Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Law school offers bounty of free food, trinkets

The spectre of final exams is starting to consume my life, but there's one thing I don't have to worry about: lunch. At least once a week there is a free pizza lunch for students as an enticement to attend a meeting for a student organization, or a symposium on a specialized area of the law. And there are some weeks when my brown bag lunch from home sits in the refrigerator at school for two or three days in a row before I get a chance to eat it.

Just this week, for example, I noshed on a free lunch provided for an event about transgender identity and the law. Before that, there was free pizza for events hosted by the Federalist Society, the corporate law student group, and a symposium on professionalism. I'm hoping that the flow of free food doesn't slow down after the first semester, but even if it does there are many other sources of free stuff that a poor law student would be loath to overlook.Lexis and Westlaw pepper us with free pens, flash drives and water bottles, and the University of Louisville conducts prize drawings for students who turn in course evaluations and such. There also are a bunch of cool events hosted by the school and by student groups, such as this week's Lawlapalooza, a battle of the bands for musician law students and attorneys at Phoenix Hill Tavern. Law school does have its price, both in terms of tuition and the demands on my home and family life. But it's good to know that, at least in some cases, there is a free lunch.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Core classes are stretching my brain

As a first-year student, the classes I'm taking here in Louisville are very similar to the introductory classes at almost every law school in the nation. I have essentially no choice but to accept the four pillars of being a 1L: Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure and Property. Added to this mix is Basic Legal Skills, and Legal Research. But while the schedule is set in stone, the instruction in the four core classes so far has been nothing less than stellar. Here's a breakdown of my instructors and the classes they teach:

  • Property: the ins and outs of real estate, including landlord/tenant law, adverse possession and estates. Laura Rothstein is a 30-year veteran of legal scholarship, and the class has been great so far (As a landlord, perhaps I'm biased)
  • Torts: this may be my favorite class so far. Professor David Leibson has been at our law school since 1971 and has an LLM from Harvard. His cryptic drawings on the whiteboard are a source of much amusement for the class, and he offers fantastic real-life stories to teach us about assault, battery, false imprisonment, conversion and more.
  • Contracts: this can be an incredibly detailed subject. Professor Grace Giesel, a graduate of Yale and Emory, helps to untangle it, sometimes using analogies from movies. She recently has pointed out contract issues in current events, such as the dispute involving former University of Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
  • Civil Procedure: every week we are introduced to dozens of new rules that govern where, when and how a lawsuit can be filed. Professor Leslie Abramson keeps us on our toes with the Socratic method (also used in the other three core classes) and a quirky sense of humor that challenges us to constantly question the material and how we perceive it.

Not all of us have the same instructors, but these four professors are giving me a fantastic introduction to the law, and in my opinion, they're worth every penny that they make.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Telling mom about law school

Want to know what law school is like at the University of Louisville? Here's the way I described the first few weeks to my parents in a recent email. I'm tempted to post a photo of my mom at the bottom, but it seems that discretion is the better part of blogging, at least when parents are involved.

Mom, please forward to dad.....

I'm taking a 5-minute break from studying, and thought I would send you a few thoughts as I make my way through the third week of law school. The schedule is hectic. Generally, I wake up around 6:30 or 6:45 and have breakfast with the family, drive one kid to school, and head to campus. I study for an hour, then attend classes until just before noon, eat lunch (sometimes free pizza for a Lexis promo session or some student group meeting) and then have at least one more class in the early afternoon. I then study until 5:30 or so, go home, have dinner with the family, and study from 8 until 10:30 or so. I think I've had one or two beers since school started. There simply isn't enough time. Even so, I am tremendously happy, more so than I was at any point in my last two years in journalism. The materials and ideas are all new and exciting, and class discussion is like a roller coaster of emotions. Most of my six classes are conducted using the Socratic method, so at any given time a student would have perhaps 10 seconds to regurgitate everything they know about three to four pages of dense material from a particular legal case, which could be one of seven or eight cases studied for that class session. Some students are terrified by this. I haven't always had perfect answers, but I like speaking in public and I enjoy the thrill of being put on the spot.

So far, here are a few things I've learned...

1. How to dig up a dusty 85-year-old book from the library (South Western Reporter, Federal Digest, etc.) and track down the particulars of a lawsuit.
2. Tell the difference between a battery and an assault (among other things, the former requires contact, the latter doesn't)
3. Find the "holding" in a lawsuit where the jury or judge determines the outcome of the issue. We have now read dozens of cases, so finding the various parts and briefing them on a laptop is starting to become second nature.

Five of my six classes are really good, and the sixth is still decent. I particularly enjoy Torts, because the professor makes things interesting by offering real-life cases from Kentucky where it's very difficult to decide if a wrong has been committed. Today, for example, he asked if a hospital nurse should be found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress for telling a woman in a hospital to shut up after she had just given birth to a stillborn baby. That was just after another case in which we discussed liability for a marriage counselor who had an affair with the wife of a client. The answers are often just as muddy as the cases are complicated. It's a little unsettling, but I find this part of the law to be really fascinating.

Hope you guys are doing well. I will try to find time to do another letter before too long. Hope you have a great holiday weekend, and please forward this to dad as well.



Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chapter 1: law school and possums

It is said that law school changes the way we think. After just a few weeks here at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, it's already happening to me. Case in point: I'm driving home from an indoor soccer game the other night along Mellwood Avenue when I spot something on the pavement in front of me. It's a possum, dazed and bleeding, but still alive.

Some people are repulsed by these cat-sized nocturnal creatures, but they've always been strangely fascinating to me. I decide to help. Using a long stick, I carefully move the injured critter to the side of the road, while a friend directs traffic and cars back up in both directions.

The task only takes a few minutes, but in the meantime all I can think about are the legal repercussions. What if a car runs me over before I can complete my marsupial rescue? Does the driver owe me a duty of care? Would a jury view the situation differently if I were helping an injured human lying in the middle of the road? Does it matter that I'm riding an unlicensed scooter instead of my pickup truck? That it's pitch black at night instead of daytime? That we're on Mellwood instead of the much busier Zorn Avenue nearby?

In his book "1L" about Harvard Law School, Scott Turow writes that buying a hamburger makes him ponder the contractual relationship that he has forged with a fast-food worker over his sandwich. Now I know what he means.