Friday, April 29, 2011

Photo of the Week: Unicorn sighted at U of L Law

The harpy's as real as you are, and just as immortal. 
After days and days and days of rain, which have caused widespread flooding throughout Louisville, a fantastic rainbow arched over the city yesterday around dinner time. Most law students were studying, so they didn't catch this even rarer sight: a live unicorn prancing majestically across the lawn in front of the law school's main entrance. That's right, you heard it here: a live unicorn, created by the fine folks in our IT department. The parts about the rainbow and the flooding are true, however. Either way, as I barrel toward my last final exam next week, I can't think of a more deserving image to be this blog's Photo of the Week. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Exam post-mortem: Random musings about finals

My first written final exam of the semester is over. Taxalicious. For many law students, there is a feeling toward the end of the semester, as you synthesize all of the rules and holdings for a particular course, that you finally understand the material. You see the forest for the trees. For me, I didn't get that feeling until about two days before Monday's final, which is dangerously close (especially because I try to take at least half a day off before exams to relax and charge up my mental batteries). In this final, I can honestly say that my fellow classmates saved my bacon. I usually don't spend much time in study groups, but I was feeling so uneasy about this class that I spent six hours with two different groups of people over the weekend figuring out answers and comparing notes. It was surprisingly effective. It was also surprisingly scary to find out how many tiny errors I had made in my own outline. One of the nice things about Louisville Law is that students are pretty open with each other when it comes to sharing notes, hornbooks, outlines, etc.
The downside of discussing courses with other students is that you (or at least me) inevitably fall into post-exam conversations about what went right and wrong. And then, what felt so right just an hour or two ago, suddenly feels horrible and wrong. You pick apart your answers, and realize the tiny nuances that you missed on that long essay suddenly look like gaping black holes. It's pretty difficult to fail a law school exam, but these nuances also illustrate why it's so difficult to score an A. Most grades fall into a tight range between C minus and A minus. If you're able to notch a 3.0 GPA overall, you're in the top one third of your class. Above a 3.2 and you're close to the top 15 percent. It's actually possible to figure out, with reasonable certainty, where your grades will fall in a particular class using sites like this one. I try not to look in the rear view mirror too much after each final is over. We'll all find out how we did in a few weeks, and then we'll move on. With that in mind, I leave you with yet another goofy music video, this time about Basic Income Tax, made by students at Queen's University.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Final exam mayhem: strategies, prayers, insanity

We're in the midst of "reading week," which to the average person might sound like a pleasant opportunity to casually flip the pages of one's favorite books while reclining on a sofa with a glass of iced tea in one hand. For law students, however, reading week is the mad dash toward final exams, the last mile of the marathon that will make or break you for the semester. Outlines must be condensed. Hornbooks consumed. Professors harangued for those last tidbits of knowledge before the big day.
My exam treat: mowing a lawn
I said goodbye to my wife and kids this afternoon. They're leaving Louisville to visit family for the Easter weekend, while I explore the finer points of federal income taxation, constitutional law, and estate planning. In the last week, for example, I've spent close to a dozen hours cramming 42 pages of notes from one of my courses onto a single sheet of paper -- in 6 point, Abadi MT Condensed Light font -- to use during the exam. That is a completely unreasonable thing to do. Such are the vagaries of law school. Today, for a treat, I allowed myself to mow the lawn of the apartment building that my wife and I own just south of campus (see photo, at right). Tomorrow, if I feel good about my studies, I'll let myself re-install a toilet in our downstairs bathroom as part of a renovation project. Oh, if I am only so lucky. Final exam preparation is not for the weak of heart. It's like wearing a horse hair sweater for days on end, like the self-flagellation of Martin Luther to atone for his sins. In short, life feels obsessive. In a few weeks, it'll all be over. For now, however, the grind is here. Burn, baby, burn.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Photo of the Week: A Bunch of Random Books

Part of the Washer Lounge library
The latest Photo of the Week is far more significant than the title to this blog post might suggest. For starters, U of L Law isn't known for a lot of frills. We don't have vaulted ceilings and chandeliers in our library like this school, or a program that lets you borrow a dog for 30 minutes from the library if you're feeling stressed out at this school. Come to think of it, maybe our lack of fancy perks is part of the reason we're the Number 3 best value law school in the nation? Either way, we do have a nice atmosphere, and I think U of L does a terrific job of helping students combat the stress of law school, which brings me to the photo of the books, at right. They're part of an informal recreational library in the Washer Lounge that, sadly, I have only discovered after being here for almost two years. If you want to take home a novel or a mystery or whatever, it's on the honor system. Just fill out the card in the back of the book and put the card in a box on the shelf. From a quick glance at the box, it appears that some students have been reading the same title for two years or longer. Ahem.
Prospective law students might think that they'll never have time to do personal reading during the semester. I've found, however, that reading a novel on the side, even for 15 minutes before I fall asleep, is a great way to stay grounded and remember that law school isn't the most important thing in the universe. Other entries on my list of Things That Remind Me Law School Isn't the Most Important Thing in the Universe: my lovely wife, my awesome kids, cold beer, home improvement projects, and long-distance running (but not necessarily in that order, and definitely not all at the same time; that would be dangerous).
I recently finished reading Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. It was a fantastic read, and it helped me get over the absolutely crushing defeat of having my law review note rejected for publication. OK, maybe not a crushing defeat, although I was bummed out. But how can you be upset about a tiny detail like that when you're reading about a frail 93-year-old man in a nursing home recalling his life on a circus train in the 1930s? The point is, you've got to stay grounded. You've got to have a life, which is one of the reasons that I think having a family in law school is a big advantage. If you aren't married, or don't have kids, or even if you do, the Washer library is worth checking out. It might even be a good fit with that cold beer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Final exams just around the corner at U of L

My fourth round of final exams in law school is just around the corner. On Saturday, I'll be an attorney in a three--hour mock trial that is worth half of the grade for my Trial Practice class. A few days later, I'll sit for a four-hour monster exam about wills and trusts. Then it's on to Con Law (see my weird Con Law video) and Basic Income Tax (see my weird tax video). I'm not sure if my experience with three previous semesters of exams makes the process more comfortable or more anxious. On one hand, I know what's coming. On the other hand, I know what's coming.

There are few in-class exercises or volunteer participation points to pad my grade heading into finals. A student's performance on final exams is pretty much their performance in the entire course. Some people do really well on final exams. Others, despite being hard working and intelligent, are more likely to struggle. But there's not much you can do about it. Final exams are part of the process of law school. I take solace in the idea that after each batch of finals, I have cleared another hurdle on the way to graduation. In a few weeks, barring some major disaster, I will be a rising 3L. Good luck to everyone on their exams this spring. If you need a break and like weird English humor, check out the Mr. Bean video above.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hot tips for summer law clerks in Louisville

With the temperature in the mid-70s today, I am reminded that the season for summer clerkships is just around the corner. And even though final exams are still staring us in the face, the first few weeks of my clerkship last year were way tougher than any test I took at school. There were a milllion things to figure out, from the copier to the computer software to the various motions that I had to file at the courthouse. It was like learning a foreign language. In that spirit, I've tried to gather tips from other upper-level law students from their first law clerk jobs. Some are funny, other serious. I hope at least a few of them are useful. Got your own clerk story? Post it in the comment field below.  

    Never ask your boss a question without pen and paper handy. If you are like me, you will forget 80% of what he said and have to come back five minutes later for clarification.
    Some things I learned- always take a blazer with you, even on casual Friday because you might get asked to attend a depo or court hearing and don't want to be embarrassed. Also keep a pair of comfortable shoes in your car, because you'll look like a moron trying to walk in heels with blisters. 
    Redweld folder
    When your boss tells you to grab that Redweld folder and clock and drop it, it means you should look for a large accordion folder like the one pictured at right and take it to the courthouse, where you date-stamp the documents inside and file them in a drawer. Don't forget to bring two copies so your office has an identical set for its files. 
    What do you do if a client walks in during lunch, when everyone else is out of the office, and hands you $3,000 - in cash - for her retainer? Answer: take the money (duh), show the client a comfortable place to sit, try not to sweat too much, and wait until everyone else returns. 
    Make extensive use of the firm's share drive and pull up similar documents that have been done previously in that court by the lawyer who's assigned you the project. That way you don't have to guess about formatting and you have an idea what that lawyer is looking for.
    Keep a record of your projects and research assignments- after 12 weeks of work it's easy to forget what you worked on at the beginning of the summer. Keep a record so you'll know what you did.
    Dress like a professional at work! You never know when you'll be asked to shadow an attorney in court, or sit in on a deposition or client meeting, or attend a meeting with the Governor... dress the part! You don't want to miss an opportunity because you aren't dressed appropriately.
    Check out this blog:
    Don't be afraid to ask people out to lunch! After all, everyone has to eat, so you might as well make the most of that block of time. Think of your lunch as a way to gain exposure to people and seek interesting work (and, of course, a time to cram in much needed caffeine). For example, partners are busy (and often intimidating) and you may not have the chance to work directly with them on projects. Having lunch with them is a way to introduce yourself and (possibly) get involved with exciting cases. Finally, and this is critical, don't forget to follow-up with a thank you note/email. You never know, someone might invite you to meet with them for lunch again, or they might mention other upcoming events/opportunities to meet people
    I always kept a pad of paper nearby and jotted down my time, whether billable or not. Accountability matters and you'll inevitably be asked how long something took that wasn't billable. Plus, when given assignments, writing them down prevents mistakes. 
    ALWAYS be nice to support staff in your office, in the courthouse, and when dealing with opposing counsel. You should be a decent person anyway, but strategically, support staff make your life easier or harder. And memories can be very long.
    Never answer the phone by saying "giggity-giggity." This is a huge lesson I'm sure we've all regretted learning.
    When giving me an overview of my responsibilities, the computer system, our file room, etc., my office manager "forgot" to tell me that I needed to keep track of my billable at the end of the first month, I had to re-construct my every move for the past four weeks. If I only would have known, I would have asked her on the first day to would have saved me a lot of time!
    Always get to work before your boss. I quickly figured out that my boss always got to work around 9:05, so I made sure to be there by 8:55 each day. By the end of the summer, she mentioned how punctual I was and how impressive it was that I always got to work early. It's a tiny little thing you can do that will go a long way.
    When opening files to use a template for your new letter, notice, motion, order, etc. MAKE SURE you replace the existing date, names, and most importantly CASE NUMBERS!
    Also check the body of the document to see if those bits of information appear any other time.
    If using "Scrap" paper to print faxes out on, make sure that you don't put the paper in the fax machine backward.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Interview: Brandon Hamilton, Dean of Admissions

Last year's interview with Brandon Hamilton, the Dean of Admissions here at U of L Law, was one of the most-read posts in the two years that I've been writing this blog. And with the law school admissions cycle in high gear (the official application deadline is today), I thought it might be useful to do a second interview with Dean Hamilton. If you have a question that isn't covered below, send me a private message and I'll do my best to get it answered. 

2L at U of L: Louisville recently rejoined the nation's Top 100 law schools in the annual rankings published by USNews & World Report. Did the school do anything different to improve its reputation, and how much of an impact will this have on the admissions process?

Dean Hamilton
Hamilton: The law school did not develop a specific strategy for moving back into the top 100.  Yes, it will probably affect admissions as a good percentage of students use US News & World Report as a guide for making their decision.  Included is an interesting, recent article that discusses rankings in more depth.  The article is written by Malcom Gladwell and published in The New Yorker.  

2L at U of L: As I recall, last year the school received a record number of applications. How is this year's class shaping up?

Hamilton: Yes, last year U of L Law received a record number of applications.  This year, applications will be down from last year, but if we were to look at the number of applications received from 2008 and 2009, we will be up. 

Nationally, applications are down approximately 11.5%.

2L at U of L: What's the biggest factor driving admissions right now? Is it still the economy? 

Hamilton: The economy and the cost of financing a legal education are driving admissions.  Students are concerned about how they will pay for law school and if they will be able to get a job after graduation. 

2L at U of L: When do you expect to make all of your decisions and offers to incoming students, and how many students do you expect in the Class of 2014?

Hamilton: Our application deadline is April 1.  I hope that all applications will receive a first review by the first week of May. 

2L at U of L: With the economy still being soft for law jobs, what do you tell students who ask about their job prospects? 

Hamilton: While the job market is tight, I believe it’s improving.  Job growth has been seen in the health, environmental, technology, and intellectual property areas of law.  In addition, there is also growth in the public sector. 

UofL has done an excellent job with placing students.  About 96 – 97% of students have employment within 9 months of graduation. 

If a student follows our professional development formula, there is no reason why a student should not obtain a position.  Network » start early with public service placement » network » work after your first year (do something!) » get involved in student organizations, moot court, journals » network » obtain an externship, work in the clinic, continue involvement » work after your second year » network » obtain position. 

2L at U of L: What about the cost of tuition? Is it going up?

Hamilton: We enjoy affordable, low public tuition rates.  Kentucky residents are paying approximately $15,000 per year—which is a bargain for a legal education.   Non-residents pay approximately $30,000 per year—which is still much lower than the majority of schools tuition, especially private schools. 

There will be a slight tuition increase.  The percentage has not yet been determined.  

2L at U of L: Where are most of the school's applications coming from this year? Any particular trends that stand out?

Hamilton: One third of the applicant pool is from Kentucky.  The majority of applicants have taken one, two, or more years off before applying to law school. The median age is 23.

2L at U of L: Is there an average LSAT score and/or grade point average that you are shooting for this year in terms of accepting students?

Hamilton: There isn’t a magic grid, but we do like our median LSAT and GPA to be similar to the prior year. 

2L at U of L: What are the biggest selling points at U of L in terms of curriculum and skills opportunities?

Hamilton: Our law clinic and the school's strong performance in moot court competitions are two areas that stand out.