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February 20, 2007

The Best-Kept Secret in Michigan: Curacao

By Adam Dubinsky

If any of you have had the pleasure of seeing Tim Harrington since winter break, you have probably had one question weighing on your mind: what happened? Did he fall into a toaster oven or something? That boy is tan. What gives? How does one return from winter break bronzed, rested, and unfazed by the prospect of another semester of law school? The answer is shocking and requires delving into the depths of scholastic opportunism.

In the past two years, if you’ve wanted to get anything done through official channels at this Law School, you’ve had to work with someone from MNOP ’07. Among student organizations, perhaps the RG alone has remained a bastion of independence from the hegemony of MNOP ’07. But, on the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to do something sneaky, something unofficial, something out of bounds, something out of the ordinary, you’ve had to get in touch with a summer starter. Summer starters are the kings and queens of self-help—they know the ins and outs of our administrative procedures and they know how to get around them. Year after year, knowing a summer starter is your key to getting out of waiting in line, paying for tickets, and feeling bored. When one summer starter class communicates with another summer starter class, sparks start flying. The moon wobbles in its orbit. Creatures of the night flee their dens in the light of the midday sun. When generations of summer starters unite, only mad dogs and Englishmen do not run for cover…and neither does MNOP ’07.
Tim Harrington and I, citizens of MNOP ’07, have long had our fingers on the pulses of the summer starting class. Within the four walls of Hutchins Hall, I have exclusively dated summer starters. Section ABCD realized early on that Tim Harrington would make for a great companion on its annual party bus. From the beginning, Tim and I have oft descended into the summer starter demimonde.
It was there that we discovered the crown jewel of summer starter secrets: Curaçao. Every year, several summer starters spend three weeks of winter break in Curaçao, a Caribbean island thirty-five miles north of Venezuela. They come back tan, refreshed, and sometimes still hung-over. But here’s the catch: They come back with four law school transfer credits. Yes, four (4).
In the old days, they needed the credits to graduate. The Law School offered a short ethics course at the end of the summer to catch them up with their credit requirements. Curaçao was originally a creative and superior solution. Now, however, the summer starters do not need the extra credits. Tim and I thought bronzed-in-January gods like Chris Hopfensperger, December ’06, were a dying breed. We admired their tans and their pictures from break, but put Curaçao out of our minds. Our MNOP ’07 responsibilities pulled us back down to earth, where we prepared to finish out our last semesters. But summer starters are not so easily cajoled into sleep. ABCD ’07 caught wind of the Curaçao program and set out to defy gravity.
Vivian Shen and Sarah Molenkamp first understood the potential of Curaçao. They realized that not needing the credits was no reason to set aside the opportunity to receive the credits for spending three weeks in the Caribbean. They began their research. The Curaçao Study Abroad Program, they discovered, is offered by the University of Baltimore Law School in conjunction with Hofstra University School of Law and the University of Netherlands Antilles. Each year, the program offers one required two-credit course and a choice between two electives, also two-credits. Because the semester is condensed, students take four hours of class a day, five days a week, leaving the remaining twenty hours of each weekday for exploring the island.
And what an island. Curaçao is the largest island in the Netherland Antilles, a group of Caribbean islands within the Dutch kingdom. Aruba, also within the Dutch kingdom, is right next door. If you ask most people who have been to both islands, they will tell you that Curaçao, which has yet to be accosted by massive throngs of tourists, is the better place to visit. Aruba has beaches and a few clubs, but so does Curaçao. And Curaçao has much, much more.
There is an ostrich farm where you can not only eat, but also ride an ostrich after you hold a baby emu in your arms. There is an aquarium where you can not only look at fish through glass, but also strap on some snorkeling gear, get in the water, and feed (and pet!) sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, giant groupers, sea lions, and dolphins. There is a floating market where Venezuelan boats align themselves along an entire bank of the capital city Willemstad, selling impossibly fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables. There are two days of Christmas and a thunderous New Year celebration that leaves the entire island smelling like one giant firecracker. And there are iguanas everywhere.
The iguanas were rather like puppies, scurrying up to our bungalow at meal-time to beg for food. Yes, I did just say bungalow. We rented four-person bungalows a mere two minutes by flip-flop from the beach. They were not only home to beautiful and timid nocturnal geckos (who stayed outside on the walls), but were also reasonably priced—renting the bungalows for three weeks set us back around $500 each. The program does lighten the wallet a bit, though. Our plane tickets were $800 and tuition ran about $2800. Of course, if you or your significant other have summered at a firm, that is about a week’s salary. If not, financial aid is available. Furthermore, tuition includes tours of the island, a cruise, and nigh-edible pastries between classes.
Six of us—Vivian, Sarah, Aref Wardak, Jordon Seidel, Tim, and I—made the trip to join about thirty law students from around the country in Curaçao. We all took International Family Law and most of us took International Refugee Law, though European Union Law was also offered. The classes were interesting, but not demanding—though we were taking finals when classes began at Michigan this semester, our winter break was still a break. And, not only in my case, so is this semester. Thanks to my four credits from Curaçao, I am taking only ten credits in my last law school semester and making up the difference playing video games. And Tim—well, you’ve seen how tan he is. Don’t let anybody tell you that he’s been going to the tanning salon since he’s been back. That’s just crazy talk.

Adam Dubinsky is a 3L who wants you to have fun and take it easy! E-mail him at adubinsky@umich.edu to find out more about Curaçao.

You Are Not Your GPA

Once again, we bring you the second of two issues that keep our readership faithful throughout the school year; grade curves for last semester start on page 14. As usual, we debated replacing them with an extra spread of bar night photos in the hope that no one would spend hours and days waxing and waning through the inevitable cycle of smugness and despair, but decided the inevitable e-mail backlash wasn’t worth the hassle.

So, enjoy. If the lurid temptation of raw statistical self-torture hasn’t already swallowed you whole and you’re still reading this editorial, we have full faith that your curiosity will devour you before the end of the day. We have long since given up any illusions that a critical mass of readers will ignore the grade curves and just keep living their lives. We do not actually wish to suppress the publication of the grade curves; any sliver of transparency that can be shed into the otherwise murky, zero-sum game of grades is helpful and necessary. It’s just that they are wont to draw much, much more attention than they deserve.

The current paradigm of law school instruction and grading is virtually feedback-free. Setting aside the extent to which this approach might be pedagogically unsound, we can’t help but notice that any shred of feedback on students’ performance that comes into view is greedily gobbled before it can hit the plate. Of course it is – we are all starved for some confirmation that what we do and the way we do it is good, right, correct, sufficient, etc. Seeing the grade curve for a class can help place your grade in context, which is valuable since a B+ exists not in moonless outer space but rather in the thick of the curve. Even those who know and understand the suggested grade distributions can benefit from occasionally seeing the curve take shape, especially during 1L year.

But context has limited utility. It is essentially impossible to get a grade changed at the Law School; changes are only granted if there is a quantitative error in the calculation of the grade. The overwhelming majority of transcripts may as well be carved in stone, because the grades will stand. This is a good thing; opening pro fessors to the puppy-eyed wiles of disappointed law students would not serve anyone’s best interest. So, does it matter if your grade was better than 16 people as opposed to 25? The grade will stay the same. Firms, judges, and fellowship committees will most likely view a transcript as a transcript, not a cog in a giant grade curve. And, while it is helpful to gain perspective on the nature and behavior of the grade curve, the utility gained by this perspective is quick to expire. No one is willing or able to give weight to a complaint of “but surely there aren’t TWENTY people in the class who can outperform me,” and few of our grades’ future uses can be accompanied by an explanatory spreadsheet.

Please, resist the urge to use these grade curves to rend apart the fibers of your confidence. We offer them as informational tools and nothing more. They will not help you be a better student, lose weight, win friends, or influence people. They will not whiten your teeth or airbrush your skin. They will only contextualize the grades you have already earned. We would say more, but we are late for the funeral of a poor, poor horse.

New Building Plan Changes Direction

By Ishai Mooreville

The University of Michigan Law School has inhabited the same building, Hutchins Hall, ever since it was completed in 1933. Since then, the student body has increased from around 500 to more than 1200, and the faculty has gone from 18 members to more than 70.

Given these facts, administrators have decided it is finally time to add a second academic building to the Law School’s campus. What the building might look like or where exactly it would be located are still undecided, but the need for more space has made future construction all but assured.

Under the supervision of Dean Evan Caminker, the Law School has recently hired the architectural firm of Hartman Cox to complete “pre-design” work for a new Law School building. The firm has previously done work for the law schools at Georgetown, Washington University in St. Louis, and Tulane. If all goes well, the firm could begin designing a new building within the next four to eight months.

“We’re very excited about collaborating with them, given their prior successful work in law schools and their experience working on and with a variety of traditional styles of architecture, including Collegiate Gothic,” said Caminker.

Caminker aims for the proposed building to provide new activity and study space for students, additional classrooms and seminar rooms, faculty offices, and some administrative space, all of which are in great demand.

One of the most important decisions to be made concerning the new building is where it will be located. Among the options are the southeast corner of the Law Quad (above the Law Library and opposite Dominick’s), in the areas south of the Reading Room, or even across Monroe Street in the parking lot of the new Public Policy School.

Should the building be built across Monroe Street, there has been talk of constructing a pedestrian bridge to connect it to Hutchins Hall so as to relieve students of the burden of walking outdoors during the winter months, but that is only speculation at this point.

This is not the first time the Law School has begun the process of constructing a new facility. Prior to Caminker’s appointment as dean in 2003, the Law School hired the renowned architect Renzo Piano, designer of the soon to open New York Times Building in Manhattan, to sketch plans for a new building. His design called for a new building on the last untouched corner of the Law Quad, above the Law School Library, along with extensive renovations of Hutchins Hall, and the construction of a new “piazza” entrance to the Reading Room, which was to be covered by a glass roof.

However, the total costs of implementing Piano’s plans were estimated to exceed $100 million and would have rendered portions of Hutchins Hall unusable for multiple years, causing great hardship to both students and faculty.

Caminker and the Law School have decided to scrap those plans and start anew, looking for a building plan that is both less expensive and less intrusive to the Law School community during construction.

Cost is likely to be one of the biggest barriers to new construction, with Ann Arbor reportedly having one of the most expensive average building costs in the country. The strength of local unions coupled with state regulations and a lack of competitors are all factors that contribute to this set of circumstances.

Hutchins Hall may also receive extensive renovations at some point, but there are currently no specific plans for such changes.

While the cost of the new building remains to be determined, the Law School began fundraising for its construction in May of 2004.

Though it is still early in the process, Caminker is looking forward to the prospect of expanding the Law School’s facilities.

“We’re very excited about our new ideas and our new architect, and we look forward to working intensively on the project with the goal of creating Law School space that is as functional on the inside as it is grand and inspiring on the outside.”

Ishai Mooreville is a 1L.

Introducing Miss Sandra D.

Dear Sandra D.,

Will Derek and Meredith get married?
-Grey’s Fan

Dear Grey’s Fan,
Is Meredith even going to be alive this week? If she lives to tell about it and Derek doesn’t propose soon, girlfriend needs to move on! Or at the least, she should read He’s Just Not That Into You. With Derek possibly leaving soon, I don’t see a proposal coming unless Meredith gets up and goes with him. Right now we already have two engagements, and we know that three’s a crowd. Don’t hold your breath on this one.

Dear Sandra D.,

Am I too old to wear leggings and a miniskirt?
-Confused About Fashion

Dear Confused About Fashion,
You are never too old to do anything. However, we all can, and sometimes do, make bad choices. It is up to you to decide if wearing leggings and a miniskirt is one of them. The pros are that you’ll be warmer than in just a skirt, and many people might mistake you for an undergrad which could open up a whole world of exciting new dating possibilities. The cons are that many people might mistake you for an undergrad and that could open you up to a whole new world of frightening dating possibilities.

Dear Sandra D.,

There’s this really cute professor that I’ve seen around the Law School. How do I get him to ask me out on a date?
-1L in Love

Dear 1L in Love,
You are not alone. 1Ls are always falling for professors. If their fully loaded brains aren’t enough, they top it with amazing fashion skills and piercing eyes. But what can we mere mortals offer them to bring them under our love’s spell? First, check to see if said professor is wearing a ring. (Be warned, some super-cute professors/deans are married but don’t wear rings.)
If there is a ring, stay away! There are nothing but dead ends and broken dreams down that road.
If there is no ring, still proceed with caution. Relationships with professors can only lead to drama with a capital D. Establish a working relationship with this professor, go out to coffee with him and maybe drinks every now and then. Use these next couple years to focus on school and developing a friendship. When you are ready to graduate, then go in for the kill.

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March Madness Hits Career Services

Submitted by the Office of Career Services

During the month of March, the Office of Career Services presents its “Market Series.” The Market Series features headhunters/legal search consultants who will speak about the market for legal jobs in the cities of New York, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Among the topics the speakers will address are trends in law firm hiring as well as hot and cold practice areas. Moreover, the speakers have agreed to meet individually with students as time permits.

The Market Series schedule and other OCS events in March and early April are as follows:

Market Series: Chicago
March 12, 2007, at 12:20pm in 250 Hutchins Hall

Frank Kimball ‘77, a renowned legal search consultant on the Chicago legal market and former hiring partner of an Am Law 100 firm, will provide information useful to students interested in interviewing with employers in Chicago during Early Interview Week and the Fall Interview Program. Mr. Kimball will also meet with individual students on March 12th, 13th, and 14th - students will sign up for individual counseling at the end of the March 12th presentation.

How to Succeed in your Summer Job
March 13, 2007, at 12:20pm in 218 Hutchins Hall

100% of those students who attended this program last year and who were eligible for an offer received one! Frank Kimball ‘77, a renowned legal search consultant in Chicago and former hiring partner of an Am Law 100 firm, will discuss how to navigate successfully through your summer job in order to optimize your chances of receiving an offer, especially for those working at a law firm. The talk will include information on how to manage your time, how to handle criticisms or negative evaluations, and how to avoid mistakes that students have made in the past.

Market Series: New York
March 13, 2007, at 6:00pm in 250 Hutchins Hall

Similar to the program on the Chicago legal market, Carol Kanarek ‘79, a renowned consultant on the New York legal market, will provide information useful to students interested in interviewing with employers in New York during Early Interview Week and the Fall Interview Program. Ms. Kanarek will also meet with individual students on March 14th and 15th - students will sign up for individual counseling at the end of the March 13th presentation.

Market Series: Palo Alto/San Francisco
March 20, 2007, at 6:00pm in 132 Hutchins Hall

Jon Escher, a renowned consultant on the Bay Area legal market, will provide information useful to students interested in interviewing with employers in the Bay Area market during Early Interview Week and the Fall Interview Program. Mr. Escher will also meet with individual students on March 21st - students will sign up for individual counseling at the end of the March 20th presentation.

Early Interview Week Orientation Meeting
March 22, 2007, at 12:20pm in 100 Hutchins Hall

This meeting will discuss the Early Interview Week Program, scheduled for August 27th - 30th, 2007, which will be held at the Holiday Inn on Plymouth Road. Come find out about the logistics of more than 600 employers who will be interviewing Michigan law students during a four day period.

Market Series: Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego
March 22, 2007, at 6:00pm in 132 Hutchins Hall

Rick Kolodny ‘81, a renowned consultant on the Southern California legal market, will provide information useful to students interested in interviewing with employers in Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego markets during Early Interview Week and the Fall Interview Program. Mr. Kolodny will also meet with individual students on March 23rd - students will sign up for individual counseling at the end of the March 22nd presentation.

Strategic Planning for your Career
March 23, 2007, at 12:20pm in 138 Hutchins Hall

Rick Kolodny ‘81, a renowned consultant on the Southern California legal market, will speak about the practical information law students should know about law firm and in- house career trajectories. His topics will include selecting a practice area and how that decision affects your future career options. Mr. Kolodny brings a unique perspective with his background as a former associate at a law firm, a former General Counsel for a company, and now a legal recruiter.

Market Series: Washington, D.C.
March 26, 2007, at 6:00pm in 132 Hutchins Hall

Dan Binstock, a renowned consultant on the D.C. legal market, will provide information useful to students interested in interviewing with employers in the Washington, D.C. market during Early Interview Week and the Fall Interview Program. Mr. Binstock will also meet with individual students on March 27th - students will sign up for individual counseling at the end of the March 26th presentation.

Market Series: Detroit
This event is still in the planning stages. We will email students about this talk once plans are finalized.

Law Firm Bidding Strategies and Interview Tips
April 4, 2007, at 12:20pm in 250 Hutchins Hall

David Greenwald ‘86, a partner at the law firm of Jenner & Block in Chicago, will offer useful information to students as they begin to think about Early Interview Week. He will discuss bidding strategies and how to interview effectively when you only have 20-30 minutes. For students interested in interviewing with law firms, this session is a must!

Journal Me This: Insider Advice and Perspectives

By Mitch Holzrichter

Law journals hold an important place in the life of any law school. They continue to be the most prominent media for publishing legal scholarship, and accordingly they represent something special to professors, judges, and practitioners.

Potential employers, whether for academia, clerkships, or firms, look to journal participation as a mark of accomplishment and distinction in an otherwise equally-qualified group of law students. According to the Office of Career Services, 64% of Michigan students who received U.S. Court of Appeals clerkships in 2005-2006 were members of the Michigan Law Review, and another 20% were members of one of the other five Michigan law journals. Only 16% had no journal membership. Journal membership remains a strong part of any student’s resume.

Time, Why You Punish Me?

First-year students about to enter the journal selection process, beware the time commitment. Journal membership often requires more time than any other student organization, though this commitment varies considerably among the journals. The three main components of journal membership as a second-year student (before you begin work on the editorial board) are: (1) orientation, (2) cite-checking and source-gathering, and (3) note-writing.

Many journals host an orientation program in the days before Early Interview Week (EIW), which all new members (or “associate editors”) are required to attend. Orientation programs introduce members to the publishing process, the requirements of that journal, and how to source-gather and cite-check.

The Michigan Law Review (MLR) hosts a four-day orientation program before EIW, and the Journal of Law Reform (JLR) requires a three-day program, with full days devoted to orientation, cite-checking, and source-gathering. The Journal of International Law (MJIL) and the Journal of Race & Law (R&L) similarly host multi-day orientations, but for partial days. The Journal of Gender & Law (G&L) hosts a one-day orientation program during the first weekend after classes begin. The Michigan Telecommunications & Technology Law Review (MTTLR) hosts several lunches after EIW to orient its members.

The core of journal membership is editing (source-gathering and cite-checking) the issues for that year’s volume. The more issues a journal publishes, the more time an associate editor should expect to spend source-gathering and cite-checking throughout the year.

MLR publishes eight issues per year, and each associate editor has one editing assignment per week. One current 2L associate editor estimated she spends 7 hours per week on those MLR assignments. JLR and MJIL each publish four issues per year. Kate Zell, 3L, the outgoing JLR Editor-in-Chief, estimated that associate editors spend 20 to 40 hours per semester source-gathering and cite-checking. G&L, R&L, and MTTLR each publish two issues per year. Emily LaCroix, 3L, the G&L Publication Manager, estimated that G&L members spend 15 hours per article, and typically work on two or three articles per semester. Jeetander Dulani, 3L, the R&L Editor-in-Chief, estimated that associate editors spend between 20 and 40 hours editing per semester. Tom Loos, 3L, the Managing Editor of MTTLR, said that MTTLR attempts to keep the time commitments of its associate editors to 20 hours per semester. Dulani also emphasized that the journals attempt to keep assignments evenly distributed among editors.

In addition to cite-checking, most journals require their members to write a “note,” which is a student article. A note is an opportunity for students to be published early in their legal careers, especially because most journals work with their members to all but guarantee publication of the note. “Having the chance to publish something as a law student was one of the main reasons I joined a journal,” said Daniel Silverthorn, 2L, who is now a MTTLR Articles Editor. But for some students, the note requirement may be an unwanted burden.

MLR requires its associate editors to complete a full draft of a note. JLR and G&L both require a partial note, which consists of a draft of a significant section of the note. R&L and MTTLR each require associate editors to research and propose a note topic and to perform a pre-emption check on that topic. Writing even a partial note can be very time-consuming, and many journals encourage their members to couple their note research with a seminar paper or other outside academic work.

Additionally, some journals have commitments that extend beyond a student’s 2L year. MLR requires all members to commit to two-years of membership. G&L has additional journal membership requirements which may be fulfilled in either 2L or 3L year. All journals invite 2Ls to return during 3L year as “contributing editors” if they do not join the editorial board.

In addition to these tasks, journal members are typically expected to contribute time and efforts toward symposia or other events hosted by the journals. Taken together, the time commitments can be significant.

There are 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, But to Leave a Journal…

A savvy (or sleazy, depending on your point of view) law student may ask: why not sign-up for a journal before EIW, and then quit once a summer job is secure?

Prematurely withdrawing from a journal leaves that journal under-staffed, and is unfair to other students who applied with a sincere desire to work on a journal but were not selected. Withdrawal also appears disingenuous to potential employers, who may have relied on journal membership in selecting which students to offers jobs.

When a member fails to fulfill his or her responsibilities, other students on that journal suffer. “If someone isn’t able to fulfill their requirements, their fellow classmates are the ones to pick up the slack,” said Dulani.

But the journal editors are quick to emphasize that most students take their journal membership seriously. Tara Plochocki, 3L, the MJIL Managing Editor, believes that “when students get on a journal through a competitive process, they’re excited to be there.” “The expectations are strikingly clear,” she added, emphasizing that members know and accept the commitments of journal membership before joining. LaCroix agreed, adding, “Being on a niche journal, you’re there to be committed to producing scholarship in that field.”

Most journals have adopted internal policies, which all members are required to sign, to thwart premature withdrawal and to encourage members to satisfactorily fulfill their commitments. These policies typically include several stages, and only when a member’s conduct significantly harms the journal would the journal take action to remove that member. Then, if a student withdraws voluntarily or is removed, the journal notifies the Office of Career Services.

The journal editors emphasized that a journal will only take action “when there is consistent failure to do your work.” Removing a member is only a last step after serious failures, and most journals try to use their disciplinary policies sparingly. “Flexibility is important to us, especially when there are personal circumstances involved,” Zell said. Loos added, “We do everything we can [to avoid the disciplinary process].”

Some journals believe that the Law School requires the journals to report the removal or withdrawal of a student to Career Services, the student’s potential employers, or even to the state Bar. “The Bar cares, and technically students are supposed to report [their removal],” said Dulani.

David Baum, Dean for Student Affairs, observed that whether a student should report a removal from a journal would depend on the particular bar and the questions it asks. He noted that “[m]any such questionnaires include a question about employment history and inquire about how each job came to an end. Whether participation on a journal qualifies as ‘employment’ is, I suppose, a matter of interpretation. Consulting with a lawyer might be advisable. Lawyers at Student Legal Services in the Michigan Union are available to all enrolled students at no charge beyond the cost of tuition.” Dean Baum adds that “if there is any question about whether or not to disclose termination from a journal on the application, an applicant should err on the side of disclosing it and honestly explaining the circumstances. The fact of such a termination will almost certainly not preclude someone from passing a character and fitness examination. However, if the bar examiners feel that an applicant has failed to disclose information that he or she should have, that would be viewed as a ‘candor problem,’ and that really can create a significant issue.”

While the Law School does not require a journal to report the removal or withdrawal of a member to the Office of Career Services, the student’s potential employers, or to the state Bar, Career Services Dean Susan Guindi acknowledged that many journals do inform the Office of Career Service when a student has been removed or has withdrawn from a journal. Most often, she said, it is a 3L who is removed or who quits, out of “senior-apathy.”

But she emphasized that the Office “won’t use [that information] to undermine a student’s employment.” She added that the Office of Career Services is there to help students, not hinder their career chances. Guindi also noted, “The Law School does not report such information to the Bar. The Journals are student-run organizations, and so the Law School neither monitors them nor reports on individual member’s behavior.”

If a student “misstates” the dates of journal involvement on his or her resume, OCS will reach out to the student and encourage him or her to correct their resume. Zell agreed with this approach, noting that students “shouldn’t take credit for what [they] didn’t do.” She added, “We ask associated editors [who have withdrawn or been removed from the journal] to remove their journal membership from their resumes or to put the actual dates of their membership,” thereby reflecting when a student quit or was removed.

The problem of removal or withdrawal is rare, and the journals do everything possible to avoid disciplinary problems. “We may comply with what the Law School says, but we’ll use as much discretion as possible,” said Loos.

“At the end of the day, community is what makes the journals successful,” said incoming JLR Editor-in-Chief Chad Lindner, 2L. Remember, if you are joining a journal, you are joining a small group of law students who are dependent upon your work, and with whom you’ll spend many hours in Sub-3 in a very unique experience.

Mitch Holzrichter is a 2L and an associate editor of the Journal of Law Reform.

Law School Is Not A Beauty Contest ... Or Is It?

No Other Warranties, Expressed or Implied:

By Nate Kurtis

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into when I applied to the University of Michigan Law School. Honestly, two years in, I’m still not 100% sure what I’m doing, but a few recent survey results have certainly helped make me feel quite good about my choice of law schools (the weather of recent weeks notwithstanding). I’m not talking about the US News & World Report rankings –though we do rather well there, too. No, it is two other, highly scientific, polls which have filled me with such pride.
The first is last semester’s Abovethelaw.com poll, which ranked our own Dean Evan Caminker as the ‘Hottest Male Law School Dean’ (See “Caminker ‘Hottest’ Dean in the Nation” in the October 24, 2006 issue of Res Gestae). The second, more recent result was from a survey by Harris Interactive for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) – published in the Wall Street Journal – which ranked the University of Michigan Law Library 94th on a list of best loved American architecture. This places our Law Library on a list that includes such treasures as the National Cathedral and the Lincoln Memorial, and ranks us above Radio City Music Hall, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Camden Yards, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Astrodome, to name a few.

There is some confusion as to just which building the AIA meant to honor, since the architect and photograph are of the Reading Room, but the survey listing is of the Law Library, a name that has been associated with the Smith Addition for over twenty years. Margaret Leary, director of the University of Michigan Law Library, was quick to point out that “it doesn’t matter, because both are worthy of being high on a list of favorite buildings. Legal Research was designed by York & Sawyer, who designed the entire Law Quad, as well as the Martha Cook building. They were considered at the time (1920s and early 1930s) to be a preeminent firm. They were strongly influenced, and pushed to even better design work, by William W. Cook, who paid for it all. The Smith Addition, designed by equally renowned ‘international style’ architect Gunnar Birkerts, has won awards from the AIA and the ALA, and is probably one of the very best underground buildings (buildings, not just libraries) in the world.” Leary added that “the fact that we ranked above buildings that I would have guessed would be better known (how many people come to Ann Arbor, compared to those much larger sites?) is quite amazing, and a tremendous tribute to the architects, and to the wisdom of the Law School over the years in investing in such fine buildings.”
Though unexpected, our ranking among the most beloved building in America should come as no surprise to those who’ve spent time on our Quad. “Everyone who has ever visited the University knows about this absolute gem of a building and space, both stunning for its appearance and inspirational for its statement about the majesty of the law,” beamed Dean Evan “Hotness” Caminker. He added, “[i]t’s wonderful that the WSJ survey will bring greater awareness of this gem to the entire country.”
Sarah Zearfoss, dean of Admissions, echoed Dean Caminker, noting that while “Michigan Law doesn’t generally put much stock in rankings -- except, of course, when Evan Caminker was named “hottest law school dean” via a rigorously scientific and methodologically sound survey -- we’re nonetheless pleased that the world has recognized what all of us and our 19,800 alumni already know: that our Law Library is an extraordinary edifice and its Reading Room is, by any measure, an exquisitely beautiful and inspiring setting for the study of law.”
Yet, while pleased, Dean Zearfoss does quibble with the fact that the Chrysler Building, Washington Monument, and the Golden Gate Bridge managed to squeak out higher positions. She believes the result is because “most of the 2000 survey respondents have never been to the Quad and are correspondingly clueless about the true beauty of this architectural gem in which we live and work. They’ve also completely ignored the element of function. Where, we might ask, would you rather study black letter law -- in the Reading Room, the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, or Grand Central Station? The latter two are ranked higher than us, by the way, which proves the point.”
Even with all this recent fame, Dean Zearfoss urges us not to let it all go to our heads: “It’s good to know that we’ve earned some bragging rights, but we urge you to be magnanimous with your peers at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, as we’re confident the students and faculty of the Golden Gate Bridge and Grand Central Station Schools of Law will be magnanimous to us.”

Nate Kurtis is a 2L and the Editor-in-Chief of Res Gestae. Even though his apartment didn’t make the rankings, he includes this link to the complete survey result for anyone whose house might have. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-poparch07-sort2.html.

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Washtenaw County Workers’ Center: A Law-and-Organizing Initiative

By Jennifer Hill

The Washtenaw County Workers’ Center (WCWC), which Michigan Law School students helped found just last year, is celebrating significant accomplishments this month. The WCWC is a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting low-wage workers, mostly immigrants, who are seeking to improve working conditions and develop a strong voice while on their jobs and in their communities. The workers who come to the Center are natives of Washtenaw County as well as immigrants from Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Mali, Algeria, and many other places. The Center is part of a movement that has seen the a small handful of workers’ centers increase to more than 150 across the country in the last 20 years.

This monh, the WCWC received its 501(c)(3) tax status, a milestone for a new nonprofit organization. In addition, the WCWC was awarded a research grant to study conditions in the county’s low-wage industries and, in particular, the relationship between immigrant workers and native-born workers. The WCWC also elected its first formal executive board, a 15-member panel that includes 2L Josh Ludmir.

Other Law School students participate as members of the Steering Committee, which prepares and carries out trainings, and on the Worker Rights Committee, which plans how to respond to problems workers are facing. 1L Mustafa Unlu, a volunteer, got involved “somewhat serendipitously” after attending a Labor Law Roundtable meeting early in the year. “I love the academic work, but that alone does not help us understand our role as forces for societal change,” he said. The workers’ center opened up a new range of activities to Mustafa and fellow law student volunteers. “Going out on house visits, talking with low wage earners who have all sorts of problems at work, and being a part of the process in which the community self-organizes and learns to assert its rights definitely builds a greater understanding of the community. This process has helped me appreciate the value of the rights and liberties which we have been covering on a theoretical level in class.”

Minsu Longiaru, a staff attorney at the Michigan Poverty Law Outreach Program participated in the workers’ center movement while a student at Harvard and later as a Skadden Fellow with the Greater Bosto n Legal Services. “Workers centers combine services, advocacy, and organizing,” she explained. A worker’s first encounter with the WCWC likely takes place at the monthly Worker Rights Committee meeting, where individual counseling is combined with rights education and planning. “When a worker comes in with a problem, he or she makes a plan to address the problem that may involve gathering co-workers together who also are affected, sending a demand letter to the employer, meeting with the employer to try to negotiate a solution, or, if that fails, organizing pickets or other forms of community pressure.”

Right now, WCWC volunteers are working on cases that involve unpaid wages, discrimination, medical leave, unpaid vacation, health and safety, and other issues. The legal approach is not the traditional one. Jennifer Gordon, founder of The Workplace Project and a Fordham University law professor, described two principles underlying the law and organizing model in an article entitled “We Make the Road by Walking” :

[L]egal assistance should go to workers who want to be active participants…, rather than to those who expect to be the passive recipients of a service. Second, once a worker is committed to fighting for better working conditions, problems must be addressed through a team approach [involving] as many workers from the affected workplace as possible, an organizer, and when necessary, a lawyer or supervised legal advocate.

Over the last several years a number of workers’ centers around the country have achieved significant gains for low-wage workers. For example, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) recently won a victory when two high-end Manhattan restaurants paid $164,000 to 23 workers to settle lawsuits alleging discrimination and failure to pay overtime. ROC-NY organized protests and coordinated legal assistance that included help from students in the CUNY Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, the Urban Justice Center, and the law firm of Koob and Magoolaghan. As part of the settlement, the restaurants promised to pay legal wages in the future, guaranteed they would not retaliate against the plaintiffs, and, in return, sought a promise from the center not to hold rallies at the restaurants for five years.

The WCWC is reaching out to ROC-NY, the CUNY Immigrant Rights Clinic, and others to discuss how to move forward with worker rights advocacy here in Washtenaw County. Law students can get involved by attending one of the monthly Worker Rights Committee meetings in Ypsilanti or a Labor Law Roundtable meeting at the Law School. Mustafa, among others, highly recommends the activism. “Volunteering for the workers center rates among the most memorable and meaningful experiences I have had at the Law School.”

For more information, contact Mustafa Unlu at munlu@umich.edu or Josh Ludmir at jludmir@umich.edu.

You Know Everything About Same-Sex Marriage

Submitted by Robert Latham

Last week was Freedom to Marry Week. No, Outlaws didn’t make this up: it has a website (freedomtomarry.org), a logo (that looks like a robot face with a baseball home plate and cartoon heart for eyes), and a ten-year history of falling around Valentine’s Day for optimal poignancy. That’s right: ten years. Ten years of family carnivals and informative lectures and pedantic (often bordering on ranty) op-ed pieces.

This is one of those op-ed pieces. Even though Outlaws asked me to write it, I’m doing so from my own perspective and with my own thoughts. Why? Because I’m under a deadline. And because I don’t know that everyone in Outlaws could reach a consensus on this topic. And because you already know everything there is to know about same-sex marriage.

That’s right, you already know everything there is to know. There are no surprises anymore, so each side of the battle is really just waiting for the other to lose steam, change its mind, or age out and die.

In case you think I’m trying to avoid engaging the arguments, here are the major talking points from both camps:

Arguments against same-sex marriage:

(1) Marriage is an institution defined historically as the union between one man and one woman.
(2) Children are optimally cared for in homes with a mother and a father.
(3) The purpose of marriage is procreation and societal stability.
(4) Same-sex marriage is an untested and dangerous social experiment.
(5) Same-sex marriage is part of a slippery slope to universal depravity.
(6) Gay relationships themselves are immoral.

Arguments against the arguments against same-sex marriage:

(1) You don’t have a bit of evidence for any of that, and
(2) Please, quit being a jerk.

See? No surprises.

Now, I want to confess that I’m very gay, and the rest of this article will be biased appropriately. I also want to confess that I have no idea what marriage is. That’s ok, though, because if we had enough time and wine, I’m pretty sure you’ll discover that you don’t either. This should not prove any impediment to the conversation.

You might notice that the arguments against same-sex marriage seem to be more numerous than the arguments for it. There are two reasons for that: first, most of them aren’t actually arguments against; and second, arguments don’t get you very far in this sort of thing anyway.

Let’s start with that first part. Even though I put six things on the list, most of them aren’t arguments against same-sex marriage at all. Argument (1), for example, isn’t against same-sex marriage--it’s for the strengthening of hetero-sex marriages. Same with (2). Argument (3) is similar, except that given the now-public knowledge that men and women don’t have to be married or even in the same room to conceive a baby, it actually argues for extending marriage to anybody willing to raise a kid in tandem.

Two of them are just smoke screen distractions. Argument (4) has always sounded silly to me, because everything new is potentially dangerous, and same-sex marriage isn’t untested anymore; and Argument (5) is popular among juridical thinkers, but is equally a non-starter in the real world. Really it is: why can 5th cousins but not 4th cousins be married? Because we drew the line there. Why will allowing gays to marry not automatically allow people to marry patio furniture? Because we’ll draw the line there as well. Those who find themselves in a committed relationship with a wicker bistro set will have their own fight to fight. I will happily stand behind their right to love whatever they love. They, however, will be responsible for figuring out the tax implications of their blessed union.

That brings us to Argument (6): Gay relationships are themselves immoral. What can you even say to that? Nothing. That’s when you stop the debate and see if the person wants to grab dinner one night instead. Then you move in down the street a few years later, go shopping with them, watch their dog while they’re out of town, invite them over for Super Bowl parties, call them to gossip, swap turns carpooling the kids to school, and just live. It might take five or ten years, but they’ll figure it out, without you ever saying a word.

The nice thing about the “against same-sex marriage” list of arguments is that it isn’t getting any longer. They’ve had thousands of years to tell us why we’re broken, and about forty years to figure out why we can’t get married (the first American cases were in 1971, according to HRC). Based on what I’ve been hearing for the past 27 years of my own life, it sounds like they’ve run out of new ideas.

On the other hand, every committed same-sex couple is another argument for same-sex marriage. Every kid who comes out is another reason to quit being a jerk and let him dream of white picket fences and a family and love and all the stuff that other kids think they’ll have before they learn how the world really works.

I’m highly optimistic that over the next ten years we won’t need arguments anymore. There is no need to debate what you can plainly see: that it’s love that makes a family, and the energy and breath we waste fighting over who should be a family could be much better spent supporting and encouraging the families that continue to exist whether we legally recognize them or not. It doesn’t require even a minute of legal research, or a page of historical reference. It needs neither clever twists of equality doctrine nor the due process guarantee. To see that same-sex marriage should not be denied any longer takes only a single ounce of kindness.

Fall 2006 Grade Curves


PDF for February 20, 2007 Issue

February 06, 2007

Grades: Some Perspectives and Advice

Submitted by
Dean David Baum

Based on more than a decade of counseling law students, I can tell you that nothing causes more anxiety around this place than grades. I’ve also learned that there are many myths and misconceptions about grades. My goals in sharing the thoughts below with you are to dispel some of these myths, provide you with some useful advice; and, by putting grades into perspective, alleviate some of that anxiety.

Myth #1: Receiving a poor grade means that I didn’t learn what I was supposed to learn.

Many students disappointed with a grade will come into my office and say something like this: “I worked so hard in that class. I did all of the reading. I went to class every day. I wrote a great outline. During the study period, I studied for four days solid, and I went over everything. I really thought I knew the material, but I got a poor grade, so I guess I didn’t.” The fact is that most students here go into the exam room having thoroughly prepared and possessing a genuine understanding –and even a mastery– of the material covered in the course. Receiving a poor grade doesn’t negate that. In most traditional classes at this law school, the grade assigned is almost entirely a reflection of a student’s performance on an examination, compared against the performances of the other students in the class. (It is true that many professors make adjustments to grades based on class participation and attendance, but these usually are only very slight.) So a poor grade doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn the material; it means simply that the professor felt that your particular examination answer wasn’t as strong as many of your classmates’ answers. There are some things you can do about that, which I discuss below. But realize that if you leave the Law School having truly learned the material in all your courses, then, GPA notwithstanding, you will have received the world-class legal education for which you came.

Myth #2: Receiving a poor grade indicates that I am going to be a bad lawyer.

Writing answers to law school exam questions is a very specialized exercise which is one way of testing a particular skill: legal analysis. To be sure, having the intellect and ability to conduct legal analysis is a fundamental part of lawyering. And certainly a law school exam is a relevant way to test for that skill. But even a student at Michigan Law School who receives mediocre grades develops adept legal analysis skills that put her at least even with –and most often ahead of– most other practicing lawyers. And I can assure you that when you go out into practice, you are never going to be asked to sit down in a room with a fact scenario and write an essay within three to four hours without consulting with anyone else and having limited or no access to relevant materials. What’s more, high quality lawyering requires a wide range of other skills and talents, such as oral and written communication, good judgment, leadership, active listening, general problem solving, the ability to sympathize, interpersonal skills, negotiation and facilitation skills, organizational skills, and so on. All of you came with many of these talents and skills, and you have many opportunities here to develop them further. More on that below.

Myth #3: Receiving a poor grade (or even a few) means that I will not get a job.

Anyone who tells you that your grades have absolutely no impact on your job search during law school is not telling you the truth. The fact is that grades do matter to employers. But keep in mind that they matter to different employers to different degrees. I have heard that some employers will not hire students who fail to achieve a certain GPA. But countless other employers evidently do not have such cut offs, because even students who finish in the bottom half of the class at UMLS get jobs. Indeed, the Career Services Office regularly reports that the employment rate for our graduates is in the high nineties. So, the best advice I can give you is to be open-minded about your job search and work hard to find the best opportunities for you. Also, take full advantage of the excellent resources UMLS offers to help you do this, most significantly the top-notch staff in the Career Services and Public Service Offices. This advice applies regardless of what your GPA is. The more time and effort you spend looking for the right job, the more likely it is that the job you take is going to be one that is interesting, challenging and a good fit for you. You will find out that as you progress in your legal career, your law school grades become less and less important, and your professional experience and accomplishments matter more and more. So, yes, grades do matter in your job search, but they matter a heck of a lot less than you think they do.

How do I know that all of this is true?

In large part I know these things are true because I have known hundreds of students who have earned less than stellar grades and who have gone on to become amazingly successful lawyers. But I also speak from personal experience. I was a very hard-working and serious law student. In every course I took, I completed virtually every reading assignment. I briefed practically every case. I almost never missed class. I put together comprehensive outlines. I was in study groups where I both learned and contributed a lot. I studied hard for exams. I went into each and every exam that I took feeling as though I knew the material cold. And I did know the material cold. My problem was that I was not a terrific law school exam taker. Consequently, I got some C-range grades in law school. And I had a whole bunch of B-range grades, and not so many A-range grades. This was tough on my ego, having come here directly from a rigorous and competitive undergraduate program with a very high GPA. But things worked out. I got summer associate positions with law firms during each of my two summers, and I got an offer from a large national firm in Washington, D.C. to return as an associate. I forwent that offer to pursue a clerkship in D.C. with a Superior Court judge (essentially, a state trial court judge). It wasn’t a prestigious clerkship, but it was absolutely phenomenal. I learned a tremendous amount about the practice of law and developed a special relationship with my judge who to this day remains both an inspirational mentor and dear friend. During my clerkship, I received an offer to work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. I accepted that offer and practiced there for five years before returning to the Law School. All humility aside (and thank you for indulging me here), I was a very good lawyer. I was as able and effective as all of the very talented people alongside whom I worked. I prosecuted cases successfully at trial, post-trial, and on appeal in local and Federal courts. I won awards and commendations. And, most importantly, I loved my work, which was wonderfully captivating and challenging, as well as completely fulfilling. So, I am one example among countless others of someone who made it in the profession in spite of having received mediocre law school grades.

So, if you get a poor grade(s), what should you do?

There are a number of things you can do:

• Find out how you could have written a better exam answer.

Read any model or “A” answers published by the professor. If your professor conducts a session to go over the exam, attend it. Review your exam answer with your professor. With respect to this last suggestion, understand that you should not approach the professor with an eye toward having the grade changed. The Law School’s Academic Regulations preclude a professor from changing a grade unless he discovers that he made some sort of objective, quantifiable error (such as adding points wrong or failing to read part of your answer). Your focus should be on learning what you may not have understood substantively and how you could have written a better examination answer. I’ll add that this is particularly useful if you received grades below the class mean. If you are consistently receiving grades of “B” or higher, then you are doing a fairly good job writing exam answers, so you certainly shouldn’t feel as though you need to do this after every exam. Instead:

• Take other steps to become a better exam taker.

Besides finding out what went wrong on exams you’ve already taken, get some additional instruction about how to write better exam answers. Then practice doing it. One great way to get some help is by working with a tutor. Each year, Christine Gregory’s office solicits and hires students who have done well on exams to work with other students. Tutors get compensated but are available at no charge to you (beyond the tuition dollars you have already paid). If you request a tutor for a particular class, Ms. Gregory’s staff will try to place you with someone who has previously had that class taught by the same professor. One way of working with a tutor is to write answers to old exam questions and get her feedback on those answers. Ask the tutor to comment not only on your substantive analysis but on your answer-writing technique. Was the answer organized well? Did you have too much “fluff?” Did you over-analyze some issues and under-analyze others? All of this assumes that you are still doing the reading and regularly attending class. It is hard to write a great exam answer if you don’t, and what’s more, you’re cheating yourself out of that world-class education.

• Work on developing other lawyering skills and learn about the practice of law.

Besides continuing to take your doctrinal courses as seriously as you can, as an upper-class student take clinical law and practice/simulation courses (like Negotiation, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Advanced Legal Research, etc.). Volunteer in the Family Law Project or at a law office in Ann Arbor or Detroit for a few hours a week. Consider doing an externship one semester. Participate in competitions. Attend attorney lunch talks and symposiums. Join a journal. Take a leadership position in a student organization. Put extra effort into writing a seminar or independent research paper. All of these suggestions will help you develop and hone the other lawyering skills I mentioned previously, prepare you for the practice of law, and even make you a happier law student. They will also give you more and better things to talk about during interviews and make you more marketable to prospective employers.

• Make time for yourself to do the things you want to do, and take care of yourself.

Every law student knows that if he wanted to, he could spend virtually all of his time working. Don’t do this. You’ll burn out. Your grades will improve only marginally – or maybe not at all. So play; rest; recreate; spend time with friends; call your family; exercise; watch TV; read a novel; volunteer at a soup kitchen – you get the idea. You’ll have a much better shot of living a balanced life once you become a lawyer if you figure out how to do it now.

• Come talk to us.

I’ve already mentioned that you should go talk to our Career Services professionals and to faculty. I also want to invite you to come see Christine Gregory or me. We are eager to discuss your particular situation with you and offer further advice and perspectives. I’ll add that very occasionally, students receive very low grades (“C-” or below). If this happens, Ms. Gregory and I can inform you about rules that enable you to do more work to get that grade replaced by a “C.” Beyond all that, we want to help you determine how to have the richest possible experience during law school. And that’s really the point of all this. Law school is, of course, about so much more than exams and grades. Sure, work hard in your classes and try to earn the best grades you can. But realize that there is so much more to you, too, and remember to enjoy and experience the rest of what this amazing place has to offer.

To make an appointment to see Dean Baum, call 734-764-0516. To make an appointment to see Christine Gregory, call 734-615-0019.

Three Sizes Fit Most: V-Day Advice

These cold winter days are the perfect time to warm up with a hot Valentine’s Day romance. Are you afraid this dreary, snow-covered city has nothing for you and your love? Ha! We have some hot date ideas for any law student’s needs.

The Study Date

Wake up your sweetie with a hot double espresso to rev you up for hours of… studying. If you are at a serious place in your relationship you might want to go to Starbucks, otherwise snack bar coffee should be fine.

After your Valentine’s classes, you might want to skip lunch because there is no time to waste if you want to get those book awards. (What is more romantic than matching book awards?) For a study break, you can find each other’s alma maters on the stained glass windows in the Reading Room.

Dinner is a must, and the perfect way to keep your brains gearing while eating a great meal is eating up a storm at Leopold’s over an even crazier game of chess! Finish off that meal with a romantic sundae for two. We especially recommend Washtenaw Dairy, where a little ice cream goes a long way.

The Fun Date

The perfect beginning to a fun Valentine’s Day is a perfect breakfast. Try chocolate chip pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head. If you want to be daring with a romantic touch, add some baby heart pancakes.

Walk your valentine to class reminiscing on fun times and funny jokes. Skipping is not mandatory but highly recommended.

While your valentine is enduring a long day of classes, make sure to brighten up their day with a singing Valogram from The Headnotes; and, after class, meet them with some cheesy Valentine’s Day balloons.

A great way to end the night is with a few drinks and karaoke at Blind Pig. If the day has gone really well, the perfect ending to the night is you serenading your valentine with “I Got You Babe.” We all know there is only one place to go after that….

The Steamy Date

You want to wake up your hottie, sexy-style. And by sexy style we mean sexy time; and, by sexy time, we mean with hot griddle cakes, omelet eggs, drizzling syrup, hot steaming coffee, and orange juice. A nice RG to read on the side will add the perfect steamy touch.

Next, escort your love to class where they can do that whole law school thing and you can begin preparing for your afternoon. After class, you don’t want to set the bar too high --save the super steam for later on tonight.

This is the perfect time to satisfy your date’s afternoon appetite so they are fully charged for later on. Red Hot Lovers may seem like the obvious choice, but have you seen Rick’s by day? Suddenly transformed into the swanky American Café, it is the perfect romantic spot.

Finish off your night with a couple’s massage at any of the local spas. A romantic dinner afterward is key. If you want something a little fancy the Earle is a good choice, or try out any of the quaint selections on Main Street. Make sure to serve lots of compliments sprinkled lightly with suggestive remarks. After dinner… well we got you this far, the rest is up to you!

Music Review: Wincing the Night Away

By Andrea Hunt
Staff Writer

You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear!”
-Sam (Natalie Portman),
Garden State

The song was “New Slang,” by the Shins, and since Sam’s bold declaration three years ago, fans have been waiting for the Shins’ response —do you really think your music changes lives? Fortunately, the Shins seem to have ignored Sam’s hyperbole, producing an album that is what the Shins truly are: introverted and low-key, not life-changing.

Wincing the Night Away is the band’s long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow. Rumors of a new album circulated like a cold sore at Rick’s. It was slated to be released in August 2006, then November 2006. Perhaps Shins front man James Mercer needed some rest —the title, according to Rolling Stone magazine, references Mercer’s insomnia.

The four years since Chutes Too Narrow gave the Shins lots of time to experiment, with mixed results. The drums and bass in “Australia” overpower the vocals, but this sort-of Southerner enjoyed the banjo. “Sea Legs” is also percussion-driven and is a sharp, but pleasant departure from the Shins’ earlier sound. “Black Wave,” on the other hand, is like a melancholy “Sphagnum Esplanade,” which was already pretty dark.
The album’s first single, “Phantom Limb,” was available on iTunes on November 14, 2006 and everywhere else a week later. It’s a catchy, fun, and, apparently, Sapphic song –Mercer has stated that the song is about a lesbian couple in high school. Though the decidedly vague lyrics do little to support his claim, the reference to northern girls frozen into coats may, for some of us, always trigger images of these snowy Michigan months. The music video for “Phantom Limb” is much easier to interpret and can be seen on amazon.com. The scene where they cut off the goat’s head is equal parts shocking and creative. (Now you have to watch it, don’t you?)

The Shins seem most comfortable when they aren’t trying to shock or change lives. They bring out the introvert in all of us, the dreamer who trips down South U, softly singing, eyes closed, occasionally bumping into people and maybe cars; the thumb-sucker who winces when the professor scans the seating chart, looking for a victim. What made “New Slang” so great wasn’t that it changed lives, but that it was a theme song for the inner dreamer. “Red Rabbits” and “A Comet Appears” carry on that tradition. Their minimalist orchestrations, coupled with Mercer’s wistful, plaintive vocals and characteristically opaque lyrics, beg you to lay in the Law Quad, staring up at the sun (when spring comes, of course). Just watch out for errant Frisbees.

Old People Form Group: Beware SQUALSA

By Austin Rice-Stitt

Whippersnappers beware: the old people in your law school class have banded together to form Michigan Law’s newest basement group, SQUALSA. The “Senate-Qualified Law Students’ Association” was unanimously approved by the Student Senate in mid-January, and the first meeting was held on January 29th. The RG was curious about what, exactly, all these old people are planning to do with their new group, so we sat down with co-founders Ted Whalen and Maili Shaffer to find out.

Res Gestae: Thanks for taking some time to talk with us. I want to start with the question that I know is on everyone’s mind: Is there going to be bingo?

Ted Whalen: Of course.

RG: How old do you have to be to play?

Maili Shaffer: We started the group with people who are 30, or who will turn 30 before they graduate, in mind. But the group and its activities are open to everyone, and we hope that the law school’s younger members will come out as well. Just because you’ve never had a real job and you’re still being supported by your parents doesn’t mean that you don’t love bingo.

RG: Exactly. In addition to the lack of organized bingo opportunities, what do you think are the biggest problems confronting old people at the law school?

Most students at the law school face the same challenges –making friends, doing well in class, getting along with professors– but every type of student brings different issues to the table. It can be difficult, especially at first, for older students to feel that they are a part of the social fabric of the school. Older students aren’t always into doing the same things in the same ways as younger students, and older students also have other commitments like families and long term partners to deal with. Also, we don’t all live at the law school like many of our younger counterparts.

RG: Are you saying that there aren’t ample opportunities for old people to meet each other? What’s about bar night at Rick’s?

MS: We expect that SQUALSA will continue to be well-represented at bar night, and the youngsters will be disappointed if they think that the formation of SQUALSA means that us older students are going to stop grinding the hell out of our classmates to really, really bad music at Rick’s. But we are also planning to hold social events that appeal to an older crowd – events where people can have conversations and where kids and spouses can come without getting beer spilled on them.

RG: I see. What’s up with that name, SQUALSA, anyway?

MS: It could have been a lot worse. It’s an homage to the Constitution because of the 30 year old age requirement for Senate members. It’s kind of tongue in cheek though –we don’t actually take ourselves very seriously.

RG: But it isn’t completely a joke?

TW: No not completely. We had a great turn out at the first meeting –about 40 students– so the interest is definitely out there. Most of the people who came to the meeting were 1Ls, so we’re hoping that more 2 and 3Ls will get involved and help us out. We may be old, but unlike the youngsters, we don’t know everything.

Interested in SQUALSA? Send an email to Ted at tewhalen@umich.edu or Maili at mkshaff@umich.edu.

Rhyming Rodent Receives Rage: Even Alliteration Won’t Heal These Wounds

Take It From Me
By Bria LaSalle

There have been few times in my life when I have been particularly cross with a rodent. I had pet mice as a kid, my sisters had a battery of hamsters, and I’ve always been fond of watching the Ann Arbor squirrels gorge themselves into oblivion in the fall. But last Friday, Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, decided to tease me mercilessly, and I’m not thrilled.

That little bastard didn’t see his shadow.

Now every weather correspondent for every media source in the country is gleefully announcing that we will experience an early spring. I refuse to be sucked into this madness. In fact I predict we will not see spring until July. This way one can average my prediction with Phil’s and come out with reasonable accuracy.

But why does anyone put any stock in the weather-forecasting prowess of a member of the order rodentia? Punxsutawney Phil has, historically, been right 47 times since he began predicting in 1887; 39% is a failing grade in my book. I have better accuracy when I pick socks out of the drawer with my eyes closed, but the world has yet to establish a national celebration of my abilities.

But I don’t begrudge Phil his station in life. According to his handlers, Phil enjoys a comfortable existence at the Punxsutawney Library, where he dines on dog food and ice cream. He is a zaftig 15 pounds and successfully negotiated the installation of a heating system in his simulated tree stump stage in Gobbler’s Knob, where he emerges each February 2 at 7:25 a.m. to read a rhymed prediction. He has appeared on Oprah. He was in a great Bill Murray movie. During Prohibition, he pluckily threatened to impose 60 more weeks of winter if someone didn’t give him a drink. This is a success story for all groundhogs, and I fully support him in his arrival to the good life.
But I’m not willing to believe his tall tale of an early spring. My tenure in Ann Arbor is drawing to a close, and I find it more and more difficult to enjoy the trappings of winter when a long future in sunny Los Angeles beckons more with every passing day. But, so far, I have been able to successfully ignore the existence of non-wintry places. It’s easier that way. My school work will suffer much more than the typical bruising from 3L malaise if I let myself begin to detest painfully cold ears, runny noses that end in frozen snot, and puddles of rock salt on my wood floors. When the wind picks up mid-way through my walk home from school and threatens to steal the last of my body heat with its unjust aggression, I remind myself that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” I need to believe that this mantra is something other than the horseshit it plainly is, even though that requires a hefty dose of denial; my denial is fierce enough to work.

Theoretically, we enjoy our brief and nippy spring much more after staggering through endless months of frozen ankles. If I had a dollar for every sandal-footed undergrad who drapes lazily across the Law Quad grass within 20 minutes of the mercury passing 60 degrees for the first time, I would retire immediately and explore a life of naps and donuts. Perhaps I’ll just surrender a dollar myself and join them –60 degrees sounds pretty luxurious right now.

In the meantime, I must ignore Phil by way of a deafness that comes from mild hostility. He has offered a completely unreliable glimmer of hope that I may be able to go hatless before May, and my winter coping mechanisms simply can’t risk such devastation if this year follows his persnickety tendencies towards inaccuracy. If I’m wrong, I hope he’ll accept my apology in the form of a groundhog-appropriate care package: dog food, a pint of ice cream, and the alcoholic beverage of his choice.

Bria LaSalle is a member of the order Primate, and is the Executive Editor of Res Gestae. She predicts spring will come on March 21, 2007.

The Wheels of Progress Grind Ever Faster ... And Ever Louder

By Nate Kurtis

I was at Amer’s when it happened. Standing in line at the checkout counter, this ridiculously hot girl looked right at me and said, with a silken voice, “Hi, I’m Karen.” Now, since you weren’t there, a moment should be spent on Karen herself. Blonde and buxom, Karen looked to be no older than a junior. The rest of Karen not withstanding, it was her ensemble –the very latest in nouveau-skank: a tight crop-top, form-fitting low-rider jeans, the straps of a black thong visible– that teased at the sheer carnality to be had by any man to tempt her.

Back in college, I wouldn’t have been able to get the time of day from a girl like Karen; but, lately, I’ve been noticing this sort of thing happening more and more. Girls who wouldn’t look at me before my grad school days are now walking up to me and introducing themselves! Clearly my Law School Cachet has been growing, and the ladies have taken notice. As for Karen, I did what any red-blooded male would do: mustered my deepest, manliest baritone and said, “Hey there.”

I knew the moment her suddenly cold stare locked on me that things weren’t going right in this conversation. That was when I saw the heretofore unnoticed cell phone grafted to her ear. Now that I think about it, this is how all of these conversations have gone.

Looking around, I found that Karen was part of a larger trend. At a table in the corner sat four girls, all talking on cell phones. Indeed, it was the rare caffeine drinker who wasn’t talking, loudly, to someone who wasn’t there. And the inclination to rude phone conversations is spreading. Reading in Borders last week, a woman sat down next to me so she could talk on her cell uninterrupted, and did so for over forty minutes.

The noise pollution doesn’t stop there. One of the few non-phoners in Amer’s that day was a guy, let’s call him “KF,” listening to music on his iPod so loudly that I could hear it, clearly. While it is possible that KF was deaf –and if he wasn’t before he sure is now– and needed the music up that loud to hear it. But, if he really is deaf, I think I ought to have a say in what he is playing since I’m the only one of the two of us who will have to suffer through it.

Fortunately, we at the Law School are spared these annoyances. Anyone playing music that loudly would be slaughtered in the Reading Room and the ancient gothic architecture of our buildings mercifully blocks cell phone signals. At least for the moment. Improved technology has opened up the halls of Hutchins to cell phone folks, and with them the loud, rude behavior that was once so alien to our quad. The school has taken some half-hearted steps to help, like the new “cell phone booths” in the basement of legal research. The fact that most cell phones don’t get reception down there is beside the point (and if you do get reception down there, PLEASE keep it to yourself).

You see, as technology is making it easier to wall ourselves off from the world around us, or communicate with people who are miles away, we have begun to ignore the people standing right beside us! We are, as a community, becoming less considerate as a response, paradoxically, to increased convenience. I encourage everyone to stop for a moment and ask: “Have I been electronically rude lately?” You’ll have to put down the cell phone first.
Now, I make no claims at electronic sainthood. I admit I have my own vices. For my part, I am a slave to GPS. That might not sound so bad, but think about it: Without GPS, I would be lost and confused, which means that I would be traveling at a respectable speed and paying attention to where I am going. With GPS, I don’t have to bother with either! Indeed, it gives me the freedom to travel at 70+ miles per hour down roads I’ve never even heard of. You’d think GPS would at least help me drive more safely, seeing as I would know where I was going. You’d be wrong on that count, too, since my unit doesn’t really give all that much warning about upcoming turns.

Perhaps the greatest irony about using GPS is that it is less help the more you know where you are going. Indeed, when you are lost on the other side of Ann Arbor and haven’t a clue how to get back to campus, GPS is golden. However, when you know exactly where you are and need to find a more specific target, such as wandering the stacks of Legal Research trying to find the 6th floor, GPS couldn’t be less helpful. Now, since the GPS unit I have is built into my car, this second case is moot (unless they make those elevators bigger). Still, how could I find my why around the Law Quad without GPS? I can’t ask for directions! You see, I’m a guy. And, besides, who would I ask? Everyone is talking on their cell phones.

Nate Kurtis is a 2L and the Editor-in-Chief of Res Gestae. He is not sure where he is right now. Have you seen him?

PDF for February 6, 2007 Issue