The Yale WATERgate

With the past two posts revolving around classes and the Yale LLM experience I guess I should switch topics. So why don’t I give you some idea of what your spare time might look like while you’re here?

First of all: Free time for fun stuff (in an innocent, non-nerdy sense) will not be handed to you on a silver platter. You will have to take it. The amount of it will have a strong negative correlation with your belief in the Reading Myth. That is, the more you believe in it, the less free you will be.

That being said, New Haven is small enough to make sure that the temptation to completely disregard The Myth will not be too great. But there are some things you can do:

Before winter is coming you should definitely check out Lighthouse Point Beach.

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It is a charming place at the periphery of New Haven, slightly vintage, forgotten by time, looking and feeling as if the Fifties (or the Twenties?) had never ended. The view onto New Haven will convey the misleading impression that you’re actually dealing with a city. (Therefore be prepared to be disappointed once you get back to downtown New Haven!) As for transportation: You can get there by bike (for free), by bus ($ 2), or by Uber ($ 15). If I am not completely mistaken you will find it to be worth the trip.

But what else is there to do?

There are some great pizza places. That is, people here actually call it “apizza” in order to distinguish their product from the typical thick crust, greasy American style pizza. The naples-style thin-crust apizza is supposed to be some of the best pizza on the east coast and I must say that there might be a lot of truth to this claim. Of the three contenders for the apizza-crown (Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern) I highly recommend routing for Sally’s. I have rarely had a better pizza bianca.

There’s also GPSCY’S, the graduate student club, where most of the graduate community seem to hang out. Wednesday night’s “two for one” special will most likely be your best deal if you should ever want to get drunk.

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Last but not least there might be some all-American home parties with a lot of JD’s getting reasonably drunk and dressing up as if it was college spring break. The whole thing turned out to be somewhat for show when I noticed that everybody was playing beer pong with WATER. I was sincerely shocked and have not recovered since. It was my personal Waterloo, WATERgate, or whatever. What in the world is the point of playing beer pong if you aren’t drinking? Just dance!

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(This rather sad episode somewhat corroborates the most recent troubling findings on Yale law students’ distributional preferences. The study I am referring to, published in this month’s SCIENCE, unveiled the student body’s firm and almost infallible focus on efficiency (http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aab0096). I guess beer pong with actual beer – and the next morning’s obligatory headache – are just not very efficient things to go for.)

For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.

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The Yale LL.M: How to be a Meerkat

It may be obvious from what I wrote so far, but I would like to explicitly point out that Yale Law School is a meerkat’s haven. That is, it is the perfect place for people with a meerkat’s temperament.

This claim is, of course, grounded on my amateur biologist assumption (architectural amateurism is not my only vice) that meerkats’ temperament fits their stereotypical behaviour. Deducing my vast knowledge in this regard from the brilliant documentary film “The Meerkats” I would like to qualify the species in the following way: Slightly erratic, alert but equipped with a rather short attention span, not very disciplined but intensely curious. They also seem to be quite sociable and to appreciate having some good food once in a while.

(At least they look very happy when eating, which, I have to admit, – considering that they always look happy – does not say a lot.)

But you best convince yourself of their character:

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Yale Law School is a place made for this kind of mindset. There will be millions of different, decidedly academic courses on array. Your unmanageable reading load (see The Reading Myth) will prevent you from digging too deep and from pondering too long over any single one of the various issues. Since everybody suffers the same fate, nobody will reproach you for that. You will be permanently challenged to quickly come up with prima facie ideas, but not forced to carry through with most of them. You will switch back and forth between classes on “Law and Cognition” and Lunch Lectures on the “End of class action”. You will develop strategies to skim-read huge loads of materials, exposing you to an invaluable bombardment of ideas. You will socialise with your fellow LLMs before you run off to your next class or to watching students affiliated with the Democratic party watch Donald Trump making a fool of himself at the presidential debate. You will do all of that at an amazing and extremely entertaining pace.

To be sure, you will not be resting a lot. You will not have enough time to focus on any particular question in order to come up with a perfectly systematised solution. But you will be drowned in ideas.

For ten months you will just have to learn how to be a meerkat.

For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.

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The Yale LL.M: The Reading Myth

With more than two weeks into the semester it now is time to quit fooling around and to address the real thing: Classes.

So far they have been amazing, but be warned: Your classes are not as forgiving as this blog. They won’t let you fool around, not even for a couple of days. Prepare to be thrown – from the the very first day – into the midst of an ocean of readings, free lunches (with lecture-strings attached), classes, readings and more readings.

I cannot sufficiently stress this last point. You will find the reading load to be insanely intense. It is, to be frank, far more than anyone can actually manage to read. I am not talking about my lazyperson standards. It is humanly impossible to cautiously read all the mandatory materials, let alone the supplementary readings. Everybody knows this. The readings’ unmanageability – for obscure reasons – seems to be deeply engrained in Yale Law School’s educational culture. In spite of the universal disillusionment (everybody knows it’s just a myth) the myth is successfully kept alive and even cultivated by way of occasional cold-calling and the like. It reminds me of a legal culture sticking to the conceptual charades of legal formalism against everybody’s better judgment.

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(Look at it closely: This is where you will be spending a good amount of your time while you’re here.)

But is legal formalism really against everybody’s better judgment? At least at YLS this is what most people do think. Legal realism, in a sweeping victory, has left but very few survivors (alas poor Dworkin, I now understand your sufferings). For somebody from a legal culture where formalism has successfully – and as far as strategy goes rather brilliantly – absorbed and thus defeated all the critique directed against it, this came as a surprise, even amounting to a mild identity crisis.

I cannot say that I have quite recovered yet. Actually, as for the moment, I don’t want to recover. I very much enjoy the crisis and urge you to come here in order to seek your own version of it. From what I can tell until now, there is no better place to do just that. THE BUBBLE is there for a reason. It will draw you in within the blink of an eye and not cease to question your way of thinking about things for at least a couple of weeks (I cannot make any stronger claim, since obviously, I have no idea of how things will develop during the months to come).

With this in mind, even the collective reading-myth starts to make some sense. It must be part of the overall strategy to provide an ever-challenging and stimulating environment to students and staff. No better way to challenge people than to keep them busy.

Having thus deciphered the driving forces and rationality behind the reading myth I can now – in order to either restore or completely abandon my shaken identity – go on to bust or corroborate another myth: the charades of legal formalism.

For more on the Yale LL.M. program, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.

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The Yale Bubble

Picking up things where I left them the other day, I need to comment some more on the architectural craziness that will await you at Yale. To sum it up, your everyday surroundings will be equally bewildering and soul-soothing.

On a more intellectual level you will simply be bewildered by the thought that anybody would dare to conceive of buildings such as this oneIMG_0101

in the 1920s and 30s. Where is the architectural vision, the drive to achieve something new, the basic willingness to create some of your own that you would expect in any artist? No better opportunity for that kind of self-fulfilment than when Yale University provides you with ample funds and broad liberty to design large parts of their campus.

On the other hand, on a more emotional level, you will find that designing Yale campus in this outdated fashion has some brilliance to it. The pseudo-gothic surroundings somehow do achieve their purpose of forming a coherent and comforting frame for living and studying here. Even if appalled by the stylistic outdatedness you will have trouble contesting that it is awesome to hang out and read in libraries looking like this,

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to exercise in gothic-style giant gyms,

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or to stroll around on a campus such as this one.

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(The statute commemorates Nathan Hale the United States’ first spy, a Yale graduate. Appointed by George Washington in order to spy on the British, he held office but for a couple of weeks. Bragging about his new job on the very evening of his appointment made him an all too easy target for the British. Yale just seems to never have been a place for the practically minded.)

 

All this amateur talk about Yale’s architecture leads me to the actual point of this post: In my eyes, the strange architectural ensemble can only be understood as the setting of and essential ingredient to the foremost of Yale’s eccentricities: THE BUBBLE.

THE BUBBLE is far more than the usual academic ivory tower that is a common feature of most universities. It is the epitome of outworldliness on all levels of life. The ingredients to THE BUBBLE are innumerable: Most parts of downtown and half of New Haven are owned by Yale University and rented out to various restaurants, shop owners etc. in order to create an environment neatly tailored for Yale students and staff. As a Yale student you will have free Shuttle service around the clock. At night you will be dropped off at your doorstep. You will enjoy free security escorts, free tech-support, free yoga and fitness sessions and free lunches most every day. In the winter you won’t even have to leave your cozy bed, since the library staff will send you free scans on demand.

This spirit of protecting its students against the challenges of this grim world is taken up as the declared leitmotiv of education at Yale Law School. Not one of the various convocation speeches during orientation week will forget to stress that, once at Yale Law School, competition is over. No more need for perpetual striving to be the best of your class. No more need for adhering to imposed and conventional measures of success. No more need to prove yourself. Now it’s all about self-definition.

Going along with this rhetoric the school seems to have a long tradition of treating the law in a distinctively impractical fashion. It will only take you a couple of days to figure out that YLS indeed is not aspiring to produce the next generation of Wall Street lawyers. As for the other high-spirited claims, we will see in the months to come.

For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.

 

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