Tagged: law school

My dad was right

A lot of people have asked why I haven’t been writing lately. It’s because I’ve had a good deal going on. Along with the usual classes and my third moot court competition, I’ve been conducting a job search. Tomorrow (Monday morning) I’ll be handing in my resignation at Nationwide.

It’s been a long ride there. I started as a college intern in 1999 and got the chance to be promoted from that lowly title three times. Along the way I’ve gotten to work with some really smart people, some really dumb people, and some people in the middle. I was sent to California on business trips three times (none of which, I’ll admit now, involved very much business, but did include nude beaches) and to see the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina just a couple weeks after it hit. I also had to go to Des Moines. Other than that, they treated me very well, and I’m sorry to go.

It was a good job — at parties, I had the perfect response to that face and the question, “So, like, what are you doing with your… geography degree?” Answer: “I’m a geographer.”

I was also a systems architect, programmer, documenter, intra-company salesman, and general know-it-all (“SME” — subject matter expert). Mostly, I realize now, what I learned was about people; how they’re all motivated differently, learn differently, and care in differing degrees about their jobs and the way they’re perceived to be doing them. I didn’t always do the best with the knowledge I had, but I’ve had a million chances to try getting along with people I didn’t always agree with, understand, or like. You really don’t have a choice in who you get, and that makes life interesting. The chance to get to know hundreds in a professional capacity was the best part about the job.

I also got to know bureaucracy. Gosh, do I hate it. At NW, rules are meant to be broken, but only if you apply in advance, generate a requirements document, and have a valid disbursement code. I am looking forward to never hearing the words “deliverable,” “mentee,” or “SLA” again. I used to joke about Nationwide being “the Evil Empire,” but I now think we’re just so big we can’t help but blunder things by accident, like a giant dog kicking and running in its sleep. As Douglas Adams wrote about the Earth, “Mostly harmless.”

My new jobs are exciting. For the spring semester, I’ll be working for a federal judge, assisting with research and the judicial process where I can. I’ll also be working in a law firm clerkship. I am very excited about both jobs because they’re a chance to finally get my hands into some real cases and start working instead of just learning. Obviously, though, I know both jobs are going to be a learning experience, and I can’t wait to get started and see what I can do.

There will be more time to write about those when they happen — I am planning to start in the middle of January. For now, I’m thinking about the end of my eight years with The ‘Wide. When I was a kid, my dad the insurance agent would drive us past Nationwide and say, “Don’t work for Nationwide!” Why not, I’d ask. “They’re not even price competitive in their home market. Besides, you’ll get married, you’ll get a mortgage, and you’ll be sucked in and never be able to leave. Nah, you should get out and see the world first.” I was three or four at the time, but it was good advice, and it almost happened to me. Tomorrow is the beginning of leaving that orbit for an unknown trajectory in the law. I’m thrilled to find out what happens next.

Two endings

OK, so I’ve been away for a while… but I have good reasons not for writing! I was preoccupied last month with the ABA’s National Appellate Advocacy Competition, which was a competition my partner and I started dealing with back on December 2nd and ended (for us) last weekend with absolutely fine results on March 4th, last Saturday. As part of the problem, we had to write a brief for the governor and elections commissioner of the fictional state of Calisota, and then in March we went to Washington to argue both sides of this state against other law schools.

I have to say we both hated writing the brief and we put its completion off until the last hours. I printed all the important cases and put them into a 4-inch binder, then lugged them around with me on my New York City trip before Christmas… you know, just in time for the transit strike. I didn’t read many then. Our brief had to be filed in the middle of January, and these awful cases weighed heavily on my mind. They had to be read before the writing could start, but who wants to plod full of hundreds of contradictory pages. (Of course, looking back on it, I like it. This always happens.)

So as I say, last month we went to Washington to compete. If we won all the rounds in D.C., we would have made it to Chicago to compete in April.

Our first round was against two students I dubbed John Edwards and Tape Recorder Girl. John Edwards looked and spoke exactly like the failed vice-presidential candidate (except this one confessed to being from Tennessee). He was impassioned but a little over-eager for my money. Tape Recorder Girl had perfectly scripted responses to judges’ questions, which drove me crazy. They beat us by only 1.777 points out of a possible 100. We were crushed and spent the entire next day moping around and blaming ourselves, wondering why we had gotten into this and considering throwing the rest of the competition. (Everyone was guaranteed to participate in three rounds, but your performance in those rounds qualified you for more.)

So the next day, as I say, we practiced and practiced for the second round, which was not until 6.15pm. I have never beaten myself up so much in my life, and for what? All day, my stomach was flooded with angst and a pervasive sense of foreboding. (Yes, I’m being a drama queen, but that’s how I felt.) Either we would fail again and be further humiliated, or we would succeed, and have to go on further in the competition and be humiliated there. Either way, it was a nice day in D.C. and I’d rather be doing something else!

The second round featured opponents we eventually decided reminded us of characters from Doogie Howser, M.D., particularly Vinnie. This guy could not keep his hands still, but he was so short the judges could not see them gyrating behind the podium. We were confident that we had him beat. Both of us felt very good about our performance. So you can imagine our shock to hear we had lost again, but this time by only 0.444 point out of 100.

At this point, we were ready to drown our sorrows in the comforting embrace of alcohol and fitful sleep. What could be done? We clearly were going home humiliated. Then I learned the other team from Capital lost their second round by 13 points, and the clouds parted a bit. :-)

The preparations for the third round were even more farcical. The rules of the competition provided only 16 slots for the fourth round, and your performance in rounds 1, 2, and 3 qualified you for round 4. Since our record was 0-2, we didn’t think we would qualify for round 4 and would therefore be permitted to escape our suits and ties and go outside to play. Unfortunately… Since we had lost rounds 1 and 2 by the tiniest of margins, we were ranked as the very best 0-2 team. And that meant we had to play the very worst 0-2 team in round 3. As I put it, the best of the worst had to play the worst of the worst (North Carolina State, and they actually were the nicest people at the competition!), which was the team that had lost by a cumulative 32 points. This was going to be a painful round, I thought. People who don’t like arcane math things can skip the rest of this paragraph.  The problem with this whole setup was that if we beat our hapless opponents in round 3, our record would then be 1-2. So if some other 1-1 team lost its third round, it would also be ranked 1-2.  And if our margin of victory was higher than theirs — and it would have to be, since we were going into this thing with a -2.222 score — we were going to leapfrog some other teams, qualify for the fourth round, and we would then face the strongest team at the competition.  And of course, we were to face certain defeat, agony, and have to sit around in our suits for another four hours! Why wouldn’t the ABA just let us go have a nice lunch and forget about all this madness?!

And that’s exactly what happened. Round 3 was a real drubbing for the other side, even though I tried to help them as much as possible by stuttering, flubbing, and even waving my arms and saying (about the avoidance canon of statutory construction), “But that’s what we fought an entire Civil War over!” We won by some 13 points anyway and had to play Southern Methodist University in round 4, a team that was comprised of two judicial cyborgs whose smooth-tongued orations had been programmed by Daniel Webster himself. We lost (but only by four and a half points!) and were finally permitted to go home.

All in all, it was a fun experience, even though I probably spent two hundred hours reading cases, writing stuff, and practicing three times at week at the law school. Moot court is hard work. I wound up wondering why I was doing it, though… unless we were the absolute #1 team in the country, the road to victory was certain to end before I wanted it to. Of course, it’s fabulous experience to read, think, write, and talk, and I did get to sit on the bench of the Federal Circuit during a break, but my God, the strain it can put on a person is a lot to bear. I’m glad to have it over with, at least until the fall when we do it again!

Welcome back, Class of 2008

Welcome back, 2E’s of Capital Law! Here at the beginning of our fifth semester, I find it’s a good time to take stock of where we are and where we’re going. Time slips by so quickly.

Law school has been a lot tougher than we imagined, but we made it to the midpoint, right? Here at the end of the first half of the second year, we’d be exactly half done with law school… if only we had followed the lead of our turncoat former colleagues, those wretched people who switched to the day program. Now they’re part of the snobby “day people,” those green youngsters who until recently were still mired in extensive disputes over Property I and the system of conveyances. We didn’t follow that path. No, we decided to be “smart” and keep our jobs while losing our heads, and now must face the reality of 28 more months of night school, including summers. “I’ll pay for school as I go,” we said, “so I won’t be in too much debt at the end.” Ha.

Here at the uneasy start to a fresh semester, I like to think what’s become of us. One thing is: there are a lot fewer of us than there used to be. As you might know, I keep a semi-morbid list of the fallen: those students who started with us, but are no longer with us. People have left our class for a number of reasons: lack of interest; deciding the law isn’t for them after all; the high cost of tuition; better job offers; medical problems. I truly regret the loss of so many colleagues, and encourage those still left to hang on, because I think the rewards are worth the pain. Still, I can’t help keeping track out of curiosity.

2008-chartAccording to my official count, we started August 2004 with 91 students. Every semester, we lose about 10% of our class, not counting those day student emigres. The current total is only 46 who’ve hung in there. At this rate, I will be the only student left come May 2008, and even that isn’t certain. Last night over pizza, Prof. Darling evoked the spectre of my own dropping out. “I can imagine the sad scene when you slowly cross your own name off the list, closing your computer forever.” (I love FASHes!) :)

One of the things they warned us about law school is it tends to turn us all into competitive jerks. Either you are outwardly competitive and trying to impress everyone else, or you are competitive but covering it up. Most people pretend not to be interested in this, but one thing I’ve discovered is, secretly, they are. And what a perfect environment we’ve got for the comparing! Not only is there the all-present GPA, but we also have created a variety of other ways to measure ourselves, usually in pompous, sanctimonious, self-aggrandizing ways: all the clubs, elections, societies, and just plain old cliques and study groups. (In some ways, law school is more like high school than college. At least in college, there was a pretense that we were supposed to act like adults now. I’d pay extra tuition never to hear about another “important” law school election again.)

On coming out

Every year, that familiar holiday, National Coming Out Day, seems to come earlier and earlier.  Seems like I was just taking down my Gay Pride Month banners and poppers and it’s already time to put up the Coming Out tree, bedecked with supportive photos of all the people I still haven’t told.  Yes, there certainly is something special about October 11th.

Unlike other people I could mention, I didn’t have a big problem with “coming out.”  It was pretty easy for me at 17, when I decided to do it under relatively trauma-free circumstances.  I understand the kids these days have it even easier than I did, taking guys to their senior prom and whatnot.  At least in my part of the world, we have overcome, and any uneasy don’t-ask-don’t-tell truces I may be living with are of my own making.

At Capital this year, the gay law students group BiGLaw decided to support those who maybe didn’t have it so easy, by trying to commemorate Coming Out Day (which, despite my snideness, is a real day that I remember each year).  They didn’t organize any actual event that I know about, but they did put up a few signs reminding people when it was and what it meant to those who can’t be open about themselves and to those who are.  I thought it was pretty mild stuff.

The Christian Legal Society, however, decided to organize a presentation from someone at a group called “Mission: America, who was going to come and talk about her experiences as an advocate for preserving traditional families.”  I guess that didn’t pan out, and so they decided to hold, instead, a prayer meeting “for those who have come out and/or are considering coming out and/or are struggling with homosexual attraction.”  This was to be held on Coming Out Day at eight o’clock in the morning.  It was announced in an e-mail to all students.

The e-mail prompted a lot of rumbling among my near-universally straight fellow law students.  “How dare they conduct their little ‘hate-in,'” one bleated.  Somebody else said they should not be allowed to organize events that appear to directly oppose other groups at the school.  In reference to the baleful effects of homosexual attraction, another person suggested we tell the Christian Legal Society, “Thank God we’re not attracted to you!”

This event prompted me to do some thinking.  As an ardent defender of our liberal Constitution and civil rights, I felt no desire to try to stop the meeting or to complain to the administration.  It would have been hypocritical to tell anyone not to express their beliefs, particularly on the very day that is intended to promote tolerance and openness about others.  But I was rather shocked that a “counter-protest” would be organized in response to — well, not even an actual event.  Somebody puts up a few signs saying “it’s OK to be gay,” and the reaction is to arrange a prayer group reminding us that some people think it’s not?

The delicious possibilities for civil retribution began swimming through my head.  I would go to the meeting wearing nothing but a tiara and a Speedo.  I would solemnly stand outside with a sign reading, “No prayer please, we’re gay.”  Or: “Touched by an angel; touched by a priest.”  Or, while being asked to pray for those literally damned homosexuals, I would suggest that we pray for “the ignorant, the intolerant, and those who maliciously spread misinformation and lies, trading on the backs of the Oppressed just to advance their own political agendas.”

But, sadly for you, dear Reader, I did none of these things and decided simply to attend.

May I say, now having attended a meeting of each group, neither BiGLaw nor the Christian Legal Society exactly commands hordes of zealous followers.  The CLS meeting was attended by, er, just the CLS President, me, and my friend.  In other words, we outnumbered them by an exact ratio of 2-to-1.  Where were the queens?  (Did you know it is solid dark at 7am???  I didn’t!  That has to have had something to do with it.)

So Sondra and I had a pretty civil conversation with the assembled representative and member of the Christian Society.  The CLS seemed unanimously glad to see us, and it was truly eager to explain that it did not intend to convey a message of disapproval or dislike for gay people: “not at all, not, not, not at all.”  It just happened to organize a prayer meeting on the same day as Coming Out Day to, you know, let gay people know that it disagreed with Their Lifestyle.

Ah yes.  When you hear the dreaded lifestyle argument, you know you are in for a hard ride.  To Joy’s credit, she was extremely considerate and polite and I do believe she is sincere.  That is to say, she sincerely believes that the gay people of this world are wrong, and she is sincere about telling us.  Her position is that if someone knows the truth, shouldn’t that person try to convince others of the truth?

We suggested that this would be akin to organizing counter-protests on Martin Luther King Day, or Rosh Hashana.  After all, if Christianity is superior to Judaism, why not attempt to convert Jews on one of the holy days?  (“Maybe we should do that,” the CLS, I’m sure, jokingly mused.)

I advanced the idea that, you know, it’s kind of a civil society we’re living in, and there should be room for all viewpoints, and no matter what your religious beliefs happen to be, you should respect the differences of others.  On this point, the CLS was philosophical.  I know that the Christians at Capital, like all good people, do believe in civil rights and freedoms for everyone.  But, we tried to stress, the prayer meeting’s intent appeared to be less than truly respectful of everyone.  Rather than trying to convert us on our day, we suggested, maybe they could hold off until next week, or something.  When Joy asked that there simply not be Coming Out Day (presumably, she meant, at CULS), because it has nothing to do with law school, I had to disagree: coming out has always been tinged with politics, and it always will be as long as people in our society politicize the issue.  Besides, wasn’t it the Christian Legal Society that organized the gay marriage “debate” against the CULS Democrats last year?

At the end of the day, I don’t feel like much changed, but people’s minds are made up and convictions are deeply held.  And I genuinely understand, and heartily disagree, with some of them.  I’m glad I attended, and I’m particularly glad that the rumored brawl between Christians and rugby-playing lesbians did not break out — particularly not at 8am.  It’s obvious to me that law school, like the church, is one of the leading institutions concerned with issues of justice and fairness, so I’m glad that there are busybody Christians and remonstrative straight supporters and sleepy gays on all sides of this issue.  Chalk one up for Liberty.

Winds of change

Last night right after class, I came home and crept into bed.  It was the cap on a very draining week, which is what every week winds up being these days.  I lay there for a few minutes, then got back out and dragged myself into the shower so I could go out to Plank’s and have free pizza courtesy of the Student Bar Association and the Public Interest and Government Law group.  PI-Gov, as they call it, is affectionately known to me as “PIGLaw.”

Aside from the always-jarring experience of venturing into any part of Straightland (is that a real woman? what’s with all the braided leather belts? I paid to be here?), the night was reasonably pleasurable.  We stood around gossiping about people we know, some of whom we’d just been sitting next to in class not an hour before.  Did you know so-and-so pretended to be absent when he was called on in class because he didn’t have the guts to admit he hadn’t done the reading?  Is it true that a certain military figure has dropped out?  Did you make the National Moot Court Team?  And lurking under all these, my favorite obsession: so who’s number one in the class?

Alcohol is always such a great social lubricant, isn’t it?  I didn’t drink because I wanted to sleep when I got home, but I had a good time teasing the woman who has been named the Blonde Tornado.  (Not by me, I hasten to add, and not an unironic choice on the part of the namer, either.)  She teased me about my appalling clothes — T-shirt, jeans, and rubber sandals — then made a sweeping gesture that caused her to dump her own beer onto the very same sandals.  It was even funnier the second time she did that.  She’s a good girl and I do wish her the best.  She’s just so easy to talk to (“it’s my own fault, I shit where I eat”).

Why are we all chasing after this law degree?  Sometimes I see the students as satellites orbiting the decidedly un-Heavenly body that is CULS.  Some of them are in regular, close orbits, passing over the books and the library each week like clockwork.  Others, like that big liar from Con Law, are erratic comets that grow brighter and dimmer with no discernible pattern.  Yet all of us are going to be launched out in a different direction some day — or crash onto the surface.  Why are we doing it?  From this vantage point, it’s hard to envision ever getting out or using this stuff.  Some days it feels like I’m still not a grown-up.  I hate wearing the backpack.  Will wearing the suit and, sadly, the occasional braided leather belt, feel any better?


I am taking the Criminal Law final exam today.  As usual, whatever I am taking at the moment tends to inform my actions and thoughts.  Lately I have been going around muttering “guilty of this, guilty of that” when I see bad things happen to good people.

I had a terrible nightmare about this test last night.  In real life the exam has fifty multiple-choice questions (I hope).  In the dream, I got to question 45 or so and then I think I decided to go get a drink of water.  When I came back, I noticed I only had about fifteen minutes left for the last five questions — no sweat.  Then I hit question 51, and then 52, and then realized the exam was a lot longer than I thought.  I did what I could to plod through the rest of the questions, looking at tame stuff like accessories before the fact and criminal negligence involuntary manslaughter.  Then it started getting crazy — questions like “If Defendant has an equilibrium of 2p = 0 * 5, what is the optimum value for p?”  I started to panic a lot and did my best as the exam changed form into a hybrid legal/math/chemistry mess.  Time was called, but I was nowhere close to being done!  As I frantically counted carbon atoms, a tall white woman stood over me and said, “Time is up!  Time is up!”  I tried to mark “A” for each multiple-choice answer but found the exam spiraling into short answer, essay, everything!  “You have reached the secret bonus section of the exam,” it read at question 80.  “Some of these questions are trial questions for future versions of this exam.  Be sure to answer everything completely!”  She started grabbing my test.  The entire room started chanting “Finish him, finish him!”

And I woke up, jerking my head off the pillow with a start and a yell, afterschool-special style.  In all my life I’ve never had a dream about a test before.

It’s been a looooooong year.  School ends Thursday.

Caster’s revenge

Well…  We lost the final round of the moot court competition.  It was unpleasant — after the argument concluded, I felt pretty sure we’d won.  I think we had a better-developed theory of the case, and we knew our facts better, but our opponents pulled it off.

I had the usual crazy incident; this time it was that I dumped a pitcher of water all over the table and had nothing to mop it up with except Ginsberg v. New York.  That was great.  It’s always something.  This spill did not preclude my partner from winning “Best Oralist.”

So now it’s back to being a regular law student, who just reads constantly and doesn’t have to talk about it so much.  I understand we’ll still get a nice plaque.  We learned so much and got to work really, really hard.  And the support we got from our fellow students and professors was amazing.  Overall, a good time I’d definitely do again.

Objection, your honors

The Honorable William Klatt
373 South High Street, 24th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215

February 13, 2005

Dear William Klatt:

I’m a 26-year-old first-year student at Capital University Law School, and I’m writing to you in your capacity as the Tenth District’s administrative judge.  I had the pleasure of participating in Capital’s first-year moot court competitions this weekend at the county court complex.  For reasons that will become clear, you’ll be interested to know that I sat on the left side of the appellee’s desk in courtroom 23-B.

Today, after having wrapped up what I thought was a pretty tough oral argument, I returned to my seat so that my co-counsel could conclude our portion of the argument.

As I sat down, I noticed that I was listing strangely portside, oddly close to the wonderful view you have there in 23-B.  I remember thinking, The judges must have been even rougher on me than I realized if they can induce vertigo. I tried to sit up straight and found myself lurching in the other direction.  The reason for my precarious imbalance soon became clear: one of the casters in my very comfortable chair had come out, putting me in grave physical (and legal) danger.  As exhibit A, I placed the errant caster on our desk.

Co-counsel, valiantly trying to ignore the lurching and scraping noises behind him, continued giving his part of our argument as I righted myself and located a spare chair that had been conveniently placed near our table.

I am certain that your honors did not requisition this “ejector seat” function, but you might want to consider it for certain members of the bar.  I am currently studying products liability, and have a few theories under which you might justify the utility of such furniture.

We won the case, and I believe the judges did compliment us on our “poise.”

I look forward to practicing before the Tenth District Court of Appeals very soon, but perhaps in a more steady position.

Bill Cash III

And if you need help getting back to your car…

So we had two more rounds of moot court today.  I don’t know how but we have advanced to the Final Four, baby!!!  Life is good so far.  We go back for the semi-finals tomorrow and I don’t even want to speculate on who’ll be in the finals.

The opponents are definitely getting harder, but I like to think we are, too.  We’ve dropped a lot of our prepared stuff and we sort of freestyle it now.  Yeah, in front of that bench, we’re just two bad-ass government attorneys.  A lot of times during these things I put my feet up on the desk when it’s not my turn to talk.  The judge, he all right.

A seriously amusing eventuality occurred today on the way into the courthouse.  (The second round was at our state appellate court in the county complex.)  We all pile out of our cars and head for the elevator.  This kind of clean-cut-looking guy follows us.  He is carrying a PeopleSoft bag and he has glasses, so I figure he is some kind of computer nerd just there to check on stuff over the weekend.

We all take the elevator up to 9 together.  I give my mom the instructions: “Look.  You can go in with us, but I don’t really want the judges to know who you are or what side you’re on.  Don’t make a big scene here, OK?”  She promises to be good.

On the 9th floor, we all take the skyway out of the garage and across High Street.  When we get to the courthouse, the door into the courthouse is locked.  There’s nothing to do except turn around and go all the way back down to the street.  And we don’t want to be late!  I’m a little incredulous, so I kind of punch the guy on the arm or something and say, “How come you didn’t know it would be locked?”  “Well, I’m never in here on the weekend.”  “Yeah, all right…”  We get back in the elevator.  Somebody asks him, “Oh, so why are you here?”

He says, “Well, I’m here for moot court.”  Oh shit. I say, “You’re not one of our judges, are you?”  “Well, I don’t know.”

Needless to say, the guy did turn out to be one of our two judges.  There was nothing I could do except lean right in during my intro and say, “Good afternoon, your honors…” and try not to smirk.

Well, we won, so I guess it didn’t cause too much injury.  My mom was pretty amused though.  Let’s let this be a good lesson about being decorous outside the courtroom as well as in.  :)

Lenin watches over me

When I go to the law library, I like to sit under the shelf that holds the 1987 Yearbook on Socialist Legal Systems.  Somehow it is comforting.