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]

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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)

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Dear India, I Surrender

IMG 7614 e1269336577444 Dear India, I Surrender

Crowded buses of India

I’m reading a fascinating book documenting a Westerner’s journey through India and one message resounds: “You have to surrender if you’re ever going to win.” I’m quickly learning how true this is. Surrender is the heart of the Indian experience.

On a recent journey south, I was again reminded of the importance of letting go in order to experience the experience.

It was a travel day: the day I load up my pack and mentally rev myself up for a long day. I had on my usual “I don’t care if you get filthy dirty” outfit and laced up my “I can conquer anything” Hummer shoes. I figured I was ready for whatever came my way. Then, I was reminded it was India.

Our journey was a mere five hour bus ride. We purchased our tickets at the bus station (at a surely inflated price) and were soon directed to our seats. Here we found out we didn’t actually have seats. Nope, we had a…uh…well, I guess you could call a bed.

IMG 7473 e1269336036697 Dear India, I Surrender

A look at the sleeper beds aboard the ramshackle buses

Above the crowded, dusty bus seats there was a second level near the roof of the bus suspended in the air. It was like the top bunk of a bunk bed only on a bus and only so tattered it would never pass for a bed. With seemingly no other choice, we were told to ascend the metal ladder and crawled into the six foot by nothing space for the journey. Deep breaths and time to surrender, I reminded myself.

Just then an observant 11-year old girl shouts up to us in English that these guys were pulling a fast one on us. The prison cell-like bunk they had stuffed us into, she told us, was actually made for one person, not two. When we realized traveling like two caged birds wasn’t the norm, we argued vehemently for a refund. After a few Hindi curse words were thrown our way, we settled. Ryan and I would sit in the front cabin with the bus driver.

Among the orchestra of honking horns, clanking motors, rattling doors and hypnotizing Hindi music, the ride began. Our new pal and bus driver Sahil greeted us. With his dark curly hair that seemed to start at his forehead and wrap strategically down his neck and out the front of his shirt, Sahil introduced himself with the typical lineup of Indian questions:

“What country you from?, First time to India?, You happy?, You married?, Why you not have kids?, You have job?, What is your salary?” I tried to answer as best I could while avoiding the awkward encounter.

Sahil affectionately shot back, “Ahhh, I love you. I love America!,” before shouting “Alaska!!!!” at the top of his lungs. We were in for a joy ride.

In his musically-accented, broken English Sahil went on to share stories of his Iranian ancestry and details of his love life. He explained the traditions and rituals of his Muslim Indian culture and was sure to point out notable landmarks along the way. And when words failed we communicated with exaggerated hand gestures in a comical game of charades.

Indian School Bus e1269336938289 Dear India, I Surrender

School bus on the Indian roads

Soon I realized it would get worse before it got better. After our jovial introduction, Sahil stopped the bus every fifteen minutes for the next three hours to let new passengers on. Every inch of the bus, aisle included, was soon crawling with people. Our threesome in the front cabin quickly turned into a foursome, into a five-some and soon a twelve-some. By the third hour we were 13. Nearly all the men removed their shoes upon entering the bus and sweaty feet were everywhere. In between studious stares at us foreigners, they took turns coughing up unidentified liquids to shoot out the window.

I was miserable. By this point my rear-end was nearly hoisted in the air, while the desert sun beat down on my sweat-beaded face. So cramped, in fact, my head was wedged into the windshield until good, ol’ Sahil let out a blood curdling scream: “Lava [Laura], Lava [Laura], noooo!” I found myself inches away from disturbing the peace of the Hindu statue sitting on the dashboard and draped in a wreath of marigolds.

Mumbai 117 e1269337382311 Dear India, I Surrender

The reality of life on the streets

Along the way my miserable situation was put in check. Slums lined the highway for as far as the eye could see and barefoot children ran after our bus in their appalling ragged clothing. They looked up at us with their empty eyes and hungry bellies. This was misery.

I also realized I wasn’t the only one on the bus with bodies pressed up against them. Just the only one so bothered. The Indian people were as cramped as I but had no ill-feelings or bad temper. Rather they were relaxed, tolerant and patient. Surely this must come from a deeper understanding of what real world problems are. They taught me I still have a way to go.

India is the marathon of travel. It’s an exhausting, mental challenge, a test of your physical limits and often has you questioning why you are there. Luckily, along the way you realize just how rewarding it can be.

By the time we arrived at our destination, Ryan had to literally drag me off the bus. I had become buddies with several of my cabin mates and after a few photos, lots of handshakes and invites for chai, I was ready to put this travel day to an end.

On the grueling bus journey, I rubbed shoulders with the people of the interior towns and villages and saw scenes of true desperation. I learned more during these hours than I could have learned on any first-class ticket. Back at my hotel, with my own cup of chai in hand, I realized I had surrendered and I had won.

pixel Dear India, I Surrender

Comments (6)

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  1. roundwego says:

    Lesie – Thanks for the kind words on our blog and travel experiences! We are certainly enjoying the daily adventures. Honestly a day doesn’t go by that we don’t pinch ourselves, feeling so lucky we are having these experiences. Thanks for following our journey!

  2. Elise Moloney says:

    Laura, YOU are amazing and what an amazing experience you must be having!! Your writing style lures me in like a flame in a fire. I get lost in Around We Go, dreaming of traveling, but you make it easy to travel (by your writing).

  3. Carly says:

    Laura, so envious of these experiences you will NEVER ever forget. Thrilled to have the opportunity to read about your experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Brigid Pritchard says:

    amazing! laughing out loud, lava!

  5. Mom Keller says:

    Wow, Good job Laura. That’s all I can say is wow!!!!

  6. Kelly says:

    Awesome post Laura. Keep them coming.