Saturday, January 28, 2006

There's something about law school

So all the grades are finally in. The last grade came in on Wednesday, six weeks and a day after the last exam. Four things come to mind (I know, I know, these are mostly things I've blogged about before, but bear with me; no more talk about grades until exam time, I promise):

1. The arbitrariness and randomness of law school grading

This is not a major revelation I’ve recently had, but this semester, more than any, underscores this point for me. After each of my three exams, I felt worse about my performance than I had following any other law school exams. And yet, I had my best semester in terms of grades. Only in law school can you leave an exam not only having no clue how you did, but thinking you might’ve actually failed (well, that’s not true – I knew I never failed but I’ve definitely left exams thinking I got a C or C+) and then end up with a good grade.

Here’s another example that emphasizes how grades have no correlation to actual knowledge or skill. Let’s talk about two students, named X and Y. X had the same Business Associations prof I did. Y had a different prof. X got an A. Y got a B. X did a lot of reading but by the mid-point of last semester was only reading High Courts – she basically read in their entirety maybe 5 cases over the final half of the semester. X never participated in class because Prof. BA didn’t care whether you participated and in fact created very little opportunity for students to get involved. Don’t get the wrong impression – X is not lazy by any means. X just decided that in doing all the work necessary for law school, it was not productive to wade through 12-15 pages of mind-numbing minutiae for every case. Y did all the reading and participated a lot, which Y thought was important because Y’s prof said participation will be counted in the final grade. Y's participation added a lot to the class discussion because Y had intelligent things to say; Y wasn't just raising her hand to open her mouth.

So what’s the problem? X, who got an A, basically knows nothing about business, corporations, finance, economics and money, etc. X is more into history, sociology, creative writing, etc. Y, who got a B, worked for 6-7 years before law school in a field where one need to know about business, finance, economics, corporations, etc. (I know by using these terms I’m not exactly summarizing all that BA is about, but you get the idea – some people are going to do corporate transactions because they’re good at that stuff; other people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about business, finance, economics, etc. ... I'm not saying one person is smarter than the other, just that people have different aptitudes for different things.) Basically X could never have even been hired where Y worked. And I guarantee if you take X and Y at the same law firm and give them the same assignment, if the task is business-related, Y would do a better job.

But X got a better grade. When X and Y apply for jobs, someone will look at Y’s transcript and see the BA grade and think something like “He doesn’t really get it” but they’ll think X does “get it.” But that’s incorrect. Y gets it and X doesn’t. Yet X got a better grade.

2. I know grades are not a reflection of how successful a lawyer you’ll be. We all know this. But so far, I’ve gotten better grades than I expected and it has not paid off. What do I mean by paying off? I don’t have a job and although I am working frantically to get one, I see no prospects on the horizon. And, and, and…I assume I’ll have one eventually, but the important thing to me is not to land the highest paying job. The important thing to me is to land a job that I find to be interesting. A job that I can be somewhat passionate about doing. A job that at a minimum, I don't dread facing every day when I wake up.

As I’ve learned more about the law, I’ve come across areas of practice that seem like I could spend my career focusing on. Unfortunately, I literally have no idea how to get a job in those areas. And please, spare me the generic “hang in theres” – Yes, I know I have to work hard at getting a job. I am doing so and I will continue doing so. I am not giving up. It’s just hard to get excited when I have no leverage and when I envision accepting pretty much whatever job I can get, even if it’s not something I can see doing permanently because, well, I can’t be very choosy at this point. And that last sentence basically encapsulates why I went to law school – because I was not doing anything I had a passion for and wanted to have greater control over my career.

And do me another favor – save the comments about how no one cares about grades once you hit the real world. I know this. I spent nine years there between college and law school. Only once did anyone even ask for my transcript and that was just to prove I had a college diploma because company policy required written proof; at all other employers they just accepted that I graduated from college because I told them I did. I know that once you get that foot in the door, whether it’s in Big Firm, Little Firm, Government Agency or In House, you get by on talent (ok, who you know is also important – very important, but clearly grades become less important as you advance in your career). I know this. But for now, I need that first job and although I’m out there talking to lawyers, meeting people and networking, a lot of my contacts with prospective employers consist of my resume and transcript, so grades are relevant.

3. Prof. Froomkin bumped up everyone’s grade 0.125 points because of the hurricane disruptions. Did other profs do this? Surely they could at least tell us. I think it’s important to know whether you earned the grade or you earned a grade but then were boosted up a little because of the hurricanes.

4. I have so much hatred for Prof. LRW. If not for the grades he gave me, my GPA would be, well, um, never mind, but let’s just say it would be higher … and more importantly, the person judging me (or screening my) solely by my transcript (and resume, cover letter, and maybe writing sample) would not see this HUGE red flag next to legal research and writing and wonder why overall I have decent grades but I’m not a competent writer (or researcher) so why the hell should they hire me … even though I got a good grade in Legal Research Techniques...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez

So I went to the Justice Breyer talk today. My review of his speech: Eh. It was cool to see a Supreme Court justice but he didn't really say anything noteworthy. I guess that's part of the job of being a member of the Supreme Court -- you learn to say
nothing. Still, he's an engaging speaker and I'm glad I went. There were a few interesting things going on in the audience -- like the professor I saw taking copious notes. I can't imagine why anyone would take notes.

Then I went to the reception afterward and let me tell you, that was something else. Everyone was hammered, including the justice and um, just kidding. No, the food was terrific and it was an open bar. There were a lot of federal judges there. People were getting autographs from Justice Breyer. I saw a lot of professors and if I'm not mistaken, got the evil eye [or maybe a condescending smirk?] from one of them.

I don't think of myself as a social misfit, but I'm not great with small talk or at talking to people I don't know or have anything in common with. One thing I've noticed is that I really don't know how to interact with professors. I saw some students involved in what seemed like animated conversations with profs, but not me. I literally have nothing to say to any of them. That's not to say I don't want to talk to them. (Hmmm...well, maybe I do...I guess I'll never know if I don't try). I just don't have a clue how to start a conversation with any of them. (I tried once and failed miserably -- I asked a professor if she was related to the football coach (they have the same last name) and well, maybe she gets that question a lot because she immediately stopped talking to me after that, despite sitting next to me for the next 10 minutes before the speech started).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

bitter, anyone?

No matter what mood I’m in, when I leave State & Local Government class I am depressed, angry, bitter and borderline suicidal.

Professor State/Local Government is a strange character. (I’ve never had him before but you might know him as Prof. Torts or Prof. Alcoholic Beverage Law). I’ve never had a professor who is so bitter, jaded and cynical. (Some people who know me might use those adjectives to describe me but I’m not bitter at all and compared with this professor, I’m a ray of sunshine.)

Among the gems he gave us today:
Law students at this school are lazy
Law students at this school (but not at other schools) just don’t get it.
Law professors at this school are treated poorly.
Few of the 25 or so people in the class will ever be a senior partner in a law firm.
Most people in this country are cheap and stupid.
No two ducks look alike, which is why in some famous guide to birds, they use an artist’s drawing of a duck rather than pictures. (huh?)

I don’t know what to make of this guy. I’m not ready to say yet whether he’s a bad professor or a good professor. I’ll tell you at the end of the semester when I see if I’ve learned anything. He’s not the type of prof who calls on you and asks for facts and holdings, which is good since we’re not 1Ls anymore. Neither is he the type of prof that gives you the rule when no one speaks up.

In a sense, he’s the ideal law professor because he challenges students to think and piece together each case with the previous cases and in context with all the material – from the class, from previous classes and from life in general. That’s what you want in a law professor, right? Someone who, instead of teaching you the blackletter law, teaches you how to use the material in the real world.

I guess his bitter, jaded and cynical mood is not a gimmick; it’s his personality. No one should be forced to act like someone they aren’t, but it would be nice if he was just a little less bitter, jaded and cynical. But on the other hand, it would seem like he could at least adopt a slightly less negative stance toward everything – his bitterness is not helping me to learn the material. If anything, it’s counterproductive because sometimes I’m amazed at what he says and I have a hard time respecting someone who does his best to destroy whatever level of self-confidence or self-respect I have. And maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s something to the concept of treating students with at least a little bit of respect (not that he humiliates students like some profs – I’m talking about the insults and derogatory remarks) that makes everyone’s life a little more pleasant.

I seriously contemplated dropping the course but I find the material to be interesting so I didn’t. So now in every class I have to wage war with myself in every class not to get mired in the black cloud that permanently follows this guy around…

Monday, January 23, 2006

No parking...ok, much less parking

So who is the idiot who decided to close off two rows in the parking lot this morning without any advance notice? How can anyone possibly think that closing off 20 percent of the parking lot – you know, the one that is completely full every single day (well, Monday through Thursday anyway) of the school year – and not giving students any advance warning is a good idea? No one expects the school to magically solve the parking crisis but it might be nice if the school didn’t purposefully do things to make it worse.

And by the way, did you see this article about the new parking shuttles? The undergraduate student newspaper here is a little lacking in basic journalism skills. Well, sure, the new shuttles look nice. But NOBODY CARES WHAT THE SHUTTLES LOOK LIKE. Students just want the shuttles to run on time, more frequently and at peak times. Maybe the article could have covered those important details instead of being written like a press release.

What the hell does this quote from Chuck McConnell, director of parking and transportation services, mean:

"Essentially the service will remain the same, but we'll be able to carry many more passengers,"

I think it means this: the service will be just as poorly run, but when the shuttles do run – at infrequent intervals – more people can be on the shuttles? Ok, I see. This makes sense. Where will these people come from? Read on.

Then there’s this gem from the article:

The total ridership at the end of 2005 was more than 855,000 passengers and with the new additions, the numbers are projected to significantly increase.

Huh? More people will be riding the shuttle because of the new busses? That does not make sense. Let’s say you see the shuttles and you think to yourself, ‘wow, those look really nice, much nicer than the hold crummy looking shuttles.’ Are you then going to purposely park farther from campus so you can ride the shuttle? Um, no. I guess maybe one person out of the 855,000 who rode the shuttles last year did that but it’s unlikely…

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Get a room

I often study in one of the little study rooms on the fourth floor of the library. It’s quiet up there. Usually.

One of the problems though, is that it’s sometimes counterproductive because when groups are studying in those rooms, the sound travels. The walls are about as thick as doctor office walls – they’re basically made of paper.

Another problem is that professors occasionally hold classes in those rooms, often for seminars or classes with only a few people. When the prof signs up to use one of the rooms, he can stay as long as he wants, whereas students can only stay for two hours at a time (or occasionally more if it’s a slow time or early in the semester). You’d think that with oh, I don’t know, about 30 classrooms on campus (of course students can't study in the classrooms because they're locked or in use) but only about 10 private study rooms for students, the profs would hold class in a classroom, but I’m thinking the reason they don’t is that it’s effort to reserve a room through official channels while getting a study room requires nothing more than signing up at the circulation desk. This is annoying. Why can’t these guys leave the rooms for the students. (Oh and by the way, what's the deal with the students who study just outside the private rooms? It's easily the loudest place in the library so why choose to study there? I don't get it).

Unfortunately lately one professor who has the world’s loudest voice – this guy sounds like Charlie Brown’s mom on steroids screaming into a megaphone – has taken to holding classes up there almost every time I am there. He doesn't talk; he yells. He's an elderly fellow, so maybe decades of teaching has caused his voice to be 100 times louder than it needs to be. If it's loud for me and I'm separated from him by a wall, I can't imagine how loud it must be to actually be in the room with this guy. Anyway, I wish someone would put a muzzle on this professor…

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The new guy

I recently discovered 305, a new 1L blogger from this school. By 'new' I mean I never noticed his blog before.

I thought it was a he, until the post about salsa dancing. I guess it could still be a he. Plenty of men do salsa dancing, right? I don't know. I don't know anything about these things.

Friday, January 20, 2006

This is what I did today

The good news: I got a grade. It was a good one. Now I only need to get one more and I'll have all of them. Prof. BA is a week late already.

The discouraging news: I spent a long time talking to a lot of lawyers, both in person and over the phone and I did not get a job. Not that I expected an on-the-spot job offer. I got lots of leads, followed through on them, talked to people, sente out resumes, got more names of people to call or send resumes to, and so far: nothing. And I'm only looking for a summer job. I can't imagine how difficult this will be if I don't end up being a summer associate and getting a job offer and then I have to look for a real job this time next year.

On the bright side: This semester is starting off painfully slowly in terms of the workload. That's a good thing. I've never felt so at ease with the whole law school workload thing and trying to have an actual life, too. MLK day and the fact that Monday is my busiest day helped. And it helped that Prof. State & Local Government skipped town this week so we didn't have the Wednesday class either. And it helps that Justice Breyer is speaking next week during a class, so that class is cancelled. It also no doubt helps that I turned in the first draft of my paper to Prof. Independent Writing Requirement so I can't do anything until I get it back. I only wish Prof. Independent Writing Requirement would inform me whether he has received the paper that I both e-mailed and dropped off with his secretary.

Speaking of not having much work, have you ever noticed that the value of a law school credit fluctuates wildly? By that I mean that some two credit classes are as much work as four credit classes. Some two credit classes, like the one I and about 15 other people dropped after the first class, are 50 times as much work as the two credit class I transferred into. You'd think they would have minimum standards for these things so the workload in a four credit class is more than in a three credit one which is higher than a two credit class. Nah. Wishful thinking...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Grade me...Please!

I WANT MY GRADES AND I WANT THEM NOW...So far I have two - Evidence and Civ Pro II. Professor Legal Research has now had eight weeks to turn in grades. Professor Business Associations has had five weeks. What can possibly be taking so long?

I heard a rumor that professors are fined $200 a day for each day they delay after the deadline, which is five weeks after the exam. I don't believe this for a second. I think there are no consequences for not meeting the deadline which is why so many profs don't bother. What a great system (if you're a tenured law prof)!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hey, Look at Me!

I’ve never done this before but since Energy Spatula, of Will Work For Favorable Dicta, a much more famous blog than my blog, “tagged” me with a meme, here goes:

Three things you didn’t know about me:

1. Despite my complaining I don’t hate law school and I’m not a bitter, grumpy, cynical and jaded old man. Not too much, anyway. I’m not saying I love law school but it’s a lot better than what I did in the nine months before coming to law school. Unfortunately it’s not better than what I did in the seven or so years before that nine months but I’m not going down memory lane here. But I have this blog not because I like to point out the failings of other people (specifically of this school, which so far has not failed me but I still don’t have a job, although I assume I will get one eventually) but because someone needs to call this place on some of the crap that goes on here. Sometimes, it even works. Or I like to think it does, anyway. Like the day after I blogged about the job posting for a job that requires only a high school education, the listing was taken down. No one told me I was responsible but I like to think I was. (It’s good for my ego). Over the summer in my previous blog, I complained about the fact that in one men’s room the urinal was a foot away from where you wash your hands. Soon after, a barrier showed up. Again, no one said they made the change because of me, but I can think so, right? Mostly though I view myself and this blog as a commentator and critic of the system. Just like critics criticize but don’t hate everything they see, neither do I. And I just don’t think anyone wants to read a blog about how wonderful things are about me, my life and this law school, like all the wonderful, um, uh, well, something must be wonderful about this place…

2. A lot of people were surprised when Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a field goal last weekend that would have sent the Colts-Steelers playoff game into overtime and salvaged the Colts season, but I was not surprised. See, I have known for the past 10 years that Vanderjagt was not the superstar kicker everyone thought he was. In 1996, when I was a year out of college I was the PR guy for the Minnesota Fighting Pike, an Arena Football League team in Minneapolis that lasted one season before folding. (It was a fun job that paid very little but that was perfect for a 23-year-old with no clue what direction his career was going to take. I went on all the road trips and since virtually no media covered the team, I had more or less nothing to do, especially when we travelled. And I got a lot of free food since football players eat a lot - even Arena Football players.)Vanderjagt was the team’s kicker. He was a strange character on a team full of football rejects, retreads, has-beens and never-will-be’s. He stood out so much, in fact, that he was released two games into the season because he wasn’t good enough to hack it into the Arena Football League. That’s why I was surprised a few months (or a year or so?) later when he resurfaced in the Canadian Football League, then became the Colts standout kicker who for a few years was a lock from anywhere inside the 55-yard-line. Maybe my characterization is unfair – people change and people improve as they get older (especially kickers, who rarely succeed immediately after college) so the fact that he got cut from a two-bit minor league team in 1996 doesn’t mean he is a fraud. But still, I did not doubt something like this would happen.

3. I could eat dark chocolate three meals a day, seven days a week and never, ever get sick of it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

What? Ask for directions?

The other day something happened to me that’s never happened before: I got lost on campus. In fact, it happened twice.

In my frantic and desperate attempt to avoid having to park in the Ponce garage and ride the shuttle to the law school I parked in a far off lot that I had never seen before. (You know, the shuttle that supposedly runs every 4 minutes but that actually goes about once every 15-20 minutes, but not at the peak times when classes are about to start or when they end and only if the driver isn’t scheduled for a break, and sometimes there will be 30 people waiting for a shuttle but the shuttle (or sometimes two shuttles) will be parked on the side of the road 200 yards away and for some reason refuse to drive to the shuttle stop (or better yet, parked at the garage 20 yards away from where 30 people are waiting with the driver behind the wheel and the engine running but she won’t get her ass moving to the stop) …yeah the lack of parking at this school is a problem that will never be solved as long as they keep letting in too many students (kind of like how one of my classes is limited to 28 people not because the prof wants a small group but because that’s all the room will hold…nice) but the most frustrating part is the administration’s complete indifference and its inability to make the shuttles run efficiently – they say it’s contracted out to a private company so they have no control. Right. The parking shuttle service here is a joke. It’s pathetic that this private institution can’t have effectively functioning parking shuttles. It’s embarrassing that a school that charges so much has shuttle service of the quality you’d expect at a third-world airport.)

Anyway, so I parked by a huge auditorium that was either under construction or renovation or something. I had never seen this building before. I walked down the sidewalk in the general direction I thought the law school might be in until the pavement ended. I kept going but there was a gaping hole in my way. Yes, I was almost prevented from coming to class by a crater. It was being dug out by a couple of guys with a backhoe.

This is a big school. I know maybe 20 percent of the campus because I’ve ventured off the law school campus and surrounding area (wellness center, food court, bookstore, undergrad library, etc.) only once and that was a year and a half ago before school started and I walked around the entire campus. I had no idea where I was. None of the buildings looked even vaguely familiar. Then I saw a building that looked vaguely familiar (at first I didn’t know why it looked familiar but then I realized it’s the building I spend about 4 hours a day staring at when I’m looking out the window, um, I mean studying in the library) and I made it to the law school, safe and sound. (Sorry I couldn’t provide a more dramatic ending. I just thought it was something that I got lost).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

a rare foray into legal commentary

One of the interesting things about being in law school is when I follow the coverage of the Alito confirmation hearings it makes me feel smart.*

For example, the other day one of the journalists asked one of the legal analysts to explain what Alito meant by the “something called the political question doctrine.” Oooohh, ooohh, I know, I know. Call on me! Me, me, me. Hmmm…I guess I really learned something last year!

Then there was the inane attempt by one of the senators to get Alito to admit that some parts of the Constitution can only be interpreted in one way. First they agreed that no one under age 30 could ever run for U.S. Senate. OK, that makes sense. No room to mis-interpret that part of the Constitution. Then they started talking about whether a ‘naturalized’ citizens could ever become President and it somehow turned into a discussion of illegal immigrants becoming citizens and the senator kept pestering Alito to admit to something. I forget the exact details but it was a simple proposition. Still, Alito wouldn’t admit it and the senator gave him hell for equivocating. I’m no lawyer (and if you knew my political views you’d know why I feel a little queasy coming to Alito’s defense) but I can understand why Alito would be hesitant to render an opinion interpreting the Constitution without hearing both sides of the argument, studying the issue, and carefully crafting an answer. Even most knee-jerk right-wing conservative justices don’t off-handedly throw out their Constitutional interpretations.

And there’s way too much talk about stare decisis and whether Alito “believes in it.” Most educated people, even those not in law school, knows what stare decisis is (it’s the doctrine of precedent, in case you didn’t know). But it takes about two weeks of law school to realize that it’s sort of a joke – sure, judges follow precedent but when enough judges want to change existing law and reverse what had been precedent, they can always do so by picking and choosing legal arguments. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because times change. (Think slavery, women’s rights, a small agrarian-based economy in 1789 vs. a major world superpower today, etc.) Otherwise we’d have the same laws today we had in the 1800s which might not be such a good thing. So just because he believes in stare decisis doesn’t mean Alito will or won’t change existing laws.

There is something about these hearings, with Senators who know less about the law than second-year law students leading the charade, that makes the whole thing seem like a farce.

*notice I didn’t say I am smart—just that I feel smart.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Help Wanted

One of the more fun things about being a 2L without a job lined up for the summer (and it’s already mid-January, for God’s sake) is experiencing the range of emotions that bounce around in my brain whenever I feel my cell phone ring during class. It’s set on vibrate so if it ever rings during class, I immediately start to wonder who is calling (the few people who ordinarily call me on my cell usually don’t call during the day so it’s probably not one of those people), why they’re calling, if they’re calling to offer me an interview and whether they’ll leave a message.

(It’s a little like the old days, for those of you old enough to remember, before caller ID when the phone would ring at home and you’d get all excited wondering who might be calling and if it might be fore you and whether it was something good. Or going back a little farther, to when I was in college and lived on campus and had a box in the college post office. They put in these little brown slips that said “you have a package.” Did someone send you cookies, a brick of money, something from home you asked your parents to send you, a crate of cash, presents, a box full of $100s or home made brownies? Oh God why is the line so long? Why is the post office closed at lunch time? Why is it closed all weekend? Ok, anyway…)

(Another fun thing is when you get spam e-mails and wonder if maybe they are from someone offering you a job. For example, today I got one with the subject "SOMEONE IS INTERESTED!!!!" It's conceivable that if someone told me they were interested in interviewing or hiring me, I might send an e-mail with that exact subject line to someone I know to tell them that wow, someone was interested in me. Of course it's unlikely any potential employer would send me an e-mail saying they were interested by writing SOMEONE IS INTERESTED!!!! in the subject line, but still...)

Then when the phone buzzes again a minute or so later signifying that the person who just called left a voicemail, all hell breaks loose upstairs (in my head). I wonder how much time elapsed between the end of the ringing and the message because if it was only a minute it was probably someone I know saying “Hey, what’s up? Call me back.” But if it was longer then maybe it’s a potential employer leaving a long message explaining who they are and why they are calling and what I should do next – call back now, call later today, send them an e-mail, call their secretary, do nothing because I already have the job, etc. Then there’s the repeated looks at the clock on my computer waiting for the class to end. Forget about paying attention to the professor. Or should I just step outside class to see who called?

Usually I calm down and realize that depending on which class I’m in, where I’m sitting in relation to the professor and how sharp the professor is, I can probably get away with looking at the “missed call” thing to see what number the call was from. If it’s someone I know, I’m crushed. (No offense to anyone I know who is reading this blog who may have called me in the past – don’t worry, I still like you and please don’t stop calling). But if it’s a number I don’t recognize…wow! All sorts of possibilities! Could it be the World’s Greatest Law Firm calling to offer me a job (without even an interview)? The Greatest Government Agency On Earth calling to tell me how much they loved my resume and how they want to interview me but it’s really only a formality because they’re sure I’m the best candidate they’ve ever had for a summer job?

Finally, class ends. I leave the room. I check the voicemail and uh, well, I’m writing this blog post because I still don’t have a job so you can guess who called. Or to be more specific, who didn’t call…

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Get a job but not this one

Today a job was posted on the career center's online database with these job requirements:

HS Grad w/2-4 yrs. exp. performing legal secretarial duties w/in law office. Possess certf. of proficiency for transcription & typing less than one yr. old from City or accredited agency.

What? The job market is so bad that law students are reduced to jobs that only require a high school education? Come on. Does anybody screen these things? I'm not saying it's beneath a law student to be a legal secretary if you need the money and can't get a job as a law clerk. It's better than doing something non-legal. You'd probably get a good feel for how a law office really works. But when the job requires only a high school education and you're in law school, this just is not helpful to people looking for a job.

So much learnin'

So the first day of classes came and went.

I think I learned a lot of law!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Are You Happy to Be Back Here?

A year and a half ago, if you had told me that so many of my classmates would come to despise This City (the city, not the school), I doubt I would have believed it. But I have been amazed at how many people I know who hate This City with a passion and are literally counting the days until they can escape this state and go back to where they came from. And I’m not exaggerating – I know so many otherwise calm and normal people who practically start foaming at the mouth when they start talking about how much they hate living in This City.

For me, I’m keeping an open mind. I don’t hate This City. It’s not my favorite place to live, either. I’m planning on staying here after graduation but I can’t say I’ll stay for the rest of my life. I’ll take the bar in This State, get a job here (hopefully) and then see how I like living here while not being a student for a few years. Then I’ll decide (oh yeah and of course my wife will have a say in it, too) if I want to stay.

As far as I can tell, here are some of the things people loath about This City and the Southern part of This State in general:

1. The language barrier
Here in This City, it often sounds like you’re living in a suburb of Havana. When you come to This City on vacation, the extent of the language barrier is barely visible. When you visit the city and law school to think about going here, you don’t get a sense of how pervasive the Cuban (or generally, all Hispanic) influence is here. I read in a magazine a few weeks ago that the city of This City is 11 percent white, something like 60 percent Hispanic and about 20 percent African-American. (Sorry I don’t have a link but I’m sure you could look this up; also, I’m not sure how the percentages break down in the small city where this school is located, but for those who don’t know, this small city is an enclave surrounded by This City; unless you’re a millionaire, living in this small city is culturally the same as living in This City.). But my point is that this school is much less Hispanic in its makeup than the surrounding community, so visiting the school a couple of times does not give an accurate sense of what it’s like to live here.

I don’t think many of my classmates are racist, xenophobic or even have a general dislike of people who speak Spanish as a first language. But it’s occasionally difficult to do things when you’re used to everyone around you speaking English and suddenly you can’t communicate with the guy at the gas station or the driver blocking your car or the clerk at the supermarket when you need to find light bulbs (bombillas, I think). If you’re not used to it, it’s jarring and somewhat unsettling when you walk into a store and don’t hear a single word spoken in English or you sit in a bar or coffee shop and everyone around you is speaking Spanish. Again, I don’t think people who feel this way are racist or hate Spanish speakers. I just think this is such a foreign concept that it makes people feel out of their comfort zone. And it’s made even more disturbing to a lot of people because it comes as a surprise.

2. The cultural barrier
Along with the language problem, Cubans (or again, all Hispanic people here) have a different culture than most Americans are accustomed to. I’m not saying it’s worse or better, but a lot of people at this school who come to This City from large east coast cities or their suburbs (Boston or New York come to mind) apparently spent most of their lives associating with only their own, so they can’t relate to the Cuban culture. To some extent, this is true regardless of where you came from; as for me, I’m not saying I’m better than anyone, but growing up, I moved every couple of years (overseas and within the U.S.) so I experienced different cultures. So it’s not that people dislike individual Hispanic people or all Cuban-Americans; I think they immediately assume that they have very little in common with the people around them. And they don’t make an effort to probe whether this assumption is true.

After living here for a year and a half, two of the most significant cultural differences I see between Cuban Americans and non-Cuban Americans that bother people I know are (a) the perceived work ethic and (b) a casual entitlement that can easily be mistaken for selfishness or lack of consideration.

The roads are clogged 24-7 here. Go by one of those Cuban bakeries or groceries or fruterias at any time of day or night and a dozen men are outside drinking coladas or cortaditos and I assume gossiping. In my neighborhood, few of my Spanish-speaking neighbors seem to have full-time, 9-6 jobs. I’m often home during the day because I’m studying or I have class at night; I have no idea why they seem to spend hours on end at home regardless of the day. Maybe they all have home-based businesses or they’re all in law school too, but I doubt it. On the other hand, go to a residential area in Boston or New York and the neighborhoods are like graveyards Monday through Friday during the school year. You could lie in the middle of a suburban residential cul-de-sac naked from 9 a.m. until kids come home from school and the only person who would notice would be the mailman.

So I think this means people in law school have the impression that natives of This City are lazy and have no work ethic. As a friend of mine said when I discussed this topic with her, people often make the fundamental mistake of judging others’ character based on their perceived work ethic (or lack of it). So these Cuban men standing outside Versailles at 3 a.m. and 2 p.m. don’t have the same work ethic as men their age in New York, Minneapolis or Topeka. That does not make these people lazy or worse than you. That just means they are different—maybe they have different goals in life beyond accumulating wealth. They have different values than a lot of people are used to seeing in other major cities. So for many people, this is disturbing and it’s easy to simply assume that it means everyone here is lazy.

As for the lack of worth ethic that people see here, based purely on the number of hours people work, I guess it might be true to an extent that people work fewer hours. I’m not sure this is such a bad thing. But the point here is that I don’t really think many of us in law school will be joining the lazy portion of the populace – if it in fact exists. Few of us will immediately become celebrities who roll out of bed at noon and party until 4 a.m. At top (and most not in the top) law firms here, I doubt many lawyers are punching out at 6 p.m. on a regular basis. I have no doubt that you work longer hours at a top firm in New York or Boston than at a top firm in This City, but saying This City lawyers are lazy because they work 70-80 hours a week while New York lawyers work 100 hours is a flawed argument.

And saying everyone is lazy here because an awful lot of people seem to have nowhere to go during the day when few of us will become like those people doesn’t make much sense. So I don’t know who these people are or what they do that allows them to hang out drinking coffee all day long but I think they inhabit a different universe from the one that my classmates and I will be joining once we graduate from law school. In their universe, priorities are different from those held by much of the middle class, white world in the rest of this country. That’s why I think so many people can’t relate to the culture here. But all in all, that work ethic, or lack thereof, is something tangible that people latch on to when they talk about how they dislike the city.

The other part of the cultural barrier is the indifference, rudeness and general attitude toward people not in their community. I agree that there is a general lack of civility among people here in This City, but I see the same thing in New York or Boston. It’s just that here, to people who don’t speak Spanish, it sometimes seems like you’re being treated with a lack of civility solely because of being different and in the minority. I have no idea if this is true or not but it sometimes seems this way. On the other hand, at my internship last summer, when I spent a considerable amount of time with Cuban-Americans and people with whom I seemingly had nothing in common, I found – not to my surprise – that they were the same as everyone else. Some were nice. Some weren’t. Some I could envision being friends with if I worked there permanently. Others, not so much.

A friend of mine, who is from Venezuela, insisted that Latin American people are all warm and friendly. But then as the conversation progressed, he realized that what he really meant was that they are mostly warm and friendly with their own people. In fact, racism or nationalism among different Hispanic nationalities runs rampant. Cubans hate Columbians who hate Venezuelans who hate Puerto Ricans and so on. He didn’t say, and I don’t know, if all Hispanics have a general disposition toward all white, non-Hispanics.

But how is that so different from the way white people act in predominantly white cities and neighborhoods? (You can substitute any race for the word “white” in that last sentence). Are you telling me that if a Cuban family moved into a middle- or working-class white neighborhood in Boston or suburban New York they would be welcomed with open arms? Maybe. Maybe not. If they weren’t embraced, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the neighbors were racist. It would probably mean they had nothing in common because they were different. That is (unfortunately) what people do everywhere in this country: we associate with people like us. It doesn’t mean white people hate black people or Cuban people or that Venezeulan people hate Columbians but it’s somewhat natural to want to associate with your people with whom you clearly have much in comomon. Of course this is a broad statement and plenty of people have no problems associating with people of different cultures. I’m generalizing here for the sake of argument. So I guess the reason why cultural barriers are so off-putting is that the people who want to flee here want to be surrounded by their own people. They are uncomfortable with anything else, especially when they are in the minority.

3. Driving
Everyone I know thinks the worst drivers live in their home state. (I even have a friend who lives in Des Moines who swears Iowa drivers are the worst drivers on earth. Right.) Driving here is treacherous and even if you don’t commute much, it wears you down. Rules that apply in other American cities (turn signals, traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, speed limits, etc.) are entirely optional here. I spent time in Seattle and Vancouver over the break and I think I heard a honking horn maybe twice. Here you can’t drive for more than 10 minutes without hearing someone honking at someone else. Ever.

The strange thing about bad drivers here is that there are just as many crazy, reckless daredevil types as there are slow, plodding, indifferent drivers who either think they are the only people on the road or know for sure that there are others and just don’t grasp the concept that the roadways only work if all drivers remain aware that other drivers exist and act accordingly. These people actually need to be honked at because they have no intention of driving when the light turns green or they see nothing wrong with cruising along at 20 miles per hour when the speed limit is 45. Anyway, even for normal, confident, aggressive, attentive drivers (like me!) driving takes a toll and people often don’t realize how driving increases their overall level of stress.

4. Hurricanes
Not much to say here. They are not fun at all. Before I moved here it was kind of cool to watch one on TV in the same way that big explosions are cool: only if you’re totally detached and obviously it’s not cool that people and property are being destroyed. And the scary thing is that even though we missed nine days of classes and (at my house) had 13 and a third days without power this past hurricane season, we didn’t even get hit with a big one. If a big one hits, this area is doomed. Not so much in that everyone will die, but the disruption to our lifestyle and the destruction could be of epic proportions. Think Katrina, (without the flooding) and with an inefficient and ineffective cleanup. For the haters of This State, the seven months of beautiful weather don’t outweigh the misery of hurricane season.

5. Livability
People from Boston or New York always seem to be disappointed that you can’t walk anywhere in This City. This City is like a giant suburb. I don’t know the city all that well but it seems like with the exception of a few parts of town (South Beach, for example, but living there comes with a whole other set of issues and a few areas in the small city in which the school is located), you have to drive everywhere. Public transportation is virtually non-existent, although there are busses and a metrorail, it’s nothing like in Boston or New York. It’s just not a very urban city.

I have to agree with this. Every time I leave This City, which I’ve done only four times since moving here a year and a half ago, I find that other cities are so much more livable. Things I like just aren’t widely available here. Just to cite a few minor examples that make life a little more enjoyable but that aren’t very important in the grand scheme of life: good places to go for breakfast; delivery or convenient takeout food; nice grocery stores; conveniently located movie theaters that play things other than blockbusters; etc.

6. Who cares?
Putting aside the racial and nationalist issues, people here have a general lackadaisical attitude that I assume can only come from too much time in the sun. This is a blanket statement referring to all people in this city, regardless of ethnicity or race. As someone who is often fascinated at observing others, I love reading in the newspaper the accounts of government incompetence, corruption and fraud. The levels of ineptitude are just astounding. Unfortunately if you have to live here, this can be a problem when you have to deal with an inept bureaucracy run by government workers who don’t care about their jobs. I’m not referring to government lawyers, of course. I’m thinking more along the lines of services that residents have to deal with. But I don’t see how this is much different than government in most major cities.

Yet again, I have no grand conclusions from this post. I’m not a civic booster and I’m not here to tell the people who hate This City to give it a chance. I do think that life as a as a practicing attorney with a paycheck will differ from life as a law student...

Friday, January 06, 2006

pinch me...i think i'm dreaming

So we got this e-mail from the registrar today.

This is what it said:

Fall 2005 grades are now being posted daily to myUM. If we receive final, curve conforming, grades before 3pm we will have them posted the next business day usually by 10am. Please keep in mind that the faculty have 5 weeks from the date of the exam to turn in grades. The majority of faculty use their full five weeks. If the course had no exam or a take home exam the grades will be due January 20, 2006 which is 5 weeks from the last exam day. Faculty who gave a multiple choice exam do NOT necessarily turn their grades in early. We do not hold grades. If grades are not posted we have not received them.

(Hey, what's the deal with "If we receive final, curve conforming grades"? So some profs turn in grades that don't conform to the curve? Is it only the rookie profs and the adjuncts who turn in grades that don't conform to the curve? Do they not understand it or do they figure it doesn't apply to them?...and how is it that the classes that have no exam or a paper have the longest? Shouldn't they have the least amount of time?)

I was stunned to receive this e-mail. This is the first time in my year and a half here that the registrar's office has attempted to communicate this information to the students. About 1,199 of the 1,200 students here want to know this information. Yet this is the first semester since I've been here that the registrar has sent out a mass e-mail.

I'm guessing they got sick of the countless e-mails from individual students complaining and asking the same questions.

Whatever the reason, I think this e-mail alone is cause for celebration. (What's next? Bathrooms with working toilets that don't flood every three days or smell like the inside of a Dumpster? Dare to dream!) Maybe the registrar's office will suddenly become a friendly place instead of the office you dread going into...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

the textbook scam

I am trying to decide whether to sell back my books. Obviously I could use the money. But somehow last year when they offered me $60 for the $600 worth of books it felt insulting. And I know I could get more, especially since the textbook industry is a cabal that perpetrates one of the biggest ripoffs known to mankind. I know I can sell my E&Es and High Courts on Amazon because that’s where I bought most of mine. And they weren’t cheap.

This is probably stupid but I’m saving all those study aids in case I need them for studying for the bar. I guess most people use only the BarBri stuff because they don’t have time to look at anything else. But I figure since I have it, I might as well save this stuff just in case. Even if another edition of those things come out, I can easily sell those for a good chunk in a year and a half (assuming I pass the bar). I know it’s not as easy – in fact, it’s probably impossible – to sell casebooks when new editions come out.

Then I think about the lawyers’ offices I’ve been to where the lawyer prominently displays his law school books on a shelf. I’ve seen that a lot. I was surprised to see it each time. If I didn’t go to law school I would probably be impressed by the colorful, scholarly-looking collection of casebooks with titles like “Law and Property” and “Evidence Under the Rules.” But I think that’s the only reason lawyers keep their law school books – for show. The Professor posted once on Bricklayer’s blog that law students should keep their books for later years and also for using when they start practicing.

I wonder about this. Sure, it makes sense, on some level, to say that lawyers often refer back to resources where they can look up basic points of law because no one really remembers much about first-year subjects. But that’s not what law school casebooks are all about. They are compilations of cases with a series of questions interspersed between the cases. (They are not textbooks like we had in college and in school. Very little is explained or analyzed in a casebook.) And any practicing lawyer who relies on an old casebook to grasp a basic concept of law would be missing a huge step because he’d have to Shepardize or Keycite the case (to make sure it wasn’t overturned). Same goes for the upper level student who refers back to an old casebook -- how helpful would it really be? So even if you don’t have Lexis or Westlaw at work for some reason you can’t just rely on a casebook.

I don’t know. I could sure use the money, even if it’s only 10 percent of what I paid…

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

t-minus 5 days

What do professors do over break? It’s almost time for the semi-annual bitch session where everyone gets to wonder how long it will take to crank out the grades. But not yet. That comes at the end of next week, at which point all of my professors will have had more than one month since they gave the exams.

Of less importance overall but greater importance today is the question why professors are so slow to post the first-class assignments. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like I’m some nerd desperate to start reading for next Monday and Tuesday’s first classes. Don’t worry—I can think of better things to do. But since the assignments are inevitable, it would be nice if they’d put up the assignments so I can do them at a leisurely pace, rather than post them on Friday so I end up waiting until Sunday night to get started. I’d like to think the reason most profs haven’t yet posted the assignments is because they are diligently crafting an entirely new syllabus (not the same one from the past 10 years) and frantically polishing up their plans for the best possible way to teach the class (instead of cranking out last year’s notes). But, um, but…never mind…

Monday, January 02, 2006

First post

First post of the New Year so here goes:

*Sometimes I wish I had never used my name in my last blog because then I could post all kinds of things I really think without worrying that anyone important (like that lawyer out there waiting for my resume to cross his desk so he can call me up and offer me a job) will read it. (No offense to the readers of this blog; I think you're very important.)

*Speaking of what I really think, every time I print out my unofficial transcript to send to an employer, I think horrible thoughts about a certain professor I had last year. This person no longer teaches here. Some day I'll post what I really think about this person and use this person's name. (The person can't sue me for libel because what I write will be the truth.) I noticed once a while ago that on the law school home page is a survey they distribute to alumni and one of the questions is to name your worst professor. I have three semesters to go but I have no doubt who my worst "professor" was and will always be. I'm not one to carry grudges - and unlike some people I know - I rarely blame other people for my problems (or failings) but I'm still surprised at how much hatred I can muster up for this person.

*Speaking of the job search, I can't wait to start doing that again! I took a break for finals and then it was the holidays but now I get to start looking again! I hope it's more fun this semester than last semester! Yes! Someone has to want to hire me, right? Right? Hello?

*Speaking of jobs, I hope I still have a job (my part-time clerk job). Haven't heard a peep from the employers since the week before Thanksgiving. I don't think they like me very much but they give me a little money and they give me relatively interesting things to do, so I shouldn't complain. I guess the next couple of days will tell whether my job still exists.

*1Ls have to go back to school tomorrow but 2Ls and 3Ls don't have classes until Jan. 9. This first week of school last year was so useless. Based on how much Lexis and Westlaw they teach you (which is basically how to sign on and that's it) there is no reason to make 1Ls come back a week before everyone else.

*As for me, I feel like I'm basically back in school already. Sort of. I'm working on my BIG PAPER which is due a week after classes start. Before I know it I'll be reading for next week. Damn. I'll miss this long vacations once I re-enter the real world.

*I didn't make any New Year's Resolutions. OK, I made one, but it's the same one I make every year and it's none of your damn business.