Saturday, December 16, 2006

John Barlas "Oblivion"

Oblivion! is it not one name of death?
Nay, is not Lethe death's most dismal name,
Death growing hour by hour within our frame,
Death settling slowly in our brain, the breath
Of the soul ebbing, so that he who saith,
I am to-day as yesterday the same,
Lies, for his thoughts are fled like smoke from flame,
And like the dew his sorrow vanisheth.
Changed is the river, though the waves remain,
Which rocks of slowlier-changing circumstance
Plough up in every day of chafing foam.
Changed is the river, gone, gone to the main,
Yesterday's dream and last year's happy chance,
And the heart's thoughts again return not home.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Am I just really tired or is this sentence as strange as I think it is:

"A state may not, consistent with the Supremacy Clause, lay a tax “directly upon the United States”...What the court cases leave room for, then, is the conclusion that tax immunity is appropriate in only one circumstance: when the levy falls on the United States itself [or an a closely connected agency or instrumentality]."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Casebook and Exams

I might as well go on and continue to complain about how absolutely ridiculous law school can be.

Today's Topic: The Casebook and Exams

Where to start. In law school we do not have "textbooks" (e.g., something that explains the material outright). We have "casebooks." The casebook is supposed to be a way for people to think for themselves and it is supposed to mimic the real life research methods of lawers. It consists of edited down cases placed one after another. From these cases (which come from all over the country) you are supposed to put everything together in your head so you can answer the legal issues presented by the exam.

But casebook writers realized that they could not just put cases in the book. To teach an entire area of law would require too many cases. Instead, they came up with the idea of putting "notes" after the cases. These notes are supposed to fill in the blanks, ask questions etc.

So what we have now is a big disorganized piece of shit. Some casebooks have as many notes as they do cases. What do I call this? A textbook in denial. I hate the textbook in denial. It is a terrible way to present information.

To give an example, we read 640 pages in constitutional law this year. The notes are absolutely backbreaking. Sometimes the notes can be over twenty pages long and list case after case with their respective dissents and concurrences.

But this is what makes it ridiculous: my conlaw exam is only 3 hours (and the only grade for the year)! If one types roughly 60 words a minute, that is about 10,000 words. Of course, you need a lot of time to think and read the exam, so you can assume it is between 6,000 and 8,000. Why is so much information presented that can't be used? Is it for my edification? I am all about learning the history of constitutional law, but If I need to brush up on conlaw (or anything else for that matter) a casebook is the LAST place I or anyone else would go. And is this really the best time to introduce the dissent in U.S. v. **** from 1810 which was overruled in 1811 when a law student has 10-13 other credits and other bloated casebooks to deal with ?

What is the point? Is it there to throw too much information in our faces to see who can sort out what is important?

I want to do well in this class and read every note and case. But as I prepare I have to ask myself with every paragraph "am I realistically going to be able to use this?"

And then these idiots wonder why students rely so much on commercial outlines.

One of my professors said something interesting the other day that helps me make sense of all of this. His exam is extremely long and we only have three hours to do it. He told us that the reason why the time limit is so short is because the longer he makes it, the closer together the scores will be. I though this shed a lot of light on law school and its methods. We are all very close in intelligence, and some of this stuff just isn't that complicated, therefore the school has to make things as artificially complicated as possible so they can sort us out by grades. That is fine, but it means that the real difference between an A and a B+ (or worse) in that class is a person's speed (and general test taking ability). So that person gets the A, but does it really mean he is smarter or in any way better off than the person who gets the B+?

To give an example, I took an exam today and was very careful with time. 7 minutes a question. The girl next to me didn't finish. I will almost definitely get a higher grade then her unless I completely messed up. But should I have a higher grade then her just because I timed myself better? Does it mean that I will be a better lawyer? Does it mean that I know more about the subject than her?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Preperation for Adversity

The concept of preparation for adversity is merely a dishonest tool.

I have been waiting for an example of this logic to come up so I could write about. It did not take long:

"What is the right learning environment for today's law students...lawyers live in an Alpha Wolf world, and the sooner we prepare our students for that reality, the better."

This argument has one role: to justify asshole behavior throughout the ages. There has not been one stage in my life where some authority figure hasn't said "things aren't this bad now, but since they may be bad later, we have to make them bad now, otherwise you will not be prepared." I remember vividly my elementary school teachers justifying some of what they were doing because "in middle school things are going to be much tougher."

This argument assumes that a person will not be prepared for adversity until they experience adversity, which is not true at all (as I explain here in a different context). In fact, experiencing adversity early may make us less able to face adversity in the future because it may make us disillusioned. In addition, one could argue that if we start with the proposition that the "real world" will be "alpha," we can argue that law school should be "alpha." But since law school should be Alpha, then college has to be too. But if college has to be rough, then high school should be too.

The argument that one has to be "prepared" for adversity is nothing more than an easy justification for people to be assholes to each other.

We should have more confidence in our fellow human beings. Many brave soldiers fought in WWII without being prepared their whole lives for death and carnage. Human beings are built to handle adversity. They don't have to be prepared.

Law School

From a guide about breaking into teaching law:

"At least until the turn of the century, the vast majority of lawyers obtained their education on the job, essentially as apprentices, while others studied in proprietary law schools (like Litchfield, in Connecticut) and a few obtained an education at law departments in universities like Harvard and Columbia. From the standpoint of traditional arts and sciences faculties at universities, law looked like a "trade" – again in the pejorative sense – and not an academic discipline. After Langdell at Harvard mounted a massive public relations effort to enhance the prestige of legal education, more universities opened law schools, but they were often considered stepchildren by the rest of the university. It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not entirely incorrect to say that the legal academy has for this reason always had a bit of an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the wider university, and has sought to defend itself against allegations of being a "mere" trade school by mimicking the standards of other university departments. If it helps to personify the legal academy, imagine it holding up a law review article and saying to the university, "Look here, we can produce turgid prose with lots of footnotes, just like you!" The attempt to gain standing in the eyes of the university helps explain the sexiness of interdisciplinary scholarship like law and economics, law and social science, law and philosophy, postmodern legal theory (drawing from literary criticism, cultural studies, and some branches of sociology and anthropology), and so on. "

Some thoughts:
1. The "inferiority" complex' described above is probably the worst thing about legal academia. It is the reason why we don't learn anything in law school that we can use in practice. It is the reason why law school is three years long instead of one or two. Hardly anyone can defend the third year of law school, but its reason for being there is obvious - it is one year longer than a masters degree (and it is another 30,000+ dollars from every student).

Recently some schools have been changing their curriculum, but I think the changes have to be drastic. So far Stanford's looks like the best to me (from here):

"Stanford unveiled its new "3D" JD plan earlier this week. The new program -- which Dean Larry Kramer hopes will be completed in 2009 -- will focus on making changes to the second and third years of law school. Stanford plans to integrate the JD curriculum with other university departments, allow for more than 20 joint degree programs, and create more opportunities for team learning."

2. I also find this interesting:

"A substantial percentage of plausible teaching candidates comes from only 4 schools – Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Chicago...Getting a teaching position with a J.D. from a school significantly farther down the food chain would be akin to walking on water, unless you are #1 in your class, have a graduate degree in law or some other discipline, and have a record of good publications."

If there is one thing I was not prepared for in law school it was how much school prestige would become an important factor in my life.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Best Pre-Law Major?

What is the best pre-law major? A lot of people ask this question, and a lot of people are tragically misled. Most people think: “what will prepare me best” but that is the wrong question to be asking. When you pick your pre-law major you should be asking “what will set me apart and what will help me get a job.”

I think a "pre-law" major is a tragic missed opportunity. You have one shot at an undergraduate degree. In law school you will learn more law than you will need. You will have three years to study the Constitution and hone your legal logic. There is no reason to “prepare” for this three year preparation. No undergraduate major will give you an “edge” over your classmates since all of the material will be new to everyone. Use your undergraduate degree to set yourself apart and gain a skill in something in case you decide not to go to law school.

I learned this lesson when I began to look at job postings. Many of them require and undergraduate degree in the sciences or in business. A unique undergraduate degree is a great way to break in to the job market. For instance a degree in computer science could be valuable to a firm with clients in the computer business.

While I have never sat in on a law school admissions committee, I would imagine that in a pool of 50 candidates, if 49 are liberal arts majors and one is a science major, that science major will stick out much more.

Majoring in something like “pre-law” is wasting an opportunity to set yourself apart from your peers both when it comes to getting into law school and (more importantly) getting a job afterwards. I majored in philosophy, and while I more than happy with that decision (if any major prepares you for law, it is philosophy), I do wish now that I had double majored.

If you are sure that you want to major in one of the liberal arts, then do it because you love the subject, and not because you think it will pay off in law school.