Thursday, November 19, 2009

Law students are like squirrels during finals

One of my primary motivations in going to law school is the meritocracy of the legal industry. In my former career, it drove me absolutely nuts that I could work like a donkey for 12 months, and receive a 3 percent raise, while the guy four desks over could come in late every day, take a two-hour lunch and collect 2.5 percent at the end of the year. But as we bear down on our first set of final exams in law school, I'm starting to learn about the reality of my new meritocracy. Most of the biggest law firms in Louisville, for example, will only take a look at the top 20 percent of students in a given class. And due to the ragged economy, very few of them are taking a look at 1Ls, no matter how good their grades are. Then you factor in the background of most students here, including me, who cruised through college at the top of their classes. That's not going to happen ten days from now when the first wave of finals hits the beach.

The median 1L grade-point average at U of L, I am told, is somewhere around 3.0. Louisville is not known for its grade inflation. Either way, it's been amazing to watch the students in our 1L class change from normal human beings into frightened animals, scurrying about the library like crazed squirrels hunting for the last few acorns before the first snow storm of winter. Many of us are in the library eight or nine hours a day. A guy told me yesterday that he had a dream about vested remainders in life estates. The good thing about Louisville, at least so far, is that our professors are incredibly accessible for questions and review sessions. Our civil procedure professor invites students to go out to lunch with him, and our property professor is in her office with the door open almost eight hours a day. The instructors in all four of my core classes have practice exams posted online, many of them with answer keys. The expectations are ridiculously high, and several professors have been candid about their reputations for tough grading. They also are quick to remind us that grades won't matter 30 years from now, and that there are plenty of great lawyers out there who got Cs in law school. That may be the case, but from where I'm sitting it doesn't make me feel any more comfortable. Back to the books.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Brandeis

One of Louisville's most famous figures, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, was born today in 1856. About a zillion streets, buildings, stamps, and other things are named after Brandeis, including our law school (in 1997), which was founded 10 years before Brandeis was born. Brandeis also donated his scholarly works to the law library, and his ashes are buried outside the school. A few interesting facts about Brandeis from Professor Laura Rothstein:

  • Brandeis had a special affinity for animal crackers and hot donuts.
  • While researching cases, he filed documents in a bathtub at his home.
  • After finishing high school in Europe, he was admitted to Harvard Law School at age 18, and finished at age 20 with the highest grade point average in school history.
  • Brandeis was the first Jew to join the U.S. Supreme Court (appointed 1916).
  • Famous quote: "Knowledge is essential to understanding and understanding should precede judging."

Each year, law students place coins at his grave in front of the school just before final exams. According to Rothstein, the assumption is that the coins bring good luck. For more details on Brandeis, click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I used to have a life before law school

If this guy spent as much time studying as he did on the video, he would be in fantastic shape. Either way this is a good laugh.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

1L memo is a "write" of passage

We're rounding third base and heading for home in one of our core first-year classes: Basic Legal Skills. There is perhaps no other course that elicits the groans and complaints of what we call BLS. I imagine that many students would prefer to omit the "L" completely, but the class has taught me some very important lessons. Chief among them, at least for me, is that no matter how much writing I have done in the past, the process of legal writing must be learned from the ground up. Nothing in my journalism career showed me how to write in a CREAC format, for example. And in many ways, I have been forced to unlearn many of the doctrines of professional journalism. A few of my new rules: don't (I mean do not) use contractions; do repeat the same word over and over again so as not to vary the meaning of your message; and don't forget to write a conclusion over and over and over again (see CREAC link above).

Some of these principles are maddening to follow, but there is a reason for the madness. We're learning how to write like lawyers, and the technical details are no small matter. Anyway, our last BLS class for the fall finished at 2 p.m. today. Our second and final memo of the semester is due on Monday, and for many of us it's a life consuming project. But in a few more days we'll be finished, and another 1L rite of passage will be under our belts. And then, we will only have four more final exams to go before the entire first semester is over. Did I just say four more finals? Gotta go study.