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August 25, 2006

And for those without blogs...

Dear Wormwood:

Our correspondence over these last few years, put together, may be the single longest thing I've ever written. For old time's sake, however, I hope you'll allow me to give you one last list, a few things I hope you'll take with you in your own purgatorial journeys.

At long last, Wormwood, our conversation is at an end. Please take with you my best wishes, and may your time in law school bring you every joy possible.

Continue reading "And for those without blogs..." »

Advice for 1Ls Starting a Blog: A Much Shorter Part II

Dear Wormwood:

I promised you two letters that might help your friend Scrimgouge in starting a 1L blog. The first letter focused mostly upon matters that any blogger, legal or otherwise, might find useful, be they technical or stylistic. But both you and Scrimgouge are now law student, which makes your efforts (and yes, dear Wormwood, I really am hoping that you too might start blogging) a bit different. So with the basics out of the way, I'd like to make a few quick notes and observations on what I've learned from law school blogging.

  1. Eschew anonymity: I've covered the reasons for this in one of my most oft-read posts. I know I bang on upon this, but anonymity certainly isn't as safe as you'd suspect. Besides, it's only polite that when you violate Godwin's Law, your opponent knows where to send the summons and complaint.
  2. Don't be surprised if your first year makes for the most interesting blogging: First year blogs are great, indeed positively addicting. Most 1Ls find themselves thrust into this bizarro land where Socratic Method suddenly makes sense as a pedagogical technique and everything--and I mean everything--starts being seen through the lense of law. On the other hand, 1L bloggers know that most of their readers aren't other law students, but their friends, family and associates from back in the "real world." The need to explain the pressure-cooker anxiety, and the urge to translate the experience to outsiders, makes for excellent writing.

    1L year is all about learning the game. 2L year, you merely refine it. By 3L, you're looking for another game to play because you know exactly how much class you can snooze through with minimal effect on your grades. Why do you think Scott Turow didn't write a sequel?

  3. Give your fellow students (and professors) some space: TYoH followed two pretty simple rules. First, don't mention a non-blogging professor by name. Refer to them instead as "Prof. Contracts" or "Prof. CivPro." It's not much, but it does mean that your blog entries won't end up as Google hits for their name. Secondly, if you have a story to tell about a fellow student, even if you're not mentioning them by name, shoot them a quick email with a draft of the post before you publish. They may not want their lives appearing online. Most of the time, no one will care, but it's a good habit that saves trouble later on.
  4. Blog about what fascinates you: Your text really comes alive when you have an interesting story to tell, or when you're passionate about an issue. All law student bloggers eventually create their own niche. I've posted quite a lot on gay marriage, for instance, but also on the appropriateness of professional status for legal practitioners (much more obscure) and strange tax issues. The Ambivalent Imbroglio should be one of the first reads for any law student thinking of becoming a public defender (or a prosecutor, for that matter). You don't have to comment fully on everything. If you find something interesting but don't have anything to say on it, an entry with a quick link is perfectly fine. Write in depth on those issues you care about.
  5. Engage others: Yesterday I wrote about connecting to other bloggers, but focused mostly on law professors or major players. Yet the real and lasting relationships in blogging will come from your own cohorts, your peers out there on the great wide internet. I've copied fair amounts of code from Heidi's effort. I've made fast friends with Chris. I've pimped Jeremy's book. These are the things I smile about when I remember TYoH, and I'll bet I do so a decade from now. Your cohort will be a source of support when things go wrong, both scholastically and technically. They'll also be something you'll carry away from law school.
  6. Keep a sense of humor: All too often, you'll be inspired to shout. When you do, put the post in "draft" and leave it to the next day. Remember that at the right moment and you'll thank me later.
  7. Keep in touch: Perhaps not advice, so much, but if there's a 1L out there starting a blog and they need a bit of help, don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun reading your work in the years to come.

And that, dearest Wormwood, is that. I hope that Scrimgouge finds the next three years as exciting as I did.

August 24, 2006

Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One

Dear Wormwood:

Who is this Scrimgouge whose email address you've forwarded me? It's certainly very flattering that he's asking you to ask me for advice on starting a law school blog. Nevertheless, there's no good reason for him to ask me at one remove. [1] You know full well I'd speak at the opening of a Doritos bag, and give away advice just as profligately.

Since your friend has asked, I'm happy to oblige. This particular project has run for over three years, and I'd like to think that in that time I've learned a few things that might help out a beginner. Of course, with the start of the fall semester, there is currently no shortage of advice for new law students, and I'm sure that similar wisdom about blogs is a dime a dozen. Hopefully your friend Scrimgouge will find one or two chestnuts here that he hasn't managed to gather elsewhere. Sadly for him, however, whatever angels generally look over my shoulder and force me to be brief have taken a tea break. What follows is quite lengthy indeed.

To help out a bit, I've divided the post into five sections that continue after the cut:
First, the commonplace.
Second, decide what you want to do.
Third, learn a bit about the technology.
Fourth, connect, connect, connect (to the Web).
Fifth, connect, connect, connect (to other bloggers).
Finally, have fun.

I hope it helps.

Continue reading "Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One" »

August 06, 2006

Caution for Incoming CLS 1Ls

Dear Wormwood:

I hope you are finding your law school preparations none too taxing and your final summer outside the law enjoyable. I see in your latest letter that you're wondering about the living arrangements at the University Discordia Law School. I'm sure you're already tired of my own travails with a dorm room. Nevertheless, I'd advise that a choice of housing is something into which you should put a great deal of care.

I say this because at least at Columbia, price is no guarantee of quality. Yes, I ended up in a dormitory room, and I suffered from unsanitary kitchens and unwanted visitors therein. But heck, I was paying about $600 per month for 196 square feet of living space in a quasi-nice area of Manhattan, so I couldn't complain too much.

On the other hand, one of my best friends at Columbia lives in the elite law student housing at Lionsgate Apartments with a rent of around $1100 per month. Over the last two years, his eighth floor apartment flooded to the depth of two inches and an area of the floor becomes an artesian spring any time there's a hard rain. One window shows obvious water damage, and the superintendent took two months to replace some broken blinds[1]. Now I learn that her subletter has also complained about mice. This in a building described by the school as a "luxury high rise."

You're quite clever, Wormwood, so you can see the connection: same problems (well, OK, I never had flooding), but for twice the price. And once you're in to these buildings, it's made very difficult to get out. (Whereas trading for a more expensive room from a dormitory is not particularly difficult.)

So my advice to you before heading off to University Discordia is to find some friends among your soon-to-be-classmates and ask for their advice. Nothing substitutes for local knowledge. Then choose carefully.

[1]: In case you're thinking that non-functional blinds are no big thing, it's worth remembering that in New York City, anyone on your floor or above will be able to see straight into your bedroom at night if you have the courage to turn a light on.

June 09, 2006

Cool Law School Tool

Dear Wormwood: [1]

I apologize for the short missive, but I felt this might save you some time in your first few weeks at law school. Check out Google's new home page tool. Instead of the austere and simple Google search page, the homepage allows you to clutter up your desktop with lots of little applets.

Most of these are not worth the screen space. But even if you're an austere minimalist and the thought of burdening Google's simple homepage offends you, it might still be worthwhile to add one tool: the USD Law School Utilities. (You may need to log into Google homepage for that link to work.) The toolkit includes links for looking up cases, bits of the US code, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the UCC. For some of the features, you may have to wait until you're given a Westlaw password, but most of the searches use free online sources.

Hope this saves you some time, dear nephew!

[1]: As longtime readers know, my Letters to Wormwood contain advice for those considering law school. I think it only appropriate now that I've graduated to treat Wormwood as if he has now been accepted to a major school and will start in the fall.

March 07, 2006

A Modest Pro Bono

Dear Wormwood,

I've slightly overshot Columbia's 40 hour pro bono requirement for graduation, or at least I suspect I will when I finally fill in the forms. On the other hand, quite a few 3Ls of my acquaintance have complained to me recently of their frantic efforts to fulfill their responsibilities under this dubious virtue tax.

At the same time, I've overheard a number of 1Ls murmuring that, despite a fresh influx of funds from Columbia, there are still not enough positions in the Human Rights Internship Program. Thus many fledgling do-gooders find themselves seeking summer jobs that may not be spiritually satisfying. It seems that while their elders are looking for work, they're looking for money.

It's a pity that Foundations of the Regulatory State is no longer a required class, because in my day almost every 1L covered the obvious solution to this problem. To ensure the maximum amount of happiness among Columbia students while making sure we contribute our fair share--whatever we collectively decide that is--we should institute a trading system similar to that used for pollution emissions. [1]

As you might expect, Wormwood, those who are inclined towards public interest (and not coincidentally, most often the political left) collect far more than the 40 hours they're required to contribute. On the other hand, those for whom the requirement is a mostly unnecessary hassle are swiftly heading towards more or less lucrative careers. The obvious solution is to allow 3Ls to bid for and purchase pro bono hours from overproducers. The funds could then be used to sponsor 1Ls summering in exotic and underserved locales such as South Africa, eastern Europe or the Bronx.

Collectively, there is no doubt this is a winning formula. It's not too much of an assumption to think that those who want to do pro bono work will do it more productively, so our "good causes" however defined will receive better resources. We would be able to guarantee a certain amount of public interest work: after all, there's a floor beneath which hours cannot fall, and we can raise that to much higher than 40 hours per student. At the same time, HRIP receives more funding without having to increase tuition across the student body, producing even more socially enlightened output.

Wormwood, this seems a most sensible course by any tangible measurement. Yet my tongue is firmly in my cheek and I would never expect such a system to take hold. At the end of the day, the pro bono requirement isn't really about making sure that good causes receive useful (or enthusiastic) resources. Nothing so grubbily consequentialist should enter the publicly-spirited mind! To talk to a true believer, it's all about opening our minds, enlightening our souls and making us think that an industry supporting starting salaries of nearly $150,000 at the elite level is being done in a spirit of "professionalism," that is to say in the service of the public rather than the practitioners.

I put it to you that at the end of three years of law school, it is very difficult to avoid the level of cynicism required to say that with a straight face. And if three years of law school doesn't isn't enough, a brief glance at your debt burden should do it.

Ah well. For me it's almost over. As I mentioned to one complaining 3L, don't think of it as enforced charity. Think of it as a virtue tax, in which you take from whatever you consider virtuous and pay to what the Center for Public Interest Law considers such.

[1]: Often called "cap and trade" systems, emissions trading works to reduce a negative externality through a pricing system. What I'm proposing wouldn't be a cap and trade system, as it has no caps. Rather, trading would be used to maximize a positive externality. On the other hand, "floor and trade" seems a particularly clumsy phrase, and so I haven't used it.

July 12, 2005

Since it's about that time of year...

Dear Wormwood,

I know it's been quite a long time since I've written you a letter, a dereliction of duty that should have me sent back to the lowest pre-tempter stage. Nevertheless, I've been moved to write by the question posed by Prof. Smith over at the Conglomerate: if I could recommend one book for you, dearest Wormwood, what would it be?

While I gave you some recommendations last year, it certainly wasn't in the context of one book to read before you begin. And I disagree with many of the suggestions given so far. I tried, for instance, reading Glannon on Civil Procedure (suggested by Prof. Kerr) before arriving at Columbia, but while that is an excellent pre-exam study tool, it's not very gripping. Unless Civ Pro is really your thing--and maybe it is--it'll be a hard slog to force your way through. I haven't read Prof. Smith's suggestion of Simple Justice, so I can't comment on that.

But for my money--and yours, dear Wormwood, because I'm afraid I can't be buying books for you--I couldn't suggest anything better than what was recommended to me by one commentor on TYoH when I asked this question way back in the day. And that book would be Chirelstein's primer on Contracts. It's a good overview of what will almost certainly be one of your core 1L courses, while the text is engaging and won't make you feel like you're lost while reading it. As such it's a good cure for both the pre-1L jitters and an enjoyable little tome for a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Well, it certainly didn't do me much harm.

cover
Concepts and Case Analysis in the Law of Contracts

January 06, 2005

The Fraternity of the Damned, Part II

[An open letter to the Damned Fraternity]

Dear Wormwood and Friends,

Some of you may have been reading about how other bloggers have been diligently working on their Notes for the past six months, have their drafts nicely in order, and are now sitting upon thirty to forty typed pages of legal wisdom ready for various stages of submission.

And if you're a member of the Fraternity of the Damned, you know how we feel about those people. [1]

Well, Fraternal Brothers and Sisters, let me say that you're not alone. Some of us have Monday deadlines and have barely started the writing process. Some of our notes have order that could only be divined by mad prophets and chaos theoreticians. Some of us have been absorbed by dread, fear, simple lack of care or a surplus of better things to do with our lives, and thus have shoved this work aside the way like a smelly pile of festering dishes. (Someone else's dishes, a common problem if you live in my dorm.)

Actually, Wormwood, I'm not that worried: this is how the process works for me. Major projects have four or five day period of mandatory work-avoidance which come before a burst of creativity resulting in output of unparalleled adequacy. I know that while I've been playing solitaire, doing laundry, or researching how to defragment a paging file, some part of the back of my head has also been writing the Note.

Now I have merely to get that muse to vomit forth her ponderings into my conscious mind. She's normally summoned by adrenaline (check), lack of sleep (check), and quanities of coffee that swing commodities markets. [2] Today's choice is the fine "Hamilton's Blend," so named because I'm certain that if someone were to check their coffee machine, coffee beans at some point had something to do with the blend of stuff that's in it.

All other projects have either been completed or back-burnered until Monday. Now is the time, fellow Fraternals, for the rough draft to commence. We either get this damn'd thing out of the way, or let it conquer us.

Are you with me?

[Ed.-- There follows an ear-shattering silence and the chirping of crickets.]

[1]: They're lovely people, as we all know. Good as all get out, the type of folks to whom the universe should give only its best at every turn. But when deadlines loom, members of the Fraternity, we all know that there are places of pitch, oil and brimstone that we really wish were reserved for them.

[2]: Someday an enterprising reader is going to ask me about my deadlines and start purchasing the appropriate coffee futures. Whether or not this would constitute insider trading is someone else's Note, and they're welcome to it.

December 26, 2004

Christmas Posting

Dearest Wormwood:

I know that most of the time I write you with advice on surviving law school. Just this once, however, I'd like to give you an advice on survival of a different nature, it being the holidays.

Sledding down hills on dubious pieces of foam and plastic is a great deal of fun when you are between the ages of three and, perhaps, twenty. The pleasures can vary from the innocent to the dubious: at the age of seven, one can wonder at the pure joy of speed and the illusion of escape from gravity. Towards adolescence... well, let us just say that sledding downhill with members of the opposite sex has long been a source of amusement for northern teenagers. Even above such an age, it is great fun to go watch young children sledding.

However, getting three grown men averaging over two-hundred pounds and thirty years apiece on a flimsy piece of unpadded plastic, and then hurtling them down a barely snow-covered hill at high speeds towards a very large bump... this is not a good way for said men to behave. It leads to bruises and pain, although the resulting jumbled pile of limbs at the bottom of the hill does seem to provide amusement to the younger children at the top.

As a circus performer once said to me when I was heckling him, "This is why animals in the wild eat their young."

December 01, 2004

Scheduling Strategies, Revisited

My Dearest Wormwood:

Once again, so sorry you haven't heard from me in a while. What they tell you about 2L year is completely true, so long as what they tell you involves mind-breaking amounts of work and hellish stress. Of course, when your time comes you will have the benefit of your uncle's copious mistakes. (In)human nature being what it is, this merely guarantees you'll make new ones. Nevertheless, here's a few strategies that might make your life easier when you're choosing courses for your 2L fall term.

The joy of 2L classes is that you get to choose the particular brand of torture you will undergo over the course of the semester. Unlike the 1L year, when all students are squeezed into the same Procrustean bed (with the same Socratic pillows), you can now choose seminars, clinics, or more giant lecture rooms. This gives you a couple of strategic choices.

Strategy 1: Misery in November
You know how I've been complaining so highly about my workload, Wormwood? Well, this is because I chose the Misery in November strategy for this term, albeit without much strategic thought. This involves getting most of my credits this term from seminars and a clinic. With the exception of my Property course, I've had no "traditional" classes, and almost all of my work this term has involved the writing of a paper, the creation of a legal database, or translation of Japanese court documents.

The downside of this has been a very rough November. Trying to balance clinic work with translation, preparation for papers with job searching, or any of the other medium-term deadlines in my courses has probably done more to make my hair salt-and-pepper than any other experience. Misery in November invovles a "here a deadline, there a deadline, everywhere a deadline" life from almost the beginning to the end of the term.

The payoff to this strategy comes in December. Sure, I still have endless hours of work to do before the clinic project is finished and I've not put a word into the seminar paper yet, but for the most part these deadlines are semi-flexible. As you can tell by looking at Exam Watch, I've only one exam coming up. Due to the vagaries of Columbia exam scheduling, I even have a study week: my Property exam doesn't sit until a week after the course ends.

Strategy 2: Misery in December
I'll admit, Wormwood, that I can't tell you as much about this strategy first-hand. We each get to go through this process once, and adopting one strategy would seem to foreclose all others. Nevertheless, I think the experience of Buffalo Wings & Vodka may be typical here:

When I made myself a t-shirt that said "I Am the God of the Course Schedule--Wanna Make Out?" I felt that I was completely justified. No classes on Thursday or Friday. Nothing before 10:30 am. All efficiently located. A well-placed lunch break. Hot 2L's in every class. I did a good job. But one thing I didn't pay attention to was the finals schedule that went with that classload.

Next week, I have four finals in three days, two of which are at 8:30 am. I am a goddam fool.


Here's the catch, Wormwood: at least at Columbia, you can't really pay much attention to the Finals schedule, because during pre-registration for the next term, the schedule's not available. (I could be wrong here--comments to the contrary appreciated.) But the Misery in December option involves taking mostly lecture courses with timed exams at the end.

Again, my impression is that the payoff, and the pitfall, is the flexibility in scheduling. It's much easier to miss a lecture course for the sake of an interview than to miss a smaller clinic or seminar session. If you get behind, there aren't as many interim deadlines to catch you up. On the other hand, you can get very behind.

Meanwhile, 2L exams aren't preceded by any set study period: I know people who are facing a Monday exam following a final class the prior Thursday. This back-loads the stress.

Legal Journal Strategic Modifiers
The last thing to consider, Wormwood, is the ebb and flow of 2L workload. During August and September, a good deal of your time will be spent convincing firms to give you offers of summer employment, and then choosing from the offers you've received. Ideally you'll get most of this out of your schedule by November, but if you're like me it'll bleed over into later months. In the meantime, if your journal requires a Note, you're likely to have a number of interim deadlines during October and November. If you've chosen Strategy 1, these deadlines won't make things any easier.

So how should one decide? I can't give you any more than what I've written above, advice that I wish I'd had when I was choosing courses for this term. In addition to this, I have only one more piece of advice. The clinic work I've done this term has by far been the most fulfilling experience I've had as a 2L: it's good work in and of itself, of course, but it's also taken me outside the law school and given me things to talk about in interviews. However, if you are thinking of applying for Law Review and think you'll make it, I'd consider delaying your clinical experience until at least the 2L spring. Managing the project and the note have taken me very nearly to the limits of my time management skills.

In the end, Wormwood, it is all about borrowing time from Peter to give Paul the attention he deserves. I don't think anyone has enough to make adequate preparation for everything they're doing: it's a choice of what goes by the wayside.

October 06, 2004

In Defense of IRAC

My Dear Wormwood:

October is upon us, leaving memories of warm days of summer and forcing our cold-weather clothes out of their hibernation. And all over the country, 1Ls like Will Baude are either writing their first legal memoranda or receiving their first batch of criticism. And with that comes moans of complaint about the tedium of IRAC.

Far be it from me to go against the pack, here, Wormwood, but I'm going to make a guilty admission: the more I've thought about it, the more I'm enamoured of IRAC as a part of legal writing, legal training, and even legal exam writing. Certainly, it doesn't turn out the most elegant prose, the most dramatic language, or the most gripping reading. Done skillfully, however, it turns out prose which is efficient: both quick to write and (just as important) quick to digest.

(For a contrary view, see Heidi Bond's "Why IRAC sucks.")

Continue reading "In Defense of IRAC" »

August 30, 2004

Dear Wormwood: Get A Job

[Note to my Columbia Readers, especially in my 2L class: This is one Letter to Wormwood that needs your help. I'm not certain I got all of the marketing items listed at the end of this entry precisely correct, and I'm sure I left some off. If you happen to have any to add, please be sure to comment.]

My dearest nephew Wormwood,

Your churlish complaints that I've stopped speaking about law school cut me to the core. Certainly you realize that classes don't start for another week? And besides classes, there really is nothing to write about that I can write about.

I mean, what can I say about Law Review? No one applies for a job on a law review because they figure days cite checking in a library will be a spiritually rewarding experience. Heidi expresses some of the exasperation well, but really, one can't complain. The job is what we all signed up for, and we knew what that meant when we started. And were I to speak of any of the articles, I'd probably be breaching some blood-signed confidentiality contract and invoking the wrath of professorships everywhere. No, Law Review will have to wait until I have more significant advice for you.

And of course, there's Columbia's Early Interview Program, which finished last week. Twenty-four interviews over five days, with barely a weekend in the middle. Fortunately I love my suits and managed to find enough ties to match together. (How did I leave all my ties in Michigan?)

Now, Wormwood, you may be wondering exactly what this hiring process is, and why I am interviewing in August for a position starting next May. Let me explain, as if you were an untutored innocent, exactly how a larval lawyer goes from 1L to employment. In the first term, or early in the second, of his 1L year, the young lawyer searches for a summer job which will be fulfilling, rewarding either pecuniarily or mentally, and thanks his stars for what he gets. This job may have little to do with his eventual future, except that it should look good on a resume. (Indeed, I suggest you look for something broadening instead of lucrative, that you choose experience over salary: this is one great opportunity.)

No sooner has the soon-to-be 2L returned from his summer employment than he begins interviewing with as many law firms as he can to secure a position in his subsequent summer. Most all of these interviews will occur in the context of some "on campus interview" (OCI) program. Columbia's is called EIP. Over five days, you go from room to room in a vast hotel, having twenty-minute sessions with lawyers from a number of firms of your choice.

These interviews will hopefully lead to 'callbacks,' in which the lawyer-to-be visits the office of a more limited number of employers, hoping to garner offers of summer employment. From these he then chooses a firm. The expectation is that after he has completed a meritorious 2L summer, that firm will offer him a full-time position.

Yes, Wormwood, you're cunning enough to have seen the implication of this. When the budding 2L is interviewing, all he has to show his future employer is a resume with a bare summer of experience; the possibility of having been accepted to a journal; and his 1L grades. His subsequent employer is likely to choose him based on a mere third of his academic experience. For this reason, some have questioned why there is a third year of law school. Others have questioned why firms and schools use a system that ignores two-thirds of a student's academic credentials, and that puts almost unseemly competitive pressures on 1Ls. Wormwood, if you find out, please drop me a line.

Others have covered the EIP process in more personal detail. (UPDATE: Link and commentary here removed at target's request.)

So what are my tips on interviewing, choosing firms, and securing a job? Why would you want to ask me, dear Wormwood? I don't have a job yet, so certainly you should wait until I've proven that whatever advice I might give works. And as mentioned, I'm not going to discuss any of the particular firms I interviewed with: they may very well read my letters to you. But certainly, I hear you cry, I should give you something. Why else do you read all the non-law screed I write?

You have a point. So what can I give you to help you light your way as you consider your choice of firms? What can I say about each organization which is completely in the public domain, about which no firm could begrudge me reporting? How might they consider this letter to be free advertising?

(Oh, Wormwood, remember that in my past life I was partially a marketing man.)

Over the period of EIP, almost every firm had some literature to distribute to potential employees. Many had hospitality suites in which tired law students wishing to rest could sit, sip coffee, and discuss options with human resources staff. And quite a few handed out what I can only term the swag of the legal seas, the catch of the candidates, the booty of the potential breadwinner: marketing goodies. Part of the public face of each firm, I give you the following (certainly non-exhaustive) list of what I and others picked up.

  • Pens constituted by far the most numerous marketing items. Wormwood, after last week I may never need to buy a ballpoint pen again. McKinsey & Co. (a consulting firm), Paul Hastings, Skadden Arps, and Linklaters have all contributed to my stock of writing equipment. And for the most part, these weren't cheap. Lawyers write a lot, dear Wormwood, but I may not get through these beauties in my entire career.
  • Lawyers are also stressed quite a lot. I can only assume that this stress is behind what is probably the second most-common marketing giveaway: squeezy foam toys. Again, Linklaters came through, providing a nice little ball. Another firm (perhaps my readers can enlighten me?) was giving away a starfish, and I believe it was O'Melveney & Meyers providing little squeezy globes, the continents nicely done in short fuzz. Probably the most noticeable, and noticed, squeezy toy came from Stroock, however. A short, squat penguin, the little waddler bears the slogan, "We may dress like other attorneys, but the similarities end there."
  • On the other hand, some firms broke the mold and came up with original and innovative swag. Greenberg Taurig, for instance, bound its marketing brochure into a small hardcover, like a children's book. Latham & Watkins took the whole 'stress' motif to a new level, handing out little pillcases filled with antacid, analgesics, and earplugs. But again, Stroock put forth the 'must see' goodie in this category: they'd had 'baseball cards' printed of their partners, and handed them out in wrapped packets, complete with cardboard-like stick of gum. Sounds silly, but at least it's unique. And just think: everyone who gets a callback can easily study up on their interviewers.
  • UPDATE: My fellow classmates are a fine source of information, Wormwood. Camille has kindly reminded me that O'Melveney was also distributing staplers, as a useful compliment to the squeezy globe. Alison points out a slinky from Kramer Levin, and suggests that the starfish was from King & Spaulding. And Avi points to a water bottle from Goodwin Proctor.

Is this list complete? Of course not. Over the next few days, I'll be certain to update it, Wormwood, particularly as my friends leave their own stories in the comments. But with any luck, this gives those that come after me a bit of an introduction to some law firms, their websites, and their marketing. This is by no means complete, but it should give you somewhere to start.

Yours,

S.

June 12, 2004

What To Do In Your Last Summer Before Law School?

My Dear Wormwood,

The year's over.

It's been a long trip. And at this time of year, a lot of blawgers (for instance, Heidi and Jeremy) are trying to condense everything they learned over the year into an 'advice for others' post. It's a noble gesture, trying to calm the panic of those who are about to step into our footsteps. Heck, I remember reading Waddling Thunder--and come to think of it, Jeremy--in an attempt to silence my own nerves last year.

One year ago, I had just gotten back from England. I'd moved back in with my parents in the sleepy little town of Big Rapids, Michigan. There wasn't much point in getting a job, so I was supporting myself with freelance translation, sailing a small sunfish, and practicing for a half-marathon. (I chickened out of the last when Legal Methods started.) And what I really wanted to know was: what should I be doing with my summer?

The traditional 1L answer is: nothing. Spend your time enjoying your freedom. Catch up with friends and family. Laugh, watch TV, do all the things you want to do before you get to Columbia. All of which was good advice, but at the time, it was deeply unsatisfying to me. I'd just emerged from a relatively high-pressure job, and this was dead time. Obviously, I was doing something wrong.

So for you about to step into my inadequate shoes, here a few things I think you can do with your summer to make the entire 1L process easier. The advice below is most appropriate for those going to Columbia, but it's not useless for others. It's not going to put you ahead of the pack unless you're the kind that's already there. But if you think you've got to be doing something, otherwise you're wasting your precious time, you could do worse than the following.

Read Some Books: In your 1L year you may read more than you've ever read in your life. If you're assigned my particular Prof. Con Law, you may read more than you or your immediate family has read in their lives. Still, you didn't apply to law school because you dislike reading, and you might as well warm up.

I'd really recommend you read something like Quicksilver or The Diamond Age. Nonetheless, you're going to want to read something about law, because otherwise you're wasting your time, right?

So, here's some options. First, Professor Chirelstein's treatise on contracts. In your first semester you will take contracts, and no matter who your particular Prof Contracts ends up being, you'll feel a lot more comfortable if you've read this. Besides, someone forgot to tell Prof. Chirelstein that when you become a law professor, you have to start writing in a style that's either dry or incomprehensible.

My second suggestion would be either Constitutional Law Stories or Torts Stories. This series of books takes major cases in law and puts them into historical perspective. Since each chapter is written by a different author, some are more approachable than others--don't worry if you can't make it through a chapter or two. But if you've read these, your 1L Contracts and Con Law courses won't be completely terra incognito.

My final suggestion, however, would be to remember that you got into law school because you were passionate about something: read about that, particularly in how it relates to the law. If there's a particular area you're interested in, leave a comment, and maybe some of my readers can make suggestions.

Buy Your Computer: First, check to see how much financial aid you can get to purchase a notebook. Then determine how much you love technology. There's a lot of notebooks out there, and I'm not going to take it upon myself to give you definitive advice on a specific model. But here's a couple of things to look out for:

  • Choose weight over functionality: I bought the Dell 8500, largely because I wanted a large screen for my graphics work. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, I would have been better off choosing a cheaper, lighter computer, and then buying a docking station and monitor (or another computer--networking is easy these days) when I needed it at a later point. After lugging a huge computer around all year, let me suggest: get the lightest thing you can afford. (Another advantage: when you're out in the working world over the summer, small and slender notebooks fit more comfortably in briefcases.)
  • Don't choose a Mac: For once, this isn't just a slight a the World of One Mouse Button. At least at Columbia, the exam software that we use does not support Macs. If you're not going to Columbia, at least check with your IT department to see what is compatible. Nothing's more annoying that finding out that you can't use your computer because you've got the wrong OS.
  • If All Else is Equal, Choose Dell: Here's where I'll probably get the most opposition in my suggestions, and I should probably preface this by saying that you should pay attention to that first caveat: all else must be equal. Nevertheless, after having spent a good proportion of this past year fixing people's computers, I don't think I ran into more people with Dell troubles than any other brand, proportional to the number of that brand at CLS.
    So I recommend Dell--or whatever the most common machine is at your university--simply because if all else is equal, there are advantages to having common hardware with your friends. For one thing, the hardware is more easily interchangable: if your notebook is having problems, and you need to get data off of it, it's easiest if you can just slot your hard drive into a friend's computer and burn a CD.
    Again, though, please don't overemphasize that point. If there's something else you like, for some other reason, get that. Your computer will be a good friend by the end of the year, so make sure you start out with one you'll want to get to know better.

Get Your Work Style in Order: Time pressure is going to be your worst enemy in your 1L year. The quicker you settle into an efficient method of working, the quicker you'll be making progress in your studies. There's a lot of good books out there about efficient 1L work processes, most of which I never read. (These would include Law School Confidential, which apparently advocates a system of 'book-briefing' that involves a bewildering color-coded highlighting system. Some swear by it, I never read it.)

I can't give a lot of help here, except to tell you what I did. After several years in business, I will almost certainly live and die by an Outlook task list. Probably the most useful trick that I learned was to categorize my task list by class, and assign myself tasks for each day's worth of reading.

Also, it helps to look at each course as a project, with a definite output (generally an outline) to be accomplished to a definite schedule with a hard deadline (the exam). If this means nothing more than remembering to add the exam schedule to your calendar as soon as you get it, it's still worthwhile.

I'll add a little more as I get to it. In the meantime, I hope all you rising 1Ls have an excellent summer.

April 22, 2004

Law Students And Sharing

Dear Wormwood:

As my final hurdles of 1L-hood seem ever-closer, the school is gearing up for exams. Or rather, some of us are gearing up for exams, while others have already retooled, refueled, repainted, geared up, and are actually threatening to push that big button labelled "NITRO." As my last class in Foundations of the Regulatory State (read 'Law, Econ, and Policy') was today, I'd like to cast a critical eye over the market that's emerging here: that in outlines and notes. The market is characterized by three classes of individuals:

Non-Market Participants: These are the people who have their notes locked in small safes hidden in their floorboards and their outlines under guards moonlighting from the Federal Reserve. Their study groups started the semester with blood-pacts never to share group work product, and probably had several pages worth of contract defining what was 'shared group work product' and what was 'acceptable personal trade collateral.'

Some of these folks have put immense amounts of effort into creating the ideal outline, and have done so in all their classes. From a Reg State point of view, they're not participating in the market because it's unlikely that any item on the market could be worth the polished jewel of legal knowledge they've managed. The less benign Non-Market Participant, however, has accepted the zero-sum nature of the grading curve and figures that anyone who needs his help must perforce be destined to a lower rank than he--no point in helping.

Note that any outline wrenched, stolen, or otherwise acquired from a Non-Market Participant is, to their credit, likely to be very good indeed.

The Jawas, Pokemon Masters, Poker Sharks, Market Makers, Influence Peddlers, and Other Related Traders: It's here that the market for outlines is made. Individuals in this group have either a single great outline, or a number of 'working copies' that they can share around. These individuals belong to multiple study groups--sometimes ignoring the blood-pacts--and are perfectly willing to swap information with you, so long as you've got what they want.

Quality of these outlines will vary, as will their heritage. Jawas who have garnered premium outlines may hold out for 'complete sharing' agreements, in which counterparties offer to share all their information; others may be willing to make one-on-one trades. Trading often occurs more aggressively towards the end of the semester: more product is available on the market, making for higher liquidity, and many Jawas want to 'hold out' to make sure they don't get cheated or lose out on later deals.

I've not seen it yet, but I'm waiting for the ultimate Jawa to evolve: the person who doesn't actually read any of the outlines, but just wants to see if he can collect whole sets in order to trade them.

Freeloaders, Freelovers, and Butterflies: I group these together because they're often indistinguishable. The first two either do no outlines and try to snag them off others, or are perfectly willing to share what they've got with whomever. The 'Butterflies' treat outlines as cocoons: the real benefit of an outline is the effort put into creating it, which can't be transferred. They really don't care what happens to the shell after they've emerged from it.

The quality of outline from this group is varied, but higher than you might think. A good Butterfly may have better notes than a Non-Market Participant, but simply not buy into the zero-sum game.

Anyway, Wormwood, this is a rougher taxonomy than I might otherwise construct for you, but I want to get back to writing up my Con Law outline. I'm sure I've missed one or two subspecies, and maybe my readers will fill out the evolutionary tree. Please don't take any of my words above as ones of condemnation or approval: each member of the Law School ecosystem has their own little part to play, and I'm sure they're all a valuable part of the Circle of Life as it exists in law school.

April 17, 2004

Perspectives and Reg State Help

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: if you're a Columbia 1L looking for a good overview of Perspectives and Reg. State terminology, you could do far worse than Lawrence Solum's Legal Theory Lexicon. Besides covering the basics, like what positive and normative mean, in the past few weeks he's covered an awful lot of territory that is useful review as exam season approaches. For instance, he's given good summaries of the following terms for Perspectives:


And for Foundations of the Regulatory State, the following might be helpful as an overview:

Of course, now I've shared, and thus eliminated some slight advantage on the curve. What the heck, I still think law school's all about sharing. Of course, it's just one author's ideas, and not a replacement for the vast amount of reading we've done this term, but for a one-site brushup, you could do worse.

March 25, 2004

Wait for the Flash of Enlightment, then Develop the Outline

Dear Wormwood,

Once more I've been failing to give you advice with regards to your law school future. For some reason, the 1L blogs are blossoming with wisdom to give to you, while your Uncle has been falling down on his job.

Unfortunately, there's not much useful advice I can give you. If you're a JD2B looking at multiple offers, choose the one you like best. When you started applying, I'm sure there was a school you had your heart set on, and if you were lucky enough to make it in, you should say yes. Beyond that, it's a very complicated decision which I'd hesitate to advise you on.

The one thing I can give a bit of counterintuitive advice with is outlines. I think having a good outline is very useful, don't get me wrong. But I'm all for procrastination when it comes to law school review.

Basically, law school is as much time management as any great skill at anything else. And time management is the realization that you have a certain number of tasks you have to accomplish, a limited amount of time, and a point of maximum efficiency. And I don't believe you can outline a course efficiently until you're at least halfway through.

I'd have given you exactly the opposite advice several months ago, but I've found that Sherry's words have rung true. It's not until you're already immersed in the subject that you'll start to see how things hang together. Not until you have a mass of data do you start to understand how it all hangs together. If I'd started my outlines two months ago, I'd be rewriting them now.

There's some exceptions to this. Prof. Perspectives told us how the course would hang together on the first day of class, and he's been completely true to his word. But that class isn't being taught by a case method, and the case method doesn't really lend itself to up-front structure.

So, my concise advice about outlining? First, wait until you have that burst of insight as to how the the course hangs together. For me, that was my Con Law TA session today. My TA said something about how the exam was structured, the evolution of Supreme Court doctrine, and the relationship between equal protection and the dormant commerce clause. Suddenly the image of an outline appeared full-fledged in the mind, with issues sorted into key cases followed by a short history of evolutionary cases, and a column for cross-referencing between issues.

This brings us to the next point: don't outline until you've studied past exams and know what you'll be allowed to bring into the exam room. Preparing an outline for use in an exam is very different from preparing one for memorization, and you should know what you're trying to do.

In any event, dear Wormwood, I'll do my best to update you more often. It's only now, after Moot Court is a fading memory and the Exam Watch counter flips T-40 that my mind has had a chance to focus its wandering.

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

"Much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose"

We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction. There are many voices of counsel, but few voices of vision; there is much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose. We are distressed by our own ungoverned, undirected energies and do many things, but nothing long. Woodrow Wilson

Wilson spoke those words in an address about pre-war America, not about a 1L searching for jobs, but the feeling translates.

Continue reading ""Much excitement and feverish activity, but little concert of thoughtful purpose"" »

February 07, 2004

Things I Didn't Know

Note for future 1Ls applying for jobs: read the directions.

We had a big presentation last term which included the fact that we weren't allowed to write GPAs on our resumes. "Fair enough," I figured, "they want employers to make their initial selection based upon resumes and not GPA or class rank. We can send a transcript if the employer requests it. That makes some sense. Not sure if I disagree with it or not, but I can make heads or tails of it."

So I've sent out a bundle of resumes, sans any information on grades. Today I talked to Careers Services, who told me this was a mistake.

Apparently the policy is that you can't send out a GPA. You can, however, give a highly-skilled recruiter your transcript, with three letter grades that they can turn into a GPA whenever it suits them. Try as I might, I really can't find a justification behind that policy. I presume one exists, but it doesn't pop into my head.

Moral of the story: don't assume that something's so just because you figure it makes sense. Check with the folks who know the rules. (Which means, incidentally, don't take my word for it. I'm giving you the benefit of my mistakes.)

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.

November 29, 2003

Two More Bits of Procrastination

Spent fifteen minutes wandering Lexis in between chapters of contracts outline. The two gems I found?

Entertainment for Hours
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, Baker, 51 Drake L. Rev. 105.

The title says it all. Any six of the articles here should waste away hours of study time.

Enough to Make the Most Diehard Marxist Love Richard Posner
No, really. I'm serious. Whatever you think you thought of Posner, read Goodbye to the Bluebook, 53 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1343. OK, he's nakedly partisan for his hometown Chicago manual over that interloper from Harvard, but after your 1L memos, this should be music to your ears:

The time that law students and lawyers spend mastering and applying the manifold rules of the Bluebook is time taken away from other lawyerly activities, mainly from thinking about what they are writing. It is so hard to get the citation forms right that the writer or editor who has done so is apt to feel that he has acquitted himself of a difficult task and should be allowed to rest his brain. Less attention can be given writing and rewriting because so much is devoted to forms most of which don't matter worth a straw to the reader. Instead of learning the Uniform Commercial Code the student learns the Uniform Citation Code, which is almost as long, and far more arbitrary.

Amen, brother.

Update: Using the first article and links therefrom, Will Baude has proven that Judge Easterbrook is a videogame fan. You can probably score some points with the esteemed judge by introducing him or his law clerks to the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME).

November 26, 2003

All Old Generals Fight the Last War

Dear Wormwood,

Since I've worn myself out today studying for this year's exams, I want to give exam advice. Unfortunately, I know nothing about how to take a 1L exam, since I've not really taken one yet. (Yes, there's Legal Methods, but I'm not sure it's typical.) So, dear Wormwood, I figured I'd write a little about what I found useful preparation for the LSATs, and what makes good pre-law reading.

All of this, of course, is just my opinion, and your mileage may vary.

LSATs
I only took the LSAT once, because I started applying late in the game: one of my best friends challenged me to apply to law school with her in September, and I didn't start prep-work until late that month. (She then backed out on me, and is spending the next year with her boyfriend in South America. You can keep comments on who had better judgment to herself.) I can only recommend the following:

The Obvious
Get sleep the night before, eat well, and don't stress about it any more than you have to in order to do well. This is probably more valuable advice than anything below--but it's also something anyone could tell you.

Study Aids
Everyone will have their preferred study aids, but I only used two. The first was a used copy of Barron's How to Prepare for the LSAT from my aforementioned study partner. It was pretty good, but pretty simplistic. After reading a few of the pointers, I found that I was only really interested in the stuff I kept getting wrong.

For this reason, probably 80% of my studying was done with Kaplan's LSAT 180. Basically, it's a compilation of real brainteasers. When I started feeling OK with these questions, the standard practice tests held much less fear. Of course, you may not need either prep-book: some people say you don't. I think they probably helped me, but again, your mileage may vary.

Logical Reasoning
I didn't do all my LSAT prep in the books above, though. One of them recommended an exercise that I think really helped me with the logical reasoning: read the newspaper. Specifically, read the opinion pages of at least one newspaper a day, and pick apart the articles.

Logical reasoning questions on the LSAT tend to deal with logical inconsistencies, assumptions, and fallacies. Op-eds, from authors on both sides of the aisle, are peppered with these by their very nature: deadlines, word-limits, and partisan appeal keep Maureen Dowd or George F. Will from fully fleshing out their arguments. I found that reading an op-ed page every day and underlining anything that was an assumption, leap of logic, or outright contradiction made the habits I was 'learning' for the LSAT a little more second-nature. Especially if I agreed with the article, it was a worthwhile exercise: I'd spot my own assumptions, and those pop up more than I would have expected on an LSAT.

Applications
For me to give you advice on law school applications would be insulting: I only applied to three places, and got rejected outright by one and waitlisted by the other. I also committed possibly the most chronic mistake: I waited until the last minute to apply. Let me tell you, near as I can tell, the earlier the better.

Likewise, find a bulletin board that lots of JD2B applicants are on, and chat to them. The one at the University of Chicago is pretty good. You may not learn anything you need to know, but it's good to have co-sufferers as you're waiting for applications to come back.

Anyway, that's all I can think of for now. Hope all of you studying up for that test I was so nervous about last year get everything you wish. A few months from now, I'll post my recommended reading list for your summer. God knows that after I spent so much time wondering about what to read last summer, I owe that to you, dear Wormwood.

November 18, 2003

Rhythm of the Blues

Dear Wormwood:

As the semester grinds to a close (or rather, closes with the cacophony of screeching steel, burning coal, and cries of the dying and injured suitable to a train going full-tilt off its tracks [1]), I can give you but one piece of advice. Schedule your day, and triage.

My brilliant plan for the week was to do what reading I hadn't done Sunday on Monday night, reserving Tuesday and Wednesday night to write up the memo due Thursday. Unfortunately, I worked almost all of last evening up to 1 AM. At that point, my brain just refused to sleep: having been concentrating so long and so hard, there was just no way it was going to rest. My eyes finally shut around 4 AM.

Did I mention I have 8:30 Torts classes?

Consequently, I'm prepared for today, but I'm stumbling around in a blind fog. I'll get most things done to schedule, but the idea of writing the memo tonight is now contingent on me finding an hour or two in which I can catnap: I'll never keep my concentration together. An Thursday is a 'hard' deadline not to be missed, so there's no choice but to suck it up.

Wormwood, keep this in mind as the semester draws close: there are things that are important, and things that you just get done because you have to, not because they matter. There are also things that you should just put aside, because they don't matter. Triage. It's the only way. (Sleep, incidentally, does not fall into the third category.)

I've disturbingly misjudged the week. If you don't see much from me on the blog, this is why. I can't write anything entertaining when my mind is this tired. Indeed, I don't think I'm writing anything lucid.


[1] What torts?

October 21, 2003

Slightly Overwhelmed

Dear Wormwood:

Here's a good suggestion for surviving 1L: don't get behind.

Really. Feel like that movie on Saturday, but know you shouldn't? Don't. See that pretty girl at the bar (and yeah, that's you she's looking at): well, you've got to get up early tomorrow, boy, and sleeping in until noon means you're not finishing the outlining you promised your study group. Don't even think about it.

When all of your task list is red and glaring at you, the guilt alone is enough to get in the way of real work. No matter how much sleep or relaxation you've had, just looking at the enormous and growing pile of work awaiting you is enough to let exhaustion creep over your body. OK, you enjoy your weekend, but you do penance the entire week.

Seriously, Wormwood, don't get behind. The only real upside is the feeling of accomplishment you get when (if) you get caught up again.

October 14, 2003

Politics and Politenesses

Dear Wormwood:

I ventured up to the Center for Public Interest Law today and found that, if there is the panel for Public Interest from the Right, they didn't seem to know of it. On the other hand, I think my fellow student was referring to the (quite helpful) OPIA's Guide to Conservative Public Interest Law, which lists a number of organizations useful as contacts for a conservative who wishes to go into public interest. Perhaps ironically, it's a copy of a pamplet written by Harvard. Anyway, it's a good read if you're in shoes like mine. They've copied it with a neon pink cover, you can't miss it.

In other news, the furore over military recruitment (previously commented upon by The Curmudgeonly Clerk among others--see post for references) showed up in the front hallway today, where there is now bulletin board requesting that, if you wish to interview with the military, you do so off-campus, complete with quotation from the Dean. All told, I'm happier with this than with attempts by various groups to ban JAG recruiting from law schools. "Excuse me: this is offensive to us, would you mind not doing it in here?" is a much better strategy, in my opinion, than not inviting the recruiters or in some other way excluding them by force. (There are, after all, presumably some law students who wish to join the military and support the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue' policy, if not a stricter one--the university would seem to be doing its students a disservice by not helping them with their careers.)

I'm not likely to sign up for military service, but if I were, I'd be inclined to take a bit of extra effort and interview elsewhere. I could see a compromise wherein the military is allowed to recruit here, but as a sign of respect for the feelings, if not the opinions, of fellow students, those interested were willing to wander to some neutral location. The JAG's audience being elsewhere, it wouldn't show up, even if allowed to do so.

(Related note: if you want the ins and the outs of the issue, The Last Best Hope presents a summary of Richard Epstein's 'debate' last year over this policy, held at NYU. I have apparently overestimated the presence of liberal academics at New York City institutions, since when invited to a debate by the author of my Torts textbook, not one fellow academic was willing to show up...

If you're a JD2B, I can't imagine this issue will have gone away by the time you get here.)

October 13, 2003

This Imp May Have to Eat His Words

It's only hearsay so far, but I've been told by a classmate that the Center for Public Interest Law here (with whom I've not always seen eye to eye) is doing a panel on Pro Bono from the Right. Given past experience, the temptation is to be suspicious, and you can guess what has run through my mind thus far. But it's only fair to be open-minded about it until given reason to assume otherwise. I'll keep you posted, and look forward to the panel.

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 10, 2003

Public Disinterest

Dear Wormwood:

If you're the type of person who has a burning interest in social justice, a determination that life's unfairnesses should be bludgeoned out on the anvil of law, or a desire to take up arms and journey into the raging havocs of identity politics, then Columbia University offers something for you: a mandatory 40 hours of pro bono work that you must do to complete your degree. In the past few weeks, I've received emails inviting me to help battered immigrant women, work studying 1st amendment restrictions since 9/11, or campaign for prisoners' rights, among other ideas for the great and worthy. It this is your cup of tea, I can't recommend the program more highly.

If it isn't, I recommend you keep reading this blog. This requirement is likely to be a recurring theme for Letters to Wormwood, and I'll give you every bit of my help on getting through, and even enjoying, this requirement. If nothing else, you'll get to learn from my mistakes.

The topic comes to my mind because of a conversation I had during the Dean's drinks reception last night (a beautiful event, incidentally), with a young lady whose path to law school was preceded by a great deal of human rights work. Obviously, our views differed over the efficacy of the pro bono requirement: to her, this was a part of the law that we should all know about, like contracts or torts; whereas I tend to look at it as a sort of tax, wherein I give forty hours of my time to some cause I probably don't believe in for the receipt of a degree. My charitable work will be done elsewhere, in areas that probably don't involve law, as befits someone who thinks law is a poor tool for social change.

The argument for this requirement is always that it does a lot of good, and that certainly everyone can find something to do that doesn't clash too badly with their beliefs. And perhaps that's true, although I've already mentioned how The Center for Public Interest Law is not always the most welcoming place to members of my political persuasion. But being forced to do forty hours of public service takes much of the joy, and all of the virtue, out of tasks that I might choose to pursue anyway. Near as I can tell, a 'public service program' here is pretty much defined as 'opposing a monied or conservative interest.'

But I must confess to a certain excitement about the requirement, keeping in mind G. K. Chesterton's axiom that "an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." As my companion last night pointed out, the requirement will force me to do something I wouldn't otherwise consider. I'm sorely tempted to sign up for something like prisoners' rights or anti-death penalty work, simply because it gives me a chance to test my beliefs while in the line of fire. Obviously were I (or you, dear Wormwood) to choose to do so, it's incumbent upon me to give every bit of my effort to whatever cause it is, but that's a challenge that should not prove insurmountable. And armchair faith is tepid in comparison to something proven.

I have to pause and smile, however, when I consider that those who say one should challenge ones faith are very rarely those who actually do so themselves. One of my friends here confessed to the fact that before Columbia they'd never really had a friend who was Republican. Nor do I expect to see those who are reflexively anti-Christian signing up to spend time in a missionary soup kitchen. Those who most advocate sleeping with the enemy seem to do so only at the suggestion that it is their bedchambers to be opened.

Take heart, though, dear Wormwood: at least metaphorically, it suggests that we're better in bed.

October 04, 2003

Fear and Anxiety in Gotham City

Dear Wormwood,

Yesterday afternoon I had what I can only describe as a panic attack.

In hindsight, I think it was foolish to plan an afternoon's studying immediately following a look at my finances to see if I'd make it to December. The sudden adrenaline worry of watching MS Money's alerts go off one by one, and simultaneously being surrounded by some heavily-studying law students and two study groups, just flipped a switch, and suddenly my enjoyment of a four-day weekend was gone. Everyone seems to have serious human rights interests, extracurriculars, and still have time to have fifteen pages of outline finished.

It's not like I hadn't had a productive day. I'd gotten most of my tax situation in England sorted, billed a client on a small translation project, and even taken a look at some extra torts reading. But you look across the tables and see people with two commercial torts outlines, or a study group that's meeting for the second time in a week, or just someone who is there whenever you're at the library, and you begin to wonder, "Am I doing enough?"

Columbia does not give one much in the way of benchmarks to go by. Prof. Torts is in her first year teaching here, so I have no past papers for reference, while Prof Civ Pro has only put one up on the network share. I suppose this is fair--we're all grown ups, and don't need handholding, but it means that the question "Am I doing enough?" is inevitably answered by "How many more hours do you have left?"

It's actually this insecurity, rather than any kind of competitiveness, that causes me stress. Serious Law Student has been desiring her own study group; I'm wondering if mine meets often enough. The implied answer, of course, is, "no." I promised myself I'd be blithely unconcerned with class rank when I got here, and so far I'm keeping to that promise. But even with a goal to do 'tolerably well,' you can't really get away: the level of work required for 'tolerable' is no clearer than for 'top of the class,' and the only thing you have to go by is what you know of your fellow students, which is (if you're honest about it) precious little.

Ah well. My former teammates back at my web company knew full well that 50% of all coding gets done in the last week of the project, and I'm not sure that if I were pushing myself to exhaustion right now, I'd have the stock of energy I'd need to get myself through the heavy examination months. Perhaps my near-ancient age comes to advantage here: I've learned enough to know that it's better to wait until you know what you're doing before you waste a ton of effort on something you'll just have to do again. Then again, maybe that's just what I'm telling myself.

I went home and finished my accounts, cleared everything else (except, unfortunately, laundry) off my task list, had a pleasant evening with one of my flatmates from the Malebolge. Today I am ready to hit Torts with a passion, having repeated before bed my mantra that, "It's only law school." All the worry yesterday wasn't very productive, so Wormwood, when you start law school, remember that keeping your head about you is worth a dozen outlines and a hundred hours study. Or, as I might say in big, red, friendly letters:

Don't Panic

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.

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 08, 2003

Don't Stress About Exams?

Prof. Civ Pro (I'm using Katherine's system for identifying real people here) is the latest in a line of professors who have said not to stress about the exams until at least halfway through the term. Is this good advice? At the moment, I don't trust it.

When I have an answer to this question, it'll be posted under Letters to Wormwood. (This reference added for the benefit of future JD2B's here.)

September 04, 2003

Putridity has become policy

A little note to those of you thinking of becoming 1Ls here, with regards to the dorms:

Policy, as I now have in an official letter, is that the cleaners will not throw out anything in the kitchens. This sounds all well and good, until you realize that no one checks to make sure that anyone takes their things out of the kitchen before they leave. This means new tenants, like I and my hallmates, are now being told that if the kitchen is to be cleaned, we'd better throw out the rusty knives, ancient bottles of soy sauce, and crusty jars in the fridge before Monday. [1]

The kicker? This line from the relevant bureaucratic office:

At this time I would like to remind you that we cannot take responsibility for removing any item in the kitchens. I strongly suggest that in the future you all be considerate with your neighbors and discard what is no longer needed.

Since (a) 'remind' implies this is a policy posted somewhere (as opposed to the 'All items left in these areas will be discarded' sign actually on the wall), (b) we seem to need 'reminding' not to leave belongings in a place we've never put them, and (c) the big problem is things left behind by people who will never get that email, I'm not sure I'm amused.

Anyway, if you find yourself in a situation similar to mine next year, just throw out everything that's disgusting when you move in. What you might end up paying your fellow hallmates to replace their stuff will be less than the excess of eating out for a month while it gets resolved.

[1] Torts question: one of us cuts ourselves with a rusty knife whilst doing this and gets tetanus. What torts?

August 28, 2003

Rule 1 of Socratic Method

This is hardly original, but having just been called on, I'd like to state Rule 1 of Socratic Method as I've learned it:

You will be called on only on the day that you've not prepared your briefs and have to bluff your way through. Preparation is the best way of getting out of ever getting called on.

Didn't make an utter fool of myself, but I wish I'd read a little more closely.

Update: Got called on for the next case, and did make a fool of myself. Lesson learned.

August 25, 2003

Because I've got *so* much free time on my hands

I'm sure it's just there's a lot of work that I'm not doing, but I'm finding that I have a few stress-free moments in which to do other things. This weekend, for instance, I managed to see Fritz Lang's M, a fantastic old black and white film with Peter Lorre.

Today I checked a copy of F. W. Maitland's The Forms of Action at Common Law, at the suggestion of one of the 2Ls I've met. The law library here isn't quite as old, musty, and archaic as the Bodelian, but it's getting there, and it definitely has that same feel of thousands of books, most of which languish untouched for ages.

The book itself has a few virtues that recommend it to a starting law student. First, it covers a number of basic concepts from which modern law has evolved, even though they're not directly relevant anymore. Secondly, it's not on a syllabus, so it can be considered to be 'reading for pleasure.' And thirdly, it's quite short, so I can't feel too guilty for taking an hour out to read it.

August 24, 2003

There's a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbour...

One good definition of a romantic:

One who knows that if he's heard "The Last Farewell" on a dance floor once, he's unlikely ever to hear it again in his lifetime.

One interesting thing about all the law school 'meet and greet' events that we've been having is that, given the vast difference in ages among the student body, the music seems necessarily mixed. So far most events have had some uncomfortable combination of things from the eighties to new stuff from the naughties, usually settling down to some kind of fairly recent hip-hop. Not being a big fan of such music, it usually means I give the dance floor a wide berth.

August 20, 2003

Class choices, goals, law review, and your moment of zen

There's been a lot of discussion in the introductory period here about why we should pursue law school, what we should study, and how we should behave. Most of these have been some very good advice: don't be too competitive, be kind to others, get lots of sleep (doing well at that so far, actually), and learn for the sake of learning--you'll have time later to do courses to pass a bar exam.

This last reminded me of a zen riddle of which I'm quite fond, from a tsukubai found at the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. (A tsukubai is a small well or basin, shown below.)


(From http://www.htokai.ac.jp/DA/hvass/seminar99/ryoan-ji/ryoan-ji_main.html.

If you look at the well, there are five characters around the box in the center. Taken clockwise from the top, they are the characters for five, an old character for bird, what might be close to a character for 'to stop' but is probably meaningless, and the character for arrow. Taken this way, it means nothing.

However, Japanese (or, more properly, Chinese) characters are sometimes formed from the combinations of simpler characters, and the key to the riddle is the pay attention to the box. (A square character in Japanese, 口, means 'mouth.') If, for instance, you form a character by combining the word for 'five' (the top symbol) with a box, the resulting character is 吾, or ware, meaning "I." The real meaning of the tsukubai, therefore, is 吾唯足(を)知(る), or ware tada tare wo shiru. Loosely translated, it's "I learn only to be contented."

It's a particularly zen phrase, in that there's a constructive ambiguity leading to two, both applicable, conclusions. One is that one should only learn contentment--anything else, or at least anything learned without contentment, will not lead to happiness or enlightenment. The other meaning, however (it involves changing the wo to a ni, which is possible) could mean, "I learn only for the sake of contentment," sort of learning for learning's sake.

I doubt that's really helpful to anyone trying to learn about the law, but it's a lesson I sometimes keep in the back of my mind when things get too hectic. After two nights at the library until 10:30 PM, I can use a little zen.

August 14, 2003

Dorm Life and Other Distractions

While a lot has happened over the last week, I'll start out by filling you in on life in my dormitory (nicknamed The Malebolge). Last night I officially finished 'moving in' to my room (The House of Fire and Motions to Dismiss), since each and every thing now has a place. We'll see exactly how long this organisation lasts.

I'll put a full description and pictures in the extended entry below, but as a rough guide I've got about 14 square feet, now full of my own mini-kitchen, a corner desk, more electrical equipment than the wiring can probably hold, and a bed which is... servicable, if not incredibly comfy. I've managed to get it decorated since I've been here, so it doesn't look horribly empty. The kitchen, however, should be either condemned or cleaned with acid.

I've also had time to visit some other students in their apartments, which answers the question: what's so bad about the dormitories? Basically, they're fine in and of themselves, but the apartments are so much better. One friend lives in an apartment with one roommate, and between them they have two bedrooms, a parlour, a front room, a dining room, a kitchen easily the size of the one on my floor, and a nicer bathroom. For $100/month more than I'm paying, it's a great deal.

Anyway, if you want to see what my domain now looks like, just click below.

Continue reading "Dorm Life and Other Distractions" »

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