The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Month: December, 2008

Merry Christmas from SLS (And “Don’t mess with my computer”)

christmas-tree

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this, I hope the holiday is relaxing and no one needs to do too much today. I’m looking forward to ridiculous calorific intake over many hours today, it’s at least one day of the year when the Pot Noodle is simply not on the menu for students after breakfast.

I thought I’d mention a story from across the pond which might reassure everyone who thinks they might be taking this law thing “too seriously.”

Alex Botsios is a 1L (first year of law school) at Arizona State University. Like many students his dorm room is a ripe target for thieves. One particularly bold individual appeared in his room through the unlocked window during the night brandishing a baseball bat. The thief (committing aggravated theft, of course) demanded he hand over his possessions. Botsios, being trapped in a room with an armed man, agreed and later said:

“ he had no problem giving a nighttime intruder his wallet and guitars. “

However, greed was to be this thief’s downfall, not content with the gift of music he went back for more:

“When the man asked for Botsios’ laptop, however, the first-year law student drew the line.

“I was like, ‘Dude, no — please, no!” Botsios said. “I have all my case notes…that’s four months of work!” “

I agree with this feeling, I slipped on ice during the recent freeze and escaped a pretty nasty injury by landing on my laptop and cushioning my fall with a mighty cracking sound and I recall, straight through the sense of embarrassment at decking it and the pain of landing so heavily that I felt physically sick, firstly because I might have had to find the money to buy a new computer from somewhere and also because I might have lost my work right before I was to submit assignments.

Botsios, unlike myself, had a target to vent his rage at and attacked his robber. Literally, he managed to hospitalise a hardened robber in his quest to save his laptop.

“ At that point, the law student wrestled the bat away and began punching Saucedo, Botsios said.

“I basically grabbed him and threw him this way, and he held onto the bat so it threw him to the ground,” he said.

Police said they took Saucedo to the hospital for stitches before they arrested him on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. Other than a bruised knuckle and a few scratches, Botsios was unharmed.“

In a fairly amazing job of rubbing salt into the robber’s not-only-figurative wounds he left with this final quote:

“It’s my baby,” he said. “Don’t mess with my computer.”

A sentiment I think we can all get behind at T minus 1 hour to a deadline.

And the man who suffered all this?  This is the robber, stitched lip and all:

This is the man after the law student was done with him

NB: Speaking as a not very secret IT person I would recommend that anyone else who has invested enough into their work to fight to defend it from robbers should invest in a reliable backup strategy so that even if you wake up or come home to find your dorm / house trashed and your laptop missing you can still get back to work quickly.

The thought occurs that this is a big enough topic and important enough to be a blog entry on its own at a later date, so stay tuned.

The Office Party

The current economic climate is bad for people looking for work, let me tell you, but it’s also eroding the perks for people who have one. One of the first casualties of the downturn is the office Christmas party. Presumably to avoid the cost of replacing the photocopier yet again many companies are either greatly downsizing or cancelling altogether their staff do.

The most interesting move I have heard of is that a recently bailed out bank has been reported to be paying its staff back for parties they have booked outside of work and are now ordered to not attend. I think that’s a strange move, especially because initially the staff members were supposed to absorb the loss themselves.

The staff party is just as much a carefully researched and cost analysed productivity tool as any machine in a factory – big companies are not known, generally, to throw money at things they don’t get a benefit from.

The reason that Google  famously gives its staff (now only programming staff) free meals is that it keeps them at their desks, where they can get work done, for increasingly long hours. It’s not a wish to feed the starving masses – it’s to have people who “just happen to be around the office so I did some work on Project X” for longer hours than usual , say if an employee is salaried for 9 til 5 but dinner is at 6.30 he could decide he may as well stay on till then.

Likewise the office party is useful because it’s a reasonably cheap way to, contrary to appearances, boost employee morale and thereby productivity. Happy staff are better with customers and better employee/customer relationships leads to increased revenue – it’s an accepted economic principle.

Apparently happy employees only make sense in a boom time. The party must go.

The writer of Single Guy Money reported the changes to his Christmas party:

• Instead of an open bar, we were given drink tickets. Each person was given 2 drink tickets while equalled 2 free drinks. You could drink more but you had to pay full price after your 2 free drinks. Luckily, I am pretty good friends with the ticket holder so I was able to score a few extra tickets.
• Our party was held in a large hotel in downtown Atlanta. In past years, the company would pay for rooms for employees that live more than 50 miles from the hotel. For those who lived closer but were not able to drive, you could get a reduced price room. This year, everyone had to pay for their own room (full price).
• Instead of a buffet style dinner, the food was mostly appetizers. In years past, they usually went all out with the food selection.

Compared to banks and political parties (who simply don’t want employees associated with them looking happy because they don’t want the public to think they’re enjoying our (well, Ken Dodd and my fellow students are taking a moral stand on this) tax bailout too much) that sounds extremely generous. Anyone who has had a wedding knows that the open bar is a quick way to spend a great of money and hotel rooms are expensive when you have to buy enough of them to not end up with harassment suits so these are pretty much common sense cost cutting measures.
It’s actually only when they’re compared to the year before that they become so stark, the fun isn’t spoiled, the concept of paying for your own drinks shouldn’t be alien to any one old enough to actually attend an office party and it doesn’t leave the company looking like it’s in desperate financial straights.

Frankly, if I was a director with millions of pounds of stock options that are on the knife edge of becoming much less I might even consider paying for those drinks myself. Is that not a rational economic choice?

Why don’t other companies follow this example? A company party which is obviously cut price or one which is entirely cancelled reflects badly on the company and will be received badly by the staff.

Isn’t company image and employee morale worth a few rounds of drinks anymore?

Notes

I take notes in lectures using a ballpoint pen and seemingly endless pads of paper which all get collected together by subject into a big file in my bookcase at home, this year I managed to fill and a bit extra a lever arch file with handwritten lecture notes. There’s a lot of material covered in lectures.
I was warned that bringing too many notes into university leaves me at the risk of losing huge amounts of work in the case of my bag being snatched or misplaced, or perhaps just falling in water. (Glasgow has a couple of big rivers running through it and I’m comfortable admitting that if my bag fell into either I would just have to let it go.)

I’ve not seen the levels of crime that seem to affect students at other universities, we have the odd warning about opportunists in the library but nothing approaching a crime wave so I feel alright carrying relative valuables (not real valuables, I’m a student remember) and I could claim those back on my insurance if I really had to. But notes are awkward to replace – I’d have to hunt down a colleague and photocopy sheet after sheet to get back to where I was before. It’s a thought that I’m more concerned about my notes than my laptop.

I’ve tried typing notes during a lecture, but firstly I felt self conscious with my happy, noisy typing style. there’s a bit difference to writing down every word the lecturer says with a quiet pen and tapping it into a computer, so I was immediately put off the lecture. Secondly, remember to disable any alerts you have on your laptop, if Outlook is retrieving email at the same time as you’re typing it might not disrupt your typing but it will distract you. A lot of my problems stemmed from being distracted by the fact I was typing instead of writing. The other point is the speed of setting up a laptop is more than the same process with paper – pretty much uncap your pen and pull a pad out of your bag, so you spend a little more time at the start of the lecture getting into the right mindset. This does not even begin to consider if you get distracted and accidentally wander onto bebo.com or youtube.com at which point you can consider your participation in a lecture to be over.  It’s hard enough to catch up in a lecture that you’ve come late for never mind one which you have tuned out of and given a generally more interesting distraction.

The benefits of typed notes are clear though – they are searchable, always legible (although still with the same hazard of not necessarily making sense to you afterwards) and more compact. Other commentators who do take typed notes admit they are more likely to look back over typed notes than written notes, which means that as far as a revision aid goes the typed notes are better.

There’s a lot to be said to taking notes with a pen – firstly there’s a pragmatic issue of muscle memory, your brain is likely to associate writing with language from a much earlier age than typing on a keyboard so you’re more likely to retain the information, the information is also being reinforced in a form which is the same as how you want to be able to express it – with a pen during an exam making it a more efficient process. Clearly, if you go into an exam and your secret weapon to pass is the fact that you’ve written your lecture notes out you may be disappointed but the issue is there – your brain will have a delay interpreting your typing revision to be the same as the written essay answers because it’s a different motor skill.

Remembering that university is supposed to help you build skills for later life, remember that there’s an entirely different body language given off by someone writing notes and someone typing notes. In a professional legal situation, the fact your lawyer is scribbling notes and the fact your lawyer is typing those same notes into their computer mean exactly the same thing – your story is being listened to and the trained legal professional is taking a record of important details. They just look different – the person behind the counter at the bank also types into a computer as you give details but as a profession the law tries to get away from the image of themselves as the people behind a counter, the creative lawyer writing stories for you to get you out of a problem is a better look to go for. You may work as a person behind a counter for money as you study but no one endures the work load a law degree involves hoping to become the equivalent of the person behind the counter.

It’s a tiny difference but there’s a lot to be said about small differences in body language which significantly affect the overall experience. I also find that I write considerably faster than I type, and I can simply get more details onto paper in a lecture if it’s through a pen – in this your mileage may vary, I was actually using my sister’s computer for university before my primary school gave me chunky pencils but I can still write faster than I can type no matter what I try.

I would never, ever submit a handwritten document to a paying client, whether as a lawyer or as a plumber, (Actually, I might submit my hand written receipt as a plumber because the illegibility might hide what I charged for) because I feel the look of a handwritten document, particularly a messy one, would take away from the hoped for quality of the content. If my penmanship was infallible and looked professional I would reconsider this immediately. This is similar to taking notes, for your own use, by hand for the image that it lends. It’s a matter of appearance for a world where appearance is extremely important – sharp suits are as much an indicator of your economic success as they are a pleasure to wear and people may not like to see a lawyer in an expensive suit but nevertheless like to be represented by someone who appears successful, and therefore good at their job. It’s just as important to try to distinguish yourself as a lawyer from other professionals who someone might deal with, you’re not being paid to tell someone what they can’t do, you’re being paid to use your imagination to tell them how they could do it and acting in a way that implies your creativity is never a bad thing in that situation.

Book review EU law – Jacqueline Martin and Chris Turner

“The comprehensive guide to all the facts”
“The law at your fingertips… Key facts has been specifically written for students studying Law. It is the essential revision tool for a broad range of law courses.
Written and edited by an expert team of authors whose experience means they know exactly what is required in a revision aid. They include examiners, barristers and lecturers. They have brought their expertise and knowledge to the series to make it user-friendly and accessible.

Company Law
Constitutional Law
Administrative Law
Consumer Law
Contract Law
Criminal Law
Employment Law
The English Legal System
Equity and Trusts
Evidence Law
Family Law
Human Rights
Jurisprudence
Land Law
Tort

Chris Turner LLM is a qualified barrister and Senior Lecturer in Law at Wolverhampton University. He has taught law at all levels. He is also series editor of Unlocking the Law and Key Cases, both p¬ublished by Hodder Arnold.
Jacqueline Martin LLM has ten years experience as a practicing barrister and has taught law at all levels. She is also series editor of Unlocking the Law and Key Cases, both published by Hodder Arnold.

It’s a very good book for people who are studying EC law – unfortunately, as found I when I came to do my assignment, it’s almost too good and I found myself constantly trying to reword my own essay to avoid any copying of the book’s extremely useful potted outline. Despite being a very small book it manages to contain all the information that you might possibly require for an introduction, all backed up immediately with primary sources – quotes from the official English European Court of Justice judgements and English version of the relevant Treaties.