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Fall ’10 Status Update

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 7, 2010 in The 2L Life

Hey everybody :)

One of my friends at a law school on the other end of the country sent me a FB message pointing out I haven’t posted a mid-semester update for my 2L Fall semester at NCCU Law like I had done back in 1L.

The reason is that 2L year grade-wise is markedly different from 1L — where first year grades were 20% based on a midterm and 80% based on a final exam, only two 2L classes have midterms (ConLaw and Business Associations, which I’ll be taking in the Spring). The rest either make the final exam 100% of the grade or require various papers throughout the semester.

That lack of information makes grade entries like this one a lot less interesting ;)

But given how totally riveting my recent commentary on daylight savings time and Verizon’s mobile phone selection has been, I’ll go ahead and bow to the peer pressure :beatup:

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CONSTITUTIONAL LAW I
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There’s not much for me to say on this one that I didn’t already say after the exam. Constitutional Law is my favorite course and one of my favorite topics in general — even outside of the law school context — and it showed on the midterm. I ended up getting 35 out of 40 questions correct on the midterm, tying for 2nd place in the class (high was 36 of 40).

Haven’t had a chance to meet with Prof ConLaw yet to figure out what I missed, but maxing out the total points I can get on the midterm puts me in a good position heading into the final.

Expected Midterm Grade: A
Actual Midterm Grade: B+ (raw) / A (curved)

Synopsis: Just need to keep studying and make sure I can knock out the essays on the (4-hour) final exam. Given my track record last year, I doubt I’ll pull an A in this class — but I’m still going for it ;)

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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: HISTORY, LAW & PRACTICE
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The subject matter in DV Law has been a challenge since the beginning, but as the semester has gone on it’s gotten slightly less agitating. There was even one class where we joined a section of Advanced Torts for a joint lecture on defamation vis-à-vis allegations of domestic violence, and I was comfortable enough to hold my own against the lecturing professor playing the other side.

On the grade front, this is one of those classes with numerous assignments for fractional parts of the final grade. The good news: I’ve gotten the max points so far for the community observation, class participation, and the annotated bibliography for my motion in limine. The bad news: the preliminary research memo for the motion was turned in late, so the A grade I had on that was dropped to a B+. And the “::shrug::” news: the remaining 75%ish of the course grade is still to come, based on the first draft of the motion last week, the oral argument on it next week, and the final motion due the week after that.

Expected Grades To-Date: A
Actual Grades To-Date: A-

Synopsis: Now that the preliminary draft of the motion in limine is done, the final should be easy to knock out. Not sure what’s going to happen with the oral arguments though. Hoping to finish strong.

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LEGAL LETTERS
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The grading for this class is unique. We have 4 papers due — a client letter, a research memo, an opinion letter, and a settlement proposal — with each one worth a total of 100 points. At the end of the semester, whoever has the most points gets the A and it scales down from there. So even though I got a 95/100 on my first letter, I have no clue how that breaks down compared to the rest of the class; I’ve seen both higher and lower in roughly equal proportions, and it makes me slightly nervous.

As for the memo and opinion letter that were both turned in awhile ago? No clue, because we haven’t gotten them back yet :beatup: We also haven’t gotten the required background info (medical expenses and such) for the settlement proposal, so this class is basically on hold for now.

Expected Grades To-Date: A
Actual Grades To-Date: ????

Synopsis: I’ll be glad when this class is over. The professor is interesting and I enjoy talking to her (she’s an adjunct who works as a public defender full-time), but this is one of those classes no one likes and we’re all required to take just because the ABA says so.

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EVIDENCE
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I’m totally lost in this class. It’s straight lecture-style with no assignments, no Socratic method, no midterm, nothing — basically the exact opposite of my learning style. I’m terrified about the final, and more importantly I’m terrified about how I’m going to perform in Trial Practice next semester when I feel like I’ve got only a minimal grasp on the Federal Rules of Evidence.

If anyone has any suggestions on an effective way to learn this material on my own, I’d appreciate it!

Expected Grades To-Date: N/A
Actual Grades To-Date: N/A

Synopsis: I have three weeks to figure out wtf I’m doing. Prayers are welcomed. :beatup:

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ZOMBIELAW (DECEDENTS ESTATES I)
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This class is just like Evidence, except in addition to being a lecture-style course with no assignments or any real class participation, it’s also BORING AS @#$%. Prof ZombieLaw is hilarious and tries to keep it as interesting as possible, but I seriously find nothing interesting about divvying up property after you’re dead. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a poor family that doesn’t have much to divvy, but it’s (1) boring, (2) tedious, and (3) depressing.

I’m basically doing the bare minimum to keep track of where we are in class, then will be using our pre-final review time to learn enough substantive material to eke out a C in the class. As long as I don’t have to take it again, I’ll be happy.

Expected Grades To-Date: N/A
Actual Grades To-Date: N/A

Synopsis: Caffeine can’t even keep me awake in here anymore. At least I know I won’t be a probate attorney after law school? :lol:

***

That’s where things stand with me y’all.  My first final exam is ConLaw on December 3rd, only three weeks and my second-favorite holiday away :eek:

Hope all of you are having an excellent semester, and that you’re in better shape going into finals than I am! ;)

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From the grade-related archives:

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The caffeine made me do it…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 20, 2010 in Randomness

Every now and then you come across something in the legal news that makes you stop and go “wtf? Really??”

This is one of those (original story here at Yahoo! News):

Caffeine consumption an issue in Ky. murder trial
By BRETT BARROUQUERE, Associated Press Writer – Mon Sep 20, 7:23 pm ET

NEWPORT, Ky. – The lawyer for a Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife argued at trial Monday that excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left the defendant so sleep-deprived and mentally unstable that he falsely confessed to the killing.

Attorney Shannon Sexton said in opening statements at the murder trial of Woody Will Smith, 33, that he did not kill his 28-year-old wife, Amanda Hornsby-Smith, on May 4, 2009. The lawyer also told jurors that the man’s statements to police were made under high stress prompted by large amounts of caffeine and a lack of sleep.

“As a result of his altered state, Woody Smith provided a false confession,” Sexton said.

The argument was a twist on Sexton’s previously stated defense as outlined in earlier court documents — that a high intake of caffeine rendered Smith temporarily insane and unable to form the intent to kill his wife.

In arguments Monday, Sexton said DNA evidence taken from the victim’s fingernails points away from his client, whom she described as lethargic, “in a zone” and “not himself” when he spoke with police.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, portrayed Smith as an angry man who attacked his wife during a fight, then strangled her with an extension cord.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Vanita Fleckinger told jurors that paramedics, hospital personnel and police officers saw Smith after the killing.

“Not one of them will tell you they saw any signs of insanity,” Fleckinger added.

If convicted of murder, Smith could be sentenced to life in prison.

A legal strategy invoking caffeine intoxication is unusual but has succeeded at least once before, in a case involving a man cleared in 2009 of charges of running down and injuring two people with a car in Washington state.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University has noted in an unrelated study that there is a diagnosis for “caffeine intoxication,” which includes nervousness, excitement, insomnia and possibly rambling speech.

Smith told Dr. Robert Noelker, a psychologist from Williamstown hired by the defendant, he remembers taking his children to school that morning. But Noelker reported that Smith remembers little else about the ensuing hours.

In the weeks preceding May 4, 2009, Woody Smith told Noelker, he hadn’t been sleeping, in part out of fear his wife would take their two children and leave him.

Fleckinger said Smith found out his wife was having an affair with a co-worker. Sexton said knowledge of the affair led Smith to rely on caffeine and not sleep out of fear his wife would take the children and leave.

“The next several hours of Mr. Smith’s life, were described to me as if he were in a daze,” Noelker wrote in his report.

After sleeping intermittently, Smith had nap with one child he picked up from school at midday at a school near their home in Dayton, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. After picking up the second child later that day, Smith said he went to his mother and stepfather’s house.

He described feeling “out of control,” weeping to the point of being unable to communicate. Smith eventually confided in his stepfather, Noelker wrote, “I think my wife is dead.”

Reports and case records say at that time that he was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — published by the American Psychiatric Association showing standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders — defines overdose as more than 300 milligrams. That’s about three cups of coffee.

Noelker said in his report that he determined Smith was open to “brief psychosis” brought on by sleep deprivation, which was caused by the heavy ingestion of diet pills and caffeine in the weeks before his wife’s death.

The defense strategy recalls the case of Daniel Noble. The 31-year-old budget analyst at the University of Idaho Foundation awoke Dec. 7, 2009, after a restless night and weeks of hard work on the foundation’s budget to head to a Starbucks shop, downing two large cups of coffee.

A judge concluded the caffeine-ingesting budget analyst was unable to form the mental intent to commit a crime, after authorities accused him of injuring two pedestrians with a car.

Now I’m all for creative defenses and making sure the government can meet its burden of proof, but based on the details provided in this story I down about as much caffeine as this guy on a daily basis just to stay awake through class :beatup:

Last I checked I haven’t killed anyone. Maybe he can enroll in my ZombieLaw course if he needs a cure for his purported insomnia.

But I guess that’s just my prosecutorial instincts kicking in ::shrug::

If any of you have the urge to keep up with this trial, let me know how it goes. I hope he gets convicted, otherwise there’s no telling how many law school students might claim caffeine made them do something stupid if they get hauled into court…

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A “hotchpot”? Really??

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 15, 2010 in The 2L Life

Only in ZombieLaw would something called a “hotchpot” be a real and legally significant thing.1

For all the vaunted education of all the property attorneys in the world over however many centuries, you’d think they could come up with a better word… :crack:

  1. For you aspiring law students: the “hotchpot” is apparently what you call a zombie’s net estate plus any advancements that have already been made to his/her kids, and that total $$ amount (estate + advancements) is what gets distributed to however many heirs exist. []

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Well *that* sure didn’t take long…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 30, 2010 in The 2L Life

Good evening y’all :)

Sorry for never finishing another entry from this weekend! As a super-quick recap: Friday night’s post-meeting festivities lasted until about 5:30am, I woke up at 7:30am, and was not only coherent but surprisingly non-exhausted — I made it to the UNCASG meeting 30 minutes early and was the first one to arrive, the first time either of those things has happened in the 4 years I’ve been involved with the organization :crack:

My presentation that morning went well, and I used the rest of the afternoon trying to catch up on ConLaw from last week. The post-meeting dinner was good in terms of company1 but the service and food were both abominable.2 The obligatory carousing afterwards made up for it, until folks were a bit too loud for my comfort at 2am and I convinced them it was time to leave my hotel room and venture somewhere else. At which point I promptly fell asleep :beatup:

Then of course Sunday was the drive back, being reminded how tedious it is unpacking from a mini-vacation, and reading for class.

Which — coincidence! — is the subject of tonight’s post.

If you ever want to quite thoroughly jinx yourself when it comes to law school, start a blog (like this one) and write in an entry (like this one) that you’re 2 days ahead on the reading. Tempting fate is definitely a Recipe. For. Disaster.

I just spent pretty much my entire night tonight doing absolutely nothing but grinding away on ConLaw to get caught up. My figuring is if that’s the class with material I’m already kinda comfortable with, and it’s worth 4 credit hours, I need to go full-tilt for a solid grade. And I can successfully say I’m back ahead on the ConLaw readings so that’s a mini-sigh of relief.

However…

Catching up on ConLaw meant not touching Evidence, for which I’m now at least 1 full class behind. I’m also totally lost in ZombieLaw, not so much because the material is difficult (it’s not) but because it’s SO F*CKING BORING.3 :beatup:  Legal Letters is at equilibrium, and I’m ever-so-slightly ahead on DV Law.

Not bad, but it’s thrown me that I’m already behind in 2 classes… when just last week I was safely and substantially ahead of schedule.

Hope your respective academic years are proceeding apace and you’re still on top of your readings ;)  I’ll be using the Labor Day weekend to get fully caught up myself. Have a great night y’all!! :D

  1. About 15 of us from 6 different universities :) []
  2. Avoid King Neptune’s on Lumina Drive in Wilmington. Trust me. Let me know if you want details :sick: []
  3. And we’re doing fractions, divvying up equal shares of a net estate to an arbitary number of offspring and collaterals. Fractions. 3 semesters of Calculus? Done. Linear Algebra? Finished. Statistics? Yep, that too. Took all this high-end math for my Computer Science degree, and I’m going to be done in by fractions that I hated all the way back when I learned them in elementary school… :mad: []

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2L Year: Initial Impressions

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 16, 2010 in The 2L Life

Good evening y’all! :D

The first day of my 2L year at NCCU Law is officially done! ::happy dance::

It’s interesting how much different everything feels as a no-longer-1L. Several of the 3Ls were walking around with a “we have class?” look on their faces, while the 1Ls had that “we have class!!!” look instead. The 2Ls were somewhere in the middle, my guess reflecting a new level of comfort with the law school and the whole educational process.

I figured I’d jot down some initial impressions to see how they stack up once the semester is over…

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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: HISTORY, LAW & PRACTICE
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NCCU Law was one of the first law schools in the country (and the first HBCU) to develop a clinical program dealing with domestic violence issues. This class is the prereq for working in the clinic and is my first class of the day on Mondays and Thursdays — and several 3Ls tell me the course has a reputation as being the most-work-per-credit-hour-earned at the school :surprised:  Professor DVLaw seems personable though, so that should makes it more bearable.

The material is another story. The background details aren’t necessary for a family-friend blog like law:/dev/null, but let’s just say I’ve developed a very visceral impulse reaction toward people who abuse others. And I can already tell trying to learn the law and apply it rationally will be a challenge.

For example, today we were given an in-class exercise featuring three trial themes often used by both the prosecution and the defense in real life domestic violence cases: framing it as (i) an issue of personal choices, (ii) an issue of luck/chance, or (iii) an issue of social standing. We were then given the basic facts of an actual Durham DV case we chose at random: a man attacked a woman, pulled her hair, knocked her (1-year-old) child to the ground, and when the police arrived he verbally threatened to kill both her and her other (7-years-old) child when he got out of prison.

Our task? Come up with an argument on the spot as though we were the defense attorney, and then afterwards do the same as though we were the prosecutor. I had the “personal choices” theme with 2 of my classmates, and I totally failed at coming up with anything defense-oriented. All I kept wondering is what “choice” the 1-year-old had in getting knocked to the ground, or what “choice” the 7-year-old had in being threatened. Thinking about the fact pattern just really pissed me off, and I was in a dour mood for most of the class because of it.

My displeasure must have been written on my face or something, because when we switched over to the prosecution side Prof DV points to me saying “this will probably make you feel better.” :beatup:

Definitely going to be a challenge…

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EVIDENCE
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Evidence is next in the schedule, and the first thing I noticed is how f*cking PACKED the room was — I swear every 2L and their sister must have signed up for this section of this class. There were even a trio of students who showed up late and had to spend the entire class sitting on the steps because we didn’t have enough desks left in the room :crack:

Even though Professor FRE teaches CrimLaw for one of the other 1L sections (not mine), I did talk with him on a couple occasions during summer school and he seems like a quality guy. Good sense of humor, movie buff, former basketball player, etc. Should keep things interesting.

The class itself started with some preliminaries, then we watched the first 10 minutes of the 2000-remake edition of Shaft and discussed how a prosecutor would build a case within the confines of the Federal Rules of Evidence based just on the information in those first few minutes. Then we just jumped straight into the rules themselves, covering a half-dozen of them before class was out.

I’m actually a little nervous about this class because there are so many rules to remember — and usually with several facets to each one. We’ll see how it turns out :)

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CONSTITUTIONAL LAW I
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NCCU Law switches things up from our nearest law school neighbors at UNCCH Law and Duke Law, teaching ConLaw I and II as 2L courses rather than covering them in the first year…

…but when we take it doesn’t matter for me though, because barring something totally unexpected I can guarantee this will be my favorite class ;)

Today was just a historical overview lecture from Professor ConLaw, who has a reputation for being a challenging professor (and also teaches Torts for one of the other 1L sections). I don’t know if I’ve got the work ethic to earn an A for the class, but as a guy who used to quote passages from Marbury v. Madison and other Supreme Court decisions way back in high school I will definitely enjoy it one way or the other :spin:

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ZOMBIELAW (DECEDENTS ESTATES I)
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Class today was mind-numbingly boring. Professor ZombieLaw herself is hilarious — she refers to the course as “Dead People’s Stuff 101” — so that should make it a little bit better I hope…

…but it’s basically just like Property for dead people :(

Upside: it gives me a chance to get caught up on Twitter and Facebook? :beatup:

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That’s the rundown on Day 1 of classes :) Tomorrow is the first day for Legal Letters, then more ConLaw and ZombieLaw before I’m done for the day.

For anyone else reading this who’s already started classes, I hope you have an excellent week! And to everyone else, have a great night! :D

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Property III, Zombie Edition (aka Decedents Estates)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 14, 2010 in The 2L Life

My alternate title for this post? “Things I will not be doing with my law degree #2”1 :beatup:

Now folks I know it’s premature to write off a particular course before we even get to the first day of class. I know. Really. Trust me.

But if I were a gambling man,2 I’d say there are pretty good odds Decedents Estates will be the least-favorite class in my 2L Fall schedule.

I didn’t even discover the syllabus until a few minutes ago; turns out it’s one of maybe a dozen or so courses at NCCU Law that use the LexisNexis implementation of BlackBoard, as opposed to everyone else having a WestLaw TWEN page — including 100% of my 1L courses.

To give you an idea of how few courses at NCCU Law use LexisNexis’ BlackBoard, I didn’t know it even existed until a classmate told me earlier today :crack:

I’m all about faculty having the resources to teach a course in whatever manner they think will be most effective for me learning the material, but it would have been nice to have at least some kind of forewarning that I should check LexisNexis if I didn’t see my class in TWEN. So that was my first annoyance.

Then I perused the syllabus and some of the reading material for Monday, and from the looks of things it’s like PropLaw just for dead people :(   I didn’t do bad in that course last year — I got the exact same grade both semesters — but it’s just not something I was particularly interested in thinking about.

Which is my euphemism for “it was really f*cking boring” :beatup:

It’s also not exactly the most inspirational of legal topics. Back when I worked for the Wake County Clerk of Court’s Office, I was the Director of its “Division of Special Projects”3 so my office was at the edge of the suite for the Estates Division. Every day there was at least one person (often more) bawling because they recently lost a loved one and now had to deal with the government and distribution of the estate.

Not to be Pollyanna-ish about dying and all, but thinking about where my stuff is going when I croak isn’t really my thing. If you happen to think differently, more power to you — in fact I might even hire you one day to handle drafting my will. Just don’t expect me to enjoy it ;)

Until then, I’m referring to DE as ZombieLaw so I can derive some kind of amusement out of this class…

Have a great night everybody! :)

  1. #1? Mediation. []
  2. Not to insinuate anything that might adversely affect my character and fitness review :angel:   []
  3. Basically a catch-all division for stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else. For example, a good chunk of my time was spent in an ombudsman-like role investigating the (not infrequent) allegations of misconduct by Clerk’s Office staff. Since our areas of expertise didn’t involve interaction with everyday court-goers like other parts of the Courthouse, our offices were interspersed wherever there were spare rooms :beatup: []

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