Classes started yesterday at Yale, as the law school’s fall semester kicked off in earnest.

Elsewhere, blue unicorns were seen running past leprechauns and dragons.

(Seriously, have you ever met anyone from Yale Law School? Are we sure that such people exist?)


Because of this.

8 hours and 200 pages of testimony. Several months of discovery.

Surely this is a massive corporate scandal or a huge merger agreement.

No? It’s about one individual?

Okay, then it must be a grave criminal matter indeed. Possibly an egregious political scandal the likes of which this country has never seen (at least since Bob Packwood was scouring the U.S. Senate for dates serving the state of Oregon).

Wrong again.

The case I linked to above is about a single clause in an individual contract about a kid’s game. And while this author loves football as much as the next person and while a friend of mine has me prepped to be a Michigan fan, I simply can’t believe that the University of Michigan, West Virginia University, and head coach Rich Rodriguez are able to fill up that kind of a legal docket over a sport involving unpaid athletes.

Hail to the (lawsuit) victors, I guess.

If there are two things that go together perfectly in this world, it is rap music and the law. And your author was an expert on both while spending his three year vacation at one of the world’s elite law schools. Okay, so he was an expert on rap music.

Anyhoo. In yet another attempt to win the hearts and the minds of America, Legal Ease is launching a new series: identifying that 10 best rap songs to ever deal with the subject of law.  (Oh, and we’re going out of order because going out of order is what’s hot in the streets right now.)

#3 on the list is “99 Problems” by Jay-Z.

The song that brought Rick Rubin out of semi retirement and caused this author’s wife to wonder how Beyonce felt about the lyrics is underrated … underrated for its examination of 4th Amendment search and seizure issues, that is!

I mean, just look at the (incorrect) analysis Shawn Carter packs into this screed against the boys in blue:

  • He doesn’t want to engage in a highway chase with the police and believes that with his “few dollars” he can fight the case; opting to “pull over to the side of the road” in a civil fashion.
  • When the cop demands license and registration and asks Jay-Z to “step out of the car,” S-Dot Carter exclaims that he most certainly will not comply with that request.
  • Here, he seems to be banking on a Constitutional protection that would perhaps dovetail from the “knock and announce” search and seizure lies laws that apply to one’s home. Alas, it doesn’t work with a car. In fact, the 1977 Supreme Court case of Pennsylvannia v. Mimms held that a police officer “as a matter of course” may order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit the vehicle. (Jay’s one argument here might be that the car was not in fact lawfully stopped since he was only going “fifty-five in a fifty-fo'”.)
  • The cop, clearly not understanding the ramifications of Penn v. Mimms (no relation to the artist who gave us “This is Why I’m Hot”), lets Jay-Z stay in the car but asks if he can “look round the car a little bit.”
  • Not so fast, says Jay-Z. His glove compartment is locked, as is his trunk (“In the back” – just to clarify that this is not a Volkswagon Bug) and his rights – as he perceives them – indicate that the cop is going to need a warrant.
  • Actually, a cop does not need a warrant to conduct a search, provided the search can meet one of two conditions: 1) there is no violation of a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, or 2) the search falls within one of several established exceptions to the warrant requirement. Those exceptions include: the automobile exception, the consent exception, the plain view exception … wait, why are we still listing them!
  • Clearly, Jay-Z does not understand that The Automobile Exception to the warrant requirement gives the racist cop (the cop is racist, right?) the authority to search his glove box. Or his trunk, whether in front or back. In fact, provided that the “law enforcement officer” has probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime and that there are “exigent circumstances” making it impractical to obtain a warrant, he can search every part of the vehicle, including the trunk and any “closed containers.”
  • Jay-Z admits here that he didn’t “pass the bar or nuthin” and that much is clear, given all the gross errors!
  • Once again though, the cop just lets Jay-Z push him around with his faulty understanding of the law and resorts to calling in the dogs. All’s well that ends well for the cop though, because he gets to snarl and wonder how smart Jay-Z will look “when the canines come.” Plus, he officially adds one problem to Shawn Carter’s 99.

In the end, it is Cop 1, Jay-Z 0 … and it all adds up to the #3 Legal Rap song of all time.

Hit me.

Note: This is a long one … but a good one!

I wanted to find an actual, saved IM conversation from one of my law school classes, but this recreation will have to do. You’ll get the idea.

LawStudent119: So, what does everyone want to do for lunch once we get out of this class?

YourAuthor: Hey guys, be on the ready, keep your head on a swivel, I just saw Professor X look my way. If I get called on I’m going to need some help.

SocraticWarrior: Didn’t do the reading?

YourAuthor: I was working on my screenplay.

JDsHaveMoreFun: We’ve got your back.

YourAuthor: Uh oh, here he comes.

YourAuthor: I knew it!

YourAuthor: Help.

SocraticWarrior: I think he’s looking for something about the Last Clear Chance Doctrine. It’s from yesterday’s hypo.

(Five minutes later)

YourAuthor: Nice. I owe you guys.

JDsHaveMoreFun: I’m up for going to the business school for lunch if people feel like walking.

YourAuthor: That sounds good. So, did anyone see Lost last night …

Unless you go out of your way to be a recluse and a total jerk, you will quickly make friends at your law school. This phenomenon provides obvious social benefits in addition to universally acknowledged academic support in the form of study groups. However, this network of friends can also perform one other very important task: it can make you look really good in class or, more importantly, save you in a mid-class emergency.

This is all possible because of the magic of the Internet.[1] Decades ago, and even a few years ago[2], the ability to instantly receive the thoughts of your friends and colleagues was an impossible dream, unless you were blessed with some form of ESP or could write and pass notes with astounding speed. In the “old days,” if you were summoned to engage in the Socratic dialogue, it was just you and the professor in a fight to the intellectual death. And regardless of your eventual fate, your friends were merely spectators; much like the ancient gladiators who stood watching Russell Crowe joust with a tiger.

Now the thoughts of others can be made available to you in the blink of an eye. Sometimes these thoughts can be comments on the class, personal opinions, or esoteric observations about the nature of mankind.[3] More commonly, they are jokes and pop culture references. And on occasion, they can be the exact answers the professor is looking for – answers formulated outside of the Socratic spotlight that are otherwise escaping you at the moment you need them most.

One method for exchanging these thoughts, jokes, and critical answers is through email. It is no secret that students check their emails incessantly during class, and, in fact, many professors will make jokes about it and acknowledge the practice.[4] Professors also know all about surfing the net and playing solitaire and other tried and true ways in which humans now use computers to keep themselves entertained at all times.[5] The great academic minds teaching at the head of the class don’t like any of this, certainly, but it is a necessary tradeoff in order to allow students access to word processing software that increases note-taking capabilities, as well as the vast legal resources available online.

The one corner of the Internet that seems to be well known to students but still a bit of a mystery to professors is Instant Messaging. Obviously, IM has been around for several years and has even become the primary means of communication for many people, but it doesn’t seem to be universally known to many adults born before 1975 or so.[6] In other words, it is an aspect of the Internet that is largely used by young people. And young people just so happen to represent the majority of the students streaming through the classroom doors of law schools everywhere.

With IM, those thoughts, jokes, and oh-so-important answers discussed above can be delivered to your computer screen in a flash. There is no refreshing of screens, no large windows to toggle, and very little effort required. Just sign on through a service like AOL or iChat, open a chat window, and stash it in the corner of your screen.[7] You can type comments and it looks just like you are plugging away at your notes. And when several of your friends are in the same class, you can start an entire chat room, which involves everyone and creates a pool of thoughts, jokes, and – most importantly – answers.

I was saved by “The Chat Room” dozens of times during my three years of law school. From times where the answer was barely eluding me to times when I honestly had no idea what we were even discussing in class, all that was required was to quickly type “help!” into my chat window (while telling the professor that I didn’t “quite understand” what he “meant by the question” in order to buy some time) and seconds later, information was flowing my way. Sometimes all it took was a single word or concept to get me on the right track, other times I had to engage a friend on the other side of that chat connection and draw out the answers I needed. But it worked, almost without fail, to the point where I stopped worrying about being called on altogether. The dreaded Socratic method was rendered impotent in the face of Instant Messaging software.

Not to say that I was always taking and never giving. There were plenty of class discussions and cases that I understood better than some of the people around me and in those instances, I was able to provide answers to my friends and to give them some of the words, phrases, and rulings they needed to survive a round of questioning.[8]

Of course, like anything in life, chat room reliance is not a perfect system. There are going to be times where your friends are paying just as little attention as you to the discussion or where the issue is tricky enough to elude everyone that happens to be online. There are also the rare occurrences where the wireless network might be down (a truly awful thing). And most of all, there is the looming possibility of a laughing outburst. This may sound ridiculous, but the biggest danger with relying on the chat room to get through class is the possibility that someone will type something hilarious and you will burst out laughing in the middle of a lecture. You get good at maintaining a “game face,” but even the best among us slip up. And when you surround yourself with people that you have chosen to hang out with (indicating a shared sense of humor) and that are very clever (due to their high intellectual quotients), you run the risk of people writing very funny things, very often. Just chalk it up to an occupational hazard and when it happens, try to imagine something terribly sad, like the passing of a family pet.[9]

Finally, if you do laugh in class, just pretend to have an allergic reaction and leave as quickly as possible. Then, when you get outside and regain your composure, just think how much better it is to be afraid of laughing than to be afraid of the Socratic method.

God bless technology.

[1] If I may, a toast to Al Gore before we move on.

[2] Yes, I realize the Internet was around “a few years ago,” but many classrooms were not yet equipped with network access, wireless or otherwise. Now, nearly every law school classroom in America has wireless access. If they don’t, they had better get on it, or someone might show them this footnote and make them feel pretty inadequate.

[3] If you believe Jack Handy, the nature of mankind can’t be understood. From Deep Thoughts: “What is mankind? To understand it, we need to break it down into two words: mank and ind. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery and that’s why so is mankind.”

[4] Although they are careful not to condone it.

[5] And, as we know from movies like iRobot and shows like Battlestar Galactica, this increasing dependence on computers and machines will one day lead to a world where the robots control and terrorize us. Hey, anything to make law school easier, right?

[6] IM belongs to Generations “Whatever-Comes-After-X”, much like Myspace, Facebook, YouTube, and other interactive social networking functions.

[7] Also be sure to turn the volume off. Trust me.

[8] Feeding a classmate the answer is actually pretty exciting. You are still engaging in the process of testing your legal reasoning, but you have the added benefit of someone else taking the risk of delivering the theory out loud. So it is kind of a no-lose situation. That is, unless you have a highly developed sense of guilt, in which case you might feel terrible if you lead a friend to the wrong conclusion. Even that isn’t all bad though, because your friend will be so glad to have something to say he won’t even care if it is wrong.

[9] But nothing too sad, because you don’t want to start sobbing in class. That is even worse than laughing.

When you hear your name echo throughout the lecture hall for the first time, your heart flips and skips a beat. For just a moment, you miss what the professor is saying; a portion of his question is drowned out by the hammering of your pulse. And just like that, your law school debut has arrived. You’ve heard the question – or at least part of it – and now the class awaits the answer.

If you have read a book or viewed a movie about the law school experience, you are by now aware of a handy little educational tool known as the Socratic method.[1] Depicted in such films as The Paper Chase and even (gulp) Legally Blonde, and made infamous in Scott Turow’s instructive (if decidedly melodramatic) memoir One L, the Socratic method is widely made out to be the worst aspect of a legal education; the greatest of trials to be endured.

This author is here to bring you peace and tranquility in the form of a five-part series on Surviving the Socratic Method. Seriously, it’s easy. Just read these posts.

The first technique is to take a deep breath and gain some needed perspective. Old people like to moan about the Socratic method and tell stories about how horrible it was back when they were sitting in old wooden chairs, scratching out notes with a number two pencil, and sweating in their powdered wigs.

But I’ve got some good news – you’re not old (probably). Today’s law student can take some solace in the simple passage of years.[2] More and more law schools are moving away from what is being increasingly viewed as an old-fashioned and archaic form of instruction in favor of more dynamic classroom models. Students 1, Boring Law Schools 0.

A word of caution: even the most student-friendly law schools put a high premium on the dialogue between teacher and pupil. In other words, even if a law school tells you they don’t use the Socratic method, they probably do … they just don’t call it that anymore.[3] There is a simple reason for this: they believe that it works. Law schools across the board hold paramount the belief that a student must develop certain critical thinking and communication skills during his three years of legal education.[4] Engaging students in a dialogue is a tried and true means to this end.

No matter what method your law school employs to get students chatting, you will have to talk and do it in front of your peers. Law school material will often be slippery and ambiguous at best, and ridiculously convoluted at worst. And for many, the dialogue will take place in a manner not unlike an interrogation.[5] It makes for a juicy topic in most “doom and gloom” law school cautionary tales and becomes a huge negative in the minds of students.

Like many negative elements of law school, this need not be the case. A variety of strategies exist that make students’ lives easier when it comes to in-class participation. Whether it is dodging and surviving the Socratic method or knowing how to rack up voluntary “participation points,” students simply need to know the tricks of the trade. The next few posts will provide those hints and put you at ease regarding the Socratic method and all of its permutations. It will dispel some myths about the Socratic method by distinguishing fact from fiction, it will offer up some sneaky tricks for getting out of jams and finding answers, and it will instruct you on the best ways to control your own fate when it comes to participating in the law school dialogue. Stay tuned, folks. Keep your head on a swivel.

[1] After a long period of deliberation, this author has decided that you deserve footnotes in this blog. Not only will it prepare you for law school and the thousands of footnotes you will be forced to read in cases (not to mention insert into your own legal writing), but it also allows for more asides, anecdotes, and pop culture references. All of which will educate and entertain you beyond your wildest dreams.

[2] If you ever wish you were born to a different generation – say you mourn the fact that you were not able to witness the Space Race with the Soviets or think you would have made a good Flapper – count the current version of law school as one of those things that make this era totally worth it.

[3] Don’t be afraid to challenge schools on this point when you are visiting or interviewing. It is important to find out exactly how they plan to foster classroom participation and also fun to catch them in blatant lies.

[4] The possible exceptions to this are the law schools that exist simply to get you through the bar exam.

[5] Think Tom Cruise grilling Jack Nicholson on the stand in A Few Good Men, not Jack Bauer manhandling a suspect on 24. Law professors can be scary, but not that scary.

Harvard Law Library

This collection of anecdotes and advice is meant to introduce something entirely new to the world … a little something I like to call a blog.

Okay, so it’s not the first blog to hit the Internets. It’s not even the millionth. But this author’s suspicion is that this blog will have some staying power. It’s going to turn a few heads.

Why? Because it’s the first blog to come along that tells you exactly how to skate, duck, dodge, and slack your way through law school. No posterity, no convoluted case briefing strategies, and no woe-is-me tales from the first day of school. Just proven advice for the J.D. candidate missing a little elbow grease. The hallowed halls of Harvard Law School? A playground. Yale? Dreamland. The University of Chicago? It’s a three-year vacation, people.

The author understands that you may doubt the validity of these claims, but rest assured – if you start tuning in regularly, you will see the blueprint unfold. How to get in. How to stay in. How to turn law school into a pleasure cruise. All while maintaining a good reputation, resume, and job prospects. It’s the classy way to slack off. This the blog law schools will wish never existed. (Actually, law schools are boring, so they probably wish all blogs never existed. But whatever.) Your ticket to true legal ease.

For realsies.