Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poker & Law School

Before I came to law school, I couldn't tell you the difference between a flush and a straight. Now, as a law school student, I would almost feel guilty graduating without a limited proficiency playing poker. For some reason, poker and law school go very well together - go together like a horse and carriage.

At Queen's, there are umpteen poker nights going on at any given time. One group has a mailing list with about 25 students - almost an equal mix of men and women. I was reading a headline recently of a Florida law student with 2006 poker winnings of over $650,000US. Vanessa Rousso is in a long line of law-school-students-turned-professional-poker-players. It has become so big that Harvard Law School actually had a forum on the subject.
Poker players and lawyers gathered around a table last night—sans cards—to discuss everything from legal issues to card strategy in a forum on poker held at Harvard Law School (HLS).

Adam M. Burrows, a second-year HLS student who organized the event, said the forum confirmed his hypothesis that there is a connection between the law profession and poker.

“I think it’s interesting how a lot of the players you hear about recently are lawyers,” he said. “Somehow I think there’s a tie between poker and legal professionals.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

For law school, how old is too old?

If you ever wondered if you were too old to go to law school, in Australia a 91-year-old man just finished his LL.B. Way to go!

In a society where so much money is spent on post-secondary education (though less, per capita, than before), I wonder if there should be a limit for the "career" or "perennial" students. Should we, as a society, say at some point, "we've spent enough tax dollars on your education" or should we let individuals spend years and years, seemingly aimless, taking university courses?

I'm thinking of 3 people in particular. The first guy was the 12th year of his B.A. He was actively involved in student politics, the student newspaper and many clubs. He was almost a legend on campus - a living memory of failed student by-laws and fizzled scandals. When I graduated, he was still going strong. I have so idea how many years he stayed on campus. In his case, I wonder if a career councillor should have sat down with him and explored his options.

Another student was in her 10th year of studies. She started in Engineering, moved to Computer Science, then meandered to the General Sciences, the Arts and finally Women's Studies. The government "forgave" about half of her student debt load. She made it out. Last I heard, she was happy working for a Not-For-Profit organization.

My last example of a "career" student is a former Philosophy Professor. The last time I read his bio, I didn't recognize half the degrees/diplomas he had earned over the course of his life. I can tell you that he has at least 3 Master's degrees and a PhD. When I knew him, he was close to retirement and working on his second PhD - the consummate perennial learner.

I think law attracts perennial students. Even after we leave good ol' law school, we must continue to do research and stay on top of the game.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Unanimous Court & Mukade

In class, a professor was talking about the "horse trading" that goes on at the Supreme Court to get a majority. One judge may have strong views on one point, but may have to concede the point to sway the other justices and win the day.

My professor compared a unanimous court decision to a three-legged race with 9 people. It reminded me of a Japanese game: Mukade (shown on the left). The students have to stay in synch otherwise the whole line collapses and the students tumble to the ground. If you look carefully, you'll notice that their ankles are bound and tied together.

I wonder if members of The Court ever feel as though their hands are tied together when they agree to form an opinion of 9.

Friday, October 20, 2006

ShoutOut: Pointless Conundrum

I came across a wonderful blawg the other day: Pointless Conundrum. Umera writes about her life growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, her thoughts on issues that affects Muslims (and us all), and about her life now, back in law school. Here's a nice passage:
I remember the day Zia-ul-Haq passed, I think my parents were watching TV and I was playing with my cousins when the TV service was interrupted to announce that the plane carrying the President has been blown. There was a sense of shock, bewilderment and joy in the city, telephone calls were made and people were not sure what the whole thing meant. Everybody knew that life as we knew it in Karachi would change; however, nobody was quite sure what that change would mean or contain. The life in Karachi did change; however, for me it meant a change for good.
In case your Pakistani history needs to be refreshed (like mine), "Zia-ul-Haq" refers to General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. He came to power in 1988 and ruled Pakistan for 11 years. According to wikipedia, he is largely responsible for enforcing strict Islamic Law on the country.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Review: Irwin Law's Digital Editions

Full disclosure: Irwin Law provided me with a free digital copy of The Law of Evidence for writing a review.


Welcome to the digital age of law school textbooks. Irwin Law Inc., one of Canada's youngest and most innovative publishers, recently launched digital editions of many of its legal texts. They are very easy to download and read. The price of a digital copy is the same as buying the print edition and, unfortunately, if you own a print copy, Irwin Law does not offer any discount on the digital version (yet). That said, the digital editions are portable, searchable, and easy to use.

Getting Started

1. Buy a book through Irwin Law and save your Redemption Code
2. Download and install VitalSource Bookshelf - a program that has been described as "iTunes for eBooks". Kudos to Irwin Law for choosing an innovative, adaptable, and Mac-friendly interface for its content. They recently released version 4.1.
3. Follow the instructions from VitalSource.
4. When prompted, type in your Redemption Code and download your book.

After that, it is permanently on your computer's hard drive and you can access it anywhere, anytime.

  • The content is excellent and reasonably up-to-date (4th edition was published Aug 05). If you haven't already discovered the Irwin Law series, check it out. Here's a story: I met a Queen's grad who was clerking at the Federal Court of Appeal and I pointed out an entire shelf of Irwin Law series textbooks in his cubicle. "That's what got me through law school", he claimed. It worked pretty well for him, I'd say.
  • Searchable. VitalSource includes a powerful search bar that highlights the search term. It can also search through multiple volumes at the same time.
  • Portable. If you have your computer, you can access your text.
  • Highlighting. VitalSource offers 4 colours of highlighting. It suggests colours for "exam", "important", "need clarification" and "unimportant". Personally, I just use 3 colours of highlighting for: "rules", "cases mentioned in class", "need clarification" and "key point".
  • Notes. Under the "notes" heading within VitalSource, all your highlighting pops out within the navigation sidebar.
  • Interface. Many aspects of the interface are easily customizable, including the layout, navigation bar, font, and column width.
  • Price. It is hard to justify the price if you're already bought a hard/softcover book. The only discount available is if you buy 2 or more, then you get 10% off. In the past, the Irwin Law series used to be available for free for law students through Quicklaw, but they removed their content. Now, if you try to access the texts, you get:
The database selected is not available to you under your contract with Quicklaw.
  • Hyperlinks. The beauty of digital is that the terms and cases could easily be cross-referenced. These texts could be as clickable as wikipedia. For example, terms like "conscriptive" could be linked throughout the text. It is possible to link to case law databases, but I believe this feature could be dramatically improved.
Irwin Law is known for innovative products. Compared to other law school texts, the Irwin Law series is reasonably priced and it is great to see them expanding into digital editions. Hopefully other publishers will follow suit.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blogging & Garth Turner's suspension

Today's news: MP Garth Turner has been suspended from the Tory Caucus. Why? In part, because of his blog.
a motion passed citing "confidentiality concerns" on his often-controversial daily blog
I tried to access his blog but, alas, it's down:


You don't have permission to access /weblog/ on this server.
Either Garth Turner's new online fame has caused his server to crash, or he took it down himself. I'm hoping he didn't take it down. I can't judge his site based on the content available but I would hope that he writes what he honestly believes and he adheres to confidentiality agreements. Here's a screenshot that I snatched off Google's cache.

I'm not a reader of his blog, but I support the idea of politicians who blog. Government, as the law, is shrouded in mystery and it is largely inaccessible to unsophisticated citizens. It seems like every new administration that comes into power talks about accountability and transparency while they're in campaign mode, then, suddenly, they stop when they're elected.

If elected government officials can use blogs to help inform and educate the public, then we should give them a pat on the back. If, on the other hand, they're using their blogs as a personal soapbox to rant, reveal secrets and breach confidentiality, then they should be held accountable.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The True Corporate Lawyer

I've given this topic a lot of thought: what is the role of the lawyer in business? Where exactly is the nexus between business and the law? At what point is Corporate Counsel acting as CLO and at what point is he acting as CFO? It's a topic rife with questions of ethics, psychology, politics and economics. It's also a topic that partially steers the legal profession.

It seems like as soon as law students get settled, we start to wonder about working on Bay Street and fitting into corporate culture. We can't help it. Orientation is full of free (and cheap) goodies branded with the logos of competing Bay Street firms. After a couple months, a Career Service Officer joins our class to explain the OCI process - in great detail - so we don't miss any deadlines. We can attend resume sessions and mock interviews to give us the best chance of "success". For law schools, it makes practical long-term sense. Only wealthy alumni can give large donations.

The buzz around OCIs is fueled by peer pressure, competition, and the rush of adrenaline. Even if you're not interested in the OCI process prior to law school, it's hard not to get sucked in. The money is enticing. In some ways it is literally the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And, if you have any doubts, you can do it for a year just for the experience. The prestige of having worked at a "seven sisters" firm opens doors.

Some students dismiss the idea quickly and courageously, without turning back. Others reluctantly part with the notion after a mountain of rejection letters and sometimes tears. Then there are the "successful" students who reluctantly sign on the dotted line wondering the truth of the adage, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house". Finally, there are those who whole-heartedly and unquestionably embrace to role of The True Corporate Lawyer.

But what is the role of The True Corporate Lawyer? Where do lawyers fit within corporations anyhow? Back in 1984, Paul M. Moore provided one answer: "corporate lawyers are the guys who provide the grease that keeps the companies carrying on business." (Lawyers by Jack Batten at 71) Is this still the case?

I'm going to end on that note. I'll pick up my thoughts on another day. By the way, good luck to all the students attending second interviews. Here's a bit of advice from John A. Tory:

A person charged with a criminal offence doesn't have to like his lawyer. He just wants somebody who's going to do something to get him off. But in corporate law there's so much give and take, back and forth, exchange of ideas, intimacy, and so on, that lawyers and clients have to get along. That's what I looked for in students and juniors, all-round types who showed the potential to hit it off with company presidents and corporate executives.
Perhaps, then, the Chinese at Xiamen University have the right idea.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Study at the Castle & Give Blood

FYI: If you have studied law at Herstmonceux Castle, it should not affect your eligibility to donate blood.

In 2005, Canadian Blood Services changed the rules. Before, all donors were disqualified - for life - if they spent 3 or more months, cumulatively, in the UK or France due to the risk of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease contaminating the blood. When I got back from the castle in July, 2005, I thought that I would never be able to donate again! Thankfully, they amended the rule:
People are not eligible to donate blood or plasma if they have spent a cumulative total of three months or more in the United Kingdom (U.K.) between 1980, and 1996, or if they have spent a cumulative total of three months or more in France between 1980, and 1996, or if they have spent a cumulative total of five years or more in Western Europe outside the U.K. or France since 1980. In addition, people are not eligible to donate blood or plasma if they have had a blood transfusion or have received medical treatment with a product made from blood in the U.K., France or Western Europe since 1980.
Basically, the time spent at the castle shouldn't affect your eligibility to donate. Occasionally, blood drives are organized on campus at Queen's. If you can't wait until the next one (eligible donors can donate every 56 days), visit the CBS's permanent location in Kingston at 797 Princess Street.

Interestingly, according to a CBS nurse, UK authorities do not accept blood from donors who have spent time in Toronto due to the risk of avian flu contamination.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Prof: "Go ahead, record away!"

In class, we recently covered the topic of search & seizure. This topic has been quite hot in the US with "President George W. Bush's domestic eavesdropping program". At Queen's, law professors last year had a lengthy debate about students recording lectures. Some professors were adamantly for it, others were adamantly against.

Professor Stuart, with reference to case law and statute, says: "Go ahead, record away!" (quoted with permission) He notes that lectures given in class are not "private communications" so they are not covered by legislation. Personally, I would respect professors' wishes not to be recorded and I would certainly record for personal use only.

For Mac users, it is very easy to record lectures. Office for Mac comes with a feature "Audio Notes" that can record while you're taking notes. The program saves the audio as well as what is being typed at the time of the recording. For example, if the student misses a point, he or she can click on the note later on and listen to that point within the lecture. It can be a very useful feature. As far as I'm aware, it is not available for the Windows version of Office. notes:
Many first year students record the professor's lectures on tape. This can be a good way to pick things you missed the first time through. One downside, however, is that in the Socratic dialogue, it may be difficult for the tape recorder to pick up both the student's and the professor's voice. You may get only half of the conversation. Furthermore, most students find that they don't have time to listen to the tapes. One alternative is to listen to the tapes while exercising or commuting.
I remember in first year, some students recorded lectures but not many. It may be more prevalent in the US.

For some subjects, it would make sense for lectures to be available in an audio file. Some law schools, such as the University of Chicago and Washington College of Law, provide podcasts to download, but not lectures. The University of Edinburgh is currently working on providing audio lectures for its LL.M. students.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks to Barry Wallis for the fun photo.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Countdown to OCIs

The Class of 08 is on the brink of on-campus interviews (OCIs). The name is actually quite funny because the interviews are held downtown at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. Maybe they can just change the name to off-campus interviews, keep the acronym, and no one will be the wiser.

Almost exactly a year ago, I went through OCIs. Here's a link to the post. And here's an excerpt:

For the Class of ’08 (and ’09, etc): I’ve compiled a list of questions that were asked during the day from my own interviews and from the interviews of others. I’ve also included some questions that I heard were asked to students last round. I hope it will help you prepare.

What do you think of the trinkets that firms are giving out today?
(follow up) Will they influence your decision?
Why did you decide to come to law school?
Tell us about your undergraduate thesis paper.
What is the one thing you would like us to know about you?
What courses are you planning to take?
What does “the rule of law” mean to you?
When is it justified to break the law?
Tell us about a significant case.
Which branch of our firm appeals to you?
How does morality play into the law?
If you could amend the Charter, what would you change?
Tell us a funny story.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Are you sure you want to be in Toronto?
What's the toughest question you've had so far and how did you respond?
How do you prioritize your time?
When did you realize you wanted to go to law school?
And what do you think about that?
Tell us about the paper you wrote for this essay competition. (points to resume)
What prize did you win?
What is the number one quality that will make you a good lawyer?
What questions were you expecting but not asked?

Please note that I had interviews with the government and private firms. Some of the questions, like "What does 'the rule of law' mean to you?" are from government and you shouldn't expect these types of questions from the firms.

Also, PLEASE do not be disheartened if you do not get a job through OCIs. In my class, I believe about 30% - 35% of the class got jobs. This means that 65% - 70% did not (and many didn't apply or, they didn't send out many applications). Every year some students skip class because they don't want to be known for not getting interviews (or second interviews). Hold your head up. I'm confident that everyone will find their niche.

Do your best!

Friday, October 06, 2006

I've been syndicated!

The new and improved Ultra Vires has a great addition: Syndicated Blogs. They're still working out the kinks (apparently, Blogger uses unusual html so only the titles of my posts appear) but so far, it looks great.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

IRB Sex Scandal & Patronage Appointments

Member Steve Ellis is no stranger to the limelight. From 1991 to 1997, he served as a Toronto City Councillor and was known for his fights and his antics.
He opposed smoking restrictions, island airport expansion plans and bicycle lanes on College Street.

On one memorable occasion he had to be dragged out of Metro Hall after lying on the carpet in an apparent protest against the proposed market-value assessment.

Now, he will also be known for propositioning a Korean woman and abusing his power as a Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. (How appropriate that the British singer, Steve Ellis, is part of a band called "Love Affair".)

In the audio recording, Ellis suggests he can approve her application if she has an affair with him, but warned Kim not to tell her boyfriend.

"He might try to make trouble and say, `Oh yeah, this guy she fucked was a judge. She fucked him and that's why she is fucking him and that's why he said yes'," Ellis said.

There have been many articles over the last couple days about the shock, his suspension, the sex, and the aftermath. I'm mostly interested in 2 things:

First, will the government review the patronage appointment process and (finally) implement a systerm whereby IRB Members are selected based on professional qualifications?

Member Ellis was actually more qualified than most. He has an LL.B. and practiced as a personal injury lawyer. In 2000, he was appointed to the IRB by the Liberal Government as a patronage appointment. I've met him. He knows the ins and outs of the IRB. He has been described by Immigration lawyers as "fairly popular."

Notwithstanding Member Ellis' qualifications, the patronage appointment process is flawed. As part of its mandate for "an open and accountable government", I hope the Conservatives see this scandal as an chance to fix the system.

Immigration Minister Monte Solberg pledged change for the process. We'll have to see if he follows through.

Second, will this affect the fight for Reverse-Order Questioning within the IRB Hearing process?

Member Ellis championed this worthwhile change and the issues remains unsettled. For more information, check out this article, on page 3, "Reverse-order questioning at the RPD—the latest word." (I try to keep my views on esoteric points of law at a minimum for this space.) For Member Steve Ellis' views, check out this immigration case where he is cited at length.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blog Shout Out: Precedent

I was recently poking around the Net to see if there are any new Canadian law student blawgs out there. I try to keep a comprehensive list on the right side (if you know of a blawg that isn't mentioned, please let me know). I came across this blog: Precedent: The New Rules of Law and Style by the founder of Ultra Vires, the UofT Law student newspaper. She's not a law student anymore, but her topics are fresh and style is hip.

Some of her recent posts include:
Check it out.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On Cheating – More Afterthoughts

OK - this is my last post on this topic ... at least for near future.

I was reminded of the UofT cheating fiasco in 2001 where 25 to 30 first year law students (depending on the report) falsified their grades to get plum Bay Street jobs. After the news broke, the administration gave them a slap on the wrist and blamed a prof for misleading the students. Then, after media caught wind of the punishment, they were forced to come down harder on the students.

I worked with a UofT student over the summer. According to him, even after 5 years, incoming law students hear about this fiasco and learn all the gruesome details. This site has some of the articles. (I’m assuming these are accurate reproductions.) Here are the headlines:
  • The U of T Law School Scandal: It's More Common Than You May Think
  • U of T marks scandal: Are market pressures forcing students to lie?
  • Cheating spotlights law school's culture
The problems are not exclusive to UofT. In 2004, there was another scandal with the Bar Admissions Course involving 13 students in Ontario.
"Hey guys, here's the motion," said one e-mail.
"Mine looks just like everybody else's. think I should change it more?" read another.
"Make sure to make some cosmetic changes so that things do not seem too similar," yet another said.
I wonder if Ontario law schools reaction (or, for the most part, lack of reaction) was adequate to these scandals. For example, Western Law implemented a mandatory course on Legal Ethics and Professionalism for first-year students - but it is the only mandatory course of its nature in Ontario (a similar program exists at Dalhousie Law). First-year UofT students have mandatory legal ethics training as part of their skills program but it is only a small part of the course. At Queen's, most students graduate without taking a course on the subject. They will have a chance to grapple with some of the issues during the LSUC's Bar Admissions Course during the section on Professionalism.

Is the problem truly systemic? Frankly, I don't see a cheating culture at Queen's. Sure, the pressure is intense; law school is very competitive. In the Class of 08, for example, six students dropped out by the end of the first semester. But I hope that the supportive, friendly atmosphere within Queen's law school (students and faculty) is enough to keep students on the moral high road.