now clogging the internet elsewhere

29 April 2006

Damaged! I've been damaged!

One of the hardest things for me to wrap my mind around in the law is how to calculate damages for seemingly unquantifiable harms. The classic example, and the one that makes me squirmiest, is the calculation of the "value" of a human life that has been lost, which often comes up in the context of a wrongful death suit. But I hadn't even considered the complexities of the kinds of damages being sought by two Boston-area couples. Apparently, their second-grade children were read a story in school about two princes who fall in love. The parents are suing the school district, claiming invasion of privacy and freedom of religion by the school's advancing of their gay-friendly "agenda." Putting aside the sort of dubious basis for this claim, let's talk about the issue of damages. What good is a lawsuit without damages? No self-respecting lawsuit doesn't seek at least a couple million these days, and this case appears to be no exception. The couples are seeking "compensatory and punitive damages." Okay, the punitive damages thing, if a little silly, is at least easier to figure- whatever the jury feels would be enough to punish the school district- that's how much they'll get! But how on God's green earth (sorry if that last phrase invaded your freedom of religion, by the way) could you possibly calculate the appropriate amount of compensatory damages for something like this? "My kid was forced to confront the diversity of families against my wishes! During story time! While sitting on the rug cross-legged, maybe even eating a snack! He's been put off graham crackers forever after this! Damage! Trauma! That's worth at least a million!" When someone dies, I can see why you need to try to place a value on their life, as uncomfortable as that is, because their family may well need money to be able to carry on, and the thing is irreversable- someone has died. But when your kid gets a message that you don't like? That's grounds for a lawsuit seeking many many dollars? I think I must be missing the "litigous" gene. I hope that's not going to be a problem for me in my future career.

28 April 2006

Curious my ass. is running a story under the headline "Curious Development." What do you think it's about? No, it's not about an ongoing contract saga between an NBA player and a team manager. Nope, it's not about a weird pitch that turned into a grand slam at a baseball came. It's not about a football player's recovery from serious knee surgery, either. No, this story is not actually about sports. Instead, it's a story about the fact that the woman who has accused the Duke Lacrosse players of rape also filed a rape charge once before. In 1996. Ten years ago. A full decade. So long ago (and when she was a minor!) that it didn't turn up when defense attorneys asked for records of any prior contacts with the police and so the dilligent reporters at the Associated Press had to go looking for it on their own. A defense attorney for the players was quick to go on the record about this new development, pointing out that it raises "real issues" about her credibility and has requested a hearing "to determine if the complaining witness is even credible enough to provide reliable testimony" after this news has come to light. Riiiiiight. Because everyone knows you can't get raped twice! It's like lightning! So she must be lying! Or she has a long history of making unfounded rape claims! A decade apart! In totally different circumstances! So she must be making it up! The woman, says the article, has disconnected her phone. "Curious development." Jesus. I feel ill.

27 April 2006

Your sensitivity astounds me

Overheard between classes: A 3L enrolled in a class that has been oft-cancelled this quarter and rescheduld for other times because the professor's mother is dying and thus the professor has had to cancel several classes to be with her while she is, you know, dying: "I mean, I'm paying for this class, and I have a conflict during the times when she's rescheduling, and if she can't get her act together to teach the class during the time it's scheduled I think I should be getting some money back or something. This is fucking ridiculous. I don't go to law school to not go to class." Nevermind that this treat of a 3L skips class on a semi-regular basis due to hangover. She deserves to have every class as scheduled, dammit! I'm so annoyed with these people right now.

26 April 2006

Helpful as always

Actual posting from actual email sent by Public Interest Careers Professional to the *students only* email list: Idaho Legal Aid looking for someone with English and Spanish fluency and several years of legal experience in this area to work 10 hours a week counseling victims of domestic violence. Starting contract $26,000." Gee, thanks. I'm sure there are a lot of current students with several years of legal experience in dv work who are dying to move to Idaho to work 10 hours a week for very little money. You're really meeting the needs of those students, career service office.

25 April 2006

Worth a thousand words.

Last summer, I worked at a public service law office that specializes in public housing in Chicago. It was a great job, and I loved working on housing issues. (Also, I'm now able to give weirdly informative tours of the many disastrous public housing projects in Chicago, which is not actually something that most tourists are all that into when they come here for a visit. (Shocking, I know.) But hey, if you know anyone who wants the "south side/public housing special" tour, send them my way!) It was also the home of my first true law mentor, a woman in her late 30s who isjust about the coolest lawyer I have ever met who has spent her whole career working in public interest in Chicago and who also has a nice non-lawyer husband and a cool kid who she even manages to see every once in a while. Once I realized that I pretty much wanted to be her, I vowed to try to hear her thoughts as many things as possible, so I took her to lunch one day and asked her how she decided to do civil, not criminal, public service work. "Well," she said, "part of it was that I wanted to be involved in impact litigation, to make new law, and I saw a real opportunity to do that here." I nodded. That made sense, this organization was known for its prominent role in the Chicago housing community. "But mostly," she said, "it was the photos. I took a criminal procedure class as a 2L and during one session the professor passed around a batch of really greusome crime scene photos and I had to excuse myself and leave the room. I couldn't look at them. And I knew right then that I was destined for civil work. I guess I'm lucky, because that one class made the civil/criminal decision a really easy one for me. I think you can pretty much make the decision whether or not you can do criminal work when you see your first batch of awful crime scene photos." Well, yesterday, I saw my first batch of truly awful crime scene photos. I have been staffed on a new case at the clinic, in which we represent a female client ("Clienette") who is charged with first degree murder in a brutal stabbing of another young woman. Both victim and Clienette were 17 at the time of the incident. We've had the case for 4 years, so my first job as the new kid on the case is to make my way through the files, trying to get up to speed on what's happened so far. There, while I was sorting through the many many duplicate copies of illegible police reports and dozens of not very helpful witness interview sheets and several error-riddled timelines, was a stack of photos, packaged in a cardboard envelope like the ones you'd get if you took your own snapshots for one hour development at Walgreens. And inside this normal-looking envelope were about 70 photos of the crime scene, including all the blood smears and droplets and the signs of strugle and shot after shot of this girl's naked, slashed body, all in glossy 4x6. I don't know what I was expecting, exactly- gritty black and white 8 X 10s, perhaps?- but I certainly wasn't expecting an innocuous little envelope like you'd get at MotoFoto to yield such graphic images. The good news, (I guess,) is that I didn't have to excuse myself and leave the room. So I guess I know that I can do criminal work if that's what I want to do. But man, it was hard to get those images of this young woman's mutilated body out of my head as I tried to fall asleep last night.

22 April 2006

blush, blush

This has been an embarassing week. More precisely, Thursday and Friday were mortifying. I'm pretty used to feeling embarassed about just about everything I've done in the past (ages 11-16 are a pretty much a blur of remembered agony.) Plus, I suffer from drinker's remorse in the worst way, ("did I really say that?" "was I tilting my head funny at the bar? Oh god, I was! I'm a weird head tilter!" "The cabbie totally knew I was drunk and was making fun of me in head head"), so I'm accustomed to trying to talk myself down from the ledge, usually with reminders that everyone else there was drunk, too, and thus unlikely to remember my relatively tame drunken antics. But this week, there was no alcohol involved, which is making the cringe-worthiness all the worse. It all started with the damned local school council elections. Mayor Daley sent out a heartfelt plea, asking concerned Chicagoans to get involved in local schools, to step up and do their civic duty, and since I'm a sucker for civic duty speeches, and since I would be pretty much content to hang out at schools and hang out with kids for free anyway because it's one of my favorite things except hanging out at schools without a purpose is bound to get you arrested for general sketchiness, I decided to run. I dutifully filled out my candidate nomination forms and turned them in the day before they were due, and the nice lady at the school office told me I was the first person to turn in any forms and I felt all warm and fuzzy and gratified that I had answered the call to service. I would be a local school council member! I would guide a troubled high school (29% graduation rate; 74% chronic truancy rate, average ACT score a dismal 14) into less-troubled waters! I would Serve My Community! You can guess how this turned out. I went to a candidate forum two weeks before the election and learned that there were TEN CANDIDATES for the two community representative positions, several of whom noted pointedly in thier candidate speeches that the black community would be better served by black local school council reps. (This high school is officially designated racially isolated African American, with less than 1% of the student body non-black). Things were not looking good for the Pseudostoops in '06 campaign. Three votes. That's how many votes a do-gooder white girl law student gets in a local school council election. Three. And they PUBLISH these results on a BIG BULLETIN BOARD with the number of votes that everyone got written in RED INK. That's me! Pseudostoops! Recipient of three votes! One from me and two that were probably a mistake, as my name was right below that of the winner! Haha! Embarassing, right? Yeah, that's a fricking walk in the park compared to what happened on Thursday at school, where I spent half an hour making fun of a perfectly nice 1L to a friend of mine, mocking her fakey-nice attitude and her seeming eagerness to identify the "coolest" person in any room and try to become friends with them, and there may have even been a snide comment about her "town bicycle" reputation (note to self: stop being a bad feminist.) Of course I learned, four hours later, that the friend to whom I was talking about this perfectly nice 1L is DATING HER. Of course he is! Haha! I'll just set about extricating my foot from my mouth now! And then Oscar, who we are puppysitting again, ate a bunch of daffodils and puked them up on my friend Beignet in the car on the way home. I might never be able to show my face in public again.

19 April 2006


So, if you were a psychologist hired by the state to determine whether a fourteen year old with a history of special ed and emotional disturbance had the capacity to waive his Miranda rights before he made a self-incriminating ststement, which of the following sources of information would you consider in making your evaluation: a) the results of cognitive ability tests that you conducted yourself b) the results of cognitive ability tests given by a licensed professional during the context of an IEP meeting one year ago c) interviews with the child during which you ask open-ended questions about the night of the questioning to see what the child understood d) an interview with the same detective who took the statement, who thinks that "yeah, the kid knew what he was doing when he waived Miranda." If you answered "d," congratulations! You've been hired by the county juvenile clinic! I'm sorry, but isn't this a little redundant? Doesn't the detective who conducted the interview have to, by definition, believe that the kid could waive Miranda? Because it would be supremely odd if he'd continued the interview if he didn't think the kid had the capacity to waive Miranda. But hey, if he's the easiest guy to get on the phone, and it means you don't have to do any tests for yourself- go for it!

17 April 2006

I don't think I have the stomach for this.

Today I've spent five hours (five!) watching videotaped statements given by Client's Codefendent in our murder case. Codefendent didn't know he was being videotaped (side note: does someone with more legal knowledge than me want to explain how this is okay?), but he was, and there are five long hours of footage of him in a room, maybe nine by ten, sitting in a cheap plastic chair at a cheap pastic table alternately being questioned by Interviewer and being left alone in the room to think about what got him here in the first place. There are long stretches where he is sitting in the interview room with his Guardian and they're talking, the way you'd talk with your mom at the dining room table after she picked you up from a party where kids got caught drinking, a mix of scolding and soothing and fatigue, and things are said, incriminating things, and the kid still doesn't know he's on videotape and Guardian seems to believe that if he just gets it out of his system and tells the truth he'll be going home tonight except that he's been incarcerated since this statement was taken, which is now eight months and counting. After about four hours in the freezing interview room, where Codefendent and Guardian are sitting bundled in yellow plastic blankets that Interviewer gave them that look like something you'd use on a mountainside during a medical emergency, Codefendent dozes off because he's been sitting there for four hours and it's been eight hours since he ate anything or used the bathroom and it's two in the morning, and at this point Interviewer comes in and asks Guardian if she'd prefer to sit in the hall where it is warmer, and so she does. 10 minutes later Codefendent wakes up and Guardian is gone and he's alone in the room and it's freezing and they've taken his shoelaces and his belt and his sweatshirt and he's sitting there in his undershirt and it's two in the morning and all of a sudden it's too much for him and he starts to cry, quietly at first and then huge, racking sobs, anguished sobs, and he cries for fifteen minutes still not knowing he's on videotape, until he starts to quiet down again and then at that moment Interviewer, who's been watching the whole time, who purposely invited Guardian into the hallway when Codefendent was asleep, walks in and asks: "So, you finally ready to stop lying and tell me the truth?"

15 April 2006

Other People's Children

So, today I became the mean old lady who wanders around the park, scaring children. This afternoon, John and I went to the park near our building to play tennis. The park has two very decrepit tennis courts featuring large cracks and crevices, including one caused by the root of a huge oak tree, running through the courts. The lines are faded and barely discernible. There is a third court, but for as long as we've been going there, it's been missing what tennis experts refer to as "the net." In short, this park is the perfect spot for two crappy tennis players to go on a lovely Saturday afternoon. One of the courts at this park has a wall about 10 feet behind the baseline where one could practice groundstrokes if one so chose. When we got to the park, a couple (who appeared to be even worse at tennis than we are, if that's possible,) was playing on that court, so we took the other one. About 20 minutes later, two little girls, maybe eight or nine years old, wandered over to the courts. They briefly considered playing on the court with no net, but then decided instead that they'd rather practice hitting against the wall, and they nonchalantly went over and installed themselves approximately 18 inches behind the poor woman playing on that side of the court and started hitting against the wall. Let me say, gently, that these little girls were novice tennis players. Their shots kept missing and they had to run onto the court (where the other couple was still gamely trying to continue their match) to retrieve their balls. The couple playing on that court started shooting the girls nasty looks and speaking loudly to each other about "manners" and "being rude." The girls either didn't get it or didn't listen, and after about 10 minutes, the couple gave up and decided to pack it in. Before they were even off the court, the girls had moved in and started playing on the court. The couple walked away muttering and shaking their heads. I thought this was unfair. It was unfair that the adult couple had to contend with little girls with no manners on their court, sure, but what seemed even more unfair was that this couple just got all annoyed, made snide comments, and left. The way I saw it, these girls needed to be told, kindly, that they were doing something rude. You can't expect kids to know all the ins and outs of adult ettiquite without being told, right? So the next time one of our balls went over their way, I decided to talk to them. Pseudo: Hey ladies. I just wanted to let you know that it can be a little hard to play on the court when someone is hitting against the wall, because it gets crowded. I think it got a little hard for thos other people to continue their match once you started hitting against the wall. It's not a big deal this time, because those people had been playing for a while and I think they were almost done anyway, but next time, it would be polite to ask if they mind if you hit against the wall before you start. Little girl: (terrified) o-okay. Pseudo: Have fun! Little girl: (turns and runs away.) The little girls had a conference at the net for several minutes after this little intervention, casting furtive glances in my direction. When, several minutes later, one of their balls rolled over towards us, they conferred for a full 4 minutes before one of them worked up the courage to come over and retrieve it. In short, I scared them to death. I also embarassed the living crap out of John. He couldn't believe that I would "discipline someone else's children." This is interesting to me. Had he not said anything, it would not have even occured to me that some might object to what I did. These girls did something rude, I assumed they didn't realize their mistake, and I told them in a very nice way that they should probably do it differently in the future. (Side note: there were no adults accompanying them, so I wasn't stepping on Mom's toes or anything here.) This kind of thing happened to me all the time when I was growing up- I still remember some of those times when my friends and I did something we were pretty sure was not okay, but we wanted to test it and, sure enough, an adult would tell us that it wasn't okay and we would stop. This is how children learn, right? They push a boundary and an adult gently but firmly reminds them just where the boundary is? Or has teaching just ruined me forever by making me think that I can extend the concept of "teachable moments" to the children of strangers? I stand by my decision to intervene, but it had a totally unexpected consequence: it kind of sucks to be the scary old lady. As a teacher, you're expected to give little lessons like this, but you have repeated contact with the kid, and you can make it up to them by showing a little respect and teaching lessons that don't suck. These girls from the park, though, will probably turn and run in the opposite direction the next time they see me coming. Scary old lady. Sheesh. Next thing you know, I'll own half a dozen cats. And wear a lot of purple.

13 April 2006


Okay, the posting, it is out of control today, and I can accept that, but this is so fucking funny I had to share it. Unless you are Jack and have never done yoga, in which case this will probably make no sense.


I am taking pretrial advocacy now as a part of my work in the clinic. We just finished our unit on "interviewing." During this unit, we learned how to do things like the "T-funnel method," in which you ask a general question, then follow it up with more specific questions to fill in details. (I know, you never would have thought of that!) We did mock interviews, mock depositions, we talked about asking good questions, etc. Fun fun. Today, I went to interview our client in the detention center. I was feeling confident, having just finished this interviewing unit and all. No part of our interviewing unit quite prepared me, however, for walking up to a unit on the fourth floor of juvie, entering a room with about 20 detained kids in it, asking in my most professional voice to speak to "client mc client," and having 15 voices repeat back with high picthed mocking "cliiiiiient! i looooooove you! i'm here for cliiiiiiient!" while batting their eyelashes and making kissy noises. (seriously, it's hard to explain in writing, but imagine the voice a younger sibling would use to tortue you when the boy you liked in middle school finally called you on the phone. About like that.) Teenagers! They make everything more interesting!

12 April 2006

Scenes from a mock deposition.

Student Lawyer 1: So, Mr. Ramirez, had you ever experienced problems with impotency in the past? Student Witness: No. Dude. No. SL1: How many times a week would you say you had sex with your wife before the incident? SW: This is a little personal, man. But a lot. Frequently. A lot. It was important to us. SL1: Can you estimate how many times per week you had sex with your wife before the incident. SW: I'd say 6-8 times a week. Student Lawyer 2 (sotto voce): This guy is so clearly not married.

10 April 2006

Gender issues make my organization structure go all to hell

Let's talk about boys for a moment. No, not in the "whisper whisper he's so cute giggle giggle" way. In the Educational Alarmists are Convinced We're Selling Them Short way. You've heard this, right? That we're facing a "boy crisis" in education? When my issue of The Week arrived the other day (side note: do not think The Week is bad because of this, because The Week may just be the perfect magazine,) the COVER STORY was about this "boy crisis." Apparently, recently-popular pedagogical methods such as "raising your hand before you talk," "sitting in your seat" and "completing your homework" (and also all the group work and collaboration,) discriminate against boys who just want to be boys. To this I say: oh, please. Yes, women represent ever-increasing percentages of college students, to the point where several small liberal arts colleges are reporting gender breakdowns skewed, for the first time, in favor of women. Yes, constructivist learning does not allow for traditionally "male" characteristics like constant shouting out of answers to carry the day. And yes, some data suggest that boys are graduating high school at lower rates than girls. But this does not a "boy crisis" make. Several media outlets reporting on this story pointed to researchers' suggestions about what to do with this new "crisis", and some of them made me laugh right out loud. For example, the "boys can't learn with a female teacher" suggestion is pretty funny, becuase if teacher gender is what makes students learn, I seriously have wasted my money at this law school with its notable shortage of female professors. The "we need to change schooling so that there is more competition and more games, because boys like that stuff" proposal actually caused me to choke on my shredded wheat, because, seriously, WHAT? We're supposed to make school look exactly like what boys supposedly "like best"? Yeah, because that's how the real world works~ "I'm sorry, Mr. Boss Man, I'd rather not have to buckle down and work at my desk today because I really like competition and games and stuff much better, so what do you say we get a kickball tourney going?" My personal favorite, though, is the suggestion that colleges are just going to have to start favoring boys in admissions until the numbers even out again. Just as we have historically made accomodations for women and minorities, the argument goes, the time has come now to make accomodations for the boys. Right. Let's be clear on something: if ever there was a group of people who have had every advantage, it is white, upper-middle-class boys. All of this consternation about the "boy crisis" is, to me, truly puzzling. This is not discrimination in the way women experienced it when the Ivy League was a boys-only club and the Seven Sisters provided a genteel education for young ladies. There is no history of excluding boys from colleges, or jobs, or social clubs, or, really, anything. So drawing a parallel to the efforts made on behalf of women and minorities seems, at best, imperfect. One suggestion of how to fix the gender imbalance in schools (in addition to the games in class and the male teachers) has been to start all-boy schools. This is of particular interest to me. For several years now, there have been noises here in Chicago about starting a paramilitary, boys-only public charter school, and recent discussions in the popular media about the "boy crisis" have added fuel to the fire. "Yes! Let's finally get this school going! There's a boy crisis, after all!" The school (in its original propsed design,) would serve mostly black young men. Teachers would be mostly black men. There would be role modeling, there would be structure, there would be consequences for misbehavior. It would, in short, be everything that a typical public education is purported not to be, and it would serve boys who being so badly underserved by the current "female-centric" school system. I think this is crap. I respect the recognition of a crisis with young men of color in our cities generally, but is this how we want to address it? To convince the mainstrem upper class public, wringing their hands over the fate of boys in public schools, that the only way we can educate young black men is to militarize them? (What happened to all the game-centric learning proposals?) I mean, I get it- the schools currently are not getting it done for these kids, and they deserve better, and this may, for some, be better. If this school actually gets off the ground, I would not begrudge a single parent who chooses to send her son there. But why should this school be getting off the ground now, in the face of this "boy crisis," when it's been on the drawing board for literally a decade? If this is a good plan for young men of color, why hasn't it happened yet? This piece in the Washington Post positively blew the door off this for me- specifically, this part:

When it comes to academic achievement, race and class completely swamp gender. The Urban Institute reports that 76 percent of students who live in middle- to higher-income areas are likely to graduate from high school, while only 56 percent of students who live in lower-income areas are likely to do so. Among whites in Boston public schools, for every 100 males who graduate, 104 females do. A tiny gap. But among blacks, for every 100 males who graduate, 139 females do.

I could be wrong, but I feel like most of the concern about our "boy crisis" is coming from precisely the kind of people whose sons are least likely to be suffering it. It looks like upper middle class white boys are holding their own. So forget "let's talk about boys for a minute." The boys from my hometown and those like them are, it appears, doing just fine. Let's get down to brass tacks: let's talk about race and class for a minute. Because this "boy crisis" nonsense is getting me all annoyed. We have bigger fish to fry.

09 April 2006

God I wish I'd thought of that

Playwrights save the best lines for themselves: (Note: I had to type "playwright" 4 times before I was convinced I had spelled it correctly. Seriously, shouldn't it be spelled "playwrite?" You know, the person who writes the play? Anyway.) From Richard Greenberg, author of Three Days of Rain, which has made approximately a bazillion dollars now that Julia Roberts is starring in it on Broadway, quoted in NY Times Magazine, 3/26/2006:

"Be civil. Do not cherish your opinion over my feelings. There's a vanity to candor that isn't really worth it."
Amen. Honestly, is civility so hard? When did we decide as a collective body that it was better to be brutally honest than moderately kind? I really wish that I had had this elegant turn of phrase at the ready when faced with the admits who would not go away. It would have been much more effective than my incredulous sputtering. (This comes to me through Mrs. Kennedy, since, in a move of remarkable frugality, John and I have stopped taking the Times. Sigh.)

08 April 2006

I know what our answer has to be in court, but....

The client I'm helping represent in the clinic may be getting out of the detention center. Its got me worried. Our client (let's call him "Client") is, more than likely, a member of a sort of problematic street gang. His brother (who I'll call "Brother") is deep in the same gang. Whether Client is in, or a "future," or just a "neutron" who gets protection from this gang is sort of irrelevant. Client's position is precarious because of this gang. In front of the house where Grandma lives, and where Client and Brother were both raised, there is a threat spraypainted on the sidewalk by a rival gang, identifying it as the house where Brother lives and announcing a contract on his head. Terrific. The gang is also deeply concerned about what Client may or may not be telling the prosecutor about his co-defendants in the matter in which we represent him, and its unclear how far any loyalty to Client and Brother may extend in the face of adverse testimony. It's a bad situation. Not a safe place. But Grandma is moving! To a house! In a whole different town! And Brother is not coming with, because he's currently incarcerated! This sounds promising, and it was this news that inspired the judge to hint that he might let Client go home to Grandma to wait for trial. Prsumably, the new house in the new town is at a location unknown to the aforementioned problematic street gang, and there is not yet a threat tagged onto the sidewalk. This is an improvement. But part of me is still worried. We talked to Client the other day and asked him how he felt about this, how he felt about maybe getting to go home, except to a new house, not the old one. We told him where the new house was. He grinned. "Yeah, I wanna go home," he said. "Definitely." Sasha, another member of our team, asked: "tell me, Client. Is this really far enough away? Is it really going to be different there?" She stopped short of asking the question on the mind of everyone in the room: "are you at risk of getting shot there, too? Are these guys going to find you?" "Man, my grandma's got it hard, it's hard on her," Client replied. "She's doing the best she can. She has to do the best she can." Crap. Crappity crap crap. Client has never, NEVER shown any particular concern for Grandma before. We tried the "she's had a tough life" tack with him once before, trying to convince him to settle down a little, stay out of the guns and drugs for a minute, and he was having none of it. This sudden outpouring of concern for Grandma, and insistence that this new house is the right place for them, pretty much confirmed for us that it's too close to the old house, that the dangers are still real, that the chances of Client falling back in with his old crowd are high. As soon as we left the interview room, Sasha hit the nail on the head: "He's going to get out and catch another case within 30 minutes. And in a way I'll be glad, because I'd rather that than dead." So we'll go into court, and we'll ask the judge to release Client to his Grandma, because that's what he wants, and that's our job, to represent his interests. Then we'll all go home and pray that he makes it to trial.

06 April 2006

some ethical dilemmas

Ethics: they're everywhere. First it was Blonde Justice's nice posts on the ethics of dealing with clients. Then the stupid stupid boys yesterday. Today, PostHipChick inspired me to add educational ethics to the mix with her post about teacher induction programs. When I was teaching, I was required to enroll in a program called BTSA, which stood for something like "badgering teachers with stupid acronyms." It involved being assigned a "mentor," who came into my classroom once a month to "serve as a resource" and give me things that were meant to help in my classroom. In theory, teacher-mentoring programs like this are great. Master teachers take a year or two off from teaching to mentor new teachers. They come into your classroom, help you set up a lesson, maybe teach a lesson while you watch, and generally share their wisdom and experience with you. In reality, these programs often suck. At least it sucked for me. Every month, a woman who had retired from teaching several years ago but then realized she needed some extra money (her explanation, not mine) came into my classroom for 20 minutes and asked me to sign her timesheet to say that she'd been there. Once she brought me a cd of "fun classroom music" featuring misogynistic rap ("it's the kind of stuff the kids like!") Several times she shared with me this pearl of wisdom: "my, these children are just so different than the ones I was teaching!" Different as in not white. Different as in non-native speakers of English. Different as in living in a city instead of a mostly white suburb, where she had taught for her entire career. How was this mentoring relationship designed to help me, exactly? "Teaching in the suburbs 30 years ago was different than teaching in the city is today" is a lesson I probably could have figured out on my own. She was a nice enough lady, I guess, but this was just laughably useless for me. What's the ethical angle in all of this, you ask? Well, it's like this. When I was teaching, I was stretched to the limit pretty much all the time. I was tired, overworked, had that "I'm a sucker and I can't say no" problem, was worried about the kiddos in my class every day. I did not have a lot of time. Had the BTSA woman been doing her job properly, I would have been meeting with her twice a month for at least an hour. This was not time that I had, and after seeing how she ran our twenty-minute meetings, I definitely did not want to be spending even more time with her. So despite the fact that the district was paying her to meet with me (and several other teachers) for at least two hours a month (and I'm pretty sure she was supposed to be prepping for these meetings, too, and was getting paid for the prep time,) I let her get away with about 20 minutes a month by signing her time sheets for the full two hours. No rocking the boat here! Please get out of my classroom and let me continue teaching my different children! If she missed coming in one month, I celebrated a little and signed the damn time sheets anyway. At a practical personal level, this was certainly the right thing to do. Refusing to sign the time sheets would have subjected me to many more hours of arguing about what she did and did not do, I would have had to document things in triplicate, and I may even have had to go down to the dreaded District Office (where there ought to be a sign on the wall like the ones they have in mines and factories and other dangerous workplaces, the ones that say "It's been ___ days since our last accident!" except this one would say "It's been 5934 days since our last efficient action!") Worst of all, if I had blown the whistle on her, she might have started coming for the full two hours a month, which would have been excruciating. But it's impossible to deny that by signing her bogus time sheets, I was allowing her to scam the district out of money, and god knows we didn't have the money to spare. So what's the ethical calculus here? I didn't stop a woman who I knew was committing fraud, and that cost an already cash-strapped district money. But, I saved time that was personally tremendously valuable. I think there was at least arguably a professional benefit, too- I had a duty to do as well as I could to teach my students, which meant giving them the best lessons possible, which meant wasting as little time as I could on stuff that was just silly. But even when I type that, it sounds a lot like rationalization, and if there's one thing for which I have no patience, it is teacher excuse-making. Hm. Interesting that two years later I still can't decide whether I should have turned her in. These ethics, I tell you- they're everywhere!

05 April 2006

This has put me right off my rice krispie treat

Just when I start to feel all warm and fuzzy about my law school and my friends here and how it really is not as bad and callous and snooty as people say it is, I hear this little exchange in the lounge: student: so you agree that there are some pro bono cases you just would never take, right, because there's nothing in it for you? other student: yeah. But I only think that because we have public defenders. student: Thank god for third tier law schools! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! I'm happy to report, though, that these people proceeded to discuss how easy it is to "pad your billable hours by overreporting how many hours you worked on pro bono matters," so at least I'll have some good dirt when they get reported to the ethics committee.

Old Academics and Old English Plays

I went to dinner last night with an recently-retired and absolutely revered law professor from my law school. There were eight of us who went, as part of a dinner series to allow students to interact with a professor in a context that doesn't involve the Socratic method and a cold sweat. I'd never actually taken a class from this professor (he retired too soon!) so I was excited to have the opportunity to meet him. Holy crap this man is smart. I mean silly smart. And it got me thinking. All of my professors are really smart people, clearly. They publish, they come up with novel theories, they actually understand the rule against perpetuities. But I can't help but think that for the newer ones, the academic landscape is just different enough that this professor at dinner is a member of a dying breed. We spent half an hour, for example, discussing the merits of various performances of Shakespeare's histories by various prominent English actors, which is not something I'd necessarily expect a federal courts expert to have such well-developed knowledge of. (I had little to contribute to this discussion, other than "Oh! Henry IV! That's really long!") He talked about how, for kicks, he taught evidence one year so that he could write an exam about the admissibility of all of the evidence Iago presented against Desdemona in an imaginary divorce proceeding between Desdamona and Othello. There was even a brief discussion of the Pirates of Penzance. But what was really fascinating was listening to him talk about being in law school, and then being a clerk on the Supreme Court. As a law student, he was fascinated by Conflicts of Laws (a good sign of a professorial future, I'd wager,) and he started a correspondance with a leading scholar on the topic, and spent the entire term "engaged in lively debate with my professor about different theories of conflicts of laws." He called it the best time he spent at law school. And I can picture it, a group of 50 men (because it was pretty much all men in those days) sitting in a seminar room, smoking, serious in their discussion, a little exhilerated, trying as a group to figure out some of the hardest stuff in the law. This picture is so dramatically different from the law school I know (and love, if I'm honest, but don't tell my teaching friends because a nerdier thing has never been said.) In the law school I know, students set up their laptops at the start of class, type furiously to try to write down everything the man says (because it's still largely men,) pack up their laptops at the end of class and hope that at the end of the term they'll be able to construct a coherent outline and write a decent exam. And I can't figure out why it's so different, but the idea of a group of us sitting around with a professor, all of us equally trying to puzzle through something, is just...odd. Were these guys smarter back then? Was the law less settled? (Or, maybe, were the academic aspects of the law just getting settled, so there was more new stuff to write?) Today, when students struggle to find topics on which to write comments for law review that hasn't been preempted by something someone else has written, they tend to settle on topics like "the law governing the little blue birds that live in kansas, but not the ones that live in nebraska and not the darker blue ones that were already written about in the law journal of birdlovers, vol 3 issue 10, 2002." This professor's first writings were something like "conflicts of laws" and "federal jurisdiction." You know, easy stuff. Narrow. I'm not going anywhere with this, particularly, but this dinner was fascinating, and made me a little nostalgic for a time that I didn't even know. I get that my classmates and I are going to have lots of job opportunities, and many of us will be good lawyers, and some of us may even turn out to be great professors. But I have to wonder if, after 44 years of teaching, today's professors will have the same sort of gentle affection for the law and the process of teaching it and writing about it. For the sake of future dinners, I really hope so.

02 April 2006

More Admissions

So, you know how I was whining last time about having to pair admitted students with current student hosts? I'm back for more! You see, John has been asking me why I took this gig. My standard answer is "I'm a sucker who can't say no." Of course, the reality is more complex, something like "I have a hard time saying no plus I sort of like having an excuse to whine to my friends and allow them to think I'm doing something nice for other people, and also whoever did it last year did a really terrible job so I sort of mistakenly assumed 'it can't be that hard to do better than that' and so I said yes." But seriously, that's way too long an answer to give to all of the 40 people who have asked me that question this week, so I'm sticking with "I'm a sucker who can't say no." But it's true that I really did think that I could do a better job of this than the person who did it last year- and that's no criticism of him, per se- he had tickets to the Ring Cycle at the Lyric the same week as admitted students weekend, which is a truly impossible combination, and if I were similarly situated, I'd pick the opera, too. But doing a better job seemed very, well, doable. Which is why it's freaking hillarious that I managed to assign, TO MYSELF, some real duds. I thought that last year's admit, with his briefcase and three piece suit and pocket square that matched his argyle socks (no I'm not making this up), and his haughty attitude, and his quick dismissal of me as "yet another crunchy granola type" who wasn't worth his time, was the worst admit ever. I was wrong. My admit is 19. There is nothing wrong with being 19. 19-year-olds do some important things, like go to college. But there are certain things 19 year-olds cannot do, and going to bars is one of them. when you are hosting someone for a weekend that involves three separate outings to local Chicago watering holes, having someone who is unable to enter those places can put a little crimp in your style, and you're forced instead to do something totally boring, like watch poker on television with your admit and your husband, both of whom are eating really gross hotdogs because your husband has decided that it being April, grilling season is BACK! Then there was the admit who told me that if I really cared about children, I would stop being a knee-jerk union supporter and admit that school vouchers are "the only way to make schools better." (TMAO, I'm pretty sure that your anonymous commenter has been accepted to my law school and plans on torturing me for the next year.) But maybe my favorite story comes from last night, when we were at a bar, drinking, having a nice time, and one of my current admits had the following conversation with me: admit: You know, I was really nervous about having you as my host, based on some of the things I've heard about you. pseudo: (thinking: oh goodness, this should be terrific) What do you mean? admit: well, after the whole recycling debacle last year. pseudo: (truly confused now) huh? admit: you know, when you recycled that other admit's pop can that he was going to throw away and you made some comment about how you couldn't break the habit of recycling aluminum that you picked up while living in California. pseudo: I only sort of vaguely remember that. How did I offend someone by recycling, exactly? admit: well, it's a little sanctimonious to take another person's can to the recycling. If he wants to throw it away, that's his business. pseudo: (to bartender) can I get another beer over here, please? After this weekend, I feel even more fortunate to have found a nice, normal, balanced group of friends with a sense of humor. Really, law school is a lot more tolerable when you have people to hang out with who don't make you want to scratch your eyes out.