Category Archives: law school

3L Dispatch: Law School Finals Survival Kit

Once again, I have entered Finals Season. Hypos, outlines, and practice exams will be constant companions for the next three weeks or so. I have four exams, one licensing project, and one seminar paper. One exam (Venture Capital) is multiple choice and disturbingly requires the use of a calculator. To help gird my soul against the unrelenting misery that lays before me, I have assembled this:

Properly, I suppose it isn’t really a law school finals survival kit. It won’t actually help me memorize statutes or SCOTUS tests and it won’t teach me how to make kick-ass outlines. Nothing in this box will increase my ability to spot issues or manage my time on a complex fact pattern. But, maybe by thinking about the contents of this survival kit I will be able to maintain the self-discipline to keep my nose buried in the outline. It’s an “eyes on the prize” kind of thing, the light at the end of the tunnel and a tangible collection of rewards to look forward to once I wade through this madness. There are certain items that represent an entire class of pleasures I am denying until this tumult has passed. These are the things will will sustain my flagging spirits.

It contains:

  1. One bottle of Aberlauer Scotch
  2. One copy of Bioshock 2 for the X-Box 360
  3. One Astonishing X-Men Omnibus
  4. One Kindle (with a butt-load of new books (none of which even mention the word “law” (an embarrassing number of these involve wizards of some type))
  5. Two Netflix movies (Blast of Silence and Network)
  6. One X-Box 360 Controller (which symbolizes Netflix streaming as well as Halo3)
  7. One plane ticket to Las Vegas (for post-finals debauchery in a city I am ambivalent about)
  8. One copy of The Economist

Strangely, I post more in this blog when I am in the midst of the hellish fray of outlining and reading that ties up the end of every semester.  Actually, I get many things done at this time of year. During this long, dark tea time of the soul I become more likely to seek release from the mounting pressure in small distractions. The dishes get done. The laundry gets folded. The closet gets reorganized. The blog gets updated.

And this is the final go-round. Today I had my last class of my law school career. Barring the Dean granting my request for permission to become an unprecedented 4L, my time as a student of The Law is drawing to a close. I’ll look back fondly on my time here at Hastings. All the gunners I sighed at. All the holdings I highlighted. All the cold calls I choked/gasped/stuttered in response to. The beers I drank and the friends I made are important, too but I’ll mostly overlook them in favor of memories of the classes themselves. Good professors and bad, I have learned SOMETHING from every thinker who stood in front of me. There’s nothing like the satisfaction I get from a truly engaging discussion, when I walk out of the classroom positively buzzing from my sips of the  sweet draught of Knowledge. I don’t know if I learned how to change the world, but I learned that it’s important to try.

I Am a Sinner…

Inasmuch as blogging about blogging is a sin, and I am about to do a little of that. Why the silence? It’s not because I’m too busy. Not really. Well okay I am, but that’s not why I haven’t been as active on the Semantic Drift writing front as I would like. It’s because my every waking moment consists of me freaking out over how I don’t have a job. I’ve half-started a movie review or charming little vignette about how I said something stupid on the way home from Target or any of the other well-written minutia my readers have come to expect but they always circle back to the fear and apprehension I feel when I think about any point in time beyond the next two months. And that might get old pretty damn quick. I know I get tired of it, and it’s happening inside my own skull.

As I prepare to visit Austin for spring break my preparations for the trip are tainted by the fact that this is likely to be the last Spring Break I ever have. Being a 3L in the spring carries a certain sadness; a wistful acknowledgment that my days as a student are nearly done. I’m sure many of my colleagues feel nothing but unalloyed joy at the thought of never registering for a class or tucking a syllabus into a folder. They revel in the surety that soon they will be actual lawyers, walking, talking productive members of society who have jobs and salaries and wake up before 10:00 a.m. on Fridays. No more textbooks and no more scrotum-tightening fear of getting cold-called when you haven’t done the reading.

And all that sounds good to me, too. Don’t get me wrong. Just because I’m almost thirty and have spent the vast majority of my adult life enrolled at some institution of higher learning doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to tearing it up in the real world. Granted, I would be a little more psyched if I had an actual job lined up or at least a coherent plan for life after law school beyond “Take the Bar Exam and Pray”but I’m still excited at the grand vista of possibility that lays before me. I’ve worked hard and earned myself an impressive suite of skills and I do itch to make my mark on the world.

And yet… I love the smell of libraries and the thrill of an engaging class discussion when everything clicks and it really feels like I’m in a room with some of the smartest people around and we’re trying to get to the bottom of a contentious, thorny problem. Not that that isn;t what happens in conference rooms in law firms all across the country every minute of every day, because I’m sure that’s what lies ahead. Right? The life of a lawyer is surely more than mind-numbing drudgery and poring through thousands upon thousands of pages of documents looking for a single email. It can’t be, can it?

2L Dispatch: The Last Word

And now: some rambling closing thoughts on the end of the 2L Year.

My second year of law school has been over for a few weeks now, and the Spring semester well and truly kicked my ass. Amidst the usual sturm und drang of preparation for Finals, I found myself having to deal with the added pressure of a job hunt. As I launched volley after volley of Cover Letter/Resume combos into the inboxes of potential employers, I grew more and more frantic every day. Fortunately, I received an offer from a firm here in San Francisco before the semester came to an end so I had plenty of time to sequester myself in a cold dark hole and read and reread all the cases that didn’t make sense the first time I tackled them.

It’s the funny thing about Finals. I’m not sure if it’s the added pressure of knowing that my entire grade comes down to my performance on a single test or the fact that I now have the benefit of seeing how all the disparate parts of the course fit together, but my understanding somehow gets much clearer during the mad dash to the finish. That’s not to say that I feel totally confident about the objective results. I’ve been compulsively checking my grade status twice a day since exams ended, and I get butterflies in the gut every time I log in to my law school’s student portal. But in some way, everything about the course seems much clearer when I try to cram it into a small outline. That’s to be expected, but even the thornier aspects of the law that left me scratching my head before seem to come into sharper focus. Even cases that I didn’t read or only half paid attention to are more likely to give up their secrets without serious deconstruction.

At the end of my 1L year, I had mentally checked out of a certain class. The Professor was perfectly genial, but I found myself ill-suited to their teaching style. Because I wasn’t engaged, I didn’t generally do the reading and when I did I was lost because I was intellectually adrift. When Final Exams came round, I had to basically teach myself the course from scratch. Somehow, that class ended being my highest grade of the year. I even won a Witkin Award for it. Although I was happy with the grade, I felt like that set a bad precedent so I made conscious effort to make my 2L year The Year of Paying Attention. As part of that quest I made a bold move of a self-imposed laptop ban. I knew from experience that the siren’s song of Tetris can turn even the most steadfast of hearts away from even the most fascinating discussion of internal corporate governance controls. Email and other internet delights are too heady a brew, so I went cold turkey. I took an analogue approach to taking notes and went old school Moleskine-style. On the one hand, this was beneficial because it actively engaged me in the notetaking process and I had to edit on the fly and try to determine the salient points of the lecture since I didn’t have time to write down everything the Prof said. I recommend this technique to everyone, and I’m sure most law school professors would agree. My mind still wandered occasionally, and I now have notebooks filled with equal parts Trade Secret doctrine and line-drawings of barbarians swinging battle-axes.

(I’m a doodler).

Outlining is the most important skill to surviving a legal education. I think of it as a mental martial art, and like any fighting style everyone has their own tweaks and variations. I prefer a chronological approach, heavy on the Black Letter Law and light on any in-class hypotheticals. I avoid commercial outlines, but will usually download a few from my actual Professor’s courses from years past. Some of these are more useful than others, although I do get a kick out of reading the notes taken by someone who was in my position. I also find that the very act of creating an outline helps me learn the material, even if I don’t use it that much. Something about taking a semester’s worth of knowledge and discussion and distilling it to a purer and more concentrated form drives the knowledge home for me in ways that mere studying doesn’t.

Looking back on the year feels kind of strange. My 2Lyear was atypical. My Australian adventures were great but they made the rest of the year a little lopsided because of certain timing issues between schools in different hemispheres. In the Spring I found myself working on a Journal with people who all knew each other from the Fall and I was alienated and clueless since I had no idea what to do. Everyone was nice and I stumbled through the editing process and wrote my note, but I still felt-wrong-footed. Missing OCI will probably not go down in history as the wisest decision of my legal career, either. Was Australia worth it? Probably, but I’m not sure I would do the study abroad thing again if I had the chance. Or if I did, I would have gone somewhere that shares the seasons with Hastings.

And the fact that I am now over two-thirds of the way through Law School is kind of scary. It seems like only yesterday I was buying my first insanely over-priced textbook and commercial outline to go with it. I’ve been thinking about the future, and the best way to accomplish my longer term goals while still kicking some ass in the short-term. I’m not entirely sure where to go when the law school ride ends…

Judicial clerkship? Big Law job? Hang a shingle? L.L.M?

The economy is rough and any direction is sure to involve serious competition. I have a whole year to go, but the bar exam is coming up faster than I would like. I hope to learn quite about being a trial lawyer this summer at my clerkship job and with any luck I will either love it enough to dedicate my life to waging war in the courtroom or hate it enough to vow never to litigate in my life. Either way, my academic life is likely coming to an end.

I’ll be blogging all summer about my work experience, and maybe some other things too. Stick around.

2L Dispatch: Duly Noted

My Note is well finished and despite my frustrated rage at the difficulties of hammering it into shape, it turned out to be a masterpiece. This bit of legal scholarship will no doubt become the most influential and frequently cited student Note of all time because of its sparkling clarity, searing insight, and solid construction. Each sentence is a glittering gem of scholarly expression; each word is a mind-bomb that will literally explode every preconception you ever had about the termination and recapture of copyright, Superman, or the moral rights of authors. My research was impeccable. Every footnote supports the sentence like an Ionic column supports classical temples because in a very real sense, my Note is a classical temple of the mind with porticoes of flawless logic and vaunted arches of rhetorical skill.

Okay.

Not really.

But it did turn out much better than I thought it might in the long, dark tea time of the soul. In the end, I can say that writing it was a positive experience and even if it doesn’t find its way into print my own writing, research, and editing skills are all a little sharper than they were when I first set hands to typing. That has to be worth something, right? If it does end up selected as publishable, I get to take a few passes at it to further refine it. Still, I felt a palpable sense of relief when I hit the send button and launched that bad boy into the ether. It feels like everything has kind of stopped and the hectic thrumming of impending deadlines isn’t drowning out the everyday portions of law school, which includes studying, reading, rereading, and then reading some more.

I also get to begin the inexorable march toward Finals. To work, then…

2L Dispatch: A Discordant Note

For reasons that now escape me, I am participating on a journal this year. My time in Australia last semester means that I didn’t really get to participate in all the initial cite checking and source-pulling or get to actually meet anyone else on the journal. I do still have the eerie specter of my Note looming over me like the grim shadow of death.

The deadline is fast approaching. I have a draft of the thing open in another window but it is basically crap. My reasoning is mushy, my syntax is garbled, and my citations bear little resemblance to what my BlueBook tells me they should look like.

In short: I cannot write. I am a hack and a fraud. I made a mistake.

The benefits of writing on to a journal that I might enjoy later in life do not seem worth the effort as I sit here banging my head against the wall of my own mediocrity and struggling to create a scholarly work about Superman’s legal history that doesn’t read like the work of a braindead man-child. I’ve been putting in the time and the effort but the payoff seems like it will be far on the horizon and isn’t at all certain. And I have logged some serious hours in front of my trusty laptop, the vast majority of which I spent actually doing work. My office area is starting to soak up the stink of isolation and regret that wafts from my pale and atrophied body.

It smells exactly like a 1987 Toyota Celica that had a Baja Chalupa forgotten on the rear floorboard for 3 hot days and then the owner sprayed some Febreeze into the back seat.

I still have time to hammer this wretched waste of ink into some manageable shape before I hand it in to the Powers That Be and all the editors gather to cackle maniacally at my pitifully inept stab at producing a note. I have words on the page and so am not fully crippled by the heady mix of fear and inertia that normally keeps me from spoiling the virgin white of the empty page. The downside is that I have to actually crawl through my own work word by word and salvage some bit of usable legal academic writing from the paragraphs of nigh-unintelligible dross.

I have only this all-too brief foray into nigh-unintelligible blogging to distract me from my frustration and for that I thank whatever gods of procrastination saw fit to create the idea of wasting time on the internet. Blogging is better than my usual means of wasting time on the internet because it creates the illusion that I am doing something useful. I am writing, after all. My hands are moving on the keyboard with greater swiftness and more assurance than they do when I have my note file open. At best, I can use this as a small respite from the deadline pressure and recharge my internal writing batteries before again wading into battle with my own lack of coherence.

Once more into the breach…

2L Dispatch: The Lameness of Corporate Law (Professors)

I don’t know if they are all lame, but mine certainly is. Obviously an incredibly intelligent man, he is able to explain a complex topic in ways that even a English major like me can understand. He is a gentleman and a scholar and I cannot fault his reasoning or teaching abilities. But his jokes are horrible, cringe-inducing affairs. He is prone to puns and eye-roll inducing turns of phrase. Examples?

“So you see, many firms like to make a big deal about receiving the corporate seal from the secretary of state because clients love to get their own stamp. It makes a big impression.”

“In this balance sheet hypothetical exercise, let’s say that our imaginary corporation buys a crate of champagne. So that they can have liquid assets.”

“A corporation that doesn’t incorporate correctly can still be considered as a corporation if the court is willing to ignore the flaws. It’s called a “de jure” corporation, as opposed to de facto. In this example, we would have the Campbell’s Soup de jure corporation.”

But like the best of Grandpas (the undisputed king of horrible unfunny jokes was my own grandfather), he has a certain self-deprecating awareness that makes even the most tortured pain bearable (if not actually funny). He sort of pauses and relishes the dead air and crickets chirping that follows every futile stab at funniness. His commitment actually makes the jokes work. Sort of. This is my first corporate law class, so I can’t say if lame jokes are endemic to corporate law professors or not. Is this sort of humor present in other disciplines My old torts professor could drop the occasional doozie, but I don’t recall the groans being as audible as they are for my current would-be comedian.

The main problem is that my own sense of humor tends towards lameness and cheese. This is well-documented. I am not immune to the siren’s song of the bad pun and the daily exposure to other’s  lame jokes may be making me more prone to dropping bombs of my own and it may be working against me. In a recent job interview I made not one, but two dumb jokes. I’ll spare you the whole set-up, but one involved me expressing surprise at Bruce Springsteen’s out-of-breath Superbowl performance (because he was born to run) and the other involved expecting my interviewers to be bigger and more muscular because the name of the street that the office was on sounded like a euphemism for steroid use. I’m not saying I didn’t get the job because my puns were horribly lame, but they probably didn’t help.

There’s always academia…

2L Dispatch: (Prior) Art Imitates Life

I am taking a class on Trade Secret law, which covers the protection that states give to intellectual property that doesn’t quite measure up to full federal protection of either patent or copyright. It’s still early going, but I’ve managed to learn that trade secrets can be just about anything from lists of your best clients to the specific curve of the hull your boat company manufactures. As long as it has some value, it isn’t generally known to the public, and you tried to keep it hush-hush then it probably qualifies as a trade secret.

So far, we’ve spent a good deal of time covering customer lists that departing salesman take with them when they quit a company to start their own. There’s a valid public interest in allowing workers to have mobility when they move from job to job, but obviously companies that spend time, money, and effort studying their clientele and putting together customer lists. A key factor is the way in which those lists got out and whether the person accused of stealing a trade secret did so by “improper means.” What are improper means? A vague term, but it seems like making up fake names and backstories and planning to seduce the owner’s daughter all qualify (whether you plan on eating at Denny’s or going to IHOP like a socialist):

I love it when what I’m learning has some practical application in the entertainment media. You’d think being a law student would mean that the myriad courtroom dramas and Grisham novels in the popular culture would mean that I get that all the time. It can be pretty hard to escape the image of the lawyer. I’m not exactly sure what kind of lawyer I want to be, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind you see on Law & Order. I sometimes have a difficult time explaining to people that I have no interest in being a criminal prosecutor or defense attorney and that my interests lie more in the field of intellectual property. It’s nice when I canpoint to The Office and say, that’s the sort of case I’d like to get tangled up in.

2L Dispatch: Over the Hump

I am back in San Francisco after returning from Australia and  spending an awkward time at the ancestral manse in Florida spinning my wheels with nothing to do except play video games and grow fatter while my finely tuned academic muscles withered into atrophy.

But no more! School is back in session here at Hastings and the campus is positively buzzing with excitement. Early mornings and ridiculously overpriced textbooks can’t put a damper on my admittedly nerdy happiness with returning to class. The first class is kind of an adventure for me, because I tend to cut bait pretty quickly if the professor seems incompatible with my learning style. So far they all seem like keepers. My Corporations professor (who is Asian) won me over with his deadpan assertion that he won’t remember anyone’s name because all westerners look alike to him. I also like that he admitted from the outset that the subject matter was boring and dull and that we should not expect to be entertained in class. At least he owned up to it. But a good teacher can capture attention even if the class itself is dry and dull.

I am now on the downward slope of my law school career, halfway through my second year and well past the point of no return. It’s gone surprisingly fast. Spending a semester in the southern hemisphere was great, but it alienated me from my home school. Hastings feels kind of strange and distant to me now. It is oddly small after the overstuffed campus at UNSW. It will likely take me a few weeks to get acclimated to the school again. It almost feels like I’m a new student here. The mad rush of the start of the semester helps because it doesn’t leave much time notice the strangeness of renovated rooms and hangouts that are no longer cool.

I start the semester like I always do, buying my books late and dreading the professor spiteful enough to cold call on the first day of class. I much prefer the more relaxed “Here’s your syllabus. The exam is essay. My office hours are Monday at 2:00. See you next week.” school of introductory classes but they are few and far between here at Hastings. I renew my resolution to really study and commit to kicking academic ass this semester and not slack and procrastinate like I did last semester before proceeding to procrastinate and slack and maybe still manage to kick academic ass but only in mad fervor to get everything done in the last month of classes. But this time I really will review my notes every week and make my outline as the class progresses.

And maybe I will also blog more, learn a new language, and stop looking at cute pictures of cats on the internet for hours.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

2L Dispatch: Nose, Meet Grindstone. Grindstone, Nose.

I’m not getting too much touristy stuff done lately because I’m hard at work on slamming some papers out. With any luck I can meet my scholarly obligations over the next week so that I’ll have a free hand to get out of Sydney and see some of greater New South Wales area. Most of my classes have intensive units of instruction at the beginning and several papers due along the way to the end of the semester, but not a whole lot in between. I managed to choose classes without exams, so rather than the high-pressure cram and worry final sprint I find myself doing more writing, and doing it (more) consistently. It feels kind of good, and simultaneously more and less scary than the horrors of my 1L year. Less, because in writing several papers I have more than one At-Bat, and more time in which to work so the soul-crushing weight is a little lighter. More because my legal writing and research class and finals aside, I haven’t done much law school writing. Finals were more a mad dash to info-dump and push my analysis out as quickly as I could without worrying about citations or the like. LWR was more about briefs and memos than the scholarly work they seem to expect of me here at UNSW.

I’m approaching the first deadlines right now, and so I am in a bit of a scramble to get the first round of papers done. I’ve been known to have something of a problem with procrastination, putting things off until the buzzing of the all-pervasive deadline of doom becomes unbearable. I’ve done a little better, but the lion’s share of the writing still lies ahead.

In choosing my classes at UNSW, I made it a point to opt for the more internationally-focused offerings. I did this both because I can foresee no future circumstance where having an in-depth knowledge of Australian sports law would be a benefit. I’m interested in getting the Australian perspective and everything, I just felt like studying more global issues would be better. Also, I’m still kind of sitting on the fence as to whether to focus on International law or intellectual property law so I think I’ll complement this semester with more IP classes in the spring.

The paper I’m avoiding working on by grinding out this blog post shares my position on the straddle of said theoretical fence. I’m exploring the degree to which the international harmonization of IP laws is good for economic development and social welfare. It’s exactly as exciting as it sounds. To be sure, these are big questions and I’m the type of person who tends to work out the Answers to Big Questions in the course of writing them. I lost count of the number of times I’ve created an outline for an argument and then found myself completely switching position once I waded in and the words started flowing.

Initially I wanted to go the route of arguing that the harmonization of these IP laws, as embodied by the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO and the TRIPS Plus standards that use it as a baseline, was bad for developing countries because it forced them to adopt the system of IP rights that heavily favor the bigger boys at the table. Does Indonesia really benefit from adopting the same copyright standard as the U.S.? Surely, one size does not fit all.

On the development side, it may well be true that the vast majority of patent holders in developing countries are multinational corporations and the jury is still out on the degree to which staunch IP laws actually spur innovation but I think at the very least it has to open the door for foreign investment. That can only be good for the developing countries.

Now, I think I am more or less convinced that robust IP protection can be good for the economic development of poorer countries, while at the same time having a negative effect on the social welfare. I think I have to conclude that economic good and social good are not always the same thing, and are not inextricably linked.

Oh, well. Back to work…