Second semester, 3L year. This is the time when a lot of law students get crabby. And with good reason.
I'm going to do my best to counteract this trend by focusing on the cheering aspects of being in the last semester of law school. After all, we've made it this far, we should be happy, right?
10 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
Unlimited free Westlaw and Lexis access. William Rehnquist was apparently stoned on Placidyl during his first ten years on the Supreme Court. As graduation approaches, I think I know how the man felt.
I'm not hardcore enough to have paid for my last semester with Lexis Rewards points. But my Westlaw/Lexis monthly use must have a street value of several thousand dollars.
I took UCLA's Advanced Legal Research course last semester, and now I know all the magical things Westlaw & Lexis can do. (Best: property searches on your professors.) While the class was supposed to make my searching more economical, instead it's only increased my minimum daily dosage.
While I like to think I don't have a problem, I found myself thinking of ways I could notionally continue working for a professor after graduation just to keep my Westlaw & Lexis turned on. That's a little sad. Well actually, a lot sad.
Advanced Legal Research. As mentioned above. This is a UCLA law class offered by the library staff. (2Ls & 3Ls: you may still be able to get in this semester.) Pound for pound, this is probably the most useful course I took at UCLA. Note: not most interesting. Not most fun class sessions. Not most taxing. But most useful.
See, here's the thing. Apparently, doing legal work professionally requires a lot of, you know, legal research. If you think you learned that in your 1L lawyering skills class, think again.
With full disrespect to the lawyering skills program, they don't teach you shit about research. (Whoops! A little negativity snuck in there)
If you'd asked me four months ago why you'd choose to research in Witkin vs. CalJur, or ALR vs. Wright & Miller, I'd say "what the hell are you talking about". I now recognize that former version of me as an ignorant slob. Thanks to the library staff, I have mad research skillz that are already helping me pull down some major coin.
Internet access during class. All UCLA classrooms have internet ports. During 1L year, the internet was turned on unless professors asked for it to be turned off. During 2L year, the policy was converted to opt-in (internet turned off unless professors asked for it to be on).
This year, Big Brother has given up — all the internet ports are on, all the time. Even professors who say "Internet is forbidden in class!" leave the ports on. I don't know if this is due to some failure of technological infrastructure or deliberate policy choice by the school (to what end?) In any case, a rare victory for student life. I actually don't plug in that often, but when I do, I feel like it's implicitly condoned. And that's a good feeling.
My incredibly slack schedule. I don't mind having a lot to do but I prefer to be able to do my work during whatever part of the day I feel like it. Regimentation is dreary. I remember having to show up five days a week for 14 class sessions 1L year. And it sucked.
As an upperclassman, you don't have to go to class Fridays, and last year I even got down to a 3-day schedule. But this semester, I have class only two days a week (Tues and Thurs) and only in the afternoon. If you're wondering how that feels: incredibly goddamn good is how it feels. It's a good thing I'll never have to get re-acclimated to going to school on consecutive days. I'm not sure I could.
Seminar / workshop classes. When I find out people have not taken seminars, I want to say "dude! Are you on Placidyl or something?" One meeting a week. Three credits. No exam. No grading curve. What's not to like?
My seminar last semester only met like six times, and the prof brought cookies every week. This semester, my workshop class apparently has a catered appetizer buffet every two weeks. Do you get this in Crim Pro? Do you get this in Real Estate Finance? No and no.
But, I really should thank those of you who shun the seminars & workshops, because without your help, I wouldn't have been able to grab two this semester, which was a critical step in the whole 2-day plan. Did I mention my workshop includes a free dinner at A.O.C.? That's in addition to the buffets.
11 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
Cheap health insurance. UCLA requires all students to carry health insurance, but they let you buy into a lightly subsidized Blue Shield plan. This is pretty much the only thing on campus where they don't charge the professional students double. I have a feeling my costs will go up considerably when I leave. (Of course, that's offset by the not-inconsiderable cost savings of not having to pay tuition.) Since many of you have never and will never pay for your own health insurance, I know this one's difficult to relate.
The Daily Bruin. Last semester I was never on campus for lunch, so I didn't read our undergraduate campus paper. I felt its loss. Now I'm making a point of picking it up again. Remember, the only page worth reading is "Viewpoint", aka op-ed, where undergrads make priceless discoveries about the existence of poverty, war, animal cruelty, etc. Here's a great one from last week. Here's how it came about: "Hm, what should I write about this week? I'm stuck for ideas. Maybe something will come to me while I'm waiting in line for my chai latte."
The UCLA law library & law librarians. It wasn't until very recently that I understood that random civilians are calling our law librarians all the time with legal research questions, and what's more, the librarians help them. I actually thought the law librarians only were available to students and professors. But I guess that would leave them severely underemployed, so sometimes they work the phones too. So as I look toward life as a practicing lawyer, I mourn the loss of unlimited Westlaw & Lexis access a little less, knowing that I can harness this immense intellectual power.
The UCLA computer store. You probably don't spend much time there, but they have a lot of cheap student editions of high-priced software. I have to remember to load up with the latest versions the week before I graduate.
Yoga discounts. The whole student discount thing off-campus has been kind of a bust. LA is not overrun with students the way, say, Boston is, and consequently local merchants don't care so much about catering to that market with bargains and whatnot. Very few movie theaters have student tickets. But for some reason, the two yoga studios I frequent offer 20% off. Again, another thing to load up on before I graduate.
17 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
"Law school changes the way you think." Of the many clichéd predictions and bits of advice given to me before law school, I must grudgingly admit this one has turned out to be true.
One of the curiosities of law school is that it's like the Mall of America for intellectuals. Within its walls, it houses dozens of scholarly interests, some of which are what I'd call intrinsically legal topics (e.g. civil procedure, evidence) but most are not. For instance, we have classes on sports, network television, animal rights, the Internet, education, poverty, quantitative research methods, stem cell research, sexual orientation, real estate finance, international taxation, economics, feminism, history, film criticism, etc.
The heterogeneity of law school is both an asset and a liability. You can see why law has become the preferred finishing school for liberal arts nerds who have $100K to spare: you have the pleasure of getting a practical, professional credential, but meanwhile, you don't actually have to settle in and focus on any one thing in particular. Animal rights on Tuesday, real estate finance on Wednesday, sports on Thursday.
However, it's an open question whether law scholars really work up to the same standards as scholars in parallel fields, in terms of conceptual and methodological rigor. Maybe that's an argument to have more law review articles jointly authored with folks outside the legal academy, though that rarely seems to happen. But the result is — any professor who teaches a class on a specialized legal topic is regarded as a de facto expert, which may not be a valid interpolation.
Or is it? "You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone." If nothing else, law is leverage. Arguably, someone who's in a position to control legal regulation of stem cell research is potentially in a far more influential position than the best stem cell scientist, even though the regulator knows much less about the nuts and bolts. If you wanted to achieve the greatest effect on the direction of stem cell science with the comparatively lowest effort, you'd probably be better off at law school than med school.
Maybe that's what makes government as magical (and scary) as it is. One professor I know has described law school as teaching you the architecture of society — how everything fits together. I don't agree that law has that much explanatory power. Many times, law is running (well, more like walking) to catch up to social and economic changes. If you want to know how everything fits together, you'll need to crane your neck farther.
Most areas of the law follow a predictable pattern: At first, there are no rules. At some point, big guys develop an incentive to pick on little guys. Then, lawyers start filing complaints. At first they lose, but eventually, they start winning as courts recognize the rights of the little guys. After that, legislatures also recognize the little guys by memorializing those rights in changes to the law.
But sometime after that, the process reverses. The big guys re-assert their rights using economic and political leverage. Eventually, there's some combination of legislative and judicial limiting of the little guy's rights. The little guys end up better off than where they started, but never as good as the peak.
But I digress.
18 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
So, "law school changes the way you think." True or false? Maybe for some, it's difficult to see how law school changed their thinking because they came more or less directly from college and didn't really have time to put their college-level mental skills to use out in the world.
But I did. Here are the three questions that I now routinely ask myself in almost every situation. And I credit law school. None of them are new ideas, but I do think law school a) makes you understand why they're valuable and b) turns them into habit.
What are the determinative facts? In any problem, there are facts that matter and facts that don't. Signal and noise, if you prefer. Learning how to separate them out is useful. It simplifies the problem (by removing extraneous information). And it helps show you what kind of problem it is. Kind of like when you clean out dirt from the top of a screw to find out whether you need a regular screwdriver, a Philips head, or a hex wrench.
What is the principle behind the outcome? You're better off devising a principle that implies the outcome rather than just deciding the outcome. Because when a similar situation comes up, you'll be able to solve it more quickly (you won't reinvent the wheel) and more consistently (you're protected against random and arbitrary results).
What are the incentives that affect the participants? I was almost going to say law school makes you look at things more fairly or even-handedly, but I don't think that's quite true. Law school teaches you that you can manipulate situations using incentives. Whether you use that power for good or ill is up to you.
Laws exist to modify behavior. And they do that by modifying incentives. A potential $300 fine is your incentive to not park in a handicapped space. A mortgage-interest tax deduction is your incentive to own a home with borrowed money. And so on.
Again, this isn't a new concept. When we were babies, we screamed until we got fed. The potential for silence was the incentive for our parents to comply.
Law school helps you see that not much has changed. Most situations are sets of interdependent incentives, like a chess game. You want to think a few moves into the future so you get the outcome you want without causing unintended side effects.
Here's an example. Recently my fiancée was looking forward to dinner with a girlfriend. Girlfriend insisted on bringing her boyfriend. Fiancée thus insisted I attend, to occupy boyfriend so she could talk to girlfriend.
That would've been the obvious solution. But having been to law school, I pointed out that if we announced that I was attending, we'd be giving boyfriend a positive incentive to show up. If we announced that I was not attending, then boyfriend would see that he would be miserably bored and stay home. Which was really the desired outcome.
21 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
Much of what lawyers think of as "proper" typesetting and formatting is derived from the limitations of typewriters. For example, it was necessary to put two spaces between sentences back in the days when typefaces were monospaced (= like this one). Because there was so much white space between the letters, the sentences needed some extra delineation. However, with proportional typefaces (like this one) sentences only require one space.
Lawyers and law review editors will swear up and down this is heresy. Well, fuck you. You're wrong. Show me one publication, book, newspaper that puts two spaces between sentences. It's okay. I'll wait. Zzzz. Hey, you're back! What, you couldn't find one? NO SHIT.
In the meantime, another bugaboo of the typewriter era is double-spaced text. Again, this is an artifact of the monospaced type days. To fit a reasonable amount of text on a line using monospaced type, you had to use small left & right margins. But to keep the page from being grotesquely dense in the vertical direction, you'd double-space the lines.
This is an atrocious habit to continue in the computer age. With proportional fonts, it spreads text out unnecessarily wide, making it difficult to read. Again, find me one magazine, newspaper, book, blog, or law review article that is double-spaced. Again, I'll wait.
Okay, you didn't find one. That's because it doesn't exist. Because it sucks and it's ugly. Think how annoyed you are, reading this double-fucking-spaced text. You are practically begging me to single-space my type again because this is making you want to claw out your eyeballs.
Now if you have a good answer why, year after year, law professors demand papers be double-spaced, I'm all ears. You may say it's to impose uniformity, as in "the paper should be at least 20 pages, double-spaced". Again, this is a typewriter view of the world. For the last 20 years, students have been carefully manipulating margin sizes and font sizes to make the 20-page requirement using only 16 pages of text. Obviously, it would be much more sensible to say "the paper should be at least 10,000 words – use the word counter in your text editor".
If you want to make your seminars paper look nice, here's some simple guidlines: make the font size 10-11 points. (12 point is overlarge. Again, have you ever seen a newspaper, magazine, etc.) Use 115% line spacing (or in Microsoft Word lingo, "Multiple 1.15"). Set the margins BIG so that there's 11-15 words per line and 28-32 lines per page. Never ever use justified text — only left-aligned.
And for god's sake, one space between sentences.
23 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
Exhibit #4352: the great salary war of 2007. Recall that it was only a year or so ago that big New York firms pushed their first-year starting salaries from $125K to $145K. Now many are going up again, this time to $160K. This, in turn, will eventually pressure big firms in other cities to nudge up their starting salaries also.
As before, we might wonder how much of this is marketing hype as opposed to a real increase in associate pay. We also can't know whether billable hour requirements are also being yanked up (possible, though at many places they're already at the outer edge of human capacity.)
The precipitating factor for this round of salary increases seems to be the continuing trend of comical levels of attrition among associates at big law firms. If we pay them more, the reasoning seems to go, then they'll stick around.
Here's what makes it dumb. For many years, law students have taken the view that big firms were tolerable as a first job because the high salary made it easy to pay off law school debt. Once the debt was paid off, other career opportunities could be considered. Sure, some folks were committed to making partner, but clearly the big law firm model is not built around promoting as many people as possible. It's built on promoting as few as possible. But everyone knew this was the deal, and everyone was happy.
So you're a law firm. Assume you're not totally naive, and you understand the incentives that are in play. What will happen when you raise starting salaries?
Think about it for a second.
Which would be three times longer than any of these firms thought about it.
You're not making your big firm more attractive than other types of jobs (small firms, government, public interest) because you're already paying way more than any of them.
But you are helping the first-year associate pay down their law school debt faster. Since salaries are going up much faster than the cost of living, most of those increases can flow directly to the associate's bottom line.
So what you've done is shorten the timeline for the associate to pay back their debt and arrive at the point where they feel free to consider other career options.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
The result of salary hikes is not better associate retention. Instead, it's far more likely to reduce associate retention. By paying associates more, the big firm dilutes the economic leverage that's been key to keeping young associates under their thumb (a traditional ingredient of indentured labor).
And once you observe that, you might wonder: did the 2006 salary hike really reduce attrition? No, it went up after that. How about the 2005 salary hike? Nope, it went up after that one too. I think it's quite plausible that these rapid salary increases have been accelerating attrition, not reducing it.
This is great news for law students, for sure. But, let's keep the secret to ourselves, okay?
29 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
... but some of their questions might be. Our prison law class today visited the LA Men's Central Jail, described by one of the deputies there as "the largest jail in the free world." (Note to civilians: in the industry, a jail and a prison are different. A jail is a county facility for inmates who are defendants in a current trial, or who have sentences less than one year. A prison is a state or federal facility where you go for a longer sentence, e.g. 25 to life.)
The deputies who worked at the jail were unusually friendly and chipper. Chipper in a way I wouldn't expect if part of my job entailed the daily risk of being stabbed with a homemade knife that had been dipped in human shit infected with god knows what. But the first deputy I met cheerily recounted his stabbing under these exact circumstances, and the year of blood tests that followed.
Sending law students on a jail tour is a good news / bad news deal. The good news is that you're getting off campus to see some real crime & punishment. I'm in favor of field trips, and they are curiously absent from the law school curriculum, considering how many courts, jails, prisons, etc. are happy to have visitors.
The bad news is that the blithe liberalism that plays well on a law campus doesn't really translate to jail. When you meet deputies, you get a different perspective on political conservatism: here are guys (it's all guys) who definitely want their facility to be unpleasant for prisoners.
However, for them it's not about some vague concept of being "tough on crime" in the sense of social agenda; it's about the concrete concept of not wanting to be killed on the job tomorrow. The jail conditions are directly connected to safety. If they're voting for republicans, it's because republicans are more likely to reduce their likelihood of death, and make sure the deputies are paid adequately well for the risk that remains.
Another deputy was explaining to me that there are times when the best response to an aggressive prisoner is to beat him with a maglite. If I had read that in the paper, I'd think "oh, the terrible violations of civil rights." But at the end of a jail tour, I was thinking "This is a really shitty, dangerous job. And I don't want to do it. And I wouldn't want anyone I know to do it. But we need someone to do it. And this guy is willing to do it. Who the hell am I to judge whether he needs to use the maglite or not?"
In a weird way, I trusted this guy to administer an occasional maglite beating responsibly and fairly, but also recognized that letting this guy do it meant letting all the deputies do it, and maybe they're not all going to have the same idea of what offenses are maglite-worthy.
Anyway, here are some of the best questions asked by our class about the inmate population:
Can they call 800 numbers from their phones in their cells?
Why don't you let them have pornography?
Can they get kosher meals?
Where are the women? [It's the Men's Central Jail.]
Do you have juveniles here? [It's the Men's Central Jail.]
How do inmates figure out that someone's a child molester?
Why do you segregate out the homosexual inmates? Isn't that discrimination?
Why do you forbid sex between inmates if there's condoms available?
To those of you planning a visit to LA, I recommend it. It'll make a nice counterpoint to Disneyland and the Warner Bros. studio tour.
31 Jan 07 ::: Comments closed
Epilogue 8: Buy my book
Epilogue 7: Recessionaires cont'd
Epilogue 6: Schill quits UCLA
Epilogue 5: recessionaires
Okay, I lied. Epilogue 4
Epilogue 3: The End (really)
Epilogue 2: Nov 2007
The eagle has landed
Seduced by the dark side
You've been in law school too long when...
I have only five more class days
The lone gunman
The last spring break is over
Someone saved your life tonight
Dean Schill & the Pussymobile
Help me yet again
Wall St Journal Law Blog
Matthew Black Orchestra
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