Dept. of Pieces Killed by The New Yorker

[Note: This gossipy Talk piece was assigned by The New Yorker and written in February of 2009. It was killed a month or so later for want of certain plot developments. The main subject, Seun Adebiyi, has since graduated from Yale Law School, been diagnosed with a rare and lethal kind of bone cancer, publicly fought said cancer, initiated a successful bone marrow drive focused on recruiting African-American donors, and continued his push to represent Nigeria in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the skeleton. He’s a special guy, and, though this piece was never published, I like to think that I “broke” the first Seun story. (Check out his blog for more on where he is and how he’s doing now:]

On and off The Wall

They may make good neighbors, but do walls make good lawyers? Yale Law School’s venerable “Wall,” inaugurated in 1986 as a place in the school’s main hallway to post matters of the mind, has lately gone online, and, in the eyes of some, veered away from its implicitly intellectual mission: It’s become a daily mass email attuned to textbook sales, brunch plans, and the odd urine problem in the girls’ bathroom.

Late last year, on October 29, a third-year addressed the “Prissy Chicks of YLS” on the wall, admonishing them for “squatting over the toilet seat and splattering it with pee rather than sitting on it like everybody else.” This 3L’s discovery of a “liberally spritzed” seat led her to offer three solutions to the wall: sit on the toilet “like a grown-up,” construct a “makeshift seat cover out of toilet paper,” or wipe off the “peesplatter.” Not exactly a “Socratic dialogue,” but point taken.

Three months later, on January 29, a fed-up and “Grumpy 3L” asked her fellow law students to “stop emailing the Wall about books and other questions that should be directed to your professor,, or your friends.” The wall, she concluded, “is about intellectual life at the law school. Nothing else.”

From 3:30pm to 11:16pm that Thursday, future Juris Doctors posted twenty-seven messages—they were mostly serious, suggesting judicious use of the “delete” key, though one simply offered a YouTube video of Rick Astley performing “Never Gonna Give You Up”—debating the function of the wall. At 7:27pm, one 3L wrote: “A debate spamming the wall about spamming the wall might just define us better than the pee debates.”

On February 5, an undeterred third-year YLS student posted a different sort of solicitation to the wall—one unrelated to either textbook sales or the nuances of legal scholarship—titled “Want to go to the 2014 Winter Olympics?”

The author, Seun Adebiyi, was already familiar to most wall readers, having addressed the YLS community over the previous two and a half years on subjects as intellectually varied as: “fooling around in a plane,” “hate crimes and Prop. 8,” and “can anyone recommend a good electrician?” But this new message was noteworthy even within the distinguished oeuvre of Mr. Adebiyi, a 25-year-old raised modestly in Ilorin, Nigeria, who plans to work for Goldman Sachs after graduating this May. It began:

Are you a sports lawyer? Are you slightly ridiculous?? Do you want to go to the Olympics as part of an African delegation??? I have a plan on how to get to the Winter Games, but I need your help. Remember that one African swimmer who always gets a standing ovation for just finishing? That can be me in 2014…on skis!

In 2004, Mr. Adebiyi came within 0.1 seconds of making the 2004 Nigerian Summer Olympic team in the 50 meter freestyle, and he says he’s been “plotting” his Olympic “comeback” ever since. Recently, he decided that making the Winter Olympic Team would be easier, because “99.9% of Nigerians have never seen snow.” He’s since committed to the skeleton event, over Nordic skiing, because it “doesn’t have a very deep talent pool…this is a new Olympic event.” (The luge-like discipline was brought back to the games in 2002 after a 54-year absence.)

Still, Adebiyi has solicited the help of his YLS peers, five of whom now compose his “Nigeria 2014” legal committee that meets weekly to discuss the logistics of his bid, usually over dinner. A typical committee email chain recently included the question, “You like pork, chicken or beef? Sweet or spicy sauce? What kind of sides?” followed by the revelation that “Nigeria has never competed in the Winter Olympic Games…Let’s make history!!”

Mr. Adebiyi has founded a non-profit to collect tax-deductible donations for his costly, five-year bid, which he plans to initially fund himself. “In the medium-term,” he wrote the committee on February 20th, “the nonprofit can be a substitute for an actual Nigerian national team. Or, if we get permission from the NOC, the nonprofit can BE the Nigerian national team! Any volunteers for board positions?”

Benjamin Johnson, a 2L, hosted the first meeting at his house in New Haven and provided the dinner (pulled pork from Uncle Willie’s). “I’m kind of acting as the random sounding board slash opinionated know-nothing right now,” he wrote recently. “Making the best guesses as to good advice that I can give.”

Looking for advice last year, Mr. Adebiyi posted another memorable message to the Wall on November 11, titled, “Quick consulting gig: $250 cash.” Adebiyi—who goes on as many as ten dates a week when he’s not studying, flying a single-engine propeller plane, training at the skeleton course in Lake Placid, or educating people about Darfur—was looking “to get more done with less time and effort.” The post listed his “expected deliverables” for the “life audit,” as it came to be known around YLS:

2-3 page summary of best practices in productivity maximization (please, no platitudes like “don’t procrastinate!”). There’s some cutting edge/wacky stuff out there, e.g. Japanese inventory optimization techniques, “desktop management”, etc. I need you to sort through the loads of trash and find a few practical ideas that can be implemented [by] an individual.

Remarkably, Mr. Adebiyi ended up with free advice: “The time management tools that people sent me were so effective that I didn’t need to pay for a consultant.”