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.

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Luang Prabang: Greatest Town in the World

Luang Prabang is the greatest city in the world. Perhaps, that is an overstatement. With a population hovering around 100,000 it may not be large enough to be considered a city. Luang Prabang is then the greatest town in the world.

The dirty little secret is this – Laos and its cultural capital, Luang Prabang, need a marketing makeover. Sure, magazines like Conde Nast and National Geographic Traveler will give the city its due props with articles titled “Best Kept Secrets of Southeast Asia” and “SE Asia’s Hot List” but, please, this is petty patronization. This city, this town, should not be condensed so easily to stroke some pedantic travel expert’s ego. A UNESCO World Heritage site is not a secret. And for a place to be considered “hot” is to say that it will go out of style some time later. Luang Prabang should be visited now and later, again and again and again.

Certainly, Laura and I will be back. The town’s demure beauty captured our admiration from the moment we arrived. After traveling hard to outpace our Tibet-shortened Chinese visa, we were in need of a calm, quiet place to relax for a few days. Laura’s research and Wikitravel’s glowing recommendation brought us to one of the best places we’ve stayed yet – Thongbay Guesthouse – just on the outskirts of town.

From the get-go we had the feeling that a few days there would turn into several, which is exactly what happened. At Thongbay, we had a – OK, I’ll call it cute (it was) – bungalow all to ourselves on the shores of the Nam Khan river just before its intersection with the Mekong. Made of all wood with no real frills (no AC, no TV) other than exceptional service and breakfast on the veranda, the rustic locale was exactly what we were after.

We spent a total of 8 days in the good, ‘ole LP, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll give you run-down on what to see, eat and do the New York Times way – in 36 hours.

36 Hours in Luang Prabang

Day 1

4 p.m. – Bike the Drive

It being a town, there is no need for maps or public transportation, just your two feet and some wheels. Laura and I rented bikes almost every day to get to and fro and this is undoubtedly the best way to cruise the town. One of the great charms of the town is its peninsular location, carved out by two rivers – the Mekong and the Nam Khan. Sandwiched in between are more than thirty Buddhist temples and a host of perfectly-preserved French colonial buildings, all easily navigable on two tires. Because the whole town of Luang Prabang is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, no new development is allowed, therefore keeping away much of the over-blown commercialism found in SE Asia’s other cities.

Cool off after your bike ride around town with SE Asia’s best iced coffee. Made with condensed milk and a healthy scoop of sugar it’s more of a liquid dessert than anything resembling coffee, but it’s a great pick-me-up on a hot day.

6 p.m. – Fire on the Mountain

With your new-found sugar high, ascend Luang Prabang’s highest point, Phou Si, a hill 100m high in the center of the old town with breathtaking views of the stupa-studded province. Atop the hill is a white-washed Buddhist temple, around which tourists gather to applaud the sunset over the Mekong, an absolute highlight of any trip to Luang Prabang.

8 p.m. – Night Market

Trust me; you will never visit a market as quiet as this one, not even if you’re shopping for caskets. Every night, artists and merchants set up shop on the main road running through the town’s artery to hawk their goods. If you’re coming from just about any neighboring country (especially Vietnam) you will be shocked at the lack of hassling and the quiet and reserved demeanor with which the Lao people conduct their business. Bargaining still occurs but it is by no means cut-throat and shouting won’t get you anywhere. In a country where “saving face” and maintaining a pleasant disposition are all important, the people are generally very laid-back. People come here to sell everything from misspelled Beerlao t-shirts to hand-woven purses to beautiful hand-painted prints and cards.

Walking through the market can certainly make one thirsty, and for this there is an almighty solution – Beerlao. Grab one of the green-and-yellow-labeled pilsners and take a seat at one of the communal tables in the alley running off the main market. Here is the nightly food market, made up of an exceptional array of food stalls, selling grilled fish, sausages, pork, corn and hot and spicy noodles, plenty of reason to indulge your taste buds and order another Beerlao.

As with most Buddhist cultures, Luang Prabang is not a late-night kind of place, so it’s early to bed because tomorrow you’ll be early to rise.

Day 2

6 a.m. – The Giving of the Alms

Visit in the morning and you will see lines of saffron-robed monks collecting their morning alms from the townspeople in a charitable display so beautiful to watch it will make you question why all acts of kindness couldn’t be this way. Beware, though, you will also see hordes of ugly tourists literally jogging down the street to snap photos of the collections, as it’s become tourist –chic (I say this having gone and taken pictures myself but, still, there is a respectful way of capturing the act and maintaining some distance).

8 a.m. – French Connection

After the monks collect their daily rations of rice, it’s time for you to get fed. Head to one of the many cafes in town and discover at least one redeeming quality of French colonialism – the food – over a breakfast of pain au chocolat and café au lait.

10 a.m. – Iron Chef

We had heard from many other travelers that Luang Prabang is a great place to take a Lao cooking course. We signed up and started off our all-day cooking course at Tamnak Lao by heading to the local food market to purchase fresh meats, vegetables and spices. This was a lot of fun and a great way to get off the tourist path and experience shopping in a local market.

With our English-speaking chef, Laura and I, along with about 8 others, learned to cook 6 recipes, including two Lao favorites – sticky rice, a glutinous rice used in northeastern Laos, and jeowbong, a spicy chili paste only made in Luang Prabang and typically eaten with dried buffalo skin.

The cooking class ended with a terrific lunch whipped up by none other than ourselves and included our personal favorite, laap, a minced chicken salad flavored with chili, mint, kaffir lime leaves and an assortment of vegetables.

4 p.m. – Go Chasing Waterfalls

About 30 minutes drive (you can either hire a moped or hop a local tuk-tuk) from town are Kuang Si Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall cascading several hundred feet down the mountainside. Laura and I made the trek up the mountain with a bunch of other travelers – Kiwis, Brits and Germans – to take advantage of the natural swimming pools on the upper terraces of the falls. You could spend all day here just chilling and drinking fruit smoothies, but after such a rough day you might be in need of a cocktail like we were.

6 p.m. – Slow Gin Fizzes

Sunsets in Luang Prabang are not just sunsets; they are events. There are a slew of bars practically begging you, by way of idyllic views over the Mekong, to enjoy the approaching sunset with a cocktail. Now Laura is not typically a cocktail drinker, but something about the fiery-red sun waiting to dip itself over the green jungle and into the river had her saying, “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll have a drink.” Gin fizz was deemed the right choice for the moment. And there wasn’t anything slow about it. One turned to two and two to…time for dinner (or it’s going to be a very short night). If that cooking course taught you anything, it’s that there is no shortage of great food to be had in this town, so get ready.

8 p.m. – Frasian Fusion

With all due respect to the many wonderful restaurants of Laos’s capital, Vientiane, Luang Prabang would have to be considered the gastronomic center of the country. French-inspired but still distinctively Lao, Luang Prabang’s cuisine is superb. There are restaurants serving tasty Lao cuisine to suit every budget.

Laura and I chose wisely with a place called Tamarind, hidden in one of the side-streets on the Mekong side of town and specializing in traditional Lao food. This was one of the best meals we’ve had on our entire trip. We sampled sticky rice and dried, crispy seaweed, served with an assortment of veggie dips to start: a chunky tomato salsa, a smoky eggplant dip and a coriander chutney.

4476050772 417218e471 Luang Prabang: Greatest Town in the World

But the highlight was undoubtedly the lemongrass-stuffed chicken. The chicken is mixed with a variety of herbs and spices including garlic, ginger, kaffir lime and coriander, then stuffed inside a thick stalk of lemongrass, dipped in egg and flash-fried. The result – oh, dear baby Jesus! The crispy lemongrass covering gave an incredible scent and taste to the juicy and delectably-flavored chicken that was tucked inside. And with a side of peanut sauce for dipping and the local lao lao (rice whiskey) to tipple, you won’t regret eating here.

Day 3

11 a.m. – Longtail It Out of Town

All your bags are packed. You’re ready to go. Stop standing there and longtail it out of town. For centuries, the Mekong has been the lifeline and main means of transport for the Lao, Burmese, Chinese, Tibetan and Vietnamese that call the river’s shore their home. Karst mountains, wild elephants bathing, hairless, young monks washing their clothes – there is no better way to pay witness to Luang Prabang’s beautiful offerings than to take a boat down this world-renowned waterway. A fitting goodbye to 36 hours in the world’s greatest town.

For video highlights of Luang Prabang, click here.

pixel Luang Prabang: Greatest Town in the World

Comments (8)

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  1. roundwego says:

    @Grace – Glad we can help. Look forward to reading your thoughts on Luang Prabang. Eat at Tamarind!

  2. Grace says:

    I am in Luang Prabang and your blog will be my guide.

  3. Chiang Khan says:

    Will have to cross the Mekong River and check out Laos for sure.

  4. roundwego says:

    @Natalie – Glad you plan to make your way there. Luang Prabang certainly won’t disappoint! Think it will continue to be a stand-out from all our travels.

  5. Kristina says:

    I have been to Laos 2 years ago and Luang Prabang was one of my favorite places – it is truely magical! thanks for bringing back some memories!
    viele grüsse, kristina
    Kristina´s last [type] ..wanderings through berlin- clärchens ballhaus

  6. Luang Prabang – it’s a dream… And first item in my wish list)

  7. Matt says:

    I love the nod to Mr. K…”everyone has to believe in something…”. Sounds like an amazing time in Luang Prabang.

  8. Cam says:

    Looks like you guys had a great time! The food looks delish…