Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Being Stretched

I wrote before that law school was about four times as much work as undergrad...

Granted, that doesn't mean it was so bad. After all, I actually enjoyed myself for the majority of the semester. After a couple weeks of adjusting, I really felt like I hit my stride. There was one particularly frustrating professor who seemed to take pride in making his easy class hard only in ways that didn't stretch anyone's mind or facilitate learning; that was occasionally discouraging.
But the rest of the experience was phenomenal. Absolutely amazing. I got what I wanted.

It wasn't harder than a new, hard job, in terms of hours and the endless pile. In fact, in sales, you are absolutely never done, so in some ways it was even easier.

But in other ways, it was more difficult. It was a marathon of the mind. It wasn't all marathon or all mind, but it was a pretty challenging mix of both. Philosophy bends the mind more than law, at least on a per capita (uh? per page) basis. But the problem is that if good philosophy is 90% mind-bending, law is still 60% mind bending, and then you have to do forty times as much of it. In law school, your logical skills may expand, but your ability to handle volumes of logical problems most certainly expands.

Law is mind bending not because the rigors of logic are particularly difficult (in fact, the standards are a bit looser than in philosophy). Instead, it is mind bending because the standards are looser and the opportunities are endless; law requires creativity. Since it is so experiential, narrative (fact pattern based), the application of general law to specific situations is immensely complex. And, the truth is, there are often two sides to the story. Or six. Or forty. Anyway, that makes for lots to write in finals.

I came to Harvard Law School to be stretched. It happened. I got the peers who pushed me, the professors who wowed me and the curriculum that kept me on my toes at all times. For those who liked to speak as if it was something to be feared, they were dead wrong. If I lacked the maturity to discipline myself, or my standard of normal was the undergraduate experience, it would have been prohibitively difficult. But instead, it was just really challenging. It required a lot of me, a LOT, more than I cared to give at times.

It wasn't that hard. I slept eight hours a night, ate nutritiously, worked out, and (with the exception of the last three weeks) spent a decent amount of time my beautiful wife.

But it was hard enough. The itch is scratched. I'm hoping someone gets the memo and next semester is easier.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Well, okay, I haven't exactly arrived.

But I'm done. Done with finals for my first semester of law school. They say it's the hardest part. I sure hope so!

I figure, as an undergraduate (way back when), I was typically assigned 1000 pages per quarter, and I read around 200. I took notes in some classes and studied those notes for a day or so before the midterm and final.

Here, I was assigned probably 4500 pages. I read 4500 pages (mostly textbook, not small pages), pouring over many, taking notes on most. Then I bought study guide books and worked my way through another thousand or so pages (it was actually closer to 2000, but I skimmed). Then there were the four days of studying. Talking through the mass outline with my buddies, boiling the seventy page outline (which was boiled down from hundreds of pages of notes) down to about 10-15 pages of checklist. Then drilling, practice tests, answers and explanations books (the study guide books). Then, after four days of studying per final, I took my tests.

My tests were each 100% of the grade for the course. Typically, you show up and answer one or a few questions for three hours. There was some variety. Criminal involved a take home test. I had to write the precis for a screenplay (just 300-600 words) about a story that highlighted difficult and emerging issues in the criminal justice system (then I had to explain why they were difficult and emerging). I wrote about felony murder, the merger doctrine rape (and the problem of consent), culpability, free choice, and conflicts among the purposes of punishment. That was take home and 50% of my grade. Then we showed up to class and got an issue spotter, the standard law school test. Basically, you are given a complex fact pattern (story) and then there is a question at the end (you are an Assistant DA and you have to tell your boss all the potential homicide, sex crime, conspiracy, attempt or complicity (each affecting the other) crimes that can be charged (and the potential defenses).

Civil Procedure involved an issue spotter (but that was only 90 minutes of the test), and a bunch of five minute questions (true or false and explain..."Mullane overruled Pennoyer." Not my strongest showing--I have a problem with names. So I had to look up the cases; I didn't bother memorizing them, since there usually is no need if you are uber familiar with them and you have your checklist. I did survive, however.

Legislation and Regulation was the most complex convoluted question of the season. It was a take home test, eight hours long. It was supposed to be a three hour test (I would have been a dead man), but we got eight hours to do it, to take the stress off. Typically, other leg reg classes write questions that are 12-25 pages long! Einer Elhuage (aka, the smartest man in history) wrote a two page question that had more in it than could be digested by the Supreme Court in a week! It was absolutely brilliant, self referential, and clever. I used every minute and enjoyed it to boot.

That leaves Torts, my weakest subject. I wrote the most in Torts (8300 words in 3 hours! Civ Pro was second at 6600), which is a pretty good indication that I was stretching. That was a series of four questions, forty five minutes each. Three small issue spotters and a "should we abolish punitive damages for non intentional torts" question.

All in all, a pretty exhausting experience.