Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's official

Grades are in and I am now officially a 2L, which means I passed all of my classes and now have 33 credits. In fact, I earned my first certificate of merit this term - in research and writing, no less. Very happy am I.

Now I can stop worrying about grades and focus on this term.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wish I had taken a picture

Two nights ago, we were visited by a bat. Sometime around midnight my dogs started to go nuts, and it didn't take long to figure out why. I am pretty sure that it was a little brown bat, based on its size - it was about the size of my hand, maybe a 7 or 8 inch wingspan. After a few moments of 'what the hell do I do' while my dogs futilely try to catch this thing flying around in my hallway, the bat helped me (and herself) out greatly by flying into my bathroom. I shut her in, opened the window, and she was gone by morning.

I did get a good look at her once in the bathroom though. She sat perched on the wall above the window, and with her wings all folded in she was about the size of my cell phone. When I opened the window she flew around a bit more but not for long, and I noticed that her body was very small, so she must have been a juvenile. Now I wish I had grabbed a camera and taken a picture or two. Oh well, maybe she'll come back and visit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


With a few exceptions, our grades in law school are entirely dependent on a three-hour exam covering thirteen weeks of material. The notion itself is rather daunting, and becomes even moreso when we think about the subjects we are being tested on. The only way to survive and thrive is to do two things: pay attention to the material during the entire term (cramming at the end of the term is a recipe for failure), and create and maintain an effective outline as a study aid.

After talking with a friend who is now a lawyer about outlining (and disagreeing with him on a couple things), I was inspired to make a post about what I think the form and purpose of an effective law school outline should be. These are my "dos and don'ts" of outlining. Keep in mind that the most important 'rule' of outlining is that it be made BY and FOR you, nobody else, so it has to be tailored to how you think, how you study, and how you learn. This means that MY rules work for ME, and may help others, but are by no means universal. Everyone learns and thinks differently, so read the following with that in mind.

Nevertheless, I have found that there are some things that work, and others that don't, when it comes to making an outline that will be an effective study aid. That is, in reality, the first important point - the outline is your study guide in your words. Many people make these huge outlines that they don't really use because they are too unwieldy, they just do it because they think they are supposed to do it. So. Keeping in mind that you are creating a study guide that you should use during that 1-2 week period before finals, here are my suggestions.

*Too long is too long. There is no rule of thumb, but if your outline is hundreds of pages, it's not only 'not impressive', it's completely useless as a study aid. In my opinion, your outline should be no more than 15 or 20 pages, and even that is probably too long. Last term my longest outline was 11 pages. Why? because you want to recall your entire outline during the exam, and if it's too long you can't do that.

*Rules. That's all that you put in your outline. Just the rules. Make them your own words, don't just copy the rule from the cases or what the prof said, re-write them in your own words.

*Some people advocate putting hypothetical examples in your outline to help illustrate the rules. I am mixed on this notion- if it is the only way to help you memorize and learn the rules, then go ahead. If you can learn without them in your final product, then my suggestion is to leave them out. One way to get around this is the 'rewrite' method - that is, you have an outline with hypos in it, then as part of your study regimen you re-write your entire outline omitting the chaff. It's a good compromize.

*Things to NOT put in your outline:

**Don't put cases or case names in your outline. Rules ONLY. If the rule is named after the case (like Miranda) then go ahead. You have a casebook, your own case briefs, and your notes if you need to look up info on a case. **Excpetion to this rule is for professors who expect you to be able to cite cases on the exam. In those cases, use the case names but boil the case down to one phrase or sentence. You want to be able to recall this information during the exam, and long descriptions get lost.

**In code classes (civ pro, evidence, etc) don't put the rules verbatim in your outline. You have a codebook to look them up if you need to. Refer to them (IE rule 26 - discovery in general), write a brief description and move on. Again, it's best to use your own words (just make sure with the code classes to get it right). For this kind of class, you have to use your code book to study, no getting around it, so there's no reason to write the rules verbatim in your outline. Write them in your own words, summarize them. After all, that is what you'll do on the exam!

**Don't get overly caught up in how your outline is organized. I made this mistake in my first term - I kept moving sections around, re-organizing this and that, and I ended up spending way too much time. The important thing about your outline is that it has all the rules/information you need for the exam in concise and readable format; that it's easy to recall. For me, I actually only use main headings (usually roman numerals) and one sub-heading (A, B, C, etc). Under each sub-heading I just list the applicable rules. I outline in the order the class was taught (use the syllabus), and that's it. No stress.

*Finally, a pretty decent trick that I learned from one of my student-colleagues. It's very helpful to re-write your outline (verbatim or not it doesn't matter) before the exam. The exercise is an excellent way to develop recall. You've written it once, write it again. The act of writing helps the (later, more important) act of recall. You can also create what one of my professors called an "attack outline" - a 1-2 page version of your outline that you intend to memorize and reproduce at the beginning of your exam (with the purpose of aiding your ability to recall the rest during the exam - sort of a 'reminder outline'). I don't do this but I don't think it's a bad idea for those who get really nervous during exams. It can be a very good 'calming' exercise during the beginning of the test which can only be a good thing.

Notice I use the word 'recall' rather than 'memorize'. See, if you are diligent, go to class, read the material, brief the cases, take notes, you will know the material. You will know the material backwards and forwards, you just might not realize that you know it that well. The trick is recalling it during that three-hour exam. That is what your outline is for - to help you recall - NOT to learn the material. this is the primary reason why a long outline is in my opinion completely useless. If you want a long outline, go buy a Gilberts. It takes much less time and effort than making your own (unless you plan on selling yours, in which case it might be worthwhile). A long outline (like those commercial outlines) is a learning tool, a short outline is a recall tool. Your self-created outline should be a recall tool.

Hope this helps, and of course I welcome any comments.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Two things that don't often happen, happened today. The first, I'm making a political post in my blog. Second, I caught a clip of Boston Legal that makes my point for me.

So without further adieu,

Boston Legal on Gitmo

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Kant, seriously

Okay, I understand completely. It's a legal ethics class (professional responsibility), and it make some sense to know a little about what some prominent ethical philosophers had to say. What I don't get is why we had to read JS Mill and Kant, excerpted, in a law school course. Why not just make a quick summary of the idea, and maybe attribute it to Mill or Kant? After all, they were relatively short excerpts, they barely captured the essence of what Mill and Kant were trying to say, and they were written in that wonderful (sic) arcane style that all of us love to read so much.

And. The only point was to introduce the idea that there actually is an ethical basis for what governs the behavior of lawyers.

Now I know it seems rather childish of me to complain about 20 pages of moral philosophy. After all, I have had to read 300 year old Queens Bench opinions in Contracts and Property class; I've had to absorb the rule against perpetuities, selected parts of the uniform commercial code, and Pennoyer v Neff. So what's wrong with a little Kant and Mill?

Here's what's wrong. I've read these guys before, back in college. I have a good understanding of Mill, and at least a working grasp of Kant. I have happily forgotten the old philosophy that I read in the past, and would have been perfectly content never to think about them again. Re-reading just a short excerpt simply reminded me about the self-flagellation that is moral philosophy. Moreover, the excerpts in my PR text barely scratched the surface of both, and in the case of Kant, they actually got it wrong, at least with regard to the conclusion the authors were drawing (In reality, it was a gross oversimplification rather than actually getting it incorrect, but I digress, the result is the same). So not only did I not care, I actually got angry at the errors. It's the same mistake people make with Nietsche - they read one passage and believe they understand him. You can't do that with Nietsche, and you Kant do that with Kant either.

But at this point, it's behind me. I just had to vent. We're done (hopefully) with the misapprehension of the categorical imperative, and I can shove that bit of torture back to the deeper recesses of my brain and continue to (hopefully) focus on more practical matters. Like exceptions to the hearsay rule (gee, there are only 28 of them)!

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Classes begin again on Monday, starting for me with Constitutional Law 1. I've put this class off for two terms now so it's time, and I'm actually looking forward to the class. I am (probably) one of the few who actually enjoys reading the opinions of the supreme court justices, and the debates among them over the many controversial issues that are raised in their court. I will be taking Evidence and Professional Responsibility as well. Both classes are very practice-oriented; one detailing the rules of evidence that govern court rooms, the other the ethical rules and codes that govern the behavior of attorneys. My final class this term will be Moot Court, which is an intra-school program where I prepare an appellate brief and an oral argument in front of a mock-supreme court. The competition will be at the end of the term (late July/early August).

All in all I am more relaxed today than I have been before any of my previous terms. Am I getting used to this law school business? Probably. Either way, I am looking forward to this term because all of my classes promise to be very interesting (even PR). Next term will be a different story (I'll be taking 2 or 3 classes that I have no interest in, but they are required so I must take them sometime), so I guess there's no time like the present.

I have made a commitment to myself to keep up with my blog more, so my pledge to all 3 or 4 of you reading this is to update at least once a week, probably on Sundays. I will make every effort to update more often if possible. Either way, I've been getting more hits here lately so I feel a bit of an obligation to update more.

Good luck to all starting this term anew, it should be an interesting summer term.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Do we need to worry?

There has been some talk, after the supreme court recently upheld a ban on partial-birth abortions by a 5-4 majority, that the five Catholic members of the court are making judicial decisions based on their religion. While the argument certainly can be made on its face, there is no evidence that this is true in any real sense. To me, the split in the court is not on religious grounds, but rather on differing interpretations about the scope of privacy allowed by Roe v Wade. To wit, 5 members of the court believe that a ban on partial-birth abortions is allowable under the framework set by Roe, and 4 do not. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course, if you read the opinion, it surely doesn't look that simple (and it isn't), but at the very least the decision was made arguably on constitutional grounds, and any debate is based there, not on religion.

There are certainly some troubling elements in this decision; the fact that at least part of the reasoning is based on the notion that a woman might later regret her decision certainly bears no resemblance to constitutional doctrine. However, to say that the 5 Catholics are toeing the Roman party line makes no sense... The court does not support Rome's just-wage initiative; the court (and in particular its Catholic contingent) is decidely pro-death penalty (which the Church is decidedly against); and the court has upheld the rights of homosexuals to engage in consensual sex. Justice Kennedy (a Catholic) also upheld abortion rights in Planned Parenthood v Casey.

It seems, then, that the recent concern that the nine are allowing their religious convictions rule their decisionmaking is much ado about nothing. Is that to say that the justices are not influenced by their moral or religious convictions? I think it would be foolish to claim otherwise. However, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks of the current members of the court, it's safe to say that they are not agents of Rome, intent upon forcing Catholic doctrine on American jurisprudence. Whatever motivates them, it's far more complex than that.