The Law School Stereotype

Everyone comes to law school wanting to be the perfect student. I’m willing to bet that in most peoples’ ideal world, they will get straight A’s, book their classes, and graduate top of their class with an awesome job lined up. Coming in blind, a lot of people have an idea of how that will all work out, too. There’s a law school stereotype floating around, an idea about the “right” way to go about it all, that many people get exposed to.

You know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve seen Legally Blonde, or watched a few episodes of How To Get Away With Murder, or maybe even just talked to someone who was in law school at the time. If that is your only exposure to what law school is like, you might walk away with a couple of preconceived notions. You might think study groups are practically mandatory, or that everyone is constantly out to get you on their way to the top of the curve. While certain aspects of that stereotype may turn out to be true for some people, but it’s important to recognize that for many, it just isn’t the way it works, and that’s okay!

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and the strategies that work for each individual are equally likely to differ. When I first came to BU law, I remember I immediately formed a study group and we met multiple times to discuss readings and prepare for classes. After a while, I started to realize that it wasn’t working for me. At first, it seemed kind of odd to me. Isn’t that what law students do? Work in study groups?

As the semester went on, I began to realize that there isn’t really one formula to follow for law school, contrary to whatever popular thought was on the subject. Now, as a 2L finishing up my third semester, I realize how important it is to kick aside those notions, and even sometimes the things that my peers are doing, and to do what works best for me. What I have found is that my strategies for success vary wildly from some of those around me, and even personally from class to class. Some courses I rely on study groups to help me digest and understand the material. Other courses, I need to work on my own because I don’t find working with others particularly helpful. And to be perfectly honest, sometimes a study group that works great for one class doesn’t work at all when the subject matter is different.

It’s important to realize that at the end of the day, law school really doesn’t have a structured, rigid path to success, and we aren’t all just cookie cutter students. Everyone learns this idea eventually, but I definitely wouldn’t have mind coming to this realization earlier than I did. To any new law students or anyone thinking of attending law school soon, keep in mind that at the end of the day, you know what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to stray from the norm if it’s what keeps you comfortable and successful. Elle Woods did, and look where it got her.

It’s All in the Title

During my 1L year, my student mentor gave me the sound advice to sign up for Professor Kealy’s Legislative Drafting Clinic if I wanted to get some exposure to the “sausage-making” of legislation (Hint: it’s nothing like sausage-making). I signed up the first opportunity I could, which was this past semester. It’s a wonderful clinic. Not only did I get to work with clients to draft legislation that will be considered at the state house, but I also learned a great deal about some of the machinations that happen behind the scenes to turn an idea into a law.

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The State House.

 

I found one of the most interesting elements of legislative drafting to be the importance of the title of the bill— a great example of this phenomenon can be seen in a recent CNBC poll which found that 46% of respondents were opposed to Obamacare while only 37% were opposed to the Affordable Care Act despite the fact they are the exact same thing.

At the state level, just how one names a bill varies depending on local guidelines. For example, in Pennsylvania, references to all provisions of the bill are meant to be included in the title, leading to some the lengthy names. Here in Massachusetts, however, a title generally related to the subject of the bill will suffice. Given that broad direction, lawmakers can come up with very creative ways to title a bill in order to appeal to the sensibilities of their fellow legislators and the public—and I’ve come across a few here in Massachusetts that I get a kick out of.

Take, for example, House Bill H.2752, “An Act to make ‘New England clam chowder’ the official appetizer of Massachusetts.” The title is simple and elegant, and it says it all. Literally. The text of the bill says, “New England clam chowder shall be the official appetizer of Massachusetts.” Not much to argue with there—or so it seems.

Such an assertion could surely face some blowback from those in the community who might favor something like a lump crabmeat concoction. And if you don’t think that’s possible, one has to look no further than the heated “official cookie” debate of the late 90’s when then-Governor and recent Vice-Presidential candidate William Weld weighed in on the contentious issue as to whether the chocolate chip cookie or Fig Newton should be the official state cookie. The chocolate chip cookie ended up taking the day due to the Toll House connection in Whitman, but not without a good fight from the proponents of the Fig Newton (named for the town of Newton), including Governor Weld himself.

Other bill titles can’t help but make one wonder what the issue was that drove the law in the first place. House Bill H.3241, “An Act relative to relocating turkeys in the town of Westwood,” calls to mind a menacing gaggle of wattled birds wreaking havoc on a small town to the point that someone said, “there ought to be a law for this.” Anyone who has walked the back streets of Brookline and has been chased down by a turkey or two can surely relate.

And of course, there are some bills that were clearly designed to be veto-proof, lest the masses get wind of opposition and call their representatives en masse. And that is why this bill belongs in the bill-drafter’s hall of fame; a drafting act of unrivaled genius and political acumen, and perhaps my favorite bill of all time, Bill H.1826, “An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens.”

Now who could vote against that?

Legal Writing for Civil Litigation

This semester I am taking a three-credit seminar tiled Legal Writing for Civil Litigation taught by a senior associate at a large law firm. Throughout the semester we have drafted a Complaint, Discovery Requests, a Motion to Dismiss, and our final assignment is a Motion for Summary Judgment. At our first class meeting, we simulated a client interview where we learned the facts that laid the groundwork for the rest of the semester. The class centers around a contractual dispute between a Radiologist and large Radiology Practice. Throughout the class, we’ve explored issues relating to breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, civil procedure, and non-compete agreements.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I never would have imagined myself as a litigator prior to coming to law school. In fact, I once debated not coming to law school because I was part of the majority of people who mistakenly believe that most lawyers do litigate. However, after 1L year, I’ve continued to be drawn towards litigation and have discovered how much I enjoy legal writing. At BU Law, we are able to choose from over 200 courses and seminars. Like this seminar, many offer great opportunities to gain practical experience within a classroom before beginning to practice.

This week is our last week of classes for the semester here at BU Law (and my last fall semester!). After our last class, our professor invited us all for drinks after class where we were able to celebrate being done and enjoy a few hours of fun before getting back to the library.

A Practical Class Worth Taking

My favorite class this year so far is Wills, Trusts, and Estates. Almost every case we read follows the same pattern: A wealthy person dies – either intestate or with a will or trust. Then, family, friends, charities, and other entities litigate over the property (usually money), each claiming that it should be theirs. The question toward the end of the discussion usually is: how could the document have been drafted differently to avoid this problem?

There are several things I like about the class.   First, intestacy rules are like a puzzle in which you have to examine a family tree and figure out who gets what fraction of the money. Then, wills and trusts involve drafting documents with specific, careful language… because someone will have to interpret that language to try to figure out the testator/settlor’s intent. (It’s no surprise that I enjoy this aspect of the class; my favorite classes during 1L year were property and contracts.) Lastly, toward the end of the class, we learned about the Rule Against Perpetuities… a rule that caused courts to contemplate highly unlikely but possible scenarios, such as the fertile octogenarian and the unborn widow.

But on a more serious note, I think that the practice of drafting wills and trusts is a practical and important skill. Although it is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, death is something that everyone will one day face. People have very specific concerns about what to do with their property after they’re gone. The person may be contemplating what to do with their life savings or the family home. They may be concerned about how to provide support to a spouse, how to provide education to a child, or how to protect a family member with special needs. In that sense, helping clients with such a personal task can be very meaningful.

So that’s why I personally think it’s a class worth taking: to gain practical knowledge. But if that doesn’t convince you… it’s also on the Bar Exam!

Coolidge Corner

When I moved to Boston this year it was a big jump due to the fact that it’s my first time living in the city. I had visited Boston hundreds of times before, as I’m from a suburban town in Northern Massachusetts, and I generally knew my way around all the big areas: North End, Financial District, Beacon Hill and Back Bay, Fenway. I even knew my way around Allston a little bit as my sister and brother-in-law lived there when they were fresh out of college and working in the city. But I ended up living in a completely different area- one I’ve fallen quite in love with. That area is Coolidge Corner.

Yes, Coolidge Corner is technically in Brookline and not Boston, and yes Brookline likes to remind everyone that it is a separate town (a town that for some absurd reason banned leaf blowers, I might add). But it’s as close to Boston as Allston and Brighton are, and its efforts to differentiate itself are basically minute. Coolidge Corner is a sort of hub for North Brookline, which abuts Commonwealth Ave along the green line. My apartment is a ten minute walk from the heart of Coolidge Corner and some of my favorite weekend study breaks have been spent in and around the area. I’ve found that it’s got a half-city, half-suburban feel. Everything I need is within a ten-minute walk and the variety of stores is endless; those are a few of the hallmarks of city-living for me. But when the neighborhood turkey squad roosts on my porch (yes, turkeys!) and the tree lined streets are ripe with foliage I feel home in suburbia, if just for a moment.

Coolidge Corner has it all. It’s steeped in tradition- on your way to the center you can walk past the street (and, further down said street, the house) where John F. Kennedy was born. As you continue down Harvard you pass local hardware stores, kosher bakeries, Thai restaurants, independent clothing stores, and the famed Coolidge Corner Theatre. There are family owned bakeries that have been there for 50 years, making it feel like a small town, and there are classic city staples like Anna’s Taqueria and Wings Over Brookline. I haven’t had the chance to explore all of it yet, but I’m certain I will, as I intend on living in the same area next year. I’m no Coolidge Corner expert yet, but a few of my favorites this year are pretty clear:

1) Zaftig’s Deli

This Coolidge Corner staple is the best kosher deli outside of NYC. It has all of the comfort foods you need for cold fall evenings: homemade mac & cheese, soup, and not to mention all-day breakfast. It also has a warm rustic atmosphere that makes you feel at home. I love the warm roast beef sandwiches, the pancakes are so big and fluffy they’ll feed you for three days, and my dad consistently asks to go to Zaftig’s when he visits just so he can get another monte cristo sandwich.

 

2)Pizzeria Dante

At home there’s a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant that makes thin-crust pizza, the best chicken fingers, and to-die-for chicken parmesan. Amici’s, meet your twin: Pizzeria Dante. Pizzeria Dante makes the same type of food: classic Italian staples with large portions and reasonable prices. And, they have a fantastic window-bar that sits in front of floor-to-ceiling glass which can be pulled up like a garage door in the warm weather! When I need quick food that is still filling and delicious, Pizzeria Dante is my go-to.

 

3) J.P. Licks

Okay, I’ll admit I’m an ice-cream snob. Growing up, my best friend’s family owned the local homemade ice cream stand in town, and my sister worked there through high school. I’ve been spoiled with great (and, mostly free) ice cream. J.P Lick’s is a little pricey (even by standards of having to pay for that local ice cream) but it’s worth it if you want good creamy ice cream. Their mint chocolate brownie sundae was beyond delicious. They offer great hot chocolate too, and a lot of mouth-watering pastries I’ve yet to try out. They also have a cool atmosphere (pun intended) that was playing some great 2000s pop-punk last weekend when I went to study. J.P. Licks has is now my go-to over the always crowded Starbucks.

There’s a lot I have yet to explore, and the top of my list includes Boston Dry Goods, seeing a film at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and shopping at some of the cute boutique clothing stores. I think that I’ll take a few days after finals to do just that- explore my new neighborhood- before heading home to the one I know and love.

[That is, if I survive 1L finals. (Just Kidding. Kind of.)]