Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some First Week Observations

I'm almost finished with my first week (I still have Criminal Law today), and have a few observations about school so far. . . A little background first.

The school I attend has flexible scheduling. they require a minimum of 6 credits (2 classes) and a max of 15 (5 classes). this is intended to allow people to work, have a life, whatever, and still go to law school. I actually find this quite reasonable, though if you want to finish in the normal 3 years, you have to take at least 12 credits a term. I'm taking 12 credits this term, and am considering increasing my load in the future to speed things up. This school also allows students to 'begin' school during any of the 3 terms (semesters) during the year. All of this has the effect of fragmenting the student body a bit, as everyone is on a slightly different schedule, and may have started at a different time. One thing is constant though - everyone takes Torts and Contracts first (and since we all have to take at least two classes, everyone in my Torts and Contracts class necessarily started the same time I did). this brings me to my point, that the "cadre" which I am part of to start this term consists of 14 people. Nice and small. We've actually gotten to know each other a bit in this first week, and they are going to be part of my observations below.... on we go!

ONE: People who work during school
I can certainly understand the need to work, we all have bills to pay, etc. but so far law school has been a full time job for me. I've spent about 8 hours of preparation time for each 3 hour class. lets see, 4 classes, 11 hours per class, that's a minimum of 44 hours. and that doesn't count the work I've done compiling my notes, updating my outline, etc. after class. It's Thursday, and so far I've "worked" about 45 hours this week, and I still have class tonight, outlining tomorrow, and an intro (no credit) class for two hours on Fridays. I also have work to do this weekend for next week, a study group meeting on Sunday, and so on and so forth. One of my co-students is a police officer taking six credits. He ALSO lives over 3 hours away and COMMUTES! sure, he's taking half of my load, but that's still about 30 hours a week, by my math, outside of class AND commuting! again, i understand the need to work, but to me this degree is too important to jeopardize with the lack of time, lack of sleep, lack of "a life", etc that Must plague those who work. I'm not knocking it, I just don't see how it can be effectively done.

NOW most of my fellow students are taking 6 credits and working. Only 5 of us are taking at least 12 credits (2 are taking 15), and I think only one of that group is working, and if I remember correctly he's doing so on a contract (piecemeal) basis. Still, it would be hard for someone taking even 6 credits to do so while working. My hats are off to them.

TWO: the law is arcane
one of the cases we read for Property was from 1707 in England. It involved duck ponds (ask if interested, it's kindof a funny case). All i have to say on that at this point is those guys who wrote opinions back then were obsessed with latin.

THREE: remember the golden rule
he (usually a he) who has the gold, makes the rules. this is most definitely true of law. Now i must say that, for the most part, our laws are passed with the intent of meting out justice. but sometimes justice flies in the face of "what we want to accomplish" and that's when we start to pull law out of our asses, literally. this was made no more plain than when we read, again in Property, the case Johnson v M'Intosh, another arcane case from 1823 written by our venerable-i-was-a-founder-therefore-i-get-to-make-the-law-as-i-see-fit chief justice John Marshall (best known for Marbury v Madison) . In this case, one of the dudes bought a piece of land in the territory of Illinois from an indian tribe. he even produced testimony from the chiefs proving they had sold him the land. the other dude claimed he owned the land by right of title granted by the king of england in 1773 or something, and proved it by providing evidence of this grant. on a side note, these guys were friends who intended to develop the land together, and "created" this discrepancy to make sure there were no issues of title to the land. nevertheless, the conflict arose and it went to the supreme court. to make a long story short, the guy who had title from england won.

you see, there's this principle in Property law that tends to permeate everything. it's called "first in time" and it basically means just what it sounds like - the first to possess a thing owns it. the problem in this case is obvious. the british were not the first ones on the land in Illinois - the Native Americans were. If we were to hold that rule sacred, then the Natives should have been allowed to "sell" the land to whomever they please. but you see, that would call into question all of the land that we had "claimed" for, well, hundreds of years. OOPS. so Marshall made this wacky distinction in this case. He said that the British (and by extension, after the revolution, the US) owned title to the land, but the Indians had "occupancy rights" because they "were there". this also included the exclusive (!!!) right of the US government to expel the indians whenever they decided that they needed the land; and the exclusive right to sell the land. oh, and why didnt the indians have 'first in time' rights to the land? well there are a couple reasons. first, they're savages (they kill us when we invade them!); second, they're heathens (they're not christians!), and third they don't use the land (they just roam, they don't build things or farm the land, or "improve" it). basically, he rationalized why England had first rights (incidentally, he kinda took the US off the hook for this by blaming the colonial powers here... what a wuss!) to title to the property because England was the first European power to discover the land...

don't we just love made up law that suit our purposes? of course, who today would give up title to thier home to the [insert local native tribe name here] Indians because they were first in time? i didn't think so.

WELL that's it for now. I'll update this weekend after (I am sure) an illuminating Crim and Intro class. Hopefully I can work out a decent study group, I think I'll need it.

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