is copied into my DT database and automatically filed in the appropriate category (that's the gee-whiz cool part).

On the whole, I gained a new appreciation for legal research this weekend. There are a lot of cases out there, and it's no small or easy task to decide which are the best ones to apply to your case. Speaking of which, I've got an annotated outline to work on. Happy Monday, everyone!

* L-cubed has a nice little note about whether "no" means "no" (yes, it does), with links to opinions from Greg Easterbrook and Dahlia Lithwick.

Posted 06:45 AM

October 08, 2003

Illusions of Choice

This might seem totally out of context, but: For the past couple of weeks we've been reading about rape in CrimLaw. I understand it's somewhat unusual for an introductory CrimLaw course to spend so much time on rape, but our prof is doing a great job bringing out the hidden assumptions that underpin our rape laws. So far he's focusing mostly on assumptions about gender and race, but there are plenty of class issues involved, as well. Anyway, we keep reading cases where courts have a hard time deciding whether the sex was consensual, and I keep hearing my classmates say stuff like, "She still had a choice, she should have fought harder, she's responsible for her actions," etc. And all I keep thinking is how often what we call "choice" is but an illusion of choice. Then, while searching for some responses to Katie Roiphe (we're reading "Date Rape's Other Victim," which Roiphe wrote in 1993) I stumbled on this:

'The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions.' - Karl Marx

It doesn't get much more concise than that. (If anyone can identify the source of this quotation, I'd be, as they say out West, much obliged.)

Part of what Roiphe's arguing for is that we should give up some of our illusions about sex and gender, namely that women are fragile and need protection from the predation of lascivious men. She claims this led to Newsweek calling her "the Clarence Thomas of women," whatever that means. Her arguments carry obvious dangers—they could easily be appropriated by anyone who wants to maintain the status quo which seems to let men off the hook for "behaving badly." See, for example, the story of California's new governor. As a society, we too often seem to give men a free pass to grope and fondle, and I'm convinced too many men go unpunished for doing much worse. Hence the question of when choice becomes mere illusion. It sounds nice to say that women should just stop believing they're fragile and start standing up for themselves instead, but if it were really that simple, the world would be a much simpler place, wouldn't it?

Posted 06:01 AM | Comments (3)

October 07, 2003


It appears my partner and I stumbled into a degree of success in the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) contest in which we participated last Sunday. As I mentioned last week, I was a little less than excited by this competition, primarily because it seemed to require "formal business attire," a.k.a. a uniform.
But after ranting against the monkey suit, I gave into the inevitable and, $252 later (thanks to a big sale at Filene's Basement), I had the full uniform (socks and shoes included). And yesterday, we got the call saying, "Congratulations, you made the ADR Board." Yay!

The competition was actually pretty fun. Briefly, it worked like this: Each team of two got a fact pattern describing a dispute between a fictional collegiate athletic association and one of its member schools accused of rule violations. In addition, each team got some "confidential information" about what their client wanted out of the negotiation. The actual contest was a 20-minute negotiation session in which the two teams came together to see if they could reach an agreement. It turned out the confidential info on both sides gave us plenty of room for meeting in the middle, which we quickly did.

Like I said, it was fun, and it's always nice to get positive feedback for the things you do. Still, I feel a little silly about making the board; I mean, after listening to one of its reps lecture me about clothes for 20 minutes, I was convinced ADR was the last thing in law school for me. What's more, I don't really know what role ADR plays in the legal world or what it means to be "on the board." (Can anyone fill me in?) Yet, the idea of ADR seems like a good one; it's supposed to be a friendly thing, as opposed to the adversarial nature of a court proceeding. How can that be bad? I guess we'll see...

Posted 06:16 AM

October 06, 2003

A note on notetaking

Now fully 6 weeks into law school, I've figured out a handy trick to taking notes in Torts. Our torts casebook presents tons of little note-cases, cases mentioned briefly in the notes following the "main" cases that get fuller treatment in the textbook. Since it's often difficult to say whether ProfTorts is going to think any of these note-cases is important, I'm always hesitant to spend much time outlining them. Yet, several times, either the prof or someone in class will throw out the name of a case and I'll vaguely recall reading it, but I'll have to frantically page through the book to find it (sometimes even resorting to the index of cases at the back of the book). The solution I've found to this little problem is this: I simply type the name and page number of every note-case into my notes following my brief of the "main" case. That way, I won't waste time briefing note-cases that don't turn out to be important to the class discussion, but at the same time, if someone mentions "River Wear Commissioners v. Adamson" in class, I can just do a quick find for "River" in my notes and that will point me straight to the page I need.

It's working well so far. YMMV.

Posted 09:16 AM

October 04, 2003


Instead of revising my first memo, reading, working on my legal research homework, or preparing for the ADR competition tomorrow, I'm being held hostage by the web's goodness. For example, who could tear themselves away from this letter slamming the hypocrisy and anti-competitiveness of Microsoft? And don't you want a MSfreePC? And whoa, Time Magazine's cover story this week is Mission NOT Accomplished. You know things are bad for Bush when you see Time shouting about it. Professor Cooper has the roundup on that, including a breakdown of the poll numbers.

In a more law-schooly vein, but also sticking with the anti-corporate fun, I'm loving the rants against Lexis and Westlaw at Three Years of Hell and

For great fun during a study break, you can't beat The Mr. Sanffleburger Corporation Children's Show! (I't a flash animation w/sound, so be careful if you're in a quiet office or library.) Conform. Consume. Obey. [link via TYoH]

Last night we had sangria and tapas at Jaleo, then we saw Lost in Translation, which was an incredibly great movie largely because it walked the line of being a horrible movie but just never really crossed over. In that' way it's a refreshing departure from the Hollywood norm, and it's also refreshing because its pace is human. Instead of relying on quick cuts and lame action scenes to keep viewers engaged, the movie relies on great character development to keep the plot moving. Both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson give stellar performances. We were going to see School of Rock, but it was sold out. Lucky us; "Lost in Translation" was just that good. Highly recommended.

Ok. Must. Work. Now.

Posted 08:09 AM | Comments (3)

October 03, 2003


Calling all cars! Calling all cars! The urgent question has become:

How long can a guy go in law school or a legal career without owning a suit?

Ok, quit laughing, will you? I'm serious. I don't own a suit. I never have. And after making it this far in life w/out owning or wearing the uniform of capital, I don't have any desire to start now. Yeah, that's right, the uniform of capital: Men run around trying as hard as they can to look identical in their black suits with "understated" and "dignified" leashes tied around their necks. They look ridiculous. And why do they do it? Who are they trying to please? The man.

A corollary to today's question: Is it possible to wear a suit and not be a tool?

And but so, maybe I'm joking a little, but I'm serious about the fact that I think suits look ridiculous and I'd really prefer not to ever own or wear one. I feel like Bartleby. I prefer not.


Yesterday I listened to a guy lecture a group of 1Ls for 20 minutes on the rules of appearance for successful lawyers. The hair must be slicked like a movie star's, you must be clean-shaven, you must have a certain collar (not button-down; you want the ones w/the plastic in them to make them stand up right), you must not have a colored shirt w/white collar and cuffs (you're not a partner yet, idiot), your shirt must be white or light blue, you must wear a belt, your tie must be at the perfect link, you must remove earrings, you must wear shoes that can be polished and they must be polished (don't forget to polish the sides of the soles!). Speaking of shoes, if you look down and you can see the soles sticking out around the edges, you need new shoes.

The guy just went on and on. And he was serious. It was sickening. And yes, I know he's an extreme case, but I really just want no part of that kind of business.

Mr. Clothes was supposed to be giving us tips on the upcoming ADR competition, which I sort of stumbled into blindly. Apparently you've got to look as much like your colleagues as possible if you're going to negotiation an agreement with them. Who knew?

Posted 06:22 AM | Comments (6)

October 01, 2003

Real Advice

I forgot to mention in the last post that Liable has some really excellent advice for 1Ls and pre-1Ls on her blog. I especially agree with the first point about briefing the heck out of cases—it helps tremendously. However, I've had to abandon that thorough briefing in the last week or two because there's simply no time for it, plus all the reading, plus the extracurriculars, plus all the legal writing stuff. Our first draft of our first memo was due this week and that took up the majority of last weekend. Thank goodness the memo was closed—we didn't have to do any outside research for it. As for extracurriculars, this week alone features meetings of the law dems, EJF, and NLG, the ADR (alternative dispute resolution) competition, the pro-bono fair, and legal observing at the IWFR rally. It's crazy. I'm learning to write shorter briefs.

Finally, Prof. CivPro gave some helpful advice yesterday about reading cases. Don't just read to find the issue, the holding, the reasoning, etc. Also look for what the case leaves unanswered. For example, if Shaffer v. Heitner says that a court cannot seize virtual property (stock in a corporate entity) to establish jurisdiction, does it say anything about real property? Think about how cases would be different if the facts changed slightly, and if the holding and reasoning would still apply to those changed facts.

Ok, I'm really going to read State v. Alston now. Erg.

Posted 05:20 AM

Baby-stepping through law school

Early morning and I should be working on CrimLaw. And CivPro. And Torts—there's always more Torts ... so many little cases, each one refining the rule just a bit, giving you a twist on what seemed like a straightforward rule or area of law. The work in law school never ends, and it seems, in terms of quantity, to be getting harder. Yet, despite that, it's also getting a little better.

First, I'm starting to understand why I find it so hard to get stressed or really enthused about class. Classes are just too big and impersonal. After having spent three years in grad school for English, I'm used to doing lots of fairly complex reading, but I'm also used to being in small classes of 6-12 students which allow you to actually talk about and engage with the material you read. In grad school, I always knew that if I read closely and took good notes and grappled with the ideas the reading addressed, all that effort would be rewarded in class because I would be able to follow whatever discussion took place, and I would be able to contribute where it was appropriate. In law school, where most classes have 100 students, things are very different. Yes, if you read closely you can follow the discussion better and you'll get much more out of it, but you rarely (like a handful of times per semester) get the satisfaction of actually entering that discussion to test your ideas, put forward your own theories, make the material your own.

My takeaway lesson: Law school classes can be a very passive exercise; however, since you'll get more out of them when you actually participate, you have to actively and consciously fight that passivity. Since it's unlikely you'll be called on to speak, you might get more out of class if you participate in your notes by writing down the hypotheticals, then trying out your own solutions to the problems before your classmates arrive at the "right" answer, which the professor will then confirm he wanted. You have to read closely in advance to be able to do this effectively, so there's some incentive to stay on top of things.

I've also begun to see that there really are a lot of parallels between literature and law. One of those is the way they're taught. As a teacher of introductory literature classes, it took me a while to get used to how slowly and methodically I had to baby-step students through the basic elements of a story or novel: Who are the characters? What is the setting? What's at stake for the characters? (What's the plot?) Why do you think the story does X, when it just as easily could have done Y? How does this story fit in its cultural and historical context? Now, in law school, I see my own professors doing the same thing I did with my students, but instead of baby-stepping us through short stories and novels, my law profs are baby-stepping us through cases: What are the facts? What was the issue? What was the holding? On what reasoning did the court base its holding? How does this case fit into the larger development of its area of the law?

While I often appreciate the slow pace of this method (no, I don't want anymore reading, thanks), I'm also frustrated by the fact that it leaves so little time for any sort of critical reflection or meta-discussion of the material. While Liable says it sounds like my classes focus a lot on policy, I don't think they spend nearly enough time on the big-picture issues and the "invisible" (taken for granted) assumptions on which the law is based. For example, what are the social and political implications of the fact that punishment in our criminal justice system is largely based on utilitarian justifications? What are the alternatives and why have we ended up with this system over others? Or why are economic incentives so vital to the law of torts, and what implications does tort law's emphasis on economics have for culture and society? In contracts, who gains and who loses when courts decide to prefer an "objective theory" of contracts over any other?

My takeaway lesson: I'm sure there are classes in law school that attempt to engage these questions—at least I hope so—but I bet they come later, in the second or third year. Try to be patient and master the fundamentals; then you'll be better prepared for all that meta stuff to come. If you're impatient like me, perhaps recognizing that impatience will make the whole process easier by reminding you that you have to walk before you can run.

Posted 04:16 AM

September 30, 2003

Ashcroft's Punishment Obsession

Attorney General John Ashcroft really, really wants to hurt people, but he doesn't seem to care about the practical effects of his obsession with harsh punishment. I didn't have to start law school to see that federal minimum sentences can be very problematic, and that trying to limit the judiciary's discretion in sentencing could dramatically change our criminal justice system for the worse. Stephen Saltzburg, a professor from my very own school, sums it up best:

"Law and order, tough on crime, tough on sentencing is still the popular way to go," he said. "It doesn't make it right."

This is why academic debates about just punishment are so frustrating; it doesn't matter if lots of law professors, law students, judges and even politicians understand that excessive sentences aren't good for society. So long as the majority of Americans believe that "tough on crime" means more prisons with more prisoners serving longer sentences, we'll continue to hold the honor of being the most punitive people in the Western world. Ah, and what an honor that is.

Man, I better go read my CrimLaw...

Posted 06:11 AM

September 25, 2003


Although school started over a month ago, yesterday marked my real initiation into the thrill of law school.

No, the thrill wasn't my introduction to Lexis, rather, it was CrimLaw, where I was cross-examined for the first time. As I mentioned before, PCrim is the most "socratic" of my professors, and some say he's the most socratic of the entire GW faculty. Not only does PCrim spend each class relentlessly questioning only one or two people but he does so in what I find to be a highly unusual way: Instead of looking at or speaking directly to the student he's questioning, he wanders around the room, looking out the window, at other students, and even at the blank wall or the corner of the room, all the while carrying on his socratic conversation with his chosen respondent. If the chosen student doesn't know the material well, PCrim's method can make the class painfully slow and frustrating; if the student is able to answer in a reasonably lively manner, the class can also be lively, and even somewhat exciting. So far, every student PCrim has called on has at least been able to muddle through, and PCrim is actually very nice and helpful in his questioning—if you stumble or ask for a bit of time, he gladly gives it; if you give the wrong answer or are on the wrong track, he bluntly says so, then kindly rephrases the question. And not only does he rephrase the question, but he will often start using language directly from the case your reading, and he'll review the case to the point where he wants you to be. That way, if you've read the case, the way he asks you the question will often trigger your memory of it and lead you to just the right point to find the answer he's looking for.

So far, PCrim's patience and all the help he offers has guided more than one student through cases that they clearly hadn't read very closely, so PCrim has never had to give up on a student—at least not until yesterday. No, it wasn't me (thank goodness!). I was actually the third person PCrim decided to call on yesterday, partly because the first person… well, let's just say he clearly hadn't read the case. It was a bit painful to watch him fumble through complex "I don't knows," and I have to admire the way he tried to redirect and qualify questions to buy time, but the bottom line was: He hadn't done the reading. The class slowed to a crawl as PCrim spent 10 minutes with this student, patiently giving the student plenty of time to find the answers, and even pointing him to the correct page and paragraph. No dice.*

So PCrim moved on to respondent 2, who did a much better job and the pace of class picked up. We were discussing proportionality of punishment, trying to follow the Supreme Court's decisions about whether the Eight Amendment (which forbids cruel and unusual punishment) contains any sort of guarantee that punishment will be somehow commensurate with the offense. So the material was Harmelin v. Michigan (1991) and Locker v. Andrade, which was just decided in March 2003. PCrim's relief was almost visible as Respondent 2 moved us quickly through Harmelin (which contains a good review of Solem and Rummel, the two other most recent SCOTUS cases in this thread), but he also seemed perhaps a bit more impatient than usual, more quick to cut off wrong answers and press more directly for what he wanted. It was clear to everyone that the time PCrim had spent with the first student meant that we'd have to move briskly to cover both of these complex cases in the time remaining. I was just relieved the class was moving again and—thinking how unusual it was for PCrim to call on more than two people per class—I was just beginning to gaze out the window and think about lunch when PCrim moved to Andrade and said, "Ambimb, please give us the facts of the case."

I'm glad (and relieved) to say that the next 15 minutes flew by, and from where I was sitting (in the hot seat), the time flew because I was able to respond quickly and correctly to 95% of PCrim's questions about Andrade. In addition to the facts of the case, PCrim always asks about what the defendant was charged with, what the issue of the case was, what the holding was, and what reasoning was most crucial to that holding. Andrade, which said two consecutive 25-year sentences were Constitutionally acceptable punishment for the offense of stealing 9 videotapes worth about $150,** also contains a dissenting opinion. Last night, by the time I'd finished all the other reading, I'd only read that dissent once and I hadn't taken the time to absorb the details about it, so I began to stumble a little when PCrim asked about it. Aside from that, my time in the hot seat was actually fairly cool.

The experience taught me at least a couple of things. The first lesson was that law school would be orders of magnitude better if classes were small enough to allow much more of this kind of one-on-one interaction between faculty and students. We spend so much time reading and preparing to discuss cases, and for the most part we never get to discuss them. This makes all that preparation start to seem like a waste, and that encourages law students to slack, skim, and just cram for exams. That makes huge law school classes pedagogically poor.

I also learned that I'm not as cool under pressure as I'd hoped. For the most part, I fielded PCrim's questions w/aplomb because I knew the material; however, a couple of times when he strayed into more difficult questions or questions for which I didn't have a ready answer, I was too impatient with myself and instead of giving the question enough thought to answer intelligently, I just blurted an "I'm not sure" or I just guessed at an answer. From a distance I can see it would always be better to take your time and come up with the best answer you can, rather than just giving up or guessing, but what surprised me is how much pressure I felt when I was on the spot. It's not just that a stern professor is expecting an answer, it's that the whole class is expecting an answer. In the second or two you may pause to consider an answer, the silence of the room can be deafening as the staccato whoosh of fingers tapping on keyboards hangs literally on your words. The takeaway is that you just have to shut that pressure out and have confidence that if you give yourself the chance, you will come up with a better answer than if you just blurt the first thing that comes to your head.

Finally, I learned that it's great to know the material. It's thrilling to have the answers, and to be able to engage the issues of a case with the confidence that comes from knowing you've got a good grip on its facts and those issues. Conversely, not knowing the material can be damned painful and probably comes close to negating the value of attending class at all. That lesson's obvious, but it's good to be reminded of it.

* To be fair, this first student might have read, but might simply have seized up under the pressure of questioning. The fact that he responded w/redirections and evasions makes me think he just hadn't read, but it's hard to tell.

** The defendant, Andrade, was an admitted heroin addict who admitted he stole to support his habit. He had a fairly long history of nonviolent crime—mostly burglary and petty theft—however some of his thefts had been categorized as "violent or serious" at the discretion of the judge and prosecutor. His harsh sentence was the result of California's "three-strikes" law, which says that after you've been convicted of two violent felonies, any other conviction (violent or no) can trigger a 25-year sentence.

Posted 07:28 AM | Comments (2)

Legal Research Crack

Yesterday began w/a Lexis Nexis "training session," provided by a Lexis representative during out LegResWri class. You can't be a law student if you don't know Lexis, can you? For half an hour everyone oohed and ahhed over the magic of Lexis, and the whole time the Lexis rep just kept encouraging us to "use it, abuse it, really get to know and love Lexis—when you get to your law firm, you'll be glad you did." What she didn't say is that Lexis will also be glad we became addicted to its services—completely reliant on them, in fact, because by then we will have forgotten how to use their book equivalents—because that means more money for Lexis. So, basically, GW forced every one of its first year students to let Lexis spend 30 minutes helping them take their first dose of legal research crack.

Why does Lexis get this captive audience to shill its goods? I think other corporations should get in on this, don't you? I mean, I think, to be fair, Starbucks should get at least 10 minutes to encourage us to "drink lots of coffee in law school—when you get to your firm you'll be glad you did because then you'll be ready to stay awake and productive from the early morning to the late late night." Perhaps in the spring some boring black business suit makers could come to our contracts classes to model their boring black business suits and encourage us to wear them to interviews because "when you get to your law firm, you'll be glad you did!"

For the record: Electronic, online legal research rocks. The fact that Lexis makes a profit from it is just plain wrong. Of course I will use Lexis, and of course I will resent Lexis. I will also advocate for a publicly-funded, not-for-profit legal research database that will put Lexis (and West) out of business. We need online legal research; we don't need people making money from it.

So the next time the Lexis or Westlaw rep comes around offering you points or goodies or training, remember that the only reason they're trying to buy your love is so that they can make a fortune off of you over the course of your legal career. If you're a solo practitioner or part of a small firm, be prepared to spend $300/day, $455/week, or $715/month for the full Lexis access you enjoy in law school. Or you can plan to pay-as-you-go at $9 per document/case you access. What a bargain!

Posted 07:23 AM | Comments (4)

September 22, 2003

The Thrill of Defeat!

Today I presented my first oral argument before the GW Court of Appeals, and what do you know—I lost. Ah yes, what a rush.

Ok, so that makes it sound like it was serious, but it wasn't really. My adjunct LegResWri professor (a local practicing lawyer) just thought it would be fun to make us give 5-minute arguments on fictional cases as if we were arguing before an appeals court. And it was kind of fun, but I learned that you can only say "the bar is very high for the level of outrageousness necessary to sustain an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim" so many times before those pretend judges start to see right through the fact that you don't really have much of an argument. Oh well, the class agreed afterward that I had the harder side of the case to argue, so cest la vie.

My crash and burn was followed by a bit of a "save" in Torts when I was able to give the prof the precedent (Griffin v. Clark) for which he was searching in order to illustrate why his crackbrained hypo (which I believe involved a threat to fail anyone who left the classroom in the next five minutes) was different from his previous crackbrained hypo (involving a colorful character named "Disastro" (or something like that) with a gun in his pocket). It was thrilling, let me tell you.

Finally, I ended the day in Contracts by telling the professor that the fact pattern the court found so eminently "reasonable" also described exactly what I'd do if I planned to "screw" someone out of his property. An unfortunate choice of words maybe, but I couldn't help it; the "reasonable person" standard—and the faith the legal world places in it—is so ridiculous it just makes me want to spit. Does anyone really think the "reasonable person" standard is anything more than a scapegoat onto which the jury loads its personal impressions of the litigants' subjective claims? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Back, ye scurvy dogs!

In tastes great, less filling news, don't miss The Law Revue Review. I hereby promise to be lampooned by the Revue Review at least three times in the next year. (But that's a gentleman's promise and I have no intention of assenting to being bound by it. So there.)

And for more perspective on this law school endeavor, don't miss the "journal of a confident 1L" at One Maven, the adventures of Miscellaureous (who seems to be lovin' the law school life and working diligently at it), Transmogriflaw's ongoing accounts of the stress bunnies, Effinchamp's law porn (take that, Bill O'Reilly), and Jeremy's little essay on the merits of thinking of law school as a "credentializing system." Damn, aren't blogs cool!?

p.s.: Who is Gregg Easterbrook?

Posted 08:03 PM

September 21, 2003

Marx Haunts Contracts Text

School's back in session, bright and early in the morning. Yay.

My Contracts text tells me there are two different theories of contract, the "objective" and "subjective." These would seem to correspond nicely to the schools of "legal formalism" and "legal realism," which I only know enough about to be intrigued by. The footnotes tell me that Judge Jerome New Frank, the representative of the "subjective" theory of contract, was a proponent of legal realism, while the great Judge Learned Hand was a proponent of the "objective" theory of contract (which would seem to correspond with legal formalism, although the book doesn't say that).

But all that's just introduction to the next footnote, which provides additional background on Frank's critique of the "so-called 'objective' theory." The footnote says (emphasis added):

The 'actual intent' theory, said the objectivists, being 'subjective' and putting too much stress on unique individual motivations, would destroy that legal certainty and stability which a modern commercial society demands. They depicted the 'objective' standard as a necessary adjunct of a 'free enterprise' economic system. In passing, it should be noted that they arrived at a sort of paradox. For a 'free enterprise' system is, theoretically, founded on 'individualism'; but, in the name of economic individualism, the objectivists refused to consider those reactions of actual, specific individuals which sponsors of the 'meeting-of-the-minds' test [the subjective theory of contracts] purported to cherish. 'Economic individualism' thus shows up as hostile to real individualism. This is nothing new: The 'economic man' is of course an abstraction, a 'fiction.'

So there you have it: You couldn't possibly construct a better example (a "textbook example," no less!) of the way the status quo (in this case the status quo of legal education) actively works to smooth over the contradictions of capitalism to obscure the fact that "free enterprise" is anything but. This is like saying, "Oh, and by the way, your entire life is built around lies." It's so clever how the authors (Farnsworth, Young, and Sanger) stuck this little tidbit in a footnote, and then to marginalize it still further, they wrap it all up with a nice little "but of course we all knew this already, didn't we?"

My professor claims legal realism is "sort of falling out of favor." Shock! You mean the legal establishment is moving away from treating people as human beings rather than as economic tools to be governed by abstract principles? I never would have guessed that by the current state of "globalization"!

Here's what we need: A class called "Marx and the law." Then we'd really be learning something. But instead we'll continue to live in our fictional "free enterprise" system governed by fictional "objective" standards, and we'll continue to wonder why the world seems so screwed up.

Back, ye scurvy dogs!

Posted 06:46 PM

Legal Fat Heads

New-to-me blog Civil Procedure led me to this little article, Bemused About Blogging. As CivPro says, lawyers can be the worst sort of snobs.

Another case in point: I was just reading about how to write a statement of facts and my legal writing text just told me that:

writing this key part of the brief is more challenging than writing a short story or novel. It is harder because you cannot make up desirable facts or imagine away undesirable facts, and because you must appear to persuade without appearing to do so.

Exqueeze me? Writing a statement of facts is harder than writing a novel!? Gee, I guess that's why novelists are a dime a dozen, eh? I mean, anybody can make stuff up, right? I submit that it's damned hard to write a novel, even a really crap one. If it was so easy to make stuff up and write a novel, we wouldn't value good novels so highly, would we? But just like those lawyers who think they're above blogging or pro wrestling, the writers of this textbook think they're above novelists. Whatever.

The good part about this approach to legal writing is that emphasizes that legal contests are really story-writing contests where the "facts" are largely what you make them. I'm sure not all lawyers and legal writing text writers are that ready to take the linguistic turn, but they're already halfway there.

Oh yeah: We survived the hurricane w/nary a scratch. Our power didn't even flicker once and the rain never seemed that heavy. Sure, there are trees down all over the place and thousands of people are still without power, but in this little bubble that is our neighborhood, it was just a little storm. We're the lucky ones, I guess.

Posted 11:49 AM | Comments (3)

September 17, 2003

The Perfect Storm

Yes indeedy, the cliched title for this entry is now perfectly justified by the fact that GW just cancelled all classes for tomorrow. Thank you, hurricane Isabel!

Sure, I'll pay for my day off later, but right now, I couldn't be happier. I'm up to my eyeballs in personal jurisdiction issues (in rem v. quasi-in rem v. in personam—oy vey!),*
and I could really use a bit of time to digest theories of contract and to apply the public necessity doctrine to NAFTA (Ch. 11, I believe).

And don't worry, I don't know what I'm talking about either. But I did learn today that one of my professors clerked for Scalia, and another clerked for both Thomas and Kennedy. Should I be concerned about this? Other than the question of how it's possible for one person to clerk for two Justices, I just wonder how well clerking for a particular Justice predicts a person's political/ideological leanings. I'm acquainted socially with a former Scalia clerk and he's a nice guy but he's frighteningly conservative (after Lawrence v. Texas came out last summer this guy fumed that Scalia's dissent hadn't been vehement enough), which leads me to believe the Justices often choose people of like mind for their clerks. Is that true, or would that be a mistaken or foolish belief?

At any rate, I don't have to worry about it for another day. Instead, perhaps I'll be flabbergasted for a little while by the pResident's recent attempt to pretend he's been telling the truth all along. Then I'll be horrified that the airlines plan to treat Americans like terrorists, and perhaps I'll top it off with an orgy of speculation about what Wesley Clark is going to do to the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Maybe I can even catch up on my Ditzy Genius, Liable, So Sue Me, Cooped Up, and all the other great blogs that I've been unable to read with any regularity amid all the rest of the life's fun.

After all that, maybe I'll even do some homework!


* "You give me that juris-my-diction crap, you can shove it up your ass!" 10 points** to the first commenter to identify the source of that quotation.

** Speaking of points, the way Westlaw and Lexis play their stupid point games really gets on my nerves. But what's worse is the way law students fawn over these services; they act like being able to do legal research online is some sort of holy grail. I wonder what we'll think when we have to start paying for the pleasure of accessing public information through West and Lexis. I wonder how we'll feel if we stop to think that the cost of legal services is way out of the reach of vast numbers of Americans, at least in part because legal research is so damned costly. Gee, why isn't there a publicly-financed legal research service to rival West and Lexis so that anyone could do legal research at any public library anywhere in the U.S.? It's all about the points, baby, the points.

Posted 08:56 PM | Comments (6)

September 15, 2003

Now Live from Dupont Circle

Ok, so we've moved. Last Saturday we went from zero (nothing packed) to completely moved in 18 hours or less, which was a new record for me. It's great fun. If you get tired of your job or law school or would just like a change of scenery, I highly recommend just picking up and moving across town. You'll be so busy sweating your ass off, you won't have time to think about anything else. I really have no intention of passing my classes this semester, anyway, so it's all good.

But yeah, ai is now coming to you live from just outside Dupont Circle, which I like to tell people is the heart of the heart of the heart of the ____________ here in D.C. You can fill in the blank w/just about whatever you want—museums, coffee shops, book stores, live music, political activism, good restaurants, cool movie theatres, and on and on—it's all here or a short walk or metro ride away. Now my stroll to school is about 20 minutes, and by bike it's like I blink and I'm there. Life is good.

Bonus: We moved in to find full cable already in effect, including wireless internet access! I don't know who's paying for this, but I'll be happy to make use of it while it lasts. The only problem with the cable is that it includes HBO, which is basically video crack—like playstation, but maybe worse because it calls you at regular intervals to say "watch me, your favorite show is on! you can't miss this! drop everything and watch watch watch!" Last night featured a HBO-crack binge of epic proportions, beginning at around 8 p.m. with reruns of the Sopranos, followed by some SITC action (I've always loved Steve, too), and then we had to check out Carnivale (trippy—by far the most Twin Peaks-ish tv since Twin Peaks), and we just couldn't tear ourselves away from K Street. Holy firetruck, after all that, I practically had to be peeled off the couch, not only because all that programming was such an mental overload, but because well, what the heck is up with Howard Dean being on K Street and what the hell are he and HBO trying to do!? If you didn't see it, Salon summarizes most of the Dean part in its coverage:

In a debate prep with Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean -- which Dean agreed to partially because he was thrilled to get some free advice from two of the highest-profile political strategists in Washington -- Begala comments on one of the current president's strengths: "One of the ways that Bush is an enormously disciplined politician is he never answers hypotheticals. He doesn't entertain that option." Begala also says that the best way for Dean to "chip Bush down" is with humor. It's tough not to be interested and engaged with such slices of strategy-building.
What that summary doesn't tell you is that during this fictional? real? debate prep, one of the K Street characters fed Dean one of the big jokes he used in the Baltimore debate, which was:
Well, if the percent of minorities that's in your state has anything to do with how you can connect with African American voters, then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.

After watching the K Street, I couldn't decide if James Carville, et al, really fed Dean that line, or if the show's editors had just made it seem that way. Salon seems to think it wasn't just the magic of editing. I don't know. Does it matter? I don't know. Dean's blog went wild with comments after the show; I think they mostly liked it. The Washington Post seems a little baffled by the show. Ah well, it certainly entertained me.

And now CivPro beckons. Do you think 10 hours of homework/reading time/week is sufficient to achieve success in law school? ;-)

Posted 04:44 PM | Comments (4)

September 11, 2003

Crimes of Omission

The best question raised by law school thus far: Why does common law permit people callously to permit harm to come to others, even when they could prevent or mitigate it at no significant risk to themselves? I understand the arguments about tough line-drawing problems and all that, but don't courts and juries exist to draw those difficult lines?

I've been omitting to post, but thank goodness that's not a crime. Y'all know I'm usually just, Talking Loud and Saying Nothing anyway. ;-)

Today's Crimlaw promises to be interesting as ever. We'll recognize 9-11-01 by discussing the proposition that America's brand of criminal justice is like terrorism in that both are instrumental violence, and that instrumental violence is almost always immoral. (By "instrumental" I mean the Kantian view that no human should ever be used as a means to an end.) Our professor argues that we categorically condemn the violence of terrorism because it is instrumental (terrorists kill innocents to make a political point, thereby using the innocents as means to an end), yet we actively support the violence of harsh criminal punishments, again, because we see such punishments as instrumental (we think imprisoning criminals or killing them makes us safer, therefore we're using those people as means to an end). This double-standard dilutes America's moral standing in its fight against terrorism; therefore, reform of the criminal justice system may, in the long run, reduce terrorism. (Ok, the prof doesn't go that far, but it's a logical extension of his argument.)

The argument doesn't get to the main point I'd like to discuss, namely that our "war on terrorism" is itself counterproductive, regardless of how our criminal justice system works. Still, it's something to sink your teeth into. Now I better get going to do just that.

Posted 07:22 AM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2003

Backson Bisy Backson

Monday already? Where did the weekend go? According to The Tao of Pooh, Chinese philosopher Chuang-tse told this little parable about being busy:

There was a man who disliked seeing his footprints and his shadow. He decided to escape from them, and began to run. But as he ran along, more footprints appeared, while his shadow easily kept up with him. Thinking he was going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without stopping, until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died.

If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints. If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared (92-3).

Isn't that a great story? It's the best explanation I can offer for ai's silence of late. Catching up from the sleep deprivation of Vegas took several days, and then there's that thing known as homework that seems to take some time. So far I'm getting by on doing the bare minimum, but I haven't really been called on in any class yet, so I'm sure my slacking is going to tell on me soon.

This past weekend I thought I'd do all my catching up, but instead L. and I spent much of the two days scouting for a new place to live. She said all along that we should plan to live closer to GW so I could come and go from classes easily, walk the dog, go back to school for evening meetings or study sessions, etc. I disagreed, saying we should live further away to save money. She was right, I was wrong. The daily commute and trying to keep the dog adequately exercised is killing us, and already I've missed a number of extracurricular events that might have been fun, interesting, and certainly worth attending. Now it looks like we'll be moving downtown—perhaps as early as next week. What homework?

One tidbit from school: Some of the most annoying comments in class are those that attempt to tell the professor and the class what the decision in a case should have been, or what the rule should be, or how the law should or does work. Come on, people! Stop and think for a second how ridiculous these pronouncements sound! I've heard this advice before, but now I can say from experience that it's excellent advice: Talk in class only when you have something really good to say, and if you must speak, make it a question, not a pronouncement.

Bisy. Backson.

Posted 06:01 AM | Comments (1)

September 02, 2003

Learning to Spell

Hi. Vegas was excessive in all ways, which is why it exists. I'm busy burrowing out of small mounds of work that have accumulated, and I must learn that "judgment" has only one "e" and that "statute" is not "statue" and, well, is it just me or is the gratuitous use of latin in court decisions about the most lame pretentious crap you've ever seen?

Posted 09:01 PM | Comments (10)

August 28, 2003

Skipping School

Since I don't want to maximize my chances of success in law school or anything like that, I'm off to spend the next 5 days in Lost Wages, NV (aka: Las Vegas). Did I mention I'm a gambling addict?

Oops! That was a lie. There's a wedding. In Vegas. Imagine that! I'm best man. And I made the promise to be best man long ago, so there's really no getting out of it now, no matter how badly I want to get to CrimLaw today to hear what PCrim has to say about retributive theories of justice. And I do want to hear it, because he's talking theory, and theory is where it's at, in a two turntables and a microphone rockage sort of way.

By the way, what I think I understand about the rich, creamy horseshit about holding people to rules we can't live up to ourselves is this: Coleridge was a servant of the law and felt he had to send a message that murder is wrong by sentencing Dudley and Stephens to death, but in his decision he encoded a hint to the queen that only she had the power to show mercy to these poor chaps, and that's exactly what she did. If it wasn't 5 a.m., I'd find the quote for you, but as it is, I'll leave it there and hope all you brilliant and knowledgeable people will tell me what you got out of the case or Coleridge's standard of law.

So posts probably be zero until sometime next week, when probably I'll flunk out of school, both because I'm missing two days of classes and because I don't have this software.

Have a great Labor Day holiday!

Posted 04:01 AM | Comments (2)

August 27, 2003


First class in Criminal Law yesterday. The Prof is notorious for being, um, difficult—a hard-line, old-school Socratic method teacher. After 1 minute I could see why. He started off by calling a random name from his list of students, then he said to her: "Student X, I'm going to make a few introductory remarks and then I'm going to ask you to tell us about Regina v. Dudley and Stephens. Just a nice, friendly conversation. I'll be back to you in a minute."

And he proceeded to do just that. Student X was on the spot for the next 50 minutes, and she did a great job. PCrim seems to cross-examine students as witnesses to the reading, rather than simply asking them questions about it. I understand what intimidation is now, but strangely I also understand the value of it (I think). Forcing a student to perform like that puts them in a position they will likely be in if they ever decide to do trial work, so I'm guessing the experience will weed the trial people from the rest. If you enjoy PCrim's class, you might like to go into criminal work. Maybe. Whatever the value of this method, it created an electricity in the room that was almost palpable. I don't think anyone will be slacking in PCrim's class.

Best moment: Lord Coleridge (who wrote the Regina v. Dudley opinion) wrote:

We are often compelled to set up standards we cannot reach ourselves, and to lay down rules which we could not ourselves satisfy.

And PCrim's question for Student X in response to this was:

Have you ever heard such rich, creamy bullshit?

Is there a correct answer to that? PCrim didn't say. It sounds like rich, creamy bullshit to me, but I'm good at proving how little I know.

Reading for Crim was also great: Kant v. Jeremy Bentham, as in retributive justice v. utilitarian. Would it be plausible to say that this is another formulation of the contemporary binary between legal formalism (retributive) and legal realism (more utilitarian)? Just thoughts, but great stuff to sink your teeth into.

Off to day four....

Posted 05:55 AM | Comments (3)

August 26, 2003


Things I wish I had more time for at the moment:

And I'm sure there's lots of more greatness out there I'm missing or forgetting, but see, I don't have time, because of Torts. Torts requires too much reading, dammit. I'm off to Mohr v. Williams: ears, doctors, what fun!

Posted 06:33 AM | Comments (4)

August 24, 2003

First classes, first impressions:

On Tuesday morning as I walked from my metro stop to the second day of orientation, the song on the iPod was "Nervous Breakdown Prevention Day" by Elevator Ride, and all day the lyrics running through my head were:

They say no man is a mountain, and every rock will wash to the sea. My massive ego is bigger than any ocean and when I fall nothing can contain me.

Interpret that as you may,* it seemed appropriate, and it may yet prove true, but I think it's safe to say at this point that the first week of law school served me with notice that this won't be easy. It may not be nearly as difficult as many people have claimed, but it won't be easy. That said, a few thoughts about the first classes:

Legal Research & Writing (Legresandwry?): Having a small group class like this is good, but the initial grammar "test" was ridiculous. The test asked us to identify whether certain marked passages were correct, or whether the suggested changes would be better. That's fine, but there were lots of mistakes in the text that we didn't have the option to identify or comment on. From this "test" I gather that the legal writing program here will encourage me to use the passive voice regularly (but apparently not always), it will be very concerned with what it considers the "proper" use of commas, it will praise me for my ability to use semicolons, and it will also reward me for the fact that I understand the difference between its v it's, effect v. affect, then v. than, etc. I'm realizing I may have to try hard not to be the English geek who argues over style and grammar with the TA and practicing lawyer who joint teach this course. When I taught business writing courses I told my students that they would do well if they wrote like I taught them to write, but that what would really matter in the "real world" was what their boss said. When your writing is going to judged by anyone, be it a teacher or a boss or the ultimate recipient, that person is your "800-lb gorilla" and you better do whatever he/she thinks is best, or you may find yourself getting squashed. I will try to take that lesson to heart now.

Contracts: The structure and apparent simplicity is appealing at the moment. "A contract is a promise or a set of promises that the law will enforce." Simple, right? Of course, that's just the tip of an iceberg, but so far the way PContracts (aka: PC, the professor) is presenting the info is making this the easiest class for me to follow at this point.

Torts: Oh. My. Gawd. For some reason I'm still trying to figure out, the first class was very frustrating. Prior to class we'd read several cases; in class PTorts (aka: PT, the professor) presented a hypo (for you sports fans, the hypo was the "sausage beater" case from last month) and then asked how many torts we could identify. No intro, no preamble, we were just expected to start applying what we'd learned from the cases to this new case. I found myself frustrated by the slow pace at which the discussion progressed as PT seemed to repeat or rephrase every response he got from the class. It seemed he didn't want anyone to feel stupid on the first day, so he took pains to try to make everything we said sound plausible, if not smart. But in hindsight I can think of other possible reasons the class seemed frustrating, primarily that I don't care about baseball or sausage races; I want to think and talk about serious issues like poverty and domestic violence and environmental degradation, etc. And I realize how stupid that sounds; I know I can't expect to just think about/work with cases and issues and questions that I deem important, and I know that this sausage beater case was just an example to illustrate points of law that I may someday want to apply to some case or issue I find more worthwhile. I know. Still...

At the risk of showing my age, I'm reminded of the early scene in "Say Anything" when Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is dubbed the "keymaster" at a party and someone comes up to him yelling about keys and Lloyd grabs the guy and shakes him, shouting, "Chill! You! Must! Chill!" I'm working on it.

The other notable aspect of my first Torts class was the way PTorts had to wait and search for a woman to raise her hand; every time he asked a question, a dozen male hands shot up, but after calling a couple of men, PTorts would wait for a woman to raise her hand so he could call on her. I'm glad he did that to provide balance, but it's too bad he had to.

CivPro: PCP (aka: Professor Civ Pro) says he's not thrilled about teaching from The Power of Procedure: The Litigation of Jones v. Clinton, but that's what sounds like the best part of the course to me. PCP started with a mock "escalation auction" as an example of how litigation costs can spiral out of control, and that was about it. We're supposed to talk about Mayo v. Satan on Tuesday, so I'll have more to say then.

That's it. There's not much to say because not much has happened. So far the biggest challenges are case briefing (I'm writing way too much for each case) and the social scene. For whatever reason—differences in age, life experience, interests, or whatever—it seems the only people I've had good conversations with so far are those who are older than I am. My typical conversation with a law student so far goes something like this:

Q: So, where you from?


Q: Oh. What school did you go to?


Q: Oh. Have you been out of school for a while, or did you come straight here?


Q: Oh. I'm gonna go see if I can meet some other people.

Sound like fun? Oh, it is! On Friday I got home and pulled a cold beer from the back of the fridge. It was a special beer because it was one a friend of mine had made and given to me last spring before I moved to DC. I've moved many times in my life, so leaving friends and making new ones is not a new experience, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a hard thing to do. Pouring that beer was like pouring a glass full of nostalgia, and as I took the first drink I thought of all the great friends I had in Illinois, and for a second I thought I was going to cry. What the hell was I thinking moving here and starting law school!? But then I remembered: those aren't friends I had, those are friends I have, and instead of lamenting losses, I drank a toast to them. (I love you guys!) Then I smoked some video crack played playstation. It's all good.

Maintaining perspective: It's only been a few days. I'm confident the social aspect of law school will get easier as time passes, even as the difficulties of the academic aspects increase. Everything will balance in the end.

*Aren't those the best lyrics? Elevator Ride will provide the connoisseur of lo-fi, indie guitar rock with massively amped rockage, which you can hear for yourself by downloading the free mp3s at

Posted 04:06 PM | Comments (6)

August 21, 2003


The final day of orientation was the day the faculty and upper level students tried to get real about what law school was about. We learned we should be working 60 hours/week as law students (including class and study time), and that this was considered a normal work week for most people and should leave us plenty of time to have happy and full lives. Um, excuse me!? Have you ever heard of the 40-hour work week? Guess not.

The day began with a student organizations "breakfast" where I was glad to see there's a good mix of options for those inclined toward public interest and social justice. The Equal Justice Foundation, the American Constitution Society, and the National Lawyers Guild were all represented, plus there's an Environmental Law Association and a group called "Street Law" that sends law students into DC public schools to teach kids about the law. It's not AU's Marshall-Brennan Fellowship Program, but it's a start.

The rest of the day consisted of advice from upper-level students (most of which I've heard and discussed here before), and advice from select faculty, much of it along the lines of the Dean's welcome: We have an obligation to use wisely the power we are going to gain in law school. A highlight was superstar Jonathon Turley's entertaining performance in which he argued that the difference between good lawyers and crap lawyers is that the good lawyers like what they're doing. According to Turley, the secret to being successful in the practice of law is taking time early in law school to explore your options and find the area of law that excites you the most, rather than following the hordes into the area of law that pays the most. Amen to that.

The day was capped with a "Dean's Reception" featuring free finger food, punch, beer, wine, and all the awkward conversation you could stomach. It didn't take long for me to get my fill of that, so while I suspect the hordes spent their last evening before the start of classes conducting various bonding and mating rituals (lubricated, I'm guessing, with generous amounts of cold beverages), I spent mine at Politics and Prose listening to Jim Hightower explain why he's optimistic about the potential of the grassroots to reverse the avalanche of bad policies being created by the Bush administration and a spineless Democratic party (also known in Hightower-speak as "wobblycrats"). It was a good talk, made better because the crowd was huge and lively. I found myself thinking how refreshing it seemed to be out of the law school and in the "real" world. Then I realized: School hasn't even started yet and I'm already glad when I can get away! Should this tell me something?

But I'm not going to dwell on that. The transition from a life of leisure to a life of work and responsibility is always hard, regardless of what comprises that work and responsibility. Class starts today—in a couple of hours, actually—and I'm ready to go. One of the first cases we had to read for Civil Procedure was US ex rel. Gerald May v. Satan and His Staff, in which the plantiff

alleges that Satan has on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of the plaintiff, that Satan has placed deliberate obstacles in plaintiffs path and has caused plaintiff's downfall.

Plaintiff alleges that by reason of these acts Satan has deprived him of his constitutional rights.

I'm not kidding. I can't wait to hear what the professor has to say about this. To quote the exuberant opening line from "No One's Leaving" by Jane's Addiction ("Ritual de lo Habitual"): "Here we go!"

Posted 07:27 AM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2003


After two fairly full days of welcome speeches, tours, and standing in line to fork over money for books and to get pictures taken for multiple IDs, I'm beginning to feel fairly well oriented. A quick rundown of the highlights includes:

The Dean's Welcome Speech: Yeah, it was the usual hot air about how great we all were and how great GW is and how happy GW is to have us and how happy we should be that GW let us in, yadda yadda yadda. Interesting facts: GW turned down more students than applied to any other law school except one; 26 people applied for each available seat. CNN's "Crossfire" (which CNN films at GW) wouldn't give the law school all the tickets it wanted to the show because Crossfire claims GW students only clap for guests on the left. My class includes a professional quarterback from the Canadian Football League and someone who formerly worked as an executive secretary to Donald Rumsfeld and as a social secretary to George Bush.

But while those are interesting facts, the best part of the Dean's welcome was what he said about the opportunities and responsibilities of a law degree, which might be best summarized by this statement:

There's nothing ignoble about serving business interests, but I want you to think of serving the public interest as one of your central obligations.

The Dean concluded with a surprising, two-part "homework" assignment. First, we should visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum—start at the beginning and read only the legal edicst posted on the wall. "You'll see, brick by brick, how lawyers and judges participated in the creation of that system." The lesson is that lawyers are capable of doing extraordinary evil.

The second part of the Dean's assignment is to read or see the movie of To Kill A Mockingbird. He explained that there were two scenes in particular toward the end of the book that he hoped would serve as "guiding beacons" for our careers in law. The first is when a character is found stabbed to death, and while others try to claim it was an accidental death, Atticus Finch explains he won't accept that because he wants to be able to look his kids in the eye. The second is at the end of the book's major trial; although Atticus loses, he's given everything he could to save the life of a black man wrongly accused of rape, and as he leaves the courtroom the community stands in respect of what he's done. The Dean's takeaway lessons from these two scenes were:

You need to be able to look in people's eyes, and people will stand when you do the right thing.

Ok, maybe they're a little sentimental (aka: cheesy), but those sound like pretty good guiding beacons to me.

Another Dean (there are many) followed the Dean, and gave us many additional pieces of wisdom from "great thinkers," the best of which were:

Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard


To be uncertain is uncomfortable; to be certain is ridiculous. —Chinese proverb

Mandatory Financial Aid Session: This was great fun—two hours of really bad powerpoint slides. The gist of it was you should have no more than three credit cards, check your credit record and make sure it's clean, and everything you spend now is borrowed against future income. "That $3 latte you buy today really costs $100." That's putting things in perspective.

Locker rentals: We get to share! How fun! Yes, this is very high school, but it's not even that because the lockers aren't big enough for one person's books and coat and computer and whatnot, let alone the stuff of two people. What are they thinking?

Library tour: Twenty minutes of talk about which computers to use for what, where and how to print and copy things, how to get our laptops connected to the internet, etc. Oh, and there's some books over there.

Lessons in Case Briefing: Helpful, thanks. It doesn't seem to be a big mystery, but we'll see.

Academic Integrity talk: Fifteen minutes of "don't lie, cheat, or steal, because, well, it's bad." And if you lied on your application materials, you better fess up now 'cause it'll only be worse for you later if you don't. Check.

Faculty panel discussion on International Human Rights Issues: This was terrific. Professor Steinhardt opened with this message: Myths that human rights law is unenforceable or "not real" are "based on a pathological misunderstanding of the world." What followed was a crash course in the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which gave federal district courts jurisdiction over civil actions by aliens for torts committed "in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." Steinhardt explained that since the Filartiga case, much has changed in the way the Alien Tort Claims Act has been used to enforce human rights. Plaintiffs are naming additional defendants, including sitting and former heads of state, those in positions of command and responsibility, multinational corporations when they're enmeshed with governments in ways that require human rights violations for profit (Unical, Talisman), and U.S. state and municipal officials. Plaintiffs are also alleging new types of torts (transboundary abductions, war crimes, genocide, slavery and slave-like practices, terrorism, prolonged arbitrary detention and disappearance), and the types of plaintiffs have changed—there have even been successful human rights class actions. Unfortunately, both Professor Steinhardt and his colleaque, Professor Murphy, seemed to agree that the real difficulty in improving human rights around the world is the almost "visceral resistance to international law." Gee, I wonder where that comes from....

Crossfire: Although the law school wasn't able to get as many tickets as it wanted, it did get some and I was able to be in the audience for yesterday's show. I'd never seen Crossfire before and after only a minute or two I understood why: It's a complete waste. For those of you who haven't seen it, let me explain: The show pits partisans on the right and left against each other to "debate" important issues; however, since the show only lasts 15-20 minutes (lots of commercial breaks), these partisans only have enough time to lob soundbite bombs at each other. There's no real debate, and important issues—like what the U.S. should do about the mess it's made in Iraq—get reduced to simplistic yes/no, black/white binaries like, this:

Tell us, was it worth going to war in Iraq in the first place? Press one if you believe it was worth it; the benefits of getting rid of Saddam outweigh the costs. Press two for, no, the United States should not have gone to war there.

It sure would be neat if we could reduce this to a yes/no equation, but we can't. Crossfire seems to do this with every question (the guests repeatedly attempted to pin each other down with simplistic questions like this), which makes it utterly useless, as far as I'm concerned. Why do people watch this show?

Computing: Trying to use a Mac at PC-only GW remains the biggest hurdle to a smooth transition into this student's life in the law. As detailed elsewhere, GW is trying to standardize on Cisco's LEAP encryption system for its wireless network, which I thought would be fine because Apple's Airport supports LEAP. But GW also uses the WatchGuard Authentication system and I think that might be preventing me from connecting. My computer gets on the network ok, but I can't seem to access the Internet. And even if I can get online, there's still the question of printing. GW uses the Pharos print management system, It looks Mac-friendly, but GW may not have set it up to be. I haven't checked with GW's support folks about any of this, but after the response I got when I asked about using a Mac before, I'm not optimistic.

Note: If you're a GW law student who has used or is using a Mac at GW.... help!

That's it. Orientation ends today with breakfast with student groups, a student-led "survival skills" seminar, and a similar faculty-led "survival" session that I think is going to be more comic relief than substantive advice. If I hear any good jokes, I'll let you know.

Finally, let me come out of my self-absorbed shell for a second to say: Best of luck to everyone else starting law school in the coming weeks!

Posted 07:27 AM | Comments (3)

August 15, 2003

Countdown Lowdown

Law school starts Monday with three days of orientation, and to get things going the Dean has dutifully posted a "welcome letter" (link may require password) to the GW website to stroke the egos of the school and its incoming students:

This year the Law School received close to 12,000 applications for our class of 500 students. One out of every seven people who applied to a law school in the U.S. applied to GW. From that, we have drawn an exceptional class, one of the very best in our history.

I guess we should feel pretty good about that, and I guess I do. But really, as usual around here, ambivalence reigns. I'm excited to get started and the pre-big-new-thing jitters have begun, but I'm also sad to leave the life of leisure I've enjoyed all summer. Another way to put that is my ass has gotten lazy and the start of school means I have to get off of it and doing something with my life. Ah well, all good things do come to an end, don't they?

Question for others familiar with law schools for whatever reason: Is it common for schools to withhold the orientation schedule until orientation begins? All GW has told us is that we should show up at 9 a.m. Monday and that orientation will last three days. That's great and everything, but it's not very helpful for people who have things like kids, jobs, or any other obligations at all. I'm a big lazy bum so I don't have much happening, but I was going to see the dentist next week and can't really make an appointment because I don't know what my schedule will be. Of course, I have no clue about my class schedule, either, so planning anything after Monday is basically impossible. The reason I wonder if this is common is that it sends a message that your life is over when law school starts, or at least that your time belongs to the law school and is no longer within your control. "All your time are belong to us," GW seems to be saying. Do all law schools take this kind of approach to their incoming classes?

Maybe I'm more sensitive to this because GW's computer policy strikes me as imperious, as well, so I fear I'm seeing a trend. I guess I'll find out soon enough....

Posted 07:33 AM | Comments (7)

August 12, 2003

The ABA is Broken

According to a recent study by the ABA's Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness, law school costs too much and it's hurting the legal profession [link may require subscription]:

Between 1992 and 2002, the report noted, the cost of living in the United States rose 28 percent, and average tuition at public law schools jumped 134 percent, to $9,252, for in-state students, and 100 percent, to $18,131, for out-of-state students. Tuition at private law schools increased 76 percent, to $24,920, during the same period. ... In 2002, the average starting salary for lawyers in private practice was $90,000, more than twice the $36,000 average for public-interest jobs.

No kidding? Here's what the ABA recommends to change the situation:

Congress should enact legislation, or the U.S. Department of Education should change existing regulations, to forgive income-contingent loans sooner and to eliminate provisions of those loans that amount to a marriage penalty.

More law schools should create their own loan-forgiveness programs, along with scholarships and fellowships for students who choose public-service jobs.

State and local bar associations should create or expand loan-forgiveness programs.

Here's a better idea: Make law school 2 years instead of three and put a cap on tuition. I'm sorry, but when most law school classes hold 150 or more students, I can't see how the costs of professors' salaries and infrastructure could require each of those students to be paying $30k/year for the privilege of being in class. You could also eliminate the costs of doing legal research by creating a public domain research service that will put Lexis-Nexis out of business, which would cut costs dramatically for both law schools and practicing lawyers. I'm sure there are other ways the system could be reformed, but judging by this report, the ABA doesn't seem too serious about it. Tell me again why the ABA exists?

Oh yeah. The legal world and I are going to be best friends, aren't we?

Posted 09:52 AM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2003


That's right: some law students are making $2400/week!! this summer interning for big firms in NYC. It says so right here (scroll down to August 4), but since I don't see permalinks or archives I'm just gonna quote the story because it's a good story and worth saving for posterity:

Smooth Criminal

Friday was the last day of work for the summer associates here. They're like summer interns but they don't do any work. They get paid $2400 a week (not a typo) and get taken out to fancy dinners and fancy lunches. It's how law firms recruit you before buying your soul.

Friday night I got into the elevator with one of the summer associates. We were both leaving for the night. He had a folder in his arms so I leaned over and looked in jokingly, asking if he was stealing office supplies on his last day.

Sure enough, there were 5 or 6 legal pads, 4 post-it note pads still wrapped, and a box of pens.

Now, it's not that my firm can't afford it. It's just that this guy was making $2400 a week and still found it necessary to steal some fucking pens.

And his stupidity was astounding. NOBODY steals office supplies on their last day- you're supposed to steal them the day before your last day so nobody notices. I can't work with an attorney that dumb.

So now I have to decide whether to go and report this asshole to the recruiting people. But I think that I should take care of this problem like a true attorney: don't snitch on him but make his life a living hell when he eventually comes to work for this firm.

So see, you can be an absolute idiot and still almost pay all your law school bills just by working for three months in the summer. Um, are there strings attached?

Posted 05:51 PM | Comments (2)

Dude, You're Getting into Hell

If you buy a Dell, do you enter computer hell? Of course not, at least not about 75% of the time. The other 25%, well, you're taking your chances. At least that's what it sounds like from Andrew Orlowski's description of "the finance capitalists' model of what a technology company should be." [Link via Scripting News] In a story about a possible (rumor-only) partnership between Apple and Sun, Orlowski writes:

Wall Street has a very clear idea of [what a technology company should be], make no mistake: the hardware is created by Intel, the software is created by Microsoft, the support calls are fielded by ambitious Indians who've been trained to speak English with an Alabama accent, and the 28 per cent return rates that Dell fields for its laptops are well, best not to be mentioned at all, ever.

I guess that means approximately 100 GW Law students will be returning their spanking new, law-school-mandated computers in the next few months. Gotta love that GW computer policy. I mean, it's great that the law school puts the welfare and convenience of its students first.

Posted 07:45 AM

August 06, 2003

Anonymity III: We'll miss you, O & N!

The law student blogging community is saying a sad farewell to Open and Notorious, which is ceasing (or has ceased) publication. [Link via FalconRed] Apparently, there were people who didn't appreciate o and n's attempt to give a candid (and often humorously scathing) picture of several students' experience of law school. According to "learned foot," one of the site's authors:

we're all about free expression, but we care about our careers more. it's not worth it. let's just leave it at that.

This may have been building for some time; the o and n crew took down their archives some time ago and they don't seem to even offer permalinks to individual posts (which is clever, because the structure of those permalinks would allow people to find additional archives, if any remain online).

As a parting gift, "Learned Foot" offers some excellent advice to law students everywhere:

to the rising 1L's. i hope you took the following message home with you: you can be a mediocre student at a mediocre school and still rock the living shit out of your law school experience. you can get the coveted internship. you can get the "bling bling" job - or the job you want. none of us made law review. none of us were even in the top third. we don't go to harvard, stanford, columbia, or the like. and we're doing just fine. some even fabulously. don't allow yourselves to be shackled by the words of the drone army (e.g. "if you don't make law review, you might as well quit." "if you're not in the top 20% you might as well just kiss your career goodbye.") perhaps i should tell you a story of a friend of a friend who got a 2.6 her first year of law school at a second tier school ranked lower than ours. through clever networking and a lot of persistence, she ended up with a better job than most of the people on law review. how did she do it? her answer: "it only depends on how much rockage you have." don't give up, be personable, follow your leads, go for what you want. it's possible, and you don't need law review to get there. besides, it's the clever and persistent ones who think outside the box who are hungry and won't take "no" for an answer who make it as good lawyers. food for thought.

Yes indeedy, it's all about the rockage. And maybe we can take away one more lesson from Open and Notorious: If you're going to blog law school, decide in advance whether you want to plan to be in it for the long haul, or the short term. If you're in it for the long haul (meaning you hope to be able to maintain your blog through law school and perhaps beyond), you'll have to be more careful about what you say. This doesn't mean you can't tell it like it is, but it does mean you have to be prepared to stand by what you say if anyone—including a professor, an administrator, another student, or a prospective employer or other colleague—decides to ask you about it.

If you're in it for the short term (meaning you don't care too much if you have to abandon your blog at some point in the future), you can say whatever the hell you want. Still, if people learn of your identity, you might, as Ricky Ricardo was so fond of saying to Lucy, have some 'splaining to do.

In some ways Open and Notorious seems to have lived up to it's name perfectly. They were open—about what they thought, if not about who they were. And because of their "openness" they became notorious. Unfortunately, that notoriety has forced them to become permanently closed.

Is it better to burn out than fade away?

Ah, nevermind. Just remember: "it only depends on how much rockage you have."

Posted 02:03 PM | Comments (1)

August 05, 2003

DGLS and Anyonymity II

Dylan Goes to Law School is another new-to-me blawg by a soon-to-be 1-L. Dylan nails the whole anonymity question: Basically, trying to remain totally anonymous (and worrying about whether you're succeeding) is just too much trouble. Meanwhile, if the casual observer doesn't know you are you, that's no big deal either. I've been waffling on whether it's inconsistent of me to continue posting as "ambimb" if I'm going to claim I'm not concerned about anonymity, but as Dr. X. wisely pointed out in an email, there's

a distinction between advertising that it's you (or even acknowledging that it's you) and hiding from your views when asked.

Thanks Dr. X. I quite obviously couldn't have said it better myself.

Posted 01:42 PM | Comments (2)

August 04, 2003

The Anonymity Question

Jeremy Blachman has some good thoughts on anonymity vs. full disclosure for law students who blog. This is percolating elsewhere, as well. For example, Undeniable Dilemma is a new-to-me blog by another soon-to-be-One-L who wonders, why all the secrecy?. What I wonder is if an undeniable dilemma is anything like an ambivalent imbroglio... I'll have to read more to find out.

The more I think about it, the more difficult it is for me to understand how anonymity can even be a real question for bloggers. Does anyone really think they can keep their identity secret? It seems to me that the only way to do so would be to make your posts so abstract and general as to be nearly empty of real content, and if you did that, what's the point of having a blog in the first place? ai is about as anonymous as it can get, which is to say, not very. My thinking is that casual readers don't really care about who I am; knowing my name or my measurements or my place of birth (which I think I've blogged about before) or whatever would not really be meaningful to the average reader. Therefore, none of that information is on this site (although I'm sure it's discoverable to those who really wish to find it). But anyone who knows me in "real" life (aka, meatspace) can easily put two and two together to connect me with ai, and that's fine. I've always tried to stick to the maxim that I'll only write things that I wouldn't mind saying in public, or to the people directly concerned. If I'd be embarrassed or ashamed if people connected me with the things I say, I shouldn't say them at all.Those are the rules I'll continue to try to live by, so if you happen to see me at GW this fall, please say hello—I'll be the guy with the iBook.*

Elsewhere in law school discussion, Unlearned Hand thoughts on the ongoing debate about computers in the law classroom have generated healthy comment thread.

And on the subject of computers in the classroom, I think this blog is evidence that American University's Washington College of Law is pretty Mac-friendly—its author is the Mac specialist in the law school's computer lab. Rank better mean *something,* is all I can say.

* Full Disclosure: Due to GW's draconian computer policy (i.e.: "Buy the Dell laptop we recommend or you just may burn in hell forever and flunk out of law school in the first week."), I imagine I'll be one of the few using an iBook at all. However, I won't have it everyday; since GW uses Windows-only software for its legal writing course and for exams, I'll be carrying an old Dell on days when I know I'll be needing to run that software.

Posted 01:32 PM | Comments (8)

July 30, 2003

New (to me) Blawgs

Since even *I* am tired of my righteous indignation about current political affairs, I've been doing a little "light" reading around and have found two great new blawgs with which to while away the hours.

First: Screaming Bean is a 2L somewhere that has ice in March. I haven't had time to cruise through all the archives for more detail, but what I have read suggests there's lots of good stuff in there for those of us heading to law school soon. The tip for these directions for building a Starship Enterprise out of a floppy disk is definitely worth the price of admission, as is the link to a new law info portal, Legal Beetle. We all need our own Enterprise and more law info, don't we?

Second: In addition to having chosen an ingenious name for a blog, Mixtape Marathon also sounds a little (ok, very little) like my doppelganger. In her (I'm assuming) opening post, Bekah writes:

I graduated from undergrad with a double major in English and Philosophy, and went straight to law school. Law school was my choice because I couldn't decide between English and Philosophy grad school and because I didn't want to do math on the GRE. I now know that this reasoning is not really the most logical, or the most satisfactory. And yet, I can't think of anything else (other than nothing) that I would rather be doing with my life, so I guess my reasoning wins by default. Although I do think about what it would be like to just be a construction worker, like Peter in Office Space ("I did nothing, and it was everything I hoped it would be"). I have friends that are traveling now, working on farms and in restaurants, seeing the world, and I envy them. I especially envy them on really beautiful days when I just want to be able to ride my bike for hours, or sit by the fountain in the park and read a Victorian novel, and instead I'm trapped inside reading about limitations on implied warranties in the Uniform Commercial Code. But I know if took the proverbial "year off" I would just be prolonging the inevitable. My bitter friends and I who are in school or in abysmal jobs like to assure ourselves that we are doing something worthwhile--that we made smart decisions. And I know we're right. Law school isn't an end in itself: it's a means to an end. And like law school, I'm a work in progress, so of course I won't be satisfied immediately.
Ok, this doesn't sound like my doppelganger, but it is at least a bit like the doppelganger of me in my early 20s, sans the Philosophy part of the double major and the fact that she went straight to law school out of undergrad instead of going off to do some of the fun things she's watching her friends do. I, too, think about being a construction worker (just last night as I was walking down the street I had a brief but intense desire to be a cab driver), or better yet, like Peter in "Office Space," I dream of doing nothing (which, by the way, I'm doing now—it's great). And I've spent a few years traveling and riding my bike for hours (as a bike tour guide at least part of the time, so I actually combined bike/work/travel into one—why did I leave that job!? oh yeah, there were reasons), and I've sat by fountains reading decidedly non-Victorian novels (although I love George Elliot—just not Middlemarch so much, since I didn't ever really finish it). And although I really didn't want to do the math on the GRE, I did it and did horribly but it didn't really matter because I still got into a respectable grad school for English and after four years of that I'm finally going to law school. And so, having done at least some of the things Bekah sometimes wishes she were doing, I still feel as unsure (aka: ambivalent) about law school as ever. Maybe that will make Bekah feel better. Maybe not. She has her own travel stories now, so maybe her perspective has changed, anyway...

Posted 09:20 AM

July 29, 2003

Tuesday Law Links

Just when I learn for sure I didn't get into a top-10 school, Sua Sponte warns future law students to apply to and attend the highest-ranked school to which they can possibly gain admission. A lively discussion has ensued in the comments section about the value of rankings and how important they should be to your choice of law schools, and the most recent comment links to this alternative ranking that, while a bit heavy on the frat-boy pick-up scene mentality, manages to make the point that there's a lot more to life than rank. Specifically, I agree that the availability of Fat Tire Amber Ale, hiking, mountain biking, and skiing should all be somehow figured into the next U.S. News rankings. Since all of those things are most readily available in the Rockies, my advice would be to apply to any school in Colorado or Montana. Idaho would work pretty well, too.

(Aside: Sua Sponte has been making noises about moving to MT; I hope she can transfer her archives and comments, because she's built up a great repository of opinions and information for 1-Ls and pre-1-Ls.)

But a bit more seriously, i hate stupid people (ihsp) and effinchamp have both offered some wise thoughts on how to choose a law school. ihsp's advice is eminently quotable; first:

Do not ever pick anything in your life just because it has the most gold stars. Figure out why the stars are there, and if you even like the things the star represents.

The U.S. News Rankings may end up giving you some pretty empty stars. But ihsp continues:

I suggest that you can't figure out where you want to be until you figure out what you want. Take as a given (for shits and giggles; just do it) that you will end up hating the law you think you want to practice, you will not return to the jurisdiction where you wish to practice, you will not get a coveted large firm internship and you will not understand half of what is said in at least three of your classes. If that all happens, will you still be happy in your choice of school? Is the city cool enough to hang out in? Are the professors smart/interesting/helpful people? Are there other options for employment than the large firm three ring circus of fun? Are there enough large firms in the area if you wanted to play that game?

Like I said: Great stuff. Now where was ihsp with this advice four months ago?!?

On a completely different topic, Professor Cooper links to Dwight Meredith (also here) and Kevin Drum on "tort reform." Together, the posts form a convincing antidote to the periodic media droning about multi-million dollar jury awards for "frivolous lawsuits" that are driving doctors out of practice and raising prices and insurance rates for all of us, etc. I just started reading Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, which is at once fascinating, entertaining, and horrifying in its prescience. I mention it because its authors, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, have some choice things to say about Bush's "almost amusing loathing for trial lawyers" (xxiv), which leads to his obsession with "tort reform." The gist seems to be fairly obvious: As someone "perfectly comfortable, perfectly at home, doing the bidding of big bidness" (xvii), Bush hates trial lawyers because they do, occasionally, end up forcing "big bidness" to pay for its mistakes and abuses of public trust and resources. The brilliance of the Bush administration's campaign for tort reform is that they're selling it as a way to help the average American, when really this "reform" will almost certainly benefit corporate America more than anyone else. But then, as far as Yubbledew and Co. are concerned, what's good for corporate America is good for the world. Strike that: For Yubbledew and Co., corporate America is the world.

Posted 12:37 PM

So That's That

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that there was still the most infinitesimal of chances that I might still be offered admission to the U. of Michigan law school for this fall. According to Michigan's website, that chance is now gone:

Notice to Applicants on our Waiting List:

We have carefully considered our incoming class for Fall 2003 and concluded that we will not be able to make any offers from the waiting list. We are, therefore, sending letters releasing from the waiting list the small number of people who remain on it. We are very grateful to all who participated in our waiting list this year, and wish you the best with your alternative plans.

So GW it is, then. It's better that way, I'm sure.

Posted 12:20 PM | Comments (1)

July 24, 2003

The Dean Says So

Hey, if you're starting law school in the next month or so, relax. That's the order from an Assistant Dean at GW who recently advised readers of GW's admitted students forum that:

Your final month will be best spent if you do nothing involving law. Most of you will begin reading law consistently for the rest of your lives starting August 18th. It will be hard work. Now is the time to get in a little better shape, visit a friend, read a novel, or go to a museum.

Now who am I to argue with advice like that?

Posted 01:15 PM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2003

Law School and A Life Worth Living

I was just catching up on some of Jeremy Blachman's brilliance and read his Saturday post about why he might be in law school. Jeremy writes:

Before law school I worked in marketing for a software company in Austin, Texas. I'm from NY, so that was far away. And probably the hardest thing about it was that being on my own, being in a new city, having a job and an apartment -- it all meant I had to really make a life for myself. And that's sort of hard. Because without doing anything pro-active, it's easy to end up going to work, coming home, going to sleep, repeat, sleep and run errands on the weekends, and never really *do* anything, or see other people, or have a life. So it's on your shoulders to make plans, find activities, make friends, do things -- in a way that it's not at school, because you have classes and extracurriculars, and friends, and things to read and write and study, and purpose and meaning, and all that jazz... And I hate thinking that one of the reasons I'm in law school is because I like going to school, and because I like the lifestyle of being a student, and that I find all of this easier than making a life for myself. Because thinking it kind of makes me feel like I'm just postponing the inevitable, or that I'm wasting time and money, or that I'm being sort of stupid. But if it's not one of the reasons I'm in school, it's at least one of the side benefits... .... ...being at school is on the whole nicer -- in my head -- than having to really make a life for yourself, I think.

I'm glad he wrote all that and didn't delete it (as he considered doing) because, well, I worry about the same things. A lot. I mean, law school sure is an expensive way to make sure you have friends and quality stuff to do, isn't it? Plus, this will be my second post-graduate degree; isn't about time I face the music, grow up, and "really make a life for myself"?

And then I remember: Going to school is really making a life for yourself—you can't do the former without at the same time doing the latter. So the question is not one of "school vs. life," but rather different kinds of life, so that perhaps it's safe to say we go to school to make a better life for ourselves. And if that life includes more and better friends, and more and better opportunities to socialize in fulfilling ways, and more and better ways to fill our time, then that's all good, isn't it?

Yet, while I believe that's all true, I still have this fear that I'm just "postponing the inevitable." I worry that I'll end up with a J.D. and be right back where I am right now—looking at a job market that seems to hold very few really worthwhile and fulfilling ways to spend my time and still make enough money to live comfortably. I think it's safe to say that this is a fairly common fear among grad students in many fields; it's the fear of wasting effort, time, money, to get a degree that turns out to not really change your prospects in the world. I don't think there's really any good answer to those fears—there are no guarantees in life—but I'm thinking the odds are good that having a J.D. will allow me to do much more with my life, but in ways I can't predict precisely at this point. Again, I'm reminded of "Charles," the pseudonymous law student whom I quoted a few months ago:

The point of a J.D. is the sudden power it brings you. I have to work from the inside. … It doesn't matter whether I'll feel satisfaction or believe in what I'm doing. Don't you see? It's war. War.

So while having a J.D. won't necessarily make it any easier to do the things Jeremy's thinking about—the need "to make plans, find activities, make friends, do things"—I have high hopes that a J.D. will increase the value of those things because it should allow me to plan and do things I simply could not have done if I hadn't gone to law school, and to know and befriend people I couldn't have otherwise known. Therefore, even if I am just postponing the inevitable, I'm confident that I'm doing it for good reasons and that, in a way, I'm making an "investment" that will pay off later when that "inevitable" eventually comes.

In other words: Going to law school is a potential way to make your life more meaningful and less alienated. Working many 8-5 jobs (like it sounds like Jeremy had in Austin) is an alienating experience. It demands a lot of your time, but it gives you close to nothing in return except for cash. Many jobs don't give you a sense of accomplishment, a sense of doing something worthwhile, a sense of spending your time in a way that will make you feel satisfied with your life when you lay down to die. So spending 40 hours a week at a job like that can be a sort of soul-killing experience. On top of that empty work there's all that business about finding friends and activities, which, as Jeremy says, can be difficult. Some people are so tired out by their jobs (if not physically, then emotionally and psychologically) that by the time they come home in the evening they can't face much more than finding dinner and watching tv, leaving weekends for laundry and the other general life maintenance tasks that accumulate when you spend the majority of your productive waking hours chained to a money-making proposition. So all jobs take your time, some take your physical strength, and many take your emotional and psychological energy as well, leaving you very few resources (besides the money you make at work) with which to "build a life."

Enter school. School is stimulating, not draining. People are in school because they're interested in something (at least some of them are interested in something; others are just about the money and they'll probably never ponder the kinds of questions Jeremy's pondering). School rewards the effort and the time you give it in ways that are infinitely more satisfying than a paycheck. Obviously, you get grades, but that's like a paycheck—empty. Going to school and working hard at it for grades is like getting a job and working hard at it for money—you're missing the point. The real rewards of school are what you learn about the topics you study, about the world you live in, and about yourself as a person, a thinker, a citizen, a friend. The rewards of school are also your interactions with other intelligent people who are interested in things you're interested in, and most of all the rewards of school are what your education and the work you invest in it allow you to do, which is to give something more to the world than you could have given without that education. A side benefit is that the work you eventually do when you have to start your postponed "real life" will be more rewarding to you, as well, because you'll be in a position to do something you find meaningful and worthwhile.

So yes, one way to look at this issue is that some people probably do go to school because it seems easier than trying to "make a real life" on their own. But it should also help them build a better life eventually—better in lots of ways—and that's a good thing.

Posted 11:37 AM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2003

What, Me Worry?

The summer is flying and participants on the GW admitted students discussion board are exchanging vital info about where to live, what cell phone service to get, and how much they love their shiny new Dells. Good for them, I say. I'm just bitter because the one thing everyone on the board seems to agree on is that Sprint's cell service sucks, and they're absolutely right, but that's what I'm stuck with for the next 8 months. Where were these people in March when I got my phone!?

But in addition to confirming that I have the sorriest excuse for cell phone service in the universe, the posters at the GW discussion board (which I'm not linking to because it's all password-protected and whatnot) also introduced me to Law, which offers a "free, 6-step workshop" to help prepare you for law school. It's basic, but hey, so am I, plus it's short, which means I may even read it all. In addition to the vitals like explaining IRAC and how to brief a case, the Law Nerds advice includes more subtle gems like daily affirmations (!?) and staying away from the "stress bombs":

Some people purposefully create stress as a motivator for themselves. They freak out at the workload and use it as a way to bond with other students. Stay away from the people who are stressing out. Stress creates stress, and you want to focus your energies on studying, not stressing out.

I saw this in my English grad program all the time. There were some people who couldn't seem to have a single conversation—or even exchange greetings in the hallway—without reference to their workload, lack of sleep, problem students in the classes they were teaching, or other stress factors. In my first year, every time I'd talk with one of these people I'd walk away thinking there must be something wrong with me because I didn't feel nearly as behind as they did (even if I had more work I needed to catch up on), and I certainly didn't feel stressed about any of it. By the second year I'd spent enough time with people like this that I started to be like them. They taught me what should stress me out and how to magnify those things (and my stress from those things) into conversation pieces and life-dominating albatrosses. It got to the point where every gathering of grad students was just a big exchange of what we were stressed out about. It was pretty sick. And it's a self-perpetuating cycle. As the Law Nerds say, unless you're one of these people who can only function if you're stressed to the verge of exploding: Stay away from people like this. Far away. If you walk away from a conversation with someone in your first few weeks and you feel more stressed than you did when you began the conversation, think really hard about whether you really need to talk to them again. Of course, a certain amount of stress is probably a healthy motivator for all of us, so a good strategy may be to try to find friends and study partners who are a good mix of more and less stressed than you are. The more-stressed people can help keep you (and your group) on your toes, while the less stressed people can be a voice of sanity, reminding you (and your group) when the stress is going beyond the healthy point.

I'm just thinking out loud here.

This whole avoiding stress thing has a corollary, which the Law Nerds put this way:

Putting in more hours doesn't necessarily lead to more knowledge.

This will be vital to remember if you find yourself surrounded by stress bombs. They'll be talking about how many all-nighters they've already pulled and about how they've read three extra books that weren't even assigned and yadda yadda yadda, and you'll be going, "um, I've been sleeping 8 hours a night and I haven't even done half the assigned reading, let alone anything extra." At first you'll be ok with this, but beware! The stress bombs have planted seed of doubt in your mind, and if you're not careful, before you know it you'll be panicked and paranoid that you're not working hard enough and will be doomed to failure if you don't also read many extra books and stay up all night doing it. And of course you know if you go that route you'll just get strung out and more paranoid and worried, rather than less, so you don't want to go there, right? Right?

Um, did I mention I was just thinking out loud here?

And while I'm at it, let me just say that signing the promissory notes for the $36,330 I'm borrowing to pay for the next 9 months of my life was, well, a sobering experience. Suddenly firms look very different to me, as in, well, maybe not so bad. I mean, it's good experience to work in a firm for a year or two, right? It doesn't have to be awful, right? And as L. pointed out, some top law students are lucky enough to get great paying gigs during their 1-L and 2-L summers; we've known people who made close to $70k total in just two summers "interning" for firms. So forget what I said about not wanting anything to do with firms. Where do I apply?

Which reminds me: Just about every law school advice book (and someone from the PR boards a while back) tells you to get your resume polished up before law school starts so you'll be ready to send off applications for summer work when the application process begins on Dec. 1. Just FYI.

Posted 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

July 17, 2003

Windoze Security = Swiss Cheese

Heard about the most recent Windoze security hole? [Thanks to Famous P. for the link!] It sounds like a doozy:

"This is one of the worst Windows vulnerabilities ever," said Marc Maiffret, an executive at eEye Digital Security Inc. of Aliso Viejo, Calif., whose researchers discovered similarly dangerous flaws in at least three earlier versions of Windows. .... Maiffret said that inside vulnerable corporations, "until they have this patch installed, it will be Swiss cheese — anybody can walk in and out of their servers."

Gee, GW's decision to require all students to use Windoze laptops is looking better all the time. Famous P. suggested I send this story to the GW computer people to show them what a stupid computer policy they've got, and I was only barely able to restrain myself from doing exactly that. And that's nothing; now our "national security" is being entrusted to M$:

The announcement [of the Windows security flaw] came one day after the Department of Homeland Security announced that it awarded a five-year, $90-million contract for Microsoft to supply all its most important desktop and server software for about 140,000 computers inside the new federal agency.

Beautiful.Tell me again why people buy Windows? ;-)

(Ok, to be fair, it's likely that if 99.9% of the world's computers used Unix or Linux or the Mac OS, security flaws and viruses and whatnot would be more common on those platforms, too, but that seems more like an additional argument for diversity in computing than anything else.)

I know. I've got to get over this stupid computer policy. I'm working on it. As Bob (as in "What About Bob") would say: "I'm baby-steppin! I'm doin' the work!"

Posted 10:06 AM

July 14, 2003

Linux, Anyone?

Just in from the fine folks at GW tech support: They explain that I might be able to scrape by with something other than a windoze-based system in some cases, but the here's where the rubber meets the road as far as they're concerned:

The bottom line, however, is that the law school cannot condone any student coming here intending to use anything other than a windows-based machine that meets the minimum specs. Sorry if this message unnecessarily covers familiar ground for you -- I just wanted to be clear about the situation here at GW Law.

Got that? GW cannot condone any intent to use anything other than a windows-based machine. I can't think of a better way to welcome your new students than with rhetoric like that.

So here's the thing: I can maybe make peace with buying a machine that runs Windows, but I'd like a certain kind of machine and I need your help. My requirements would include:

  • a non-Intel processor, meaning I suppose something from AMD (Athlon?)
  • a machine on which I could run Linux for everything that's not Windoze-only

So I guess what I'm looking for is a small, lightweight laptop with an Athlon processor that ships with a dual OS installed—some wi-fi friendly variant of Linux and Windows XP Pro. Any suggestions?

I'm pretty clueless here, so any help will be appreciated. What's the best (most consumer-friendly) version of Linux, anyway? Thanks.

Posted 01:55 PM

July 11, 2003

Back in the Mix

It's Friday, so here's a poem by Secretary of Defense Ronald Dumsfeld (it's deep, so hold on to your seat so you don't fall in):

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Now, wasn't that special? I told you it was deep. Slate offers more wisdom in this vein, or you can go all out and buy the book. L. and I went to the bookstore last night and she entertained me with choice selections from this little tome. Wow, that Dumsfeld really makes you think! (The comments on Amazon are nuts. Are these people for real?) And if even the book doesn't give you enough of this "existential" circularity, just keep watching the news—I'm sure Dummy will offer plenty more gems as the tangle of lies he and his pals have been telling begins to unravel. Stay tuned!

So I'm back, and about all I can say is: Wyoming rocks. But if that's not eloquent enough for you, check out the view from 12,000 ft.:

This pic was taken looking southwest from Medicine Bow Peak. Although the peak is at 12,013 ft, the hike to get there is only 2 miles and easier than it looks from the bottom. This hike has become something of a tradition for me; I do it just about every time I return to Wyoming (which isn't that often anymore—this was the first trip in 4 years) and it always reminds me of all the best things about my home state. Although this picture doesn't really show it, Wyoming is exceptionally green this summer thanks to some heavy spring snows and quite a bit more spring and summer rain than the state's had in recent years. I remember many July Fourth holidays when the state's meadows and prairies were already burned to a light golden brown by the hot summer sun, but this year the various shades of green from the grasses, sage, pine, cottonwood, aspen, willow and myriad other plants compete with each other for attention. In addition to a great hike in the Snowies, the fam-damily and I also made our way over the mountains for a dip in Saratoga's "hobo pool", which is fed by a natural hot spring and sits right on the banks of the North Platte river. At around 112 degrees, the water may be a little hot for July, but if you're ever in the area when there's snow on the ground, the hobo pool can't be beat. If you're feeling adventurous, go in late January when there's likely to be at least a foot of snow on the ground. You'll be able to get overheated in the hobo pool, dash out through the snow to the river for a shocking dunk in its freezing waters, then dash back to the hot springs to start the process again. It's a little like a Finnish sauna, but wetter. (And you don't have to take my word for it; if you'd like to know what life is really like in a small Wyoming town you can get your local Saratoga scoop over at Life In A Northern Town.)

So the trip West was a nice walk down memory lane in a lot of ways, but it ended horribly with a return trip that took over 16 hours. It seemed that just about everything that could go wrong, did. First the alarm in my hotel didn't go off and I had to dash out of bed and get to the airport—22 miles away on the other side of Denver—in 1.5 hours. Somehow, I made it: 40 minutes from the second I opened my eyes I'd dressed, dashed out of the hotel, driven across town and out to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and made it to the ticketing desk, and all of that rushing only to find that my 7 a.m. flight had been delayed until 9:45! A mixed blessing, but fine. Things started to go seriously downhill when the 9:45 time slipped to 10:30, then 11, then the flight was postponed indefinitely and I was rerouted completely, pushing my arrival in D.C. back from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Ok, no big deal. I finally got on a flight to St. Louis with no real problems, but in St. Louis I learned that it was raining in Baltimore and our flight would be delayed. After two more delays and a good 45 minutes in the plane on the runway waiting, we finally took off and made it to BWI where, of course, my one checked bag did not arrive. I wrangled with the luggage people as quickly as I could and made it to the last bus of the night that took me to the last train of the night which finally brought me home. Whew. Damn American Airlines!

If this is what traveling from DC is going to be like, maybe I should just learn to like it here.

And perhaps I will, but first there's a new tiny wrinkle in the whole law school saga that came in the form of an email from Michigan in the early part of last week that said:

As we enter July, we at Michigan have just a few extremely strong candidates left on our waiting list, and you are one of them. You are without question a candidate we would be happy to admit in any year, but our enrollment target made it impossible for us to extend you an offer during the regular admission season. 

Right now, we do not believe we will need to go to our waiting list, but we also know we can't predict these things with perfect accuracy. It may be that we will have a high number of withdrawals in the next couple of weeks, or it may be that when registration and orientation come, we will have a high number of no-shows, which would lead us to run to the waiting list. I am therefore writing to you now to assess your interest in remaining on the waiting list.

Of course I told them I'm still interested. I mean, how could I not be interested in going to the #7 law school in the country? Not to mention the school's public interest cred. And of course I have no idea whether I'd go if they called (this ain't an ambivalent imbroglio for nothin', folks!). And, of course, I understand the chances that they will call are about a million to one. Still, wrinkles are fun, don't you think?

And, though perhaps I shouldn't say so, it's especially fun at the moment to think of being able to tell GW to take a hike. Why? Because I'm a freak. But really, I'm sick of getting mail from them scolding and scaring me about the risks and dangers of not buying a Dell laptop through their special purchase program. I'm certain that if they could, GW would hold a gun to the head of every One-L and force him/her to buy a Dell laptop through their special program. But since GW knows it can't actually do that, it's trying to hold a rhetorical gun to my head and that's just not giving me a positive impression of the place. Sure, it bugs me that they're trying to force me to give money to Intel and M$, but beyond that their rhetoric is infantilizing and shows a distinct lack of respect for their audience.

Ok, so I'm blowing things out of proportion and probably conflating my distaste for GW's rhetoric and computer policies with other concerns I have about the place and about going to law school more generally. Many of those concerns are the same ones I had when I made the decision to go to GW in the first place, but now they can all be boiled down to the fact that it was never top of my list for any reason, but more of a default choice. I had a bit of a crush on American because of how it sells itself as something of a progressive school, and I liked Georgetown because, well, it's Georgetown. Now that I've spent a few months telling people my plans, I keep hearing the same question: "Did you say you're going to law school at Georgetown?" No, I say, it's George Washington, to which people invariably respond with, "oh," and a furrowed brow that says, "why not Georgetown? That's the only DC law school I've ever heard of." Sometimes they save me the trouble of having to guess what they're thinking—they just come right out and say it. When I visited GW last March I detected a distinct inferiority complex among the people I talked to; they'd always mention Georgetown in condescending ways and even explicitly say things like "we think we're better than Georgetown." And maybe they are. The point is, it seems like very few people—neither students nor faculty— end up at GW by choice; instead, they end up there because they couldn't get in (or hired) at Georgetown.

Is that true? No, I'm sure it's not. And it shouldn't matter. It doesn't. And I was never really excited about going to Georgetown, either. Maybe the problem is I've never been outright excited about going to law school at all. Maybe my trip West made me think crazy things. Maybe I just have too much time on my hands to complicate my life with hypotheticals. To quote again from the great Dummy:

We know there are some things We do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, The ones we don't know We don't know.

Right. And it's the weekend so there's fun stuff to do—like the NOW Presidential Candidates Forum tonight. And there's another one next week. See, it's cool living in the nation's capital.

Posted 01:14 PM | Comments (3)

June 27, 2003

Big World of Law

It was a big week in the realms of law and law school. The SCOTUS kicked the week off with a big decision in the Michigan affirmative action cases; Sua Sponte linked up some reactions from blogville. The Court followed up and ended its session yesterday by striking down a ban on gay sex acts. (Full text of all the Court's decisions available in PDF form here.) For more interesting thoughts on these decisions, don't miss the conversation between Dahlia Lithwick and Walter Dellinger in Slate. (Plus today's entry here.)

On something of the other extreme of the legal realm, Sua Sponte threw down the latest entry in the ongoing and much appreciated thread of advice to future One-Ls. JCA provides a great service to those of us who will be heading to school this fall by linking to many of the other entries in this thread from the likes of Waddling Thunder, Alice, Garret, Dodd, and Jeremy (who responds to JCA's advice here). Taken all together, all of these blawgers provide an invaluable survey of insights on some of the biggest variables of law school. At this point, I can't really evaluate any of the advice, but I do hope to avoid the "it chews you up and spits you out in mangled pieces" kind of experience JCA seemed to have. Having just completed One L, I certainly hope (and am very confident that) Jeremy is right—law school just doesn't have to be that hard. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Finally, and in a related vein, if you've got a blog and you're in or headed to law school, check out Law School Insider's special blogger offer: Two books for $10, so long as you have a blog and you promise never to sell the books. I've already ordered my two copies, but since I only need one, let me know if you'd like the other. [Link via JD2B a few days ago. Maybe if I complain about the lack of permalinks at JD2B every time I mention the site it will eventually add them? And comments would be great, too! JD2B always serves up great links; I bet it would attract some great conversation, too.]

Posted 06:20 PM

June 18, 2003

Law School Update

When I'm not playing "Enter the Matrix," watching movies, or surfing the web aimlessly (life is hard here, you know?), I'm thinking a bit about that law school thing I'm supposed to be doing this fall. GW wanted an $800 payment on Monday, so I headed downtown to deliver it in person, because I can. The trip taught me a few things about GW I hadn't fully realized. For one, because it's an urban campus, things sometimes seem cramped. Instead of the broad lawns and wide sidewalks that separate buildings at suburban and rural universities, GW is divided by busy city streets.

Second, while some students may see an advantage to attending a law school located right on an undergraduate campus, I wonder if it might be better if the law school were more self contained. I spent nearly two hours going from office to office before I found exactly where I was supposed to pay my money. Of course, that's a common experience for someone new to a university campus, but I wonder if things would be simpler if the law school was more self-contained. It turned out the office I needed to visit was within the law school building all along, so maybe it is self-contained and no one I talked to yesterday realized that. Anyway, the problem was complicated a little by the fact that the main law school building (Stockton Hall, I think) is currently closed for renovation and asbestos removal, so some offices are in temporary locations. Anyway, I finally found what I was looking for and paid my money. Now all I have to do is figure out that financial aid thing.

Financial aid. I've been putting it off. I don't want to do it. I don't know what I need to do, exactly. So instead I've been reading books. I started One L by Scott Turow and, while some of it is interesting and helpful, it's also pretty melodramatic. Last night I laughed out loud when Turow started a new section with, "Finally, during that second week, I began to volunteer in class." He then goes on for over six pages about the way he agonized over speaking in class and what everyone else thought about it and all the pros and cons and worries about competition and what other students would think of him and yadda yadda yadda. Come on! Talk or don't talk, but shut up about it, will you? Reading this book makes me realize that law school has to be one of the most overly-scrutinized academic endeavors a person can undertake. In what other academic discipline can you find dozens—if not hundreds—of books about preparing for school, taking tests, dealing with professors, or whether to speak up in class? I just left grad school in English and as far as I know there are less than a dozen books (and that's being generous) on these topics as they relate to English. What is it about law school that makes students such navel-gazers? If I had to guess I'd say it's that law is one of those mysterious professions everyone is aware of but knows little about. Like medicine, perhaps, the law just seems very difficult and complex and high stakes; therefore, people are interested in it, they think about it, and they write about it. However, I wonder if a lot of what is written about the law and law school is just self-perpetuating. Everyone watches "The Paper Chase" and reads One L before they go to law school, and both of these narratives are highly melodramatic and focus on the mysteries and difficulties of law school, therefore lots of students expect law school to be melodramatic and mysterious? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want to participate in all that if I can avoid it. When/if I start writing melodramatically about law school, slap me, will you?

(Oops, is it too late, already?)

Besides, according to Brush with the Law, that whole debate about whether to speak up in class is a non-issue so long as you don't go to a zero-sum school with a bunch of zero-summers who think that everything good that happens to you must mean something bad is going to happen to them. (I've got to take time to write up my thoughts on that book. I'll do it, really. Soon.)

So instead of worrying about whether to speak up in class, here's some Flash fun for ya: Bushenstein, the story of Yubbledew's plan to remake the Supreme Court. [Link via SixFourteen, which didn't like it at all.] And in the related vein of "Why is our world upside down?" don't miss Tom Tomorrow's indictment of the Christian terrorists —careful! They're all around us!

Posted 11:08 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2003

Law School Nightmares

This gives me nightmares. I so do not want to have to write like that. I am not unwilling, nor am I unexcited about it; rather, I'm just not unreluctant.


Posted 02:14 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2003

When you grow up

Sorting. Selling. Packing. Moving. iBook freaking. Posts will likely be sporadic for the next couple of weeks until things settle down a little and the computer decides to behave. (For the first time in 1.5 years, my computer is freezing and crashing; I have no idea why this is but it makes me very, very unhappy. I'll wipe the hard drive and start over when I get a chance...)

For now, here's a question for everyone in law school or headed there soon: How long have you thought you wanted to practice law?

The question arises from Gary A. Munneke and William D. Henslee's article on using a legal education for a non-legal career [link via jd2b a few weeks ago]. Munneke and Henslee write:

No one ever completely escapes that childhood question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As long as the answer to this question is "a practicing lawyer," it will be difficult to find satisfaction outside the practice of law. Similarly, if the answer to the question never has been "a practicing lawyer," it will be difficult to find happiness within. An honest self-appraisal focusing on your fundamental aspirations in life is useful. As simple as it sounds, law graduates who choose a nonlegal career because that's what they want to do are most likely to succeed.

I'm headed to law school, yet I'm not sure I've ever wanted to be a practicing lawyer. I know I certainly never thought so as a child, and I'm far from sure about it now. Thoughts?

Posted 06:12 PM | Comments (4)

May 22, 2003

Dreaming Law

Last night I had what may have been my first dream about being a lawyer. I'd say it was heavily influenced by the fact that I just finished reading Brush With the Law because it involved drugs, biking, and lawsuits. It also involved grading papers, so my subconscious hasn't left the old life behind quite yet. Of course, in my dream I righted wrongs and saved people from exploitation by wielding my knowledge of law like a righteous sword. Too bad it was just a dream.

Posted 07:50 AM | Comments (3)

Yale Bomb

A bomb exploded at Yale Law School yesterday. According to this NY Times story, the bomb was originally either in the student mailboxes or in a classroom. Or maybe the classroom was next to the mailboxes? (Is the NY Times really slipping, or is it just me?)

So why would a bomb be exploding at Yale? A disgruntled student, perhaps? A Unabomber revival of some sort? Nobody seems to know much more than that it was a bomb:

``We suspect it was some kind of device that caused the explosion,'' [New Haven Mayor John] DeStefano told reporters gathered more than a block away from the law school building. Asked about any evidence that the explosion was meant to kill or terrorize law school students or faculty, Mayor DeStefano said: ``We have no reason to believe that it is anything other than what it is. It doesn't appear as if any message was being sent.''

Um, I find it hard to believe that someone would make, plant, and detonate a bomb w/out hoping to send some kind of message. How stupid does Mr. DeStefano think we are?

Posted 06:27 AM

May 14, 2003

1L Externship How-To

Here's how one Mid-top-tier 1L got an externship with a federal judge in his/her city of intended practice:

I found the list of federal judges in the city I wanted on another law school's website. I wrote a cover letter, only personalizing with name and address. On December 1, the first day 1Ls can contact employers, I sent 60 judges packets containing: a) cover letter, b) resume, c) grad school transcript, and d) a writing sample from my legal writing class. I received 7-8 interview offers and a few "send me your grades when you get them and we'll see." I scheduled the interviews for Xmas break, flew out there, and got an offer in my first interview merely because the judge knew someone who enjoyed their time at my UG. I accepted on the spot, and cancelled the other interviews.

For all 1L job hunt stuff--judge or firm--I think the key is to start preparing in September or October: generating your lists, getting your materials together, etc. You don't want to deal with this stuff during midterms. When December 1 rolled around, I just had to drop the envelopes in the mail. Others in my class hadn't even considered the summer yet and had less luck. Many still don't have jobs.

Sounds like a plan. Many other comments in the thread agree that getting application packets out early (Dec 1) is key. [Link via jd2b.]

Posted 12:23 PM

May 13, 2003

Cooped Congratulations

Congratulations to Jeff Cooper at Cooped Up for a great year of blogging. Professor Cooper is a daily read for me (even though he doesn't always update daily), and I would certainly miss his measured and well-written opinions on everything from points of law to the state of contemporary culture. He's also quite fascinated with some sport (baseball, I think), and with wine, but you can just skip those posts if you want—Professor Cooper won't mind. ;-)

Question: What's up w/lawyers and sports? Is it just me, or are a high percentage of lawyers fairly intensely interested in some sport or another? And if it's not just me, then what's the connection between law and sports? Is it just something to talk about to take the mind off of law, or what?

Posted 06:42 PM | Comments (2)

May 09, 2003

Fall Schedule

Yes, it's early to think about this, but people have been asking me, so here's just about all the info GW offers about class schedules for 1Ls (link requires password, I think):

The first-year class is divided into four day sections and one evening section of between 70 and 100 students. .... In addition to the knowledge of core subjects acquired in the traditional, substantive courses, students begin to develop important skills in the Legal Research and Writing and Introduction to Advocacy courses. These classes of approximately 12 students are co-taught by practicing attorneys and third-year law students. The third-year students, or Dean's Fellows, are selected at the end of their second year on the basis of demonstrated research and writing ability, communication skills, and commitment to teaching.

Typical 1L Class Schedule, Day (Full-Time) Division: Full-time students will usually have two or three classes scheduled each day, Monday through Friday. Each class session is 50 minutes in length. Day students will also meet for 75 minutes each week with both their dean's fellow and their adjunct instructor for Legal Research and Writing (fall) and Introduction to Advocacy (spring).

The first year, fall semester curriculum includes:

  • Contracts I

  • Civil Procedure I

  • Torts

  • Criminal Law

  • Legal Research and Writing

Finally, to those of us who would prefer to know more specifics, GW says

All first-year students are automatically registered for their fall semester classes by the Law School Records Office . ....

Students will be given individualized class schedules during IL Orientation indicating the section of the first year courses to which they have been assigned. This information is not available prior to orientation. Registration is complete when payment is made through the Office of Student Accounts

Alrighty then.

Posted 07:17 AM

May 02, 2003

Damn Debt

jd2b recently linked to some uplifting thoughts about the debt involved in law school. First, the title of "The Indentured Generation" pretty much sums it up: People are going deeper and deeper into debt, which then limits the choices they make in their lives. The best thing about this is that the demographic hardest-hit by this phenomenon is, not surprisingly, the group of people w/the fewest resources to begin with:

Students who graduate with the highest levels of credit-card debt also have the highest levels of loan debt and are more likely to have attended expensive four-year colleges and be from low-income families. This suggests that they're either using their credit cards to supplement their loans for educational expenses or for the higher level of personal expenditures that are the norm at institutions geared toward the wealthy.

Gotta love those "institutions geared toward the wealthy." And if that wasn't enough to shock you silly and make you immediately write your law school to withdraw this fall, there's more. Fun.

Finally, on a related note, check out this gem from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Four-year colleges have increased their financial-aid offerings in the past decade, but students with the highest incomes have received the largest increases, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education.

Sounds fair to me. Not. So if we're going to continue stacking the deck so that the rich can just get richer, does this mean the poor will just eat cake?

Posted 12:51 PM

April 28, 2003


Thanks to jd2b for the mention w/regard to the comments on this post (the link was posted on April 23). Note to the folks at jd2b if you happen to read this: Can you add permalinks, please? And comments? Your readers will thank you!

Posted 08:37 AM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2003

Better Idea Good

What are the advantages and disadvantages of inherited wealth? Check out gtexts for a great discussion of that question. [Link via sua sponte.]

Imagine a world where you don't inherit anything because all property of the dead escheats to the state, but the money is used to radically reduce or eliminate the income tax.

Public policy questions like this are what will make law school fun.

Posted 10:14 PM | Comments (2)


I meant to post this days ago, but better late than never: Greg Goelzhauser's analysis of the latest law school rankings offers another perspective on the tragedy of the rankings. Interesting explanation of how Mason is gaming the system. [Link via jd2b, I think.]

This rankings situation—in which the vast majority of law school deans say the rankings are meaningless, while employers often value little else—is clearly a farce. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the contradictions and frustrations of the law school/the legal profession.

Ok. I'll go be bitter and cynical somewhere else now.

Posted 07:32 AM | Comments (1)

April 19, 2003

Best Laid Plans

jd2b links to "some uncharacteristically serious thoughts about pro-bono work" from the dubiously named Mr. Poon.* Mr. Poon is a 2L, looking forward to working with a firm in NYC this summer, and possibly again after he completes his J.D. Yet, he hopes he continue to do the kind of rewarding pro bono work he's doing now as a student. I asked how he plans to avoid becoming the kind of "a-hole" he's been doing battle with recently, and his response is worth a look. Basically he says that, as a lawyer, you've got to try your best to convince your clients to do the right thing, but if they insist on doing the wrong thing, you still have to do your best to represent them. I'm guessing this will be one of the harder things for me to learn or accept as a lawyer. My idea is that, by working in public interest law, I'll be able to avoid working for clients who would ask me to be an a-hole, but as this exchange between st and myself suggests, it's likely things won't be quite that simple. st writes:

I do know one thing, though - the market for full-time public interest legal positions at ANY level of salary and benefits is more cutthroat and competitive than the market for work in the private sector. I suppose the only good advice I can give is the most obvious - do really, really, really well in law school, and many of these issues will become, ahem, academic.

Yet another thing I so don't want to believe, but I'm sure st is correct. I suppose this is why I chose GW; if the public interest market is so competitive, I'll need every advantage I can get. GW's no trinity school, but, well, I'll take what I can get.

Meanwhile, now that the big "where do I go to school?" decision it's over, the anxiety topic du jour is: How much preparation do I need to do before school starts? So Sue Me and her commenters have some thoughts on the matter. Me, I'm still trying to get the house painted and electrified (do not, under any circumstances, ever attempt to rewire your house—trust me). I'll stress over how much I don't know about law school a little later, I'm sure.

UPDATE: Life, Law, Libido also has some good thoughts on the subject of paying for law school w/out working for firms. [Link via Left Coast Expat.]

I'm guessing from the Chevy Chase photo on Mr. Poon's main page that "Mr. Poon" is a movie reference? My cultural ignorance is very deep, w/regard to Chevy Chase; I admit he's one of those funny people I just don' "get." Not to say I never will. Much humor is an acquired taste. I seek enlightenment in all things.

Posted 11:40 AM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2003

Decision's Day After

Browsing the discussion board for students admitted to GW I find this (which you probably can't access, but I wanted to save the link):

I talked to the dean in charge of Financial Aid during the preview day about the Loan Repayment. He said that currently, it only applies to certain public service jobs. Govt repays something like $8k a year each year you work in a DA’s office or as a public defender. They do not do this for DOJ or other government agencies. Repayment for that depends on the agency in question, most of which dont.

Basically, look to spend a year or two in the private sector to put a dent in the debt.

I so don't want to believe this is true. When I visited, I talked with the Public Interest Liason in the Career Development Office about the LRAP, and he, of course, made it sound a bit better. He estimated that in recent years, only 21-22 graduates each year have participated in the program, which is obviously not many. Perhaps what he didn't tell me (and what I think I failed to ask), is what types of jobs are eligible. Looking again at the program's details, the criteria for eligible jobs seem reasonable and the major limiting factor will probably be the income cap. The "target income" the program tries to give grads is $35k, which isn't much, but it is enough to live on. I hope. I assume the reason so few people use the LRAP is simply that it's not too hard to find a job that pays more than $45k, and since the LRAP will pay a max of $8k/year, you'll come out ahead just skipping the LRAP altogether.

LRAP aside, in the interest of staving off second thoughts—or answering them when they come—I want to note one more rather important argument I considered in the decision about where to go to school. It's a bit abstract, but I get the impression that while American is concerned with helping the people who get screwed by social structures (bad laws or absence of laws, bad social policy or lack of policy, etc.), GW may be a better place to learn how to change those social structures so that fewer people will get screwed in the first place. For example, if you're concerned about domestic violence, it seems you could work on the issue on two levels:

1) You could represent and work with clients who have suffered abuse to help them, one-by-one, get justice and go on to better lives; or,

2) You could head to a larger group like NOW (for example) to try to change—via legislation and test cases in court—the social policies that seem to encourage domestic violence in the first place (e.g., certain aspects of welfare policy, maybe).

If you choose option 1, you're working "in the trenches," which is incredibly noble, absolutely necessary, and completely worth doing, but progress is slow, case-by-case, and the cases will probably just keep coming. If you choose option 2, you're working on the structure in the hope that your work will have wider, and perhaps more lasting effects. So the idea is to work on option 2 in order to obviate the need for option 1. (It's not that simple, I know, but I'm just trying to make the point.) Of course, you can always do both kinds of work, and I'm sure both American and GW will prepare you to do either or both. However, it also seems that going to a "better" (meaning higher ranked) school will put me in a better position to work on those larger, structural issues. It may be as simple as the connections the different schools help students make. American seems to promise lots of connections to grassroots, legal aid type public interest work; while GW might promise more connections to things like think tanks, national lobbying groups, government offices, etc. Of course, I could be wrong.

Anyway, it's time to think about other things. Decision made, time to get behind it. For those of you who haven't yet enjoyed a visit to GW, the newly-christened Left Coast Expat recently posted some nice pics of the Law School buildings and "courtyard." It's urban, with personality and a certain charm. Downtown D.C., very easy to get to, close to all that D.C. is famous for. It's all good.

Posted 07:53 AM | Comments (8)

April 16, 2003

It's Done

Have you seen that commercial for the Volkswagen Passat? A guy gets a call from someone claiming to be his Future Self. The Future Self gives the guy advice: don't take job X and stay away from woman Y. Oh, and buy the Passat. "Trust me, it's the one decision you'll always be happy you made," Future Self says. Recently I've wished for just such a call from my Future Self. I've wished I would call myself from 3-5 years in the future and tell myself which law school I should attend. But after waiting to nearly the last minute for such supernatural serendipity (this blog isn't called ambivalent imbroglio for nothing), I finally made the choice.

For the last couple of weeks I've been mentally preparing myself to go to GW. At least that's what I told everyone I know. But as decision-time neared, I was increasingly nagged by a little voice saying, "but, but, American is such a cool place!" That voice reminded me that I've never cared about rankings before, that the class I attended at American was so much better than the classes I sat through at the other schools, that American's facilities and clinical programs are superb, and that the public interest orientation I sensed at American was exactly what I've been looking for in a law school. "You'll be so much more comfortable there," the nagging voice said. Plus, I still hadn't heard about financial aid from American; I hoped that would make the decision for me.

It didn't. American basically matched the financial deal GW offered, which didn't really help. By all accounts, GW is a much stronger school than American, so it seemed I'd need a much better financial deal from American to make it more attractive. Still, I couldn't decide. So I started comparing stats:

  • How long would it take to get from our apt. in Silver Spring to school? Time on train to Farragut North metro station is 25 minutes, plus a 5-10 min. walk to GW. Time on train to Tenleytown-AU metro station is 30 minutes, plus 5-10 shuttle ride to WCL (plus possible wait time for shuttle, which supposedly runs every 30 minutes). Advantage: GW.

  • Student/Faculty ratio: GW = 17.9; AU = 16.7 Advantage: AU.

  • Employment at graduation/after 9 mos.: GW = 96.3/98.6; AU = 82.0/94.6. Advantage GW.

  • Bar Passage rate: GW = 89.9 NY; AU = 69.6 MD. Advantage: GW.

  • USNWR Specialty ranks: GW = #9 Environmental, #2 IP, #6 International; AU = #3 Clinical, #7 International. Advantage: Depends. I'm more interested in clinical-related things than IP or International (I think).

  • Lietner Specialty rankings: GW = 15th in Administrative and Environmental, 17th in Constitutional, 10th in International and Comparative, ; AU = 15th in Critical Theories, 14th in International and Comparative. Advantage: GW, but barely.

  • Especially appealing extras: GW = Legal Activism class; AU = Marshall Brennan Fellowship program. Advantage Even.

  • Employment in Govt/PI/Clerks/Academia: GW = 9.5/3.9/10.7/0.5; AU = 18.7, 5.1, 9.8, 1.2. Advantage AU.

I compared many more variables, of course, but no matter what, the decision seemed to boil down to this:
A) I could play it safe, following the nearly unanimous advice I've received and read (advice influenced in no small part by rankings, of course), and go to GW; or,
B) I could throw caution to the wind, following my "gut" and the romantic siren song of a school that seems to think like I do, and go to American. I'm definitely a romantic at heart, and I've made many big decisions in life by standing on principal and ideals (e.g., graduate school in English). Sometimes it works, but often I've ended up feeling like I'm just beating my head against a wall as I realize that no matter how much I wish the world were different or how strongly I believe in something, the world won't change just for me, and to a large extent it doesn't give a damn about what I believe (e.g., graduate school in English).

I chose "A." My seat deposit is currently making its way to GW through the U.S. Mail. I hope my Future Self will someday tell me this was the right decision. Meanwhile, if you're going to GW, see you there.

Posted 07:06 AM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2003

Threads of Anxiety

I know I shouldn't, but I keep returning to the Princeton Review Discussion Board to see if I can learn anything that will help me make this final decision about where to go to school. Mixed in with the asinine juvenilia (I'm sorry, am I showing my age), the board offers some interesting bits. For example, from "Why did American fall out of T1?" (which, in the interest of full disclosure I'll admit I started) we get this reasonable answer:

yeah, I heard the drop was due to overenrollment. less expenditure per student, and the student/faculty ratio went up, which I know USNWR considers quite a bit. But I kind of think the ratings are bullshit: I have a hard time believing that Pitt, University of Alabama, Maryland, and others are better schools (Pitt gave me a full ride, american gave me nothing, which makes me think quality of american applicants are higher than Pitt, at least) I'm sure its mostly political, and something like 40% of USnews rankings are based on name recognition, which seems kind of dumb to me. I personally think American sounds better than GW if you want to do Int'l law or Public Interest, but if you want a big firm job maybe GW is better? I don't know that for sure, but that's the impression I've gotten from other people on this board, that GW=big firm (although I've heard that students there aren't as friendly as American) good luck in your decision, I'm sure both schools are great, have their strengths and weaknesses, etc.

And from the same poster (confused4321) we get this in answer to the question of whether AU is a conservative or liberal school:

I haven't visited the school, but I "asked a current student" on the admitted students website that question, and he told me that AU is more liberal than most schools because of the people who go for public interest, and that AU in general is more liberal than most law schools. thats all I know

And finally, from "What do you think of George Washington Law" we get this from a 1L at GW:

I've found it both friendly and fun. My classmates are all friendly and I haven't really experienced the mean competitve spirit that is sometimes associated with GW.

This goes for most law schools, but every Thursday there's a bar review. These are lots of fun and they're usually well attended. We occasionally socialize with our professors- last semester two of our professors who are neighbors invited the section over for a picnic, which was nice.

People are certainly focused on school here, but I think most keep a balanced life.

One thing I must say I don't like about the school is the library. It's too small, the computers suck, and it's not aesthetically appealing. I think they'll remedy this in the coming years, but probably not before I'm gone.

I agree about the library—the weakest part of GW for me, as well. Anyhoo, food for thought as the game enters overtime...

Posted 08:18 PM | Comments (2)

Law Schools Phone Home!

Gee, there's really nothing better than an entire Monday (or at least the second half of it) spent waiting for the mail to come and the phone to ring. My calls to AU and GW yielded zilch. AU says try back in the morning and they'll have some kind of offer. I applied in December, kids; can you hurry the f#&! up? ;-)

Today's real ire is directed squarely at GW's financial aid office, which refused to tell me about my revised aid package (after the "request for reconsideration" I sent them last week) over the phone. I tell the woman my name, rank, and serial number, I wait, she comes back and says, "Your reply was mailed on the 11th. It should be in the mail soon."

Me: Uh, you do know the deposit is due tomorrow, right?

Her: Yes, I know that. You should get something in the mail within a couple of days.

Me: (thinking to myself, 'she's staring at a screen that holds my fate and she's not going to tell me what it says!?') Could you tell me what the letter that is coming in the mail will say?

Her: No, I can't tell you that information over the phone.

Me: (getting snippy) Can you fax it to me?

Her: Hmph. What's your fax number? I don't know if I can get to it. We're very busy. I'll try to do it by the end of the day.

Did she send the fax? No. Does GW seem like a nice place to go to school? No.

Perhaps I'll just ditch the whole law school thing. Who needs all that debt, anyway?

In other great news, check out this poster and welcome to Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. Yay.

Posted 07:41 PM | Comments (1)

April 13, 2003

Do you realize?

Sorry I'm ripping off The Flaming Lips for the title of this post, but did you realize it's almost April 15th? Not only is that tax day, it's also the day that every law school I'm considering wants its deposit. In other words, my little game of indecision (Where should I go to school!?) is almost over. I can't believe the 15th is already nearly here. Where did the time go? Tomorrow I'll make two more hail-Mary calls to GW and American to see if last week's faxes did any good, and then the check will be in the mail. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for lawyers is rising:

The Labor Department says that white-collar unemployment is the highest it's ever been, nearly 9 percent. For lawyers, at 1.2 percent, it's the highest since 1997. While that rate is low in absolute terms (in 2002, 11,000 unemployed out of 940,000), it's up sharply from 0.8 percent in 2001 and 0.6 percent in 1999. In other words, attorney joblessness jumped by half last year and has doubled since the Internet boom's peak.

[Link via Jd2B.] On the positive side, it seems the areas of law suffering the most—tech and other types of corporate law—are areas in which I'm highly unlikely to end up. Besides, this little recession we're in is going to turn around, right? I mean new markets are opening all the time.

Posted 11:30 PM

April 12, 2003

Legal Activism

Painting the house, NPR on in the background, and I hear this Wall Street Week bit about problems in the fast food industry. I've been "teaching" Fast Food Nation this semester, so I turned up the radio to see if the speakers had anything to add. They did—all great stuff about the lawsuits against the fast food industry for failing to warn consumers about the deadly nature of its food. Another tidbit: Those "fresh" salads and sandwiches you're buying at Baja Fresh, Panera, etc, may be even higher in calories and fat than a Big Mac meal from McDonald's. Hold the mayo, no kidding! I know a lot of people think its ludicrous to sue fast food companies because they serve unhealthy food, but it's not as simple as that. These cases have piqued my curiosity because they're at least close to what I'd like to do with a J.D.—use my knowledge of law to improve society. How about some lawsuits against automakers for knowingly building and marketing unsafe SUVs? I know, I know. Your first reaction is, "that's crazy!" But dig a little deeper into our SUV nation and you might change your tune.

Long story short: one of the speakers on Wall Street Week was John F. Banzhaf III, who just happens to teach an infamous class called "Legal Activism" at, yes foks, George Washington University.

Suddenly I really, really want to go to GW. I just hope they come through with some more cash.

Posted 11:51 AM

April 10, 2003

Faxing for Financial Aid

The key phrase for trying to get a law school to give you more money once you have other offers is "letter of reconsideration." That's what you need to send your preferred school to ask them to "reconsider" your financial aid offer to match or exceed an offer you've had from some other school. At least that's what the helpful woman at GW's financial aid office told me. So fax I did, and the final decision about where I will go to school this fall is postponed once again.

[begin navel-gazing:] I also sent a fax to American's financial aid office to apprise them of the aid offers they're competing against because, well, I really liked American. I know rankings are meaningful and everything, but I still can't figure out how much they're going to matter to someone who would rather cut his fingers off one-by-one with a rusty knife than work for some BigLaw firm. (Ok, yes, I'm exaggerating, but I just can't see ever wanting to work at a firm.) I know the non-profits and government agencies I'd prefer to work for probably care about rankings, too, but ... how much? I know there's no good answer to that question, (see the great ongoing discussion about rankings at who stole the tarts and all the other places Alice helpfully links to) so my approach is to follow the money. If American comes through with a sweet package, I'll seriously consider it. Otherwise, I'll go with GW's rank and reputation and that will be just fine, too. [end navel-gazing]

Posted 10:26 PM | Comments (1)

What was ever good about Ashcroft?

Kaplan sends me this periodic "law school edge" email for some reason I cannot identify; however, a recent edition contained the following little bit of info:

George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley backed John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general, convinced the former Missouri senator would enforce certain laws of the land, such as Roe v. Wade, even though he disagreed with them. That was then. Now Turley is leading the outraged charge against the attorney general for trampling the Constitution. In an op-ed piece, Turley wrote that Ashcroft "has moved from merely being a political embarrassment to being a constitutional menace."

I really don't know what to make of that. I mean, I'm glad Turley's seen the light, but the fact that he once supported and trusted Ashcroft—even for a moment—makes me ... shall we say ... less than eager to take classes from him. Of course, it's always good to know and understand the opposition, and perhaps Turley's position is something I will understand better once I know more about constitutional law.

Posted 10:06 PM

April 08, 2003

Negotiation Question

Current law students and lawyers and law professors: Is it possible to play one school off of another to try to get more financial aid? If so, how would I go about doing this? Do I talk to the admissions people? What do I say? "Hi, I've got a better offer at a better school, can you make your school more attractive to me, please?" Feel free to leave anonymous comments if you're worried about saying something that might somehow incriminate you. ;-) Thanks!

Posted 11:45 AM

Advice from the Trenches

Alice offers some good perspective on how to view the recently released 2004 U.S. News rankings . The best idea she has is to visit the schools you're looking for and to talk to as many random students as possible. I did a little of this, but I wish I'd done more—you can get incredibly good insight about the school this way. Alice also links to this huge list of books you might want to read before law school. Summer reading, anyone?

Waddling Thunder adds a bit of a caution against focusing too much on the strength of a particular specialty at the school you may attend. Also something good to consider.

The above link to the rankings comes courtesy of JD2B, which is also tracking many schools' responses to their rise or fall in the numbers this year. Meanwhile, the Leiter Rankings offer still more information for your consideration.

Posted 11:42 AM

April 07, 2003

Mail Call

News from the realm of law school applications:

Thank you for your application to the University of Michigan Law School. While you are without question a strong candidate, we are unable to offer you admission at this time. We have instead placed you on our waiting list for further consideration should space become available.

Ding! Ok, 3/4 ding. I got about the same thing from GULC, but GULC made sure to tell me they've got a priority waiting list as well as just a regular waiting list, and I was on the latter. The wouldn't tell me my rank on the list, but I asked how many people were on their priority list and the answer was a curt, "hundreds." So GULC was effectively a ding. (I've got to remember to send them my thanks but no thanks card.)

Michigan's a little different though. I've heard they really use their list, maybe, and they offer the option to start in May, which supposedly increases your chances of moving from wait list to in list. So, even though L. and I are about to sign a lease for a place in Silver Spring, MD, I've decided to stay on Michigan's list to see what happens. If they offer admission sometime in the next few months, we'll see where things are. Meanwhile, I'll assume I'm going to GW and make plans accordingly.

That means I need to send that thanks but no thanks letter to GM, as well, and I guess BC. BC came through over the weekend with a pretty nice aid package, and I also applied for a 2/3 tuition public interest scholarship that I haven't heard a decision on, so I'm reluctant to tell them no thanks already. Still, I just can't see going there, so I probably should tell them that, but....

And you know, I'm fully aware I'm very lucky to have these choices and decisions to make. A year ago, I'd always dismissed thoughts of law school because I honestly assumed I wouldn't be able to get into any school worth attending. (There were other reasons, too, of course.) Who woulda thunk it would turn out like this?

Posted 07:38 AM

April 03, 2003

The Second Superpower

Could the united voices and actions of the citizens of the world ever seriously challenge the hegemony of the U.S.? That's the question at the heart of The Second Superpower by Jonathan Schell, the cover story of the current issue of The Nation magazine. Schell argues that the massive global outcry against current U.S. foreign policy constitutes a second superpower that is already reshaping geopolitics. Meanwhile, James Moore, a Senior Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law, has just published a similar argument in The Second Superpower. Both pieces are almost utopian in their idealism, but they nonetheless offer serious food for thought. Moore's piece especially contains more provocative observations than I can address here, but one in particular resonates with me as I consider what I might want to do with a law degree. Moore writes:

Deliberation in the first superpower [the U.S.] is relatively formal—dictated by the US constitution and by years of legislation, adjudicating, and precedent. The realpolitik of decision making in the first superpower—as opposed to what is taught in civics class—centers around lobbying and campaign contributions by moneyed special interests—big oil, the military-industrial complex, big agriculture, and big drugs—to mention only a few. In many cases, what are acted upon are issues for which some group is willing to spend lavishly. By contrast, it is difficult in the US government system to champion policy goals that have broad, long-term value for many citizens, such as environment, poverty reduction and third world development, women’s rights, human rights, health care for all. By contrast, these are precisely the issues to which the second superpower tends to address its attention.

In other words, Moore's argument is that the "second superpower" of the people of the world (not their governments) might work together through international law, NGOs, and simple global majority to circumvent the actions of their corrupt, money-controlled governments. I agree completely that the U.S. political machine is run by money and that this makes it difficult for those who "desire a superpower that speaks for the interests of planetary society, for long-term well-being, and that encourages broad participation in the democratic process" to enact policies to accomplish their goals. In this respect, Moore's idea of the second superpower suggests that social progressives shouldn't even bother with something like law school because all a J.D. will do is entangle them within a corrupt and broken political system. However, another way to look at this might be that social progressives who do go to law school should specialize in international law so that we will be better positioned to promote the needs and policies of the people of the world.

Considering the difficulty I'm having choosing a law school (it's looking more and more like it'll be GW, though), there's no way I'm going to pick an area of the law to specialize in at this point. However, international law will certainly be in the running.

UPDATE: Credit where it's due—thanks to Scripting News for the original link to Jim Moore's article.

Posted 04:52 PM

April 01, 2003


Yesterday ai received a record 56 visits. That's a pretty small number as web pages go, but I belong to the "one reader is better than none" school, and 56 is even better than one, so no complaints here. Thanks to everyone who has followed ai for some time, and to those of you who are just visiting for the first time. Your visits and comments make ai fun to write, and -- I hope -- enjoyable for you to read, as well.

Another milestone: The little iBook on which ai is produced has been running constantly, without hiccup, shut down, or reboot, for 41 days! Does your Windoze laptop do that? ;-)

Speaking of laptops, GW sent a scary little packet of materials warning of the dangers of coming to school with anything other than the "GW Law School notebook" computer (kindly customized by Dell). No other school I've applied to has come on this strong with the "Windoze only" pitch. Not a good sign.

Posted 10:22 AM | Comments (3)

March 31, 2003

Rankings Rumblings

Mail today brings this from Mark F. Grady, Dean and Professor of Law at George Mason University:

I write with good news --

For the third year in a row, George Mason is ranked in the top tier in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools. [emphasis his] We continue to be the youngest and fastest rising law school in the nation, now ranked by U.S News [sic] as 40th among law schools in the United States.

And while that's all fine and dandy, I'd just like to know how Dean Grady knows his school's U.S. News rank before anyone else does. I guess some controversy has been raging at the PR boards about whether the rankings have already been released or not, but Mason would have had to have the rankings sometime last week for me to be receiving this letter today. Do schools get the rankings in advance of publication? (For some reason I haven't been able to access the PR boards all day.)

I won't be going to Mason. The more I hear about this school the more I wonder what made me think it was a possible choice in the first place. The initial lure may have been the low tuition. When I was there last week one of the student's boasted that he'd be getting a J.D. from Mason for the cost of just one year at Georgetown. The cheap degree is definitely a persuasive argument, but at what cost to your worldview, I wonder.

Does it bother anyone else that a school renowned for its conservatism is also the "youngest and fastest rising law school in the nation"?

UPDATE: GM has this to say about its early knowledge of rankings. Hmmmmmm...

Posted 08:03 PM | Comments (3)

Dog Is My Co-Pilot*

We have travelled, and we have returned. I have not yet made a decision, but you, kind readers, have given me a lot of great advice to add to the mix. I guess the trick to getting a good conversation going here at ai is simply to throw out a plea and leave for a week and let all of you do your stuff. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions and links. I'm still trying to absorb it all and to integrate it with what I learned during my visits. I had hoped that one school would stand out among the others to make my choice simple, and I guess that happened. However, the choice is still not simple, primarily because (a) I still don't know financial aid numbers from all schools (GW offered $11k for the first year, which is a great start), and (b) the school that seemed to stand out the most—American—is also the lowest-ranked school, which throws everything right back on that tricky little question: How important is rank, anyway? Everyone seems to agree it's important, but just how important seems to depend utterly on where you're talking about and what you want to do with your degree.

Then there are the the many other variables: money (how much it costs and how much they offer in grants), location, clinical programs, funding for public interest work in the summer, quality of LRAP, (and just how would I evaluate that, anyway?), curriculum/faculty, gut feeling, and on and on. (And of course there's my secret litmus test for a good school: How many students bring their iBooks and Powerbooks to class? The more macs, the better the school, obviously!) And as I flip through this rolodex of variables in my head, I wonder at a meta-level: How important is this decision, anyway? Am I making too much of this? Should I just choose a damn school and get on with things? Liable's advice seems to answer this question; she says:

How about this -- if you're willing to work diligently at any school you go to, pick the one you want to attend. They're all winners.

Very true. So... Eeenie, meenie, miney...

Of course, it doesn't have to be that random. Ditzy Genius has developed a great little spreadsheet with dozens of criteria by which to judge different schools you might be considering. She kindly sent me a copy (along w/some great tips) and I'm currently adapting her criteria to suit my own search and will report on the results of this little face-off as soon as I crunch the numbers (or something like that).

(DG does not seem to have permalinks, but check the entry for 3/28 for more on this. Any other random post will also tell you that DG can write. For example, check yesterday's encounter w/a NJ State Trooper to learn a new trick for ticket-free highway speeding—honesty!?! Witty, honest, entertaining, and full of good tips and information—what more could you want in a blog?)

* Post title comes from a bumper sticker seen while traveling through Connecticut.

Posted 06:48 AM | Comments (5)

March 22, 2003

Spring Break: What School?

Escape Is Us. Spring break has come to this midwestern campus and it finds me still trying to make a decision about which school to attend. Still in the running are:

  1. George Washington
  2. American
  3. George Mason
  4. Boston College

I'll be visiting all four schools in the next week, and I'm sure those visits will help me decide. Unfortunately, the most decisive factor in this decision is still the biggest unknown: What kind of financial aid package can I expect from each school? So far, no school has offered a dime, which is, well, not a good thing. I've filled out and submitted the FAFSA and the Need Access forms, but still nada. I've called all the schools and all promise some word on financial aid "within the next few weeks." The deposit deadline for all schools is April 15.

Reading Law School Confidential only makes this whole decision thing seem that much harder because it makes it seem like your choice of where to attend law school is also a choice for where you want to live for the next decade or more. According to Miller, et al., where you go to school determines where you can find a job:

Don't think of going to Kent if you can't see yourself settling down in the Midwest, or to American if you have no interest in living and working in D.C. (64)

Liable had a great post discussion about related issues last week, but her comments have been lost because of technical difficulties. (Move to MT! It's got comments built in!) And of course, I've heard all this gloom and doom about picking too much of a "regional" school before, so it raises again the question: How important is it to pick a school based on rankings? All the DC schools are well-ranked and all of them have strong public interest programs, but none is as well-ranked as BC (which also appears to be a very strong PI school). And where would I prefer to live and work? I don't know!

Heeeeelllllllp!!!! Where would you go and why?

Posted 07:45 AM | Comments (12)

March 01, 2003

American U. Slowness

Waiting waiting wating to hear from American University: Washinton College of Law -- the only school I haven't heard from yet, and one I supposedly should have no trouble getting into. Thanks to the directions Liable provided, I learned that LSAC estimates my chances of admission at 95-98 percent. Add to that the fact that I applied nearly two months ago, and I gotta wonder: Why have I heard nothing? Today I see American's website says:

So far we have received more than 8,100 applications. Our committee is currently reviewing applications that were received by mid- December. Although we review files in the order in which they were received and completed, not everyone who applied early will have received a decision yet. Our committee is holding some files for further comparison with more of the applicant pool. If your file is one that we have decided to hold for further review you will receive a letter from our office within the next 2 weeks notifying you of this update.

To clarify, their FAQ says:

Decisions are made on a weekly basis January- May. Files are reviewed in the order applications were received and completed. Not all applicants who applied early in the process will receive the first decisions. If your academic record places you towards the middle of our applicant pool, our admissions committee may hold your file to compare it with more of our applicants.

I interpret this information to mean that my academic record must place me "towards the middle of [their] applicant pool," which I'm thinking is not a good place to be in a year like this. It's looking more and more like GW will be the place. And that's a good thing. I'm ready to make the decision and move on, but I'd really like to hear more about financial aid options first. To those of you who have chosen a school and accepted an offer of admission, congratulations. I envy you, but I hope to join you soon!

Posted 02:55 PM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2003

Deadline Extended!?!?

When I got that letter last December from Georgetown, I took it in stride. I hadn't gotten my hopes up too high, and really it turned out fine because it just gave me the incentive I needed to quit procrastinating and finish my applications to other schools. But today I was looking at financial aid requirements for the schools I'm interested in (specifically: do they seriously need my parents' financial info? I haven't received parental support for over a decade. Seems a little stupid.)... Anyway, I went to GULC's site and found this big notice in red:

The JD Application Deadline for Full-time and Part-time applications has been extended to March 1, 2003.

Recall that the letter I got in December basically said, "You're a fine candidate but we don't want to let you in until we're sure nobody better is going to apply." So now, instead of letting me in, they're extending the freakin' deadline!?!? Can you say insult to injury?


Posted 02:38 PM | Comments (1)

February 15, 2003

GW says Yes!

I heard the news today, oh boy:

It is my pleasure to inform you of your admission to The George Washington University Law School as a candidate for the Juris Doctor degree beginning next fall semester.

Yay yay! That probably puts GW at the top of the list right now, primarily because it's in DC and I think I'm going to prefer DC over Boston, but also because I think the curriculum GW offers (and the connections I'll be able to make there) will be more beneficial in the long run. GW also tops the list so far in the amount and quality of financial aid information included in their acceptance letter/package (medium size manilla envelope). For example, I learned that

Law students may apply for up to $18,500 per academic year [from the federal Stafford Loan Program], to an aggregate maximum of $138,500 graduate and undergraduate Stafford loans.

Previously I'd heard the aggregate max was something like $65k, so this is great news. I also learned that commercial loans have aggregate limits (no surprise there) ranging from $102k to $150k. So it sounds like fools like me should be able to find a total of something like $250k in educational loans for law school. Doesn't it sound beautiful to be so deliciously deep in debt?

Right. But I've found something to give that debt some context. I've been rereading Fast Food Nation for purposes of a class I'm teaching, and there I've been reminded that many careers must begin with massive debt. For example, an owner of a pizza franchise profiled in the book has to borrow $200k before he'd sold a single pizza. It only took the franchisee three years to pay off that debt, and that's probably a lot fewer years than it'll take me to pay off mine, but still, he started in a similarly-sized hole and pulled out. Another example is Idaho potato farmer. According to Schlosser,

The average potato farmer [in Bingham County, Idaho], who plants about four hundred acres, is more than half a million dollars in the hole before selling a single potato.

So, see, lawyers aren't the only people insane enough to borrow huge sums of money on the promise that they'll make it all back sometime soon. It's still insane, but clearly there's plenty of this insanity going around.

Posted 10:35 AM | Comments (3)

February 09, 2003

When Law School Sucks

Nikki, Esq. has hit a low low on the road to becoming a lawyer, the low point which I'm currently most afraid of facing myself all too soon: drowning in debt, hating what I'm doing, and trapped doing it because of said debt. The advice from Bill Alltreuter in Nikki's comments are helpful, and I hope he's right. The trouble with big life decisions like this is you just can never be sure. Is X better than Y? There's no way to know until you're in the middle of it. And even then, it's hard to know because once you're through the middle, on the back side somewhere, things can look different yet again. In optimistic mode, that's probably what makes life fun. In pessimistic mode, it just sucks.

Posted 09:57 AM | Comments (1)

February 08, 2003

Lawless is In!

Congrats to S/R at So Sue Me -- she's in! Congratulations!

Getting in means S/R has now moved on to the next phase: How the heck do I decide where to go? What variables are the most important to consider? Cost? Location? Workload? Reputation? The quality of the stationary and promotional materials the school sends? The tone of voice you hear when you talk to the school's representatives? The clinical programs available? The faculty? The curriculum? What your friends think? The way your stomach feels when you think of living there for three years? Hmm...

Funny, but in some ways every decision on the road toward law school seems harder than the last. The decision to take the LSAT? Not so hard. Actually studying for it and doing well is harder, but deciding whether to do it is pretty simple. Then deciding where to apply is a little harder, and, of course, deciding where to actually go is harder still. Perhaps I should take this as a message of sorts: If I find decisions like these so difficult, and if the stakes only get higher and the decisions along with them... I've always thought I'd make a great barrista at the local Borders.

Posted 10:06 AM | Comments (1)

February 05, 2003

Thanks (and In Again!)

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and congratulations, as well as your helpful advice about the whole "financing your legal education" thing. The most recent news on that front is that I just got a phone call from George Mason University School of Law to notify me that I've been accepted there, as well. Hooray! Of course, my first question was about financial aid and the answer was that federal loan programs allow anyone to borrow a maximum of $18k/year, which won't even cover tuition at any of the schools I've applied to. Mason apparently has very little money for scholarships, which means that even though its tuition is $10k/year less than that of Boston College, BC might end up being the less expensive choice. BC appears to have a good bit of cash for financial aid purposesalmost 23 percent of its students get "half to full tuition" in grants/scholarships, compared to 2.4 percent at GM.

I know, just be happy I'm in. I am, but as Liable has noted, somewhere between deciding to go to law school, studying for the LSAT, applying, getting LSAT results, and getting admitted, the initial euphoric enthusiasm for the whole massive endeavor almost inevitably morphs into the realization that, well, going to law school is difficult. And it may be that part of its appeal is in its difficulty, in the sheer insanity of taking on so much debt (not to mention the psycho-emotional trauma of making it through the first year of classes). Are all lawyers masochists?

Posted 01:36 PM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2003


Contained within a fat white envelope in today's mail was the following letter:

On behalf of the Admissions Committee, I am delighted to inform you of your acceptance to August 2003 entering class at Boston College Law School. You should be proud of this accomplishment; we expect to receive over 8,000 applications this year for an entering class of 260.

I'm glad I should be proud, because I am, but probably more than anything else I feel relieved. After being deferred at GULC, my confidence was a bit shaken and I was beginning to worry about getting in anywhere. Of course, I hope I'll be getting at least a couple more letters like this from other schools in the coming weeks, but at least I now know that I can get into law school.

Now the question is: How will I pay for it? The good news is that BC does have what appears to be a fairly good LRAP, which is reassuring. The hard part is getting to graduation and a job so that the LRAP can start doing its good work. Looks like it's time to get serious about all those financial aid details.

I know finances are considered taboo and personal in U.S. culture, but I do wonder: Why don't bloggers currently in law school talk more about the financial side of things? Now that I must seriously contemplate taking on something like $40k or more per year in debt for the next three years, my first instinct is to panic and become seriously dismayed. My second instinct is to ask: How the hell do you do that?

Posted 10:26 PM | Comments (8)

Pinstripes and Pearls

A new book about life in the 60s for women at Harvard Law: Pinstripes and Pearls by Judith Richards Hope and Justice Stephen Breyer. They didn't even have women's restrooms at Harvard in the 1960s!?! [link via NPR's All Things Considered]

Has anyone read this?

Posted 06:57 PM

February 02, 2003

Law School Motives

Liable points to a great little piece at about why people go to law school. Does it seem a bit odd the way the people in the article seem to see the study of law as something that will give their lives definition and structure? It's almost as if these people are hoping law school will save them from something. Law school as salvation? What do we need to be saved from? Ourselves? Why would law appear to be salvation? Do other professions attract people for reasons like this? Hello Freud, am I just projecting here?

What's awful about a couple of these people is their cynicism; they haven't even started law school and they've already convinced themselves that whatever horrible shit they have to do (i.e., defend lead paint companies or tobacco companies or corporate polluters or whatever) won't matter, either to them or to the world. The opening sentence sums it up brilliantly:

For all the bites I have taken at the law, I always maintained the belief that most of that tar-mountain called What's Wrong goes back to the attitude some people take when first entering law school, attitudes whose implicit cynicism will shape the next three years instead of the growth-oriented converse.

Now doesn't that just make law school sound like fun? Yikes.

I guess I'm most like "Charles" who explains his decision to go to law school this way:

"The point of a J.D. is the sudden power it brings you. I have to work from the inside. It doesn't matter whether I'll feel satisfaction or believe in what I'm doing. Don't you see? It's war. War. This hell has succumbed to the blas; people will dismiss this article like any another hollow statistic. Well not me. I didn't dismiss a thing. Feeling bad accomplishes as much as feeling nothing. I'm not even going to waste my energy hoping someone reads my words and gets inspired. Everyone knows what I know, knows it goes on around the world, everyday, right ... now. I knew it, too. But I saw it, and that made all the difference."

Read that again: "Feeling bad accomplishes as much as feeling nothing." And yes, the point for me is the "sudden power" that comes with the J.D. When I look at the world and how power moves through it, it seems to me that, in my current position, my ability to act is fairly limited. However, as a lawyer, many new avenues should open. So instead of just feeling bad (or angry) about how screwed up the world is, I hope I'll be in a better position to do something about it. But right now I think I need to quick jump down off my high horse before I fall off and break something. Part of me is that crusader, but another part is the one looking for structure and salvation. And even as I admit that I know the joke's on me if I'm looking for the law to save me. Sheesh, you'd think I would have learned the foolishness of that lesson when I got my first speeding ticket at age 16!

Maybe that will be my new mantra: Feeling bad accomplishes as much as feeling nothing. Feeling bad accomplishes as much as feeling nothing. Feeling bad accomplishes

Posted 09:38 AM | Comments (5)

January 31, 2003

High Cost of Law School

A Mad Tea Party says "older" law students should look for information at, which I did, because, I guess I'm "older" or something. It's appears to be a great site for the law school student/applicant who really would like to make him/herself more anxious by reading stories about other students' and applicants' anxiety. Of course, it's not all about anxiety-inducement; the links page points to the U of Richmond Pre-Law Handbook, which really does look like it contains a lot of sound advice for those applying or thinking about it. (Why didn't I find this last summer when I was still in the maybe phase?)

Anyway, NonTradLaw looks valuable primarily for its discussion boards, which feature tales of people getting notification of their acceptance to GULC through the back door. (I was denied access, so I'm either out out out or still on the "deferred" list. Whatever.) A little more digging leads to a post entitled Why is law school so expensive? The answer, according to libertarian George C. Leef, is that the ABA has created a cartel that artificially inflates the cost of a legal education. Leef writes:

Thanks to connivance between state legislatures and the American Bar Association, law school costs much more than it needs to. If we allowed a free market in legal education, the cost of preparing for a legal career would fall dramatically.

Leef makes a good case that the ABA's accreditation requirements, combined with states' bar requirements, forces law schools to spend more money on facilities and teachers than they might otherwise. However, his argument that the solution is a "free market" in which adjuncts and part-timers replace tenured faculty is not so convincing. I'm all for reducing the cost of law school, but the abuses of adjunct labor in academiaespecially in the Humanitiesare well known. Replacing tenured faculty with adjuncts comes at its own high costs.

Much of the rest of Leef's argument is that ABA-required 3-year law programs are a wastelawyers learn little in law school and so should spend only one or two years there before going out for real "on the job" training. This certainly sounds good, since much of legal education seems to emphasize the importance of summer internships and clinical work while students are in school. However, is the time spent in class really so meaningless? Do we really want future lawyers to have even less familiarity with legal history and theory?

Leef's argument was occasioned by a Nov. 2002 report from Equal Justice Works: From Paper Chase to Money Chase: Law School Debt Diverts Road to Public Service. For anyone who's considered public interest/public service legal careers, the report's overall conclusion is not surprising:

Faced with staggering law school debt, many law school graduates must forgo the call to public service despite their interest and commitment to such a career. Public interest and government employers will increasingly lose in their efforts to recruit and retain talented and dedicated attorneys. With educational debt payments averaging close to $1,000 a month (approximately one-half of a typical public interest lawyer's salary), a graduate's ability to pay other necessary bills such as rent, utilities, gas, and food too often become very difficult, if not impossible.

However, the report contains good details about the situation that might persuade more schools to offer LRAPs, or perhaps even to take up some of Leef's criticisms in an attempt to reduce the cost of law school. Since I doubt we'll see tuition rates drop seriously any time soon (regardless of any changes made to accreditation or state bar requirements), the Equal Justice Works recommendations for improving and expanding LRAPs are probably the best hope the public has for ensuring it continues to be adequately represented. Of course, it's not surprising that the ABA and American Association of Law Schools would support reforms like these, since, as Leef rightly argues, both organizations certainly benefit from the high cost of law school.

What a mess. How ironic that a profession supposedly dedicated to equality and justice (hah!) suffers so much from those very ills. Can anyone tell me again why I want to go into this profession?

Posted 04:03 PM | Comments (1)

January 17, 2003


Finally all five schools I've applied to have requested my file from LSDAS. The waiting game continues, but at least this is a sign that the application process is moving along...

Posted 11:56 AM

Failure of Courts

Larry Lessig's candid meditations on the recent Supreme Court decision against the public domain in Eldred v. Ashcroft offer a fascinating look into the mind of a Constitutional lawyer of international repute. Lessig is understandably disappointed in the Court's decision, and it seems he's doing some soul-searching to reassess how he feels about the law, the courts, and the principles that have motivated him thus far:

But as I read these opinions, I realize the hardest part for me is elsewhere. I have spent more than a decade of my life teaching constitutional lawand teaching it in a particularly unfashionable way. As any of my students will attest, my aim is always to say that we should try to understand what the court does in a consistently principled way. We should learn to read what the court does, not as the actions of politicians, but as people who are applying the law as principle, in as principled a manner as they can. There are exceptions, no doubt. And especially in times of crisis, one must expect mistakes. But as OJs trial is not a measure of the jury system, Bush v. Gore is not a measure of the Supreme Court. It is the ordinary case one needs to explain. And explain it as a matter of principle.

Im not sure how to do that here. I dont see what the argument is that would show why it is the Courts role to police Congresss power to protect states, but not to protect the public domain. I dont see the argument, and none of the five made it. Nor have any of the advocates on the other side identified what that principle is.

As someone who plans to start law school in the fall (if someone would just let me in ferchrissake!) and who has read Lessig's The Future of Ideas, it's a little difficult to watch Lessig's disillusionment. He talks about being naive, but could anyone really think the law was a matter of principle and not, at the same time, a matter of politics? Do Constitutional lawyers really teach (and believe) that the Supreme Court somehow functions on a higher plane than the rest of the world, a plane where there is always a valid and just reason for all decision/actions? I suppose something like that is necessary if people are going to accept that the Court's decisions are pretty much the last word on the contentious issues in our society, but it seems pretty clearly to be another in the many fantasies that compose our national self-narrative (i.e.: "Everyone has an equal chance to succeed in America!" "America is always working for greater peace, justice and democracy in the world! "The Supreme Court makes decisions on principle, not politics.")

The comments to Lessig's post help put it into context. Since the individual comments don't have permalinks, I'll post a bit from my favorite here: After reminding us that we live in a country in which the President can declare a "Sanctity of Life Day" despite Roe v. Wade, a country in which citizens can become "enemy combatants" and lose virtually all of their rights simply on the government's say-so, and a country whose President was installed by this very Supreme Court, this poster connects the dots:

All along, youve treated Copyright as an issue separate from encroaching fascism. But it isnt: fascism is the union of state and corporate interests.

And thats the real message of this decision: corporate interests won out over a perfectly valid and good constitutional argument, and this is perfectly in keeping with the times we live in.

Prof., its time to come off of the fence: the problem is political, not legal, and it goes far further than just copyright.

This battle is lost. You could turn around and say well, that was the war, and we lost, and its over until the next copyright case. And that would be ok, valid as far as it goes.

Or you could say That was the battle, and we lost because the Supreme Court no longer serves the interestes of the people, but has been corruped as have most other branches of our government: by corporate interests and big money. And so, for justice to ve served, we must continue the battle against those interests, until our democracy is restored.

Youre good enough to make a difference. Rest a while, and then get to work.

Think about that for a minute: "Fascism is the union of state and corporate interests." Does that seem like the world you live in? Why is Bush pushing "tort reform"? Is it to help corporations, or citizens? Why does Bush refuse to participate in the Kyoto Protocol on global warming? Does that help corporations, or citizens? Why have Republicans pushed "deregulation" of nearly everything for years? Does deregulation help corporations, or citizens? Hmmm...

On the question of faith in the legal system, see also the recent case of Bush v. Kucinich, or another case decided by Bush-appointed Federal Judge John Bates in which Bates rejected the General Accounting Office's attempt to subpoena the records of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. Bates appears to be saying that there's almost no way to use the legal system to hold the executive branch accountable for its actions. Imperial presidency, anyone?

But, of course, there's always a vocal contingent in support of the good old American way. According to Jeff Jarvis, the Eldred side in Eldred v. Ashcroft was the "communist" side. I wonder if people like Jarvis have ever considered that an enormous amount of the technology they use to produce their web content is available to them only because it was released to the public domain. Right.

UPDATE: Do you Want to Believe?

Posted 09:05 AM

December 20, 2002

Writing Personal Statements

For the last three years I've taught introductory literature and business/technical writing classes at a state university. Now that I'm applying to law school, I'm in the dubious position of writing my own personal statement, while at the same time being asked by my students to give advice on how to write personal statements. If you read my statement, you may think I'm not well qualified to give advice on these things, and since I haven't yet been admitted anywhere, I'd have to agree with you. That's why I point my students to other authorities on the subject. For example, here's a succinct guide from a book called Graduate Admissions Essays -- What Works, What Doesn't, and Why by Donald Asher:

Although you should never be slave to a formula, there is a set of key ingredients that many successful essays share. They have great opening lines or paragraphs. They convey at least a glimpse of the applicant's personality, substantiate specific academic preparation and knowledge of subject matter, and demonstrate an understanding of the challenges as well as the rewards of the chosen career. They often give a sense of the candidate's maturity, compassion, stamina, teamwork skills, leadership potential, and general likability, usually without addressing these issues directly. Then they go on to show how the applicant plans to use the graduate education in her planned career, and establish that the student has an understanding of her place in the 'big picture.'

The essay is an opportunity to tie all the disparate pieces of your application together into a comprehensive, coherent whole. Some admissions directors told me that they are not always looking for new information in the essay; rather, they are interested in having the essay 'make sense' of the rest of the application. ... All the best essays will be both honest and forthcoming" (43).

I think that's pretty good advice, but again, I recommend looking at some of the books out there to see the kinds of things they recommend. When I'm in need of advice like this, I always make a trip to the bookstore and spend some quality time with the books they have there. I often find I don't need to buy a book, but looking at the samples and different strategies always gives me ideas to get the job done.

Posted 12:10 PM

December 19, 2002

LRAP Roundup

I'm trying to pick the last one or two schools I'm going to apply to, so I'm taking a closer look at Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) to help me make my choices. Below is some of the information I've found, in case you're also looking at this aspect of grad school. (If you have first- or second-hand experience with any of these programs, I'd really like to hear about it. Although many of these programs sound good, I hear that most of them aren't used much, which suggests to me that there are often hidden "catches" that aren't obvious to the untrained eye. Thanks!)

UPENN: They've made some recent improvements to what I'd call a "Cadillac" program. The details are in this pdf, but here are some highlights: If you make $30k/year or less in a qualified public interest position, Penn will pick up your full loan tab. If you make $30k-$35k/year, you'll have to contribute 20% of the amount of your salary over $30k to your loan paymentsPenn will pick up the rest. If you make $35k-$40k, you'll pay $1000 plus 40% of the amount of your salary above $35k. And finally, if you make more than $40k/year, you'll have to pay $3000, plus 60% of the amount of your salary over $40k. And this is all on the 10-year repayment plan. Sounds like a great deal to me.

Georgetown: GULC also has a top of the line program. It uses a formula to determine how much you pay on your loans, and how much GULC pays:

The Standard Maintenance Allowance (SMA) is the "salary cap" used in calculating LRAP awards and is adjusted regularly for inflation. Additionally, the SMA recognizes that "high cost" areas have increased basic living costs (i.e. Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco). For the 2003 year, the SMA is $33,150 for standard cost areas and $35,800 for high cost areas.

For both LRAP I and II, the SMA is subtracted along with any other qualified deductions (see Special Considerations) from the graduate's gross annualized salary. If the salary exceeds the SMA, then the participant is expected to contribute at least 50% of the difference towards his/her annual student loan payments. For example, if a graduate earns $34,150 in a standard cost area, the participant would have an expected contribution towards the next 12 months of loan payments of $500 ($34,150 - $33,150 SMA = $1,000 x 50% = $500 contribution).

The participant's calculated contribution is subtracted from his/her calculated annual student loan payments to determine the LRAP maximum award coverage.

Both the Penn and GULC programs help out with undergraduate or non-law-school debt, as well, under certain circumstances. GULC's program pays on a 15-year schedule for Federal Stafford loans (I think the max you can borrow via Stafford is $65k/individual), a 20-year schedule for commercial loans, and a 15-year schedule for Perkins loans.

George Washington: GW's program is based on a "target income" of $35k/year:

Generally speaking, you are financially eligible for LRAP funding if your gross annual salary minus your annual law loan repayments is equal to or less than $35,000.

Salary (Gross) MINUS Law loan debt =
$37,000/yr MINUS $8,000/yr = $29,000: You are eligible

GW's program does not cover judicial clerkships (Penn's counts time in clerkships as time in its LRAP for purposes of loan forgiveness); however, the good thing is that your LRAP loans from GW are forgiven every year. (Most of these programs help you pay your student loans by giving you new loans, then the school forgives the loans it made you. Sometimes the loans from the school are forgiven immediately, sometimes over a period of 3-5 years.)

American: The info online about American's LRAP is rather cryptic. It's got a $40k/year salary cap and you can only participate in the story for up to 10 years, but there are no more details. Doesn't sound great. Anyone have experience with this one?

Boston University: No LRAP, but they claim to provide funding to 82% of their students. Plus, I was told BU was preferable to BC? Can anyone tell me more about that?

Boston College: BC touts its Summer Public Interest Stipends to draw public interest lawyersapproximately 80 students/year get $3500 for 10-week programs working in the public interest. Sounds good. The school also has a long list of other financial aid programs. The BC LRAP has a healthy salary cap of $47,500k/year, but I don't see anything about the repayment schedule. Does it pay all your loan payments until your salary goes over the cap, or are you expected to pay something? Why don't law schools make these things super-clear on their websites!? (Maybe because they can't really afford for many people to take advantage of these programs?)

Michigan: Yet another terrific plan. The basic outline:

First, the applicant's annual available income (AAI) is calculated. A formula that includes income, assets, and various deductions such as undergraduate debt and childcare costs is used to determine the AAI. If the AAI is less than $36,000 the applicant is not expected to contribute any payments toward the loans that are covered under the program for that year. If the AAI is greater than $36,000, the applicant's expected contribution is 35% of the AAI over $36,000.

For example: if the AAI is $38,000 the applicant is expected to contribute $700 toward their loan payments for that year. ($38,000-$36,000) x .35 = $700

Posted 11:44 AM

December 18, 2002

Injustice or Inequity

I'll get down off of my SUV-bashing high horse now. Instead of acting all self-righteous about the fact that I don't drive an SUV, I'll beg for your sympathy as I try to write a new essay to get financial aid for law school. Here's the challenge of the day:

Identify a domestic or international situation where you perceive there to be great injustice or inequity and briefly describe the factors that you believe created and/or have perpetuated that condition. How do you believe being awarded the Public Interest/Public Service scholarship at Americna University Washington College of Law, and a law degree, would help you constructively address the challenges presented by this situation?

So where do I start? Environmental problems caused by the U.S.'s refusal to participate in the Kyoto Protocol or, locally, in our refusal to raise fuel-efficiency standards and really hold automakers to them? Where's the justice in allowing the people of the U.S. to do more to destroy the global environment than anyone else on the planet? So fine, it's an obvious injustice based on a great inequity, but how would a law degree help me "address the challenges presented by this situation"? Would it be theoretically possible to mount a class action suit against the EPA for failing to protect the environment? Or against Congress for failing to pass laws that would enable the EPA to do its job?

Another great injustice involves campaign finance reform: Congress passed the "Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002" early in the year, but now the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is trying to gut the law by not enforcing it. It seems most parties agree that the way campaigns are financed is bad for Democracy, but critics of reform argue that limits on the amount of money we can give to politicians are limits on our freedom of speech. What seems to me an obvious solution to this conundrum is publicly-funded elections. If taxpayers picked up the bills for campaigns, those campaigns would cost a lot less, be open to more candidates, and would be much less influenced by special interests. But what would a law degree allow me to do about this? I could lobby. I could work with legislators to craft policy on this subject. I could work for Public Citizen or Public Campaign or those kinds of organizations to see that these laws are enforced. Are there other things I could do?

What about people who can't afford health care in our society? What about the problem of underfunded schools and the danger that school vouchers will only widen the gap between good (wealthy) and bad (poor) schools? Or what about capital punishment? Is an eye for an eye really a good way to achieve justice? Must focus....

The problem is not that I don't see issues to write about. The problem is that I have only vague ideas of how becoming a lawyer would enable me to "constructively address the problems created by" these situations. Lawyers don't just sue and litigatethey also lobby and negotiate and write policy and advise politicians and other policy-makers. I want to do any and all of that, but I'm not sure I have a concrete idea of precisely how I'll do so. I'll work on it...

Posted 11:22 AM | Comments (1)

December 16, 2002

Decision: Deferred!

The wait is over. Er, I mean, the wait begins, or continues, or something like that. I received a letter today saying that the Committee on Admissions at the Georgetown University Law Center "has chosen to defer your final decision until we have a better sense of the entire applicant pool." Uh, thanks, I guess.

Their explanation for this is that GULC "received over 3,500 early applications this year, an increase of over thirty percent." I wonder if that' 30% increase in applications is happening across the board. I also wonder if I need to start aiming a little lower. I have a foot-tall stack of promotional materials from schools all over the country inviting me to apply. Maybe I should rethink my choices...

Anyway, this is a good thing, really, because I was getting a little too complacent about this law school businessI needed a good reminder that it's all highly competitive and no part of it will be easy and all that. We all need a good kick in the pantsor the gutonce in a while, don't we?

"A Final decision will be mailed no later than Friday, February 28, 2003." Thanks.

Posted 10:27 PM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2002

Why is this Illegal?

I heard this morning on Weekend Edition Sunday that domestic distribution of government publications intended for foreign audiences is illegal. Is this true? And if so, what could possibly be the reason for this? The only logic for such a law that I can think of is that our government wants to be able to lie to the rest of the world without worrying that its own citizens will know about it or object to it. If that's the logic, the law seems pretty indefensible.

Anyway, in this case the question may be moot. The NPR piece was about a book called Writers On America and it seems to be all online. Of course, without being able to see the printed copy (which U.S. embassies are distributing around the world), I guess we just have to trust that our government is giving us the same text it's giving to the rest of the world.

Posted 12:30 PM

December 11, 2002


Georgetown has decided my fate:

Or at least my fate as far as Georgetown Law is concerned. Now I'll just have to race to the mail every day for the next week to find out exactly what that decision is.



Posted 02:47 PM | Comments (5)

December 10, 2002

Good News (sort of)

Held In Contempt is pointing to a two-week-old AP story that says:

Most new lawyers won't consider working for government or public advocacy groups because their need for money to pay off massive student loans leads them to the more lucrative private sector, a study being released Monday found.

That's actually the bad news. Now for the good news:

In the law study, about 68 percent of public interest employers surveyedgovernment offices, legal aid organizations, public defenders and other nonprofit groupsreported recruiting difficulties.


"The bottom line is America's law school graduates are drowning in debt and shut out of public service at a time when the federal government is facing losses of over half its work force due to retirements, " said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service.

So according to this study (and a huge helping of "the cup is half-full" optimism), those of us heading toward a public interest legal career will have a nice range of jobs to choose from, so long as we can find ourselves some good loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs). Too bad that's such a big if.

Speaking of which, I should be hearing from Georgetown any day now: their "early decision" application track promises admissions decisions by December 13. Does anyone have any experience with or knowledge of Georgetown's LRAP?

Posted 07:12 PM | Comments (3)

December 03, 2002

Bad Precedents

Can anyone recommend a blog or other source that is talking about the fact that the Bush Administration is developing a parallel legal system for "terrorism" suspects? I mentioned this a couple of months ago in relation to Hamdi v. Ashcroft, but it seems that things are only getting worse. Is it just me, or is this some seriously bad ju-ju?

Posted 04:28 PM

November 29, 2002

Harvard Law's Amazing Race

I'm sad to say I've become a regular watcher of The Amazing Race. If you watch the show, then you know that this season's race featured a team of recent Harvard Law graduates, Heather and Eve. Depending on how you look at it, Heather and Eve were eliminated either for: a) being unable to correctly read a clue and follow directions, or b) trying to cheat and hoping they would get away with it. Either way, their performance doesn't say much for the critical reading and/or ethical training they received at Harvard, now does it?

Posted 10:30 AM

November 03, 2002

While I Was Sleeping

I spent a bit of time today catching up on blogs I haven't read in weeks, and in some respects it feels like I missed a lot—discussion of Senator Wellstone's tragic death, lots of thoughts on upcoming elections, the Microsoft anti-trust indecision, etc.—in other respects, not so much. The more things change...

Really, it looks like some of the biggest news in "blawgdom" recently has been "girls club." Check out Alice's thoughts, as well as her link to this great summary of the first episode of the show. Even Professor Cooper is somewhat sad to see the show has been cancelled, since it provided good fodder for teaching.

On a more sobering subject, Cooper links to Dahlia Lithwick's recent column in Slate, "Free the Baby Lawyers!". While it's good to be reminded of why I don't ever want to work for a firm (even though I realize I may have to, maybe, for a little while), it's scary and sad to get this inside look at big-firm life. According to Lithwick, after associates at Clifford Chance were asked for suggestions on how to improve their lives at the firm, all they could come up with was a lame "more perks and toys" response. Lithwick writes:

Associates in law firms knowingly sign away their health, leisure time, and relationships for a monstrous salary and hefty bonuses. This is not news. What is news is that the associates at Clifford Chance ask for both too much and too little. They want law firm life to be about more than just the commodification of their time, even when it is. And yet faced with an opportunity to reclaim their lives, they are willing to settle for a "hi" in the hallways and a better-appointed cage.

I see the beginnings of this myopia in my students every day. They seem to have no sense of a life or values outside of work and dollars. Somehow our culture seems to have produced a generation that has never stopped to ask the big metaphysical questions: What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What is my purpose on this planet? Or if they have asked those questions, all the answers seem to be translated into dollar signs. (The decline in paper delivery boys and girls carrying their own papers must have something to do with this. It's like a cosmic connection, I tell ya.)

The comments following Lithwick's piece are also very enlightening, as "baby lawyers" rant about the hardships of paying for law school and the Faustian bargains they've made with firms to do so. See also this discussion among associates—especially this post from a teacher-turned-lawyer who says the pressure in teaching is greater than he's ever felt as a lawyer; amen to that, brother! And also this inspirational post and the thread that follows it—such comments give me hope that I'm not being completely naive to think I can avoid the young lawyer's Faustian bargain by taking advantage of my school's LRAP.

The discussion on Slate seems to rage on. See, for example, this thread that suggests that, in real terms, NY associates who make $125k/year are really making the equivalent of $42k/year, when you've accounted for all the time they're putting in. Or this advice: Don't go to law school. Hmmm. The replies to that one are more encouraging.

Posted 01:51 PM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2002

Regime Change Begins at Home

And he's back. I apologize for the loooong hiatus. Where did October go? Is it just me, or did it just seem to evaporate?

So I had to stop posting a couple of days after Congress voted to give Bush authorization to attack Iraq. I was just so disappointed and angry that the only things I wanted to write here were bad political tirades, so instead I just decided to take a little break. In the meantime, I found a great slogan for the next few days: "Regime Change Begins at Home! Vote!" Get the poster while you still can! I highly recommend you print several copies, put them in your car windows and drive around a lot for the next three days. Then vote yourself, will you?

Another closely related reason for my non-posting period was the big anti-war rally held last Saturday (Oct. 26) in D.C. You see, while others have spent some time coming up with some great names for a war, I'm still hoping that such action is not necessary. And I've also become convinced that we can't rely on "world powers" to make sure Bush doesn't attack—the burden is on us. So I spent many hours in a van caravan with some 50 other people from my community to get to the rally/protest, which I found to be refreshing, exciting, rejuvenating, uplifting, and many other positive superlatives. [1] If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out A.N.S.W.E.R.'s coverage of the protest, which includes links to some major media coverage (at least until the article slides off the front page -- permalinks are good things). There's also Salon's pre-event coverage, on which there is some great commentary here. And finally, don't miss Salon's coverage of the event itself, which also generated some terrific letters. If you read nothing else, read the third letter down (from Abe Ogden). Satire strikes again!

What else has been preventing me from posting? Well, there's that whole "applying to law school" thing, which, frankly, is a pain in the you-know-what. But I think the hardest parts are finally complete. I have three great people writing three great letters, and all of them have given me three solid promises to have the letters in the mail by the end of next week. That will allow my LSDAS file to be complete by the end of Nov., which will allow me to make Georgetown's "early action," deadline, which is a good thing. I also learned that, by some miracle, my LSAT score came out a not-stellar but I think respectable, 167, which I was happy with since it was 3 points higher than my highest practice test. It's a relief to know that my numbers are pretty firmly within the averages of the schools to which I'm applying. And finally, after a couple of late nights, lots of swearing and pacing the house, and too many travels down old lanes of memory that I maybe didn't need to revisit, I've completed a draft of a personal statement that I don't hate. So the ducks are lined up. I just have to shoot them down by completing those application forms, which, incidentally, I can't do at home because the LSDAS software doesn't support Macs. Trust me, it's taking considerable restraint for me to withhold my "the Wintel borg sucks and so does any organization that supports it exclusively" rant, so consider yourselves lucky.

And finally, I haven't been able to post because I 've simply been watching too much TV (I think as a sort of escapist balm to soothe my stressed and anxious brain), which has shown me that it's true: everyone on tv is either a cop, a doctor, a lawyer, or a "perpetrator" or a victim. What a wonderful world. But come on! Can you really tell me you can resist "Girls Club"? But alas, apparently most of you can resist, since the show's already been cancelled. This is truly a loss for humanity.

[1] For those of you who are familiar with the IMF/World Bank protests of late September in D.C., or if you've read Jason Rylander's comments about them, I assure you that the A.N.S.W.E.R. anti-war protest was something completely different. It was dominated by people who believe in non-violent resistance, and it was entirely peaceful and very powerful because of that.

Posted 10:09 AM

October 10, 2002

It's Raining Applicants

JCA reports that, according to one of her law profs, more students took the LSAT last Saturday than have ever taken it on a single day. Great news for all of us hopeful applicants, isn't it? Jeff Cooper points to the reason why so many people are interested in law school these days. Mystery solved.

Posted 06:04 PM

October 09, 2002

Choosing A Law School

I'm reading Law School Confidential for tips on deciding where to apply to law school, and it's making me a little nervous. According to author Robert H. Miller, where you go to law school, geographically speaking, is crucial. The writers say "the most controversial thing in this book" is this piece of advice:

If your goal is to work for a firm, and you don't get into one of the top fifteen to twenty law schools, and you are not interested in practicing in the city, state, or region where that non-top-twenty law school is located, you're better off re-applying and trying again. (64)

I've heard things like this before, and realize it's true to some extent, but really, is it that hard to work in a region outside the region where you go to school? And what happens to this advice if, like me, you have no desire to work for a firm? For example, could I go to school in Illinois (and not at the University of Chicago, which is a top-twenty school), and still have a good shot of getting a good public interest job somewhere on the East Coast?

The question may be moot, since it looks less and less likely I'll be going to law school in Illinois. Instead, odds are currently on some school somewhere in the D.C. area, and that's probably a pretty good place for me to work after law school, so... Options include: American University, Georgetown (which would be a "reach" school), George Washington, and George Mason. (It appears that if you want to go to school in the D.C. area, your chances of attending a school with some variant of "george" in the name are quite high.) There's also the University of the District of Columbia law school, but... Anyway, if you have any tips, vignettes, helpful inside stories, or whatever about any D.C. area schools, I'd love to hear them. I'm especially interested in avoiding a "cutthroat" school (the kind where people steal books from the library to prevent other students from doing assignments, etc.—JCA talks a bit about this here), so if you know anything about the cutthroat level at any D.C. schools, that would be particularly helpful. If you're concerned about libel, the comments system on this blog happily accepts completely anonymous posts, or you can email me: ai at mowabb dot com.

Posted 06:53 PM | Comments (2)

ACLU PI Fellowship

The most recent installment in the Cool Job o' the Day series: the ACLU Marvin M. Karpatkin Fellowship in Civil Liberties. This one-year fellowship is open to recent law school graduates. It looks like it would provide unparalleled public interest/civil liberties litigation experience, and it even comes with a decent paycheck. "Decent" being a relative term; public interest pay scales are, um, not impressive to the average lawyer, it seems. For the past three years I've been living on $15-20k annually, so anything above $30k is decent in my book. Combine this with a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), and I could be a very happy public interest lawyer. Of course, I have to get in to law school, first. Those damned details....

Posted 01:53 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2002

Legal Job Market: Not Good

Should people now applying to law school be discouraged by news that firms are refusing to hire through recruiters? I mean, I don't really want to work for a firm, so this wouldn't directly affect me, but it's certainly not a positive signal for the legal job market overall. Neither is the fact that this year's LSAT will be taken by perhaps 40% more "candidates" than took the test two years ago. Ugh.

[Link via Held in Contempt, who carries a Powerpuff Girls keychain and recently purchased new shoes. These are good things. Who said lawyers don't have character? Oh, and since I'm way out on a tangent now, have you seen that Discover card ad featuring the lawyer in search of someone who doesn't find him boring? I propose a new tagline for law-school recruiters: "Become a lawyer—you'll never be the life of the party but you will be the butt of every joke!" At least it might improve the job market a bit by decreasing the number of people who want to become lawyers? Nevermind. It hasn't worked so far...

Posted 01:11 PM | Comments (1)

October 06, 2002

Blawgs at Yale

Law-related blogs seem to be getting some serious attention. Check out Revenge of the Blog, a conference at Yale featuring several blawgers and a few more regular bloggers. I'd love to be there, but since I can't be, I'll look forward to the first-hand accounts of those who can. You just know the conference will be blogged. [via Scripting News]

Posted 10:57 AM

LSAT Recap

The LSAT is over. Been there, done that. Don't ever want to go there or do that again. Ok, it wasn't that bad, but not the most fun you could have for $100 on a Saturday morning.

If you took the LSAT yesterday, you might be interested to know that the third section was experimental—the Kaplan people have done a survey that says so (you may need a password or cookie to access that), and this agrees with what I learned from other test-takers after my test. My test went like this: Logic Games, Logical Reasoning, Logic Games, break, Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension. Since I had two logic games sections before the break (and since the LSAT only has one scored LG section), I knew one of them was "experimental." After the test, I talked with people who only had one LG section in their test, and they remembered games that I remembered from my first section. This means they didn't have my third section at all, which means it was not scored. Does that matter? Maybe. If you thought you did poorly on the third section, you can now rest easier knowing it didn't count.

The Kaplan summary says the games were as follows:

  • A loose Sequencing game that involved the order of eight clowns.
  • A challenging Hybrid Grouping/Sequencing game in which instruments were matched with musical selections, and then put in order.
  • A Matching game in which job candidates were placed in one of three positions: sales, management, or production.

I don't remember the fourth one either. I did virtually no work on the hybrid game with the musical selections because I ran out of time, but it looked like fun. ;-)

The Reading Comprehension passages were:

  • A challenging Law passage explored the basis for legal authority, and drew a distinction between "institutional" and "intellectual" authority—that is, authority derived from precedent and that derived from self-sufficient reasoning.
  • The Humanities passage discussed the ethical education of medical students. Specifically, the author argued for the inclusion of narrative literature to supplement the tradition ethics curriculum. [This was actually a very cool passage—I'd love to find the source and use it in my intro. to fiction class to give students a new perspective on the value of reading narrative fiction.]
  • The Social Science passage addressed Abram’s theory of sociological history. The passage contrasted historical approaches which emphasized the contributions of individuals, and those which primarily emphasized contingencies of circumstance.
  • The Natural Science passage investigated the process of controlled burning of forests by Native American populations before the arrival of Columbus. [This one completely fried me, for no good reason. I simply couldn't concentrate on the passage, so the questions all seemed to be asking for crazy-obscure tidbits and inferences, which meant I had to re-read big parts of the passage multiple times, wasting a ton of time. It was really awful, and the only explanation I have is I was getting excited to be done, and also mentally tired.]

Also: 53% of Kaplan's survey respondents said the LG section was most challenging, followed by the RC section at about 35%. 78% said they had to guess or leave some questions blank in one or more section (I'm one of them). It's pretty clear that the 22% who didn't have to guess on anything are going to be in the top 20% of scores, and bully for them.

What else? My proctors were not very strict. I could have flipped through my test several times to see what each section was, and no one would have cared. (This information could have been helpful to indicate in advance which section was not scored, but oh well...) At the break I talked to someone who had done exactly this. Also, they were only sort of being strict about the "stop work immediately when we say or you'll be issued a warning" rule. Several people must not have stopped, and had to be told a second time, but no one got any official warnings out of it or anything. Anyway, you probably can't count on super-lenient proctors at every administration of the test; this was just my experience.

I guess if you read this before some future administration of the LSAT and you're looking for tips, my advice would be this: The test is long, and it's not over until it's over. I started to get excited after the break by thinking things like "Only an hour and I can be done with the LSAT forever!" But I still had a section or more to go. Take lots of full practice tests beforehand under conditions as real as possible so your body and mind will be drilled on the length of time you need to stay focused on the test. Once my mind started to wander like that, I know my answers became a lot less certain.

Overall, I left feeling like this was either the worst or the best of the LSATs I've taken. I think the games went better than usual, but I'm concerned that the LRs and the RC section were not as strong as usual. The RC section in particular seemed much more challenging than normal, so that doesn't bode well. The writing sample? What the hell is that for, anyway?

Now for the next steps: Letters of recommendation, transcripts, making sure I'm signed- and paid-up with LSDAS, and deciding where the heck to apply. I'm told three years in Hawaii could be very nice....

Posted 09:57 AM

October 04, 2002

LSAT Strategy Dreams

I'm dreaming LSAT questions now, which I take to mean I've studied about as much as is healthy. The dreams are not anxious, exactly; they're strategic. In one dream, the LSAT was sort of metaphorically transformed into a great mtn. bike ride—lots of hills and valleys, rough terrain, screaming downhills, gut-busting climbs, the whole deal. At one point in that dream I had to get off my bike and scout ahead for the right line through a tricky stretch of rocks and sand. The LSAT will be the same: choose the right "line" and you'll sail through; take a wrong turn (with your strategies or confidence), and you could end up on your ass.

In another dream, I just kept this verse from Billy Bragg's song, "A Lover Sings" (from Back to Basics):

There is no real substitute for a ball struck squarely and firmly, But you're the kind of girl who wants to open up the bottle of pop too early in the journey. Our love went flat, just like that.

How could this verse possibly apply to the LSAT? Well, obviously you have to take the test with confidence—strike the ball squarely and firmly. And for me, when it comes to logic games (or what the LSAT calls the "analytical" section), I make the most mistakes when I try to move too quickly and rush through the game. In other words, I always want to open up the bottle of logic game pop too early in the journey, which makes my answers go flat, just like that.

Ok. Maybe I'll keep my crazy LSAT strategy dreams to myself from now on.

Posted 08:16 AM

October 02, 2002

Logic Games II

I was quickly schooled in the appropriate method for solving the problem below. For many of you, this was an easy game; and you're right—it is easy, as long as you read it right. I sometimes wonder if I have dyslexia when it comes to things like this. But then, I know I don't. What happens is I psych myself out, read the setup quickly, and almost automatically jump to the conclusion that it's way too hard. That means when I take a second look, I've already blocked out the possibility that this game might be relatively easy. In other words, I make these things much harder than they need to be. Still, some of them I just can't figure out. If you're into games, here's a doozy:

Each of exactly six doctors—Juarez, Kudrow, Longtree, Nance, Onawa, and Palermo—is at exactly one of two clinics: Souderton or Randsborough. The ffollowing conditions must be satisfied:

  • Kudrow is at Randsborough if Juarez is at Souderton.
  • Onawa is at Souderton if Juarez is at Randsborough.
  • If Longtree is at Souderton, then both Nance and Palermo are at Randsborough.
  • If Nance is at Randsborough, then so is Onawa.
  • If Palermo is at Randsborough, then both Kudrow and Onawa are at Souderton.
  • 1: Which one of the following could be a complete and accurate list of the doctors thatt are at Souderton?
    a) Jaurez, Kudrow, Onawa
    b) Juarez, Nance, Onawa, Palermo
    c) Kudrow, Longtree, Onawa
    d) Nance, Onawa
    e) Nance, Palermo

    2: If Palermo is at Randsborough, then which one of the following must be true?
    a) Juarez is at Randsborough.
    b) Kudrow is at Randsborough.
    c) Longtree is at Souderton.
    d) Nance is at Randsborough.
    e) Onawa is at Randsborough.

    3: What is the minimum number of doctors that could be at Souderton?
    a) zero
    b) one
    c) two
    d) three
    e) four

    4: If Nance and Onawa are at different clinics, which one of the following must be true?
    a) Juarez is at Souderton
    b) Kudrow is at Souderton.
    c) Palermo is at Randsborough
    d) Four doctors are at Randsborough

    5: If Kudrow is at Souderton, then which one of the following must be true?
    a) Juarez is at Souderton
    b) Nance is at Souderton
    c) Onawa is at Randsborough
    d) Palermo is at Souderton
    e) Palermo is at Randsborough

    Posted 07:55 AM | Comments (1)

September 29, 2002

LSAT Fun? Help!

Ok. The LSAT is now officially less than a week away and I'm still basically clueless when it comes to logic games. I'm great with reading comprehension, and my logical reasoning score is... well, ok. But then it comes to logic games, my brain shuts down. I look at them and it's like the page starts swimming and I get tense and my heart beats faster and I know I'm going into the preliminary stages of complete meltdown. This is not good.
Here's an example of the kind of thing that turns my brain to mush:

A five-week education course consists of exactly five lectures with a different lecture given each week. No lecture is given more than once. Each lecture is delivered by a different speaker. The following conditions are true about the speakers and their lectures:

  • Each speaker lectures ona philosopher in whom he or she specializes.

  • No two speakers lecture on the same philosopher.

  • The first week's speaker specializes in Kant, Locke, and Mill, and no other philosophers.

  • The second week's speaker specializes in Kant, Locke, Mill, and Nietzsche, and no other philosophers.

  • The fird week's and fourth week's speakers each specialize in Mill and Neitzsche, and no other philosophers.

  • The fifth week's speaker specializes in Neitzsche, Ockham, and Plato, and no other philosophers.


The questions are largely irrelevant because the hard part is the setup, which, if you do it right, will give you all the answers. But the questions are typically along the lines of: "Which is the maximum possible number of different schedules for the five lectures in which those philosphers who are discussed are discussed in alphabetical order?"

Doesn't that sound like fun? But the real point is: How would you do this? Any tips? Hints? Great tricks that got you through LSAT logic games? Bring them on!

Posted 08:49 AM | Comments (2)

September 24, 2002

Dream Job (almost)

As I've mentioned before, I subscribe to a daily email from that lists new jobs that match the criteria I've specified. The other day I learned about this job: Consumer Rights Attorney for the National Consumer Law Center. It looks almost like the ideal thing I will be shooting for once I get my J.D.

Can anyone who is either in law school or who has been through it tell me what I should be looking for in law schools to help me get a job like this? Right now I'm just asking generally about "public interest" programs and loan repayment programs. Are there more specific things that I should be looking for (like specific classes they might offer, for instance)? Thanks.

Posted 02:13 PM | Comments (2)

Rolling Admissions

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I learned yesterday that I'm way behind schedule in this whole applying to law school thing. The first sign came when I ran into a friend I haven't seen for a while and she whispered confidentially, "I'm leaving after this semester." And I said, "Really? Me too, probably. What are you going to do?" Her reply? "I'm going to law school." So there you go: it's the cool thing to do.

But then she said: "I just sent my applications out last weekend."

Ah-oh. I don't even know where I'm going to apply, let alone having applications ready. I thought applications were due in January or so, right? I mean, what's the rush? I felt a twinge of panic. Have I missed something somewhere? But then I brushed it off, thinking my friend must be just a little too eager.

However, in the afternoon I attended a "pre-law" information meeting for undergrads who are headed to law school, and my panic returned. The pre-law advisor basically said: If you haven't already taken the LSAT, that's the first strike against you in the applications process. Law schools have rolling admissions, which means they kind of admit on a first-come, first-served basis, generally beginning in early November. Therefore, you want to have your applications out by Oct. 31—at the latest. And you can't really know where to apply until you know what your LSAT score is, because that score will tell you which schools you might reasonably accept you. So taking the Oct. LSAT is ok, but you'll have to scramble to get your apps in in time to be considered in the first wave of admissions decisions.


So I have a lot of work to do, and I'm behind already. Wish me luck.

Posted 10:23 AM

September 22, 2002

Not a Meritocracy

After three years as an English graduate student, I've pretty much come to terms with the fact that hard work and intelligence do not necessarily translate into good grades or other forms of positive recognition, but it seems that many people think of law school as a place where hard work and intelligence will be rewarded. It kind of looks like JCA is one of those people. After a 2L told her that grades are fairly random, and really not something to focus on or worry about, JCA wrote:

I'm just really tired of hearing this. I can't help but imagine that a well-prepared student with decent presence of mind and a cultivated facility for issue-spotting, someone who's gone to all the discussions and picked up on all the professorial buzzwords and nitpicks and causes clbres, is probably going to do just fine on the exam. If I can make myself into that person, I should therefore inherit this likelihood of doing just fine. Why not?

Do JCA's grade concerns mean that she's is not quite ready to embrace the confusion of law school? Or would embracing the confusion mean something else?

From what I can tell, in all likelihood JCA will do just fine, but that might not mean straight A's simply because law school probably isn't a meritocracy any more than most other things in our world are. That can be frustrating, but it can also be liberating because it can free you to focus on content (and learning), rather than on structure (and hoop-jumping). But then, I think attitudes toward grades are one of those things you can't reason with. Some people concentrate on grades, and no matter what you do to prove that grades don't matter, they will continue to concentrate on grades. Perhaps they will think you're trying to trick them, or that you really don't know what you're talking about, or that they'd rather be safe than sorry. It's just one of those "easier said than done" things. Unfortunately, I think our educational system in the U.S. begins encouraging grade-obsession from a very young age, which means by the time people get to law school, the origins of that obsession are way too deep to even begin to challenge.

Posted 01:36 PM

September 15, 2002

Advice: LSAT and Law Schools?

From today's mailbag:

Hi—I’m M———, and I’m an AI reader. You must be getting loads of email about how best to prepare for the LSAT. I’m a 1L, and I did fairly well on that thing last year. My recommendation is going in as loose as possible—I improved by a half-dozen points between my practice tests and my actual score. I didn’t do any prep—just OD’ed on practice tests for a week, took a couple days off playing video games to loosen up, then went into the test with nothing to lose.

I was considering graduate school—I thankfully had a bunch of options after school, so law school wasn’t a huge deal to me. But I’ve been at school for two weeks, and I’m loving it—we’ll see how long the luster lasts, and I’m learning as I go—I certainly didn’t have as much information as you seem to have.

Thanks for the tip on the LSAT, M———. I'm hoping to take several more practice tests, but I'm also going to use some of the review materials I've already made the mistake of paying for. And honestly, just so you know, I haven't been overwhelmed with LSAT study tips, so if anyone has related advice, I'm always open to suggestions.

Better still, what about advice for applying to law school? Anyone have any suggestions? As I was taking that practice test yesterday I was struck with a bit o panic at the thought that I've done almost no research about schools, application procedures, etc. So here's the thing: I'm looking for good public interest programs where I'll have a good shot at getting financial aid, or at least where the program has a debt-repayment program. If you're a lawyer or current law student, you've obviously been through this, so... Won't you take pity on those fools who follow in your footsteps?

P.S. to M———: I hope you'll let me know how long the "luster lasts" in law school. Can we all look forward to a new 1L "blawg" soon?

Posted 10:44 AM

September 14, 2002

Math Class for Poets

T.P.H. has entered the blawg field with Math Class for Poets—a great name for a blog derived from the way one of his professors described law school. Heck, if I'd heard that before, I might have jumped on the law school bandwagon a long time ago. Who cares if it's accurate—it sounds great, and that's what counts.

TPH also points to a crack bit of global political strategizing that, as he describes it:

compares the problems challenging strategic decisionmaking in a world of diverse potential threats to the challenges that face Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the soon-to-be-seven-year television series of that name.

Ah yes. Could global politics get any better?

Posted 05:07 PM

2nd Practice LSAT

That sucked. Funny how studying for a test can cause you to perform more poorly on it. Is the solution to study more? Or less?

Posted 02:03 PM

September 13, 2002

JD Jungle

Thanks again to Alice W. of A Mad Tea-Party fame for pointing to JD Jungle a magazine for the aspiring law practitioner. The first two articles I read offered terrific and candid advice—the first about alternatives to taking that BigLaw job, and the second about strategies for getting your first job in a tight economy.

Yeah, I know: I've got lots of work to do before this advice is really relevant, but, again, it seems like it's a good idea to know the terrain of your destination before you land there. That way, you know how to pack before your journey begins.

UPDATE: Lawyers agree. advises students to Make Law School Relevant by figuring out as soon as possible what, specifically, you want to do with your degree. Just FYI and stuff.

Posted 02:09 PM

First Law Job Advice

Although I won't be exactly in this market any time soon: Howard Bashman offers what sounds like solid advice to consider when going after your first job out of law school. [via A Mad Tea-Party]

I'm thinking the whole appellate route is sounding more interesting, but I'm also curious about regular ol' public interest law or legislative practice. A resource that's been great in helping me figure out where within the vast playground of law I might fit has been The Guide to Legal Specialties. I hear it's rather common for people to push themselves through all the hoops involved with law school (LSAT, applications, 1L, summer internships, yadda yadda yadda) without really knowing what the heck they want to do with their JD. That sounds crazy to me, which is why I recommend The Guide to Legal Specialities—it's a good place to learn how the world of law is divided and what piece of the pie might be most tasty for you.

Question of the day for you lawyers: Does The Guide to Legal Specialties give an accurate picture of the different fields within the practice of law?

Posted 02:02 PM

September 10, 2002

Academic Hell, Part 23

As a followup to my last post ending with whether law is a good path for me to follow, here's another reason why sticking with academia is a bad idea: relationships are hell. Robert MacDougall, a doctoral student of history at Harvard, could be talking about me and my peers in the English Ph.D. program when he writes in today's Chronicle of Higher Education that:

we have never been in academe when the job market for Ph.D.'s was not considered terrible. Our friends, our professors, even columns in The Chronicle have done their part to let us know just how brutally competitive it is out there, how dismal are the odds against landing the coveted full-time, tenure-track job. They've done so, I know, with the very best of intentions. But everyone has been so conscientious in protecting this generation of grad students from false hopes or disillusionment that many of us seem to hold out no hope at all.

MacDougall goes on to say that this complete lack of hope means that academic relationships (in which both parties are academics) can be difficult, if not impossible, since the chances of you and your partner finding jobs in the same area code (let alone at the same school) are next to nil.

<obsequious whine>
Oh please, please, may I dedicate 7-8 years of my life to earning a Ph.D. (to the exclusion of all other pursuits), only to have to sacrifice my relationship to a tenure-track job that will then force me to dedicate 5-7 more years kissing ass to earn tenure (again, to the exclusion of all other pursuits)? Please? Please? Oh, thank you, sir! Yes, sir! May I have another!?
</obsequious whine>

No thanks.

Posted 11:47 AM | Comments (3)

Committees, No; and...

Thanks to TPB for snagging some of the flies I popped up the other day on interdependence, America's participation in international treaties and world courts, NAFTA, and "enemy combatants." Give me time and space, I'll work in a tangent about the kitchen sink next time, I promise. While I'm glad to hear that the legal basis of Chapter 11 of NAFTA sounds as weak to a lawyer as Bill Moyers suggested, the real focus of TBP's original post, was whether E.U.-style rule-by-committee would ever fly in the U.S. I agree that it doesn't seem like the best idea, for all the reasons TPB points out.

I knew someone would tag me on the "representative" part of our democracy; I'm not sure where to come down on that. On the one hand, I simply don't trust most candidates and elected officials, so I'd like them to be more responsive to their constituents. On the other hand, I don't trust a lot of the American PeopleTM, either (since they (we) are often largely pawns of soundbites and special-interest media campaigns which tell us what to think), so we might be better off if reps largely ignore us. (But then, in my most cynical mood, I think if the majority of Americans think it's a good idea tofor example allow the global environment to be destroyed in the next 50 years while we continue living as if it weren't happening, then the American PeopleTM deserve what's coming to us.)

Another tangent was the "enemy combatant" status that is being applied to certain people accused of terrorism, or of helping terrorists, or whatever. In truth, these people don't have to be accused of anything at allthey can simply be labeled "enemy combatants" and all their rights magically disappear (as U.S. citizens or otherwisesee the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, for example[1]). TBP has the goods on what the Constitution says about this:

Once someone is designated a "clear and present danger" by both Congress and the Executive Branch, what limits what we can do with them? At present, there is an executive order which restricts our ability to assassinate them, but little else. In terms of the Constitution, nothing.

Which brings me hopping and skipping to TPB's final point about why I'm still debating going to law school. The answer is I'm not quite debating so much anymoreI'm tentatively planning on it. I'm studying for the LSAT and making application-type movements, so we'll see where that goes. But it's issues like the above that make me doubt my fitness for law school. The deal is this: While the Constitution may say nothing about what we can do with people designated as a "clear and present danger," that obviously doesn't answer the question. But even if legal precedent said we could do anything we wanted with these people (boil them in oil or whatever), that still wouldn't answer the question. The point is: I fear I don't have enough respect for the law. When the law seems wrong, it's easy for me to dismiss it. At the same time, I'm wary of using the law as a final limitjust because there's no law preventing us from doing various things, that doesn't mean we should think ourselves free to do those things. (Recent corporate finance scandals are cases in point. Perhaps, technically, no crimes were committed; however, what happened was not ok.) I'm guessing law school and a couple of years of legal practice would help me see how to deal with these cases where the law either seems inadequate or in error, but still I wonder if I'll always be running into the law as a wall, and if I'll always be frustrated by that. I've heard some advice that law isn't for people who like to color outside the lines, think outside the box, etc. If that's true, I may be very bad at it, and I may really hate it. Hence, the debate ... and the name of this blog, by the wayI'm ambivalent about law (I'm both very eager to get to law school and dig in, and I'm also very hesitant to do so), which leads to my current imbroglio (a perplexing state of affairs). Still, I'm probably going. And if law school enables me to have more good "conversations" like this one with TPB, I'll probably end up being as happy as I hope to be.

[1] On the Hamdi case, see also: Charles Krauthammer, a slightly more recent story, and the actual suit: Yaser Esam Hamdi v. John Ashcroft (pdf file).

Posted 11:13 AM

September 06, 2002

Links & Blogrolls

Thanks to Alice W. for the mention, and for clarifying the question of the "hornbook" (what an awful nameanybody know the etymology?). Also, mad props to the following blogs for adding this site to their blogrolls: Sua Sponte (according to which AI is a "fellow traveller" blog), Two Tears In A Bucket (which calls AI a "political blog"), and Unbillable Hours (which puts AI on its list of "links of legal or public policy interest"). All of these sites have become daily reads for me in recent weeks and I highly recommend themnot just as terrific reads, but also as excellent sources of information on law school and law practice.

And while I'm at this, thanks to the kind lawyers who have offered advice outside of blogspace on the merits of law school. Your perspectives and tips have helped a great deal in giving me a better idea of whether law and I can ever be friends.

Posted 11:17 PM | Comments (1)

Why Law Makes Sense

I was just thinking what my family and friends will think when I tell them I'm headed toward law, something I'm reserving for the future—either once I know my final LSAT score or once I'm accepted at a school. My guess is that they'll be skeptical, hesitant to support the decision, even all-out against it. They'll feel that way, I imagine, because of their preconceived notions of the animal known as "lawyer," and because when they compare that animal to the animal known as "me," the two will seem very different to them. Obviously, the two animals seem pretty different to me, too. I have never been someone who cared about making a great deal of money; I have never been interested in living in cities; I have never wanted to wear coats and ties and slacks and nice shoes; I have always mocked self-important "professionals" and business people, and I have never once aspired to be one (although aspiring to be an academic means aspiring to be a self-important professional, I think most people—my family and friends, especially—take a more romantic view of what an English professor is or does); and I have always made a point of my refusal to sacrifice my values and principles to society, to a job or profession, or to society's idea of "success" or "the good life." In short, I've just never been associated with the kinds of things many people associate with law and lawyers. (1)

But there is a way in which law makes perfect sense for me, in terms of the path I've followed for the last, oh, ten years or so. That path has been, for lack of a better way of framing it, from isolation or independence to community or interdependence. Growing up in the wild west of Wyoming ("like no place else!") I led a somewhat isolated life. I thought very little about politics, social policy, global issues. The problems of the world were far from me, and I was surround by people who lived by a somewhat libertarian ethos that could be summed up as "You can do whatever you want, just as long as it doesn't infringe on my ability or freedom to do whatever I want." But then I moved to CA and started meeting all kinds of people and seeing different parts of the country (and world) and how different people lived; I began to realize how my isolation was an illusion. My girlfriend at that time was a big part of that realization: she helped teach me about the value of community and mentoring and concern for other people. Grad school only deepened that shift, in a serious way, teaching me how little we, as individuals, can accomplish, and how we are all inherently interdependent. In choosing law I'm choosing to head toward society, rather than away from it. I'm choosing to immerse myself in the problems of the world, rather than retreating from them, and I'm choosing to make helping other people and improving society (or at least trying to do so) a central part of my life.

This is how I see this choice: I could continue as an English grad and live my life in the strange, pseudo-isolation of academia, on the periphery, the theoretical margins. Or I could choose to head into the world of work in writing or editing/publishing, which would also be somewhat isolated to the extent that I'd be working at some journal or newspaper or press with a specific and limited scope with only indirect effects on peoples' lives via whatever we were publishing. Or I could choose to dedicate myself to a bigger picture, to a more direct engagement with the wider circle of potential challenges and problems that I might find in the practice of law related to public interest or public policy issues. And while my friends and family have always seen me as something of a "rugged" individual (watch me flatter myself!), an iconoclast, what I have become in the last decade is more like a "rugged" socialist. I hope I can remain something of an iconoclast, but I don't want to pretend I can remain an isolated individual. So the choice to head for law is the choice to head for society, for the social, to work not just for me or for my own small goals or achievements, but for the greater good of us all. (2)

(Tangent: The radio is playing "Flake" by Jack Johnson. I love this song. Does that mean anything?)

This could all just be a rationalization. I understand that. Today I was whining about the fact that I couldn't be more happy about anything than I am about the fact that today is Friday and I don't have to teach for two whole days, even though I know I have a pile of work hanging over my head that I should be doing right now. So basically I was bitching about how teaching is such a full-time, all-the-time job (something I complain about all the time), and my girlfriend pointed out that her sister—a lawyer—leads a similar life. Just about every Friday at 5 p.m. she leaves her firm knowing she has work that must be done before Monday. So she knows she has to go to the office on Saturday or Sunday, or stay late Friday, or whatever, to get that work done. So if I'm looking for something that gives me more real time off, law really isn't it. (See this post at Unbillable Hours for an example, but also this followup, which is a bit more encouraging.)

I knew that. Which suggests I could be trying to rationalize this choice to pursue law. In some ways it's obvious to me it's not a perfect career path for me. But what is "perfect"? The mantra of the moment: "Put yourself in the way of good." I hope by pursuing law I'm doing just that.

(1) Are these traits "many people associate with lawyers"? I don't know, but I think they're probably traits my friends and family associate with lawyers. The animal known as "lawyer" occupies such a contradictory position in our culture. On the one hand, it is highly respected, perennially ranked on the level of "doctor" and considered one of the premier professions within our society. On the other hand, this animal is known as a greedy, unprincipled beast who will stop at nothing to make a buck, changing colors like a chameleon in order to win cases and large monetary awards. But aside from those extremes, I think many people attribute to this animal a level of dedication to profession, of single-mindedness, of somewhat ruthless pursuit of achievement or success, that my friends and family generally dismiss. I think.
(2) Realizing, of course, that law school and the practice of law requires you to specialize, to various degrees, in some small area. I'm coming to terms with the fact that there aren't a lot of professions these days that allow you to make a difference on a large scale, but at least I hope to make a difference in whatever small area I finally find myself in, and I think law will allow me to do that more than many other things.

Posted 11:09 PM

September 04, 2002

LSAT Study Tip 'o the Day

Do not, ever, attempt to contemplate LSAT questions when you're so tired you're having trouble seeing straight. Logical reasoning what? Strengthen or weaken the argument how? The correct answer is the one that makes the statement incorrect? I understand this... when my brain's not in a coma!

Also, do not pay a kajillion freaking dollars (1) for an LSAT classroom review course unless you are just completely, and I mean absolutely 100% clueless about this test and don't even know where to begin. The online review courses might be worth the cashesp. if they give you access to the library of all released LSATs from the last few years, which I think they do. Really the only theoretical advantage of the classroom courses is that you can talk to a real live instructor once or twice a week, and from my experience that's not worth much more than an hour spent watching paint dry. (2) Ok, but then, another advantage of the classroom course is that it actually forces you to study for a few hours a week, which is really what I thought was worth paying for, but now I'm not so sure.

Anyway, it certainly seems unwise to invest the money in such a course before you've even taken a practice test to see how much help you really need. But then, who would be stupid enough to do a dumb thing like that?


(1) This figure is most likely an exaggeration. ed.
(2) Exhaustion sometimes leads to delerium, which can lead to, well, exaggeration again. ed.

Posted 09:52 PM

September 02, 2002

Is the Law Economy that bad?

I don't know how I missed this before, but A Mad Tea-Party links to a story at that says:

Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison is offering to pay some first-year associates as much as $3,000 per month not to show up for work until January 2004.

Is it that bad everywhere? Or maybe that's not so bad. If a firm is liquid enough to pay people that much not to go to work, the firm must still be getting quite a lot of business, it would seem. Still, it's kind of sobering little anecdote. I suppose this means that law grads in 2002-2004 will face tougher-than-ever job searches? I wonder what it will be like in 2005. (Keeping in mind, of course, that I'm not planning to work for a big firm, but still...)

Posted 09:36 AM | Comments (1)

August 27, 2002

LSAT Schmellsat?

This doesn't seem like a bad way to start down a road toward law: I took the LSAT with zero prep and scored 163. Perhaps with a few weeks of studying, I'll manage to qualify for scholarships somewhere! (Knock on wood.) I'll keep the fingers crossed, buckle down, and pray the logic games start to make some sense soon.

Meanwhile, Sua Sponte points to Waddling Thunder, another 1-L blog of what appears to be a somewhat experimental nature. Still, what fun to view the whole enterprise of law school through these people's eyes. I mean, why should I even bother going, if those ahead of me are going to tell me all about it on their blogs?

Speaking of JCA, she of the strangely captivating blog, I'd put my money on her not really liking the volunteer clinic she's exploring. Call it a guess educated by her previous posts, but I just don't get the idea she's the public interest, law clinic type.

Posted 10:54 AM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2002

Moritz 1L Advice

More "real world" advice on law school from Garret Moritz. Some good, fresh information here, and his first tipEmbrace Confusionis very heartening. Just like I'm all about ambiguity, I'm all about confusion. I can be very comfortable when confused (though that sounds strange to say), and in fact I'm almost reflexively suspicious of things that seem too cut and dried (because, again, the world just doesn't work in binaries, despite what programmers might lead you to believe). Although Moritz has probably never read it, his description of the "legal fault lines" exposed by confusion is very like Alan Sinfield's description of how literary criticism works. Sinfield's book is called, not surprisingly, Faultlines. So after three solid years of learning to look for and appreciate the nuances of texts, situations, theories, and problems, I am well-prepared for embracing the confusion. I probably won't have too work too hard (but a little) on keeping my mouth shut, and semicolons were my friends a long time ago. (What's pretentious about punctuation that shows a close relationship between two otherwise complete sentences?)

Moritz also has a great piece on how cell phones are ruining society, and one about the fact that our society is more feudal than democratic. Great stuff. Couldn't agree more. In fact, gTexts is the latest addition to the blogroll at left. Moritz describes himself as "a remorseless windbag and busybody," and while anywhere else those might be seen as negative traits, at gTexts they produce hours of fun.

Posted 10:00 PM

LSAT Lameness

Below is a sample LSAT question and the possible answers. What do you think the answer is?

Six months ago, a blight destroyed the cattle population in the town of Cebra, eradicating the town's beef supply. As a result, since that time the only meat available for consumption has been poultry, lamb, and other non-beef meats.

Which of the following can be reasonably inferred from the statements above?

  1. Villagers in the town of Cebra consume only beef raised by Cebra farmers.

  2. Cebra villagers prefer lamb and poultry to beef.
  3. The town of Cebra has not imported beef for consumption during the last six months.

  4. Most of the residents of Cebra are meat eaters.

  5. Before the blight occurred, Cebra villagers ate more beef than any other type of meat.

Click "more" for the answers.

Choice (3) is correct. If elimination of the town's beef supply means that no beef has been available, then the town must have had no external beef provider for the past six months.

Choice (1). We know that Cebra-raised beef has not been available for the past six months, and that beef in general has not been available for the past six months. What role does non-Cebra beef play in this situation? If beef has not been available at all, we can't infer if it's because Cebrans don't eat non-Cebran beef, or because non-Cebran beef hasn't been available.

Choice (2). This choice addresses unsupported meat preferences. The argument centers on availability, not preference.

Choice (4). We have no basis to infer that most Cebrans are meat-eaters.

Choice (5). This choice is concerned with consumption patterns prior to the blight, but our stimulus provides no information from which we can infer previous beef consumption. We only know that the blight wiped out the beef supply six months ago, and since that time beef has not been available.


I got the question right, but I found myself making a plausible case (in my head) for the answer to be 1. Why? After thinking about it a bit more, I don't know, because obviously the question of whether Cebrans eat non-Cebran beef would be second to whether it's even available for consumption, and it couldn't be available if no non-Cebran beef had been imported. The point is, the questions are phrased such that they can appear to be asking you to make fine distinctions, which are often not so fine after all. Tricky. But then, I could see why some lawyers would try to make such tricks their stock in trade... Must remember to watch the details. If it takes too much thought, I've probably missed an obvious distinction somewhere.

Posted 09:13 PM

Life is short. Misery is overrated.

'Tis the "back-to-school" season and advice for new law students is plentiful (and welcome). Although the earliest I would start law school would be a year from now, hearing what people have to say about it helps clarify my decision to work toward that goal.

First, there's Dahlia Lithwick's advice in Slate [via Jason Rylander, who has also generously offered terrific and pointed thoughts on the subject]. Lithwick provides a pithy summary of a lot of the best things I've already read and heard elsewhere: Know why you're going to law school and you'll have to work very hard to avoid the lure of BigLaw once you've racked up all those loans. A little line buried within point B-1 is what I'm most concerned about. Lithwick writes:

Law school manages to impose odd new values on virtually everyone.

Of course this is trueit would be difficult or impossible to go through three years of intense education and not be changed by it, and many of those changes are the whole reason for going. Still, I fear law school's homogenizing effects. I feel confident enough in my views and values to know I won't come out of law school some free-market neo-conservative, but how much more "mainstream" might it make my political views? And yet, more "mainstream" is exactly what I hope law school will make me (in a way). People who are too radical or extreme are often dismissed, and our society has developed effective mechanisms for keeping extremes (especially socialist/progressive extremes) safely in the margins where they can make lots of noise but have little practical effect. So law school appeals to me in that it appears to be a way to take a radical sensibility and apply it to mainstream methods of social change (laws, public policy). I guess it's the cliche of trying to "use the master's tools to destroy the master's house," except I don't want to destroy so much as remodel extensively. So if law school gives me a better sense of the mainstream and teaches me how to better communicate with that mainstream, I should come out a much more effective agent for social change. That would be the ideal outcome, the goal. So the challenge is to learn which of those "odd new values" I encounter in law school might be helpful for a progressive social activist, and which of them are just the siren song of the bourgeoisie.

A lot of advice for 1-Ls has to do with not being obsessed with grades or showing off to your professors or whatever, and with having "a life" outside of grad school. That kind of thing forms a large part of "Down the Rabbit Hole," some advice from "Alice W." [via Sua Sponte] All of this sort of advice seems targeted at the serious Type-A personalities. Even the "don't be a recluse" advice is about not spending too much time in the library. I think the advice I'd need would be more like: "Take this seriouslyit really is important."

Then there's Top 10 Law School Survival Skills from Lois Schwartz on [also via Sua Sponte]. Point 3 is very encouraging:

Trust yourself. If you are confused, it's because law is confusing, not because you are inadequate for the task. Never, ever sweep ambiguous or unfamiliar matters under the rug -- law is about ambiguities, not clear-cut matters. I always tell my students to stop seeking the black-and-white version of legal principles -- lawyers are involved in the gray areas. If something is hard to understand, keep at it. Look up all new terms in the law dictionary or ask someone for help. If a fact could have mixed legal significance, note all possible interpretations. A good lawyer appreciates the complexities and does not attempt to hide from them.

I'm all about the ambiguities. In fact, the "black-and-white" version of almost anything has always eluded me. So again, this speaks to one of my more prominent reservations about lawthat it forces you to reduce the world to either/or binaries or to follow "the law" as if it were black and white. Since life isn't like that, it's good to hear from a lawyer that law and law school don't have to be like that either.

Schwartz also defines what a "hornbook" isfinally! I've been seeing references to these things everywhere, but no one's taken the time before to tell me that hornbooks are "scholarly treatises on law school subjects." Now I know. But wait. Does that mean a hornbook is basically an academic essay or journal article? Or are we talking book-length works only?

Posted 11:18 AM

August 24, 2002

Toward Law

I've been out of town and out of reach of a Net connection for the past 10 days or so, but now I'm back and the chaos that is the fall of an academic (either student or otherwise) is clearly churning into motion. Syllabi and lesson plans to prepare, books to buy and read, committee and other work to do. The student part of it I like ok. The teaching part is what kills me.

So, like I said, I'm leaving. And for the past few weeks I've been playing with options for what to do next: library school? a job writing or editing? a non-profit job (perhaps writing or editing for a non-profit)? law school?

The plan for the moment is this: I'll study for and take the LSAT, and let my score help me decide how badly I want to go to law school. It's possible I won't even be able to get into a decent school, and then I won't need to belabor this decision further. It will be an expensive lesson (over $1000 for the cost of the prep class and the test itself!), but at least I will be in a much better position to decide.

Ideally, while I'm doing the above with the LSAT (and teaching and taking classes, since I've committed to that for the semester), I could also volunteer with a local political campaign to continue building my political and volunteer experience. There's lots that can be done. The goal would be to build a resume for non-profit work so that in a year (or two?) I could head for the D.C. area and a good NP jobif law school doesn't work out. Whether I get a law degree or not, my goal at this point is to eventually work in some sort of political activist organization like Public Citizen or Vote Smart (or maybe Common Cause).

That's the plan for now, and it's already in motion. My first Kaplan class was today, although it was just a diagnostic test. I predict I scored around 140, which would be awful but I don't care too much since that's without any preparation whatsoever. I'll find out Monday. What I learned is that logic games could be fun, but I need a lot of work on them. Given all day, I could work any of them; given only about 1.5 minutes per game, my success rate drops do probably 10%. Any tips on the logic games? Any systems you've found that work? All advice always welcome.

Posted 04:50 PM

August 13, 2002

The Awful NP Cycle

A very discouraging thread on Entry-level position impossible? Highly qualified people can't find NP jobs. The most obvious reason for this is that NPs have no money. And NPs have no money because the gov't cuts taxes and shifts billions to the "defense" budget. This means NPs can't hire anyone to do the work of lobbying the government and society more generally to value (and fund) NP work. So NPs have no money. And NPs have no money because the gov't cuts taxes...

What a brutal cycle. And this is what I'm talking about when I second-guess my desire to go into NP work: this kind of BS would just piss me off daily and make me perpetually frustrated. The appeal of law is that I'd be higher on the "food chain," so to speak, and would be more likely to be in a better position to address these kinds of structural, public policy issues. That's what I'm thinking, anyway, but am I just deluded to think that having a JD will put me in a better position to effect real change on a macro level?

Posted 12:18 PM

Nonprofit Job Market

The Washington Post's "Live Online" forum today was about nonprofit career trends. For anyone looking for NP work, especially in the D.C. area, the transcript might be helpful. My question and response was:

Illinois: Can you say anything about non-profit jobs for people with law degrees? Specifically, if I wanted a career w/a government-reform NP like Public Citizen, would I be better off to start at the bottom and work my way up (w/out a law degree), or to get the law degree before beginning my NP career? Thanks.

Jacqui Salmon: I guess the important part of your query is, what do YOU want to do? Do you really want to go to law school now? Or are you just not that interested right now and would prefer to start a career and THEN go back to school?

It's best to sort out your priorities rather than trying to fit them into what you think various nonprofits-or companies, for that matter-want.

She's probably right, of course. Again the question: Do I really want to go to law school now? Yes. And no. Ambivalent imbroglio.

Another highlight was this helpful post:

People seem to have a lot of questions about what skills are needed in nonprofits. As a devoted lifer in nonprofits, here's a list: writing, communication, organizing, volunteer coordination, public relations, ad placement, media outreach, education work, publications production, web design/maintenance, clerical, government relations, accounting, database management, fundraising, research, policy analysis, legal, human resources. I'd bet just about anyone could find a place he or she could be utilized.

That list is encouraging because I've not only done a lot of what's on the list, I'm also very proficient at many of those things, and they're things I enjoy.

And finally this advice:

I've been in the nonprofit world for about 5 years. Knowing people really helps, but knowing organizations helps even more. Identify the types of organizations you'd like to work for and narrow your search. Then visit their websites -- most places do post jobs on their websites -- it's hard for us to find good people who fit our needs. Writing and organizing skills are critical. Even consider sending a letter and resume asking them to keep you in mind for future job openings might help. But the more you know about your specific area of interest and the organizations that are working in that area, the better for you.

Still more evidence that I'd be great at NP work and that I could probably find a great job if I'd just commit to it. Ambivalent. Imbroglio.

Posted 11:28 AM

A "Better" BigLaw Job

Another tip from the non-profit law discussion thread at

This online booklet: A guide to researching law firms prepared by the National Lawyers Guild chapter of Columbia University. It describes ways to evaluate BigLaw firms to improve the chances that you won't have to work on cases that you find immoral/offensive. Definitely something to consider if you're thinking of going into law or looking for firm jobs. Unfortunately, if message boards are any indication, recent law grads don't generally have much choice when it comes to getting jobs these daysthey just have to take whatever they can find. (Here's yet another reason going to a "top-tier" school is important, but I don't see that happening for me and I have no desire to go into that kind of debt....)

Posted 09:54 AM

Loan Repayment for Lawyers

Following up on what my friend (hereafter referred to as "Lawfriend") told me yesterday about programs that help lawyers pay off school loans if they go into non-profit work: Check out Equal Justice Works (formerly the National Association for Public Interest Law, or NAPIL). The site uses frames (bad bad), but if you click on "Loan Repayment Information" in the navbar on the left you'll see what I'm talking about. Or go directly to the page here.

The site also has great info about choosing a law school and finding work in the non-profit/public interest sector. [via the recent Lawyers for Non-Profit thread at]

Posted 08:39 AM

August 12, 2002

Law Exams Look Awful

Supposedly this is a real law school exam. [via Outside the Law]

Sounds awful, doesn't it? Now why would a person (like me) want to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of taking such a test as this? I'm serious. If you're a lawyer, why did you do it?

Posted 09:38 PM | Comments (1)

August 10, 2002

Beautiful Balloon

It began as… well, actually, I wish I knew how it began, but that would be too simple, too clean. There is no beginning to these things: they start as little, often imperceptible pinpricks in your hot-air balloon of happiness, satisfaction, and contentment. A tiny hole here, a teeny tear there—most of them are so small you hardly notice when they occur. Once in a while you'll feel the pinch as the needle goes in—perhaps because it's unusually large, or because it delivers an exceptionally stinging venom—but even when the sting lasts for days, your balloon is big and strong and high enough that it barely sinks, and eventually you regain your altitude almost as if nothing had ever happened.

I believe that this is how life ought to be. No matter who you are or what you're doing, minor setbacks and challenges are inevitable; in fact, sometimes it's those little pricks of challenge and adversity that keeps us going. Challenge can make life interesting and worth living. Sometimes.

But there are times, for some people, when life doesn't seem to work out that way. Nine months ago (or thereabouts), I was sailing my hot-air balloon of happiness through the often stormy skies of academia. I was a graduate student (technically, I still am), a grad student in English "literature," to be exact. (The fact that I feel compelled to put "literature" in quotes might tell you something; exploring what that something might be might be the tangent of another day.) I was in my third year of a seven-year program (yes, that's right seven years—and it's not uncommon to extend it to eight or nine), and I was making good progress. I enjoyed reading large amounts of interesting fiction and history and criticism and critical theory, and I enjoyed attending class and discussing all that reading with my peers and professors . I even (mostly) enjoyed writing 20-30 page seminar papers, although trying to do more than two of those in a semester was enough to almost kill me. And I was also learning to make peace with teaching, which is much harder than it looks—especially if you have no real training in it, and when you're teaching two different classes per semester (which means two preps every day).* For the most part, making peace with teaching meant accepting that I would never be satisfied with my work because I would never have enough time to adequately prepare for each class and to adequately comment upon all the writing that my students did, etc. It takes a very special person to carry a full time load as a graduate student while simultaneously performing well as a teacher.

In other words, teaching was one of the pinpricks in my balloon. In fact, it was probably a whole constellation of pinpricks, which over time developed into something of a gaping hole.

But teaching wasn't alone in puncturing my flight to academic success. There was also the profession itself, which is, I dare say, the most dysfunctional profession you could possibly imagine. The short story is that the profession is producing way too many people with Ph.Ds, while the market demand for those people is rapidly shrinking.** This makes it very hard to justify the accumulation of further student loan debt in order to pay for earning a degree that will eventually be worth approximately nothing. The bad job market for English grads also makes it harder to tolerate the interpersonal politics of English departments like mine, which is poorly managed and riven with internal divisions. (The poor management and factious politics also mean that it's next to impossible for the department to meaningfully address its problems (like budget cuts, loss of prominent faculty, etc). This, in turn, means that life in the department has steadily worsened in the three years I've been here, and there's no turnaround in sight.)

Did I say there was a constellation of holes in my balloon of happiness in academia? Perhaps it was more like an entire galaxy. And obviously, it doesn't matter who you are, no one's balloon of happiness can stay aloft once its fabric has been riddled by a galaxy of holes.

Now, before my extended metaphor collapses of its own weight, the situation now is this: My balloon has lost serious altitude, and it doesn't look like it's going to rise again any time soon—at least not in the stormy skies of academia.

Which leaves me in a bit of an imbroglio, as you can see:

im·bro·glio: 1. a complicated misunderstanding or disagreement. 2. an intricate and perplexing state of affairs.

And at first I thought the imbroglio was ambiguous, but when I started seriously considering my options, and then I began flipping through each one, back and forth and back again, I realized that the imbroglio I'm in is more one of ambivalence than ambiguity:

am·biv·a·lent: adj 1: characterized by a mixture of opposite feelings or attitudes; "she felt ambivalent about his proposal"; "an ambivalent position on rent control" 2: uncertain or unable to decide about what course to follow; "was ambivalent about having children"

So what to do now? Where to go from here? I'm something of an academic fugitive, on the run toward... what? Over the course of the next few days (and weeks?), I'll be trying to figure that out, although the process has already reached something of an advanced state. Right now, the options include law, library school, becoming a journalist/freelance writer, or heading off into the wild and wooly world of work with some non-profit like Vote Smart or Public Citizen. And the point here is that if you have any thoughts on any of this (academia, English as a profession, law, law school, libraries, becoming a librarian, library school, working for non-profits, these non-profits in particular, job searching and career changing more generally, etc.).... If you have any thoughts as this process continues, please do share by clicking the comment button below.

If you've been out of college for a while, or if you attended a private school with an adequate budget, you may not realize that the majority of undergraduate courses at major public universities in the U.S. are taught by graduate students and part-time or "adjunct" faculty. Many of the adjuncts have M.A.s or Ph.D.s in their fields, but it's not uncommon (in fact, it's standard practice at my university) for a graduate student in his/her first year to teach entry-level courses in literature and composition, and possibly languages as well. Many of these new graduate students head to grad school straight out of college at the tender age of 21 or 22—I've known college teachers who are younger than the majority of their students. Age should not be an issue, but experience is. These teachers are forced to choose texts and design syllabi with no more than 3-5 days of "orientation" before they're thrown in front of their own classroom of bright-eyed (at best) undergraduates. It may be a good way to keep tuition low, but it's a poor way to educate people. The experience can also make the first year or more of graduate school a living and perpetual hell.

** The slightly longer story here is that the profession of English (or Englit) has, for all intents and purposes, lost its social mandate. That mandate was weak and highly contested to begin with, but for the past 100-150 years it has been enough to establish English departments as a cornerstone of any liberal university. The foundation of that mandate has traditionally been that teaching literature (defined as the "great books" or the "classics") to young people was a way to transfer and preserve "the best" of Western civilization, and to give each new generation the foundation on which they could build Western culture. This was all well and good in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries when a relatively small and elite critical establishment determined, almost as if by fiat, exactly what the "great" books were, or what was included in the English canon. But in the last 50 years, that critical establishment (which was almost exclusively white and male) has crumbled in the face of challenges from previously silenced voices (basically anyone neither white and male, but also anyone who is not wealthy) who have demanded that the canon be expanded to include writing by and about people who are neither white, nor male, nor wealthy. The paradox here is that while the expansion of the canon has threatened to completely undermine the profession of English, it is also the best thing to ever happen to that profession. Most people within Englit recognize this, but they've had trouble convincing the rest of the world and unfortunately the rest of the world (specifically, American taxpayers) doesn't like to fund things it doesn't understand. So Englit is a financially poor profession, which makes it an increasingly cutthroat profession. And that means it's become one of the biggest abusers of adjunct and temporary labor in all of higher education. Which means that in order to work in Englit, you more or less have to accept that you'll either be exploited (as an adjunct), or you will exploit (as a faculty member). It's not a pretty choice. I've basically reached a point where every time I see a faculty member I want to ask him/her how he/she sleeps at night knowing his/her paycheck comes on the backs of the overworked, underpaid, and disrespected adjuncts who are increasingly numerous in the halls of our department. Needless to say, this kind of disrespect for your colleagues/superiors is not conducive to a positive work environment or future in a field of work.

Posted 08:15 PM

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