Dude, Where’s My Squirrel?


I can safely say I didn’t go to law school because of legal procedurals, which compete only with the 87 versions of CSI for the title of “Most Boring Thing on Television.” Nevertheless, I’ve seen enough episodes of Law and Order: Trial by Fire over the years that I knew what law school had in store for me. I couldn’t wait to put my l33t legal skills into action, destroying Comcast customer service reps and maybe even shouting down opposing counsel, just like my favorite personal injury lawyer does in his late night TV advertisements.

You might think that after a month of doing Civil Procedure reading 12, sometimes 18, hours per day I’d be disillusioned. And I’ll admit, there were some low points. Especially after Comcast cut off my free cable and I, law student extraordinaire, was left a) powerless and b) unable to watch My Super Sweet Sixteen. But I soldiered through the rough spots. I can now say with confidence that, no matter how random the assigned cases may seem, they contain vital lessons that can significantly enhance your day-to-day life.

In Ghen v. Rich [8 F. 159 (1881)], for instance, a Massachusetts court granted you ownership of whales that you kill with your distinctively shaped lance, even if they’re found washed up on the beach days later and miles away. Admittedly, whales are a bit scarce at HLS (what’s with that, anyway?), but there’s one natural resource we’re not lacking. Squirrels. Yes, that’s right. I’ve taken up squirrel harpooning. At first I thought living on the third floor of Gropius would be a drag, but actually my window offers the perfect vantage point, and there’s only the occasional Frisbee player in my line of fire. Unfortunately, I don’t have Torts until next semester, so that injunction caught me completely by surprise.

Anyway, if you happen to find one of my squirrels around campus, Ghen v. Rich [8 F. 159 (1881)] mandates that you drop me a line at kmapes@law.harvard.edu. And on a personal note, I’d be grateful if you did. Only a few more, and I’ll be able to make a coat. They’re just like Lexis points, but furry. And possibly rabid. Which I suppose would make them closer to Lexis reps.

That said, I never let extracurricular activities get in the way of my schoolwork, so I was thrilled to see Nome 2000 v. Fagerstrom [799 P.2d 304 (1990)] on the syllabus. At least, I was until I went to class and learned that the plaintiff is an Alaskan corporation rather than, as I had reasonably assumed, an evil super computer bent on world domination. When I actually settled down to do the reading, however, I learned that my disappointment had been misplaced. As it turns out, you can build a reindeer pen on someone else’s property, leave it for ten years, and voila! Adverse possession! And what, you may ask, does our ice skating rink need but a reindeer?

Indeed, ’twas the night before last that, quiet as a mouse, I crept out of my dorm room and into a small, underutilized corner of Langdell Library. “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!” I shouted. And lo, I was on my way to being an adverse possessor. That pansy Rudolph never showed up though; no doubt he’s the kind of non-conformist who ends up squatting on the ice skating rink over at the Fine Arts school.

Even First Year Legal Research and Writing (colloquially referred to as FYLRW or “Dear God, two hours?!”) has its moments of utility. In a rare episode of studiousness, also known as the ten minute period between the time The O.C. ends and The Apprentice begins, I was flipping through my book and stumbled across the soul crushing Sharp v. Kosmalski [(351 N.E.2d 721)]. In this case, a young school teacher innocently rejects her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, talks him into transferring all his bank accounts and the deed to his farm into her name, and then kicks him off the property. And the buzz kill court says this isn’t allowed. Way to kill the dream, Court of Appeals, way to kill the dream. At least I was warned.

In the same chapter, the book’s editors helpfully inform us that you’re not allowed to tell your elderly relatives that Stalin will kill them unless they leave you all their money [Tebin v. Moldock, 241 N.Y.S.2d 629 (1963)]. I have to say, it was a tough day.

In the end, law school isn’t about the fancy job offer we get or the crushing student loan burden that forces us to take it. It’s about the little things. Which I’d love to tell you about, but I see my neighbor heading downstairs with her laundry, and I intend to saucily intercept the machine. And thanks to law school, I know that’s okay. [Pierson v. Post, 3 Cai. R. 175 (1805)].

Katie Mapes, 1L, would like the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund to know that no squirrels were harmed in the making of this column. Or reindeer.

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