Archive for July, 2012

Law School Recommendations #2 – Living, Contacts and Technology

Sunday, July 15th, 2012


[Edit: the first part of these posts is located here.] Before coming to Davis, I met with a recent graduate of the program who had similar circumstances. Like me, he went to law school bringing along his family (wife and two kids in his case). He gave me a lot of advice. The most important was on where to rent.

Davis is functionally an affluent suburb of Sacramento. The cost of real estate in Davis is far higher than it is for similar communities just a few miles away. My friend decided to rent in West Sacramento, where he got a house for about 2/3 the cost of renting one in Davis — he saved $600 a month. His most urgent advice to me was to bite the bullet, pay the higher rent and live in Davis. Davis is a safe community; West Sac has substantial crime. Davis has good schools; West Sac does not. Neighbors in Davis, if they are not students or faculty, tend to be engineers, attorneys and doctors, usually with employment in Sacramento. In Davis, there is a palpable feeling of community. We rented a relatively inexpensive house in South Davis for my family of six and we are very happy with it. (Ask, and I will show you photos of our new deck, hand-built by volunteer neighbors and fellow law students over a summer weekend.)

I am unable to recommend specific apartments or landlords in Davis. I hear some are good and some are bad, but I am not current with the particulars. Law school students are a good source for recommendations, since they will be part of your future community. Be careful, as there are a number of paid “social network salespeople” from the various apartment complexes who give out free advice on Facebook and elsewhere, steering innocent law students to bad locations. Some of them are on the UC Davis Facebook class group pages. Make sure your recommendations come from real, unpaid law students.

As to proximity to the law school, I live three miles from King Hall. It takes me fifteen minutes to bike to classes, which means I get a bit of exercise every day. I wouldn’t want to live further and I don’t need to live any closer. I love it.


How did I find a local UC Davis graduate to talk to? I used which is the online directory of lawyers. You can use it to sort through graduates of any law school near you. I highly recommend searching your local area for recent UC Davis graduates (or whatever school you are interested in) and dropping off a few emails to see if they might have time to talk. You’ll find that lawyers love to talk about themselves and their experiences; they are very likely to set up a half-hour phone call to give you help. I also networked my local area for patent attorneys, since that is my field of interest.


The entire field of law has been somewhat technologically adverse. Chief Justice Roberts is widely quoted as asking during oral arguments in 2010 what the difference might be between a pager and an email. Almost everyone has a story about someone important in the field of law who, while clearly intelligent and well-read, has not come to terms with modern technical society.

King Hall at UC Davis has made herculean efforts to improve their technical services. The classrooms in the new building are all wired to be able to record audio and video. The school provides a fully-functioning interactive website, dubbed SmartSite, to keep track of reading assignments, calendars, resources and the like. Wi-fi is effective and pervasive throughout the school. And the IT staff is friendly, approachable and excellent.

However, few of the faculty make effective use of these facilities. Of over one hundred lectures that I have attended, only one of them was recorded and released for the students to review (it was a Con Law class that had been rescheduled, the online video was for students unable to attend). Virtually none of the textbooks are available as ebooks; the one ebook which was available to first year students last year was so encumbered by DRM as to be virtually unusable. Some professors are able to use SmartSite quite well, while others struggle to post any relevant notices or resources on it. For the most part, students find themselves shuffling paper handouts in class and are happy when information might also be provided digitally on SmartSite.

My first recommendation is to commit all paper records to a digital format and organize them on your laptop. The school provides printers with high-speed scanning capabilities for free. You can scan a twenty page handout quickly and email the resulting PDF directly to your computer for storage. Do this with each and every piece of paper handed out in class, as well as red-ink splattered homework that is returned to you. By digitally preserving your records, you can be sure not to lose anything. This will be invaluable when a professor suddenly announces that students can bring in and use all of her handouts during the final exam, an announcement she makes only two weeks before the test.

All smartphones have cameras. Use them. Did the professor draw an important, complicated chart on the whiteboard, showing you all the different ways that you might get thrown out of Federal Court? Take a picture of it and organize the image with the rest of your notes. You’ll thank yourself later.

What equipment do you need? You need a rugged, reliable laptop computer. You will be happier to have one which is small and light; one which has a long battery life. And, since all tests are taken on your laptop, you want one that is as trustworthy and as unlikely to break down as you can find and afford.

And it should be a Windows computer capable of running the latest update of Win 7 and office suite from Microsoft (both of which are provided free of charge by the law school). The law is a Windows shop. While some software is available on Mac, it is usually not as well-tested or feature-rich as the software for Windows. And, sometimes, it simply doesn’t exist. Everyone who uses it raves about MS One Note for in-class note taking, but it is sadly unavailable on the Mac.

I give this advice despite my long and successful use of Mac computers. In law school, however, I have found myself constantly switching to my Windows XP virtual machine or my Win 7 bootcamp installation for different purposes. For instance, the printers I mentioned which give you high-speed scanning? They also offer hole-punching, stapling and the ability to switch between either one- or two-sided printing — but only for Windows computers. The software for handling those functions is not available for the Mac (don’t worry about scanning, that function is platform independent).

As a law person, this is simply how the universe is organized. Every law firm I have ever visited (including ones that are heavily supported by Apple contracts) is a Windows shop. If nothing else, the software to support hourly billing for law firms is Windows-only.

Does this mean that you, an incoming student who only owns a Mac, should rush out and buy a Windows machine? No. A lot of students use their Mac for law school purposes (including me). It just adds a minor layer of difficulty and, eventually in your law career, you will find that succumbing to Windows is simply easier than constantly fighting it.

With your laptop, by sure to purchase an external hard drive and backup software. Hard disk drives fail with alarming frequency. I use SuperDuper for Mac and rsnyc for Linux to backup my entire hard disk. I use two external hard drives — SuperDuper backs up to one automatically every night and I manually backup with rsync once a week to the other one. Backup frequently and often and religiously.

With either a Windows or Mac laptop, however, you should form a strategy for organization. Create a series of folders for mail and documents, with a hierarchy for each class. Make audio recordings of your lectures. I installed Notebook from Circus Ponies on my Mac. I use it to record my classes (using the laptop’s inbuilt microphone) while I type extensive notes during class. When reviewing my notes later, the audio is tabbed directly to my text so that if I have a question about my notes I can immediately click a tab and hear the professor’s original explanation of the topic, timed to the same instant that I typed the note. This saved me several times during the class year (the use of covenants in Property was one example). A typical semester of audio at high fidelity would come to about 5GB of space on my hard drive.

Please note that you should ask your professor at the beginning of the year for permission to record his or her lectures. I never had anyone turn me down, but typically they will ask that it only be for personal use and not for publication. Also, photographs of whiteboard images, audio recordings and, naturally, typed notes should be freely shared with all of your classmates. Our class shared these through Facebook group updates.


All of you are good students. You would not be coming to law school if you weren’t. Be prepared — you may have been a straight A student all of your life until now, but so have a lot of your future classmates. You will find a lot more competition for grades than you have encountered before. This does not mean that you are any less smart or less deserving of being a lawyer. But be prepared to work for your grades.

I’ve found law school to be far more enjoyable than I ever imagined. The subject matter is interesting, the professors are motivated, the school administration is helpful and approachable. My classmates are universally bright. I’m looking forward to my second year and my eventual graduation into the legal profession.

Remember recommendation #2 from my original post. Use your time this summer to connect with friends and family. Give them your time and attention now, as there will be less of it once school starts in earnest.

Keep a positive attitude, help your classmates, do right for your fellow man. You’ll feel better for it, and so will everyone around you. This advice is not just for law school.

See you next month!


Law School Recommendations #1 — Summer Activities

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

I promised a long time ago to have notes for the incoming UC Davis Law School Class of 2015. My apologies for being so late; after six weeks of unrelenting family issues, I finally have some time.

Some background first of all. I am a UC Davis Law School Class of 2014 member. I have not made the best grades in class. I am also far from the worst. Nonetheless, I feel disposed to give public advice for the entering members of the class. Why? First of all, no one else is doing it. Second, though not at the top of the class, my law school experience has been a solid one;my rank has improved and I have made solid marks in the vast majority of my classes. Third, I think those of us who are in middle age (I came to law school rather later than most people) have an ingrained need to give advice. We’re well aware of the mistakes we’ve made in life and very much want those who follow us not to make the same ones.

Giving advice can become a nasty habit, and I try to keep it under control. Nonetheless, those of you coming to law school are about to enter a new realm. This is very different from anything else that you have ever done. And, if approached correctly, it can be a lot of fun. And I can help with that.

General Material

#1: Buy and read Law School Confidential by Robert Miller. If you have not done so yet, you’ve already missed his classic advice on choosing a law school. Though since you chose UC Davis, that oversight can be forgiven.

Virtually all of the advice given in Miller’s book is on target. The biggest deficiencies are his lack of information on how to perform on tests (made up with #3 below) and his handling of technology issues which is ten years out of date (I will handle this in a later post).

I cannot recommend Miller’s book highly enough. Get a copy to read and finish it completely before starting classes. Keep the copy with you and revisit it from time to time during school.

#2: Exercise. Go out and visit friends. Enjoy yourself. Soon you won’t have time. Don’t fool yourself that you’ll always find time; you won’t. Law school is an intellectual marathon, one that starts medium-fast then slowly accelerates until by two weeks prior to finals you don’t have time to brush teeth, let alone call your family.

Don’t let this impending time crunch scare you too much. The all-embracing aspect of a legal education and career is one of the law’s attractions. There is always something new to learn, even after you get out of school. And the people who study law are typically self-motivated to seek out new concepts and ideas. As a law student and future lawyer, you will never be bored for lack of new material.

#3: Sometime soon, but not so high on the list as Law School Confidential, purchase a copy of Getting to Maybe by Fischl and Paul. This is the primer on handling law school exams. It is crucial that you do well on these exams; for many classes, the sole source of your grade will be a three hour, multiple essay final. Read the whole book and give each section your time and attention; unlike other self-help titles, this book really packs data and good sense into each page.

It is not entirely necessary to read this book before starting school, but have it on your shelf. Read it early, certainly before midterm exams. Don’t start reading it two weeks before your first round of finals (like I did — see, I’m already helping you avoid my mistakes).

UC Davis Specific Material

When you start in August, there will be a mandatory one week introduction to law. The class is a lot of fun, you get a good overview of the law and you meet the people you will be spending the next three years with.

When classes start on the second week, you will be split into three groups of roughly 65 students. You will go to all of your classes with the same group throughout your first year. You will get to know these people very, very well. The other 130 students will be relative strangers to you . . . I only know about two dozen students from outside the A/B section that I was in.

Soon after sections are assigned, make sure to create a Facebook or other social networking system so that the entire section can trade information. It’s a godsend to communicate quickly and clearly with your fellow students. For instance, it comes in handy when you don’t have the reading assignment for the next day and need it fast. And you’ll want to do this with a section-specific group rather than the general class group. The other two sections will have their own, independent issues and concerns.

The first four classes that you will have are Torts, Property, Constitutional Law I and Legal Research/Writing. I enjoyed all of them (Pruitt, Wiecek, Bhagwat were my professors for the first three; my LRW professor has moved back to Los Angeles this year). It’s a classic law school offering; the classes were informative and stimulating in a way that left me pleasantly shocked. I unexpectedly found myself enjoying law school my Fall semester and my enjoyment continues today.

You won’t have a reading list until you are assigned a section and each section will have its own professors with their own individual syllabi. Until then, you won’t know what material to read in advance for any of your classes.

The one book I recommend reading prior to entering the Fall semester is Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies by Erwin Chemerinsky. This book is Constitutional Law’s bible. It is well-written and easily understood, which makes it unique among serious works on Con Law. Virtually every law student uses the book to understand the difficult issues that arise in the subject. For those feeling ambitious, I’d suggest getting this book early and starting to read it. Your class in Fall Semester will cover Chapters One through Five; Chapters Six through Twelve deal with fundamental rights, which are typically the study of Con Law 2, an optional course for your 2L or 3L years.

But please note that #2 above (exercise, time with friends and family) greatly outweighs any benefit from reading Chemerinsky now. Plan your life accordingly.

UC Davis is different from other law programs. My friends and colleagues at other schools report a more competitive, beggar-thy-neighbor attitude among students. Law students everywhere are awarded grades on their relative merits (Is Johnny better than Cindy? Then Johnny should get an A …) rather than their absolute merits (Did Johnny really understand Torts? Then Johnny should get an A …). This leads some students to work nefarious tricks to improve their grades: hiding essential books in the library, refusing to share notes or outlines, circulating purposely misleading class outlines and the like. By reducing Cindy’s test scores, Johnny gets a better grade.

While such tricks are not completely absent from UC Davis, they are notably rare. Most students share their outlines, outlines from previous class years are generally available, and both students and faculty go out of their way to be helpful. During Contracts last year, our professor was noted for his extensive and complicated daily whiteboards. Every day we arrived to find four to five full whiteboards of closely written text. The teaching assistant recommended arriving to class thirty minutes early in order to have time to copy down all of the text. In our class, the whiteboards were photographed daily by different students and posted on our Facebook section page for everyone to share. This would not have happened in most other schools.

Why is UC Davis different? I don’t know. But it works. UC Davis graduates have a far more proactive group of alumni to work with when it comes time to network and seek employment. The supportive culture nurtured here continues on in later life. I suspect it has much to do with the school’s rising reputation.

I’m pausing with my recommendations here. I have more material I want to share, but it’s better to see what comments are generated first before continuing. [Edit: the second part is located here.]