The Law School Triathlon…Could I Pull It Off?

I talked about my finals routine a couple days ago, so if it isn’t clear that my approach to exams takes its cue from sports, I don’t know what to do. I get fired up, I do superstitious things that athletes do, I try to take a more aggressive attitude than a lot of people with exams. I think it’s clear, I like test taking. I like the challenge. Scott Turow said it best at the end of One-L: finals are just you and the books (or in our case now the laptops as well). I know everyone whines and complains about the grind of finals, but come on. Don’t you want to know how well you knew the material? Everyone loves the feeling of just absolutely kicking a tests ass. I mean just taking it apart. Today I had the opposite feeling, when you’re struggling with a test, not doing bad necessarily, but it’s just a dog fight.

I love the challenge of test taking so much, that I wasn’t even phased when I saw, next year, I have to take two finals in one day. I’m looking forward to it in fact. 9am-4pm. I mean, it’s basically like a really hard day of work right? Nothing too out of the ordinary. I’m sure most lawyers have had at least a couple days of especially challenging work that they went at for 7 hours with a 30 minute lunch break. So now I’m thinking I should actually take a real challenge…

Three Tests in One Day

I call it the Law School Marathon Triathlon. It would be 12 hours, with three hours of breaks, assuming none of the tests are of the 3 and a half hour variety. It really would be a test of endurance, to stare a computer screen for that long. I can envision myself taking 15 minute breaks to just stare off into space in the hallway by the middle of the third test.

I think the training would be great. I have the sort of half marathon in December with Evidence and International Business Transactions. If I falter hard during that, I could always change my schedule. I would need to study a lot harder than I normally do, because the tests need to be virtually effortless. I know it will be spring of 3L, but I don’t want to go in there and just type crap for 9 hours. I want to go in and get good grades too. And even if you aren’t looking for the A*, to even make it through the last exam you can’t slog through the first two. I expect I might even need to be in halfway decent physical condition.

The schedule really is the biggest issue. For one, I don’t know whether the law school will let me do this. Secondly, you are severely limited in course choices. There was only one day this exam period where three upper level courses had exams at the three different times. That means that I will probably have to take at least one class and one professor that I don’t like or who isn’t very good.

So who thinks I can do this? Am I just blowing something out of proportion? Do a lot of people have three test days during finals? Am I just crazy for even thinking about this? Let me know, especially any IU Law bloggers who would want to join me next spring, to add a little spice to what is supposed to be a boring, “just serving my time” semester.

(Thank you to Craig for the Triathlon reference.  Must better name.)

XBox 360 & Saints Row: First Impressions

I took the plunge.  After being a Playstation guy since October of my freshman year of college (yeah, I was the kid whose parents would never let him get a console but I did have 3 Gameboys), I switched allegiances after the lackluster reviews about the Playstation 3 which seems to not be getting off the ground.  The $600 price tag for the nice one, and the fact that the 360 had a year of breaking under its belt and fixed really pushed me toward Microsoft.

Next gen gaming really is a revelation for those of you still toiling on an Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, etc.  I highly suggest making the investment.  I pretty much have no problems with the 360 other than the jet engine fan, which in my small apartment with a tall ceiling can sound incredibly loud.  I considered the Elite, but I can upgrade the hard drive later, and I really don’t care if my gaming system is black, white, grey, purple, whatever.  Plus I’m not investing almost another $100 of already short funds into HDMI technology when I don’t have an HDTV and don’t plan to buy a 1080p HDTV where HDMI really makes a difference.  Plus these things are dying with regularity.

Saints Row wasn’t the first game I bought (that was Gears of War, which is fantastic) but being a huge GTA fan, I had to check out what is widely regarded as the best GTA clone.  Saints Row, 6% into the game, lives up to its billing so far.  It supplies a very similar experience, but with much better physics and graphics.  Hitting people with cars is probably the best example.  Pedestrians bounce and roll off and under the car much more realistically than in San Andreas, and don’t ever shoot up in the air.  The fighting and firing mechanisms are both more elaborate and more challenging, including allowing a long forgotten feature in GTA to fire while driving a car (not just drive-bys).  I haven’t tried the multiplayer mode, but I suspect it’s pretty good, although an MMO based on a gang story would be amazing.

However, the difference between GTA and every clone is the story.  Grand Theft Auto is not just some uber-violent shooter where you blow people’s heads off, have sex with hookers, destroy property, and create havoc.  All the games have an elaborate story.  The contrasts between Saints Row and San Andreas are stark.  In San Andreas, you’re given a very long cut scene to start with, which includes the news of Carl and Sweet Johnson’s mom being killed.  So it makes perfect sense that this is the impetus they need to take back the hood from the crack dealers who have overrun it.  You’re also introduced to CJ’s friends and family, all of whom add immensely to the story.  And Office Tenpenny is a great villein, especially when you realize your character is supposed to be the criminal.

Saints Row doesn’t go nearly as deep.  The first cut scene just shows how the Saints found you.  It doesn’t explain why you are the person you’re expected to be.  You aren’t told why you accept the invitation to join the gang.  Julius, the leader of the Saints, never really explains why the Saints have chosen now to expand their power and take down the other gangs in Stillwater.  The biggest let down is that your character doesn’t talk.  This drastically limits the ability to expand and explore the most important person in the game, and if GTA can make characters talk for about 5 years now, THQ and Volition could have done it on an Xbox 360 right away.

You can also debate whether Stillwater is a good setting or not, but I like it.  I prefer the massive scale of San Andreas, but for one city, Stillwater is incredibly detailed, and from my somewhat limited exploration, it seems a good effort was made to make the different neighborhoods distinct.  For GTA fans who need a good fix before October, I suggest getting your 360 (which you’ll need for GTA IV) and Saints Row.  The game has all the basics right, and if a sequel comes out, I have high hopes that with the gameplay and graphics of this version, more time can be spent on the story and characters, which should make it not just a great GTA clone, but a great game.

My Finals Routine

I post my generalized exam tips earlier, but I feel like I want to get something off my chest…

I’m really superstitious about test taking.

There, I said it, that feels better.  I have a fairly elaborate routine for finals.  Some stuff is more important than other things, but everything has its place.

It starts with the music which I listen to before the test.  The mix is dynamic, it changes from test to test even, and the length fluctuates between about 1:10 and 1:45.  Once it was up around 2 hours, but that was really an outlier, and I think it was in undergrad.  The music is a mix of cliche stadium anthems, hip-hop, and rock songs.  Fight songs have been known to make an appearance too.  I think about 10% of the songs has survived all the way into the 6th finals period that I’ve always listened to music before exams.

I generally wear the same outfit: jeans, the exact same adidas shirt, sneakers, the same jacket if it’s cool, the same hat if it’s cold (although I lost the hat and will have to replace it before next December), sunglass if it’s sunny.  I’m not one of those people who roll into exams in sweatpants or pajama pants.  I can’t do it, I feel like I should be in bed.  I need to get up, and actually get dressed.

I don’t eat the same thing, but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches show up a lot.  Soup is good too, before dinner.  I wish the law school had a slightly different exam schedule, since only the 9:00 am period sets itself up for a convenient meal, at a proper time before the exam.

There’s also a post-game mix of music, which includes a couple songs that only get played after the last exam.  I think this is all the result of the fact that I’m generally a competitive guy, and having not played sports in high school or college, I really never had a good outlet.  So I treat exams like games, get myself pumped up.

Anyone else have a little routine or superstition before exams?

Ths th’ng sks.

You ever have something that is extremely frustrating, but you know you have zero right to bitch about?  I’m having one of those today as I slog through the only available outline for class where everyone is universally confused.  The outline is horrendously written.  Every third word is abbreviated, and I’m spending a ton of time figuring out what “cos,” “a/ment,” and “axn” mean, among others.  Additionally, there are few capital letters used to start sentences.

But it’s someone else’s outline, and after ranting about the personal nature of education, I can’t very well say that it sucks and that this person should be ashamed of themselves.  How about this then: if this person allowed this illegible piece of crap to get added to this outline bank, or put it in there themselves, they out to be ashamed.  Once you put something in an outline bank, you’re no longer creating a personal education tool, you’re creating a community resource.  It doesn’t help the community to have confusing and difficult-to-read outlines floating around, and you shouldn’t feel good about adding in something that will help no one but yourself.

I hope you brought enough for everybody

The Cynical-C Blog has a fascinating list of things that the Virginia Tech shooting have been blamed on.  As of this writing, the list currently stands at 49.  In case you were wondering, buried in there is in fact an article or two blaming the actual person who shot the people.  My personal favorite:

And I’m sorry, some will really think me foolish, but I don’t think dorms should be co-ed, so that crazed, jealous boyfriends can enter their girlfriends’ dorms and kill them and the innocent young men who come to their aid.  If it had been a single-sex dorm, the killer might not have been able to enter so readily.  There aren’t enough difficulties getting young people through college these days so that we have to deal with “domestic disputes” in their dormitories as well?

And, sorry again, but thoughts also arise on the killer’s being an English major and on the spiritual emptiness of much education nowadays.

So to quote Cynical-C, “It’s the fault that colleges have co-ed dorms and/or students who major in English.”

Exam Tips from Taco

If you troll around the internet long enough, you’ll find a ton of tips about studying for exams.  I wrote some a while bank but they disappeared into a tiny puff of 1s and 0s.  So here’s what I think about studying for exams.

Do not listen to anybody

This includes some (or all) of this advice.  What I mean is nothing can be taken as gospel.  Education is a highly individual and personal endeavor.  Aside from extremely general and generic statements like “study more” or “focus,” best practices do not exist in exam preparation.  While most of us can’t get away with studying two hours a day for finals, if you can, by all means give it a shot.  While I wouldn’t recommend that for a 1L who hasn’t quite mastered the game yet, if you have the proof (i.e. good grades) to back it up, why change what works?  I say this because a) I believe it and b) it seems half of the responses to any post about law school studying and exams are about how much the advice sucks and how listening to the advice will lead to Cs and working as a public defender in a town of 300 people.  So I’m not giving advice really, these are just suggestions of things that you might want to try, that have worked for me.

That phrase also has another meaning, specifically that what law students tend to spout off about during finals is much more likely to lead to stress than during the rest of the year.  If someone starts talking about their study habits, size of their outline, how many practice exams they’ve done, money spent on commercial study aids, etc., more often than not it will raise your stress level to listen.

Pace Yourself

A common saying among law students is that finals is like being asked to run a four minute mile after running a marathon.  I disagree.  It’s like running another marathon after running a marathon.  Finals periods are typically around two weeks (at least that’s what it is here).  You will likely have between 3 and 5 tests and/or papers due during that period.  To get really good grades, you must perform well on each test (or paper).  Thus, you need to be at the top of your game during the whole finals period.  If you start by studying 14-18 hours a day, by the end of the two weeks you’ll be burned out.  This can be especially bad if your finals schedule is backloaded, like mine is.  Now, like I said about, your results may vary.  Maybe you can wake up at 6 am, study for 6 hours, eat lunch, study for 6 hours, eat dinner, study for 4-5 hours, and go to sleep.  A lot of people can’t.  So don’t listen to people who can, and don’t feel guilty if you can’t.  If you can only put in 8 solid hours of work, then either find something mindless but productive to do for a few hours, or pack it in.  If you can put in 10 good hours of work every day for the entire finals period, you’ll probably be in better shape than the person who burned out on Day 3 and is “studying” but can barely concentrate anymore.

Work on Test-Taking Skills

I’m firmly of the belief that subject matter knowledge accounts for somewhere between 10% and 30% of exam success.  Attitude and test-taking skill make up a significant portion of deciding who does best on an exam.  To that end, it might pay off to make sure you’re not neglecting this aspect of test-taking.  If you walk in confident, with strategies to attack a test, you’re in much better shape if the test throws the room for a loop.  This goes for everything from closed book multiple choice tests to 48 hour take-home finals.  Hone your skills and strategies, and do whatever it is you need to do before the exam to make sure you’re performing at your best.

That’s pretty much it.  Anything else would be really specific things about how I structure my outlines or how I flag statutory supplements that wouldn’t help anyone.  Just remember that first bit of advice, it’s by far more important that the last two.

Kentucky gets their man (sort of)

After Billy Donovan decided he would rather stay at Florida and build a powerhouse, Kentucky turned to Texas.  Rick Barnes decided he would rather remain in Austin, so Kentucky moved to their third choice, Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie, who accepted the offer and will become just the 6th head coach in the last 75 years.  For those of you scoring at home, that means that five of the six most successful, tradition-laden programs in the country have replaced their coach in the last four years, beginning with Roy Williams replacing Matt Doherty at UNC, followed by Bill Self replacing Williams at Kansas, Ben Howland replacing Steve Lavin at UCLA, Kelvin Sampson replacing Mike Davis at Indiana, and now Gillispie replacing Tubby Smith at Kentucky.

If you were flying over Indiana yesterday afternoon or evening and experienced some turbulence, that would have been the collective sign of relief from Indiana fans that Kentucky did not get Donovan.  I don’t have a single doubt that Donovan would have built that team into a dynasty.  He was almost certainly going to start by landing a top 20 recruit in Patrick Patterson, and Kentucky would have handed him a blank check for whatever he needed (and no, not to pay players).

As I said last year during the Sampson hiring, hiring a coach at this level is a risk.  The Big Six (UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Duke, and UNC) are different atmospheres.  You are expected to compete almost every year, and the “almost” isn’t even a given.  You are given a rebuilding year at a time, not a rebuilding period.  These schools don’t have tournament droughts, or even Sweet Sixteen droughts, they have Final Four and conference championship droughts.  All of this makes them pressure-packed jobs that you simply cannot guess how a coach will do in.  Especially when hiring mid-major or “up and coming” coaches.

I think this is a good hire for Kentucky.  They lost out on Donovan, but responded quickly to offer two guys who have won wherever they’ve been.  Barnes, who has completely built a program at Texas, said no, so UK turned to Gillispie, who was in the process at A&M.  Gillispie might bring in a good recruiting class right away and has a great shot at winning in Lexington.

But it’s not a slam dunk.  Donovan would have been close to a slam dunk.  Of the hires mentioned, only Roy Williams qualified as a sure thing, since he had lived through the pressures of Kansas.  He knew exactly what to expect at North Carolina, and he had experience recruiting, coaching, and winning in that type of environment.  Gillispie doesn’t have that type of experience, and it would have been a question mark even for Billy Donovan, even if only a little one.

So as an IU fan, I look forward to the battles with Kentucky coming up.  I think Sampson and Gillispie are going to build similar programs, and I think both are going to be competing for championships sooner rather than later.  But I’m not terrified of Gillispie, like I was of Donovan.  Gillispie might struggle here and there, while it’s possible that Donovan might have just sailed to title after title.  Not likely, but possible.  So here’s to great battles between two of the biggest programs in basketball, with two of the better coaches in the game.

Kentucky Fans and Billy D

Billy Donovan is one game away from becoming the first coach to lead a team to back-to-back titles since Coach Kryzewski lead Duke to national championships in 1991 and 1992.  Now, he is widely regarded as the favorite to take over the Kentucky job, with a $4 million/year contract offer coming on Tuesday and the promise that he will be instantly anointed as the savior of Kentucky Basketball from the dismal (championship-winning) tenure of Tubby Smith.  When this news broke, Kentucky fans immediately assumed he was coming, and have been breaking down every detail of everything he has done for signs that he has already decided on a move to Lexington.  Highlights from their Rivals message board, (my values prevent me from making that a hyperlink) include pointing out his use of the possible past tense (“I’ve had a great relationship with Foley [Florida’s athletic director]”) in a press conference, and pointing out that he wore a blue, rather than orange tie (which was probably half joking, but no more than half).

Thus we get a glimpse into the insanity of Kentucky Basketball fans.  IU, UCLA, and UNC fans are in the same ballpark (Duke and Kansas fans haven’t had a chance recently to attack underachieving coaches).  But UK fans are on another level.  Their lack of any connection to reality shows just how far their heads are in the sand (not that IU fans weren’t breathing sand a couple years ago).

It’s simply wrong to assume that Donovan is automatically going to take the job.  Forget the fact that he might have NBA aspirations, having been connected via rumor to the Heat and now the Grizzlies.  Look at Thad Matta.  I’ve been convinced Matta will move to a basketball school, because at the end of the day, most great head coaches are egotistical and competitive, and don’t want to play second fiddle to the football program.  Had Ohio State won the national title, the interest in the spring game might rival the Final Four trip.  But now I’m not so sure.  Ohio State can pay him more than any other school in the country.  He has recruiting connections all across the Midwest and shows no signs that next year will be a rebuilding year if Greg Oden and Mike Conley make the lead to the NBA.  And it looks like he might be building Ohio State into a basketball power in the Big Ten.

There’s no reason Florida is different.  Football brings in the bucks, Donovan’s success is making the fans take more notice, and while it might never rival Gator Football in terms of prestige and fan interest, there’s no reason to think Donovan can’t build Florida into a perennial SEC power, a regular Final Four visitor, and multiple national champion.  The question is what does he see as the more attractive challenge?  Is it building a great program at a football school, or is it turning Kentucky around (by their standards), and leading them back to the promised land?

The logical progression of a coach up the prestige ranks is over.  In fact, if Donovan stays at Florida, Kentucky might contribute to that when they are forced to scramble for a head coach, having now put all their eggs in the Billy D basket.  Arkansas might snap up another Kentucky target, John Calipari, before Donovan makes a decision.  Kentucky might have to look to the hot, young mid-major (gasp!) class of coaches which are in the running for the job you get before you get the Kentucky job.

This is why Kentucky fans are so insane.  The game has changed.  The fact that Kentucky has to back a Brinks truck up to the Donovan house to get him to listen to them is proof alone that the rule are different now.  No longer can you wave a blue-and-white (or baby blue, or red, or blue and gold) watch in front of a coach and instantly mesmerize him into joining your program.  Coaches see the crazy fans, the suffocating media exposure, and the potentially crushing expectations one one hand, and then look at the occasional anonymity, relaxed atmosphere, vast resources, and room-for-error that being at a football school brings, and it’s no longer a no-brainer what they’re going to do.  Kentucky fans need to realize this, and remember two things: you will have to beg a coach to take that job, and you shouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t work sometimes.

I wish we could have figured this out sooner

A list of 16 things it takes most of us 50 years to learn.  For law students, you should especially pay attention to this one:

13. No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.


Just a game?

When I hear someone say sports are just a game, or some simple entertainment, and that movies/art/music/theater/television (delete as necessary) is sooooo much more intellectual and complex, I’m glad I have little nuggets like this one to think about:

Basketball is a chaotic game that is more dependent on the skills of its individual players – rather than the randomness of baseball or the monolithic collective battalions of football – and it also allows for more small successes. In baseball and football, if you score, it is the result of meticulous planning and is therefore a spasmic release; when scoring is so rare, each tally matters. This is not an issue in basketball. One of the more common complaints from non-sports fans about the game of basketball is that it seems so easy to score; to the untrained eye, it can appear as if five men run down a court, throw a ball in a hole, then run back and watch as the other team does the same thing. This is an overexaggeration, obviously, but there is some truth to it; the goal of any game is to score, and basketball manufactures this goal in abundance. Hence, when two teams go through a regulation period and then yet another period and still have ended up with exact same total, it’s more startling; the more points a particular game allows, the more random it seems that it could remain deadlocked.

It’s nice to know that other people think about sports this way, as either the societies that grow around the games, or the art that the rythym of the game creates.

(Quote from Will Leitch, writing for the New York Times)

Maybe I can’t control the weather

I’m pretty disappointed when I specifically put my umbrella back in my golf bag and did not bring it with me in order to make it rain (not like Pacman), so I would have a shorter shift training soccer officials, it didn’t work.  Maybe it has to be accidental.  But how do I accidentally forget something on purpose?

Sampson Era is not guaranteed success

Pete DiPrimo seems to not know anything about Kelvin Sampson’s career prior to coming to IU.  That’s the only real reason why he would make the statement that “it’s going to get better.”  Specifically, that it’s going to get better in the tournament.  Here’s his reasoning:

Indiana lost well. It was competitive. It had a chance to win in all 11 losses. That it didn’t reflected an inability to make game-deciding plays at game-deciding moments. The Hoosiers need playmakers, guys who can create and produce when everything breaks down.

Can you say Eric Gordon?

He’s the super-skilled shooting guard from Indianapolis North Central who, if you believe the hype, will lead Indiana to the NCAA Promised Land.

Check that. Sampson will lead the Promised Land trip, which is why he makes Promised Land money. Gordon will be one of the means to that end.

All of that would make sense with a proven, successful tournament coach.  Which Sampson is not.  I know he’s been to a Final Four.  I know you can make a ton of arguments that Sampson will be getting players he’s never gotten before.  But by one measure he is one of the five worst active tournament coaches.

My point is not that Sampson is doomed to fail, or that he was a bad hire.  My point is that to suggest that IU is not automatically, going to start making deep tourney runs.  I know we should go to the Final Four next year if DJ White stays in school.  I’m not positive that such a run will happen.  It will only happen if what everyone has said about Oklahoma’s talent is correct.  But none of this is a given.  It’s all an assumption, and the other possibility is just as likely: that Sampson is a great turn-around artist who can’t get over the hump and stayed at Oklahoma far too long.  If DJ White stays, next year will be a huge part of the answer.

Looking back, high school was even weirder

Umm, yeah.  So one of the teachers (actually one of my favorite teachers) at my high school went all To Catch a Predator and solicited a undercover cop posing as a 14-year-old boy online.  That really puts our slipping in the rankings of the nation’s top public high schools in perspective.

Two ways to teach law classes

I think I’ve come to a realization about law school.  There’s really two ways to teach law classes.  I’m not including truly great teachers here.  They are able to do pretty much anything, and can switch back and forth between just about any style they want, or they can choose any style and teach very well.  But for those that aren’t phenomenal, there’s pretty much two ways:

The Plodding Workhorse

These professors will teach you.  Whether you like it or not.  They explain exactly what you were told to read.  They go over things as many times as they are either a) willing or b) feel is necessary for you to get the material.  Variations on this style include reading straight from the book, entertaining any question, no matter how frustratingly basic, and overuse of overheads or PowerPoint.  This style is great for learning black letter rules, and complex, intricate subjects.

Musings of a Learned Mind

This is the other extreme.  We’ve all been in this class.  You are assigned a case that articulates a multi-step and difficult test to decide a multi-faceted and difficult question, and you’re waiting to get to class to have it explained.  Except you have this professor, who normally just sits up in front of class and talks about whatever seems to come to mind.  Generally its related to the class, and there’s a decent chance it will be related to what you were told to read.  But that’s not a guarantee, and you know upfront that you’re not going to get a whole lot of hardcore explanation.  You’re probably going to get more theory and policy from this class

So does this mean the profs suck?

No way, it’s what they do at the end of the semester that decides that.   If you get a muser, and the entire test is about black-letter doctrine, then the implicit assumption is that you need to teach yourself the law in that class.  If the teacher is a workhorse and the test is about theory and policy, then the prof has decided that you need to explore these topics outside of class, something that can get pretty difficult.

That’s just what I’ve seen in a year and a half.  Anyone have another distinct way of teaching they’ve seen?

Really, how busy are you?

Ambient Clock seeks to answer that question.  Right now, it is being tested as a Google gadget, but the idea is to actually manufacture the clock itself.  The company, Ambient, is based on the idea of spreading information around, in well-designed devices which are always around you.  What the clock does is display your schedule against the clock, so you can really see how busy you are.  This is surprisingly difficult to do with normal calendars.  Sure, we see a white space, we know it’s free time, but seeing on a clock makes it much easier to decipher how busy you are.  The clock will even calculate drive time based on the locations of your appointments, using Google Maps.

Not only is Ambient testing this device, they also have an umbrella that knows when it’s going to rain (the handle glows when rain is forecast so you don’t forget it).  That might be a little too much technology for me.

(From Lifehacker)

Joel on Law, Part II: Attracting Associates

A couple days ago, I posted how Joel‘s ideas on managing developers could be applied to managing law firm associates. I think almost all of his ideas on management could be applied to the legal industry, so I’m going to run a little series, applying some of his recent posts about attracting, selecting, and managing developers can be applied to law firm management, recruiting, and hiring. Today, I’m focusing on Joel’s great post entitled “A Field Guide to Developers.”

The point of the article is to outline what great developers are looking for in a company that wants to hire them, and in an office they might be working at. A lot of Joel’s ideas on this were developed three and a half years ago when he built his new office, with one of the main goals being to attract “superstars,” the most talented .1% of software geniuses he could find. The office that he built was also designed to be a great place to not only work but also hang out, and to increase productivity. Personally, the firm offices I’ve seen and heard about are very poor at achieving both of these.

The biggest problem is probably that all firm offices are sort of alike. One firm I visited last fall seemed to be genuinely different. It was open, airy, with light wood and marble, frosted glass on windows, and modern, sophisticated furniture. Despite visiting on a very dreary day, it was brigh, open, and even happy.  The problem though is this is the exception rather the rule, at least as far as I have seen.  Most law offices I’ve been in want to project this idea of stoic professionalism and a historic record of success.  So a lot of the interior design elements are dark, heavy, or outdated.  You get massive desks made of expensive wood, big thick executive chairs, more dark woods and marbles, and less natural light.

I’ve never been in an associates lounge, but I doubt they have flat screens, game consoles, pool tables, or DVD players.  Why not?  Law firm economics, in the most basic sense, are very simple.  More billable hours = more profits.  The ability to work at the office > the ability to work away from the office.  A greater ability to work -> more profits.  Therefore, getting associates to stay at the office = more profits.  I know we think that with laptops, Blackberries, wifi, and all the other wonderful technological advances that law firms believe is innovation allows people to get as much done away from work as they can at work.  Not true.  Even assuming you had equal tools, information, and help, being away from an office means you must expend additional psychic energy (not like telekinesis or ESP) to get yourself in “work mode.”  Driving to and walking into the office typically gets you into “work mode.”

There’s two ways to get associates to stay at the office: the stick and the carrot if you will.  Personally, I think law firms would pride themselves on not using the stick.  “We don’t force anyone to stay, we offer the rewards of bonuses and partnership if they get more work done.”  We can talk about the massive inadequacies of management-by-bonus later, but partnership is not the carrot, partnership is the stick.  Very few lawyers and firms have a favorable view of what happens to attorneys who do not make partner.  They have to find new jobs, or they become Of Counsel or some other BS title which singles them out but does not promote them.  The stick is negative; holding out partnership means “Do this or we will make you Of Counsel.”

The carrot would be to make the place nicer.  The carrot doesn’t have a negative flip side.  It’s just a positive you get from doing something.  And the positive would be to stay at a nice place to work surrounded by helpful people you like, and where you can play some Halo if your search through a truck of documents does not turn up the memo to the VP that you’ve been looking for.

Nice offices are not an investment which pays off once, during recruiting.  They are an investment which pays off everyday, by keeping your employees happy at work, and willing (delighted even) to stay longer.  And if the design in the office lends an air of creativity, innovation, and forward-thinking, you’ve really hit the jackpot.

Law Firms and Identity Management

Last summer, Joel Spolsky, founder of Fog Creek Software, wrote an excellent series of articles about managing software developers. After introducing the Command and Control Method and the Econ 101 Method, Joel explains to us how the Identity Management Method, though difficult, is the best way to manage developers.

The basic premises behind the Command and Control and Econ 101 methods are pretty self-explanatory. Command and Control managers basically attempt to manage people like the military “manages” grunt soldiers. This doesn’t work, according to Joel, because it creates a situation where the boss, typically the person with the least amount of information, makes important operational decisions. Joel also states how this breaks down into “hit and run” management, where the boss will micromanage one aspect of a project, then leave to micromanage other things without staying around to offer guidance or even see if he was right.

The Econ 101 Method is based on the idea that everyone is motivated by money. Thus managers set up systems where financial rewards drive behavior. The trouble with this is two-fold. First, Joel calls it an “abdication of management.”

“It’s a sign that management simply doesn’t know how to teach people to do better work, so they force everybody in the system to come up with their own way of doing it

Not only are managers not managing people, but leaving the staff to their own devices leads to the second big problem, namely that financial rewards rarely, if ever, leads to the promotion of the behavior that you really want. If you create a system, your talent, being smart, will find a way to game that system. Additionally, adding extrinsic motivation can displace, rather than augment, intrinsic motivation.

Identify Management is about creating an environment which both provides for intrinsic motivation and help in getting the job done. Joel explains it this way:

To be an Identity Method manager, you have to summon all the social skills you have to make your employees identify with the goals of the organization, so that they are highly motivated, then you need to give them the information they need to steer in the right direction.

The first part is quite self-explanatory. You need to create a place that people want to work, where people can work on things that they would want to work on. The second part states a need to make sure you explain to your talent why you want them to do something, in order to really drive the behavior that you want.

What Law Firms Do Wrong

If you just saw a summer clerkship program, you would think law firms, especially big ones (that’s really who I’m getting at), are really good at Identity Management. “Wow, look at all the events and mentoring they have! Look at how they bring everyone together as a group and how they offer feedback and direction on projects!” The trouble with that impression is that once the associate is hired, this goes away. Furthermore, what the firm is asking associates and prospective associates to identify with is not as positive as it seems. BigLaw firms are trying to get associates to identify with having a lot of money. That’s why the partners invite associates out to their house in the Hamptons for a firm party. The message being sent to associates is not “Work hard because it really helps the firm that you care about,” the message is “Work hard so you can make a lot of money and have all this.” That’s really just Econ 101 repackaged to look better. Firms might as well just pay associates by the billable hour instead of a fixed salary.

When it comes to direction and education of associates, my bet is that partners revert to this “hit and run” style of management (mid-post disclaimer: I have never worked in a firm. This is mostly speculation. This is why blogs have comment systems). In a law firm, management was almost always once talent. I’ve thought a lot about this with respect to intramurals. The best officials are promoted to head official. But head officials need to be more than technical superstars. They need to be managers, leaders, customer service experts, and teachers. None of these are related to being really good at seeing traveling. So many head officials (including myself) tend to harp on one of a few things with officials, instead of truly managing them. Partners may demand great writing, but rarely care about how good the legal substance is, as long as it’s adequate. Or the reverse. I’m willing to bet some partners have a pet procedural maneuver or a special way to have document review summarized. None of which ever come with a good explanation to the associate as to why they are superior ways of getting the job done.

What Law Firms Should Do

The first thing firms should do in order to create good Identity Management systems is to get associates to identify with being an associate. Associates are not going to be partners for quite a while, but they are your talent right now. When firms put associate through their summer programs, they should be introduced to as many people in the firm as possible, but the vast majority of their contact and mentoring should come from their future peers (junior associates) and their future immediate supervisors (mid-level or senior associates, or even partners). This also means that the firm needs to have a good identify for associates to identify with. Legal services by their nature, especially in BigLaw firms, will rarely be the type of “feel-good” work that makes this a lot easier. But you can promote an atmosphere of doing great work, cooperating, helping fellow associates and partners, and coming up with innovative and creative solutions to the legal and business problems facing clients.

Additionally, firms need to not only train and mentor associates better, but point them directly at the behavior the firm wants to promote (noting again that this behavior probably has to be something more than “bill more hours”). Joel’s example is how he explained exactly why he felt the company should ship their product on a certain date, with less features. Having fully informed the developer about why he wanted something done a certain way, Joel got higher buy-in, without artificially inducing it via financial incentive. Firms can do this by increasing associate/client interaction. This can be done simply by having the associate sit in on the meeting and take notes. Thus the associate will understand why he is doing something a certain way, either because the client asked for it, or because he listed to the reason the partner gave to the client for taking a certain action, and knows it passes the smell test.


Law firms create a nice little illusion with firm events that they create environments that get employees to identify with firm goals. Instead, it seems they get associates to “identify” with financial rewards, and then use an extremely frustrating management style to control associates along the road to these rewards. Firms could increase not only the quality of work, but I’m willing to bet the quantity as well, by creating office environments that people want to work in, working toward goals they can identify with, with the money, both for the firm and the associate, coming as a natural result of using vastly superior management techniques.

Durant is not the problem

During the weekly Big XII coaches conference call, Bob Knight spoke out about the NBA’s rule requiring high schoolers to wait one year after their graduation to enter the draft. Knight called it the “the worst thing that’s happened to college basketball since I’ve been coaching.” He went on to explain why he feels that way:

“Because now you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn’t even have to go to class. He certainly doesn’t have to go to class the second semester. I’m not exactly positive about the first semester. But he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball.”

Essentially, Knight’s argument is that the NBA’s rule undermines college basketball by adding kids who, because of their brief stay in college, only have to follow academic guidelines for one semester, and then can flout NCAA rules. Technically, he’s right. But Knight overlooks a number of reasons why this is not that big of a deal, and lays blame wrongly at the NBA’s feet rather than at the coaches’.

True, Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Juliant Wright, Brendan Wright, etc. do not have to go to class this semester. They can continue to play college basketball. That doesn’t mean it won’t go unpenalized. The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate regulations cover this eventuality. If say Durant does not go to class, he will leave school ineligible to play the next semester had he returned. Durant will then provide neither of his two possible points to the Texas mens basketball team’s APR. This can result in penalties. DJ Augustin is projected as a first rounder too. If he leaves as well, having not attended class, that’s another two points Texas doesn’t get. If a coach decides to load up on one-and-dones and let’s them not go to class, he risks having an abysmal APR, losing scholarships, and the possibility, if he keeps it up, of missing out on the postseason.

I’ll come back to the APR in a minute. Any player who doesn’t want to attend class needs only be pointed at Bill Walker. The Kansas State freshman managed to finagle himself into college after being declared eligible in high school. He even considered challenging the NBA rule itself, but instead went to play for Bob Huggins at K-State. He exceled in a few games before blowing out his knee, the second time he’s done it. The NBA is not the NFL; no team will take a Willis McGahee-type risk and take him in the first round and help him rehab. He has to stay in school for another year, so he has to stay academically eligible.

The biggest reason this isn’t the “worst thing to happen to college basketball” is the fact that it affects so few players. Currently, has seven freshman being drafted. Seven out of the thousands of Division 1 basketball players. Even then, you have to guess who would have made the jump straight to the NBA. Durant, Greg Oden, and Thaddeus Young were definitely talked about as only being in college because of the NBA’s rule. Chase Budinger and Hasheem Thabeet were almost certainly going to college. Julian Wright and Brendan Wright were probably toss-ups. So the rule only put a maximum of five players in college who could kick back and shirk academics during the second semester.

Even absent the rule, any high schooler who was on the cusp of entering the draft and decided to go to college, then excelled during his first semester could slack off in the second semester. So could any sophmore or junior. The rule has not created a massive class of players who are not motivated to attend class in the spring because their futures lie with the NBA. The rule has simply added a few (max of probably 10 per year) players to that group.

There is one reason the NCAA should address this, and this goes back to APR. Just like the NCAA allows (unfortunately in a hypocritical manner verging on sarcastic) commercial college sports to subsidize its programs for non-revenue sports, because so few players get drafted, coaches can “subsidize” these players by making extra sure that the other members of the team stay eligible and ultimately graduate. Rick Barnes could avoid problems by making sure Augustin stays and remains eligible, so Durant is the only blemish on his graduation record this year.

The NCAA should respond to this by toughening up the APR requirements, at the same time that it makes it easier for players who clearly are leaving college to get out. A program which punishes teams for even one player who clearly flouts academics, by dropping out of or failing all classes, when it appears certain he’s going to be a first-rounder would help avoid this (small) problem.  That should be coupled with the NCAA allowing players who are considering leaving early extra leeway to finish up coursework quicker and earlier in order to remain in good academic standing, both to promote academics, and to make it easier for players to finish up degrees and return to college if they decide to retain their eligibility.  The answer is not to find ways to discourage these players from coming to college in the first place.  If that had already happened, Bill Walker would be ineligible to play in college, would not be working toward a degree, and would be struggling to stay with some foreign or minor league team while he tries to repair his draft stock after blowing out his knee twice.

Until then, college coaches must simply stress to the Durants of the world that it’s important to retain their eligiblity, just like coaches need to let the Webbers and Bushes of the world know that it’s important not to take financial gifts.  In both cases, there is little reason for the player to follow the rules, because he likely won’t get caught during his college career and he likely won’t be vilified.   The only one who suffers is the team.  Clearly much worse has happened to college basketball in the years Bob Knight has been involved with college basketball.  It’s hard to see how encouraging a few players to spend a year on campus, and maybe learn something in class, is destroying the game.  And that doesn’t even include the fact that Durant and Oden are bringing more fans to college basketball, a trend that should continue next year with Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, and Derrick Rose.  Knight is a traditionalist, and while many of his criticisms of college basketball are well-founded, here he’s making a mountain out of a molehill.

You win some, you lose £380 million

Roman Abramovich may have delivered two titles to Stamford Bridge, but he’s also lost a huge chunk of the £500 million ($975 million) he’s poured into the club.  Those massive losses include £80 million ($156 million) this year alone.  By contrast, the Yankees lost $50 million last year, although they would have made $27 million were it not for the $77 million in revenue sharing/luxury taxes that the club paid this year.  The Yankees also lost half of what the Blues did, despite being twice as valuable as Chelsea is.

“So, what’s the point?” you might be asking.  The point is that this highlights one of the biggest differences between American sports and world soccer.  In soccer, you have to spend money to do well, and you have to do well to have make money (which you can then spend).  The new television deal for the EPL is worth a total of $4.25 billion, with part of the funds being dispersed based on success.  The worst team in the Premiership will make about $60 million before they are relegated.  The winner will make just over $125 million in TV rights deals and prize money.

This means that the clubs at the top will likely have the resources to stay there.  In America, we talk about our “big clubs” in professional sports.  In England, “The Big Clubs” almost never changes.  For a long time, it was Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United.  Now you have to add Chelsea to the list.  Yeah, Blackburn Rovers has won a Barclay’s title, and Nottingham Forest won the Champions League, but those are oddities.  This isn’t a particularly new development though.  The Champions League has always made finishing in the top four much more lucrative than finishing fifth.  Now this is simply exacerbated.

It also means that you can expect to see a revolving door of the same few clubs popping in and out of the top flight.  Teams that go down to the Championship will have much more cash than those being promoted.  But the newly promoted teams will not have the resources to compete with the cash-rich teams, even those that finished in 15th-17th place.  But they’ll get their $60 million, fall back to the Championship, and use that war chest to get promoted again.  Lather, rinse, and repeat.  The playoff system will keep this from being the exact same three teams, but I’ll bet that if this structure holds, over time you’ll see a total of about 9-10 teams (three in the EPL, fairly consistent top 6 finishers in the Championship) rotating into the top flight.

The main point here is that European soccer sells prestige and American sports sell hope (to rip off Colin Cowherd).  The EPL, in conjunction with the Champions League, has created a structure where success breeds success, and the interests of the status quo is strongly protected.  There can’t be a Carolina Panthers in the EPL, an expansion (or promoted) team that consolidates it’s position and builds up to being a contender, at best you would have a Florida Marlins, where a rich owner hires a bunch of mercenaries and loses money to vie for a title.  The most you can hope for is that the team isn’t disassembled right afterwards, leaving nothing but the same ol’, same ol’ back on top competing for the spoils.

XM/Sirius merger seems doubtful

I’m only a couple months into antitrust law, but I highly doubt that the XM/Sirius merger, which could be announced today, will be able to pass all the antitrust hurdles.  The FCC has already weighed in disapprovingly, but I think the FTC and the DOJ will have much more to say about whether XM and Sirius are going to combine.

In theory, it’s a great deal for customers.  XM and Sirius both bet the farm on exclusive content.  Sirius paid Howard Stern hundreds of millions of dollars, plus another $83 million in Sirius stock when Stern helped Sirius blow away subscriber expectations.  XM decided to bet on baseball, the sport most closely associated with radio.  The result was that anyone who considered satellite radio had to make a choice.  If you want MLB, you can’t get Howard Stern.  If you want the NFL, you can’t get Bob Dylan or Bob Edwards.  A merger would bring all this exclusive content under one umbrella, eliminating the tradeoff that becoming a satellite radio subscriber would entail.

The major problem here is that not only would XM and Sirius have a monopoly, it would be a monopoly which is almost unassailable.  The upfront costs of starting another satellite radio service are massive.  First and foremost, you need to build and launch at least one, more likely two satellites.  XM also pays quite a bit of money to have a third satellite in “ready” state in case either Rock or Roll (XM’s two satellites) go down.

A Mark Cuban or Richard Branson could easily pay the money to launch a satellite.  What they would have trouble with is creating an attractive content package which could rival what XM and Sirius currently have.  The number of available radio personalities and content licenses that you could put together in order to challenge XM and Sirius is small and dwindling.  Simply providing commercial-free, coast-to-coast music won’t cut it either; it wasn’t until these exclusive content agreements that XM and Sirius really started to grow.

Should the two merge, there is really only one thing which could challenge them: nationally broadcast local content.  However, this would require someone to go head-to-head with terrestrial radio providers, something XM and Sirius have done only once (for traffic and weather) and which the FCC seems reluctant to let a satellite radio operator win.

The only way this could possibly pass muster is to, seemingly against conventional wisdom, court more regulation, i.e. working with the FCC to alleviate the FTC’s concerns.  However, the FCC is probably going to ask for other concessions to allow their approval, especially to get around antitrust concerns, and this may include additional content regulation.  And once you muzzle Howard Stern and the unedited music stations, you lose a lot of value.  Until XM and Sirius can address the almost indestructible monopoly they would have, I doubt this merger will see the light of day.

Penalties ruin a classic cup-tie

If there’s a bigger critic of Kicks From The Penalty Spot (as the FIFA Laws of the Game call them) than me, I want to know who it is. Middlesborough and Bristol City played a wonderful 2-2 tie in extra time of their fourth round FA Cup replay. The game was excellent with Bristol jumping all over Boro to gain a 1-nil lead at the half, only to see Mark Viduka equalize for the heavily favored Premiership hosts in the 69th minute. Ayegbeni Yakubu took one of the worst penalty kicks you’ll ever see six minutes into extra time, striking a weak grounder straight to City keeper Chris Weale. Yakubu made up for the massive mistake by scoring the go-ahead goal in the 96th minute, only to see Bristol City tie the game in the 117th minute.

(On a quick aside, this is why golden goal is not quite as good as playing the full half-hour of extra time.  No matter how powerful the team, they will sit back for the second overtime and let the opponent open up a shooting gallery, and games are tied more often then you might expect.)

In penalties, ‘Boro had the thing won, up 4-4, with City needing to stop Yakubu’s penalty to stay alive and push the game to sudden death kicks.  Yakubu blew it again, hitting the upright as he tried to get a little too cute with the final kick (the same move that doomed IU when Brian Ackley hit the post in our Sweet 16 NCAA soccer tournament game this year).  However, ‘Boro stopped City and the next penalty was hammered home for the win.

The game was so brilliant that it just highlights once again the love-hate relationship I have with penalties.  On one hand, with 90 minutes of soccer often producing no scoring, defensive-minded coaches who love to play not to lose, and limited substitutions, an endless string of overtimes that fails to produce a winner is entirely possible.  On the other hand, penalties are an exposition of such a limited breadth of the talent that soccer players possess.  You have a crapshoot where the goalie can only cover about 20-30% of the goalface, and a kicker who can about half of it with almost 100% reliability.  It’s simply a question of whether the goalie guessed right, and if he did, was the kick so good he can’t get it.

However, the biggest problem with penalty kicks is the lack of a good alternative.  IU once played an 8 overtime championship game.  That’s a 90 minute game followed by almost 80 minutes of overtime.  70 minutes of overtime failed to produce a goal.  Soccer has much bigger problems succeeding in America, but penalties are kind of emblematic of the things about soccer that Americans don’t like: it’s weird.  There’s lots of other things that FIFA and the USSF could work on, but finding a real alternative to penalties would make the game much more enjoyable for a lot of people.

Delany wasting more time than Congress

Maybe the Big Ten has the time to deal with moronic critics. Certainly Jim Delany does, as he posted an open letter on the Big Ten website responding to critics of the Big Ten’s admission standards and failures in recruiting. The comment, from a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, said this about the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC:

People have turned poor students into very good ones and make them eligible to play in the SEC. Few of them wind up in the Big Ten. But many of them are difference-makers and game-breakers. If the Big Ten can’t get those kind of players, it will keep falling behind.

Delany responded by suggesting that the Big Ten strikes an appropriate balance between academics and athletics (while expressly saying that he’s not suggesting the SEC doesn’t), and pointing out the recent success of the Big Ten against SEC teams in bowl games.

I guess the biggest question is why Delany wasted his time responding to such a ridiculous suggestion.  The biggest error is any assumption that the Big Ten has fundamentally different academic standards than the SEC.  First of all, let’s focus on initial eligibility.  Aside from Northwestern, which I believe requires that student athletes meet normal admissions standards and maybe Vanderbilt (same), both the Big Ten and the SEC have exactly the same admissions standards for athletes in the revenue sports, namely the core course requirements and sliding GPA/SAT/ACT scale in NCAA Bylaw 14.3.1.  This means that the stud football prospect with a 2.5 and an 820 SAT can get into Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Ohio State, Georgia, etc.

It is true though that the Big Ten has higher continuing academic eligibility requirements, i.e. what a player’s cumulative GPA must be in order to remain eligible.  How much higher?  At the end of the first term, Big Ten athletes must have a 1.65 GPA (4.0 scale) in order to remain eligible in the second term.  SEC athletes do not have this requirement, at least as far as I could find.  After the first year, athletes in both conferences must have a 1.8 cumulative GPA after both terms in the second year, 1.9 in the third, and 2.0 in the fourth and fifth.

So where is this coming from?  Probably an assumption by this Sun-Times reporter that because Big Ten schools are ranked higher in academic ratings, that 1.8 must be harder to get.  The SEC has numerous advantages in football recruiting, namely a host of big name coaches, better weather, a stronger focus on football, huge exposure and hype, and the reigning national champs.  And if the SEC has such lower academic standards, why has it not crushed the Big Ten in basketball recruiting as well?

A sign of the apocalypse

Normally you don’t expect a lot out of IDS opinion writers, but this guy hits the nail on the head on the state of political and social debate and discussion in America.  Right on.

I can so be bought

I want one of these so bad.  If you want to be my new best friend for life, well, you know what to do.

IU goes all the way with smoking ban

First you couldn’t smoke in public areas.  Then smoking floors in dorms vanished.  Then came the ill-fated and poorly enforced “30 feet from doors” rule.  Now IU has taken the next logical step and decided to ban smoking on all campuses.  President Adam Herbert has asked all the chancellors to submit plans to ban smoking on each of IU’s campuses.  After the ban goes into effect, believed to be in January 2008, you will only be able to smoke on public sidewalks and streets in the city of Bloomington, or in apartments and homes which allow it.

As far as this being another paternalistic invasion of our free will by the state, I understand that argument, I just don’t come out on that side of it.  If we’re going to ban marijuana for being a dangerous drug, we might as well ban cigs, which are as bad for you (or worse), and have less redeeming qualities.

If I was an undergrad, I would be a huge fan of this, but I don’t walk around on campus that much so it doesn’t affect me to the degree that it did.  Having to walk behind a smoker on IU’s crowded sidewalks was like spending two minutes in a bar, especially if you’re trapped behind a group.  And hopefully the ban will cut down on people who smoke immediately before walking into class, thus forcing the people around them to smell that stale smoke stench for an hour and 15 minutes.

But how does IU plan to enforce this?  Will IUPD be patrolling the streets searching for smokers?  Will parking operations take time from issuing tickets to cars and instead issue tickets to people walking along?  Does IU plan to create a student enforcement team?  If so, I hope it’s a better idea than the ill-conceived “Party Patrol” which was basically a great excuse for Greeks to buy some embroidered North Face jackets.

Great idea, but I don’t see a way to execute it effectively without greatly increased cost, thus stealing resources from other, more important areas.  However, one good thing will come out of this: a reduction in the number of times non-smoking guys have the awful feeling that comes from seeing a beautiful girl rummage around in her purse and pull out a pack of smokes and light one up.  Heart-breaking at times.

Eli Holman Saga Shows Issues in Basketball Recruiting

Eli Holman, Indiana University’s 6’10” basketball recruit from Richmond, California (the same high school featured in Coach Carter actually), will not play high school basketball again after he was grazed by a bullet while seated in his friends car. Holman was attending a birthday party for a friend at a motel, his first time out with friends since September.

Holman as you might know (especially if you read that recap of his situation) has been trying to get back on the court after being suspended over a year ago for shoving an official. While I clearly do not condone that type of behavior, Holman went through every hoop the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) put in front of him. He doubled his SAT score (I believe he is a full qualifer at this point, but I’m not sure), he compiled the best semester of his life with all As and Bs, and after completing his required anger management classes, he asked to attend more. He had the support of the entire community, including the official he shoved, to return to the court.

That was all before he was shot in a drive-by shooting at this hotel over the weekend. While Eli has already returned to working out and practicing, he has dropped his quest to get reinstated, left his high school (he will finish his studies through home schooling), and vowed never to set foot in Richmond again.

Eli is an interesting kid. He is both extremely lucky (two inches over and the bullet might have hit his spine killing or paralyzing him), and extremely unlucky. He’s made many mistakes, both academically and personally, but he’s learned from them and corrected all of them. And now he decides what his priorities are, and realizes that his future, including playing basketball for the Hoosiers, is more important than playing basketball for his high school.

The issue that this whole saga raises is the reaction of a small, but suprisingly vocal minority of IU fans to the Holman situation. Discounting even significantly for message board craziness, there is a group of IU fans who think that Holman’s involvment as a victim in the shooting is the “last straw,” that IU should cut him lose, and that IU fans who support Holman are marginalizing the program’s sterling reputation by suggesting that such a kid belongs or should have the chance to suit up for Indiana Basketball.

What IU fans need to realize is that IU will need to take chances on kids. In my opinion, Eli has used up his first chance. But he’s much more deserving of his second chance than many people who are given third, fourth, and fifth ones. We are not Duke. Only Duke can recruit only talented ballplayers who have squeaky clean records and no “baggage.” Some might call these kids sheltered. IU is going to need to take the occasional chance on a kid who does not have the greatest history. What IU does once these “problem children” get to Bloomington is what keeps the program’s reputation intact.

Bloomington is also not Richmond. It seems clear to me that while Eli has made a number of mistakes, living in a gang-controlled city certainly makes it a lot easier. Hopefully being in a different type of community with the support around him afforded to an IU basketball player will help him choose the right path more often. If he can’t, Kelvin Sampson and the athletic department should deal with it swiftly, fairly, and firmly. But to suggest that being shot makes a kid unfit to wear the crimson and cream smacks of the type of sheltered attitude that a lot of IU fans seem to have. Hopefully one day they pull their heads out of the sand and look around at the world. I bet they’ll change their expectations and ideals about what IU basketball should be.

Edit: The pull of basketball was too much for Eli.  The CIF reinstated him and he played last Thursday in his first high school game in over a year.  Holman returned in stunning fashion, with 27 points, 12 boards, and 9 blocks.

Michigan Gets With the Program on Soccer Moms and Hockey Dads

Michigan, the state I learned to officiate in and home to some of the best youth soccer and hockey you’ll find, finally is considering special penalties for fans who assault coaches, athletes, and officials.  The law would make any assault on a player, referee, or coach a felony (most are misdemeanors now), punishable by up to two years in prison and $2000 in fines.  The law would also allow facilities to put up signs reminding people of this change in the law.

Obviously as an official, I’m a huge supporter of this law.  I find attacks on officials to be a special brand of stupid/cowardly/devious (delete as necessary).  For the most part, grown men and women are attacking other grown men or women because of disagreements about children’s games.  Even worse, many of these officials are teenagers, not only younger and smaller than the attackers, but also much more impressionable.

But not nearly as impressionable as the young athletes who have to watch when Mom or Dad takes a swing at a ref because he called a block instead of a charge.  That’s who this law is really for.  Poor parent behavior, especially that which culminates in physical attacks on coaches, other players, and referees, is one of the biggest reasons kids are driven away from youth sports participation.  Meaning less get the opportunity to get the (disputed) social and emotional benefits of playing sports, and the (undisputed) physical benefits as well as an activity to keep kids out of trouble.

While I thought the law should have a harsher penalty,  this would make Michigan perhaps the toughest state on official abuse, the only state which automatically makes such an attack a felony.  And on a side note, the law is broadly written enough that it would cover fan behavior at commercial sporting events, so everyone involved in the Pistons/Pacers brawl (the fans that is) would have been charged with felonies instead of some misdemeanors.  However, the law should get even broader, and make it a felony for athletes to attack coaches and referees, or for coaches to attack referees, players, or fans, or for fans to attack other fans.  Writing a law that effectively allows for prosecution of player/player misconduct that rises to the level of assault would be too difficult without making it almost impossible to allow hitting.

(Fantasy) Sports Law

SportsJudge is a website designed to take fantasy sports leagues to the next level.  Fantasy leagues are big business.  The stats and systems are worth millions to league providers like Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline and league purses can run well into the thousands of dollars.

SportsJudge seeks to legitimize this by offering a number of services designed to make fantasy leagues more organized, professional, and orderly.  SportsJudge offers league constitutions, newletters on fantasy strategy, and “certified” leagues where your stats and rankings will be combined with other leagues to get overall rankings and possible entry into the SportsJudge hall of fame.

However the most innovative and interesting service offered by SportsJudge is its namesake: resolution of fantasy football disputes.  SportsJudge offers fantasy commisioners and owners a court to have a judge resolve their disputes.  There are even three published decisions you can check out which involve changes to roster size after the draft, changing from a keeper to non-keeper league, and whether a trade was fair.

One of my major criticisms of fantasy football was that people took it too seriously, but that was coupled with the fact that leagues are often poorly run, with ad hoc rules and decisions by commissioners.  Basically, I think fantsy sports should go one way or the other: take it seriously and run it seriously, or take it lightly and run it accordingly.  I think this could be a huge boon for Yahoo!, CBS Sportsline, or any other fantasy sports provider who decides to provide this on their own.  Stock league constitutions could be provided, pay leagues could include the dispute services, and decisions could be published to build a body of law in fantasy sports leagues.

Eventually, someone is going to sue someone in a real court for the operation of or conduct in a fantasy sports league.  It would be a lot better if it was about upholding a arbitrator’s decision (which is basically what this is) rather than having a trial judge (maybe even a federal trial judge if the fantasy league has a big enough purse) try to decide if LaDainian Tomlinson for Peyton Manning and Roy Williams is an acceptable trade.

The Big Timeout Comes to the Pistons

Chris Webber is finally home. After leading Birmingham Country Day to a state title (later invalidated) and Michigan to two Final Fours (later invalidated), Chris Webber will complete the trifecta and play a little pro ball in Detroit. He will likely start at center along side Rasheed Wallace. The best part of the move is the price, a prorated portion of the veteran’s minimum. Webber wasn’t asking for more because the 76ers will pay him about $30 million to not play for them.

Detroit fans fall into three camps with Webber. One camp embraces him as one of Detroit’s own, deserving of the great amount of love and loyalty which accompany any Detroit native who plays for the local teams. The second group will never forgive Webber either for setting Michigan Basketball as far back as he did, lying to the grand jury, spurning the Pistons earlier in free agency, and/or not playing for Michigan State where titles may have come more easily at the state’s basketball school.

I’m firmly in the third group: fans who either don’t care or have forgiven Webber for his past, and simply find him to be a highly overrated basketball player. Webber is what he is: a highly skilled big man who has a good jumper, can rebound relatively well, and who is an excellent passer. He also is not what he is not: athletic as he once was and a big game, clutch player.

I personally think the tramua of the phantom timeout forever scarred Webber. I think there’s two ways players lose the ability to become big game players: either it is not exercised fully or they gain a reputation by failing once in a big spot.  Webber failed in a huge spot and I think it has affected his ability in clutch situations.

I sincerely hope Webber can contribute to the Pistons and help them to a championship.  That’s not a universal attitude in Detroit right now.  I just think it’s unlikely.  And I think there’s more at risk here then just the small amount of money.  This is a fundamental shift in thinking for the Pistons.  I hope this is not Joe D’s plan for the next few years: to try to fill spots for a year or two at a time, especially in the starting lineup.  If Webber can get the Pistons to the Finals, fine, but he should not be re-signed to start again.  The Pistons need to get back to getting young, and look to draft or trade for someone to fill that spot for the next five years, not the next six months.

“Hold Your Wee for a Wii” ends in tragedy

Wii’s have been blamed for many broken TV’s due to poor wrist strap design, and many wrist injuries due to the inexperience of new Wii players. Now the first death has occured connected to the Wii. Jennifer Strange, a 28 year-old mother of three, was found dead in her suburban Sacramento home on Saturday after dying from water intoxication. Strange was competing in a radio station contest where contestants were required to drink a half-pint of water every 15 minutes and urinate. The one who held out the longest with going “wee” won the Wii. According to that Wikipedia article, water intoxication results from hypoanterima, a dilution of sodium and other electrolytes in the blood plasma. This results in too much water entering cells (to even out the concentration of the solvents) and the cells can cease to function or even burst. This causes organs to shut down, and possible death, as in this case. The safe amount of water your kidneys can handle is between .9 and 1.5 liters per hour. Thus drinking only 3 liters of water in a single sitting (especially if you’re holding it in) can be dangerous. Another contestant said that after he bowed out, the contestents were given bigger bottles to drink.

Enough science, I’m a law student, so here’s my legal take. The radio station might be in serious trouble. I’m sure she signed all types of waivers, but even the best waiver can be reduced to less than the value of the paper it was printed on. What the contestants were doing was inherently dangerous. The radio station could have made this much safer by including bottles of Gatorade, having salt tablets on hand, and having doctors or other medical staff who were experienced with water poisioning monitoring the contestants. All this though costs money, which is why a simple waiver likely replaced it all (although I have no idea what the real thought process was, I’m just speculating).

And Nintendo is in no way responsible for this, however I’m positive that the lawer for the radio station, should they be sued, will try to get Nintendo into the litigation, maybe on some theory that they invited this to happen by naming the console Wii.  That however will not be likely to succeed.

And this also reminds me a bet two of my friends made back in my undergrad days to see who could drink the most Nalgene bottles of water in one day. The winner downed 13, and complained of nausea, lightheadedness, and headaches. According to that article, he was right on the edge of doing something extremely dangerous.


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