Category Archives: law school

2L Dispatch: The Ugly American

I’ve noticed a trend developing in my classes here in Sydney (all of which have an international law focus). In the early parts of class, the Professor and/or another student will speak of the U.S. in less-than-flattering terms. It’s no surprise considering that in any discussion about WTO intellectual property requirements, the United States is the elephant in the room and it would be absurd to talk about international agreements without mentioning the driving force behind them. Nor am I shocked to discover that the rest of the world does not look as favorably on America as America looks on herself.

The most splenetic vitriol usually spews from other students, and not form the Professors. I picked my previous graduate degree up in Cape Town, and what I’ve been noticing is a continuation of the trend that began there. What’s interesting to me is to watch the reactions of the class after I make my first comment or ask my first question and my American accent alerts them that they have an Imperialist in their midst. I tend to be the lone American voice despite the high numbers of international students in my UNSW classes. The demographics skew more toward the Asian and European, with a lonely Canadian being the only refugee from North America. Sometimes I agree with a point and sometimes I disagree. Generally, the my contrarian streak prompts a rise in patriotism whenever I’m away from home, usually in an inverse relation that involves a complicated calculus factoring in time away from home, distance from America, number of pints consumed, and level of discourse (serious or just law students doing what law students do best- argue). Suffice it to say that I’m never more Pro-America than when I’m surrounded by classmates who are clearly anti-.

I tell them to hate the Game, not the Playa.

And it’s not like the realization that there is a U.S. citizen in the House slows down the haters. But usually after I make my nationality known people tend to glance at me as they are making their points. Perhaps they want to make sure that I’m not about to fly into a jingo-istic rage and demonstrate a Washington Consensus to  dropkick them or put a Toby Keith-ian “boot up their ass.”

I won’t, of course. But it’s amusing to see them glancing at me out of the corner of their eyes as they comment. This even applies to Professors. I’ve noticed a few sidelong glances from my International Contexts of IP Law prof as she discussed the strong hand of the U.S. Trade Representative.

I suppose that there is some expectation that I will react, if not with cartoon violence, than at least with a vigorous and spirited defense of my homeland. Sometimes I do. Sometimes, I agree with the criticism. I’ve never been a fan of knee-jerk reactions and my relationship with my country is a complicated one.

I get the feeling that this surprises some of my classmates. After a small group discussion about what it means to be [whatever Nationality you are], one woman told me that she thought it was strange that I listed negative aspects of the American character.  She didn’t list any for Australia. She said that wouldn’t be too wierd, because she knows that there are Americans who are critical of the government and culture. But she said she was taken aback by the fact that I also listed a number of positives. She would have been more comfortable with a binary state. I am an American who (circle one) Hates/Loves America! The fact that my feelings are more complex struck her as odd. When I asked why, she told me that her image of what an American is tends toward more rampant boosterism.

This is largely true. But it also largely untrue. We are large; we contain multitudes.

Exile in Bondi: First Impressions of Sydney

So I’m living in Sydney for a while. Been here a couple weeks and am starting to get a feel for the city, its contours and crannies. The city is only now getting back to normal I’m told. My arrival coincided with World Youth Day 2008, a gathering of young Catholics and their guitar-playing, slightly goateed youth group directors. Apparently there were over 200,000 attendees. My first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge was spoiled by the fact that it was covered with an endless line of them, marching in procession. They styled themselves Pilgrims and they swarmed the city for a few weeks.

A woman and several teens were looking around like they were lost and asked me if the bus I was waiting for went to Oxford Street. This was my second day there, and I didn’t have a clue where the place was, so I shrugged and apologized.

“I’m a stranger here myself. Sorry.” Hearing my American accent, she naturally assumed I was part of her group.

“Oh, are you a pilgrim, too?” she asked.

“Yes. Yes I am. Would you like me to tell you a story about a singing rooster while we wait for the bus?” I replied.

Judging by her horrified expression and the manner in which she gathered her charges up and moved on the next bus stop, I take it she wasn’t a Chaucer fan. Sadly, this is not the first time in my life a Canterbury Tales joke has fallen flat and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The Pilgrims that were here for World Youth Day did an awful lot of singing, and marching while they were here. Things are a little quieter now that they’ve gone and it’s given me more of a chance to explore the city. So far, so good. The people are uniformly warm and friendly and the city is picturesque. I’m living in Bondi Beach, which looks about like this:

photo by betta design

It’s a happening place, with lots of young people and backpackers and whatnot. Outside the downtown CBD area, it has a relaxed sort of pace. There are many surfers, despite the testicle-shriveling combination of weather and water temperatures we’ve had lately. I would sooner sit on the couch and watch Endless Summer (I and II) than actually get in the water and try to surf myself. I’ve never been much a surfer, which is slightly odd because I have usually lived near a beach and I really like surfing movies. Point Break, In God’s Hands, North Shore, hell even Blue Crush. Yet I have only tried it once, and I somehow managed to get a jellyfish between the board and my stomach and it did what jellyfish do. I don’t even like to swim. Or lay out and get a tan.

And yet, I look being near beaches. Walking on them sometimes. Maybe. I am a complex man.

Sydney is expensive. The exchange rate isn’t doing me any favors and the price of everything seems to be slightly jacked up compared to what I’m used to paying in the U.S. (even in California). I’ve still managed to head out a few times. The level of joviality seems high, generally. People tend to sing and chant. Then again, the recent victory of the Wallabies over the hated Allblacks may have artifically inlfated the good cheer quotient. Rugby wins have that effect.

Single beers come in some amount less than a pint, which is disappointing. I was able to counsel one of my roommates against ordering a giant can of Foster’s, which they don’t even seem to have here. I went for a Cowaramup IPA which stood up admirably against my current favorite Sierra Nevada, and nicely demonstrated the Aussie knack for improbable combinations of letters acting as proper names.

Classes just started at UNSW, where I am studying for the semester. Like any nerd, I’ve been looking forward to the start of a new session. Having gone out of my way to avoid Australia-centric classes that won’t help out my overall law school goals (whatever they might end up being, I’m pretty sure Australian criminal litigator isn’t on the list of possible careers), I find myself faced with mostly International Affairs type classes. I am currently re-acquainting myself with the WTO and the other Bretton Woods organizations. It is just as much fun as it sounds.

1L Dispatch: Summer Assisting and Sydney Bound

I guess I’m technically not a 1L anymore, but for now 1L Dispatch sounds a little better than “Rising 2L Dispatch” so I guess I’ll keep it for a little while longer.

Grades have finally rolled in and I didn’t do quite as well as I would have liked, although I can’t really complain. Onward and upward, with nothing below a B. Now I just have to wait for my journal entries to come rolling in to see if I made the cut or not.

In the meantime I have been working as Research Assistant for one of my professors, exploring the seedy underbelly of copyright law which I find interesting anyway. Guess I lucked out. I really want to do a good job, so I’ve been working more than I’m technically supposed to. The pay is paltry and doesn’t really cover the amount of time I’ve been putting in, but that’s my choice. And its not like I have anything else to do anyway now that I have attained %100 completion on Grand Theft Auto IV. I have also been hitting the gym pretty hard in an effort to slough off the extra pounds of lard that accumulated on my ass lately.

My summer looks like this: I wake and lift. I shower. I research. I research. I research. I run. I box. I shower again. I sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. There are worse routines I suppose.

This only lasts another month or so and then I head off to Sydney for my Glamorous Semester Abroad. I’m spending the Fall semester at the University of New South Wales on an exchange program sponsored by my home school, Hastings. But because they are in the Southern Hemisphere and their seasons are wonky, the Fall semester in Australia starts in mid-July. (According to my research, people down there also walk on their hands and hamburgers eat people). This means I leave sunny San Francisco pretty soon. It also means I’ve had to jump through a number of hurdles in order to secure my student visa. I had to get a chest x-ray in order to prove I don’t have TB, perhaps because of the time I spent in South Africa. It seemed like more bureaucratic hoop-jumping than I normally encounter, but I guess that’s just how Australia rolls. The school also sent me a pamphlet with a pretty clear listing of what I am forbidden to bring into the country, on pain of booting.

I’ve done my share of International academic experiences over the years, and by all rights I should have worked this urge out of my system with the two European semesters of my undergrad career and the fact that I got my first graduate degree in South Africa but as soon as I start looking at the brochures from the international office, my mouth starts watering and my feet start itching. I stand in the travel guide section of borders and shuffle back and forth from one foot to the other like a junkie too long without a fix. So here I go.

1L Dispatch: Fun with Fictional Fact Patterns

Questions on law school exams work like this:

There are not very many. The most I had was four and the fewest was one. Each question is broken down into different parts. The exam typically assigns you a make-believe role to play, such as the clerk for a judge, or a junior prosecutor in a hypothetical jurisdiction. It starts with a fact pattern.

This is a little story. It lists the events that have brought these fictional people to your fictional door. The idea is to replicate a situation that may happen after we have left the nurturing bosom of academia and find ourselves in actual practice. This means that we have to take what we know about substantive law and apply it to different real-world circumstances. Events in life are usually messier and less obvious than the test cases we have been studying all year.

After the fact patterns come a few specific essay questions, some of which involve additional or alternate facts to the ones in the pattern. They all require you to demonstrate the concepts covered in the class, though its not always obvious how they apply. Actual resolution of the issues is important, although it doesn’t seem to matter so much whether you are right or wrong. Maybe is enough as long as you show your work.

I’m still waiting on the results of my exams and trying not to compulsively check them online every hour. I’m also thinking back over the whole process. Whether it be to help students digest the facts or because it makes them seem cool, some Professors like to sex the facts up with references to pop culture.

For example: In my Contracts class I assumed the role of a lawyer negotiating a Duff beer distributorship as it passed from one Homer S. to a certain Peter Griffin. Now, my feelings regarding the hierarchy of cartoons is well documented and it was kind of fun to see my man-child love of animation have some bearing on a contracts final. It is a little cutesy, but no one ever accused law professors of not being cheesy.

In Civil Procedure, I had to find the correct jurisdiction and venue for a case involving Scrabulous, the facebook application that I am pretty sure sucks up more law student man hours than the entire history of the Erie doctrine. This lead to some less-than-subtle nudging and winking from the professor about the possibility that students even played the online version of scrabble during class, which my back of the room vantage point confirms. I always wonder what its like for professors in the age of laptops. Back in the day, they had at least the illusion of full attention from their rapt pupils. While I’m sure there were more than a few doodled games of tic-tac-toe, the act of physical note-taking at least makes the Professor feel like he has the attention of the class. He has to know that the backs of our screens conceal solitaire hands and other rivals for our cognitive space. Ours took the exam as an opportunity to wink at us over this, but it made for a good problem because instantly the class could relate to the events of the fact pattern.

On tyhe one hand, these references can come off as a little lame. I’ve rolled my eyes more than once, but usually with at least a half-smile. Pretending to work for Duff beer didn’t really help me understand the problem any better. I would have likely messed up the assignment part of the question with or without the presence of Peter Griffin. But it does demonstrate the humanity of our professors and confirm that they don’t spend all their free hours staring at the walls of their studies and pondering the parol evidence rule.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel like they sail over my head. Criminal law did not seem to have any, unless I missed them and this is surprising because in class, the professor never saw a Star Trek reference she didn’t like. Before her class, I never imagined I would be examining the mental state of Cardassian assassins. I felt sure that her exam would be filled to the brim with name-dropping from the deepest depths of geekery, but I didn’t notice any.

Too bad.

1L Dispatch: The Final(s) Countdown

In just a few short weeks I will be facing off with the dreaded final exams, the last barricade that blocks my path out of 1L-hood. Two of my classes (Contracts and Civil Procedure) are year-long, and this last test counts 75% of the final grade. The other two (Criminal Law and Environmental Law) are semester-long and these final exams will determine my grade for the class. The pressure is high, but having survived this ordeal once already I am slightly more confident than I was last fall. I know what I’m getting into and I won’t flounder like a new fighter who gets dazzled by the lights and crowd. No, I know what’s coming this time and I won’t have to eat a few (pedagogical) punches until I settle down and hit my stride.

That’s the theory anyway. I feel like I’m doing a better job of preparation this time around as far as synthesizing everything I’ve been half-paying attention in class for the year into what I need for the exam. You see, I have resolved not to mess around this time. This time will be different.

A big part of law school exams is what they call “issue spotting” or recognizing the parts of the question that correspond to aspects of the law that the professor has covered in class. I will spot issues like they have never spotted before. I will spot issues like the fat kid at your 6th birthday party spotted the Reese’s Pieces that spewed forth from the pinata: all of them. I plan to spot issues that the professor didn’t even know about when they wrote the exam.

Good law school exam advice tells you that once you have spotted the issues, you are to argue both sides of every issue. Well, I aim to take that one step further. I will not only argue both sides of every issue, but I will argue both sides of both sides of every issue (that’s FOUR sides total!). Surely that will earn me exponentially more credit than those other chumps who stick to the conventional method.

I can hear the naysayers out there saying “Nay! Not only does that not make any sense, but it will eat up all your time and you’ll won’t be able to make the big arguments about the important issues.” Well I find their lack of faith disturbing. That might be true ordinarily, but I have been working to master my time management skills to the point where I can calculate the amount of time it takes me to write a hyperbolic blog post where I make a bunch of ridiculous claims about my exam preparedness out to the millisecond (or possibly deci-second, metric confuses me): 22 minutes, 43 seconds, 1.7 next-lowest measurement. Developing this ability wasn’t easy, but I am confident it will turn out to be a better use of my time than things like studying and outlining.

1L Dispatch: The Oral Fixation

Moot Court is now over, yet another obstacle of my first year of law school that I have sort of blindly skipped my way past. It’s a required class so I had no choice in the matter. Moot court has two aspects, a written brief and an oral argument. The Powers That Be grade it as pass/fail, which sends kind of a mixed message for a required course. On the one hand, this made me happy because it was one less thing to get really worked up over. But like those mysterious breeds of fish you hear about trolling the Mariannas Trench who implode when you remove them from their high-pressure habitat, I need a certain amount of stress to thrive. I think I would have done a much better job on both my written brief and oral argument if I was worried about getting a real grade. When the school says “It’s required, but we only give you a “P” or”F” what I hear is “You have to do it, but only with the bare minimum of effort to not look like a total slacker.” Granted, that has much to do with my own inclinations towards sloth, and with everything else I’ve had going on I won’t be complaining too loudly.

I have been working on a case that was actually argued before the real Supreme Court a couple weeks back. The case has two with some strict gun control laws in Washington D.C. and the Second Amendment. Gun control isn’t one of my pet issues, so I didn’t have strong convictions either way, but my first instinct is usually towards less government control, not more. At the same time, I can see the public safety need for regulation. I was randomly assigned to argue for the District of Columbia ( in favor of a de facto ban on pistols). Training future lawyers to have nimble minds and argue both sides of any issue, and all that. When the real deal went down at the big show, most commentators read the court as probably ruling against my side.

Writing the brief was not the most fun I’ve ever had, but I managed to get through the much-ballyhooed “10 Error Test” which requires the grader to stop reading and automatically bring the red pen hammer down on any brief with more than ten mistakes, be it missed comma or swollen margins. I had exactly ten errors, and so was able to narrowly skate by.

The oral argument was a bigger weight on my mind though. I was pretty sure I would earn my “P” with a good faith effort, and my competitive nature wasn’t kicking in to drive me toward victory. I couldn’t care less if I won the fake argument, but I still got nervous because I didn’t want to look like a total doof up there. It was an intense experience, in an actual court room with a trio of judges who wore actual robes. The simulation was enough to kick my (normally more active than most people’s) sweat glands into high gear and I was literally dripping from my forehead as I approached the podium. But once things got going and I answered the first judge’s questions with stuttering and sputtering and generally choking like a dog trying to swallow a dorito, it was actually fun. The time flew, which was nice because my greatest fear of the whole thing was silence or the sound of crickets chirping. I even pulled an Obama and spent the whole time my opponent was speaking writing down points for rebuttal. There were no big missteps. The only near mistake was when I almost called one of the judges “Coach” which is something I tend to do with male authority figures, probably owing to a youth of organized sports run by grown men in stretch-cotton shorts and whistles hanging from their necks.

I enjoyed myself up there way more than I imagined I would. Not enough to even consider signing up for a Moot Court team next year, mind you, but enough that I won’t just write the whole experience off as a semi-embarrassing waste of time.

1L Dispatch: The People That I Meet

The charter for my law school requires that the college be within a certain proximity to the courts. This gives us access to the center of legal practice here in San Francisco, but it also means that the school is centered in the Tenderloin – as wretched a hive of scum and villainy as you’re likely to find in the Bay Area. It is euphemistically called a neighborhood in transition, but it appears to be a transition from crackden to crazytown.

It’s not that the area is overly dangerous, although we do hear about the occasional incident. But every day on my way to school I get to see something new, be it making my way through a gaggle of annoyed drag queens or watching some of the more colorful Tenderloin denizens ply their wares.  This lady, for example, gave the end of my day a little extra excitement:

Tenderloin Follies

I know that street performers are nothing new, but I felt she really had something special going for her. She is in fact dancing around in her underwear. Outside the United Nations building. In the middle of the afternoon. With a violin (or possibly a lute). The best part: her instrument had no strings and there was no music coming from it or anywhere. San Francisco. Sigh.

1L Dispatch: What I Did on my Winter Vacation

I think that if I ever actually do get a real job, I’m going to have a very hard time getting used to not getting damn near a month off every Winter. I’m not sure why college (and law) students need so much time between the Fall and Spring semesters, but I do know that I was sorely in need of some R&R after my finals. It felt good to let my mind recover from the vagaries of things like promissory estoppel or the Rule Against Perpetuities and settle back with a pile of uncracked novels, virgin comics, and unplayed video games. But it wasn’t all sedentary. Consider that in the last month I have:

  1. Traveled from San Francisco to Portland for a little vacation, then back to San Francisco. Went from San Francisco to Cocoa, FL for a Christmas with the family, then back to San Francisco. Flew from San Francisco to San Diego to visit a friend and ring in the New Year, then back to San Francisco. Hauled my jetlagged ass from San Francisco to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, then back to San Francisco.
  2. Went into internet withdrawal when I was staying with my parents and had to face the reality of dial-up.
  3. Read a few novels, graphic and otherwise.
  4. Cleaned out the remaining books I left at my ancestral manse in Florida, and forced myself to sell (or try to sell) many of my unneeded comics and books on Amazon.
  5. Discovered I am the Worst Gambler in the History of Chance by losing at literally every single game I tried to play in Las Vegas.
  6. Managed to walk through the casinos in the company of a bunch of dudes without anyone ever saying “Vegas, Baby!” (Although there was some singing of the Entourage theme when everyone put on their collared shirts).
  7. Picked up some fashion tips and made a new a friend.
  8. Got pleasantly drunk, multiple times.
  9. Watched the entire 2nd season of The West Wing via Netflix and the 4th season of The Wire OnDemand. I think I can get through the Writer’s Strike…
  10. Cared not a whit about Spider-man making a lame ass deal with the devil.
  11. Saw no fewer than eight movies: There Will Be Blood, Juno, I am Legend, Walk Hard, Charlie Wilson’s War, No Country for Old Men, Atonement, Sweeney Todd. They were pretty much all awesome in their own way and kicked varying amounts of ass.
  12. Saw the inside of a jet hangar. 47 days since the last alcohol related accident. Huzzah!
  13. Watched the drunk girls fall like drowsy babies in downtown San Diego as the bars emptied after the first last call of 2008.
  14. Got an awesome array of theme t-shirts for Christmas. (It pays to have a sister who manages a Hot Topic).
  15. Met my nephew.
  16. Broke a chair.
  17. Finally jumped to the next gen level and got myself an X-Box 360 so that I could: (a) get my mind blown by the game Portal and (b)Enter the underwater Objectivist dystopia of Rapture and both harvest and rescue all the Little Sisters. (Beat the game BioShock, for those who aren’t huge nerds)
  18. Applied for a study abroad program in Australia.

I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty full break. But it’s over now and I find myself shifting once more into 1L gear. Things feel a little more stable this time around because I have some idea what the hell I’m doing now. My grades were decent, and I’m more or less pleased with them. Now Torts has given way to Criminal Law and I’m learning about Environmental Law instead of Property. I’m also back in San Francisco for a little while., with ample broadband so with any luck I’ll start posting with a little more frequency.

1L Dispatch: It’s over… For Now

I turned in my Civil Procedure exam at 11:07 this morning, and with that final keystroke my first exam period came to an end. It’s been kind of a rough patch, but I soldiered on. The hardest part about the whole thing wasn’t the re-reading of old cases, or the outlining of the courses, or even the exams themselves. The hardest part for me was maintaining the right mindset and keeping myself from freaking the fuck out. For the last three weeks I have been walking around in a state of low-grade panic that never seemed to let up. When I wasn’t studying, I felt guilty and worried that I was wasting time. When I was studying, I felt like I wasn’t studying hard enough, or efficiently enough.

Part of that comes from the way law school is designed. Once upon a time, they let pretty much everyone in. Admissions standards used to be much lower, and they would use the first semester to weed out the non-hackers who don’t have the gears to make it in the world of legal education. The rise of the LSAT and massive numbers of would-be lawyers have made the bar to get in that much higher, but the schools still have to separate the wheat from the chaff. And thanks to the competitive nature of law school, it doesn’t really matter how good you do. It only matters how much better or worse you do compared to your classmates. There are only so many As to go around, and we must fight over them in an intellectual deathmatch.

The good news is that I can put the whole thing out of my mind for the next month or so, until the exams are graded. I have a stack of marvel omnibi that are calling my name, and the “to be read” pile for my pleasure books has grown alarmingly tall. I am heading to Portland for a time, where I shall sample the local beers and reacquaint myself with the good life for a while before returning to the toil of the 1L.

1L Dispatch: Not Shopping, Not Playing Video Games.

As we all know, today is the biggest day of the year for American retailers. The stores opened at an ungodly time this morning and they are laying out heavy discounts to draw in those willing to sweat their way through the madness for a good deal. I am abstaining from the whole grisly ordeal even though the recent releases of video games Halo 3, Bio-Shock, and The Orange Box have got me seriously eyeing an X-Box 360 and I could pick one up for an excellent price today.

Why am I foregoing the excellent bargain for pixellated goodness? It’s not because I am fearful of the crowds and want to avoid the suicidal impulses that I usually feel when surrounded by a mass of humanity. I could handle it if I had to. And it’s not because I have chosen to opt out against the rampant consumerism of the modern capitalist culture by buying nothing. Although I suppose I am accidentally supporting the cause.

No, the reason I am not participating in black Friday Shopping is because I am too busy reading, re-reading, summarizing, re-summarizing, paraphrasing, memorizing, and outlining. I have no time for the sweet release of video game purchasing or playing. Like a prize fighter who must always keep his next opponent in mind while he punishes himself in the gym, I have to keep my mind focused on the exams to come while foregoing the pleasures of time off. This close to the end, there is no such thing as time off and I cannot very well memorize (several of the) the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if I allow myself to go buy an X-Box and run around shooting aliens all day.