Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Of Decedents

Part I.

The thing that sucks about the Sean Bell trial is that either the prosecutor brought a case they shouldn't have, or they or the judge did a bad job. Either the cops shouldn't have been up on those charges at all, or justice was not served. The defense lawyers sounded pretty good at riling up the prosecution witnesses and getting them to contradict themselves. But the prosecutor should have been prepared for it. He should have known the weaknesses of his witnesses.

I was flat-out wrong about the possibility of rioting. The paramiitary police presence in this town had something to do with it, as did the fact that a couple of the police were black. Instead of being a case that symbolized out of control police driven by hatred of blacks, it was a story about out of control police who just screwed up royally.

Part II.

So I spent three hours, from 6:30-9:30, dealing with decedents, trustees, grantors, right of election, the rule against perpetuities, ademption, abatement, per stirpes distributions, essay questions, multiple choice questions, a monitored bathroom break.

Here's the way this excruciating process works. You spend a whole semester learning new concepts, statutes, and cases, attempting to assimilate large and complex doctrines in a day or two. So one thing piles on top of another, on top of another. If you seek out the professor, or read more deeply into a topic, you can alleviate what confuses you, but that puts you at risk of falling behind, since it's more all the time. All the while, you have to collect all this information with an eye to assimilating it all at the end of the semester. You make outlines, or flashcards, or charts, or you reread your notes. And as the semester goes on, and the number of things you failed to fully grasp accumulates, the final exam looms larger and larger. And, finally, after you are exhausted from a semester of reading cases and sitting through alternately challenging and brain-deadening classes, and writing papers, and editing footnotes for a journal, and writing briefs and doing oral arguments for moot court, it's time to study for exams. Just when you are burnt out enough to fall down and sleep all summer, time to study for finals. So you break out your notes and outlines, and study aids, and you tell yourself "this isn't going to be that bad," and at first you feel okay about it. But the more you study, the more you realize the gaping holes in your knowledge. You realize that this is a memorization contest that you can't win. And the pressure builds every day as the final gets closer. A bad grade, and your scholarship could be in danger, or you won't be able to apply for a clerkship, or you won't do well enough to graduate cum laude. One grade gains an outsized importance, and the pressure is ever-increasing, because you have no clue what the test is going to be about. So you go into the test that stands as your grade for the entire semester, and you wait and wait for it to start, and try to make small talk to pass the time, and then it starts. And your heart is pounding, and then there's a question you don't know. You're totally thrown. Can't remember it. Stuff you know, or think you know, and you just can't be sure of the answer. One after another of 120 multiple choice questions, and none of them are easy, because you have to look for tricks in all of them. You have to apply an exception to an exception to a rule, and hope you did it right and mark your little T or F in the bubble.

Then you read essay 1, and think, wow, I think I know how to do this, and you start through it, and then realize it's not quite what you thought. This is something you've never even contemplated before, and now you have to do a correct analysis of it applying a set of tools that you barely know how to use alone, let alone in harmony. It's like asking a person who's learned to play recorder, triangle and base drum to conduct a symphony. Subtlety? You'll be lucky if you nail all the obvious stuff. You're sure that there are issues layered into the problem that you can't see, but you don't really have time, because you only get 45 minutes per essay. So about 2 hours into this thing, you're heartrate is still through the roof, your mouth is dry, and you can barely force yourself to do the last essay. So you bang through it, feeling less worried about whether what you're writing is wrong anymore, because it's too late now, you just have to go with what you have. 15 minutes to go and you try to recheck your 15 or so multiple choice that confused you. You generally come out the same way. Fret and change one or two. You have no idea what just happened in the past three hours, and then it's over. They call time. And then someone asks you a question and you know you missed at least one big issue. And you start thinking about the test, and what you did wrong, and how much you were unsure about. You look around at a roomfull of ashen faces. People say things like, "the professor could have just beat the shit out of me, and saved me this agony." You go home thinking, "maybe I really blew it. What if I get a C? A C-? Is it even possible for me to get an A?"

And then, then, then, you have to shut out that experience within 12 hours or so, because you have another beating ahead in just a few days, and you can't let the demoralizing experience of one exam ruin those that follow it. You need confidence in these things. And after all the testing is done, after every poor law student has attempted to spew back an entire semester's learning in three or four three-hour sessions, the month-long grade watch starts. Some people will move to the top of the class. Some will get Fs. Some will get A+s. Some will lose their scholarship money. For many, it won't make a very big difference. But every day, multiple times a day, you'll be checking to see if any new grades are up. You might even start checking before finals are over.

By the time all grades are in, work for the next year has already started. Moot court, fellowship applications, clerkship applications.

And then it starts again.

I know you reading this will think: he's just got to relax. One grade isn't that important. And you are right, but if you were in this place, it would happen, to you, too. It happens to everyone here. It's intentionally stressful to the point that finals are traumatic experiences. I really do remember certain awful finals moments with absolute clarity.

The school looks like a prison, and around finals, it becomes one in the short term.

Part III
I swear, Hillary Clinton must have made a deal with the devil. It explains everything.

Part IV
And the Elliot Spitzer thing was only a month ago, but now all the press can talk about is miley cyrus doing a sexually suggestive picture for Vanity Fair. Apparently, people were angry that Vanity Fair photographed her as an underage sex object. Isn't that what she was before? The picture may well go too far, but how does it go any further than her image as it stood?

So it's okay to have her dressed like a stripper in a schoolgirl outfit why? Because she's actually young enough to be a schoolgirl? That's okay, but the Vanity Fair Shoot is not.

Underage girls are constantly being tarted as sex objects.

But the one picture that causes outrage is one in which she is undeniably naked beneath that sheet, as opposed to undeniably naked under scant clothing. It must be that putting her on the bed under the sheet acknowledged without artifice that she is a sex object, which shoved the Disney Channel parents' faces into the awful truth: Miley Cyrus is a sex symbol. Countless creepy men and adolescent boys drool over her, and countless young girls try to replicate her precocious sexual alure.

Vanity Fair didn't cause the problem. It took a picture of it.


Anonymous said...

I was feeling kind of bummed out yesterday for reasons somewhat similar to those you expressed, perhaps not at the same level of intensity. So I wandered around a Borders, read some interesting stuff in a new Billy the Kid biography and then in the CD section listened to some snatches of country music and an entire gospel number by The Blind Boys of Alabama. I felt a lot better.
Anyway, as long as you do your best, why worry? You are not in control of the universe, and that should be a relief.
As for the Sean Bell case, it was politically necessary to put those cops on trial. But the prosecutor probably did not want to win convictions because what occurred was essentially a tragic accident.
Also, the white cop's grieving apology to the family very likely cooled passions.--s29

La Misma said...

Dude, your exams sound awful. I get anxious just reading about them. I do not envy you this experience. But I do ask you to consider what it would be like if you hadn't made this move, and were still sitting in a cubicle looking at the small-print legal of a western phone company.

Your brain is overtaxed. Before, it was underused to the point of not being used at all. The resultant enervation and low self-esteem make it not worth it -- the artist's lot is cruel if you're an intellectual as well.

I just read about Chekhov who managed to become a doctor while also writing. Argh! How did people like him do it? Those types shake one's foundations.

beckett said...

Thank you both for your comments. I appreciated them both when I read them in April, and I appreciate them again now S29, I think you're right about the cop's apology; this case was a tragedy from all angles. And your perspective about doing your best is very true. I can't control anything but myself and even that is a dicey.

LaMisma, thanks for your sympathy and encourangement. I really miss the old lay days at the office sometimes. Proofreaders are incredibly bright people, and measure up extremely well against protolawyers.

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