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September 30, 2004

Why I Will Not Be Watching the Debates

From today's George Will column in the Washington Post:

Presidential debates are to real debates as processed cheese is to cheese. They are preceded by elaborate negotiations to prevent the unseemly outbreak of anything debate-like, such as a sustained development or critique of arguments.

So rather than watch them, my task list for tomorrow includes:
  • Drafting an order to show cause and affidavit (mock)
  • Catching up on property notes
  • Going to a callback interview
  • Attending a 3-hour clinic lesson
  • Checking out info on a pro-bono information session
  • Getting ready to fly to DC the next morning
  • Going to a wine-tasting

No, no debate for me. You know how everyone says that 2L year is busy? I'm beginning to agree...

May 20, 2004

Am I really this dumb?

Why, oh why, did I wait this long to do serious work on my write-on for Law Review? I mean, I'm actually enjoying the question--and no, I can't say anything about it--but what was I thinking? There is now no time to actually do an appropriate job on this.

Oh well. It's time to buckle down, concentrate, and pull 3,000 words out of the air. Come to think of it, it's not that much unlike my last job...

May 14, 2004

Finally!

Finally! The last of exams is done. I cannot tell you how this makes me feel. Other than to say that two pints of Newcastle Brown Ale on a stomach only filled with half a bagel and some cream cheese is a bad idea.

You will get more updates later, probably as I'm procrastinating doing any work during 'writing week.' But suffice it to say that whatever my grades may come out, I'm just bloody happy it's over.

May 12, 2004

Sorry for the Monotony

So with all the talk of the draft, sex-ed classes, and other political nonsense around here lately, some of you may be wondering if I'm still writing a law school blog. And it would be a fair accusation: after all, I'm talking about everything else. But exam period presents me with a conundrum. At this point, it's almost impossible to talk about law school without talking about exams. Most of my readers (especially rising 1Ls) would like to hear about the exams. And I don't want to talk about exams.

It's not that I don't have opinions. (Am I ever short of those?) No, the problem is that Columbia puts a high value on anonymity, which puts severe restrictions on what I feel comfortable saying. After all, for all I know, my professors all read this thing. Not only does that mean I have to avoid making specific comments on the exams, I don't even want to make general ones. My brain's fried at the moment, and all I need is some accusation of cheating arising from a slip of my pen on here.

Last term, this caused me a lot of trouble on my Torts exam, where I missed the very existence of the whole last page of the exam. (NOTE: Absent-minded students like myself are well-advised to spend the first five minutes of any exam writing headers for each question, and checking through the answer book thoroughly.) I really wanted to write about that. Then again, if I had, and my Prof read the entry... what result?

So I'm compromising. I'll write about the whole exam experience--I have the entries outlined or written on my machine--and post them after grades come out. Again, it will go with my standard policy of not saying anything harsh or offensive, but I'll try to make an honest assessment, with some advice for those who are coming after me. In the meantime... stay tuned. And I apologize for the distractions of politics.

April 28, 2004

Outline Update

Status of Outlines and Preparation in General:

Con Law Outline: A triumph of Formatting over Knowledge.
Perspectives Outline: A triumph of Vocabulary over Comprehension.
Reg. State Outline: A triumph of Duty over Necessity.
Crim Law Outline: A triumph of Hope over Reality.

Last term I was in fairly good shape. This term, I am merely doomed.

April 21, 2004

AMBIMB LIES! (OK, fibs. OK, maybe not even that...)

My friend Ambivalent Imbroglio writes:
I've got good outlines for every class. No, I didn't make a single one. Yes, I know that's not how you're supposed to do it. If you're a law student, I'm telling you this to boost your confidence. Think of this as my gift to you: You are more prepared than I am, so rest easy.

No, I'm not more prepared than he is. He at least, has a plan. This might be a better indicator of my present state. (Credit due to my old lead-tech in my prior life as a project manager.)

April 16, 2004

The Course Evaluation Email Mob

If you attend Columbia Law School, one perpetual annoyance is that rather than having online bulletin boards or subscription-only email lists, your account will be set up to get every half-important email from any random association conceivable. You'll read these simply because every so often, there's a single email sent out about something you need to know: journals, or EIP, or clinics next year. But they'll be hidden in a forest of things you don't have any desire to know about. Nowhere is this worse than with course evaluation emails.

The University puts great stock in their course evaluations, despite the fact that first year evaluations are pretty pointless. After all, you can't choose your professors, so the best you can hope for is that someone says something nice about the challenge that faces you. Or you can develop ulcers reading some of them.

But whatever, the University wants you to fill them out. In an attempt to aid future first years, I've put together a taxonomy of course evaluation reminder emails.

The Santa Claus Emails: So-called because the powers that be seem to think you're waiting for evaluation season like Christmas. "Please note that in three weeks, you will be able to access the course evaluation websites." You'll receive about three of these.

The On Your Marks Emails: These I got today. They remind you of the surprising fact that you're taking a course, and that the course can be evaluated. One email per course, incidentally, telling you to go to the same website. Actually, that's not true--they sent me two reminders for Perspectives.

The In Loco Parentis Emails: These emails are sent automatically by the course evaluation system, or so they claim. Since you're obviously missing your mother, they decide to nag you in a maternal fashion about the fact that you've not filled out your evaluations. [1] If the system knew that you'd not finished your outlines, sublet your apartment, signed up for next years courses, or gone to the gym in two weeks, it would probably happily nag you about that too.

These can also be named the Perfidy Emails, because they promise that if you fill out the evaluations, the emails will stop. More than likely, they lie.

The Course Evaluation Mob Emails: These come only towards the end of the evaluation period, just before the website closes. Like an enforcer asking for protection money, they're not directly threatening, but they're more firm than the In Loco Parentis kind. You almost expect them to mumble, "You've got a very nice outline there, kid. Nice formatting, pretty nice size. It'd be a shame if anything... happened... to it. Know what I mean?"

There's only one nice thing about any of these emails. The evaluation period closes before exams. While this means that you can't leave behind wisdom for future students on the only thing they (or you) are likely to care that much about--how tough is the exam?--so long as you're still receiving reminders, exams aren't upon you yet.

[1]: NOTE TO ANY MATERNAL READERS (particularly my own mother): This is not to say my own mom nagged me when I was a child--she was actually very good about that. I'm merely employing stereotype here.

April 14, 2004

Extreme Textualism

While using AOL Instant Messenger in class:

BoredInClass: LOL :)
MoreBored: You sit three seats in front of me. I can see you. You're not laughing out loud!

April 12, 2004

Too much

The threat warning just went up.

There is just too much to do. I tried to be pro-active today, and I got a lot of things done. Still, I'm down to my last pair of slacks, my task list still glares at me with disapproval, and as night closes in I can't help but think that I'm never, ever getting done with this. Particularly Con Law. I can't figure out if I should just stop reading the impossible amount in the casebook and resort to Legallines, read Chemerinsky, or just plow through what I can of Sullivan's and deal with the fact that it's not making sense.

Tonight I can't face it, so I'm going to sleep. I'm going to bed before midnight, even though reading for tomorrow isn't finished. I'm sure there's a special level of hell reserved for Con Law students who've not done their preparation, but I guess it's just gonna get one more inmate.

March 30, 2004

Annoyances in Education

The trouble with wanting to be a lawyer is that you have to go to law school. The trouble with law school, at least for me, is that I've never really 'fit in' with the academic paradigm. When I was younger, I used to question why I was being put through academic hoops that made little sense to me. [1] Years of experience taught me that while you learn a lot of things at any level of school, the primary function of education is a kind of sorting hat, where the skills your tested on bear some peripheral relationship to what you'll eventually do upon graduation. In other words, an employer can count on the fact that by hiring 'the best' graduates, he can't guarantee an employee will be good for his firm, but he's less likely to have to fire them later.

In any event, my standard attitude towards inexplicable pedagogy these days will be to approach it as a client project: (a) figure out what my professor wants, and (b) hand that in as an answer. That's not as grim as it sounds. Some professors want creativity in their responses, and that's good. Some just want to see that you can use the tools they've been teaching--even if there are better ones about--and for those, you stick with the tried and true. Not as exciting, but it gets the job done quickly and with a modicum of fuss.

Every so often, however, I'll get a problem, or an assignment, or just a task, and that onery youngster in me pops out. "You can't draw that conclusion, even though it's what's wanted," he says. "Yes, this all works within the bounds of the question, but what happens to someone who tries this in real life?" Mostly, I tell the kid to shut up--it's the advantage of age.

But every so often, I look at him fondly and quiet him with this almost certainly apocryphal story about Niels Bohr:

The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen:

"Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."

One student replied:

"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed immediately. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case.

The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn't make up his mind which to use. On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:

"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer."

"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper."

"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T =2 pi sqr root (l /g)."

"Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up."

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building."

"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel Prize for physics.


Even Snopes considers the story to be a garden-variety academic legend. Still, sometimes one should give the inner child a bedtime story.

[1] I was assured by my fourth-grade teacher that these things would make sense to me when I got older and went out in the working world. What I found when I reached the working world was that those to whom obscure matters of pedagogy made sense had often remained in academia. It is possible, however, that I am simply refusing to grow old/up, an opinion on which I will defer to my readers.

March 24, 2004

Really Random

OK, this is very surreal. For the last two classes, we've had a mouse running around the room. This has to be the oddest classroom disturbance I've ever seen...

Just to note, our professors were really good about working the mouse into the lectures. Credit to them, I guess.

March 17, 2004

STRESS!!!

With Exam Watch reading less than 50 days until my Con Law exam, the tension is starting to kill me. I don't feel I can relax, even if this is the middle of my spring break. I've really, really got to get out of the law school.

Besides all the law-related stress (such as my non-existent Con Law outline), there's the little matter of Japanese. I'm going to be working at a Japanese law firm over the summer, and they'll expect me to be fluent. Which I am--or rather, I was. But between a relaxing summer break last year and the sheer weight of all the law I'm learning, it's like the Japanese has been squeezed out of my head. So now, on top of all the other stress, I'm trying to review 30 kanji and read at least one article from Nikkei.net every day. This is what I should have been doing from last October, obviously.

This adds to my already ridiculous budgetary woes, because last year the UK postal service lost my two most expensive dictionaries. While I can replace the Green Goddess more cheaply when I get to Japan, I just can't survive on electronic dictionaries anymore. So Nelson's, at the very least, has to be replaced. There goes $50, although thankfully Barnes and Noble will do me next-day delivery.

Finally, I seem to have run into a bind with my flight to England. I used American Airline's site to find my tickets, and found a nice, cheap fare leaving at 7AM Friday morning. Today, though, I found out that there's a slightly more expensive fare leaving Thursday night that I'd much rather be on. Having done this kind of thing before, I phoned up and asked if they might change my flight to the earlier, more expensive one.

Nope. It seems that they've changed policies, and won't waive the $200 charge to change the ticket. Don't ask me why--it means I've got to wake up at 3AM to catch my flight, and AA is out the $60 difference that I would have paid them for the differing flight.

Certainly it's not right for me to develop an ulcer during spring break, is it?

New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary: Based on the Classic Edition by Andrew N. Nelson
New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary: Based on the Classic Edition by Andrew N. Nelson

March 16, 2004

Law School Grades

Nick Morgan over at De Novo takes on the law-school grading establishment, with a great deal of justice. I doubt I have much to say about pedagogical method--I'm a lousy teacher, although I can explain economic concepts fairly well--but I was struck by one comment:

The obvious counterpart is that what students are expected to learn—and how they are expected to demonstrate learning—is up for grabs too. And that’s what makes being a law student wonderful, at times. I wouldn’t dare suggest that law schools normalize their pedagogy. Instead, law professors should more carefully examine the considerable challenges facing students who must not only learn the law, but learn each professor’s peculiar vision of the law, each professor’s unique and often unshared theoretical assumptions. Misunderstanding these assumptions could easily be the difference between an “A” and a “C”—a misunderstanding that may reflect a student’s mind-reading prowess, but little of the student’s legal potential.

I couldn't agree more strongly, with one caveat: that testing someone's 'mind-reading' potential isn't actually a bad thing for anyone who's going to be in a service industry. Obviously I've never practiced law, but I've found 'second-guessing' what my professors want to be a process very similar to guessing what my clients wanted when I was a web consultant. Indeed, it's nowhere near as frustrating as guessing what some of my former bosses wanted, especially the one for whom every project constituted a test of my 'business acumen.'

I'm spending the week starting my exam preparation for this term the same way I did last semester: putting together a project plan listing each of the topics covered by my professors, and allocating a bit of time to cover each. When I write my outline, the first thing in my mind is, "What does Prof. X want to hear about this?" Often this is substantially different from what I'd like to say, but in this sense my professor is my 'client,' this is my 'job,' and the final product of an exam paper is simply the milestone which has to be handed in.

It's not a great strategy for learning, but I've never found that I learn very much that's useful in classrooms anyway. (Believe me, if top-ranked firms offered apprenticeship programs that would allow me to pass the bar without attending law school, I'd not be here.) It is a reasonable strategy for pleasing clients and, by extension, law professors.

I'm reasonably certain that it's a useful skill in a lawyer, too. I'll be surprised if legal clients are any better at accurately estimating what they actually want or need than the clients of a marketing agency. So to the extent that it's 'tested,' inadvertently or not, in law school, employers may actually find that beneficial.

March 13, 2004

Absent thoughts

Dear Wormwood:

This is probably the longest break from blogging that Three Years of Hell has seen since its inception, and I probably owe you an apology. This week has been the roughest I've had at law school, and it may only get worse.

Following my Moot Court brief, I managed to come down with a pretty horrible head cold, which settled in and made itself comfortable for most of the week. Thus whatever happened in the last five days was seen through a perpetual scrim of NyQuil and DayQuil, and was only half-real to begin with. I found myself walking away from conversations with friends and colleagues wondering what I'd said and why I'd said it. There's a good reason for me never to become a drug addict, I guess.

As a result, I'm probably a week behind in my reading, a complaint common to a lot of the Columbia 1Ls. (The terror of the first semester must be over, because I'm finding that class attendance is down in general: you know the sessions that will help you on your finals and the ones that you might as well spend the hour at home reading.) My Reg. State paper was finished just before the deadline, there's an ocean of Perspectives to catch up on, and even my task list hasn't been updated in a week.

The good--or bad, depending on how you look at it--news is that next week is spring break. I'm always bad at planning for vacations, and since it's been years since my vacations weren't taken at my discretion, spring break kind of snuck up on me. New Orleans or Florida seem to be

I'm going to a wedding in England in a few weeks, so there's no money for another plane flight, and that and my workload convinced me to stay in New York and just get caught up and ready for the sprint to exams. But as some advice, Wormwood, if you're in this situation next year, plan ahead. Knowing that you won't have Spring Break to catch up will keep you on your toes, so you don't fall behind beforehand.

In any event, I'm not that concerned about staying in New York. For once I have a reason to spread my wings a little and go see this strange and curious city in all its glory. At the moment, I know little more than what goes up and down Broadway and the cloistered campus that is Morningside Heights. With any luck, I'll start correcting that soon.

March 05, 2004

One Man, One Note

I'm currently trying to decide whether I want to ditch the system I've been using for note-taking in class, and adopt Microsoft's One Note. Ah, penury!

The idea of paying $100 for some note-taking software this late in the game is cringeworthy, but having tried out the demo version tonight I'm sorely tempted. It's a more spontaneous, speedy system than Microsoft Word. The ability to drop text anywhere on a page give it a note-pad like feel, and you can scribble graphics and charts (useful for Reg State) using just the mouse. From an organization standpoint, it looks ideal.

I'm just not sure about the money, and the transition cost of moving all my notes into a new system halfway through term. Then again, this looks like a marvelous way to do an outline.

February 29, 2004

Illusions of Spring

More of my days should be like this. After working until late last night, I slept until 9:30, and woke refreshed without my throat itching for coffee. A bit of rereading of notes and some light research later, I sauntered out to find that Mother Winter felt merciful today. Bright and temperate enough that I didn't really need my coat, I called a good friend and brunched at the West End's sidewalk tables.

The service was as bad as the company was good, but really, it didn't matter. OK, coffee didn't come for fifteen minutes, and my companion's tea arrived substantially after the main course. But there was good beer, good sun, and a gentle breeze on this strange leap year day. (One advantage of having lived in England: having a beer for lunch is just a normal day, not a sign of approaching alcoholism.) While we waited for forks to be delivered so we might eat without dirtying our fingers, a procession of Kerry supporters wandered down Broadway, placards and signs making a political forest, like the march of some particularly socially-conscious ents. One cheery-but-loud woman called out, "Buttons! Buttons! Anyone want a button?" I couldn't resist. "Vote Kerry," she said, and didn't have the heart to tell her it wasn't bloody likely.

Still, I did my bit for the cause--it was too nice a day. I pinned the button on my lapel and my lunch companion snapped a picture with her mobile phone. So I guess some of you never thought you'd see this:

The day's been good ever since. I've wandered over to the law school and read a week's worth of ConLaw and a week worth of CrimLaw as the brilliant sunshine faded into a subtler sunset than I can normally enjoy from the Glowing Box of Despair. The last three hours have been learning mixed with a generous helping of Alan Jackson and Martina McBride. Now I'll wander home and put the finishing touches on my Moot Court brief.

Plenty of work remains to be done, but I can look forward to something more. I've taken some time to examine Prof. Bainbridge's wine notes for something appropriate: tomorrow I'm cooking dinner for a kind young lady of my acquaintance. The worst pressures of the job search are gone, and Moot Court nears completion. A quick glance at the Exam Watch shows that these calm pleasures can't last, but the last few days and the next few days seem to be conspiring in my favor. I'll raise a glass and be thankful while I can.

February 24, 2004

Why am I here?

Some of you may have noticed that when it comes to blogging, recently I've just not been on my game. Pieces have been rushed or garbled; thoughts have been, at best, half-formed; and I've been stumbling over my own feet at least half the time. If you will all excuse a more personal blog entry than most, I'll try to get through what's going on: I'm having to deal with a few larger thoughts than normal, and a lot of them have to do with why I'm writing this blog.

Background
First of all, there's a lot of blessings to count, although each on reflection is mixed. Last week I had the longest and most involved interview I've had yet--with a firm I'll just call BIGLAW. I'm hoping I get the job, because while it's not in Tokyo, it's well-paying and prestigious. Something in the office environment, more serious than a code-shop and yet not Bleak House, felt good to me. It was a half day of interviews, and by the end I was bloody exhausted, but I'm hoping it didn't show.

(There's a couple of other interviews that are either outstanding or in the pipeline, and a few more firms I'm hoping to hear back from.)

In the meantime, classes are going... well, disasterously, actually. I'm not far enough behind in any class to collapse into a total drunken wreck and bemoan my fate, but I'm still part of the Fraternity of the Damned. CrimLaw remains confusing to me, and I can't put it all together, but if you remember how I coped with Torts last term, I'm just waiting for that same moment of clarity to hit me. Slogging through my masses of ConLaw remains a task I can't cope with, but today I put the first touches on an outline. And Reg. State is... well, Reg State. But even that's beginning to feel foreign to me.

So what does this brief update on real life have to do with why I've not been blogging? Believe it or not, it's not shortness of time. Read on...

Continue reading "Why am I here?" »

February 17, 2004

Not good...

General time pressure is beginning to kill me. And the worst bit is that when I'm under time pressure (a) I begin distracting myself from what needs to be done inorder to evade the pressure (thus making it worse), and (b) I start making stupid mistakes. Such as what I just found in my Perspectives notes:

Lux iniusta non est lux.

Yeah, right.

February 09, 2004

Best Law Review Article Ever

I've mentioned this before, but since the 1L blogosphere seems to be suffering a bout of depression, I figured I'd mention it again:

Thomas E. Baker, A Compendium of Clever and Amusing Law Review Writings: An Idiosyncratic Bibliography of Miscellany with in Kind Annotations Intended as a Humorous Diversion for the Gentle Reader, 51 Drake L. Rev. 105 (2002).

Take one citation a day for cure to your legal blues. (Link won't work if you don't have Lexis.)

February 01, 2004

MISSING!

What the heck happened to January?

January 27, 2004

Wormwood, I Haven't Forgotten You

Dear Wormwood:

Please do not think that I've not heard your plaintive moaning with regards to our correspondence. "Yes, yes, we understand you like the technical aspects of blogging, and RSS is nifty tech. True, true, a postmodernism generator is cute. But you do remember, once upon a time, that you promised to blog about law school, correct? Have you really grown so big-headed that the point of our project has escaped you?" And your complaint has a great deal of merit, for which I have to apologize. My heart really hasn't been in it.

Partially, I think it's just the glumness one gets from attending a law school in a city with a harsh but graceless winter. New York doesn't have the Januarys I've loved in the past: cold, clean snows blanketing the horizon, wind whipping white 'dust' devils over ice-topped lakes.

Winter in the city is summer in the city with the annoyance of cracked lips and muddy boots. Even in a blizzard, it's almost as if snow falls from the sky pre-grey. Walking outside at night is an education in natural selection: oil-black rats are much more visible hopping through drifts of white. Frozen landscapes in the countryside are accompanied by a clean, almost filtered scent to the air, but here winter's only mercy is that large bags of trash left out on the street are too frozen to rot.

As I said, Wormwood, I've been writing about technology largely to spare you in case what I'm suffering is some seasonal depression. No point in inflicting upon you what is probably more vitamin deficiency than rational thought.

With that in mind, what has been happening?

Classes: I think most of my classmates would agree that the classes in the second semester at Columbia are much more theoretical than practical. Of the four major classes, Regulatory State and Perspectives on Legal Thought remind me more of undergraduate lectures in economics and philosophy. Not that this isn't interesting in itself, but it's territory that many of us have covered before. Indeed, my 12th grade government class read Hobbes, Locke, Aquinus, Rawls, Bentham. [1] Even in the face of good lectures or interesting reading, there's a certain 'been there' feeling that keeps me from feeling the same degree of excitement I felt when this was all fresh. (Then again, perhaps I'm temporarily jaded.)

Don't get me wrong: there's a good and solid argument for these courses, and I'm sympathetic to it. Given the role of lawyers in our society, as not only advocates but judges and politicians, it's for the good that we get a broader historical view, and that this is informed by economics. But they're not the 'classic' law school courses: property, evidence, etc. They're more familiar, and they don't inspire the same feeling of terror. (To be fair, that one is a lecture course, and the other rather kind in its Socratic method, goes a long way to explaining this feeling. I imagine that as exams get closer, the trepidation level increases.)

That said, there's still Crim Law and Con Law, with plenty of reading for them, particularly the latter. I'm certain that Con Law will become more engaging as the semester progresses. No matter how important Marbury v. Madison or McCulloch v. Maryland may be, they're difficult to read with any passion. So much seems so settled. [2] Still, these courses remind me more of last term, so that's good.

Grades: Finally all my grades are back. All I can say on this is that overall I'm pleased, and that so far the great law school maxim is true: you do best in the classes you were sure to do worst in, and vice-versa.

Job Search: A task on which I should have spent far more time already, I'm getting a few resumes out the door every day. One thing I'd advise, Wormwood, is that you start the process far more quickly than I did, because otherwise it will become that nagging task that you leave at the bottom of your list, buried under a huge pile of reading. It's just as important, and you should treat it as such. Progress on this front remains hopeful: I've had my share of interviews, and we'll see how it goes.

I hesitate to go further, Wormwood, as already I wonder if the blizzard that is rumoured to be arriving tomorrow and my chronic lack of sleep are combining to make what I'm writing less encouraging than it ought otherwise to be. In any event, I'm glad I did bring myself to mention a few of the things happening here at law school, before this descended into a purely political blog.

Yours,
AR

[1] Admittedly, my high school government teacher was a bit unusual: he taught a 'great books' curriculum and used Socratic method at least as well if not better than many of my professors at Columbia. But then, I'm not criticisizing the Columbia program as much as I'm explaining why I'm not feeling as engaged as in months past.

[2] At this point, I'd like to break with my common habit of not being overly critical of my courses to be scathing in one respect: the textbook Constitutional Law by Kathleen M. Sullivan and Gerald Gunther should never be inflicted upon any student, anywhere, possibly under 8th Amendment restriction. First, it has all the weaknesses common to the University Casebook Series. The book itself is a physically unhelpful size, nearly 8 1/2" x 11", impossible to fit alongside a notebook on a classroom desk. The formatting of the text is diabolical: it's extremely difficult to figure out what is a heading, a sub-heading, or what is not within a hierarchy of headings to begin with. By the time you get to the fourth or fifth levels, there is no way to keep things straight. A simple table of typefaces would go a long way to curing this defect. If a single effort was made in terms of helpfulness to the student, it certainly doesn't show.

While the weaknesses of the series aren't helpful at the best of times, the writing in Constitutional Law makes no effort at all to be accomodating. Even outside the cases (Con Law will never be for those who like plain language), the wording is unnecessarily prolix (two uses of 'exegesis' is sure to please wordhounds like me, but it's sadistic for a casebook), complicated, and in some cases just downright confusing. For anyone who has the casebook at hand, I put forward the second full paragraph of p. 78 of the 14th edition, a paragraph which would be better structured if the order of sentences within it were reversed. I'll concede that Constitutional Law is almost certain to be cryptic in many respects--no one who ever read Gasparini would accuse Supreme Court Justices of silver-tongued clarity, and their task is often more one of precision--but shouldn't a good casebook help, not hinder this?

Perhaps I'm missing something and the book will grow on me, but after 150 page, it's easily my least favorite casebook thus far.

Exam Watch Is Back

And for those in my section, you'll notice that Exam Watch is now back in the right hand column. By my calculations, I've just over 108 days of 1Lhood remaining.

January 12, 2004

First Day Down

Dear Wormwood:

So, the first day of classes are out of the way. For the sake of posterity, and so that I can see how wrong I am in my predictions by the end of the term, I'll record my first impressions.

Constitutional Law: Too early to tell, really. Today's lecture was mostly a discussion of 'what is a constitution?' As an obviously introductory session, I've not been able to get a grip on what the course is like yet.

Criminal Law: Based on the first day, the course reminds me a lot of Torts last semester. Only downside is that I took a lot of notes in a lecture room with 1970s ergonomics. I can see myself popping tylenol like a fiend by the end of the term.

The course itself reminds me of Torts simply because Prof. Crimlaw (like Prof. Torts last term) wants to focus on concepts and structure to a greater degree than just 'elements' of a particular criminal statute. I get a sense that, just as the Torts exam wasn't a standard issue-spotter, CrimLaw won't be either. How 'usual' this is I don't know: while Gilberts or other such guides suggest that this isn't the normal fashion of a law school course, my experience thus far is that there isn't a 'normal.'

(For the sake of honesty, I should probably note I got zapped in Socratic Method here today. Still, honesty is a highly overrated virtue in a diarist, so no point in dwelling on it.)

Perspectives in Legal Thought: By contrast, Prof. Perspectives eschews the Socratic Method entirely, which makes a big change. It's been at least seven years since I've taken notes on a pure hour-long academic lecture, and my note-taking skills have atrophied. About half-way through I was remembering the old patterns: if a professor says 'three reasons for X are', then break out the bullet points, etc.

Prof. Perspectives made the class sound fairly unusual for a 1L course, Wormwood, so you may find my impressions aren't much use to you unless you're looking at Columbia particularly. In rough overview, the course covers various controversies in the philosophy of law. To give a hint, tomorrow's readings are Aristotle and Plato. One good reason to look forward to the course: if you've read Prof. Solum's Legal Theory Blog but occasionally crave background for the discussion, this seems to be the course to give it to you. (Incidentally, Solum was quoted in the reading for today's text, in contrast to Scalia.)

Given that much of my interest in law lies in this area, I'm looking forward to much of the course. Some of the questions I've been asking for some time (e.g. why is legal education conducted as it is; what are the disadvantages to the rule of law) look to be raised over the next few months.

The only other impression I can give you so far is that the reading for this term looks, at first glance at least, to be literally crushing. I carried all my books from the apartment to my locker this morning, and for those of you still in the application process wondering what you can do to prepare for law school next year I can offer an unorthodox suggestion: take up weightlifting.

So tomorrow it begins again

So, tomorrow it begins again. New classes, a new set of students, a new set of things to blog about. The reading (what I've gotten done of it so far) seems... typical. The criminal law textbook seems a lot like Torts. (Those of you who remember how poorly I felt I did in that class will hopefully be pleased to learn that the result was a renewed confidence in how well, in the end, I understood it.) The first day's Constitutional Law reading reminded me a lot of Government class my last year in high school (also taught through Socratic method, and featuring every one of the readings bar the Pennsylvania constitution). I'm taking a break before looking at Perspectives.

I don't have time tonight to blog much, but here's the outline:
Classes:
Criminal Law
Constitutional Law
Foundation of the Regulatory State
Perspectives on Legal Thought
Moot Court

Exams:
Two results back so far. I have no intention of posting my grades, but I'm pleased. Then again, I'm not gunning for a perfect 4.0 average, so I'm pleased with a lot less than some. Suffice it to say that first term exams have convinced me that this law school thing is a doable endeavor. (Don't bruise the few moments of confidence I have, OK?)

New Distractions:
The weekend featured the purchase of a Win TV PVR card for my server, so now I've got a TV. OK, the dorm doesn't have cable and I only get broadcast channels badly through an indoor antenna, but it could be worse. Couple that with a forthcoming 80 GB harddrive and can you say 'build your own TIVO'?

As soon as I have some new exam dates, Exam Watch will be updated. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing everyone back at classes tomorrow. With any luck, I'll be back to fine blogging form, since I always seem more eager to write when I've got a lot of mental stimuli. It feels like it was a short vacation indeed.

January 04, 2004

Now this is a new concept

One of my professors next term is, in fact, a blogger.

This poses some problems with my anonymity policies, since I've been careful not to identify my professors by name online. As you know, I don't identify anyone online without their permission, but he's non-anonymous online. But in any event, it's been interesting reading some of his views and knowing exactly what I'm getting into before I get started.

More to come after I've considered how to handle this particular discovery responsibly. Any professors reading this who have advice on how to blog about a professor who is also a blogger, I'd appreciate the guidelines.

December 07, 2003

Status Report

(More personal than political today, so if it's not your cup of tea, I recommend today's George F. Will article in the Washington Post.)

With a little less than three days to my first exam, things could be better, but could be worse. You can see the Exam Watch countdown to the right, accurate to within four hours because I didn't compensate for time zones in my programming. Breaking them down:

Torts: Probably the weakest match between my skills and my courses, I've put off dealing with this until necessary. I'm still outlining negligence, quite a few days behind schedule. Still, it's beginning to come together, and by Tuesday I should be doing what I can to prepare. Annoyingly, this is my first exam of my first year of law school, and there's no practice exams available: Prof. Torts is in her first year teaching. (She's done admirable work to compensate for this by giving us significant review/tutorial help, but it still does little to exterminate the butterflies in the stomach.)

Contracts: Outline and review notes almost completed, and I did some mock-examing yesterday. I'm either doing quite well or incredibly badly, since there didn't seem to be that many issues in each of Prof. Contract's questions, and those there were I could analyze without much trouble. Given the amount of time I've got to prepare, I'm not sweating that hard.

Civ. Pro: I've done the least preparation for this, but it's a one-day takehome at the end of my exam period, so I'm still feeling OK about it.

Time Schedule: The time schedule's looking strange, since I'm working mostly from about noon to about midnight. Still, it's when I'm most productive.

Work Schedule: My project plan says I'm 6.5 days behind schedule and will be OK if my exams start when they end. I know enough from my days as a project manager not to get too worried when MS Project says 26 hour days are necessary.

Health, Sleep, and Happiness: Oddly, I'm still feeling pretty positive, despite the occasional gripe. I'll tell you on Wednesday whether this is a result of rational and composed sanity, or if I'm ending my weekend still in denial. It helps that I've set sane deadlines, established pretty low standards of success, and spent as much time talking with friends as I could reasonably spare.

December 03, 2003

(Mile)Stones in the Road

Far sooner than I would have suspected, the last day of our first term classes arrived. My little countdown clock, off by a couple of hours anyway, is ticking rapidly to a close.

Each of my profs wrapped up their subject matter, wished us the best, and received their applause. Two classes were shorter than normal--I think we were either too little prepared or just too shell-shocked to take up the allotted Q&A time--and one ran a little over. Whatever, I just haven't gotten used to the idea that nothing new is forthcoming, that everything is now preparation for the exam.

It's a different point of view from my undergraduate years, in which all knowledge was cumulative, and everything led to one enormous set of final exams that could test anything in the course. In studying for those exams, the first textbooks I ever used were still relevant, and my first days reading Japanese history formed building blocks for my last.

I feel this is more discrete and packaged, which is no better or worse, but quite different. More to the point, I feel as saddened by the thought of this ending as I am apprehensive of the exams to come. So much of this term was just struggling to understand not what law is, but what law school is. I'd be better prepared now if my class notes from September were as good as my notes from the last week. So much of what I thought or assumed in my study practices are not in fact what I needed. It's not entirely a point for despair--I'm not doomed--but just a vague feeling of regret, of not having done enough, or not having done what has been done well. It's a highly-condensed packaging of the idea that youth is wasted on those without the experience to appreciate it.

Exams are coming, and comment may get scarce for a few days. Then again, blogging is one of my ways of centering myself, so you may get tired of my yapping. In the meantime, I shall descend into outlines. Via my friend at Ambivalent Imbroglio, I give you Mixtape Marathon's poetic description of the highly condensed evil contained therein. More practically, I give you Scheherazade's Study Tips for 1Ls, which are practical as much for keeping you sane as for passing your classes.

November 28, 2003

Places to Study

For some reason, I just can't study at the law school. Besides that fact that the atmosphere there is becoming ever more tense (and being behind some of my more gung-ho classmates in my studying, that means every moment there is a combination of guilt and insecurity), it's just so horribly modern. Everything is plasterboard, steel, glass, and uncomfortable modern furniture. (And the library seems to be kept for the benefit of its books. The place is nose-bleedingly dry, which undoubtedly good for old pages but gives me perpetual colds.)

Thankfully, a few days before exams, I've now settled in the Butler Library, mostly used by the undergraduates. To someone used to studying in the archaic comforts of Oxford, there's something comforting about a place full of oak paneling, impractical marble floors, and actual old-style wooden bookcases. The study carrels afford you enough space to spread your notes, two outlines, a hornbook, and the other paraphenalia you need to construct your study materials. The coffee bar is cheaper than the law school's as well.

And of course, the atmosphere's less tense. Can't complain there.

November 21, 2003

I'm not dead yet!

The memo is over. It's in. It's probably passable. I had to take out the passage that cited William Gibson's Neuromancer, unfortunately.

Which leaves me with an hour's free time to enjoy myself. I've been spending it looking at a serious analysis of the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow. Some of you get it, the rest of you can just trust me, it's funny.

Hat tip to Professor Volokh.

November 19, 2003

Fraternity of the Damned

Dear Wormwood:

After the innumerable bake sales, drinking events, speaker meetings, dinner events, and even Law Revue [1], it will not be until this part of the year that you can join the most important social grouping: the Fraternity of the Damned. [2]

You join about twenty-four hours before your second legal memo is due. There's not really an initiation ceremony as such: you'll just be able to tell your fellow members from how they look. Bruised eyelids over bloodshot eyes, an unbalanced air of distraction, they'll be murmuring about causes of action and counting the hours until it's over.

I'm a member of the Fraternity, dear Wormwood, and while I will pass on the required warning against membership, there are some advantages. For one thing, you will never spend too much time on a task that you leave to the last minute. Required as our memo is, it's a pass-fail task, and thus allocating time elsewhere is not unwise. Similarly, while the stress in the last two days is awful, it is only stress for two days. This is particularly useful if you're a not-so-young man who wants to keep his hair.

Anyway, here's the important thing about Fraternity membership: in the end, you know you're not alone. In the weeks leading up to this hazing ritual, you'll hear a lot from the non-members. They'll ask you to justify your position on how you should Bluebook quotations from Egyptian law review articles on conversion of intellectual property relating to bovines, leaving you to sheepishly admit that you've not started your research yet. Undeterred, they'll question you as to whether the dissenting opinion in a state court ruling that was overturned might be used to justify a novel reading of an otherwise unquestioned area of law in a federal case brought on diversity jurisdiction. You'll look blank. And they'll keep going, even though you have nothing to say on the matter, because... well, who knows? This will make you feel very alone.

Here is where the Fraternity of the Damned steps in. These are the people you'll want to buy drinks with after you've been up all night crying over string citations. They're the people who, when you say, "Yeah, I've only begun researching summary judgment," reply, "Oh, yeah, I need to write that section too, don't I?." Every member knows that tonight is going to be a very long night, and that they'll be enjoying copious amounts of Colombia's finest (legal) export well after most of humanity is in bed. In short, they're the people who don't make you feel ashamed that despite your fine time management skills, you're about to pull the equivalent of an undergrad allnighter.

We don't have t-shirts yet. But I'm working on it.

[1] A song-and-dance number put on by members of Columbia Law School once a term. Congratulations to everyone who played a part in it last week, it was top notch.

[2] I use the term 'fraternity' loosely, because in no sense is the Fraternity closed to women. It's an equal opportunity group, open to members of all races, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, and political affiliations, nor does it discriminate on the basis of age.

November 08, 2003

If Google IPOs, can it use the money to buy Lexis and Westlaw?

If you're a frequent Google user, check out the new Google Deskbar, an app which sits on your taskbar and lets you search without opening a browser window. Good for general research, and the hotkeys for definitions (Ctrl-D) and thesaurus (Ctrl-T) will eliminate any need for your dictionary. (Link from Inter Alia.

For a long time, I've admired Google's ability to thrive by continually getting the basics right. Their service is an excellent search engine, a model of usability, and yet manages to convey an identity through subtle branding. If these guys do IPO, I can only hope the money is used to buy out a service like Westlaw or Lexis, who could learn a lot from these guys.

For instance, instead of pointless rewards programs and endless bribes of free coffee mugs, how about putting $10,000 into development of a taskbar-based application that would let me search for citations quickly and easily without going through an endless and non-helpful succession of web-based forms? I mean, far be it from me to suggest that either corporation ought to have as their core-competency being an effective and efficient information service, as opposed to a distributor of marketing goods, but it's a modest proposal.

Googlespider, feel free to take this message back to your masters: I'll be looking for summer legal work, and if you're considering making life as good for legal researchers as you have for web searchers, I'd be happy to aid your cause.

November 05, 2003

OK, I'm dead tired

My second memo outline is due tomorrow, and so I've dutifully been reading law review articles on cyberspace and realspace, watching as various professors revel in quoting William Gibson. I've been reading Intel v. Hamidi and AOL v. National Health Care and wondering if the judges involved had ever had to fix their computers.

But basically, I'm just going nuts from lack of sleep. I want to go to bed and close my tired eyes. I want to snuggle up under the comforter and dream of a tag-team of Justices Breyer and Ginsburg vs. Justices Scalia and Rehnquist. Interpreting the words of St. Augustine quoted as persuasive precedent in the Malleus Maleficarum regarding 'Whether children can be generated by Incubi and Succubi'. Color commentary by Posner and Kozinski. In a steel cage death match, please.

Update: My propensity to dream strange things will no doubt be aided by the Curmudgeonly Clerk's nifty use of the word rhadamanthine. For those of you who didn't bother to look it up, it means 'stern and incorruptible in judgment,' from the name of a Greek judge of the underworld.

November 03, 2003

Old, Tired, and the Youth is Draining From My Eyes

Everyone else has commented that with the passing of October, things begin to get serious for 1Ls, so I might as well add my agreement to the obvious. This is true, and the sneaking suspicion that I'm behind in my studies, unprepared for exams, and in general paddleless up the proverbial creek preys constantly in my mind. For some reason I feel incredibly old, like I should have been doing this five years ago. I can almost feel the reading etching lines under my eyelids, dry tributaries leading into the Delta of Torts.

Adding to my feeling of old age is the knowledge that one of the first computer games I ever purchased, and played with one of my best friends back in high school, is now available in a snazzier flash version online. Just think how much bluer and clearer my eyes were back then, watching the little Prince die in various gruesome ways (I never was good at the game) on an Epson 386 with an EGA monitor and that whole 2MB of memory.

Hell, my cell phone is more impressive than that these days. Normally I'm in love with progress, but today it just reminds me that I'm little more than a good gestation period away from 30.

November 02, 2003

'Exposing oneself' to liability

A fellow blogger at another law school (who shall remain nameless) related to me a very sad story today. Apparently, the wife of one young law student has complained that her husband's workload is reducing her to a state of involuntary chastity.

It strikes me, however, that given the amount of sex there is in the law, this shouldn't be a problem. The young woman should consider threatening suit against her husband's law school. After all, she might get damages for loss of consortium. Or maybe she could tell the gentleman in question that he needs to study the interpretation of acts of Congress. (No points for suggesting 'strict interpretation.') She might even ask him if his current conduct meets the standards required for excusable neglect. After all, nothing says his studying shouldn't be enjoyable.

OK, I've opened up the door, my readers are welcome to make further suggestions. Keep it clean, though.

October 28, 2003

Simple Lessons I have learned in law school

A lot of people think this lawyering malarky is difficult, or that the first year of law school teaches you a bundle of rarified or complicated matters, mostly involving words like 'jurisprudence,' 'stare decisis,' or my old favorite, 'promissory estoppel.' But really, after half a term I think that's all overblown, that the things you really need to know, and pick up from the casebook method, are all fairly simple rules.

A.: Contrary to popular belief, bathrooms are very dangerous places, in which people slip and fall on wet floors, are scalded by showers, cut their hands on negligently manufactured faucets, and otherwise ended up bruised and bloodied. Despite the obvious health and hygiene advantages, you might want to avoid them.

B. If you're ever in Massachusetts, do not eat at the Childs Dining Hall. [1]

C. The responsibility for an individual being able to stand on their own two feet generally lies with the owner of the land upon which they are standing.

D. Become a cowboy, become a lawyer, become a piano player at a house of ill-repute, but do not become a Regent of the University of California. (A Lexis search turns up 679 hits with 'Regents of the University of California' as a party. These guys are the only people on earth who get more summons in the mail than offers for low-interest rate credit cards.)

I'll fill in more as time goes by.

[1] Friend v. Childs Dining Hall, 120 N.E. 407 (Mass. 1918) (Nail found in food); Ash v. Childs Dining Hall 120 N.E. 196 (Mass. 1918) (tack found in blueberry pie); Jacques v. Childs Dining Hall, 120 N.E. 843 (Mass. 1923) (customer falsely imprisoned by cashier due to mistake in check).

October 27, 2003

Fluorescent Relativity

I no longer mark time by weeks or hours, or the rising of the sun or the appearance of the moon. No, after this long in law school, I mark time in the passing of yellow highlighters, the third of which has now given up the ghost since the beginning of my course.

October 21, 2003

Strange Asceticism

When I said earlier that the worst thing you can do in law school is get behind, I did not mean that you should spend every moment of your life in a kind of law-related aesceticism. It's simply not healthy: no one should like law that much. This weekend I had a conversation about just that with one of my classmates:

Ms. A to Ms. S: Yeah, I really like him, but I've told him not to visit before Christmas, because while he can come up here from [his city] on a weekend, I'll just spend all my time wanting him and I'll never get any work done.

Me: (while closing my books) A., trust me on this one: ask him up. You will spend as much time staring out the window and wanting him, as you will enjoying his presence, and both will keep you from your work. But having him will make your other hours joyful, while keeping him at arms length will merely make all your hours miserable, and you will grow to hate your work for keeping him from you.

Ms. A.: Y'know, that sometimes how I feel about marble chocolate fudge cake...

Case in Point: The Song of the Strange Ascetic, G. K. Chesterton

October 13, 2003

Solum's Law

I'd not noticed it before, but Professor Solum has published all his miniature 'lectures' into the Legal Theory Lexicon. This year's 1Ls can follow along as he creates this work, which will probably be a pretty good brush-up on key facts and a good source of advice.

Next years 1Ls will have a whole year's worth of them to read before they even start. The lucky bastards.

October 11, 2003

It all comes down to this

I think that in the years to come, yesterday will be the day that I remember law school actually starting.

Everyone's been working like crazy this weekend, or at least so it seems. You walk through the law school and there's a fever of outlining, revising, practice exams and other business. I felt as if my own efforts were nowhere near enough. That's changed.

Some people learn through the slow accretion of knowledge gained daily, fact after fact filing on top of one another. Some of us, however, learn through endless hours of drudgery combined with momentary and sudden flashes of brilliant clarity. (Or, in my case, months of somnolence followed by a minute of near-adequacy. The principle is the same.)

Something like that happened yesterday, as I was reading an Emmanuel's outline on the torts work I'd done last week. Suddenly, a lot of things fit together: not just negligence and battery, res ipsa and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, but everything I'd been doing. This IRAC thing: how does it fit with the application of a case to tort law? How does combining those two items with a knowledge of our exam structure lead to an effective and efficient form of outline? Why does that particular fish need this particular bicycle? Boom, there it was.

After that moment of procedural satori, I sat back and took stock of where I was. I'm about four weeks behind, really, but that's not so frightening, because if I'd been working enormous hours the last four weeks, I'd still be four weeks behind. I'd be ripping everything up right now and starting afresh--or worse, trying to get MS Word to rearrange my notes. Not only that, but I'd be far more tired than I am now. OK, I've not made my first move on outlining torts or contracts, but now I know what they should look like.

Following standard practice following my moments of zen, I grabbed some light work-related reading (Chirelstein's chapbook on contracts), walked briskly over to Nacho Mama's, and drank two margaritas whilst refreshing myself on promissory estoppel[1].

I can imagine my fellow students wondering exactly what the hell I'm talking about: many of them probably figured this out last month. But hey, everyone learns differently, and we all have our own path--if I sound like an idiot writing with such excitement over something so small, well, at least I'm a happy fool. I woke up this morning not only looking forward to getting to the law school, but with thoughts of a contract outline forming in my head. It wouldn't be too much to say I was enjoying the prospect of leaving the shower and making my way here.

So it begins.

[1] Yes, Martin, I get it now, well enough to write your sitcom. It should hit the screens fall 2005.

October 03, 2003

I feel unclean... so unclean...

As part of Legal Writing and Research, we had to do Lexis Nexis and Westlaw training this week. I have never felt so bribed in my life. Hoping to learn something about how to look up citations, do research, or make sure my case law is up to date, I instead found myself subjected to an hour's worth of sales patter regarding Rewards Programs, Bonus Points, Redeeming Points, and advantages over "the other system." I'd expect that at a time-share condo pitch or maybe from Tesco's[1], but not from two organizations ostensibly helping me to learn about the law.

Is it too much to ask that I be expected to make my choices on legal research tools based upon the quality of information they provide and their usability? The brief and rubbish introduction I've had leads me to believe that Westlaw has the edge on usability, while Lexis owns Shepards, and so might (but I certainly couldn't tell you from the presentation) have an edge on telling me which cases are up to date. In the meantime, I've come away with a mug, a light-up pen (which will be sent to my brother for his amusement), several hundred 'bonus points' and a bad taste in my mouth.

If anything, this has convinced me further of the malign influence of money on the legal system. [2] There's just so much money sloshing about that it fosters these perversions. Think about it: OK, providing students with free access to your databases makes sense, as it means you've got a trained user base to sell to later. (I've commented before on how software producers will refrain from prosecuting students with pirated software for just this reason.) But the elaborate and lavish system of rewards, incentives, bribes, and free chocolate! (Am I the only person who found that very grade-school?) The cost for this has to be recouped somewhere, and it's in higher prices to the law offices that use these systems, and ultimately, to their clients.

Right now, a good assignment that would allow me to use either system to get some worthwhile legal research experience would be far more useful than a hundred light-up ballpoint pens. And in the meantime, if I'm going to sell my soul, it's got a higher going rate than a goddamn coffee mug.

I need a shower now.

(Entry title from The Mr. Snaffleburger Corporation Childrens Show. Motto: Conform! Consume! Obey!


[1] Please don't get me wrong: Tesco's is a sterling organization with a wonderful IT department and the kind of company from which I expect rewards patter. I have no intention of drawing it into my 'plague on both your houses' opprobrium against Westlaw and Lexis. [2] Is there a bit of irony or hypocrisy in people who are happy to support McCain-Feingold because of the obscene amount of money in politics looking forward to highly-paid jobs in law?

September 25, 2003

Vital Statistics

I've just sent in my first legal memo. Don't get excited: it's not enthralling reading, and I took out the one thing that was even close to a joke. In the spirit of Harper's Weekly, I offer the following:

Hours of sleep I've had since 9AM Monday morning: 16
Number of cups of coffee I've had since 9AM Monday Morning: 22

September 21, 2003

First Study Group Session

So we held our first study group session. One thing they tell you here is that 'study groups will form organically,' and that's certainly the truth: ours seems to have formed via the rules of propinquity. This has some huge advantages.

First off, the study session is always preceeded by a Sunday dinner, cooked communally in our (newly cleaned) kitchen. I seem to be blessed to live with three stellar cooks, which will make up for my more journeyman efforts. Tonight, for instance, was salmon, broccoli, and new potatoes, with a garlic theme. OK, none of our breath would have passed muster, and my room (our impromptu dining room) smells like a pizzeria, but the food was worth it.

This meeting we basically went through some questions and established a pattern for the study group. (Yes, this is a Letter to Wormwood--you JD2B's can follow to see how well this works.) Before every meeting I'm to compile a list of questions we've had over our weekly classes, organize them into discussion sessions, and make an agenda.

Similarly, we've got a Civ Pro project lined up: we're going to make a flowchart of a lawsuit linking all the rules of federal procedure and relevant cases. For those of you linking from Martin's MBA Experience, yes, it will be a modified IDEF chart. People in the Business School can just think we've gone mad.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just a Little Unwell

I seem to have set up a study group based in the Malebolge. It's a sign of my old project manager attitude that I think we need a weekly agenda and a groupware site.

I'm reminded of the old Dilbert strip, in which the pointy-haired boss says, "I have a new project for you." Dilbert immediately responds, "Great. We'll need to put money for a database in the budget." When the boss complains that he hasn't even said what the project is yet, Wally explains, "Yes, but we know how to build databases."

I tried to find a link to that, to no avail.

September 14, 2003

Legal Templates

Of particular use for those in my section, but the rest of you might find it relevant: there's a wonderful page full of legal templates that work with Microsoft Word on Microsoft's site. For those of you in my Civ Pro class with the legal pleading due on Tuesday, it's pretty helpful.

September 05, 2003

Exam Schedules

As you can see from the Exam Watch feature at the right, we got our exam schedules...

September 03, 2003

Web-based Chaos

I just looked at the coursewebs for my classes. Jacob Neilson would be aghast. Besides the fact that these websites, from which we're supposed to download assignments and information, aren't particularly user-friendly and don't seem to have any user notification system (it would be nice to get emailed whenever a new assignment is posted), Professor Torts has her own embedded copy of Quickplace (IBM's own groupware-lite program). It sometimes appears as a popup from the first courseweb program, and sometimes unhappily embeds itself within it.

Me, I like Microsoft's Sharepoint, but all of these programs are pretty confusing. It would be nice if the law school could choose one feature rich piece of software and stick with it. Neither of them have a 'push-based' notification system, which I think is the most important need.

September 01, 2003

Methodological Distraction

Instead of briefing my cases this evening, I spent the time looking at past papers some recommended articles on studying for law school. (Findlaw's student section is remarkably good for this.)

I'm coming to the conclusion, looking at past papers, that an outline which is based solely on a set of case briefs is a bit of a mistake. (If this is obvious to you 2Ls, be kind to the blinding flash of the obvious, OK?) The first question on the exam always seems to be on how to apply a set of laws, which may or may not relate to these cases; the second question is an evaluation of statutory interpretation issues. In other words, I might have been better off taking more detailed notes on the discursive sections than spending all this time on case briefs.

Ah well: yes, it's a waste of time for this class, but mistakes are the best way to avoid screwing up next time. At least, that's what I'll tell myself.

August 30, 2003

Ben v. Jerry: I've found my Pro Bono Opportunity!

It's been bothering me for a while, though it's not immediately important: Columbia Law School has a 40-hour pro bono requirement that I've had no idea how to fill. How does a right-wing republican who doesn't believe that the law should be used as a blunt instrument for social change find pro bono work? Most of the options put forward by the law school so far make the place look like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. If I were to choose some picked upon client for whom I'd donate my time, it would be the tobacco companies--but since they've got the money to pay, they don't count.

Now I've found it. First there was the crusade against tobacco, then the gun industry. Then that paragon of junk science and ahistorical drivel Fast Food Nation joined forces with economic illiterate Naomi Klein's No Logo to spawn ridiculous lawsuits against the fast food industry. Now, just in time to generate a lawsuit right when I'll need pro bono work? The assault on ice cream! (From your friends at the Orwellian Center For Science In the Public Interest.)

“It’s as if these ice cream shops were competing with each other to see who could inflict the greatest toll on our arteries and waistlines,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley. “It’s not just regular ice cream, but premium. It’s not just one scoop, but two or three. It’s not just a cone, but a chocolate-dipped waffle cone. It’s not just hot fudge, nuts, and whipped cream but every conceivable combination of cookie, candy, and chocolate.”

And for God's sake, gimme more! These self-described 'food sleuths' are officially nominated for my Blinding Flash of the Obvious award:

“No one disputes that the obesity epidemic has many causes,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But certainly the sheer size and caloric density of these ‘indulgences’ has something to do with the size of Americans’ pants.”

And you know, the worrying thing about that is Levi's is running out of cotton to make husky trousers. CSPI might someday replace Vogue as a leading cause of bulemia in impressionable young women.

Certainly when the inevitable class action suit comes out next year, there'll be a way for me to manage some kind of work that will take forty hours, no one will pay me for, and can be said to be in the public interest. These guys aren't exactly trying to take candy from babies, but it's close.

Only downside--if it's pro bono, I probably won't get any free ice cream.

August 17, 2003

Classes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There's a pretty good reason your correspondent plays poker rather than the lottery--when it comes to things that are just luck of the draw, I do pretty awfully. To whit--my class list:

The Good: I got Chirelstein for contracts, which I can only consider to be good. I read his book over the summer and truly enjoyed it. Nicely, his book is not on his own reading list, which means I'll get a few more perspectives. No downside to this so far.

The Bad: In your fall 1L term, there's a couple of 'large' classes and a 'small' class with fewer people. I'd really hoped that my small class would be civil procedure (which I like but don't understand as well as I could) or contracts; instead, it's torts, which isn't my favorite area of law. Who knows, it may grow on me, but that's going to be a challenge.

The Ugly: Oh, that torts class? It starts at 8:30 AM three days a week. True, I used to show up at that time or earlier when I worked in London, and it means that I may be able to quit working by six or seven in the evening--just like someone with a 'normal' life. Being awake and sharp about a subject for which I doubt I have as much aptitude brings back nightmares of those awful 9 AM classical Japanese tutorials.

(Likewise, my Wednesday run will now have to start at about 7 AM. Ah well... it's discipline.)

Of course, I'm blogging this so that in December when I'm cheerfully telling you how much I love torts, and how contracts wasn't what I expected, you can just link back to this entry in your comments...

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