A Columbia Law Student Blog - Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil

August 25, 2006

And like that... he is gone

So that's it. RIP Three Years of Hell, June 2, 2003 to August 25, 2006. After all these words, there are only a few things left to say.

Two sites, the Imbroglio and the Volokh Conspiracy, have given me a slightly premature sendoff, and their words are very kind. (The site has received its final Kerr Package.) In answer to Ambimb's question as to why the site is closing, the answer is simply that the project is done. I don't know what my next big task will be. I've got two articles in process (much more difficult now I don't have free Lexis access). There's a few chapters written of a novel, a thought made more exciting by three friends who have already written books. The more I look at law and technology, the more I think that an open-source, XML-based framework for writing judicial opinions would bring caselaw closer to the public (as well as weaken the WEXIS duopoly). Perhaps that's a project worth looking into. Whatever the case, I'm sure I'll have no problem coming up with other tasks to occupy my (soon to dwindle rapidly) free time. This story was always meant to have an ending, and after all these months, it is finally here.

Thank you to the professors and students at Columbia Law School who made this journey such a rich experience. The same goes to the bloggers across the 'sphere who've linked, commented and otherwise spread the word. (A special note should go to Martin, who started me on this path.) My family, although asked not to comment on the blog itself, never failed to give me encouragement (and fodder for quite a few posts) throughout my years here.

And finally, of course, thank you to all of you who've read this site over the last three years and a bit. Journeys are made better with travelling companions, and I couldn't have asked for a finer bunch.

Best regards,


And for those without blogs...

Dear Wormwood:

Our correspondence over these last few years, put together, may be the single longest thing I've ever written. For old time's sake, however, I hope you'll allow me to give you one last list, a few things I hope you'll take with you in your own purgatorial journeys.

At long last, Wormwood, our conversation is at an end. Please take with you my best wishes, and may your time in law school bring you every joy possible.

Continue reading "And for those without blogs..." »

Advice for 1Ls Starting a Blog: A Much Shorter Part II

Dear Wormwood:

I promised you two letters that might help your friend Scrimgouge in starting a 1L blog. The first letter focused mostly upon matters that any blogger, legal or otherwise, might find useful, be they technical or stylistic. But both you and Scrimgouge are now law student, which makes your efforts (and yes, dear Wormwood, I really am hoping that you too might start blogging) a bit different. So with the basics out of the way, I'd like to make a few quick notes and observations on what I've learned from law school blogging.

  1. Eschew anonymity: I've covered the reasons for this in one of my most oft-read posts. I know I bang on upon this, but anonymity certainly isn't as safe as you'd suspect. Besides, it's only polite that when you violate Godwin's Law, your opponent knows where to send the summons and complaint.
  2. Don't be surprised if your first year makes for the most interesting blogging: First year blogs are great, indeed positively addicting. Most 1Ls find themselves thrust into this bizarro land where Socratic Method suddenly makes sense as a pedagogical technique and everything--and I mean everything--starts being seen through the lense of law. On the other hand, 1L bloggers know that most of their readers aren't other law students, but their friends, family and associates from back in the "real world." The need to explain the pressure-cooker anxiety, and the urge to translate the experience to outsiders, makes for excellent writing.

    1L year is all about learning the game. 2L year, you merely refine it. By 3L, you're looking for another game to play because you know exactly how much class you can snooze through with minimal effect on your grades. Why do you think Scott Turow didn't write a sequel?

  3. Give your fellow students (and professors) some space: TYoH followed two pretty simple rules. First, don't mention a non-blogging professor by name. Refer to them instead as "Prof. Contracts" or "Prof. CivPro." It's not much, but it does mean that your blog entries won't end up as Google hits for their name. Secondly, if you have a story to tell about a fellow student, even if you're not mentioning them by name, shoot them a quick email with a draft of the post before you publish. They may not want their lives appearing online. Most of the time, no one will care, but it's a good habit that saves trouble later on.
  4. Blog about what fascinates you: Your text really comes alive when you have an interesting story to tell, or when you're passionate about an issue. All law student bloggers eventually create their own niche. I've posted quite a lot on gay marriage, for instance, but also on the appropriateness of professional status for legal practitioners (much more obscure) and strange tax issues. The Ambivalent Imbroglio should be one of the first reads for any law student thinking of becoming a public defender (or a prosecutor, for that matter). You don't have to comment fully on everything. If you find something interesting but don't have anything to say on it, an entry with a quick link is perfectly fine. Write in depth on those issues you care about.
  5. Engage others: Yesterday I wrote about connecting to other bloggers, but focused mostly on law professors or major players. Yet the real and lasting relationships in blogging will come from your own cohorts, your peers out there on the great wide internet. I've copied fair amounts of code from Heidi's effort. I've made fast friends with Chris. I've pimped Jeremy's book. These are the things I smile about when I remember TYoH, and I'll bet I do so a decade from now. Your cohort will be a source of support when things go wrong, both scholastically and technically. They'll also be something you'll carry away from law school.
  6. Keep a sense of humor: All too often, you'll be inspired to shout. When you do, put the post in "draft" and leave it to the next day. Remember that at the right moment and you'll thank me later.
  7. Keep in touch: Perhaps not advice, so much, but if there's a 1L out there starting a blog and they need a bit of help, don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun reading your work in the years to come.

And that, dearest Wormwood, is that. I hope that Scrimgouge finds the next three years as exciting as I did.

Welcome to the Continuum! or Passing the Torch

Say hello to Luis Villa, a 1L at Columbia law school. He's another coder turned lawyer, and his musings on code and law strike a cord.

If there's any other Columbia Law School bloggers who would like to tie their blogs into the Columbia Continuum, feel free to email me. (I will be keeping that site working, and maybe even improved, after this site goes quiet.)

UPDATE: Welcome also to Legal Economics, another Columbia 1L. This guy will have no trouble in Reg State. Too bad it's not a required class anymore, eh?

(Please note that the Continuum requires an RSS feed, so if you're on Blogger or Blogspot, you should get a Feedburner account.)

Down to the Wire

Right... self-imposed deadline of tonight to finish this thing off, and still four or five posts that I need to complete. Right now all that quick typing in exams is coming in handy!

August 24, 2006

Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One

Dear Wormwood:

Who is this Scrimgouge whose email address you've forwarded me? It's certainly very flattering that he's asking you to ask me for advice on starting a law school blog. Nevertheless, there's no good reason for him to ask me at one remove. [1] You know full well I'd speak at the opening of a Doritos bag, and give away advice just as profligately.

Since your friend has asked, I'm happy to oblige. This particular project has run for over three years, and I'd like to think that in that time I've learned a few things that might help out a beginner. Of course, with the start of the fall semester, there is currently no shortage of advice for new law students, and I'm sure that similar wisdom about blogs is a dime a dozen. Hopefully your friend Scrimgouge will find one or two chestnuts here that he hasn't managed to gather elsewhere. Sadly for him, however, whatever angels generally look over my shoulder and force me to be brief have taken a tea break. What follows is quite lengthy indeed.

To help out a bit, I've divided the post into five sections that continue after the cut:
First, the commonplace.
Second, decide what you want to do.
Third, learn a bit about the technology.
Fourth, connect, connect, connect (to the Web).
Fifth, connect, connect, connect (to other bloggers).
Finally, have fun.

I hope it helps.

Continue reading "Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One" »

Could Be Worse

A friend of mine just gave me a "post bar exam gift": a copy of Ichisada Miyazaki's China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China. From the first page:

Competition for a chance to take the civil service examinations began, if we may be allowed to exaggerate only a little, even before birth. . . . Prenatal care began as soon as a woman was known to be pregnant. . . .

Legal education system take note: you have something to aspire towards.

Grumpy Old Man Alert: "In My Day, We Didn't Have the 'SONI' System Like You Youngsters. We Read Two Hundred Spam Emails From Every Society Imaginable, And We LIKED It."

Forwarded from a current Columbia Law Student, from one of Student Services' fantastic new staff members:

We have put in place a new system, the Student Organization News and Information (SONI) System, which allows student organizations and journals to email students directly and allows you to select to which student organization and journal email lists you wish to subscribe or unsubscribe.
We hope that you find this system a helpful way to receive information from student organizations, and a good way to cut down on your email traffic.

The SONI system works as follows. All students in the Law School are initially subscribed to each student organization's email list. You may choose to unsubscribe from any list, at which point you will no longer receive email from that particular organization or journal. If you wish, you can later choose to resubscribe.

What a fantastic idea! I'm sure this entry will attract a lot of groans from the Class of 2006 and older, though. They can take heart: scuttlebutt is that you still can't avoid the daily deluge of emails from the public interest folks.

August 23, 2006

New York Pungent

Strange circumstances conspire to bring me back to New York just before the blog ends. I drove through Jersey late last night. A blind man could smell his way up the Jersey Turnpike. My memory of New York will be forever mixed with the smell of garbage. Tokyo has its sweating salarymen with natto-breath crowding the subway. Summer winds blow stinging road dust into your eyes in London. But the smell of rotting dinners sets New York apart, simply because it's always there, and especially strong in the summer. No part of Manhattan escapes it. Walk up from a Times Square subway exit, the cleaned-up area for tourists, and spoilt meat assaults your nose. Walk down Broadway for a romantic meal and you're certain to pass at least three corners reeking of fish. Take a badly air-conditioned cab through slow traffic to a job interview on 54th street and you have a choice: roll up the windows and sweat or arrive with your suit smelling as if you cleaned a drainage ditch in it. Maybe as the years go by I'll grow nostalgic and I'll forget. But for the present, summer in New York is remembered with my nose.

August 18, 2006

The Beginning of the End

Dear Wormwood:

The bar exam is over. I've moved away from D.C. to Another State. [1] And today the last signs of law-student living left me: my free Lexis account no longer works.

I feel I shall soon have withdrawal symptoms.

In any event, it's about time for this project to end. After all, Wormwood, while your journey through law school is beginning, it's time for me to go on about my life. There's still a little left I have to say, mostly about blogging, school, and a few observations to send you on your way. But even of that, there's not much. I'm going home to visit my parents this weekend, but I should be back to writing on Monday.

So by way of forewarning, Wormwood, you can expect the final entry of TYoH to appear one week from today, on Friday, August 25th. Now I just have to get everything in order. There is, of course, a project plan.

[1]: Incidentally, if I hadn't believed it before, this move would have convinced me that the Scion xB is great value for money. Over 30 miles to the gallon and I can fit massive amounts of cargo in the back.

Giving The Devil His Due

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A Clockwork Orange

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A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

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Sending Postcards from Chobe

Our self-drive bush camping expedition continued into Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Located along the northeast tier of Botswana, the park is home to a great variety of wildlife and ecosystems. From the verdant forests and ample water supplies of the Chobe riverfront to the marshlands of Savute and lagoons of Linyanti, we’d spend the final days here of our Southern African safari soaking up the myriad of adventures on hand.

Here are true tales from this Botswana journey.

Chobe Riverfront

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Elephant parading down to the riverfront for a morning drink

By the time we made it to Chobe, we were pretty well-versed in our safari routine. Up at sunrise to pack up our home (our trusty rooftop tent), we threw down a cup of instant coffee and brushed our teeth under the trickle of our water bottles. It was then time to hit those dusty roads for the sparkling blue waters of the Chobe riverfront.

The morning game drive was a testament to what we’d already read. The area is home to some of Africa’s best game viewing and the density of wildlife is simply mind-boggling. We could hardly drive ten feet without some outstanding wildlife interaction. With each turn more elephants appeared in the horizon before parading down to the waterfront for an early-morning thirst quencher. The white-faced African Eagle stood guard on the tip-tops of trees and Lappet-Faced Vultures hovered overhead awaiting their turn to pounce. Herds of cantankerous zebras leapt inches from our car while statuesque kudus listened to our every word with their conch-shaped ears. Onto the carpet of green we found warthogs, gazelles, bushbucks and wildebeest with tails a waggin’ as they grazed peacefully aside massive Cape Buffalo. It was the greatest show on earth, the circle of life, all around us.

IMG 3682 Sending Postcards from Chobe

The captivating eyes of a leopard just feet above our car

And the grand finale? That was the leopard’s alone. Not one but two of the typically elusive leopards made a grand appearance in the final hour of our day at Chobe riverfront. Parking our car on the edge of the lush woodlands, we were about to get a lesson on the birds and the bees – feline-style. A male leopard encircling our car tried to catch the attention of his coy, female counterpart lounging on the sturdy branch of the sausage tree just feet above our car. Her ferocious hiss showed us who was in charge and informed us our birds and bees lesson was on hold, at least for now.


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Settling into camp in remote Linyanti

Moving on from the well-trodden safari path of the Chobe riverfront, we headed to the area known as Linyanti. For better and worse, Linyanti is way off the beaten track. Out in the middle of the bush in the secluded northwest section of Chobe, there is no other sign of life here but the elephants and hippos who inhabit the area. These are the kind of places that always attract us, but, in this case, we learned we should have come a bit more prepared.

We arrived early afternoon to Linyanti to find the most pristine, unspoiled campsite in all of Southern Africa. We set up camp to the sound of baboons jumping overhead and warthogs snorting gleefully as they munched on the branches leftover from the elephants’ lunch. It wasn’t till late afternoon, however, when we realized these would be our only companions way out here in the bush. No other travelers had decided to brave the drive out to this remote area of the park so here we found ourselves miles away from any sign of human life.

By night, it was thrilling. We were completely on our own. We built a massive fire and cooked a feast before settling up in our rooftop tent. Wrapped up like sausages in our sleeping bags, we fell asleep to the sound of splashing hippos feet away while gazing up at a sky twinkling with a trillion stars.

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The sand roads of Chobe, just begging for us to get stuck

But when we woke up, this was a different story. Twenty minutes into our drive back to civilization, we buried ourselves knee-deep in sand. We were out in the open, bait for the hundreds of animals lurking around with no choice but to dig ourselves out. Ryan spent all morning with shovel in hand while I was stood watch for approaching animals. As I mentally prepared myself for camping out in this area where we were told it might be days before another person might pass by to rescue us, Ryan’s new-found 4WD skills saved the day. We made it out of the sand, but this issue presented another problem. In trying to get ourselves out, we’d eaten up loads of gas and were running well on empty. But lo and behold, the angels of the bush must have been looking out for us. These angels came in the form of a caravan of boisterous and well-prepared South Africans with enough extra diesel to fuel a jetliner.

No phone, no GPS and rarely a sign of human life, we were quite naïve being way out here on our own. In Linyanti, it was clear we’d used up our nine lives.


It was time for the flat expanse of the park known as Savute. The scorching sun of the desert landscape and dead trees providing a limited amount of shade usually transform this place into a thirst-land for animals scrounging for water. We had high hopes of big game sightings in Savute, but instead what we got was a big storm and a surprise reunion with friends from the road.

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The calm before the storm at Savute campsite

We’d met two French families during our journey through Namibia. We bonded quickly after learning they too were on similar year-long around the world trips (theirs with kids!). Because misery loves company, our mutual vehicle woes did even more to solidify the bond. We spent the day with our Frenchie pals rehashing bush tales around camp, only interrupted by elephants traipsing around our tents and the afternoon sun colliding with heavy rains.

Hiding from the rain on the tailgate of our car, we paid homage to our hometown on this Halloween night over cans of the classic Botswana brew, St. Louis Lager. Then it was time for one last rendezvous with our travel pals with burgers and baked beans cooked over a roaring fire.

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Catching up at camp with our French travel pals

While this day was nearly devoid of game sightings, sharing this night with our Parisian friends was special in and of itself. Quitting our jobs to travel the world had many of our pals back home wondering if we might have a screw loose. It’s so refreshing on the road meeting people like this…who share the same thirst for adventure, who are looking for more out of life than the that nine to five gig and who are willing to take the risk to find it.

Out here in the middle of the African bush, we watched our new pals share these transformative experiences with their kids. And, well, it makes us pretty certain this isn’t the last time we embark on this sort of journey.

pixel Sending Postcards from Chobe

Comments (5)

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  1. Nora says:

    Well, good thing you keep a man around Laurita, I’d like to see us dig a 4WD truck out of the sand together. So its good to know in 15 years, we could be those couples traveling with our kids around the world! xo – The pics are amazing, and I never tire of reading your adventures!

  2. Mihai says:

    Thank you so much for your reply, there is a mention in your text that you’ll detail the horror story about the rental. My kids will be 17,15 and 12 by that time, we’ll do our homework. Thank you for the link. Welcome home!

  3. roundwego says:

    @Shivya – Thanks for the kind words on our photos and blog and sorry you found us at the tail end of our journey. Hoping to share more from the last leg of our travels in Africa soon!

    @Mihai – Can’t recommend enough the self-drive travel through Southern Africa. It’s an adventure of a lifetime and to experience it with kids is a dream of ours! Depending on the ages of the kids, the Land Rover option may still work for you, but our French pals would probably be able to offer much better insight. Here is their blog to reach out for more details: http://www.visiterlemonde.net.

    Lastly, we rented (as did our French friends) with a company called Just Done It out of Cape Town, SA. DO NOT rent with this company, whatever you do! We have horror stories to share from this rental choice. Definitely do your research to find a reliable option and please let us know if we can be of any help with your upcoming travel plans!

  4. Shivya says:

    Wow, your blog and your pictures are both amazing! Too bad I stumbled on it only when you’re homeward bound. I’ll be back to read your travelogues in detail again :) Rolling you!
    Shivya´s last [type] ..You don’t need a red coat &amp white beard to be Santa

  5. Mihai says:

    Laura, I enjoy reading about your travels and congratulate both of you for this great blog and the nice pictures. Do your French friends have a website? I have three kids and I am wondering how they got there and what arrangements did they make, because we are probably not gonna fit into a car like yours. Or would we?