Thursday, February 10, 2005

Semesters v. Quarters...why quarters totally and utterly blow.

Stanford Law School is considering moving to the quarter system starting in Sept. 2006. (via JD2B)

“The days when lawyers could simply opine on narrow legal issues from a position of isolation are over,” said Mark Chandler, Law School Class of 1981, who serves as vice president of legal services and general counsel for Cisco Systems. “Dean Kramer’s move to integrate the Law School’s calendar with the rest of the University is a key to maintaining the relevance of Stanford’s legal program for the future.”

But those impacted by the change note that there are potential downsides. Switching to a quarter system would complicate summer employments at law firms, because their start and end dates are typically defined and keyed to a semester system — which is the norm at most law schools nationwide, including Harvard and Yale.

Stanford law students would have to delay the start of their summer jobs by one to two weeks. For third-year law students, the quarter system could mean leaving school later and thus having less time to prepare for the bar exam. In addressing these problems, Kramer has worked to secure guarantees from the top 60 law firms that conduct on-campus interviews that Stanford law students would be able to spend the same amount of time as students from other law schools despite their late start date. If the calendar change materializes, the Law School may also offer third-year students the option of taking their final exams early to allow for adequate studying time for bar exam review.

“I don’t see any drawback associated with the quarter system that
cannot be resolved,” Kramer said.

Well, I guess it's nice that Stanford took the time to get guarantees from employers that they would cooperate, that's sure as shit more than my school has done. But, there's a hell of a lot more negatives to the quarter system than just being a couple weeks late to your summer job and having less time to study for the bar.

First of all, each quarter is 10 weeks long, and there are three "quarters" in a regular academic year (plus one in summer). Because classes are so short, most are 4 or 5 credits and are 4 or 5 days a week. That means, if you're taking 16 hours (like me), you go to class everyday, and are in class most of every day. I know almost no one that doesn't go to school basically all day at least four days a week...most of us have one "light" day, and in 2L we have a little more leeway in schedule making, but in 1L we took 4 or 5 classes (depending on the quarter) on a "block schedule," basically four days a week all day (8:30-2:30 or 9:30-3:30)...or at least considerably more "all-day" than what I understand people on semester systems usually do.

However, I think the best part of the 10 week quarter class is the fact that each and every textbook is written for a semester long class. That means there are two choices. The first one (and most popular) is to just ignore it and stuff it all into 10 weeks no matter how confusing, frustrating, overwhelming and horrible it is for both the professor and the students. The second (mainly used in 1L) is to make certain classes two quarters long (Property, Contract, Torts, CivPro). Since the book isn't quite long enough to make it, this usually gives the professors an opportunity to really expound on whatever their favorite subject is, no matter how tangential it is to the law, or the subject of the class, or...reality.

The quarter system generally does not allow time for reading periods or anything like that before exams. Classes end Friday, exams start Monday and last one week. Breaks are much shorter than semester schools, after all, gotta get back and start the next quarter RIGHT AWAY because you didn't start school until the end of September. We got out of exams this past quarter on Dec. 17th and were back in school on Jan. 3rd, which I believe is a significantly shorter break than other people had (although we didn't start school until end of Sept...but we don't get out until mid-June).

Employers don't want to recruit in mid-October, during our OCI...they've already been to all the schools they're going to interview at and have seen hundreds of great candidates. Non-local employers are not into it, and it is reflected in their attitudes. My call-back in San Francisco (as I've stated before) started with a partner asking me "Why are you here so much later than everyone else, what's wrong with you?"

Once you get a job, the issue of starting a couple of weeks late is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. First of all, you have to find summer housing. But, forget about subletting because students will all be getting back and wanting their place back three weeks before you're ready to started late, remember? Same with the law school dorms in whatever city you're going to. Every bit of help that employers offer is scheduled around a semester system...all of it.

Also, when you waltz in three weeks later than everyone else, they have bonded with each other, and more importantly, with the lawyers in the office. People already have favorites, choice assignments have been given out, desks are claimed, the summer associates have formed friendships and gone out for drinks, and guess what? You were not included. But don't worry, at the end of the summer when they're all gone, you'll have plenty of time in the three weeks you're there alone to fix all their mistakes and finish their half-done projects. FUN!

Now, less empirical and more nebulous is the "mental-health" factor. Do you want to work at an externship for a judge? Participate in organizations (other than law review and moot court because you get academic credits for those so they aren't totally outside the system...although I realize people spend hugely more hours on these than the credit they get, but everyone thinks they're smarter than me so I'm not feeling too sorry for 'em)? Have a job? Well, good luck fitting it in around being in class five days a week. Also, good luck with the fact that just as a class starts to ramp up it's time for exams again. Hope your boss doesn't mind that you don't get out of class every day until 3:30pm and you still have to read for your three or four classes tomorrow plus maybe participate in an organization or whatever. The quarter system means no down-time. EVER! You will never have a moment to sit back and do anything except be busy and crazy and worry about how busy and crazy you are.

As far as the bar goes...on the quarter system you will graduate in mid-June, about one month later than basically everyone else. One month you could have been studying for the bar. One month you could have used a week or two of to celebrate your graduation or unwind or whatever.

Anyway, these are just a few of the reasons the quarter system is ridiculous. My school, like Stanford (wow, never thought I'd say that), uses the excuse that they want to stay integrated with the rest of the campus. Well, you know, thank GOD we are on a synchronized schedule so that the five people taking undergraduate courses and the three people doing dual-degrees can not be inconvenienced. I mean, isn't it so much more important that we accomodate the undergraduate programs than that we align ourselves with the standard operating procedures of 99% of the other law schools in the country, including the ones that are setting the standards as far as how we are all judged? Dumb. I predict if they do it the students will hate it and they will regret it. Bad idea.

UPDATE: I forgot to put in a sentence or two about the horrors of exams three times a year instead of twice, but suffice it to say...exams THREE times a year!
This blog is sponsored by The Reeves Law Group at 515 South Flower Street, 36th Floor. Los Angeles CA 90071. (213) 271-9318