Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Law School Culture #1

I’ve never actually seen The Paper Chase. After your first year of law school, your friends from your former life will want to see it with you, so you can explain about the time you were stuck in the 1950s and something crazy happened to you. Or something. I told you, I didn’t see it. So if this is redundant, please feel free to skip this post.

Law school is steeped in tradition. It’s generally unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands of years. You don’t show up to class to learn the law: you show up to class to learn how some very smart people came up with the law. Like watching a Grand Master play chess, you’re not trying to memorize the game that he plays; you’re trying to figure out why he moves the way he moves. There are individual principles at work: sacrifice a knight to capture a bishop, sacrifice a bishop to capture a rook, and so on.

sidebar: That’s probably a horrible analogy. I know virtually nothing about chess beyond how the pieces move and that I’m not supposed to yell “king me!” when I get one of my pieces to my opponent’s back row. Let’s just imagine that I’ve written out some profound chess strategy that would make Deep Blue look about as brilliant as a TI-86 with a cracked display.

This methodology of dissecting the law has apparently not changed in thousands, if not millions of years. One of the other big traditions is that professors call students by their last names: Mr. McDonald and Ms. Kim and so on. A precious minority have made the move to a first-name basis with students, but frankly, it’s so much cooler to throw around Mr. and Ms. all the time.

We as students are not immune to the lure of needless formality, either. I greatly enjoy calling acquaintances by their last name, sometimes out of necessity until I know their first name. It’s quaint. Much like my practice of using the word “howdy” to greet people, I find joy in outmoded customs.

Hell, I spent a full year with 120 of these people, and there are many that I still know on a last name basis only; I know her as Ms. Connolly, and nothing else. Somehow, I think it would be less odd to just know your fellow students by face only, and not have to ask in November, “Mr. Singer, what’s your first name again?” At least when Mr. Singer is 22 and punctuates the majority of his sentences with “bro.”

One exception to this unspoken rule seems appropriate to mention. The most brilliant student in my class is one Ms. Gatsby. My friends and I are certain that she is destined for such greatness that in private conversations, we refer to her as Justice Gatsby. I notified her of her nomination and subsequent confirmation, and she was greatly pleased, humble though she is. More on her later, I’m certain, as she has figured in precisely one of my law school tales to date.

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Web Two Point Bro

I am not a lawyer. You know, yet. Therefore, I’m not allowed to give out legal advice. So this isn’t what you’d call legal advice: don’t put incriminating photos on the internet. That’s just advice from someone who’s not a gigantic idiot.

There are some really dumbfounding stories in that AP article. Boy crashes car while drunk, injuring woman. Woman lies in hospital. Boy goes to halloween party dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Boy gets photographed and put on Facebook. Prosecutor searches Facebook. Prosecutor uses incriminating photos to put boy in prison for two years.

sidebar: I recall a number of stories a few years back with college kids caught drinking in their dorm rooms because they posted pictures of themselves drinking in their dorm rooms on MySpace or Facebook or whichever. That’s stupid in and of itself. They cried foul because, like, bro, no grown-ups allowed.

But these kids have already committed a crime, and they’re still leaving fantastic evidence for prosecutors. Some are even posting new evidence for prosecutors during the trial. One girl got her recommended sentence increased from probation to two years in a DUI car crash that killed her passenger. (I’d say her lawyer was doing a fantastic job in the first place.)

As if the internet weren’t enough of a public place already, when you put yourself on Facebook and Myspace, you are quite literally advertising yourself to the rest of the world. That’s fine. Cute girls have to find you somehow, I’m certain.

To be fair, we’re really the first generation for whom this problem has come up. I’m sure at some point, someone has accidentally mailed incriminating photos of himself to a prosecutor. These things are bound to happen. But it’s a whole new world with the internet involved. My generation’s going to have to figure this stuff out quickly.

But how long does it take, really?

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Summering

The “sit in class and listen to a brilliant professor talk about something you’re struggling to understand” part of law school is hard enough.

The “read the homework three times because you’re afraid the brilliant professor is going to grill you about it tomorrow” part of law school is hard enough.

And nothing is harder than exam week: in law school, you don’t take tests or get grades during the semester. Your only grade for the entire semester is your final exam grade. This would make exams incredibly stressful even if they weren’t so damn stressful.

But there’s more to law school than just book-learnin’ and exam-writing. Going from “college kid with philosophy degree” to “lawyer man with J.D. and crippling student loans” is a big step. You can’t just add the J.D. to your résumé and be done with it. During law school, you have to work a few jobs in professional environments, to show a future employer that you’re worth hiring.

At my school, we actually signed a form during our 1L Orientation promising not to work more than 20 hours a week, and indicating that we understood the grave consequences of working at all during the year. So during the first year, precious few students do more labor intensive work than volunteering a few hours a week to organizations like the Unemployment Action Center. The bulk of us law students go for the summer internship.

Beginning with the second semester, you revise your résumé (with your one semester’s G.P.A.) and you wander out into the wilderness, foraging for internships for the summer. Ideally, you want to have this wrapped up before Spring Break, lest your search eat into your study time for exams.

Personally, I didn’t have any relevant legal experience before law school. I was terrified that this would make me impossible to hire, especially when I was compared to my classmates, many of whom have been planning this whole “law school” thing for years. They have worked in law firms, legal offices, or at least in office environments. Many of them have postgraduate degrees, as well. My employment consisted (up to that point) of waiting tables and working cash registers. I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from a state college. I don’t think I was particularly irrational in being nervous.

Hell, all of that was downright panic-inducing. You have to have a summer job. You have to have a summer job in the legal field. (No more waiting tables, alas!) This summer job after your first year compensates a whole lot for the fact that your résumé is may be sparse on (or even devoid of) prior legal experience: it will vastly increase your stock with future employers. It is a statement by a Real Live Lawyer that says you’re a safer hire for next time around.

So even if you haven’t been planning this whole law school thing for more than a couple of months, you won’t be handicapped if you can find a summer internship and do well there. For the record, even a total lack of legal experience isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker when you’re interviewing for that summer internship. It’s a handicap, sure, but it’s not a death sentence. It’s also just the beginning.

I’m currently knee-deep in preparing for fall recruitment: the mass interviews all the choicest firms and government agencies hold as they forage for interns for the fall. Yes, in a wonderfully masochistic (but strangely constructive) way, after worrying all spring about what you’ll do all summer, you spend the second half of your summer worrying about what you’ll do all fall.

To me, the craziest thing about fall recruitment is its finality: do well enough at the internship you accepted during fall recruitment, and you’ll be invited back to that firm as a summer intern after your second year of school. Do well enough at that summer internship, and you could be invited to work for the firm after graduating. The fall recruiters will be keenly interested in your legal experience, (to say nothing of your grades) and for many people, the first real legal experience they’ll have is the first year summer internship.

Update: as I have recently attended the informational seminar about Fall Recruitment at my school, it turns out that Fall Recruitment is for getting a job for next summer. If you interview well and are offered a position, it’s not during the school year; it’s for the following summer.  This demonstrates the importance of knowing what you’re talking about before you start writing.  The rest holds true, though. You could get offered a position following your graduation if your summering goes well.

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Happiness is a Warm Gun

The Supreme Court, by way of Justice Scalia, says the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun to some extent. What extent? That’s a damn good question. And there’s only one way to find out: more lawsuits! There’s apparently been one already filed in Chicago to see if the ban extends beyond Washington D.C.

The ABA Journal has a very well-written article on the topic. The case turns, as ever, on the very specific language of the Second Amendment:

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

According to Scalia, it’s properly translated (from Ye Olde 18th Centurie Englishe) to:

“Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

On the face of it, I would assume that because a well-regulated militia is not, in fact, necessary to the security of a free state any more, neither is the right to keep and bear arms so inviolable these days. But I haven’t taken constitutional law yet: maybe it’s well-established precedent that the part about a militia isn’t all that important.

The court makes it sound like this right extends only as far as law abiding citizens possessing handguns within their home, for the purpose of defending that home. The court also hinted that a ban on “dangerous or unusual” firearms may still be constitutional. Although in reality, I have to assume that if your handgun isn’t dangerous, that’s a little unusual; you should get your money back.

On a somber note, it’s a pity that Charleton isn’t around to see this. He’s shooting angels in heaven right now.

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Pro Tip #2

When you file a lawsuit, you (hire a lawyer to) draft a letter to a court. This letter is called a complaint, and it is very long and obtuse and boring. Following receipt of the complaint, the court will issue a summons to the people named as defendants in the complaint: this means that a lawsuit is officially almost underway, and [...]

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