FINALS – Or: YALE’S DRIVE(N-NESS)

When evaluating piece-of-cake-ratios, FINALS are – naturally – of extreme relephants. Even for intrinsically motivated people such as a typical LLM-student at Yale, it is often the form and difficulty of final exams or papers as well as certain anticipated grading habits that, to a large extent, determine the stress and anxiousness associated with a course, i.e. its subjective piece-of-cakeness. As a follow-up to the last post I should therefore write about FINALS.

To sum it up, reading period and finals (12/8-12/22) were depressing. Why? Because nobody wanted to play with me. This complaint does not mean that I was one of the ninety-percenters (see ON PIECES OF CAKE). Instead, as in most other things, I would locate myself in the center (i.e. as a fifty-percenter). This centripetal – rather than centrifugal – tendency of mine, however, makes me loath loosing balance. During FINALS this desire for balance translates into the wish to – once in a while – decompress after a long and intense day of work over a nice dinner, or a beer, or some dancing, or some much-needed sleep.

This should be an obvious piece of life-wisdom for anyone wishing to stay healthy and sane. At Yale it is not, and this, for once, is not a joke. From what we were told in our introductory week, almost fifty percent of Yale students make use of the university’s free mental health counseling at some point in their campus career. Please don’t misunderstand me: I do not mean to stigmatize anyone who uses these services. Nonetheless, this number is disconcerting. If almost fifty percent of – compared to the general population – super-privileged (intellectually, economically, culturally) students don’t feel confident enough to handle their lives without professional help, something is off-balance. Yale’s extreme and extremely invigorating drive, that so much fascinates me, borders on driven-ness.

What does this have to do with my FINALS? The Yale spirit is contagious, spreading even to the Law School and to parts of my dear LLM-class. Not only did bars and restaurants stay empty (even emptier than what is usual at New Haven). I was even told that the hallways of the library were sometimes populated until as late as 2 am. These cannot be healthy life choices.

Do you know what completes this absurdity? All the fuzz is being made for papers and exams that are either ungraded or graded according to a scale that, in practice, – from what we heard – knows only two kinds of grades: pass or high pass. All this self-inflicted suffering takes place at a law school that refuses to rank its students in order to avoid or mitigate exaggerated and useless competitiveness among its student body.

I do not mean to advocate laziness. I admire the ambition of my classmates. I probably am quite similar in this regard. All I demand – even during FINALS – is that SOMEBODY PLAY WITH ME.

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Academics, or: ON PIECES OF CAKE

Besides some rather general thoughts on Yale Law School’s affinity to meerkats, extensive skim reading, and obsessive originality, my blog has been largely silent on the issue of academics. Winter break gives me the opportunity to change this. So what about classes?

Judging from my first term, YLS easily raises up to its reputation. Whatever courses you will end up choosing, they will be MEERCAT-y, reading-intense, and ORIGINAL. Even if your professor happens not to be a gifted entertainer (some are), you will have enough quick-witted classmates to keep you busy and avoid even the slightest signs of boredom.

Given the vast variety of courses and interests, these are the only overall remarks that I can make. Everything else depends on the courses and professors that you select. So be sure to choose wisely. In this regard I can give you some very un-original, i.e. un-Yale-like advice:

First and foremost: Use your shopping period. It will be even more intense than the rest of the term. Trying out as many classes as possible is, nonetheless, worth the investment. If you follow this recommendation, you will not only end up with interesting classes. You will also acquire the three Yale-virtues (meerkatiness, skim-reading, originality) in a matter of (ten) days. Last but not least, the rest of the term will – somewhat – more resemble a piece of cake.

Don’t get me wrong: This increased piece-of-cakeness of your semester will, by no means, result in a 100% resemblance. How large the final resemblance will be (resemblance base rate + resemblance-bonus of a wisely used shopping week), is uncertain and much contested. Some more centrist-minded LLM-colleagues might be claiming a 50% resemblance of a YLS term and a piece of cake. Others will claim a >90% resemblance. These people will be particularly unpopular with the opposite extremists (those claiming a < 10 % resemblance). This conflict will peak during reading period and FINALS, when some ninety-percenters will keep annoying the ten-percenters by constantly asking whether anyone would like to go out and have a beer with them.

Even if the highly disputed cake-resemblance-ratio of a YLS term could be determined, it would remain unclear what exactly this measure means. What precisely do we know, when we’re told that “the cake-resemblance-ratio of the fall term was 35”? Is the cake-resemblance-ratio an absolute measure or does it change over persons and courses? Could the proposition p (“The cake-resemblance-ratio was 35”) and p’ (“The cake-resemblance-ratio was 85”) both be true at the same time?

These important questions bring me to one of my most interesting and challenging courses: “Law and Cognition” with Professor Kahan. As the above paragraphs demonstrate, I have no particular expertise with numbers, statistics, probabilities, and their meaning. The class aimed at changing this (has it failed?) by confronting us with a vast array of studies from cognitive science, social psychology and behavioral economics all of which reported insights that – to a smaller or larger extent – are relevant for scholars, judges, lawyers and legal thinking in general. Developing an at least tentative sense for the quality and normative significance of empirical research was no piece of cake, but definitely one of the richest (maybe it was a very large piece of a very heavy cake?) experiences that I have made during my first term at Yale.

This brings me to my second piece of advice: Challenge yourself! Take classes that do not precisely fit your prior interests and expertise. Take strange classes whose names seem as out-of-worldly and irrelephant as possible.

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This is what Yale Law School has always been famous for and does best.

(By now it should be clear to the readers of this blog that I mean this as an extreme form of praise.)

If you do take black-letter-courses in your area of interest (I took one), don’t hesitate to take the four-hour courses that give you a solid introduction and actual knowledge of an entire area of US-American law. The US legal system and teaching style are particular, original, and vast enough as not to create any unnecessary overlap with your prior knowledge of the respective legal field. If you want to do comparative work, I would recommend doing it as a research fellow or once you’re back at your place.

This is, of course, only the opinion of somebody who devotes two paragraphs to piece-of-cake-ratios.

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