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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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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Back Home…In Search of Home

A month ago today I boarded a ferry from the palm-fringed island of Zanzibar to the bustling port city of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. It was the beginning of our crawl home, the end of an adventure around the world and the beginning of our journey back in the USA.

BAR2 Back Home…In Search of Home

Soaking up December rays on the island of Zanzibar

One month to the day later, I’m on a train headed north, back on the road again to conclude that journey home. Traversing the snow-kissed plains of “Middle America,” it’s the final stretch. We’re headed back to that Windy City, the place we once called home.

There’s something contemplative about train travel. The bellowing whistle and rhythmic cadence of clanking wheels singing along a steel track seem to put me in a trance. I find myself lost in thought, reflecting on the past month of my life and the uncertainty of the road ahead.

Holidays Back Home…In Search of Home

Home sweet home dressed for the holidays

Our homecoming has been many things, but at all times full of emotion. Arriving on the Eve of the Eve, we were flung full-throttle into the Christmas spirit. Stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Ceramic snowmen platters overflowed with goodies while Santa trays housed sausage puffs, crab dip and cheese balls. Bing Crosby belted out classics over the sound of a roaring fire and our parents’ homes were filled with cheery faces offering a warm welcome to their “world travelers.”

In the chaos of the holiday season, we had dinner parties and holiday dates galore. Catching up with familiar faces became a full time job. Our once dutiful packs now took reclining position on the basement floor as we tapped into our former selves. Dressing the part, we clad ourselves in spiffed-up leather shoes and holiday sweaters with toffee and Brandy Alexanders in hand. Acting out the scenes storybooks are made of, it was a truly white Christmas…the kind days before was a world away.

Back Back Home…In Search of HomeBack22 Back Home…In Search of Home

It didn’t hit me the first day we came home…nor the second, nor the third. The grand realization of the power of our journey, it has come to me in waves.

The first taste hit me like a ton of bricks. Walking into my pseudo room of my parents’ cozy suburban home, I pulled out the boxes of me I had left behind. Sunglass cases and lip gloss, heels and leggings, robes and jewelry, I was staring at a life I no longer recognized. Running my hands over piles of clothing, the cotton felt like cashmere and polyester like silk, as tears trickled down my face. And no, I recognized, these weren’t tears of joy, but rather tears of shame. Not a shame rooted in having the things that make up our comfortable lifestyles but for so long having taken this life for granted.

The comfort of our lives continued to amaze me. No longer did I go running earnestly to the clothing line when gray clouds starting to roll in. After months of hand-washing clothes in puny African buckets, the novelty of a washer and dryer left me speechless. Or how about taking a glass from the cabinet and running it under a flowing faucet of potable water? Doing it again made me plain giddy. And then there’s the reliable hot shower. I turn on the knob and boom goes the dynamite! There’s no half hour wait or crossing fingers it works. Hot water rushes out without fail. Weeks later I still find it remarkable.

Running Back Home…In Search of Home

Scenic run along the Seine

Back to the gym after a year and a half sojourn, now that was eye-opening. The flashing red lights of my treadmill twinkled under suspended rows of flat screen TV’s. Gym mates were glued to a spectacle of talking heads while iPhones sang and rang to them. As the soundtrack from my year played in my ear buds, I thought back on the last time I laced up these shoes. From the dusty roads of Central Africa to the sweaty locker room of 24 Hour Fitness, I could hardly believe my eyes.

A visit to the American grocery store, however, tops the chart for most awe-inspiring homecoming experiences. Shelves teem with plump strawberries and blueberries in the dead of winter and offer cereal bars, energy bars, fiber bars and any darn bar your heart desires. There are 20 kinds of peanut butter to choose from and umpteen loaves of bread that promise to last for a month. Canned foods offer ethnic cuisine from every corner of the globe and meat cases overflow with enough juicy goodness to feed the entire population of Zambia for a month. This was enough to make my head spin and my stomach as well. As sick as my body got adjusting to the curries of India and “delicacies” of China, it hardly compares to the protest my body staged upon returning to good ole American cuisine.

Pipa Back Home…In Search of Home

A pensive mood back in Brazil with the whole journey ahead of us

Returning, I feel I’ve undergone some sort of reawakening. Once meaningless tasks, like chores and errands, these are now novel. Yes, a run to Best Buy or stop at the gym, these have become exciting outings. But best of all, once simple encounters with family – like coffee around the kitchen counter with my pop or cleaning out the basement with my mom – these moments are treasured.

To tell you the truth, I feel like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. Clarence paid me a visit, only instead of saving me from the bridge, he saved me from the humdrum of my mundane corporate American existence. No, life wasn’t bad before. It’s now just rich.

Guidebooks Back Home…In Search of HomeThe cookie tray has thinned now and the holiday bows have been put away. Friends have gone back to work. Rush hour traffic has ensued. A job search sits at our door, and we’re faced with the uncertainty of the road ahead.

Bumping into each other over PJ’s and morning coffee is our daily reminder that we relinquished the once status and stability of our corporate lifestyles. There are days when this fills me with anxiety, when I thirst for the answer to the question, “What am I doing with my life?” There are days when temptation seeps in, and the desire for structure, routine and a reliable salary entice me.

But a glance at our room, flooded with guidebooks, photos and memories, brings it all back. Suddenly that feeling of “unsettled,” and the tension and fears that come along with it, don’t seem so overwhelming. It’s then we say aloud with conviction that we’ve been changed.

In our search for home, one thing is certain: Life won’t be what it was. Those leather shoes didn’t fit well anyway.


“Round We Go” was about living the life we imagined. We are searching for the way…our way…to bring that back home. We still have a few more photos and stories up our sleeves from the final leg of our trip and plan to share those, too. In the meantime we want to thank you for following our journey. Many days we felt we were writing just for ourselves, to document this trip of a lifetime. Discovering along the way that these stories might have meant something to someone else touched us deeply. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

pixel Back Home…In Search of Home

Comments (17)

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  1. Laura says:

    Hi Laura-
    My husband and I recently stumbled on your website and I look forward to reading more of your entries! Having just read your post home, I imagine the contrast you must be feeling to where I am now (but will be down the road). We are planning our own RTW adventure to begin this Sept/Oct and will last 18 months. I’m very interested to read your take on the countries we mutually will have visited. =] We are also planning to document our travels with a website/blog and I really like how you’ve structured your site. =] More inspiration! Welcome home!
    -Laura (also) :)

  2. nora says:

    the journey never ends, i know you know that. looking forward to seeing you someday soon.

  3. roundwego says:

    Bridget – Thank you for the kind words on our travels. It was the experience of a lifetime and has had a profound effect on my life in so many ways. Great to hear from you and I hope you are able to do the same someday!

  4. Laura, I can definitely see your travels in print and on film. Your writing gives such a perfect visual and emotional picture of your travels. So inspiring–hope to do the same one day!! (When the kids are out of college maybe!)

  5. Trisia says:

    Your blog inspired me to travel around the world,
    Hope someday you’ll traveling to my beautiful country “Indonesia” :)
    Trisia´s last [type] ..IndoPROGRESS Jalan Teguh Sang Pemimpin

  6. Molly says:

    Laura – finally got a chance to read this post. It’s beautiful and you’re an amazing writer. Agree, book or documentary or something – to help give us all the little reminders of how lucky we are. Your journey was amazing, and I’m so proud of you and Ryan for making it happen. Hope to see you soon!

  7. Brianna says:

    Last summer I happened to pick up a newspaper at Carl’s Burgers in St. Louis and read an article about you two traveling around the world. I just wanted to say that your trip has been a personal inspiration for me. Almost weekly I read to see what new adventures you had explored. Thanks for letting me travel along with you. I’m sad to see that it’s over but hopefully now I’ll get to do some traveling of my own. P.S. I’d buy your book

  8. Andrea says:

    So happy to hear you’re back – perhaps not totally back in mind and spirit, but safe and sound. Thanks to the both of you for sharing such an amazing experience. Each time I read your passages, I felt thankful, reflective and inspired. I’ll miss hearing of your adventures. But, you have one of the biggest ones ahead – how you’ll take what you’ve learned and transform your life journeys. That’s exciting! Can’t wait to hear more! If not a book, you should definitely consider s show on the Travel Channel ;-)

  9. roundwego says:

    I’m overwhelmed and truly humbled by the support and encouragement….So much in fact it’s taken me a week to respond! Not sure what the next step is in our journey but these words go a long way. I’ll need them in these moments of uncertainty to help us continue to appreciate the adventure behind and ahead.

    Thank you, all. I appreciate it immensely.

  10. Greer says:

    Laura-Have so enjoyed being able to see your journey around the world on this fantastic blog. The photo of you guys on the lounge chair in Zanzibar is just beautiful…aren’t you glad to live in the digital age? Otherwise you would be lugging hundreds of pounds of film around:) Can’t wait to see what you guys do next…

  11. Thi says:

    i whole-heartedly agree with everyone else. you should write a boooooooooook! maybe it’ll break my personal streak of illiteracy.

  12. Cherie Fuentes says:

    Once again, so beautifully stated! I feel strongly as well that as you search for the answer to “that” question, “what should I do with my life?” you should consider compiling these blogs and videos and write a book and make a documentary film. Just like your experience, your writing is rich, exciting, and powerful. The world would be lucky to have you share it with them:)

  13. Dad says:

    As always, another posting from your heart… and a wonderful summation of the true experience of travel. It opens our eyes as well to those things that we take so much for granted in our daily lives, not realizing how truly blessed we are. Thanks for sharing this with us… and looking forward to more stories and pictures.

  14. Liz says:

    Beautiful post, Laura! I’m so glad you guys took this risk and lived a dream. Not many people do that. I have no doubt you both are better people for it.

    Good luck with the job search. Hopefully you can blend your new self with a steady job you’ll love!

  15. It’s a beautiful writing… I can feel the emotion of coming back home behind it. It makes me feel a little sad thinking that most likely that’s how we’re going to feel too… and we haven’t even left yet!
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World´s last [type] ..Poi and Kirsty from No Place To be — Meet A Traveling Couple

  16. Sarah says:

    What a beautiful article! I love your writing. Perhaps you should begin writing a book? Maybe a novel? A book about your trip? Best of luck in your search!!

  17. sarah fister hanna says:

    I think you should publish a book! You are such a beautiful writer! Good luck with everything!!