Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fitting My Breeches, Once Again

I am still busy reading new literature and rewriting my thesis prospectus (note, the change from "revising"). Hence, not blogging as much lately. My advisor, Preeminent Federalism Scholar, has read all of the literature, has written half of it, and is very kind and helpful. For example, he assigned me his chapter of his constitutional law book, telling me to look up (read: read everything) the long string of articles he cites. He still goes over all the federalism law and cases with me when we meet, and I appreciate this. Although I have read a good deal of it, it is always nice to discuss the literature. It's a good refresher.

But throughout our hour-long conversations about structural constitutional theories and cases, he keeps asking, "Am I going too fast for you?"

He isn't.

I don't know why he asks this so much. I don't think it is my facial expressions. My tendency is to look super engaged and in deep concentration, with my uncreased brow furrowed with a youthful attempt at gravitas. My eyes, focused with intensity on Preeminent Federalism Scholar, means that I don't look "blank." My lower lip is firmly pressed in serious contemplation against my upper lip, by which I mean to say that I do not sit with mouth agape or slack-jawed.

Maybe it is my youth, and how in our first meeting, in my nervousness, I blurted out "Kimel" when I meant to say "Nevada v. Hibbs," or maybe it's just what he does when he talks to students. I don't know--he's my advisor, but not my professor.

In any case, I do feel slightly stupid whenever he asks this. I kind of wish he wouldn't, although I know it is for my benefit. It is good that he is so solicitous as to check with me and check his pace.

But it just serves to remind me of how young a scholar I am, and it definitely puts this young whippersnapper in her place. I now fit my breeches (whereas previously they were "too big") and I am no longer suffering from a cerebral edema (the swelling of my head has stopped).

Thus, back to the drawing board I go.

Am I going too fast for you?

| links to this post

French Poetry, Just Because I Can

Seriously, by now, poetry haters/trolls should go read some other blog.

Now that I am soooo "over" my post-colonial anxiety, I am embracing all things French. I love baking tartes, I will soon set up a coq au vin dinner party, I love having bowls of chocolat chaud, my horrible gringaish accent is improving, I love kissing on the cheek to greet hello and goodbye (such a charming gesture, and I love smelling the various scents), and I love the surprisingly warm natures of my French classmates. Being a typical American, I thought they would be "snooty," but in fact I have never liked anyone so well as the ones I have spent this past week with. I guess I will stop calling pommes frites "freedom fries" now.

I have two very charming French friends in particular, who recently introduced me to the poetry of Jacques Prevert. The first, they translated for me, the second, they made me figure out on my own (with help on the prepositions and certain words beyond my ability to figure out from my general knowledge of Latinate origins). They are incredibly lovely, and not so (sorry, Paul Gowder) "obvious" as Neruda about love and longing. I like the subtlety.

And I liked the cross-cultural sharing of poetry. My contribution? A.E. Housman, Yeats, Eliot, Hopkins. Hey, no matter my recent francophone turn, I was originally an Anglophile. Next up is Hart Crane, probably the least read and appreciated American poet (nowadays at least).

But onto the lovely (rather than "heavy") stuff:

Le jardin

Des milliers et des milliers d'années
Ne sauraient suffire
Pour dire
La petite seconde d'éternité
Où tu m'as embrassé
Où je t'ai embrassèe
Un matin dans la lumière de l'hiver
Au parc Montsouris à Paris
A Paris
Sur la terre
La terre qui est un astre.

Paris at night

Trois allumettes une à une allumées dans la nuit
La premiére pour voir ton visage tout entier
La seconde pour voir tes yeux
La dernière pour voir ta bouche
Et l'obscuritè tout entière pour me rappeler tout cela
En te serrant dans mes bras.

-- Jacques Prevert

| links to this post

Friday, August 25, 2006

Interim Post, or It Is Hard Coming Up With A New Thesis

A post on social network theory or feminism (I am delinquent on both fronts) to follow over the weekend (first week of classes have been quite a lot to deal with) but for now I'm stuck at the library on a Friday, as if I were some 1L.

Being an LLM is more relaxed in terms of my stress levels, but an even greater time commitment (particularly when you factor in all those expresso and chocolat chaud dates with your fellow European students). Last Friday, I wrote that my advisor was pointing/pushing me towards a new direction in my thesis, and out the window went my 7 page thesis prospectus on the federalism issues in federal and state hate crimes statutes.

Since then I've been reading everything I can on Gonzales v. Raich. Let me just say, it is hard coming up with a refined, narrow, original and useful thesis centered around your advisor's suggestion that Raich is different from Lopez and Morrison on "this issue," and you are supposed to find out why and how and with which implications for what.

Why and how and with which implications for what is very tricky to figure out. I am getting a few ideas. They are all very vague and broad. And no, "it is different and thus important because it is a big change" is not a thesis. But the trick is to come up with a more narrowly framed issue that will be a workable thesis capable of being researched and written in a tidy 60-70 page article.

Writing a master's thesis is in reality no different from writing any law article you wish to publish--you come up with an argument, you research, you write. And actually, this is better because you have an advisor who makes you come in every few weeks to show a draft. But for some reason, the stakes are higher. It is my master's thesis. It is not only going to be incorporated into my application materials, but it is also going to determine whether or not I get my advanced degree in legal studies. Not only is this article supposed to go towards establishing my scholarly abilities, but also credentialize my status as a person who has been in school for too long. Kind of daunting. I am having a harder time coming up with a refined thesis on this than I normally do coming up with paper topics. Maybe this paper shouldn't mean more to me than any other article, but for whatever reason it really does.

Believe it or not, my other article on social network theory and employment discrimination law has been tentatively accepted for publication. That is, I don't have a full polished draft yet, but what I submitted the journal likes enough to go forward and start an editing schedule, and has agreed to delay the submission date from this month to the end of next month. So that article has become quite important too, and I have even gone to the lengths of asking another professor here at Liberal College Law to read and advise me on it (informally). But for whatever reason, I feel calmer about the process of writing that article.

What is it that makes a master's thesis so much more important than a law review article? Is it the attachment of the credential "L.L.M" to the paper? Is it the fact that because a faculty advisor is attaching him or herself to the project in a formal manner, it must be very, very good (or else it will not only reflect badly on you but also your advisor)? Is it the idea that an advanced legal degree should mean that your thesis in pursuit of that degree must be superior to just any ol' article?

Who knows, I just feel a bit more anxious about it. So back to work I go, burying myself in a sheaf of law review articles. Yes, I have been here since my 8:30 am class on Federal Courts ended at 10 am. No, I am not a 1L. No, I'm not at home watching babies anymore. Toto, we're not in Kansas.

Deepest apologies to Ann Bartow for not guest-blogging about law and feminism recently, despite her kind invitation and use of a cool t-shirt as a bribe.

| links to this post

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Book Meme, Part II

When I first wrote a "The Book(s) That Changed Your Life" post after being tagged for a blog meme, I thought "good thing I have a purely personal blog so that I can just indulge my every blogging whim." And I thought to myself as I "tagged" 5 others, "good thing I know non-law prof bloggers, because law profs would never waste their time with such bloggenpfeffer since they're too busy blogging about, I dunno, the hermeneutics of legal scholarship."

However, this random book meme thing has caught on with at least four law professors, who all happen to be profs I would have tagged myself. I am most delighted to learn of the books that changed the lives of my good friends and mentors Ann Bartow and Jim Chen, as well as my Kindly Avuncular Law Prof Jeff Lipshaw. I don't know Frank Pasquale, but I feel that I know him better after reading his list of transformative books. That's the great thing about this particular meme--how much it reveals about the respondent. So click on the law professor's names to learn more about the books that changed their law professor lives!

Incidentally, I just realized that at 1:30 am I misread one of the questions as saying "A book you wish you had written" rather than what it actually was, "A book you wish had been written." It's okay, Frank Pasquale made the same mistake. I answered to the former, All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. To the latter, I would answer "How to Survive a Love-Hate Relationship With Deconstructionism and Other Critical Theories." If you know of such a book, please let me know!

In my previous post, I tagged five people, only two of whom responded (although Scott Erick Kaufman responded to my "indirect" tag). Since I'm still waiting on three others, and because I don't believe that you must ask only five people what their favorite books are, and because apparently law professor bloggers aren't above literary navel-gazing, I wish to also tag:

Dave Hoffman of Concurring Opinions


Larry Solum of Legal Theory Blog

I have been reading the law review articles and blog posts of these two gentlemen for quite some time now. I have even read about what Dave Hoffman plays the most on his Ipod. I think we would all benefit from knowing more about their intellectual development (that way, you can copy them and at least pretend to be smart).

| links to this post

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Two Classes, Two Schools of Thought, and Two Views of the Mountain

The strange thing about law school the second time around is that it is truly a "do-over." I get to take every class I wish I had taken in law school the first time around, without worrying about satisfying the requirements to my currently unused concentration in CRT or the requisite bar courses. So I get to take more jurisprudence and policy oriented classes, and this makes me very happy. I took a lot of "theory" in law school, but well, I'm not using that theory anymore. So it's rather like finishing a dance and then realizing you would have done the steps differently as soon as you stopped moving. Well, I wasn't moving for a year, and in that year I had time to think, and now I wish I had danced in a different direction--towards jurisprudence and political theory. So this is rather like being able to get another turn on the dance floor. And I intend to dance better this time around, and with greater passion.

Today being the first day of courses (well, for me at least), it is still the "shopping around" phase for most students. I never seriously did this in law school, although I wish I had. If you have misgivings about the "fit" of a course or the professor's pedagogy to your particular educational goal (you know, other than "not at 8:30 am"), then you should go with your gut. If Health Care Law takes you too far into ERISA and benefits territory away from biomedical ethics, and you wanted to learn whether you can morally and legally sell a kidney, well, this course is probably not for you.

So in that vein I sat in on the two sections of Federal Courts. I would have to, of course, take one of them. But which one? The large lecture style course taught by Superior Court Judge Prof? Or the small (15 and under) seminar taught by (coming up with cumbersome pseudonyms is getting harder with each one) Genteel Old School Law Prof? At least my seminar on "Courts As Political Engines of Social Change" (not the name of the course, but you get the idea) was a settled choice, being taught by Prominent Interdisciplinary Law Prof. I have never sat in on two sections of the same course before, since I had always been constrained by other class conflicts. But I have a ridiculously open schedule, since I only have to take two courses. And so today I had 3 hours of Federal Courts. It was a revelatory experience, leading to a number of observations.

First, the pedagogical:

I had always been an obsessively copious and frantic note-taker. I could write an ode to my laptop for how much I have depended on it for everything--notes, outlines, papers, my music library, my slideshow of the kids set to "Blackbird," etc. But maybe it's because I'm an LLM and not some anxious JD, but I'm a bit more relaxed in class now. I still take a lot of notes, but I no longer concentrate on getting everything down. I read a lot more carefully though. But despite my railing against laptop bans, I'm actually considering taking notes by hand. Don't get me wrong, I will change back the second this doesn't work, and I will defend to the death the right of every other obssessive compulsive student to furiously transcribe their lectures. There are holes in my notes, because I write much slower than I type. But I'm finding that as I approach my classes differently, I need to learn differently. While I am still very dedicated to the goal of getting a good grade, I am in the class for a lot more than just taking and passing an exam or fulfilling a course requirement. I'm taking these classes to shape and inform my master's thesis, and so my entire approach to the classes is different. If I read the course material, it's not just to pass the test--it's to shape an idea, form the basis of a footnote, support an argument, etc. So as I become more invested in the process of learning, I find that all the crutches I relied on to get me through law school the first time are not as necessary. I spend as a lot of time during lecture writing notes to remind myself to look up a law review article or consider this idea about federalism as I do taking notes, and today I got an idea about my thesis. Ironically if I had been doing this due to a laptop ban, the opposite effect would have ensued: without a laptop, I am less focused on the lecture at hand. But I am "learning" more.

Also, I had always thought that I preferred small seminars. I am one of those students that sits in the first row and raises her hand frequently. Professors love me, friends are ambivalent about this behavior, and I think I can probably be annoying to the rest of my classmates. But I think I can do this even outside a small seminar--heck, at this stage in my legal education, I have no fear of speaking up in class anymore. So whereas I used to dislike the size and anonymity of large courses, I've come around to the idea that your education is what you make of it. Also, seminars are not always the best form for every subject. I guess it depends on the subject. Courts as the Political Engines of Social Change is a rich and diverse topic, practically inviting discussion and statements of opinion. But Federal Courts? Not so much. I prefer the lecture and class-participation style course as opposed to the entirely too disorganized style of untrained students proferring their opinions on why we have a system of dual federalism. That was truly bizarre and rather a waste of an hour, as the professor kept deterring us from interesting topics of conversation (conflict of laws, privileges and immunities) to consider some abstract question of whether dual federalism is really necessary. I dunno, I rather like my ducks lined up in a row. I much preferred the great lecture this morning on the legal history behind our dual federalism system.

Second, the philosophical:

Federal Courts as taught by Superior Court Judge Prof was superior, not just because SCJP was a better lecturer and referee of discussion, but because it was both broad and focused. I liked the introduction to the legal history and jurisprudence, and how he introduced the Legal Process School (because Hart and Wechsler is of course a Legal Process text), comparing it to the Legal Realists. I am an amateur devotee of legal theory, so of course I was really happy to see that he would be talking about some of the normative and theoretical aspects of federalism jurisprudence. Also, a great discussion of Marbury v. Madison. There was a nice balance of the doctrine, the case law, and the side-discussion of the various schools of thought on the subject.

Contrast this to Federal Courts as taught by Genteel Old School Prof, who kept interrogating the question of why we have a dual federalism system and our proferred rationales of "fairness" and "uniformity," etc., although I knew him to be a staunch Legal Process guy by reputation. It was very strange. I kept wanting to ask, "you mean, you don't think that the federal courts are better and more uniform arbiters and enforcers of neutral principles of law?" I had no idea where he was going with his line of questioning, or how the course would be structured. Was he going to teach us actual law and doctrine about the federal courts and the federal system, or were we going to have abstract discussions about the constitutional structure? It was very weird, I expected a discussion of rules and the judiciary's constrained powers of interpretation and application by an LP scholar.

Contrast this further to Courts as the Political Engines of Social Change, where the professor, a political scientist by training, made it clear that he belonged to the Legal Realist/Critical Legal Studies/and their derivative schools of thought. This is more my school, although I am re-learning how to appreciate the allure of positivism. Yet this is still a departure from my totally out-there, deconstructinist, anti-doctrinal CRT training. I like that in this course, there will be consideration of empirical studies on judges-as-lawmakers, and a discussion of theories from other disciplines, such as the attitudinal model to explain decision making. I think this will be a nice counterpoint to my heavily doctrinal thesis, and will balance out the rules-based Federal Courts.

So both of these observations have led me to a very simple, obvious conclusion: there are many ways to learn the same law. I knew this as a deconstructionist, but I am saying this now as a student and aspiring teacher. Two classes on the same subject can have vastly different pedagogical strutures and methods, and can implicitly or explicitly endorse one of two dichotomous schools of thought. In a way, it's two views of the same mountain. Not necessarily in reflection of each other, or the flip side of the coin. More like two pairs of eyes or two different angles that cause the light to bend and refract or the shadows to lengthen and deepen in differing ways.

In any case, I am glad for the experience (although it was exhausting to go to class from 8:30 am to 6:10 pm). It was good to acknowledge that I am going to school for more than just a grade or degree, that there is an intellectual project that my learning will serve. And it was good to see that there are many ways of learning and teaching a subject, and that it is okay to choose which is best for me.

| links to this post

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On The First Day Of School, and Reading Marbury v. Madison For The Nth Time

I actually did this myself and made it into an iron-on t-shirt:

The new school year has truly arrived. Orientations are like fake little meet-and-greet soirees, but now it's time to get down to business. Yesterday I bought multiple colors of the poor grad student's ultimate pen, otherwise known as the Pilot G-2 gel pen. This, despite the fact that ever G-2 I have ever owned has stopped writing after maybe 3 weeks, despite evidence that there remains more than 75% of ink left in the barrel. This despite the fact that I actually own some very nice pens (Mont Blanc, vintage Parker) but refuse to use them for anything other than my antiquated epistolary exercises. But for the work of school, it just seems the thing to do to buy a cheap pen. We are students, and not yet professionals who need to wield $200 sticks of prestige. Okay, so I graduated from law school already, but I still dont need to do that. The cool thing about being a student again is that the only pretensions you should aspire to are intellectual ones. Now that I'm out of Bourgie city, it appears that I no longer have to wear labels or stilettos to school while carrying 20 lbs on my back. The look here is "bookish," and I think the pens will go along way towards helping with that image. That, and buying a blank marbled "composition notebook," something you could associate with a grade schooler, but has recently become the favored notebook (as, say Moleskine was the favored notebook of Picasso) of grad students who need to diagramm their papers. Not law students, per se, who seem to have a peculiar fondness for the too-widely ruled and too buttercup-yellow legal pad. What, do we need to shout "I am a lawyer, I use legal pads" at this stage already? No, I identify better with those quirky and often poor grad students and their blank journals, or at least what I remember of them (I have current English grad student friends, but the "standards" in my mind are those messenger-bag toting, coffee drinking, Lacan-discussing, glasses and Cosby-sweater wearing types who were my TAs back in college). Now that I'm done with the stressful JD, I'm just another coffee-swilling, breeze-shooting grad student (when I'm not obsessively working in the privacy of my apartment). In fact, I better finish this post in an hour, because I'm to have coffee and pastries with the other European LLMs at the nearby "Cafe Bellagio" (not the name, but you get the idea). The second time around is so much better.

So after buying my school supplies like some eager young pup and packing myself a turkey sandwich, apple, and granola bar for lunch (I kid you not), I am at school. Listen up people, I am at school. For the first time in a year, among people my age and not babies with dirty diapers. And I just finished my first class in a year. And I am a bit tired from staying up reading my first homework assignment in a year (Every time there is "optional" reading I view it as "mandatory.") I feel quite the excited schoolgirl.

So what was my first assignment of the year? Marbury v. Madison. A case I have read I don't know how many times, from my first reading at the age of 16 in "Intro to Law" at my university (I took some college classes part time in HS, then later enrolled full time), to the more advanced constitutional law courses (there were at least two more classes where it was assigned: Law and Society and Courts and The Political Process), and finally again in Con Law I in law school. It's not that it's an "over-assigned" case--it really is that important. (Well, I am fond of any case involving federalism, and believe that all are very important, but that's just me.

On the nth reading, I find myself completely enthralled with the case. I am sure that I read it much too carelessly as an undergraduate, and I was too stressed as a 1L to enjoy the reading (worrying more about my grade, and knowing that it would probably not be tested since there was enough material on everything from structural issues (commerce clause, privileges and immunities) to equal protection to make a 3 hour final). But seriously, this is a marvelous case to read.

For one thing, the case deals with such complex, interesting issues that are still relevant today. The separation of powers, in particular executive authority vis-a-vis the legislative powers, and as refereed by the Court. The power of the Court to address only constitutional questions of law, as opposed to political questions for which it has no jurisdiction. Moreover, the case is so delightfully obsessed with language and interpretation. Most cases, particularly those dealing with statutory interpretation will be very invested in interrogating the exact nature, meaning, and intent of the words. And by the time such a case reaches the Supreme Court, interpretation will necessarily involve not only reading within the text, but a comparative reading to some more authoritative or conflicting test--e.g., the Constitution. But Marbury takes the cake on both counts.

I'm reading the Fallon, Meltzer, and Shapiro 5th edition of Hart and Weschler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System. As you may recall, this was the most influential book for now Chief Justice John Roberts. It is weird, coming from a background in deconstruction and CRT to be reading such a Legal Processs school text. Whatever my current doctrinal project, I'm still a legal realist at heart. But I am enjoying this book, and I can see why the (probably 1954 edition) book was so influention on Chief Justice Roberts. The book is incredibly comprehensive (a little too comprehensive, what with the excessive notes that follow each case that introduce updated case law, criticisms, and other schools of thought). I like that the cases aren't too redacted, which makes it easier for a linguaphile like me to really get a feel for the opinion. And like I said, this case is obsessed with language, and so you need a lot of langauge to parse.

As I was reading the case, I found myself breaking out my new Pilot G-2s and mapping out the issues in a more visual format on my new notebook. Yes, my fate really is to annotate. Gy "mapping out" I do not mean necessarily "P states a claim for ______" ---> "D rebuts ______" or anything like that. Rather, I copied out bits of the case to parse out the language and its meanings, mapping out the sentences. This case was obsessed with the language of the statute it was trying to interpret and whether it reconciled with the meaning of the constitution, and so I became obsessed with the language of the court.

Take for example, the "Ed." (H &W?) note to the Court's interpretation of Sec. 13 of the 1789 Judiciary Act:

"Pfander...argues that Marshall was more likely to have relied on a 1796 edition of the officially authorized but privately published Laws of the United States, which substituted a colon for the semicolon in the italicized sentence and capitalized the "And" that immediately follows it. According to Pfander, the difference is significant, because it highlights the independece of the grant of mandamus authority from the reference to "appellate jurisdiction" in the crucial sentence's initial clause and thus supports the Court's conclusion that the conferral of mandamus jurisdiction was "freestanding," rather than being limited to cases otherwise within the Court's "appellate juridiction."

Language, even if merely a colon (vs. a semicolon) or a capitalized letter (vs. a lowercase letter) can determine the constitutionality of a statute. Interpretation depends greatly on the framing of the issues and the standpoint of the author (Legal Realism, anyone?), but there is something to be said about how this is to be done within the linguistic confines. That is, the construction of sentences, the choice of words, and the objective/subjective interpretion of those words and structures will greatly affect the ultimate determination. So while "reading" is not merely an action but a human act, there are enough structural rules in the interpretation of language to compel certain interpretations. (Yes, I am really backing away from deconstructionism now, sorry Stanley Fish).

More evidence of the case's obssession with language?:

From Marshall himself:

[T]he plain imort of the words seems to be, that in one class of cases its jurisdiction is original, and not appellate; in the other it is appellate, and not original. If any other construction would render the clause inoperative, that is an additional reason for rejecting such other construction, and for adhering to their obvious meaning.


Thus, the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, suppsoed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are boundby that instrument.

My Fate Is To Annotate.

| links to this post

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Legal Academy Gazes At Its Own Navel

I didn't speak English until 5 years old, when I was sent to Kindergarten with no more than a "good luck" and a government-issued free lunch card. Somehow, I managed to escape ESL, although because English was not listed as my "first" language, I was forced to take those proficiency tests each year. Even though I was enrolled in say, Honors English. Now English is my dominant language, to the detriment and near exclusion of my former "primary" language--Vietnamese. My proficiency in Vietnamese is no better than a child's, and a young one at that. I can't carry on long discussions about anything more significant than the weather, your/my health, what's for dinner, etc. Politics, literature--far out of the question. It's funny how my parents, who once pushed assimilation so strongly on me, should now decry my childish pronunciations, incorrect tones (I think I am tone deaf, which is very ironic for a person who was raised with a tonal language), and very poor vocabulary. On the other hand, I have become so proficient at English, that I majored in English literature in college--that was how much I loved the artistic forms of my adopted language. And yet, there are those who will comment on how clear my English is, or ask me if I was ever enrolled in ESL. (And there are those who will ask me what I think about the Vietnamese War, as if it is soooo recent in my memory or a part of my (as opposed to my parents') personal history, having been born in the U.S. of A., but whatever.) Perhaps it is not necessary to learn one language at the exclusion of the other. It probably wasn't, and I was probably just lazy about keeping "up" (although, if you stop learning more complex vocabulary after the age of 5, can you really keep anything "up"?) my Vietnamese. But for better or worse, I am just another typical language-challenged American. I can translate other languages well enough, with some training in Latin and an intuitive grasp for syntax and grammar. But some things can't be learned just by scansion.

I am excessively phonetic, which means that I keep mispronouncing words like "cache" or "meme." There are certain idioms that I haven't learned till very recently, a fact that appalls me. For instance, there are some proverbs and aphorisms that I've picked up by thumbing through Bartlett's Quotations (my favorte: A bird in the hand.) But for some reason, I didn't know what a "straw man" argument was until two years ago. I don't know why, since I've been in school for so long and have actually taken philosophy classes on constructing/deconstructing arguments. But I just didn't know what it was. I also just learned, last year or so, what "navel-gazing" is. But now that I know what both mean, I can't stop using them.

As you may have noticed, the past couple of weeks have been consumed by meditations on legal pedagogy, my own research, the beginning of the school year, etc.

Well, I'm not the only one. I'm in good company. This time of year, when kids across the natoin are buying new pencils and Mead Trapper-Keepers (just kidding, '80s flashback), the air is scented with freshly mimeographed paper and pencil shavings. Having been in school for 21 of my nearly 26 years, I measure my life, not with coffee spoons, but by academic term years. The year for me does not begin in January. No, the fresh start is in August or September, when with new class schedule in hand I take off on a new path of learning. It's always a nice, fresh start. But with new beginnings come reflections on old endings, and hope mingled with fear for the future as well as nostalgia or regret for the past. It's a time that lends itself to excessive introspection, not only on the personal journey but on the greater pilgrimage of all those who are like you, and who journey with you.

So that is what navel-gazing is, apparently. "Excessive introspection, self-absorption, or concentration on a single issue." Just a lot of thinking about "why we're here" and "where we're going." But for certain it's a lot of thinking about oneself or one's own kind, profession, etc. A very inward focus.

But I think navel-gazing is a good thing--even though it has a pejorative connotation, as if one should not solipsistically focus inward. That to think too much of the self is to be "self-absorbed," as if you could be consumed and eviscerated by your own narcissism. But why not look inward, for lessons to project outward? If professors can examine their own attitudes and methods at least once a year, students will be better off for it I think.

And often, students can benefit directly from a view from those on the inside:

Paul Caron has this nice roundup of advice for law students here.

And BlackProf has the best advice for incoming 1Ls that I have ever seen anywhere.

And in the spirit of public service solipsism, or "navel-gazing" as they call it, here are my posts from a few months ago:

So You Want To Be A Lawyer, Eh? Part Deux.

The Best Advice for Aspiring Law Students

| links to this post

Friday, August 18, 2006

Advisor, Please Advise

I met with my advisor, Preeminent Federalism Scholar*, today. Niiiice office. He's the "Wiley Routledge" Professor of Law, so he should have a very nice office. Preeminent Federalism Scholar is someone I've been reading since before law school. He's at least as old as my father, who is 69 years old (being old enough to be my father is different, being only 25, you can add a respectable 25 and be only 50 years old, but add 20 years to that, and you get someone who was alive during the FDR administration). He is very nice. But for some reason, intimidating.

Not that he's mean or ornery or slams down my ideas. But he is so vastly knowledgeable in this area, as in not joking when he says "I wrote the book on this," that well, it's intimidating. I felt my youth acutely, as well as my inexperience and lack of knowledge. He brought up some problems with my prospectus (as always, "overbreadth", and a big problem I'll get to later). He then went through a summary of Commerce Clause doctrine. I know the general history and jurisprudence of Commerce Clause doctrine. But you know, he wrote the book on it. So I sat there and listened, as he talked about the aggregate effects in Wickard, yadda yadda, all the way through Lopez and Morrison and Raich. For the most part, I knew all this. But when he brought up certain cases that are big, but not as central as the aforementioned, asking "you remember the FMLA case? What was it called?"--I was so nervous, I blurted out "You mean, Kimel?" realizing, 5 minutes later, when he said the name, that I had meant to say Hibbs. This is not my first advisor-advisee relationship, but it's certainly the most serious one I've ever had. This isn't some dinky senior thesis. This isn't some independent study. This is my LLM masters thesis.

So, as my Very Important Advisor, he gave me very important advice. The problem with writing a "thesis prospectus" when you are applying to graduate law programs is that you have to be deliberately broad, in certain sense. That is, when you are writing a proposal to attract a would-be advisor from one of say, four faculty researching in your intended area, you make it pretty broad--say, "federalism" in general rather than "Section 5" or "sovereign immunity" more particularly. Also, can I just say that at this stage in my academic career, I don't know what I'm doing? Is it wise to make such an admission? I can develop a paper topic and see if it's preempted, maybe. But for something big like my masters thesis on so complicated an area as federalism, well, I need some direction. And yes, I still want to write in the area of federalism, 'cause I'm just a young whippersnapper biting off more than I can chew, bigger than my britches, etc. etc. I've wanted to write in this area since I was 20 years old. Okay, so it's only 6 years later, but I still want to write on it.

So, for better or worse, I am going to write in the area of federalism law, with the help of Preeminent Federalism Scholar. Who is making me totally rethink the scope of the project. Originally, I wanted to write on federalism issues in bias crimes law, because I thought it would be novel and interesting to consider the federalization of criminal law, the growing role of state-driven initiatives to combat racial/gender/national origin/religion/sexual orientation bias-motivated crime (and in environmental law)--thinking that "hey, this is a dynamic area of the law!" Well, it is and it isn't. In terms of an interesting, revolutionary "constitutional question" issue, not so much, because this is considering a question with not enough "there" there (my words, not his, though I am sure he would say it if he wasn't so nice). That is, with respect to federal penalty enhancement statutes for federal crimes, not much to discuss, except for the implications and stretched out arguments one may create for other types of anti-discrimination laws. The project, and the justification for it, seemed to be entirely speculative (to me, probably to him too) after a bit of discussion. So after only 45 minutes with Preeminent Federalism Scholar, I have seriously reconsidered this, in favor of his suggested ("not that he's telling me what to write," and "I should write what I want") federalism question--one that is really an interesting new development decades old jurisprudence (Hint: it's a new development in Raich). And you know, I'm seriously considering it. I'm considering dropping the bias crimes and Section 5 anti-discrimination law hook entirely. Let me make this clear: the last time I wrote a paper that was not about anti-discrimination law and/or theory was in......college. It's like coming full circle, literally back to my crappy political science senior honors thesis about "The Rehnquist Court's Devolutionary Federalism."

Am I being being prodded into marching down a path or am I stumbling? I honestly don't know. Preeminent Federalism Scholar has just given me a lot to think about, and I'm going to go back to the drawing board (armed with my handy new Westlaw and Lexis Nexis passwords) and try to revise the project. In a way, it is disappointing not to do an anti-discrimination law project (and I'll have to revise my banner too). But on the other hand, it is exciting to have a slightly new path of research suggested to me--one far more doctrinal than anything I have ever done before. I think I'm still stumbling, but it's good to have someone's advice and guidance as I fall.

* If I had another pseudonym in this program, it would be The Friendliest American.

| links to this post

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Comparative Constitutional Law, The Neglected Stepchild of Legal Education

After only a week hanging out with the international LLMs, I am already referring to my apartment as "my flat"; calling sneakers "trainers" and jackets "jumpers"; eating real French chocolate (my tendency was to eat the Trader Joes "Belgian" chocolate, which while made in Belgium isn't really Belgian apparently); baking things like pomme tarte tatin (instead of say, blondies), commenting that everything is "very nice" instead of say "really good" or "delicious"; and so I fully expect to develop a faux accent in about a week.

I sort of had this Eurofication (and the attendant post-colonial anxiety, but I am over that now) in my third year of law school. For some reason or another, I became friends with a group of the European LLMs, and once again, my status as the "least-American" American was affirmed. I may be hyper, super-friendly, say "dude" a lot, and have a firm handshake (and apparently, an "American"--nay, "Californian" accent), but I have been half flattered/insulted a lot this week. In my third year, I got a lot of "ah, so you know about our politics?" (I read the international section, and studied international relations in college) as well as "ah, you have seen La Vie Rêvée des Anges?" (I watch a lot of foreign cinema). This year, I already admit "no, I am not the typical American" and state my views on American/European politics from the get go--it just makes it easier, so that they don't assume they have to say "We don't have a president, we have a prime minister." But apparently, I am not a "full American" because I have some style, wear "proper" shoes instead of trainers, and read Balzac. So on the one hand, I am flattered, and on the other, I am insulted on behalf of my unstylish, sneaker-wearing countrymen. But if I am totally honest, I'm more flattered, because I probably have the same semi-unpatriotic views about America's current standing in the international community. I am proud to be an American, and glad that I can voice my dissent by vote and rhetoric--but I often find myself wanting to make apologize for things I see as America's curious maverick ways. Such as our non-use of the metric system (mostly it's because I have no idea how tall I am in centimeters, and so rather than blame my poor "math in my head" skills I blame America); our lack of universal health care; the international treaties we declined to sign/are trying to back out of; our weird sexual politics and how they impact healthcare, particularly with respect to young women; etc. etc. There is a lot that I love about our nation, don't get me wrong (I am BIG on separation of church and state)--but there is a lot that is befuddling when you, like the apparently impeachable Justice Kennedy, compare our nation to international norms.

I often brood over jurisprudence being the neglected stepchild of American legal education. Hardly anyone goes to the trouble of teaching postive vs. normative legal theory anymore, and if any jurisprudence classes are offered, they are more concerned with specific "problems," such as the laws "governing the body" or "moral emotions and the law." Which is all well and fine, but I can't believe the best survey course in jurisprudence was one I had (and later, TA'd) in college. I have never seen H.LA. Hart in the law school bookstore, but I was assigned it in my freshman year of college (and I went to a big public state university known more for its quantitative emphasis than theoretical work and was taught by an adjunct). So I grumble about that a lot.

But just recently, I have realized that even more neglected (not necessarily by legal scholars, but rather by law professors and law schools) is comparative constitutional law. There are plenty of international law courses (International Civil Litigation; Business Law in China, Latin American Politics)--but not the same macro/systems analysis of constitutional structure. I suppose that is something you could learn as an undergraduate--but not everyone does comparative political science as an undergrad (I did both domestic and comparative, it can be done). If I had only been an English literature major I certainly could have avoided it entirely. But it seems to me that if law school is not only for learning how to pass the Bar (that is what Bar/Bri is for), then it should consider it important that students have the ability to learn about the different governmental structures and constitutional systems in the world.

The Europeans I meet know about Marbury v. Madison and judicial review! What, I ask you, do you know about the French judicial system? (I only know a bit, because one of my favorite professors from college, now at Yale Law, wrote a book on it.) Any international cases you can name? Have you heard that there is this thing called the "European Constitutional Court"? They know more about us than we do about them, and that's a poverty on our part. I suppose it is good in the sense that it reaffirms my American belief that We Are The Best and We Are The Most Important, but you know, as an American I don't need such validation.

One of the funniest things I've heard this week was from a guy named Pierre (yes, not kidding) who told me that the professor teaching the one-week course on American Law (you would not believe the breadth they are covering in 4 days) said, with all seriousness, "This may surprise you, but in America there is the separation of powers." (beat.) Pierre: "Um, we know about that. It is not like it is something completely foreign to us." Then the German chimed in: "Yes, didn't the French come up with the idea? Montesquieu?"

I just love that. In a few sentences, an encapsulation of American insularity and belief in its singularity, and that despite the fact that we cribbed our constitution and political system from about 3 traditions, we still think we came up with it first. I know that the professor probably meant his statement to communicate "as compared to Europe's parliamentary system, in which the prime minister is chosen by the parliament itself...."--but to the Europeans, it just sounded like that maverick (or so we think) Americanness asserting itself.

Perhaps if we learned more about international law, we would not be so surprised to discover that the internationals already know much about our own legal system.

The poor neglected stepchildren of the legal education system--one day, they will be remembered.

| links to this post

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Burning The Candles At Both Ends Without Being Consumed

After a year of a slow intellectual death in Orange County, it is strange to be living so fully right now. Not that Orange County is boring (okay, it is) but there is not much stimulation to be had living at home with your parents (who speak only Vietnamese when your own stronger language is English) and taking care of your siblings' children (who hardly speak at all, unless you count repeating "Hi, I'm Parker"). Now you see why I started this blog eight months ago. Well, now I'm here, and I'm quickly becoming exhausted--and school hasn't even started yet.

This is a relatively laid back college town, but by that I mean "people enjoy their coffee and food." It's still a major university with rigorous academic departments. And so while it is very much about the "good life," there is much work to be done. You just have better coffee and food here.

A lot of my reading, for "fun" and for academic interest, is on the "work-life" balance, particularly with respect to women. Having spent the entire last year taking care of my siblings' children, I can say, with a bit of deserved bragging, that good day care is really hard to find. And it is really tough to hear my niece say, dejectedly, that she misses her mother--even though she has me and her grandparents to provide what love and attention we can for her. I see all this, and I worry--and I am not yet 26 (give me 2 months). When I was in law school, "work-life" balance meant finishing my readings before I went home on Friday afternoon to watch the kids/spend time with family on Saturday and Sunday. I don't have to do that kind of work/life balance anymore, but I know how hard even that was.

But more on that later, when I write a more feminist/legal post for Feminist Law Profs. For now, my work-life balance has more to do with balancing my social life (the first I've had, in um, a year) with my work. It is a curious thing to deal with. I had responsibilities before. Now I have only desires. It is curious how almost anyone my age would think that the latter is easier to enjoy as a diversion from work. But in a strange way, I feel guilty about it. Spending time with your family is mandatory, but I was raised to view socializing as a luxury a diligent student could ill-afford.

Another Professor recently reminded me about that treacly (but good) movie about WASPy New England prep boys, Dead Poet's Society (the other one is The Emperor's Club). I swear, because of that movie, bumper stickers saying "Carpe Diem" were sold by the truckloads to pretentious college students. Not that there isn't a kernel of truth and proper exhortation to every cliche (you know, like "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today," "seize the day"). So I am definitely seizing a lot of the day. I hardly sleep now, what with work, cooking and cleaning, and yes, being sociable. I used to lose sleep due to family duties. Now I just lose it due to myself.

It is a curious thing about law school, that it encourages mingling, networking, interacting--the formation of formal and informal social ties--and yet does everything to impede the deepening of those ties with the workload and stress. Courtyard receptions galore, socials, etc. All designed to let you "meet" a lot of people and exchange contact info. But to form real relationships, or what sociologists call "strong ties," takes a lot of time. It's the difference between "meeting a professor" and "having an academic advisor." It's that vast a difference. And so what with all the orientations this week, the big to-do about contacting my advisor (finally assigned, thankfully it is Preeminent Federalism Scholar), etc. etc., I am finding it difficult to manage so many things at once. And again, school hasn't even started yet.

I am trying to work on a separate paper for the colloquium, and get it in by an extended Fall submission date to a journal. I am trying to assemble a rough bibliography for my project, because I know the advisor will ask what I've read and what I know about my intended field. I am going to take two classes this semester. Somehow, I know I can manage these. It's how to manage the "rest" of my life, so that I really do "seize the day."

Must I seize the day? I know that I should. I have said, myself, that the second time around, I will be better to myself--to my body, my mind, my soul, my spirit. I will feed my soul with literature, art, friendship, and "real" food. So I've been trying to do that. I am reading I don't know how many books at once--a novel, some sociology books, law review articles in two fields, blogs galore. I've been cooking up a storm, and very well I might add (masoor daal, roasted chicken). I've not only gone out a lot lately with the new students, but I have had a few that I have "clicked" with over for afternoon tea and pomme tarte tatin (yes, homemade in a toaster oven, I am the ultimate hostess). I clean obsessively. I take long walks. I call my children twice a week. That's a lot of living. Maybe even more so when I was taking care of 8 kids on the weekends.

I am becoming quickly exhausted. I know that much of this has to do with the newness of this all, and the fact that I have not created an efficient schedule for myself yet. There is a lot of spontaneity, and I am not a spontaneous person (at all). So the impromtu socializing that naturally occurs in the beginning, as everyone is getting to know each other and break off into cliques (they're pretty geographical, funnily enough), will soon end. I can manage my time better later. I can find a routine and settle into it. But for now, I know I must endure this brief but intense social networking period, before all of the students go in their separate directions and get hunkered down with work. It exhausts me, because I am unused to it. Taking care of children is taxing but necessary, and having "too much" fun is a bit guilt inducing for one raised to view that fun is evil. (Seriously.)

But it is curious that a very social network based profession (unlike, say, pharmacists) should demand both that we "get ourselves out there" and "stay in and do work." It's a strange tension. I feel it as a young single woman, and I would feel it much more as a married person or a parent. In fact, because I am young and without attachments, demands that I socialize, network, etc. are even greater, as I have "no excuse." The world does not love us unspontaneous introverts.

Whereas I felt less guilty about putting off work for family, and more guilty for doing it "just for fun," the law school network system would punish the former more greatly than the latter. I mean to say, law school rewards such "irresponsibility"--those who have to stay home from planned socializing events or informal ones to take care of their parents, kids, spouse, etc. will necessarily miss out on important social network building. And you will be punished for that, if not by overt sanctions, then by missed opportunities and decreased social capital. It is okay to be exhausted by too much work and networking play. But to be exhausted because your baby kept you up will negatively impact your career. It doesn't seem right.

I'm not saying I miss taking care of eight children at the expense of my work (although I do). I am pointing out that this second time around in law school, I am doing all the career-enhancing (and life-enhancing) things I didn't get to do the first time--and quickly realizing that there are trade offs in both. I am having a wonderful time making new friends and entertaining them in my new home. That I wouldn't trade for anything. It is great meeting all the professors in my field at Liberal College Law by making rounds to introduce myself and talk up my thesis. But it all takes time. And I am being rewarded this time around with a very valuable social capital I didn't get four years ago. It is just curious to note that in the academic or employment context, social capital is not something you can get from your families or children (that's a different type, read Bowling Alone). The only social capital that really matters is that from your colleagues or higher ups. The other types of connections we might form or work hard to strengthen and deepen--family, old friends, etc.--are of psychic value, but of little economic value in the employment context. In fact, such ties might compromise your employment social capital.

I'm not arguing that it should not be the case. It is just how things are. What I'm saying is that I feel a bit of filial guilt over it all. It's one thing to enjoy oneself and the company of others. It's another thing entirely to realize that the company of others is more "valuable" along a certain metric to the bonds of your family. I always feel guilty about leaving my family, this just makes it worse.

There are many kinds of "work/life" balance, and I don't think I'm good at any of them. I don't think the system is built to make you good at balance. It demands too much of you in both, and so you end up just burning the candles at both ends, hoping that you yourself will not be consumed.

| links to this post

Monday, August 14, 2006

On Mentors and Mentoring

I often write about how great this blog has been for me--it's fun to write, introduces me to cool people, is a strange but wonderful way to "network" within the legal academy--but there have been some other concrete benefits to this.

Because of the nature of a personal blog, readers feel like they "know" you and often email you to say they like your writing and start telling stories about themselves. Not just other bloggers either--I'm talking about law professors, a population you would not think given to starting epistolary relationships. I like it though. I share a lot on this blog, and I like that others share back. I think I can honestly say this blog has resulted in "real" friendships with people, some of whom I have met and some of whom I am purposely planning my flight layovers to meet. Some blogging law professors seem particularly protective of this young blawggish blogger, and I have to say that I really appreciate their soliticious care.

I wish I had this the first time around, in fact. I have emailed my Blog Fathers (both in the "Godfather" sense and the avuncular/paternal/maternal) for advice on many things---whether to blog non-pseudonymously elsewhere (answer: no), how to refine my abstract, whether it is advisable to use statistics as a young scholar, and most importantly, what classes to take.

It is amazing, this time around, the kind of feedback I'm getting. It is remarkable in the first instance that I am able to email these virtual strangers a list of course descriptions, attach my thesis proposal, and ask "what classes should I take?" I suppose I could do this with my advisor, but we research-track LLMs have not been assigned ours yet (I know, I know). At any rate, I don't think I'd be getting the same kind of blunt, pointed advice. You might have a 2L or 3L or Alumni mentor in law school, and they might tell you what are the "easier" classes to take, who teaches a particular subject particularly well, and where to apply for the summer associateship. But if you're an aspiring academic, you want to know more than just this. And if you're a graduate law student, you don't need to know that kind of stuff anymore (well maybe the bit about who's a good professor). But when upperclass or alumni mentor tells you who's the "better" professor, they mean pedagogically. Not that a skilled teacher isn't good. But for an aspiring academic, sometimes "better" does not mean more "interesting," "dynamic," "comprehensible," etc.--it may mean who is in the best position to advise you on a certain topic, who is "good to know" in the future as you enter the market, and who will give you the best feedback or offer the best counterpoint to your normative/doctrinal project. So to get such pointed advice, like "take this guy, he's good to know" is something you just don't get by asking a 3L or an alumni. Also, if you put such a question to your advisor, he or she is unlikely to say about a colleague "definitely don't take him or her."

It is curious that I can speak so candidly to virtual strangers, whereas I have not told anyone (well, except one) at my old law school about this blog. Perhaps it is because we have a prior relationship of professor-student and mentor-mentee that I have already abused too much. I know this professor cares enough about my career to give me a few reading tips and a (very valuable) letter of recommendation--but it's not quite the level of intimacy (which I ironically have with virtual strangers) I have with these avuncular, rather protective of their blawgee protege professors at other schools. Meaning, I can write him a relatively cordial and professional update, but we don't have this "letter-writing" relationship (nay, friendship) where I can literally ask "do you think Prof. _____ is a good advisor for a project on ____." It's nice being able to ask my virtual Avuncular Law Professors about what classes to take, and get substantive feedback on my thesis proposal (which apparently, "looks great" and will investigate the "holy grail" of constitutional law) before I have been even assigned my faculty advisor. In these few weeks of limbo, it's nice to be able to turn to someone and ask rather stupid questions. I wonder if this is what it is like for law students with lawyers in the family. I am not the first in my family to go to college or graduate school (though that was the case with many of my classmates, and you can imagine their predicament when it came to advice), but I am definitely the first to go to law school. I wonder if this is what it's like to have an academic support network. I think it is.

I am not writing this post to discuss the how the weirdness of legal academic institution favors those with already established networks and connections (you can figure that out on your own). I am writing this post to wonder why there is not an official institutional support system for those without such informal networks.

Part of this comes from the research I've been doing on informal social networks, and how in the absence of official institutional support those who are unable to make such connections (which are often made ex ante to the job situation, as that's how many people got the job in the first place) will fall behind those who are "well-connected." I am not normally a good "networker" or "schmoozer," although I am friendly and engaged in my education enough to abuse office hours. But in terms of "knowing who's who," well, I usually don't. This blog has allowed me to get to know a few who are (and may be even more) helpful to my academic career. Just getting some basic advice like "you might want to read this article or take a class from this professor" is worth all the gold in the world to me. What's more, I don't "market" my blog per se--I might email a post here and there, but it's always to someone I "know." All the chance, fortunate connections I've made from this blog have been from law professors emailing me to offer commentary and support. The only times I randomly email law profs or blawggers is to suggest an article for them to read, which is not exactly showing off. So despite my terrible networking and marketing skills, I have an informal academic support network. I am only beginning to realize that I should probably learn to email faculty in my field (when I decide on one) drafts of my articles or questions about my graduate studies.

So why isn't there some kind of institutional support system for naive people like me? I suppose the graduate programs think that faculty advisors are "enough," and they certain do a lot for their students. But I wish there was something akin to a "career center" for aspiring academics. One where you can ask blunt questions and get blunt answers, one where you can have access to that informal databank of knowledge about who is the best (and worst) in a given field, when to submit papers for conferences, what talks to go to, etc.

This isn't really asking for much---grad students in other departments have list-servs in which they are constantly notified about the goings on in their departments, at other universities, etc. I have to search, on SSRN, HUMNET, APSA, etc. to look for "calls for papers" and I have to visit the websites of various departments (law, political science, philosophy) in order to figure out what talks/colloquia to go to and where. If only law students--and graduate law students at that--could be seen not only as "professional" students insulated from the larger campus (and wider intellectual traditions), but also as "graduate" students who might benefit from a little learning outside of the school. Who might want to submit a paper to a conference. Who might want to go to a talk on, I dunno, legal positivism vs. normative legal theory.

Is a list-serve too much to ask for? Is someone to ask for advice about how to navigate the academic market (other than your faculty advisor, who you bother too much already) at your school too much to demand?

It is times like this when I think it's much easier being a graduate student if you want to teach. Law school seems to exist only for training lawyers, and not producing academics or scholars (although all the major, higher ranked law schools say they want to do that, hence all the programmatic tracks and writing seminars "designed to produce a work of publishable quality"). Still, I wonder why there is so little emphasis on helping their students produce scholarship and possibly enter the academic job market, since that is how a school helps to build its academic reputation.

Something to wonder about. Law schools are full of students, and full of mentors (you can have at least three: an upperclassman, your alumni mentor, and one from your student org). But I wonder how much "mentoring" really goes on, and I am dismayed at how little use that would be to a graduate law student. It's like law school is saying you don't need one after your 1L year. I for one, beg to differ.

| links to this post

The Second Time Around, The Coffee Tastes Better

This is seriously what pops up when you Google Image "law school":

Law school is so much better the second time around. You're less freaked out. No matter how old you are or how mature you are or what you've lived through, going to law school the first time is terrifying. I have known OWLs (usually at every school there is a chapter of Older, Wiser Law Students), former military people, and people with Ph.Ds freak out over during first year finals, memos, and moot court. It's just a different way of thinking and doing things, and nothing really compares. The shock of the new humbles even the fearless.

There is no comparison for how different law school is to any way of learning you had previously. From what I hear from my grad school friends, the small cohorts of grad schools can kind of compare to the fishbowl of the law school social scene, but nothing can approach the sheer junior-high schoolness of the lockers, the candy grams, and the law school prom (otherwise known as the Barrister's Ball). Qualifying exams sound horrible--but there is something about the first year memo that induces fear and loathing. On the one hand, you're being asked to produce something you would actually submit to a court--a legal brief. So you take it very seriously, particularly since it determines your grade (and much like in court, the outcome of the case). On the other hand, you're just "pretending" at this point to be a lawyer, writing on the same subject as the entire first year class. So that's really annoying too, and too much like being in Model United Nations or Junior Statesmen. You're writing something that doesn't much matter, but is just to test the skills of rhetoric and form.

Law school is much more about peformance than graduate school. Preliminary exams and qualifying exams are tests of knowledge--grueling tests, but they do serve a significant purpose. But what do the fake brief and the fake jury trial test other than some rhetorical and performative lawyer skills? You not only learn the law in law school, you have to learn how to think "like a lawyer," how to write "like a lawyer," and how to talk "like a lawyer." I suppose grad school teaches you how to teach--it puts you in front of a discussion section or a lower division class and makes you lecture and assemble syllabi. But you are not doing something "like" a teacher--you are teaching, and thus being a teacher. There is a difference between simulation and realization--in one, you want to approach verisimilitude, in the other, the reality is an a priori state of being--you just want to make it a good one.

I haven't been through much yet--just one orientation--but it feels different. Unfortunately, I lost the bet with myself and turned out to be completely wrong about what would be said. Okay, so they did say that the school, faculty, and student body were great, and that we were very special, and to not study all the time (although curiously, the advice "sleep less" was given too). But other than that, there was very little uplifting rhetoric. The advice was very pointed (make sure you stick to your draft schedule) and pragmatic (don't take too many classes). 3 hours of "go to this office for this" and "law school exams are not like the ones in Europe" later, I felt kind of good about it all. Things weren't talked up, which meant that we were not being talked down to. Everything was very useful and administrative, as if they knew that at this point in our legal education, we don't need much of the rhetoric anymore. Maybe we needed it the first time, to reassure us about our choice (many law students go to law school because they can't figure out anything else to do). Maybe we needed it because we need moments of uplifting treacle in what can be a dreary reality. But if you're serious enough about the study of law to pursue a graduate law degree--well, you don't need convincing anymore. And you've proven that you like the study or practice of law enough to go back for more training or to spend a lifetime teaching it--and so you don't need the oratory. You do, however, need to know where the reference desk at the library is.

I have quite a few more orientations this week, but it beats what the international students have to do--learn about the United States legal system (from the three branches of government to the adversary system to the common law to the casebook method) in one week. It's just a basic introduction designed to prove "Americans do things different." I used to love comparative constitutional law, until I started getting weirded out by how different we are from the entire world and how every other country thinks our way is not only confounding, but stupid, thus making me seriously doubt my American conviction that We're The Best.

But I am surprised to learn that after this week, there will be no more hand-holding. This LLM program is surprisingly more independent and self-directed. There is no mandatory workshop seminar for all LLM students, or even just the research-track ones. This is both good and bad. It would be nice if greater attention was paid to graduate law students to form a core curricula of jurisprudence, methods, and writing workshops. On the other hand, I like the freedom. But despite my prior polemic against paternalism, I think that law schools would do well to stop treating law students like children in some ways and pay attention to their adult educational needs in other ways. The AALS and the state bars have many requirements about courses and curricula, so why not the legal academy? It seems strange that I should say this, because it would directly impact my freedom to choose my courses and path of education. It also seems like a crazily doctrinal, rigid, and hegemonical way of structuring legal study. But I think it is clear now that I'm not the crazy wackjob leftist I used to be. There is the youthful proclivity to be categorically anti-canon in the first blush of political consciousness. Well, I got over that around the age of 21. I still get mad if I'm only taught the santized version of the law (you know, Con Law without the Civil Rights Cases or Bowers and Lawrence, or without discussing how racial prejudice infected law, or Property law without Johnson v. Macintosh). But I'd get just as mad if a law school never offered a class in Jurisprudence (which you rarely see actually) or Conflict of Laws (okay, they usually offer that one). It is strange being young, a former deconsructionist and sometimes critical pedagogist/theorist, and be asking for more structure and canon. But it just galls me the divorce between idiotic paternalism (banning laptops and wireless?!) and a hypocritical pedagogical superiority complex (if you truly do not want to view students as "consumers," then be serious about "teaching things that are worth learning").

I suppose I would be even more bothered about this if I were a 1L again and locked into some kind of module, but I would be so frightened I wouldn't say anything about it. But at least, this second time around, while I am still bothered by the same things I was bothered by four years ago, I am at least happy that I'm in a position to do something about it. I know more. I am a little more savvy. I have more time (sort of). I frequently google for syllabi on topics of law I would like to learn more about but did not have the chance to, and it takes me to new worlds. I read Legal Theory Blog with devotion. I don't eat out for a week or two so that I can build up my legal/political theory library. I am thinking of auditing a graduate methods course this year, but for now am (believe it or not) doing sets and problems out of a statistics course book. Not so that I can do Empirical Legal Studies later (well, never say never if I actually get some serious training), but so that I can understand ELS now. I am going to inquire whether faculty colloquia are open to students at Liberal College Law, as they were at Bourgie Law School--if so, I will do what I did then and sit on a discussion of Joseph Raz's theories (and eat really good free cookies). I don't know if it was because I was lazy or just stupid, but I wasn't proactive enough about correcting my ignorance the first time around. Actually, it was probably more a function of time, or at least the perception of time. Nowadays I realize there's always an hour of the day I spend slacking that I could otherwise spend at an interesting colloquia, and that there are just some things you should make an effort to know.

Remember the story I told of a friend criticizing a John Singer Sargent exhibit for being "too Eurocentric" and how such a statement is not only 1) obvious and non-revelatory, 2) pointless and useless, but 3) completely ridiculous and stupid? Well, I fear falling into that trap all the time. I don't want to continue with my critiques of white hegemonic, heteronormist or paternalistic pedagogy without really understanding the intellectual tradition. Heck, I can't be a Critical Race Theorist who has never read more theory than the literature in my sub-field. I don't want to start my heavily doctrinal master's thesis without well, understanding the doctrine. I didn't get enough of the doctrine by studying the reaction to doctrine as being white hegemonic, heteronormist, or paternalist. I learned the reaction before I learned the canon (well, I did read H.L.A. Hart, Lon Fuller, Dworkin and (some) Rawls before law school, but I read the reaction to Herbert Weschler's Neutral Principles of Law before I ever read the Weschler piece). It just doesn't make sense to me, this type of path of learning. If, as an English major (and love of literature) I read the Western canon before I read post-colonial literature (e.g., Jane Eyre before Wide Sargasso Sea), then how is it I am undertaking my first major doctrinal analysis after several deconsructionist projects? I am not submitting any of those projects for publication, by the way. But I will probably submit my thesis. Even my current "side" project (the article on employment discrimination law that's quite hip and interdisciplinary) is an examination within the current doctrinal framework (it criticizes it, but it doesn't pretend that it doesn't exist or argue that the entire framework of burden of proof/rebuttal should be abandoned). I don't think it's so much that I'm becoming (gasp!) more conservative as it is I'm just being more honest and outspoken about the illogicisms inherent in both rigidly conservative pedagogy and radically reactive pedagogy. I don't like the limited nature of either, and I'm certainly prepared to craft my own path of learning in the absence of good direction by the academic institution.

I don't think I had this confidence, proactiveness, and determination when I was 21 (yes, 21) and in my first year of law school. I don't think I would have done anything about it even if I had such qualities. Things are just better the second time around. Even if I am disoriented and feeling lost in a new physical environment, I'm pretty certain about my intellectual path. Okay, so maybe not how my thesis will actually shape out to be, how well I'll do in my classes, and whether I'll get into the JSD program---but in terms of what I'll be doing day in, day out? Yeah, I think I got it figured out by now. You know, I'll be reading and writing. I'll set up a work schedule to allocate my time between writing projects and classes. I'll set up a draft schedule for my thesis. I'll set some deadlines for independent projects. I'll try to fit in what extra reading/intellectual breadth-seeking that I can. And some fun too, of course. And I'll do what I didn't in law school, and make sure I eat and exercise well. What's the difference between now and four years ago? Four years ago, I thought it all couldn't be done. Four years later, I know that the thesis, the papers, and the classes are the most important--but there is room enough to fit in a little of everything else. Four years ago, I actually ate energy bars for one or two "meals" a day. Four years ago, I would miss out on Savion Glover coming to town. Four years ago, I would never have been so bold as to invite myself to some faculty roundtable discussion (by the way, sometimes they let you in on those too, and that's when they have sandwiches). This time around, it's better.

I have to admit though, I am sleeping less. Between cooking, cleaning, spending time with joie de vivring Europeans ( a late (they always eat late) dinner on Friday night, brunch this morning, dinner this evening), working on my paper, and going for hour walks, the Dean is right--you sleep less, and it's not such a bad thing sometimes.

I am certainly living more, this second time around. Lots of late nights and early mornings, lots of work and lots of play. I'm a bit tired, and drinking coffee again for the first time in a year (if you have met me or received a letter from me, you know that I don't generally need it). But it's a good cup of coffee. Not the kind you drink at finals to cram. But the kind you drink in large ceramic bowls with thick caps of foam to perk yourself up because you are writing late into the night and early in the morning so that you can share a meal (omelettes au fromage; orange-cardamom brioche french toast with lavender honey) and a many-accented conversation with new friends in a new city.

That's the difference between the first time around and the second--the coffee tastes better, because you allow yourself to enjoy it more.

| links to this post

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Only Paper and Glue, But Wondrous Too

Books are rather wondrous things, if mundanely constructed. It used to be that books were things of beauty--the illuminated manuscripts of the Medieval ages; the fine, handsome leather tomes of The Harvard Classics Five-Foot Shelf; the exquisite illustrations that used to populate even "serious" literature. I have a few old and still beautiful books, and I even have a few leather-bound books (my favorite: Willa Cather). It used to be that books were folios, sewn tightly and bound in stiff cardboard and leather, printed in a strange order but if folded in the correct accordian style would produce the pages in the right order (that's why old books have "rough" edges--they had to be "cut" and sometimes the reader did the cutting herself). Nowadays, most books are scarcely more than paper and glue. You can pay a bit more for a nice Everyman or Modern Library edition (although a current favorite of mine are the graphic art covers of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions)--but still, it's mostly just wood pulp (and not even acid and lignin free, so it won't last "forever") and some kind of adhesive.

But still, they're wondrous things. The tabula rasa of the blank page becomes crowded with black ciphers waiting to be read and understood. The spine of the book, held together by little more than glue, turns a sheaf of paper liable to scatter into the wind into a portable piece of education and entertainment, for you to take around with you. Paper holds ideas, glue holds the paper together, and both allow you to hold the knowledge of the world in your hands.

It is my love of books that urges me to do something for the first time--a blog meme. Hey, I got tagged.

1. One book that changed your life?

Too many to count, and since I go through regime changes every 5-10 years in which I seem to reject the previous changes, I'll have to go with the ones that actually stuck through these 25 years. Sorry, I can't limit myself to just one:

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Such a wonderful story. I read this when I was 9 or 10 (maybe a bit of both), and it was the first "serious" and "substantial" piece of literature I had read. I read this even before Huckleberry Finn or Oliver Twist, the quintessential "serious" children's literature. I can't remember much of what I read before then (mostly kid stuff I am certain, lots of German fairytales, everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder). But one day, I found one of my siblings books, picked it up, and read it from beginning to end. And thus began my love affair with literature. I learned how to read with a dictionary close by, I learned how to love bildungsromans, and I learned how to lose myself in a story. After that, I was hooked, and I've never stopped reading. The books that followed weren't always serious, and indeed I learned how to "devolve"and later in life read "children's literature." But even if I read Phillip Pullman or J.K. Rowling now (hey, it's was originally aloud to my children), I know that it was this book that led me to study "real literature." The summers of my childhood and teenage years were spent reading Madame Bovary and The Brothers Karamazov and Moby Dick. The first book that you truly loved will be with you forever, and truly changes your life. Indeed, I ended up being an English Literature major in college. And I will never stop reading fiction and poetry, not even with this crazy law thing I'm doing.

The Storm Center: The Supreme Court In American Politics by David Obrien. Okay, it's one of those books that your AP U.S. History class assigns you for summer reading (like Peter Irons' The Courage of Their Convictions). But it stuck with me. I was interested enough to read further in the area, eventually declaring a major in political science. It made me interested in court politics, and it (although I didn't know until later) introduced me to the attitudinal model of legal realism and CLS and would eventually lead me to CRT. Even if I'm not entirely convinced by the attitudinal model or CRT explanations of Supreme Court decision-making, I still like to study the Supreme Court. Ironically (considering my deconstructionist, CRT background) I am engaged in far more doctrinal analysis now. Go fig.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Too many to count, if you love a book you read it over and over again. But every year, I re-read T.S. Eliot's The Four Quartets at least a few times--and with every reading, I gain something new. A meditation on time and death and salvation, it's something you should read every year. Plus, it's truly beautiful poetry.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

The Aeneid by Virgil. Incredible story, beautiful poetry (even better if read in the original Latin), and the story of the founding of what would eventuall be Rome (sort of, Aeneas left Troy to found a new nation, unfortunately there were already people there so he had to fight them). It begins "I sing of arms and a man," (arma virumque cano) but my favorite is Book 6, where Dido confronts Aeneas with her tragic love.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Well, everything by David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff, and John Hodgman (can you tell I'm a fan of This American Life?) makes me laugh. But if I chose one, it would be Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. It is too good for words.

5. One book that made you cry?

I always cry when I read David Copperfield, but I remember being young (13 years old) and sobbing over Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska. Quite a touching story about a young woman who wanted to break free of the American shetl, her orthodox controlling father, the burden of low expectations and poverty to become a teacher. Sound like anyone you know? It also ignited the nascent feminism in my 13 year old self.

6. One book you wish had been written?

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. One of the best political books ever. Go read it, you'll see it needs no explanation for why you should read it.

I can't choose a law book. I wish I had written them all, and I am unsure whether my talent will ever even approach theirs--so I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Tons, but I have to go with The End of Racism by Dinesh D'Souza. Sorry, no link.

8. One book you are currently reading?

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Very good. I, a former deconsructionist, sometimes Critical Race Theorist, often normative legal theory-sympathizer love reading positive legal theory. I love H.L.A. Hart's The Concept of Law for example. I am trying to figure out how Rawls fits in the Dworkin/Hart or Fuller/Hart debates (and where I do, for that matter), so it's quite enjoyable.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

War and Peace by Tolstoy. Seriously. Never read it. And it's one of those things, like the fact that I don't really speak French (I took Latin, have trouble with "r's" and "l's," so I can't just "pick" it up), can't play chess well (other than knowing how pieces move...), and don't own more books than I do---that I can't explain why. It just is, like some flaw that I've been meaning to fix but haven't got around to yet.

10. Now tag five people

The small world of the blogosphere --I got tagged by David Schraub of the Debate Link, who was tagged last week by Kevin Andre Elliot, who I know as a frequent commenter on Scott Eric Kaufman's blog (and where you can frequently find me too), who happens to be a personal friend and all around good egg. I like Scott for his intelligent and funny writing, his good company, and the fact that sent me an electronic mix tape today by a guy who wrote a song with my alter-ego's name in it, before he went insane. Mix tapes are so tricky to make, even between friends (let us not mention the difficulty I have had with the "romantic mix tapes" for other guys), that even this short "until I send a real one" electronic one is such a cool thing to do. Let us just say that my alter-ego's name is short and nothing rhymes with it, and with a generic meaning like "From A European Country," so I never expected anything to be written about it. Plus, I am loving his selections and am grateful to discover an artist I hadn't listened to before. Very cool thing to do, but it makes me feel guilty for not sending him an elaborate care package. So he's dissertating, blogging, and sending e-gifts, despite the fact that he is still recovering from being hit by a car a few months ago. Okay, so I hate him for making me feel lazy.

Since I can't re-tag SEK, I'll tag John B. of Blog Meridian, Sudeep Agarwala of De Rebus Publicis, Will Baude of Crescat Sententia, Justin Cox of Opinion-Work Product, and Ancrene Wiseass.

Blog on.

| links to this post

Friday, August 11, 2006

Feeling Disoriented, But Fortunately Today There's An Orientation

This is seriously what pops up if you Google Image "International Students":

For the past few days, I've been dealing with some administrative business--registering for classes (someone, in their evil genius, decided to classify LLM students as "entering" students with no ability to enroll until the week before school starts (whereas continuing students enrolled last Spring) without giving them priority enrollment, and thus all desirable seminars are full); getting my student ID (picture time); deciding what school sweatshirt to buy (none, waiting to see if the currently closed bookstore provides official law school gear rather than just the larger university name--yes, that distinction is important to me); randomly saying hi to a professor from my old law school who happened to be here this week for a conference (one of those moments that trips you out, until you realize it's just going to become more normal as your career progresses); and stopping by the Advanced Legal Studies office for some advice (more on that later).

There is much that is different about this new school of mine. And by "different," I mean "compared to my old school" rather than "compared to anything I have ever experienced." Dude, I already went to law school, it's going to be more of the same (classes, papers) but with a heftier tuition (cursed LLM price) and higher stakes (more on that later). I am viewing this as a "do-over," which is great--I get to go to law school again (something I enjoyed, except for, you know, people/grades/social scene. I think I now know how transfers must feel--you can't help but compare schools, even with a fresh start and a new crowd of faces. It's one thing to go from college to law school--you can't compare them, that's like comparing apples and oranges. You may remark on some architectural dissimilarities, but really, law schools operate so independent of the wider university that you really can't even compare that. A law school is usually this weird, free-standing building with a separate library, cafeteria (usually bad), bookstore, everything. You can go to law school and hardly venture out to the rest of the campus. In fact, most students hardly explore their campus. During first semester finals my 1L year, I remember the bookstore brought out a table of law school t-shirts for last minute Christmas gifts for family (so, so sad, we law students, that we couldn't leave the library to buy our crappy gifts down the hallway). That is a shame, this insularity--because there is much that is interesting and worth exploration a few buildings away. There certainly is at Liberal College (which is beautiful), much more so than at Liberal College Law School (which is ugly). You come to law school from college without any expectations, preconceived notions, or basis of comparison. It's a pure state. Not so when you come with personal knowledge of another lawschool's geography, administrative workings, faculty gossip, etc. You come to your new school, and like one comparing a new relationship to a previous one (with a good deal of baggage, like say a transcript), you constantly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each. But the problem is, memory erases the flaws of the old, but throws into high relief the flaws of the new.

I hate to compare my current school to my old law school, but I have to straight out say it--my old school was much nicer looking. Beautiful even. Modern, but nicely done in brick with nice touches like courtyards and towers. Perhaps a little lower in rank and prestige, but in architecture and layout--totally superior. Especially compared to my new law school. On the edge of a beautiful, neoclassic and art deco campus, is probably the ugliest and most confounding law school ever. Granted, I've only been to school 3 times in this month (hey, I work from home, I went on vacation, I'm busy)--but every time I go there, I get lost. Literally, walking round and round corridors and hallways trying to find the right stairways and elevators (I feel like I'm in the Winchester House). What with the central part of the school that houses some, but not all of the administrative offices and part of the library; the two additions on either side of the central part that have different staircases and elevators such that you can't get from one side to the other; the fact that if you go from one side of the building to the other you end up on different floors, the weirdness of the library being one corridor and one reading room and the rest of the actual books hidden above and below ground; the trick of figuring where to find the proper administrative figure or faculty given that there is no centralized directory (look it up before hand)---all of this, and I am just feeling a little bit of freshman phobia.

I am happy to be here, but I have a weird feeling of displacement. I remember getting lost my first day of law school, but not like this. I miss the familiar hallways, the friendly faces of the administrative staff I knew by first name and biographical detail (one guy did improv comedy at a local club and fiction writing on the side, another was the sister of one of my classmates, both attended law school parties), the ease with which I could navigate the library (all in one tidy, 4 story building with a tower room, mezzanine, and basement thanks very much), the handy guide in the main hallway listing all the offices of administrators' and professors' room numbers. Now I'm at a new school, in a new program. I had finally figured out a few things by my 3L year: where to score "free" paper for your personal printer; where to go to make "free" copies; which orgs gave out the best free (no quotes this time) pizza during their talks; which professors were good to take, where the best places were to study in our (beautiful) library ; and what kinds of cookies the staff at the Records Office liked (kidding). Right now, I know nothin'. I have no clue who to see for which type of question. I keep asking the wrong people. I ask the people at the LLM office about something, they direct me to the Director of my program, who then directs me to the Dean of Student Services, and before you know it I feel like I'm in a Kafka novel. Except I don't even know where the gatekeepers are, much less who they are.

So I'm feeling a little bit disoriented. Fortunately, I have my LLM Orientation today (well, in a few hours, no I don't sleep much).

Law school orientations are always fun. Especially at schools with better endowments. I am hoping for good muffins and bagels at the "continental" breakfast in the Biff and Muffy Harrington Courtyard at Liberal College Law School, and you can bet I'll be comparing them to the baked goods served at the Herb and Judy Sterling Courtyard at Bourgie Law School. It is always dicey meeting people while eating though. Even if they're easy to consume, one-handed carb confections. Then again, it's always dicey meeting new people. You meet your fellow students, smile so much you have to apply extra anti-wrinkle cream at night, and pretend to be interested in everything people have to say and desperately grasp at some thread of commonality upon which to propel the conversation (and hopeful friendship) forward. "I too, love sandwiches!" is basically the pathetic kinds of straws you're going to be clutching at in any awkward, forced first social gathering of so many people from so many different places and backgrounds.

Imagine doing that, as an American who took ancient Latin in college, with a bunch of foreigners. I'm not being xenophobic--I love meeting international students--that's how you get good travel tips and future places to stay at for free. It's like one big happy International Coca-Cola commerical (I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony. I'd like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company...). I'm just saying, it's going to be hard for me, a person who is still too poor to afford expensive vacations (I had to save up to get a tent at Yosemite), to talk to the world-weary jetsetters. Fortunately, I read widely and did a minor concentration in international studies in college, so if you're from somewhere where wars happen or where literature was written (um, everywhere), chances are we have something to talk about. ("I too, hate genocide" and "I too, love the reading of books"). Seriously--those who do not live should read. I had extensive conversations with an Austrian LLM at my old school about Arthur Schnitzler's "The Road Into The Open," Schubert's lieder, and the wacko Freedom party run by the truly xenophobic (and somewhat fascist) Jorg Haider. I can talk to anyone about anything. But I'll have those skills severely tested today.

Not that I'll need to talk and be sociable all the time. There is a lot of talking at you during an Orientation. So here are my predictions for how the Orientation will go:

There will be the inevitable tour of the (architecturally bewildering, probably built during the beginning of the brutalist movement and expanded during the ugly-80's movement, but I am just speculating as to the reasons for its ugliness) law school. There will be the "welcome" address given by the Dean and the Director of the Advanced Legal Studies program, and maybe a few faculty. We will be told how GREAT the school is. We will be told how GREAT the faculty is. We will be told how GREAT (and select and thus special) we are. We will be told that because the school, the faculty, and the students are so GREAT, we will continue on to do GREAT things. We will be told that with GREATNESS, there is responsibility. We will be told to do that which is "right" rather than that which is merely "easy." We will be told that first impressions and relationships last even longer than the grades on our transcript. We will be told that our school is a special school, because contrary to popular belief (and as compared to other schools), our school is the nice, non-competitive one, where everyone likes each other. Why, even the faculty are friends, often having dinner together. We will be told that the faculty are not only GREAT, they're also really nice, so you can expect to have significant mentoring relationships with your professors. Why, some of the professors go hiking with their students or invite their classes over for brunch! We will be told to enjoy our time here, because our time here will be very special. It will not be only about schoolwork--we should take advantage of the weekly social gatherings designed to create or enable alcohol addiction, like the kegs in the courtyard, the weekly bar review, the wine and cheese parties. Oh, but by the way, if you develop a severe problem, there are resources available to you, just go see Dean Arbuthnot. (I am not kidding about this, this was said at one of the panels at my orientation at my last school). Ice cream socials, hiking adventures sponsored by the school's Environmental Law organization, day trips to Nearby Picturesque Tourist Towns--law school will be fun! So turn to the persons in the seats to the right and left of you, and shake their hand and introduce yourself. They are your colleagues. They may become your best friend. And who knows, you might just meet your future partner here!

I'm sure this will be tailored to this particular crowd of students, since most of us in the LLM program are from different countries. Maybe there will be ridiculous talk about how we represent international relations on the "personal" level, and how we are each diplomats in our own way. How in the era of globalism and multiculturalism, we are the ambassadors of our distinct cultures but come together in the unifying human desire for knowledge. How education unites, rather than divides, because only ignorance is divisive--whereas knowledge brings only greater insight and understanding and thus compassion. Will there be the inevitable reference to the "post-9/11" state of the world and the need for more intercultural exchanges and friendship? How the friendships we build in this program will not only enrich ourselves and the future network of international, interdisciplinary legal scholars, but also the world? Is someone going to seriously use such inflated rhetoric as to say we are"hands uniting around the world" until you wonder if Michael Jackson is going to fly in from Dubai to sing "Heal the World"? If I am right about this, I should get paid for writing cheesy orientation addresses .

Imagine the size of the grain of salt with which you have to take all of this. There is a lot of truth to it, but a lot of hyperbole too.


1) First impressions and relationships do matter. But so do grades. I think grades last longer though.
2) Yes, you can develop a drinking problem in law school. (not me, I'm a teetoaler--but I have seen it)
3) No, you should not see your Dean about it. Go to the health center, AA, anywhere else.
4) Even at the "nicest," "least-competitive" schools, there are always some mean people who mess it up.
5) Most of the faculty are very nice, but do not expect to go hiking with them or be invited over for brunch.
6) You won't have time to take day-trips to Nearby Picturesque Tourist Town. And even if you did, go with your significant other, go with your friends--but don't go with a group of law students you may not know/like, particularly if the town has some kind of wine-tasting or microbrewery plant.
7) You can meet your best friends in law school, and I even know of (two) couples who made it to the altar. But also expect to be indifferent to or dislike most of the people you go to school with.
8) Everyone in law school is a nerd, but there is an Ian Bestian taxonymy of nerds. There are jock nerds, fraternity/sorority nerds, socially awkward nerds, mean competitive nerds, avaricious consequentialist nerds, socially conscious nerds, belief in moral superiority due to religion or personal defect nerds, hipster nerds, artsy nerds, literary nerds, environmentally conscious nerds, gym freak nerds, former film major cineaste nerds, gourmet foodie nerds, etc. etc. And everyone thinks that they and their pretentious clique is superior to everyone else.
9) Yes, LLM students can save the world through scholarship and friendship. (okay, not really.)
10) Yes, we are select and special.

#10 I know for sure, because I asked today about the chances of getting into the JSD program (not good) and was told certain things to make myself feel better about it. There were 700 applications for the 60-80 spots in the program (they really expanded it this year!). This year, there are 77 students in the LLM program. Seventy of the LLM students are international students. Seven are American-trained lawyers intending to pursue academia. I am one of those seven. Yes, I do feel special.

I'm also totally freaked out. Last year, there were 50 applications for the JSD program. 25 of those applications were from Liberal College Law LLM students. Only 15 got in, all Liberal College Law LLMs. They're expanding the LLM program without expanding the JSD program, which means it's going to be quite competitive. This means that I am going to be applying to JSD programs and teaching fellowships far and wide this fall. This means that I will be begging all current, former, and I-sort-of-know-you-through-this-blog professors for letters of recommendation and even phone calls if that helps. This means that everyone should expect pathetic, begging emails come September. This means that if you want to block my email address in your Outlook filter, you should probably do it now.

It's going to be a busy year, what with the colloquia paper, the thesis, two classes, being a diplomat and an ambassador, and saving the world through scholarship and friendship.

Heal the world. Make it a better place. For you, and for me--and the entire human race.

| links to this post