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Wormwood, I Haven't Forgotten You

Dear Wormwood:

Please do not think that I've not heard your plaintive moaning with regards to our correspondence. "Yes, yes, we understand you like the technical aspects of blogging, and RSS is nifty tech. True, true, a postmodernism generator is cute. But you do remember, once upon a time, that you promised to blog about law school, correct? Have you really grown so big-headed that the point of our project has escaped you?" And your complaint has a great deal of merit, for which I have to apologize. My heart really hasn't been in it.

Partially, I think it's just the glumness one gets from attending a law school in a city with a harsh but graceless winter. New York doesn't have the Januarys I've loved in the past: cold, clean snows blanketing the horizon, wind whipping white 'dust' devils over ice-topped lakes.

Winter in the city is summer in the city with the annoyance of cracked lips and muddy boots. Even in a blizzard, it's almost as if snow falls from the sky pre-grey. Walking outside at night is an education in natural selection: oil-black rats are much more visible hopping through drifts of white. Frozen landscapes in the countryside are accompanied by a clean, almost filtered scent to the air, but here winter's only mercy is that large bags of trash left out on the street are too frozen to rot.

As I said, Wormwood, I've been writing about technology largely to spare you in case what I'm suffering is some seasonal depression. No point in inflicting upon you what is probably more vitamin deficiency than rational thought.

With that in mind, what has been happening?

Classes: I think most of my classmates would agree that the classes in the second semester at Columbia are much more theoretical than practical. Of the four major classes, Regulatory State and Perspectives on Legal Thought remind me more of undergraduate lectures in economics and philosophy. Not that this isn't interesting in itself, but it's territory that many of us have covered before. Indeed, my 12th grade government class read Hobbes, Locke, Aquinus, Rawls, Bentham. [1] Even in the face of good lectures or interesting reading, there's a certain 'been there' feeling that keeps me from feeling the same degree of excitement I felt when this was all fresh. (Then again, perhaps I'm temporarily jaded.)

Don't get me wrong: there's a good and solid argument for these courses, and I'm sympathetic to it. Given the role of lawyers in our society, as not only advocates but judges and politicians, it's for the good that we get a broader historical view, and that this is informed by economics. But they're not the 'classic' law school courses: property, evidence, etc. They're more familiar, and they don't inspire the same feeling of terror. (To be fair, that one is a lecture course, and the other rather kind in its Socratic method, goes a long way to explaining this feeling. I imagine that as exams get closer, the trepidation level increases.)

That said, there's still Crim Law and Con Law, with plenty of reading for them, particularly the latter. I'm certain that Con Law will become more engaging as the semester progresses. No matter how important Marbury v. Madison or McCulloch v. Maryland may be, they're difficult to read with any passion. So much seems so settled. [2] Still, these courses remind me more of last term, so that's good.

Grades: Finally all my grades are back. All I can say on this is that overall I'm pleased, and that so far the great law school maxim is true: you do best in the classes you were sure to do worst in, and vice-versa.

Job Search: A task on which I should have spent far more time already, I'm getting a few resumes out the door every day. One thing I'd advise, Wormwood, is that you start the process far more quickly than I did, because otherwise it will become that nagging task that you leave at the bottom of your list, buried under a huge pile of reading. It's just as important, and you should treat it as such. Progress on this front remains hopeful: I've had my share of interviews, and we'll see how it goes.

I hesitate to go further, Wormwood, as already I wonder if the blizzard that is rumoured to be arriving tomorrow and my chronic lack of sleep are combining to make what I'm writing less encouraging than it ought otherwise to be. In any event, I'm glad I did bring myself to mention a few of the things happening here at law school, before this descended into a purely political blog.

Yours,
AR

[1] Admittedly, my high school government teacher was a bit unusual: he taught a 'great books' curriculum and used Socratic method at least as well if not better than many of my professors at Columbia. But then, I'm not criticisizing the Columbia program as much as I'm explaining why I'm not feeling as engaged as in months past.

[2] At this point, I'd like to break with my common habit of not being overly critical of my courses to be scathing in one respect: the textbook Constitutional Law by Kathleen M. Sullivan and Gerald Gunther should never be inflicted upon any student, anywhere, possibly under 8th Amendment restriction. First, it has all the weaknesses common to the University Casebook Series. The book itself is a physically unhelpful size, nearly 8 1/2" x 11", impossible to fit alongside a notebook on a classroom desk. The formatting of the text is diabolical: it's extremely difficult to figure out what is a heading, a sub-heading, or what is not within a hierarchy of headings to begin with. By the time you get to the fourth or fifth levels, there is no way to keep things straight. A simple table of typefaces would go a long way to curing this defect. If a single effort was made in terms of helpfulness to the student, it certainly doesn't show.

While the weaknesses of the series aren't helpful at the best of times, the writing in Constitutional Law makes no effort at all to be accomodating. Even outside the cases (Con Law will never be for those who like plain language), the wording is unnecessarily prolix (two uses of 'exegesis' is sure to please wordhounds like me, but it's sadistic for a casebook), complicated, and in some cases just downright confusing. For anyone who has the casebook at hand, I put forward the second full paragraph of p. 78 of the 14th edition, a paragraph which would be better structured if the order of sentences within it were reversed. I'll concede that Constitutional Law is almost certain to be cryptic in many respects--no one who ever read Gasparini would accuse Supreme Court Justices of silver-tongued clarity, and their task is often more one of precision--but shouldn't a good casebook help, not hinder this?

Perhaps I'm missing something and the book will grow on me, but after 150 page, it's easily my least favorite casebook thus far.

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Comments

The Aspen Con Law casebook also sucks
con law sucks for everyone. and i haven't got any damn interviews
the first 150 pages? In the old days (two years ago) that was two days reading....not two weeks. The Prof must be mellowing.
Joel: I said where I was, not where the class should be. :) To be fair, the reading level has been cut down from 'absolutely impossible' to merely 'frustrating.'
I actually like the University Casebook Series. The margins are sufficiently wide so that margin notes are possible; the Aspen books are smaller, but between the thin paper and narrow margins, it's far more difficult to read "actively."
Mark: Granted, the paper's nicer than Aspen, and the margins are wider. If you take a lot of notes, that's a plus. But there's no excuse for the bizarre and inexplicable text hierarchy. Further, I don't know how it is at other law schools, but our lecture room desks here are pitifully small. It's impossible to have a full-sized book and a computer on your desk without crowding your neighbor. With something the size of Constitutional Law, they might at least have had the mercy to split it into two volumes. The book is easily larger than The Lord of the Rings, albeit probably more difficult to make into a movie, even with top New Zealand talent.

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