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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Bateleur wrote: I tip my hat to you - not only for ... [more]

Law Firm Technology (5)
Len Cleavelin wrote: I find it extremely difficult to be... [more]

Post Exam Rant (9)
Tony the Pony wrote: Humbug. Allowing computers already... [more]

Symbols, Shame, and A Number of Reasons that Billy Idol is Wrong (11)
Adam wrote: Well, here's a spin on the theory o... [more]

I've Always Wanted to Say This: What Do You Want? (14)
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D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

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Projects I've Been Involved With

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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Farewell, India

Train 3 e1271098674948 Farewell, India

Passengers boarding the train

India has affected me deeply, and I longed to give her a proper goodbye before parting ways.

To conclude our Indian adventure, we plotted out a week-long stay in the serene, green northeast territory of the country. We had a first class train ticket in hand and a charming hotel awaited our arrival. Although tranquility was what we were after, we soon learned India had something else up her sleeve. She preferred to give us a more authentic adieu.

Setting off from the holy city of Varanasi to the hill station of Darjeeling, our journey began. Loading up our bulky packs, we marched through a maze of tight, crowded alleyways and fought through the hissing and heckling of an aggressive mob of rickshaw drivers. Coughing our way through the muggy air, we made the hour-long journey to the train station to arrive in time for our 9 p.m. train.

Upon our arrival we received news that our 16-hour overnight train was delayed. It wasn’t just any delay. It was a delay of eleven hours. We were doomed.

All simple, logical solutions were faulty. Trains are typically full for weeks in advance (especially if you are looking to ride away from the smut and grime of the economy cabin) so canceling our ticket and buying another was out of the question. Finding a hotel to stay in proved impossible. By this hour, hotels were closed, adhering to the strictly enforced curfew policy in Varanasi. Further, with the city’s nightly power outage the pitch black ride back to the city, at this time, would be treacherous.

Train 4 e1271098781471 Farewell, India

Crowded floors of the Mughal Serai train station at night

Desperate to find lodging for the night, we even checked the train station dormitory but with our luck it was completely full. Without a plausible option, spending the night inside the station was becoming a reality.

I will try to describe the grim situation of the Mughal Serai train station to the best of my ability, but I can assure you it will not do justice. The smell is overwhelming. It’s a toxic odor of burning trash stinging your eyes and singeing your nose. It’s the piercing stench of fecal matter squirting out of busted pipes and spewing from the bottoms of trains. It’s the sticky puddles of stale-smelling urine covering the station platforms. The dim low-hanging, lights reveal a thick layer of filth and mounds of litter, providing a feast to the swarms of flies and beetles that surround.

Truly disgusted with the conditions, we were directed to the ‘upper-class’ waiting room where we could wait it out. After settling our bags and wiping away the damp sweat covering our bodies, we noticed the room was crawling with rats. With seemingly nowhere else to go, we escaped to the adjacent train station restaurant in hopes to find a resting place for the night.

Train 6 e1271099473123 Farewell, India

Passengers catch some shut eye while waiting for train

Here we met some fellow travelers and bonded quickly over the inauspicious situation. Trying to laugh it off and occupy our tired heads, we shared stories of our travels while sipping down hot cups of brew. In the midst of the newly discovered camaraderie, we failed to realize this place, too, was teeming with an army of cat-sized rats.

India was certainly testing me again. This time I was pushed to my breaking point, teetering over the edge. But she’s tricky, that India. Just when you are about to lose it she takes you in and shows you just how bad it could be. She reveals a reality a million times worse.

Out of the train tracks came the children. At 2 a.m. a group of four, five and six year olds roamed barefoot along the tracks. With their ratted hair and dressed in filthy rags, they gathered broken bottles and empty cardboard thrown from windows of the trains and piled them high into giant, burlap bags slung over their shoulders. They laughed and giggled as they walked through mounds of litter while dodging rats scurrying across the tracks and swatting flies off each other’s faces.

Station e1271132988402 Farewell, India

Child sleeping on the floor of the train station

A second group followed and a third. By 4 a.m., there were several groups of children gathered on the train platform. Their day was finally done and they laid down, just feet from us, on the hard concrete to rest their eyes. This station was their home.

My heart was broken.

For the remainder of the night we too made a bed on the platform floor. Laying on our backpacks, mosquitoes and flies feasted on our bodies and we pretended we didn’t hear the rats squeaking and scurrying beside us. We even tried to ignore the peering strangers huddling around us, plotting out a moment to rummage through our bags.

By the time the sun rose, the children were already off to work the new arrivals to the station. They were joined by tens of scrawny invalids scrambling for change. And when our eleven hour delay turned into fifteen hours, it somehow didn’t seem all that bad.

Our train did finally arrive, and we slept in the air conditioned sleeping car for the duration of the journey. When the forty hour trip o Darjeeling finally came to an end, I realized this might have been just the goodbye we needed to conclude our Indian journey. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

pixel Farewell, India

Comments (7)

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  1. roundwego says:

    @Catia, @Andrea, @Elise, @Courtney, @Ashley – India sure gave us a big kick in the rear on our way out, but it certainly put things in pespective as that place always does. It’s an experience that is so hard to describe, but these travel days paint a pretty darn good picture. Thanks for following our tales!

    @Dad – Glad grandma is enjoying our adventures! Looking forward to sharing the latest from Nepal.

  2. Dad Keller says:

    I found out this morning that Grandma beat me to your posts, so I just spent about twenty minutes catching up on the last three. Even though I’d heard the stories through Skype in the meantime, they did indeed pack a punch. Grandma’s SO into your writing, and she shares each chapter with her dinner companions. The woman who runs the computer center at the retirement center is also following your itinerary with interest. Glad I got your next stops straight in my mind in our conversation this weekend, and look forward to our next chat. Love and miss you both so much! Always your, DAD

  3. Wow Laura! Great description of train stations in India. We never had a 15 hour delay but I do know the smells and sights. The children are the hardest to see. Keep up the great blogging and we will see you two soon!

  4. Elise says:

    i just read this post and all i can say is wow! sounds like quite an eye opening experience! hope u get to head somewhere where life can settle down a little bit! safe travels!

  5. Andrea says:

    Funny how life does that to us. Changes our perspective in the blink of an eye, I mean. One person’s filth is another person’s fortune. Heartbreaking, yet inspiring at the same time. My sister had a similar experience in India… and she wouldn’t change it for the world. Stay safe!

  6. Courtney says:

    Wow, Laura, great post. I have enjoyed reading about the entire journey through India as this is a place I will probably never go. Your descriptions were so vivid, it really gave a true depiction of the conditions there. Miss and love you!

  7. Catia says:

    That is a very beautiful, moving post and it really does sound like the perfect good-bye to India. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    .-= Catia´s last blog ..Teotihuacán, Mexico – ‘Where Men Become Gods’ =-.