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November 25, 2004

Five by Five - Buffalo Wings and Vodka

Our second contributor in the law student edition of this Five by Five is another anonymous blogger.  This time, the author of Buffalo Wings and Vodka gives us the Five Things he would change about Legal Education:

 1. Make Legal Research & Writing a Real Class:  I know this may be better at some schools, but a lot of places only give LR&W a pass/fail status, or, like UT, make it a one-credit-hour affair. I understand that this is in an effort to take some of the pressure off of us, but it doesn't work because:

A. We do realize, on some level, that it's the only useful thing we'll get out of law school.

B. If it is for credit, no matter how small or insignificant, we're going to stress out about it.

C. If we're going to stress out about it anyway, then we should be rewarded in the only currency that law students (at least of the first-year variety) understand: Grade Points.

So make it a full class. I don't care if you staff it with lecturers, or third-year students, or exceptionally bright kindergartners. Just stop putting it into our heads that it is somehow less important, and then sticking us with a pair of B-minuses that haunts us for the rest of our legal career, causing us to question our self-worth and to seriously consider dropping out and working at Applebee's.

2. Condense it to Two Years:  Don't get me wrong: I love law school. But while I'm going to enjoy my third year full of interdisciplinary classes and whiskey, I would probably be better off out in the world, making money and impressing women. The only real reason for law school to last as long as it does is that universities need to pick up extra cash wherever they can, and I understand that. But why not milk the undergraduates instead? I'm just a future commercial litigator, trying to scrape by on $60,000 in living expenses a year so that I can go out and do God's work. So let me do it already.

3. A Pass/Fail First Semester:  Since nobody is going to accept the Two-Year Law School idea, we might as well make the three years a little more workable. Though I'm not
going to say that first-semester grades are no indicator of intelligence, I will suggest that they are an even stronger indicator of who has figured out how to take a law school exam. And it's a shame that not everybody gets a chance to do this before stuff really starts to count. The fact that I'm awesome at bolding subheads and underlining key concepts should not be able to make up for the fact that I know less about the law than the dude next to me (or, for that matter than my cat). So why not give everyone a chance to get the lay of the land, so that you can make evaluations based on something that matters?

Now, I appreciate the need of law firms to have an early sorting mechanism, but this really wouldn't hurt them much. We could move interview season to the beginning of the second semester of 2L year instead of the first semester, and everyone could still make their decisions in plenty of time for the summer. "But what about 1L employment?" you say. Well, I decided not to work as a 1L, and it didn't hurt me. So I say that all law students across the country start using the 1L summer to get a tan, write that novel they've been
putting off, and cherish the last few months of freedom they'll ever have.

4. Get Rid of Open-Book Exams:  In law school as we know it today, everyone has a friend that it's in an older class, and every friend knows someone who took every class, and at least one of those people is going to have an outline that is of publishable quality. So we all walk into exams with these massive binders that are tabbed and indexed and have charts and graphs and pop-up pages and advertising in them, and it's just ridiculous.

Go back to closed-book exams. Go back to a system where I'm only responsible for as much as I can cram into my head.  As things stand now, I'm carrying so much into an exam with me that I can barely get through the door, let alone get it all on paper.

5. Eliminate Wireless Access in Classrooms:  The Internet, in general? Good. The Internet in law school classrooms? Bad. On any given class day, you'll find someone playing solitaire, someone watching ESPN highlights, someone IMing people across the room, and someone reading stupid law student weblogs. Which is why I am absolutely not allowed to bring my laptop to class. I just can't hack it.

But it's not enough that I alone practice laptop abstinence. Because, since everyone else has one, I end up spending the class period watching someone else suck at poker, or buy crap they don't need, or read "Sugar, Mr. Poon?". And that's just not good for anyone.


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Nobody will read this, as I'm woefully late in responding (what else is new?) but I would answer Sam the Actuary.

It is true that when we actually practice law, we'll have to look things up all the time. What is not true, however, is that we will have available for every single legal problem an outline created by another lawyer that lays out exactly what we need to know to solve the problem.

I just took an open-note exam today, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that something like half of the class (me included)was working off of the same outline (or off of "their" outline that only consisted of the Source Outline plus some additional comments of their own.)

People can get passing grades, good grades, exceptional grades just by flipping to the correct page of a welldone outline from a previous semester, and there is nothing that will control for this except getting the damn things out of the exam room.

I completely agree on taking away wireless access in class. Right now I am trying to study for finals, I am 1L, and as I'm looking through my notes they get progressively worse as the semester went on because I was wasting my time reading "Sugar Mr. Poon?" and the author's "Wings and Vodka" blog. Now some of that responsibility lies on my shoulders and I am fully aware of that, but I look around during class, and maybe a quarter of the students are actually paying attention.

I disagree on point 4--open-book exams. I am an actuary; for us, the qualification process is entirely based on exams, all of which are closed-book. (Imagine taking an exam like the bar 8 times--that's our basic qualification process). The commonest complaint is that the exams over-emphasize memorization. Most of the material that is memorized for exams is promptly forgotten, and looked up whenever it's used. Yes, that means you know it very thoroughly--but it's a huge waste of time and mental energy to spend thousands of hours memorizing information that ends up being forgotten anyway.

When you're a lawyer, you had better look everything important up; why not start in law school?

"I end up spending the class period watching someone else . . . read "Sugar, Mr. Poon?". And that's just not good for anyone."

On that, you and my high school guidance counselor agree.

Great post.

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