: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at


Apparently the people who weren’t at orientation were sent the wrong assignment for the first day of class so we got a bit of a reprieve from Ragazzo. It was more than welcome. The syllabus we received has no dates, just the order in which we’ll read things with the rule of thumb that we’ll cover about 15 pages an hour or 45 pages a night. Those are 45 dense and mystifying pages mind you, with the federal rules of civil procedure to be looked up and read as well and briefs to be written. I reread Sibbach v. Wilson tonight for the third time and still come across things I swear weren’t in there the last time. I’m starting to see the necessity of talking it out with other students as you uncover a lot of holes in the process. Even just hashing it out for a few minutes with some of the other folks at the Tailgate in mid-town brought out three things I had overlooked.

I think I like Ragazzo. I don’t doubt that he’s fully capable of taking me behind the woodshed when my name gets called, and I may like him a little less at that point, but fear is an excellent motivator and we need nothing if not motivation at this point. He’s also imminently quotable. My favorite line from tonight – “If you’re not losing money, nothing really bad is happening to you.”

Preparing for the first day…

Our opening assignment for the first day of class was the introductory topic of Field’s Civil Procedure. I found the material to be pretty straightforward, but imagining myself trying to provide some basic explanations, the kind of things I would imagine come up in socratic method, it’s a little overwhelming to get a glimpse of how much I don’t know, and what it means to really know the material.

My main task at this point, with only a vague idea of how to parse out the information, is to create a study methodology to test and refine this first week. I gave myself the afternoon to get through the 30 pages that were assigned and quickly realized that the time it takes to complete a task expands to fill whatever time you give it. Not the most efficient way to work.

I got through the material in an hour. I need to cut that in half and estimate about 30 seconds a page for an initial read through with moderate comprehension. I then wrote out a ‘triage list’ of tasks that I need to perform in order of their importance. My initial list:

  1. Initial Read-through
  2. Brief the cases (case info, facts, procedural history, issue(s), holding, the arguments of majority opinion and minority opinion)
  3. Define any new terms
  4. Identify any other footnoted cases referred to in the material *
  5. List out the lines of questioning that the case is likely to present
  6. Investigate backstory (details of the case beyond that contained in the brief, history of legislation in effect, how it came to be, etc.)
  7. Brainstorm interesting issues and ideas that might form the basis of research in the future

* I was warned more than once to pay as much attention to the footnotes as the text as they often spawn lines of discussion quite different than what one would expect from reading the main text alone.

Doing the brief was harder and more time consuming than I had anticipated. All the facts seem to have some significance, so it was hard to feel comfortable leaving anything out even though it was bloating into a three-page document. If I have any spare time at all I’m going to start briefing cases that appear in the next weeks worth of chapters just so I can get some practice in.

It will be interesting to see if any of this is of any value once we get through the first day.

I just found How to Brief a Case on and it’s the most straightforward thing I’ve found so far.

New Orleans Legal System Still Suffering Effects of Katrina

From the NY Times – Judge Steps In for Poor Inmates Without Justice Since Hurricane Katrina

The court system in New Orleans, largely still homeless and in disarray having lost most of the infrastructure on which it depends, is battling over the fate of indigent clients who, without public defenders, are in legal purgatory, unable to get a trial or even plead guilty.

Nine months after the storm, more than a thousand jailed defendants have had no access to lawyers, the judge says, because the public defender system is desperately short of money and staffing, without a computer system or files or even a list of clients. 

Handcuffed, shackled and wearing jailhouse orange, Mr. Dunn told the court that as the water rose, he spent four frightening days without food in the House of Detention, and was then moved from prison to prison, losing touch with his family.

In the nine months since the hurricane, he said, he has never even spoken to a lawyer. “I don’t have a lawyer,” Mr. Dunn said. “I never been to court.” Without a lawyer a defendant cannot even plead guilty.

Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr.’s response has been to suspend prosecution in most cases involving public defenders. The district attorney’s office is naturally opposing the move. My favorite quote is from David S. Pipes, an assistant district attorney, “The proper solution for someone who does not have an attorney is to get them an attorney. Releasing them does not cure anything and does not protect their rights.”

Orientation at the University of Houston Law School today

First up – take a test. It was an evaluation of our writing proficiency, but still. It was very test-like and made law school feel that much more real and looming, which of course it is. Our first class is next tuesday.

By far the best part of orientation was getting to know the group of people I’ll be spending the next four years with. Great people and a really diverse and interesting group. We had a couple drinks with some 2Ls in the evening program at Little Woodrow’s afterwards and got the low down. Apparently the next month in particular is really gonna suck. Civil Procedure. Three hours a day, four days a week of “how a lawsuit or case may be commenced, what kind of service of process is required, the types of pleadings or statements of case, motions or applications, and orders allowed in civil cases, the timing and manner of depositions and discovery or disclosure, the conduct of trials, the process for judgment, various available remedies, and how the courts and clerks must function.” (wikipedia) And it’s taught by Ragazzo, who’s reputation was almost to a person some variant on the word “ass” – ranging from “hard-ass,” as in ‘I respect and fear his knowledge and abilities’ to the other end of the spectrum with “asshole,” as in I really, really fear his knowledge and abilities and also did not really enjoy the public humiliation I suffered as a result of his socratic method. Otherwise the consensus is that he is extremely proficient, fair, always means what he says and adheres to a no-nonsense grading system that can’t really be argued with.

Ragazzo actually came to one of my undergrad classes, Psychology & Law, to demonstrate the socratic method. Mark Yanis, who co-taught the course, was an appellate lawyer and UHLC alum and wanted to give us a taste of it since so many of us were interested in law school. We read and briefed a case and prepared for “the method.” I happened to be the first one he called on. Hopefully that will give me some sort of karmic immunity this time around. I have a funny feeling about that though. I answered his questions and he let me sit down with my dignity intact. I’m not expecting a repeat performance. He’s known for cutting you off two or three words into your first sentence if he thinks your going down the wrong path and demands that you be able to support your statements with authoritative attribution at all times. Fun fun fun. When I got home I had this in my inbox -

I can’t wait to learn about lawyerpults.

Introducing the Blawg

Starting May 30th, 2006 I’ll be a 1L in the evening program at the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, TX.

I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now with my own High on the Hog Blog and as a regular contributor to Metroblogging Houston so it only made sense that I would join the blawgosphere as well.

My plan is to post on the law school experience, specifically at the University of Houston, as well as relevant legal and community news. If you’re a blawger, particularly in and around Houston, please let me know and I’ll add a link to your site to my blawgroll. I’m also considering a separate website project that would aggregate the RSS feeds of law-related blogs in across Houston and possibly Texas as a whole.

Questions or feedback, I would love to hear from you. The comments are open or e-mail me.

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