Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It's official: I am THROUGH with my 1L year at Harvard Law School!
Truth be told, I have no idea how to feel about this. It's been trickling toward completion for so long- classes ending in April and exams spread over two weeks, half my classmates already done because they weren't going out for Law Review, and everyone leaving Cambridge at different times- that I have trouble believing it's really over this time.

At 1:30 on Saturday, I handed my competition materials over to the Law Review people in a small classroom in Hauser Hall. Suddenly, I was done with 1L year for good- but I couldn't really go anywhere, because one of my classmates was using my USB drive to print his case comment and another, who realized at the last second she didn't have any Crimson Cash to pay the Copy Center, was borrowing my Harvard ID. So I picked a table outside the deserted Harkness Commons, put up my feet, and waited in sunshiny peace.

Not too much later, my friends had turned in their competition packets too, and it hit all of us how long it had been since we last ate. So we headed for lunch at Cambridge Common, a good nearby pub with great outdoor seating. Three hours, one beer, and two glasses of sangria later, I was sitting in the grass of Harvard Yard with Phil, the one who'd used my USB, talking through the competition and our summer plans, when his excellent wife showed up with more beer and a frisbee. We threw it around for a while in JFK park, where we figured Harvard Police were less on the lookout for public drinking. When they needed to leave for a friend's graduation party, I headed home for a movie, late dinner, and much-needed early bedtime. The things you can do with an afternoon of honest-to-god freedom.

Since then, I've had one day in Cambridge- mostly spent entertaining some visiting friends from undergrad, which was great- and one in transit to Austin, with tex-mex and an Alamo Drafthouse movie on arrival. And presently, I'm sitting in the sun on my mom's gorgeous patio, waiting for my laundry to finish, making plans by text message with a couple of friends I'm attempting to see on this visit. The freedom to do these things is so unfamiliar (literally, the last time I was in Austin without bringing work along from Cambridge, this blog didn't exist) that I'm not even sure I'm completely enjoying it yet. When is the other shoe going to drop?

The answer, probably, is next Monday. That's when my internship starts, and I'll only have Sunday back in Cambridge to prepare for it. But even that- a normal, nine-to-five job with real weekends and no fifty-page reading assignments cutting into dinner- is going to be so different from the last nine months that I barely know what to think about it. Except that I think it'll be pretty great.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The competition

It's one of those breathtaking Cambridge days, with the sunshine and the cool breeze, the perfect cotton-ball white clouds in the perfect blue sky and the impossibly green grass, bushes, and flowering trees. It's the sort of day that reminds me why I was once so excited to live in New England. And I'm spending it inside, my eyes glued to the computer, because I'm halfway through the writing competition to join the Harvard Law Review.
I know: it sounds soooooo unpleasant. Who in their right mind, after two weeks of already brutal exams (can you tell Property didn't go so well?) spends the first week of summer thumbing through 1,100 pages of court cases and journal articles just for the privilege of doing even more work next year??

About 250 first-year students each year, that's who. And a part of me is really, stupidly, masochistically proud to be one of them- even if I'm not one of the 40 who make it. The way I see it, there isn't much left at Harvard Law School that's this hardcore. You know this, readers- you've heard me chirp on about the free food, coffee, and course packets all year. You know Russell got his job because of my Dean of Students office, and- well, I haven't told you about the puppies they brought in for stress relief during finals yet, but now you know about them, too.

So can't you see the appeal in doing something that's stayed exactly the same since the days of Barack Obama and even The Paper Chase?


Well, fine. Call me crazy. But since there seems to be a lot of voyeuristic value in other people doing work that sucks (why else would they make so much TV about emergency room doctors?) I thought you might like a quick explanation of how the competition works.

It's a week long: you pick up the materials on the Saturday after finals and return them the Saturday after that. And it has two parts: a "subcite," in which you proofread the text and check the source citations of an existing (very unrealistically flawed) article, and a "case comment," in which you write your own summary of a recent Supreme Court case and its implications.

Neither is very creative. The subcite is a nitpicky, obsessive-compulsive activity, which of course doesn't bother me (have you ever caught a typo in this blog? Did you check back later?), but it does get repetitious as the days drag on. The article is spread out over 33 pages in large print, with a very wide right margin in which you must neatly write things like "MISSPELLING: conceived, not concieved" or "MISCHARACTERIZATION: the court in Arizona Life found the restriction unreasonable and reversed summary judgment for the government" about 8-10 times per page.

The case comment has to follow a very specific formula. There is literally a chart:
¶1- Write a few sentences of background to the case and your argument. Then write: "Last term, in [insert case name], the Supreme court [insert holding]." Finally state your thesis succinctly.
¶2- Set out the case facts from the beginning.
¶3- Describe the procedural posture in the trial court.
And so on, for about 10 paragraphs. This is because practitioners use the Law Review's case comments to inform themselves about major decisions, so they count on uniformity. Which gives you an awesome sense of the important work you could do in the coming year- but also results in nearly constant anxious flipping to that page of the competition materials. Mine may tear out of its 3-inch binder before long!

And so here I am, around lunchtime on day 4 of this week-long ordeal, taking a break to blog and answer e-mails from Russell (today's his last day at a temp assignment with the fundraisers for HLS, which he has really enjoyed; tomorrow he's flying to Austin for his cousin's graduation. And he just heard that when he gets back, he'll be returning to University Disability Services, where he had his first, great assignment back in September.)

But I should really get away from the computer, or some break this will be! I'll try to write again soon, maybe at the close of this ridiculous week when my summer REALLY starts!

Monday, May 4, 2009

A little study humor

Microsoft Word spelling suggestions for former Bush Administration attorney John Yoo's last name:


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Momentary lapse of glowing

I know my reviews of Harvard Law have always been glowing, and that's intentional. Why would I blog about this place just to complain? But there is one grievance I'd like to air, because it's one of the realities of student life here and you'd be pretty uninformed if I didn't mention it.

I'm referring, of course, to the online course registration system. Because it's about as lame, opaque, and disorienting as they come.

I was never thrilled with the system at UT: students were assigned a certain window of time, partly on a random basis and partly by seniority, to access the whole course catalog online and sign themselves up for any class whose prerequisites they met. 

This was stressful and sometimes meant watching the last slot in a class disappear before your very eyes as your browser refreshed- or worse, having all your preferred courses fill up before your registration window even started. This always struck me as terribly unfair. But it also strikes me, now that I've registered at Harvard Law, as providing a certain sense of empowerment. If things went wrong and classes were closed, there was always the freedom to think quickly and save your own schedule with some complex alternative arrangement of classes that were still open.

Harvard's system doesn't come with this freedom. It consists of three lotteries- one each for the electives, the clinics, and the big standard classes taught by more than one professor. Each time, students submit a ranked list of the classes they'd like, and a very complex and supposedly fair algorithm repeatedly sorts us into random order and assigns us each the available course we've ranked highest until we run out of schedule space or bids. 

We try to understand and accommodate this algorithm in our bidding, but it's beyond most of us. And as a result, things happen like MY 100% COMPLETE AND TOTAL LACK OF FALL SEMESTER COURSES (waitlists, but so far no courses) with no human being present to take notice and adapt.

Gross, right?? I'm managing not to panic just yet, because we're only through 2 of the 3 stages with electives registration still to go. But one semester of electives overload, fun as it sounds, will likely leave my remaining 3 semesters chock-full of Taxation, Corporations, Administrative Law, and Federal Courts... and a lot less room for Animal Law, Debating Race and American Law, Capital Punishment in America, or Law and Social Movements. 

Best of all, none of those gems I just listed are offered in Fall 2009. As far as I'm concerned, next fall has the least spectacular electives offerings I've seen so far at Harvard! Just my luck!

Okay, enough griping. The truth is, very little of this is the HLS registration system's fault. It's just finals season, and I studied for almost 9 hours today, and it feels good to sling mud at the institution responsible. 

Maybe it also feels good to hear me sounding like a grouchy, sleep-deprived, real-life law student for once!