Friday, September 28, 2007

And now for a random though on law school.

This might be a sacrilegious statement amongst my peers, but, the law doctorate, of all the doctorate degrees, is they easiest one to get.

When I think about my graduate schooling compared to what it takes to get a PhD or an MD, I am a little ashamed of that we get a doctorate too. We don’t have the research projects or advanced theses to pen, no, the heart of our education is simply reading and talking about what we’ve read. Sure, we have a testing period twice a year and there are memos and briefs to learn how to write and it you are a research assistant or member of law review you have to churn out a volume or two, but, compared with the rigors of anatomy or trying to isolate the DNA of microphages, this law stuff is cake.

It is, however, the most stressful of the doctorate degrees to get. The source of the stress is one simple item – competition. Every year law school admits thousands more students that the profession could possible need. This means that if you don’t come out of law school on top it will be a long hard slog to climb the ranks of the profession. For example, take the pay difference between recent graduates. A person graduating in the top 10% in Seattle could expect to earn 115-120K to start if they choose a big firm, the next 20-30% will probably take jobs at middle sized firm for 65-85K, this is could be a 55K difference for people with the very similar academic profiles. If you are in the bottom quartile it can sometimes take months, if ever, to find a foothold in the legal profession. Add on top to this the cost of going to law school and you can imagine the grade hungry feeding frenzy atmosphere at exam time.

Of course, it is possible to succeed without good grades. Every once and a while you will here of someone who graduated at the bottom of their class or from some 4th tier rinky-dink law school and went on to be one of the country’s best litigator’s, but I’m pretty sure this is just a local wives-tale cocked up by the administration to keep the bottom quartile enrolled and paying their tuition.

Even without the costs and the competition the very structure of law school instruction is stress inducing. The core of a legal education is reading cases and struggling to comprehend the rational and reason behind the court's decisions. In order to ensure that this largely solo activity, sitting at a desk pouring over pages and pages of legalese each day, is accomplished, law school is taught in the Socratic method. Although this method takes various form, it basically consists of an interchange between a student and the teacher with the teacher grilling the student about the material and their understanding of it. This exchange can some be between one student and the professor for the entire class period with the rest of the class simply listening and taking notes. Or it can be between the teacher and several student or, on the rare occasion, it may just be the professor having a conversation with themselves. Research has shown the Socratic method is an ineffective method for actual instruction for the majority of the students. But, instruction really isn’t the point of the Socratic method. Instruction in law school is the self taught kind, the Socratic method, instead, is designed to ensure you've read by introducing the possibility that you will have to prove your comprehension in front of the class at random times and to prepare you for the future verbal encounters you will have in practice. Therefore, the law school classroom’s primary purpose is not to serve as a setting for instruction, but rather, a stage for future performance.

A second source of stress in law school is the way we are evaluated. We have one instance, generally, for each class to prove ourselves. We have one test to earn a grade. So, if you have a bad day come test day all the time spent in class, all the reading, all the struggling with concepts could be for naught as there are no second chances. You can’t try again, there are no opportunities for redemption. On top of this, we have grading curves. Unlike a science subject, there are no right answers. There are wrong answer of course, there are misstatement of the law or complete misunderstandings, but there is not absolute right answers. There are popular right answers, there are right answers the professors tend to favor, there are right answers with or without justification, and there are even right answers that no one agrees with. Therefore, in grading, the law professors have to take all these answers that are right in their own way, as they represent knowledge of the law and might persuade a court, and choose the best ones. To do this, almost every law school imposes a stringent curve that the teachers must sort into. So, the difference between an A or a B is based not only upon how much you know but also, to some extent, upon the ability of your peers. This is a factor that can’t be controlled (unless you try to sabotage your classmates, which is known to happen from time to time, but that is another post).

So, is law school hard? No, understanding the properties of the Type B Histone Acetyltransferase Hat1: h4 tail interaction, site preference, and involvement in DNA repair is hard, understanding Chief Justice Marshall’s logic in the federal bank case is not. Is Law school stressful? Yes, realizing that if you don’t get a grade better then the kid sitting next to you that you won’t be able to pay off your student loans it enough to make your heart start beating and for you mind to question your every decision in life. I write this so that the next time a kid sits down next to me and starts complaining about how hard law school I’ll be able to explain to them that what they are feeling is an apprehension of stress, not difficulty.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I've been meaning to post, but lately due to work and school I haven't had much energy left over for this thing. I went to a Ron Paul (R-Texas) rally the other day just for kicks and to see the man speak. I'll try to post a run down in a few days.

BTW - happy belated Constitution Day. Yesterday I went to a debate on the recent Supreme Court decision that found Seattle public schools use of race in school choice was unconstitutional. It was an interesting discussion and it deserves a blog post of it's own, but that probably won't happen.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Lamest Couple in Seattle

Well, I think I can safely assert that my wife and I are the lamest two people in Seattle. A glorious sun filled weekend in the Puget Sound and what did we do with it. Nothing. Bring on the rain.

I did go for a 13 mile run on Saturday through the neighborhood; through the UW campus and greek row, to greenlake which I lapped twice and back. On my trip I ran through a sea of men, women and children garbed in orange and blue all over campus and the neighborhood streets. The Boise State Broncos were in town. Bronco fans sure do show up in force, you have to give 'em credit for that. They still lost though, proving that despite all their bravado they are still merely a mid-major, not a national player. A program that hasn't beaten a BCS team on the road in 13 games can not call itself a national caliber program. True, they are better than in-state rival Idaho, and they are one of the better mid-majors in the nation, but they still have a long, long way to go before they can be mentioned in the same breath as Ohio, Florida or hell, even, Washington State. They still bring credit to the WAC though and for that I'll give them praise, but I don't see their domination of the WAC or Idaho for that matter lasting more than a year or two.

It did make me thankful to live in a college neighborhood though. I love living so close to the UW when the fall changes the colors on the trees and the campus comes to life. Not sure what it is but I wouldn't ever want to live in a town without a college.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Of Wal-Mart, Lower Prices, and Toy Safety

The Toy Industry is asking the fed to issue some tighter regulations after the recent spat of toy recalls. They industry claims that this is to restore customer faith in their products, the customer, as the toy industry argues, will see that the government is acting and be reassured in their future purchases. I don’t think, however, that this is the only reason that the toy industry wants tighter regulations, they want the government to help protect their customers from the market, a market that the toy industry is powerless to standup to on their own.

Protecting customer from the market, you ask? Shouldn’t they be doing that, isn’t this the toymakers fault, how can you blame the market? Easy. Think Wal-Mart.

I’ve been surprised that Wal-Mart has escaped any press in latest toy scandal. The toy market is dominated by Wal-Mart, if you don’t believe me, just ask Toys-R-Us. And in toys, just like anything Wal-Mart does, it has one relentless pursuit, lower prices. I imagine the conversation in Bentonville goes something like this:

Wal-Mart to the toy industry: We need lower prices?
Mattel: How?
Wal-Mart: We don’t care, just find a way if you want to sell to us.
Mattel: Okay.

Mattel to supplier in china: We need lower costs?
Supplier: How?
Mattel: We don’t care, just find a way if you want to sell to us.
Supplier: Okay

Apparently, in China cutting cost means lead paint and shoddy parts. But this is nothing new, remember the dog food scare. If you went into a Wal-Mart during the crisis did you notice the dog food shelves, empty? Thus, we have the biggest buyer forcing the lowest production costs possible and the market responding, should we be surprised at the results. In a market obsessed with price and no regulatory enforcement, safety is apparently the first to go.

I’m not a huge Wal-Mart basher, I know there are those who rail against everything the store stands for. I will admit that Wal-Mart has a place in our economy as a growth engine and has brought a new level of efficiency to the consumer markets. These are things that the company should be lauded for. And I’m not really certain that we can place the blame on Wal-Mart for these recalls, Wal-Mart didn’t make the decision to hire these suppliers or use shoddy production materials. However, I think I’m safe in concluding that Wal-Mart is the strongest source of market pressure that resulted in the shoddy decision making at Mattel.

So, to bring this short diatribe full circle. Mattel should be seeking regulation. When there is one force in the market bringing so much pressure to bear that these type of cost cutting measure are the result, the only tool they have is regulation to rebut this force and level the playing field against a powerful, one sided consumer. This fact, coupled with the chance that regulation might help restore customer confidence a little, would make regulation worth it to save their struggling company. But, yet in this discussion we must not loose track of a bigger point. This is, nothing is free. Prices can not be reduced infinitum, something must give, and if market pressures are left to batter companies and consumers for the sake of profit than often consumer safety is that thing which gives.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I Live But I Do Not Blog

For some reason I just haven't been up to blogging since I left on vacation. Since returning back from southern Idaho, the fall semester of law school has started, I've been busy applying for a new clerkship next summer, and I just haven't cared about put endless amount of bullshit on this here computer screen. I'm sure it's just a phase, though, I'll be back to various diatribe before long.

Anyway, the the trip was okay, went to Yellowstone, saw some bison and some hot, stinky water jetting out of the ground, super. Here's some pics