I Don’t Get It

About 22 Intro to Law students elected Grading Option B, which requires that they research and write a short paper.  I implore those who elect Option B to send me drafts at least two weeks before the paper is due. I stress the importance of soliciting and responding to my feedback.  The paper is due Thursday.  Today, less than 72 hours before the deadline, six students have submitted drafts for review and comments.  Six out of 22.  What are they thinking?

Law School Cost/Benefit

The WSJ Law Blog recently ran a post that’s worth linking to just for its title:  “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Lawyers.” Its substance–or the substance to which it links*–is less cheery, being an academic paper that addresses whether “a law degree is a good investment.”  The paper examines the investment of law school for three hypothetical students:

  • “Also Ran [who] achieves above average grades in a relatively nonmarketable major from a middle-of-the-pack undergraduate institution; he could have earned a mere $40,000 in a non-legal job. Also Ran manages to claw his way into a second or third rate law school and has at best a remote prospect of landing a “Biglaw” job[;]”
  • “Solid Performer [who] achieves relatively good grades in a relatively marketable major from a better institution; he could have earned $60,000 in a non-legal job. Solid Performer makes his way into a low-first or high-second rate law school and has a prospect (if all goes well and the stars are aligned), but far less than a certain prospect (since all does not always go well and the stars do not always align), of landing a “Biglaw” job[;]” and
  • “Hot Prospect [who] earns stellar grades in a very marketable major from a top notch institution; she could have earned $80,000 in a non-legal job. Hot Prospect attends a first rate law school and has a strong chance of landing a “Biglaw” job.”

The paper examines each hypothetical student’s opportunity costs, tuition and fees, and net summer wages to determine their respective total cost of law school.  It then looks at the direct benefits of a law degree, discounts them, and concludes

that even at a very modest 10% discount rate, much less a more realistic higher discount rate, Also Ran, who will with great likelihood fall into the $40,000 to $65,000 starting salary range, has no business investing in a private law school degree. Similarly, Solid Performer should question his decision to attend a private law school, in spite of the fact that his expected starting salary may be around $105,000.  The reason is that he faces a substantial likelihood of falling far short of that figure . . . Finally, for Hot Prospect, who will in all likelihood land a Biglaw job starting at $160,000 per year, the law degree appears to be an acceptable investment at a 10% discount rate, albeit hardly a no-brainer. However, if a discount rate higher that 10% is deemed appropriate, even that conclusion is open to revision.

To round out this grim tale

[t]here is no reason to believe that the currently-experienced changes in the legal market for freshly-minted law school graduates are temporary; indeed, some legal scholars think they may well be permanent.  If so, then it is not just the current crop of Hot Prospects, but all future crops as well, who will need to ratchet down their expectations not only with respect to first-year compensation, but also with respect to job security and chances for partnership.

The paper notes that each student’s calculations involve different factors; the three hypothetical categories of student are painted with broad strokes.  The paper is only twelve pages long and more readable than the WSJ Law Blog post suggests.  It does not sing a different tune than readers have heard from but it does provide a structured approach to analyzing the costs and benefits of attending law school.

*Yes, this a post about a post about a post.

Saab Story

As the owner of two Saabs–a 9-3 Sport Turbo and 9-2x–the headline GM Plan to Sell Its Saab Unit Collapses in today’s Wall Street Journal produced the sinking stomach you feel when you know you are about to lose money.  Reading the story didn’t make me feel better.  It’s not like the extinction of an animal species but Saabs, with their design oddities and stylistic tics, have been around for a long time.  Maybe Saab owners can spin the story, arguing that extinction will make their cars’ values increase.  Anyone interested in a collector’s edition 9-3?  Buy it now at today’s unique pre-scarcity price!

‘Tis the Season for Sales Taxes

The New York Times acknowledged Black Friday (when did the Thanksgiving Day Plus One shopping extravaganza acquire that name?  Is it so named because it’s the day that puts retailers into the black for the year?  I would call it “Shopping Orgy Day”) with an editorial calling for online retail sales to be taxed.  (Yes, You Owe That Tax)  Saying “[o]nline retailers who do not collect sales tax enjoy a significant and unfair advantage over rivals who must add the tax to their prices. They also cost the states billions of dollars a year in lost sales tax revenue . . . ” the Times  lauds the 2008 New York state “Amazon Law” making online retailers responsible for collecting taxes on sales to New York residents.  Every semester for many years I have told students that e-commerce sales taxes were a question of when, not if.  One of these years I’ll be right.

The Geezer Bowl

My friend Chip wanted to start a Thanksgiving tradition.  He bought a throwback bison-leather football and suggested some of our group show up at the park near his park on Thanksgiving afternoon to play touch football.   Why not? thought I.  I love touch football, my relined hip has had eleven months to figure things out, it would break up the day–I was in.  I brought Josh, home for a few days leave, my niece’s husband Randy, and Randy’s 13-year old son Nick.  Rounding out the teams were Chip, Bruce, Mike, and Chip’s daughter’s boyfriend.  Four v Four Two-Hand Touch on a wet grass field on an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving.  Defenses could rush the QB after counting 5-Mississippi, with one no-count blitz per four downs.  Offenses earned a first down after two complete passes within four downs and could run if the defense blitzed.  The average age of my team was about 35 (thank you, Nick!); the average age of the other team was about 50.  It is a good bet that no one save Nick had touched a football in, say, ten years.  After the first few series of downs we gave Nick to the Retirement Home team, putting the average ages on parity.  We scored a couple of touchdowns.  The other team scored, and then put on an impressive multi-play drive.  So impressive was their number of plays that it put me in mind of that philisophical problem: if one keeps halving the distance to a destination will he ever arrive? They scored eventually, then we mounted our own yard-consuming drive and scored again.  At home turkeys needed turning and basting, biscuits needed baking, and guests needed fresh drinks and appetizers. We played one more series which ended when we stopped their offensive drive at midfield.  The results were no broken bones, no pulled hamstrings or groins, no twisted knees or sprained ankles, wet and muddy shoes, and lots of laughter.  I don’t know the final score.  I’m sure my team won.  We vowed to play again next Thanksgiving come rain, mud, snow, or cold.  If we do a new tradition will have been borne.

Post Script:  I downed 800 mgs of Alevel a few hours after the game and spent the evening applying a hot-water bottle to my right hip.  At coffee this morning Chip, Mike, and I moved gingerly.  Bruce didn’t show up.  If no new aches appear this afternoon I’ll declare the whole thing a success–but I’ll keep the Aleve within arm’s-reach.

Echoing Advice

In a post titled “You (and 60,000 Others) Have Taken the LSAT.  Now Read This” the WSJ Law Blog urges you college seniors applying in record numbers to take the LSAT to re-examine your path.  While the advice is not news to anyone who has followed my posts I recommend it because (1) one should always pass along good advice and (2) the post closes with a line I use frequently when advising students to live more of their lives before exploring the mysteries of Rule 12(b)(6): law school will always be there.

“Oh, MAN!”

Students have been visiting office hours to review their contracts law exam.  When they see the right answer for the questions the got wrong they exclaim “oh, man!!!,” over and over.  Often they realize why their answer is wrong without having to ask me for the correct one.   “Oh, man!” is the verbal equivalent of slapping oneself on the forehead, “how could I be so stupid!” in four fewer words.  Somehow this reinforces my reputation for “tricky exams,” as if my power over language only reveals a question’s true intent weeks after being read or the questions reword themselves after the exam is taken.  Male, female, domestic student or International, “oh, man!!” is the song on everyone’s lips this week in SMG 644.

Why I Like Windows that Open

It was warm today for November, in the mid-50s or higher.  The school building thinks it is heating, not cooling, season and cannot adjust to unseasonable weather.  The classrooms were uncomfortably warm, with no relief.  That, combined with a large number of illness-related absences, a low-blood sugar student pandemic, and my greater-than-usual fatigue made for a long day in front of the room.  There was no fresh air anywhere.  I was dying by degrees, day-dreaming of cold drinks and crisp November weather.  A low-energy, uncomfortable, unsatisfying day of teaching.

She Deserves Worse

I’ve almost finished 40-odd case briefs about United States v. Drew, the criminal prosecution of the Missouri mother whose pseudonymous MySpace harassment of 13-year old Megan Meier led to Meier’s suicide.  Last November a jury convicted Drew of three misdemeanor violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but in July the trial judge dismissed all of the charges after ruling that the CFAA counts were void for vagueness on the facts of the case.  I agree with the ruling–it was not a close call on the law–but after reading so many times about Drew’s creation of the fictional 16-year old “Josh Evans” and her remorseless, manipulative cruelty towards a barely-teenage girl who Drew knew suffered from psychological problems, I want to believe there is a special place in hell-on-earth for Drew.

Maine Yardwork Cologne

Yesterday I spent seven hours with two-stroke engines, those noisy drivers of landscaping tools such as, in my case, a lawnmower and a leaf blower.  Two-stroke engines often combine combustion and lubrication by burning a mixture of gasoline and oil at a ratio of, say, 50:1. Their inescapable by-products include noise and exhaust fumes, the latter accented by the heavy aromatic residue of burnt oil.  It’s not the noxious unbreathable cloud one experience’s driving behind a badly-tuned automobile but a musk that says “I just spent an hour in the woods operating a chain saw.” I usually consider it a pleasant grace note to working outside on a cold fall day.

Usually.  A heavy back-mounted leaf blower–just like the ones suburban landscapers use at 7:00 am on Saturday–places its screaming engine a foot from the wearer’s head.   I wore hearing protectors that look like drugstore-version sound-canceling headphones, except less comfortable, and safety glasses, but there’s no protection from the fumes.  I followed my yard-maintenance marathon by throwing everything I wore into the washer and a long hot shower during which I scrubbed every inch of my body, like the post-contamination shower scene in Silkwood. (Watch it if you’ve never seen it.) Yet despite using a loofah and two kinds of soap I detected exhaust fumes for the rest of the day.  I washed my hands and face in water as hot as I could stand but the scent lingered. It conjured no pleasant feelings about outdoor labor on a brisk November day. I smelled like I’d just finished an 18-hour shift at Jiffy Lube.

It’s gone today.  I’ll take another long hot shower, just in case.