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

And like that... he is gone (8)
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)
gcr wrote: a nice cozy victorian in west phill... [more]

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


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)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

Homeward Bound

Photo 1 Homeward Bound

Morning view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Moshi, Tanzania

I’m in Moshi, Tanzania enjoying my morning cup of chai. The rooster crowing begs cloud-shrouded Mt. Kilimanjaro to peak out above me, revealing the fresh blanket of snow she received from the storm brewing the night before. I hear the whooshing sound of straw brooms whisking storefronts clean of the dusty roads amidst Swahili calls of “Jambo! Mambo?” from street-side vendors.

As the town wakes up and the locals of this verdant, coffee-growing, banana-planting town start their day, I’m packing up my bags. Gearing up for a long haul on the roads of Tanzania, I prepare for the journey to our next destination. It’s a typical Monday morning for me…only it’s not. This is the kind of travel day I’ve come to know, loathe and love so well, but this one, it’s the last.

Photo 2 Homeward Bound

Taking in sunset together over the Taj Mahal

On the road for 14 months, travel has become a part of me. With only a week left, I’m overcome with emotion, my head flooded with a million memories. From the bustling streets of Buenos Aires we’ve made our way around the world to the traffic-choked lanes of Nairobi. We trekked through the Alps – both Southern and Swiss – and climbed to great heights to the peaks of the Himalayas. On camel back, we caravanned deep into the Indian desert and bathed elephants in the rivers of Thailand. We biked through rice paddies in southwest China and kayaked through the crystal clear waters of the Fijian Isles. We’ve watched the morning sun peak out over the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids and cast afternoon shadows over the Sydney Opera House and Serengeti.

We’ve become well-acquainted with squat toilets and sleepless nights wrapped in mosquito nets and taken more journeys than we’d care to admit on rat-infested trains. We brush teeth under the trickle of our water bottles and share bathrooms with armies of ants. We pop anti-malaria pills like they’re Flinstone vitamins and that little pink bottle of Pepto-Bismol has become a best friend. We carry our closets on our backs and these memories in our hearts.

Embarking on our around the world trip, I was prepared to have my reality turned on its head. But after traversing the globe, I realize I could have never fully prepared for the unforgettable shift of consciousness that was to take place.

The journey was, in a word, transformative.

Photo 3 Homeward Bound

A New Zealand sunset over Marlborough Sounds

Reflecting on these experiences, I can’t help but think back on the girl I was. I remember packing up my backpack and feeling so uneasy leaving those jeans and hairdryer behind. I remember the cold, hard feeling of the backpack, fully loaded, on my shoulders for the first time, wondering why my business traveler, rolling suitcase couldn’t fit the bill. I remember standing in the airport getting ready to take off on our first transcontinental flight, realizing I didn’t have a phone, blackberry or voicemail to check. I remember feeling free.

And that feeling of freedom, of sheer adventure that comes with the uncertainty of where we will lay our head each night, that is what I think I will miss the most. I will miss when our days were our days, when every minute decision became a challenge. I will miss meeting fascinating people from around the globe – locals and travelers alike – whose stories have inspired and touched me deeply.

Of course there are countless things I miss from home. I miss talking to my mom every day and going on runs with my dad. I miss walking barefoot into the bathroom in the middle of the night. I miss the familiar sound of my friends’ voices on the other end of the telephone line. I miss crisp sheets and the smell of clean laundry. I miss the change of seasons, though I never thought I would.

The challenging part? I’ve begun to feel most comfortable in my skin when I’m uncomfortable. In our ever-changing environment, I’ve become a chameleon, continuously adapting to my surroundings. I thrive on the challenge, the vulnerability I feel when everything around me is unfamiliar and foreign. It’s in this raw, heightened state that I feel most alive, and somehow awakened to everything around me.

IMG 9887 e1292303678463 Homeward Bound

Standing proud atop Nepal's Annapurna Base Camp at sunrise

With an experience like this, not a day went by that I wasn’t overwhelmed with gratitude. The crippled Indian boy walking on his hands through our train car sweeping garbage for spare change, that Burmese rickshaw driver all gussied up for a day of waiting in front of our hotel for the chance to make a buck, those twelve precious orphans who captured my heart in Zambia, these are images that fill my head. Reminded daily in these surroundings, I’ve grown grateful for the things I’ve grown up taking for granted. The reality is that no matter where my path of life leads me, it’s not likely I’ll ever have to worry about putting food on the table, a roof over my head and finding clean water to drink. For the thousands of others we met along the way, these thoughts consume their days.

Photo 7 Homeward Bound
Maybe e1292303820156 Homeward Bound

Carrying my little Zambian bundle of joy on my back, African-style

And with this gratitude, comes the sincere appreciation for having someone to share the experience with. Lots of people ask me how I could ever want to spend 400 consecutive days, every waking minute, with my husband. My thought: how could I not? Of course there are days when we’re more on par with the Costanza’s than the Brady’s, but this experience as a couple has been more profound than our thirteen years together combined. There have been so many moments of sheer bliss on this trip, when we pinch each other, knowing we are living our dream. But it’s been the trying moments, the weak and vulnerable times together, that have been the most meaningful. Catching each other’s watery eyes from across the taxi as we drive through the slums of Mumbai, laying awake together at night pondering the plight of the Burmese, a squeeze of the hand as we look down together in the alley at the families in Buenos Aires fumbling through our trash and watching each other coddle the orphans in Zambia as if they were our own, these are the moments I’ll cherish. These are the times when those often hidden layers of ourselves are revealed. Seeing each other react to a kind of helplessness and desperation that we before couldn’t have even imagine existed, it somehow connects us on a deeper level.

My close friends and family who have a real understanding of what this journey has been have expressed a bit of concern on how we will handle getting back. “How are you ever going to adjust to reality?” they ask. The thing is, I guess, our reality somehow seems different. We’ve opened our world and aren’t about to close the book.

My Zambian kids said it best. Gyrating their hips and tapping the water pump to the beat of the latest Zambian hip-hop song, they sang to me: “Bring it back now, bring it, bring it back now!” And that’s exactly what we plan to do. We’re going to bring these lessons, this global perspective, the heightened state of awareness, back home with us. It’s not going anywhere.

Photo 6 Homeward Bound

A week from now I’ll be standing in an airport again, ready to board that last transcontinental flight. Something tells me that backpack is going to rest a bit easier on my shoulders and those jeans just might feel a bit funny on my hips.

Some people grow up knowing they want to be a doctor or pilot. I grew up knowing I wanted to see the world. After 14 months on the road, I have to say: I’ve only just begun.

pixel Homeward Bound

Comments (13)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. FFF says:

    Beautifully written and very nice pictures. I envy you guys, in a good way of course. Congrats!

  2. roundwego says:

    @Shey Thanks, Shey. It is a bummer to catch people at the tail end of the trip, I agree. Much more fun to follow along while it’s happening. Still glad you found our blog.

  3. Shey says:

    wow. Great post, but i have to say its almost nothing worst then finding a travel blog when they travelers are on their way home. definitely going to go back and read through.

  4. Was just referred to your blog today for the first time. As my husband and I recently returned from our own RTW trip, I was intrigued to read this post. Wow, that was incredibly well said. I look forward to exploring more of your blog and reliving some of our shared adventures. Best of luck.
    Sarah Martens´s last [type] ..Nepal Wrap-Up

  5. Holi cow! My GF & I are visiting India next year, and we land into Delhi the day before Holi.. Any tips? I’m just wondering how the heck I’m going to protect my camera with all the color powder flying around!
    Gerard ~ GQ trippin´s last [type] ..Win a TouchPad from G!

  6. That was a very moving, beautifully written recap of your experience. So glad you shared it.
    Two Travelaholics´s last [type] ..RTW UPDATE: Telling the Future In-laws

  7. Angela says:

    I believe after traveling for so long it will feel strange to go home, I’m on my sixth year as an expat, I don’t think I’m going to stop any time soon…
    Angela´s last [type] ..Visiting China Must-know expressions in Mandarin – Part 2- Asking for Directions

  8. Fabia Talhame says:


    You have a strength many people will never know. This has been an incredible journey…thanks so much for sharing. You are truly inspiring!

    Hope to catch up with you when you’re back in the states.


  9. Thi says:

    you guys are seriously incredible. thanks so much for sharing this amazing journey with all of us. can’t wait to catch up soon.

  10. Skott says:

    Hey guys,

    Just went through this post, and it was incredible. I read the part about spending the entire trip with each other to Shawna, and she nearly cried…an amazing, heart-felt post….Thanks again for all the infor you emailed us today.

    All the best,

  11. Romana says:

    Hi Laura,
    I found your blog when I was starting to plan my own round the world trip. I never left a comment before, but I’ve been following your adventures and I really enjoyed your travel stories and pictures.
    I’m now on my second month of the round the world trip, with my husband and I’m loving every second of it.

    This post is probably my favorite of all. It’s amazing how you managed to put so well in words what this trip is about.
    Although I’ve only started, I recognized a lot of my own feelings in your words, such as the sense of freedom when I left my life and my stuff behind and sharing this life changing experience with my husband, spending every minute of a day with him.

    I hope to read many more travel stories in the future and good luck settling in!

  12. [...] can I say — Laura Keller’s Homeward Bound over at Round We Go was unbelievably awesome. I was hooked upon seeing the first photo in this post [...]

  13. Kristof says:

    I followed your travelling reports since we met in Jeri (brazil) and want to thank you sharing these bundle of experiences with us in your colorful comments!
    (Seems that you don’t confirm the german prejudice of americans not knowing anything about something outside the U.S…)