Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Exam Tips: The Importance of Reading before you Write

Special Guest Edition

Every year around exam-time, professors emphasize that you should read the entire exam before you start writing. This is supposed to ensure that you don't screw up in some major way. For the most part, there's no reason to follow these instructions. I mean, I've written dozens of exams over the course of my post-secondary education. I think I know how it goes.

Turns out, there is a reason for the sensible instructions.

Writing an exam on a computer? Fun fact: if you put the window you're writing on over the edge of the file containing the exam questions, you may obscure the scroll bar. With the windows thus positioned, it is possible to misjudge the length of the exam. Not having read the exam from start to finish before commencing, it is possible to write a mere two essays, when in fact three essays is the norm. It is possible to subsequently go eleven blissfully oblivious hours without realizing that it would have been appropriate to have written a third essay, as the rest of your class did. It is possible to then move instantly from celebratory drunkenness to sudden, frantic sobriety when somebody mentions the third essay (the one you didn't know about 'til just then) between bites of post-bar shawarma. It is possible that you will have to take US Constitution in Detroit again next year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

so help me, if one more Toronto media outlet/blog says "snowmageddon" ...

Two perennial news items whose jerseys should be hung in the rafters forever:
  1. snow in Toronto
  2. blogging the over-reaction to snow in Toronto
Still obviously appropriate: reaction to blogging the over-reaction to snow in Toronto.

Monday, December 15, 2008

meanwhile, where serious people congregate

I've been invited to contribute to Law is Cool, a law blog whose goals and achievements far outstrip this one. here is my inaugural post there.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Satriani v. Martin et al: you be the judge

Apparently-legendary guitarist Joe Satriani claims that Coldplay ripped off "Viva la Vida" from his song "If I Could Fly" from 2004. Compare the two:


Infringement? Consider applying the "can-you-totally-sing-the-lyrics-over-the-other-guy's-song" test articulated by G. Arthur Martin in Washed-Up Guitar Noodler v. Biggest Band in the World.

Dicey. In 1970 George Harrison was found to infringe for close to the same degree of similarity (though this is pretty hard to gauge, which is why it should be left to the courts to decide arbitrarily) -- and he was a former Beatle who wrote "Something" and never named children after fruit, and thus might have found more sympathy with the court.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Things more "productive" than studying

  • moving the furniture in one's home into an arrangement that makes less practical sense, trying this out for a while, then moving the furniture back
  • anti-virus software
  • registry cleaning
  • defrag
  • fredag
  • Flaubert, Madame Bovary (hilarious! who would've guessed?)
  • reading/composing best-of-year lists
  • learning to cook
  • looking out the window
  • Friday Night Lights -- the book, the movie, the television series; a never-ending source of procrastination
  • stepping on shards of refuse exposed when you moved the furniture (such that now there are blood stains on the kitchen floor)
  • searching eBay for coasters
  • start a blog!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Portishead: "The Rip"

Portishead - The Rip

This video makes me wish I hadn't downloaded [stolen!] this album three months ago and then never listened to it once.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fun with QuickLaw (II): You're a Monster Edition

I didn't have high hopes for this one, but typing "you're a monster" into LexisNexis QuickLaw produced one result: Crousset v. Crousset [2003] O.J. No. 1841, a custody battle in which the applicant ("mother" -- we'll call her Ashlee) seeks an order varying a previous judgment by granting to her sole custody of the child (let's say Bronx Mowgli). The father (Pete) also seeks sole custody.

Ashlee and Pete were married for twelve years (when pigs fly), separated in 1999 and divorced in 2002. Some pretty heavy stuff happened which doesn't bear examining at length. Suffice
to say, there was a communication problem between the parents and Bronx Mowgli and his siblings (Harlem Bagheera, Brooklyn Baloo and Manhattan Shere Khan) were caught in the middle, Bronx Mowgli in particular, since he has Tourette's and is a depressive insomniac suicide risk. A social worker with the Office of the Children's Lawyer, upon examining the family, noted that
... conflict and poor communication has continued to exist at a very significant level. The mother suggests that the father continues to behave in a controlling and conflict-maintaining ways [sic] through unwanted telephone calls, arguing at access exchanges and sending messages through the children such as "daddy says you're a monster". The mother expresses little hope that this situation can improve because of its lengthy history. The father also uses the word controlling to describe the mother and says she attempts to control him through her inflexibility about access, poor communication about the children's needs and attempts to involve the police and the CAS in his life. The father also suggests his relationship with the mother is unlikely to improve.
The social worker went on to conclude that the father "is very well intended and is a loving father [but] fails to understand that the conflict that continues to exacerbate the family dynamics is very detrimental to his children" and noted that severe depression or anxiety, untreated, is grounds to take the kids away under the Child and Family Services Act.

I knew there was a reason I didn't want to go into family law -- and they probably get a lot worse than this case.

In the end, the court rules that Ashlee gets sole custody of poor Bronx Mowgli, who is probably just messed up because he fears our world and wants to return to the jungle. Pete gets access on every second weekend, half of summer vacation and all of the Christmas break.

In retrospect, typing "you're a monster" was perhaps ill-considered. Look for Fun with QuickLaw (III): "I love you", or "so many puppies", or "babies in costumes" or something next time.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Cat's in the Cradle (no love for movie lawyers)

Atticus Finch? Pah! Below, the movie lawyers who have shaped my understanding of the practice of law and what it does to one's home life:

Robin Williams, "Peter Banning", Hook (1991)
Peter Banning misses his son's baseball game and this contributes directly to his children being abducted in the night. I played little league baseball when I was a kid. I sucked. I was relieved when my family wasn't there to see me, swaying around out in right field where nobody ever hit. (They tell the kids that every position is important and that they need good throwers in the outfield; this is a lie. I couldn't catch or throw, but they had to put me somewhere.) Plenty was traumatic about childhood baseball (and hockey, soccer, basketball and football), but not my father's failing to make it to every game. If anything, I played better without the added pressure. Certainly his absence wouldn't have caused me to repudiate my lineage and take up with a mustachioed amputee.

Emilio Estevez, "Gordon Bombay", The Mighty Ducks (1992)
Gordon deserves mention because he begins the movie speeding in his luxury car whilst under the influence, surely every young lawyer's secret aspiration. Though he has no children of his own, he does his damnedest to screw up a bunch of other people's kids before he sees the error of his ways and commits to coaching wildly unrealistic hockey for at-risk youth with available single moms.

Dan Hedaya, "Mel Horowitz", Clueless (1995)
If Alicia Silverstone's father weren't too busy getting paid $500 to yell at people as the most fearsome litigator in whatever whitebread gated community of California they're supposedly in, he might have been able to stop her from attempting to seduce first an oblivious homosexual boy and then her own step-brother. The girl needs a strong male figure in her life.

Keanu Reeves, "Kevin Lomax", The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Up-and-coming defence attorney Keanu Reeves ("Is this game sexual in nature?!") takes a job at a big-city firm and takes forever to learn what everyone already knows who didn't wander into the movie accidentally: his senior partner is the devil! Get it? He's the actual devil! And advocate is a synonym for lawyer. What other cliche proverbs can they adapt? How about Let's Put Our Thinking Caps On, in theatres everywhere; or Flogging a Dead Horse, on DVD and Blu-Ray. Kevin Lomax's wife Charlize Theron intuits the truth about her husband's boss "John Milton" -- get it?! wait, weak -- and offs herself, only to be brought back from the dead when Neo makes the ultimate sacrifice: declining to impregnate Satan's hot, willing daughter.

Jim Carrey, "Fletcher Reede", Liar Liar (1997)
As with Hook and The Mighty Ducks, it's unclear at the end of the movie what Jim Carrey will do to support his family after he abandons the ugly legal community that led him astray. Something more morally supportable, no doubt. Perhaps he'll invent a device that sits atop the television, reads viewers' minds and beams their desires to a central hub in Gotham City. Perhaps he'll star in a reality show. In any event: after inflicting the most gratuitous PG violence since Home Alone upon himself for the duration of the film, Jim Carrey has the epiphany that lying all the time hurts his relationships. This is a dangerous message for children. [If you liked Liar Liar, you'll love Yes!, in which Jim Carrey returns to the exact same premise after eleven years and with somehow even less dignity.]

Michael Douglas, "Robert Wakefield", Traffic (2000)
O, cruel fate! Michael Douglas is a former judge caught up in the hectic schedule of his new position as Washington drug czar, who fails to defuse the timebomb at home until it's too late: his daughter is addicted to the very smack he's sworn to eradicate -- and what's worse, her virtue has been stolen by anonymous black men! We all must watch this movie again.

Gene Hackman, "Royal Tenenbaum", The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Like so many of my kind, I love this movie. Royal barely scrapes onto the list, because his legal career is not the cause of his familial neglect; on the contrary, both are incidental effects of his narcissism. And he has long since been disbarred by the time he is redeemed by the love of his family. But the damage of childhood neglect is irreversible: his son Richie tries to kill himself and then confesses his love for his adopted sister. This brings our foiled-suicide-attempt count to at least two, and sets off our third pseudo-incest red flag.

What can we conclude? The children (and wives) of lawyers are vulnerable to juvenile delinquency, drug dependence, sexual precociousness, incest and suicide attempts. For God's sake, get out of the office and start throwing the ball around the backyard with Jimmy! You haven't a moment to lose! There could be a dagger in your door already!

[Let me know whom I have missed.]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

grinding my gears today:

American coverage of the Canadian "political crisis" never fails to mention the Governor General's role as representative of "the country's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II", as if we're a quaint imperial outpost rather than the North American democracy that still has a functional banking system. To wit: