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!


cast in the name of god, ye not guilty said...

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?)

MAN that was a perfect observation! Wow!

Rooting for you....

mimi said...

hee hee: spell check "conceived, not concieved"

You didn't get the OCD behaviors from your dad...

Oh and btw-I am soooo proud.