LLM GUIDE Student Blog: Yale LLM 2015-2016
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Aug 31, 2015I 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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Aug 31, 2015One 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: (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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Aug 31, 2015There 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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Aug 31, 2015If 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. (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 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: (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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Sep 06, 2015Picking 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 one 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, to exercise in gothic-style giant gyms, or to stroll around on a campus such as this one. (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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Sep 17, 2015With 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. (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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Sep 17, 2015It 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: 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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Sep 26, 2015With 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. 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. 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! (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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Oct 04, 2015However much I tried to avoid it, now is the time to address the other sense of ‘getting here’. For I still owe you some thoughts about the admission process at Yale. With the application deadlines slowly but inexorably approaching this might be an adequate moment for this least appealing of topics. Hopefully some of my semi-educated guesses will be of some help. In order not to incur any liability I should start with the usual disclaimer: I don’t actually know a thing about the admissions process and its criteria. All I can share with you are some of my classmates’ and my own impressions as well as some rather vague pieces of information gathered from the office of graduate admissions. None of my evidence would pass scrutiny under the hearsay rule. It probably makes sense to set out with what you’re up against. I will therefore begin with your odds: From what I was told, my class of 23 LLM-candidates was picked from a pool of around 400 applications. Accounting for applicants who chose not to accept the admission offer I guess Yale Law School admits around 25-27 people per year. This admission quota roughly mirrors the quota for JD admissions (this year 200 out of around 2800). These somewhat discouraging odds notwithstanding there are certain patterns discernible in the admission decisions: Traditionally there seem to be a couple of preferred spots for students from India, China, Israel, Germany, Brazil and Argentina. The exact composition of the LLM-class, of course, differs each year, but these nationalities seem to enjoy good standing among the (varying) faculty members who make the final determinations. Another factor that might affect your odds seems to be the subject-area of your studies. Roughly speaking, you will fare better with a research interest in public (international) law or legal theory than if you were a hardcore private or corporate law aficionada/o. Back to the admission process: Decisions seem to be made in a two step procedure: Of the formally admissible applications around 60-80 are preselected by the admissions office (all of whose personnel have a law degree from a top tier law school and considerable experience in legal education). The final determinations are then made by a board of admissions comprised of three faculty members (differing each year). Extrapolating from my hearsay knowledge of the JD admissions, that seem to be governed by a similar procedure, each of the three faculty members will rate each candidate on a scale ranging between 2 and 4 points. The emerging ranking will then (mostly) determine admissions decisions. So much for formal procedures. But what does this really tell you about how to go about when preparing your applications? Not much, I think. It nevertheless helps to know that the arbitrariness inherent in any kind of admission process is somewhat harnessed by an elaborate procedure involving several steps and some second-guessing by more than one person. Even if procedures turned out to be completely inadequate and random the fact of going through them creates – at least in my opinion – a certain legitimacy of the final decision. Given the unfavorable odds this legitimacy is very much needed: After all, most of you won’t get lucky and get in. But don’t be afraid, whatever you do, there is no means of controlling the outcome of the admissions machinery. Most of the time you will feel like K in Kafka’s “The Castle”. And this is a good thing, since – not being in control - you can’t do anything wrong. (You would think that this kafkaesque prospect should help people to chill and make peace with whatever the outcome may be. Unfortunately, Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” suggests otherwise. Instead of chilling and having a blast in the light of predestination (Why care if what you do doesn’t matter anyways?) Calvinists would spend their time ascetically and neurotically reassuring themselves of their chosen-ness.) Taking this insight into account I guess the prospect of being up against The CASTLE isn’t as encouraging after all. (This is how Yale might look to you right now. A rather dark blend of ivory tower.) (But don't let yourselves be discouraged: Inside it is very bright and cozy and certainly worth the hassle of getting there.) So why don’t I give you some minor pieces of advice in order to facilitate your application journey.
- Get some meaningful letters of recommendation!
- Create a convincing narrative!
- Start early!
- Don’t go to the Oktoberfest on the day before your TOEFL!
- Calm down!
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Oct 14, 2015Before heading to Toronto, where I will spend the next weekend, I should share some thoughts on last weekend’s trip to Vermont (yes, life as an LLM-student is awfully busy). To make things short: The beauty of the Indian Sumer will be one of the highlights of your fall term. But see for yourselves: Be aware though that the traditional Vermont trip during fall break is not part of the official LLM program at Yale. You will therefore have to plan and pay for the trip on your own. This may be one of the (very few?) genuine advantages of choosing Harvard. But do not jump to easy conclusions. Auto-organizing the trip may be an advantage after all. You will learn a whole lot about the souls, needs, wants and anxieties of your classmates. There will be some who fear few things more than their classmate’s obnoxious snore. There will be others antagonized by sharing a bed with a relative stranger (after all we have known each other for less than two months). There will be dietary requests and restrictions abound, all in need of respectful accommodation (I am beginning to understand the US Supreme Court’s strict stance on requests for religious accommodations; cf. Employment Division v. Smith, 494 US 872). Finally, there will be those who tremble at the meager likelihood of catching legionnaire’s disease in the outdoor hot-tub. Speaking of hot-tubs: I apologize for the misleading title, I guess what we ended up with wasn’t a “cabin” after all. Even when taking a break from the Yale Bubble we just could not envision life without the luxury of bubbles, in this case of many small bubbles surrounding us while we were fixing our eyes on the star sprinkled sky. Thus strengthened by starlit bubble billions and some of the best – in fact stellar – barbecue (the South Americans stayed true to their reputation) the next day’s ascent to Killington Peak was but a piece of cake. Even those who thought otherwise were quickly appeased by this marvelous view: The peak of the Green Mountains at the peak of the Indian summer was certainly worth all the trouble of getting there. Keep this in mind while continuing on your stony path to The CASTLE. PS: For those of you who are still unconvinced: Don’t let yourselves be fooled by your guides. There is a lift on the other side of the mountain. For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school's profile on LLM GUIDE.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Oct 21, 2015
It may come as a surprise, but Yale Law School - despite its liberal leanings (according to Fisman et al, Science, 18 September 2015, Vol. 349 no. 6254, less than 1 out of 10 students self-identifies as Republican) - is deeply originalist. Though, I must clarify, this originalism is of a different mold than the originalism used by Justices Scalia or Thomas to justify their conservative claims. It is, in fact, quite the opposite of a conservative attitude. Yale Law School’s originalism is its obsession with originality.
You will notice this on the first day of orientation, when you may enjoy the pleasure of having Harold Koh, former dean of YLS and security advisor to Hilary Clinton during her time at the State Department, introduce you to the culture of the law school. Citing Guido Calabresi, Koh urged us to – sooner or later – come up with “our IDEA”. Without any such truly original idea, our distinctive take on the legal world, our lives as scholars would be doomed to fail.
(This is how you're supposed to always look like at Yale. But how can you do that? And do you have to wear a tie?)
This prep talk raised several questions that have haunted me (and most likely other LLMs) through most of my Yale experience: Is one idea enough? Will somebody actually be willing to pay me for the remainder of my life for having delivered a single IDEA? What does this mean for my hourly wage while I come up with the IDEA? It must be astronomical. Is IKEA such an IDEA? Seriously: What kind of IDEA can fuel an entire life of scholarship? It must be quite big. If that is the case, isn’t it too much to be asked for? How many big ideas are still out there? Can any of us come up with one? Does the IDEA have any content or is it more like a mindset, a lens through which we look at law’s empire? Is this IDEA what makes my thoughts original?
However vague the idea of the IDEA may be, it has considerable traction on life at YLS. Faculty workshop, where Yale professors discuss their recent scholarship, is one good place to observe IDEAS at work. It is striking, to what degree most professors’ questions and comments are shaped and structured by their respective IDEA. These IDEAS provide originality, precision and an interesting ring to most of the discussion. On the other hand, IDEAS and originality come at a prize: Not all issues are fit for all IDEAS. I may have a hammer, but not all things are nails. Sometimes deference to the IDEA of someone else may be the order of the day.
This kind of modesty is certainly not being encouraged at Yale (nor - from what I've heard - at other US law schools). Instead, the BUBBLE infuses us with millions of ideas while classes and teachers push us to develop and – as boldly as prematurely – state our own. The READING MYTH contributes to this tendency by assuring a constant exposure to new IDEAS, while not allowing the time to effectively and conclusively wrestle with any of them. So far, Yale’s ORIGINALISM, its extreme prime on originality, is what has made my experience so rich. This does not mean that it isn’t an obsession.
For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school's profile on LLM GUIDE.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Nov 04, 2015
The last post revolving around IDEAS, this one is about their lack. It is a tale of a meerkat at heart in its desperate and ultimately unsuccessful search of a HALLOWEEN costume. The injustice of this situation was manifold:
“Meerkat” would have been a pretty good costume. Unfortunately though, being a meerkat disqualified me from impersonating one. After all, the law of HALLOWEEN demands us to dress up as someone or something else.
Which leads me to my second point: The Law of HALLOWEEN. Why is there such a thing and why should we LLMs have to yield to its demands? By virtue of what authority? As foreigners we certainly did not incur this obligation by way of self-authorship. We did not partake in the making of this custom of making up costumes. Should we nevertheless have to assimilate? Should we abandon our own, diverse cultures to a bunch of pumpkins? Should we not demand some room for cultural accommodation? You could say that we forfeited this claim when deliberately leaving the customs area at the airport, thus renouncing our natural liberty in exchange for whatever costumes-custom our host country might come up with. But shouldn’t there at least be an exception to laws so clearly and utterly horrific as the Law of HALLOWEEN?
In the face of such injustice, of course, we yielded. Not only did our LLM-class yield, we even organized our own HALLOWEEN party. This left some of us, including me, in the even worse position of being stripped of the network of mutual support against the American yoke that our LLM class generally provides. While wars are being fought about whether the LLMs should be properly referred to as “foreign exchange students” (some of us minded the somewhat condescending ring of the term) by our American counterparts, nobody joined me in taking up arms against HALLOWEEN’S dictate.
Being neither a fool (meerkats seem too alert to be fools) nor a martyr (not being fools, meerkats have little inclination towards martyrdom) I was still faced with the urgent need to come up with some costume. In my desperation, I aimlessly erred around the law school in search of an IDEA. This being the usual modus vivendi at Yale Law School (see Originalism, How to be a Meerkat and the Reading Myth) my agony went completely unnoticed. Since nobody knew, nobody offered me any help or hugs.
So in the end, what outfit did I choose? Why should you care.
But why am I writing this?
To let you know that HALLOWEEN is HORROR. That you should start thinking about your costume as soon as you arrive here next summer. That you will have to figure out for yourself how much to yield to American legal and general culture. That no matter how you position yourself towards this question, you will definitely be hearing and talking a lot about political legitimacy, the groundings of authority and the moral duty to obey the law. That you may sometimes be called a “foreign exchange student”. That the LLM-class, although busy, has not dropped out of the partying business yet and usually offers a great support network. Also I intend to give you a vivid impression of how all these ideas and papers and workshops and conferences and lunch lectures that will be pouring down on you will deeply confuse you. I think this post demonstrates that – in an entertaining and benign fashion - day by day Yale Law School steals my sanity.
For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school's profile on LLM GUIDE.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Nov 16, 2015
With the long longed-for revival of “Star Wars” approaching (“Where in the world is Luke Skywalker?”) I should let you know that, in spite of the BUBBLE, prospective Yale law students should be prepared for a special kind of conflict: WALL WARS.
The WALL is an ancient institution at YLS, serving as its central communication platform. What once was an actual wall, where students would virtually pin their thoughts, invitations, questions and sorrows in paper form, the WALL has gone digital and turned into an email-run forum. Students now virtually virtually post their thoughts. Besides this change in form, the WALL’s substance remains.
This WALL then must be imagined as the forum that breeds Yale Law School as a community. Community building being a difficult, highly political enterprise, this does not go by without friction and tensions. The underlying tension regularly turns into heated "discussion", sometimes erupting into WALL WARS.
The content of WALL WARS is manifold: It may be the issue of Palestine. It may be the use of drones. It may be birthright citizenship and its partly racially motivated criticism. It may be colorblind emails about inconsiderate Halloween costumes and their implications for free expression and safe spaces.
(As it turns out, my failure at finding a Halloween costume might have been a good thing after all. Maybe my failing instincts and complete paralysis in the face of the costume-decision were a subtle hint towards Halloween being, at its heart, a very silly, unnecessary, potentially harmful exercise. Reflection confirms this hunch: Looking at its Roman predecessor, the Saturnalia, when slaves were allowed and encouraged to dress up as their masters for a couple of days, points us towards all kinds of Carnival being, at their very core, means of entrenching social norms and existing power structures. Limiting disorder to a couple of days and allowing its periodic ventilation essentially amounts to affirming the order for the rest of the time. By practicing disorder as disorder, order is affirmed. The supposed need to “get certain things out of the system”, often claimed by Carnival-apologetics to be a central function of these festivities, should make us skeptical: Why are these things in the system in the first place? And shouldn’t the system be different? – As you can see, I still haven’t come to terms with having failed at Halloween. This is my exercise in rationalization.)
Despite its manifold content, the shape of WALL WARS is one and the same: Inclusion through exclusion by declaration.
WALL WARS cannot be understood as reasoned argument. When the topic turns e.g. on Israel, people don’t actually argue about Israel’s politics. Instead, somebody will passive-aggressively declare, through the WALL, her or his support to the Palestinian cause, more or less openly implying some kind of Israeli imperialism or racism towards its Arab population. This ill-concealed suggestion will, of course, be detected and picked up by some other member of the Yale Law community who will, in turn, declare his or her allegiance to the Israeli cause, usually retorting with some other mildly passive-aggressive comment. This exchange then goes back and forth for a couple of times, allowing both sides to strengthen their respective group identity. In all of this, no argument is being made. Nobody tries to convince anybody of the falsity of her or his beliefs. It is an exercise in identity building with the vague hope that one’s own identity group will, in the long run, prevail. The code of the discussion is “in or out”, friend or foe.
The same dynamics – in their purest form - emerged in reaction to a lunch lecture hosted by Yale Law School’s enfant terrible, the right-wing Federalist Society, putting into question birthright citizenship on patently racist grounds. Shortly after the event, instead of denouncing and refuting the untenable argument, a WALL thread developed with the express goal of “condemning” the presentation and ostentatiously reaffirming the commitment to birthright citizenship and the fellow students with recent immigrant pasts.
(This is the sad fate awaiting the WALL if it continues its friend-foe discursive culture.)
The ensuing candystorm (GOOGLE tells me this is how one calls shitstorm’s benign sibling) of solidarity continued for several days and – taken together with other WALL WARS – left me in an even more confused state than what would seem appropriate for a meerkat in a meerkat’s haven. Before coming to Yale, I would never have expected any law school’s discursive culture to be so hostile to actual discussion and so keen on building close-knit communities in which everyone constantly affirms each other’s beliefs. This mindset, for me, is in strange discord with the intensively curious and intellectually challenging posture taken in most of Yale Law School’s classes. It is as if the student body, after being challenged in class, turns to the WALL in order to heal its wounds and create an even safer space. Students do so by declaring allegiance to the RIGHT and condemning the WRONG. The code is solidarity or exclusion. From an outsider’s perspective this is not agonism or adversary culture, it is the very antagonism that has been mutilating American politics since the advent of the Tea Party. These aren’t contests, these are WALL WARS.
For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Nov 30, 2015
Last weekend afforded me the opportunity to take a peak into one of Yale’s great traditions: The Harvard-Yale-GAME.
Which sport am I referring to? Rumor has it that the two teams were trying to play American Football, but there was no means of confirming this claim. If scoring first downs every now and then is a viable criterion for determining whether it’s football that’s being played, it must have been another sport. Both teams kept punting the ball back and forth, apparently trying to trace the sport that they were allegedly playing back to it’s name and etymological origins (foot-ball). It must be Yale’s ORIGINALISM that made our team excel at this discipline even more than Harvard, leaving us with a final score of 19-38.
(At this point in the game some misguided hope was still left.)
(This was the band trying to pull off its version of a choreography.)
But enough of pathetic high school-level football! The GAME is not about sports. It’s about reveling in a century-old rivalry of two great universities. It’s about excessive tailgating, all the more direly necessary in order to keep up your spirits when watching two clumsy teams punting the ball. It’s about cheering for Yale while standing not too far away from Secretary of State, John Kerry.
It’s about half of Harvard’s student body being bused to New Haven, finding refuge at some of their friends' places or in one of the twelve undergraduate dorms. It’s about New Haven’s streets bustling with groups of merrily drunk students in bright daylight, fusing with nostalgic alumni as well as uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents visiting their Yalie offspring or relatives. So far, I have not seen New Haven in quite as swinging and lively a mood. Even the angriest angry bird could not have helped having a smile on his or her face.
For those of you who have been struggling to gather the necessary motivation to carry yourself through the application process: The two days of rivalry-revelry should by no means be missed. Having the GAME at home is certainly a premium. Therefore, if you haven’t applied this year, or if you don’t get in: Apply for 2017, when Yale will again be hosting the GAME!
For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Jan 11, 2016Besides 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.
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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Jan 11, 2016
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.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Feb 09, 2016
Thank you, Jonas, says the panda.
But who is Jonas?
Jonas is a blizzard. In fact, he is a baby blizzard. The baby blizzard that two weekends ago brought the east coast to a halt. It may have been an actual blizzard at Washington or New York.
However, from the perspective of Yale, which, as we have learned over the last semester, is the perspective of the objective truth, it was only a baby blizzard. This is somewhat strange, because the blizzard reached Washington and New York before it hit New Haven. So it regressed from monster storm to blizzard to baby blizzard. I therefore name it BENJAMIN BUTTON BABY BLIZZARD.
Benjamin Button Baby Blizzard finally brought some snow to New Haven and made me very happy. Beautiful thick snowflakes animated by a mild winter wind called for an extended walk through the snowfall.
But guess what?
NOBODY WANTED TO walk WITH ME. All of New Haven hid in their homes. So I proposed to imitate that panda, have a snowball fight and roll around in the snow.
But guess what?
NOBODY WANTED TO PLAY WITH ME.
So I too headed home to hide in my bed and have some delicious canned food that I had shopped in preparation of the giant storm. How could I have known that the storm of the century would turn out to be a BENJAMIN BUTTON BABY BLIZZARD?
Once the storm had passed and the sun came out, all of New Haven looked very beautiful. Beautiful enough to lure people from their heated homes into the winterwonderland.
So finally we had our long longed for snowball fight and even went sledding. The latter was due to the initiative of the Yale Law School Sledding Society (YLSSS). Thank you for this brilliant IDEA. Our Brazilian friends, despite being new to this serious business, did wonderfully. I, too, enjoyed the sport the habit of which I had lost long ago. I guess the baby blizzard and the snow-rolling panda brought out our childish side. This is not at all surprising, given the fact that, for the first time in around a decade, we’re part of an actual “class”, mostly hanging out with the same bunch of randomly selected people. So you should know: When at YLS, you will have these moments where you’ll feel like being back in school. This is certainly something Harvard can’t match.
As for the whole blizzard business (which you will have to deal with when spending a winter in New Haven): Don’t let the Americans scare you too much. They’ll hype every baby blizzard into a monster storm. This is surprising: Given the frequency of blizzards and the notoriously cold winters one would expect New Englanders to know how to deal with some snow. My theory is that baby blizzards are intentionally hyped in order to have an excuse for bringing life to a standstill and stay home. An extra day of vacation. Given the few days of paid vacation per year (around 15 on average) this is legitimate self-defense.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Feb 26, 2016
Future people of Yale Law School: Prepare for the moment when, a couple weeks into the second semester, everyone will freak out. With fellowship-, JSD-proposal-, and other deadlines approaching, you and your classmates will start to resemble the poor JD-population in their perpetual driven-ness. In order to escape this unhealthy dynamic and to not let the Yale penguins steal your last drops of sanity, you should make your class representative (which you will have to call “El Presidente”) call into being an Ultimate Writing Boot Camp.
Ultimate Writing Boot Camp aims at breaking the ever-tightening chains of procrastination (it is common knowledge that there is a strong positive correlation between workload and affinity for procrastination) by locking most of the international students into a seminar room and not letting them out before at least some work has been achieved.
This is what El Presidente will do to you:
Be careful: Don’t let yourselves be tricked by the tons of cake, cookies and coffee, supposed to be waiting for you: They only serve as a bait in order to lure you into a trap of diabolic evilness, where relentless drill instructors will take away both, coffee and food, and devour them in front of your hungry eyes.
(This Tantalean torture is brought to you by one of Yale’s ORIGINALSTS - in both, the conventional and the Yalie, senses – in an effort to make you grasp the meaning of “cruel and unusual punishment”.)
So much for the theory behind Ultimate Writing Boot Camp. How did it look in practice?
The following is an excerpt from the classe’s WhatsApp thread during Ultimate Writing Boot Camp:
A: Come people, we can’t eat all this cake!
B: Or can we???
A: I was just typing that.
C: Hahaha…I think you guys will manage.
A: OK, we don’t need help with the cake. Come for the love and wonderful company.
Meanwhile in a personal thread...
E: You look very enthusiastic. Shouldn’t be on Whatsapp.
A second later...
G: I’m workiiiing!!
Voilà a performative contradiction…
E: I understand: "This statement is false..." Just saying that you look very enthusiastic about it.
G: How do you mean?
E: You look bored out of your mind.
Meanwhile in the common thread…
D: You still boot camping?
One second later...
Another second later...
E: Obviously we’re not. All doing WhatsApp.
Another ten seconds...
Graduate Tutor: People doing the boot camp shouldn’t check their phones for messages.
F: Gosh. Don’t judge us. We’re very productive.
B: I wish! Haha.
At this point I chose to do something worthwhile. Guess where I’m writing this blog post…
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Feb 26, 2016
After having spent the past couple of posts in the realm of increasing absurdity, I wish to return to some serious business: (In)Equality at Yale in all its facets. Is this a place where people of different color, gender, nationalities, income, or professional backgrounds are being treated on equal terms?
This blog has already featured some of the dimensions of inequality. I mentioned the outrage of our JD student body when confronted with Professor Markovits’s findings on “Distributional preferences of an elite” (see post The Yale WATERGATE and http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aab0096). HALLOWEEN and its highly political costume customs have highlighted the racial lines and inequities on Campus (see post WALL WARS and http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/nyregion/yale-college-dean-torn-by-racial-protests.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0).
So far, I have said nothing about gender dynamics, which – in terms of classroom participation, visibility, representation on the faculty etc. – seem to give much hope for a promising, more equal future. It is, however, a relative equality of an extreme elite. I have no clue of how these dynamics play out outside of the YALE BUBBLE. Be that as it may: Compared to this small world and my reduced perspective on it, German academy has a lot of catching up to do.
I still haven’t said much. To be precise, I haven’t said a thing. That reminds me of one of my classes at the philosophy department. Among other things, the course tries to develop a sense of how unequal states of affairs could reasonably be ranked. What features of a situation make one distribution of wellbeing worse than another with regard to inequality? The analytical method with which this question is being approached produces a brilliant contrast to the classes at the Law School: While the lawyers’ discussions are full of normativity and will force you to perpetually take and defend a position, the philosophy class is beautifully void of content. All the ultra-sober, ultra-serious, ultra-play-less complaining about inequality is replaced by abstract thought experiments that invite us to imagine possible or not-so-possible-worlds and their respective inequality coefficients.
As you can easily see, my restless ascent up Yale’s ivory tower has made me leave the law school’s reality constraints and catapulted me into the world of pure no-ledge. As the conceptual air is getting thinner and thinner, my thoughts freely float lighter and lighter until soon I will be flying all the way up in the air. Free like a bird I will no longer need my plane ticket to get back to Europe.
Why am I writing this? Because I’m sure that the topic of inequality, in at least one of its many faces, will have a grip on your thoughts over most of the year. Because this way of engaging you as a person is one of the great features of Yale Law School and the world around it. Because I want to urge you to take classes outside of the law school – be it only in order to find out what you might appreciate about being a lawyer. In case you’re interested in theoretical stuff, it might also be worthwhile to see how theorizing looks like when it is pushed to the extremes:
No more inequality, only asymmetry at Yale.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Mar 04, 2016
While some love “Pride and Prejudice”, others take pride in prejudice. Of the latter you will encounter much during your LL.M year. In a mostly harmless fashion prejudice will be all over the place.
Vis-à-vis the Indians you will be making your punts about the relephants of elephants. Holy Cow, how can you be so insensitive? The Latin Americans will host Latin parties, dancing salsa and drinking some kind of biting alcohol (it's sting is unsurprising, given that they make their alcohol from cacti). They will hug each other and their surroundings at every occasion or non-occasion and complain about hugaverse, hugawkward German robots. The German robots, in turn, will theorize about the unnatural-ness of American (or any New World) wine and food in general. The Israelis will denounce this as German chauvinism, redirecting its destructive potential onto the relatively harmless realm of food.
And the Swiss, what will they do? They will complain about the local cheese and remain neutral.
So much, so harmless. Things get more serious, once you leave the world of culture and food and enter into the world of IDEAS. Yale Law School being full of these (no less than of itself), this is more or less synonymous with entering 127 Wall Street. (Yes, you will spend your LL.M. year on Wall Street. It will give you a huge head start in the world of Big Law.)
Upon entering, you will be told that Germans love systematicity and are formalists. That civil law countries in general are formalistic. That they believe in logically deriving their decisions from gapless legal codes. That American lawyers, to the contrary, understand how decisions are actually made. That this legal realism is an American particularity. That the Jewish religion is ortho-practic, whereas Christianity is ortho-dox. That there are three kinds of constitutional systems (democratic monism, rights-foundationalism, dualism). That the French Revolution was a failure and its being worshipped in Europe an awful fraud. That the French admire their “lois” while the Americans love their judges. That Jim Crow and its lasting heritage constitute a “caste system”. That the US brought democracy to the world (“We made you!”).
All this will be heralded to you with the trumpets of truth and without the slightest shadow of doubt.
This spirit of (over)confident generalization will inexorably exert its grip on your thinking. Why? Because it is intriguing, it has power. They actually still make claims and judgments at Yale. They provide and defend distinctions. They say something relephant. They say SOMETHING. What does it matter that – in a slight variation – it has been said before? What does it matter that it doesn’t do justice to every person and phenomenon?
I am deeply torn by this, as I think are many of my classmates and as you will be when at Yale: Not only will you be tempted by the powerful lure of Yale’s ORIGINALISM obsession. The entire LL.M. situation makes you particularly vulnerable to the habit of (over)generalized judgment. You will be away from your home countries. Many things will be new and will demand at least some kind of rough classification. How does this relate to the institutions, the culture, the food, the values you know? You will not escape making comparative, i.e. evaluative, judgments. Even if you pretend to be modest, and self-consciously avoid the words “better” and “worse”, cloaking them in the language of preference, you cannot help but make up your mind about which world you actually do prefer. For the first time in your life you will regularly and for a longer period of time hang out with a bunch of people from all over the globe: Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Western Europe, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and of course the US. Everyone will tell you their own view of their country, culture, or cult, and you will map your new world accordingly. In all this your classmates and you can be as careful and non-judgmental as you want, but you will inevitably be left with an entire array of new, nice, and neat drawers. This tendency will be reinforced by the law school culture’s perpetual demand for swift, surprising and possibly original judgment. On top of all this you will be part of a group of people who all have a rather strong drive and habit of trying to make sense of their world. More than is usual you will be among ivory-tower-afficionados. YLS is, after all, not only a parade of prejudice, but also a nerd parade. Being one of these nerds, you will be marching along.
This should by no means shock you. My classmates and I enjoy it a lot and you will too. Just keep in mind and beware that, instead of de-biasing you, the yearlong parade of prejudice will bolster your
PRIDE IN PREJUDICE.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Mar 16, 2016
The fast approaching end of the semester is not the only thing currently holding us LL.M.s in its grip. For, even if FINALS, papers, and grades can be frightening and play-less at times, there are much worse fears in this world. One of these is the fear of elections, also called HORROR ELECTIONIS. It has been creeping up in the souls of YLS students and staff at an ever-increasing pace. By now, it has reached a commanding influence on our minds that can no longer be ignored.
This has not always been the case: In the beginning of the year, the Republican presidential debates where moments of playful cheering among YLS Democrats (making up about 90% of the student body). There was this angry orange ogre making a fool of himself and of his party. So what? It was mostly laughter that was filling the room.
Contrary to some blizzards, the orange ogre, however, was not akin to BENJAMIN BUTTON. Instead, rather than regressing, he constantly grew in size. He grew and grew, his gruesome growth leading to some serious HORROR ELECTIONIS. This horror now is powerful enough as to even threaten the immaculate walls of Yale’s ivory tower. Like Saruman, under attack of the Ents, we tried to fend it off as long as we could, rallying to save our PRECIOUS BUBBLE by insulating us from the evils of this world.
Official subtitle: "Spells thrown by Death Eaters (aka Donald Trump and his allies) in order to crack/break the shield (BUBBLE) around Hogwarts (Yale)."
In vain, however: The orange ogre was relentless in his quest to shake our peace. He even forged an alliance with dark forces in the east, i.e. France, Poland, Switzerland, and Germany. HORROR ELECTIONIS is getting stronger and stronger. We must all hope that the forces of evil will not succeed. Otherwise there might be no BUBBLE left within which to enjoy your LL.M.
(The allied forces of evil are gathering in and around Mordor.)
On the other hand, it is somewhat of a relief that HORROR ELECTIONIS has reached this place. It wouldn’t have shed a very favorable light on Yale, had the craziness surrounding it gone completely unnoticed. It is, after all, graduates of YLS (Hillary), HLS (Ted Cruz), and some other schools, who play the national drama’s leading roles. Despite this fact, up till quite recently, the student body, when politically active, was mostly occupied with itself. Questions of campus and staff diversity, of inclusion, and safe spaces (see HALLOWEEN and WALL WARS) where governing most minds. This has profoundly changed: By now, there is hardly a class left that doesn’t feature a passionate argument about the required skillset of presidents, the red line towards incitement of violence (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/opinion/the-trump-campaign-gives-license-to-violence.html?_r=0), the lawfulness of Obama’s DACA-Program (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/20/us/politics/supreme-court-to-hear-challenge-to-obama-immigration-actions.html), and other issues this coming election has put on the line.
Observing this transformation as well as an entire country being pulled deeper and deeper into the primaries’ political theater has been one of the most interesting aspects of my time in the US. Even if it is possible to follow these developments from abroad, watching them from close up adds much flavor and depth to the experience. This holds despite the fact that HORROR ELECTIONIS, for obvious reasons, tastes more bitter than sweet.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Mar 16, 2016
While HORROR ELECTIONIS might be vexing, it is nothing against HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR. This latter horror kicks in when you find yourself in the awful situation of having to choose between several admission offers. With Yale’s and most likely other admission decisions being out, this time of the year seems like a good moment to address the cure to this unfortunate plight.
So how should you deal with HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR?
There is an easy and obvious answer: Go to Yale!
In the end, this is the best and only recommendation I can sincerely make (hence the image of my admission BINDER on the top of this post).
For more sophisticated people, here are my thoughts on how to handle your situation:
1) Throw away your pro-and-con-lists and have a drink!
To my experience, there is absolutely no point in making such lists. Personal decisions, especially those requiring a choice between roughly equally great options, don’t allow for reasoned elaboration. You may be able to defend your decision once you’ve made it when applying for outside scholarships or the like. But pro-and-con-lists won’t help you in figuring out what you want.
(For an excellent illustration of the truth of this claim watch the millions of pro-and-con-lists that Gilmore Girls' Rory Gilmore drafted in vain before setting her mind on going to Yale. Episode “A Tale of Poes and Fire”)
A much better way to search your mind is opening a bottle of booze and get drunk with your friends. It is this slightly clouded, but more sensitive and vulnerable state of mind in which you sometimes confess your deepest fears and fancies that will make you receptive to what you actually want.
2) Ask your friends and relatives where you want to go!
This is not a typo. I actually don’t mean to say that you ought to ask them where you should want go. This is your business only. Nor is it a socratic “want” in the sense that, while you might believe that you want x, you actually want y and only “want” x because of your clouded judgment.
No: Ask them where you actually want to go. You will be surprised to find out that they will do a better job in figuring out what your tendencies are than you yourself. Just make them make you state your reasons for either of your options. They will be able to tell what you want by the way you deliver your speech, the glow in your eyes, the twitch of your facial muscles. I can assure you that they will be unimpressed by what you report as the tentative conclusion of your decision making process. (This tentative conclusion will anyways change back and forth several times before you reach your final decision.)
3) Don’t overestimate the import of your decision!
As I said, your options will most likely be roughly equivalent. If you’re all about prestige, Harvard and Yale will probably have a slight advantage over the other schools. If you care about substance, there are at least 5-10 law schools that with regard to their “product value” – what you get for your tuition – are hardly distinguishable. It then comes down to your respective area of interest, your general taste, and maybe specific professors whose classes you want to experience.
A constitutional lawyer probably shouldn’t miss out on Yale. An internationally minded scholar should at least consider NYU. A pragmatic distrust of theory might make you prefer Harvard over Yale. I can see why Joseph Raz would lure people to Columbia.
You might also want to remember that school isn’t all there is to an LL.M. year. (Class) Size, for example, matters as well. Do you like the anonymity of European universities? Then you should think about a small program, just to find out that you were right all along (or do the contrary). Are you a big city person? Then you should challenge yourself and go to a small place like Yale (or do the contrary). Are you a night owl? Then you should have a look at Harvard/Boston where all bars and clubs close no later than two (or do the contrary). All these might be relevant considerations (or they are not).
With one final and most likely unhelpful piece of advice I will abandon you to your personal HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR:
If you, right now, stand paralyzed, being particularly vulnerable to the horrors caused by the paradox of choice, you should consider this as an argument for Yale. While the course catalogue is more than vast enough, it can still be handled. HORROR ELECTIONIS during shopping period will thus be relatively small compared to schools such as Harvard or Columbia.
In providing a criterion for your decision, HORROR ELECTIONIS therefore contains the very principle by which to contain and resolve HORROR ELECTIONIS. HORROR ELECTIONIS is both, the problem and its solution.
This, by the way, is roughly the same intuition that Gilmore Girls character Luke uses in order to come up with a decision criterion:
LUKE (towards Rory and Lorelai): Hey — which school teaches how to make an important life decision without doing a stupid pro/con list? Whichever one it is, add it to the pro column.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Apr 02, 2016
Reading this blog, it may not come as a surprise to you that Yale Law School and its style exert an almost irresistible gravitational pull. The pressure to assimilate seems insurmountable. While in the beginning of my blog career I contended myself with writing about such (helpful, but) trivialities as how to travel here and where to have drinks, Yale’s ORIGINALISM has perverted my blog into a decreasingly decipherable and increasingly absurd array of self-reference and insider hints. (Do you get the title? Or is it a book “signatum sigillis septem” to you?) Anything short of the absurdity of piece-of-cake-ratios or Kafka’s CASTLE will simply no longer do for me as a freshly initiated and originality-obsessed inhabitant of The Yale Law School.
I just recently learned that the proper way of making re(v/f)erence to YLS is by adding a “the” before “Yale Law School” in order to convey that it isn’t just Yale Law School but the one and only Yale Law School that you’re talking about. This reminds me of a strange habit of southern Germans: They usually refer to their friends or to their parents by adding a “the” to their respective names (as in “der Josef”) or functions (as in “die Mama”). Apparently Bavarians (to whom I must confess I belong) are so self-centered that they want to make crystal clear that, while others might think they have a mother (Mama), they do not actually have one, since the one and only mother (“die Mama”) is, in fact, already claimed by the speaker (and his or her siblings).
Therefore: Be greeted, Yalies, Bavarians of America!
(Can you tell the difference?)
But let’s get back on track: I was talking about the inherent and irresistible pressure to assimilate, which is exerted by The Yale Law School, its institutions, and customs. One of these TRANSFORMATIONS through assimilation has thrown me into deep DESPERATION: The LLMs are slowly but inevitably turning into American JDs. We have become utterly JDiced.
(Recently they have even changed the menu at The Yale Law School’s dining hall. They now are serving "(J)diced LLM in its own jus".)
One piece of evidence that perfectly corroborates this claim is the character of conversation in the graduate student’s own Whatsapp thread: What had been a place of swift and uncomplicated coordination, party invitations, innocent flirtations, and serious conversations now largely resembles THE WALL. Where Indians and Belgians happily exchanged their mutual and preposterous PREJUDICE, we’re now trading in niceties. Where discussions were had, community is built by inclusion through exclusion by declaration. While the content of the Whatsapp thread is manifold, its form is but one: Benevolent (in this regard we’re not fully (J)diced yet) WALL WARS.
One such conversation concerned the issue of voting for a faculty member to deliver the speech at The Yale Law School’s graduation ceremony. Shamefully excluded from the original nominating procedures, the LLM’s plotted to coordinate in order to rally behind one common candidate. Powered by hurt feelings, we engaged into the very identity politics (us LLMs vs. those evil JDs) we had been able to learn through the WALL over the course of the year. Being the nerds and avid learners that we are, we were perfectly fluent in whipping, rigging, and goading the vote of all LLMs into conformity.
What does this mean?
We’ve lost our innocence.
(Two LLM students covering themselves after having tasted from THE WALL.)
TRANSFORMATION drove us out of Eden into DESPERATION.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on Apr 28, 2016
A couple of weeks ago came the moment for which every admirer of American popular culture, every avid watcher of American Pie, had been waiting throughout the year: The YLS Prom Dance.
It was a curious event: Despite being held in the mighty pseudo-gothic halls of the Yale Commons, the party couldn’t quite shake off its high school-ish origins. This was all the more surprising, given that the music, supported by relentless bass line, most insistently urged the Hogwartesque walls to swiftly “shake it off”. The walls, however, unforgivingly remained unmoved and preserved the entertaining contrast to their high school-ish surroundings.
Not only the music, but most other items (photo booth, decoration, plastic cups, prom royal couple) matched the ideal type of a high school prom.
(It seems as if life at YLS is so busy that no one can afford to devote any time to develop a more sophisticated and somewhat articulate taste in music. Instead, the evening’s playlist was indistinguishable from the kind of music that would be fueling an actual high school prom. Over distinguishing cases we seem to have lost the sense for distinguished music. Being the most avid admirer of Taylor Swift I, of course, have nothing to complain about. However, it deserves to be noticed that Yale’s ORIGINALISM is shamefully lacking with regard to musical taste. This may have to do with YLS’s party culture to be, by European standards, overall rather poorly developed (see Yale WATERGATE). This holds true despite the many and considerable efforts that our LLM class has heroically invested into establishing the BRAZILIAN PALACE (the humble temporary home of our two Brazilian LLMs) as the city’s prime party location.
An alternative, more optimistic, take on the issue would, of course, be to claim that high-school-prom-styled music must be understood as being even more ORIGINAL than any more distinguished playlist could ever hope to be. For, such high-school-styled music would naturally be in a more undeveloped, more embryonic, and thus more ORIGINAL state. According to this standard of ORIGINALISM the most ORIGINAL sound of them all would be the very charming initial cries of a baby after it leaves the womb. If YLS is, as it tends to be, at the avant-garde of things, we thus have reached a promising hypothesis as to where pop music will be heading in the years and decades to come. This standard of ORIGINALITY would moreover lend itself very well to being most beneficially applied to the papers that exhausted LLMs still have to write at the end of this second semester. After ten months of MEERCATINESS there is little energy left for thoughtfulness and sophistication. I therefore most humbly propose that for grading purposes “maximal proximity to embryonic states of development” be defined as the official measure of what it means to have an ORIGINAL IDEA. This would have the added benefit of bringing the YLS interpretation of ORIGINALISM back into tune with its interpretation by leading ORIGINALISTS in the politico-legal arena.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on May 02, 2016
With “Game of Thrones” returning to the long-deserted TV-screens of its fan community we LLMs are beginning to realize that this year approaches its end. Alas, they were turbulent times full of tears and tiredness!
As for the latest and most devastating development: The BRAZILIAN PALACE was burned to the ground by a legendary prom-after-party (our few remaining brain cells refer to it as the “red wedding”) and is now uninhabitable. The feudal landlord of the Brazilian dwellings declared a permanent ban on joyful festivities on his lands.
Tearful we’re now fearful for the fate of all our future feasts.
These feasts will indeed be numerous in the weeks to come, while our deeds become less. While we selfishly petition for the reinterpretation of Yale’s ORIGINALISM in order to dispose of our duties with minimal effort, one end-of-the-year-celebration chases the next. Picture day chases prom chases graduate luncheon chases law school picnic chases graduation banquet chases spring fling chases end of class chases bling bling.
This marathon of farewells has caused tears in some of us:
One of our Brazilians seemed quite moved by every picture that we took; maybe this was only the distant repercussions of her pain of being expelled from her Brazilian dwellings; maybe, however, cameras are conceived as frightening and magic objects in Brazil; this latter theory seems to be one that fits very well with Yale’s PRIDE IN PREJUDICE; I will not ask her to confirm, since this could defeat my theory.
While having inspired tears in some, this marathon of farewells has most certainly tired all of us. The academic year had already been sufficiently meerkat-y (see “How to be a meerkat”) and reading-intensive (see “The reading myth”) in order to exhaust us all. Now the crazy pace of Yale (see “Yale’s Driven-ness”) has added to the menu an impressing and breathtaking battery of celebrations.
(Announcement by the chef general: In order to not waste food and to use the vastly available resource of battered LLMs the dining hall has recently changed the menu from “(J)diced LLM in its own jus” to “battered LLM with a side of fries and cole slaw”.)
And for the most shocking news: In the midst of all this agony of celebrations evil powers have been resuscitated: I’m not talking of John Snow (uncontested winner in the category of “epitome of annoying boringness”) but of FINALS (runner-up in the category “epitome of annoying boringness”). Already on the first day of exam period playless-ness and seriousness have crept up from their deeply dug tombs, singing their devastating song of “NOBODY WANTS TO PLAY WITH YOU, Johannes!”. I do not know whether I will be able to contain these wicked White Walkers. If we do not fight them, most likely they will soon have subjugated the entire LLM class. I am deeply troubled by these prospects for the days to come.
give me dragon glass;
so I can drink in peace
with my LLM class!
By Yale Blogger 2015 on May 03, 2016
In absence of any dragon glass to fight the white walkers of FINAL FINALS (Shame on you, readers of this blog! I would have expected some help and solidarity) I had no choice but to flee as fast as my short legs could carry me.
This flight was quite the plight, given that my legs are sadly fattened by the preposterous amounts of pizza, cookies, and brownies that I have been eating over the course of the past ten months. Yes, you should prepare yourselves for a year of few vitamins, paper plates, and plastic cutlery during which you will distractedly ingest large amounts of not too healthy food while being absorbed by various lunch lectures or other events at the law school.
(These are the miraculous items called “non-plastic cutlery" which you will rarely be seeing during your LLM year.)
While the constant bombardment with IDEAS is very thrilling (see “How to be a meerkat”) it takes your mind off the small details that usually make up a healthy life. But don’t worry: The time here is more than worth any absence of abs (not that there would have been any before coming here…).
It is, however, somewhat questionable whether the daily study breaks during FINAL FINALS, sponsored by various YLS entities (e.g. student groups, Career Development Office aka CDO aka Calorie Development Office), are really a good IDEA. It is certainly not very ORIGINAL to serve the same sweet stuff every day. Moreover it is counter-productive by threatening to stuff the poor student body’s brain capillaries, much needed during finals, with insane amounts of greasy dough. Since students at THE YALE LAW SCHOOL cannot be expected to make responsible choices for themselves, this amounts to luring them into a deadly trap: Slowed down – or worse: immobilized – by cookie dough we will not be able to escape the terrible white walkers of FINAL FINALS. Cookie breaks thus must be understood as being part of a well-orchestrated, epic, and wicked conspiracy against the wellbeing of Yale law students.
(These are the instruments of torture that will be mercilessly applied to your intestines until you cannot move any more.)
(This is the grand inquisitor administering the torture, a representative of the Calorie Development Office.)
Thanks to the COOKIE CONSPIRACY there will thus be no escaping from the white walkers of FINAL FINALS. In order to cope with this fact your only choice will be inner emigration. You will have to use the powers of your inner eye (these inner powers tend to be much better developed among Yale LLMs than their abs) in order to resuscitate the happy days of mid-April, when spring was finally conquering the streets of New Haven. This faint and far-removed memory of cherry blossom may hopefully carry you through the plight of FINAL FINALS.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on May 03, 2016
While the Yale football team is not famous for exhibiting great sophistication (see The GAME), another game is being cultivated to the highest perfection at Yale:
The NAME GAME
I have already talked about WALL WARS, Halloween costume scandals, and the perpetual fight for YALEQUALITY. What I haven’t told you is how these debates tend to end. Most fights about intramural justice, fought in the register of inclusion through exclusion, culminate in naming decisions:
How to name new residential colleges? How to label bathrooms (as “men’s”, “women’s” or “gender neutral”)? How to refer to certain college officials? What to print on dollar bills? You should thus expect and prepare yourselves for naming decisions being the epitome of political decisions at Yale.
These recent weeks have seen a new climax of the NAME GAME.
All started with the new 20-dollar-bill being equipped with a portrait of Harriet Tubman, a 19th century Afro-American abolitionist. Although I’m not generally opposed to symbols as a means of political controversy (some people will say that all politics revolve around common meaning and symbols), it tastes somewhat stale to see the fight for more equality being muted by merely symbolic measures. The impression that emancipatory movements are not being taken very seriously is confirmed when one looks more closely at these kinds of decisions: They follow the clearly discernable pattern of trying to appease as many discontent voices as possible by a single decision. Like the “Brave Little Tailor” who slays seven flies “at one blow” Harriet Tubman conveniently covers both, the interests of the Black Community and the women’s rights movement.
This principle is being followed even more ingeniously by the recent decision to name one of Yale’s two new residential colleges after Pauli Murray, a black, queer woman who played an important role in the civil rights movement. Having thus “at a single blow” absolved itself from the moral demands of three persistent disadvantaged identity groups, the University felt entitled to simultaneously settle (negatively) the long disputed issue of renaming “Calhoun College” (named after a glowing 19th century anti-abolitionist and a symbol of the Confederacy) and name the other new residential college after Benjamin Franklin. With this latter decision, the University administration acquiesced to the request of the donor whose 250 million dollar donation (yes, you read correctly) had enabled the construction of the two new residential colleges.
But “Seven at one blow” are clearly not enough. The University administration’s unsurpassed sophistication in playing the NAME GAME becomes even more complete by another decision that was taken last week: The Black Community’s call to officially abandon the honorary title of “master” for the non-academic heads of the residential colleges (for one provocative position in the fight see http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/08/28/our-honorable-masters/) was finally heard.
Nevertheless, the discontent over the University’s stand on “Calhoun College” prompted another emotional town hall meeting of the student body. The absurdity of the never ending NAME GAME was achieved by today’s YALE NEWS, delivered by Yale’s President, Peter Salovey, to the Yale student body:
A photograph of him justifying the University’s decision to the student body was subtitled “Salovey listens to student disappointment over naming decision”.(http://news.yale.edu/?utm_source=YNemail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=yn-05-03-16)
What sad state must a debating culture have reached in which it is newsworthy that people listen to one another? I promise: The NAME GAME with all its false and annoying compromises is one of the features of Yale’s culture that will be most difficult to stomach all year. When demands for more diversity and inclusion are met with mostly symbolic naming decisions and the institution of another “diversity committee” (as in the case of Yale Law School), the LLM student as a third party observer cannot but shake his or her head. Absurdity is completed when the underrepresented communities, too, start focusing most of their attention on naming decisions of little consequence.
To my firmest conviction this amounts to taking the bait of the NAME GAME.
By Yale Blogger 2015 on May 11, 2016
As I noted before, your year at The Yale Law School will be an altogether transformative experience (see Desperation through Transformation). However, even if, by the end of ten meerkaty months, you may well be a true Yalie, (J)diced and battered, you will still be somewhat of an alien to the JD community.
Combining these two traits you will have become a YALIEN.
(I took this selfie early this afternoon after another attack by the cookie monster. The Grand Cook-I-nquisitor had shoved so many cookies down my throat that, in lack of oxygen, I turned green. If you look more closely, you will also notice that I am wrestling with some cookies trying to make their way back up to where they came from.)
An episode that confirmed that – even after many meerkaty months – it is not always easy to connect to the busy JD-crowd occurred in the wake of another round in the NAME GAME: Pauli Murray, after whom one of the new residential colleges will be named, had been a proud recipient of a JSD (juridical science doctor) degree from The Yale Law School. This small fact stirred a storm of self-congratulation (another WALL candy storm) by some law school officials and students. After the tenth email celebrating YLS for its influential former student, one of the current JSD-candidates, annoyed by the self congratulatory tone, dared to challenge the WALL by asking what in the world this strange “S” in JSD stood for. It sure must have been a typing error. From all she knew, The Yale Law School only awarded JD and PhD degrees.
Hilariously enough, the implicit complaint about the invisibility of the graduate program in the eyes of many JD students didn’t stay unanswered, nor was anyone calling her bluff. Quite to the contrary, one JD, with the earnest eagerness of a choir boy, even did some research and sent around a link to Wikipedia explaining the JSD to be “an advanced research degree, equivalent to a PhD, mostly awarded to non-American raised lawyers”. This piece of research perfectly proved the point: Many JDs don’t take any notice of what else is going on in their law school. To them you will remain YALIENS.
This, however, will not be an actual problem for you. There will be enough LLM, JSD, and MSL students as well as visiting researchers sharing your fate, many of whom you will soon call your friends. This personal closeness is one of the great advantages of being at Yale: Your world-spanning post-LLM-network may not be as impressive as that of a Harvard graduate. However, by the end of the year you will have most certainly found a bustling group of true friends from all around the world. The intensity of the LLM experience at Yale (see YALE’S DRIVEN-NESS) also translates into the personal realm: With the same speed at which people (pre)tend to read here (see THE READING MYTH)
what were mere (Y)ALIENS will soon be your FRIENDS.
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