Why We Outline

The word “outline” means something completely different when you are in law school. Before starting law school, “outlines” were the things I avoided in my writing classes because I thought I didn’t need them. In law school, outlines are what allow me to take information in the photo above and compress into the document below.

Think of outlines as a compression agent for all the information in your class. The outline condenses all the material from class into a single, easy to manage document. In most of my classes, mere construction of the outline was enough. Simply organizing the class information into “silos,” helped me to learn the information. Then, a quick read right before an exam and you’re good to go.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

On Wednesday night, a student expressed some concerns about the subjective nature of one our courses and how it could hurt his GPA. UNTDCOL does not rank students, but I know this particular student to be one of the top students in our class. The adjunct professor leading this particular session, but not the professor for the actual class, reminded us to keep grades in perspective. He used himself as an example and admitted to making three—that’s 3—C’s in law school. He still managed to land a good gig at a big time law firm.

It’s what the adjunct said next that really stuck with me.

He mentioned that in talking to people in the Dallas legal community, attorneys fell into two categories when it comes to UNTDCOL—either they would never hire anyone from our school (including the hiring manager at the adjunct’s firm) or they were completely supportive of our mission and want to ensure it succeeds, presumably by hiring qualified candidates from our institution.

This caused some alarm among my classmates. Many thought securing ABA accreditation would be enough to convince the local legal community of our legitimacy, but the fact this adjunct’s firm would not hire a UNTDCOL graduate seemed to rekindle that anxiety.

There is a lot to unpack here and I do not claim to be an expert on law school recruiting, but I have worked in this industry for the past eighteen years, so I think I can provide some insight and pull back the curtain just a little bit.

First, I accept that “big law” firms will not hire UNTDCOL students. I worked for a “big law” firm that was hesitant to hire attorneys from any Texas law school not located in Austin. “Big law” wants to know who you know. Put another way, what connections did you develop in law school that either (1) produced an alumni-based advocate for you from their partnership or (2) produced potential business leads.

The inaugural graduating class of UNTDCOL has yet to receive their bar scores, so the total number of law firms with partners from our school stands at 0. Likewise, since we just graduated our first class in June, there are not UNTDCOL-trained attorneys serving as GCs for any corporations.

Second, I get that some firms want to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach to our school. The bar results released in November will say a lot, but the results for the next three or four bar exams will say even more. If UNTDCOL can, as I suggested in an earlier post, graduate classes with a 70-75% bar passage rate, firms will begin to take note and recognize the legitimacy of our mission.

This, of course, does not excuse the outright dismissal of our school by some in the legal industry. No doubt the legal industry has a few pretentious practitioners who value the degree-granting institution over the person on the diploma. Take for example the crowd in our field who felt Harriet Miers was unqualified for the Supreme Court because of her SMU education.

Indeed, there are Dallas attorneys who dismiss us.  Like the attorney who asked me, “when are you going to take a real law school exam,” after I explained to him I was studying for midterms. Apparently, this attorney felt that a “real law school exam” could only be a one question essay administered at the end of a semester.

I decided to tune out the negativity and focus on what I can control and what matters.

We attend an ABA-accredited law school and, upon graduating, we are entitled to the same rights and privileges as graduates of every other ABA-accredited law school.

Just like a Harvard grad, we earn the privilege of practicing law by sitting for and passing the bar exam.

Just like a Stanford grad, we earn our client’s business by providing the best legal advocacy possible.

Just like a Texas grad, we do so ethically and responsibly.

Over time, our work will speak for itself.

Even then, there will be those who refuse to listen, but it’s nothing a few courtroom victories can’t help but fix.

Midterms

It’s hard to believe, but Midterm examinations are upon us. I know most law schools don’t administer Midterms, but UNTDCOL is among the minority that do. Most of our instructors weight the Midterm examinations in such a way that they usually account for roughly a third of our final grade, so it’s obviously important to be prepared.

I remember taking my first Midterm as a 1L last October. Contracts! It was unlike any exam I had ever taken. Even though I felt prepared going in, I found myself frustrated, especially with the multiple-choice questions, as most of them contained two or more “right’ answers. The trick, our professors told us, was determining the “most right” answer. I have encountered the need for this same type of precision in all of my law school classes so far and it’s the same type of precision a successful legal practice demands of an attorney.

Consider the following “real world” example I stumbled across recently.

Plaintiff A, domiciled in Texas, sues Defendant B in Texas state court. Defendant removes the case to Federal court for diversity. In their Notice of Removal, Defendant establishes its citizenship  through the following paragraph:

Accordingly, because Defendant B is a limited liability company whose citizenship is determined by the citizenship of its members, and because its sole member BBBA, a limited liability company owned by BBBB, a New Hampshire corporation with its principal place of business in Ames, Iowa, Defendant B is a citizen of New Hampshire and Iowa for diversity purposes and complete diversity exists between Defendant and Plaintiff.

A week later, the Judge enters an order finding that Defendant had established the citizenship of its shareholders, but not its members. Consequently, the Court found Defendant’s notice insufficient to establish the Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction, but allowed Defendant to refile. Defendant B changed this paragraph just slightly:

Accordingly, because Defendant B is a limited liability company whose citizenship is determined by the citizenship of its members, and because its sole member is BBBA, a limited liability company whose sole member is BBBC–and which is owned by BBBC–a New Hampshire corporation with its principal place of business in Ames, Iowa. Defendant B is a citizen of New Hampshire and Iowa for diversity purposes and complete diversity exists between Defendant and Plaintiff.

Both paragraphs reach the same conclusion–the “right” answer, so to speak–that diversity exists between the Defendant and Plaintiff, but only the second paragraph satisfies the statutory requirements of U.S.C. § 1332. Paragraph 2, as law professors like to say, is “more right.”

Remember this as your prepare for your Midterm exams, especially Civ. Pro.

The UNTD-COL Difference

This week, Hon. Royal Furgeson announced that he will retire from his position as Dean of the UNT-Dallas College of Law at the end of June 2018. The only dean our school has known in its short history, Dean Furgeson worked tirelessly to ensure its launch went as smoothly as possible, including navigating the rough-waters of the ABA accreditation process.

In June, the ABA granted UNTDCOL’s provisional accreditation, but Dean Furgeson continued his work. I have no doubt his work will continue well past his retirement and I would just like to say, “thank you.”

You see, Dean Furgerson reads this blog.

At least occasionally.

Ok, at least once.

How do I know?

He emailed me to thank me for a post I wrote right before I started my 1L year. Just weeks before class started, an advisory committee recommended that the ABA not grant our school accreditation. Dean Furgeson held a “town hall” meeting for all students where he explained the committee’s decision and laid out the school’s plan. Dean Furgeson’s courage and conviction convinced me that sticking with this school that believed in me was the right choice.

Dean Furgeson then thanked me for my words, because that is the type of Dean and person he is. He legitimately cares about his students and staff members and takes the time to get to know each and everyone of us. I feel confident in saying that not all law school deans function this way.

We will miss your leadership Dean Furgeson and while no one can replace you, we know that you will help to ensure that the next Dean of UNTDCOL will continue to carry on your work.

 

New Ways to Measure Offensive Efficiency

Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby last night and, in the process, established himself as the new face of baseball. At a lot of people locally compared Judge’s performance to that of Josh Hamilton in the 2008 Home Run Derby. It seems that everybody digs the long ball, except maybe me.

As a kid, the Home Run Derby was my favorite part of the All Star festivities (I probably still have a few VHS copies somewhere). I also enjoyed watching the reruns of the 1960’s television series on ESPN. My friends and I would often play our own improvised version of Home Run Derby in backyards across our neighborhood (often with tennis balls to pad our stats).

In short, I was obsessed with the long ball as a kid.

Indeed, 755 was probably the most meaningful number to 9-year old Josh and I dreamed of the day a player would again break the 50 home run barrier. My favorite player, Andre Dawson, hit 49 in 1987, along with a red-headed rooking in the Bay Area.  When Albert Belle hit 51 home runs for Cleveland in 1991, it was the first time the 50 home run plateau had been broken in my lifetime (George Foster hit 52 for the Reds in 1977, the summer before my birth) and it was one of the most magical moments of my sports lifetime. In 1998, I watched every night to see if Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa would end up with the record for most home runs in a single season, but after that, I lost interest in the long ball and, temporarily, in baseball.

Somewhere in my baseball dark period, I started watching old VHS tapes of games from my childhood, watching the players I grew up idolizing–Dawson, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson. Of the bunch, Dawson was the only one really regarded as a power hitter and he’s not even a member of the 500 home run club. Each of them had a unique plate approach and were efficient offensively in their own unique way.

After watching these old tapes, I decided to give baseball another chance. The steroid era had ended and baseball had entered the “dead ball” era, so the timing was a bit fortuitous, but overt the past few seasons, baseball has reverted back to the home run and today, at least some nights, the great game has been reduced to home runs and strikeouts.

Personally, I blame the advanced stats crowd who revile batting average and, instead, champion numbers such as OPS (on base + slugging %), launch angle, and exit velocity. I don’t care how hard or how high you hit it; I just want you to hit it “where they ain’t.”

The Rangers this season feature several batters hitting below .250, but who boast high OPS and can hit the ball a mile, so the advance stats wing of Rangers fandom, like some evil genius, tries to convince us these players add value to the roster.

I decided to develop my own system of measuring offensive efficiency to combat this baseball nonsense.

I began by breaking down the potential results of an at-bat and assigning them points. I admit, the home run is the best possible outcome of an at bat, so it should be graded as a premium.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are three really bad things that can happen during an at-bat: a double-play that fails to advance a runner, a foul out (worse than a fly out because it is not in play and presents only a very slim chance of advancing a runner), and strikeout. To me, the strikeout is the absolute worst result of an at-bat. This is where I really veer from the advance stats crow, who will try to sell you on the idea that strikeouts really aren’t that bad.

Ground outs and fly outs are bad, but they still present an opportunity to advance the runner or drive in runs. Reaching base, no matter how it’s done, is a positive.

If you drive in runs, that’s really good also.

So I developed a way to score each plate appearance.

I recognized there had to be some way to account for what happens if and when the ball is put in play and what happens once a player reaches base, so came up with the following:

At the end of the game, you add up the points to get a players score for the game. For example, on Friday night, against the Angels, Adrian Beltre had 4 plate appearances. In his first plate appearance, Beltre singled, which advanced Nomar Mazara to second. He would later score on a Rougie Odor single. Beltre would get three points for this plate appearance.

Beltre’s second plate appearance resulted in a 3-run home run. Beltre gets 9 points for the the 3 runs he drives in, plus 4 points for the home run, totaling 13 points for his second plate appearance.

Beltre then flies out in his next two at-bats, resulting in zero points, so Beltre finishes the game with 16 points. Nomar Mazara was the game’s high scorer with 18 points.

I’ve tracked the last month’s worth of Rangers game and established that 2.5 average per game or .5 per plate appearance is the Mendoza Line, so to speak:

Worst Week

Historically, this coming week is the worst calendar week of the year. 

Yes, we have the MLB All-Star Game–the only all-star game worth watching–but it’s sandwiched in between a week void of professional sporting events (no, the Home Run Derby doesn’t count).

On top of that, we have reached peak summer. We know that we have at least two more months of hot temperatures, high dew points, and all around miserable weather.

Indeed, we have descended into the depths of calendar hell–a period some refer to as the “dog days of summer.” It’s a time period even the ancient Greeks associated with catastrophe and general malaise

This year, I choose to take a more optimistic approach. Instead of focusing on this rather unpleasant valley in the time of season, I choose to view it as the point we begin the (slow) ascent out of misery.

In fifteen days–yes, 15–the Cowboys report for training camp in Oxnard. In twenty-three days, the Cowboys play their first preseason game. Hell, I’ve already purchased my copy of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and I’ve mapped out my football viewing for the fall.

It’s not all sports related though.

In forty-three days, school starts.

Then comes Labor Day and the ascent really accelerates. From their the weather changes, holidays become more frequent and meaningful, days become shorter, and life, generally, becomes more enjoyable.

It’s all about perspective, so bring on the dog days of summer. This year, I choose to view it as the start of something wonderful. 

Spoon Theory

I have been on vacation all week.

This summer that means a staycation at home to try and get things tidy and organized before the new school year starts. Things get started a month and a half from today and I can’t wait to start my second year of law school.

As I digitized some of our old files, I came across a pile of rejection letters–some from law schools and some from publishers and agents. I have eight rejection letters alone from SMU Dedman School of Law. I love reading them. Each one  gives me inspiration to keep on doing what I am doing.

One year of law school down and I managed to rank in the top 25% of my class (UNT-Dallas does not rank students, instead they provide a GPA based band), while working full-time and raising a family.

How did I do it?

Well, it wasn’t always easy.

First of all, I could not have done it without a supportive family. My wife is super human and shouldered a lot of the weight of parenting, especially during the week. Mondays through Thursdays she was pretty much a single parent. I read a lot of books and heard a lot of attorneys speak about law school and what to expect the first year. Many of them warned against starting a family while in law school and spoke of the difficulties of balancing family time and school time. That’s true to an extent, but I think if everyone in the family is all in on the law school mission, it doesn’t matter.

Second, and this is almost as important as point one, working in the legal industry helps–TREMENDOUSLY! I cannot emphasize this enough. If I were to give one piece of advice to a high school or college student considering law school (or adult considering law school), it would be to get a job in the legal industry.

A wise faculty member explained spoon theory to us during orientation. While spoon theory is most often used in helping people cope with disabilities, I think it’s a smart way to approach time management in law school. In short, we each have a finite number of spoons (think of it as bars of energy) to use over the course of each day and we must determine the most efficient way to use these spoons.

Students entering law school with limited or no previous experience in the legal field must use more spoons to learn the material presented. The more legal experience you have, the fewer spoons you have to use for law school activities and the more you can use for work, family, and free time.

Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I never spent a minute after class ended in my books or notes. Instead, I came home, ate dinner, and spent time with my wife. We do not have class on Friday nights, so on Fridays, I would not touch a school related book or look at my notes at all. Instead, as soon as I got off work, I would come home and spend time with my family. I would then spend most of Saturday and a couple of hours every Sunday morning to read and work on my notes. I still managed to watch every football game I wanted to watch and we stayed current on every TV show we watch together as a couple.

In all, I spent about 5 to 6 hours each week reading and taking notes. This was less than the amount of time I was actually in class each week and way less than what they advise a 1L student at the beginning of the year, but the main thing is to find what works for you and to stick with it.

Needles to say, my method won’t work for all students, but I think it shows how experience in the legal field can allow you to utilize fewer spoons than your peers and still have a successful law school career.

More than anything, the first  year of law school is learning to “think like a lawyer.” Working as a legal professional, you read case law, learn to spot issues, and how construct arguments on a daily basis, even you don’t recognize the acronyms IRAC or CRAC. Real world experience in the legal industry especially prepares you for Legal Writing and Legal Research.

 

 

 

 

1L

To my devoted readers, I offer my most sincere apology for failing to maintain this blog as regularly as I would have liked during my 1L year. When I began the year, I intended on chronicling my entire 1L journey, but that did not happen. I found that working forty plus hours a week and completing over twenty hours of law school took, while managing a family of four on the side, took up a little more time than I originally thought and I considered abandoning the blog not only until graduation, but until after the bar. An email I received a couple of weeks ago changed my mind.

The Dean of the UNT-Dallas College of Law–my law school–emailed me thanking me for my August post on UNTDCOL’s accreditation journey with the ABA. I noticed this particular post generates a ton of traffic, in spite of my lack of updates and I recognized their might be some genuine interest in what I have to say. 

So, as my 1L year nears its end, I aim to resurrect this blog from its cyber ashes. With finals fast approaching (next week is our final week of class), I don’t know how often I will post, but I have a lot of reflections from this first year I would love to share. Please check back frequently to see what I have to say and don’t be shy, share your feedback.

Why Does Everything Seem So Disorganized?

After one week, the toughest part about law school is figuring out what is due and when.

What’s that?

Your law school only gave a final and no other graded material?

Well, UNT-Dallas College of Law is different in a lot of ways, including that every class has multiple graded assignments, including quizzes, mid-terms, and finals.

I feel like every syllabus has been updated at least once since the official start of class on Monday, sometimes without the professor informing us of the changes.

The more I think about it, I think this might be intentional. In the “real world,” each court and judge have their own specific rules. Additionally, every case has some form of docket control order. An attorney is responsible for knowing all the rules for a specific judge and jurisdiction. They are also responsible adhering to orders entered that govern discovery, motion practice, etc.

I think our professors want to make sure we learn to read policies and procedures very carefully before sending us out to practice law. No hand holding here!