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January 10, 2008

Law vs. Medicine, and law school vs. medical school

I've gotten several email requests over the past few weeks from people who are trying to decide whether to pursue a career in law and/or medicine, asking what the professions are like and what the training for each of them entails. Since more people with the same question may find my blog but won't want to email me directly, I thought I'd post a generic version of what I've said about the subject here.

Keep in mind, of course, that my insight is limited. Yes, I've finished both law school and medical school, and I'm now a medical resident. This gives me an interesting perspective on the training programs for both professions. But remember that I've been practicing medicine for eighteen months as a resident. I've never practiced law. My knowledge of law practice comes from my time as a summer associate with a very large firm called Sidley Austin in Chicago, and from talking with law school friends that have been practicing in various capacities and places for eighteen months.

Nevertheless, that's still some pretty unique (*smirk* to you-know-who) experience, and I'm happy to share it.

Both professions are hugely diverse, and this makes it hard to generalize about them. In my opinion this also makes both fields very interesting -- there's a million little niches in each that
suit very different kinds of people.

With the disclaimer out of the way, let's move on to the generalizations:

Medicine is literally a hands-on profession. Most docs end up pushing on stomachs and listening to various organs with a stethoscope. True whether you're an emergency doc or an internist or a surgeon. Even the pathologists and the radiologists are probing individual patients in some way (dead patients and pictures of patients respectively).

The mental work that docs do is usually diagnostic -- pattern recognition -- which sometimes doesn't feel like "thinking." They gather all the data together, recognize from past experience what kinds of data are missing and what questions haven't been asked, and then fit all those data into the patterns they've got floating around in their head. This process of diagnosis is usually instantaneous. "Ok ma'am, you've been vomiting for two days, you've had an appendectomy several years ago, you're not a diabetic, and your abdomen is diffusely tender. Badda-bing, I think you've got a bowel obstruction." Why? Because it fits the pattern.

When you're doing this, it doesn't really seem to be a mental process in the same way that writing out an argument in the social sciences or humanities does. In fact, it can seem mindless. So much so that many docs feel they need to do something else to get their intellectual kicks -- research, philosophy as a hobby, health policy, whatever.

The plus side is that you are actually helping a real person who's standing in front of you (or curled up in the fetal position in front of you). You're doing something in the real world and you see the effects of what you do.

Contrast this with law: this is a writing profession. Lawyers deal with written documents and produce written documents, almost without exception. This can mean that the effects of what you do aren't so immediate as they are in medicine. As a lawyer, you certainly have no special manual skills like most
doctors do -- you can't put a central line into some guy'sneck, you can't do any kind of surgery. The skills you have are all about documents.

Even if you're a trial lawyer that argues to a jury, you're still dealing with words, arranged in a particular way, only this time delivered orally instead of on paper. Even trial lawyers spend the majority of their time going over written depositions, writing motions to the judge, etc. And most lawyers who don't do trials work almost exclusively in writing -- corporate lawyers drafting documents for deals, appellate lawyers writing briefs, government lawyers reviewing policies.

There's a lot of room to think, in the traditional academic sense, if you're a lawyer. (Not so much as a junior associate, but as you get more experienced.) You can strategize, persuade, marshal evidence, and all the other stuff that lawyers are famous for doing. It's not as free-wheeling as arguing with your friends about Barack Obama's health plan, but hey -- it's still an intellectual and creative kind of brain work.

The downside, in my opinion, is that the effects of what you do are often much more difficult to discern in law than they are in medicine. You slave away on a motion for weeks, and then the judge denies it. Or, worse, the motion is granted, but then your client settles. You have to use your imagination sometimes to believe that what you did had some direct effect on the world. True, in medicine the patient may still end up dead, but in general you'll see the effects of what you do in medicine more than you will in law.

If you hate being in a cubicle, realize that most of the really well-paid lawyers do
just that -- sit in a cubicle. Lawyers who like to be on their feet are usually prosecuting or defending small-time crime, or (occasionally) they make a name for themselves and work on the big stuff. But this is only one small niche within the legal profession. Most lawyers are desk-driving wordsmiths.

Then there are other factors. In my own biased opinion based on limited experience:

Lawyers are much better conversationalists than doctors.
Doctors can't write worth a damn, and they're less curious.
Most people in both professions are risk averse.
Lawyers are much more money and status conscious than doctors.
But the doctors who are money-conscious are insufferable.


One other thing I should mention: the road to getting a medical license is a long one. That shouldn't stop you if you want to do it, but you've got to be prepared for the long haul, and you have to enjoy the journey.

Speaking of school: in medicine, the trick is to get into *any* American medical school. There are relatively few of them, and they all have high admission standards. Law school is different. The trick for law school is to get into a *good* law school. There are a million law schools, and for most of them, all you need to do to get in is have a pulse and be able to sign for student loans.

What this means is that in medicine, so long as you get in, it doesn't matter where you go to med school. Sure, Hopkins would be nice, but if you don't like Baltimore you can go to your state med school and do just as well. In law, if you don't go to a good law school, you'll find your employment prospects limited when you graduate. Don't let the schools tell you any different: shoot for the best law school you can get into.

For a list of good law schools, see Brian Leiter's rankings. There are other rank lists out there and these rankings are absurd, but I've said a lot about that already and won't repeat myself here. These list just give you an idea of which schools will give you the most options as a graduate.

Remember, too, that you might want to consider why you want to enter either profession. The word on the street is that both lawyers and doctors don't have as much prestige as they used to. Practitioners of both professions are, more and more, becoming highly-paid employees, and there's nothing very highbrow about that. So if prestige is what you're after, think twice. Think about starting your own business, or becoming an artist. There's many more than two ways to skin a cat.

October 07, 2007

Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky

The TaxProf Blog has been running a series of posts by legal luminaries giving advice to Erwin Chemerinsky, the first Dean of the new UC Irvine law school.

My favorites are from John Mayer. . .

The single biggest thing that students crave is more feedback. Imagine if you took a job where you were paid at the end of 15 weeks based on your performance -- better performance = more pay, but you weren’t told how well you were doing until the end of the 15 weeks. That’s law school. Students are studying hard, but they aren’t sure that they know what they know until the results of the final exam are in. . . . If instructors want to read really excellent final exams, then you have to make sure that students are on track throughout the semester. The surprises you get reading the finals are no less disconcerting than the surprises that the students get when you grade it.

. . . And from David Hoffman. . .

The Bar's accreditation standards increase the cost of legal education and reduce competition between lawyers. They make it impossible to create a true laboratory of law schools, competing for student dollars by offering the best value. Thus, the "single best idea" for reforming legal education is the one that makes all others possible: to eliminate the Bar's accreditation role. This is not to say that we don't need any kind of accreditation – we do, but it should not be one run by our guild. Instead, we should seek an accreditor that would embrace an experimental approach to legal education.

And now for an absurdly untimely comment

There are some issues that irreconcilably divide the world's people into one side versus another. Pro-life or pro-choice. Cats or dogs. Beach or mountains.

Pro- or anti- Anthony Ciolli.

Me? I think the decision by Ciolli's old law firm to rescind its offer of employment is nauseating. Not unexpected, but nauseating. At least Ciolli never claimed to be something he wasn't. Hypocrisy wasn't one of Ciolli's sins, but a biglaw firm preaching primly about "the kind of language exhibited on the message board" that Ciolli was affiliated with, while at the same time doing what most biglaw firms do -- whore itself out for absurd amounts of money defending corporate clients that harm people in ways far worse than Ciolli ever did -- is nauseatingly hypocritical, if rarely remarked upon.

Now, I don't know everything about the AutoAdmit scandal. I don't know exactly what was posted by the people who were eventually sued by Rosen/Lemley/et.al. I certainly don't know whether the plaintiffs in the lawsuit couldn't get a job because of what was posted on AutoAdmit, or because their grades sucked. But as a former poster on the previous iteration of AutoAdmit (when it was still run by the Princeton Review), I believe that participants on this board have clear warning about what kind of juvenile/infantile/potentially dangerous climate they're getting into when they post there. And they have to be idiots not to know that the kinds of employers they're angling to attract -- risk-averse and often hypocritical Biglaw firms -- might act stupidly and take what was posted on AutoAdmit as an excuse not to hire them, for whatever reason.

Even, allegedly, because some anonymous poster calling himself The Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rollah said that the plaintiff had a lesbian affair with the admissions director at Yale Law School. To believe that even a Biglaw firm would take that claim seriously is a stretch. Look, a lot of things were said about me by fools and morons when I posted on xoxohth.com. That was one of the things that made it fun. But when a biglaw firm didn't give me a job, I assumed (naively, perhaps), that it was because they had other applicants that they liked better than me, for substantive reasons, like, say, law school grades and an enthusiasm for golf. Suing xoxo would have been too embarrassing to contemplate. Apparently, not for everyone.

I admit, I'm a mountain guy. I like cats. I'm pro- legal abortions (but not because I'm "pro-choice" -- that's the worst justification in the world for fighting to keep abortion legal). And I'm a free-speech guy. No one should think getting a Biglaw job is such a shoe-in that "it must have been those xoxo posters who ruined it all for me." I bet if your resume were a bit stronger you'd have gotten a few more offers. Or, conversely, you should have realized that the hiring committees at Biglaw firms really are stupid enough to pay attention to some anonymous dumb ass calling himself Pauliewalnuts.

July 28, 2007

Charging more for business and engineering majors

The nytimes reports that some state universities are charging different tuitions based on a student's choice of undergraduate major. Compelled by the continuing refusal of state legislatures to adequately fund public universities, these schemes are just one more step along the path to privatizing higher education.

“There was a time, not that long ago, 10 to 15 years ago, that the vast majority of the cost of education at public universities was borne by the state, and that was why tuition was so low,” he said. “That was based on the premise that the education of an individual is a public good, that individuals go out and become schoolteachers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers, that makes society better. That’s no longer the perception.”

As an aside, the nytimes article quotes an administrator at Texas A&M who tells us that “The salaries we pay for entering assistant [business] professors on average is probably larger than the average salary for full professors at the university.” Understandable, given the opportunity costs of teaching over practice when your field is "business", but still -- our cultural disdain for the humanities relative to the moneymaking disciplines shows no signs of ending soon....

August 24, 2006

Advice for 2L law students

3L Epiphany has a nice post with advice for 2Ls. I've thrown in a bit of my own advice in the comments to that post.

I'd like to remind 2Ls, though, of Gildor Inglorion's words to Frodo and company in the hills above Woodhall:

Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. . . . But if you demand advice, I will for friendship's sake give it.
My advice is offered in the same spirit of friendship, and with the same cautions. Of course, the conseqences if "courses run ill" in law school aren't quite the same as they are when one is pursued by the Nazgûl.

April 19, 2006

PowerPoint: Less is More

On the interview trail for an emergency medicine residency spot, I was hit with a cold realization. My three blissful years of law school are coming to an end. It's time to go back to the world of medicine, and this means returning to an arena in which virtually every formal presentation is likely to be accompanied by PowerPoint slides.

I'm yawning with anticipation.

At the University of Michigan Law School, professors lecture with all the lights on, and they almost never use PowerPoint. This might surprise all those academic physicians out there who don't think it's possible to convey information without dimming the lights and firing up the projector. Dispite what many doctors seem to think, PowerPoint is not a required teaching tool. My roughly 400 or so classmates who've learned a lot of law over the past three years can all testify to that.

Lawyers do, occasionally, use PowerPoint in the courtroom. But the good ones don't let PowerPoint use them. TaxProfBlog has a post about how trial lawyer W. Mark Lanier -- the guy who persuaded a Texas jury to award his client $252 million in Vioxx suit against Merck -- hired a guy named Cliff Atkinson to help him with his PowerPoint slides. Atkinson is trying to do something about what he calls "PowerPoint fatigue" and TaxProf calls "the deadening sameness of Microsoft Corp.'s commonly used presentation software." This kind of language should rings a bell for a lot of emergency physicians and residents out there (for my sake).

My only worry is that Atkinson might not be quite radical enough. Sure, he talks a tough game. On page 14 of his 5 ways to reduce powerpoint overload (pdf), Atkinson says:

When you think you’re impressing people by putting everything you know on your PowerPoint slide, you’re actually doing the opposite by shutting down their cognitive processing. And when people are sitting there bored, they’re likely not thinking positive thoughts. When it comes to PowerPoint, less is more. . . ." (Emphasis mine.)
Atkinson is absolutely right, which is why I wish he'd gone on to say, "hey, do you ever think of just getting up and talking? Without any PowerPoint at all?" But I suppose that wouldn't be great for his consulting business' bottom line. Even though he says that less PowerPoint is more, Atkinson doesn't actually advise us to use less PowerPoint. And that's kind of sad and wimpy.

April 07, 2006

Go, Heidi!

Congratulations to Heidi, who's one of this year's Henry M. Bates Memorial Scholarship recipients.

The award couldn't go to a more deserving person. I'm proud of her, happy for her, and wholly unsurprised by her -- at least in this one small area. Go, H!

January 14, 2006

Lost decade?

In the coffee shop this morning I overheard a group of doctors talking about the past. One of them lamented all the years of training he'd had: four years of medical school and five years of residency. "I can't even remember what it was like to be in my twenties," he said. "I lost that whole decade of my life."

How sad! I'm not unsympathetic to this guy -- when you keep your nose to the grindstone for so many years, you can lose track of everything else, and when you finally look up, you wonder where all the time has gone. But I don't think there's anything inherent about medical training, or even hard continuous work, that necessarily results in "lost" time. It's only when you lose track of why you're working so hard, and of what you're working for, that the time spent working becomes a black hole in your life.

Here's why I think I'm lucky: I'm excited about starting my residency because I know why I want to do it. I know where I want to go, and I know how the hard work of residency fits in to that plan. I didn't always know this. Right out of medical school it felt like I was on a treadmill, just connecting the dots that someone else said that I should connect. I hated that feeling. I suppose that's the reason I decided to go to law school when I did. I understood why I wanted to go and what I wanted to get out of it. Now, I feel the same way about a residency in emergency medicine. I'll get much more out my residency now than I would have had I started right out of medical school. The unorthodox sequence of med school/law school/residency was right for me.

I've been lucky in so many ways. I don't have any lost decades. I've always been able to do things for good reasons and at the right time. May everyone be so fortunate.

January 10, 2006

Sign up for junk mail: get a student loan

The worst thing about having a lot of student loans is the debt. Coming in a close second is student loan-related junk mail.

Important Notice to Carey Cuprisin

Notice: Student Loan Information Inclosed
Reference # 2331 - 134592255
Carey Cuprisin
Address line 1
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Dear Carey,

PLEASE CONTACT US REGARDING YOUR STUDENT LOANS AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE. TOLL FREE AT (800) XXX-XXXX

THIS IS NOT A LATE PAYMENT NOTICE. NEXTSTUDENT IS NOT YOUR CURRENT LENDER.

RESPECTFULLY,
NEXTSTUDENT

YOU CAN CHOOSE TO STOP RECEIVING "PRESCREENED" OFFERS OF CREDIT FROM THIS AND OTHER COMPANIES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE 1-888-OPT-OUT.

I have no reason to believe that calling the "opt-out" number will do any good at all. They'll probably just be glad to get my phone number so they can spam that, too. The only equally effective way I've found to sign up for as much junk mail is to take out a subscription to Smithsonian magazine. . . .

January 08, 2006

Back from the dead

At last! I'm back from my self-imposed exile from the blogosphere. Although I had to fight constant low-level feelings of guilt for not posting on my blog, I've been having a great time.

I'm applying for a residency position in the queen of the medical specialties -- emergency medicine -- and that means that November and December have been spent traveling to interviews. I've been traveling from one coast to the other, spending money on plane tickets and hotels like a drunken sailor (although I don't think drunken sailors could spend money as fast as a residency applicant). Let's just say that, so long as I don't think about how much this is costing me, it's been really fun.

One of the things you learn very quickly on the interview trail is that all emergency departments look the same. Sure, some of them are more spacious; some of them have skylights; some of them use a whiteboard to keep track of patients and some of them use computers for everything. But really, when you've seen one emergency room, you've seen them all. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the tours that every program provides, but the reason I like the tour is that you get to listen to the tour guide talk about the program. I can't wait 'til I'm the one leading the tour -- it'll be nice to be the only one who's not wearing The Suit.

To borrow a phrase from my brother, residency interviews are exactly like law firm interviews, only they're completely different. The interviews themselves are very similar -- four or five 20-minute interviews that are mostly getting-to-know-you affairs. What's totally different is the relative lack of any bling-bling on the residency interview trail. If med students knew how much money law firms spend to interview law students, they'd never tolerate any whining from a law student ever. Big law firms pay for the applicant's airfare; they pay for hotel and cab fare; they pay for all meals, and they usually take the applicants to lunch at a swanky place on interview day. Think Topolobampo or the Blackbird, for those of you who know Chicago. Residency program applicants are usually provided with a good solid lunch on interview day, but they're usually on their own for all the other expenses. Before I went to law school, I used to think that was Normal. Now I'm sure of it. Biglaw is a whole different world.

The other big difference is that Biglaw interviews happen during the summer, and residency interviews happen (as you may have guessed) in the dead of winter. This can make a big difference if your flight is delayed because of a blizzard or if you have to drive somewhere in the snow, but I was lucky: all my traveling went down without a hitch (that is, if you don't count the fiascos at JFK airport in New York, but they had nothing to do with the weather).

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my last semester of law school. It's hard to believe there's only four months left!

November 06, 2005

Mandatory attendance

Via Armen, here's a rant from Mike at Barely Legal against mandatory attendance in law school:

Maybe the school thinks it reflects poorly on them if I can do well without being an active participant in class. It doesn't. If they are going to continue to base your grade off of one exam at the end of the semester, they have to realize that everyone learns differently, and they cannot expect everyone to conform to the same standards. If I want to take the scenic route to exams instead of the busy interstate, isn't that my prerogative?
I agree with Mike. Required attendance in law school is hard to defend on grounds of educational benefit.

Mike points out, rightly, that many students learn best by methods other than attending class. For these students, regular attendance isn't worth much. To the extent that it limits the time they can spend doing things that really help them learn, class attendance is harmful.

The strongest educational argument in favor of full attendance may be that it enhances the Socratic back-and-forth between the professor and the students, and that some students find this activity tremendously educational. Even if this is true, mandatory attendance rules do nothing to ensure that a decent socratic back-and-forth will happen.

With the prominent exception of small seminars, I've been impressed throughout law school by how many students don't pay attention in class. In my experience, these students do nothing to contribute when they're called on. I don't see how their presence in class benefits me, and if it's not benefitting them either, why require them to attend? Far better to let them skip class so they can use their time more effectively. The students who remain will be the ones who actually contribute to a decent socratic dialogue. Allowing students to skip class might turn large classes into small classes, and small classes into seminars. The quality of class participation would go up.

What we really value about class attendance is not something we can compel by mandatory attendance policies.

September 22, 2005

Should the third year of law school be abolished?

Daniel Solove and Laura Appleman are debating that question at legal affairs.

September 02, 2005

A Law School Post

citizenship papers

This semester I'm enrolled in a seminar called "Liberalism and its Critics." Well, guess what I found on the reading list for this course? Wendell Berry!

It's time to celebrate.

April 23, 2005

Studying jurisdiction...

Like some other people I know, I should be studying Jurisdiction and Choice of Law. Michigan is kind of anomalous, in that these topics are broken out of civil procedure and taught as an upperclass course.

My favorite parts of the course all involve the interplay between federal and state courts. I'm less enamored of the material on interstate choice of law, which often seems to me like a big mushy blob of mumbo-jumbo compared with the often subtle and sometimes indeterminate but consistently exciting issues of removal, preemption, and 1331 subject-matter jurisdiction.

Maybe it's just an esthetic preference. Something about the impact of Merrell Dow on the "necessary construction" prong of the test for federal subject matter jurisdiction just seems more esthetically engaging than arguments about whether Minnesota can apply its law to a car crash between two residents of Wisconsin.

I never did much like Elvis Costello's music much, either. Go figure.

Anyway, the sad part is that I probably need to spend more of my time studying the things that I'm least interested in. I'm sure I don't know those things as well. Life is really not fair. So back to interest-analyis, the 2d Restatement, and comparative impairment I go...

April 07, 2005

Poetry and prose

We used to have a literary magazine here at Michigan Law called Dicta. I say "used to" because it hasn't been published since 2002.

That's THREE YEARS of literary quiescence.

This year an enterprising 1L who decided it was better for law students to express, not suppress, their literary talents, resurrected the old Dicta as Griot*. Thanks to a friend of mine who both writes poems AND absents herself from campus on opening night, I got to read her poem aloud in front of a roomful of people. It was fun. They applauded. Now I know how Hilary Swank feels.

Although my colleagues here might sometimes seem to exist in only one dimension, that's just an unhappy illusion. If you give them half a chance to really express themselves artistically, they'll remind you that you're still surrounded by some jaw-droppingly creative people.

* Griot: a storyteller in western Africa who perpetuates the oral tradition and history of a village or family.

April 05, 2005

The right reason to bitch about law school exams

Anytime you talk about grades in law school, you inevitably set off a law school bitch fest.

I'm (usually) willing to participate in the bitch fest. As usual, though, I think the arguments over whether law school grading is random or biased miss the point. Law school grading deserves criticism, if it does at all, because it depends upon skills that aren't emphasized in law school teaching.

As Christine Hurt at The Conglomerate (boldly) emphasizes, most law school exams reward the application of legal knowledge to new sets of facts. In my experience, however, most law school reading assignments and classroom discussions don't teach this skill. Very often, the first and only time that students are asked to apply their knowledge to new facts in a typical law school class is on the final exam.

The standard law school reading assignment provides great practice at puzzling out rules of law from appellate opinions, many of which omit virtually any mention of facts at all in favor of long-winded discussions of the merits of competing legal rules. The typical class discussion does the same thing: the professor asks students to consider the court's arguments for this rule over that rule, and encourages students to think carefully about the policy rationales for each argument.

I'll be the first one to say that these are valuable intellectual skills, and if I'm glad I came to law school, it's because law school has made me better at doing these things than I was before. Much better. But that's not the point.

The point is that these wonderful skills are not the skills that law school exams are primarily designed to test. Esoteric arguments about competing legal rules are not the same things as applications of these rules to facts. Sure, there is some overlap -- if you know the rules cold and have paid close attention to the arguments for and against each, you'll be more likely to recognize which facts are important, and more likely apply the rules correctly. It's also true that many professors will give points on exams for good policy arguments in favor of this rule or that one. I suppose this is why I'm not really, really, really pissed off at law school exams. They aren't random. They do reward interest and effort in the class, but they only do so only incidentally.

That's why I'm just highly critical of law school exams. If any halfway-intelligent educator were asked to design a curriculum that effectively taught students to do what law school exams ask them to do -- apply legal rules and arguments to facts -- he or she would never design a curriculum that looked anything like the one that law schools use now. It would probably include a lot of straight lecturing on legal rules, doctrine, and arguments in class, along with a lot of problem sets asking students to apply this knowledge to hypothetical fact situations (just like law school exams). We wouldn't read anywhere near as many appellate opinions as we do now. Conversely, if an expert educator were asked to prepare an exam to test what we currently practice in class and on reading assignments, they'd never write the kind of exams law professors give now.

Our current curricula and exams are historical accidents. While they may each have great merit in themselves, they don't fit together very well at all. And that's why I enjoy bitching about law school exams.

UPDATE: The Listless Lawyer agrees with me that law school pedagogy isn't exactly perfect (in fact, it's "dumb"), but then goes on to claim that law school only serves two purposes: indoctrination into the professional culture, and testing students' "solipsistic and analytical instincts."

There's no doubt that professional indoctrination is one of the purposes of law school, but I can't agree with LL that law schools don't also care about teaching you the law. Maybe not black-letter law, certainly, but it's a stretch to claim that law schools don't care about training lawyers. A lawyer, of course, must be willing to work hard, but they also have to learn how to make legal arguments, apply law to facts, etc. Law schools are obviously concerned with teaching these things.

As for testing "analytical instincts," sure. But "solipsistic" instincts? Here I think LL is in the weeds. It's the opposite of "solipsistic" to learn to make arguments that you may not subscribe to, but that your clients or your professors "want to hear." I don't buy LL's claim that you'll do better if you make Tribe-arguments on a Tribe-exam as opposed to Scalia arguments. In my experience, if you make only one or the other you'll do pretty badly either way. To the extent that law school exams ask students to make policy arguments, they ask students to make opposing policy arguments.

If legal education is "stupid" (and I don't think it is), it's not stupid for the reasons LL gives.

March 25, 2005

Banning internet access in class

There are rumors going around that some faculty members and administrators at my law school want to ban internet access in class. Again, at this point this is nothing more than a rumor, a whisper, a ghost of a shadow of a mist (or whatever that line was in that movie I can't remember).

I'm opposed to a rule banning internet access in class, for at least these three reasons:

  • It's overly paternalistic. (This is the weakest argument.) Bad enough that they insist on using EBB to prevent cheating on exams, instead of relying on an honor code.
  • How much money did they just spend to install all those wireless internet antennae in the classrooms last year? I know, sunk costs. But, sheesh.
  • A ban on classroom internet access won't change much of anything. (This is the strongest argument.) People still have their minesweeper; they still have their chess games.

I agree with Will Baude and find Raffi Melkonian's position unassailable:

Just because I have pitiful self control doesn't mean others should suffer, and I don't think it's part of a law school's pedagogical mission to cater to my weaknesses.

Hopefully, this ban-the-internet silliness will remain just a rumor, or I might be forced to write more about it.

(That oughta set those administrators straight...)

March 23, 2005

New Yorker cites the wrong Scalia lecture

The latest issue of The New Yorker has an article about Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court opinions.

The author writes:

On a damp, cold afternoon in November, Scalia spoke at the University of Michigan Law School. Two hours before the lecture, the line extended down the steps of the school's auditorium.

* * *

At 4:30 p.m., Scalia strode heavily to the lecturn, his head thrust forward.

I attended Scalia's speech at the Law School, but I don't remember any lines extending down any steps. The author has evidently confused Scalia's law school lecture with his lecture the previous day for the entire University (which I also attended). That lecture was given several blocks away from the Law School in the Rackham auditorium, and did indeed have a long line extending down steps. This University-wide lecture was the one with the picketing students shouting "Two, four, six, eight, separation of church and state!" that are mentioned in the article.

My recollections are confirmed by the authoritative, live-blogged account of Justice Scalia's law school lecture, which was well underway sometime before 3:42 p.m.

Counting my blessings

I'm usually a pretty critical person, but every once in a while it'll dawn on me that I've got it pretty damned good.

Since these moments are so rare, I like to seize the chance to offer effusive but well-deserved praise. I'll return to my usual habit of focusing on constructive and helpful criticism soon enough. :)

Just this week, I've been lucky enough to be led through the morass of conflict-of-law rules by a brilliant teacher who knows what he's doing and who actually prepares for class; I've had the chance to follow the developments in the Terri Schiavo case with another brilliant teacher who takes the trouble to hold himself to the same high standards to which he holds us; I've heard about issues of federalism in the European Union from one of the judges on the European Court of Justice, which just isn't an opportunity that most people are ever going to have.

Whew. Some weeks just make you realize how lucky you are, and this has been one of them.