Law School Graduation Year: 2011
Current Employment Status: Senior Staff Attorney at Trilogi
Undergraduate School: University of Texas - Dallas
Undergraduate Major: Literary Studies
Hometown: Fort Worth, TX
Status: Full-Time Day
3/8/13 - A few days after writing the last blog, I came across an article detailing another instance of the kind of problems that arise from the inpatient versus observation distinction. If you get the point in your recovery where you don’t need any more care in the hospital, but you can’t take care of yourself – the article I read, in particular discusses a patient who had a pelvic fracture – you may discharged to a nursing facility, rather than to your home.
Here’s the kicker, for Medicare to cover your SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility) stay. The SNF admission must have been preceded by a three day inpatient stay at a hospital. What’s happening is, patients are being kept at hospitals on observation status for three or more days and then being discharged to skilled care. Because the stay was observation rather than inpatient, Medicare is refusing to pay for the SNF stay, and patients are getting stuck with medical bills for tens of thousands of dollars.
This seems crazy. First of all, the article says the patient is fighting with Medicare. If I were her, I’d be more likely to fight the hospital and the nursing facility, particularly the nursing facility. That facility should have a system in place to ensure that the patients it admits meet the criteria for admission. If the facility doesn’t do that, or does it negligently, then the facility should eat the bill. You could also make a pretty good argument that the hospital was negligent in ordering a patient to skilled care who did not meet the criteria.
But the fundamental problem is still this idea of observation versus inpatient care. What would solve the problem entirely would be to do away with the distinction. As I said before, level of care, not length of stay is what determines whether a stay is inpatient or observation. What I am advocating is to change that to a length of stay based system. The first forty-eight hours should be observation care. Starting on the forty-ninth hour, the patient becomes an inpatient. Stop the madness.
1/25/13 - A while back, I wrote a little about observation care as opposed to inpatient care. As the name implies, an observation stay is really about sticking you in a bed and keeping an eye on you until the doctor decides how sick you are. Now that doesn’t mean you don’t get any care, it’s just not very intensive. An inpatient stay just provides a more intensive level of care.
The rule is that whether a claim should be billed as an observation claim or an inpatient claim is decided by level of care, not length of stay. You can have inpatient stays of one day, and observation stays of two days or more. The problem is that it is not uncommon for providers and insurers to disagree about whether observation or inpatient is the appropriate level of care. If the hospital admits a patient for an inpatient stay, and the insurer thinks observation would have been sufficient, the insurer will deny the claim.
To try to avoid these disputes, we have pre-authorization programs. The hospital notifies the insurer that, “Hey, we have your subscriber here. He’s sick and we are going to admit him as an inpatient for these reasons.” Then the insurer will respond with either, “We don’t think he’s that sick, treat him as observation,” or, “Ok, we agree he should be an inpatient; we’re approving two days. Let us know if that’s not enough.”
It seems like a simple enough system on the surface, but all sorts of problems lurk underneath. For one thing, the hospital may not get the response back from the insurer as to what level of care is approved until after the patient has already been admitted, treated, and discharged. Further, even if the insurer responds right away, the admitting doctor is liable to order the level of care he thinks is appropriate, regardless of what the insurer thinks. Clinical staff often – and perhaps not unreasonably – believe that while the doctor’s priority is serving the interests of the patient, the insurance company’s priority is serving the interests of their profit margin.
1/4/13 - Welcome back friends; I’m glad to see everyone made it through the end of the Mayan calendar none the worse for wear. We have arrived at the fourth and final installment of my recounting of the great pre-existing controversy of 2012. There’s really not that much left to tell.
I got a call back later from a gentleman whose function at the practice I was never able to exactly discern. But he assured me that he was there with the doctor and wanted to resolve this issue. I went back over the explanations I gave to the practice manager, the key point being, as I said previously, the doctor was in error to have coded that office visit with a diagnosis from my wife’s medical history.
The gentleman’s counter-argument was that the doctor had to code a diagnosis on the claim because when she ordered the lab tests, she had to tell the lab what to look for. Because I was on my best, tactful, behavior, I didn’t bother telling him that was a specious argument. The lab would know what to look for based on the tests that were ordered, and, anyway, labs don’t look for results. It’s the doctor’s job to interpret the test results, not the labs. Eventually, the gentleman agreed to cancel the claim and refund my wife’s co-pay.
You might be asking what all of this means to you, dear reader. What lessons can we draw from this tawdry tale? As I hung up the phone on my final call with the doctor’s office, I wondered how many other people had been subject to this same erroneous billing practice in that doctor’s office. How many patients had been denied subsequent care on the basis a “pre-existing condition” like this?
As a patient, as a consumer, each of us has a duty to ourselves, and to each other, to be diligent in staying informed about the bills our doctor’s send out in our name. The principles behind the argument I recounted here may seem esoteric, but it really boils down to a “gut-check” level principle – does it make sense for a doctor to “diagnose” you with an illness you haven’t had in fifteen years? Common sense, I think, says no.
12/14/12 - When I left you last time, I was about to recount how the specter of a pre-existing condition nearly came into my life.
So, after my wife Stacie provided a HIPAA release so that her doctor’s office could talk to me, I called and spoke with the office manager. We did not have a very productive conversation. I started by questioning her as to why Stacie was not provided with the exam she was scheduled for. At some point in the conversation, the manager mentioned that the diagnosis on the claim. It turned out that the doctor seems to have just cherry-picked a diagnosis from Stacie’s medical history and stuck it on the claim. The condition was one that Stacie had some fifteen years ago, and that had been resolved before I had even met her.
I hit the roof. I remonstrated with the manager that the doctor cannot do that. If she is going to put a diagnosis on the claim, it has to be one for which the doctor treated the patient, or at the very least one that the patient had complained of. She can’t just flip through my wife’s medical history and pick a convenient diagnosis. The office manager just responded that she couldn’t second guess her doctor’s ability to diagnose a patient.
Seeing some shade beyond red now, I tried to explain to the office manager – and this is really the key point of this story – that diagnosing a patient is one thing, but coding that diagnosis is something else. I wasn’t questioning the doctor’s skills as a clinician, only as a coder. I added that a medical office manager who doesn’t educate her doctor about coding issues is doing that doctor a grave disservice.
The office manager simply wasn’t listening, so I was forced to go down the other road available to me. I let her know that if she did not notify Blue Cross Blue Shield that the claim was filed in error and refund Stacie’s co-pay, we would report the claim as fraudulent and file a complaint with the state Medical Board.
She said she would talk to the doctor.
One of my co-workers, who overheard the whole conversation observed, “Dave, I don’t know why people don’t just give you what you want up front. It would be a lot easier on them.”
11/16/12 - When we left off last time, we had just finished talking about coordination of benefit denials. I promised to start this week with pre-existing condition denials. During the intervening time between writing the last blog and today, I had a personal experience related to pre-existing conditions that I thought I would share.
My wife went for her yearly wellness exam. Now, the way that is supposed to work is that she would go in for a single visit, which should be covered at 100% – no co-pay, coinsurance, or deductible. Stacie called me after she left her appointment, a little puzzled and annoyed. It turns out the doctor had only ordered her lab work, charged her an office visit, and told her to come back to get the wellness exam. Now there are at least three problems with this. The first is that the office visit carries a co-pay, taking thirty bucks out of Stacie’s pocket that should still be in it. The second is the doctor is asking the patient to take off twice from work for one exam. The third, though, is the worst – it leaves the patient at risk for coverage denial for a pre-existing condition.
In order to bill for an office visit, the doctor has to stick a diagnosis on the claim. One of the benefits of a wellness exam is that it doesn’t require a diagnosis, per se. There is a set of codes called “V Codes” (because, as you might assume, they start with the letter “V”) that you use in place of a typical diagnosis. The point of these codes is that it allows you to bill the claim without having to make up diagnoses. But, because the doctor insisted on splitting out the labs from the wellness exam, I became suspicious that she also had sent the claim off with additional diagnoses.
As it turned out, my suspicions were well founded, and I was left shaking my head when it was all said and done. When we pick up next time, I’ll tell you about my phone calls with the doctor’s office, trying to straighten all of this out.
10/26/12 - It was an extremely hectic week at work. We’ve been pushing to get a mass of backlogged claims for one of our clients resolved by the end of its fiscal year. This claims project is for coordination of benefit (“cob” for short) and pre-existing condition denials.
These two denials can be extremely aggravating because you have to mostly rely on the patient to get them resolved. In both cases, the insurance company “pends” the claim while they “investigate” whether the patient has, in the case of cob, other insurance which may be primary, or in the case of pre-existing conditions, whether the patient was treated for the same condition as that of your claim before coverage under the insurer began.
For pre-existing, what this “investigation” means in practice is that the insurance company sends a questionnaire to the patient asking them to list any doctors he or she saw during a certain period of time, generally prior to the date the policy became active, but sometimes up to the date that the questionnaire is sent out. Once they get that back, then they send requests to the doctors’ offices for copies of records. If the notes show that the patient was diagnosed with or treated for something, that becomes a pre-existing condition, and the insurer doesn’t have to cover it until a certain amount of time after the plan became effective.
For coordination of benefits, the insurers “investigation” consists of sending the patient yet another questionnaire, this time, to discover if the patient has any other insurance coverage which should be the primary payer on the claim. This can often be an easier delay to overcome. Sometimes the patient may legitimately have other insurance. If you can track this down – which you often can through various data bases – and learn that the other insurance should be primary, its just a matter of billing the other insurer. Also, the patient has nothing to lose by answering the questionnaire, so it is usually easier to get the patient to respond.
Pre-existing is a more challenging denial, and I’ll talk more about that the next time we meet.
10/5/12 - I don’t know everything there is to know about medical claim coding. Sure, you can pick up a lot about it just through working the job day in and day out, but that’s piecemeal. I want to know this stuff systematically. So, on my short list of objectives is to begin taking coding classes. But I learned something new today about down-coding claims, and I thought I’d share.
It sometimes happens that a patient was treated on an inpatient basis at a hospital, and it later turns out that only “observation” care was authorized. Basically, observation is a lesser level of care than inpatient care. It’s midway between being in the Emergency Room and being checked into the hospital. It then follows that you can justify down-coding the claim from the unauthorized inpatient claim to the authorized observation claim as a sort of “lesser included claim.”
To change a claim to observation, you have to do two things. First, you have to take off the inpatient room and board charge and change it to the hourly observation charge. Then you have to change the claim type code to reflect an outpatient claim. You then resubmit the claim. Most, but not all, private insurers will accept these corrected claims and cheerfully pay more than they would have for the higher level of care.
Now, Medicare doesn’t agree with this little train of logic. If you performed inpatient services, and Medicare decides those services weren’t medically necessary, you can only bill what they call “ancillary charges” to them. You cannot down-code the claim to observation. In fact, you can get in big trouble for doing so.
To bill ancillary charges, you do change the bill type, but it is still technically an inpatient claim. Then you bill only bill the outpatient charges from that claim.
There are at least a couple of things odd about this whole set-up. The first is, counter intuitively, observation care will usually cost the insurer more than inpatient care because of differences in pricing the claims. So, the provider’s, ahem, penalty for not rendering care at the appropriate level is to get paid extra. It can also happen that ancillary claims may cost more than inpatient claims, but the disconnect is more basic than that. It goes like this (and I’ll leave you to puzzle over this thought):
In the case of an observation claim, you bill the insurer for a bed in the hospital, and the patient may stay anywhere from 24 to 48 hours (or longer), but it is an outpatient claim. Conversely, on an ancillary claim you do not bill the insurer for a bed or for any length of stay in the hospital – in fact you are, by definition billing for outpatient services – but it is an inpatient claim.
9/12/12 - I am writing this from my hotel in Cincinnati, where I'll be delivering a lecture on state prompt pay laws and appeals drafting to a client tomorrow.
Now, most health insurance claims get paid within the timely payment deadline. What this particular deadline is varies a little from state to state, but generally, it's 30 or 45 days. The problem is that there are a remaining sizable number of claims that do not get paid timely. These also tend to be higher dollar claims. Now, the insurance companies like to use the dollar amount of the claim as an excuse for failure to pay claims timely, but, as I never tire of pointing out to them, neither in the state laws, nor in any provider contract I've ever seen, is an insurer excused from timely payment of a claim just because the bill is big. So, my presentation tomorrow focuses on the laws and practices supporting prompt payment.
Interestingly, Medicare also has a prompt pay regulation, but it isn't based on the age of individual claims. Instead a Medicare Fiscal Intermediary has to pay a certain percentage of claims timely. As long as the FI meets this percentage, they can jerk you around on an individual claim or two -- at least to a certain point. I'm still celebrating a personal victory over an FI I have to deal with. I, in league with a couple of my co-workers, was able to get an FI to overturn a policy they had in place regarding Medicare Secondary Claims. The policy was so convoluted it rather beggars easy description.
Basically, if Medicare is supposed to be a patient's secondary insurance, you are supposed to file to whatever his primary insurer is and then file the balance to Medicare after you get the payment from the primary. Now, for a variety of reasons, a healthcare provider may accidentally file a claim to Medicare as the primary when they should have billed it to another primary insurer. In such a case, Medicare denies the claim, and the provider corrects the error by billing the primary insurer, and then sending a corrected claim to Medicare. Now, what this intermediary was doing was moving that erroneous claim into a "post-pay" location. Once a claim went into this black hole it put a hold on any subsequent claims being submitted for 75 days. On top of that, the corrected claim submitted after the primary insurance was also being held for 75 days. The intermediary's justification for doing this is far beyond what I can deal with here, but it was based on a reporting requirement the intermediary had to meet with CMS. It didn't have anything to do with processing provider claims.
We argued back and forth with the intermediary itself for several months and got nowhere. Their own provider relations people admitted that my reading of the regulation they were citing made more sense than their own, but they just shrugged and said, "That's how we've always done it." So we took it up the chain to the CMS's regional office. I had some trouble getting that process kick started, but finally, with the invaluable assistance of one of my co-workers who actually used to work for CMS, we got a fire lit under the regional oversight, and to my great joy, told the intermediary that they could not continue with their policy. We had won!
8/24/12 - I was promoted to Senior Staff Attorney at my job. With that promotion has come, as you might imagine, some additional responsibilities. Really my additional duties have been pretty nebulous, and they are definitely not confined to legal issues. I have always taken pride in being a Swiss Army Knife employee - whatever is needed, I can do. After all, in a former job, that is how I went from just sitting in the office doing billing to driving ambulances and crawling into rolled-over cars to drag people out.
A lot of my new responsibilities involve leadership and education. This has been a very exciting turn of events for me. I haven’t had a management role in my professional history, but I think I’m ideally suited for such a role. Now, I’m not technically a manager or a supervisor, but I’m shouldering some of those responsibilities. I do have a teaching background of sorts – my first job was as a martial arts instructor at the school where I trained in Fort Worth, and, more pertinently, I was an English tutor at San Antonio College – and a lot of what I’m doing is turning everyday work flow into training opportunities for the staff.
I am also beginning to travel out to clients’ offices to present trainings for their staff. I made a trip about a month ago with one of our VP’s and a couple of the folks in Client Management, and I’m going again to deliver a second next month. I have also been working to establish relationships with senior people at some of the insurance companies as well as in their legal departments.
On top of all this, I still get to have the fun (at least fun to me) of collecting high dollar insurance claims. I’m also doing some contract drafting odds and ends as well. There have been longer and earlier days, more stress, and I’ve seen less of my beautiful wife, but I feel like I’m getting somewhere. I am where I envisioned being when I applied to Texas Wesleyan Law. That is no small comfort when I groan my way out of bed at five a.m…
7/13/12 - As a healthcare lawyer, I can hardly avoid writing on the topic of the Affordable Care Act this week. The Supreme Court has upheld it as being constitutional to the joy of Democrats and the hand-wringing of Republicans, the latter of whom have voted in the House of Representative for, like, the 30th time to repeal it.
Here are my personal thoughts on the matter:
As an attorney in the business of medicine, I applaud the ruling. As an American with a firm belief in the 10th amendment, I also applaud the ruling. I think it strikes a good balance between allowing the federal government to do what it needs to do to address the national healthcare crisis on the one hand, and the rights of states to be self-determining on the other. I’m not saying the ACA is a perfect piece of legislation, but what I am saying is that I believe it is a darned sight better than the mess we’re in right now. I’m not the only one. 61 percent of physicians polled by the American College of Physician
Executives support the law, and UHC, Aetna, and Humana were all promising to retain at least some of its provisions, regardless of whether the Supreme Court upheld it.
In my opinion, I think the governors of certain states are foolish to reject the Medicaid expansions or to refuse to set up insurance exchanges. It is one thing to take a principled stand against government bureaucracy. It’s entirely another to simply play obstructionist politics due to your party affiliations. In Texas, 25% of the population is uninsured, the highest rate in the country. Yet, our state government wants to prevent all of those uninsured from obtaining coverage. And despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the rest of us have to absorb the cost of all this uncompensated care through higher bills when we go to the doctor.
I believe there are lots of issues that need to be addressed in American healthcare – ERISA reform, Medicaid reimbursement, Electronic Medical Records implementation. The ACA is not a one stop solution for our broken healthcare system. No, it is not one stop, but I do think it is one step.
6/8/12 - While I was at the gym tonight I ran into a fellow alumnus. He saw that I was wearing my “Class of 2011” t-shirt and stopped to chat. He told me that he was a graduate of Texas Wesleyan's very first law school class. He mentioned the names of the professors he had, and asked if those folks still taught at the school. Most of them do. Apparently, there were only a few professors back in the days of yore. After playing a few rounds of "Do you know so-and-so,” we returned to our workouts.
I often find the alumni from that first class to be remarkable people. The school wasn't even accredited when that first class began their studies, but they believed in themselves, and they believed in what Texas Wesleyan was trying to create. Perhaps it sounds hokey, but I really do feel a sense of gratitude towards those people who were willing to take risks to help establish a new law school. Without that courage, I might not be a lawyer today.
My last post I mentioned that I would be traveling to Denver to help the new office get up to speed. My wife and I used to live up in the mountains west of Denver, and we often descended to the “low country,” as we called the Mile High City, for entertainment. The main drag in Denver, Colfax Avenue, runs West to East through the heart of the city. As I drove past its many clubs, and restaurants, and concert venues – such as the famous Fillmore – I was overcome by the nostalgia. Almost every block held some memory for me.
One evening after work, I sat out by the pool at the Sheraton with my feet up. I had already eaten dinner at one of my old favorite restaurants -- a fast and casual Japanese place on Colfax called Taki’s. In my right hand was a Rocky Patel Sun Grown cigar, in my left, a glass of Glenlivet 12 year. Before me, in the fading purple light, stretched the Rocky Mountains. “Now this,” I thought to myself, “this is living.”
5/4/12 - The company I work for was bought out at the beginning of the year. In terms of my workday experience, there hasn’t been much impact on what I do. I’ve had to learn a few more names and faces from around our parent company, but other than an improved benefits package, that’s been about it. However, lately we’ve been adding some employees in a new city, and I’ve been tapped to fly out to spend a week working with the new folks. I’m also being asked to take more responsibility for working with the newer employees at our local office as well. I feel like my career with the company has really been heading in the right direction, and I’ve been very happy with it.
I also recently attended a special Dallas Opera event. They put on a simulcast of The Magic Flute at Cowboys Stadium. It was fun to see an opera on the giant screens in the stadium, and I enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of it, as opposed to sitting in the Winspeare, but I did have a couple of complaints. The opera was well sung and the stage set was rich and interesting. “Sarastro” is one of my favorite operatic characters, and I enjoyed the performance here immensely. “Pamina” was also a stand-out.
On the other hand, I was a little disappointed with the “Queen of the Night’s” performance. Like a lot of people, the Queen’s second aria is one of my favorites, and maybe my bar is just too high, but I have definitely heard better renditions of it. And, the stage setting unfortunately veered into the absurd – especially at the end. I don’t need to see dancing lions and bears waving bandanas like some awful Lion King parody. And I really don’t need to see cast members coming on stage in Dallas Cowboy jerseys.
Despite these flaws, it really was a fun event. I do appreciate that they were trying to appeal to families and make opera more accessible. I suppose they succeeded to some extent, but I guess I’m just a little snooty, and I like my opera that way, as well.
4/13/12 - I’ve had an uptick recently in friends hitting me up for free legal advice. It’s not a big deal; I don’t mind their asking, and I don’t hesitate to tell them when I’ve gone as far into the given topic as I am comfortable. I just noted it, that’s all. It’s kind of flattering, really. It lets you know that deep down inside, your friends don’t think you’re an idiot.
In any event, lately my focus at work has really been on Medicare regulations. Working with Medicare claims has been a significant part of my job for quite some time now, but I feel like I’m starting to dig deeper and really begin to understand how the pieces fit together. There is a great deal of power in simply being able to navigate CMS’s website – that’s “The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” I don’t know why there’s only one “M.”
But the problem with all insurance companies, including those contracted to administer the Medicare program, is that of Archimedes. How does one get leverage? There are lots of laws on the books about how insurance companies are supposed to behave. In my experience, it seems that they generally just ignore them. With Medicare, it’s a little different. There is an extensive chain of command and review. It is, after all, the government. It is a matter of running to tell the grown-ups when the school yard bully tries to give you a wedgie.
However, the attorney attempting to run up this chain of command is faced with a number of problems. One of the biggest is that every step of the rung is incentivized by the step above it to reduce costs. Indeed, if anything has been the mantra of our public “discourse” (and I use the term loosely) on healthcare, it has been, “We must reduce costs.” Thus, the attorney is fighting a system intentionally designed to not give doctors and hospitals what they want – full payment for their services. When coupled with the glacially slow pace of inquiries, the attorney is faced with trying to motivate more and more remote, and less and less accountable, agencies and individuals to aid your cause. That’d be a tough problem, even for old Archimedes.
3/23/12 - And it is accomplished. The wedding was everything that Stacie and I hoped it would be. The wine was free-flowing and there was much laughter and love. We’ve received rave reviews from our friends and family. Everyone had a great time; that’s really all we wanted. Judge Spurlock’s delivery of the ceremony was really wonderful, as well. Everything was just beautiful and perfect, like my bride. We spent the following week in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, finally able to sit and catch our respective and collective breath amidst its quaint Victorian architecture.
I was back to work the following Monday. I felt pretty clear headed and eager to dig in and work on a fat commission check to help pay off the wedding. I’m afraid missing the week of work put me behind the eight ball in terms of making my commission goal this month, but I comfort myself that if I rattle the tree enough late in the month, it can make more fruit fall the following month. I’ve been working quite a bit of overtime since I’ve been back to try to get caught up, and I think it’s starting to wear on me. In the last couple of days, I’ve made a few mistakes I wouldn’t normally make. It’s been a little embarrassing, but fortunately I haven’t messed up anything serious.
I’ve realized that it’s a little more difficult to talk about my experiences at work than it was to talk about my experiences as a student in law school. The law school may welcome a “warts and all” approach to discussing its bloggers’ experiences, but one’s employer is probably not so welcoming of having its business broadcast. Some of the things I’d like to talk about are hush-hush projects and opportunities. But I hope to be able to talk about some of these things on the horizon soon, when they have come to pass. Stay tuned.
2/24/12 - My thoughts have been really scattered lately. There is a lot going on for me. I sat down to compose a coherent entry for this week, but I think I’m going to cut myself a break and just mention a couple of items with which I’m highly preoccupied at the moment.
In barely more than a week, I’ll be finally getting married. We’ve got everything pretty much squared away. We have the venue, the caterer, the beverage selection, the carriage, the florals, the music (which is a story in itself), the dress and tux – the whole nine yards. I wrote the wedding ceremony myself, and we even have Judge Spurlock, one of the professors as Texas Wesleyan, as our officiant.
At work, we three attorneys are being given additional responsibilities at a fairly rapid pace. I’m starting to take part in interviewing new employees and have taken on additional client meetings. One of the other attorneys is packing to go on her first business trip to visit a client hospital next week; and the third attorney has been promoted to supervising a team of claims reps.
There are definitely some drawbacks to working in a non-firm environment. For example, the managers don’t really understand the legal culture and what it takes not only to become a competent lawyer, but to remain a competent lawyer. But there are some advantages, too. Because you aren’t just one more lawyer in a company composed of lawyers, you are a little bit more of a special commodity. You are called upon to constantly shift priorities and responsibilities, so each day is different – some days are better than others, but at least they are not the same. You’re definitely not just going to sit and research briefs all day.
Well, that’s what is rattling around in my head. The next time I write, I’ll be a married man. Wish us luck!
2/3/12 - I’ve had a little bit of a dilemma. As long time readers – or merely those who scan back down this page – will know, I underwent a full course of training in mediation while I was at Texas Wesleyan Law. All of that training has been extremely helpful to me back out in the professional world. I learned powerful tools to apply to negotiation, and, well, getting my way.
Now, the question that I have to determine is whether to apply for a “Candidate for Credentialed Mediator” status with the proper agency. My dilemma is simply this - I am not working in a job in which I will be working as a mediator. I cannot see that I am likely to be working as a mediator even with a medium range view of my career. Given that obtaining Candidate status will involve more outlay of money for dues and fees and additional Continuing Education requirements every year, it seems more expensive in terms of time and money than it is liable to be worth to me in the immediate future.
On the other hand, one never really knows what opportunities may present themselves, and life often takes one down unpredicted paths. And the fact is that I really enjoyed the study of mediation, and actually found the opportunities I have had to be involved in mediations fascinating. I’ve just been reading a book on mediation in my spare time, in fact. I’d like to keep my skills up to date, and I would like to work as a mediator in some capacity at some point.
I discussed all of this with one of my co-workers. She said, “All I know is that when I worked for the personal injury firm, we sure paid those mediators a lot of money.” I have to admit, that’s pretty persuasive reasoning…
1/13/12 - In an ironic twist to my previous blog, in which I talked about how healthy I am and how much healthier I plan to become, I ran a fever of 100.4 degrees on Christmas Eve, and lay on the couch in misery all of Christmas Day. Stacie went over to her folks’ house on both days. She felt badly about leaving me alone on Christmas, but I didn’t mind. First of all, it helped ensure that she didn’t catch what I had. And anyway, I just lay on the couch and watched TV, something I never do. Apart from the shivering, coughing, sneezing, and general feeling of malaise, I rather enjoyed it. Since I generally feel guilty about being idle for more than a couple of hours at a time, being sick is about the only time I give myself permission to just do nothing. Thankfully, I am fully recovered now, and hard at work bludgeoning insurance companies.
The more I learn of and work in healthcare law, the more I see how broken the system is.
Insurance companies have really controlled the public discourse about addressing healthcare costs. Most of the cost-saving measures presently being implemented are focused on the provider side, such as reducing hospital readmissions and holding providers “accountable” by such methods as the much-vaunted and new-fangled – not to mention poorly understood – Accountable Care Organization. Starting next year, providers will even have to deal with ICD-10, a significantly more complex system for reporting kinds of illnesses than the present ICD-9.
Somehow, helping healthcare providers cut costs by insisting that insurers pay claims without incessant stall tactics is never a solution that gets any play. I wish some of our politicians would sit next to me one day and listen to what I have to go through to get claims paid by these insurance companies, who generally get away with simply ignoring contractual, ethical, and even legal obligations to pay for their subscribers’ care. Oh, sure, they will usually pay eventually, but the cost to providers is enormous. Meanwhile, doctors and hospitals are forced to do more and more with less and less. Insurers continue to undercut reimbursement, and legislators continue to demand more and more elaborate protocols. At what point do potential medical students simply come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it? And what will we do then?
12/14/11 - Happy holidays to everyone! The end of the 2011 is upon us, leaving us to reflect on the previous year. I was startled to realize that I graduated from law school more than seven months ago. That sounds like a much longer time than what it actually feels like. A lot has changed and is continuing to change in my personal life.
One of the changes that has been a great deal of fun over the past few months has been updating my wardrobe. I have bought a couple of suits, replaced almost every pair of pants and shirt that I owned, and, just this week, I bought myself a luxurious camel hair sport coat. I got a nice watch as a gift for graduation, and Stacie and I are both looking forward to wearing our wedding rings. It’s nice to look in your closet and jewelry box and be happy with what you find there.
I am also trying to address my long-neglected health. For a variety of reasons, I’m definitely in better shape at 38 than I was at 28 – I eat better and sleep better, and I am physically stronger. But, I’m really trying to focus more on nutrition and relieving some of the pain in my body that I’ve been dealing with from years of being hunched over desks. I’ve been going to a massage therapist and attending yoga classes, I’m also going to go see a chiropractor in the new year. I’ve been trying to make it onto a treadmill often enough to stay in reasonable cardiovascular shape, and I’ve lost more than 10 pounds just since August.
In short, I’m really working to develop and nourish myself in a way that I didn’t while I was in law school. My life just kind of grew wild, like a forgotten garden. But I’ve been trying to do some pruning and weeding and planting of new growth. There’s still some work to do, but I’ve got a good beginning.
11/22/11 - This last Friday morning, Stacie and I took off of work to go to downtown Dallas to take engagement pictures. We had to drag ourselves out of bed at 3:30 three-thirty in the morning so we could be there early enough to get the light the photographer wanted. And, you may recall, it was freezing last Friday morning. I can tell you that it’s extremely difficult to look joyful and in love when an arctic wind is driving through your thin suit coat. We started with some formal shots down by Dallas Union Station. There’s a lovely park down there on the backside of the Belo Building. Then we tramped up by the new Omni Hotel for some shots with Reunion Tower in the background. At each location, we’d dump our jackets on a convenient object and snap a few pictures before we could start shivering.
But we soldiered through, and, after a few last shots at the Farmers’ Market, we ducked into the Scottish Rite Cathedral to change to our “casual” outfits – membership has its privileges. I cannot tell you how happy we were to get into that warm building and change into sweaters. After that, we moved on to Deep Ellum.
Stacie and I both love Deep Ellum. For starters, we both have so many fond memories of shows we’ve seen at the various venues there and good times we’ve shared with friends in its pubs and restaurants. But we also love the funky vibe of the place – the odd architecture, the murals, the sculptures. We got some pictures at the Light Rail Station, then moved down to Main and took some more. We started to make our way back to the car.
There was a certain blue wall on the way back, and the photographer wanted to take just a couple of final shots, if we didn’t mind. I think the pictures we took there are my favorite. We are just sitting down, leaning against the wall, our knees bent, our arms wrapped around our knees, leaning on each other. We look contended. We are.
11/4/11 - The week before last, my job sent me to a weeklong Medicare conference. Sadly, it was not held in any exotic location, unless you consider North Dallas exotic. But that was okay – the conference was mere minutes from the front door of my house.
Every morning I made the short journey to the conference to devote the next eight hours of my life to unraveling the inner workings of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS for short. The particular class I was taking was for hospital billing. Before beginning the job I now have, I had never heard of a DRG (Diagnosis Related Group), or an OPPS (Outpatient Prospective Payment System), or an RTP (Return to Provider). Now I have been trained in all of these acronyms and many more.
When you begin a study of almost any topic, you first find it confusing and overwhelming. However, after applying yourself for some time, you begin to see that the apparent complexity can be resolved into a series of discrete and simple elements. Indeed, this is how we go about learning the law.
The rules and regulations governing Medicare are not like this. The more understanding you gain of them, the more you appreciate not their fundamental simplicity, but rather their gratuitous and labyrinthine complexity. As your familiarity grows and your understanding deepens, the more convicted you become that it simply does not have to be as complicated as they are making it. Merely keeping up with all of these regulations, which change on a regularly irregular basis, supports an entire cottage industry of trainers and lecturers who present workshops such as that which I attended.
Nietzsche cautions us that if we stare too long into the abyss, we may find the abyss staring back at us. This warning should be ever in the minds of those intrepid souls who brave the miles of red tape and often senseless and arbitrary regulation to obtain payment for medical services from CMS.
10/14/11 - I was standing in the hallway outside of my company’s suite a couple of weeks ago, talking to Stacie on my cell phone. “Hi, David.” I turned to face the direction of the voice, and there stood one of my classmates from Texas Wesleyan. I was surprised, so I only managed a weak wave and smile. I told Stacie, “Dude, Pacina just walked by. I guess she’s working here.”
Sure enough, Pacina was one of two attorneys just hired where I work. It turns out that she did not share my surprise. One of our other classmates had deduced – between Pacina’s description of her new job and my description of it here on this blog – that we must be working for the same place. She had actually sent me an email the previous weekend to let me know, but I had not checked my Texas Wesleyan email; thus, my ensuing surprise in the hallway.
It seems oddly appropriate that we ended up working together. We sat within several seats of each other during most our first year of law school – just through sheer randomness. We shared the first days of our law school experience, and now the first days of our professional experience.
We had an attorney’s lunch today for the four of us lawyers to build a little esprit de corps. One of the other attorneys was asking me about some of the details of my impending wedding. I looked over at Pacina and observed that she had been hearing about this wedding now for more than three years.
I mused then how very quickly time passes...
9/23/11 - I have been at my job now for six weeks. In some ways, I feel like I'm settling in quite well. In other ways, I feel like I have a long way to go in becoming proficient in the company’s policies and processes. I can credit part of my difficulty adjusting to the fact that I worked for the same company for eight years. Working anywhere for that long gives you an almost instinctual sense of how to approach most of your day-to-day problems. Instead, I find myself hampered by ignorance as to how things should be done, rather than about what should be done.
I have also discovered that there are drawbacks to working in a "nontraditional" legal job. My biggest concern is simply that many of the skill sets I developed in law school are going to atrophy from nonuse in a professional setting outside a legal firm. While I have to work fewer hours than I probably would as a junior associate at a law firm, I am still expected to work a significant amount of overtime. So far, this fact has prevented me from pursuing other avenues of keeping my skills sharp, such as volunteering for legal aid groups or attending bar sponsored workshops. Plus, I feel out of touch with the professional community. I don't have the opportunity to engage other lawyers, apart from the few that I work with.
However, the fact remains that I am on the career path I more or less envisioned when I applied for law school. There are going to be trade-offs with any job, so I am definitely not looking a gift horse in the mouth. But I do hope that in the coming months, when I am better settled into my job, that I will be able to be more engaged in the Dallas legal community and in my alumni association.
9/2/11 - One evening in 1995, I was sitting on my couch in San Antonio watching TV. On HBO, a documentary was just starting called "Paradise Lost." The story begins with the brutal homicide of three 8-year-old boys. Three teenagers came under suspicion, three boys who were different than their neighbors in West Memphis, Arkansas – they liked to wear black, read weird books, and listen to heavy metal music. The documentary chronicles what became, quite literally, a modern-day witch hunt. There was not the slightest shred of evidence to link the boys to the crime, with the exception of a confession coerced from one of the three boys -- who had a learning disability and later recanted -- after bouts of highly questionable interrogations.
As the story unfolded, I became more and more shocked by what I was watching. Young adults now don't remember the "Satanic panic" of the 1980s. But, like some bizarre retelling of The Crucible, an unbelievable number of normal men and women across the United States had their reputations and businesses ruined by baseless accusations of vast and implausible Satanic conspiracies. Some even went to jail, a few for a very long time before they were exonerated. This panic was fed by prosecutors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and clergy in what seems like an utter dereliction of their ethical obligations. Bogus “experts on occult crime” charged large sums of money to give worthless expert testimony in carnivalesque trials. A flood of libelous and fanciful Satanic true crime books followed in their wake.
The story of the West Memphis Three, as they came to be known, was the final breaker of that ocean of hysteria to wash over the shores of popular culture. Because of the boys’ strange interests and the State's utter dearth of any other motive or evidence, it hit upon Satanic ritual sacrifice as the cornerstone of its case. This bizarre theory played well in the insular community of West Memphis, and in the end, the boys were convicted, one even sent to death row.
Over the past 18 years since their conviction, there has been an ever-growing chorus of voices calling for their release. The miscarriage of justice exercised upon the West Memphis Three became painfully obvious to many followers of the case, even some of the locals who had condemned them on camera at the time the documentary was filmed. Finally, after 18 years of wrongful incarceration, the West Memphis Three have been freed. Sadly, in a final wrong from the justice system that failed them, they were not even exonerated. They had to plead out to a lesser charge. Nonetheless, tonight Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are free men. It's not justice, it's far too late for that. But it's a chance to find the life they might have lost forever.
To learn more, or to donate to their continuing legal fight, visit www.wm3.org.
8/10/11 - Whew! I can breathe a big sigh of relief now. I have a job.
I observed in my last blog that it seems that finding a legal job takes more than a good resume. Ironically, that is exactly what landed me my new position. Further, the position is exactly what I hoped to get when I entered law school. I entered law school to help healthcare providers – doctors, hospitals, ambulance services, etc. – get paid for the care they provide to the public. I have been working in the medical billing and collections field for nearly fifteen years, and I am extremely passionate about this mission. Perhaps it’s an odd thing to be passionate about, but, well ... What can I tell you?
Anyway, I landed a job at a company which, although new to the area, has been around in another state for about seven years. So, we have been around long enough to reassure a new employee that we’re not going to evaporate tomorrow, but we’re also young enough to offer great opportunities to develop a career. I am really hopeful that the next few years are going to give me lots of room to grow as a professional.
I have to admit, though, I’m a little sad to be leaving my previous employer. Those people are like family to me. I was there all through my undergraduate studies, through my year break, and I went back between semesters in law school as well. Now, I’ve been there again since graduation. It’s tough to walk away from a job you’ve had for eight years. But I’m looking forward to helping to build another company, like I have the last.
The other topic from my last blog is also an on-going project. I mentioned a “simple” family law matter I took on pro bono. It has been anything but simple. Part of the problem is that the situation has been made harder to handle since I have been working eight to five. I have had to take time off to get agreements signed, paperwork notarized, engage in client counseling, and file pleadings. And I’m not done. But, given the nature of my job, this may be the last time I’m involved in a court proceeding for a while, so I’m trying to enjoy it.
7/6/11 - I am in the middle of the interview process now for a job involving health care law. I’m really excited about it because medical billing and collections is really my first love. Most of my pre-law school life lies in that field, and I feel like I have a good shot at landing the job.
However, I have tried not to let my legal sword grow rusty in its scabbard in the meantime. I’m trying to learn what I can through pro bono routes. I took on a pretty simple family law matter for a friend, and I have also signed up to take part in Legal Aid of North Texas. With my job situation extremely up in the air right now, I have been hesitant to commit to any particular work yet, but I hope to be involved at least on some level. It’s really a pretty good deal for the volunteer attorneys – especially for younger attorneys. Yes, you’re working for free, but it strikes me as a good way to get experience in different practice areas. You always have a supervising attorney to turn to when you start taking cases. So, if you want to learn your way around a practice area, you can volunteer to help out in that area and get on the job training in exchange for your time. Seems like everyone wins.
I have to say that I continue to find that the attorneys I meet who are farther along in their careers are uniformly helpful and approachable. One in-house counsel took a half-hour out of his work day just to meet with me, hear my story, point out to me where he thought my career strengths would be, and then worked to find further referrals for me. A family law attorney who I met once more than a year ago has been extremely generous in offering me assistance with the family law case I took on. And, after chatting with him for fifteen minutes at a Dallas Bar Association function, another attorney asked for my resume so that he could forward it to people he knew. These are just three examples.
When I express my gratitude, these men shrug it off. After all, they tell me, someone did the same thing for each of them. Someone gave each of them a chance, a little help, or a bit of advice. I know that nothing will better express my gratitude to them than when I, in my turn, help another young attorney.
6/3/11 - Graduating from law school has its ups and downs. It’s a very giddy time; I find that I’ve been carried along as much by the enthusiasm of my loved ones as by my own enthusiasm. Everyone around me is so very proud of me (and so very glad to have me back), that it’s dangerously easy to consider the job finished. In my case, that’s certainly truer than for most of my classmates. Rather than having to turn around and begin studying for the bar, I’ve been able to go right into the “real world.” I was sworn in a couple of weeks after my graduation, paid my money, and was issued my bar number.
But the real world has not been so real. I have been given many really nice gifts – from an expensive watch to a bottle of small batch Texas bourbon; from a stay in a five star hotel to sushi dinners. I haven’t earned a single dime of “lawyer money,” yet I’ve been living extremely high on the hog. But that’s the thing, I haven’t found a job. I’m still working for the podiatrist who has been gracious enough to have me back whenever I need the work. It’s scary to be a lawyer and not to be practicing law.
Now, there’s no reason to be in a state of panic about it. I graduated less than a month ago and was only sworn in three weeks ago. I’ve got several job leads, and I’m sure I’ll find something soon. But how sure am I, really? I’m registered on some job hunting sites, but all I hear about is that finding a legal job is not like other kinds of jobs. It is supposed to take more than a good resume and high grades. So, I’ve got meetings set up, and folks forwarding my resume to lawyers they know, but it’s a slow process that has no obvious end in sight.
So, I just try to focus on the positives. I’m through law school; I passed the bar; I’ve been sworn in as an attorney. I’m only missing that final piece – that teensy little thing called a job – to have realized a goal I’ve been working towards for many years. I have many good friends in my corner, and I just have to believe that one of them will introduce me to an attorney willing to give me a chance.
5/11/11 - I got my Bar Exam results last Thursday evening. I passed. It was a little unreal at first. It didn’t begin to settle in until I got a congratulatory email from Dean Hurst. I might have misread the Pass List somehow, but I knew she wouldn’t.
Stacie and I had merely sat down at the computer to find the page on the State Bar website where the results would be posted. I anticipated that the results would not be posted until Friday, so I just wanted to be able to check the webpage throughout the day until the results were posted. We navigated to the page, and Stacie was in the middle of saying, “You just go here, and they’ll put a link up that says…Pass List.” And there it was, already available, a prominent link - blue in a page of white.
We clicked on the link and then on the “B’s.” For a brief, panicky second, I didn’t see my name. And then…there it was: “Blakeley, David Andrew.” Stacie was screaming with her fists up in the air, but I just stood there, stupidly staring at the screen. Despite all the work, all the studying, it just didn’t seem possible. Could it be true? We scrolled to the top of the screen. It was clearly titled “Pass List.” Mercifully, I soon received the email from Dean Hurst, and I began to relax into the fact that I had passed the Bar Exam.
So this is it. Friday, I and two hundred of my closest friends will walk the stage and be hooded as Doctors of Law. In another couple of weeks, the swearing in ceremony will be in Austin for the February Bar Exam passers. As long as I can get my bosses at Law Review to report that I received credit for my final two hours on the journal this week, I’ll be set to be sworn in. After that (and yet another outlay of money to the State Bar for licensing fees and God knows what), I’ll be a lawyer.
This will be my last entry in this blog as a law student. Many thanks to those of you who have read this blog over the last few years, especially those who have shared their thoughts about it with me through email and in person. As I leave this school, which has been my home for the past three years, I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that I am very grateful for the privilege of having attended Texas Wesleyan School of Law.
4/27/11 - We returned from a week in England this last Sunday evening. We spent four days in London and three in Staffordshire. While in London, we took one of the double-decker bus tours, rode the underground all over the city, and saw most of the major tourist sights, including the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, etc.
I did not, however, fully forget the legal profession while I was there. I made it a point to drag my fiancée and two of our friends to visit the Temple Church. My interest in this church is two-fold. First, it was the London headquarters of the famous (or infamous) Knights Templar before the Order’s dissolution in 1312. Second, it is the headquarters of two of the Inns of Court of the London legal profession.
As we made our way up Middle Temple Lane from the Tube station, I knew I was amongst my people. Very serious young men in very nice suits were scattered about, chatting on cell phones or hurrying to the Tube. These were the solicitors of Fleet Street. Once I reached that legendary road of the legal profession, we walked a ways down it. Then we turned into an unobtrusive alleyway and came out into a large courtyard to one side of which squatted the Temple Church.
After paying our respects there, we turned back out into Fleet Street and passed the sprawling gothic palace that houses Her Majesty’s Courts of Justice. It was breath-taking to consider the hundreds and years of legal tradition represented by that awe-inspiring building. That minor pilgrimage has left me with a profound sense of the antiquity of the profession of law and the proud tradition of the English common law on which so much of American law is based.
4/20/11 - This last Friday, I went to the Belo Mansion for a CLE class on body language. The Belo is the headquarters for the Dallas Bar Association. Situated between the Trammell-Crow Museum and the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the mansion has been modified from its original function as a private dwelling by the addition of meeting rooms behind, and a parking garage beneath its neo-colonial façade. I didn’t have time to explore around the building and grounds, but I look forward to doing so on future visits.
In any case, I knew several things going up there today: 1) I wouldn’t know anyone; 2) I wouldn’t know where I was going; and 3) I wouldn’t know what I was supposed to do. So, I decided the easiest thing would not be to play it cool, and try to figure out how everything worked, but rather to just start introducing myself to people and telling them that I didn’t know what to do. My plan worked out quite well.
Everyone I spoke with was super friendly and helpful. I just told the people I met that I was a law student and had never been to a Dallas Bar event before. Everyone congratulated me and welcomed me and put me at ease. I really can’t say enough good things about the environment and the people there. I met a lot of great lawyers that day.
4/6/11 - A week from now, I’ll be flying to England for ten days for a wedding. No, not The Wedding, merely that of a friend (she has, of course, promised not to let her wedding overshadow the royals). We’ll start with several days in London, then head out to Staffordshire for the wedding. This is a very big deal for me. Visiting England has been a lifelong ambition.
Everything in life has trade-offs, though. In this case, I’m going to miss both the Law Review end of year dinner and the Crawfish Boil. Seems a small price to pay, really, but I have to admit that I feel a little twinge, especially about the Law Review dinner. I really enjoyed it last year, and I feel like I’m missing one of the few celebratory events my Protestant work ethic allows me. And I want to be there when the papers selected for publication are announced. I suppose it goes without saying that the twinge is not sufficient to keep me from going to England, but I am sorry to miss the dinner here.
In the meantime, I’m trying to transition into post-law school life. There has been so much paperwork and wrapping up to do at the school that I still haven’t truly begun job-hunting. But it’s more than just job-hunting, it’s really a matter of entering the profession. I’m going to start attending Dallas Bar events next week, and when I return from England. Then, I’ll be but two weeks from walking the stage. I’ve spent the last three years learning the law; I look forward to a lifetime of learning to be a lawyer.
3/23/11 - One of the things that I can already foretell will be frustrating about the practice of law is that sometimes, there’s just no remedy to be had. This came up for me today as I sat at work, looking over a claim my long time podiatrist employer had filed with a certain insurance company. I will forbear naming it, but this company is, far and away, the least ethical company that I have had to do business with in Texas.
As I sat there, trying to figure some way to recover the money from which this company was busily defrauding my employer, I let my mind wander to the fine image of suing the pants off of them under Texas Insurance Code Chapter 541. I saw the gavel fall, and money began to pour from the ceiling. Uplifted upon the shoulders of the delighted gallery, I was carried bodily from the courtroom and into litigation history.
The reality is that, the plan is probably a plan that falls under federal ERISA law, meaning that all the nifty consumer protection laws that protect Texas consumers won’t apply (or, at least that’s how the majority of courts have interpreted it. I, and many others, disagree). ERISA itself is a toothless body of law, and no relief can be found there. But even if, by some miracle, Texas law would apply, the amounts we’re talking about are a few hundred dollars. It is difficult to justify risking adverse judgment over a couple of hundred bucks.
What’s infuriating is that the insurance companies know this. As long as they just nickel and dime the providers and the patients, they can act with impunity. Sure, eventually, someone may scrape up enough wrong-doing to merit a class action suit, but by then the insurance company has already won. It has delayed paying the claim, and it has been earning interest on that money the whole time.
3/9/11 - The Bar Exam is now happily behind me. Of course, one must not count one’s chickens before they hatch so I have declined to predict, when I have been asked, whether I think I passed. I can say it was a very difficult exam, and I did my best. All I can do now is wait until May and see if the Law Examiners are satisfied.
In the meantime, I have to shift gears back to Law Review. The 2L’s have all turned in the final drafts of their papers, and the Notes and Comments Editors and the Executive Board have to now wade through them. I have to read seven of them or so. The executive board has to read ALL of the papers. I feel badly for them.
Last week was the Oil & Gas Symposium; I attended both Thursday and Friday mornings. I attended last year as well. As a member of Law Review, we are expected to put in a few hours. This year, I’m glad to say, made a lot more sense. I guess taking Oil & Gas Law is handy that way.
So, the final phase of law school begins – job hunting. I got into law school because I was interested in health law. That remains my primary interest today, especially when I see how rich an area of law that can be. It involves everything from HIPAA to ERISA, from the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act to malpractice, even debtor-creditor law. So, I’m going to focus my job search in that area. I’ll keep everyone updated as to how the job hunt goes.
2/23/11 - By the time you read this, I will have finished the Bar Exam. I’m writing this late on Monday afternoon, and the exam begins at 8:00 AM tomorrow. So, as you are reading this, it’s all over, for good or ill. My head is full of questions and misgivings: Did I study hard enough? Did I study smart enough? And, most importantly, will I remember enough?
They tell you to take it easy on the day before the exam, that you’ve “learned all the law you’re going to learn.” That may be, but the urge to do a final walk-through was irrefutable. I haven’t been hitting the books too hard, but I spent a few hours this morning just going through Performance Test questions and model answers to try to get a feel for a wide variety of problem types. This afternoon, I’ve been just focusing on the pre-trial aspects of the Texas Procedure and Evidence exam. Once we start selecting a jury, I’m good, I just want to refresh myself on what happens before the day of trial.
Tomorrow, after the exam, I’ll hit the Evidence and Tort sections of the Multi-state exam. I’m well within my grading comfort
t zone on most of the subjects, but hearsay is just killing me in Evidence, and I’ve got to pay more attention to the kind of claim in the Tort questions. As a distant third, if I’ve got time, I’ll review the various standards of review for Constitutional Law. After the Multi-state, I won’t have much time that evening, so I’ll just try to refresh Family Law and Commercial Paper, and maybe a little Oil & Gas. And after the final essay question on Thursday afternoon, Stacie and I are going to meet some friends, and I’m going to let them buy me drinks.
Next week, I can start trying to put my life back together. In the past two months that I’ve been studying for the exam, everything else has been on hold. I’ve gained weight, let emails and chores around the house pile up, cut myself off from friends and family, neglected responsibilities at school, and have been mostly disoriented to the outside world. I only pray that it was all worth it.
2/9/11 - A letter from the school came in the mail today: “We are pleased to inform you that . . . all your requirements have been met.” Pro Bono? Check. Rigorous Writing? Check. Official Transcript from Undergraduate Institution? Check (is that ever a problem?). Required Hours (90)? Check and double check. In short, I am but one hour of credit and a little over two months shy of walking out of here with a law degree.
Before that even happens, I’ll have taken the Bar Exam. The Bar Exam is now a little less than two weeks away. I still have a long way to go before I’ll be ready. When I look at the mound of lecture notes I have yet to go through, my heart quails a little, but I’m working steadily, and I feel like there’s time. I didn’t do very well on the practice exam they administer in the middle of the course, but I have subsequently gone back, hit the areas where I was doing poorly, and now I’m doing better than passing all of the multi-state areas on subsequent practice question sets. Lots of practice questions are the key to success.
I think the biggest monster is going to be the Texas Procedure and Evidence Exam that happens on the first day of the Bar Exam. It’s a huge amount of information, and even just getting through the notes is incredibly time consuming - there is just so much to memorize, and it really is just rote memorization. Worse than that, this portion of the exam is only 20% of the total grade (compared with 40% on the Texas Essays and 40% on the Multi-State Multiple Choice, with a Performance Test being the other 20%), so I can’t shake the feeling that the subject requires a lot more time to learn than it is ultimately worth in points.
1/26/11 - Studying for the Bar exam is not fun. No, really, it’s not. I pause to look behind me and see that the footprints in the sand stretch all the way back to the week before Christmas, when I began taking my first practice tests and listening to preliminary lectures. Ahead of me lies only the trackless waste, as far as the eye can see. The treacherous sands of the doctrine of law crunch under each step, and discipline and mental focus burn down upon me, both lighting the way and making each step hotter and less bearable than the last.
Occasional oases emerge from the dunes and provide some relief, but the goal of my journey beckons ever onward, and I dare not rest long. Even in the succor of some small palm of social interaction, the ever-present Sun of discipline only awaits my smallest movement to beat down upon me anew. Soon, I arise, and return to my pilgrimage toward that far shrine, that Heliopolis whose High Priests, the Board of Law Examiners, await me to test my courage and skill.
As the length of the journey and the strain of the exertion increase, I begin to shed anything which weighs upon me. Hockey games, recreational reading, housekeeping, friends and loved ones, even unnecessary speech all lie strewn behind me in the sand, like empty waterskins. Yet in the sand, I discern the footprints of a camel and take heart that others have crossed this desert, others have passed uncowed by the Law Examiners. So may it be also with me.
1/12/11 - Directly upon the heels of finishing the fall semester, I began bar prep. I listen to a two or three hour lecture every day, study notes, answer practice problems, and read outlines for the next day’s lecture. It doesn’t seem like the daily regimen should take that much time, but somehow it usually takes all day. I fell a little behind last week and had a devil of a time getting caught up, but I managed it. I’ve got all of my grades back but Oil & Gas. So, assuming I don’t fail that one, I have all of my didactic work in Law School behind me. I have turned in my pro bono hours, and now I only need to meet one last semester of Law Review commitment; then, it’s over. I will return to the “real world.”
Money’s really the hard part. With the substantial outlay to finish paying off my Bar prep course balance, and the fact that I’m not eligible for any more financial aid, it’s been getting harder and harder for my fiancée and I to keep our heads above water. We’ve had to dip into the rainy day fund, and I’m filling out the paperwork to cash in part of a 401K fund from my last full time job. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that in a month and a half, it will all be over except the shouting. I can work contract labor in or out of the legal field until I get a permanent job. We just have to survive until the beginning of March.
12/15/10 - I find myself in a place of inbetweeness. I am not a law school graduate, yet I have no more tests to take. I am on winter break, yet I still have to take meetings involving school commitments. I have free time to see my friends, yet bar prep prevents me from taking that time. I am working as contract labor on a project for a previous employer for this week, but starting next Tuesday, I begin preparing for the Bar exam.
The day I took my last test, the UPS guys showed up at the door with a box from my Bar prep course. In the box was a collection of books that takes up approximately fourteen inches of shelf space. I put said books on said shelf and paid them no further attention until Sunday. I then went online and downloaded the schedule of lectures, readings, and tests recommended by the prep course. With the exception of Christmas weekend, I face an unrelenting two months leading up to the exam in late February.
The next few months promise to be exceedingly difficult. I will no longer have financial aid, so from now to the exam Stacie and I will have to self-finance all the sitting on my duff I’ll be doing. I hope to be able to use the weekends to open up Mondays and Fridays for a little gainful employment, but Stacie’s going to have to make up the inevitable shortfall. It’s going to be a lean holiday season.
11/23/10 - Last night was the last lecture class I will ever have to attend in law school. As I said back at the beginning of the semester, I only need one credit hour next semester to graduate, and I’ll pick that up on Law Review. So this is it. I have four finals ahead of me (including Payment Systems and Secured Transactions on the same day, yech) and then that’s it. Stacie wanted to celebrate last night, but I didn’t feel much like celebrating before finals. And, anyway, the Dallas Stars got creamed by the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, so that didn’t help.
As happy as I am to have the end in sight for my coursework, I must admit that there are some classes that I wish I could have taken, but they just never fit into my schedule. Texas Trials and Appeals has been a super-useful class, so I wish I could have worked Pre-Trial in as well. I wish I could have taken Consumer Law and Insurance Law, because they both impact my interest in health care law. I also wish I had time to take the Trusts class and the Income Tax class. I also really wish I could have competed in Mock Trial.
But I’ve learned in the last two and a half years that you simply can’t do everything. You have to make choices, budget your time, and console yourself that there will always be CLE credits out there that will allow you to expand your knowledge.
11/17/10 – This past Friday, my Appellate Advocacy class trooped over to the 2nd Court of Appeals to make oral arguments on the topic of our appellate brief. We had to argue in front of our professor, one of the other clerks at the court, and the Honorable Justice Bob McCoy.
Not only was mine the first group to argue, I was the first person to address the court. “May it please the Court ...,” I began. It was only then that I realized that I was terrified. Look, I’m not a shy person, and I have no compunction about public speaking, but that experience was unlike anything I’ve had to do. I was about a minute into my remarks when I realized that I was rambling. It was almost an out of body experience, or like being in a dream. I heard my own voice coming from somewhere far away, and I knew I had to get to the point, but I could no more change what was coming out of my mouth than change the direction of a car with no steering wheel.
I was not a little relieved when one of the panel cut me off and asked me a question. That allowed me to reorient to my argument and make a statement that was comprehensible, although my mouth had somehow mysteriously become exceedingly dry. That question was followed by one from Justice McCoy. He was, by far, the most intimidating of the three. Lean and shrewd, Justice McCoy sat robed, the Seal of the State of Texas behind his head like a halo, like one of the Twenty-four Elders in some lost fresco by Giotto. He regarded me with a gaze that seemed to advise me that he had already taken my measure. I found, despite my discomfort, that I admired the man. That did not make being grilled by the panel any less difficult.
Somehow, I made it through the ten minutes of questioning from the panel and returned to my seat, rather crestfallen by my performance. I can say, however, that that morning in the court of appeals was probably the most intensely educational – and unquestionably, the most intense – a class time I have spent in law school. When it was over, I thought to myself that I would do much better the next time with the insight I gained through my experience and through listening to my classmates. I was surprised to find that, right then, I wanted nothing more than to get back up to the podium and try it again.
11/3/10 - I usually try to keep this blog upbeat, but I’m going to tell you straight out – I’m cranky this week. So, I’m going to talk about a couple of things that have annoyed me down in the library.
First, I don’t know the identity of the malfeasor, but some guy likes to go down to the library bathroom and take the library’s magazines into the stall with him. What is seriously gross, though, is that when he leaves, he just throws the magazines on the floor of the stall. Really? Whoever it is ought to be ashamed of himself. You can carry them in, but you can’t carry them back out? So then, I have to wonder, does someone just eventually come in and stick those back out on the tables for people to unsuspectingly peruse after they’ve been on the floor of a public restroom? This is happening frequently, and it’s gross.
Second, there is a room in the back of the library called “The Quiet Study Room.” You are not supposed to use computers or cell phones in there. You are not supposed to eat or drink in there. You are supposed to, you know, study quietly. It’s posted on the door. The school has thousands of square feet of space for you to eat, drink, catch up on Facebook, and talk to your friends. There is one 15 x 30 room that is supposed to be a refuge of quiet and study. And yet, people leave half-empty soda cans, candy wrappers, and various litter on the floor and in the chairs, rattle away on their computers, and hold conversations like they were at home.
Come on, people, we are all professional students. How about acting like adults and treating the school and your fellow students with respect?
That is all.
10/20/10 - When you become a law student, your friends immediately set in with “good natured” ribbing about your chosen profession – you know, lots of references to sharks, reptiles, etc. Among the weird digs that my friends have made at me during my time in law school is the gift of a book entitled Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America by Philip Howard. Mr. Howard’s overriding theme is actually, I think, an admirable one. It is simply that our modern administrative state has crushed America’s capacity for initiative, self-responsibility, and decisive action.
Nonetheless, I have quite a few criticisms of the book. Space forbids an extensive discussion, but I at least wanted to point out a couple of things in the worst chapter, “The Boundaries of Lawsuits.” First, it really skates through a host of legal issues raised by his “judges need to take control of their courtrooms” rhetoric. I’m not saying his suggestions aren’t worth considering, but the problem is just not as simple as he makes it sound. Additionally, he neglects to point out that lawyers have already been implementing changes in practice to address some of the problems he complains of.
The book, as a whole, relies too much on inflaming the reader rather than informing him. Howard picks egregious cases to prove his point rather than looking at the average case. And any author who references the semi-mythical “Old Lady Gets $1m for Hot Coffee Case,” as Howard does, has already lost credibility with me. Nonetheless, in our age of playing the victim and laying the blame, Howard’s call to responsibility is one we should not ignore.
10/6/10 - This last weekend, I took a trip out to Portland, Oregon. It was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I got to clear my head and not worry about school for three days. I also got to visit with some friends I don’t see but once or twice every couple of years, and it’s always nice to get yourself grounded amongst people you know.
On the downside, I’m behind on everything now. The only studying I got done was a little studying for Payment Systems on the plane. I’ve got a list of authorities to turn in this week, and I have barely begun to research.
This semester has been a little strange in terms of class preparation and studying anyway. Almost everything I am taking is heavily statutory, which means more plowing through statutory supplements than reading cases. The upside to that is that there’s no Easter egg hunt for the law - you just have to learn the code sections. On the other hand, disentangling the wording of a great deal of the Uniform Commercial Code is a dizzying task. Long interpolations disrupt any semblance of meaning in the sentences, and references to other code sections are stuck willy-nilly throughout the text. It becomes a maze where you follow one reference only to find another, then another. Professor Barnes assures us that no one has actually gone insane from trying to follow the thread of references through the Code, but I think he may be lying.
9/22/10 - This week, the 2L Law Review candidates had to submit their Research Reports and Outlines. The titles of the documents are pretty self-explanatory. The Research Report just tells the Note and Comment Editors what sources the 2L’s are using and what they are getting out of those sources. It helps the editors get a handle on not only what the 2L’s are using, but also what they are missing. There is just so much material out there on so many topics that it can be overwhelming to try to figure out whether a writer has found all of the relevant articles and whether the articles have already covered the ground that the writer wants to cover.
That can really be hard to determine sometimes. A writer may find an article that covers more or less the same cases. That’s ok, as long as he or she has a different angle and, preferably, a different conclusion. Or, a writer may find an article that comes to the same conclusion about a subject. That’s ok, as long as the writer plans on exploring a different collection of cases. Sometimes, the secret is not to be wedded to a particular outcome. If the writer feels strongly about a particular side of an issue, that’s great, but if the only way he or she won’t be pre-empted by a previous article is to argue the other side – well, we’re lawyers in training, just argue the other side.
9/8/10 - Three weeks in, and I’m already behind. Pretty much simultaneously with the beginning of school, I took on a project for my boss. I have been trying to learn all the law involved with that in addition to what I need to learn for school. I haven’t actually fallen behind on the reading, but I haven’t retained any of what I’ve read or even heard in class. So, I face each class not so much concerned that I might be called on and not have read the material, but rather that I won’t have understood the material because I had to breeze by terms I should already know, but don’t remember. It’s not a good state of mind to be in.
Mercifully, I got the project finished up, and I’m not going to do any more work like that for a while, maybe not until after I’ve taken the Bar exam. In any case, we have a project due in Legal Writing III tomorrow, and after that, I should be able to get everything else caught up and get my feet under me by beginning of class next Monday. Speaking of the Bar exam...
I sent off my application to take the February exam at the end of last month. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when I opened the mailbox yesterday and found a big envelope from the Board of Law Examiners. Sure enough, there was a problem. My application was post-marked August thirty-first. It had to be post-marked by August thirtieth. “Oops, so sorry, now you have to pay us an extra hundred and fifty dollars to take the exam. Have a nice day.” As I sat to write another absurdly costly check, I had a few well chosen and colorful words about lawyers.
8/25/10 - Last week, after classes had started, I sat and performed a few calculations. I came to a stunning conclusion. After this semester, I will only need one credit to graduate. You see, I have taken summer classes both summers during my time at Texas Wesleyan in anticipation of taking lighter class loads in the regular semesters, but I never actually took the lighter class loads. Now, I’m ahead of schedule.
Suddenly, my coming spring semester is looking very different. My one spring credit will be Law Review, so I don’t even have to pick classes. I have a lot of details to iron out, but I am formulating a hazy plan to take the Bar exam in February. So, in December/ January I’ll do my Bar prep classes, take the test in February, and plan on finishing up my Law Review and P.L.A.Y. commitments and walking the stage on schedule. The big advantage for me is that I should get my exam results around the time I graduate, rather than having to wait until November.
It’s still a little unreal to me. I keep waiting to get an email from administration telling me there’s been a mistake, that I’m not really in my last semester of substantive law classes. Anyway, I’m not celebrating yet, I’ve still got more than a few hurdles before reaching the finish line.
8/4/10 - The temperature continues to rise, and the first day of class looms. It’s hard to believe that this is it, my last year of law school. Every year presents its own challenges. In the first year, you are just trying to learn the ropes – how to outline, how to test well, how to organize your time, and of course, how to read cases and statutes. Then, in the second year, you continue to refine those skills, but you also become more involved with extracurricular activities and student organizations, and even begin to work in an internship or clerkship.
Now, what new challenges can the third year throw at us? I can only guess. I do know that I managed to load this semester as heavily as ever. I’m registered for sixteen hours in the fall. Strictly speaking, I don’t think I needed to take that many hours this semester in order to have enough to graduate, but I wanted to jump on these particular classes while they are available. Who knows what classes will be available in the spring?
You know, one thing I can say for sure is that Texas Wesleyan truly has been preparing me to practice law. Although those first couple of research assignments from my boss were still a little nerve-wracking, I have been delighted to find that all of the research, writing, and reasoning skills I’ve been studying and practicing the last couple of years are, you know, actually useful in the real world. It was cool to read a trial transcript and find all those objections we learned in Criminal Procedure were not just academic exercises, but were actually being used in the court room.
So, I approach the beginning of my final year of law school really hopeful about the future beyond law school, but I’m trying to live every day of the last leg of this journey. I believe this year will be my best yet.
7/28/10 - I mentioned some time back in the spring that I will be serving the Law Review as a Notes and Comments Editor for the coming year. I further remarked that part of my job was to be part of the team reading and scoring all of the “Write-On” papers which students could write as a Law Review audition. Well, we’re going through all those papers this week.
It’s pretty slow going because I want to give each paper my full attention, and it can be exasperating when one gets to parts that aren’t well written or are down-right inscrutable, but I can say without question that scoring these papers has been the most valuable learning experience of my law school career. One really sees, as a first impression reader, why all the rules of writing they drill into us do really matter. When I go through one of the papers, I find I begin to channel Professor Simon. Before I even know what I’m doing, I’m writing exactly the same comments in the margins of these papers that I was annoyed to find scrawled all over my own 1L efforts: “Apply rules, not cases!”, “Not following CRUPAC!”, “Need more analysis!”, or, my favorite, “Why is this here?!”.
Maybe it sounds crazy, but each paper seems to really tell two stories. The first story is composed of all the rules, the facts, the citations, and other technical requirements – all the formal law school stuff that we are scoring. The paper also relates a second story, one about the circumstances surrounding its composition. Sometimes I imagine what the writer was thinking about when he or she wrote this or that, what time it was, whether the writer worked hard on the paper or just hoped to get lucky. Of course, I don’t actually know what anyone was thinking when he or she was writing, but somehow, the white page covered with black 12 point Times New Roman font is a remarkable scrying mirror in which one obtains visions of other times, and perhaps allows you to peer into a person’s very heart. Or maybe I’ve just been reading too many papers.
7/14/10 - Last week, I met with a friend from UT Dallas whom I haven’t seen since we graduated. We’ve exchanged emails off and on since then, but it just never worked out for us to actually get together. Usually, it had never worked out because I was too busy with school to take the time. It was good to catch up. It also made me muse that law school has seemed to me much less like undergraduate college and much more like high school. I don’t mean that academically, but rather environmentally.
In high school, as we all remember, the people we showed up with on the first day often bore little resemblance to the people we graduated with four years later. So much happens in the lives of teenagers as they move towards adulthood, so many changes are wrought within them and in their environments. I find that to also be the case in law school. Sure, people aren’t still going through puberty, but there are plenty of other changes that take place. People get married or divorced, have the opportunity to travel, start and end careers, buy houses – all of these are typically things that undergraduate students have put on hold until they graduate. Life just has a way of happening to you in high school, and I think it has the same way of happening to you in law school.
The other remarkable similarity is the higher level of familiarity you have with your classmates. In undergrad there were just so many other people in the programs that I didn’t find myself making a lot of connections with other students. At least 80% of any given class I took was peopled with students with whom I would never share another class. But law school, like high school, is a much closer environment. You see the same people every day for years. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are your friends, or even that you know all of their names, but often you may know much more important things about them than that.
6/30/10 - Summer classes are tricky because you take so few of them. I’m only taking two. But what I have a tendency to forget is that there’s twice as much work each week. So, taking two classes is the equivalent of taking four classes in the regular semester. Getting the reading done takes what seems like forever. As a consequence, when I’m calculating how much time it’s going to take me to get through the assignment, I always underestimate.
The amount of work also makes case recall a little more challenging in class. In regular semester classes, I would usually only need to recall what happened in three or four cases for a single day of class, so running back through them quickly just to refresh my memory from my previous careful reading doesn’t really take very long. Refreshing my memory takes a lot longer when it’s six or seven cases, and I always end up knowing the first few better than the later ones.
Fortunately, Prof. Helge has an on-call list in my Marital Property class, so I know what day I’ll be called on. It also helps that she goes alphabetically – and my last name starts with “B.” I get called on first, and then I can just relax and watch my classmates sweat it out for the rest of class, as opposed to having to sit down with the list of the other students in my on-call groups like it’s an astrology chart and try to divine exactly which case I’ll have to recite the facts and law for. It’s hard to do that anyway when Prof. Helge assigns both cases from our textbook and cases we have to print out from Westlaw or Lexis because (even if you get to go first, like me) you don’t know what order she’ll take the cases.
6/16/10 - This week marks the halfway point for the summer session. I’ve been really disciplined about keeping up with my outlining and reading, so classes aren’t really stressing me out. Work, however, is stressing me out a little. I’m really close to being done with the brief I’m writing for my boss, but I’ve promised it to him next week, and that might have been pushing it a bit.
The problem I’ve had is that I have been delaying my research in favor of keeping up with my outlining and reading. No problem, you say? Just set everything aside and get it done over the weekend, you say? Sadly, no. You see, my kid brother is getting married this weekend in the wilds of St. Louis, MO, and I’m the Best Man. So, I will get out of class Thursday night at 9:15 PM, get home around an hour later, then rise and shine at 5:00 AM to hit the road to be in St. Louie in time for the rehearsal dinner.
However, as I’ve come up against the deadline, I’ve really come to appreciate the editorial apparatus that the publishers use. Somehow, as a 1L, the incredible value of Shepard’s citators and headnotes, and other such fun stuff, seems to have escaped my notice. But just those two tools make it possible to blaze through every case citing a given rule of law within a given jurisdiction in a tiny fraction of the time it would otherwise take. Sure, I learned how to use these tools in my Legal Writing classes, but it’s a different thing to know they are there in the abstract than it is to actually need them.
5/19/10 - The semester has ended and summer looms upon us. For many of us, that means summer classes. I’ll be up to my neck in property this summer – both Texas Real Property and Marital Property. I don’t know if taking the two classes concurrently will be helpful, confusing, or simply irrelevant. Probably the last option.
Many classes overlap with each other, but usually to a small extent. A tiny bit of first year Property may raise its head in a Wills & Estates class; a few points of Agency & Partnership might pop up in Business Associations. But usually the main body of the material is very well demarcated from other classes. I’m sure many generations of professors have spent countless gigawatts of brainpower to make that the case.
In July, I think, the Editorial Board for Law Review will start meeting. As a Notes & Comments Editor, I’ll be looking forward to reading and grading a whole bunch of “Write-On” papers over the summer as well. Those are basically written by students as an audition of sorts for Law Review. It’s a pretty big responsibility to say “yay” or “nay” because some student’s ability to make it onto Law Review is depending on it. Fortunately, I’m only one of several NCE’s, and the final decision will come from another Board member smarter than me. But it is definitely a job that I (and I’m sure the other NCE’s) are taking very seriously.
Despite all of this, I can’t celebrate the end of the spring semester quite yet. I still have a few reports to write up for my Mediation professor about mediations I observed in my training process. Because of confidentiality concerns, the questions we have to answer are kept fairly general, but an average write-up takes me about four pages, so it’s not an insignificant amount of work to do for five half-day mediations. So, I will bid you all adieu for now and turn to this last item on my spring agenda.
In closing I wanted to wish a fond farewell and send warm congratulations to my classmates who graduated last Friday. As a 1L, I didn’t know many of the 3Ls, so last year’s class passed largely without my notice. But I count among those who graduated this year many friends and mentors, and I know that their passing out into the legal world will make it a brighter, better place.
5/5/10 - I’m halfway through finals, and I am starting to breathe that end-of-semester sigh of relief. Of course, with two finals still to go, I can’t get too comfortable. But every class I can check off the list makes the pressure of the remaining ones a little easier to handle. It has been part of my routine from my very first semester to physically and mentally clear each class out of my life before beginning to study for the next test. Notes go in recycling; the outline goes in a binder in my filing cabinet; and the book goes in the “ready to sell” stack with other volumes from my protean library.
Really, being a 2L is kinda tough. As 1Ls, we only had to compete against other 1Ls. As 2Ls, we have to start competing against not only our own classmates, but also against the 3Ls, who have just been exposed to quite a bit more law and have quite a few more exams under their belts. My Evidence class, for example, included members of the Law Review’s editorial board, whom I have been working under all year, plus my 1L Legal Writing TA. And then my Wills & Estates classmates include the TA who taught my little 1L study group how to take law school exams in our very first semester. It’s a little daunting to be in the same curve as your law school mentors.
In any case, I have resolved not to be as overcommitted next year as I was this year. This spring especially has been really, really tough in terms of allotting time to all of my responsibilities appropriately. I’ve already said “No” to a couple of opportunities for involvement next year, and I have to admit, it felt great. Still, I think a lot of what began to wear on me was not the activities themselves, it was all the commuting back and forth between Dallas and Fort Worth. I just kept forgetting that, sure, a given event might only take an hour, but I have to add anywhere between an hour up to two (or more) hours of travel time into my calculations.
4/21/10 - It’s been a difficult period of registration for the fall semester. I feel like I’ve been moved to the night section without being consulted. I’m not registered for any fall classes before 1:30 PM, and three of them don’t start until after 5:00 PM. Making matters worse, the night students get first crack at those classes, so I had to wait a full week after enrollment started for day students before I could get the classes I needed, not knowing in the intervening week if there would even be openings in those classes by the time I could register for them.
It’s weird. I went back through the schedule, and it just seems like all of the morning classes are either 1L lockstep courses, or classes I’ve already taken. There are also a number of practicums and classes that aren’t your “meat and potatoes” heavily bar-tested classes, but I need to load up on the latter for the rest of my career here. It all worked out in the end, but I can’t say I’m happy about my schedule.
My summer schedule is a little weird, too, but I don’t mind that so much. I’m taking two classes. They’re both on Tuesday and Thursday, which means I only have to drive over to school two days a week. That’s great. It also means I’ll have the other days to work, which is also great. The only problem is that one is a morning class and the other is a night class, so I’m going to have to sit around at school for the entire afternoon for those two days. Again, it’s not so bad; I can get my studying done in that time period, but, well they’re just long days.
Over the summer, I’ll be up to my neck in Property. I’m taking Texas Real Property and Marital Property. Then, for the fall, I’ll have Texas Trials and Appeals, Appellate Advocacy, Oil and Gas, and two classes with esoteric names: Payment Systems and Secured Transactions. I gather that Secured Transactions have something to do with banking or stocks or something. I really haven’t the foggiest notion what a “payment system” is. I even recently asked a friend to explain it, but I’m still none the wiser. Hopefully, I’ll know by the time I have to take my finals in the classes.
4/7/10 - Mr. Wesleyan is behind me now. Sadly, my performance did not place me in the top three. That’s alright, though; I’ve got a full year to train and study and come back next year better, faster, and stronger. This year, I went with an acoustic blues piece, next year – well, I’m feeling a hip-hop fever coming on.
The editorial board for the Law Review has begun to hold meetings in preparation for next year. I missed one today, but I had a haircut way over in Dallas, and my bilocation skills aren’t, perhaps, what they should be. I was also caught up with ordering food for the 2010 Teen Court Competition going on at the school this weekend.
My co-chair for the committee and I have been working with the Directors for ten different Teen Court programs, as well as the leadership of the Elliott Inn of Phi Delta Phi, for the past several months to put this thing together. My agita right now is getting the right amount of food at the cheapest possible price for the most possible people. A caterer I am not.
I’m also working for a law firm. I’m not sure if it’s exactly an “internship,” but it’s been working out pretty nicely for me. Basically, I’m just doing some researching and writing for my boss. The great thing is that I can do a lot of the work at home and when I get free time, so it’s been really easy to work around my school schedule. I’m definitely appreciative of the chance to gain some real world experience and learn from a practicing attorney.
I also finished up the class portion of the Mediation Clinic. We spent a couple of weekends going through the 40 hours of required class time. All that’s left is to get twenty hours of observation time in real mediations. The program here has agreements with a number of dispute resolution centers around the Metroplex. Since I live over in Dallas, that’s where I’m signed up to observe. I went to my first mediation last Friday.
3/24/10 - A lot has gone on in the last week or so. It was Spring Break, but I can assure you, that didn’t slow me down at all. The weekend before Spring Break was the Representation in Mediation competition. Sixteen teams competed and Texas Wesleyan’s teams both made it into the top three. My partner and I were the number three team. Our other team ended up winning the regionals. They’re preparing now to go to nationals. Of course, I regret that my partner and I are not going, but number three out of sixteen is pretty good, and at least our school will be represented in the national competition.
Texas Wesleyan has been very successful all year long in the competition arena. We’ve done well in Negotiation, Mediation, Client Interview, and I just found out today that we won the National Moot Court competition. That’s a really big deal. I think it speaks to the quality of the practical skills training that we’re getting at Texas Wesleyan. I’m just really proud of my classmates and my school.
The icing on the cake was our hosting of the National Conference of Law Reviews last week. I worked at check-in on Wednesday. It was kinda fun to sit back there and hang-out with old friends while making new ones both from here and all over the country. The next day at the gym, I looked up and saw that the news was showing footage from the conference. We just keep getting more and more recognition.
This coming Friday is the Mr. Wesleyan pageant. I was in my study earlier practicing for the talent portion of the contest. I’m planning on doing an acoustic cover of Danzig’s “Killer Wolf.” Here’s the problem – I don’t really play guitar, and I have all of four months of vocal training and not even in blues technique. But, hey, it’s for a good cause and what I lack in talent I’ll make up for in enthusiasm. Despite this show of bravado, though, I’m actually pretty nervous.
3/10/10 - The last couple of weeks have been a maelstrom of activity. I have been at the school every day, pretty much all day. I actually went to the university’s main campus library to work yesterday afternoon, just to be out of the law school.
I’m actually writing this the day after it was due. After I got out of class yesterday, I went to lunch and then over to the main campus, worked on my project for my internship, and raced back to the law school to meet my partner at 3:30 for mediation practice. After we sat there for about fifteen minutes, it suddenly struck me that I had a blog entry due, and that I wouldn’t be done with practice until long after the deadline.
I cursed quietly to myself, and my head sank into my hands; my teammate looked a little concerned. Maybe it was my imagination, but I think she was eyeing the door to see if she could make her escape if I flipped out. I excused myself for a few minutes and ran down to the Admissions Office to let the ladies know that I was not going to have this to them on time, calmed myself down, and resumed practice.
In addition to all of the excitement at school and in my professional life, there is also news in my home life. My girlfriend of ten years and I finally got engaged. I know, you don’t want me to rush into anything. We were just going to wait to get married until after I was out of law school. That’s still more than a year away, but I figured it was time to get moving in that direction.
When Stacie met me, I was rudderless and depressed. Every positive step I’ve taken in my adult life has come after meeting her. I got serious about school, moved back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, quit smoking (more than five years ago), and simply have reinvented my life. Nothing about law school makes me happier than seeing how proud she is of me. I love her more than anything, and I’m so proud to be able to call her my fiancée.
2/24/10 - I wrote back in January that I had decided to abandon my attempt to get overtime hours. I am suddenly very glad I did. The first part of my semester has been pretty easy, almost lazy, but that’s all changing.
I’ve found that every semester in law school has some crisis point – a knot that, once you get past it, marks the most stress you’ll feel until you start over next semester. After you get past it, everything loosens up, and you can relax a little. This semester, that crisis point is fast approaching.
First, there’s the mediation competition. Last weekend, we began to meet to practice for the competition. The competition itself is on the weekend of March 12. I’m devoting anywhere from two to four or five hours (if you include drive time) several times a week to practicing, studying old competition tapes, or writing and researching for the competition.
Then there’s Law Review. We just got our cite check corrections back, and we have to go through and make those corrections and return them in three days. Additionally, we got back our second draft of our student articles, and we have to submit the final draft for that by Friday, March 5th.
Also, as part of my mediation studies, I’m taking Mediation Clinic, which will consume the entirety of next weekend, as well as another weekend later in the month. On the first day of Mediation Clinic, I also have to figure a way to work clean-up detail for the Phi Delta Phi initiations. I haven’t figured out how to be in two places at once, so I’m going to have to negotiate some slack from somebody.
There’s so much more. I’m doing my first piece of paid legal writing starting this Friday by writing a brief for a lawyer and prospective employer. I’m going to compete in the Mr. Wesleyan Competition, and the week of Spring Break will be devoted to the national Law Review conference we’re hosting. I’ve got to get a haircut; I’ve got opera tickets tomorrow night, and my girlfriend and I are celebrating ten years together next Monday night.
2/10/10 - Most of my first year of law school, I took the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) from Dallas to Fort Worth and then just walked a few blocks to get to the school. My first semester, I took the light-rail to downtown Dallas and then got on the TRE and took that all the way to Fort Worth. By the start of last fall, I simply could not continue to spend four hours a day taking that route, so I started just driving to Irving and taking the TRE from there.
Well, I slacked off even more towards the middle of last semester and started driving all the way to school. I just found that I had to come and go from the school at hours that did not match up well with the train schedule; or I was in a hurry, or needed to do something else in Fort Worth or Arlington before going home. I was, however, prepared to get back on track and start taking the train from Irving this semester.
To get our yearly passes, we students make our way to Student Services, pay up and get a new sticker attached to the pass. Lo, and behold, the cost of the train passes had almost tripled from last year. My mouth hung agape. I’m well aware that everything becomes more expensive over time, but a 300% increase is rather more than the cost of inflation. I had to regretfully conclude that I was officially priced out of the market.
It just doesn’t make financial sense for me to take the train anymore. I have a Toyota Echo. I get great gas mileage in my little roller-skate of a car. Sure, it’s still cheaper to take the train over the course of the year; the problem is, you don’t have a year to spread out the cost of the pass like you do with gas. You have to pay for the whole year up front. It’s simply too large a portion of my student loan disbursement. Had I known about the increase, I could have budgeted some money from the previous semester. But I didn’t, so, if you see me on I-30, wave.
1/27/10 - The biggest piece of news over the last couple of weeks has been Law Review. We had to turn in the second draft of our student papers last Friday, so it was a pretty stressful week for a lot of us. I actually finished up and emailed mine to my editor on Thursday night, so on Friday I got to gloat to myself over my stressed out friends who were still trying to get their minimum article length. Of course, their papers may be better than mine; I dunno. Those of us interested in an editorial position for next year also had to turn in our applications and sign up for an interview time. And we’re all trying to get back into the swing of getting our cite check assignments done again.
I also had to get a writing sample together over the past weekend so I was going over my 1L memo assignments looking for a good piece. You know, I thought Prof. Simon was really hard on us when I was getting these papers back a year ago, but now I look at them and marvel at how much slack he cut us. It’s hard to tell when it was that the switch clicked on for me. It probably has a lot to do with all the legal research I’ve had to do for Law Review. But I just look back at those papers and go, “Ugh, you call that a legal argument?”
I had to do some pretty heavy revision to get something together. Even now, I can’t say I’m crazy about the result. It’s just weird that what once looked to me like a solid chain of reasoning now seems Swiss-cheesed with unanswered questions and leaps of logic. It probably wouldn’t hurt me to pick a legal issue and brief it over the course of a weekend to have a better sample in the future.
1/13/10 - I was on the horns of a dilemma. I had already registered for fifteen hours of classes – Evidence, Wills and Estates, Law Review, Business Associations, and Consumer Law. The problem was that I really need to take Mediation Clinic this semester. I’m on the school’s competitive mediation team, and I need to get that training. Adding Mediation Clinic to the list was going to put me one hour over the full time limit, and you can’t do that without Dean Short’s approval.
I didn’t want to give up the classes I already had, and asking for the extra hour didn’t seem like a big deal. The clinic is all done in just two weekends, and it’s only one measly hour over the limit anyway. Imagine my surprise when I went in to make an appointment and was told not to bother, that Dean Short’s answer would be “no.”
Now, I wouldn’t make much of a lawyer if I were as easily put off as that, though, so I asked to go ahead and make the appointment – two o’clock Wednesday. Off I went to Wills and Estates. I didn’t hear much that Professor Alton said because I was turning the conversation in the Dean’s office over and over in my head. Space forbids a full recounting of the inner dialogue I had with myself about the amount of time I would waste waiting around for the meeting, the likelihood of success, and the justness of my cause. But finally, both of the voices in my head shouted, “Wait! What are we doing?!”
It occurred to me that I had taken summer classes and made sure to stay as close to the limit of full time hours as possible each semester so that I could take it a little easier if the need arose. Well, here was the need, and I was fighting to make things harder on myself. The solution was simple, drop Consumer Law. That kinda hurt because I had signed up for that one just because I’m interested in the topic, but the other classes were all more important. I emailed the Dean’s office Tuesday night to cancel the appointment.
The lesson I took from all this? The things you’re most willing to dig in your heels about may be just the things you should let go of most readily.
12/16/09 - During the winter break of my 1L year, I got to just sit around and rest up. Not so this winter break. Finals ended a week ago, but I just today turned in my last project for my Negotiation class. Also, there’s a Law Review project out there that I may be involved in. I’ll also have to do the bulk of the writing of my Law Review note over the break. In short, it’s not the “rest up and get ready for a fresh start” that the 1L break was.
I also need to get my resume and writing sample up to snuff and start circulating it in hopes of finding an internship for this coming summer. Oh, by the way, did I mention we also bought a house during the semester? I do not recommend trying to move a month before finals start. So, I’ve got some painting and trimming and whatnot to accomplish over the break that I didn’t have time to do when we moved in.
My relationship with my girlfriend actually has taken a hit over the past few months, as well. We’ve been together ten years, but this semester was really hard on our relationship. I don’t think I realized how hard until last Thursday night when we had a pretty soul-searching talk. There were a couple of weekends where I didn’t see her at all – and we live together.
Still, all is not lost. We’ll be heading to Colorado to visit my folks for a few days at Christmas. I’m working some hours at my long-time, but off-and-on, employer and have a few social events planned for myself. Mostly, I just want to spend time with my girlfriend and my cat and get some writing done.
I just sincerely cannot express how happy I am that the semester is over. Hopefully, the spring will be a little easier.
12/2/09 - I survived the Arbitration competition, although it was every bit the hard work, long hours, and – at times – high stress affair I expected it to be. It was not without benefits, though. I really enjoyed getting to know some of my fellow student volunteers better, and I ended Sunday with a nice chat with a couple of our professors.
The strangest moment for me happened during sign in. My gaze traveled down the line of strangers’ faces, and then settled on one I recognized. It turned out that a member of one of the traveling teams was a fellow alum from UT Dallas. I had spent a weekend with him at Drake University School of Law in Des Moines competing on UTD’s Mediation team in 2006. We didn’t really get a chance to catch up much because I was being pulled in too many different directions. The legal community can really be a small world.
So now, studying. By the time you read this, I’ll have two finals down and two to go. I think I had written before that I anticipated Constitutional Law to be the steepest hill to climb. Oddly though, when you boil it down, I think there’s less to learn in my four hour per week Con Law class than there is in my two hour per week Agency and Partnership class. Con Law is very iterative. The same tests pop up in different areas of the law, so you really only have to learn a couple of tests and then tweak them for the different areas to have a handle on nearly half of the material from the semester (the rest is separation of powers stuff – which is, I grant you, more complex). You’ve got strict scrutiny and rational basis, and (for gender discrimination) intermediate scrutiny. Once you learn which sorts of government or private actions are subject to what standard of review, the rest is just getting familiar with the way the tests have been applied to different sorts of fact situations. That’s not so bad.
11/18/09 -We’re all in wind-down mode now. Classes are officially over next Tuesday, but many of us actually have our last class this week. Some of us are even done with new material and only have review sessions to attend in most classes. I have one more big hurdle to get over before I can settle in to really begin studying for finals – the ABA Regional Arbitration Competition.
I’m not a competitor. I, along with a professor and a fellow student, am organizing the competition. It’ll be going on at the law school throughout this weekend, and it has been an endless source of agita for me. When I should be outlining, I’m answering emails, fielding telephone calls, or collecting supplies. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about it. Luckily, so far, I’ve only dreamed about it once, and the dream wasn’t a nightmare. Even worse, my girlfriend’s birthday is Saturday, and I’ll be at the school all day. She took it pretty well, bless her, but I feel really terrible about not being able to spend the day with her.
Still, I’m looking forward to meeting people from the other law schools, and it’s rewarding just to be able to contribute to the school and to the ABA. In terms of study time over the weekend, I figure that once all the teams are in the rooms and the competition starts, all of the volunteers should be able to study for two or three hours until the round is over.
So that will go on through Sunday evening, and then, when the sun rises on Monday morning, the enormous weight I’ve been carrying around will be lifted, and I’ll be out of the blocks on the race to finals. The biggest monster for studying is going to be Constitutional Law. My outline is already fifty pages for that class. Comparatively, my next longest outline is twenty-five pages. All of my outlines are liable to grow over the next couple of weeks, but that gives you an idea of the amount of additional material in Con Law. But, in the immortal words of Sir Lancelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Ask me your questions, Bridgekeeper, I am not afraid.”
11/11/09 - I off-handedly mentioned that I was skipping my Negotiation class to fly to New Orleans last time, but I realized I had not really talked about that class at all. I’m actually in two negotiation-related classes – Negotiation and Advanced Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The Advanced ADR class is really practice time for the competitive Negotiation, Mediation, and Arbitration teams, although we also have a separate textbook. To get into Advanced ADR you must have been chosen to compete based on the negotiation tryouts from the previous spring. We ADR’ers also have to take the Negotiation class.
A great deal of the time in Negotiation is spent in mock negotiations with our classmates. Each week, we receive one or two sets of facts to review for the next week’s class. The fact patterns have three parts – first, a set of common facts known to both parties, and then, a set of separate secret facts for each side of the negotiation. These secret facts will tell you what your party’s hidden motivations are and suggest limits to what your party will agree to.
A lot of what we try to do in these exercises is figure out what the other side’s secret facts are. You can do a great deal of that just by making inferences from your own facts. For the most part, these stock fact patterns are written so that there is the possibility of reaching an agreement. However, these agreements can be harder or easier to reach depending on the specific scenario. In some of the scenarios, reaching the agreement is not necessarily the point of the exercise. And each of the exercises is designed to explore one or more particular areas of negotiation, such as “deceit,” “concession patterns,” “estimating your bargaining zone,” “decision trees,” amongst many others.
It’s interesting that, for as much as lawyers are called upon to negotiate, very few of them have actually had any training in its techniques. I’ve mentioned to several lawyer friends that I am taking the class, and they all have groaned, “Oh, I wish I had taken that in law school!” So, I feel fortunate to be doing so.
10/28/09 - I flew to New Orleans for a wedding last Friday. You know how it is to get on a plane. There’s a lot of stopping and starting, waiting, backing up, and so on. The worst part, of course, is the Coach passenger’s walk of shame through First Class. Invariably, we plebeians are stopped long enough in First Class – waiting for our fellow victims of class warfare to take their seats – to admire the reclining leather chairs and fantasize about the fluffy pillows and downy-soft blankets in which the privileged enswathe themselves for their flight; and to know that our destiny lies elsewhere, beyond the protective bulkhead, where toils a noisome rabble condemned to cramped and stiff seats and coarse blankets.
It was, I say, during my preparation to plunge into the ranks of the damned that I beheld an apparition. It was no Virgil before my eyes, nor fair Beatrice. Instead, there, reclining in the regal splendor of First Class, reposed Frederick White, Dean of the Texas Wesleyan School of Law and Professor of Law. Sure that this could not be, I looked away, but when my eyes focused again, I was sure this was no wraith, but a man of flesh and blood. “Dean White?” quoth I.
He returned my greeting. I flatter myself that recognition even flashed upon his face. I confessed to him that I was only able to make this flight because I was skipping my negotiation class. I entreated him to not tell anyone at the school. “I never saw anybody,” he assured me.
With that, the line began moving again, and I passed the bulkhead Acheron, and the walls of Dis closed around me.
10/14/09 - Let’s pick up where we left off – checking citations. The Bluebook is divided up into nearly forty sections. Each section gives rules for a different kind of source. If you’ll remember, we were checking the citations for Marbury v. Madison, so we want the section on citing cases – “R10,” in case you’re wondering. Then we just compare the format of the citation in the Bluebook with the citation in the footnote. If they match, we’re golden; if not, we’ve got to make the correction. We also have to watch for variations like using short forms of the citation for subsequent cites. It is very detail-oriented work.
For each individual footnote, we have to complete a separate work sheet. We have to include the citation the way it originally appeared in the article, then the corrected version if there was an error in it. But we’re still not done. Next, we have to make sure that the source actually says what the author of the footnote claims it does. That’s not always easy. We may very well understand where in the text the author is getting her proposition, but it may not be said in so many words. Sometimes, we may find the proposition on a different page than the author cited, or pieces of it may be scattered throughout the source. Every once in a great while, the proposition is just flat-out not in the source at all. We’ve got to decipher all of these oddities and make comments that our AE’s can follow.
Finally, we’ve got to make copies of the source and mark it up. Still using our Marbury v. Madison example, we print out the first page of the case as well as any pages that the author cites. On each of those pages, we have to indicate the place in the text that the author is citing, either by underlining, or bracketing, or something similar, and write the corresponding footnote number out to the side. After we’ve done all that, we scan it all in as a PDF file and email it to our AE, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.
10/1/09 - Last time I promised you an explanation of Cite Checks, so here it is. I suppose anyone who has been to college has a general idea of what a “cite” – that is, a “citation” – is. A citation is simply a reference in an article to another source where the author got a particular piece of information. Anything can be cited, from books and journals to personal interviews or even films or music. Whenever you cite a source in a paper, you need to acknowledge that source. In Law Review Journals, you make that acknowledgment in a footnote.
The cite check process starts when we Law Review Candidates (2L students who are new on Law Review are called “Candidates;” I don’t know why) get a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet contains every citation within the article divided up by due date and then by source. So, I turn to the first assignment and find that I’ve been assigned, let’s say, Marbury vs. Madison. Next to the case name will be a little list of all the footnotes containing that citation. As I learned the hard way, not necessarily every cite for your case may be assigned to you. Sometimes, someone else may be working on the same source, but in a different range of footnotes. For tedious reasons I won’t test your patience by trying to explain, but that can affect the format for your own citations.
In any case, my first job is to whip out all the rulebooks of legal writing. At Texas Wesleyan Law, we use the Bluebook, and the Greenbook (in case you’re wondering, yes, the books are actually blue and green, respectively), and finally a smallish list of rules specific to our school’s journal called “Local Rules.” The Greenbook is used for rules to cite Texas materials, but the Bluebook is the big daddy of them all that we use to find rules for everything else. In these two books are the rules for how a citation for any conceivable source should look – everything from type-faces to what sort of information must be included. We first met these formats as 1Ls in our Legal Writing classes, but the sheer variety of possible sources and their quirks can still be a little dizzying at times.
But now I’ve left you with another cliffhanger, “How will our hero use these amazing tools to save himself from the treacherous citations that confront him? Tune in next time to find out!”
9/16/09 - As 1Ls, we are all told we want to be on Law Review. It’s supposed to be a big deal academically and a source of prestige. Yet, I think a lot of us – or at the very least, I can speak for myself – don’t really have a clear idea of what being on the Law Review actually means: Like, ok but what do I do? There are actually several moving parts to the Texas Wesleyan Law Review. I presume, without having any evidence for that presumption, that other schools’ law reviews work pretty much the same way.
As a 2L, we are divided up into small groups, each of which are assigned an article. Each group will proofread an article under the supervision of an “Articles Editor” (AE, for short). The Articles Editor goes through the article and divides the text and the footnotes up into more or less coherent chunks which he or she (my AE is a she) then assigns to the group members.
When we first get the article, we do what’s called a “Technical Edit” (TE, for short). We each get a few pages of the text and are responsible for looking for two things. First, we have to go over our pages for mechanical errors – spelling, punctuation, grammar, even making sure that quotations conform to the source material. That’s pretty easy, but the second part can be more difficult. The second part is reading for stylistic problems. Sometimes that is pretty clear cut, but other times, it really is a matter of preference. I might think that breaking up some compound-complex sentence into one simple sentence and one complex sentence would be better; but someone else may argue that breaks up the logical flow.
Ultimately, the Editorial Board makes those sorts of determinations. Really, both parts of the TE are one thing. Choices in grammar and punctuation often blur the line between rule and style. My job is just to catch definite mechanical errors and then point out places where I think a re-write would help, and make a suggestion or two as to what might work better.
After we finish with that, we start the Cite Check process. I’ll tell you about that next time.
9/2/09 –The textbook for my Constitutional Law class was listed on the syllabus as Constitutional Law, 3d Edition, by one Erwin Chemerinsky. So, I ambled into the bookstore and found a giant stack of big red books entitled Constitutional Law.
I dragged my weighty purchase home and read the first assignment, pages 1-34, but was left with a sense of unease. Page 34 wasn’t a logical place for the assignment to end. I consulted the name of the author on my textbook. I compared it to the syllabus. I checked again. The authors were not the same.
So, I arrived at school early on the first day and went back to the bookstore. I found that I had indeed bought the wrong book. No matter, I thought, I’ve got plenty of time to read the 34 pages before class. I compared the author, title, and edition. Check.
I went to the library and again read pages 1-34. One thing still puzzled me – there were no cases in the book, it was all just explanations of the law. Putting my worries out of my mind, I headed to class. I walked in and saw that everybody had a big red book on the table before them.
As it turned out, I had bought the supplement, not the actual textbook. The textbook had, indeed been a big red book, just a different big red book than the last one I bought. So, I sat down, comforting myself that I had at least not highlighted in the supplement. I would just return it after class and get the right book. But then, of course:
“Mr. Blakeley,” called out the professor, “will you tell us about Marbury vs. Madison?”
Aw, you’ve got to be kidding me.
I tried gamely to talk about the case based on the references to it in the supplement and my hazy recollection of it from an undergrad Constitutional Law class, but I had to eventually break down and confess I did not have the book.
After class, I went back to the bookstore, swapped out books and read, yet again, pages 1-34. I hope to never have to do so again.
8/26/09 – I came up to the school last Friday, and I was surprised to see that the parking lot was full. I ended up in the elevator with another student. I asked him, “What’s going on here today?”
“1L Orientation,” he said.
Oh, yeah, I had forgotten. “Are you a 1L?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s all a little overwhelming.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “One thing I learned was that the school’s pretty good about telling you what you need to know by the time you need to know it.”
He seemed at least mildly relieved to hear that. I smiled to myself as I walked out to the parking lot. Just a year ago, I was the flustered 1L who had been glad to get an encouraging word from a student ahead of me. Paying it forward, don’t you know.
It’s easy to start your second year with at least a little swagger in your step. You made it. You survived the 1L year – not everybody does. You know how the classes are formatted; you know the campus, the staff, and you’ve had an opportunity to make friends out of the strangers you started off with a year ago. If you’ve taken some summer classes, you’ve even already moved out of your lockstep classes into upper level material. You start to see how those first year fundamentals play out in particular areas of law.
Nevertheless, the 2L year offers a new set of challenges. Personally, I’m trying to learn my way around Law Review, and soon, Alternative Dispute Resolution. I’m on the Board for P.L.A.Y. (Presenting Law Activities to Youth), and continuing to serve as a Student Ambassador and writing this blog.
Take all that and add Constitutional Law, Agency & Partnership, and Criminal Procedure, and it looks like I’ve got a pretty full semester ahead of me. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about all this stuff and who knows what else.
The confidence of the 2L can be dangerous, though. When we pick up next time, I’ll start with the disaster that was my first day of Constitutional Law.
5/20/09 - This will be the last entry that my fellow bloggers and I will be turning in for the year. It is a marvel how quickly the year has flown by. Upper level students have been telling me that the hardest part of law school is now over with. That may be, but I fear the temptation to relax and congratulate myself on a job well done.
A lot of we lawyers-to-be are Type-A personalities. It’s often difficult to tell ourselves to relax a little. If I sit on the couch and watch a movie, I feel like I’ve wasted an opportunity to advance myself in some way. It might be professionally, it might be spiritually, it might be as simple as cleaning the cat box. But that time is gone, and the opportunities latent within it are gone or have been deferred.
In my summer class on Monday night, someone mentioned that usually summer classes start after a week off. I found myself glad that we had started right back up. I would have sat around the whole week feeling restless. Sure, I’ve got projects and chores around the house, but I want to stay in motion in school.
In law school, you’ll win some and you’ll lose some. But as long as you keep your head down and keep working, heedless of success or failure, it will be over with all too soon.
5/14/09 - I have an incredible feeling of accomplishment for making it through the 1L year. All of my friends have already been asking me how I did on my finals. The weird thing is, it’s really hard to know. I’m sure I answered the questions pretty well - but, did I answer them better than my classmates? That’s hard to say. And it really matters. We are, after all, graded on a bell curve.
It seems that a couple of our professors took us a little farther afield than they did the first semester. On at least two of my tests, I found myself saying, “Wait a minute, did we cover this situation in class?” For a moment there’s panic. During one test, I actually sat there for about five minutes, my mouth agape, before I could begin working on a particular portion of the essay. But, then, suddenly, the proper approach to the problem came to me in a flash. The only question is, did I analyze it correctly? Or did I go in entirely the wrong direction? I won’t know until we get our grades back.
I hardly have time to even think about it because I start my summer classes on Monday, and I must be looking forward rather than looking back.
4/29/09 - Last Friday, I took part in the Alternative Dispute Resolution intramural competition. As an undergrad, I competed on UTD’s mediation team, but this was a negotiation competition. Although the dynamics between the parties were different, the idea was basically the same. You are given a negotiation problem to mull over for a week or so, and then, on the day of the competition, they assign you a side in the dispute and hand you a set of secret facts that the other side doesn’t know. These facts reveal a secret weakness in your case, or maybe what your party really wants versus what it is willing to accept.
In mediation in undergrad, the competition takes the form of three teams of two competitors each – one team mediates and the other two teams take the place of one party or the other, with one member playing counsel and the other playing client. In the negotiation, though, there’s no mediating party and no client. You and your opponent just sit down and have at it.
It was actually a lot of fun. I thought that my opponent and I put on a good show – and I think there is an element of showmanship to it. One of the judges said that she thought it was the most realistic negotiation she had seen all evening. Sadly, that apparently wasn’t enough to win (in this context, winning being defined as being selected for a spot on one of the traveling teams for next year). That’s OK, it was a great experience and, hey, I’ll just try again next year.
4/22/09 - One of the requirements for graduation is 30 hours of pro bono work. I began accumulating my hours this last weekend at Cook Children’s Hospital on Friday and at Teen Court in Crowley on Saturday. I really had a great time doing it.
At the hospital, we set up a little mock trial exercise for some of the kids. The fact situation in dispute was the Goldilocks story. The kids kept us laughing the whole time.
Teen Court is somewhat a more serious business. If you aren’t familiar with it, Teen Court is an alternative to criminal sentencing that juveniles can take part in when they plead guilty to misdemeanors. The Teen Court penalties usually involve community service hours, serving on a Teen Court jury and perhaps participating in counseling or whatnot. The sentence is decided by a jury of teens, and the case is argued by teen advocates.
We got to spend Saturday working with those advocates on preparing for a case they had coming up. Both of the kids were smart and motivated, and it was really gratifying to get to pass on some of what I’ve learned this year to teenagers who may follow behind me. So, I had to sacrifice some study hours on Saturday, but it was more than a fair exchange.
When I started school, I was worried that the pro bono requirement would just be a distraction from my studies. What I found is that it is really another opportunity for me to learn.
4/15/09 - The Texas Wesleyan Law community offers many opportunities to become involved outside of the classroom. So far, I haven’t taken advantage of very many of them. So far, I write this blog, I am a student ambassador and a recent inductee into Phi Delta Phi. That’s it. I know that I have a tendency to over-commit myself, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t make obligations to organizations that I could not fulfill. Nor did I want to find that my grades suffered because I was running from meeting to meeting. So, I’ve just kept my head down and focused on my coursework.
I’m sure this reticence has hurt me in some ways. For example, I have not applied for any summer internships. As a consequence, a number of my classmates have positions to work in law firms this summer, while I do not. It has also caused me to miss opportunities to network and grow closer to more of my classmates and to the legal community outside the four walls of the law school.
Still, I don’t think I chose poorly in being cautious. One has to know one’s self. But, I think I’m ready now to begin taking on these extra obligations. With finals only a couple of weeks away, carving out time to do pro bono work or to try out for mock trial or ADR teams seems a little daunting, but I’m finally resolved and ready to make those extra efforts.
4/8/09 - We had our final major writing assignment - not only for the semester, but for the year - due last week, and it absorbed every waking hour I was not in class for the past couple of weeks. Of course, as soon as I turned it in, I noticed four errors. I have been having mild anxiety attacks ever since, contemplating how these mistakes will damage my grade. Helpful friends and loved ones have tried to cheer me up by telling me that it’s no good worrying about it now. That doesn’t help very much.
So, I tried to reward myself with a relaxing weekend, and except for the periodic knots in my stomach whenever the paper would occur to me, I did take it pretty easy. I made it out to Dallas Blooms at the Arboretum on Friday, went to Scarborough Faire on Saturday and had a couple of dinners out with friends. The only school work I did was my readings for Monday.
So, now begins the final push. We have two more weeks of classes and then finals. We have to do an “oral argument” based on our writing assignment in our legal writing class this week. I will be the first one to go since my last name is at the top of the alphabet. Other than that, it’s just time to wind down the semester and hit my outlines to prepare for the finals.
4/1/09 - I realized yesterday that I have not really written at all about our academic support group. Before I do so, I need to back up a bit. There are two sections in our class - I am in section 1. The whole section has all of our big, doctrinal classes together. That section is further subdivided into Legal Writing sections of about 20 people. Our academic support group is the same as our legal writing group.
The idea is to have a 2L or 3L student who can serve as a sort of mentor for the 1Ls. My group meets directly after our legal writing class on Tuesdays. Particularly at the beginning of the fall semester, I found these meetings profoundly helpful in becoming oriented with the expectations of law school. Over the course of the fall semester, we covered outlining, study habits, and how to format exam answers. This spring, we have spent more time on multiple choice question strategies. Academic support has even been helpful in terms of schedule planning for next year, when we started making decisions about the classes we will take.
Academic support is not without its frustrations, to be sure. For one thing, it gets really hard to make it to the sessions in the last couple of stressful weeks before turning in a writing assignment. Some of my classmates pretty much blow it off entirely. But for me, sacrificing the time has been worthwhile in the end.
3/25/09 - I was looking over old journal entries and noticed that I had resolved to do a better job of keeping up with my outlining. I have actually done that. I think all of my outlines are caught up through spring break. Unfortunately, I have noticed that doesn’t mean I’ve learned the material.
Law school is sort of like going to a cafeteria. You get your little tray and just go down the line and fill it up – some almond fish, some green beans, a nice dinner roll, maybe a slice of chocolate pie. Taking notes is just the filling up your tray part. You’re going to have to go back periodically and get another tray. If you don’t sit down and eat what’s on each tray when you get it, you’re in trouble. The trays just stack up until you can’t possibly eat all of it at one sitting, and its cold, and you’re not even sure what some of it is anymore.
But eating the food isn’t the end of the job. You have to actually digest what you’ve eaten. What I’m finding is that outlining is not the digestion part. Au contraire, to outline is only to chew and swallow what’s on your plate. With food, it is in the stomach that the real work begins. The food must be broken down and turned into something your body can use. Similarly, you have to internalize what is in the outline and break it down before it becomes something your mind can use to sustain your life as a 1L.
3/11/09 - Just to prove we can find the law rearing its ugly head in all sorts of contexts, I noticed a contracts problem in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” last night. One planet (Planet A) was supposed to deliver medicine to another planet (Planet B), but would not do so, claiming that they hadn’t been paid. Now Planet B claimed they had paid for it. I was puzzled that Captain Picard didn’t seem to think making a factual determination on that issue was important, but that was probably because he was only mediating. He couldn’t actually tell them what to do, what with the Prime Directive and all.
Anyway, as we are watching this drama unfold, I turned to my girlfriend and observed that this dispute would be easy to resolve under the common law. Whether or not the Planet B had performed its half of the contract by paying for the medicine, Planet A was not excused from performing its half of the contract by supplying the medicine. However, if the Uniform Commercial Code has force of law in Starfleet, then Planet A would not be expected to provide it unless Planet B was ready to cough up the cash or goods or however they paid.
I observed, in closing, that judging by all the contract case law I’ve read, a judge would probably figure out some loophole to get Planet B its medicine no matter what the UCC said.
My girlfriend just rolled her eyes.
3/4/09 - Sometimes, I find myself surprised to learn that my classmates and I seem to have actually absorbed some of the information that is being poured into our heads. This is especially true in Property. That class is pretty esoteric in a lot of ways. It’s not as nuanced as, say contracts, and is more rooted in the physical world than the rules we learn in civil procedure, but the terminology is very specialized, and it has a lot of “moving parts.”
The last half of our first semester was especially challenging – estates in land and future interests, it’s called. One meets all manner of odd folks – O and A, and B, and all their alphabetical kin – who seem to never tire of “conveying” (that’s selling or giving) two imaginary properties, Blackacre and Whiteacre, to each other in a dizzying variety of combinations, such as “O conveys Blackacre to A for life, then to B for life, then to C if he has reached the age of 21, otherwise to D and his heirs.”
Understanding the origins of the doctrines often requires detours into the history of feudal England where you transferred property by handing over clods of dirt in a ceremony called “livery of seisen.” From these humble origins arose a system of “fee simple absolute,” “life estate,” “fee simple subject to condition subsequent,” “contingent remainder,” and a handful of others.
When we began studying this material, I bet I was not the only one who despaired of learning all this nonsense. Yet now, my classmates and I seem to drift easily through these concepts and can synthesize them with this semester’s material of mortgages and deeds, landlords and tenants in a way that is really a little breathtaking. It gives one a little hope that we might all turn out to be lawyers.
2/25/09 - Saturday found me visiting with a couple of friends at their palatial house in the suburbs. Talk turned, as it often does in my life, to my law school career. My buddy’s brother asked me what sort of law I was interested in. My immediate response was, “Whatever kind of law I can find a job in.” But I added that health law was what drew me to law school to begin with.
He responded, “Well, as long as you don’t want to do criminal defense. Otherwise, this conversation would be over.”
“I’m a cop,” he added.
The gist of the conversation that followed was that he disliked that criminals whom he knew were guilty sometimes escaped punishment because the defense attorney was more persuasive than the prosecution. After all, he reasoned, he knows that everyone he arrests is guilty.
While it is probably true that most of the people who are arrested are, in fact, guilty, that’s not always so. Just ask the Wesleyan Innocence Project. In any case, I have no grounds for disputing what he knows or doesn’t know about the people he arrests.
I only reflected later that we don’t offer those accused of crimes access to a lawyer based on whether or not they are good people, but rather because we want to be a just society. Justice requires that we act equitably not to benefit offenders, but because our right to administer justice is predicated on the presumption that we are just.
2/18/09 - Today is memo crunch time. It’s due tomorrow. It’s all anyone is talking about or thinking about. I have hit this memo with more resolve than either of the ones we turned in last semester. I have taken each paragraph, pasted it separately into a different document and then broken up each paragraph into individual sentences. That way I’m only looking at one sentence at a time, just looking for nominalizations, passive voice, convoluted wording and errors in tense shift and punctuation. I don’t usually have many mechanical errors, but I think I’m particularly prone to nominalizations, florid prose and passive voice sentences.
My propensity for these cardinal sins of modern legal writing arises from reading too much nineteenth century literature. I blame the modern master of the overwrought sentence, H.P. Lovecraft, most of all. Law school has only aggravated the problem because law students are fed on a steady diet of legal opinions that all too often are stuffed full of exactly the legalese that our professors are simultaneously trying to beat out of us.
I must admit though, when one does come across a legal opinion of more recent vintage that was obviously written by a judge committed to “plain English” in legal writing, it is a joy to behold. It really is a breath of fresh air and seems alive and vigorous compared to its stodgy companions in the casebook.
2/11/09 - “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” so the saying goes. As we’re learning in criminal law, while that’s not strictly true, most of the time it is correct. From what I’ve culled from class discussions and case book reading, it seems to me that there are two kinds of criminal laws.
First, there are the laws based on the “thou shalt nots” – killing, stealing, raping, etc. These might be characterized as “natural law” or “everybody knows you can’t do that” kind of laws. The second kind of law can be thought of as “administrative law.” Some of these laws are expected to reduce certain kinds of crime – like not allowing guns where alcohol is served. Others may be intended to allow the judicial system to keep an eye on known offenders (such as sex offender registration requirements), or to simply make it easier for the judicial system to administer justice (everything from “failure to appear” citations to perjury or even resisting arrest).
Ignorance seems to be an insufficient excuse for “thou shalt not” laws. Whether we believe such laws were handed down from on high or are the product of evolutionary biology or social stresses, they reflect bedrock values that seem more or less common to all civilizations and legal thinkers from Hammurabi to Blackstone. However, I have to question whether we are wise to exercise a similar intolerance to ignorance of the great welter of administrative laws that sprawl through our cities, coil through our phone lines and have no cognizance of how bewildering is their omnipresence.
2/4/09 - In criminal law this past Monday, I managed to shock at least half of the class with the simple observation that I didn’t necessarily buy into the idea that “a child’s life is inherently more valuable than an adult’s.” I heard an actual collective gasp behind me. One of my classmates rather agitatedly informed me that I was missing the point of the argument. Another told me that I only said that because I hate kids.
To the latter, I merely responded that ad hominem arguments are a logical fallacy. To the former, I pointed out that, as we were talking about the issue of a failure to render aid, the comparative advantages of an adult over a child are irrelevant if they both would have ended up dead under the stipulated facts.
Now, to some extent, I made this comment out of a lamentable character flaw of mine that I rather enjoy saying the shocking thing. Actually, I think I do have a number of quite reasonable arguments why adults' lives are equally, if not more, valuable than children’s lives, but that’s all beside the point.
The point is that even here in law school, I find that people have difficulty seeing outside of their value systems and beyond their emotional attachments. It seems to me that this is a dangerous limitation for a lawyer, and I tend to think that the reason a given opinion is shocking to our sensibilities is not because it is false, but because it could be true.
1/28/09 - In our civil procedure class this semester, we’ve been assigned an extra text, The Power of Procedure: The Litigation of Jones v. Clinton. We had to read the first chapter this week, and I have to say that I am totally fascinated by it. I am just the right age for this book. Roe v. Wade happened the year I was born, so obviously I don’t remember anything about it. At the other end of my life, Bush v. Gore came too far into my jaded adulthood. But Jones v. Clinton was right on the cusp of my growth from adolescence to manhood. It was a scandal involving the first president I was old enough to vote for, and it illustrated for me that being a good leader is not necessarily the same thing as being a good guy.
From a pedagogical perspective, the book lives up to its name in terms of illustrating why procedure matters, and how a lawyer can use it to either win or lose for his client. It also allows the reader to see through the lens of history that decisions which might seem to benefit your client can turn out later to have been terrible miscalculations. In particular, there was an early settlement offer that would have only required Clinton to have made a statement denying any wrong doing on Jones’ part without even incriminating himself or requiring him to pay any money. As Hunter tells it, “the deal fell through.” This settlement might have ultimately prevented the President of the United States from facing impeachment proceedings.
1/21/09 - My optimism and energy from this time last week has soured a little. For some reason, this weekend sorta took the wind out of my sails. I went into the weekend planning on getting all of my outlining from last week done, getting my reading accomplished through the end of this week, and having my online citation practices knocked out a week before the Friday due date. Somehow, I just never got going. It was a little frightening to roll out of the rack after a three-day weekend and realize that all I had gotten accomplished was my readings for my morning class.
The assignment for our next memo will be posted today. Law school has, in a short space of time, totally demolished my attitude toward writing. As an undergrad, I looked forward to writing assignments as an opportunity to express myself, and I looked forward to getting my papers back and basking in the customary litany of praise I received. I simply dread getting my papers back now. I had my final memo back for two weeks before I could even open the cover page (which, by the way, informed me that my margins were .97ths of an inch instead of 1 inch). I’ve tried to maintain a good attitude, but as someone who is unused to such criticism, I’ve really gotten depressed about it. I like to think I’m open to criticism and improvement, but when you look back over your 20-page paper and there is not a single positive comment, it can be pretty traumatic.
1/14/09 - Howdy. A new semester has begun, and I am glad to be back. I’m still shaking off a couple of cobwebs, but slipping back into the textbooks feels easy and natural. There’s a rhythm to studying and going to class. At the end of the semester, my body and mind tried to perpetuate the rhythm, but it’s like running off the edge of a pool; your legs keep moving, but there’s no support. Getting back to class is like finding the ground placed back under your willing feet.
For those who wonder what grades I got ... well, I’m not going to say. Except to say that my grades were better than average, but they were not stellar. I definitely am not disappointed by my grades, but they need to improve to match what I believe I am capable of. This semester, I’m definitely going to make it a point to keep up with my outlines better. I spent several days of my pre-finals week just trying to finish up the outlines. I wasn’t really behind, but I’d like to end this semester with no more than a couple of weeks of notes to boil down.
12/17/08 - The semester is winding down, and we only have one more final to face. It’s hard to say how I have done. Most of our tests had a split between essay and multiple choice questions. I was more nervous about the essay portions, but in practice, I found the multiple choice more difficult. In an essay, if you come to a sticky point, you only have to discuss both sides. If you come across that same point in a multiple choice, you really have to consider the fine shades of distinction and come up with the one decision that is better. The tests are fairly grueling, the four-hour torts exam particularly so, but the feeling of elation once they are done makes it all worthwhile.
Believe it or not, I don’t think that whatever success I’ve had is due only to studying hard. I think most of my classmates and I had the broad outline of the material firmly ingrained in us by the end of the semester. Ideally, studying for finals is really just sort of a refresher, a way to keep the details in sharp relief. For me, this finals period has much more been about rest, nutrition, and recovering from the semester. Since I’ve been off of the train for almost three weeks, my ceaseless sneeze and cough has gone away, and I feel better than I have since September. I think all this other stuff is just as important as the many hours I am spending cramming for the tests.
11/19/08 - I usually try to stick to one theme for each blog entry, but for this one, I just wanted to get out a few observations as the semester winds down:
1) My Legal Writing professor was admonishing us the other day not to use phrases with “be” in it more than once, such as “will be thought to be” or “likely be determined to be.” So, I unsheathed my rapier wit and quipped, “So, two ‘be’s’ is not to be!” A classmate was kind enough to suggest my pun good enough to record for posterity here. Never let it be said that I don’t take good advice.
2) Sometimes, you really want to follow up on cases referenced in notes in your books. How about a college debate team coach who kills one of his students? I’ve got to know why.
3) I’ve noticed an elderly gentleman who rides the train between Dallas and Fort Worth. The best I can tell, he rides that train every day, all day. He seems to simply have nothing else to do. When the train comes to each end of the line, he gets up and perambulates about the train and platform before coming to rest again for his next trip. I was waiting for the train one day, and knew that he was coming up the aisle behind me, because of the steady, patient cadence of his cane striking the floor with every alternate step – I, another Ishmael, listening to the peg-legged rovings of this Ahab over his strange Pequod. I wonder what creature of the deeps haunts his thoughts.
11/12/08 - Law school is stressful. That’s a fact. Much, much more stressful than undergrad, and even more stressful than any job I’ve had – and I’ve been a bill collector, in one form or another, for most of my adult life. When you argue with people about money for a living, you get used to a certain amount of stress. More importantly, you develop techniques and attitudes for alleviating stress. I’m usually not very susceptible to any noticeable effects of stress.
But the stress is definitely getting to me. It has manifested itself in my just being constantly sick. I haven’t been really sick in the previous two years, but I’ve been sick most of this semester. It’s never anything definable – just a sniffle, an intermittent cough, which seems to vary in intensity, but never really goes away. I was pretty ill all of last week, to the point that I stayed home last Monday.
The problem with being sick, beyond the obvious, is that it interferes with your studying. It’s hard to concentrate in class when you’re on antihistamines or your throat screams at you every time you swallow. On the other hand, the demands of school prevent you from getting well. You can’t really just rest and recuperate. So I’ve just stayed in this twilight world between health and sickness. While looking beyond our impending finals is a dangerous distraction, I can’t help hoping that getting to the winter break will give me a chance to truly recover.
11/5/08 – I came into law school expecting many things. I expected a heavy workload, high expectations, and stiff competition. I expected to spend lots of money on books and tuition. What I did not expect is the many ancillary expenses and time drains that I’ve had to address as a 1L. I thought I’d mention just two of them.
First, there are bar review courses. So, in September, just as you’re getting used to the fact that you just spent $700 dollars on books, and god knows how much in tuition, you’re being pressured with the “act now to lock in your rate” bit, to sign up for one or both of the major review courses for the bar test that you’re going to take in three years…if you make it through school. Oh, by the way, doing this is going to set you back a couple of grand.
Then the state wants you to fill out a “Declaration of Intent to Study Law,” so they can stick their collective noses into your business with a background check. So in October, when you should be working on your outline for property, you’re spending your time notifying references, filling out personal history forms, and ordering a copy of your credit report. Oh, by the way, that’ll set you back another couple of hundred bucks.
I am only saying that it seems unreasonable to me to distract 1Ls from their studies for this stuff (today was fingerprinting, by the way) so early in their law school career.
10/29/08 - I’ve been a little reticent to talk much about how I approach studying. Mostly because I don’t know if I’m taking the best approach to it. God forbid that some 1L come up to me a year from now and say, “I tried studying the way you talked about in your blog, and I’m ruined! RUINED!” I can tell you that I’m definitely not studying the hardest. A buddy in my class told me that he studies all weekend, only stopping to take bike rides, and while he’s riding his bike, he’s listening to audio lectures on his headphones. I’m definitely not making such heroic efforts.
I watch the Cowboys each Sunday, have dinner with my girlfriend on Friday, and may even go out Saturday night as well if something special is going on. I study a lot, but I think you can reach a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in. If I study for six or eight hours on a Saturday during the day, I don’t think sacrificing a few hours on Saturday night to shoot pool is going to get me thrown out of law school. I have, however, seriously curtailed my drinking. I have gotten to where I pretty routinely limit myself to a beer with dinner on the weekends, or no more than two if I go out to a bar. I can’t afford to not feel good the next morning. It could be that feeling good is the best test of all for your study habits.
10/22/08 - This should be the last in my three-part, white-knuckle account of my daily schedule. On Monday and Wednesday I have two classes in the afternoon, and on Thursday just one. The school also schedules various speakers around 5 p.m., so sometimes I’ll hang around for that. It depends on how much work I have hanging over my head. But I’m usually back on the train by 4:45 p.m. The afternoon train rides are often a highlight of my day. A handful of my classmates are making the same trip, so we’ll half-heartedly study while chatting. We might even discuss an issue from class or help each other fill in small holes in our notes. It’s really the most socializing I do with my fellow students.
After getting home, I’ve got some study time after dinner. Right now, my schedule is set to alternate late nights with early nights. Last night, I didn’t go to bed until around 11:30 p.m., and I have been known to stay up past midnight a couple of times. But tonight I’ll go to bed around 10 p.m., and I’ve even gone to bed earlier than that. I need about a half-hour to wind down before bed. Usually, that means reading something not school-related - maybe I’ll do a little yoga or just go out onto my patio.
So that’s how my school days go. When we pick up next time, I’ll talk about my actual study strategies, and how I try to hold it all together. Part of holding it all together is knowing when to say “enough is enough,” and this is decidedly enough for one night.
10/15/08 - When we last parted, I was in the middle of telling you about my day, and I left off at my noontime perambulations. But study time and walks are not the only benefits of lunch time at school. Almost every day, there are guest speakers, workshops, academic support groups, student association meetings, and sales pitches scattered around the building. Today, for example, the 1Ls all piled into the auditorium for a panel of our professors talking about the format for their exams and their personal preferences. As you can imagine, that was well-attended.
Recent events have ranged from training in two online resources called Westlaw and LexisNexis, to a workshop in common errors of legal writing, to a presentation by a federal judge. Besides a bunch of nifty information, most of the noontime goings-on have the benefit of including a free lunch. The TA for my academic support group bragged that he once got six straight free lunches in a row, and he challenged us to beat his record. A lot of the time, the dish du jour is pizza. Some people grumble about that, but, frankly, I’ve always eaten lots of pizza, so it doesn’t really hurt my feelings. It is funny though, to see the fliers that go up around school that say: “Such-and-such an event today in room so-and-so. Lunch provided! NOT PIZZA.”
10/8/08 - I got some email recently from a reader of this blog who asked for more “nuts and bolts” entries about law school. I thought I’d devote this particular entry to my daily schedule. Time is the most precious commodity for the law student, and I’m still tweaking my schedule here and there. I’ve tried to remain flexible, and to maximize not only my study time, but also my relaxation time.
I have to take either a bus or the DART light rail from North Dallas to Union Station, and then take the TRE to Ft. Worth. My commute is roughly two hours each way. So I get up between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning to make it to my stop. I usually spend the actual time onboard the mass transit system studying. On a normal day, I end up getting roughly an hour and fifteen minutes of good study time in transit. Earplugs help.
When I get to school, I’ve got a little time before class, so I get a cup of coffee and study in the break room. Depending on the day, my first class starts at 10:00 or 10:30 and adjourns around noon. I try to eat quickly and usually take the rest of the time to review the material for my afternoon classes. If I’m comfortable with all that, I’ll either work on briefing cases for the next day or maybe even go outside and take a walk.
In my next entry, I’ll tell you about the rest of my day.
10/1/08 - Next week is the mid-way point in my first semester of law school. It is frightening how quickly it is flying by. We’re having a practice exam in contracts next week, so I’ve been bending most of my study efforts to trying to do as well as I can on that. Contracts, for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, has also been my hardest class to outline, so I fell back on the table of contents in the textbook to try to make sense of it all. Professor Barnes’ syllabus actually follows the contents of the book, so I was really able to anchor my notes and the procession of the class to the textbook. With that done, the way the pieces fit together became much clearer, or at least seemed to. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.
I’ve talked before about the practice of law being essentially about relationships between people, but now I’m finding that learning the law is also about relationships. But instead of relationships between people, I’m building relationships between doctrines. There is a hierarchy of individual doctrines that must be approached in a certain order. At first, it seems overwhelming to have to learn so many rules, but once you realize where the rules fit – what their relationships are to each other – each rule helps to support the other and make it meaningful in the mental web that we law students are trying to weave.
9/24/08 - We have a whole class devoted to legal reasoning. I did not start law school wholly unfamiliar with the topic. As an undergrad, I took a constitutional law class that the professor, Dr. Champagne, taught more or less in the method of a class in law school. The analysis was not as intense, and the Socratic Method was only used sparingly, but it gave the right feel to the thing. Just knowing how to brief cases from that class was a big leg up in my first few weeks here. In fact, I had been lulled into feeling like I already knew, in a general way, how to “think like a lawyer.”
I’m finding that I was premature in my self-congratulations. In particular, I have realized that I botched my first memo. I failed to get the right rule from one of the cases we had to read. The rules you can see in the cases can be very seductive and keep you from the rule you really need.
The key question that can be easy to overlook when you see rules jumping out of the case at you is: What question is the court trying to answer? Seems like an obvious question, and it is, but answering it can be quite difficult. Worse, it’s such an obvious question that it is easy to blow past on your way to rule hunting.
9/17/08 - Today, Wednesday, as I write this, we are celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. A remarkable document, really. It is, arguably, the fullest flower of the Enlightenment. Coupled with the mind of Chief Justice John Marshall, it laid the groundwork for the singular power of the United States Supreme Court.
The Court has had its hands into everything from slavery to social security payments, from selecting presidents to waste disposal. Studying Supreme Court decisions leaves one with the disconcerting impression that the Constitution can be interpreted to justify whatever policy the Court thinks most expedient at the time. In the issue of slavery, the Constitution was first used to justify slavery, later to condemn it. By its measure, the New Deal was first rejected, later approved.
As a society, I think we like to think of the Constitution the way we learned it in social studies classes in elementary school, as a sheltering blanket which keeps out the cold of lawlessness and protects the disadvantaged from the tyranny of the powerful. Yet, it has been used as an instrument of rapine, too. It has failed many times as a bar to tyranny.
But perhaps its influence is most perfidious when the tyranny it enjoins or permits comes decorated with the tinsel of laudable intentions. We all decry Supreme Court decisions that go against our values as clearly in violation of the Constitution. What we often forget is that decisions that may seem just and good can also erode our freedoms.
9/10/08 - Well, dear friends, the pressure has been turned up a notch since last we met. You see, we were warned not to get too comfortable in our work load in the first couple of weeks of school. Now I know why – Legal Writing. Last Thursday, we were handed the assignment for our first memo. Ask me what mysterious sort of creature a memo might be. Go ahead, ask me.
I’m glad you asked. A memo is pretty much what you think it is. If you’ve been bumping around this earth long enough to have worked in an office, I’m sure you’ve either read or written one, or maybe you’ve at least seen Office Space. In any case, I’m not quite sure why I’m sweating bullets. It’s only five pages. If that seems like a lot to you, well, you might not be cut out for law school – or your run-of-the-mill undergraduate literature course, for that matter.
I think the issue is not really the length of the memo; rather, I think it is the investment of time in preparation. When every minute of every day counts, as often seems to be the case around here, every instinct screams out against spending time just scratching ideas on a piece of paper, or outlining, or any of the other preparatory tasks of the writer. I want to somehow dodge all these time-wasting exercises. I want to just skip straight to writing the final draft.
Alas, it is not to be.
9/3/08 - Sitting down in a class in law school is like entering a labyrinth. Worse, it’s like entering a labyrinth provided with a tour guide who seems, well, slightly mad. You know where the exit is, and you have a pretty good idea of where you started. You even know that your guide has gotten other people from the start to the finish; most of the time though, you can’t – for the life of you – figure out how.
Your tour guide will ask you which direction you want to start out in, and you will, after some deliberation, determine some path to take. Now, the other end of this path may dead-end, or the path may only circle you back to where you started, or lead you right by the exit without an opening. Yet your guide, who knows perfectly well where you are headed, encourages the worst path, as well as the most promising. Your guide might even decide that you’ve made one too many right turns, and you are getting to the exit too quickly, so he’ll just move some of the walls around to slow you down.
Every case provides a labyrinth, and your goal is to get to the rule that governs the case. Your professor knows what the rule is and how to get to it through the case, but he won’t just point you to it. It is only by finding your own way out of a case that you can develop your ability to do it yourself and learn to leave your guide behind.
8/27/08 - Books. The world of law is awash in books. If you stop and think about where you would expect to find a lawyer, you would probably first think of the courtroom. If I asked you where else you would expect to find a lawyer, you might, I hope, expect to find him surrounded by law books. Lawyers seem to like to have pictures taken of themselves against a backdrop of imposing volumes whose gold-leafed spines might bear such inscrutable terms as “Torts” or “Civil Procedure.”
For a 1L, and I suppose all law students, books are not only our constant companions and the first guides in our study of the law, but they can also be an unbelievable burden. My daily commute by public transportation clocks in at just over two hours each way. The idea of bearing all of my books to and fro every day is a back-breaking prospect. I must also consider my liability, should I knock a hapless fellow commuter senseless with an untimely attempt to remove my backpack from my suffering shoulders in the closed confines of a light rail car.
I have been advised that the key to law school is time management. I might retort that it is equally book management. I spend a great deal of time mapping out which books I need on which days, and whether or not any particular volume may be left in my locker or on a shelf at home. Admittedly, it constitutes one more variable I have to track, but the alternative is chiropractic bills that will probably outlast my student loans.
8/20/08 - When word began to spread among my friends that I had been accepted to Texas Wesleyan School of Law, I received an email from one of them. She told me that she had mentioned that fact to a friend of hers who was finishing his last year of law school, whom I had only met briefly, and that he wanted to meet me for a drink. We did in fact meet up and chatted about his law school experience, and I was glad for the advice. I have to admit, though, at the time, I thought the offer was nice but a little odd. Why would someone who barely knows me take time out of his schedule to give me a pep talk about school?
It has only taken two days of law school for me to understand why this almost total stranger reached out to me. The answer is quite simple, really: because he had been there, because he knew how demanding it would be, and because someone extended the same hand to him. I see that same spirit everywhere around me at school. I have been taken aback by the genuine graciousness not only of the staff and faculty, but equally of the 2Ls and 3Ls. I am coming to understand that the study and profession of the law is not only concerned with locating and applying legal rules, but also with fostering relationships between people, including with our brothers and sisters at the Bar.