Please Don’t Forget What You Came For

Here I sit, in my favorite class of this quarter, thinking about the things that keep me showing up and participating – since it’s clearly not the whopping 5% of my grade governed by participation.

Another classmate told me that he wasn’t planning on attending many sessions because “at 5% participation, it isn’t a priority.”

Why do we participate in class?

Are your classes, fellow law students, mostly comprised of glassy eyes glued to your computer screens and multiple gchat conversations?  Or do you participate?

I’m not a gunner.  I never have been – I’ll come right out and say I don’t generally get A’s, I’m not on law review, and I don’t do moot court.  Yep, I am, on paper, a mediocre law student.

However.  In my classes my hand is almost always up.  Even if I didn’t do the reading – I’m always asking questions or picking fights or getting involved.  (Except for right now, when I’m writing a blog post.)

So why do I do it?  Why put myself on the line and risk making a fool of myself, around professors who probably won’t remember me anyway?

I think I know the answer today.

Maybe I have this perspective because I came to law school with a Masters degree behind me (Wm! can add the perspective of someone who went directly BA–> JD) – but for the most part I’m not here for the grades or the prestige or the firm job or whatever.  I worked really hard in graduate school to discover my own interests and build a foundation of knowledge because I wanted the knowledge, not because it was  a step towards some other place.  Maybe that’s why I couldn’t find a job afterwards, but the perspective I got from two years of doing that was that I’m confident I’ll find a path, and the things I’m doing now are for me more than anything else.

My philosophy ties in with this post by Jon Katz//Underdog, which is cool, because he’s someone I’ve considered an intellectual mentor for a long time (I’ve been a follower of his blog for, like, ever).  Fear not – be here now.

I’m here for myself.  I was so excited before 1L year because I actually wanted to know all of the things I was preparing to learn.  I was genuinely interested.

So to bring it around, the reason I participate is because:
A) I follow Mr. Katz’s advice and I just take the leap and the risk and add my voice to the argument – I don’t fear the retort, because the future isn’t real.  I am here, now.
B) I’m not doing it for the participation points.  At 26 years old, when I’m paying for the education, the dynamic must change.  No longer am I an ignorant pupil with a blank slate on which my professors will write — I am an equal, a colleague, participating in the discussion, and it is really truly, as cliche as it sounds, no on else’s loss but mine if I stay silent, stay unprepared, slide by.

To me, class participation means reaching my goal of success in law school – gaining knowledge and gaining understanding; not the standard ‘getting good grades’ model of success.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that my method seems to be more effective.


The Annual Registration Angst, or, Do I Really Need to Take Income Tax?

I struggled a lot this year over my registration choices, not least because this is my last round of it. As a rising 3L, there are all sorts of concerns that I have to deal with when choosing my classes. Do I take bar classes? Do I take criminal law classes? Do I go light on myself because I’ll be a 3L, or do I cram in the last bit of high intensity academics that I will probably ever have in my life?

I spent hours staring at the little ‘planning packet’ that Academic Services handed out a few weeks ago – the list of classes that covered all the WA State Bar Exam topics, the list of “recommended” classes, the list of classes that will fulfill our advanced writing requirement, and so on and so forth, ad nauseum. Actually literally… I felt kinda nauseous after reading it. I realized that, no matter what I did, I wouldn’t be able to cram all of the bar classes into one year, even with three quarters to do it. So I had to prioritize – I realized that if I were to leave the corporate stuff until bar review, I know I would be totally screwed, because I need all the time I can get to learn that stuff.

After being reassured by a recent bar-passer in my office that you can learn most of the stuff in BarBri anyway, I decided to prioritize the bar classes based on what I’m worst at. I figured that those would be the subjects I would need to have already studied in law school in order to be able to re-learn in BarBri, so those were a must. But, I also realized I wouldn’t survive next year if I didn’t take one class per quarter that I am actually interested in. It looks like an LSAT problem doesn’t it? This is one area where I think the quarter system my school uses has the advantage over the traditional semester system – I get three chances to take classes, rather than two. The pressure is less in that sense, at least.

It’s all complicated by the fact that I am in a clinic next year – I’ll be participating in the Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic, which is super exciting, but takes up 6 of 16 credits first and second quarter. Thankfully my advanced writing requirement is satisfied by the corresponding class, Juvenile Justice Seminar, so I have that taken care of at least.

So for bar classes I ended up with the following list:

  • payment systems (AKA commercial paper)
  • business organizations
  • secured transactions
  • real estate transactions
  • administrative law
  • constitutional law II

For sanity-saving classes, I have these:

  • international law
  • privacy law

While that may not look like much in the way of fun, I count the Juvenile Justice class and my clinic in there with sanity classes, which round it out pretty well. What’s left, that I will have to learn in bar review class, is Transmission of Wealth, Community Property, WA Constitutional Law, and Civ Pro II, I think. That’s not so bad, and I really have faith that those are topics I can entrust to BarBri.

Professional vs. Graduate Education, or, Law School is not Grad School

I realize that’s not news to most law students but it was news to me.

Here’s my situation. I am taking a wonderful Chinese Law class this quarter, it’s engaging, it’s not socratic, it’s a wonderfully lively little seminar-style class that’s cross-listed with the graduate school of International Studies. I love sharing the time with grad students, because not so long ago I was where they are, coddled in the warm comfort of academia.

And I really do miss grad school. Sometimes I look back at the time when I was faced with two paths: continue my MA by taking qualification exams instead of comprehensive exams and begin my PhD – leading to a life of academia, or go to law school and know for sure that only 3 more years of school lie ahead of me before real world non-academic work. Obviously I chose law school, because hindsight is 20/20 and I was sick of school and sick of academia and I wanted something more “practical.”

I realize now I had no idea what that meant. The practical learning I get now is from my (rather rich and varied) externship experience. What I have learned in law school is how to take law school exams. I know that I made the right choice, but the difference between graduate education and professional education has been permanently tattooed upon my brain in the last year and a half. And on days like this, I really miss grad school.

Going off the wonderful high I get from the genuinely academic discussion in my seminar, I approached the professor about writing a long paper for the class instead of taking the exam – this would satisfy the law school’s advanced writing requirement, and would let me pretend to be in grad school and write a real, non law-review style, academic paper. This happens sometimes, and there’s a procedure for it, supposedly.

I’ve spent the past 2 weeks trying to navigate the bureaucracy – and at this point my (sainted) professor and I are so far beyond bewildered about what we are supposed to do, and now, it’s arguable that there is not enough time for me to write the 20-25 page paper (original goal was 30) that I wanted to write. I think I’m getting the message that this isn’t the preferred method for fulfilling the advanced writing requirement.

Don’t get me wrong… I go to a great law school, and I’m happy I came here – and I know I’m still getting knowledge out of the class… I just can’t help the fact that I still feel like a political scientist at heart sometimes, and right now I wish I’d had a chance to write that paper.

Doe v. Reed: A Pleasant Surprise

I usually expect the worst in things. This way, I’m rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised.

So it went when I read the oral argument transcript in Doe v. Reed. Scalia’s approach is highly enlightened, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I didn’t know that until the late 19th Century voting was not anonymous in this country.

“What about just wanting to know their names so you can criticize them? Is that such a bad thing in a democracy?”

So perhaps things will go better for the pro-disclosure side.

Like many of my colleagues, I’m not sure what to make of Justice Scalia. He’s generally very conservative, and I’m not, although I’m not really a liberal either (unlike my colleague). One of my professors pronounces his name “Scaylia,” as in “scale” (as of a serpent) + “-ia.” Also, I’m not an originalist. For the most part, though, I think his jurisprudence is motivated by his legal philosophy: while his political leanings show through in his jurisprudence from time to time (yes, I’m still harping on about Bush v. Gore), some of his opinions in evidence and Confrontation Clause cases have come out very strongly in favor of defendants’ rights. His jurisprudence is consistent for the most part, and I guess you have to respect him for that.

I’m going back on my original prediction. Now I think it will go 6-3 to affirm and allow disclosure, with Scalia writing the majority opinion and Roberts writing the dissent (which Alito, and perhaps Thomas, will sign). We may see a split decision on the as-applied challenge that in this particular case the petition signers will be faced with harassment and that this will chill their speech in a constitutionally impermissible way, as opposed to a blanket assertion that disclosure of petition signers’ names and addresses is unconstitutional per se. On remand, the district court will have to make specific factual findings as to the degree and likelihood of harassment (hey, degree and likelihood! Carroll Towing!), with the Court articulating the standard for the district court to apply.

Doe v. Reed: The Special Pleading Express

Oral arguments are set for tomorrow (Wednesday) in Doe No. 1 v. Reed, a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the disclosure (under Washington’s public disclosure law) of the names and addresses of voters who sign a petition to put a measure on a ballot. The groups that put the measure on the ballot want to keep the signers’ names secret, while the state, in furtherance of Washington’s Public Records Act, wants to disclose the signers’ names in connection with a public disclosure request. Of course, the fact that the measure granted widespread rights for domestic partners (including same-sex couples) gives the case a political dimension that wouldn’t be present if this was just some parks issue.

I know a thing or two about Washington’s Public Records Act; I’m writing my law review comment on Chevron-type deference in agency determinations under the PRA. All that I will add to the already voluminous discourse is this: I find it disingenuous that the petition-signers — people who have used the petition process to put a measure on the ballot — are trying to avoid disclosure under a statute that was itself passed by the voters 38 years ago.

The PRA was adopted in November 1972 as Initiative 276. Washington voters were getting fed up with what they saw as increasing secrecy in state and local government, and so they passed a law allowing interested members of the public to inspect public records and obtain copies of most government documents. There were a few exceptions for things like investigative records and personal information about public school students and government employees. Nowhere in the original measure, nor in any of the exceptions that the state legislature has added since then, is there anything about keeping the names of petition-signers secret.

And what is more, the people who signed this petition knew that when they signed it, or they were at least on notice. The PRA has been on the books since 1973, and in all that time, no one has mounted this sort of a challenge, despite some pretty contentious stuff that people have signed petitions for. The question that the Supreme Court is faced with is can people be forced to put their names out in public when they sign a petition for a ballot measure? To me, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Participation in public life is a public process. If I submit something to a state agency in connection with a proposed regulation (as I recently have), my name and e-mail address (at least) go into the agency’s rulemaking file, there to sit forever and ever. And if someone comes along and submits a PRA to the agency for that rulemaking file, they will get my name and e-mail address. It would be the same thing if I testified at a hearing at the state legislature (although they wouldn’t get my e-mail address, they would definitely get my name).

All that being said, I’m sorry to say that I think this will come down 5-4 to reverse the 9th Circuit and bar disclosure. Justice Scalia will probably write the majority opinion, which will be full of historical references, and Breyer will probably write a vigorous dissent. If I’m wrong about the judgment (that they uphold the 9th Circuit and allow disclosure), Scalia will write a polemic in the style we’ve come to know and love. There’s an outside shot that the Supreme Court might split the baby and say names are OK, but addresses are not, but that would require a degree of finesse that I’m not sure this Court is capable of right now.

Choosing Next Year’s Classes, or, Underwater Basket Weaving for the Litigation Set

I find myself sailing into the third year of the law school odyssey, caught between the Scylla of practical classes and the Charybdis of the clerkship application process. I want to take classes that will give me some useful skills after I graduate, but at the same time those classes are often offered only on a pass/fail basis. (Yes, I know they’re technically called credit/no credit, but I don’t do that touchy-feely crap like my colleague Alex does. If you’re going to fail, you FAIL. You don’t simply not get credit.) Clerkship applications look better when you actually take classes for letter grades, and I took a heap of pass/fail credits in my 2L year (including the externship that kept me from starving to death last summer).

What’s worse, I feel like I’ve taken most of the classes I want to take, and the remaining classes I would take are either offered at the arse-crack of dawn (and I’m moving to the suburbs next year, so that would just be a recipe for disaster) or conflict with other classes I really need to take. And the classes that meet outside of the need-to-take classes are all underwater-basket-weaving type classes (this includes most seminars and most classes with the word “justice” in the title). Finally, I have this problem where if I have just one class on any given day, it becomes so easy to just blow off that one class, since it makes little sense to go all the way to campus for one hour and then go all the way home.

So what are the must-take classes? Since I’ll be a 3L, there are no must-take classes as such (except for professional responsibility, which I’ve already taken), but Conflicts of Laws and Federal Courts are the two classes that I’ve been told a litigator civil litigation lawyer (like me) has no business going into the world without taking. Civil Procedure II (which covers things like class actions, joinder, and preclusion doctrines) is another must-take course, but I took that in my 2L year, so it’s all good.

I’m also taking Trial Advocacy II, which is a rare bird, a skills-oriented letter-graded class. I’m also taking some tax classes, although I haven’t scraped together the $65 that it will take to actually get into the concurrent LL.M. program, so who knows if the administrative folks will actually let me in. I’m doing a bankruptcy clinic next year, too, which should be fun. And I’ve rounded out my schedule with a little o’ this, little o’ that (payment systems, medical malpractice, real estate transactions).

Alex is wanting me to take another class with our 1L torts professor (who also taught Civil Procedure II). I’m skeptical, though — I wasn’t happy with my grade in torts (not that I didn’t deserve it, just that I could have done better) and think I stuffed the exam in Civ Pro II (I’ve not yet had the intestinal fortitude to look at my autumn grades, which makes clerkship applications interesting), so I hesitate.