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.

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.

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.

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.

 

The Yale LL.M: Settling in

If you keep to my last piece of advice you will not be spending your first half-day in New Haven randomly running around on the lookout for cabs, but you will actually have some time to settle in. This additional time might come in handy. Orientation week, which is just over, will keep you quite busy.

That is, of course, it will only keep you busy, if you interpret orientation to have a social aspect as well. Even with less than 25 classmates (as opposed to 180 at Harvard and 450 at NYU) and about as many future JSDs (juridical science doctors) and visiting researchers it will take you some time to get to know your colleagues and to develop a first and provisory idea of who might be your preferred partners in class and crime for the 10 months to come.

During daytime you will have an endless influx of information hammering down on you, while at night you will have to check out the diners, bars, pubs and clubs of New Haven (don’t worry, there will be more information on this aspect of living in New Haven in the months to come). And do not underestimate the effort it takes to go to Walmart, IKEA or Target by bus or by Yale housing department’s shuttle in order to pimp up the place that will be your home for the next year.

Therefore put something familiar onto the wall.

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(My miniature version of the Bayeux tapestry. Hopefully my experience at Yale will help me to get rich so that I can buy the original and an appropriate dining hall to go along with it.)

And don’t forget to get some Yale paraphernalia

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Again, I would very much recommend that you stick to THE BINDER. It will advise you to arrive at New Haven no later than mid-August. I did not follow this piece of advice and am still recovering, trying to catch up with my various organizational duties (e.g. setting up a bank account, getting a cell phone plan [which by restoftheworld standards is extremely expensive], looking for an affordable bike, installing all kinds of annoying and rebellious software on your mobile devices, signing up for a locker at the gym).

Speaking of which: The Yale gym looks like this:

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(I will write some more on the architectural atrocities that will await you at Yale in one of the next posts).

It is an insanely huge Gymnasium in pseudo gothic style (15+ squash courts, 50 yards swimming pool, two rowing tanks, Sauna etc.). I guess this is what tuition fees are spent on. Although, to be fair, I must admit that tuition apparently only pays for 1/3 of the law school’s expenses (the remaining 2/3 being owed to the generosity of donors most of whom are Yale alumni).

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

The Yale LL.M: Getting here

There are several possible meanings that one might attach to this post’s somewhat vague title. I will not, today, be writing about how to get admitted into YLS. To be frank, I don’t know much about it. Nor will I be blogging about the endless paperwork, fundraising and self-(or soul-)selling that took me here. You will soon find out about that yourselves (and I will share some of my thoughts on the admission process well before the end of the December application deadlines). Instead, I will begin with the down-to-earth question of how to – physically – get here.

Unsurprisingly, I took a plane. I recommend flying into New York. Taking the 2-hour MTA train from Grand Central Station to New Haven is a great means of catching one first glimpse of the great city of New York.

It also gives you a good idea of the ease with which you can reach NYC, whenever New Haven should start to feel boring. For those used to bigger cities: Be prepared for a small place! You can virtually walk everywhere and you will know your way around after just a couple of days.

There are, of course, other means of getting here. You can take the shuttle from JFK airport, take AMTRAK from downtown New York Port Authority. Beware though, since the latter is more than twice the price of the MTA train and only slightly faster. I guess you could also fly into Boston and take AMTRAK or Megabus.

Once you arrive in New Haven, please do not take a cab to your place! There is the free Yale Shuttle taking you downtown and to some other places. There is also Uber and Lyft. If you do insist on taking a cab, write down the name of the cab company and your driver. Or just don’t leave your smartphone in the cab, since you will not see it again. I guess this is the message I learned, spending my first few hours in New Haven erring around town on the lookout for the driver in order to retrieve my phone. At least now I know the place.

Preparing for Yale

One good thing about the – by European and I daresay restoftheworld standards – astronomical tuition fees at US law schools is the fact that in return you will get the full care package. There is not a single deadline or item necessary for your stay in the US that will not be mentioned in the carefully assembled admission binder (THE BINDER). There is not a single e-mail that will not be satisfactorily answered within less than 24 hours. You will even receive e-mails urging you to carry along your teddy bear or canned Sauerkraut in case you might experience homesickness or culture shock. So I guess, all I can advise you to do is: Stick to THE BINDER, it will carry you all the way. This even holds true for people like me who lack any logistic talent.

Your BINDER will most likely look like this:

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(In preparation to your LLM this shall be your torah, your bible, your quran, your book of mormons or whatever word of whatever higher being you find yourself believing in.)

One issue that you might especially worry about is health insurance. Like most other law schools, Yale offers its own – by American standards – quite affordable, basic health plan (about $ 1000 per semester). Unlike other law schools, especially Harvard, Yale seems to be very lenient in admitting foreign health insurance carriers, allowing students to waive the default Yale health plan requirement. These waivers are admissible until well into the semester, so – again – do not worry too much about this issue.

For everything else I can only reiterate my essential piece of advice:

Stick to THE BINDER!

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

About this blog

I am a law graduate from Germany and will be following the Master of Laws (LLM) program at Yale Law School for the ten months to come. The purpose of this blog is to give you an idea of what it could be like to be studying and living at YLS. I will also try to compile and provide some useful information for prospective LLM-students, visiting researchers and the like. Be advised, however, that diving in and finding out about these things for yourselves will be a crucial part of enjoying your experience. So don’t let me spoil your fun.

This blog is featured on LLM GUIDE, a global, online community for prospective LLM students, and a directory of programs offered worldwide.