Friday, February 19, 2010

Law review terrifies, tantalizes

Law school is amazing in so many ways, but perhaps the most amazing thing about the 1L experience has been the way it swings my emotions. Like my 4-year-old son just before bedtime, I can go from unbridled happiness and confidence to the depths of despair and stress, all in the space of a few minutes. The minister at my church, who has a law degree himself, told me last year that law school is like a one-way ratchet. Just when you felt you had everything under control, your reading finished for all six classes, your appellate brief firmly underway, your summer job interviews in the bag, there's some fresh hell to figure out.
In this case, it's law review. A bunch of us 1Ls attended an information session this week to learn more about U of L's three scholarly journals, which will review applications this spring. The main journal will take perhaps two dozen of us, and the work will begin almost immediately (translation: over summer break). Each student will have at least half a dozen "assignments" during the course of the next school year, requiring an estimated six to eight hours of work apiece. Then there's an additional 25-page assignment, which satisfies the law school's writing requirement and could end up being published.
I am told that making law review is one of the biggest career boosters for a law student. It stays on your resume for decades, opens doors with big firms, and without it a federal clerkship is all but impossible. Even after being elected president, Barack Obama (above right) is still frequently described as the former chief of the Harvard Law Review. I was heartened to learn that the application process at U of L, at least this year, gives roughly equal weight to grade point average and writing ability. Resumes also are taken into account. The competition is fierce. You can even buy books that purport to help you get accepted. I suspect that I will make a try for it, but not without some misgivings. I already worry, for example, that law school takes too much time away from my kids and family. And while there are practical applications to editing law review articles and writing notes, critics say the process is drudgery and the end result is obscure. In a way, however, this tension epitomizes the things that are good and bad about law school. The opportunities for success and achievement are seemingly limitless. Same goes for the stress and the work load. The freedom we each have to choose our own path is so expansive it's frightening. But I guess that's why I'm here in the first place. Good luck to everyone who plans to apply this spring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kid offers new definition of lawsuit

So I'm driving down the street with my 7-year-old son, who I've just picked up from school. I'm wearing a suit and tie from one of my on-campus interviews earlier in the day, and we're talking about how we both need to do our homework as soon as we get home. I tell him that I have a lot of reading to do for law school, and that most of it involves reading about lawsuits. I ask him if he knows what a lawsuit is, and he gives me one of those looks that means, "Of course, Daddy, I obviously know what it means." OK, I respond, then what is a lawsuit? Without hesitation, he looks at me and says: "Well, you're wearing one."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Strangest criminal cases: how would you decide?

In roughly ten weeks, we will be finished with our first year of law school. We will no longer be 1Ls. For now, however, I continue to push through the second semester, even though there is a sense that some of us are running out of steam. For one, there is the huge task of finding a summer job. There also is the realization that, out of the 60 or so pages of dense reading we are assigned each day, there are only a handful of rules that we must learn, and of those rules, only a fraction will appear on the final exam. It is tempting to skip a few cases, or at least to stop the onerous process of writing case briefs and creating endless notes. For the most part, I am resisting the urge. There is some inscrutable reason for the curious structure of law school, and I am placing my faith in it. Besides, there are too many amazing stories buried in our reading assignments. Consider a few from the world of Criminal Law, focusing on the topic of causation.

  • Man gets in fight with wife, who stumbles out of house and into the cold night, where she lays down in the yard and is later found dead.
  • Attackers rob man, leave him on side of road with little clothing on cold night far from shelter. Man later hit by truck and killed.
  • Man steals car, leads police on massive chase. Law enforcement helicopters, following chase, collide in mid-air, killing several occupants.
  • Woman, abducted by men on train, is taken to hotel where she is assaulted and prevented from escaping. She drinks poison when the abductors are not in the room, and later dies, but only several weeks after being released.
  • Two men are racing on a highway, and the road narrows to a two-lane bridge. One driver, seeking to pass the other, veers into oncoming traffic and is it and killed by an oncoming truck. Is the other racer guilty?
  • Gang member shoots, but does not kill, member of a non-rival gang, whose members nonetheless seek revenge by killing a member of the original shooter's gang. May the original shooter be convicted of murder?

These are adaptations from real cases, and I could post the "answers" provided by the law, but in truth there are no answers. This is the most fascinating and frustrating thing about the law. The more I study, the more I see ambiguity. Legal rules, in most cases, are merely tools that can be used to argue one way or the other. The same holds true for final exams this spring. Two students might have completely different answers for a problem, and still earn the same grade. Note to self: stop thinking about grades. Get back to reading.