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My Justification for Education

Posted by dmjstephens on December 8, 2008

It’s two days before my first semester finals as a 1L start, and I just figured out why I’m in law school.  This issue should probably have been resolved before I committed myself to bearing the crushing weight of a six figure debt for a few years, but I guess it’s better late than never.  While I have long been confident that I belong in law school, my reasons were flawed.  I thought because my particular skills seem well suited to the profession that I should pursue it.  I even thought it might be fun, but I actually had (and largely still have) no idea of what its like to be an attorney.  The average salary figures and relative prestige of the profession were what most influenced me in this direction.  I never considered a non-traditional route success that would probably start with a few or many years of living in meager means.  I went the safe route.

I made a huge mistake, but fortunately I think I may have lucked out.  My time spent preparing for law school and studying this semester have changed my views on the world and made me smarter.  My analytical abilities have increased dramatically in the last year, which has given me a new perspective on nearly my entire life.  Interests and opportunities that would have never occurred to me previously are now piquing my interests and holding my attention.  I’m still way behind in these abilities compared to an incredible number of people, but now I can start playing catch up.  This little mini-renaissance made me realize that there is a ton of really incredible ways to succeed in this world, not just in terms of money but contributions to society.  

I’m going to law school to learn how to see and take advantage of those angles that the next thinking man will jump on.  The smarter you get, the more you can understand the systems of the world and see opportunities to become a part of those systems in exciting and profitable ways.  In addition to that, the two additional letters after my name I’ll have after I graduate are going to give me and my ideas some credibility in the eyes of most people.    I feel like at some point in the next few years I could enter the non-legal sectors of several fields: music, writing, web technology, business, government, or dozens of others very naturally and organically.  I’m not even counting the many interesting and rewarding jobs in the legal sector.  I’m not seeing many closed doors.

I realize this all sounds very optimistic, probably even elitist and arrogant, but don’t worry; I’m only aspiring to be an arrogant elitist, I’m not there yet.  There is a great deal that I need to read, learn, and experience before I will be able to choose the terms of my work.  I know I’ll likely have to put in my time as a firm drone, and possibly never be able to break those chains out on my own.  Just seeing the possibility, this image of a successful life achieved through nothing but brains and savvy is invigorating.  Having my mind trained in this way by a truly fine faculty is absolutely worth every penny of debt I take on here.  I just hope my raw abilities are sufficient for me to eventually think on their level through instruction.  

Few of my friends would share my sentiments right now, but man I’m excited to be a 1L.


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Why aren’t we doing this?

Posted by rdebelak on December 7, 2008

I’m obsessed with my RSS feeder. And I’m obsessed with this TED talk. At the end of the presentation he talks about his project to make data more accessible to the internet. Dealing with the data conversion is one issue, but I am wondering if we can make the digitized versions of academic journals available through RSS. Academics could just subscribe to the journals they want. Or better yet, when we digitize them we tag each article out like a del.icio.us bookmark.

So now a political science researcher gets every new article tagged in “polling data,” or “John Rawls,” or “game theory” delivered to him as soon as it’s accepted for publication and uploaded. Research assistants could skip the endless ICPSR searches and skip straight to the endless reading and number running.

What about going cross-field? As modern academics catches up with itself, researchers are diving across diverse areas of study, using biology to explain psychology, psychology to explain Camus, and The Stranger to explain existentialism (and existentialism to explain nothing). Now the econ people are getting everything relevant from game theory to mathematics to history delivered because it hit a tag they follow.

Who has time to become an expert on everything? The paradox is that as cross-field research becomes more and more necessary to explain new phenomena, science becomes more specialized. It’s growing deeper and broader at the same time. We’re going to have to figure out how to get faster and more relevant in our acquisition of this knowledge. There’s a lot of technology already in place to help us do this. We just need to combine a few things and iron out the kinks.

There is always the money to think about.

The journals could still charge subscription fees like they always have to sustain themselves, but online delivery eliminates printing costs and overhead. Plus, how many more subscribers could you get for no additional cost? The garage-based amateur political analyst might pay $10 a month, or pay-per-article, to run the numbers himself.

And now this interested rookie with a day job is faster at making connections between things because he’s not teaching a 4/4 course load. Or he might catch something everyone else missed because he’s got different tags and he’s reading different things.

There is money to be made here too, I think, and it could be used to sponsor more research. Use it as a prize for subscribers in some sort of research contest. Or take submissions and buy freelance work. A huge user base would pick this up, so why not make the service one-stop shopping for displaying work and results to encourage more users? Put a forum on the site for subscribers to interact. Or make the whole thing non-profit and redistribute the wealth in lower prices.

This should be easy. So why aren’t we doing it?

Or are we doing it? If so where can I sign up? What’s it look like? And why aren’t we teaching it in freshman Research Methods courses?

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Great Links For Law Students

Posted by rdebelak on November 27, 2008

Life of a Law Student – 15-20 minute lectures by topic for all the standard 1L courses and some upper level stuff.

Federal Rules of Civ Pro
– Run by Cornell’s Law Institute, this saved me from taking my rule book to class every day. Just link the site into your notes as needed.

Penal Law – Online resource for students having to learn the MPC. Though the MPC isn’t published online, this includes inquiry and analytic structure resources.

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1L Instruction: a Criticism from Someone Who Doesn’t Know Better

Posted by dmjstephens on November 26, 2008

I know that my professors are brilliant.  I receive instruction on a daily basis from amazing legal minds that will likely accomplish more professionally and academically than I ever will.  Their pedagogical strategies have trained thousands of competent attorneys, yet still occasionally make me uneasy.

My most accomplished professor is a genius, one of the foremost experts on the subject in the world, and a relatively nice and funny person.  Her teaching strategy, however, is extremely harsh.  Any answer even remotely deviating from what this professor is looking for is met with immediate dismissal.  Often the correct answers are being given by students, many times quite skillfully, but are not heard over the professor’s interruption because they didn’t start with the right three words.  I understand that the purpose of this is simulate the demands of a courtroom and intimidation factor of a judge.  I also get that your 1L year is sort of a mental boot camp to get you to think like a lawyer.  In this light, the strategy is quite effective.  However, I question whether the purpose of the 1L year is to teach a student the law, not how to be a lawyer.  

As a professional, I know I will look back on this class and be grateful that I was subjected to the harsh realities of the legal world so early.  As a student though, it is not so useful.  It doesn’t take a social psychologist to tell you that people are not going to participate as much in or pay as much attention to a lecture in which their earnest (and often correct) contributions are met with exasperated breaths, facepalms, and looks to the ceiling as if the instructor is praying for God himself to make these dense 20somethings understand.  So his answer was a little different than what the absolute truth.  Take him from where he is and put him on the correct path with questions and encouragement.

We’re all serious here. We’re going to pay attention and take our notes regardless of how warm and fuzzy our professors make us feel.  That’s not all there is to it though.  If a student is engaged and happy in a class, he isn’t going to dread studying.  He is going to come to office hours with questions.  He is potentially going to have a passion for the subject.  There is no passion in unhappy classrooms.  Passion is what students and lawyers need to work the hours they do and not burn out by 30.  Most great people are self motivated, but some need a spark.  No sparks are emitted in the blunt collision of 1L enthusiasm and harsh faculty.

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My Newest Vice

Posted by dmjstephens on November 26, 2008

I’m normally a huge energy drink before civil procedure, coke at lunch, coke right before contracts kind of guy.  Law school has finally made me realize that my childish caffeine intake mechanisms were not going to cut it.  It’s time to grow up and drink coffee.

I realized this after getting a free cup at the law school last week.  It was Starbucks, and I have to admit that it was the first cup of coffee I ever tasted without regretting it.  Instantly, I was hooked.  Somehow I was immediately able to stand the taste, and it no longer mattered if I was drinking Starbucks or gas station Folgers.  I loved it all.  

I felt like a coke-head smoking his first crack rock.  I wanted more and more.  I wanted to make it so strong I’d have to eat it with a spoon.  It was like I was a superhero.  I have never felt so sharp and alert in my entire life.  On the bus ride home I felt like I could rip my seat out, throw it through the window, jump out and run home.  I felt capable of sitting down, memorizing all billion Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and loving it.  I could have run a marathon though my heart would have exploded.  I was invincible.  

This only lasted a few days, then it turned into just a normal caffeine boost but with a better comedown since it has less sugar.  Either way, I’m a convert.  I guess this means I’m an adult now.  I’ll always love coffee, if for no other reason than it was the final vice in my complete set.  I’ve noticed three vices that a number seemingly disproportionate to that of the general population of law students share: cigarettes, booze, and coffee.  

You some cigarettes to relieve stress from papers, reading, and outlining.  You drink coffee to give you energy to do papers, reading, and outlining, because you never get any sleep due to the stress.  You drink because you want to cut loose after a week of working hard doing papers, reading, and outlining.  They are the three magic tickets to becoming a 45 year old going on his 3rd heart attack and on his way to cancer.  I’m not sure if it’s better or worse to see it coming.

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2 New Ways To Sneak Liquor Into Class

Posted by rdebelak on November 26, 2008

While there is the unimpressive coffee mug to smuggle your choice beverage past your AA sponsor, you should also know there are more sophisticated options. In pursuit of sharing this information I want to start what I hope will be a weekly article.

No one will ever suspect you are drinking the clandestine remains of the weekend’s Grey Goose binge straight from that Evian bottle. Remember, Who Dares Wins.


And since you’re already carrying that insurance-claim-inducing backpack around all day, get the Camelbak water-pouch attachment for $60. Note the hands free bluetooth usability, so you can just sip on the hose while you’re on call.

Don’t forget to loudly mention your kidney condition as you excuse yourself every seventeen minutes.

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Mr. Hillary Makes News Again

Posted by rdebelak on November 26, 2008

I ran into Richard Hillary, our SBA president, this morning and he showed me this.

Apparently it’s almost all factually incorrect– by a long shot. Richard said he isn’t due in court for two more months, may not have to go at all, and wouldn’t represent himself. Repeat: he didn’t go to court, even though the local paper is reporting that he did.

Now, I haven’t checked with the court, but it baffles me how this sort of discrepancy could have happened, especially considering this reporter interviewed another student. Did they not check to see if he actually went before they printed it?

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UT Top 10

Posted by rdebelak on November 13, 2008

Dean Sager is trying to push UT into the top 10.  I am always skeptical about the ability of schools to maneuver through the rankings due to the political nature of the USN&WR, but I had a 20 minute bus ride home this afternoon to create an exhaustive bullet list of reasons I hope this campaign is successful.

  • I am a student at UT Law.

Best of luck to him.

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