I always meant to keep this blog going after I stopped traveling, but unfortunately that just never ended up happening. Recently I’ve been wanting to blog about work and school and everything I’m working on there, but the intense time commitment of law school has unfortunately made that impossible.
Still, it’s been in the back of my mind that I wanted to come back and do this again. I’m sitting at home sick with pneumonia, so I have a blessed respite of a few doctor-mandated days before I head back into the grind, so here goes.
Last Fall I started my first semester of law school at a good school in San Francisco. Going back to school after two and a half years off was a huge adjustment by itself. The most obvious culture shock was going from a simple structured workweek to a school schedule built around homework.
I remember the first time I worked full time without being in school; I worked for the Sacramento Bee in Summer 2008, and every day I came home at 5 pm. When I had worked for my school newspaper in college, I was on call 24/7. When I wasn’t at the office, there was something I probably should’ve been doing. At the Bee, I was expressly prohibited from working outside of my work hours because they had to, well, pay me. I came home in the evening and had nothing I had to do. I over-utilized the hot tub, watched the first four seasons of West Wing again, basically everything.
The last two years were similar. I worked at an immigration firm in Oakland, which gave me amazing experience with client interaction, brief writing, and legal research, not to mention a crash course in speaking Spanish every day. Still, doing this job every day gave me a very structured schedule. I started going rock climbing three times a week, watching baseball every day, and generally knowing when I could do what.
School has changed all of that. I have about two to five hours of class per day, but then we have several hours of reading for each class. Typically we read “cases,” (judicial decisions) which illustrate some rule or other that is the subject of the professor’s lesson, and then the writer’s prose about the rule and how it works in a practical/historical sense. The content varies from sexy criminal stuff to rigid procedural steps, but even the driest content is interesting in a weird nerdy satisfying kind of way.
The really interesting part of the classes is the discussion. For some classes, like Civil Procedure and Contracts, we’re learning pretty cut-and-dry rules. But for classes with much more emotion and history involved, like Criminal Law, we get into really interesting talks about morality and how it plays into the laws that get passed, and how we feel about the way the criminal justice system is structured (hint: not everyone understands why it is what it is).
These class discussions can be pretty abstract and theoretical, or deep and personal. For example, we talked about the structure of criminal law that punishes recklessness more than negligence.
Recklessness is when a person acknowledges a risk and chooses to act anyway, regardless of that risk. Negligence is when a person acts without knowledge of a risk that they should have known about. At first blush it makes some sense to punish people we think are more morally culpable, but is a reckless person really more deserving of punishment than one who still makes terrible mistakes, but simply fails to consider the consequences?
Or take statutory rape laws as another example. Some states set the age of consent at 16, others 18. Some say that two 17-year-olds having consensual sex with each other is mutual rape. Do these laws make sense? Don’t they? Does it make sense to punish statutory rapists more depending on the age difference? Is there an actual difference between an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old that should cause such life-changing effects?
Many of my fellow students had a lot to say about the latter of the two – either personal experience or just strong feelings one way or another – but the former topic was one that was new to almost all of us.
I’ll continue to post as much as I can. It’s fascinating to learn, not just new answers, but new questions I had no idea existed.