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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

3rd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 4th. Not bad, right? I mean, can I really expect to be in first place in all 5 of my fantasy baseball leagues? :)

It strikes me as only slightly bad that I wake up each morning wondering just as much about whether Adam Dunn hit a homerun last night as whether the balance of power in the world has been forever changed by some overnight act of aggression.

Incidentally, from the NY Times today, a sign that we live in a frightening world: "The [convention] speeches competed for viewers with... "Fear Factor" on NBC." Actually, was there a difference? [WARNING: the preceding line is meant for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to serve as political commentary of any form. Remember, I gave $10 to Joe Lieberman four days before he dropped out of the race, so clearly I'm very, very confused.]

Monday, August 30, 2004

Six Things I Expect To See At The Republican Convention

1. Protestors
2. Protestants
3. Professional Actor and Bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger
4. Smiling babies
5. Ronald Reagan: Exhumed, Reanimated, and the 2004 nominee for President!
6. No, really, Ronald Reagan: Exhumed, Reanimated, and the 2004 nominee for President!

Six Things I Don't Expect To See At The Republican Convention, that match up to the previous list

1. Prostitutes
2. the Proletariat
3. words correctly Pronounced by the president
4. Abortions
5. Barry Goldwater: Exhumed, Reanimated, and the 2004 nominee for President, unless of course he isn't yet dead, in which case only the third thing.
6. Dick Cheney: Exhumed, Reanimated, and the 2004 nominee for Vice President... oh, wait....

Sunday, August 29, 2004

I'm posting this from my new laptop, which is a pretty major accomplishment since it took about 12 person-hours, and the purchase of Windows XP, to make this thing actually work. The pre-installed operating system, Windows 1785 Revolutionary Edition, or whatever it was (Windows 2000 NT, if you're the kind of person who knows what that means), wouldn't let me copy over my old Outlook e-mail files, took longer to boot up than it takes warm Jello to harden (Over 10 minutes, actually. For real.), and more or less ran like there was molasses inside the machine.

But now, with Windows XP Home Edition, it seems to be doing OK.

What I should have done is listen to all of the people who e-mailed me after I posted asking for laptop advice, and spent $1200 on a brand-new, lightweight Toshiba or possibly a Sony (those were the brands most recommended by my e-mailers). Instead, my mom happened to find an IBM Thinkpad A21m (I'm just reading those letters off the case -- I have no idea what they mean) on clearance sale for $400 when she was in Circuit City one day, and we figured since my old computer was an IBM Thinkpad 600X, this would be pretty much the same except it wouldn't be dead like that one. So I saved a bunch of money, which is good. But now I'm just hoping this won't prove to be a really bad computer (as I thought it would be until I installed XP). On the bright side, it only weighs 35 pounds. (No, not really. I don't know how much it weighs, but it ain't light.)

Enough about my computer.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Someone working for The WB is really smart. I just got this week's copy of Entertainment Weekly in the mail, and there's an ad for a new WB show coming this fall called "Jack and Bobby," about two brothers. In 2041, one of them will be President. Now, they're in high school. Anyway. The ad has a tear-out folder with a DVD of the entire first episode. I'm about 12 minutes in. It's pretty good. I'm interested. This is really, really smart. Because there's a pretty good chance I wouldn't be watching The WB on September 12th at 9pm, to catch the first episode of this show, because, really, even though the premise sounds OK, why would I make it a point to watch it? But you give me a DVD of the episode, and, hey, it's Saturday afternoon, what else am I doing, it's a cool gimmick, I'll gladly give it a shot. And, more important, it's good. It's compelling. I like it. So maybe I'll actually seek out episode 2. Without the DVD: I'm probably not a viewer, even if the show turns out to be awesome. With the DVD: at least you've given the show a chance to hook me. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But I think this is a really smart thing to have done. Probably crazy-expensive, compared to normal stuff like just the ad. But I think it's going to prove worth it. Very very cool. Whoever came up with this idea should be running the network. Just my opinion.

UPDATE: 25 minutes in. This is a cool, cool show. Assuming this is in the newsstand copies, not just the subscriber copies (page 39, if you're checking), I think it's worth the price of the magazine alone.
I was Googling for some factoid I'm looking to throw in a post I want to write later today, and came across this article from Legal Affairs last summer about summer associate lunches. No surprises, but it's a nice read.

Friday, August 27, 2004

My favorite Olympic event: synchronized running.

Today in Manhattan, I passed by Union Square and noticed a mob of people, many looking at the helicopters hovering above. I smelled smoke. I got concerned. I looked around. I still smelled smoke. But then I noticed the hot dog cart behind me. The mob was for a protest. The smoke was street food. No terrorist attack. Phew.

Edwin McCain's new album, "Scream and Whisper," is pretty good. I like Edwin McCain, even if his audience probably skews 10 years older than me.

Good post from a guy about to join me at Harvard. I think he's got it pegged pretty well. I have a post from two years ago that says something pretty similar. So it must be true... :)

My second favorite Olympic event: rhythmic shot put

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Yesterday, I wrote a rant about how laptops in class are not good, from the perspective of an elderly law professor who can't control his bladder.

It was a random idea, and I didn't really think about it, but now that I do think about it, I sort of meant it.

See, I've decided to hand-write my notes this year. On paper. With a pen. No laptop. No typing. And no wireless Internet, that demon creature created by the devil of anti-productivity.

I took notes by hand in 3 classes last year, and by laptop in the other 4. Mostly determined by desk space -- for the classes where we had statutes and casebooks and problem sets to refer to it was just easier to handwrite and not have to fumble around with the laptop. For the others I didn't really think about it and used the laptop by default.

As a data point, on average I did quite measurably better in the classes where I handwrote, but I don't think there's cause and effect there, and I'm pretty sure it's just how it worked out -- I liked those classes better, I understood the material better generally, I don't think how I took notes had anything to do with it. But maybe it did.

The bigger factor, for me, is that I really don't ever go back to my notes at the end of the semester. The advantage of typing your notes is that you can read them, and find stuff easily, and turn them into an outline... but I just never do. I go back to the book and re-read stuff from there. I use other people's outlines I find online. But my notes, whether typed or written, are pretty terrible. I write/type way too much, and I'm awful at outlining on the fly. They're a jumble of everything the professor said for 5 minutes, and then the words "important; dicta; page 7" for the 5 minutes I was distracted by a hummingbird in the window. They're rambling, they're incoherent, and they're poorly structured (like much of this weblog, I fear...). My handwritten notes are admittedly close to illegible. But I've realized it doesn't matter! Because the act of writing the stuff down is what helps me, and I don't need them once I write them.

Plus, the computer is distracting. I play with font colors. I play with outline form. I can distract myself with WordArt. Not to mention all the evil stuff that lurks beyond where I'll let myself go -- solitaire, text twist, first-person shooters. And wireless. Oh, wireless. I finally got a wireless card in April and it killed me in Corporations. I was checking e-mail, surfing the web, it was so not good for me. So easy to get distracted. And not worth it. Just not worth it.

It's terrible in a boring class to not have the laptop. But is it so terrible to be bored? We should be bored in boring classes. It's our role in the educational biosphere. I hate feeling like I'm not paying good attention. I want to get the most out of class. I really do. I want to stay engaged.

So no laptop for me. Pads and paper. I will save the Internet surfing for when I should be doing my reading instead.
People sure love lists! 2 more readers add their contributions to the big one a few posts down:

105. The one who doesn't realize that everyone behind her can see her IMs, emails and blogging.

106. The one who missed the housing deadline and lives across town from school.

107. The one who forgot to sign up for a seat assignment and has to sit in the front row.

108. The one who wanted to sit in the front row.

109. The one who had an anxiety attack when called on in class.

110. The one who's still hoping to get into another school.

(Thanks to PG for 105-110)

111. The one whose hair turned grey during the first week of class.
Last post ever about "Dracula," the Broadway musical I saw last week, hated, and correctly predicted the critics would hate too.

From The Village Voice:

The Frank Wildhorn Dracula is not the worst musical ever written. But that's only because of its truly remarkable failing: It isn't extreme enough to be a worst. It doesn't commit any of the excessive, demented gaffes that make a truly disastrous musical something for the record books. No, what's remarkable about Dracula: The Musical is that, having begun with some of the most powerful source material that popular literature can offer the theater, it achieves absolutely no effect. Nothing is dramatized; nothing is expressed; nothing is frightening or moving or shocking or even campy; everything simply drifts by, pointlessly, from beginning to end.

....Everything fits together with such perfect lack of interest that you can't even tell whom to blame. Can Christopher Hampton's book really be as incoherent as Des McAnuff's staging makes it look, or is McAnuff's problem the steadfast refusal of Heidi Ettinger's endlessly gliding sets to provide any visual focus whatever? Are Don Black's lyrics really such lumpy, concrete-block obstacles to the remorseless, pallid flow of Wildhorn's score, or does the score's characterless whine come from the ineptitude of Acme Sound Partners, making every note rattle like a telegraph key in a buried tin box?

No real point to this post, other than that I like reading bad reviews.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I've donated space on my weblog this evening for a fictional elderly law professor to discuss the use of laptop computers in class. Here he goes:

I hate laptops. I hate everything about them. I hate the noise of a hundred and twenty students typing. I hate the low-level hum their fans make. I hate the way they obscure everyone's faces so I can't really make eye contact with my students anymore. And I hate the way they smell. And don't tell me it's me who smells, not the laptops. I don't smell, and it's a terrible rumor. Whoever started it should be ashamed of himself. It was only that one time, and I'd had a lot to drink that day. In any case, students used to pay attention in class, but not since those laptops started taking over. Now they're playing solitaire, or even worse. Pac-Man. Pong. Text-based role playing games I read about in the AARP magazine. Or they're e-mailing each other, or sending those instant telegrams to each other. Or looking at pornography on the Internet. I know. I can see it in their eyes. They're not watching me. No, sir. And who needs typed notes anyway? Back in my day all we had was a quill and some parchment, and we still did fine. It's not like I say anything worth writing down. It's all garbage I'm making up, most of it incoherent since I'm senile. But never worth writing down. And even if it was, it's all in the casebook. Like they're ever going to look at their notes. But at least if they didn't have the laptops they'd look in my eyes. I could see the magic of learning happening like I used to. That moment of cognition when they understand why the negligence standard is so important to a well-functioning democracy. I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. But I hate those laptops. Clickity clack, that's all I hear. Except for the sounds of my brain, struggling to process information and reconnect the links that time has eroded. I wish I had some pudding. I love pudding.

Thank you, fictional elderly law professor, for sharing your thoughts. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
A reader sends in #101 for the list below:

101. The one with the really smelly feet who liked to kick off his boots in torts class.

UPDATE, after 2 more e-mails from readers:

102. The one who forgets to mute her laptop and then gets an IM in the middle of Property.

103. The one who clips his fingernails in Torts. And his toenails.

104. The one who gets asked by the professor whether he's playing connect the dots, or the line game. (It was actually Hangman)

Again, I'm happy to keep updating. But no worries if you'd rather I move on to something else now. :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

100 Law Students You Don't Want To Be

1. The one who failed Legal Writing
2. The one with the most Lexis points
3. The one whose mom called the professor to complain about his grade
4. The one who started that rumor that got that guy expelled
5. The one who everyone knows doesn't wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom
6. The one who already has a clerkship lined up, 3 years in advance
7. The one who gets way too excited about personal jurisdiction
8. The one who definitely has an eating disorder
9. The one who definitely has lice
10. The one who accidentally set off the fire alarm
11. The one who purposely set off the fire alarm
12. The one who got caught cheating on the final
13. The one who applied for 425 summer jobs and didn't get any offers
14. The one who broke the audiovisual equipment
15. The one who didn't get an offer from his firm
16. The one who took a "law school preparation" class over the summer
17. The one who took three "law school preparation" classes over the summer
18. The one whose laptop makes all that noise
19. The one who we wish the professor would stop calling on
20. The one who the professor has finally stopped calling on
21. The one who ran over the Dean's dog
22. The one who ran over the Dean's dog on purpose
23. The one who didn't really deserve to get in
24. The one who talks way too much
25. The one who brings tuna sandwiches to class every day
26. The one who brings tuna sandwiches to class every day and spits when she talks
27. The one whose cell phone keeps ringing
28. The one who got locked in the bathroom
29. The one who keeps inviting himself to tag along
30. The one who seems like the kind who'd bring a gun to class and start shooting
31. The one who never sleeps
32. The one who sleeps in class
33. The one who can't stop coughing
34. The one who bought the wrong casebooks
35. The one who bought the wrong casebooks, four months in advance and read them all
36. The one who almost died
37. The one who we wish almost died
38. The one with the laser pointer
39. The one who wears the same shirt every day
40. The one who dropped her laptop in the sewer
41. The one who sent that e-mail that got forwarded around to everybody
42. The one who forwarded that e-mail around to everybody
43. The one who never saw that e-mail that got forwarded around to everybody
44. The one who spelled his name wrong on his resume
45. The one who spelled his name wrong on his tattoo
46. The one whose shoes don't match
47. The one who kicked the custodian
48. The one who's already finished her 320-page outline
49. The one whose dad donated the building
50. The religious extremist
51. The one who's always two hours late
52. The one who's always two hours early
53. The one who should have taken her medication this morning
54. The one who we thought was married... oh, she is?
55. The one with the attitude
56. The one who reads all the professor's law review articles, just for fun
57. The one who lied about what page we were up to in the casebook
58. The one who should have brought an umbrella
59. The one who we're sure will fail the bar exam
60. The one who sucks his thumb
61. The one who got arrested
62. The one who lives in the library, figuratively
63. The one who lives in the library, literally
64. The one who *loves* the cafeteria food
65. The one who peed in his pants
66. The one who won't share her notes
67. The one who needs to brush his teeth more often
68. The one who needs to shower more often
69. The one who needs to see a doctor about that
70. The one who saw a doctor about that, but it still didn't help
71. The one who lines up four hours in advance for the professor's office hours
72. The one who used to be a hooker
73. The one who keeps complaining that the room is too cold, so now it's 90 degrees in here
74. The one with the bad haircut
75. The one with the bad toupee
76. The moron
77. The one who can't possibly only be 25
78. The one who can't possibly be a girl
79. The one who the professor hates
80. The one who the professor loves
81. The one who the professor's sleeping with
82. The one who the professor used to be sleeping with until he dumped her
83. The one who had the nervous breakdown
84. The one who asked for another extension
85. The one who's dating that jerk
86. The one who looks pregnant but isn't
87. The one who looks pregnant, and is, but doesn't realize it
88. The one who should be pregnant by now, given the odds
89. The one who asked whether we're allowed to work in groups on the final exam
90. The one who's in the Mafia
91. The one who plays solitaire *all the time*
92. The one who plays solitaire *all the time* and is *terrible* at it
93. The one who plays solitaire *all the time* even when she's not in class
94. The one who missed the course registration deadline
95. The one who didn't realize she needed a blank disk for the exam
96. The one who didn't realize she needed a laptop for the exam
97. The one who didn't realize today was the exam
98. The one who didn't realize we had an exam in that class
99. The one who didn't realize she was in that class
100. The one who didn't realize law school was for people who want to be lawyers

Monday, August 23, 2004

Four Marginally-Amusing (but really only marginally) Ways to Know Summer's Almost Over

1. "Back-to-school" sales everywhere you turn. Everywhere. Why does a liquor store need a back to school sale? Isn't that sending the wrong message? The NBA store, in Manhattan, has a "back to school" sale -- did anyone in the NBA even finish high school (I'm kidding, I'm kidding, I'm kidding, please don't think I really mean that)? I think I saw a sheet of coupons that said the supermarket has a back to school sale. Why? I happen to eat all year round.

2. Commercials for new TV shows. Last Comic Standing 3. Thrilling. Joey. No thanks. The commercials for Joey aren't even funny. People'll watch, but will it be worth it? Is anything on TV even worth it anymore? Is anyone actually looking forward to the 19th season of Survivor, or whatever they're up to. How about Blind Survivor. See how long they can last on a very small island surrounded by shark infested water. I'd watch that.

3. Spam advertising "lose weight for summer" has been switched to "gain body fat for winter" ads. Both are equally successful at getting clickthroughs.

4. Every magazine in the universe has a Fall Preview-of-something issue. Fall Movie Preview, Fall Music Preview, Fall Fashion Preview, Fall Pollen Preview ("Allergy Digest"), Fall Fall Preview ("AARP Magazine"). Etc.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

1Ls: Ten Unsolicited Off-the-Cuff Pieces of Advice for the First Week of Law School

1. Meet people. You'll be there for 3 years. Even if you're shy. Even if you're not shy, but already have lots of friends and don't need any more, especially not law students. Meet people. Make friends. Go to lots of orientations and events and social stuff. Find people you like. Become their friend before they get too busy and everyone has friends and you're left to eat in the cafeteria alone. Just you and the mold spores and the festering bacteria in the food.

2. Buy your books. Don't get behind in the reading right at the start. You have plenty of time for that. Start out smart. You can be dumb later, once you know what you're doing. For now, at least give yourself a chance. Yeah, it's a lot of pages. But you can do it. I believe in you.

3. Buy one of those maps that tells you what all the restaurants and stores around are. Explore. Wander. Get a sense of where you're living. Now. Before it gets too cold*. (*students in warm-weather states can ignore that last part)

4. Don't be insane. That means don't feel like you need to "impress" your professor on the first day of class, whatever that means. Don't feel like you have to prove to your classmates that you belong there. You belong there because you're there. You'll be fine. Don't stay up all night briefing cases, outlining readings, or using your new high-speed Internet access to download all the free Playstation games you can find. Don't buy lots of little stuff you think you'll need but really won't, like 14 tubes of toothpaste or a pillow sham. Relax. Don't be insane. Please. Your fellow students will be insane enough for everyone.

5. Don't form a study group. You have time. Wait a little while, like until you have something to study. Don't be that guy forming a study group on the first day of school. It gets around.

6. Join stuff. Find some extracurriculars. On campus, off campus, wherever. But stuff you like to do. Get involved now, and make it part of your routine. Before things get hectic and you lose track of time and forget to be doing other stuff besides law school stuff. Go to meetings. Sign up. Talk about non-law stuff. Have a life. Really. You need one. It's good for you.

7. Don't forget about your non-law-school friends. They'll come in handy when you're tired of debating Rule 55 in the Civil Procedure Code. You'll need them after law school. You'll miss them. E-mail them. Call them. See them. They'll still like you even though you've gone over to the dark side. Maybe.

8. Don't look for a summer job yet. Please. Give it a few weeks. You'll still get one. It's not a contest. Well, maybe it's a contest. But you have time. Don't look yet. The Vault guide will still be there a month from now.

9. Get sleep, eat well, and exercise. Law school will make you sick enough. Don't exacerbate it. :) No, really, well-rested people are more fun to be around.

10. Take days off. Go somewhere. Even if it's just to the next town over. It gets very insular. You need to see new street corners. I don't necessarily mean big trips. But go somewhere. Weekends are fine to spend not working all day. Really. No one will know. You can lie to your classmates about it.
This may be the most law-related post I've ever written.

I spent this past week fulfilling my law school's 4-hour pro bono requirement, working at an organization that helps women who can't afford lawyers get divorced. Many of the clients they help are victims of domestic violence, many are on public assistance, many do not speak English as their first language. The cases I worked on this week were all uncontested divorce cases. Meaning that the husband had signed a waiver saying he was cool with the divorce. Intuitively, you would think this would be easy. She wants a divorce, he's cool with it, poof, you're divorced.

My biggest surprise this week was that this just isn't the way it goes. There's forms. There's lots of forms. There's requirements for service of process, and forms that go along with that. There's a form for keeping the wife's address confidential, so the husband can't find her in cases of domestic violence. There's a form to detail to the court exactly why they're getting divorced. There's lots and lots of forms, each with its own peculiar and precise legal language. And filling them out takes a while, and there are many steps each case must go through. Initial filings. Subsequent filings. Final filings. Affidavits. Notices. Etc.

And for an organization like this one to manage the process for as many people as they try to help, it means each case takes a long time. Getting the women in to tell their stories and have their information recorded. Tailoring the forms. Filing the forms. Getting them in to sign the forms. Getting them in to sign more forms. And so on. Each case seems to take years. Literally. Years. For an uncontested divorce.

It seemed like part of the problem was that New York doesn't allow no-fault divorce, and so there's a plaintiff and a defendant, and five possible causes of divorce -- cruel and intolerable treatment, abandonment, constructive abandonment, and 2 others I think. The cruel treatment one seemed to be most commonly used. And it requires affidavits with long and detailed descriptions of what happened. "April 7, 2001. Defendant threw chair at me. It broke. The chair, not me. Attached are photos. It was a nice chair." Etc.

This seems unnecessary. It's uncontested. It's a tremendously long and complicated process. I may be naive, but I don't understand quite why.

I don't understand a lot of these legal processes, and why there are always so many forms to file and papers to sign and bureaucratic hurdles to go through. I understand society is complicated. But is part of it just lawyers making rules to give lawyers something to do and hours to bill? That's a cynical view, and I'm sure there are other reasons, but I don't know them.

Anyway. Divorce seems like a real pain. People shouldn't marry bad people who will do bad things to them, or they will need to find lawyers and spend a lot of time filling out forms. That is the lesson of the week.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

From a thoroughly engaging article in this week's NY Times Magazine about the recent surge in "mild depression" in Japan, coinciding with the introduction of antidepressants and pharmaceutical marketing:

For 1,500 years of Japanese history, Buddhism has encouraged the acceptance of sadness and discouraged the pursuit of happiness -- a fundamental distinction between Western and Eastern attitudes. The first of Buddhism's four central precepts is: suffering exists. Because sickness and death are inevitable, resisting them brings more misery, not less. "Nature shows us that life is sadness, that everything dies or ends," Hayao Kawai, a clinical psychologist who is now Japan's commissioner of cultural affairs, said. "Our mythology repeats that; we do not have stories where anyone lives happily ever after." Happiness is nearly always fleeting in Japanese art and literature. That bittersweet aesthetic, known as aware, prizes melancholy as a sign of sensitivity.

This traditional way of thinking about suffering helps to explain why mild depression was never considered a disease. "Melancholia, sensitivity, fragility -- these are not negative things in a Japanese context," Tooru Takahashi, a psychiatrist who worked for Japan's National Institute of Mental Health for 30 years, explained. "It never occurred to us that we should try to remove them, because it never occurred to us that they were bad."

I think it's a very interesting article. It poses, but does not answer, this question: is getting rid of sadness a good thing? It sort of dances around the question very carefully, but it's a curious question to think about. I've read that Billy Joel credits his songwriting in large part to bouts of depression. There's something about negative feelings -- sadness, anger, pain -- that does seem to help the brain "create" stuff. Create art. Or so it seems. This is not what the article is about, but it's what it gets me thinking about. So does society gain if we "solve" everyone's negative feelings with drugs? Do the people whose problems are solved even themselves benefit? And are the highs less high if the lows are less low? Are we willing, as individuals and as a society, to trade higher highs for less-low lows? Does occasional melancholy make us stronger as individuals -- more sensitive, more feeling, more compassionate? Beats me, obviously. But interesting stuff.

EDIT: I don't mean to blur the line between normal sadness and real depression and other real, treatable problems that interfere with functioning. I don't at all mean to suggest that maybe people shouldn't get help for real problems and that it's bad to give people medication that helps them. What I had in mind was people taking Ritalin just to "focus better" even though they're pretty much normal to begin with. Stuff like that.
While looking for something else, I just stumbled across an old e-mail I sent someone a while ago with LSAT tips, some of it sort of based on some stuff they taught when I was training to teach for one of the major test prep companies (never ended up teaching, but the twenty hours of training was fun -- or not). I don't think I've posted this before. No guarantees it's useful, but at least it's long. I think it's general enough that I'm not giving away any of test prep company's secrets. Also I think most of their advice was pretty silly anyway.


For the logic games, the key really is in drawing the right diagram to minimize the amount of plugging in and testing you have to do... although it's great with the games to have the safety there of just testing all the answers if you get stuck on something.

For each game -- what I found worked well was to first draw a diagram and build in all of the information they gave in the question, then quickly copy that "master sketch" for each question and work off of that, adding whatever rules/limitations they had in the question.

The test prep stuff I have insists that there are only a handful of types of games --
1. tight sequences -- (horses in gates #1-6)
2. loose sequences -- (ordering the height of 6 people)
3. matching -- (who eats which sandwich)
4. grouping selection -- (which set of students out of a larger group is absent)
5. grouping distribution -- (each bill is paid on either Wed, Thurs, or Fri)
6. mixed games -- (combination of above)

For the sequence games, the diagram is a straight line with restrictions/givens filled in (spot 2 can't be green, etc), matching is a list, grouping is buckets***, and then if you write in all of the limitations they give and see what you can deduce right from there (like -- if they say that John and Terry can't eat Tuna, and Ron and Sam don't eat on Tuesdays but they also say that at least one person eats tuna every day, then we know that Sally must eat Tuna on Tuesdays...etc...) before reading the questions, then usually a couple of the questions will fall right out of the master sketch without any additional work, and the rest are easier built off of that rather than starting from scratchand plugging in all the rules each time.

***Instead of buckets, let's pretend I said "circles." Like if you need 3 groups of 2, I'd make 3 big circles and enter in the rules like Andy in one circle who if he can't be with Sandy, Sandy with an X through her name. I think I actually picked up using the word "buckets" to mean "groups" when I was working for the software company -- there were a bunch of vague business-y words I disturbingly found myself starting to use after a while. Like "soft copy" to mean "e-mail" (as opposed to "hard copy" on paper). Or "parking lot" to mean issues at a meeting that we would put off to discuss later. Or, the worst offender of all, "triangulate," which I learned apparently means to appease two disagreeing sets of people by coming up with a vague and meaningless solution. Sorry for the digression.

Logical Reasoning

Some of this stuff will be obvious and not that helpful -- obviously a good chunk of the questions you're surely breezing through without a problem so I'd imagine that overthinking on those and using any of these tactics would slow you down, so just for the ones that you're getting stuck on some of this might be useful.

The stuff I have says the key to all the different types of Logical Reasoning questions is finding which part of the passage is the evidence and which is the conclusion and then looking at the reasoning needed to go from evidence to conclusion. So they say you can save time by crossing out the stuff that's extraneous (not evidence or conclusion) and focus just on what's important. Then, based on what's left, you can cross out any answer choices that don't relate directly to the evidence or conclusion ("out of scope," they call it -- I think "scope" must have been one of the test prep dude's favorite words, because next to the name of the company it's the word that appears most often in my enormous binder.)

Here's an example based on one of theirs, but not the same so they don't sue me for giving away their secrets --

The foot scanner, a machine that scans an image of your toes, stores information about the pattern formed by your toe bones. This information allows it to recognize any patern it has previously scanned. No two feet have identical toes. A foot scanner can therefore be used to determine whether it has scanned a certain person's foot before.

The first two sentences are just filler. Not evidence, not conclusion. So the passage gets shorter and easier to deal with. And then 3 of the 5 choices are unrelated to the information that's left and so they're out of scope and can be eliminated.

Here's a point they make that I'm a bit skeptical about -- but they insist that there's a pattern to the difficulty level of questions in the LR sections -- first 8 or 9 are easy, with 1 exception -- they put a hard question in to "Punish the Plodder" so don't get stuck on it, just keep going. 12-23 are a mix of medium and hard questions, and then the last few are easier to "Reward the Racer" so if you're stuck on 21-23 and running out of time, they say to skip to 24-25 first cause they're easier. I think it's a pretty crappy strategy for the average test taker to be paying any attention at all to the pattern of difficulty in a section at the price of not paying attention to the questions, but you're smart enough that if this sticks in the back of your head somewhere, who knows, maybe it'll be helpful on the exam in some way.


The test prep reading comprehension is absurd. They think test takers should read each paragraph and in the margins, write an outline including a summary sentence, the topic, scope, purpose, main idea, conclusion, and evidence of the passage. Before looking at the questions. To make it easier to find the information. If that sounds helpful to you, by all means go for it. To me it sounds like an arduous process. I have a hunch it's designed for someone who reads poorly and needs to do all this writing in order to remember what he's reading and to force him to pay attention. I don't know what kind of advice I can give for reading comp other than the answers are all somewhere to be found in the passage and if you're getting stuck on something, go on because the answer may get clearer after you do some more questions, whether one of the answer choices triggers something or when you go back to the passage for another question, you find something that helps with the one you were stuck on. My strategy was to just read the passage, top to bottom, and the do the questions. I don't think that's a strategy though. :) My papers mention that "other test-prep courses" say you should read the questions first. To me, that doesn't make a ton of sense, since you're gonna be reading them again anyway, so why waste the time, and keeping 6 questions in your head while you read sounds like a distraction to me. One hint I picked up on in teacher training was they kept saying that any kind of lists of things or examples given in the question -- just skim over them -- they're right there in the passage if you need them and don't add any insight into any questions that don't need them, so knowing which painters, what years, etc is not so important to read carefully.

OKAY, I'm done. Hope this is somewhat useful.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Books I've Read This Week, with thoughts:

"The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. The author argues that having decisions made by groups is better than having decisions made by individuals, even smart individuals, as long as the groups are sufficiently diverse. He says groups are even better when they have some smart people and some less-smart people than when they have all smart people. The interesting data point is that when groups of people have to, say, guess how many jelly beans are in a jar, the average of all of the guesses is usually pretty close, even if none of the individual guesses are particularly close. So this proves groups are smarter collectively than the individuals that make them up.

Surowiecki writes really well. And -- and this is an odd, odd thing to say -- he has the most humble acknowledgements section I've ever read. Just from reading the acknowledgements, I get the sense that James Surowiecki is a really nice and humble and smart and genuine human being. I have never had any sort of reaction to anyone's acknowledgements before, and maybe he's just really good at writing acknowledgements and not actually a nice person. But, anyway, the book is well-written and a good read. But it didn't convince me he's right. I mean, I believe he's telling the truth -- but he didn't change my intuition that if I have a problem, I'd rather get advice from a couple of smart people than from a whole big group of people, some smart and some dumb. Wait. I'm figuring out my problem as I write this. There's a difference between "advice" and "information." Well, maybe. I'm more willing to accept what he's saying as far as trivia goes, or even more-than-trivia, like who's going to win the election. I just have trouble taking it as far as he wants to. But it's a good book.

"A Year With The Producers," by Jeffry Denman. Denman is an actor in "The Producers" on Broadway. The book is his diary of the time from his audition to a year later when, as Matthew Broderick's understudy, he got to go on stage. It's basically a weblog in print, only he didn't have a weblog. If you've done any theater or are interested in theater, it's a terrific read. If you haven't and you're not, you'll be bored and won't care. I really enjoyed it, although I could have handled more detail and more pages. It touched on a lot of things but didn't get particularly deep. But it's interesting. Worth reading, for sure.

"Priceless," by Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling. Lisa Heinzerling is a law professor at Georgetown. I saw her speak in an environmental law debate in the spring (she was on the side of the environment). She was energetic and articulate. So I checked out the book from the library when I saw it, because I recognized her name. It's about how it's a mistake to use economic analysis to put a price on human life and nature and endangered species in order to evaluate government regulation. It's very compelling, and very well-articulated. It has a viewpoint, it argues its viewpoint, and I think I agree.

For a book by a law professor, or at least partly by a law professor, it's very readable but also doesn't come off as too simplistic and dumbed-down. It spends a lot of time criticizing the work of a professor whose class I have in the fall. I feel like I will have a semester of rebuttal to take in and sort out in my mind as far as which side I think makes more sense. Is life worth $6.1 million, or is life priceless? That's a loaded question. Sorry. Makes me look forward to the class, although also makes me guess I'll disagree with the professor. But it's a good book. No matter whether you think pricing this stuff for the purposes of making public policy is a good idea or a bad idea.
Athletics Nation has an interview with A's GM Billy Beane. This follows a bunch of interviews they had earlier this summer with other big names in baseball. Good site. Real good site. That and Baseball Primer and I'm pretty content.

Coming up later today or this weekend: some sort of post about this week I've been doing pro bono work at a public interest legal services organization, and how this world compares to the firm world (one-sentence preview: they do good work here, but I think the firm actually stacks up pretty well).
I'm tired of the Olympics. Sort of. I've been watching some of it, especially the last few days. And I've noticed four problems:

(1) I feel like NBC thinks we're really stupid. They know who's going to win, because it's tape-delayed. I know who's going to win, because forces me to know. And it sounds like the announcers know who's going to win before they record their announcing. Because they make it really obvious. "You'd better keep your eye on Svetlana Khorkina here. In the practice rounds, she DIDN'T STICK HER LANDING. Yep, she DIDN'T STICK HER LANDING in the practice, so there's a chance she may have been SPOOKED and she WON'T STICK HER LANDING here. And that could be terrible, and possibly, if I'm a good prognosticator of outcomes I already know, that could prevent her from winning the gold. But who would win the gold if not her? Perhaps it would be the American, Carly Patterson. That would be THE BEST THING EVER. It would mean EVERYONE SHOULD BE WATCHING this. Call your friends and tell them there's an OUTSIDE CHANCE THE AMERICAN MAY WIN, maybe (ha ha ha), so you should stay tuned. We'll be back in three hours to show you, after we make you sit through some cycling, or we pretend the swimming races aren't all exactly the same."

(2) They should stop pretending we don't know it's tape-delayed and just show us the scores. Everyone recognizes that when it's live, the scores take a while to come out. So when it takes 7 seconds, we know it's taped. But why bother with the 7 seconds. He's done, show the score. Don't fake suspense. "Ooh, there he sits, waiting for his score... ignore the fact you just heard them announce the other guy's score, who we told you about four minutes ago. That's a mistake. Look at the empty seats instead. Aren't they pretty? Oh, look, he's nervous. WONDER IF THE JUDGES MIGHT SCORE THIS TOO LOW. Oh, look, they did. We're GENIUSES here at NBC!"

(3) We obviously live in a very small world. The countries of the world, according to NBC, are the United States, China, and Russia, and, sometimes, just for fun, Australia and Canada, because they seem a lot like Americans (hint: they speak English) and so NBC figures we might like them too. There are no other real countries in the world, although occasionally athletes will be in first place and they may have to acknowledge their existence. Pieter van den Hoogenboythatsalonglastname is the only athlete from the Netherlands who has ever existed. Romania does women's gymnastics and makes their own clothes from sheep. That's all they do. There are no other countries even competing in the Olympic games, let alone worth talking about. I don't like that we only see the top 3 finishers plus any Americans they can dredge up from the bottom of the rankings. When they show the leaderboards, (a) we can see there are other athletes we haven't been shown, and (b) I wish they wouldn't feel the need to show where every American is placing, even if they're last. This looks weird:

1. Paul Hamm---USA
2. Mao Tse-Tung---China
3. Who Cares---Somewhere Small
412. Brian Boitano---USA
182848382. Me---USA

(4) Not only do I think it would be nice to see people from other countries, I also think it would be nice to see more people who have no chance of winning. Surely some of the gymnastics competitors they didn't show us did some cool things, like falling off the bars, or stumbling off the balance beam, or going way out of bounds in the floor exercise. Maybe someone drowned in the pool. Or hit a tree while cycling. Show me. Maybe if I saw the last-place finisher, I'd have even more awe about how good the first-place finisher was. Maybe it would at least be funny, like an episode of TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes. Did someone impale themselves on the pole in the pole vault semifinals? I want to see. Did someone knock down every hurdle? Even if he's from Gambia, or New Guinea, or some other country you refuse to acknowledge is also at the Olympic Games, I want to see. Please?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Something I heard someone say this summer has stuck in my head -- and not for any applicability at all toward a law firm job, because I don't think it has anything to do with being a lawyer at all, but as a way to look at life, and your career, and the road you're traveling on.

He said that being a lawyer probably wasn't what he saw himself doing permanently, but it was okay, because "everything you do is just practice until you turn 40. It doesn't count until then. Once you're 40, then you can start thinking about what you really want to be doing with your life." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

And I'm torn between thinking this is profoundly disturbing, and thinking it's strangely sensible. I think I sometimes get into a trap -- I'm certain most of us do -- of feeling like there's more weight on these life decisions than there really needs to be. Forgetting that things are reversible, and that there is a point at which "good enough" really is good enough, and it is not a horrible thing to take "good enough" and deal with it. I guess this is the argument Barry Schwartz was making in his book, "The Paradox of Choice," that I wrote about a couple of months ago. How some people "satisfice" and accept something that isn't the best but is good anyway, and some people look for perfection. But he talked a lot about clothes and jelly, and I don't know if the same reasoning applies to careers.

On the one hand, I want to be able to say that even if there's a "perfect" life out there somewhere -- and there may not be -- I should be happy with something that isn't terrible. That I can live with. But on the other hand, I *don't* want to be able to say that. I want to know if the perfect life for me is out there, I've at least given myself a chance to find it. If I buy the wrong jelly, I can buy a new one. I will run out of jelly and need more. Or I can just throw this one out if I really don't like it. But if I find myself living a life that isn't the life I want to live, it's hard to just trade for another one. You need to have the time to look for other options, the mental energy to realize you need to make a change, and the courage to take a risk and not just continue on a path that's very easy to continue on, but may not lead to the right end.

So the thought that this life is "practice" until you're 40 -- which, even ignoring all else, is an arbitrary age to pick, I think -- seems on the one hand like a disturbing way to justify living a life you don't really want to be living, but not taking any action to change it. But on the other hand, treating it as practice seems like it might give you the permission you need to take risks and see if you can find something better, without worrying that you can never turn back.

I suppose I mostly just worry that it's easy to get into a habit -- a rut -- of going to work, going home, going to sleep, and back to work the next day. In any job. And you run out of time for figuring out what the next step is. And the time starts passing and you forget about the ambitions you had, what it felt like not to be living whatever life you're living -- and the motivation to ever make a change starts to disappear.

I'm overdramatizing, for sure. Oh well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Here's another review of Dracula I just found. It makes mine seem gentle. I agree with pretty much everything this guy has to say. I know, no one else cares. But if you're bored, there it is. It's a fun read.

UPDATE 8/20: Just to follow up... the newspaper reviews came out today, and are all pretty bad. So I wasn't just making stuff up. NY Times ("Expectations were exceedingly low... and expectations have not been disappointed."), New York Post ("Played in deadly serious fashion, "Dracula" is dreadfully bad, but falls short of the awfulness that would lift it to the level of fun camp.... This may be the first version of Dracula in which he's killed not so much by a stake to the heart as by an insipid ballad."), Daily News ("Unfortunately, there was only one moment in the Frank Wildhorn musical that opened last night at the Belasco when I experienced true terror: In the middle of the second act, I was gripped by a numbing fear that the show would never end."), Newsday ("How do you like your undead? Scary? Romantic? Sexy? Philosophical? Satirical? Just dumb fun? If the answer is "none of the above," well, does Broadway have a big nothing for you."), Washington Post ("The evening never frees itself from the bonds of monotony. It's the stage equivalent of a powerful muscle relaxant: a snoozical."), USA Today ("Dracula is... saddled with dunderheaded lyrics and a witless book.... Other characters are British, though some of the American actors playing them speak with such erratic accents you might wonder whether they have multiple personality disorders.... I can't imagine how they all got sucked into this mess, but I hope they're rescued from the walking, singing death that is Dracula as soon as possible.").
This post replaces the one from last night about the new Broadway musical "Dracula" that I saw last night.

The musical was still in previews -- it opens tomorrow, but a friend of mine was able to get a pair of free tickets for yesterday and invited me to come along. It was not a good musical. I will now ramble on for a few paragraphs about it, hoping to accidentally stumble on points that real theater critics will make when the reviews come out this weekend, so I can point to how brilliant I am. :)

Perhaps I don't know enough about Dracula to appreciate the musical, although requiring heaps of background knowledge would surely be a negative for any piece of pop culture (The Cranky Critic, who writes relatively solid movie reviews, makes it a point not to refer to source material or previous films in a series, arguing that the piece should stand on its own -- which is the right approach, I think). My knowledge of Dracula is that he's a vampire who likes to suck people's blood. And that he lives in Transylvania, which I would guess is in Eastern Europe somewhere, but you could convince me otherwise.

The musical, as none should, opens with a long scene between Dracula and a guy who I assumed would actually be important, but ends up pretty much irrelevant. At least twice it's mentioned that he's from London. But you can't tell by the accent. This was a puzzling, although minor, problem with the entire cast. Some number of them were supposedly from London. I don't know which ones, because the accents were barely noticeable and completely inconsistent from one line to the next. Also, one character, who I think was supposed to be from Transylvania, had what sounded like a Jamaican accent. In addition to the accent strangeness, Dracula has some sort of skin condition in the first scene which later seems to magically disappear without explanation, which made me unsure for a while whether later scenes were Dracula, or some other dude they hadn't introduced yet. Really, I wasn't sure. And I was trying my hardest to keep up.

So, the guy who ends up being pretty irrelevant sings a duet with his fiance, who is somewhere else, but it all becomes very unclear on stage where she is, and why she's there, and what in the world they're singing about. Most of the songs in the musical have an odd but consistent quality of seeming like they're either being sung in wrong sequence, by the wrong characters, or have been lifted from some other musical entirely. At one point, when the characters decide to take a ship to Transylvania from some unidentified place that I assumed was America (because of the accents) but my friend assumed was somewhere in England, for some reason I can't remember but probably had to do with catching Dracula, they break into a song about how modern the world is at the turn of the century that they stole from Titanic: The Musical, except that the song in Titanic was actually decent. This song, in addition to being completely out of place, buried the tag line in music that didn't fit the flow of the words, and had stupid lyrics. And not enough lyrics, either -- they repeated the same insipidly mediocre verse 3 times about how it's amazing that we have cameras that flash. A completely bizarre moment in a completely uncompelling show.

Most of the show's songs suffered in virtually all respects except that the singers could actually sing pretty well. But the lyrics didn't rhyme where they should have, and when they did, rhymed with predictability and a complete lack of cleverness. The music didn't fit the lyrics, didn't fit the tone of the show, and wasn't very catchy. I can't remember any of the melodies, not even the one for the first act closer, "Life after Life," which is not a terrible title, except that they repeated it perhaps 50 times in the 3-minute song, including a wonderful run of "Life after life after life after life after life after life after life..." that lasted perhaps a full thirty seconds, and makes no sense.

Another thing that made the show terrible is that the characters made no sense. Basically, and this is giving nothing away, Dracula falls in love with the female lead for no obvious reason, and speaks to her (either in her mind or in real-life but only when no one else is around, I couldn't tell which they meant to convey. In fact, in another moment of nonsense, they had just had a scene where they decide she can never be left alone, and so her husband must stay with her while the rest of the cast goes off to find Dracula in Transylvania -- but, because she needed to be alone for Dracula to talk to her, to get him offstage, they have the husband say, "I'll just walk them to the door" and he proceeds to leave her alone for a full four minutes (since the door was apparently a half-mile away from the living room), right after they just decided she can never be left alone. Stupid contrivances for the sake of a meaningless and incoherent plot. Stupid.). So she hears his voice, and then, from that, apparently falls in love with him, although who knows why, and she sings a couple of uncompelling ballads about how she's torn between whether she can love him, or she can't. One of the ballads, called "If I Could Fly," has, as its "hook," a lyric that was (I'm trying to recall from memory, so I may be slightly off) "I wish I could fly / No, that's a lie, I don't." Well, if it's a lie, why are you singing about it????

In a funeral scene, there was a bizarre 15-foot-tall sculpture of a child holding a skull that was never explained and never referred to. That sculpture surely took longer to make than the show is going to last on Broadway.

The biggest disappointment was that Frank Wildhorn, despite the NY Times calling him a hack in an article I linked to on Sunday, has in the past written some catchy melodies. None of that was on display in this score. The saving grace, for Mr. Wildhorn, is that the lyrics are so much worse. They're poorly crafted, without a gift for rhyme, wordplay, or intelligence in evidence anywhere; they make no emotional sense with the story; and, at those moments of the show when really absolutely nothing makes sense at all, they become direct exposition set to lousy music, so that in the middle of a song that once had verses and a chorus, you get a paragraph of speak-singing that sounds like, "And Dracula, which as you know I am, I am going to get on the train now. And I am going to come see Mina, who I love, but I want to know if she loves me, and I will try to make her love me, but in the meantime all of the other cast members are coming after me with a knife, and I don't know if they will find me... Life after life after life after life after life after life I wish I could fly but no I don't oh yes I do no I don't and why is there a sculpture of a child holding a skull on the stage oh tell me why tell me why tell me why tell me why?!?!?!?!"

I could go on. But I've made my point. The show was bad. And dull, which may be its biggest weakness, since at least if it was bad but entertaining people would go for the spectacle of it. But it's bad and a crushing bore. With no sense of humor about itself, no comedy, no levity, no break from the mediocrity it drowns in. I take the risk of looking stupid if all the reviews say it's amazingly great.

For another perspective, check out this review I found via Google and liked.
An article in the New York Times about empty seats at the Olympic Games. I noticed lots of empty seats when I was watching a bit over the weekend. I still watched. But I noticed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Uncivil Litigator has a post that compares law firms to used car dealerships, luring people on the basis of the price (salary) alone. It's a solid post worth reading, as a lot of The Uncivil Litigator's posts are.

Also, more from both sides of the $125,000 question:

If anything, your correspondent understated how hard it is to live on the $125,000 in New York. Inexplicably, he/she didn't mention the more than $10,000 per year that most new associates have to pay in student loans. Once you subtract that, you realize that even the modest "savings" your correspondent referenced are illusory. Furthermore, I'm not sure where you think you can get an apartment for $800, even in Queens or Brooklyn, and have any reasonable commute into Manhattan. Your correspondent's $1,500 apartment is actually quite cheap for Manhattan -- most single people I know in that situation are paying more like $1,800-$2,000 for studios or 1-BRs -- and is probably the going rate for something decent in the boroughs. One can definitely "live" on $125,000, but for most people that's neither a life of luxury nor one that enables them to save much for the future. It's basically a middleclass paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

On the other hand:

First of all, I only pay $700 a month in rent. Granted, I have a pretty small bedroom and don't live in my first choice of neighborhoods, but the UES is generally considered a nice place to live and is in Manhattan.

Secondly, most of my good friends live in Manhattan and make much, much less than $125,000. One of my best friends makes something around $20,000 and lives in Manhattan. Obviously, he probably can't save any money (let alone $25k a year), but if you tacked another $25k net pay onto his salary, he'd still be making less than half a first-year lawyer.

What it comes down to isn't the cost of living in Manhattan, it's how you want to live in Manhattan.If you're willing to sacrifice space and location, you can find deals on apartments in Manhattan. And there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and be entertained that don't cost a ton.

Part of the problem is when you mainly associate with other people who make $125k, then you go to more expensive places and do more expensive things. It changes your view of what normal living in NY is.

I didn't realize this would get me more e-mail than anything else I've ever written. That may not be entirely true, but it's getting close.

Monday, August 16, 2004

On Saturday I wrote: "One associate said at lunch one day that she couldn't imagine living on less than $125,000/year in New York. 'It's impossible.' Well, no. It's not. It's impossible if you live in an apartment that costs $5,000 a month, and you really like diamonds."

One NY associate e-mails me to take issue:

I have to say I understand what she means. It's easy to LIVE on $125,000 a year--no doubt about that, you can live quite well--but money isn't just for living in the present, it's also about saving for the future.

Right now, after taxes, medical, dental, long-term disability, 401k (I contribute the maximum), TransitCheks, and so on, my take-home pay is just under half of my "salary." So we're down to $62,500 (to be generous). I pay $1500 a month in rent--you'd be hard pressed to pay less than that in Manhattan--and about $200 in utilities (cable, phone, electric), so subtract $20,400 and now we're left with $42,100. I go through about $100 in cash a week on lunch, cabs, etc., and my credit card bill (groceries, restaurants, clothing, shoes, occasional plane tickets/hotels, gifts for people, drugstores, cell phone bill, etc.) fluctuates but averages $1,000 a month. So subtract another $17,200 and we're left with a theoretical $24,900 in my savings account at the end of the year....

That sounds ok on paper, but now figure that there's probably no apartment I'd want to buy in Manhattan that costs less than $500,000 (again, keeping with NY standards, since the rest of the country is much, much cheaper), and most places require at least a 20% down payment (yes, I know not everyone dreams of buying a home, but I do, and I think many other people do too)... [so it takes] about 4 years until home ownership. Not terrible, but just imagine how long it would take to buy a place with a lower salary. I think THAT is what the associate meant, and speaking for myself, it's a big reason why I'd hesitate to leave my job, even if I didn't like it.

My reply: I'll admit that it's hard to live comfortably in Manhattan and save $25,000 a year for a down payment on a home if you're making less than $125,000 a year. :) Seriously, no, it's totally fair to make the argument that it's worth dealing with a job that someone may or may not love in order to have the comfort of the salary -- letting them live comfortably in Manhattan and save for a down payment. That's a totally reasonable argument, and I don't think that's a bad reason at all to work at a firm for a few years.

My point was only that it's pretty ridiculous to say that someone *can't* live on less than $125,000 a year. Because someone *can* decide that the job isn't worth it, and decide not to save toward a down payment, and decide to live in Queens or Brooklyn and pay $800/month in rent, and decide to spend less on lunch, and not fund a 401K... I'm not saying these are right decisions or wrong decisions, just that someone *could* make these decisions, and live on a lot less than $125,000 a year. To not even see them as decisions that someone can make, and to see herself as trapped in her job because she has no other choices, that was the point I meant to make. My e-mail buddy is right that $125K doesn't get you as far as you might imagine it would at first glance.

That's where my response stopped, but another friend who I shared part of the e-mail exchange with had a reaction that takes it one step further in the analysis -- if you concede that $125K doesn't let you live extravagantly in Manhattan -- and I guess it really doesn't -- then, really, what is the point of having the job if you don't like it? At least if it did let you live extravagantly, there'd be an argument... but if it just lets you live a merely comfortable life, then is that so much better than making the sacrifices to live on even less but have a job you love more? At least then you get the job satisfaction part of the puzzle, if under neither circumstance you get the 'live in luxury' part of the puzzle. Interesting insight there.

But I just wanted to share the follow-up -- in any case, it's more nuanced than my original post treated it, I think. $125,000 isn't necessarily a life of luxury living in Manhattan... and so if you value living in Manhattan and not having to eat ramen (although who doesn't like ramen?!), then it may make the whole thing worth it just on those grounds.
I spent my day at a place where clients don't have to pay their lawyers $500 an hour, doing the first 8 hours of my 40-hour pro bono requirement. I can admit I'm only there because of the requirement, which means the requirement is a pretty good one. But, really, it has no teeth -- what's 40 hours? What can I possibly do in 40 hours that will really (a) make a tremendous difference in anything substantive or (b) teach me what it's like to do this kind of work. And I know the answers to those questions are, in part, (i) you can do a lot in 40 hours if you really try and (ii) nothing's stopping me from doing more than 40 hours.

So I went in with no expectations at all -- they want me to photocopy, I'll photocopy. They want me to clean the floor, I'll clean the floor. They want me to do Lexis searching for them with my free student account, by golly, that's what I'll do!

And they did keep me occupied today, although I won't say they kept me busy. They had some case files that needed some cleanup work -- fix some papers with mistakes, go through and clean out duplicate copies, cut and paste information into some forms, get some stuff ready to be sent to a court. Relatively mindless but necessary work that mostly makes me wonder why we have to have such complicated systems that require so much paperwork, but nothing unexpected or bad or extraordinary or captivating or thrilling or awful. It was sort of boring but fine, and I'm sure it'll be sort of boring but fine all week.

Minus: There was no screen in the elevator summarizing the day's news in 8 words or less

Plus: If I was billing my time, I think I got to about 6.5 hours today, which is
more than in any single day at the law firm except the two days I went to court

Minus: I had to eat lunch alone

Plus: I didn't have to talk to any lawyers there

Minus: I nearly stapled myself with the electric stapler

Plus: I didn't actually staple myself with the electric stapler

Reluctant to do anything much more than check e-mail on the computer, since I'm very exposed in the hallway I'm sitting at, any e-mail anyone sends me while I'm at the job will be met with gratitude and quick replies. :) It breaks up the day.
Waddling Thunder has an interesting story from his summer associate experience about money substituting for time and perhaps happiness, at least in one anecdote.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The week ahead:

I'm spending this week working for a public interest legal organization, in order to fulfill the 40-hour pro-bono requirement we have for law school graduation. It will likely be interesting to compare the law firm experience to the pro bono experience. Which I suppose I will do, perhaps in song. :)

On Tuesday night, I'm going to see Dracula, a new Broadway musical still in previews. The link is to a NY Times article calling its composer, Frank Wildhorn, a hack. Basically. Hopefully it'll be enjoyable anyway (a tuneful hack is better than an amelodic genius, possibly). The article's a good read.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

I feel like everyone goes into the summer associate experience with an image of what this world is like, but never really knows if the story you're telling yourself is accurate until experiencing the reality. In a way, I wasn't fair. You hear stories as a 1L and 2L about law firm life -- people don't take their vacations, people work crazy hours, they hate their jobs but they feel like they're stuck there because of the salary, they plan on doing it for 2 years but stay forever because they develop a lifestyle that requires a high income, then they start a family, and the momentum to leave just sort of fades away. And so they're there. They're lawyers. For the long haul. Even if they didn't intend it to be that way.

I went into the summer experience with that picture in my head -- not a fair picture, certainly a one-sided picture, but that was the picture I went in looking to see if it was the truth. I know it wasn't a fair picture, but every time I'd hear things about firms from my classmates or friends at other firms, it would get filtered through my own biases about where I felt like I wanted to end up in the future.

It's not fair, but I went into the summer experience feeling like that practicing law 30 years from now -- having made it my real adult career -- probably isn't the outcome I want to have. Based on nothing more than a feeling that there are other things I'm meant to do with myself, or at least would get more fulfillment and satisfaction out of. No hard evidence, no contention that practicing law is bad... just a feeling that somehow, if this is the path my life takes, I'm somehow doing myself an injustice, and I'd think of myself as a failure. But, being in law school, of course I felt like I owed it to myself to try it for a summer, and see if experiencing it for real would make me feel differently, and change my mind about the long-term view. And it definitely could have, although I was probably forcing it to meet a standard it shouldn't have been expected to have to meet.

Part of me went in a little worried. Worried that I was telling myself I would try it for a summer, but that's what everyone says. And then they end up there. How does this happen? How do people who come into law school having no real burning desire to go work for a firm end up there after graduation? Part of it is the money -- school is expensive, people have loans, law firms pay well. This is all reasonable. But people know this going in, and still don't really make the decision to work for a firm until much later. So I felt like, before the summer, something must be going on to snag people. And maybe I'd be snagged. And I didn't really know that I wanted to be snagged -- again, not fair to the firm -- because of this feeling that if 30 years from now all I've done is practice law, that's not the outcome I'm necessarily hoping for.

So, slightly on guard to see how exactly people get pulled into this world, I went in sort of with a mental checklist of rumors I wasn't sure were fact or fiction. Or where on that continuum they fell. I felt like I'd done a really good job creating in my head a story that would let me justify to myself why I shouldn't work at a firm. People's vacations get cancelled, they work every weekend, billable hours requirements take over their lives, they lose their friends and their outside interests, they adopt a lifestyle that makes it impossible to give up the income, they settle into this life of a big-firm lawyer, and they never escape, and the work is dull, and the life is dull, and, inside, the people all turn, well, dull. But this was my excuse story, based on rumor and imagination and nothing even approaching fact. It's a great story -- who would ever take a job where this is all 100% true, regardless of the salary -- but all it was was a story. Was it true? Or was I just trying to justify to myself the decision, in my heart, I was probably going to feel a pull to make?

So I went into the summer with kind of a checklist in my head -- nothing written down, but a checklist of sorts -- Do people's vacations get cancelled? Do they work weekends? Do they lose their friends? Are they happy with their lives? Does the firm put them in a good position to end up with cool jobs down the line? Do they get addicted to the salary? Perhaps my biggest surprise all summer was how many of these questions got answered. Three, four, five, six, maybe ten times during the summer I heard someone say something, and I was able to check a box off in my head.

And, still, I'm not being fair. Because I was listening for one half of the story, and probably letting the other half slip by without noticing. One person says he cancelled his vacation for work, and I check off the box in my head. Twelve people go take their vacations as planned, and I don't take as much notice. One person says she's unhappy, and I check off the box in my head. Three people tell me how much they enjoy the work, and I don't take as much notice. But it surprised me that people really did fall on both sides of the questions I had -- that *someone* has cancelled a vacation for work; that *someone* feels like she never sees her friends anymore because she's always having to cancel plans; that *someone* is in the office almost every weekend. And usually more than one someone.

So what you hear is true, to an extent. One associate said at lunch one day that she couldn't imagine living on less than $125,000/year in New York. "It's impossible." Well, no. It's not. It's impossible if you live in an apartment that costs $5,000 a month, and you really like diamonds. Or maybe that's exaggerating, but, no, I don't believe it really takes $125,000/year to live in New York, and if that's what having this job leads people to believe... well, maybe that's part of why they don't leave.

Our daily lunch limit was $60/person when associates took us out. At one lunch, it came up that at another firm the limit was $30/person. "In New York? That's impossible. You can't get lunch for $30." Well, no. You can. Not at these restaurants, but, goodness, if I was buying my own lunch, you could give me a $10 limit and I could do pretty well. And that would be easy. $5 might be tough. But $30 could even get me 2 courses at a lot of the places I went this summer -- so we skip the appetizer; I think we'd survive. $60 made the lunches a cool event -- but wasn't necessary by any stretch. And if people think they are... I guess that's the lifestyle that makes anything less than $125K a year impossible to live on.

I checked off a box in my mind when people told me they didn't see themselves working at the firm forever, but they work such long hours now that they don't have much time to really think about what else they would do, or to take any affirmative steps toward moving in a different direction. You can't ponder your next move if there's not much time to ponder anything. You do learn something about business when you practice at a corporate firm, but I got the sense that the natural next step can be the in-house legal department for a company, but not necessarily company management. It felt like people do think they get pigeonholed as lawyers. Which makes sense. But I wasn't sure if it was really the case, or just an imagined fear. A couple of people said they feel like they're losing friends because they have to cancel plans; people with families said they make time for their family, but it means they don't really have time to do anything else besides that outside of work.

So the images I had in my head are, at least to some extent, not completely fictional. But I'm not sure that helps me conclude anything, except that if I want to tell a story of how awful life at a law firm is, I can tell that story honestly, despite knowing it's only one story among many, and it's not completely fair. None of this really explains why people get drawn into this life when they don't intend to be. I'll see if I can tackle that issue tomorrow.
In response to last week's post about it being hard in some ways to live in New York City, I got an e-mail from a reader with some really insightful comments that have stuck with me. I've been turning this around in my head a bit over the last week:

I recently had a discussion with [a friend] about the differences between us. One that I pointed out was that she was a "thing person" while I was a "people person." ... The important thing for her is what she is doing--eating in a particular Italian restaurant, watching a particular play, traveling to a particular country. I, on the other hand, care much more about who I am with than what I am doing. I just want to hang out with my friends, and usually arrange get togethers before we have decided what, if anything, we are going to do. I too wish real life were more like college in that I could just stop by someone's room for an hour or so to talk, with no need for an excuse such as dinner or a movie. Just thought I'd share.

People-people vs. Thing-people. That's interesting. I'd never really thought about it in those terms, but it sort of makes sense. It's why some people can go on a trip somewhere alone, I guess, without feeling... well... alone. Or why a lucrative salary / nice restaurants / fancy car / etc can make up for other stuff in life better for some people than for others. The problem is that, to me, there's no contest between people and things, and I can't rationally believe that other people, deep down, can be "thing people" without that also meaning they're somehow deficient human beings. But maybe that's my issue, not theirs. Just thought it was an interesting way to look at the world, and it stuck in my head, so I wanted to share.
I just figured out that if I switch my Legal Profession class from the Fall to the Spring, with the same professor, and drop the class I'm least excited about taking for a class that sounds somewhat more interesting, I'd have a fall schedule without any classes on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. And, my exams would be done on the second day of the exam period in December instead of eight days later. Hmmm.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Blackberry. I'd never seen one before this summer. It's like a cell phone, only it checks e-mail. And has a little itty bitty keyboard so people can write e-mails back. And, through some magical technological mystery, the Blackberry also tells the user when he has new voicemail. I have no idea how it does that. Summers didn't get Blackberries (we certainly didn't need them), but every attorney had one. And the Blackberries were like naughty children, needing constant attention. Constant attention. Constant attention.

The permanent appendage, it quickly became clear. At lunch, on the very first day of the summer, I had no idea what was going on. Every three minutes, another attorney had his Blackberry out, scrolling through messages, punching at the keys the size of couscous grains to hammer out a reply that the document was in the top left drawer, under the No-Doz, and that he'd be back in fourteen minutes to proofread the address on the larger envelope containing the smaller envelopes. They'd buzz. They wouldn't beep (although apparently they can). They'd buzz again. They'd all buzz. They'd check. They'd check again.

"The first thing you do when you get your blackberry," one associate said, "is you set it to remove the line that tells the person you're e-mailing that the e-mail was sent from the Blackberry. That way they think you're in the office."

"It says I got a voicemail. I'd better go check it. Be right back."

"When do you stop checking your Blackberry?"
"Last thing I do before I go to sleep at night."

In a way, it's a good thing. They can go to lunch without worrying that fifteen people are frantically trying to find them. They can leave the office and have a way to know if something comes up and they need to go back. They can go home.

But in a way, they acknowledged, it's a bad thing. Because if you can get messages any time of day, you're expected to respond any time of day. So you can go to lunch, but you may have to leave. Or call in. And even if not, you're checking every three minutes to see if you have to leave or call. And you can have a weekend. But you're available if someone needs you. Or at least they expect you are.

"As soon as I take the Blackberry out, my kids start yelling at me to put it away..."

I've been at lunches where associates notice they're not getting any reception on the Blackberries, and are relieved -- "an excuse not to answer." This tells me it's not an unmitigated positive.

"You've got to exercise restraint. Put in a drawer over the weekend, check it two, three times a day."

Here's what makes me uncomfortable. Doctors need to be on call. Something can happen with the patient, it's a life and death situation, your skills are needed at this critical moment. An associate at a big law firm, not so much.

I had a conversation with a friend, probably a few years ago, about the difference between jobs that are more satisfying, and jobs that are less satisfying -- in general, way beyond the legal world. Jobs where you're needed for *you* -- for what you personally bring to the table, your knowledge, your skills, your gifts -- we decided seem more satisfying than jobs where you're an interchangeable part, where anyone else -- within reason -- can do your job, can fill your role, can execute the task just as well as you can. At a high level, I believe the law can be the former. Top lawyers arguing in front of juries, hammering out deals, finding the right way to structure the transaction, coaxing the witness to say the right thing, getting the client to come on board. But at the lower levels -- as junior associates, as mid-level associates... I don't know enough to know where the balance shifts... -- I haven't been convinced. It seems like a lot of the work is interchangeable -- they need man-hours, not necessarily my-hours. Which is fair, and happens in all jobs. Absolutely. But you're not on call 24/7 in all jobs. And, to be fair, they're not on call 24/7 at the firm. People probably aren't sending urgent messages at two in the morning, and if they are, no one's reading them until they wake up.

But it becomes necessary to have the job in the back of your mind -- and the palm of your hand -- all the time, even when you're not in the office. So if they're out with their friends, out in the woods, writing their Great American Novel -- there's the Blackberry, buzzing. Work is calling. It takes over. You're forced to think about the job.

And I don't mind working hard, thinking about what I'm doing, having to feel "on call" -- if it's something I care about, that I feel is important, that matters to me. I'll think about something I'm writing, something I'm puzzling through, something I'm reading, something I'm interested in -- gladly -- for lots of hours a day. But -- and maybe this comes back to yesterday's point about this law stuff just not being where my passion necessarily lies -- I don't know if I want to think about the security agreement 24 hours a day. Or whether the pages are all numbered exactly right in the lease papers. Or whether I left the stack of cases in my left drawer or my right drawer. Especially if I'm just one replaceable cog in a whole that's much larger.

I'm overstating it. I know I'm overstating it. It's a benefit more than a burden -- they can go to lunch, they can go home, they can take a vacation -- without worrying. They can check in. They can quickly dispose of work and keep everything running smoothly. It's a good thing. It's a good thing. Constant attention. Constant attention.
Chris Geidner's got everything you could ever want to know about the Jim McGreevey story over at Law Dork. Check it out.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A few days ago, I received an e-mail:

The [new] template is fine, you have been writing crap though. 900 words on what you ate for lunch the last two days? You have got to be kidding. Filler.

I'm a rising 2L [school omitted] and I have been reading your blog from the start. I was looking forward to your summer experience preparing me for mine the same way it did for 1L year. It seems to me though, that... you're writing knowing that big brother is definitely reading, and the resulting lack of candor spoils what makes your blog worth reading to begin with....

That's why I don't have comments enabled. No, I'm kidding. I think that's a totally fair point. There is more that I could have been writing about this summer, but I haven't. I think I've written some reasonably funny parody memos. I think I've had a few posts that accurately describe a reasonable day as a summer associate at a firm. I think I've told you more than you ever wanted to know about lunch. But I haven't shared many stories of work, stories of people, or feelings about the experience. Some of it might be coming through in the parodies, but I know I haven't been direct about all that much.

I have two explanations. The first is something I'm just able to articulate now, as I think about how I tend to approach the stuff I write about. At law school, "the school" does a lot of things. The nameless, faceless bureaucracy. "Proctors" do stuff. "Professors" do stuff. "Career Services" does stuff. I can poke fun at what they do, and feel comfortable doing so, because I'm not talking about people -- I'm talking about institutions. And I'm talking about institutions that have put themselves out there. I feel no qualms expressing my feelings about a particularly useless Career Services presentation. Career Services owes us better. We're paying. At the firm, the institution just works differently. "Partners" don't say things -- "Bob" says something. "Associates" don't feel a certain way -- "Jane" feels a certain way. "Recruiting" doesn't do something. "The recruiting coordinator" does something. "Secretaries" don't help me figure out how to make a long-distance phone call and bill it to a client -- "Gladys" does. So it feels different writing. Whether I have good things to say or bad things to say, it honestly -- and it's not that I'm censoring myself -- it honestly doesn't cross my mind to even consider writing about identifiable people who have not asked to be written about, and who have not put themselves out there in the public eye. It's just not nice. It's not what I feel comfortable doing. It's not the reputation I want to have. So those posts never become posts -- they become stories over dinner.

Or at least they start out as stories over dinner. But then more things happen. With different partners, and different associates, and the temp secretary filling in while mine goes away on vacation. And the world of the law firm does slowly start to become more generic. There *are* "Partner" things to do, and "Associate" things to feel. And the stories become less about "Bob" and more about "The Firm," and then there are ways to write them. Maybe. There are stories I feel comfortable sharing. But there are stories that are about real people, with real feelings, and real situations that just aren't the kinds of things I feel like posting on the Internet and risking people getting hurt. I'm careful. Not because I feel like there are consequences, but because there are ways to do this that feel ethical and appropriate and decent -- and because there are ways to do this that feel icky. That feel mean and unfair and wrong. And I try my hardest not to head down that road, because it's not the writer or the person that I want to be.

The second explanation is somewhat different. Throughout the summer, I've struggled in my own head to figure out the source of some of my feelings about law firm life. Part of it is that I'm just not as passionate about the law as a lot of my classmates are. It comes through in what I post about -- I don't think I ever really find myself with much to say about cases, statutes, doctrines -- unless I'm going after the humor I'm trying hard to see. I just don't feel that engaged in the law -- it's not what excites me, it's not what gets me motivated to think and react and write. Yet I'm a law student. Working at a law firm. It is grotesquely unfair for me to expect a law firm to satisfy me -- as I acknowledge that the law probably isn't my passion -- as much as it should satisfy someone who *is* passionate about the law. And I've been trying very hard not to hold the law firm, in my head, to a standard it can't possibly meet.

It is very clear to me, after 13 weeks at a law firm, that partners and associates work too many hours and need to expend too much mental and emotional energy into their jobs for this to be a truly fulfilling career unless you are passionate about what you are doing. Or at least very, very interested in it. If the work does not excite you, there seems to be -- at least at a big New York firm -- no way to be really happy doing it. Unless you're lying to yourself, or really into the money. More than one associate this summer has said that the law firm life leaves you room for one other thing -- a social life, a family, a hobby -- but not more than one of those. More than one associate has talked about having to consistently cancel plans with friends, because the hours are not only sometimes long, but relatively unpredictable. There are slow weeks when they get out at 7:00 every night. And there are weeks when they don't. And what type of week it is can change very quickly. More than one associate has talked about how a lot of the work is pretty mindless, especially for the first couple of years.

I'm not giving away any secrets here -- this is stuff I heard going in -- that we've all heard going in -- but we don't know to what extent it's reality. This is all manageable -- to a point, but that's another discussion -- if you love (or at least like) what you're doing. Or perhaps even just if you believe that what you're doing is necessary to get you to a future job you think you'll love (or at least like). It's frustrating, but manageable -- there's a light at the end of the tunnel; you're there for a reason; you understand the sacrifices; you're at peace with the life you've chosen. But if you don't like what you're doing, if the work doesn't interest you, if this isn't your passion -- and you're being honest with yourself -- I don't see how someone can torture themselves as much as they have to in order to do their job. I don't see how a good and decent and happy person can remain a good and decent and happy person working at one of these places if they don't see this as their calling.

But part of what's kept me from writing some of how I feel is because I don't want to go overboard. There are people at the firm I'm at -- and I'm sure at most others -- who are happy to be where they are. They are comfortable with the tradeoffs they are making, whether it's because they see themselves leaving after a few years, when the loans are paid, when the apartment is bought, when the resume looks good enough -- or it's because this is what they love to do, and it's worth not seeing their kids in order to do this for a living. I don't believe I can make that decision, but that's in substantial part because my passion is not there. And if I put it all on the firm -- if I say there's no way *anyone* can be happy doing this; that there's no way *anyone* can hold on to his humanity at a place like this, that there's no reason at all for anyone to do this -- then I'm completely, and irresponsibly, grossly overstating any point I may have.

I have been rambling, and rambling in generics rather than specifics, and in thoughts and feelings still being sorted out in my own head more than anything else. But I feel like these feelings are starting to come together, and I can start to tell a story about my summer beyond the parody memos. That hopefully can provide some fodder for other people's thoughts. I feel like this post is a baseline, and a start. I don't know where I go from here, but something tells me I'll have more to say tomorrow. I'll try.
Update from yesterday: I received this morning an offer to come back to the firm I'm at this summer after graduation. I'm flattered by and grateful for the offer, although I'm not really sure what (within reason) I would have had to have done not to get it. I have a much longer post in the works.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Made some more minor changes to the template. Sidebar color, how the date appears on the posts. Just realized nothing I've changed shows up in the archives at all. So if you like the archive pages better than the home page, that would be completely my bad.
I packed up my office supplies today. At some point during the summer, I made a pretty long paper clip chain. I didn't really feel like taking it apart. So I left it as a chain and put it in the office supply folder as is.

I had sushi for lunch today. It's funny that "fatty tuna" is more valued than tuna. This place had "very fatty tuna" on the menu, for $10 a piece, so I guess that's even better. It's weird, because usually you want less fat on the food, but tuna reverses the whole paradigm. Are fat tuna hard to find? Do most tuna eat a well-balanced diet and get lots of exercise? Could fishermen use more unhealthy bait -- Krispy Kremes, perhaps -- to try and lure the particularly fatty tuna to the hook, instead of using, say, vegetables, and getting stuck with the lean tuna? Is the plural of tuna just tuna?

It's also funny that miso soup has so little as far as content, yet everyone's cool with it. If I got a minestrone soup with one round piece of macaroni and a half a kernel of corn, I'd be pretty pissed. But a miso soup with a string of tofu and half a mushroom? Fine. Whatever. As long as it's a little bit cloudy.

I saw someone zone out in the elevator bank today. She was waiting for an "up" elevator (I was waiting for the "down"). One came. And went. She didn't move. Then she realized she'd zoned out and had to press the button again. Maybe she needs more sleep.

Yesterday I saw some people in a conference room having a meeting when I passed at about 10 in the morning. When I passed again at 3 in the afternoon, all of the same people were there, in the same seats. I'm glad I wasn't in that meeting, whatever it was about.

Tomorrow we have our end-of-summer reviews. I guess that's when we do/don't get our offers. I'll let you know. Friday we have an end-of-summer lunch at a restaurant. I've noticed something about these upscale New York restaurants, besides the fact that the food isn't really any more satisfying than at a downscale New York restaurant. The bigger the sign, the worse the food. The places that don't even advertise that they exist -- the ones with the recessed concrete signs with 2-inch letters -- those are the ones you want to eat in. The ones with the neon banners, the 8-foot flags, the inflatable characters ballooning into the street -- those are the ones you want to avoid.

At lunch today, one associate described another as "looking like a holocaust survivor," because he works so hard. I suppose that is better than "looking like a holocaust victim."