Monday, January 30, 2006

What do you do as a 1L when you bump into Cops?

Michael Paris, a student at Dalhousie in Halifax recently made me aware of his blog entry, "What do you do as a 1L when you bump into Cops?" As Paris put it, "I suppose the short answer is 'whatever they tell you.'" An interesting read.

My take on Paris' article is yes, you do whatever the police tell you to. The only thing distinguishing a 1L, 2L or 3L, or even an articling student, for that matter, from the rest of the population is...I hate to say it...pompous pride.

The truth is that most 1L's don't know any more about the law than the average peruser of any newspaper of worth, no matter how much they argue that they do. Yes, they may argue that they know certain facts, certain legal principles, certain ratios of certain cases, perhaps even certain legislation. But, they do not know "the law". I often feel, even as an articling student nearing his bar call that I still don't know the law. Every client that comes in my door has a unique set of problems, and it is very rare to be able to provide a smooth, complete answer. It invariably takes time, research, legal analysis, practical thought, and a complete reporting to fully meet a client's real needs.

Like yesterday, for example, someone asked me at a non-profit meeting I attended..."What is the necessary ratio for parents to children for a field trip in Alberta." You know what I said? "Just a moment, let me scroll through my mental law filing cabinet and find that little tidbit of legislation or by-law, along with any case-law surrounding the matter." Just kidding...I said that in my mind...with a lot of sarcasm. It really tends to bother me when the public assumes that once you have an LLB or JD, or even worse, when you are studying for an LLB or JD, that you readily know every area of the law. Can you imagine expecting a mechanic to give you the gas to air ratio for the motor of some obscure collector sports car from Italy, right there on the spot?

My advice for anyone who faces this irritation is to either humbly shrug their shoulders, or suggest that you would like to give that excellent question some further thought and study, because it interests you and you want to be sure to give them the right and proper answer. Usually that calms down the masses.

As far as the police go, they will always use their power to their personal advantage. Perhaps, as one comment on Paris' blog says, the cops are compensating for certain anatomy - hard to say.

Couple more words of advice: don't tell a cop that you are a law student when being interogated in any way. They will only laugh. And absolutely do not tell them that you are a lawyer when you are not. That can only lead to trouble.

Best just to do as they ask. Then, when they go on their way, you and your legal drinking buddies can make excellent, witty, legally-bent jokes about their penises, their knowledge of the law, or even better, about how you get to drink beer, even when you are "on duty."

Admissions: Law School Fees

When I started law school, I was prepared to pay about $5,000 per year for tuition and fees. I felt very lucky, as this number would be “grandfathered” for the next three years. In other words, I would not see an increase in the tuition that I paid from year to year, except for the usual university wide increases. However, the next incoming class would be charged a “differential fee” of about $2000, and the following class even more, so that tuition for them, including differential fees was $4000 more than I paid during the same year. It does not really seem fair, but the argument is made that this differential fee goes towards improving the faculty, and thus the opportunities and advantages for the law students. One or two law professors were hired during my second year, but other than that, I never did figure out what the differential fees were being used for. I was just happy that I did not have to pay so much!

The truth of the matter is that the cost of attending law school has skyrocketed in the past few years. Incoming students for 2004/2005 looked at anywhere between $3,000 to $16,000 for tuition and fees, with an average across the board of approximately $9,454. Add to that amount the cost of living, gym fees, etc. and you are looking at a very hefty total for a year of law school.

It is not unheard of for a law student to amass a debt of $60,000-80,000 or more. Although salaries for lawyers do go up over time, especially compared to some undergraduate or graduate programs, prospective law students should be aware of the high cost and the potential debt-load that they may have to carry. It is a significant investment, and not one that should be taken lightly.

Fortunately, law schools are trying to increase the number of bursaries available to their students. One explanation for the differential fee was that those who are able to pay carry more of their own costs, allowing the school to assist those who are less able to pay. The fact that provinces are increasing the amounts of loans available to law students, as well as the increased amount of remission available to graduating students feeds the differential frenzy.

Canadian Lawyer Magazine recently published an editorial about the huge rise in law school tuitions, and about how it effects the middle class the very most. I found this very intriguing. As the editor put it, she couldn't afford to survive on her own accord because she would have been too poor, and she wouldn't have qualified for student assistance because she was too rich. So, we are beginning to see a situation where the middle class are being pushed out. As with the ongoing conundrum for the poor and middle class to access justice, we are seeing the same group being thwarted from accessing law school.

U of T plans to increase its tuition to $22,000 in 2006/2007. Where will it end? Also, when will the firms begin to reflect the increases in tuition, and in cost of living? What really has me wondering is why the firms aren't talking to the law schools about this problem. An increase in tuition costs means that their incoming articling students and associates are experiencing much more stress because of huge debt loads. Surely a green associate would work much more effectively if they didn't have this extra burden. They already have to worry about the unreasonable billable hours...

I don't post this commentary to discourage you from applying to law schools. However, it is a reality that many applicants are facing. All I can really say about this subject is...start saving now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Parents in Law (i.e. You Have Kids)

I was a parent during law school. I had two children going in, and three coming out. Wow, was that ever a challenge. I knew of one man who had graduated a few years before myself that had 8 children during law school. Who knows, maybe now he has more.

Plenty of law students are married. Enough of them have children to make this a point of interest.

If you want to read an interesting and rather mind-boggling description of Motherhood in law school, check out Mother In Law: One mom's journey through life and law school.

I will give some more comments on this if you are interested. adam dot letourneau@gmail dot com.

Admissions: Law School Rankings

I just read the current issue of Canadian Lawyer Magazine, where they included the most recent Canadian Lawyer Magazine Canadian Law School Rankings.

1. Osgoode Halle Law School (York University)
2. University of Toronto
3. University of Victoria
4. University of Calgary
5. University of Windsor
6. McGill University
7. Dalhousie University
8. University of New Brunswick
9. University of Western Ontario
10. University of Alberta
11. Queen's University
12. University of Saskatchewan
13. University of Ottawa
14. University of Manitoba
15. University of British Columbia

Failed to make the grade: Universty of Quebec at Montreal, University of Sherbrooke, University of Laval, University of Moncton.

I indicated in a previous post that I will email you the Canadian Lawyer Law School Ranking results for the past 5 years. I have had some requests for this list. If you still want it, don't be shy - shoot me an email - adam dot letourneau@gmail dot com. I would put it up here, but the mag probably wouldn't be happy about it.

To shed some light on this particular ranking system, I notice that my Alma Mater, University of Alberta, is at #10 this year.
Two years ago, it was #11.
Three years ago, #3.
Four years ago, #2.

Take another example: This year's #1 school - Osgoode.
2004: #2.
2003: #12.
2002: #13 (last).
2001: #15 (last).

Isn't that amazing. A school can go from #2 to #10 in four short years. Another school can go from #15 (last) to #1 (first) in four short years.

As you can tell, I am a huge skeptic about these rankings, which are a product of student-only feedback. It is compiled from input from graduating or recently graduated students.

So, I think it is high time to get a proper ranking system out there, and I propose to do so. Please help me by providing some feedback into what information you would like to have included in the ranking system. I look forward to hearing your comments.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Articling: CPLED

So, I passed the CPLED bar admission requirements. What a great feeling. I made it through without failing one of the 23 assignments, a relatively rare thing. Now I just have to finish up my articles (May 31) and I will have met one of my life's major goals. How was your bar admissions experience? Let us know in the comments section or send me.a private email (see profile). Yeehaw!!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Admissions: Why Law School?

Every law student or lawyer to whom I have posed the question, “What made you decide on law school?” has provided a different answer. There are literally thousands of reasons for embarking on this new career. I have heard of people who wrote the LSAT on a dare, who have done it because they love lawyer movies and TV shows, or who found inspiration in a court case that they read about in the newspaper. I have heard people say that they felt that they had no choice – that nothing else looked good. I often hear people say (some sheepishly and some aggressively) that the money attracted them. Others have indicated that they like the idea of power, prestige and wearing a pinstripe suit on Bay Street. I have heard many times that the reason was that they wanted to help others. There is no right reason or wrong reason. However, there must be a compelling personal reason.

For me, law was a real career change. Before applying to law school, I was Vice President of Operations for an electronic publishing house that specialized in travel and outdoor activity guidebooks for your Personal Digital Assistant or PDA (i.e. Palm, Pocket PC). The idea was that you could bring along all of your cumbersome guidebooks in your pocket-sized PDA while backpacking or cycling or traveling. It was a fantastic job, always putting me on the cutting edge of Internet and computer technology. However, I was ready for new challenges, and the Internet and technology fields had already dropped from their incredible peak in popularity and economic skyrocketing. My body was suffering from being in front of a computer for hours at a time – I had repetitive strain in my wrists, back and legs. So after raising tons of money and making huge progress, our company looked like it was about to fizzle out. It was the perfect time to jump on an opportunity that I had been considering for some time. I read an article that suggested that the best time to embark on further education was during a downtime in the economy. I did not need much more incentive. I signed up for the LSAT exam, and found myself suffering along with a couple of hundred other students in a large auditorium. My desire to succeed was evidenced by my terror – a feeling that lasted until I was finally accepted into law school.

Here are some reasons for going to law school given by various collegues around the country:

"For me, going to law school was more accident than plan. As I was finishing my first degree, I was not sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted a change. Studying law seemed like it would be both an intellectual challenge and something with a direct practical application, so I decided to try it."

"I thought that no matter what I chose to do in the future, a law degree would provide a great foundation. One can do so many things with a legal background — e.g. teach, open up a business, work as in-house counsel for a company, etc."

"I was always interested in law. I really enjoyed writing and argumentation. I thought law would be a good degree to have regardless of what I ended up doing."

"Law school has always been a lifelong dream. I was inspired by the thought of advocating for others in addition to participating in large business transactions."

"I wanted to go to law school for a number of years before starting my post-secondary education…I chose to apply to law school mainly because I felt unsatisfied with my current education and couldn’t see myself working in the field that I was studying."

"I had always wanted to go to law school. It was probably in grade 9 that I decided I wanted to go to law school, because of my interest in social studies and politics. In fact, in grade nine I had to write a paper about my career goals and to describe some goals and steps to get there. So at that point, I researched and learned a lot about how to apply and what I needed to go to law school. After my first degree in Arts, I decided to work for a while in Edmonton (where I am from). After working for about eight months (and after applying to law schools in western Canada), I was offered an opportunity of a lifetime - to work on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (a dream job for a Poli Sci grad). I then moved to Ottawa and after a year and a bit of working there and an issue of job security, I decided to look back to my original goal of attending law school and so reapplied to some schools and considered some deferrals I had at other schools."

"I had completed a three-year contract job. I wanted to embark upon a career. Truthfully, I somewhat romanticized the profession of law and did not know nearly as much as I should have about what lawyers do before applying to law school."

What is or was your reason to go to law school? It's really worth thinking about.
From the book "So, You Want to be a Lawyer, Eh? "

More law movies

On December 14, I posted a list of various law movies. Here are some more movies that you may be interested in as a law or pre-law student:

The Devil's Advocate (1997). Based on the Alan Dershowitz novel of the same name, this movie investigates to what extent a young lawyer will go to gain fame and fortune.

A Few Good Men (1992). A military courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise and Demi Moore.

Presumed Innocent (1990) Harrison Ford is the lugubrious defendant in this well acted film based on a novel by Scott Turow.

The Rainmaker (1997). Based on a John Grisham novel, this film features the timeless story of the underdog attorney up against a powerful company.

Dead Man Walking (Gramercy Films, 1995).

JFK (Warner Home Video, 1997). Kevin Costner is DA Jim Garrison and Tommy Lee Jones is Clay Shaw in this controversial docudrama.

Vendetta (1999). Based on a true story about the trial of Sicilian immigrants accused of murdering the New Orleans police chief.

Let me know if there are other law-related films out there that would be useful or fun to see.

Monday, January 16, 2006

transmogriflaw and Anonymous Lawyer

I came across two very clever blawgs recently. The first, Anonymous Lawyer is by a recent Harvard graduate who is writing a book based upon his Anonymous Lawyer blog, it would seem. A cool idea. I wonder who his publisher is, because this I would imagine there would be a good market for this book, based on the number of lawyers and law students blogging these days. I plan to continue to read this blog to see what comes of it.

The other blawg I liked was transmogriflaw. I like it because it is funny. Not everyone is funny, but if you have the gift, I am always glad to see it being shared. I was especially amazed that transmogriflaw's law school does their exams on computers/laptops. Now that is interesting. I wonder if that is a help or a hindrance? I know that my wrist would have been very thankful for such a setup. However, how does her school account for those who can type faster than others? I bet a lot of her law school's students are wishing they had taken a typing class some time during law school!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Here's your law diploma -- and a bankruptcy expert

I was pleasantly surprised to find an article about Canadian law schools in The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, January 11, 2006. From what I could see, it was a well researched article exposing the horrendous rises in law school education, the latest rankings of Canadian law schools, and recent achievements by some very clever Canadian law students.

If you would like me to email you a copy of the Canadian Lawyer law school rankings for the past 3-4 years, shoot me an email (see profile). You will be very surprised at how various schools have jumped around this list. It is a skewed ranking because it only asks graduating or recently graduated law students what their thoughts are on their alma mater.

I am thinking about publishing my own law school rankings. If I was to do so, what would you want to know about law schools? What would really matter to you? Let me know in the comments section. I was thinking of doing it along the lines of the Maclean's University Rankings, which is, in my mind, extremely helpful to prospective university students.

For myself, I would want to know student/prof ratios, the variety of classes offered, the % of students who have jobs coming out of 3L, the $ available for entry bursaries and scholarships, the number of research $ obtained by the school, and much more. I would be really interested in hearing what you would want to know to help you make a more informed decision.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Game theory and law school

I just read through an interesting commentary on law school grade distributions by Ari David Kopolovic, the creator of The Distillery blawg. Fascinating reading Ari! Keep up the posts like this one. If you go read this blog, be sure to read the comments as well, as they shed some extra light on the matter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Daily Dose of Imagery

Ever get bored while taking notes in class? Have a laptop? Check out Daily Dose of Imagery. I got hooked on this blog site about a month ago. It is equally useful if you are in need of a way to pick up your day during articling.

If this site doesn't get you hooked on photography as a hobby, I don't know what will. If you have the time, scroll through his daily images until you get to the pumpkin photo. It's well worth your time. I love that photo! Also, look for the grumpy man on the tractor. Classic. Just excellent.

The blogger is Sam Javanrouh. Read a great article about him that I found recently in the National Post.

Blogrolling Law Eh?

Thanks to the following weblogs and websites that have recently added permanent links to this one.

The Scapegoat
The New Step
Vancouver Law Librarian Blog
Duty to Consult
The Distillery

I really appreciate it!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Admissions: The LSAT

I thought I would share a few thoughts today about the LSAT. Most of you who are applying for law school this year will have taken the LSAT, as law school application deadlines are on Nov 1, Jan 15, or Feb 1. However, U of New Brunswick is Mar 1 and U of Moncton is Apr 30, so the upcoming LSAT test on Feb 12, 2006, and the following information may apply to you. For those of you thinking of applying in 2006/2007, you might also find the following helpful.

According to informal surveys, most people write the LSAT more than once. Some say that rewriting will not significantly improve your score. In my case however, my second try resulted in a marked improvement. After my first poor showing, I then took a personal inventory of how I had prepared the first time and came up with a methodology that I was sure worked for me. I have heard this same strategy for others who have had to write the LSAT more than once. I found strategies that allowed me to more fully comprehend the games section of the LSAT, which brought my scores up considerably on the practice exams, which I dedicated myself to the second time around.

Many prospective law students feel more confident going into the LSAT having taken a preparatory course. Kaplan and The Princeton Review are probably the best known. In Canada, Oxford Seminars puts on courses throughout the country. Numerous private companies in each city or university in Canada put on courses as well. It is a good idea to visit the local law school to look at the bulletin boards where you will be sure to find advertisements for numerous LSAT prep courses. You can also find advertisements on other bulletin boards in undergraduate university buildings. It is helpful to ask around – ask classmates or friends that you know who have written the LSAT or taken a prep course to see what they think about the various prep courses offered in your area.

There are many LSAT prep courses, books and CD-ROMs that may help you gain an edge over other LSAT test writers. However, everybody will find the best success through gaining a strategy of his or her own. This comes through practice, pondering and practicing again. Learn from your mistakes. Come up with short cuts and strategies that work for you. Increase your mental endurance through more regular, prolonged study sessions and repeated mock LSAT test writing situations.

As I mentioned, I wrote the LSAT twice. This is common. It is an overwhelming experience the first time round, and many people are unprepared, especially in terms of the mental and physical strain and the endurance required. Alternatively, perhaps nerves got in the way. Do not be too embarrassed if you find that you need to write more than once. If you have decided that law is your dream, do not let this obstacle get in your way. Do not give up that easily. Under normal circumstances, you can take the LSAT up to 3 times in any two-year period. This applies even if you cancel your score or if it is not reported otherwise. You may hear from different authorities that LSAT scores do not differ greatly under normal circumstances from one test to another. You can find more detailed information on this at (LSAT Registration & Information – Canadian Law School). This document includes a great matrix of differences between multiple test attempts. Do not be thrown off by this information. It is a matrix of averages. Not everyone will fall within his or her averages. If you feel that you might do better if better prepared, both mentally and physically, it is definitely worth trying the LSAT more than once.

As with your GPA, your LSAT score should be a private matter. Some students like to boast about their LSAT score. However, the LSAT is not always indicative of your real potential in Law School. There are so many other factors that come into play, such as ability to handle stress, social ability, study habits, whether some or numerous areas of law catch your fancy, your relationships with other law students and law professors, and so on.

Sharing your LSAT score is not necessary. It does not help anybody. It can make people feel bad about themselves, or cause them to categorize you. Unless someone shares their score with you in a non-hostile, non-threatening manner and in an atmosphere that you are comfortable with, I would suggest that you tuck your score sheet in a locked file cabinet and forget about it.

If you found this post useful, you may be interested in the book I wrote on the Canadian Law School experience. It's also available at Chapters/Indigo. Thank you to those who have purchased the book. I hope that you have found it useful in your preparation for law school and, if applicable right now, in helping you to land a great legal job.

Political Apathy Begone

Law student Liam McHugh-Russell Check out Liam McHugh-Russell and what he's doing to fight political apathy amongst youth and/or university students. I applaud him for stepping outside of the often indifferent atmosphere of law school to make a statement. Whether he is successful in winning over anyone over the age of 25 remains to be seen, especially given his competition in U of T visiting professor Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal candidate in Liam's riding.