Law: Seventh Grade Lunch

September 16, 2008

When I was in Middle School, every part of our life was micro managed.  From the minute I walked in the door until the minute I left, there was always someplace I was supposed to be and something I was supposed to be doing.  The most frustrating and important of these assignments was the lunch table. During the first day of school, after everybody sat down, a seating chart was passed around and the place you were sitting became the place you were required to sit for the rest of the year.
This was all well and good, except that over the course of the year, people you once liked really start to grate on you.  Worse yet, the whole “seating process” happens in four minutes, meaning that the first four minutes of lunch largely determine how much you will enjoy the rest of the year.

Why does this matter?  Well, when you walk into lunch that first day, all you really care about is getting a place to sit.  The better the people the happier you are.  Nothing is worse than being left at a table with the oddballs.  You know, the guy with the back brace, the girl that doesn’t shower, and the guy that picks his nose knuckle deep.  Thankfully, I was consistently able to dodge this fate however I will never forget the mad scramble:  Priority one, get a seat, priority two don’t sit with the weirdos, priority three, best seat possible to make the year go as well as you can, and hanging over your head during all of this is the likelihood that you won’t like whoever you find within a few months.

Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while know where this is going:  every day it becomes clearer and clearer to me that OCI is the first day of middle school lunch.  Here we all are, scurrying around campus in four weeks trying to find the best seat firm possible.  Just like cafeteria lunch, the first priority is getting a job.  Nothing is worse than being left standing (unemployed) when time (OCI) runs out.  After you know you will have a seat the priority is not being left with the weirdos.  In firm employment, the weirdos are the “semi-big law” firms.  I don’t mean boutiques or good midlaw firms, I mean the type of firms that are clearly second teir in a city:  you work the same hours for less pay, less prestige and worse exit opportunities.  Think Heller in CA, Locke Lord in IL, and anybody not in the Amlaw 50 in NY and DC.

After you avoid the outcasts, its just a matter of how high up the social ladder (Vault/AmLaw rankings) you can get.   If you have some good friends with the same lunch, you might gladly sit with them and say you didn’t want to be at the cool kids table (working for a lifestyle firm or s strong boutique that is still a notch below the big boys) but in the end, you will be judged based on where you work sit.

And of course, just like Middle School, no matter how fast you scramble or how well you consider your seat, after a few Middle School months (Law Firm Years) you will want nothing more than to leave your table and sit somewhere else, anywhere else (lateral).

At least the firms let us comparative shop during 1L and 2L year.

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A while back we wrote a few posts comparing law school to med school and noticing how they are in many ways similar but in some ways different.

Today I want to roll back the clock a half a decade (it sounds longer than 5 years if I say it like that) as a framework to talking about the differences between law school and med school.

Recently I read a few articles about how people go to law school for a lot of really bad reasons and how law students have much stronger regrets about their graduate education than others.  Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that the vast vast majority of students earn significantly less than they thought they would when they went into law school (Note:  As we have talked about before, if you did a modal 10K range, it would be 45K-55K). 

The study I was reading mentioned two large factors that they blamed for this other than inflated income expectations (perhaps more accurately, the article noted to factors that make not earning what people thought they would earn different for a law student than for every business graduate from an average school).  The first factor it mentions is that a lot of students go into law school because they don’t have any particular skills, consider themselves smart, and think law school is a good way for a smart person to make a living.

In some ways, there might be some truth to this, just with a much bigger adjustment to what defines “a living.”  If you are somebody that does well in liberal arts classes that are not stats based, odds are your “smarts” come in the form of reading, writing, and talking.  These skills could make you a gifted manager in a corporation one day (depending on your overall ability to get things done/manage people) but that would require an unclear path and some luck, not to mention a “low” starting salary.  No no, if you consider youself “smart” (remember this is a realative term, over a quarter of my high school was on some honor roll and considered themselves smart) then law seems like an appealing fallback.  For these people, I’ll just say that law school is tough and from what I can tell, practicing law is definately not a cakewalk.  There is “smart” relative to the population and there is “Smart” relative to law school applicants and the bar for the second is higher (the same holds true for any graduate school).

The second “all too common norm” in the article was a path that combines the two topics of this board:  A student wants to go to medical school and either can’t hack it in undergrad science, can’t get the MCAT, or realizes they don’t like the site of blood and decides they now want to go to law school.  I know a couple of people like this.  I’ve thought about this for a while and I must say, if I was an admissions rep, I would take this as a HUGE sign that this person is going to law school or all the wrong reasons. 

Not to sound judgmental (although I am judgmental) but if you say you “discovered a love for the law” in the middle of college, you are so full of fertilizer that its coming out of your ears.  Look, law and med school take two completely opposite types of people.  The only thing these folks have in common (on the whole) is that they both do really well on standardized tests.  If you were pre med and ended up pre law, you either 1. think you are entitled/should/need to make a lot of money/have a prestiege job and as a result took what you thought (wrongly) was the next best path or 2. Have parents telling you these are the only two acceptable jobs.  This is complicated by the fact that just getting into ANY med school is hard but if you are willing to pay 30-40K and are dumb enough to believe that it doesnt matter where you go, then there is certainly a law school that will take you.  Either way, you are a fool for making this decision.  If you “I’m not either of those” then I refuse to believe you, you are in the first group and in denial.  The only people I believe are the ones that are actually MD/JD’s.  These people were able to hack it in med school and still moved onto law school.  If you have the skills for both, be realistic, you’re going to elect to be a doctor (or at least go to med school and then change later).

How can I be so sure of this?  How can I so strongly assert that these are polar opposite skills/personality types?  For starters, because I’m opinionated and a post full of hedging doesn’t make for a good blog.  More importantly, I’m thinking back among all of the now law students or doctors I know (by the way, I cannot think of a single person that I graduated with in high school that is now a law student, if any of you can, please IM me).  From here out, I’m going to focus on myself and Kurzman because its easier than generalizing and the specifics definately hold true. 

Med School types (at least the ones that are going to be successful) like answers.  They know answers, they know how to get answers, and they can think logically to other anwsers.  “Now Clegal, isn’t all school about knowing answers?”  Why yes, but there are different types of answers. 

Guys like Kurzman learn the facts, the verifiable, one right way, answers.  “What is the shape of this molecule.”  “How do you calculate the relative speed of this reaction?” “Is this a one way or two way reaction?”  “Integrate this multivariable equation.”  These are the things guys like Kurzman can do, and they can do them very well.  Not only that, but they can think from one situation to another to use the answers they know to figure out new answers.  “Given what you know about covalent bonds, what will this look like?”  Even their “BS” questions are tricky, usually have objectively right or logical answers and can be verified “if thats the case, why does hydrogen do this?” Yes I realize I’m using Freshmen level chem and math concepts, but this is what I know ok, so back off.  Guys like Kurzman work hard.  They get stuff.  The understand the value of figuring out a right answer, they ususally know it, and they understand how they got there.  If you have those skills, you can perhaps do anything, I don’t know, but I do know that you need this to be a future med-student (at least from my non-med student perspective).  I base this on the fact that now, Kurzman is expected to learn answers.  Right answers.  And when he is in practice, he will be expected to take the right answers he knows, apply them, and get more right answers. 

Guys like me, not so much.  In high school, I didn’t really “figure out answers.”  I wasn’t dumb and I didn’t do poorly grades wise, but there was a big difference between the way I got through classes with “answers” (Math, Science, Etc) and the way someone like Kurzman did.  I was fine at memorizing a process and repeating it over and over.  Thankfully, if you can do this, you will do well in public high school.  High school calc and chem, even at high levels, is “monkey work.” Memorize and repeat.  Just learn the formula, know what all the letters mean, and be able to solve a basic algebraic equation (which is really just more memorizing).  I could get the answers, do fine in those classes, but I never really got it.  Ask me to think creatively in a chem or math class and I’m lost, always was.  I was a step and a half behind the kids like Kurzman and a step ahead of the people that just didn’t have the ability to memorize and repeat. 

So what is “lawyer smart?”  What kind of answers do we have?  Simple, we construct arguments.  We take situations that are similar and we twist them.  We push things to the edges to break them and we put them back in ways we like.  Better yet, we understand that similar words and sentences can have different meanings and we can think quickly on our feet.  By we, I dont mean all law students, I mean people with skill sets like me.  We are the ones that are having the BS conversation about something in high school and take somebody’s logic, exagerate it to the ends, perhaps make an analogy, and attempt to show thats a “silly” line.  We frustrate people and they don’t end up agreeing most of the time, but they just don’t poke that hole in the logic.  We will argue fringe things and leave the other side feeling like they were just robbed.  Our place of excellence isn’t the chem lab, its the lunchroom debate or better year, the essay exam.  Not the “what were the causes of the american revolution” essay, but the “analyze X and Y using the themes of this course” types.  We play with ideas, put them together, and make conclusions.  The things we think we know are usually things that aren’t facts but opinions.  Or skill isn’t the ability to get the right answer, its the ability to constuct an argument so you think our opinion is the right answer. 

Flash forward a few years.  Last week Kurzman took a series of exams where he was expected to know things about certain body processes.  How they worked, what they did, in some cases what they looked like, and how they interact.  His creative thinking was connecting concepts.  Tomorrow I’ll take my second exam.  I’ve been studying hard and I’m running into problems because, in all honesty, I really don’t know anything.  There are facts and rules I’m supposed to know that I don’t because I just don’t learn those things well.  Hopefully it will work out, maybe it wont, but even if I knew them all perfectly, that wouldn’t be what this exam was about.  This exam is about taking those “facts” and “rules” (not the same as science facts) and applying them to a situation.  Play with the situation on both sides. Push and pull it, look for a path then try to build a wall to block it off, then climb over the wall you just built. 

The hardest part for me on this exam is that I don’t have the full knowledge base I should going into this exam.  In Kurzman’s world, not having the knowledge base would be the ballgame.  You can’t get a D without at least a strong knowledge base.  If I took a med school style exam about this material, I would fail.  Thankfully, lawyers don’t work on “these facts what result” they work on “these facts, what arguments.”  In this situation, with a last minute hail marry, I still have an outside shot at getting through this because even though I don’t have the full knowledge base, if I can figure out the general category, I can look up the rules and come up with an argument.  This would be like Kurzman going “well, I dont really know what muscles does that, but i know its in this broad family.  I’m hoping for a B and anticipating a B-.  Please wish me well. 

I have a sinking feeling about this exam, and the scarey part is, this is the one I’ll be best prepared for.  We’re not in high school anymore Rex (I didn’t wanna say Todo because 1. I don’t know how to spell it and 2. Rex sounds more manly). 

Law: Sick

May 6, 2008

Why is it that whenever finals roll around I get sick?  In undergrad it made sense to me.  The last Tuesday of class comes along, I drink myself silly that night, am hungover for two days, and when the hangover breaks I’m sick.  Fine.  I can accept that.  Then last semester, right before finals stared I got a cold.  It was the middle of winter, I wasn’t sleeping (trying to study and keep all my friends at home happy without abandoning my mom = no sleep).  Now, its Spring, not that cold, I don’t have a cold or the flu, but something is messed up with my throat.  I feel like my ears want to pop but cant and it hurts to swollow (but only on one side).  It seems like my neck is swollen, but I don’t feel it.  I have no idea whats up, so tomorrow I’m going to Health Services, but seriously, why always during finals?  I’m not even a super-finals-stressball, so I can’t blame it on that.

Perhaps Kurzman can enlighten me on sicknesses that only come on during finals (or December/May sicknesses). 

Today marks another in a line of “should that really appear on this blog” type posts. 

In the middle of Fall semester, or section leader held a section meeting to talk about what Interntional electives we wanted to take.  This was a generally pointless meeting, he told us how all the faculty were superstars and all the classes were great.  At the end, I raised my hand to ask what would be the most practical course.  You see, my logic was, all of these classes are going to be like pulling teeth for me.  I don’t like international stuff.  I don’t find other countries interesting and the only “interplay between nations” that I am really captivated by will take place this year – the olympics.  Heck, I even picked a college largely based on the act that I would never have to take a foreign language class.  In undergrad my “non western civilization” course would have ruined my semester if I didn’t take a joke of a class with four fraternity brothers.  All I remember was my professor making some anti-Israel comments and saying “Middle of vhat, East of vhat” 5 or six times per class period.  Basically, I am disappointed that the school added the international elective and figured if I had to suffer through it, I might as well take something useful. 

So I raised my hand and in my uniquely smart-assed way said “Can you talk a little about which of these courses would be the most practical, I assume not Duncan Kennedy’s course but beyond that could you offer some insight?”  Duncn Kennedy of course is best known for deciding that current methods of analysis in legal academia were not far enough left and seeking to fix this by inventing an entirely new legal paradigm to the EXTREME left (nope, not a conservative bias at all in that sentence).  To quote paradoy:  Duncan Kennedy knows things nobody else knows….. because he made them up……. and published them. 

Anyway, when I asked that question, my professor launched into some off topic rant that basically said “this is HLS, you will get enough practical stuff and you will be well prepared, take something fun.”  When I followed up with him about this late, he noted “take a little dessert with your veggies,” meaning do something fun.  Sorry sir, but nothing Interntional is particularly fun to me.

Today I went for a little dessert with my veggies.  I had been studying all week, so today some friends and I went out and had some legit fun – we went to a Red Sox game.  Now, for a hardcore baseball junkie, Fenway is the place.  Cubs fans things Wrigley is the place to be, but thats Midwest arrogance (which is still nothing compared to East Coast arrogance).  Wrigley is an interesting museaum, Yankee stadium is a great cathedral, but Fenway…. thats a great ballpark.  The fans know the game and cheer.  Chants and excitement start from the field and work their way up (no PA announcer “clap clap” or rally meter, just fans that want to cheer their team on).  I always thought the 8th inning sing-along was somewhat silly but when you are actually there and do it, it is a really good time.  Overall, the whole game was a blast. 

I still prefer Comisky the Cell, but only because the White Sox play there.  This was an awsome experience and one I hope to repeat when friends come in from out of town.

Today was my first final and although the format was a little different than I thought, the result is about what I figured.  Th questions were harder than I anticipated (and the structure of short answers is generally not good for me) and there was more accounting than I hoped (and not as much graph based stuff).  Overall I think I did reasonably well.  I may have made some silly mistakes in my rush to finish, and I definately go the two subparts that deal directly with accounting wrong, but other than that I don’t feel too bad.  I fudged two other parts but they could conceivably be passable and the rest I felt decent on, so we will see what the prof things.  The problem with an exam like this is that everybody will knock a few out of the park depending on what their background is.  I hope I was able to kill the econ and stats questions and give myself some room to work on the others, but honestly, the econ questions were so mainstream (calculate some social surplus stuff) that I don’t think you need to be an econ wiz to do them.  On the flip side, the accounting question deals with some odd issues of creative bookkeeping.

Overall, I’m hoping for a B+ but wouldn’t be shocked with a B.  If I got a B- I would be a little disappointed.

Law: Plan of Attack

April 27, 2008

Last semester I came to the realization that the most important part of preparing for finals is a good plan of attack.  I have never had the best work ethic when compared to my peers.  I work harder now than I ever did before, but I don’t work as hard as the hardest workers here.  I would say I am in the 30th percentile in terms of how hard I work.  This means that for me, more important than any other element of finals is determining how I want to study for a class and what I think I need to know.  In undergrad, this was VERY easy.  I would go through the note, make one sheet of paper front and back of things I didn’t know, and I would memorize it.  A little bit of quizzing myself later and I was ready for the exam. 

Today I started to think of how I want to appoch these things.  Last semester my plan was simple – buy a commercial outline, read through it and combine it with another students outline from the class, then memorize that document.  This semester the approach is different, mainly because I only have one class that has commercial outlines available.

As of now, here’s the plan.  Next week monday and Tuesday, I’ll study my butt off for my Wednesday in-class exam.  Then from Wednesday to that next saturday (three full days) I’ll bust my butt to get ahead for my last final (basically make the outline).  After that, its two days of makin a K’s outline and four days of dedication to getting ready for my admin test (outline and reading a horn book).  Then take the admin, review the K’s for a day, take theK’s, review the last class, and take that final.

How will this work in real life?  I have no idea, but I’m hoping for the best

Tomorrow is my Ames oral argument.  After this, I will have officially completed First Year Legal Writing.  Unfortunately, my grade for the course is still up in the air.  Why?  Because my partner caused our brief to be turned in 20 minutes late.  Oh well, just is life. 

Anyway, in preperation for tomorrow I reread both my brief and my opponents brief.  Additionally, I outlined what I want to get out and what the cases stand for.  Now its just a matter of putting together a competent presentation. 

Word around the grapevine is that a friend of mine absolutely killed with her oral argument yesterday.  I don’t like being outdone and I didn’t do well AT ALL in practice, so it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow.  Hopefully very well, only time will tell.

I’ll let you know how it goes and after that I promise to attempt to resume regular posting.

Law: Resolved

March 21, 2008

I’m home.  Finally.  Three canceled flights and lots of fighting with the outsourced phone help for US Airways and I’m back in Illinois safe and sound.  Thank goodness.

 Anyway, with Spring Break upon us, I don’t have much to say about law school other than I hope to not think about it for a week.

I do have two resolutions.

 Resolution 1: I will get 100% caught up on reading for International Economic Law by the end of break.

 Resolution 2: I will attend class from here out

Lets see how they go.

Back many years ago before Kurzman realized he was smarter than everybody else we know we all went away to college, Kurzman and a bunch of people from our social circle used to have a fetish for making home movies.  I’ve got to admitt, as long as they weren’t signing at a party, they were pretty good.  Highlights include such classics as “Little Brother Throws Up in the Blue Monster”, “Leg Snap Relived”, and “Filming a Camp Fire So Long You Break A TV” (Seriously that actually happened).  There were also academic pieces like “Clay Dolls Earning an A in English”. 

Anyway, today I came across a set of law school videos that are both hilarious and true.  I’ve posted the link for your enjoyment.  I imagine the second and third videos are equally applicable to both groups (outside of some of the legal jokes in the third one) and the first one almost certainly has its version that exists in Med School.

 Enjoy the video’s here via Tax Prof Blog.

Law: Game Theory

March 18, 2008

I’m so tired of every course in every law school class feeling the need to bring in game theory.  I have done that stupid 2×2 Prisoner’s game square 4 times this year.  That means that half my courseshave done the same stupid analysis.  This is not to mention the fact that about half of my undergraduate classes discussed the same game.  Seriously, we all know this.  We may have even seen this in high school. 

 I get that this is a big deal, but seriously, once you learn it once, you know it.  Just say “this is like the prisoner’s dilema in X,Y, and Z ways”. 

Saying something is “game theory” doesn’t make it empirical.  There are some interesting/empirical parts to game theory, but these aren’t them.