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.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Part of me thinks I should write something about how last week’s Supreme Court decisions are especially important for law students, and how they affect us in ways above and beyond the normal population. But after some thinking, I realize they don’t. The affirmative action one doesn’t because I’m already in school, and so it’s not really my business anymore how they choose the next generation of law students, right? I mean, I won the admissions lottery, so that means it’s just fine the way it is. (That’s my rationale for not supporting world hunger, too. I mean, I’m pretty full. I had a big lunch.) And the sodomy one doesn’t affect any law students because all law students are studying too hard to think about ever doing any of that stuff anyway.

My grandmother actually asked me what I thought of the two decisions, given my one year of law school education. I told her I thought they were both okay, but that I hadn’t read the opinions or anything like that, so I didn’t really have anything profound to say about them. And even if I had read the opinions, the odds that I'd have anything profound to say were pretty slim. Then she asked me what sodomy was. So I told her what kind of stuff she’d be allowed to do now, without getting arrested. And then she said she doesn’t like the kind of filth that law school is teaching me, and I should go learn to be a doctor instead. I told her the Court said it’s legal for doctors to do that stuff now too. Now she’s afraid to go to the doctor. And that’s pretty much where I run out of material about the Supreme Court decisions.

So instead I figured I’d write about July 4th. Independence Day. When we were kids it meant having a barbecue, watching the pretty fireworks, and taking great-aunt Sally to the hospital after she blew her finger off accidentally while lighting a Roman Candle. For whatever reason, it’s funnier to me if I think of an elderly woman lighting fireworks in my joke than if I were to have said “Uncle John.” I’ll use Uncle John next time I make a joke about rape, though.

But as a law student, I think of Independence Day a little differently. When I see fireworks, I think of defendants – the firework manufacturers, the stores that sell them, the police for not enforcing the anti-fireworks laws, the hospitals for being understaffed on holidays and not able to administer timely treatment, the insurance companies for denying legitimate claims built on the negligence of the fireworks makers, not on the negligence of great-aunt Sally, lighting the Roman Candle even though she’s legally blind. I think of the missing warnings on the packages, the missing safety features on the fireworks, and the missing digits on Sally’s hand. I think of contingency fees, and gruesome photos to gain the jury’s sympathy, and contingency fees. I think of money. I think of lots of money.

And that’s not all I think of. I think of the barbecue grill manufacturers, the meat packing plants that don’t test for salmonella, the failure of the meat thermometer to tell me when the chicken’s cooked all the way through, the failure of the city septic system to fully process what results from eating the infected meat, the poor image of great-aunt Sally, not really having a good evening, unable to share in the festivities of watching the neighbor’s house burn down after the fireworks land on his roof.

But I don’t just think of lawsuits. The mere words “Independence Day” remind me of my own independence. The independence to work for whichever law firm will hire me. The independence to pay off my loans on either the 10-year plan, the 15-year plan, or the 25-year plan. The independence to choose from a wide array of courses, all of which I’m guaranteed to get if my lottery number is low enough. The independence to sit in whichever seat in the classroom I want to, as long as it’s the one I’ve been randomly assigned by the assigned seat computer algorithm.

I also think of the laws that allow there to be liquor and fireworks stores on the side of the interstate in places like New Hampshire. “Live Free or Die,” they say. Yes, die of drunk driving, or of a fireworks mishap. Good choices there. How about getting drunk first, and then lighting fireworks? That sounds like a recipe for a fun evening.

Finally, Independence Day makes me think of that Will Smith movie where they blew up the White House. And that helps me sleep soundly at night.

So, a bit premature (but, hey, I just write what the muse tells me to...), have a happy July 4th. And be careful with your fireworks. But if you’re not, I know some law students who’d love to take your case.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

To the tune of Clay Aiken's "This Is The Night," here's "This Is The Firm"

[Bear in mind I'm not working for a firm this summer -- so this isn't about any specific firm, or anything like that...]

When I interviewed day and night
I was dreaming to find the one
Where could I go where a law firm could even be... fun?
When sometime deep in the night I could even be done?

Work me hard, 'til I die
Though I have no life there is nothing that I cannot buy
I've been waiting forever for this
This is the firm

When the answer to all my dreams
Is just one Lexis search away
I will be here till the day turns to night turns to day.

Work me hard, 'til I'm dead
But at least my parents can say that I'm striving ahead
Lose my friends, lose my mind
But my loans are paid and there's no take-out food I can't find
I've been waiting forever for this
This is the firm

This is the firm where we spend our best years and we end up a shell of ourselves
This is the firm where the work I'll do sends me to hell

Work me hard, kill my soul
Make me realize that giant paychecks can make me feel whole
Heart grows cold, mind grows numb
But the choice is one that is safe and will not be called dumb
I've been waiting forever for this
This is the firm

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Because the author is trying to do two things at once -- share his own experiences and provide universal advice -- I think he overstates how widespread his experiences are. He's really skeptical of professors writing recommendation letters in time for deadlines, and I'm not sure that's a universal problem. He recommends Kaplan test prep because it worked for him. He talks about studying at a level he never had to before. He talks about his summer law firm treating him impersonally. He talks about the frustrations with course registration and with who Cornell gaves tenure too. All things that may not apply to everyone, everywhere.

No question, there are also some great parts of the book -- a crisp, clear description of gunners, of the Socratic method and its plusses and minuses, of how to judge a summer experience, of what's involved in Law Review, of how worried people get about the bar exam. And some of his stories are interesting -- about cheating on exams, about dating at law school, parts of his description of journal elections.

If you're going to Cornell, I'd say this is probably a must-read. You'll get a lot out of it. If you're not going to Cornell, I'd say there's nothing wrong with this book -- it's certainly comprehensive, it's not a bad read, it's got some advice... although, I honestly liked Law School Confidential better. Because it incorporated lots of people's experiences, it didn't get bogged down in the idiosyncracies of one person's life, and I also thought its advice was clearer, better, and more universal. If you're reading law school weblogs, you're probably going to read both of the books anyway, regardless of what I say.

Take his experiences for what they are -- I don't think they're as universal as he paints them. And don't let the book scare you into not doing as many activities as you think you'd like to, and as you think will make you happy. And get more than 4-5 hours of sleep a night, Really.

Okay -- how you can get my extra copy. I want to make this fair and not just give it to someone I know -- because I can just let them borrow the copy I get to keep if I know them. So I'll give this until end of day Monday so as not to disadvantage people who only surf the web during the week. Send me an e-mail telling me you want the book. If anyone has a reason that's really super-compelling, I'll give them the book. If not, I'll put all the names into a hat and pick one. You pay nothing -- I'll spring for shipping, whatever it is.

Hope this was useful.
The first perk ever from having a weblog. The author of a new book about law school, Law School Insider, provided a special deal for law student webloggers like me: 2 books, basically for the cost of shipping plus a couple of dollars, on the condition that I give one away to someone who reads the weblog. More details about how you can be the one I give it to -- at the bottom of the post. First, I figure I owe it to the author to post something about the book (I assume the reason for the deal is to get the little bit of publicity that a weblog can provide), and I owe it to anyone who might want to buy the book to provide a bit of a review. So...

Book Review: Law School Insider

Before I begin, a caveat -- I thought the book was okay. I'm really hard to please with this stuff. If you read my review without knowing I thought the book was okay, it probably sounds like I hated it. I didn't. There were things I thought could have been better. I've pointed those out. But it's not a bad book, it's not a waste of your time to read it, and I think it's probably as useful as any other book that's out there. So take my comments as criticism, but couched in the understanding that this is not a bad book.

The first thing you should know about this book is that it has a lot of words. It's 338 pages of content (plus 50 pages of appendix plus index), but on top of that, each page is really dense with text. This book uses the smallest typeface and the least amount of space between lines as any book I've ever seen. The footnotes look like they're probably 8 point text at most. This is a big, big book.

And, if nothing else, with all of those words, it's pretty comprehensive. It really does cover topics from deciding whether to go to law school to the bar exam, and everything in between. If it happens at law school, it's probably mentioned somewhere in the book. Probably more than once. And probably in a lot of words.

The book seems to be trying to be two things at once. It's trying to be a guide to law school life, but at the same time, it's basically a really detailed summary of the author's law school experiences. After reading the book, you know about virtually all of his professors, his classes, his dating life, his study habits, his vacations, his summer jobs (in tremendous detail), his journal elections (in excruciating detail), and his bar exam class -- and that list is without looking back at the book. And some of it is absolutely universal, and interesting and useful to read. But some of it is unnecessary, like when a friend tells you all about an episode of a television program you've never seen and have no real interest in watching.

The good thing about the abundance of detail is that it does provide a picture of what certain aspects of law school life are like for certain people -- although if you don't go to a school where journal selection happens like it does at Cornell (his school), and if you don't go to a school that does recruiting like it happens at Cornell, and if you don't spend a summer split between Cleveland and Irvine, CA like he does, and if you don't have a set of course options like he does at Cornell... then it's less applicable to you.

The frustrating thing about the abundance of detail (for me) was that while stories about life at law school can be entertaining, can be funny, can be enjoyable to read -- I hope my weblog illustrates that, at least sometimes -- his writing isn't particularly witty or amusing. The writing's clear, easy to read, gramatically correct, and all of that... but it doesn't have a spark that grabbed me as a reader and helped me to overlook the abundance of detail, or to actually want to keep reading even when I knew this was just a story and not a piece of information that would be truly helpful. If you're looking for an *entertaining* read, this isn't the right book. It's a fine book for information and detail, but it's not going to make you laugh out loud. One exception was a set of haikus about rejection letters from firms which was amusing, fun to read, and, honestly, felt a little out of place given the tone of the rest of the book.

It may be that after a year of law school, I know about most of what he's talking about, and so I didn't find the book as rewarding as I might have if I read it before law school. If I'd read it before law school, though, it probably would have frightened me a bit. The author worked really hard in school, and paints a picture of 1L life as absolutely wall-to-wall studying, with sleepless nights, hardly any time for extracurricular activities, and a life-altering boot camp experience. Like I've written before, I just don't think it has to be that way, and my experience has told me that for most people, it isn't that way. Most people I know got more than the 4-5 hours of sleep a night he says was normal, and if they were getting only that much sleep it was because they were going out every night. He asserts that more than one extracurricular activity is probably too much to bite off. I think that's wrong. He talks about it being impossible to enjoy law school without having a tremendous amount of passion and diligence -- and of course both of those things help, but I think sleep and time-management skills may be two more important things to be worried about.

...keep reading below... (Blogger said my post was too long)

Friday, June 27, 2003

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a bit about an ad I saw on the subway for a law firm with a Fighting Irish Leprechaun as its mascot. I don't think I beat the subject to death enough in that post, so here's more on Seamus. If you read that other post, the first 30% of this or so will look mostly (but not entirely) familiar. But the rest , I assure you, is brand new from the dark corners of my mind...

"Seamus, The Fighting Irish Leprechaun"

Throughout the New York City subway system (slogan: “we’re cleaner than the New York City sewer system, sometimes”), there’s an advertisement I often see for a certain law firm. I won’t name them again (you'll have to scroll down about 2 weeks for that), just in case I end up working for them. The ad lists a bunch of cases they’ve won regarding lead poisoning, hospital errors, and other highly-respected tort issues (not included, but probably coming soon: supermarket slip-and-fall, the rare-but-dangerous asbestos-fried chicken incident at an Applebee’s in Detroit (yes, I’m making that up), and alien abduction), along with huge dollar figures (that look even huger when expressed in pesetas or lira). And a slogan, in quotes: “We fight for kids with brain damage.” (As opposed to “we fight against kids without brain damage, but our powerful blows to the head give them brain damage”) The ad includes a silhouette of a man with a top hat and boxing gloves – “fight[ing],” I suppose, “for kids with brain damage.” And it gets better. On their web site (yes, I made it a point to remember the address so I could check it out when I got to work – it was not, as one might guess, www.I’vefallen,Ican’tgetup,, they explain the top hat / boxing glove man:

“We’re proud of being known as fighters for our clients’ rights, and the [firm’s] fighting spirit is embodied in our logo and our mascot, Seamus, our Fighting Irish Leprechaun.”

Seamus, the Fighting Irish Leprechaun. Could I make this up? Does this really help them get clients?

“Hello, law firm? I’m on the floor of the subway after being left there by aliens, and I saw your ad. I know you must be a reputable firm because you’ve got a fighting Irish leprechaun named Seamus. And leprechauns, of course, are known for their great client advocacy skills and mastery of the complicated details of tort law. I also think you’re a reputable firm because you advertise on the subway. Like with those magic brain enlargement pills I took a few weeks ago (before my lead poisoning caused it to shrink back to its normal size), I’ve learned that businesses that advertise on the subway are often best in their class.”

But it’s actually a bait-and-switch tactic. At the first client meeting:

“Wait a minute, Mr. O’Leary. I’m sure you’re a wonderful attorney – the law degree from the University of Phoenix Online notwithstanding, but I thought Seamus the Fighting Leprechaun was going to be my attorney. That’s who I signed up for.”

“You mean Seamus isn’t actually a lawyer? Not actually a real person? What are you talking about? He’s your mascot. And he fights for kids with brain damage. My kid has brain damage! Not from any specific incident, just from my genetic pool, but still – I wanted Seamus!”

Fortunately, they keep a leprechaun costume in the back closet, and can have first-year associates pretend to be Seamus at a moment’s notice, popping into client meetings and ensuring that the lawyer assigned to each case has Seamus’s seal of approval – a four-leaf clover, if I’m not mistaken.

“Oh, Seamus, thank goodness you’re here today. I know you must be very busy fighting for kids with brain damage. But Mr. O’Leary said you didn’t really exist, and that you couldn’t be my lawyer.”

“Don’t worry, ma’am. That’s just Mr. O’Leary’s brain damage talking. Every so often he loses his grip on reality and thinks I’m an imaginary character. But we’ll get him back on the psychotropic drugs, and he’ll be just fine at trial. You know, Mr. O’Leary is one of our best attorneys. He actually almost passed the bar exam!”

“Thanks, Seamus! I knew I could count on you to fight for me. Now that I know Mr. O’Leary is usually mentally competent, I’m confident that you guys can help me win my case against the people of the third moon of Neptune.”

“That’s what I’m here for. Now I’m off to a special business lunch with Guido the Fighting Mobster, Ugubu the Fighting Marathon Runner, and Shlomo the Fighting Rabbi. We’ve got an animated series coming to UPN in the fall and we’ve got to go find a script writer. I think Aaron Sorkin may be interested.”

“I used to watch the West Wing. But they talk too fast. Mr. O’Leary doesn’t talk too fast.”

“No. Like I said, Mr. O’Leary has brain damage. And he went to the University of Phoenix Online law school. Those two things are not merely a random coincidence.”

“Have fun at lunch, Seamus.”

“Thanks. Enjoy the rest of your pre-trial meeting.”

I think this is why people make lawyer jokes, and probably why lawyers suffer from higher rates of depression than people in virtually any other profession. After all, I can’t think of anything more depressing than being someone’s distant second choice for a lawyer, after a Fighting Leprechaun. Except perhaps being their third choice, after a Fighting Leprechaun, and a Complete Moron. The mascot of another law firm that advertises on the subway, actually. It’s Mikey the Complete Moron, “fighting for people who can’t afford a lawyer” with a variety of form contracts he found lying in a puddle outside Grand Central Station and a diploma from Yail University Law Schoool he bought on the Internet.

But at least he saved the tuition money.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Thanks to JCA at Sua Sponte for her awfully nice response to my response to her post about law school advice (below).

She writes, "never, never underestimate the force of law school culture. Pay attention to culture when you're choosing a law school. It's every bit as important as the professors' pedigrees, if not more so..."

I definitely agree in principle -- I just wonder (a) if it's really possible to tell anything about the "culture" of a law school before you're a student, and (b) what exactly "law school culture" means -- I guess there must be schools that on the whole are more competitive than others, or have more or less of a feeling of community, or have friendlier / more social / more relaxed people... but I think a lot of it is determined by the person. I'd think that just about any law school (or undergrad, or job, or life...) can be either wonderful or horrible depending on what you make of it. There are people in my class who are miserable, there are people who are in heaven... it's not the school's fault for the former or to its credit for the latter... it's that people have either found or not found what works for them within the school... and I guess some schools do fit people better or worse... but, going back to (a), I think that's probably really hard to know before you're there. Heck, even after a year I have no idea what Harvard's "culture" is, and how it really compares to anywhere else in terms of lifestyle. What vague advice I seem to have just provided...
Have to balance the unfunny post below with something more amusing. Thanks to Eric for the following quip that I think is hysterical:

"I was on the TV show 'Hot or Not?' last week. I lost to a lamp."
JCA, over at Sua Sponte offers a summary of advice by bloggers about a bunch of different aspects of law school, along with her thoughts. It's an interesting post. Just thought I'd piggyback on it, and offer my thoughts on some of the categories of advice she lists that I haven't expounded on before.

1. Doing what other people tell you

I agree with what seems to be the prevailing wisdom here -- obviously some advice works for some people, other advice works for other people, and you probably just need to figure out what works for you. I have nothing profound to say here, except that at law school more than during undergrad -- probably because everyone was taking the same classes, so it was easier to compare tactics and discuss study strategies -- I've realized that different people really do learn differently, process information differently, have tricks and tactics that work for them, but may not work for others. Just like people prefer different professors and different subjects. I'm amazed that the people who don't take notes in class (there are a few) can retain all of the information the professor says in class. But I bet they're amazed that people who are typing virtually a transcript of the class are listening well enough to really understand and comprehend the material at all. So we're all different, I guess.

2. Talking in class

Again, I think everyone's different. But for the people who want to talk in class -- who really, really want to talk in class -- I'd actually urge them to lay back a bit at the very beginning and let other people talk. I'm just inventing thoughts on the fly here, so this may not make any sense. I haven't really thought this through. But, potential talkers, just watch and see how people are reacting in the first day or two of class to the people who are talking a lot. See how you're reacting. Are you thinking, "oh, wow, she's really smart; I'm glad she keeps raising her hand; she has interesting points to make," or are you thinking, "oh no, not him again." See how it feels not to be a talker. And then ask yourself, "do I really want to be one of them?" And if you do, then go for it. As long as you kind of understand that some people's reactions to some people who talk a lot in class are going to be negative. I think some people are just gifted with the ability to be engaging, to seem humble and polite yet intelligent, and to be people who students like to hear talk, and appreciate their insights. And some people, even though it's not their intent, come off as a little bit full of themselves. I don't know if it's real, or just something in how they're talking that makes them seem different than they really are. All this is to say talk if you want to talk, but recognize some people might form an impression of you that may or may not be true. Unless you're one of the gifted ones, in which case you should talk all you want, because I'd rather listen to you than be called on myself.

3. Balancing school and life

I think I've beaten this one to death throughout the archives. There are activities you can do that have nothing to do with school. If you're not happy with your school-life balance, it's your own fault and you can do something about it. Don't make yourself insane. That's all the advice I have there.

4. Urban legends about law school

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

5. Metamorphosis

JCA writes, eloquently: "It's hard to invest so much of your time and energy into an experience designed to change you as a person without it having some effect on your identity. There are people, it seems, who can manage this, people who can cleanly maintain their law-school self and their external self in parallel. This skill is as mythical to me as shyness, or mathematical brilliance, or the ability not to take oneself seriously: all features that other people have, or claim to, with which I have no firsthand experience."

But I'm just not sharing JCA's sentiments here, at all. I don't think law school is, or at least needs to be, "designed to change you as a person." It's school. It's teaching you stuff. Some knowledge, some skills. It's school. Not POW camp. If law school is making you become someone who you don't like, or who isn't really you anymore, you're taking it too seriously. Way too seriously. I met with someone at the office of student life counseling at one point during the school year -- to get summer job leads, after being referred there by career services (see the sketch from a couple of weeks ago about career services; it's fact, not fiction) -- and the guy I met with was concerned because I seemed to be "observing" law school as opposed to being "immersed" in law school. I guess this is the distinction JCA is talking about, but I'm really not convinced that I'm on the incorrect side of that line. Even for someone who wants to be a lawyer -- you don't actually want to *be* a lawyer as your exclusive identity, do you? You're a person, with lots of other characteristics and traits, who happens to have a law degree, and practices law... I hope?

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

A pretty random sketch, sort of about affirmative action, but really just me trying to be funny. I'm working on a better ending.

Black and White Cookie

(BAKER is behind the counter at a bakery, carefully setting out his black-and-white cookies. He sings a little tune.)

BAKER (singing)
Black and white cookies are nice and sweet
Make for a fine dessert time treat
All the men and women they love to eat
My secret ingredient’s a half a pound of meat...

(CUSTOMER walks in)

Good morning, Mr. Baker.

Good morning, hungry-looking sir.

You know, I was just thinking the other day what a fine coincidence it is that your last name is Baker, and you happen to be a baker.

That’s no coincidence, sir. I changed my name. My last name used to be Cleans the Sewer.

How pleasant.

But enough about me and how I didn't wash my hands before I baked these cookies. How can I help you?

I’d like a black and white cookie, please.

Excellent choice. Since they’re the only things I have. Here you go. (he hands Customer a cookie)

(he gasps in shock) Mr. Baker, this cookie is at least 90 percent white. There’s hardly any black at all on here.


Really. Take a look.

(Baker takes a look.)

Wow. You’re right. I hadn’t realized that.

Don’t you use a ruler, or measure out the frosting, or some other way to ensure an equal mix of black and white?

No can do. The Supreme Cookie Court outlawed quotas. In an opinion written by Justice Candy.

I think you mean Justice Kennedy.

Perhaps. In any event, I can’t have a set amount of black and white frosting in mind when I start. I can’t have a target I’m trying to meet, or any kind of system aimed at ensuring equality. I just need to wing it, and kind of try to make sure there’s a decent mix of the two. But no quotas.

But I like the black side better, and there’s hardly any black on my cookie.

That’s not my fault, sir. I don’t make the rules, I just make the cookies. I don’t know why you don’t like the white frosting. It’s without question the most qualified frosting there can be on a cookie of this type. It passed the quality inspection with flying colors, mostly white, which I guess isn’t really a color... but anyway, it comes from very stable parents – flour and sugar, very well respected in the baking community – and it’s really well-positioned to flow through your digestive system smoothly and end up in the sewer without incident. And I know the sewer system quite well from my last job, before I changed my name.

That’s all well and good, but I like the black side better. I want more of it.

No one told you to come to my bakery, sir. This is an elite institution. I’ve baked for David Duke. You could have gone to the co-op down the street, or just gotten an apple pie at Burger King. Or bought some cookies from the unaccredited store on the Internet. I hear they’re getting very popular. But if you want to buy a cookie from my bakery, you need to realize that the frosting has certain standards it needs to meet.

But the black frosting tastes so sweet...

That’s ridiculous. It’s the same ingredients. You’re imagining things.

But if it's the same ingredients... why are they different colors?

What am I, a scientist? I'm just a baker. Take your perplexing questions elsewhere. I don't make sense, I just make cookies.

(CUSTOMER 2 enters.)

May I help you?

Yes, I’d like to place an order for some dark pumpernickel bread.

You gonna give him white bread instead, Mr. Baker?

No, you ignorant fool. Everyone knows the Supreme Cookie Court has absolutely no jurisdiction over bread. Bread's covered by a statute.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003

You're probably looking for the affirmative action stuff below. Have fun. But, in case you've already read that, what I was actually going to post before I noticed Mitch over at Yale Pundits had given me something to respond to was something I've noticed about the NYC Subway that bothers me.

People don't give up their seats for old people.

It's ridiculous. Elderly people -- or younger-than-that women carrying packages, or babies, or even yet-to-be-born babies -- get on the packed subway, and able-bodied young people don't bat an eyelash. It's ridiculous, and should be a crime and prosecuted as such. I love sitting as much as the next guy -- maybe even more, because of my irrational fear of touching the metal poles unless I absolutely must -- but if someone who looks, say, over 55 gets on the train, or a woman of any age who doesn't look like she's more fit than me -- I stand up and give up my seat. And I'm continually shocked that no one else does this. It's selfish, impolite, and really an unpleasant statement about society, I think. Buses too.

What's not quite as bad but still pretty bad? Half the time, if I give up my seat the person doesn't even say thank you. That's not as offensive, but still kind of rude.
Mitch Webber, over at the very thorough and truly impressive Yale Pundits weblog -- I'm saying it's impressive because somehow Mitch has the energy to consistently comment intelligently on virtually every topical issue in the news, while I can barely read the New York Times sports section without drifting off to go watch some mind-numbing reality television -- has a relatively severe, but very well-expressed and certainly thought-provoking, reaction to my thoughts on affirmative action (below).

Mitch says affirmative action isn't fair to people who are better qualified and get denied a space in a specific university that they've earned through their academic performance and hard work, and that we ought to expect the same performance from everyone, and that eventually people from every group will be able to perform up to that standard and Harvard Yard will look like a cross-section of America. Mitch is probably going to hate that I threw the word "eventually" in there, because he didn't write it, yet it's what I'm going to react to. But he kind of wrote it: "Diversity will come... [R]epresentatives from every ethnic group will perform... It may take a while for Harvard Yard to look like a cross section of American -- it may never quite make it -- but at least the diversity in a world without affirmative action would be meaningful..."

But I think we have to look why it isn't here now. Why don't we have diversity now if we eliminate affirmative action? Mitch gives some of the credit to culture differences, and that may be fair. He says that Jews and Asians put more of an emphasis on education. I'm not going to say I necessarily agree or disagree with him, but intuituively I can't help but think that if certain groups are placing more of an emphasis on education, it may be because it's harder to focus on education when you're worried about where your next meal is coming from. Demographically, a larger percentage of some groups live in poverty, and maybe just can't worry as much about homework when they need to worry about the phone bill. And I know it's all interrelated -- worry more about education and maybe not as much poverty, but given poverty how can you worry about education. I have no data and no conclusions I'm trying to make. Just saying it may not be as straightforward as just saying it's culture differences.

So if it's not culture differences, it's something else. Socioeconomic status, quality of education, access to books, parents with college degrees... can be all sorts of things, and most of these things tend to fall to some degree on certain demographic groups more than others. So as a society, we ought to be trying to address those problems. I don't know that everyone is playing on the same field. And if the playing field isn't level, it's not fair to expect the same academic performance out of everybody. So we might need something that helps find the most talented people in every group when the numbers may not be really indicative of everything.

I don't like affirmative action. In a perfect world, obviously we wouldn't need it. But given the unequal playing field, it's hard for me to say we don't need it. And in part because a university's mission isn't necessarily to train those students with the highest SAT scores. If we don't do something to increase diversity, we're perpetuating the problem -- we'll continue to have an elite that's not very diverse. It doesn't help address the underlying inequalities if we perpetuate this lack of diversity. Affirmative action done in a good way should help to eliminate the need for itself -- in theory. I would hope. I would strive for. Otherwise it's kind of pointless. I realize I'm rambling. Mitch did a better job than I am of making his post organized and coherent. But I'm not done yet.

Mitch says: "And what about those who are harmed by affirmative action? You know, the students perhaps better qualified to sit in the classroom than those who were aided by affirmative action? ...Admissions is largely arbitrary. He -- and we -- got lucky. Many others just like us don't get so lucky. The least we can do is to try and make the system a little less arbitrary, a little more predictable and fair."

I'm going to seize on "many others just like us don't get so lucky." Who's luckier? The brilliant kid who went to prep school and, despite taking a Kaplan course, still aced his SAT (pardon the unnecessary jab at SAT prep courses), gets rejected at Harvard perhaps due in part to affirmative action and ends up at Penn. Or the equally brilliant kid who grows up in the projects, can't afford the prep school or the Kaplan course, doesn't ace his SAT, and, in our world without affirmative action, ends up at McDonalds because he can't get in anywhere. Suppose both of these kids are equally brilliant. Both can thrive at the top universities -- probably kid A gets better grades because he's better prepared, probably kid B struggles. But they're both smart, and neither one is a poor addition to any sort of elite group of well-educated people this society may have. If the choice is making kid A go to Penn instead of Harvard, or kid B go to McDonalds instead of Harvard, I choose to help kid B. Yeah, I'm oversimplifying, and yeah, it sucks for kid A. It sucks big time. But he's gonna get into a fine school with or without affirmative action, and have a great chance to do great things in life. Why isn't it fair to make sure kid B has that chance too? I know Mitch can probably tear this argument apart with his keyboard tied behind his back, but I'm making it anyway. At midnight. Without reading it over. Because I'm a risk taker. Ha. [edited to add: I know I'm just being sloppy here. I know it's often not the Kid Bs who are helped, but the Kid As who just happen to be of a certain race or ethnic group -- and that may be a problem with affirmative action as practiced, I don't know that it means the whole thing is useless. Emphasizing "I don't know."]

My favorite part of Mitch's post: "Any good Jewish mother would by dying to marry her daughter off to Jeremy." Well, Jewish mothers reading my weblog, if you're out there...

P.S. Mitch writes: "Jeremy, despite his guarded political stances, reveals today what I'd consider a typical Ivy League response to the decision." I hope that's not really true. It may just be that my education has shifted me farther along the political spectrum than I realize, but I don't really consider myself a typical Ivy League liberal, if there is such a thing. I like to believe that I'm much more moderate than that, and even, on a lot of issues, fairly conservative. It may be that my views on affirmative action are more liberal than I realize. But it certainly wasn't my intention to parrot the liberal party line, or anything like that, and if I've come closer to doing that than I thought I was, then maybe I'm just wrong about thinking I'm fairly middle-of-the-road...

Monday, June 23, 2003

Given the Supreme Court's ruling today on affirmative action -- from my reading of this New York Times article seems like they're saying some sort of preference on the basis of race is okay, but specific quotas or point systems are not -- I feel like I ought to write something on the subject. From a legal point of view, I have no idea. I was in a lunchtime conversation one day at law school where people made constitutional arguments on both sides -- I think I was more focused on counting the tiles on the ceiling. So, as a law student, I speak with no authority at all on the legality of this stuff.

But from a practical perspective -- I like the Supreme Court's middle-ground approach. Diversity is good. Absolutely. It makes school better. Being exposed to people of different cultures, of different races -- all good stuff. Helps society to have top schools reflect the nation's population to some degree because if many of the future important people come from top schools, and we want the mix of important people to reflect the mix in society, this is good. Does anybody argue against this? That, in and of itself, given the choice of diversity or no diversity, all else being equal, that diversity isn't preferable? I'm going to assume that even if that's not a universal sentiment, it's reasonable enough. There is value in university students who've, say, never met a Protestant, and whose family thinks that Protestants all have three legs, meeting some Protestants and seeing they're just as smart and civilized and friendly as they are.

But quotas and "bonus points" and stuff like that make people freak out. I read an analogy once that has stuck with me -- people overestimate the negative effects of affirmative action like they overestimate the impact of handicapped parking spaces. Only one person can fit in that space, but every car driving around the parking lot thinks "if only that spot wasn't reserved for the handicapped, I could park there," when really only one of them could. And, yeah, it's kind of icky when someone in an overrepresented group who scores a 1610 on his SAT, wins the Nobel Prize, and has a 5.2 GPA gets rejected in favor of someone in an underrepresented group who scored a 380 on his SAT and has a 0.02 GPA.

But when admissions committees look favorably upon extracurricular participation, situations where students have overcome hardship, good reference letters, or sports stardom, people don't complain so much. And when they look at legacies, or, for some schools (that aren't need-blind), ability-to-pay, people complain, but not so much as to file lawsuits (or do they? I just may not know of them.) So it seems like treating diversity as another category to strive for -- we want a mix of artistic people, sports people, math people, and diverse people... -- isn't so awful, and is pretty much this middle ground that the Supreme Court is trying to find.

I realize I've failed to be particularly informative or controversial here, but pretty much only served to give my relatively uninformed opinion about why I think the Supreme Court is doing okay here, and why I think some sort of affirmative action is good, but quotas and rigid stuff like that is bad. I can see both sides. It's not fair to underrepresented groups who may not, on the aggregate given demographic realities, get the same kinds of opportunities in terms of elementary schooling and advanced placement classes and, because of past discrimination, have the same kinds of networks and connections to people in society's power elite. And so affirmative action in principle can do a good job of compensating for some of these things, and making opportunities available to people who might otherwise not need the help affirmative action provides, but for the demographic realities. And I understand the other side, that says it's not fair to give advantages (a) to individuals who haven't necessarily been disadvantaged, and (b) on a basis that undercuts the idea of a meritocracy and people being judged on demonstrated performance and potential, not on aggregate demographics and the injustices of past generations. This is no doubt an oversimplification of both sides of the argument, but hopefully does an equally incomplete job of stating each side, no one can get mad at me.

I'm going to read the actual Supreme Court opinions tonight, and probably realize I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Waddling Thunder writes about telling people that he goes to Harvard and how he avoides saying it, telling people instead that his school is "near Boston," and when he's finally forced to say "Harvard," it ends conversations.

Normally, I agree with much of what Waddling Thunder has to say. But I can't help but wonder if what's turning people away isn't that he finally says "Harvard," but that they see that he's going through pains to avoid it. By saying stuff like "it's near Boston," or "it starts with the letter after G," or "the school that Bob Clark was dean of until he retired," and avoiding just answering the question with a straight answer, it becomes an unnecessarily big deal. It's just a school. It's not a big deal. Who cares.

Yes, it's a good school. And, yes, it probably means that I did slightly better on my LSAT or had slightly higher grades in college than someone who goes to an unaccredited law school in Guam somewhere. And, clearly, both of those are measures of someone's worth, inner goodness, and value to society. It's just a school. I'm glad I go there, I'm lucky and fortunate to have gotten in, but it doesn't make be a better person, a smarter person, a more interesting person, or a taller person. It does make me a poorer person, for now. And, in the winter, a colder person.

But if someone acts like it's a big deal -- ooh, I can't say the H-word because it'll scare people away -- then it becomes a big deal. If you just say it and move on -- "yeah, it's a good school, I like it there, but I'm sure the education and the students aren't really that different from at any number of schools" -- then I can't imagine why it would make people walk away and stop a conversation.

I'm not being fair to my colleague. He says this behavior is particular to lawyers, and, now that I think about, besides in the one in-person job interview I had (the rest were over the phone), I don't think I've met a single lawyer since I started law school. And job interviews ought not count anyway, since they know where I go to school. They have my resume. So maybe when I start doing lawyerly things and meeting lawyerly people, my reaction will be different and I'll concur with Waddling Thunder's observation. I have no way of knowing at this point.

But my hunch is that it just doesn't have to be a big deal.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

“Welcome to the Bar”

“Did I hear you right? Did you just say that your bar review course isn’t actually taught by a real person, but that you have to go to a room at a certain time for 6 hours a day, and watch a video? On a little TV? And take pages and pages of notes? Are you serious?”

“Uh... yeah...”

“And that it costs you – or not you, your firm, whoever – twenty-five hundred dollars for you to watch these videos? And you can’t get a copy if you miss a class? And there’s no one to answer any questions? And you can’t get that last sentence played back, even if the tape skips?”

“Uh... yeah...”

“And no one’s come up with the book version for, say, a hundred bucks, that you can just study on your own from, at your own pace, in your own living room, without having to trudge to class every day?”

“Uh... no...?”

I thought my friend was lying to me. I really did. As Ashton Kutcher would say, I thought I was being Punk’d. Bar review courses are on video? All that money for a video? All those hours watching a video? 6 hours a day of law video? I can’t even concentrate for an entire episode of Elimidate, and Bar-Bri (or its competitors) will expect me to concentrate for the equivalent of a 12-episode Real World marathon all about evidence? And then go home and study this stuff? Are they nuts?

I know it’s too early to be thinking about the bar – it’s only nine in the morning! (ha ha ha) But I think there’s a broader lesson to be learned. They can do this – charge a gazillion dollars for nothing more than a video series on the law – because they’ve got us trapped (or, as Ashton Kutcher would say, Trapp’d).

No one would dare not take a bar review course, just like no one would dare not join a journal, and no one would dare boycott the bookstore because they give us three cents on the dollar for used casebooks, and no one would dare complain about bad professors, and no one would dare picket the cafeteria when the meat gets up and walks off our trays under its own volition.

We’re conformists – that’s how we got to law school. The rebels dropped out in fifth grade and have never looked back. We accepted that paste is not for eating, and it’s been downhill from there. An employer tells us to find the legal rules about employee torture, and we don’t ask why a company ought to be allowed to rip its workers’ toes off one by one as long as it’s done in a safe and sanitary way by machines operated by union members. We just write a memo about it. We don’t ask why it takes longer to grade our exams
than it would take to drive all the way around the equator in a Nissan Sentra. We don’t ask why some professors are great and some just aren’t. We just accept it.

But I don’t want to accept it anymore. I don’t want to accept that law school graduates work at law firms and the work sucks but the money’s good. And I don’t want to accept that bar review courses are taught on video.

Imagine if professors just sent a video in with their lectures. Forget even showing up. And then students could send a video of themselves listening. The good news would be no more socratic method, no more cold-calling, no more solitaire. The bad news would be no more classes, no more school, no more learning.

Lock in your Bar-Bri price now, because you know once they switch over the DVD they’re going to have to raise the price. And laser discs? Forget about it. We’d all be screwed. Or, as Ashton Kutcher would say, Screw’d.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Some things you'll rarely hear in law school:

"And then the two sides just agreed to disagree"
"I don't really have an opinion on that"
"Exams? We have exams?"
"Nah, I don't really feel like we had enough reading this weekend"
"You're right -- I'm a complete idiot"
"Judges? Completely infallible"
"It's great the way all of these legal rules are applied so consistently"
"I hear the Court just got rid of a 3-prong test and replaced it with a much simpler 2-prong test"
"I've got this great visiting professor"
"My casebook is so clear and easy to read"
"Could I borrow your copy of the optional additional reading materials the professor said he wouldn't hold us responsible for on the exam?"
"I think I'm just gonna wing it on the final"
"I know you're having a tough time with the material -- but I bet if you came and sat in on a couple of our study group sessions, it would clear things up. We'd be happy to have you join us even though you won't really be equipped to contribute anything just yet."
"I love the cafeteria food"
"I wish the professors were less prepared for class, less accessible, and seemed a lot more preoccupied with other stuff that was going on in their lives"
"My fellow students? I'm probably the dumbest one here"
"I got a C in that class"
"This is so much better than lying on the beach"
"You mean the lawyer wasn't telling the truth?"
"You mean there are arguments on *both* sides?"
"I've never heard of Judge Posner"
"I think I'm gonna try and get a job with the government after I graduate"
"Law review is fun"
"You only got ten hours of sleep last night?"
"I have scurvy"

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Feels like a song parody is overdue.

"L-S-A-T One More Time" (To the tune of Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time")

Oh Dean Admissions
How was I supposed to know
That something wasn't right there
Oh E-T-S
I shouldn't have let it go
And now can't cancel scores, yeah
Don't know how: logic reasoning
Tell me Kaplan 'cause I need to know now, oh because

My low result is killing me
I must confess I still believe
I can re-take this and score so high
Top school is mine
L-S-A-T one more time

Oh Law School AdCom
The reason I breathe is you
Listen now I'm pleading
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
To get on from the wait list
Show me how you want my grades to be
Recommendations, I'll get more now, oh because

My low result is killing me
I must confess I still believe
I can re-take this and score so high
Top school is mine
L-S-A-T one more time

Oh law school tell me how was I supposed to know
Oh practice test pile, I shouldn't have let you go
I must confess, I skipped one, the logic games
But you know I still believe
That score will be high
And let me get by
L-S-A-T one more time

My low result is killing me
I must confess I still believe
I can re-take this and score so high
Top school is mine
L-S-A-T one more time

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Thanks to the excellent JD2B for the link today that's brought gobs more visitors than normal. Hope at least a few of you enjoy what you read and come back to visit again.

A few brief comments, and then I want to steal some content from the Princeton Review law school discussion board and offer my perspective on some stuff:

1. I'm living at home for this part of the summer, and we just got a DVD player for the first time. And those director commentaries are mad cool. Maybe it's just the novelty of it, but wow. For anyone who writes, or dreams of writing, or is interesting in writing -- wow.

2. A friend and I came up with a great law school orientation activity the other day... since everyone feels pressured to go to everything those first few critical "don't want to be left without any friends" days... put up a sign saying "orientation activity, meet at wherever, and hand $50 to the guy in the top hat." Then just put on a top hat and collect some cash. Easy money.

3. Okay, now some real content. JD2B linked today to a Princeton Review thread of a Harvard 2L answering questions. One inquisitive soon-to-be 1L asks:

How was your first year (experience, competition, grades, etc.)? Is it as hard as everyone makes it out to be? Did you get a summer associate position? Which teachers did you find most interesting? How much time did you spend on assignments for class each day? How much did you study for finals?

My answers:

(1) Relax, soon-to-be-1L. You'll figure it all out and you'll be fine. Don't have a heart attack before school even starts. If you have all of these questions and sound like a nervous wreck two months before school starts, you're going to be miserable by September and probably end up having an awful time at law school and not making any friends except with the other nervous wrecks and you can all go live in the library together. Sorry, it's late, and I have no sympathy for people thinking about summer jobs and taking exams before they even get to school.

(2) First year's as fun as you want it to be. You want to have a miserable time? Good news is you can! Want to be happy and well-adjusted? Well, you can do that too! There's lots of activities, related in various degrees to and not so much to the practice of law. Find some you like, you'll make some friends, you'll keep busy, you'll have a good time. Easy to do mediocre, not as easy to do great, but I'm not sure if doing great corresponds with number of hours studying, or corresponds at all with how miserable you are. But feel free to put that one to the test. There are people who hate school. Go in trying to be one of them, and you'll likely succeed at that, but maybe not at class. Who knows.

(3) Similarly, it's as hard as you make it. The people who think it's hard are, by and large, making it hard for themselves. Yes, there are probably for whom just getting by is hard. But I think most of the people at law school -- at any law school, probably -- are more than capable of doing the work, it's just a matter of good study habits, decent time management, planning ahead, and not driving yourself nuts. Don't get behind in the reading, don't try and write a thousand page outline, don't buy every study guide in the library, and (some controversial advice) get some sleep and don't stay out until 3AM every day.

(4) I didn't get a summer associate position, but I didn't interview for any. Many of my friends who wanted 'em got 'em. Some didn't. Either way, you can get one after 2L year, and I imagine you'd have to be pretty messed up to not be able to get a job upon graduation, just from what I hear.

(5) I found the good teachers more interesting than the bad ones. :) 1L professors are the luck of the draw. You'll get good ones, bad ones, and mediocre ones I imagine. And by the time you have any choice, you'll hear from enough people that you won't need any advice I can provide here. Some people like the socratic ones, some like the other kind.

(6) I didn't spend an overwhelming amount of time on assignments for class, less as the year went by, and less the less chance there was I'd be called on. In retrospect, I felt best when I tried to get the week's worth of reading disposed of over the weekend and could enjoy my week. Which made the weekend less fun, but made me feel good I was always ahead of where I needed to be, and ensured I could get 9 hours of sleep a night. Which made me unusually well-rested I suppose. But I have no regrets about sleeping.

(7) I studied for finals as if it was a full-time job I was not very committed to. Some hours in the morning, long lunch break, some unproductive hours in the afternoon, and generally not much after dinner. Practice exams are the way to go -- not only are they more helpful, I find them more fun and interesting than just about any other study-related activity besides playing with post-it tabs.

Another asks: How was class generally? Students well-prepared and engaged or bored and consumed with Solitaire? How was the overall intellectual atmoshpere of the school? Conferences/speakers and the like available and readily announced? (and in a later post) How did you feel about the capabilities of your classmates?

(1) Way too much solitaire. Disgraceful. I think there should be a police officer in the back of the room who arrests any student caught playing a computer game. It's disrespectful to the professor, and distracting to everyone in the room. I am not kidding. I am completely serious. I think anyone who plays solitaire during class ought to stay home.

(2) That said, it's not so respectful when professors come to class unprepared to teach. Not as common as one could imagine, but for some classes it happened sometimes. I think they should stay home too if they can't do their job. Of course, most of my professors were superbly prepared and extremely diligent and well-intentioned. The result being that most classes were interesting. I sure wish they required all professors to take some improvisational comedy lessons or something like that, because I found that a well-placed joke or quip or story or quick-witted reply could improve the enjoyment of the class tenfold. Doesn't have to be as boring as it sometimes is. Read Bill Bryson's new book about science as proof -- potentially boring subject, but I don't believe there's a more talented writer on the planet. He could make anything a great read.

(3) Overall intellectual atmosphere? I don't know what that means. Lunchtime conversations smart things were not uncommon. There are people who are into talking about affirmative action, the war in Iraq, and abortion -- and there are people into talking about cheese and tampons. I have no idea why those two words came to mind. Anyway, I think a mix of the two kinds of talk is good. I might've wished for more introspective conversations about the meaning of life. But that's just me. Too many extroverts to get those going too often.

(4) Conferences and lectures are well-publicized. Unfortunately, most of them aren't worth publicizing. I find that stuff generally a little boring.

(5) I found some of my classmates to be quite swift, others of perfectly reasonable and capable intelligence, and a few to be on some other planet besides this one, or, as I sometimes wonder, not to have an internal monologue going on in their heads. Like anywhere else. I don't think it's possible for someone to be disappointed in the intellectual caliber of the people they'd find, as a whole. There are enough super-bright people that it ought not be an issue no matter what you got on the LSAT. :)

And then there was a whole bunch of crap about law review that if you read some stuff from end of May, beginning of June down below, I think I covered in about as much detail as anyone who doesn't live inside my head needs to know.

So there you have it, at least from my perspective.

(I'll also humbly take this opportunity, now that I have a stream of new visitors perhaps, to attempt to broaden an experiment I'm trying -- E-mail me (subject line: e-mail list) to be added to a weekly e-mail list that'll send you the highlights of what I post here, plus some stuff that won't be posted here (maybe) and that I promise will make you laugh. Or your money back. Of course also feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions about law school you'd like to see me ramble on about, or anything else. There ain't nothing that makes the day go by faster than clicking to check e-mail and actually finding I have new messages. Remarkable, that Internet thing.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

About six months ago, I saw a segment on 60 Minutes about the peaceful Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. It made it sound pretty much like a paradise, actually, and then at the end talked about how it was beginning to modernize and had recently introduced television into the country for the first time.

This article, about what television seems to have done to their society, is very sad, and more than a little bit disturbing. Much more interesting than the typical newspaper article. Highly recommended. I'd love to hear feedback on what other people think of it -- I thought it was a truly affecting story.
The Children's Guide to Law School: Chapter 2 -- Going to Class

Most of the time, law school can be a lot of fun. There's cool things to do (like rip pages out of library books), fun people to meet (one or two of them), and great food to be found somewhere, although usually nowhere near the actual campus. But every so often -- only about twelve hours a week, so don't worry! -- you'll have to go to class. Going to class sounds scary -- mean old people will stand up and talk at you, using big words and sounding like experts when really they're probably just reading from a book. Of course, it's probably a book they wrote. Teachers look funny when they talk, don't they? They look like aliens from the planet Zeptar. Zeptar is in between Mars and Jupiter, but because it's full of scary aliens, they don't talk about it in school much.... Anyway, in class the teachers will talk and talk and talk, but that's not really the scary part. That's just the boring part (but you can play computer games and no one will care). The scary part is when they want you to talk. Like when the doctor gives you a shot but doesn't tell you first, you won't know when it's coming, and it can sometimes be a real surprise. You'll be sitting in your seat, thinking about the pretty colored bricks on the wall of the building you can stare at through the window, and all of a sudden you'll hear your name called. Sometimes your last name, because professors like to pretend nobody has first names, but sometimes your first name, and sometimes someone else's name, but since the professor will be looking at you, you'll just have to assume he means you, even if he gets your name wrong, even if you've been in his class for six weeks, even if he has a seating chart with your name on it right in front of him, even if you have a namecard right on front of you, even if you're his child, even if he doesn't even get your gender right. And he'll ask you a question. If you're lucky, he'll call your name before he asks the question, like, "Mr. Bubblegum, can you tell me why the judge gaboogledly googledly blah?" (so then, even though all of the words sound foreign, at least you can attempt to answer the question and only sound semi-stupid). But sometimes he'll call your name after the question, and you'll be totally lost, like, "[staring at the flowers, pretty, pretty flowers] right, Ms. Jellyroll?" And then what can you do but pretend you know exactly what is going on and just start throwing out some big long words. "Jurisprudentially speaking," you'll say, "the gaboogledy googledly bloogleboggled." And the professor will say "garumph," and call on somebody else. Which is okay. The thing to remember about class is that no one is listening to what you say. Everyone is just sitting there thinking about the flowers, playing computer games, and praying they won't be called on. You could stand up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the room, and as long as you didn't also scream really loud, no one would notice. They might wonder what smells so bad, but, since these are law students, they would just assume they'd forgotten to shower that morning. Or that the professor had an accident. And no one wants to embarrass the professor by telling him they think he had an accident. Instead they want to embarrass him by showing up to class completely unprepared and not paying any attention. Plus, your performance in class counts in no way towards your grade, so it really doesn't matter much. Just go to your six hours a week of class, count the snowflakes falling from the sky (unlike the lectures, they're all unique and different from each other), and you'll do fine.

Monday, June 16, 2003

I saw "A Year in the Life of Frog and Toad" on Broadway last Friday night. It's a musical. Basically for kids. And it closed on Sunday. But I was able to get a $16 ticket, and I'd liked the song they did from the show on the Tony awards last weekend, so I figured it would be cool to go see it. And it wasn't bad at all. Simple, but entertaining. The children in the audience seemed to be having a blast. My friend who I went with and I both liked it.

In case you haven't heard of the Frog and Toad children's books, briefly -- Frog and Toad are best friends in the forest. Frog is cheerful and helpful and happy, and Toad is a bit more grumpy. But they help each other out.

The reason for all this background? Today's weblog entry.


Frog and Toad waited on line to pick up the law review competition packet. Frog got his copy, took a free lollipop, and waited patiently outside for his friend Toad. Toad moaned: "This packet is so heavy I can hardly carry it. It sucks." But then Frog offered to carry Toad's packet too. Toad agreed, but didn't give Frog his lollipop. Instead, he threw it at a little tadpole. Frog and Toad hopped home, installed their new DSL connections, and began reading. Frog read everything carefully and then began to outline his case note. Toad, in a fit of rage, threw his packet into the fireplace and burnt the edges of most of the pages. Luckily for Toad, most of the pages were useless anyway, so it didn't matter. Frog wrote all day and all night for the entire week, and ended up with a carefully-edited brief and a lovely case note suitable for publication in the Amphibian Law Journal. Toad got drunk on Tuesday, vomited on two of the copies of his brief edit, and wrote a substandard case note riddled with errors. But Frog agreed to let Toad copy much of his work, so they both ended up turning in wonderful packets. They both beat out Sheep, Bear, Fox, Hawk, Paramecium, Jellyfish, Octopus, and Fatty Tuna to get a place on Law Review. Toad had a nervous breakdown from all of the work. But Dr. Dog at the mental hospital fixed him up and made him all better. Frog ended up with a Supreme Pond Court clerkship, and all the flies he could eat. He married Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a lovely ceremony at the beach.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Uncensored: A Clip from Career Services' Career Counselor Training Video

NARRATOR: ...and that's how to look like you're carefully analyzing a student's resume when in fact you're just watching the second hand move around and around the clock. Our next unit: how to handle "difficult" situations. Watch this:

(A student enters the career counselor's office. The counselor sees him and quickly hides the bottle of rum she's drinking from in her desk drawer.)

COUNSELOR: How may I help you, young man? Are you looking to get your resume reviewed?

STUDENT: No, not really. I'm a 1L, and I had some questions about summer jobs.

COUNSELOR: It can be hard to get a summer job at a firm, I know. Firms are reluctant to hire 1Ls because they fear you'll just go elsewhere 2L summer, and they will have wasted all of that money. You may want to look at smaller firms, or firms in cities beyond the traditional ones. But keep plugging away and there's a good chance you'll find something.

STUDENT: Thanks, I understand all that. But I had a question about stuff that isn't necessarily at a firm.

COUNSELOR: Not at a firm? What do you mean? Do you mean at a smaller boutique firm?

STUDENT: Well, no. I mean something where the legal education is helpful, but it's not necessarily a law job -- like in government, or in business.

COUNSELOR: Not a firm?


COUNSELOR: How many firms have you sent resumes to? Maybe you're just not looking hard enough.


COUNSELOR: Well that would explain it.

STUDENT: No, I don't want to work at a firm.

COUNSELOR: Have you tried Nashville? That's a medium-sized market with firms that often hire 1Ls.

STUDENT: No, you're not really listening. I don't want to work at a firm, and I was wondering if you had any resources for jobs that aren't at firms.

COUNSELOR: We do have a binder listing all of the firms that have hired 1Ls in the past.

STUDENT: But I'm not looking for a firm.

COUNSELOR: How you tried the website firm directory?

STUDENT: Not looking for a firm.

COUNSELOR: What about our law firm summer evaluation database?

STUDENT: Don't want a firm job.

COUNSELOR: We have some firm listings online.

STUDENT: You don't understand. I don't want to work at a law firm this summer. Is there anyone who can help me find something else?

COUNSELOR: Wait. Are you saying you don't want to work at a law firm?

STUDENT: Correct.

COUNSELOR: You do realize how much money they make, right?


COUNSELOR: Are you on any medications?


COUNSELOR: Under the care of a mental health professional?


COUNSELOR: I think your best place to turn might be the mental health clinic.

STUDENT: I'm not crazy. I just don't want to work at a firm.

COUNSELOR: We can fix that.

STUDENT: I don't want to be "fixed." I just want to do something more in line with my interests and passions.

COUNSELOR: A few pills, maybe a lobotomy, and you'll be all set.

STUDENT: Just looking for job leads.

COUNSELOR: Electroshock therapy, hypnosis, lithium...

STUDENT: Please. Just some job ideas. That's all I want.

COUNSELOR: Just some job leads?


COUNSELOR: Not at a law firm?

STUDENT: Correct.

COUNSELOR: Are you suicidal?


COUNSELOR: Okay. I think I understand. You want help finding a job, but not a job at a law firm.

STUDENT: That's right.

COUNSELOR: But you haven't been to our mental health clinic?


COUNSELOR: Well, I really think that should be your first step.

STUDENT: We just went over this. I'm not crazy.

COUNSELOR: Maybe, maybe not. But even if you're not, and that's a big "if," most anyone else who doesn't want a firm job surely is.


COUNSELOR: And so the mental health clinic is going to have the best ideas for you -- from all of the people who've been through there before. They'll know what kinds of jobs "people like you" tend to be able to find.

STUDENT: People like me?

COUNSELOR: Yes. People who don't want to work for a firm. Crazy people. I mean people like you.

STUDENT: So the mental health people are the only ones who would know of jobs not at law firms.


STUDENT: So even if I'm not crazy, I should go there.


STUDENT: And they'll give me job leads.

COUNSELOR: And some prescriptions that'll help you out.

STUDENT: But job leads too.


STUDENT: Thanks for your help.

NARRATOR: And that, as you could tell, is how to deal with students who are mentally ill. Up next, we'll show you how to deal with students looking to choose between navy suits and gray suits...

Saturday, June 14, 2003

"Where's My E-mail?"

I can't believe it. Can't they ever plan ahead? It's already June and nothing yet this summer from the career services office at school. How do they expect me to be able to interview for law firm jobs two and a half months from now when they haven't yet started flooding my inbox with needlessly complicated instructions? Where's an e-mail about how I have to submit eight copies of my left thumb fingerprint to the registrar by Tuesday, August 32nd at 26 o'clock or else I will be slotted in round Q of the law firm interview lottery and only have a 41% chance of getting 7 of my top 12 firm choices in 2 of my top 3 city selections? Where? Where? Where?

How am I supposed to know if Lonely and Depressed LLP is interviewing before or after Sullen, Withdrawn and Partners if they don't send me a schedule. How am I supposed to find time to do my firm research if I don't have an e-mail from career services telling me where Stressed, Overworked, and Premature Artery Blockage (Blockage is pronounced like Fromage; they're a French firm) is interviewing.

At least my schedule is fairly open most evenings; I don't work too late, so if I get the e-mails in a week or two, I'll still have time to figure it all out. Just barely. But what about my friends at law firms? How will they ever...? Especially with all of the events the firms plan for them. I hear stories of fancy dinners at the best restaurants (those people who took jobs in Milwaukee are kicking themselves right about now... three nights in a row at Applebee's? I know it's the best restaurant in town, but still...), tickets to baseball games, Broadway shows, and tapings of The People's Court, trips to white-collar prison to visit the firm's fallen colleagues, free nights in cheap motels with hookers... oh wait, they weren't supposed to expense that? But the gambling was okay, right? And the heroin? Only
up to a hundred dollars? A hundred Euros? I don't understand all of these regulations.

Every time I ask my boss to reimburse me for my Metrocard expenses, I think of my friends at law firms, making twenty-five billion - excuse me, trillion - dollars a week, and don't feel jealous at all. Because they still ride the subway one stop at a time. Except they take taxis. Gold-plated taxis. Driven by people who speak fluent English. Gosh. But I had a gourmet lunch today. Two steamed pork buns for a dollar. Amazing deal. They were worth it. Every penny. My boss brought his dog to work and he was begging for scraps. But I don't know if American dogs eat Chinese food. I didn't want to risk it. Making your boss's dog vomit - not a good idea. Except at a law firm, where the odds that it would affect your ultimate chances of getting an offer are probably pretty slim. Killing the
dog, maybe. If you also killed your boss. Otherwise, I'm guessing you're home free. Well, not free exactly. Twenty-five trillion dollars a week. And your own secretary.

It's now been seven minutes since I started writing this (can't you tell?), and still no e-mail from career services. But I did get something about a computer virus that's evidently invading the system. Their virus "cure" instructions: "If your computer is infected, the recommended approach is to immediately remove the computer from the network to prevent damage from hackers and to rebuild the machine from scratch." Okay, so the "cure" is to erase everything off of your hard drive and start over. And that's better than what the virus would do because... yeah, that's what I thought. It's a good thing doctors don't follow the same rules. "I've got it! A cure for
diphtheria! All you have to do is leap off the roof! No more sickness!" "Hey, you're stealing! That's exactly the same as my cure for tetanus!" "But then what's the cure for leaping off the roof?" "Asphyxiation." "Oh."

I think that's the cure for the recruiting process too.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Advertisement on the NYC Subway for a law firm -- descriptions of cases they've won for damage from lead poisoning and medical malpractice -- and a slogan, in quotes: "We fight for kids with brain damage." Wow. And the ad includes a silhouette of a man with a top hat and boxing gloves -- "fighting," I suppose, "for kids with brain damage." Wow. And it gets better. Because I went to their website, Ambulance-Chasing Law Firm's Website, where they explain the top hat / boxing glove man: "We’re proud of being known as fighters for our clients rights and the [firm's] fighting spirit is embodied in our logo and our mascot, Seamus, our Fighting Irish Leprechaun." You think I'm kidding? Check out the site.

If you do some exploring, you may notice the site includes a detailed questionnaire for people seeking the firm's help in suing the tobacco companies. Among the perfectly balanced and fair questions: "What disease do you have that you think was caused by smoking?"

This is why people think lawyers are sleazy. Seamus the Fighting Irish Leprechaun is why people make jokes about lawyers. Does a fighting leprechaun mascot really help them get clients? "Good day, my lead-poisoned friend. I know a great law firm. I saw their ad on the subway. I know they're good because they have a fighting Irish leprechaun mascot named Seamus. And they advertise on the subway. Did I mention that already. I don't know if I did. Because I have brain damage. But they're fighting for me. The leprechaun dude is actually my lawyer. I think. Or that might be the brain damage talking. Who knows."

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Breaking news: Mets fire General Manager Steve Phillips. See Newsday for more.
Orientation for introverts. I don't like new situations. It takes me a little while to get comfortable, to relax, to engage. I'm fine once I've adjusted, but right at the beginning I'm quiet, timid, careful. Which makes orientations and stuff of that nature not the most fun. I don't like going around in a circle and talking about myself. Too much pressure right away. Concern about the first impressions. I don't like "interviewing" a partner and introducing him or her to the rest of the group. I like people, I really do, but I feel like I do better when I can get to know them at a natural pace, and not through a name game. So, with that endless setup for the (hopefully) funny stuff to come, here's my ideas for activities for "orientation for introverts."

1. Write your name on a nametag and stick it on your shirt. Walk around and look at everyone else's nametags.

2. Sit in a circle and try not to make eye contact with anyone.

3. Pull blades of grass out of the ground and make a small grass pile.

4. Try to stick the blades of grass back in the ground.

5. Tear little sticky pieces off the sides of your nametag.

6. Nap.

7. Whisper superficial conversation to the person next to you. "It's sunny out." "Yes, it is." "They say rain later." "Oh."

8. Go to the bathroom.

9. Lock yourself in the stall and cry.

10. Splash some water on your face and force yourself to rejoin the group.

11. Linger on the fringes of the clump of people.

12. Stare at the ground.

13. Pick some more grass.

14. Fidget.

15. Write out another nametag to replace the one you've accidentally ripped off and folded until it became all crumbly and disintegrated.

16. Wander for a bit.

17. Play with your fingers.

18. Ask if you can go home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The real study group advice I promised a few days ago when my post degenerated into a "Dear Diary" tale of study groups gone awry:

1. It's not a race. You don't need to be the first one to have a study group. I can't for the life of me figure out why a study group would be of any value in September, or October, or anytime before Thanksgiving -- heck, anytime before reading period. Because what is there to study? You're hardly in law school, there's nothing to review for, you don't know what you'll need to study. A friend to ask what he thinks when you don't understand something in a case? Sure. Three-hour meetings twice a week? Watch TV instead. If you haven't worn your winter coat yet (or, in the case of people in warm-weather climates, long pants), you shouldn't be in a study group.

2. Before you commit, make sure your study styles are all semi-compatible, and I just mean in the "how long will our meetings be and what will we do" sense; anything else matters not. If you think the point of a study group should be to go over practice exams a week before the test and maybe share outlines right at the end, just to double-check you haven't missed anything key, it's probably a bad idea to be in a study group with someone who wants to meet for an hour every morning and go over the reading. Heck, if you want to meet every morning for an hour and go over the reading, I don't think you should be in a study group regardless. You should be in a mental hospital.

3. Study groups ought to be fun. You're going to be spending perhaps a bunch of hours with these people. If you don't like them, don't join their study group. Study with your friends, or least with people who you think could become your friends, because studying doesn't have to be torture. Being in a room with people you don't like will make you unhappy. Unhappy people are less productive. That said, someone out there is thinking, "but if I study with my friends we'll end up having fun and not getting any studying done." Well, if you can't force yourself to get work done in a group, maybe you should study alone. And anyway, it's not like you're going to fail the exam. If you have fun and don't get anything done for two hours one afternoon, the world won't explode. I see very little reason to actively try to avoid activities that might be fun, even if you think they're not supposed to be because they involve studying. Look, everyone at law school has enough self-discipline to make themselves study when they need to study. There are lots of reasons why a study group might not work out -- different styles of learning, different time management skills, personality conflicts -- "it's too much fun" shouldn't be one of them.

4. Just because they ask you... doesn't mean you have to say yes. Also doesn't mean you have to say no. Just think about it. Ask yourself if they hadn't asked you, would you have asked them. Ask yourself if you're saying yes just because it's nice to be asked. Ask yourself why these people are forming a study group on the second week of school.

5. Practice exams, practice exams, practice exams. This is what study groups are best for, in my humble opinion. Just thought I'd repeat that.

6. Don't just trade outlines. Well, maybe the day before the exam or something. But if you're using a study group to get out making your own study materials, whatever they happen to be to best fit your style, you're just sabotaging your own efforts to learn the material. I found that I learned best when I did things myself instead of just reading someone else's work output. But maybe I'm wrong. Just a warning.

7. Don't let a bad study spoil a good friendship. It's not worth it. Study groups are easy to find, friends less so. (Isn't that a lovely piece of advice? Not tinged with sarcasm, I swear.)

8. Studying sucks. Studying with other people can sometimes make it suck less, even if you get nothing done. I recommend being in a study group for three reasons ("Why couldn't you just list those three reasons at the top and forget about these eight points?" "Shut up."): (1) Practice exams, (2) Because it's lonely to study alone and you need interaction with people sometimes, and (3) Because if you're not in a study group you're going to feel left out and wonder what all of the people in study groups are doing (the answer: wasting their time, probably, and not really getting anything of any use done -- so no reason to be jealous)

9. The last list I did had nine points also -- see below. Just figured I'd make this one match even though I really only had eight things to say.

10. Nah, I'll make this one an even ten.
The Student Summer Terror Alert System

Code Blue: Relax, the calendar says it's not even really summer yet
Code Green: The month starts with the letter "J" means we're still cool
Code Yellow: You receive a piece of correspondence about the upcoming year (or perhaps your spring semester grades?)
Code Orange: You've made labor day plans
Code Red: Back at school. Summer's over. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Whoops! Waddling Thunder just posted a terrific response to my advice about outlining (below, from a couple of days ago), and it made me realize I forgot all about practice exams. Not that I forgot to do them when I was studying, just that I forgot to write about them, and so my post makes it look like I study for exams without thinking about practice exams.

Which, of course, would be wrong, wrong, wrong! Practice exams are weapon #1, more important than the world's best outline, more important than knowing the material cold, more important, I dare say, than somehow finding a loophole in the rules that allows you to have a leading scholar in whatever field your exam is about standing by your side ready to help you with the exam.

Because professors, I dare say, are human. And they have preferences and styles and patterns that come up in their exams. And the more familiar you are with their exams -- like when you're taking standardized tests and trying to get into the heads of the College Board and figure out why the wrong answers are wrong so that you can better understand why the right answers are right -- the better you'll do. Waddling Thunder talks about doing exams from other schools, and other professors before doing exams from his professor. I understand the theory there -- the more practice the better, and real questions given by *some * professor are better than no questions at all. I didn't look at any other professor's exams -- mostly because I had enough exams to go through that there wouldn't have been time, but I thought about it, and was concerned that it may not be worth the time. Because even in a standard class like Contracts, each professor teaches different stuff. They emphasize different things, they have you read different cases, they have different things they want. It would be uber-frustrating to work on an exam from another school, puzzle through something hard, and then either (a) not be sure whether you're responsible for that nugget of knowledge anyway, or (b) realize you've just wasted your time on something you figure out you don't need to know -- and, yeah, I know (a) and (b) are pretty much the same thing and should just be labeled (a). Less of a problem with other professors at the same school -- because at least you won't be wading into some trap where all California law schools teach special California rules about owning figs and raisins (I have no idea how my mind made me write "figs and raisins") -- but still the same issue of who knows what other professors are teaching, what kinds of questions they like, and what kinds of answers they're looking for. Even in a standard issue-spotter -- my property professor told us not to worry about things like the recording system, and not so much about the rule against perpetuities (although a little bit). Other professors think differently, I'm sure. Heck, even among your own professor's past exams, there could be some years he or she emphasized different parts of the course, used a different casebook, skipped a unit, added a unit, had a brain disease in the middle of the semester that caused him to go on a tangent about the law of turkey legs. Or something like that. So, yes, yes, yes do as many old exams as you can tolerate and have time for. But realize that exams that aren't geared to the same things you learned and in the same style as your professor aren't going to be as helpful.

And there's always the chance a professor will get lazy and repeat an exam question. It does happen. I've heard stories.

But even more likely, they repeat concepts, ideas, policy questions, turns of phrase -- and the more familiar you are with how they think, the better prepared you'll be. They also often repeat instructions, so, like on the SAT and LSAT, you can save a minute by pre-reading instructions off previous exams. Of course, you'll want to double check on your exam so that you don't answer the essay like it's a multiple choice question, or something silly like that.

Imagine, a 5 part essay question: Do (a), (b), (c), (d), and (e) that someone answers as a multiple choice question. (a). Ha. That would be funny.

More exam advice -- going over an exam with a friend or two is probably the only thing a study group is useful for, in my opinion. Do that. Especially on issue spotters. They'll see issues you won't. And vice versa. A learning experience for all. And isn't that what law school is all about.

Monday, June 09, 2003

[A fictional study group tale that was supposed to actually make sense, but just sort of degenerated into pointlessness. I'll have some actual words about study groups tomorrow, once I get this train of thought out of my system]

October 15, 2002

Dear Diary,

I can't believe it! One of the cool kids asked me to join his study group! I mean, it's not that I'm not cool. Especially here. Where nobody's cool. But in law school, like everywhere, there are the cool kids, and there are the not-that-cool kids. And it just sort of falls into place like that. I don't know if the cool kids here were cool before, or nobody here was cool before and they're just the coolest of the uncool. But anyway, it just seems to happen that one group of kids is cool, and the rest aren't. And everybody knows. But maybe I'm doing something right (or wrong, as the case may be) because there it was -- right below the e-mail about the resume workshop and above the e-mail about the overdue library book. The e-mail from the cool kid about joining his study group. Maybe it's that new shirt I bought last week. Or the new deodorant scent (switched from "Mountain Fresh" to "Valley Clean"). Or the twenty-five page outline I've already made that I happened to mention in conversation yesterday. No, it can't be the outline. It must be the new shirt. But boy am I excited. Because it's not just the cool kid who invited me -- the study group is filled with cool kids. There's the kid who only shows up to class on Wednesdays, "just because." Now what could be cooler than that? There's the kid who's always wearing the hat. Hats are super-cool. And there's the kid who's going out with the professor. The married professor. The married professor with the wrinkles and the cane. Now that's unbelievably cool. And it's the three of them, and me. So I must be cool too. Or at least cool by association. Maybe we'll all go do cool stuff besides studying. Like go get ice cream. Or hang out on a street corner without any real purpose. Or swipe study guides from the law school bookstore. Or graffiti the dorm building. I can't wait for our first meeting tomorrow at midnight. Midnight. I guess that's when cool people do their schoolwork.

October 17, 2002

Dear Diary,

I'm pretty tired. Only three hours of sleep. And my left arm is sore from the punching. They called it my "initiation," but if I didn't know better, I'd say they just wanted to beat me up. Study group is nothing like I imagined. So I got to the bar at midnight -- we met in a bar -- with my laptop, my outlines, and this great study guide I fashioned out of a roll of masking tape, three copies of Black's Law Dictionary, and some magic fairy dust. And the cool kids were late. Two of them showed up at about 12:30, kind of drunk, and looking like they'd been doing something naughty. I think one of them mentioned they carjacked an elderly man on the way over, just for kicks, but I'm not totally sure. They might have just been talking about one of the cases we're reading. The third guy -- the coolest one -- didn't show up at all. But I'm sure he had a good reason. Anyway, they didn't come as prepared as I did. They accidentally left their books at home. And their outlines were lost, they said. But I'm sure they'll send me a copy as soon as they find them. So first they took my study guide. We've decided to all share materials -- apparently that's what the good study groups do. Whatever one person makes, he has to give to everybody. But that's okay, because they're all really cool about it. I'm sure they would never make an outline and not share it with me. Unless they decided I wasn't cool enough. Anyway, then they said they had to initiate me into the study group. They took turns spitting on me and punching me in the arm. I guess this is what cool people do. And then they stole my pants. They're such cool guys. We're meeting tomorrow to talk about Contracts. Not until three in the morning, though.

October 19, 2002

The study group split up. Apparently I wasn't cool enough for them. We met yesterday, but only Jimmy showed up. He asked me if I wanted to hang out a little first, before we started studying. Of course I said yes. He asked if I could drive "getaway." It was pretty cool. Jimmy has an awesome car. A Lexus SUV. So we drove to the bank, and I waited outside. Jimmy came back a few minutes with a big bag. He told me to "step on it." But it turned out he meant the gas pedal, not the bag. Oops. And then he punched me a few more times and stole my laptop. I think my next study group is going to be with the uncool kids.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Check out this Fox News story about a survey of the favorable and unfavorable ratings of the 2004 presidential contenders. Notice the "never heard of" category, which can make you wonder who the 1% of the population is who's never heard of Hillary Clinton and the 4% who's never heard of Dick Cheney. And apparently it was only six months ago that 1% had never heard of George W. Bush. I guess he must have done something recently to increase his profile, for those who missed the fact that he's President. Maybe he made a cameo in a music video or something.
All About Outlining -- And all about Studying for Exams -- This is my story of how I prepared for my 1L exams; I feel like maybe someone out there will find it interesting and useful for me to have shared, as I watch the Mets get slaughtered by the Mariners on both sides of a doubleheader...

After reading "Law School Confidential," "Planet Law School," and a library of other pre-law books over the summer, and then after hearing things from classmates and upperclassmen and even professors, within the first couple of weeks of school, it became pretty clear that the conventional wisdom is that outlining your classes is the way to go if you want to do well. What I mean by outlining, for the uninitiated -- basically making yourself a big course summary, with all of the law, the cases, the principles, the topics you're going to need to know for the exam. Turning the class, in effect, into a packet of somewhere between 20 and 200 pages (depending on the class, your style, and how much it costs you to print). Throughout September and October I heard people asking each other about their outlines -- mostly "have you started yet," but occasionally "what are you putting in your outline," "is there a standard format," and "what about those commercial outlines they sell in the bookstore but don't let you return for fear that you'll photocopy them and start your own competing discount outline sales business." Again, the conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't wait too long to start outlining, because you'll end up with way too much to do at once -- the casebook pages and class notes build up and the task becomes insurmountably time-consuming. So, like a good little eager law student, after the first two weeks of classes, I decided that I would outline over the weekend. First, I chose a pleasing mix of fonts and determined a format -- cases get their own little text boxes, legal rules are in bold, class notes and summarized after the cases, other principles the professors threw in are in italics... I probably spent more time coming up with my template than I did actually doing anything productive. And, sure enough, I was able to go through my class notes and turn lots of pages in somewhat fewer, and add in some brief paragraphs about the cases. But had I really accomplished anything? Was this useful? No idea. Three weeks later, feeling a little guilty that I hadn't been so diligent about the outlines, I returned to my contracts outline to get it up to date. And realized, upon re-reading what I'd done after week two, that the information I had written in wasn't really that useful, and that now, three weeks later, some of the things I had thought were important weren't, and some of the things I thought were confusing were now second-nature and didn't even need to be written down. And all the formatting stuff was a pain in the neck. But, just to feel like I had accomplished something, I updated the outline.

Fast-forward to the end of fall semester, gliding past hours and hours of time spent not updating my outlines, and, as I sat down to start studying for exams, I had 5 weeks of a contracts outline (at 40 pages, a monstrosity already), 2 weeks of a civil procedure outline, and a stack of criminal law class notes that were about as organized as this weblog post (and, unfortunately for this weblog post and anyone reading it, about as funny). And I tried to think about whether trying to outline all of this stuff was worth it. And I realized I'd been going about it all wrong.

You see, the conventional wisdom (or at least as I understood it) was:

1. Making the outline is a valuable undertaking because it helps you learn the material
2. The outline is uber-useful during the exam so you don't have to go back to the casebook, class notes, etc.

But those two goals are not the same, and often can't be met with the same tool. I don't think you need to outline for the sake of outlining, and, after two semesters of law school, I don't think an outline is always the most useful thing for meeting either of those objectives. (1) Doing something to learn the material, and (2) Making something to use during the exam are two separate endeavors, I think.

And after realizing that, I came up with my own system for each. Nothing revolutionary, but different from just taking the casebook and class notes and turning it into an outline and then feeling like I'm done. Personally, I just didn't find that made so much sense. So, admittedly with only my fall semester grades to inform on the effectiveness of my approach, here's what I did:

Goal 1: Learning the material

My big worry on this dimension is always gaps. Large chunks of material that I'm forgetting, rules I didn't write down, cases I glossed over, things that could come up on an exam that I don't want to say "uh, what is that, I have no idea." That worries me more than comprehension failings -- things where I know what it is, and know I don't understand it that well, but at least I recognize that and know where the weakness exists. I worry more about surprises. My strategy, therefore, was to read lots of different materials in the hope that no gaps would remain. For each class (except for Torts, but we were heavy on theory / light on law in torts, and the exam was to reflect that (and ultimately did reflect that) so I didn't feel the need to have backup):

1. I started with the Lexis free Emanuel's summary as my baseline. Because it's a Word file and I could edit it without typing everything in. I went through and deleted anything we didn't cover, and added in topic heading for things that weren't included, just so I'd remember to make sure I knew that stuff too. Printed, read through a few times, put aside.

2. Then, for 3 of the 5 classes, I bought a commercial study guide of some sort that seemed to track well with the class in terms of material covered (Dressler for Crim, Glannon for Civ Pro, Singer for Property). Not black letter law -- the Emanuel's was for that -- but for concepts and an overall understanding. And read them cover to cover. Did a little bit of highlighting, but mostly I was reading for overall themes. And put them aside.

3. Did a google search and a lexis search for short overall subject summaries -- what's the overall story of contract law, property law, criminal law, how do all of the discrete subjects fit together into one discipline. I wanted to be able to make sure I could answer a general thematic question.

4. Read through my class notes a few times, and added stuff to the Emanuel's that filled in gaps. Printed the Emanuel's again. Read it a few more times until I knew it pretty well.

5. And at that point, I felt pretty good about content and knowing the material. It was then time to turn my attention to the second goal.

Goal 2: Having stuff for the exam

This may seem like it doesn't apply to a closed-book exam, but I think it does. Just means you can't bring the stuff in the room with you and have to memorize the important pieces.

I knew the thick Emanuel's packet wouldn't really be of great help during an exam, and the books and class notes too big and comprehensive to rely on consistently for stuff like 3-part tests, quick rule applications, etc. And yet I wasn't motivated to create my own materials from scratch because (1) I didn't know whether they'd be right, and (2) It would take a long time and a lot of work.

1. So I stole. Well, borrowed. Completely legally. We had an outline bank with old outlines that people had posted. Most people searched them for stuff from our professors' past classes, and there was some decent stuff for some of the classes. I went a step further and searched for anything in the same subject, regardless of professor -- really just looking for charts / tables / schematic diagrams / easy explanations / quick case summaries that someone else had made that I could use. So I'd pull the best Erie Choice of Law diagram from one outline, a Model Penal Code vs. Common Law chart from another, the "three sentences about every UCC rule" chart from something else -- just taking the best of what I could find, until I had a stack of application tools that I felt were useful for an exam. Read through to make sure they were accurate (important step) and then put them aside.

2. Besides the application tools from the outlines, I also made a short issue-spotting helper... basically a mini-outline of all of the possible "questions" that could come up on a test. "Was there a proper offer?" "Was it mere puff?" "Was there valid consideration?" I think it was about 2-5 pages for each class... just for issue spotters, as the last step review during the test to make sure I hadn't missed anything. For the closed book portion of my contracts exam, I turned it into a mnemonic of all of the units, that had 13 letters and was unpronounceable and that I can't recall.

3. A case chart. If I couldn't find one elsewhere, I made one myself. Just a list of every case and three or four words to remind me what it was about. To refer to on questions that wanted case names or analogies, or to back up policy arguments.

And that was pretty much it. Lots of different pieces of materials, but not really an outline. And I didn't do any of it until after classes were over, because as I looked through what I'd typed up at the beginning of the semester, I realized that I didn't at that point know what was important, what was confusing, and what I'd know so well I wouldn't need to write down. So all of the outline stuff I didn't really find that valuable. My collection of assorted materials may not work for everyone -- some people may need one comprehensive piece they create themselves that's 200 pages thick and has everything. And that's cool. This is just an explanation (and a long one!) of what I did, in case anyone finds it helpful.

We'll return to something funnier tomorrow.