Thursday, June 6, 2013

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress #24: Farewell (Ode to the Napping Room)

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress #24: Farewell (Ode to the Napping Room)
By Christopher J. Knorps

“Is this thing on?
Can you hear me now?
Are we going?
Is this thing on?
Test, test, test, test, test, test...
Can you hear me now?

As we come to the close of our broadcast day
This is my farewell transmission
Signing off
Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea
Anyone within the sound of my voice
I've got 50,000 watts of power
I want to ionize the air
This microphone turns sound into electricity
Can you hear me now?
Out on route 128, the dark and lonely
I got my radio on
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
It's the end of radio

And that snare drum
That drum roll
Means we've got a winner!
If you're the fifth caller
Or any caller at all... 

Welcome to my top ten
I'd like to thank our sponsor
But... we haven't got a sponsor!
Not if you were the last man on earth….
She was prepared to prove it…
This one goes up to a special girl
But... there is no special girl!

It's the end of radio
The last announcer plays the last record
The last watt leaves the transmitter 
Circles the globe in search of a listener
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?

Is this really broadcasting if there is no one there to receive?
It's the end of radio
As we come to the close of our broadcast day

I got my radio on
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?

This is the test 
If this had been a real emergency...
Hey, hey,
This is a real god damn emergency!”
-Shellac, “The End of Radio”

I.                     Introduction

When I started this column back in February of 2012, I took my cues from “Notions to Dismiss” by Michael Berman (for the name of the column) and “Legally in Love” by Lizzie B. (for the “sexiness” of the juicy gossip floating through our school—and yes, I think people still want to know who Lizzie B. was), but I had no idea I would complete 24 articles.  Before we go any further, I want to thank Steven Hasty for clueing me into the Advocate, Julie Adler for being the best editor I have ever  had, and Dwayne Thomas for allowing me to continue to express myself, as well as keeping me on guard when I would fall off the rails.
I wrote this column because law school is not great, but it has so much potential to be great.  I wrote this column because people seemed miserable here, and I sought to enumerate the reasons why.  There may be more than 24 reasons (and I fully admit that the topics of my columns have sometimes overlapped—See the multiple columns discussing the “50/50 Rule,” now the “60/40 Rule”) but I have done my best to give any prospective or current law student a road map of the pitfalls of legal education.
I would also like to note that I received significantly more “hate mail” when I was a 2L, but that now, as a 3L, with my columns becoming arguably more and more esoteric, few people ever comment on them.  This is either because (a) I am obsolete, or (b) the haters have realized the error of their ways. 
I may very well be obsolete.  I was not named our class commencement speaker, but I did not compete for that position.  This happened in high school too, you know.  I made an audition to be class speaker, and the class clown ended up getting it.  It was fine by me, and I just wrote my own “commencement speech” into an article in The Log at Loomis Chaffee.  I am not doing that here.  I am offering the ultimate NIED.  Welcome to my top 10.

II.                  Top Ten Classes

#10: Contracts (Prof. Winnie Taylor)
                While I did not do well in this course (B-), and while I sat in the way back row of the classroom (top left) and was doomed to failure by anxiety and the belief I still hold that Contracts is one of the hardest classes in law school and should actually be taken over both semesters for six credits (as Prof. Taylor also believed), the reading was always a pleasure (go figure!).  Perhaps it was in this course that I realized I wanted to take a curriculum in Business Law (which may have decimated my GPA, but which I believe was worth it—at this juncture at least), but most importantly, this was a 9:00 AM class which met three times a week.  There was a ton of reading and I didn’t put it into a good outline, but Prof. Taylor brought so much energy into the classroom everyday that I couldn’t help but pay attention.  I may not have done well in the course, but I will always remember her writing “POOR BLACK WIDOW” on the chalkboard, and the way she would say, “Oh boy!”

#9: Administrative Law (Prof. Araiza)
                I did reasonably well in this course (B+) and I sat in the middle on the right side with a couple friends that helped keep me on track—but they weren’t totally necessary: Araiza is an excellent professor.  This course sounds boring, and sometimes it is a little boring, to be honest, but its importance is adequately understood: the “headless” fourth branch of government probably has more impact on our everyday lives than any of the other “big three.”  There are also sometimes fascinating cases that branch off into many different areas of the law.  My favorite case was the Cinderella case, and I will never forget the feeling of knowing the material so well, but knowing that I would not be at the top of the class because there were so many other top students in it, and because Araiza was just that good of a teacher.

#8: Trusts & Estates (Prof. Serkin)
                I did reasonably well in this course as well (B+) and I sat in the second row (which became my de facto seat during 3L year).  Serkin lived up to the hype.  Unfortunately there appears to be a joke that can be made about the SBA Transition Dinner: whoever wins faculty of the year also wins “faculty most likely to leave BLS.”  While many may be sad that they will not have the opportunity to take a class with Professor Serkin, I cannot fault him for wanting to move to Tennessee, for it is a great state that still remarkably flies under the radar.  This was a fun course to take, and the casebook certainly made things interesting.  By far, from all the classes I took, this had the most bizarre casebook (the footnotes alone made me feel like the writers were constantly getting stoned and just telling the ridiculous stories behind the cases—or giving their opinions on James Lipton—because they realized how boring the material could be otherwise).  Serkin also recommended we watch The Art of the Steal, which is a great documentary and served as a nice “study break” (watch for the one scene near the beginning where an art appraiser walks through a gallery and is like, “Oh, Barnes would never get this, this is terrible,” and later says it is impossible to quantify how much the Barnes collection is worth—perhaps billions(!)) as we studied charitable trusts near the end of the semester.  I didn’t learn the intestacy regimes as well as I should have, but I felt the final was one of the “fairest” I have ever taken, and I feel that Serkin taught this course almost masterfully.

#7: Employment Law (Prof. Minda)/Debtors’ & Creditors’ Rights (Hon. Martin Glenn) (tie)
                Most of my classmates from these courses must think I am crazy for putting them in the top ten, but Employment Law gave me the highest grade I received in a 3 credit course (A—and though the results are not yet in from this year, I’m not optimistic) and Elizabeth Warren wrote the casebook for Debtor/Creditor and it was the best one I studied in law school.  Employment Law was a fascinating area to study and I am glad I read From Widgets to Digits and also glad I wrote a paper in lieu of a final exam (the only time I got to do that).  Debtor/Creditor was a tough class, and made tougher by a Judge-Professor taking on the MF Global case around Halloween, and though I may not have done well on the final, nobody did, and I got a B+.  So I think it was the only time a really hard final worked in my favor.

#6: Constitutional Law III: First Amendment (Prof. Araiza)
                Araiza gets two mentions, but this course ranks higher because it has some of the most fascinating jurisprudence of the Supreme Court.  It was in this course that I finally realized Justice Douglas was my favorite of them all, and that I should try to live up to the standards that he set for himself.  Araiza never talks about his clerkship on the Court, but it hung out there in the back of my mind, and I wanted badly to ask him about all the things that happened while he was there, but I understand if that must be kept confidential.  Regardless, hearing his eminently reasonable and incisive interpretations of the Court’s opinions was a true highlight, and I bemoan the fact that I will never be able to take a course with him again.  Not only was he a good professor—he was a good person, and made himself more available to students than any other professor I had.  I will never forget him saying, “Pardon my language, but I’m just quoting: ‘We’ll take the fucking street later!’” or the last time a group of us sat in his office and discussed how obscene internet videos had to get before the Court would say they fell outside the protection of the First Amendment. 

#5: Evidence (Prof. Pitler)
                This is another one that a lot of my classmates might disagree with, but Pitler did not try to pull any tricks.  He told us that if we just did the problems, we would do well.  And I did.  While I only got a B+ on the exam, he told me he boosted me to an A- because I came into every class prepared to offer up my answers to the problems he had assigned.  I appreciated that there was very little reading.  Also, Pitler delivered a stirring lecture in our final class on the Crawford case and the Confrontation Clause that was one of the most entertaining and informative talks I have ever attended.  The school should have video recorded that class, because it was a definite highlight for me.

#4: Criminal Procedure (Prof. Baer)
                Professor Baer warned me that if I took Crim Pro with her, she would “kick my butt.”  She “kicked my butt” in Corporations (giving me a B, while admitting I earned a B- on the exam, but participated well in class and therefore got boosted) even though I appear (very briefly, and in a friend’s beret!) on the school’s website in a video from that course.  It was not a bad course, but I bemoaned her use of Powerpoint.  She did not use Powerpoint in Crim Pro, and this was easily one of the most fascinating courses in law school.  The reading was usually quite interesting (some people call it Con Law IV because it is all Supreme Court opinions) and Prof. Baer always assigned a reasonable amount of reading for each class.  I never felt overwhelmed and felt that she used her time in class very effectively.  And I do not think she will kick my butt, because I took the course pass/fail (and update: I passed).

#3: Interviewing & Counseling (Prof. Schultze)
                Everybody should take a class with Prof. Schultze.  He is a popular professor, and for good reason: there really is not much work to do.  This is a 2 credit class.  But it can be a little bit stressful when you are on the chopping block!  Prof. Schultze could have his own reality show based on his classes.  While the class was easy, it was also fun and useful—learning how to appropriately approach clients is a fine art, and it is one skill that I will leave law school believing I have learned well.

#2: Business Reorganizations (Prof. Gerber)
                Also known as “Debtor/Creditor Part 2,” this was a fun 3 credit class to take, and Prof. Gerber is one of the best at BLS.  I will never forget his drawings of pies to represent chapter 7 and buche-de-noels (or twinkies) to represent chapter 11 (and I am sort of sad I missed taking the class after Hostess declared bankruptcy) and his drawings of pigs to represent banks, nor his mentioning that his brother wrote the comic book Howard the Duck or that he went to high school with Sheldon Toibb.  While the course can sometimes be challenging, Prof. Gerber always made it comprehensible through his classes, which blended lecturing and calling on volunteers.  He did not try to “trick us” on the final, and I was very pleased to get an A- in that course—it is one of the grades that I am most proud of in law school.  It was also through this course that I found my “dream area of practice” and at least got a shot at a couple bankruptcy judge clerkships.  I didn’t get them, but Prof. Gerber made time to help me try.  Also, it is perhaps worth noting that I sat in on his Contracts class in the Spring of 2010, and that it was the best class I attended at any of the law schools I visited, and that his style and presence as an “interim Dean” made me feel reasonably secure (not totally secure!) that I had made the right decision by attending BLS. 

#1: Securities Regulation (Prof. Fanto)
                I just mentioned Fanto to another student a couple hours ago and she said, “Oh, Fanto’s a god.”  That about sums it up.  Securities Regulation may be one of the most difficult classes in law school (I personally found Corporate Finance more difficult because of all the math, and Federal Income Taxation more difficult because of all the material), but it was always a pleasure to attend the lectures, even when Fanto admitted that he hated teaching the material (on Regulation S).   Simply put, I was very lucky to take a class with him.  I will never forget him shouting, “you have to be quiet!” during the first few classes or hearing his opinions on Congress (“they don’t have any idea what’s going on anyways…”) and our unfortunate position of needing to implement the JOBS Act into our understanding of the securities laws.  Also now whenever I go on a road trip, I will try to pick out abandoned bowling alleys, because he says it is usually easy to do—and that underscores my opinions on this course: it’s incredibly important stuff, but it’s contained in these incredibly dense and archaic statutes.  Fanto was great at making us understand just how important it was, and while I do not know my grade yet (perhaps I did terribly), I will always remember those classes very fondly. 

III.                 NIED #23 ½ : Restriction on the Right to Practice

90% of us will be staying in New York City post-graduation.  That is the figure that gets tossed around as a student begins their law school journey.  90% of law school students stay in the same jurisdiction (or is it state?) as their school.  A problem arises when a student’s attitude towards their “law school home” sours over the course of three years. 
Sometimes it is not too big of a deal.  You don’t like New York?  Well go to Connecticut, or New Jersey, or Massachusetts.  Take 2 Bars.  You can do it; it’s fine.  BLS “strongly recommends” taking the Bar Exam in two states (i.e. New York and New Jersey), and updates information for these two states but leaves the rest up to the student. 
I don’t know the deadline in California, I’ll admit.  But I do know the deadline in Illinois is February 15, and the total fee (if filing is timely) is $850.  It then jumps to $1,050 for “late” registration if done by March 31, and $1,450 for “really late” registration if done by May 31.  I never looked into this matter until a fellow Chicagoan told me it wasn’t possible to do Illinois and New York at the same time.
It would have been fine, for me, a student without a job who is torn between two states, if that other state was New Jersey, but it’s not.  Perhaps it’s the difficulty of traveling between two states on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (or can you take the Bar in a different state in your home state?  I don’t think so…), but you cannot take the New York and Illinois Bar exams because they are both two day exams on Tuesday and Wednesday (i.e. the MBE on Tuesday and the “state test” on Wednesday).  
The deadline for New York (we all knew) was April 30, so it is still possible for me to file “really late” in Illinois, and forfeit the NY Registration fee of $250, but I’ll have spent $1,700 in the process and will probably incur about $1,300 in moving expenses, and then who even knows about residency in Illinois.  Furthermore, switching at this late stage of the game is exactly the type of distraction that seems tailor-made for Bar Failure. 
This is the last NIED column because it goes to the last complaint about law school: when you don’t have a job, and aren’t sure where things will be better for the long term, nobody can give you satisfactory advice.  You just need to stick to your guns, pick one, and pray.  The state of indecisiveness is a horrible one that can make even the most talented minds wither under pressure.  It’s not like we’re Lebron James and we can orchestrate a television special to state which city will be so lucky as to have our legal talents.  We’re the opposite.  There’s too many of us, we’ve been told, so which city is unlucky enough to have to support one more mediocre (if grades are any indication) lawyer?  After all if we were destined to be a great lawyer, we would have a job by now, right? 
I throw my hands up and say once and for all that this is one area in which I cannot offer persuasive advice.  The best advice I’ve been given is to take the New York Bar, stay here until December or so, see if I have a job by then, and if not, return to Illinois and take the Bar there in February, because the MBE score will transfer.  This is easier said than done, though, as my remaining funds will likely dwindle down to almost nothing by that point.  And who really wants to take the Bar Exam twice? 
It’s all cold comfort this time, I suppose.  You should just pick your law school in the region where you’re sure you want to live.  If you didn’t do that, then you must be sure you want to return home, and you will already have your plan in place.  Unfortunately there is no back-up option—except if one happens to be from Washington D.C. (or Alaska, I’ve been told), where you can “waive in” immediately. 
In order to promote fairness, law students should be able to “waive in” to every state.  There are questions on the MPRE (which—surprise, surprise—applies nationwide) which state that non-compete clauses in partnership agreements are unenforceable because they constitute a restriction on the right to practice.  The Bar Exam is the ultimate restriction on the right to practice, because it forces a person to say, “This is my home, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.” 
I loved going to school in New York from 2001-2005 (the “honeymoon period” after 9/11 truly made me believe that New York was the greatest city in America, and that there was nowhere else I’d rather be) so it seemed to make sense for me to pick New York over Los Angeles (and Chicago) for law school between 2010 and 2013.  Now I just see it as an overcrowded bundle of nerves, anxiety, car-lessness, high rent and claustrophobia (or maybe I only feel this way because I lived in Brooklyn Heights for 3 years) and I wish I had more “contacts” in other cities so that I could confidently believe that it would not be a bad career move to leave this place.   
The ABA should definitely consider broadening the right to “waive in” because while 90% of us may be staying, it may not be the most “voluntary” decision we make after starting.  Many of us are simply not the same people we were three years ago. 
There is a quote in the library (a gift from the class of 2010) from a movie that is not about law school, but is thought to apply to law school.  I have one other such quote: “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you…stranger.” 

IV.                 Top 5 Hardest Exams

#5: Property (Prof. Macey – Spring 2011)
While I earned a B+ in this course, and do not feel I did all that well on the exam, I was pleasantly surprised by this grade.  Property, it has been said, is the most useless first year course in law school.  That may be so, but sometimes it can touch on interesting and/or “useful” areas of the law (I remember hating the Mark Rothko case in Property, but then embracing it during Trusts & Estates).  In any case, many students complained about how hard this exam was, and I had no real reason to complain, but it was a very difficult exam to finish properly in the time allotted (there were “too many issues”).

#4: Accounting for Lawyers (Prof. Hauptman – Fall 2012)
While this exam was not necessarily difficult, the course itself was certainly the hardest 2 credit course I took in law school.  Our professor told us there would be no “tricks” on the exam, but this is a tricky course, and because I did not put in the requisite amount of effort throughout the semester, I suffered on the final.  My advice is not to underestimate this course if you plan to take it.  It is not “easy,” as a student a year ahead of me claimed. 

#3: Civil Procedure (Prof. Schneider – Fall 2010)
While this was the most “pleasant” grade I received in my first semester of law school, question #4 was the hardest question I have ever had to answer on an exam.  It made me want to cry.  I wrote two short paragraphs as an answer to #4 (which had a lengthy and confusing fact pattern about two and half legal-sized pages long) and apparently did as well or better on that question than any of my other percentages.  I guess it was one of the few times that everyone else was just as flummoxed as me.

#2: Corporate Finance (Prof. Myers – Fall 2012)
While I did not do all that poorly on the essays on this exam, I badly fouled up the multiple choice section.  This was one of the most difficult classes in all of law school because (like accounting), I did not put in the right amount of effort in during the semester.  It was a strange exam.  It was completely “open.”  We could use any and every resource at our disposal.  A lot of the other students probably hit “Control + F” and cycled through their outlines and cut-and –pasted their answers.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to do that, nor did I have the presence of mind to know all of the Microsoft Excel functions like the back of my hand.  A tough course and exam primarily because of the math involved.

#1: Debtors’ and Creditors’ Rights (Hon. Martin Glenn – Fall 2011)
I will never tire of talking about this course, nor the impossibility of this exam.  This exam caused both vomiting and tears (not from me, but other students taking it).  I was pleased with my grade on it (as noted above) but found the experience of taking it to be excruciating.  It was like a really scary roller coaster ride but gave off no great feeling of relief and accomplishment at its end. 

V.                  Areas for Reform and Conclusion

Brooklyn Law School is not a terrible place, but there are certainly some changes that would go a long way towards making it better.  I offer my own idiosyncratic suggestions here:

First, BLS should offer its students $50.00 per year on their printing account.  $25.00 (or $12.50 per semester) is insufficient for a typical student’s printing needs.  Further, there should be an option for students that never use the printing stations in the library to have a zero balance.  The former President of the SBA rebuffed this recommendation saying, “You need to raise tuition to do that.”  Well, our tuition was raised roughly $3,000 over the course of our three years and our printing account amount never went up, so to that I say, “No.”

Second, BLS should offer one color printer in the library.  It is sad when a student asks me if we have color printing and I sheepishly send them to 1 Boerum Place, even though I am not 100% sure there is a color printer there that they can use.  Just one color printer would be a nice addition to the library. 

Third, BLS should have a more robust academic advisement program.  We are given an academic advisor in our first year (one of our professors, I presume) but that professor may not necessarily want to engage the students in talking about their long-term goals and how best to achieve them.  While I am generally satisfied with my course selection, there were two or three classes that I wish I hadn’t taken.  The school does offer a panel every year on how to choose your upper-class curriculum, but more student-specific counseling should be mandated in the way that career-counseling is only “suggested.”

Fourth and finally (and this list is by no means exhaustive, just specific things I would have liked), the school should offer the option of a retroactive pass/fail.  This could be used by students to “nix” a grade that destroyed their GPA if the course had a pass/fail option that was not elected by the student during the course of the semester.  While this may have caused internal problems earlier, with the bright-line 80% standard the school has set for scholarships, just as remedial statutes should be interpreted broadly, such a standard would improve student morale and remove the problem of students “shooting for a D” on exams they know will be graded pass/fail.  If there were concerns about abuse, it could be changed to only allow for retroactivity in the third year (and not be available for the incoming 2-year-program).

In conclusion, it has been a long and often boring ride, but I hope that I have played a small part in helping to make this school a better place for students.  Some of the best moments I have enjoyed were in the “napping room” (104M in the library), and it is my hope that one day I can return to the school and officially have that room designated as such in my honor.  Students need a place in the library where they can relax for a few moments in an anxiety-free zone, and sleep if they must.  Everyone that knows the “napping room” is for this purpose will agree that it is one of the best “student-made” changes in the school.  And it is my hope that other students’ suggestions will bring about positive changes in the future in different areas of the school.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

beautiful entry. you should talk about graduation. also, i really liked your post on the scamblogs, and i agree in many ways. cant wait to read more.