law school


So, I quit law school yesterday. Actually, I took a leave of absence, which gives me the option of coming back in Spring 09, but I likely won’t go back.

What Happened

First semester, I struggled to keep a balance between school and the rest of my life. But, the system kept crashing that in. What killed most of my finely-tuned schedule was that damned Legal Writing class (lots and lots of assignments, very little reward), but I also got sick over my Fall Break and then started rebelling against the workload, setting me several days (up to a week and a half in one class) behind in the readings and making it tough to catch up. I eventually did catch up and I passed all of my finals, but by the end of the process – really throughout the whole process – I was nothing short of angry all the time.

Then Winter Break started and I went back to work to make some money. I was still continuously angry through January 1st, taking it out on Brent the whole time, when finally I started to detox. I began to feel more like the person I was before I started school. I felt positive and happy. I had energy. I looked forward to each day without the sense of impending doom. It felt good.

Critical Mass

Then Friday, January 11, I started to get the e-mails. Professor #1 – pick up the Property packet from the copy center and read it for Wednesday’s class. Professor #2 – pick up the text from the copy center and read pages 1-22 for Wednesday’s class. Professor #3 – pick up the text from the copy center and read chapters 1 & 2. Professor #4 – read pages 3-69 in the text for Thursday. Mind you, not all of these came on Friday (which would have theoretically given me plenty of time), but even if they did, I was still at work and the copy center wasn’t open over the weekend – forcing me to take a day off from work to go pick this stuff up and start reading it. I chose that day to be Tuesday to give them the latest possible time to add more to my To Do list so that I only had to make one trip to Albuquerque. All the while, Professor #5 was strangely silent.

Then I got an email from a fellow classmate (sent at 4:30 PM, Tuesday, read at 6:00 AM, Wednesday) telling me that Prof. #5 had an assignment posted on a bulletin board upstairs (pick up the text from the copy center and read pgs 1-18 for Wednesday morning). Now, (A) I was in the copy center at 11:30 AM on Tuesday, no text for his class was found (I later found out that he requested the books to be kept behind a desk and as luck would have it, the copy center was devoid of people to tell me this), and (B) even if I had the book, there was absolutely no time to read the stuff before class. So I wrote to Prof. #5, apologizing for my lack of preparation, and requesting that he not call on me during class. Surprise! He called on me. A few times.

Now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he didn’t read the e-mail before walking into the classroom. But the result was the same as if he had done it on purpose. I was already anxious and pissed off when I showed up on campus, and that was just the last straw. I felt like every time I walked into a classroom I was preparing for battle – defenses up, ready for the inevitable attack. The process wasn’t fun or rewarding, and my mind was just closing off. Then when I started looking through the syllabuses of the other classes, I decided there wasn’t anything in it that I gave a crap about and I no longer wanted to do this. Enough really was enough.

The Aftermath

Even though I’m sure this is the right decision, I’m feeling like a big, fat Quitter. I haven’t slept well in a few days, either, which doesn’t help. But, as I tell people my tale, I’m feeling a bit better. I wish I was one of those people who loved law school because I know that the degree would help me do what I set out to do – policy analysis, lobbying, etc. The cost/benefit is completely upside-down, though, and the fact is that law school was 3rd on my priorities list (after my health and Brent), but I was treating it as if it was my only priority (in fact, the system is designed for you to treat it as your only priority), ignoring the really important stuff. I definitely don’t want to be that person.

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So, I spent half the day today talking about dancing on bars — seriously. All in the name of Torts! The practice exam that we were working through was about a girl who entered a “Shake It Like Shakira” contest, sponsored by a tequila company and hosted by a local bar. Sorry to say, our ill-fated client slipped on the wet bar in her Barbie-heels and ended up (A) tearing a ligament in her knee, (B) getting a staph infection while in the hospital, and (C) losing her job because she was out for 6 weeks. Poor Barbie.

While we were working through it, all I could think of was “those were the days!” My study partner, Desiree, could talk about nothing but the great time she had in Mexico riding a mechanical bull in a dirt bar in Puerto Penasco. And my other study partner, Aaron, couldn’t figure out what to make of these two wild women he was stuck with in the very small study room reliving their glory days. Poor Aaron.

Au Revoir, Julie!

Julie Ranger (read: Zhulie Hon-zhay) is leaving on Monday. My Quebecois carpool partner will be missed. She drives like crap, which is ironic since she was pulled over on 599 for speeding (I started laughing when she called me and told me this. In a million years, I would never accuse Julie of speeding), but her cute French accent – through her many tears – convinced the sheriff that perhaps she could be forgiven her transgressions. She got off with a warning. To which Brent confirms his suspicion that all girls can get out of speeding tickets if they could just cry on command – a subtle art I have yet to master.

Anyway, my “Montrealean” friend will go home on Monday, and I will miss her. She is smart, sassy, strong, and self-assured. If I were gay, I’d totally have a girl-crush. What am I saying? I’m NOT gay, and I TOTALLY have a girl-crush! Seriously, though. People come in and out of your life for a reason, and I am glad she came into mine. Through the eyes of this French-Canadian, I have been able to see my own country in a completely different light, especially in the realms of racism, civil rights, and immigration, and I have a newfound appreciation for the space America occupies in the world. And guess what? It’s not all about us! Go figure…

3 Down, 1 to Go

I have taken 3 of my 4 exams so far. Criminal law was pretty much what I expected – lots of conspiracy, someone died. The usual. CHLP (Comparative History and Legal Perspectives) was irritating. I studied like a mad-woman, and none of it helped. It was just like taking a Philosophy exam, which Jim would have rocked! But me? Not so much. Then we had Contracts, in which my computer almost crashed. But I feel pretty cocky in Contacts, so I finished early (probably to my detriment). On Thursday, I take the dreaded Torts exam. The least comprehensive and endearing of all of my exams. Have I told you that I will never be a Personal Injury attorney? No? Well, let me tell you – I will NEVER be a personal injury attorney. Torts is the most “American” of all of the subjects I’ve studied so far. Sue people for your own stupidity — The American Way!

In a few days, 1/6th of my Law School career will be in the bag. I can’t wait!

Haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been waiting to have something positive to say. But I am stuck in this funky place where I’m thinking about whether I’ve made the right decision after all. Law school sucks, to put it bluntly. The workload is simply excruciating, the expectations are inhuman, and most of the people aren’t very nice. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the students are always sizing you up as competition (or not, depending on how they see themselves), the instructors are vague and unhelpful, and the staff is surly. I have even filed a formal complaint against one little shit who works in the registrars office for insulting and domineering behavior…. And UNM bills itself as “the law school that cares.” Ugh. The Business program was so much easier.

But, trying to find the bright-side so as not to weigh down my audience, there have been a few moments of levity. I’ve found a good little group of friends who have their priorities in order. There’s a former paralegal, a former journalist (who has done work for Time and People magazine), a former high school teacher, and a former college kid who has her head screwed on straight. Nice people, and they put up with my whining, so you have to give them props for that! Finals run from Dec. 3rd – Dec. 14th, so we are diligently getting our course outlines together and taking practice exams. We have more of a safe-and-sane approach to finals than many of our comrades, which could either mean that we are being more efficient about the whole thing, or that we have missed the boat completely. Time will tell.

Another positive, though, is that I am starting to see what I can do with a JD. I’ve always said, “I don’t want to be a lawyer. I want to be a lobbyist!” Well, one of the clubs brought out a guest speaker from the Dept of Justice in Washington, DC who worked for the FISA court. His job was to take requests from FBI agents in the field who wanted to wiretap suspected terrorist cells in the US, and put together the application that then went to the FISA court for approval. His job, as he put it, was to balance national security with 4th Amendment privacy protections, and he took the personal privacy part very seriously. So, as I sat there listening to his story, it suddenly dawned on me that lawyers do other things than put people in jail, read contracts, and sue people for personal injury. It takes me awhile to “get” things, apparently…

So, I should be deep into writing my paper this morning (that was assigned yesterday and is due at 8:15 AM, Monday morning. No weekend for the weary), but I received two very clever YouTube clips that I have to pass on:

  • Sexual Consent – Funny for all people (but not for all ages)
  • Law School Musical – Really only funny this morning to me and my classmates, but it gives you a pretty accurate take on my state of mind, these days.

Oh, and expect a flood of clips and jokes around December (specifically tailored for your viewing pleasure, of course). I have about 20 of them from my friend at NASA that I haven’t even been able to open, much less sort through and laugh at…

So, midterms are over, and I think I did average. Midterms around here are funny. They are required (and, in fact, are a prerequisite to taking the final exams), but they are ungraded. So, we go through all of this stress and anxiety (study, study, study) just to have some TA look them over and hand them back to us. Most of the professors aren’t even looking at them. They all, however, went over the exams in class and told us what they were looking for in the answers, so I guess I have a hint of what to expect for finals.

Thursday and Friday were “Fall Break” – they give us two days off for R&R before tossing us right back in it again. I spent my Thursday up at the Lab (trainings, etc), Friday night at the Balloon Fiesta (which was cancelled due to high winds), and then Saturday and much of Sunday in bed with a head cold. I did always have such good timing with my illnesses – Christmas holidays, weekends, you name it. From now on, I’m going to have an IV tube of Zicam running through my veins. I had forgotten how schools are big germ factories…

Balloon Fiesta

One very nice thing about driving the Albuquerque in the mornings is that I got to see 2 Mass Ascensions from I-25. On Wednesday, in particular, it was so pretty. Coming over the hill just past Casino Hollywood, it just looked like someone had popped a huge champaigne cork and all the balloons were the bubbles, just hanging in the air. Then as I was driving home later in the morning, about 50 of them were landing in Rio Rancho and Bernalillo, right next to the freeway. It looked just like a storybook.

For all of my out-of-town friends, the Balloon Fiesta is a sight to behold. Hundreds of hot air balloons from around the world converge on Albuquerque for a week of flying events and glows. So very cool — when the weather is right. When the weather is bad, the Balloon Fiesta sucks. You’re stuck in traffic for forever, just to see the event that you’ve been counting on for the past year cancelled due to rain/wind/snow. Plus, this year they had one person die (balloon got stuck in power lines, the basket tipped, and a passenger was ejected), and 4 other crashes the first weekend.

Even still, I love the Balloon Fiesta – but I will never invite you because I always have the luck of bringing people out during “the worst weather that the Balloon Fiesta has seen in a jillion years!” I’m bad luck. But if you ever decide to come on your own, let me know and we’ll play host.

This year, our own bad luck turned against us for the first time. Friday was a beautiful, clear, warm day. Brent and I had never been to a Glow (they blow up the balloons, but don’t launch them. They just sit there, burning their flames, and the whole balloon lights up like a lantern), so we decided to go Friday. We got there early, had dinner at Flying Star, got to the park, paid the $6 each to get in, and waited. Then the winds kicked up and it was too unsafe to hold the glow. Cancelled. So frustrating. It took us almost an hour to get out of the park – and people were still flooding in from the other direction. Either they didn’t get the message that the event was cancelled, or they were waiting to see the fireworks that they promised were still going to happen. People. Go figure.

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.

The last two weeks have been difficult, but I’m starting to find my stride. Lots of reading (we’re already on page 233 in Criminal Law – and not very far off from that in 3 other classes) and lots of busy work in my legal research and writing class. It seems to come in waves, though, so just when I’m losing it, there is a small break to catch up again. Every time I take a day off over the weekend, I regret it. So if I can get a solid 5-6 hours of studying in each day, I’m in a good position for the week.

Some surprises

As with most things, the instructor sets the stage for whether or not you’ll like something, but who knew that I’d like Criminal Law so much? My professor is a well-respected defense attorney who is dynamic, challenging, and organized (a rare law professor quality, I’m finding). He certainly puts us through our paces in class, facilitating tough sessions of Socratic Twister (right brain Blue!), but at the end of the class, I know exactly what I was supposed to learn. My notes read like outlines. Love it.

He also runs his class by the Designated Hitter Rule – he lets you know in the prior class if you are “on deck” next class, and you are expected to know your stuff and be the subject matter expert for that class. He chooses Hitters by going through the class list alpha order, so since I’m close to the top, I was a Hitter last week. The preparation was nerve-wracking, but I figured out that it isn’t about the home runs – the trick is getting the base hit. Small successes often mean as much as the big wins. It helped that I was assigned the Michael Milken and RI nightclub fire cases (two cases I already know a lot about), but I did pretty well and my self-esteem boosted a bit for the rest of the day as a result.

Another surprise is that I quite like my Contracts class. It could be that my business education has predisposed me to analyze contracts and transactions more than the average bear, but I enjoy defending the small business person against a lender who claims that spending $10,000 for a business trip to Asia wasn’t an operating expense (hey, she could have been talking to manufacturers about making her gadget to sell in Wal-Mart! We are in a global economy…). It’s also fun to read about a bunch of drunk hicks who make a deal to sell a family farm for $50,000 on the back of a customer ticket at a bar and argue about whether or not it’s an enforceable contract (it was in that case).

Some things never change

Student groups are a big thing in law school (networking, resume building, blah, blah, blah), but I resolved not to join anything my first semester. I couldn’t resist, though, when the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund club announced their first meeting. New Mexico not being much of an activitist State, I had almost forgotten how crazy animal people can come off. The president of this club is what I would define as “militant.” She’s more concerned about turning everyone into vegetarians and boycotting Babe movies than in legal advocacy. Although I agree with a lot of her views (I consider myself an Ethical Vegetarian, after all), I’m more interested in the low-hanging fruit – like making cock-fighting a felony and enacting stricter penalties for companion animal abuse and neglect. The traditional animal welfare/rights rhetoric turns the average person off, and this girl looks like a whack-job. It is my new mission to either soften her message, or to lay in wait until she graduates at the end of the year and stage a coup.

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