Bricks on the Brain

UM Law

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Is UM Law too Theoretical?

In Florida legal circles, UM Law is known to emphasize theory (a.k.a. policy) to a greater extent than other Florida law schools. Assumedly theory is emphasized at the expense of practical skills. I have never known anyone to disagree with this assertion, and back when I was researching law schools, I never found a dissenter. I heard all kinds of anecdotes about well-ranked UM Law grads needing their hands held during the first year of practice, while Florida and FSU grads hit the ground speed-walking (as in not quite running, but not crawling either).

From my own observations, I find it hard to believe otherwise. Classes at UM Law incorporate very little real world discussion. Often this fact will be admitted by the professor on day one. Very few of the professors actually practice law. Among those that have practiced, several had remarkably short careers of 5 years or less. UM Law professors rank quite high on Leiter's Scholarly Impact rankings, a fact that in a roundabout way tells us where their priorities are (i.e. publishing). Want a smoking gun? Try Elements: A full semester course of studying useless cases for analysis sake, required of every 1L without exception.

Other Florida law schools have many practicing adjuncts, some quite prominent in their fields. Several have extensive practical seminar programs, often involving off-campus work in real law offices and courtrooms. Sure, we have Lit Skills I & II, but the general consensus seems to feel that it pales in comparison to the scope of some competing programs.

So is this state of affairs good or bad, and for whom? Have I painted the wrong portrait altogether?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Today UM Law students received a mass email:

The eyes of the nation will be on Florida between now and election day. Are you interested in learning more about why people are concerned? Would you like to become more involved in the process?

The week of September 27-October 1 will be filled with events and learning opportunities here at the Law School.

SAVE THE DATES for the opportunity to view two documentaries and a panel discussion about Florida voting and the events leading up to the 2000 election, as well as the events following and become trained to work as a poll-monitor.
View the film “Unprecedented.”

This documentary provides a brief history of the events leading up to the 2000 Presidential election and documents the months following the November election through the January inauguration.

Bring a brown-bag lunch and stay for an informal discussion following the film.
View the documentary “Trouble in Paradise- Two Years in Florida Politics—

A People’s History of Election 2000 and Beyond

Following the screenings ... meet the “Trouble in Paradise” film maker and participate in a panel discussion featuring UM Law School professors, community leaders, elected officials and election reform activists.
Attend a training to become qualified to work as a poll monitor on Election Day.

These events are being planned and sponsored by a coalition of law students and Law School organizations, including The Society for Peace and Justice, BLSA and SBA.

Why do I have a sneaking suspiscion that an ulterior motive of this "coalition" is to advance the notion that Republicans "stole" the last presidential election?

Hmm. Here's a review of one of the featured "documentaries", "Unprecedented", taken directly from its web site:

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election is the riveting story about the battle for the Presidency in Florida and the undermining of democracy in America. Filmmakers Richard Ray Pérez and Joan Sekler examine modern America's most controversial political contest: the election of George W. Bush. What emerges is a disturbing picture of an election marred by suspicious irregularities, electoral injustices, and sinister voter purges in a state governed by the winning candidate's brother. George W. Bush stole the presidency of the United States… and got away with it. " …the movie highlights those on the front lines —from the African-Americans who were turned away from the polling booths for assorted reasons. In one memorable scene the filmmakers freeze-frame a 'protest' against the ballot recount, identifying participants as staff members of Republican elected officials." --Elaine Dutka, Los Angeles Times

It's not that I agree or disagree with their motive. Rather, I find it extremely annoying and distasteful that the political issues to be discussed by the "coalition" are distorted in the email. Come on guys, don't hide your partisan intent behind a "get out the vote" facade.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Who was Soia Mentschikoff?

99.99% of UM Law students are introduced to that name during the admissions process. It is the name of the full-ride scholarship that is not awarded to them. So the first assumption we make about that name is that it belonged to some rich philanthropist.

Later in Elements, that name appears in the very first introductory chapter of our book and tells us how to study law. The name tells us we need to study 60-70 hours a week, and brief our cases atleast twice. So the name then becomes associated with a sick feeling in our stomachs.

Next we come to learn that the name belongs to a woman, who was married to the other name that wrote our Elements book. So now we hate two names, and pity their children.

Eventually, we stumble upon a portrait of the name in the library, which for some reason hangs next to the computer services room. We learn the name belonged to a female dean of the school.

I am usually irreverent towards legal scholars ("Who is she without me?"), but after reading this, and finding nothing but the basics on Google, I think I'd like to know more about who Soia Mentschikoff was.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Is UM Law Review too Exclusive?

The current size of the UM Law Review is not in the best interests of the student body as a whole, and probably not even for those who make it on. ALL students would benefit in their nationwide job searches if the Law Review headcount were doubled.

I may not have this exactly right, but to make Law Review as a 1L at UM you have to:
1. Be in the top 7% of your class, or
2. Be in the top 7% of your section, or
3. Write on.
This year, about 30 or so students made it, with only 2 writing on.

Is it an honor to make it on? Yes. Do they do a good editing job? Yes. Does the school benefit as a result? Yes. Do employers take notice? Yes. Is the fact that employers take notice good for everyone? No. Is it good for Law Review Members? Maybe.

In the national legal job market, Miami suffers the same perception that many so-called "second-tier" schools share. Namely, that 2nd tier schools produce a handful of excellent lawyers, mostly mediocre ones, and quite a few terrible ones (along with students who struggle to pass the bar). In the local job market, Miami's perception is somewhat better, and a student with a mediocre GPA has a better shot here than say, New York.

The perception, in Miami's case, is false. The school produces far more than a handful of excellent graduates who ought to be competing for the same jobs sought after by Ivy League or other "first-tier" law graduates. The national legal job market is irrational and or inefficient in this regard. As I've said, the local situation isn't so bad, due to better information posessed by the local firms through experience and outreach.

Now I will assert something that hopefully not even Law Review members would contest: it is doubtful that the student who barely makes the top 14% is any significantly more or less skilled to handle Law Review membership than the #1 ranked student.

If my assertion is roughly true, and unless there are administrative difficulties, the quality of the Law Review would not suffer if its membership were doubled. Further, given that 60 is still a relatively small percentage of a 1L class, it would not make membership any more or less prestigious in the eyes of employers if the headcount were doubled.

What would this mean for Miami grads in the national job market? It would mean that twice as many graduating 3L's would have Law Review on their resume, which would increase the number of Miami graduates landing the prestigious jobs they truly deserve. More national employers would be exposed to the quality UM produces, and they would therefore be more likely to hire more UM grads in the future, even those lacking Law Review credentials.

Law Review members loose nothing (well, perhaps a de minimis dillution), have more bodies to share the work of publication with, and indirectly benefit from the long term improvement of UM's perception in the legal community.

In case anyone is curious as to my possibly being biased, my proposed change would have no effect on whether I not I would have made Law Review. It is also highly doubtful that I will seek employment outside of Florida.

UM Law Library NOT Haunted

A 1L wonders if the UM law library is haunted.
I can assure him it is not, for the simple fact that our library has no soul.

The UM law library is uninspiring and reflects poorly on us.

A law library should make an impression on those studying within its halls; inspire the self-doubting, and humble the proud. It ought to live up to all the stereotypes: hardwood floors or lush carpets, hardwood shelves, brass door handles, ornate light fixtures, portraits of prominent alumni, etc..

Our library features industrial carpeting with a pattern that makes you dizzy if you stare at it. The chairs are metal or wood with upholstery from the 70's. Portraits and display cases are strewn about with no apparent rhyme or reason, plaques honoring achievement are cluttered in an elevator bank. Tables are wood or metal with some sort of puke-white countertop material. Bookshelves are metal, painted some sort of hideous green. Oh yes, flourescent lights everywhere--just what eyes that will be studying for hours on end need.

Do we need the pomp and circumstance of a library, like say, Harvard's? There one finds towering portraits, finely crafted busts, rooms dedicated to memoribilia, and study tables with built in chess sets. Well, we don't need those things. But might there not be something to the old addage, "The clothes make the man?" Does not architecture and interior design play a subtle role in how we view ourselves, and how others view us?

Even if we as students have a frugal, utilitarian, and perhaps spartan spirit, who else might be visiting our library and judging us by it? Certainly top law school applicants won't be impressed, and given the complexity of choosing a law school, every little bit in our favor would help. And what about employers who come to campus for OCI? Many of them are alumni of schools with real law libraries--what does ours tend to say about alumni of UM?

Just so there are no misunderstandings, our library is clean, well organized, and the staff is superb. But aesthetically the library here is no different from most affluent high schools, the only difference being that here I fearlessly use the lavatories.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Outlines/Honor Code Pt. 2

Today I spent a few minutes with the Honor Code, and concluded that it is probably not a violation for most student organizations (as proxy for their members) to maintain exclusive outline banks.

The Code does not speak to the practice, neither directly nor indirectly. However, there is one section that I find applies to a broader policy discussion on the practice:

Section 1.01 Purposes and Objectives
b. Protecting each student's right to study in an environment free from unfair and dishonest competion;
If a student organization maintains an outline bank exclusive to its members, does this create an unfair environment for non-member students? Probably not, because most student organizations allow anyone to join at any time.

But Law Reviews might be on shaky ground. The law school administration takes an active role in fostering these elite groups, and membership is limited by both academic achievement and limited windows of time. Thus, it would seem that a non-member student has a good argument that his lack of access to a Law Review outline bank is unfair:

1. He may not be allowed to join, and
2. The law school has effectively segregated the best students (grade-wise), and these superior students are, by act of a sanctioned student organization, denying other students access to their "superior" shared information/work-product. In effect, the "rich are getting richer." (As an aside, when I told two collegues that the Law Review maintained an exclusive outline bank, both non-members immediately voiced the "rich get richer" complaint)

The law review would counter that every 1L had a fair chance to join by performing well in their classes (but what about 2L transfer students?).

But taking a step back, and considering what the Code is really all about, its tough to conclude that the Law Review or its members are committing a violation. If they are, it is de minimis. If I were on the Honor Council I would not find that a violation had occurred.

That said, it doesn't change my opinion that the practice of student organizations maintaining exclusive outline banks is a negative for UM Law. Student organizations should be stewards of banks, but in a collegial spirit for the entire student body, not their exclusive memberships. I find my views amplified by a fact mentioned in my previous post, i.e. that most organizations are organized around religious, racial, political, and even sexually-oriented premises. Clanish behavior is not a good thing on a law school campus.

My views do not extend to individuals controlling their own outlines outside the context of student organizations. Personally, I have always shared my resources with everyone. But if you have an outline you only want to share with a select few, then that's your own choice subject to your own moral/ethical guidelines. My views and these posts are centered on the practice as it relates to student organizations sanctioned by the administration/SBA.

I would vote in favor of an amendment to the rules governing student organizations disallowing the practice of maintaining exclusive outline banks.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Do private outline banks violate the UM Law Honor Code?

Many law student organizations at UM maintain "private" outline banks. "Private" means that members are not to share outlines from the bank with non-members.

I find this practice offensive. To give the issue background, consider the following:

1. Many of the organizations are organized around ethnic, racial, political, or even religious premises. For example, Black Law Student's Association or Cardozo Legal Society, Christian Law Student Society. Granted, anyone may join any organization, but as a practical matter the students segregate themselves willingly.

2. Some organizations, in particular law reviews, are purely merit based, and not all students may join.

What irks me is the fact that exclusive outline banks essentialy create a situation where a class of students are sharing information with some collegues, denying it to others.

Over the weekend, I plan to peruse the UM Law Honor Code and see what I can come up with.

BTW: I am a member of organizations with exclusive banks. But I get my outlines from the net, mostly from the Harvard bank which is excellent. I also buy commercial outlines. My gripe is the principle; access to more outlines would not influence my grades.

Is UM Law too Liberal?

My friends and collegues know that I take an above-average interest in politics. I am often asked my estimation of the leanings of UM Law faculty and students. Most outsiders have the impression UM Law is a haven for liberal academics. I usually give the following answers:

Without a doubt the majority of UM Law professors are left-leaning. But usually politics are kept out of the classrooms, and policy issues within the law receive balanced coverage. During socratic excercises, even liberal leaning professors challenge classes with conservative views on an issues and defend them well.

This is not to say that there aren't exceptions. I have had one class where I felt the professor's bias (liberal in this case) was so extreme that the quality of the course suffered. His interpretations of cases were not consistent with other commentaries I read. That is not in and of itself bad, except for the fact that he did not expose the class to the alternative interpretations. He clearly had an agenda. I felt my outside work overcame his shortcomings and gave me a balanced view of that area of law. As for the rest of the students--they were short-changed.

To summarize the faculty's impact on students:
1. A conservative student would not feel uncomfortable at UM Law. To the contrary, a few conservative-leaning students I know enjoy the good natured sparring that most professors are willing to entertain.
2. A liberal student would be very comfortable, and could make marvelous use of office hours.

I find it very difficult to guage where the student body is, despite the many politically-centered conversations I have with a variety of students. The reality is, most law students have little if any time to devote to political thought. Many are at an age where political views are developing and in a constant state of flux.

I have never seen any protests or other nonsense on the Bricks. Students at UM are very respectful of eachother's political and religious views. With one exception, I have never seen any flyers I felt were objectionable, inflammatory, or in bad taste. For political discussions on the Bricks, civility is the norm.

To be sure, not everyone will agree with my views. In fact, one top student transferred after 1L to get away from what called a "communist den".

Jumping in the Mix

I recently stumbled across a few UM Law blogs, one by a professor, two by students. I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring.

The two by students seem to be both written by 1L's (first year law students). Both students seem to be on the right track:

The professor's blog appears to have little to do with school. I have never met Professor Froomkin, but recognize the name and associate it with the IP and technology classes here. His blog seems to have little to do with those topics either. Rather, his blog focuses on politics. He clearly does not like president Bush.

In fact, his blog inspires me to create a separate post regarding the political leanings of UM Law professors, in the hopes that other students might comment.