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Archived Posts for August 2008

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Aug 08
Aug 08

Half time at Stanford vs Oregon State

Having a bit of trouble understanding what’s going on in the game…

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Aug 08
Aug 08

A couple panoramas

Got sick of studying this afternoon so I dropped by the driving range today, hit a few balls then went for a bike ride around The Dish (view route map) and snapped a couple of panoramas. It’s really nice having a recreational track just down the road… but apparently you have to watch out for the mountain lions.

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Manual geotag

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Manual geotag

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Sage advice

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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

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Aug 08


Americans seem to think I’m British. The last one that thought that told me, “it’s because you enunciate your words. … Australians don’t. And Australians say ‘mate’ a lot too.” Right.

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Aug 08
Aug 08

What I learned in class today I

Generally speaking, the losing party in a civil case does not have to pay the legal costs of the winning party. Also generally speaking, US judges are predominantly elected, rather than appointed.

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Aug 08

Let the games begin

This uni is a ghost town after 6pm in the summer. Nonetheless, a group of us LLMs found a place to eat dinner and watch NBC’s rerun of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Spectacular stuff – China put on an incredible show. It was interesting and a pretty cool for me that we had people from several different countries and continents watching, although the patriotism during the parade of nations was muted at best. The US NBC commentors were constantly amusing – eg, “You may have heard of Malawi via Madonna!” (as if the only way for US audiences to be informed about African nation is to follow the offbeat exploits of their celebrities). Our dear leader, PM Rudd got some airtime as well, with the NBC guys dropping the factoid that Rudd is fluent in Mandarin. I also thought it interesting that the Australian team received a rousing reception.

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Aug 08

Stanford: The First Week

I had planned to meet with three other grad law students upon arrival at San Francisco Airport – Jesse, Daryl and Vincent (a Kiwi, a Singaporean and a German respectively). I arrived at about 1pm, but Daryl’s flight was delayed and Vincent’s flight had been cancelled. So Jesse, Daryl and I shared a shuttle heading for Stanford with an American family, the parents of which we discovered were both Stanford alumni and were overflowing with praise for the university. Eventually, we made it onto Stanford’s sprawling campus some hours later, entering by the much-postcarded Palm Drive.

Stanford’s campus is without doubt beautiful, but almost completely impractical. I was told that the campus was the second largest in the world. Although I have my doubts about the veracity of that claim, there is no doubt that the campus is huge. It would not be overstating things to say it is at least 6 times larger than UNSW’s Kensington campus. The academic core of the campus is made up of a variety of single storey and low-rise buildings, based on a hodgepodge of early 1900s architecture. Scattered around these are an array of student residential buildings, including my home precinct of Escondido Village which is entirely populated by a variety of graduate students (walking through the area is somewhat reminiscent of walking through a retirement village). There is no apparent logic to the arrangement of buildings and bewildered new visitors are often found wandering around the grounds with a map in hand. I know I still am.

Getting around campus on foot can be punishing. Even staying on campus, it takes 15 minutes to walk to the law school, and I am living relatively close to it. Back in Sydney, I was staying off campus and I could get up to the law school in 12. Consequently, many students use a bike to get around and bike racks are happily ubiquitous. But ultimately, Stanford and the surrounding suburbs (Palo Alto, Mountain View, etc) are made for cars. In fact, the whole of California is made for cars. One of the biggest problems with Stanford is that there are no supermarkets or national bank branches on campus! It’s currently summer holidays and there is no public transport to the local Wal-mart or Safeway. And even if you get there somehow, there’s the problem of carrying things back home – when you’re moving in, there’s a lot of stuff you need to buy.

Fortunately for me, my flatmate has a car and he graciously drove me (and three other law buddies) to Wal-mart for our first shopping run. The car was loaded to the brim and it was with a great deal of humor that we squeezed everything into the trunk, under the seats, and on top of laps. The car was virtually dragging on its mudguards as it chugged out of the carpark. My flatmate is a really nice guy. He’s a Californian doing a PhD in applied physics (researching something along the lines of manufacturing a laser capable of reading/writing discs with the potential to store 400 gigs of data).

Stanford does provide a free shuttle service called the Marguerite which has stops around campus and also in surrounding areas such as Palo Alto. Unfortunately, my experience with it has led me to believe that it is notoriously unreliable. The whole system is partially broken and I could think of many things that could make it better – such as marking shuttle stops clearer, marking shuttle stops with directions/arrows, keeping timetables posted at the stops up to date (especially as the buses operate on a different schedule during summer), overlaying the shuttle route maps on the main campus map and most of all, making sure that routes are contiguous. We were trying to get back from the Bank of America, only to find that the bus terminated mid-route and we had to switch buses. So we switched buses and were on our way again. Only to have that bus terminate. Then we had to wait 10 minutes for the next bus to come along. This did not happen to us only once.

The weather has been decent, although not what I expected. It’s the tail end of summer and daytime highs reach the low 20s. Mornings are cold and I need to wear a jumper in the evening. Still, it’s been sunny and from what I hear, it doesn’t rain.

Yvonne graciously took me out to dinner at the main Google campus and gave me a tour of it a few nights ago. The place is insane (in a mindbendingly good way)! It was everything I’d read about and more. The best way for me to describe it is that it has such a vibrant university atmosphere – so much so you don’t feel like it’s a workplace. Visitors commonly wonder how any work gets done. Arriving there at 6.30pm, I found people playing beach volleyball, people swimming in swimming pool “treadmills” (complete with lifeguards), dogs cavorting on the lawns and a continuing bustle of Googlers in totally casual attire. Controlled chaos is an apt descriptor of the work environment inside. The whole deal might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but to me it is a dream. And I mean, how many people can say, “Let me take you out to dinner at my workplace,” and actually make that sound like a really attractive proposition?

Today was the first orientation day for us new LLM and JSM students. A really diverse crowd of law students – we have people from Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Kenya, Japan, China, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand (and me from Australia). Lots of people from Japan and China actually (they comprise maybe 25% of the total intake). I was surprised that there wasn’t UK representation, but then I found out that our resident Thai went to high school there and studied at LSE. Everyone seems pretty nice and down-to-earth, which is terrific. Not too many cultural differences at this stage, apart from some differences in types of humour (a joke not understood and not explained can be counterproductive!) and Jesse having to readjust the pronunication of his name (with the Great Kiwi Vowel Shift, he normally says “Juss-ee” which is then interpreted as “J.C.”).

Class starts on Monday and part of the assigned reading is the famous Hawkins v. McGee (the “hairy hand” case), which is basically the American equivalent of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company (the “carbolic smoke ball” case), although the former is about contractual damages and the latter about offer and acceptance. Hawkins appears to be used as the first case that law students are exposed to in the US. However, as our lecturer has insisted on us calling her “Muffie” (her real name is Beth), I doubt my first day will be a Professor Kingsfield-ian experience as depicted in the Paper Chase:

“Mr Hart. Could you recite the facts of Hawkins versus McGee?”

Incidentally, there is a library here, the Green Library, which has 14000 DVDs for overnight hire (including blockbusters, indie flicks, foreign films, etc). I need to rent the Paper Chase since I haven’t actually since the whole movie…

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Aug 08

Holding post

Made it to Stanford… running around trying to get all the administrative stuff done. This campus is huuuge and there isn’t a decent supermarket anywhere near that is easily accessible with public transport (at least during the summer holidays, which it now is). Also, I visited and had dinner at the Googleplex tonight!! More on it all later…

Aug 08

Farewell Sydney

Another 24 hours and I should be in San Francisco. Still a bit sick but still excited. Sad to be leaving Sydney though.

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