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

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Confronting my Inner Law Nerd

Law Nerds occupy a peculiar place in nerd taxonomy. We generally retain the capacity for normal conversation and our fixations on particular theories of judicial interpretation are easily mistaken for the same types of political positions that the normals have.

We can thus avoid detection for long periods of time until our condition is at some point abruptly revealed when we forget ourselves in moments of agitation or excitement. For instance, I once witnessed a recent Chicago law grad who revealed his law-nerdness to a group of frightened acquaintances in a bar when he went berserk at the mention the ‘post office’. Not everyone who mails a letter recognizes their tacit support for an evil monopoly actively undermining fabric of our society.

Such a moment came for me not too long ago, when in my excitement about a certain blawg-igarch teaching at Houston next semester, I forgot who I was talking to. “So you look like look you’re about to pee your pants because there’s this law teacher who’s coming and you like, read his website where he talks about law stuff?” Um… well… not so pathetic sounding as such, but yes, yes, that’s about right. I won’t reveal the identity of said prof until after I register for classes lest I kill my chances for getting in, but more later.

I suppose admission is the first step to recovery

USNWR Rankings Leaked? Houston up 5 to 55 (unconfirmed)

From First Movers: Anthony Ciolli, U.S. News Rankings Leaked Early?, see this PDF.

‘Tis the Season: Law School Rankings Looming

For better or worse, my very own University of Houston Law Center, apparently still the poster child for rankings schadenfreude, features prominently in the ABA Journal’s article The Rankings Czar. Read the backstory here, here and here. The cover story begins and ends with Houston.

Tropical Storm Allison blasted through Houston killing 22 people, flattening homes and drenching the University of Houston Law Center in mud and floods. That was 2001, closing out Nancy Rapo­port’s first year as law school dean.

“Our computers survived only because our IT director risked his life to move classroom PCs to higher floors through the night of the storm,” Rapoport says.

The faculty and staff—some of whom lost their own homes—removed debris from buildings, scrounged supplies and aided students displaced by the storm. Despite the stress, Rapoport was exhilarated by the camaraderie. She never shed one tear of frustration.

Maybe that’s why her tears at a meet­ing with students and faculty six years later became a law school legend. The school had learned, just a week earlier, that it had fallen five spots (to 70th) in U.S. News & World Report’s annual law school rankings.

Distraught faculty and students wrote scathing critiques of her performance on blogs and computer bulletin boards, noting the school had plummeted nearly 20 spots during her six-year tenure.

Rapoport resigned.

Now a law professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Rapoport is still amazed to see that her tears that day seem always near the top of any story that mentions her. The Rice University and Stanford Law alum is a nationally respected bankruptcy expert. She co-edited a book about corporate fiascoes and was interviewed onscreen in the Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. There are many facets to Rapoport’s career beyond those tears. Still …

“Am I the poster child for why the U.S. News & World Report rankings are bad?” Rapoport wondered last year in her blog.

It’s perhaps more accurate to say Rapoport’s Houston ordeal scares the bejesus out of deans. Her tears are emblematic of the nerve-shredding power U.S. News rankings hold over deans, faculty and students.

The story then concludes…

Nancy Rapoport says she is much happier with her job and life in Las Vegas. She and her husband love the city’s blend of lavish color and pioneer spirit, and the beauty of the desert landscape. She confides she already had a job offer from the University of Nevada when she resigned as dean in Houston.

“Truthfully, the Houston job just wasn’t the right fit for my personality, and office politics had made my relationship with the faculty strained,” she says. “The rankings exacerbated tension that already existed.”

Her successor, acting dean Raymond Nimmer, is now using technology to reach prospective students and publicize his law school’s accomplishments. The school is developing an online social network similar to MySpace or Facebook for alumni. The site will be a window into the school’s culture for potential applicants.

Nimmer also hopes to find ways to use text messaging and satellite radio to raise the school’s profile.

In the past year, Nimmer says, the school has “reduced faculty-student ratio with some outstanding new hires.” The school’s Center for Children, Law & Policy; Criminal Justice Institute; Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law and other centers are hosting topical conference events.

And when asked what the school’s U.S. News ranking was last year, he can’t remember and asks his assistant. The University of Houston had jumped 10 slots to 60th place.

“I guess I’ve been so busy with work,” Nimmer says, “the number just slipped my mind.”

I’ve found the rankings to have very little value in my own selection on where to go to school – not because I didn’t look at them, but because the rational-seeming basis on which I made my decision turned out to have very little to do with what I value about my law school. Caveat emptor rankings buyers.

Houston Law Review, Spring 2008, Vol. 45 No. 1

The Twelfth Annual Frankel Lecture





Some thoughts on Selecting Electives in Law School

Professor Volokh had an intriguing post today, Law School Classes One Should Definitely Take If One Wants To Practice in the Area. It’s an open comment post and the commentary is intriguing. It made me think of my own particular view of how to choose classes.

Now a year and a half into this venture, I’m now in elective-land where I have no one to blame but myself for taking any class I end up suffering through. It’s not as liberating as you might suppose when you’re wading through the 1L core. It is, after all, still law school. So in true law school fashion I use a rough weighing system on three elements to decide what classes to take:

  1. 20% subject matter
  2. 30% sanity preserving schedule
  3. 50% professor.
  4. The subject matters very little to me. I put it at 20% because there are some courses I feel I absolutely must take – evidence, criminal procedure, etc, but aside from those, I care very little. This approach makes more sense once you admit to yourself that as a law student you simply haven’t got a clue, about most things really, but particularly what area you’re going to practice in. Alternately, if you absolutely know you’re going to be say, a patent attorney. Taking, say Animal Law instead of Patent Defense III may be one of your few remaining opportunities to develop something tolerable to talk about at cocktail parties.

    Creating a sanity preserving schedule matters a little more, and applies across the board. As an evening student this is paramount for me. It’s particularly important to check the schedule of your finals. My school publishes the date and time for finals well ahead of registration. The goal is to give yourself a few days between each one to focus on the subject and for your mind to suppress the awful memories of the previous experience sufficiently to do it again.

    The biggest factor for me is the professor. It’s important that the prof loves his or her subject matter. This may seem odd since I don’t consider my own liking of the subject matter to be very important at all, but a professor teaching in an area they’re not that interested in or have become burnt out on is lethal. Other than that I find it helps if they’re a bit scary, Kingsfield scary. Ideally it’s someone with high standards, who is demanding enough to get me to stretch, and who has the mental acuity to show me what I didn’t have the capacity to know I didn’t know.

    This last aspect – the ability to point out succinctly and unequivocally the holes in a student’s understanding – is a rare and valuable attribute. Prof. Sanders, one of my favorite professors at Houston, is the most gracious of socratic assassins. He would ask you the issue and listen politely while you fumbled around for it. Once stated, he would ask you to pick a side and argue in support of it. He would then proceed to surgically pick apart your argument until you realized the folly of your choice. He would then offer to allow you to take the other side, for which he had just given three or four convincing arguments of his own. You learned to accept this second challenge with foreboding, because you knew he was about to obliterate your arguments again with the same side with which you had just proven so inept. The fundamental lesson of this exchange was to grow skeptical of your certainty, to test it in every conceivable fashion, to have good, solid reasons for every assertion. While Sanders was remarkable for his magnanimity and how oddly pleasant he made the mental ass-whipping you were receiving, there are a number of profs at Houston who are equally adept. When you find these people take every class from them you can.

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