Tagged in: law school

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…

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: 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: 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.

1L Dispatch: It’s That Time, The Time Usually Referred to as Crunch

You can feel it crackling in the air in every class. It’s almost time for exams, and the student body is visibly stressed. There are still two weeks before the ordeals begin, but that is not as much time as it might seem. The pressure has already driven at least one Hastings student to the edge. As a lowly 1L, this will be the first time I’ve taken a law school exam. My testing up till now had been of a completely different order than what the professors look for on law school exam questions. I’ve been working feverishly to get myself ready, creating outlines and synthesizing the metric ton of information that they’ve thrown at me over the past four months into something that will help me get through. It will be new for me and I’ve chosen to take a Neitsche-ian view regarding the bolstering effects of non-lethal experiences.

The problem is that these will not be objective tests where merely knowing the pertinent information and explaining your answer is enough. No. These professors are thirsty for blood. Mere application of rules will not satiate their sadistic urges, they want to see their students embrace all the issues and argue from a number of different points. Their weapons are fact patterns and they mercilessly deny their students the surety and comfort of objective truth. I can picture them laughing with malicious glee as they design their exam questions for maximum trapping power. They probably high five each other as they lay out forks in the law and red herrings and picture their students flailing and glomming on to the wrong issues.

1L Dispatch: The First Month, Waxing On and Waxing Off

I find it a little hard to believe that the monthaversary of my law school career is here already. It seems like just yesterday I was first pissing my pants because I got called on the very first day. Thank you, Socratic method.

Everything feels like it’s starting to come together (at least a little). In those heady first couple weeks, I felt a little lost. I was doing the reading, briefing the cases, and not playing solitaire during class. But still I couldn’t quite grasp the concepts. Or more precisely, I couldn’t put my finger on which aspe3cts of the cases were important. Class discussions always surprised me, because other students would lock in on parts of the case that had escaped my notice. While I could follow the flow generally, I had no idea where things would go next.

Now, while I might not be the whiz-kid golden boy in every class, it feels like I have a better grip on the material and the way I’m supposed to be thinking about it. And from what I understand the whole point of law school is to train the mind to think like a lawyer, to be able to hold two contradictory sides of an argument and support both. I suppose that if you were to compare my situation with The Karate Kid (as I like to do with just about everything), I would be at the point where I just finished painting Mr. Miyagi’s fence. After I bitched about not learning anything, he showed me how the “wax on, wax off” motion could be used to totally block an attack. I’m still far away from tackling the Cobra Kai in the All-Valley Tournament, and I haven’t gotten anywhere near the legal equivalent of the Crane Kick but I feel like I turned an important corner.

1L Dispatch: The First Week of Law School

After walking from one side of San Francisco to the other multiple times, pondering my future with every step, I have decided to take the plunge into the new and exciting world of law school. That’s right. I am now a law student at University of California, Hastings College of the Law. What made me decide to buckle down and fly right, forgoing the pleasures of pure academia for a more professional degree? Well, I still dither and plan to pursue a dual degree in English once I have completed the horrid first year of law school, but I decided that a legal education opened way more doors and there are just too many opportunities in the law. So for better or worse, I am at the lowest rung of the legal ladder.

As a lowly 1L , I’ve been cast into the deep end of the pool and am expected to learn to swim (in the metaphorical waters of legal reasoning). Law school was initially designed as a sort of intellectual boot camp, meant to separate the wheat of future litigators from the chaff of wannabes with six-figure salaries in their eyes who don’t have the gears to hack it.

Maybe it isn’t what it used to be in the old days of the Paper Chase, but the Socratic method is alive and well. I was called on during the first 10 minutes of my first class. I had done the reading, but I wasn’t %100 sure what I was being asked and so had to hem and haw my way through an answer. While I fared slightly better than Miss South Carolina, it was hardly my most shining moment. There were others who gave smoother replies to the law professor’s queries, and in a certain sense they are my new blood-enemies who must be crushed and driven before me so that I may hear the lamentation of their women. That’s another new aspect of life in law school: the pervasive spirit of competition. Hastings is not as cutthroat as some other law schools out there, but there is a very real sense in every class that I am competing against the other students in the room. It’s all part of the legal education.

The reading is intense, in degree if not in quantity. I am forced to wade through old cases written in a prose style designed more to display the author’s acumen with arcane legalistic jargon than for ease of reading. There are also some tortuous winding applications of logic that require concentration to follow. It’s not the kind of reading you can do while watching the Colbert Report. The reading is heavy, both in the subject matter and the physical weight of the books. But I’m getting a handle on it.

(photo by Jessie Nix)(photo by: Jessie Nix)

Missteps and heavy reading aside, I’m adapting fairly well to the new situation. The classrooms of higher learning are like a second home to me and I will always adapt to them. One week down, too many more to go…