I close each semester with an update on my desktop images, which I strategically choose to power me through what I have to do. You know, images are worth a thousand words and all that jazz. Actually this semester I mostly ran with an image of words, so I’m not sure what it means for that maxim, hmm. I wallpapered the Eduardo Galeano poem that I mentioned in a previous post to inspire me to write, having the responsibilities of two papers and my journal note for the Public Interest Law Journal. OK, so legal writing is not poetry, but it’s worth wrestling to get what you care about into your work and to put some heart into what would otherwise be cold, heady analysis.
My fall 2010 semester just ended yesterday, January 4, 2011, woohoo! It could happen to you too, if you take a seminar with a research paper requirement. In a seminar, the discussions are broad-ranging beyond appellate cases, less Socratic than 1L classes, and often graded through 20-30 pages of independent research instead of an exam. Housing Law fit this bill, with Judge Winik explaining: “Here, we will talk about fairness. I know you’re not familiar with hearing that word in your classes…” He talked about pulling aside counsel in live cases and asking them what they thought would be fair to the other side, to which the lawyers responded as if they’d been punched in the gut: I just give my client the best representation I can, then the judge or the jury can think about fairness! But Judge Winik’s lesson is that lawyering is “professional advocacy, not war.”
Extra time to work on research after the typical exam period has ended is quite nice as long as you choose a topic you want to spend time with. Lots of time. I chose supportive housing, which is a topic I want to understand professionally—as in, how to include supportive housing services in urban affordable housing developments. So I liked thinking, processing and writing about it over break. Specifically, supportive housing coordinates and includes social services with (subsidized) rent to help chronically homeless individuals stay off the streets for good. But social services are relevant for lots of people who aren’t in crisis. It’s an expandable idea.
To be clear, I’m way into supportive housing for what it is today. You’ve got to check out the work of Common Ground in NYC and their 100,000 homes campaign. (Wow, that’s bold. And it’s actually working, which weighs in favor of my general presumption that lack of resources is much less of a problem of than lack of political will.) This work communicates the same critical message that Eduardo Galeano communicates in his poem “The Nobodies”—dignity for everyone.
As part of dignity for everyone, it’s worth remembering that a crisis in life could cause anyone to become homeless, and services that homeless people need are applicable to people with residential stability as well. For example, my wife is a big advocate of preventive mental health—see a therapist about low-level stress to learn techniques and to sort out your issues before you end up with high-level debilitating stress and you need medication instead of insightful conversations. Or get relationship counseling when your partner and you are getting along swimmingly, so you can keep it that way. Housing can support people by making social services available, and perhaps more importantly, by normalizing the full range of social services so that people can use them without stigma.
Then there are social services that have no stigma but are just a bear to coordinate. I recommend having a child in a major city to find out about daycare waitlists. It’s instructive. Let’s have housing that incorporates a childcare element through an on-site center or partnerships with local daycares—kind of like BU supports parents at BU with the BU Children’s Center. Let’s buy into something comprehensive when we pay rent, instead of just a box to sleep in. Let rent subsidize community, interaction, values, support, relationships. Who’s with me?!
I might write more about urban affordable housing development this semester. At least I have to tell you about the internship I have lined up for summer 2011 and about recent career-direction insights. Independent research plus control over which classes you take 2L year present, I think, an amazing opportunity to build professional focus into your legal education. It takes intentionality to go from “I just want to, you know, help people” to a workable plan of action. And it takes a good desktop image for inspiration, which is why I have this über-cool green building concept on my desktop right now. I would sooo live here:
OK I’ve got to wrap up this post. My other papers, right. I also wrote a paper for American Legal History. It’s not a seminar and I had the option of an exam, but let’s just say I’m not one to affirmatively choose exams (though I’m not one to shrink from duty when an exam is at hand, either). For ALH, I basically ran with a mid-semester post on this blog regarding Massachusetts Chief Justice Shaw. Why didn’t Shaw have some empathy for an injured engineer scrapping for damages against a powerful railroad? I was ready to treat Shaw as callous and stuffy, but as it turns out, he likely wasn’t. Therein lay my challenge, because it’s easier to deconstruct an outcome I don’t agree with when I can vilify the decision-makers in the story and shoo away the whole historical episode as wrongheaded. When the decision-makers are honest and have a heart, suddenly I have to pick apart the situation much more closely and be critical of my gut reactions. That said, I still side with the injured engineer at the end of the day.
And then there’s my PILJ note which I will say nothing to you about because I don’t want to get scooped, as it were. I’ll be adding to it and improving it all this semester, and after a year of work, the outside chance of someone publishing on your specific topic such that you need to write about something else…well, that’s the stuff of 2L nightmares. But don’t worry for me, ain’t nobody writing about what I’m writing about, mwah hah hah. Happy New Year everyone!