June 29, 2004

Yesterday was a Good Day

Politically, I tend to be all over the place. My beliefs don't align with any particular group, which is useful when I want to distance myself from stupid actions of one of our political parties, but annoying when I'm trying to figure out who to vote for.

One thing that I strongly believe in is avoiding false imprisonment.

I was happy to see that my belief was shared across the conservative-liberal trenchlines by all but one member of the Supreme Court in yesterday's released opinions (Hamdi, Rasul, Odah and Padilla). Bonus: being out of law school for a month makes me able to appreciate the writing of the Court for its eloquence and brilliance instead of cramming the knowledge into my head in a pleasureless frenzy.

If you want more on this stuff, head over to SCOTUSBlog. Steven Wu's discussion of the balance of powers between the branches and how these decisions affect it is particularly interesting.

June 28, 2004

News of Weird

A judge in Oklahoma has been charged with conduct constituting an offense involving moral turpitude in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

The petition alleges acts including:

1. using a penis pump in court under the bench
2. exposing himself to the court reporter
3. shaving his pubic hair in court

The judge admitted he had the penis pump under the bench during a murder trial (WHAT??), but claims it was a gag gift from a friend [oh, well, in that case... no problem!].

June 25, 2004


As promised, now that I'm recovered from finals and have enough distance from the bubbleworld of school to have a reasonable perspective, I've got some stuff to say about grades, ranking, and 1L as a whole.

First of all, I maintain that grades are much more arbitrary than a sane merit-based ranking system should be. For whatever reason, I fell out on the lucky side of the toss-up this time around and I'm quite happy with my grades. If the system has to be arbitrary, I'd rather be lucky than not. So, I'm thankful. But I know the grades are only loosely related to my performance and knowledge of the material.

I've convinced myself that grades have 3 components:

1/3 knowledge of the material
1/3 writing in a style and organization that the professor likes
1/3 luck

In schools like mine, where there are no ways to get feedback on your writing style from the professor before exams, you can only control one of the three variables. So, sure, you need to know the material--do your work and learn it at the level that you want to know it--Duh. But don't freak out and turn into a study-gnome. It won't compensate for the fact that it's just as important that the material is organized and written in a style the prof likes. And, it's also just as important that your exam comes up at a point in the grading cycle when the prof is feeling generous or particularly disposed to the points you make. The last two are a crapshoot and there's not much you can do about it, so relax.

In particular, I suspect that addressing novel issues is strongly governed by luck. If your exam is at the top of the pile, I imagine most profs reward the "right" answers and don't award many points to "off-topic" responses. However, by the time they reach the middle or the end of the pile, I imagine profs are much more likely to award points for unique thought processes or novel issues, if only because it helps 'em stay awake.

So, after a year of grades, I'm resigned to the random element and sad for the role that grades and ranking play in the hiring process. It's quite unfair that someone with a straightforward and basically correct answer who is lucky enough to have their exam at the top of the pile will get an A- and fall into a higher tier of ranking than someone with the same answer at the middle of the pile, who will get the B+ and be locked out of certain job interview opportunities. I wish there was a better way to differentiate who was deserving of the opportunities, but, I don't know of one.

As for ranking, it's silly. Attributing 100% certainty to a measurement with a high margin of error is WRONG. Most professors will admit that after they finish grading they couldn't tell a low B paper from a B-, or a low C+ from a C, or [horrors] a low A- from a high B+. In a 4.0 scale, that's a swing of up 0.3 to 0.4 points, or a 7.5-10% margin of error. But the schools will go ahead and apply a hard numerical rank to the top X percent. No one will believe that when you compare Jimmy at 98 and Bobby at 111 in a class of 200 there is actually NO DIFFERENCE between them that can be depended upon. Oh no, Jimmy is top 50% of his class and Bobby is in the bottom 50%. Silliness, I tell you.

And as for 1L as a whole, I had a blast. I know it's not en vogue to admit it, but I did. I met several new and interesting people, went to a few parties, learned tons of new stuff, was entertained by some of the best professors I've ever had, and enjoyed the freedom to arrange all non-class hours of my life as I saw fit. For the first time since I was 15 years old, I was a full-time student who didn't work. I felt spoiled and I reveled in it. I fit law school into my existing life and I loved the way it fit. Grades and Ranking suck. So do a few other things about law school. But all-in-all, law school rocks if you decide to enjoy it.

So, the advice I've got on 1L is this: Use the freedom. Travel. Be social with your classmates on at least a few occasions. Be committed to leisurely meals. Do things in the middle of the day that you'll never be able to do once you become a working stiff. Pick up hobbies (school-related activities or not) and make them fit, it makes studying easier and you'll be glad you did. For your sanity and in order to maintain perspective, be committed to at least one thing outside of school and do it religiously. And of course, be ready to fight the good fight so that you don't let anyone else's definitions of success define what you must do in order to be happy.

June 23, 2004

Microsoft Should be Against DRM

Cory Doctorow gave a pretty compelling talk to MSFT. I found myself nodding as I read it. (Thanks to Denise for the link.)

He managed to pitch a fabulous idea (Microsoft is one of the only companies who could get away with making media players that go against DRM and the studios) while pointing out their anti-trust naughtiness in a way that made me laugh.

Do it again! This is a company that looks the world's roughest, toughest anti-trust regulators in the eye and laughs. Compared to anti-trust people, copyright lawmakers are pantywaists. You can take them with your arm behind your back.

And he's right. There's a strong business reason for being the provider of hardware/software that can play ANY and all content. I'd even let my MS hatred mellow out if they followed through with his suggestion.

Unlikely, but still a fascinating read.
For Your Amusement

Check out the world's most advanced hand-held laser-guided bolt-action aluminum SP9004 potato rifle and the rest of SpudTech.Com.

For the latent (or not so, in my case) geek in all of us.

Genius, I tell you.

June 21, 2004

Survey of Consumption

The home team won. Thanks to the firm, E and I saw it in person while hanging out with another summer associate and his SO.

In order to get the full experince, E and I shared as much of the foods as we could fit in our bellies (if SF is going to take flack from other cities over the prissiness of the food at our ballpark, then dammit, I'm going to have experienced it first-hand so I can defend my city!). I'm full:

Course 1: 2 draft MGD's, a salted soft pretzel, and stadium nachos with jalapenos.
Course 2: 2 draft Gordon Biersch pints, Gilroy Garlic Fries (you can't be at a game at Pac Bell park and go without...)
Course 3: 2 22 oz. Tsing Tao beers, a 4-ball package of flavored cotton candy.

Umm... arteries hardening...

June 19, 2004


As Chuck, MB, and I sat around the plastic table at Stevens, we discussed the light-hearted topics that arise on a beautiful Friday afternoon. For starters, we all admitted that even though we're technically allowed a lunch break, it still seemed a bit like playing hooky to steal off and meet up with friends so we could sit outside eating delicious, greasy food. We all agreed that last year it didn't seem so decadent to duck out because we all were less busy. Chuck even spoke longingly of the standing Friday ride out to the coast for lunch that he and all of his fellow motorcycle-riding engineers made on a regular basis when the economy was in the outhouse. For better and for worse, those times have passed.

Our conversation quickly turned to Chuck's latest hare-brained plan to go BASE jumping. We all agreed that it was a stupid thing to do. To drive the point home, MB asked Chuck, "Of the roughly 50 sky dives that you've done, what percentage had some sort of flaw that would have killed you had you been base jumping?" Chuck responded, "Mmmm... about 25 percent. Yeah. Okay. I'm not going to do it."

But, he was reluctant to give it up. And I was amazed. I don't get it. Why the drive to do something that will kill you? MB was quick to jump in with his equivalent death-risk sport of solo climbing. At first, neither of them could give me a reason why a sane person would attempt to take on these sports. But then, I think MB hit upon it at the core. He said, "Well, if you're not the greatest climber in the world, you can train and solo up a major face and get some recognition and make a name for yourself."

And this, my friends, is the disease of the modern world. Way too many people suffer from the idea that if they aren't recognized for being the best at something, they haven't lived a good life, or they aren't worth anything. The need for external validation is everywhere, not just law school. But law school attracts over-achievers in droves, so there's an even higher concentration of people who feel failure at anything less than the best. I've always felt it was sad and wrong, but couldn't put my finger on why until the conversation with Chuck and MB. But now, I think I've got it. There've been way too many intelligent, stubborn, and lucky people alive on this planet since we started taking down written history. In order to do something truly great in the face of all of this history today, you have to be RIDICULOUSLY talented, lucky, hard-working, and/or stupid. To place your self worth on that level is to set yourself up for misery. I suppose that misery could drive you to do something that has a good chance of killing you. But, I still don't get it.

So, I'll probably never do anything of historical note. But I'll be happy, I'll live a full life, and assuming I'm not terribly un-lucky, I won't kill myself early while doing it. I wish more people recognized the greatness in such small and simple goals. Oh well. It takes all types, no?

[/end rant]

June 17, 2004

I Would Be Frustrated, But

I just had a Steven's Cheesesteak and I don't have room for any emotion besides satiety.

Instead of frustration, I'm amused. My admin and I just spent roughly 2 days working on replacement drawings for a patent application. The amendment, forms, and finals from the draftsman were finally ready to go out the door today. Before I signed, I figured I'd check the last correspondence from the PTO, just to make sure that our on-line docketing system wasn't lying to me.

Good thing I did. Turns out the firm from which my firm got this file let the final office action deadline go without responding. This file is DEAD. Somehow, it never was deactivated in our docketing, so when some of its brother and sister patents needed new drawings, we threw it in the pile as well.

The moral of the story? Always double check. The partner thought I was pretty smart for catching this error--he was also very sorry for wasting my time, mumbling, "I don't know why it hasn't been deactivated, give it to Linda, don't trouble yourself with it anymore, she'll file the deactivation form."

The best part for me? Clearly, the long outdoor lunch at Steven's with MB and Chuck was meant to be. Had I rushed back, I'd only have been doing work on a file that wasn't billable anyways.

June 16, 2004

Sloths Rock

Last night, at a friend's house for a poker game, I laughed my way through The Book for People Who Do Too Much.

I highly recommend it, if only for the picture of the sloth.

Apparently, the book infected my subconscious because today I sent a long-winded rant to my supervising professor about how I could do some research over the summer but there would be no paper started 'til fall. The research project had been hanging over my head in every spare moment I've found so far this summer.

Prof Research's Reply:

That's fine (I had thought that was the original plan anyways!). Enjoy
your summer.

Go Sloths! I didn't even need to be feeling guilty about my lack of effort. How excellent is that?
Summer Blues

No matter how cool your job is, when it is GORGEOUS outside and you are stuck inside, if you are me, you wish you were outside.

Also, I'm comatose after a big lunch.

Both of these have combined into a barely irresistable urge to lay in the sun, and read a pleasure book until I fall asleep.

Alas, I must sit inside, looking out my huge window at the sun, but air-conditioned to chills. Also, I must read this patent instead of fiction.

Not a bad life. But, boy can I smell and taste a better one, just a few floors and a single decision away. Of course, it's also only two days away from the weekend where I can lay in the sun and read and sleep to my heart's content. Focus...

June 14, 2004

Where Law School Doesn't Help

I've got an office action from the Chinese Patent Office sitting on my desk. I finally opened it today because I'd finished most of what I could do on all the English work on my desk until I get some feedback.

Sure enough, the Chinese Patent Office sends responses in hanzi.

I don't read hanzi. Not even a little bit. Except good luck and good fortune, fuji film, and maybe one or two other characters, I'm worthless with Chinese Characters.

But wait, it gets better. The patent application isn't translated, but the rejection from the Chinese Patent Office is. It tells me that the technology is being rejected for lack of inventiveness (looks like obviousness is the US equivalent, but I haven't looked it up to be sure) in view of a Japanese patent in light of a US patent.

You may be shocked to learn that I also do not read or speak Japanese.

So, the work that I am capable of doing on this file involves instructing my admin to order that the Japanese patent be translated and instructing my admin, yet again, to pull the original English text of the Chinese patent application (all the while praying that we can locate the English version prior to translation.)

I feel completely and totally useless. It's almost enough to make me want to learn Chinese before Spanish. Nahh.... vacationing in Spanish speaking countries will win over reading Chinese patents any day.

June 13, 2004

Manual Labor

A friend of ours, B, bought a schooner with 4 of his friends. They're fixing her up for a trip around the world.

E and I stopped by to check her out and were immediately put to work.

3 hours later, I'd pulled 250 feet of hulking anchor chain from the hull, moved it to the dock, laid it out in 10 feet increments and spray painted markings so that they'd know how much chain they were letting out when they set down anchor.

My hands are hot, swollen, and tight. My biceps are warm and creaky. My back is knotted. And I know I'm going to sleep better than I have in ages.

It's amazing how nothing reminds me that I'm on vacation (weekends are mini-vacations again!) quite like volunteering to take on labor that would be torture if it were a job.

June 11, 2004


I can now officially say that I've stood up in court and presented a case to a judge. Unfortunately, it was anti-climactic.

No one wants to argue that they didn't jump the turnstile as their first in-court argument. It was a minor consolement that I was not the only one in the court room who believed that they shouldn't be punished for failing to have proof of payment for a system that didn't allow you to pay at certain entrances, but still allowed you to enter.

So, I did what the system banked on me doing--I took the easy way out and gave my Muni story a simple, but not-so-bookworthy ending.

The scam they're running goes something like this:

1. disable money-collection slots of turnstiles so that no one can pay. Leave the free-swinging gate unattended and available next to the broken turnstiles.
2. place muni-cops on the trains to catch people who enter without paying.
3. write them tickets, which are $110, even if they show you their $1.25 and explain that they tried to pay, they just couldn't.
4. make $110 off the lazy and the people whose time is worth money.
5. If the ticket recipient's time isn't worth lots of money (like a law student during the school year), they appeal. The judge offers to reduce the fee to $21 for a plea of no contest, or they can come in for a third visit to the hall of justice, in the middle of a work or school day 45 days down the line, in order to present their case at a bench trial.

Given that I have no pictures or useful statistics, it would simply be my word vs. the muni cop. There would be no jury, just the judge, who seemed to think I'd be an idiot not to take his sweetheart deal. It's a bummer that the trial would have been scheduled for July 29th, because I couldn't justify missing more work for this silliness. If only they scheduled trials so far in advance that I'd be back in school, then I'd fight for all I was worth. Oh well.

The final verdict? At $21, plus an 8-block walk to the justice hall in order to make my appointment to appeal, plus taking off half a day of billables and driving to the city for my second visit to the Hall, plus parking--let's just say that was by far the most expensive bus ride I've ever taken.

June 10, 2004

Dear virus email writers:

You need to think a little harder before you compose your emails. Today, I received the following:

Hello user of Yahoo.com e-mail server,
Your e-mail account has been temporary disabled because of unauthorized access.
For details see the attached file.

Kind regards,
The Yahoo.com team

Of course, the attachment was a .pif file. So, the usual logic applies, no one in their right mind will ever save/open an executable file that arrives via email, blah, blah, blah.

But what really showed your genius was the warning of "temporary disablement" of my account. I can only infect my computer with your virus if I take these steps:

1. log into and receive email on the account that's supposedly disabled.
2. download the attachment from the email on the account that's supposedly disabled.

Now do you see the problem?


June 9, 2004

I refuse

To refer to myself as a "rising 2L." It just sounds gross to me. I don't know why, but it does.

That is all.


I haven't been reading the books on my reading list to the left. Instead, I've spent my spare time in the last few days plowing through The King of Torts.

"Torts, I think BT is taking Torts, this book is perfect," I can just hear my mother Santa Claus thinking as the book was placed in my stocking at Christmas. I, of course, didn't touch it during school. In fact, I forgot it at her house until she gave it back to me on my last visit. As a general rule, I'm not a huge Grisham fan. But, boy, when you get sucked in... you have to finish it. It was great in the way that the occasional fast food meal is great--cheap, satisfying, quick, way more enjoyable than it's supposed to be, and inciting slight feelings of guilt, which somehow add to the pleasure of the whole experience.

But now, I'm done with that paperback book and I can move on. E and I biked to our local library last night and I checked out two big hardback books that should keep me entertained for a while. They are big, small font, serious books. Really.

June 7, 2004


An anonymous comment points out that the correct expression is "beck and call" not beckonned call.

True Dat.

Google Hits:
"Beck and Call" = 716,000
"Beckoned Call" = 73,400
"Beckonned Call" = 32

Could I have been more wrong?

Best part is, I distinctly remember changing my opinion about what the correct phrase was when I was in my teens. Julia Roberts as Pretty Woman says, "I'd love to be your beckonned call girl..." Or, at least that's what I decided she said, and I decided she was right (how could a streetwalker who hooked herself up with a penthouse-dweller be anything but?). I rationalized it to myself by roughly this logic:

1. You beckon someone--you don't beck them.
2. Beckon can also function as a noun.
3. Beck sounds silly.
4. A beckoned call is a call that is requested and wanted, which seemed to fit with the common usage.
4. So, beck must not be a real word, and the phrase must be "beckoned call."

You will note that nowhere in this teenage linguistic analysis did I bother with the dictionary. I wonder how many other phrases like this lurk in my brain, I'm sure they're all dying for the chance to make a splash.
Just Remembered

One of the funniest things I've overheard in the last few weeks:

Well, you see, I had to practice in a big city because I wanted to practice civil law. And, in small towns, like where I'm from, people have a tendency to turn all of their civil problems, like divorce, into criminal problems, like murder.

June 4, 2004

The (Fun) Rat Race

Man, the efficiency of the real world can sure make ya tired. I've had quite a week.

The Good News:

Hey all you people looking for legal jobs or concerned about the economy in the valley: in the 9 months that I've been gone, things have REALLY picked up. I don't think I'll be posting about the illusion of work this summer (but of course, there's no accounting for cycling). I've got 6 projects on my desk as of today and I'm definitely carrying the second lightest load in the place, second only to the summer associate who hasn't worked in this area of the law before. The office halls are full of speedwalking overworked associates and partners who are happy to have interesting work again. When you ask anyone how they are doing, the consistent answer is "busy." Nine months ago, it was, "relaxed" or "planning a vacation since things are slow," or worse, "trying to drum up some work/business." When I left there were 4 empty offices. Now there are none and they've added cubicles for additional support staff. When IP law offices are busy, valley companies are doing technology development, and deals that bring about the need for the legal work. This is a very good sign for the economy.

The Firm:

They're mellow, low-profile and more interested in training summer associates than spending money on perks to lure them back. Sure, crazy perks would be nice (although I did get a new flatscreen and some of the associates don't have them yet...), but the upside of that conservatism is that they didn't over-hire in the boom nor did they take a lot of work on stock options. This meant the bust didn't hit 'em too hard. They weathered the downturn by allowing normal attrition to do its job and pushing back the start dates of the new hires. Their billing requirement is lower than most firms of comparable prestige and quality in the area and they're very clear that you do get two chances at the bar. The competitive edge that grates on me from school is noticeably absent from this group of people. Apparently the quality of life approach is attractive since everyone who got an offer from the summer class last year accepted and they all seem happy with their decision. I am surprised to find that I'm much happier to be back here than I expected. This, too, is a good thing.

The Spoiled Brat:

Today, I realized that I haven't had to pay for my own lunch since Thursday, May 27th. Wow. Of course, E's parents get credit for 5/27-5/31. But every day this week food was provided for me by someone at the firm. This is particularly impressive because my firm isn't fast and loose with cash. In fairness, I should point out that it was a 4-day week and my first week back, so hitting every day was easier than it normally would be. In keeping with the firm's low-profile, I only had one partner-sponsored, gut-growing, multi-course lunch. Additionally, I had two catered lunches at firm events, and one of my old co-workers took me out to our favorite burrito joint on his own dime to welcome me back (I'll get him back next week, since I hope we'll be going at least once a week, just like last year).

The Summer Social Butterfly:

All but two or three summer weekends are already booked with travel, parties, camping, and fun. This week, in addition to starting work and getting settled, I went out for drinks with a coworker one night, out for the full treatment of cocktails and a 4 course dinner on a partner another, attended a barbeque, had a friend stay the night on his way back from the airport, and went to see Prince in concert. This weekend promises a barbeque, a housewarming party, and a trip to visit a friend who lives on the beach. Tonight? I'm staying in and watching movies with E. I need to recuperate.


I've still got to get through the books on my reading list to the left, particularly Volokh's. I also need to email my supervising professor about the schedule of work for this project. Most importantly, I need to do enough research to be able to discuss the problem cogently with the friend who needs my help by Sunday. Of course, this discussion is planned for sandwiches on a beach. Can't complain about that. Also, I volunteered to be a mock juror at a training trial for a firm in San Francisco. So tomorrow, on what would have been my first Saturday of relaxation in over two months, I'll be in a courtroom by 9 AM. Remind me again why I thought this would be a good idea.

So, it's official. It's that time of year again. There's sun, good food, friends, fun, and activities galore. I'm ecstatic and exhausted because it's too hard to say no to all the fun. So, I'm gloriously content that I managed to turn down an invitation to celebrate a friend's last final of the year in order to spend tonight on the couch with E.

June 3, 2004

Try This For Fun

1. Open a bizarrely titled email.
2. Watch in horror as windows multiply across your screen promising lewd acts, showing headless men with gigantic anatomy and naked big-haired and big-breasted women.
3. Smile through the glass window at the partner who walks by.
4. If the partner thinks the smile is an invitation to chat, alt-tab like crazy to hide the disgusting images on your desktop. (Note, do not try to close the windows since this will only cause additional windows to appear in their place.)
5. Blush, ask questions of the partner and try to sound intelligent.
6. Grin as they try to ease your obvious intimidation.

(**bonus points if the partner is of the opposite sex)

June 2, 2004


Oh, the shock! My time is money again. So is everyone else's around here. So much so that I won't be posting much from work since I have to watch the clock and bill accordingly. Right now, though, my brain needs a break from the 4 interesting but brain-draining projects I've got on my desk.

At school, it's clear that your time is worthless. Multiple emails (like 10) to remind you of the same thing? What does the school care if you have to read them or sort through them? Need something from the financial aid or career office? Better hope you can get there in the windows of 10-11:30 AM or 1-3:30 PM because if not... well, they're not exactly at your beckonned call beck and call.

Here, efficiency is a way of life. And I love it. I've got gadgets and websites and search tools and secretaries galore to make sure that every minute I'm here, I can spend it working full-steam on brain-draining legal work. (Or going to one of the many activities, gut-growing meals, or training sessions on my calendar). The point of efficient time management isn't just in my imagination, my welcome present was an engraved Franklin Covey organizer.

Some people may find this emphasis annoying, but for now, I'm thriving in this environment. There's support structures to make sure I get to do the best work I can do. I feel very important. I've been here before so I know what I'm doing, what's expected of me, and generally what questions to ask when I have no clue (which is many times, every day). No doubt, they go out of their way to make me feel this way during the romance stage. But, it's working. I really do enjoy the real world (or, the approximation of the real world of being a patent agent back at their old firm, but with access to the summer associate perks).