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Aug 08

A week in the life…

Brief-ish rundown of what happened during the first week. Took a while to write, so I’m not expecting to write anymore posts like this!

Monday, Aug. 11
First day of class. All the LLMs and most of the SPILS students have enrolled in this class which seems designed to be a super-quick overview of the American legal system. The lecture theatre is the size of a large classroom – three rows of desks with the back rows elevated above the front rows. Seats about 40. The class is pretty diverse. This year’s Master’s intake has the following stats: 26 LLMs (12 in Science and Tech stream, 14 in the Corporate stream) and 13 SPILS.

There are 21 countries represented: China (6), Japan (5), Brazil (3), Germany (3), Israel (3), Colombia (2), Argentina (2), Singapore (2) and one each from Italy, France, Belgium, Thailand (although he’s a UK-educated lawyer), Finland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Spain, Taiwan, Egypt, Kenya and Uzbekistan. So, all but 6 of the class are civil law lawyers. The average age is probably about 29, with most people having a moderate amount of seniority in the firm from which they came (it probably averages about the 5 year PQE stage). One of my fellow LLMs was actually a partner at a large Chinese law firm. Unlike in the US and most Australian universities, a law degree in many countries is an undergraduate level degree, so those people can be practicing by the time they are 21 years old. However, there are also about a half-dozen PhDs as well.

The first class was mainly about U.S. law school pedagogy – and our lecturer played the infamous first scene from the Paper Chase to introduce us to the Socratic method. Comfortingly, the environment was fairly familiar to me. I went to UNSW Law School and the great thing about it is that they try to employ the Socratic method – all courses are taught in smallish classes of about 25-35 as opposed to lecture halls of hundreds of students. I think it’s a great way to learn and the input that came from everyone else really made the interaction and learning more interesting.

How many law students does it take to watch a DVD? At least a dozen.

We managed to borrow the Paper Chase DVD from the lecturer and a group of us gathered in the common lounge of one of the studio apartment complexes. Unfortunately, when we arrived there at 9pm, we discovered that someone had absconded with the DVD player. After way too much discussion (an hour of it actually), we finally resorted to watching it on a laptop. All eleven of us.

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That’s a lot of people huddled around a small laptop screen

Side note: it just occurred to me that the answer that Hart gives to Kingsfield’s question of, “What should the doctor pay the boy?” is wrong. Hart replies, “He should pay for the difference between what the boy had, a burned hand, and what the doctor gave him, a… burned and hairy hand?” The damages, being expectation damages, should be the difference between a perfect hand and a burned and hairy hand. But of course, we don’t know whether the movie was written to show Hart giving a correct or incorrect answer.

Tuesday, Aug. 12
Class today introduced us to the common law system of finding the law in cases. All familiar stuff to me, but there was lots of input from the civil law lawyers which was informative. They have cases too, but their law seems to reside first and foremost in civil codes, which are exhaustively written. Cases which interpret the codes are persuasive, but there isn’t the same sort of precedent system that common law systems have. Of course, statutes exist in the common law system as well, but the difference is that the statutes aren’t exhaustive. There’s a lot of law that’s just out there floating in the case books. Nonetheless, despite these differences, the general analytical approach to a legal problem is the same in principle regardless of whether the system is common or civil.

In the afternoon, we got a free lunch and had a presentation from the careers office detailing the options open to us foreign students in terms of finding a job after graduation. They offered each of us a personal resume review session, an opportunity which most people took up. US resumes are pretty compact one-page affairs, since firms normally spend about 30 seconds skimming one before moving on.

That night we had dinner at the Graduate Community Center (otherwise referred to as the GCC), which is the only bar on campus. I took the opportunity to watch the Olympics there, although NBC’s coverage is awful. If Americans weren’t involved, they didn’t screen it. The coverage was incredibly ethnocentric.

Wednesday, Aug. 13
Class today was about statutory interpretation. There was also discussion about how many judges in the US are elected rather than appointed. Virtually everyone in our class found this to be an anathema. We had Westlaw training in the afternoon.

Thursday, Aug. 14
We had two guest lecturers today. A Wilson Sonsini partner came to lecture us on civil procedure. Of course, there is no divided legal profession in the US – attorneys are attorneys, and any of them can technically appear in court. A law school professor lectured us on criminal procedure. LexisNexis came in and gave us a training session in the afternoon.

My $80 bike from Walmart broke. I guess you get what you pay for. Luckily, Walmart has a very liberal return policy, so I was able to return the bike and get a cash refund, no questions asked.

That night, the law school held a movie night and screened A Civil Action. Free pizza and beer.

Friday, Aug. 15
Probably the first day covering substantive law, we had a class on constitutional law. Very interesting stuff to compare and contrast with the legal systems around the world. I knew that England didn’t have a hard constitution, but I didn’t know (or maybe I forgot) that New Zealand didn’t have one too. Of course, it was quite embarrassing to admit that Australia didn’t have a Bill of Rights. The other students from the West were aghast.

“Free speech is not constitutionally protected?”
“No, it’s a negative right – it exists to the extent that the legislature does not take away from it.”
“But that’s like saying you have a negative right to a fair trial… until you don’t.”
“Uh… but we do have a right to political communication. Which is implied.”

Still, not as bad as New Zealand, which its Parliament could technically transform into a dictatorship overnight, if they had the numbers. :)

Incidentally, the American right to free speech in the First Amendment is incredibly, incredibly broad, to the extent that America probably has the laxest hate speech laws in the world.

It was also interesting comparing the US federal system to Australia’s. There’s a lot more interest in state independence in the US. States have wide ranging plenary power (as they do in Australia) but for matters of state law, a state’s Supreme Court is the final arbiter. The federal courts and US Supreme Court can generally only hear matters if they involve federal laws or a constitutional issue, or are “diversity of jurisdiction” case (a dispute involving laws of multiple states).

Also, most of the things in by the Constitution apply (expressly) only at the federal level (eg, the Bill of Rights). There’s a Fourteenth Amendment which contains a “Due Process Clause” requiring states not to deny due process. Various rights under the Constitution are then classified as necessary for due process by case law and thereby bind state governments.

In the afternoon, Bloomberg held a training session in the law library. The law library is pretty cool, as far as libraries go. At work, there was a big commotion when they decided to upgrade all of the firm’s chairs to Herman Mueller mesh chairs, which were touted to cost over $1000 each (but I’m sure there was a volume discount involved). In the law library, all of the chairs are those Herman Mueller ones. They also give free printing to all students (subject to a “fair use” policy of 10,000 pages per month).

The library also has bikes available for loan! I borrowed one while my Walmart one was out of commission.

Anyway, Bloomberg came in and gave us a training session. It seems like they are trying to get into the legal space, but their strength is still financial and corporate information. Apparently access to Bloomberg costs companies $20k per year per employee, but Bloomberg was using a “crack dealer” strategy (Bloomberg’s words, not mine) to get law students hooked. We all got a free year’s subscription to it and a nifty biometric card to go with it – to log on to Bloomberg you have to scan your finger on this card and hold it up to the computer monitor. The card reads a flashing light off the screen and then spits out a token which you use to log on. Very cool stuff, but Bloomberg’s UI has all the elegance of a beached whale. It’s probably most useful for M&A lawyers – all the merger agreements and loan documentation from public transactions are available for download.

That afternoon, the South Americans arranged a soccer game. All three Brazilians and all two Argentineans turned up. Everyone else was intimidated. But it was quite good fun despite my lack of fitness. The sporting facilities at Stanford are amazing.

Went out to watch the Woody Allen movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona in the evening. Our resident Spaniard, Maria, took a fair bit of bagging out after that. Movie was pretty good. Then we had drinks at a bar in downtown Palo Alto. The confused bouncer was confronted with a menagerie of foreign language driver’s licenses, but he let us through anyway. It was only $2 for a Coke there.

Saturday, Aug. 16
We hired a car from the car rental shop on campus. Did a lot of shopping today, including for a used car in Santa Clara. One of the used car salesmen there put the hard sell on us. We passed by a car that was yet to pass mandatory safety and smog inspections. We were informed that the car would not be able to be test driven by us until these inspections had occurred. When we expressed interest in the car, they started throwing around numbers.

“Sure, but we will need to test drive it first.”
“Look, legally we can’t permit that, but we assure you that it will pass the safety inspection.”
“Fine, then we’ll come back and test drive it then.”
“But it might be gone by then!”
“But you said it had to pass inspections first.”
“Yes but we might wholesale it in the meantime.”
“Well, if that happens it happens, we’re willing to take that risk.”
“Look we’re giving you a great price. Listen… why don’t you take it out for a test drive now?”

Notes: The nearest Walmart is in San Antonio. Cheap fruit and veg to be found at the Milk Pail nearby. Safeway is good for groceries (except fruit and veg), is open 24 hours, and will also deliver to your door (the first delivery is free, otherwise it costs about $10). Make sure you sign up for a free Safeway card at the checkout lane to get the discounts. Trader Joe’s has organic groceries.

Sunday, Aug. 17
Went to San Francisco and visited the Berkeley campus. The food options around Berkeley are heaps better than Stanford. But the weather is not so good. Boalt Hall (Berkeley’s law school) was under construction at the time, so it probably didn’t look as good as it should.

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The hilly approach to Lombard St, San Francisco

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UC Berkeley’s School of Law

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Panorama of the Bay

Monday, Aug. 18
During class there was a peninsula-wide power outage that lasted for several hours, so we got an early mark. We ate lunch at Manzanita, one of the all-you-can-eat dining halls around campus. If you use Cardinal dollars to pay (which is basically prepaid credit stored on your student card), you can get lunch for about $6.75, which is great value and there’s heaps of variety (although the ice cream was soft because the power was out!). Met our first 1L JD who was in the process of completing a PhD in Political Science at Oxford. Everyone here is interesting!

Bought a used bike at the campus bike store and also met with my program advisor to discuss my selection of courses over the next year.

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My new used bike

Gave Yvonne a short tour of the Stanford campus and then had dinner on Castro with her and two other Aussie Googlers, Juvita and Roger.

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The postcard shot – giving Von a campus tour

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University or country club?

More photos in Facebook, but I’ll leave you with this one:

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Google’s toilets – clearly imported from Japan

  6:12pm (GMT -7.00)  •  Life  •   •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)