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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.

August 16, 2003

Booklist

Well, I've now decided to order my books through Amazon, since the thought of using the University Bookstore, busy as it was this morning, was just too much. Besides, several of these books are nicely 'paired' at Amazon, so you get a discount if you buy both of them.

You can find my booklist here, and as the title says, if you buy through the site and Amazon actually pays me something back, I'll hand over whatever I get. I really don't want to make money off this site.

Update: The Farnsworth book on copyrights seems to be the one sticking point in this plan--it's the one that seems most likely to delay the order. I'd recommend to anyone considering buying online that they check which books are most readily available, and buy the others from the local bookstore--otherwise there's a risk the books don't arrive in time.

August 09, 2003

Welcome to the Malebolge

It appears that my room hasn't gotten its ethernet connection yet, and that until it does, the phone system won't work. Which means that neither the University dialup, wireless, or ethernet systems are of any avail.

I'm keeping track of everything that's happening, and it will all be posted soon, I promise: probably Monday when I get my notebook connected. Until then, I apologize for the interruption.

Incidentally: "Hell's Kitchen" would be a very appropriate name for what I found when I got here Friday.

August 07, 2003

The time has come, the walrus said

And finally, it's that time. Summer's over, the van's packed, and I'm off to New York City.

When next you hear from me, I'll be settling into the House of Fire and Motions to Dismiss, trying to see if a creaky old building can handle the electrical demands that I'm likely to make of it.

Hope to catch you all then!

August 03, 2003

Filing and packing

I can't help but agree with Alice about the importance of a good filing system. My main accomplishment for the day was to weed out what documents I actually need to take with me to NYC, and what I could leave back here with my parents. Do I really need tax documents from 1999, or can they stay here?

In case anyone cares, everything is now color-coded, although the labels mean nothing to anyone but me: they're actually old files of my parent's, so they've got things like 'blue cross health insurance' written on the tabs. I know what's in there, but no help to anyone dumb enough to look through them without a guide.

August 02, 2003

Evil Prehistoric Beasties

Thanks to my fellow CLS friend who has convinced me to enter a 10K run when I get to New York, I shall now be starting school with a bit of hair, instead of my shaven scalp of monk-like discipline. How has this happened?

Today was my first practice run. The good news is that of four miles, I ran about three of it, and finished in under an hour. The better news is that I never stopped, although I did reduce myself to fast walking when willpower gave out. Not beautiful, but there's hope for a boy whose body is so out of shape he could donate it to science fiction. [1]

The bad news is that while the 3.2 miles around the lake aren't bad, the 0.4 miles going into and out of the woods where we live pose more than the usual hazards. On days like today, when the storm has flooded the forest, every type of insect imaginable decides that lone joggers are fitting feasts.

And don't you tell me to use Deep Woods Off before I go out running on Monday. Deep Woods Off isn't bad stuff, but you're underestimating the creatures I was brushing away with every step, beating my neck like I needed medication, not exercise.

What lurks out there aren't mosquitoes as you normally know them. Enterprising young paleontologists who happen upon this blog might want to contact me, because I think they might be interested in a specimen or two. At least by rumour, some of the more impressive denizens of our woodlands have gotten casting calls from Spielberg, and were only turned down because they had more talent than the leading actors.

So, I'm probably going to have to grow some hair on the back of my head. It's that, or let people play connect-the-dots with the bumps on my skull.

[1] Yes, it's an old Rodney Dangerfield joke.

July 29, 2003

The Importance of Names, and other disappointments

Well, it looks like my long-running bad luck when it comes to things like lotteries is holding up. I'm in a dormitory. I'd hoped that since a few people were assigned to efficiency apartments today, I might be one of the lucky few, but it looks like you're going to be getting first-year Columbia Law commentary through the window of a graduate dorm.

Oh well. I passed my exams at Oxford while studying in a dorm, and this looks like a bigger room than I had then. Indeed, I have friends in London with smaller apartments--roughly 14" square. Downside is that there's one kitchen for 10 people, and it doesn't look like it's that cheap: somewhere between $630-$800/month, depending on what the email means, which surprisingly isn't clear. So, no gourmet meals for me then.

So, let's put a slightly nicer spin on this. I'm going to be on a floor with somewhere between 10 and 13 people, with one kitchen shared between us. Your resident devil-in-training is obviously going to need a name for his abode. I hereby open the competition for names for either the room, or maybe even the entire section if I can convince my future hallmates. Obviously stick to the theme, but I'm open to suggestions.

Update: In the early runnings, the leader is "Brimstone House," slightly ahead of "Hell's Lounge."

July 25, 2003

Calm before the storm

Those few of us yet to be assigned an apartment at Columbia are getting more and more nervous--every conversation I've had with someone yet to be approved has been edgy. People live in dread of being put into dormitories or other unsuitable accomodation, and since it's take-it-or-leave-it they might not have time to arrange alternatives. Me, I'm trying to remain calm about the matter: nothing improves by worrying about it, and there's nothing I can do until it's resolved anyway. According to the school, there's a 'handful' of us remaining, but that's not comforting.

(There is the possibility that this is foolish, and that the assignments are done on a 'squeaky wheel gets the grease' system. But let's hope not.)

On the other hand, today I remembered why I came back to Michigan for the summer, rather than working like a dog somewhere else. The breeze was high, a friend was visiting, and we took our small sailboat out onto the lake. Unusually, the wind was gusting even though there was no threat of storm. Our small vessel, even with two full-grown men aboard, managed an impressive clip, and we came close to capsizing twice. For two hours I could take any concerns, like the above, and lose them in keeping the sail full, the lines taut, and our bodies above water.

I must sign off. Tomorrow is an early start (5:30 AM), and we'll be taking the S. S. Badger across lake Michigan to Manitowoc and then driving on to Madison, Wisconsin. I'll drop my friend there and take the red-eye ferry back to Ludington, and get back home around 6 A.M. Sunday. I'm looking forward to the journey: there's something about floating on water that melts concerns from my shoulders.

I'm tempted to just keep on driving that Sunday, and come back home Monday morning. Who knows? When I get back, maybe I'll have my housing email.

July 23, 2003

So how tongue in cheek is Columbia, anyway?

My latest object of desire is a sweatshirt from Cafe Press, although I've heard their quality is terrible. It's a Mr. Snaffleburger design from Matazone, and has inscribed the satirical motto "CONFORM. CONSUME. OBEY." My only question is should I get one and hope people get the in-joke, or avoid it on the grounds that I don't need people getting the wrong impression too quickly?

It's considerations like this filling my days right now, since I can't make any travelling preparations until I get my housing assignment from Columbia, and have some idea how much stuff I actually need to take. Hopefully this will arrive in the next few days, but in the meantime I'm at a bit of a loss.

July 09, 2003

Momma always told me there'd be days like these

When I'm neck deep in legal studies and bemoaning my 1L-hood, it's weeks like this I should look back on. Even without much of a job (I'm doing occasional translation to pay the bills), everything seems to be conspiring against me. I can't wait for law school. Hopefully for your amusement, a list of the silly stuff that's ruined my last few days.

a) Ticket for making a U-turn at an intersection where the sign was obstructed. I'm hoping to challenge the ticket, but may pay it, since my license is being held 'in lieu of bail' and I can't buy a drink at any bar in town until I get it back. (No, the officer didn't ask if I'd just like to pay the bail.)

b) I'm house-sitting for a family with a very old and cranky dog. I hate dogs, and I'm allergic to them. This one doesn't like me, hasn't been away from its owner for a week in its life, and spent this week depressed and leaving little 'presents' all over the floor. But these are some good friends, so I've taken care of it, and even took it to the vet today when its organs of elimination were highly inflamed. The vet diagnosed it as 'nervous bowel syndrome' and doped the mutt on Phenobarbital. I had to take decongestants when I got home, since having the dog in the car set off my allergies.

I've cleaned up every mark on their floor, though. They're good friends, and better, they're good friends with a very nice Bissel carpet cleaner.

c) I need to figure out how to prove I've been immunized to the State of New York before law school. I need to get the signature of a healthcare provider, but since I have no idea where my medical records are (I've moved too many times) that's no mean feat. And until I get to Columbia, I have no health insurance.

d) While helping my mother clean the downstairs, I saw a small red ball that looked like a tiny berry. I picked it up between my fingers only to find my hands covered in a blood-red substance. It appears one of the neighbor kids dropped a paintball.

I think for the sake of the world I'll retreat into a plastic bubble with a copy of Joseph Glannon's Civil Procedure this week. I'm breaking everything I touch. I really can't wait to get to law school!

June 16, 2003

Compromise, glorious compromise

Just because I thought it would be fun, I set up a blog that other Columbia Law School students in my class could author. (I need to create some new authors today, actually.) And we ran into the inevitable problem of 'what is this blog for?' when someone decided to post an entry on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

So I think I've come up with a good techie compromise. If you view the blog, you can now see it in the full-bore politics mode, or in 'politics-lite' mode. I've not implemented a cookie that automatically transfers you to the blog of your choice yet, but that's stage two.

Now, watch--no one posts a politics article ever again. Oh well--part of my goals this summer is to have one last gasp at stretching my other skills before concentrating 100% on law.

June 11, 2003

To explain my worry at relaxation...

A lot of people have commented on my pro/anti-preparation thoughts. I should probably explain that I quit my job in early March (I was tired of doing a weekly trip to Munich), and have been more or less unemployed since. I'm making ends meet and should enter law school without excessive non-school-related debt, but I'm also beginning to get out of the 'wake up early, start work early' habit.

Which is a good part of why I'm trying to make myself prepare. When I'm doing freelance translation, this isn't hard--I'm generally working fairly early and doing a full day's work. But since the work is erratic, there can be some stretches where I'm not doing much, and doing 'summer reading' can make me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something more useful than watching Simpson's reruns.

June 03, 2003

Reading Lists

Just in case any other Columbia students are reading this: I'm trying to do some reading in preparation for first year. Just something to get my mind into a 'law school' frame of reference, not reading textbooks. So far I'm looking at a few books, including Looking Back at Law's Century, Oliver Wendall Holmes The Common Law, and a book called An Introduction to the Law of Contract which seems to cover mostly English contract law.

If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them.

June 02, 2003

And so it begins

Welcome to Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil. In putting this together, I've discovered that there's a lot of law school blogs out there, and I'll be reading and linking to some of the best of them. In time, I will probably be adding law school-related links, comments on some of my legal studies, and a fair few rants about debt. (My original working title for this blog was '37 Thousand in Debt and Counting.')

Hope you enjoy it.

Giving The Devil His Due

What To Do In Your Last Summer Before Law School? (16)
Erik wrote: Examsoft's SofTest now supports Boo... [more]

Booklist (0)
Welcome to the Malebolge (3)
A. Rickey wrote: Hmm... perhaps 'Advanced Legal Dish... [more]

The time has come, the walrus said (7)
the watergirl wrote: um, as for the 40 bucks, you'd be s... [more]

Filing and packing (0)
Evil Prehistoric Beasties (3)
Martin wrote: Hmm, a friend of the family served ... [more]

The Importance of Names, and other disappointments (15)
angel adams wrote: satan rules... [more]

Calm before the storm (1)
Eric Shen wrote: My current roommate had a similar s... [more]

So how tongue in cheek is Columbia, anyway? (9)
Kathy wrote: CafeShops shirts actually have pret... [more]

Momma always told me there'd be days like these (6)
asdf wrote: Booo to the Glannon's reading. You ... [more]

Compromise, glorious compromise (3)
Anthony Rickey wrote: Hi. If you mean what's the progr... [more]

To explain my worry at relaxation... (1)
2L Boy wrote: You know, I think it's a good idea.... [more]

Reading Lists (8)
Jeff wrote: If you haven't yet, pick up a few o... [more]

And so it begins (1)
Mike wrote: The debt name would have never work... [more]

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