I have received quite a few e-mails from you asking the general question of “how’s it going?” Truth is, I don’t really know how to answer that.

For the most part, I enjoy the subject matter of the classes I am taking (the “hard” subjects of Criminal Law, Contracts, Torts, and the “soft” subjects of Comparative Legal History and Legal Writing, plus a Practicum). However, we don’t talk about things in class the way that I like talking about them – that is, we don’t debate issues as right or wrong as much as we analyze the issues for legal reasoning and rules. I hear this is a common complaint of First Years and that it gets less clinical in later years. But I get frustrated discussing whether or not a 2 year old child visiting his parent at work for lunch who gets brain damage when he slips through an open banister of a staircase and falls to the ground below is an invitee, licensee, or a trespasser under some semi-arbitrary legal definition, instead of arguing about whether or not the parent of the child deserves $8.4 million dollars in damages for not controlling her kid while they both descend a staircase with a clearly open banister. A whole lot of legal analysis without a ton of discussion about whether or not we as a society should agree with it.

Then I have the time-draining Legal Writing class in which I spend 16 hours on a Credit/No Credit assignment and get not so much as a checkmark on the stupid thing when it gets turned back to me (if I get it back at all).

I keep having to remind myself that law school really is a trade school. They are training me how to “think like a lawyer.” The morality is left up to me to decide. More often than not, I find myself singing that classic line to Rage Against the Machine song, “F@#k you, I won’t do what you tell me!” Not a good way to spend any day…

From the “I Can’t Win” File

In the span of about a year, I have miraculously turned from a bleeding-heart hippy to a conservative corporate hack. How did I do that?, you may ask. I went to law school. Let me explain…

When I was in business school, I learned that companies are in the business of making a profit for their shareholders, and not much more. That’s the shtick. So, barring any illegal activities, anything that helps them earn a profit (selling more goods, cutting expenses, etc.) is fair game. This includes moving operations to other countries where there is cheap labor and lax labor laws, pushing the outer limits of emissions regulations (or, again, moving to countries with more flexible environmental laws), and the like. Under this model, one cannot look at corporations as being “evil,” they are simply doing what they need to do to turn a profit for the shareholders.

Well, this model didn’t sit well with me. Just because you can move operations to a place where you can pay an 8 year old child $1/day to make your shoes doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can pour chemical waste into a river (and there is, presumably, no law against it) doesn’t mean you should. And just because you can pump our food supply with growth hormones and chemical preservatives doesn’t mean you should. A sense of basic moral ethics and global responsibility should be infused in most business operations, I argued. Consumers may have to pay more to sleep better at night. So what? Americans are too spoiled as it is. The Invisible Hand of the Market, be damned!

Well, what a difference a year makes. In law school, most people (in my classes, at least) are looking out for the Little Guy. So far so good. But this protection extends to (in my opinion) ridiculous places. The classic is the McDonald’s coffee incident.

Most people know the story – old lady goes through McDonald’s drive-through, orders coffee, puts coffee between her legs while still sitting in the car, opens lid to pour in cream and sugar, coffee spills in her lap, sues McDonald’s, and wins $2.9 million dollars for spilling hot coffee in her lap. Classic case of American civil courts gone wild. I have studied this case, now, in both my business classes and my law school Torts class.

What usually happens is that once folks find out that she got 3rd degree burns from this, that McDonald’s coffee was brewed at much hotter temperatures than other coffee sold elsewhere, that they had received over 700 other complaints of burns from the coffee across the globe, and that McDonald’s management were jerks and wouldn’t settle with the old lady for her medical bills (all she was really asking for), most people feel like the company needed to be taught a lesson.

However, I still don’t feel like courts should reward people for their own negligence. In my opinion, if the court wanted to punish McDonald’s then fine, pay the old lady for her medical bills and lost workdays, and then make the company pay the millions of dollars to a Burn Victim charity or something. We should be able to both punish people for wrong-doing while not reward others for their own stupidity. Personal responsibility. That’s all I ask. Somehow, though, this makes me a shill for the Man.

Same goes for this case where the child fell through the open banister of a business’ staircase and sustained permanent brain injury that would leave the child with “behavioral problems” (what child doesn’t have behavioral problems, I ask). The doctor estimated long-term care for the child at $1.8 million, but the judge awarded the parents $8.4 million, essentially because the business wasn’t following building codes and should have known.

Let’s see here, so a mother walks with her toddler down a staircase with an open banister and doesn’t carry the kid or hold his hand as they walk down it? Hmmm…. sounds like natural selection to me. Yet, we are rewarding this behavior at a tune of $8.4M? This is better odds than winning the lottery! All I have to do is give my kid a slight push down a staircase and I’ll never have to work again!

Well, that makes Jennifer a Baby Killer. “But, Jennifer, don’t you think it’s tragic?!?” Of course it’s tragic. But for whom? The child? The parents? Or the 100 people who will be unemployed if this judgment sticks and the company has to go out of business? Or the next potential entrepreneur who can’t open a shop because the liability insurance is too high? There’s a bigger picture, here, People. They don’t get it. Apparently, they are just much nicer people than I am…

So, in a nutshell, that’s how school is going. I’m learning a lot, but I’m not sure that I love it. Not yet, at least.

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