Friday, September 28, 2007

Five weeks and counting

I've finished my first month of classes — add the week of Law Camp, and that brings us through five weeks of law school. So far, I like it. I don't think that's going to change (at least until exam time, and maybe not even then). 

Yesterday one of the preeminent scholars on human rights and the war on terrorism gave a lecture at the law school. Jordan Paust teaches at the University of Houston and has published more than 150 articles and books. His latest is titled, Beyond the Law: The Bush Administration's Unlawful Responses in the "War" on Terror. It's due out in November for those of you who might be interested. His basic thesis is that the Bush Administration has violated just about every kind of international law possible by detaining people at Guantánamo Bay and in secret CIA prisons in Europe. He started his talk with a brief explanation of international law and a strong argument that the U.S. Constitution does, in fact, recognize it. Basically we have signed and ratified a bunch of treaties (the 1949 Geneva Conventions among them) which we are currently violating by prosecuting this "War" on terrorism. Paust argues that it's not actually a war (hence the quotes) because it doesn't meet any of the definitions of war that we agreed to when we signed these treaties. (By the way, the only country in the world that hasn't signed the Geneva Conventions is Taiwan, Paust said, which has a little to do with the fact that Taiwan just declared its independence two weeks ago.)

For those of you who read the personal statement I sent to law schools last winter, you know that I mentioned the war on terrorism generally and the secret prisons specifically as reasons I wanted to attend law school in the first place. So what I learned yesterday is that I need to take international law next year. One of Paust's co-editors and good friends, Linda Malone, teaches the course at William & Mary. (My brother Dan noted earlier this week that Linda, who also teaches Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, was quoted in a CNN story about Michael Vick.)

This week I discovered the best grocery store in Williamsburg — Ukrop's. When I went there Wednesday night, I ran into at least eight of my classmates. Williamsburg has about three times as many good grocery stores as Iowa City, even though it's less than a third of the size. There's Ukrop's (think Hy-Vee + Co-op), Fresh Market (Co-op), Farm Fresh (haven't been to one yet, but I hear they're great) and the half dozen or so Food Lions, which have all been under renovation since I got here. The Food Lions are in the worst shape (think Aldi/EconoFoods), but they're getting better, slowly. Anyway, I like the options.

The weather here is unbelievable. For those of you who might be mulling a visit, right now it's 72 degrees and sunny, with a high of 86 expected today. The four-day forecast looks like this: Sunny all four days, with a high of 76 tomorrow, 78 on Sunday, 77 on Monday and 80 on Tuesday. I've heard that the leaves start turning in mid-October but it hardly seems possible with this weather. Some of my friends have a regular sand volleyball game every night near the law school, and my friend Ed is working on an ultimate frisbee game each Sunday. I hope to join both soon.

Which brings me to that leg again. Two weeks ago today I was using both crutches and barely putting any weight on it, now I won't even use the handicapped sticker the college gave me, because it feels so good to walk the same distance as everyone else. On Wednesday I got to make my first trip to the rec center, on the undergrad campus. As soon as I'm back to normal, I'll be able to dig out my racquetball game for the first time since I played my friend Kyle in college.

Oh, almost forgot the most exciting part of my week. Yesterday in the law school lounge I was warming up some coffee in the microwave. As I was talking to one of my friends, I looked over to see an orange glow. It seems that my coffee mug, which apparently is made of metal, had started a nice little fire. I opened the door to find billowing smoke and bubbling plastic. (Note to Dad —I did start the fire.) Thankfully there wasn't much damage to either my cup or the microwave. From now on, I'll stick to warming my cup the old-fashioned way — getting refills. I'm due for one now, in fact. 

Life is good.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Two feet

I couldn't take the wait until Tuesday, so I started walking today. It's slow but it feels so much better than being on crutches. It's going to be a while before I'm running again but walking and driving feel pretty darn good. Can't wait to get back to physical therapy next week!

Also, I bought my plane ticket home for Christmas today. We only get about 2 1/2 weeks off, so I'll be arriving Thursday, Dec. 20 and leaving Saturday, Jan. 5. I confess I've been a bit homesick lately. Missing Evan's 1st birthday party probably had a lot to do with that. Can't wait to see everyone at Christmas.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My first client interview

OK, so it wasn't a real client but still the first one I've interviewed at law school. Yesterday I interviewed Client A for Legal Skills. The other interviewer and I had to wear suits and the whole bit. The whole thing took about 40 minutes. We immediately got feedback afterwards. For next time, I need to remember not to use a clicky pen, as I tend to click it without even thinking. Also, I need to remind the client of attorney-client confidentiality earlier in the interview. Other than that, we did alright.

My leg has made great strides this week (as always, pun intended). I'm down to one crutch and should be rid of it in the next few days. I go back to physical therapy on Tuesday to work on strength and balance. I could use some of both. I'm getting around much better but walking on my own will take some getting used to. 

I wrote two stories for the upcoming Advocate. There's a 2L here that is almost universally disliked and it seems he's in line to be editor-in-chief next year unless someone else steps up. Several people have encouraged me to do just that. There's not much precedent for a 2L editor but the people who talk to me don't seem to mind. I haven't really met the rest of the Advocate staff yet. If I like most of them, I might give it a shot.

I had another interview this week, this time for Honor Council. William & Mary has an Honor Code, which we didn't really have at Cornell. It's pretty simple — don't lie, cheat or steal. People feel comfortable leaving just about anything in the lounge or library, knowing that when they return 5 minutes or an hour later, it will still be there. A violation of the Honor Code can get you expelled, so people take it very seriously. Anyway, the Honor Council is there to investigate possible violations of the Code, and to let people know what the Code is. Of course, law students are eager to volunteer for leadership positions — I was one of 43 1Ls who interviewed for five Honor Council spots. I'm not holding my breath.

Monday night I got my first chance to see our chancellor, Sandra Day O'Connor, in action. She was one of three panel members at a forum on Democracy, which was moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS. It was part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. Anyway, at 77 years old, she's still on top of her game. I heard that she only retired from the Supreme Court because her husband is ill. She was a lot of fun to see in person. She'll be back several times this year, including to give the keynote at law school commencement.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Preview Wrap-up

The Institute of Bill of Rights Law's 20th annual Supreme Court Preview officially concluded about an hour ago with the panel of Michael Gerhardt, Jeffrey Rosen, Dahlia Lithwick, Carter Phillips and Michael McConnell discussing the apparently over-hyped concept of judicial modesty. They described why — at least in the sense that most journalists, academics and politicians think of judicial modesty — it is at best, meaningless, and at worst, a terrible philosophy for a judge to use. The discussion is a poignant one, considering the ascension of Chief Justice John Roberts, who told the Senate two years ago this week that judges must assert humility and modesty from the bench. Couple those comments from Roberts' confirmation hearing with the criticism he got from fellow Justice Antonin Scalia last term in the political ad free speech case, called Wisconsin Right to Life: "This faux judicial restraint is judicial obfuscation." Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Roberts' "modest" style.

I've tried to make that all as simple as I could, but it gives you some idea of the level of academic discussion here for the last day and a half. These are some of the brightest legal minds in America, and they all willingly assemble at William & Mary once a year to glean as much insight as possible from one another. 

I've been assigned to write two stories about the Preview — one about a talk yesterday afternoon by Erwin Chemerinsky and Pam Karlan, two of the best liberal constitutional law scholars in the U.S. The other story is about the Moot Court last night, a fantastic simulation of what it's like to argue before the real Supreme Court. I had a front-row seat, and I was blown away by how smart and talented these people really are. The whole weekend has been a humbling reminder of how far I have to go before I could ever think, speak or write on a par with the best of the best.

The conference unofficially concludes tonight with a dinner for the participants at Professor Van Alstyne's house, which I happily get to attend. 

I've only been through three weeks of classes but I can already feel the semester flying by. Time seems to disappear so much faster these days, no matter how well I budget it. Soon it will be fall break (a four-day weekend), then the rush to finals. Yikes. Slow down, world.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Down, but not out

I didn't win the SBA election, which was held yesterday. Although no final tally has been released — just the winners' names — one of the vote counters told me last night that the election was close, and that I should consider running again in the spring. There were 14 people running for three spots. My campaign (which I couldn't write about on the blog, due to election rules) was primarily a series of posters with cartoonish pictures of me on crutches, paired with a letter to my classmates (and some delicious brownies, until the ants attacked). A bunch of people said I had the best poster, but of course that doesn't always translate into a victory. Que será, será.

This weekend is the Supreme Court Preview. A 2L named David and I have to pick up a federal judge in the 10th Circuit from the Norfolk Airport this afternoon, then I'll be working all day Friday and Saturday. There are some nominally famous people coming, so I'll do a little name-dropping — Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer winner from the NY Times; John Yoo, who helped write the PATRIOT Act and the so-called "torture memo"; Dahlia Lithwick, who writes for; Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at Duke and probably the best known constitutional scholar in the U.S.; Stuart Taylor from the National Journal, who will speak about the book he's published on the Duke Lacrosse Case; and Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic, who wrote a fascinating article about Justice Anthony Kennedy a few months ago, which I read with astonishment. It turns out that even Supreme Court Justices — the weak ones, at least — are subject to their emotions when deciding critical cases. 

All in all, the weekend should be enormously informative. Tomorrow night is the "main event": a Moot Court on presidential war powers during the War on Terror. Some high-powered lawyers will argue two cases that will come before the Supreme Court this term, and nine "justices" will decide the cases. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Let the healing begin

Yesterday's post was the reflection of a bad mood. Best to get that off the top of the page. Don't get me wrong — I still mean it, it's just time for some better news.

This morning I visited my surgeon, Dr. Carr, for the first time since the surgery (four weeks ago today). Everything's healing great! He was really impressed with my range of motion and with the lack of swelling. He said I didn't really need my brace anymore and that I could put physical therapy on hold until I start walking again, in another two weeks. Also, I'll be able to have the screw removed sometime in December. So, two more weeks on crutches and I should be back to getting around on my own!

Monday, September 10, 2007


My Torts professor believes strongly that the solution to legal problems lies largely in economics — that we ought not care about fault or fairness, rather about the cost of things, and how those costs should be distributed. Today was the first time that this truly angered me. At some point, justice does matter when we're talking about who is liable for certain wrongs. Of course I'm at a disadvantage in arguing against his ideas because he's been teaching Torts for quite some time and all that I know about the subject is what he's taught me in the last two-plus weeks. Still, I cannot and do not accept that economics always holds the best solution for determining legal responsibility.

While I'm riled up about cost-benefit analysis, let's talk about health insurance, shall we? The final bill for breaking my leg — speaking only of dollars, here — is going to be around $3,000. There are all sorts of directions I can take with this but the one I'm most concerned with is: Does health care need to be this expensive? From the numerous conversations I've had with others, who see my crutches and immediately express their sympathy, I know that many of us break bones, tear ligaments, get into all sorts of accidents. Our bodies are fragile. Must we all bear these costs individually, or shouldn't we prepare for them better as a society? Why do we let insurance companies decide how much individuals should pay for health care? Instead of this system that causes so many people so many headaches (and so many bankruptcies), why don't we say as a society that we are willing to bear the costs for all, and enter into an agreement that allows us all to foot some of the bill? Decent health care should not be a privilege, it should be a right. I have received tremendous health care throughout this experience, and eventually I will pay for all of it. But what about the people who can't pay? Are they any less entitled to good health care than I am? I don't believe they are, and I'd rather help pay for their broken bones than have each of us fend for ourselves.

My experience with my insurance company has got me fomenting. If there's a law practice (maybe it's politics) that allows me to battle insurance companies, I want to know what it is, so I can make sure I'm taking the right classes next year.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Two weeks in the books

My housemate is cleaning the wax off his surfboard outside. Did I mention I'm from Iowa? I can't help but notice the strangeness of living in a place where people go surfing on the weekends. I haven't made it to Virginia Beach yet, but I hear that's where it happens.

This week wasn't a great week for my leg. It wasn't particularly bad, it's just that last week was so good that I couldn't make a whole lot of progress this week. A week ago my physical therapist, Joe, could safely bend my leg to a 120-degree angle. We were hoping it would go to 130 degrees today but it stopped at 120. All the people at the clinic say that I'm moving as fast as anyone they've seen, and that I'll be back on my feet before I know it. Still, it seems hard for me to believe because I'm just as unable to walk as I was a month ago. Joe said today that it typically takes about six weeks after surgery for the bone to heal enough that a person can walk on it. So, I'm just past the halfway mark. I return to the doctor on Tuesday for the first time since the surgery. He'll take some X-rays to check my progress. I just hope that somehow I didn't re-break it! Joe reassured me that as the bone finishes healing in the next three weeks, the swelling will go down in my foot and around my knee, the two places it's most noticeable. I look forward to that — and to walking again. I've developed so much appreciation for people who go through life with physical injuries or disabilities of any sort.

As for classes, this week has really helped me get into a routine. Many of my friends and I agreed that we're starting to understand what we're in for, and that it's not so bad. Civil Procedure doesn't seem so daunting anymore. If I had to say, I think Legal Skills is probably my least favorite class at the moment. It's a little intimidating, in my first two weeks of law school, to think about things like attorney-client privilege, malpractice lawsuits and what can get a lawyer disbarred. Yikes. Otherwise, though, it's a little sick how much I like going to school.

I finally got called on! Yesterday in Criminal Law, Prof. Marcus said, "Mr.  ... Poggenklass? Am I saying that right?" 

"Yes, you are."

"Which crime would you like to talk about, arson or larceny?"

"I'll take arson."

I then made an attempt at answering what kind of defense a person could raise if he burned down a bunch of old sheds that he thought were his own, but which were actually someone else's. I made a few missteps, but generally I got it right. The whole thing definitely got my heart beating. At 75 people, the classes here are three times as big as any I had at Cornell — that's a lot of eyes and ears. Glad to have that first time out of the way.

In addition to getting the hang of our classes, we've all been introduced to the dozens of activities and opportunities. In addition to my fellowship, I've become a News Editor at the Advocate, the law school's newspaper. There's also an Election Law Society that I'm interested in. Others are getting involved in the Public Service Fund, a great group that puts on a series of fund-raisers throughout the year to raise money for W&M law students who work at unpaid internships or unpaid jobs during the summer. Last year PSF raised more than $42,000 which it then paid to the students who qualified for the money. Pretty great, if you ask me! The Institute of Bill of Rights Law, which will get 8-10 hours of my week for the next three years, also has a volunteer student division. In addition to the Supreme Court Preview, the IBRL puts on the Hampton Roads Project — an effort to teach local middle school students about the U.S. Constitution. There will be a group training seminar, then in February, a bunch of us law students will talk to 6th-8th graders. I think it'll be a lot of fun.

Other than a ton of homework, my big adventure this weekend will be to find a new backpack. I'm a little sad because I got mine as a high school graduation present more than eight years ago. After three weeks of toting gigantic law books and a laptop, however, I've lost the tabs to both zippers and the covers of both straps are coming apart completely. Perhaps that means I'm carrying too big a weight on my shoulders, or that this law school thing is pretty heavy. Or maybe I just need a new backpack. That's probably all it is.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Opening Convo

Yesterday was just plain great. I may not have done much homework, or had any classes, but I was happy to be alive nonetheless.

W&M President Gene Nichol hosted the Opening Convocation yesterday on the back steps of the ancient Wren Building. It was built in 1695 — 65 years before Thomas Jefferson first attended class here and 93 years before George Washington became chancellor of William & Mary.

One of the better speakers was Michael Powell, a W&M alum whose work as FCC chairman I admit I detested. Nevertheless, he spoke without notes about the new generation of "YouTubians" who, having developed an "extra appendage" the rest of us know as the cell phone, may in fact have evolved into a new species. His talk produced a lot of laughs from the incoming class of undergraduates, who put away their appendages long enough to listen to him.

But the most unexpected and enthralling part of the convocation was the walk through the Wren Building. As we entered the back of the building, my friend Lindsey and I started to hear loud cheers coming from the other side. As we got halfway through, we discovered what the commotion was: the bulk of the W&M student body, thousands of them, cheering wildly and applauding each and every new student as we walked, one by one, down the front steps. Each of us took a turn shaking Nichol's hand, then descended into the mass of humanity where high-fives and slaps on the back awaited. 

I soon realized what an event this would be for me, as I'm still using two crutches to get around. I paused to set one of them down to shake Nichol's hand, and he wished me luck. As I readied to descend the 7 or 8 steps, several W&M upperclassmen ventured into the middle of the sidewalk in front of me, waving their hands upward so that the cheers and applause would be even louder for me. Clearly this was going to take a while, and they didn't want the excitement to die. I could only look down at my feet — I had to make sure I didn't fall — but I'm sure my face was red with humble appreciation. I couldn't do many high-fives as I proceeded through the crowd, but I got plenty of pats on the back and a whole lot of cheers, just like all the other entering students at W&M.

Last night a large group of us gathered to celebrate the end of our first week (yes, that's two nights in a row, but who's counting?). A fine week it was.