Wednesday, March 23, 2011

University of Virginia School of Law

The Rotunda on main campus
Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Charlottesville, VA
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 9
What they like to talk about: alumni network and quality of life
Pros: Small town, friendly students, killer job placement, national portability, honor code
Cons: Alcohol-soaked campus, low lay prestige (compared to Berkeley or U of Washington in the PNW), politically conservative reputation

As the first law school I've visited, it's hard to comment on Virginia Law. After I visit Michigan, I'll be able to speak more about comparisons, but since I visited Duke on the weekend, I can't use it as a foil beyond considerations of architecture.

Prior to my visit, I didn't know that UVA was considered a "Public Ivy."

Main Campus: The Virginia campus feels very old and renowned in a distinctly American way. As Thomas Jefferson's brainchild, the University of Virginia was meant to be a learning community.
The Range

This area, "the Range," formed the center of the learning community.
The Lawn

"The Lawn" in the middle is faced on both sides by living quarters which were originally designed to house professors and students. Professors would hold class in their living rooms and all community members would eat and spend other community time in the Rotunda.
Living quarters
I might be hard pressed to find a school that likes to talk more about their founder. Often referring to "TJ," students and faculty alike connect the law school and their personal activities to his vision for a learning community.

School of Law

The Law School: It is clear that Virginia Law is proud of their national reputation and firmly believe in the academic and intellectual integrity of their students. Further, the entire university is governed by a student-administered honor code. There were several comments during the open house corolating this honor code to the trust between students. Apparently, students frequently leave their laptops, books, and notes in the library without worry of theft.

I cannot imagine a more friendly group of students. It was easy to talk to both current students and other admits. They seemed willing to be honest about the school's vices, but also wanted to tell me every wonderful thing about the institution.

Law School facing south
The law school is located on the northern edge of campus and so enjoys both easy access to the main campus and also a level of quiet and seclusion.
Law courtyard complete with bocce ball

The interior of the law school seemed light and airy, a easy place to have a clear head for studying. The temperature was pleasant to the point of being completely unnoticeable.
The reading room in the library
A typical classroom

One of the main hallways

The hall with all the pictures of former deans

Pros and Cons Summary: Over the course of my visit, Virginia Law staff focused on communicating their two main strengths as a strong (actually quite rabid) alumni network and a high quality of life. Over 50% of (living) Virginia alumni contribute to the school every year. To put this in context, other nationally-leading schools are happy with percentages in the teens. Further, it became clear from conversations with students that the quality of life was really fantastic. These students were happy... in law school. And that's something they should be bragging about.

I was a little turned off by the prevalence of alcohol on campus (it plays a central role in many UVA functions), but I was assured that there are plenty of students who abstain and are able to integrate quite well.

Another concern I have is that Virginia is one of the few schools that is (or has been in the past) tied to a political persuasion (I'll run into the same concern with Berkeley). Historically, UVA has leaned conservative and traditionally places clerks with more conservative judges. I asked many people about this concern (I even was able to question the former general counsel of the Democratic National Committee) and the consensus was that though UVA might be slightly more conservative than the average law school, its extreme conservatism is a thing of the past.

My last concern is about what I perceive as a lack of "lay prestige" (coupled with questionable portability to the PNW). Frankly, the average person doesn't know that Virginia law is one of the best law schools in the country. Since I want to live and practice in Washington State, I'm most concerned about people there. The Virginia name simply doesn't turn heads like Berkeley or similar schools do. I'm certain the average Washingtonian thinks the University of Washington is a much better law school than Virginia even though the opposite is true. But this concern isn't just about the general population (who really wouldn't come into play unless I was running for office). It is also my concern that UW graduates have a distinct hometown advantage when it comes to job prospects. The real question is how well will a Virginia degree travel to the PNW and match up against a degree from the UW?

Regardless of my concerns, Virginia is a strong candidate and a school that is a forerunner in my mind. Out of the schools I'm considering, Virginia has the strongest firm placement statistics along with the strongest clerkship statistics. For instance, it is one of the few schools that is regularly represented among the ranks of U.S. Supreme Court clerks (in a later post summarizing my visits, I'll go over the specific employment data for each school). A Virginia degree will carry with it national recognition from those "in the know."

I've already talked about the honor code and how happy the students are, but the location is equally as desirable (except for being on the East Coast). Charlottesville is a small town (less that 50,000 people) and feels nicely rural, while still maintaining eclectic shops and restaurants (reminds me of Walla Walla in this way).

Ultimately, I enjoyed my trip to UVA and my visit made me more inclined to attend. I felt like I could make close friends at Virginia (though certainly not as close as my buddies from the West Whitman Estate or the Inner Circle from UCA). Further, during a class visit and a mock class, I caught a glimpse into what law school is really like... and I think I've made the right choice. I'm going to like it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Adventure Begins

New York

Originally my plan called for departure to the University of Virginia (or Duke) today. But, plans change.

Last week, I called UVA to ask about visiting. They mentioned that the admitted students open house was being held on Friday and asked if I wanted to register. I decided it would be worth it (the $400 travel stipend helped) and I made arrangements to arrive in Charlottesville on Thursday for some pre-event events (class visits, BBQ, etc.).

On Saturday afternoon I drove down to Durham to visit Duke Law.

Now, I'm sitting in Alban's kitchen eating granola, raspberries, blueberries, and a banana.

Here's the revised plan. I'm attending the admitted students weekend/open house events for University of Virginia, University of Michigan, and Berkeley (the three top ten schools). Then I'll be visiting several other schools in between these events for a final schedule of:

Virginia, Duke, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Berkeley, Davis, and University of Washington. I will not be visiting Georgetown or USC. I've already visited Georgetown twice while I was working in D.C. and Los Angeles doesn't excite me.

I've taken over 200 pictures each of Virginia and Duke and I hope to have some of those posted along with my reactions to the schools tonight or tomorrow.

I have to say that even though I've visited Harvard before, I am only now realizing why American universities are so internationally recognized. I had no idea our major universities were this impressive.
A sneak preview of the Duke Cathedral

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I feel like Jonah after he was spit up on dry land

Crossfit 516 = therapy after months in the fish's belly
It's time for a personal update.

I feel like I've been marinating in the belly of a "great fish" for an extended period of time. It's also raining outside. They say the rivers have already begun to swell and overrun their banks. My boss says New Jersey is going to get it bad. I worry less about New Jersey than I should; I worry the dead tree in the front yard will fall over on my car.

When I started studying for the LSAT, I didn't really think about what came after. That was probably a good thing. After the LSAT, I launched into applying to law schools. I applied to 13 schools (overkill) and got most of the applications completed and submitted by very early December (I was trying to beat the Christmas rush). So far, I've heard back from 10 of those schools.

I was rejected by Harvard. I'm not surprised and mostly not disappointed. It would have been fun to at least have the "H-bomb" as an option, but my numbers were low for them and that about completes the story.

I was wait-listed by Duke (I applied to Duke on the last day of their deadline–February 15).

And I was accepted at Berkeley, Michigan, Virginia, Georgetown, USC, University of Minnesota (after being waitlisted), Davis, University of Washington, and University of Colorado (in order of their rankings).

Lastly, I haven't yet heard back from Stanford and UCLA. That's not a good sign for either of them, but I'm holding out hope.

In a little over a week, I will depart from my job here in New York and begin a grand adventure west. I'll be visiting most of these schools, so actually instead of west, the first order of business will be south to the University of Virginia and Duke University. I'll be taking pictures and blogging about each school (as a way of processing what I think about them).

I'm looking forward to the beloved Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Let's lower corporate tax rates

For the past two decades... no make that forever, conservatives have been concerned about how high our corporate tax rates are. One reason this concern hasn't gotten very much traction is that corporations can easily avoid taxes and therefore corporate taxes make up only a small sliver of our overall tax revenues (another reason for this is that corporations can write off so many of their expenses).

The main complaint of Republicans is that our corporate tax rate is higher than any other developed country. This is true and given that fact, one would wonder how our corporations compete in the international marketplace... until you realize that the countries with lower corporate tax rates also expect more from their companies in terms of employee benefits (minimum of 6 weeks paid vacation every year, phenomenal maternity and paternity leave, shorter work weeks, generous pensions, etc.).

I've been toying with an idea about U.S. corporate tax rates the past several weeks. It's pretty simple. Let's lower our corporate tax rates substantially. Right now, our top rate is around 40%, while the rest of the developed world is around 26%. I say let's undercut them. Lower our top rate to 25% or 20% or 15%. Then, let's require companies (and we can negotiate about what companies this applies to–for instance, we may want to restrict these requirements to larger companies) to treat workers with more respect. I'm talking a minimum of 6 weeks paid vacation every year, substantial maternity and paternity leave, 32-35 hour work weeks, pensions, quality health care, etc.

Let's face it. We can go on taxing corporations at the same rate (they can compete just fine) and allowing them to treat workers poorly (in comparison to the rest of the developed world) or we can lower taxes and simply set standards for how workers must be treated.

Right now, the government acts as a middle man. It taxes companies and then passes this money on to workers in the form of social programs. These social programs are important, but mostly they're treating the symptoms of an abused working class. Why not take the government out of the equation and simply guarantee that companies treat their workers with respect?

Ultimately, the idea is to reward workers in the most efficient way possible. The working class is the foundation of our national prosperity. A prosperous working class produces a prosperous nation.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is income tax for? (Part 6)

Money flowing up

From all the rhetoric surrounding the income tax, it's pretty clear there's a lot of confusion over what its purpose is.

Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto for two reasons. The first half of the book talks about what happens when societies get financially polarized. Marx points out that when the wealthy become super wealthy in relation to everyone else, society gets unstable (e.g. the French Revolution). The working class, upset that they're doing all the backbreaking work and seeing none of the reward, rise up and kill the wealthy, which starts the process over again.

Marx offered a solution in the second half of his book: communism. Instead of having a financially stratified society, he argued we ought to have an equal one. When the book was published, the wealthy quickly recognized the truth of the first half and were subsequently frightened by Marx's solution. After all, the rich weren't any more eager to voluntarily give up their wealth than they are now.

So instead of an equal society, the rich decided they would institute a "progressive" society that took a little bit of wealth from the rich (in the form of various kinds of taxes) and used it to appease the working class with "social programs." Our income tax is the modern iteration of this approach.

There are two statements that I want to briefly deal with. 1) "Half of our population doesn't even pay taxes" and 2) "If we keep taxing the rich so much, pretty soon there won't be any rich people left."

1) First of all, it's true that something like half our population doesn't pay income taxes. Everyone pays payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare), which actually make up about as much of our tax revenue as income taxes (further, the working class pays far more payroll taxes as a percentage of their income than the wealthy do).

But there's another point here. The wealthy pay most of the income tax... and that's the point of income tax. It's designed to be money coming from the rich that goes to paying for social programs. The fact is that historically, social programs weren't really meant to help the working class, they were meant to
protect the wealthy from the working class. Social programs prevent revolution (lest you think I'm opposed to social programs for this reason... I'm not). 

2) The figure at the beginning of this post should answer this point, but I'll take a moment to verbalize it. The rich are getting richer. Not the opposite. Money is being transferred
to the wealthy, not from them. Essentially, our government takes a few thousand dollars from them, while our economic system funnels hundreds of thousands to them. We do this by design.

It's time for voters to stop listening to the wealthy and the politicians hired to defend their interests. The working class deserves a share of our national wealth. Next time someone tells you the rich are barely making ends meet, just laugh.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Democracy at Risk (Part 5)

This new Story of Stuff video came out on Tuesday. It was a long time coming and I'm excited to share it. It's spot on and couldn't go better with our book.

Take note of the way she talks about human motivation vs. corporate motivation. It's brilliant and probably the most important part of the video. The fact is individuals are motivated by many things, but when taken in the aggregate (aka. in a corporation) it all drills down to the "profit motive."