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Monday, October 22, 2007

The MTTLR Blog

Today marks the official launch of The MTTLR Blog, the official online companion to the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. We'll be publishing multiple pieces a week, both from Michigan law students and from faculty guest contributors from all around the country.

Our first post focuses on copyright and fashion, and will be followed up with posts about the use of GPS for community policing and the RIAA lawsuits. Topics on the horizon include YouTube (of course), electronic wills, municipal wi-fi, and telecommunications companies' complicity in potentially illegal espionage.

On a personal note, I swear I'll return to blogging. It's just a matter of cranking the editing of these three articles out and being able to find some new priorities.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

The 1L Diaries

When I decided to collect my thoughts on completing my first year of law school, I hit an insurmountable barrier. Perspective.

Law school is a different experience for every student. Some worry more, some work more, some love it, some hate it, some are sober, some are drunk from day one. A description of the 1L year from a single viewpoint is like looking at a single pixel on a TV... it's impossible to get the whole picture.

So I enlisted others in my summer starting class to share their thoughts about finishing 1L. Some give advice, some tell stories, but all are unique to their writers. Together, these essays form a more complete picture of the 1L year than any of us could do on our own.

Alexis - "All first year students need to relax..."

Antonia - "Smoking in law school becomes a social art form..."

Dan - "When people who were thinking about going to law school asked me how stressful it was, I told them that it was only as bad as you make it..."

"Disheartened" - "Law school is where idealists go to die..."

HMP - "My first year at law school was as fun and rewarding as it was exhausting and all consuming..."

KAH - "I’ve decided that these three years are far too precious and too short to be wholly consumed in the rat race for grades..."

Kurt (Me) - "The first year of law school is a thing of myth..."

Scott - "A year later, I look back, and am amazed at how everything (and everybody) exceeded my expectations..."

I want to thank all my fellow summer starters who participated in this little project with me. I'm sure that future students (and curious current students) of Michigan or any other school will find these posts interesting and helpful.

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The 1L Diaries: Alexis

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate Alexis, who also started law school in the summer of 2005.

My sage advice:

All first year students need to relax. Believe it or not, your stress level will not correlate with your first semester grades. It's important to really take stock of what study methods work best for you and stick with them. Just because it seems like the whole class is spending all of their time reading study aids doesn't mean that you have to. For example, if you understand torts then you don't need to pick up a study aid, but if you need to then by all means get the help.

Also don't get caught up in the outlining frenzy. Remember that some classes lend themselves to outlining more than others. Don't feel like outlining is the only way to study in law school.

Take a look at your readings for the upcoming week on the weekend. I've always preferred to do the reading for at least one course over the weekend, and then take some notes the day before as a way to remember what the reading was about. I've found that knocking out the reading for at least one class really lightens my work load to the point where I rarely did homework in the evenings. Some people don't like doing more homework on the weekend than what is due on Monday, but I didn't mind reading in the morning or mid-day on the weekend.

I also really like highlighting my notes in different colors (ex: holding is orange, facts yellow, issue blue, rationale pink, etc.). It sounds complicated but if you ever get called on in class and haven't taken any written notes you'll be able to find the answer very quickly using the colors as your guide.

Last but not least don't underestimate the importance of study groups, especially for issue spotting exams, and of course going to class and keeping up on the reading will make your life a lot easier (especially, go to class if you think it's going to be a hard course for you, you might need that little extra attendance/participation bump in the end).

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The 1L Diaries: Dan

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate Dan, who also started law school in the summer of 2005.

For most of this year, when people who were thinking about going to law school asked me how stressful it was, I told them that it was only as bad as you make it. I still think this is true, up to a point. Most books about law school (One L, Law School Confidential) are written by the most obsessive-compulsive people, and you can get the idea from reading them that law school is three years of multi-colored highlighting and intermittent panic attacks. There’s no reason it has to be that way.

But law school has a way of getting you to make it worse on yourself than you meant to. It’s partially because of the all-powerful curve. In your first two semesters at Michigan, you take all your classes with the same section of 90 students.
Your sectionmates are your friends, the only people you know very well at school, but at the same time, they’re also your competitors. Michigan students are pretty good about ignoring the competition as much as possible (to my mind the only sane way of dealing with it), but it’s always there, and it tends to become a bigger and bigger elephant in the room the closer you get to finals.

The sense of competition is worse because of the nature of the average law student. We are a fairly eggheaded group. I have a feeling there are far more eldest children in law school than youngest siblings. Of the 90 people in our section, there were maybe 10 of us who I imagine were genuinely popular in high school. The rest of us (myself included), lacking in athletic and social skills, leaned on our intelligence as a main source of self-esteem during our painful formative years. When you throw a bunch of straight-A students into an environment in which 75% of every class gets a B, the results are predictable.

But even if you get a lot of Bs, a Michigan law degree is a basically guaranteed path to a six-figure starting salary, in return for which you will work roughly 60 hours a week studying the rules, finding ways to use them to protect yourself and wound your opponents. To sign up for such a career is a good indication that you place a high value on having a stable, upper-middle class lifestyle, and that you have a great deal of respect for rules. (There are very few socialists or vegetarians in law school.) This goes back to the business of being unpopular in high school. While others were having fun, you kept your nose to the grindstone, resenting those less diligent and looking forward to the day that you would be more successful than they were. Being a lawyer is a way to make sure you get what’s coming to you, to cash in on those years of hard work. You followed the rules, and now you devote your life to studying them, bending them, glorying in the power they bring you. Before law school, you might have fantasized about getting back at someone who wronged you. In law school, you learn exactly how to do it, and you learn in an environment in which suing someone seems like only the most natural thing to do. You focus on what you legally can do to someone, not what you morally should do.

This kind of myopia, the tendency to mind the details instead of what actually matters in the big picture, can take over without you even knowing it. If you don’t believe me, look at the law review write-on competition. We just finished this grueling task, the last of the many competitive trials of 1L year, and the only one created entirely by law students. It’s also, not coincidentally, the one competition most devoted to slavishly following detailed rules. You are graded not only on the quality of your analytical thinking, but also on your ability to follow proper Blue Book citation format. The Blue Book is the Bible of legal academic citations, and it is vastly more complicated than any other citation manual in any other discipline. It is hundreds and hundreds of pages long, filled with layer upon layer of rules and exceptions, and is written in a way that seems to be intentionally difficult to understand. (Not surprisingly, it is written by law students.) Law review is probably the single greatest sign of success at law school, and whether or not you make it could easily be decided by your knowledge of which commas should be italicized, and which should not. Seriously. By the end of your 1L year, this kind of thing doesn’t even seem all that strange.

I’ve painted a ridiculously bleak picture of law school. It’s really not that bad, and I promise, I don’t go around in a miserable funk, nor does anyone else I know. Once we got into our third semester, our summer-starter section split up to take mostly different classes from one another, and everyone relaxed a little about the competitiveness. We started taking classes we wanted to take, saw some new classmates, and generally became less stressed. It’s only when I step back that I start to see some of the absurdities, and also some of the dangers of falling too much into a law school mindset – dangers that can have long-lasting effects if you end up so caught up in the chase that you make a drastically bad career choice. Law school is only as bad as you make it. But you have to work harder than you might think at not making it bad.

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The 1L Diaries: Antonia

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate Antonia, who also started law school in the summer of 2005. Check out her blog.

Three semesters – a retrospective look at a very long academic year


Part I – It’s Amore!

Falling in love is always a big deal. At first you deny that you’re falling in love – you blame other things for the way you’re feeling. Then finally you admit it. You’re in love. Head over heels, stupid, crazy in love.

The first two semesters of law school, I honestly thought I’d lost that.

Then came my third semester – and electives.

It wasn’t love at first sight. It usually isn’t. The first few pages of readings were plagued by the ennui of a jaded perpetual student. But gradually I fell in love. Deeply, passionately – crazy stupid in love.

Discovering you have a passion for international trade law is like discovering you have a passion for the AV geek in your high school, only worse. It’s like discovering you have a passion for a somewhat evil AV geek in your high school – the kind that goes Columbine on your ass.

I used to always get excited by research. I wanted to write a research paper, but as much as I tried, I came up with nothing. Then I discovered the SPS Agreement, and like that, I went from being hooked to being an international trade law crack whore.

Let me put it this way – it was finals time. I had a few important exams to worry about. Some people pledge to themselves that they won’t get drunk. Getting drunk isn’t my problem. I pledged not to do research for my international trade law paper. I restrained my twitching fingers from scrolling uncontrollably, even as I received the motherload of evidence in my inbox. I behaved. Most of the time.

Now school’s over. I still have to write that paper – but now, I get to focus. I get to lovingly caress every phrase and every paragraph; linger over every word. Even better, this summer I get to do research on this subject. I get to do what I’d want to be doing even if I wasn’t working.

Love is like that. It’s a crazy, wonderful, passionate thing. This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen in love – don’t get me wrong – there were Roma rights, post-communist Hungarian nationalism, the Caucasus, and Russian energy politics. But this one is special. This is it. Between this and energy, I’ve got a threesome I never want to leave. And for that reason alone, law school is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.


Part II – Thank you for smoking

My dad tells me smoking is a bad thing. He should know – he’s a cancer researcher. I don’t believe a word he says, however. Without smoking, I’d have never met my closest friends at the law school.

In between classes, there’s a group of us that always goes outside to smoke, right in front of the “no smoking near the entrance” sign, which is itself right in front of a giant ashtray (the logic of that escapes me). The most dedicated amongst us can be found there every hour, on the hour, like clockwork.

I met my best friend at the law school there. She wasn’t in any of my classes. I never saw her outside of the smoker’s crew and the occasional language lunch. But by smoking together we became friends. At this point, we’re pretty much inseparable.

The number of people who smoke varies with the seasons and the proximity to exams. When it’s cold and wet outside, there are only a few of us diehards to be found. When it’s nice out, there are many more. And when it’s close to exams, whether freezing cold or warm and sunny, the number of smokers quadruples.

You grow to learn the schedules of people – even non-smokers. If you want to see the LLMs, you hang out in front of the building at 2:30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you want to see 1Ls, shortly before 9 am is a good bet. Tons of people of all sorts emerge from the building at 12:15.

Smoking in law school becomes a social art form. And I’m proud to say that among my mastery of torts, crim law, international trade law and other various classes, I can include the mastery of that most delicate of art forms – the art of smoking in front of the law school.

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The 1L Diaries: Disheartened

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate "Disheartened", who also started law school in the summer of 2005.

I am in law school because I scored in the 99th percentile on the LSAT. My undergraduate performance was notoriously unimpressive, so I felt compelled to “take advantage” of this good fortune. Big mistake. I arrived in Michigan with high hopes – maybe even dreams. Now I am a cynic. Law school is where idealists go to die.

That’s not to say I don’t like Michigan. Ann Arbor is a beautiful college town; the law school is terrific, and I am particularly fond of my classmates. But there is something about the education that irks me. Maybe the Socratic Method has exhausted my vigor, as the weight of preparation and attention is particularly burdensome for us underachievers. Maybe it’s that I find the American legal system disgraceful; particularly constitutional law, scandalous is the word that comes to mind. I spend at least thirty minutes each day wishing I were in med school or engaged in some other endeavor where I might be able help people. Lawyers are a scourge that bleeds society like an open wound. Certainly, they are necessary; but one-half the number would provide identical societal benefits without unnecessarily consuming excessive resources. Law is extortion made legal – the only distinction is whether the extortion is foisted upon the person or the system requires him to ask for it. Sadly, I am training to be a leach. But law school is a terrific education. I know almost nothing about the law and am entirely incapable of providing any service to my employer this summer, but I have learned much in law school. Law school is really just liberal arts education, with an emphasis on improvised public speaking.

I will admit that I was displeased by my grades and by the law school grading process generally. First semester, I worked harder than at any point in my academic life. I earned median grades. Second semester, I did as close to nothing as is feasible: I attended roughly half my classes and learned each subject in three days using outlines available online. Can you guess the punch line? Yes, slightly better grades.

Law school introduced me to Northeastern pretension. In a class I had two days per week, one student managed to wear some sort of Yale paraphernalia to every session all semester. I did not know that Yale passed out t-shirts based on which dorm the student lived in or whether he entered the annual eating competition. I grew up in a middle-class home in an informal town, and am the proud product of public schools. I am grateful for Michigan’s 25% in-state requirement. The school owes its down-to-earth reputation to these students. Without them, my law school experience would have been much less pleasurable.

My political viewpoints are largely unchanged. Maybe now I see fewer things as absolutes and am more capable of making arguments for either side. I still think that affirmative action sounds good in theory but fails in practice. I hate how I can’t help but think of race when minority students say something foolish. I wish I did not know that they were under-qualified to attend this law school. And I truly wish that I were able to attend law school with minority students similarly qualified with the rest of the class. Unfortunately for all of us, the AA system drags those students up to Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, and provides us with minorities who should be attending lower ranked schools. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but our class would have benefited from an outstanding minority student willing to and capable of challenging established views.

But what really matters in law school? Jobs. And I was offered my first-choice job during the interview and without providing grades. Clearly, Michigan’s reputation carried the day. Is this enough to declare victory and end this essay? Yes. I am racing toward a profession defined by misery, but I will be well compensated – and moderately prestigious.

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The 1L Diaries: HMP

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate HMP, who also started law school in the summer of 2005.

The past three semesters have flown by so quickly that it hardly seems so much could have happened, and yet I know I’m imprinted with the rich experiences of the past year. My first year at law school was as fun and rewarding as it was exhausting and all consuming. During my brief break between finals and work I admit that I scarcely want to hear the words “law school”, not because it has been anything less than a great experience, but simply because it’s so nice to re-discover parks, gardens and books that don’t have anything to do with the law. Nevertheless, I’m still looking forward to my summer job and all that the next three semesters have to offer.

I don’t think I had many specific expectations coming into law school. In fact, I’m not sure that I really knew much about law school beyond The Paper Chase and Legally Blonde, but I’ve found that law school can make me question and challenge myself, not just academically, but in a deeply personal way, given the intensity of the program and the close knit relationships that develop. I’ve also found that I love thinking about the law, how past decisions have shaped the current state of affairs and where the law can move in the future given the constraints of the past.

I’ve had a great time so far, and I think the key lies, at least in part, in not taking law school too seriously. I know that I’ll get a great education and a great job after school so any pressure I put on myself is just that – when I stay up all night to write an exam, it’s not because I feel that I have to or else all will be lost. It’s more a feeling that I don’t want to quit until I know that I’ve done the best I can.

Perhaps most importantly though, is the fantastic law school community. It’s been great getting to know my smart, friendly, and always surprising classmates. I know that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself half as much at another law school where the snarky competition is likely to be more real than it is at Michigan. I’ve enjoyed finding out where my classmates have been before law school – they all have such interesting stories, and many that I never would have imagined. I’ve enjoyed reading the fights, professions of love and general distractions on the law school listserv (sometimes mirrored by the fights, professions of love and general distractions that take place during happy hour).

So for now I’ll happily return to my novel, but I’m looking forward to learning from admirable professors, being impressed by classmates I have yet to meet, as well as the other adventures I can’t yet foresee.

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The 1L Diaries: KAH

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate KAH, who also started law school in the summer of 2005.

I had a month off between graduating from undergrad and starting MichLaw, and I thought it would be a wise idea to sneak into the Law Library to read ahead for Contracts during that time. Although never having considered law school before my senior year, I was cut from a prototypical law student mold: anal, competitive, and for the most part relentless in the attempt to get ahead.

I worked hard over the summer, especially in Contracts, but felt my work didn’t reflect my grade (although the grade itself was fine, in retrospect). That experience caused a change – instead of working harder, I relaxed. Grades in law school are arbitrary to a large extent, and I knew I could bury myself in work in the hopes of getting that Book Award... or I could have some fun. Law school is a very brief chance to appreciate the nuances of the law, and network with some great people before you are thrown into working an ungodly number of hours for a salary that a 23-year old should never see. So this past fall, I went to every home football game, had an amazing 21st birthday, missed class, fell out of and into love, and experienced life.

I got a B in CivPro (maybe I missed that class once too often), but the world did not end. Many of my friends chided me for my seemingly irreverent perspective on law school – after all, they were up for that 8am class. But I’ve decided that these three years are far too precious and too short to be wholly consumed in the rat race for grades. Yes, they are important – and I will read, study, and cram... and even attend classes. But I will not leave law school with any gray hairs or heart conditions, and my future firm will have a young associate who is not drained from her time in school, but ready to dive into work whole-heartedly. I’ve learned that keeping a balance between learning and living is crucial.

In addition, a word of advice to any prospective law students in serious relationships: don’t bank on them lasting. The 1L year is tough on relationships, but I didn’t fully appreciate that until I broke up with my boyfriend of four years. Law school will consume you and your time, and in one way or another, it will change how you view the world and those around you. It got in the way of my race towards a 2007 wedding, but realistically, we wouldn’t have lasted for many reasons. Law school has made me much more aware of the practical difficulties of maintaining a relationship in that ever-mentioned “real world” that most of us students have yet to face.

In all, my first year was amazing – it has made me a little more relaxed, and much more content with myself and my decisions. Learning the law has been exhilarating and the intense 1L job search was surreal (going from sending out eighty applications to firms, to winding up with an offer from a great firm I met while attending a recruiting event at a local restaurant). MichLaw students have proven to be the most helpful, caring bunch of people I could ever hope to experience the past year with. And although it is a little cliché, seeing the Quad’s stunning beauty (especially on a quiet winter night) makes me hope that law students across the country feel as lucky as I do. My first year has really inspired me to make the most of the rest of my time at Michigan, and has made me ever so proud to boast a “Michigan Law School” sticker on the back window of my car.

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The 1L Diaries: Kurt

This entry in The 1L Diaries is the only entry written by me. All others are written by fellow summer starter classmates.

The first year of law school is a thing of myth. It's the subject of books, movies, and a hundred or so slice-of-life blogs that fluctuate endlessly between bravado and panic.

Of course, there's a reality behind the myth that often seems intentionally obscured. That's not surprising. Law school is, in many ways, about secrecy. We don't talk about grades (but we do). We don't talk about jobs (but we do). We don't talk about money (but we do). Everything is behind half-closed doors, present but not quite acknowledged.

Law students often go on and on about the number of pages we read and the number of hours we study, acting like we've martyred ourselves to the Socratic Method and the once-a-semester exam process. We've even invented our own 1L-2L-3L code to emphasize how different law school is from any other kind of education.

But the biggest secret of law school is that it's not as different as we'd like to pretend it is. You do the reading, you go to class, you take notes, you do some studying, maybe you join a study group or make an outline. It's just school.

I've become convinced that the intimidating image of law school as a time-sucking, back-stabbing place is a way to haze the newcomers. We were all scared of law school, at least a little, and because of that few students want to tell other people that many law school stories, and the fear that accompanies them, are overblown to make us look cool.

So here's the straightest I can be about my experience as a 1L student at the University of Michigan.

Law school is surprisingly fun. You learn some interesting, smart things and get to interact with interesting, smart people. You develop a strange, law student sense of humor, but when you get into an argument about whether a bump in a restaurant's rug could be grounds for a tort, you're being secretly productive (and less secretly obnoxious). Plus, you meet people. Law students develop relationships like soldiers in a foxhole.

Law school is also awful. The "oh my God we read so much" whining is not always exaggeration, and there are days when reading piles on class piles on research piles on memos and it's impossible not to think that life as an impoverished bartender has got to be better than putting up with this shit. On those days (and during pretty much the entire exam stretch), you will probably hate law school.

Preparing yourself for those moments, and understanding that they will pass, is probably the most important thing to remember in order to stay sane.

I hit a point in my first semester, probably a month in, where I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. I had stared at some inconsequential case in Contracts for half an hour and never started reading it, and I began to panic. Did I screw up by coming to law school? Is this what I want to do with my life? For crying out loud, I have a telecommunications and film degree, and now I'm reading contracts cases from the 19th century? I don't want to read contracts cases from the 19th century for the next 50 years! But the debt has me trapped!! I'm all out of beer!!! Oh my god I'm going to die!!!!

It sounds terrible, but that's the beauty of it. All the bad stuff was in my head. My little anxiety attack passed (with the help of an understanding wife, who deserves a thousand words of praise on her own, and sage advice from a 3L to just relax). I remembered that this is what I want to do, that I won't be reading contracts cases from the 19th century for the rest of my life, and that I did have one bottle of beer lurking in the back of the fridge like some kind of frothy savior.

Of course, there's no use lying about it: sometimes law school is just useless. Learning about property rights pertaining to fox hunting in Pierson v. Post, for instance, or getting a 2 day summary of the history of the English monarchy in Property class, or, well, I guess pretty much all of Property class.

So to recap: (1) sometimes fun, (2) sometimes awful, (3) Property is useless. See, in law school you learn to itemize everything with nicely parenthesized numbers.

For all my desire to be honest, it's difficult to communicate exactly what it's like to be a law student. I spend more time studying now than I ever have. In fact, I can honestly say that law school is, in many ways, the most difficult thing I've ever done. But it's not more than I can handle, and not so much that I can't enjoy myself while working through it. I watch movies, I watch TV, I blog, I spend time with my wife. Law school doesn't prevent me from living my life as I want to live it, and it's opening opportunities I never expected to have.

Starting law school is like starting anything new. It's different, and scary, and overwhelming, and hard. At first. Then you hit your groove, and before you know it the whole thing is old news.

The hardest part of law school is just getting used to it.

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The 1L Diaries: Scott

This entry in The 1L Diaries was written by my classmate Scott, who also started law school in the summer of 2005.

About this time last year, I was revving up for the start of Law School. I had no idea what to expect. I knew that, after not doing as much work as I could or probably should have done while I was in undergrad, that I was in for some real studying for the first time in my life. I also knew the professors were going to be tough, but brilliant, and my fellow students were going to have a wealth of life experiences to share with me and the rest of the class.

A year later, I look back, and am amazed at how everything (and everybody) exceeded my expectations. Starting law school in the summer (and if any potential University of Michigan law applicants are reading this, trust me when I say this) was one of the best two or three decisions I have ever made in my life. I cannot imagine starting law school any other way, and it has made this past year so much better than I ever thought it would be. Having the law school all to ourselves and having Clark and Omri, two great professors, and just a great group of people to start off class with, there is not a better way to start law school. And I was right, I did more work than I ever had before, but I had never had such a good time doing it (well, most of it). And I can't help but think that it was because of the people that shared this experience with me.

And that's what I'm going to remember from this year. I surely don't remember what UCC §2-209 is (or even if it exists) or quite figured out why Pierson v. Post is so important to the American legal landscape, but I do remember watching LOST in between Civil Procedure and Crim Law. And I remember watching a great season of 24, and poker nights, having a Fantasy Football draft in the basement of the Law Quad, heading to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Pistons, Friday afternoon basketball during the summer, and sitting at our table in the Lawyers Club, making sure to protect it from any non-summer starters that thought they could take a chair away.

Back at home for a few weeks now, working for the summer, having a bit more time to relax, more time to read for pleasure (already read a whole book, more than I did all of the school year, sadly, including vacations), and a bigger TV to watch my numerous TV shows, DVDs, and sporting events on, it is nice to be home. But, at the same time, I miss it. I miss the Law Quad. I miss the people. And I can't wait to get back.

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