That’s amore.

"The state of Illinois sued the Dave Matthews Band on Tuesday for allegedly dumping up to 800 pounds of liquid human waste from a bus into the Chicago River, dousing a tour boat filled with passengers.”

02 Sep 04


Week 2.

Anxiety of the unknown has dissipated among the 1L class, probably to be replaced shortly by anxiety over the exam. Law school classes each have one final exam, which is your whole grade.

However, they’re all open-book and previous exams are posted online by the professors (as well as student answers) Being a curious character I checked them out this week, not because I am a exam-hounding loser but because being a sparse note-taker it gives me some guidance. The largest part of each exam involves a lengthy hypothetical case that you’re asked to diassemble & put back together in stages. Seems reasonable.

The single exception is Legal Skills, which has several graded writing assignments through the semester and then a final exam & grade at the end of the year.

Otherwise, the students seem to be acclimated to their instructors (and vice versa) at this point. My favorite class so far is civil procedure. While I could quibble about a few habits of my professors I have to say overall the teaching quality is excellent. When I went to college, half my professors were bored by being there and the other half were barely functional in English. So the little things don’t bother me.

03 Sep 04


Nominee, best case name.

A federal lawsuit from 1990 concerning gays in the military:

High Tech Gays v. DISCO (Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office)

04 Sep 04


Suits & ties.

There were a lot of not especially well-tailored suits wandering the halls today so I asked what the deal was. On-campus interviewing for 2nd year summer jobs.

What I gather is the 2nd summer job at a firm is often an audition for a permanent position so the pressure is on! NOW!!

Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to participate in this process next year because I would find it entirely too absurd. Not that I disagree that looking the part is an important step towards getting the part. But there’s something about putting students in suits that’s a little disingenuous and sad (not pathetic sad, wistful sad, the hard laser of reality lighting up the dim recesses of what folks see as ‘the future’)

07 Sep 04


yeah, but these students wearing suits aren’t 18 year olds.....they’ve already finished their first round of college......and maybe more....


Posted by: Pam at September 8, 2004 03:03 PM

Brain freeze.

I had my first ‘oh shit’ moment yesterday. In civil procedure we were reading the famous case (among law students) Pennoyer v Neff and the guy whom the teacher had asked to give a summary to the class was coming up with all this narrative information that I totally missed.

The land was used for logging? Neff lived in California? What? I was flipping through the casebook, assuming my reading & retention skills had gotten very lax very quickly. Then I couldn’t find the references, so I was fully confounded.

After class I asked the guy where those tidbits were—he admitted they were not in the casebook, he had done separate research on the web. Aha ... my self-esteem was restored.

08 Sep 04


he sounds like a brown nose....and no one else challenged him or asked where he had found the info?

Posted by: Pam at September 8, 2004 03:05 PM

Bell curve self-esteem.

The torts professor paused class today to give an amusing view of the scaled grading process. Paraphrasing him:

“Your grade only reflects your performance relative to other class members on one exam on one day. Yes, 20% will get Cs, and 20% will get As.

“But if I took all the faculty of UCLA and gave them the exam, 20% would get Cs and 20% would get As.

“If I gave the exam to all Nobel laureates, 20% would get Cs and 20% would get As.

“There is no such thing as a ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ exam, since if you find it hard, chances are everyone else does too. The worst that can happen is on the basis of grades, you will be rejected by certain law firms for certain jobs. So what?”

I imagine there are some students who would take issue with the last bit. I thought it was a worthwhile reminder that the real downside of graduating from a top-flight law school is pretty slim.

09 Sep 04


Week 3 & justice.

I’m not dead yet, nobody is actually. Next week looks to be a little busier, with some extra reading and a couple short writing assignments, but 1L has still been entirely reasonable in its demands.

One word we have yet to hear meaningfully intoned is ‘justice’. Not that I came to indulge some (in my case nonexistent) ideal about justice. But even the name of law school draws the distinction: though we’d probably all say that one of the highest ideals of the legal system is implementing “justice”, we’re not going to “justice school”.

I took the most popular undergrad course at Harvard, called Justice, wherein a government professor occupied 15 weeks lecturing about various philosophical concepts of justice through history. As you can tell a lot of it stayed with me.

The various court opinions we’ve read so far will talk about “fairness” and considerations of morals and social policy but they stay far away from the J-word.

I think the answer is hidden in plain view: the legal system may produce justice as a side effect, but it is not (and could not be) designed to do so. For instance, civil procedure is described by the teacher as a means of dispute resolution—not a means of producing justice in disputes.

And maybe “resolution” contains the clue: what law provides is solutions. One thing I’m gratified by is how concrete legal education is: there’s no hundreds of pages of theory occasionally punctuated by a case that happens to illustrate some ideal behavior. The textbooks are built around the history of actual cases, actual opinions, actual mistakes, actual resolutions.

And what you quickly see is that part of the nature of law is that it’s full of holes, some small, some large. Cases roll into those holes and humans have to kind of tow them out of the ditch using logic and common sense and other reasonable but fallible faculties of judgment.

Indeed, part of a successful judicial opinion is that it fills as few holes as needed to resolve the case, and leaves the rest open to another day—so they can be addressed under the practical requirements of a future case, and not solved as some kind of thought experiment in the present.

10 Sep 04


We are enjoying reading your notes on your first year of law school. I was particularly amused by your comments on the absence of justice. Going through the divorce process let me know in aces that the system was not about justice, but about dispute resolution, whether is civil or criminal.

You would enjoy reading Alan Dershowitz’ book called “The Genesis of Justice.” No surpise, he traces the evolution of thinking about justice and law back to the Old Testament and the Garden of Eden...Cain slew Abel, etc.

We love you. Looking forward to seeing you in November. Hope US Air is still flying!

Posted by: Jimby at September 11, 2004 06:34 AM

Four men, one vote.

Colorado is considering changing its electoral vote rules to distribute them proportionately by the popular vote, instead of winner take all. Were you aware that states could independently change their elector policy? I sure wasn’t.

Even if every state adopted this policy it wouldn’t address a more fundamental problem, which is that not every vote is equal in a national election. Though it’s unclear whether this is truly a flaw, as the framers of the constitution wanted small states to be somewhat overrepresented in the electoral college, as they are in congress.

The most valuable vote in America is one cast in Wyoming, where they have 3 electoral votes for a population of 500,000, or one for every 167,000 people. At the bottom of the list is Texas, with one electoral vote for every 650,000 people, roughly four times as many.

Here’s a list of what every individual resident’s vote is worth relative to the ‘gold standard’ of Wyoming.

100% Wyoming

89% Dist. of Columbia

81% Vermont

79% North Dakota

77% Alaska

66% South Dakota

62% Rhode Island

61% Delaware

55% Montana

53% Hawaii

52% New Hampshire

51% Maine

49% Idaho

48% Nebraska

46% West Virginia

45% New Mexico

40% Iowa

37% Nevada

37% Kansas

37% Arkansas

36% Utah

35% Mississippi

34% Connecticut

33% Louisiana

33% Alabama

33% Oklahoma
33% Colorado

33% Minnesota

33% Oregon

32% Kentucky

32% South Carolina

32% Missouri

31% Tennessee

31% Massachusetts

31% Wisconsin

30% Maryland

30% Washington

30% Arizona

30% North Carolina

30% Indiana

29% Virginia

29% Ohio

29% New Jersey

29% Georgia

28% Pennsylvania

28% Michigan

28% Illinois

27% New York

27% Florida

26% California

26% Texas

13 Sep 04



The professors sometimes make (good-natured?) barbs about each others’ classes. Professor Civil Procedure, being the most deadpan, is also the most successful at this.

An aside on Torts, while reviewing a personal injury case: “So you’re taking Torts right? Duty, breach, causation, damages. I just taught you the whole class.”

After a student observed that a Civ Pro word also appeared in Criminal Law: “It means something different there. Who knows what that class is about anyways?”

14 Sep 04


>Duty, breach, causation, damages.

That really does sum it all up, actually.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell at September 21, 2004 04:44 PM

Causation: not as simple as it looks.

Posted by: MB at October 1, 2004 10:52 PM

Week 4.

Rosh Hashanah is not a national holiday but in LA it might as well be. All our classes were cancelled on Thursday.

This week we had our first two writing assignments, a research project and a memorandum. The teaching assistant was at great pains to insist that we use actual law library books for the research, and not look it up online (which is exactly the same data)

I did the project online and then double checked my work by using the books: it came out the same. There are advantages of using the books to find cases in certain topic areas, because it encourages you to browse in areas you might not have thought of on your own. But getting the cases themselves is much easier online.

The other problem with the books is that generations of law students before you have had the same assignment and have helpfully circled all the cases you need to complete the assignment. No such passive cheating online.

The memo was to practice writing in a heavily structured “objective memorandum” format. Whether actual law firms use this structure, who knows. I doubt it—it’s tedious to read, the format specifies that you state your conclusion 5 separate times.

Today I availed myself of a professor’s office hours for the first time. He teaches criminal law, which to me is the most confusing class, but he told me it’ll continue to be confusing and that I shouldn’t worry, as I have a good grasp of the material. I do? Half the answers I volunteer in class are incorrect. Ah, he says, but at least you show evidence of thinking. It’s the people who have said nothing for 4 weeks that he worries about.

17 Sep 04


What part of ‘do not call’...

I hate to be a rat but ... a telemarketer (raising money for some shady Democratic organization whose non-profit status was not verifiable) called me today and I said:

“uh, I’m on the national do not call list.”

“We have our own list.”

“Well, there’s a national list now.”

“I wasn’t aware of that.”

Sure buddy. I pried the name of his employer out of him but when he realized what was happening he wouldn’t give me the phone number. Nevertheless I had enough information to file a complaint at I expect indictments to be handed down shortly.

19 Sep 04


Masked & anonymous.

Another twist on the undergraduate grading motif is all exam grading at law school is done anonymously. When you take an exam (either in bluebooks or, more prevalently these days, on your laptop) you are given a number to put on your exam and the teacher grades the number, not the name. The records office is the only one who knows which names go to which numbers.

According to the student handbook it’s a serious offense to include any information in your exam that might imply your identity (“Ever since I was a young man growing up in Singapore ... “)

The result is that brown-nosing as a competitive sport is non-existent. Being nice to a professor, or for that matter being an ass, has no bearing on your final evaluation. He or she will never know.

21 Sep 04


I had the strangest dream.

Last night I had pork for dinner. This is relevant because I’ve noticed a correlation between eating pork and having really strange, vivid dreams later on in the evening.

Anyhow, hours after eating the pork, I had a dream that a classmate & I were going to lunch and had somehow finagled Prof Torts into going with us. (Not that we have some waking fantasy to have lunch with him.) Shortly after we get to the restaurant, Prof Torts disappears. We wait a reasonable time and then, mystified, go ahead with our meal.

As we leave, Prof Torts stumbles towards the entrance, now staggeringly drunk. We pause to consider the signficance of his newfound alcohol depedency, and in the near term, how to return him to his afternoon classes with the least fuss.

23 Sep 04


Week 5, continued assimilation.

I had a magic moment today: I read the following paragraph and it seemed like a concise, clear example of english-language prose.

“An elementary and fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding which is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections. The notice must be of such nature as reasonably to convey the required information and it must afford a reasonable time for those intersted to make their appearance. But if with due regard for the practicalities and peculiarities of the case these conditions are reasonably met the constitutional requirements are satisfied.”

24 Sep 04


This bodes well for your future career. You could easily charge for 2 or 3 read-throughs of that thicket of words. :)

Posted by: Justina Carlson at September 26, 2004 05:22 AM

This is why I am not awyer. When I read sentences like this, my eyes glaze over. I can’t even write a sentence like this,much less read it and understand it.

Still trying to make sense of the pork dinner and the mysterious lunch with your professor. Must either be something deep and substantial or mere indigestion and a concern for that prof’s course work.

Surprised to hear that grades are of not much consequence. Medical school is still very much tuned into grades get best residencies get best jobs later on. Turns out, payors screw us all in the end. They don’t care who finishes first or last.

Be well.

Posted by: James Butterick at October 5, 2004 04:39 AM

Life lessons from torts.

When you see a warning like this, regardless of how ridiculous, it’s safe to infer:

1) somebody attempted the action depicted (rocking the vending machine)

2) they offered the explanation given (expectation of free soda)

3) they were injured (by a falling vending machine) and filed a claim to recover damages.

25 Sep 04


I’ve rocked the machine. A couple times, at least. Not a Coke machine, but those nosh boxes that hold fatal snacks on metal corkscrew clips all in a row. Sometimes the machine takes your money won’t completely detach the snack bag. Pull the machine back toward you from the top, shake a bit, the bag drops, and you get what you paid for.

Of course, if the thing fell on me, I’d have only myself to blame, although I’m sure, alas, that I’d be able to find an attorney to take the case.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell at September 28, 2004 08:51 AM

However, you didn’t expect free product. You were essentially trying to resolve a breach of contract issue.

Posted by: MB at September 28, 2004 01:27 PM

I can’t wait to be able to hire you.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell at October 2, 2004 07:06 PM


I’m in a negative mood this week. I considered cutting my afternoon class so I could leave school at noon (I didn’t). I suspect it’s the quickly-shortening daylight hours messing with my brain.

One substantive point of law school that bothers me is how many assignments are ungraded—- namely all of them, except the final exam. Forget about whether it makes sense to weight a final exam that much. I just find it hard to get excited about revising a paper that has no bearing whatsoever on my grade. If I spend time on it and do a great job, it has the same effect as if I’d just blown it off until the last minute.

29 Sep 04


I agree. What’s their rationale?


Posted by: Pamby at September 30, 2004 04:06 AM

Maybe tradition. Maybe compliance with ABA requirements. I’ll attempt to find out.

Posted by: MB at September 30, 2004 07:04 AM

On reflection, the answer is simpler. You’re a professor. Why make more work for yourself?

Also, because of the need for things to be graded on the curve, any graded assignment calls for a special level of planning & care in grading. They can’t just throw out a bunch of As and Bs and call it a day.

Posted by: MB at October 7, 2004 07:53 PM

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