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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My city. But darker.
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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A Tilted World

I am overwhelmed with gratitude from the generosity of friends and family for the donations to the orphans in Zambia so thank you so much for your contributions.

I just returned from the final long run of my marathon training for the kids and with just two weeks now to go till race day, I’m overcome with emotion. It’s on my long runs that I’m taken back there to Mazabuka, Zambia. I want to share some memories, some excerpts from my journal, that will perhaps inspire others to consider a donation to this cause.

November 1, 2010

Today I arrived in Mazabuka, Zambia to the orphanage where we’ll spend the next month. Today, I cried my eyes out.

I must be honest here. These weren’t tears of sadness for the desperation of the faces before us, faces that represented a generation of shattered lives in a tilting world. These were shameful tears, steeped in a selfishness that comes from a sheltered world of egoism, our world of riches, pleasures and perpetual comfort. I didn’t know if I could do it.

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Seemingly a world away, we stepped off the bright blue bus this morning to the sound of Coldplay crackling out of the bus speakers to face the sweltering heat of the African sun. We’d arrived to our destination: Mazabuka, Zambia. That small little dot on the map of our guidebook and a place few Zambians could tell us really anything about, Mazabuka’s claim to fame was that it was the home of Mazaubka Sugar. We didn’t know much more about the sweetest town in Zambia accept that it was awash in fields upon fields of sugar cane plantations. From the looks of the dusty roads and sparse fields around us, it was hard to believe anything could grow here much less an abundance of sugar, but that was beside the point. We’d arrived for the children, twelve abandoned orphans living on the outskirts of town in the rural village of Riverview in a home called Oz Kids.

Few looks compared to what can only be called the Indian stare – the way Indians look at you so deeply and intently you feel like they are looking directly at your soul – but here in Mazabuka we stood out more than ever. We’d been the only ones to exit our bus at the Mazabuka stop and from the looks thrown our way, it looked like very few ever did, especially two Western backpackers. With our packs fully loaded we trudged on with our safari sun-burnt faces past the maze of dilapidated shacks made of cement blocks topped with corrugated tin roofs.

Our befuddled faces soon attracted the attention of a team of youngsters huddled on a stone wall, and anxious to make a buck, they ushered us into their rickety vehicle. As our taxi pulled up, we bumped along the dirt road to the shrieking sound of gleeful children running out of mud huts and roofless homes. From the rearview mirror, I could see tens of children excitedly flapping their hands in the air amidst animated shouts of “Mabua! Mabua!” (white man) on bewildered faces.

Oz Kids International A Tilted World

I’d seen the home in a picture so I recognized it right away. We’d arrived to Oz Kids Orphanage, a home run by a couple from Townsville, Australia who had been so disconcerted or inspired (or perhaps both) on a recent visit to Central Africa that they decided to do something about it. They bought a plot of land, a cement block of a house and filled it to the brim with kids.

As we pulled in, I could see faces coyly peeking out behind barred windows and the unforgettable smile of an adolescent boy, I’d soon grow to know and love so well. On the heels of his orphaned brother, a bashful young boy trailed closely behind and together they greeted us with hesitation, with hope and grace. With an innocent graciousness, they proudly carried our bags to our room and here I got the first glimpse of the place I would soon call home.

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We’d be living in the home with the children for our month’s stay. Of course I expected the most basic of living situations, but not even our year of travel could have prepared me for life here. Following the pitter patter of calloused feet on a cement floor, we made our way to our room. Looking back and knowing them now so well, the boys were so proud to show it to us. It was, after all, our own room, something they’d never know. The kids, I’d learn, had grown up with entire families of eight to 10 sharing one bed in single-room shacks. This was a Zambian luxury, but what I saw at the time was an oversized closet, a tattered mattress on some wooden beams beneath a hole-ridden mosquito net.

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The bathroom would be shared with the twelve children. We had a toilet (which we later learned most of the children had never seen before arriving here and were equally awestruck and confounded with the innovative apparatus) and a faucet under which to wash our sweaty bodies. Above the faucet hung an abundance of dirty diapers dripping on a roped line. And creepy crawlers, those I never before knew existed, graced the white walls and would play witness to our daily bucket-like showers.

“We want to learn from you,” said Autie Monde, the Whitney Houston look alike and so-called mother of the house. We’d soon learn that this would be a theme of our stay. Everyone was looking to learn from the mabuas who’d just rolled into town.

But, what did I have to share?

Within moments of arrival, soiled babes were passed off to us, looking up at us with blank faces. Dear, precious Joseph was placed in our hands and basically put under our constant care from that minute on. Ryan welcomed it, them, this…without reservation, without hesitation.

Retreating to the privacy of our own little room, I began to unpack a few things, placing my clothing items in neat stacks on the dusty shelf and floor as tears streamed down my face. We’d come all this way. I wanted this, I reminded myself. I didn’t expect to react this way. Why was it so hard?

And then, they broke me…

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November 21, 2010

I hardly recognize that person who walked through those doors three weeks ago. Living, eating and spending every waking moment with the kids we have become completely immersed in their lives. I’ve had my hair twisted, yanked and tugged into tight cornrows umpteen times and the girls try fruitlessly through tearful laughter to get my dancing hips to move the way theirs do. They spend hours admiring the white palms of our hands and rubbing fingers through Ryan’s beard has become a favorite pastime.

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It took some time to develop our place in the home. We wanted to give some purpose to our visit and leave the kids with something greater than they had before we arrived. We knew this wouldn’t come in the form of our pocketbook, but we were hopeful there was a piece of us we could leave behind.

When they weren’t scrubbing the toilet or beating their laundry clean, the kids spent their time under the hot sun staring silently, aimlessly into the distance. It’s hard to imagine what it is like to have absolutely nothing and what nothing really means. We lived it. Minutes passed like hours, hours like days. No toys, no books. Shoes that don’t fit. A little shoe box with a few tattered shirts and pants was all they had to call their own. And the pride they took in caring for those little boxes, you’d think they were filled with gold.

Baking A Tilted World

We had to be creative to bring some structure and happiness into the home. This came in the form of daily activity sessions with the kids. We held English and baking lessons and health and geography classes. We held epic hangman tournaments and fierce sessions of musical chairs and Red Rover (now known in Zambia as the mistakenly dubbed “Land Rover” game). With the help of our trusty iPod we also brought music into the home. Hosting dance parties rivaling Disco Fever became a daily ritual, attracting kids from a two mile radius. Out on the front stoop in the heart of Central Africa, we raised a whole generation of Zambian kids to the beats of Laga Gaga and Boom Boom Pow.

We grew closer to the kids faster than we could have ever imagined. It didn’t take long before they opened their hearts to us, and heart-wrenching stories of disease, abuse and death soon followed.

“My father died of AIDS and my mum no longer wanted me.”
“My mother is dying of AIDS and we didn’t have any food to eat.”
“My father drowned and my mom stopped looking after me.”

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Nothing prepares you for how to react to the children retelling their life stories. Some fight through tears others talk about their parents’ deaths as if recounting their day at school. You want to hold them, hug them, take it all away. You want them to forget it. You want to help them start a new. We felt helpless.

They craved our affection and seemed physically hungry for our love. We took turns bringing a child at a time into town. Each child had their day. We thought this would be a great way for the kids to get a little individual attention and I don’t think they could have enjoyed it more. On their day, the girls each spent hours combing their hair and dressing in their Sunday best. The boys ironed t-shirts and wore a smile from ear to ear as they walked hand in hand with us to town.

We found a little spot that served up chocolate milkshakes and we thought this would be the perfect treat for each child. We certainly weren’t trying to buy our way into their hearts, but we thought it would be a nice gesture for the kids. And well, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We were acting out of love and for some of the kids this may have proved to be too much. Some had never ventured out of the village before and being in town now, in a little cafe, with well-to-do Mazabukans, a few seemed quite out of place. They held up the place-mat in wonderment and pointed inquisitively at the vase in the middle of the table filled with flowers. I could see their hearts tighten as they saw friends and schoolmates traipsing through town with their mothers and fathers. Though we tried to make them forget the pain, if only for a day, we knew the word orphan, resounding like a punch in the stomach or a dart in the heart, echoed still in their heads.


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On October 9, we’re hitting the pavement, running 26.2 for these kids. Hope you’ll consider making a donation to make their world a little bit brighter.

pixel A Tilted World

For more details on our efforts, click here.

pixel A Tilted World

Comments (1)

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  1. What a beautiful post! I recently returned from a volunteer stint in Ghana and your experience reminds me so much of mine. I’ve been home for 5 months now and I still miss the children so much!
    Jessica Festa´s last [type] ..Travel Movie Monday: Surfing and Meeting Locals in Sri Lanka