Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Friday, November 15, 2002

“Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving Break”

For many of us 1Ls, Thanksgiving break next week may be the first time we’ll see our families since starting law school. For me, one of the most common questions my family asks me about law school is, “…so what exactly are you learning?” (The other most common questions I’m asked by my family include, “…are you eating enough vegetables?” “…have you met a nice Jewish girl yet?” and “…have you figured out a way for me to get out of that felony murder charge?” My uncle Elmer. He’s got some problems.)

Usually, I just respond to the question about what I’m learning by saying some big complicated words I’ve heard in some of my classes. For example: “I’m learning a lot, Grandma. I now know that given the precedent set in the landmark case of promissory estoppel v. appellate restitution, the jurisdiction of the exclusionary rule is intentional infliction of emotional distress. But only if the action is brought in a federal district court in reliance on the expectancy nudum pactum de novo res judicata assumpsit.” That usually shuts people up pretty quickly.

However, I’ve recently begun to wonder if I am in fact learning anything useful, or at least anything useful for Thanksgiving conversation. I’ve already thought of a few good lines I’ll hopefully be able to use at the dinner table. Like when my little cousin throws up on the floor, I can exclaim that he was simply performing a restitution remedy and disgorging the benefit the festive meal had conferred upon him. Or when my aunt throws out the burnt sweet potatoes, I can gently warn her that even under the fourth amendment, her trash can be searched without a warrant, and the whole world will know she can’t cook.

But more seriously, I wonder if there’s anything substantive I’ve picked up in eleven weeks of law school. And when I really think about, I realize that there is quite a bit I’ve learned. I’ve learned that highlighters don’t last very long. I’ve learned that getting called on in class isn’t as scary as it first seemed. I’ve learned that you can always read more carefully. And I’ve learned that for every argument on one side of a policy issue, there’s four counter-arguments, two counter-counter-arguments, and one random aside into the world of ancient Greek mythology.

I’ve noticed law school has started to make me think differently. I send e-mails where my points are numbered: “…the movie was (1) a dramatic masterpiece, (2) with stirring performances by (a) the pretty blond girl, (b) the overly-precocious child, and (c) the giraffe, but (3) I was distracted by the German subtitles.” For the first time, I’m mindful of promises made without bargained-for consideration: “I promise I’ll meet you by the Harkboxes at noon. But you’d better give me a dollar, just so we can be sure we’ve got an enforceable contract. Yes, of course I’ll give you back the dollar. Not!” I’ve started to recognize the opinions of certain Supreme Court justices: “well, the rhetorical flourishes in the first section make me think it’s Justice Jackson, but the wavering between federal and state common law smells a lot like Justice Ginsburg….” And, finally, the most dangerous knowledge of all, I’ve begun to actually recognize the names of law firms: “White and Blue. Yes, I know them very well. They specialize in international export law, yes? And the esteemed firm of Chance, Luck, and Happenstance. World leaders in capital markets and currency law. Fascinating firm.”

My family thinks it’s pretty cool I’m at law school. Frankly, so do I. I think it’s pretty cool that last week in Civil Procedure, we had to read page 1000 of our casebook. “Let’s turn to page one thousand and four” is something I never thought I’d hear anyone say. I think it’s pretty cool that three months ago I would have said that UCC was some fringe cable network (the United Cheese Channel? the Urban Cinema Channel? the (always-exciting) University Choir Channel?) and now I know that it stands for the Unenforceable Contract Channel, and, without looking, I know that UCC 2-205 refers to “firm offers.” (But please don’t ask me what a firm offer is!)

Valuable knowledge? Maybe not. But enough to impress my relatives at the Thanksgiving table. I’ll be sure to tell my grandmother that I’m eating lots of vegetables (well, lots of one vegetable, anyway – it always seems be squash week at the Hark). And maybe that nice Jewish girl will give me a call. I'll make sure to keep her away from Uncle Elmer.