Friday Firsts, featuring: Get Out of the Library!

This Friday was the first of the semester and I hit the ground running with a full schedule of extra-curricular activities. Law school is much more than just classes and grades, and my experiences on Friday certainly reaffirmed that!

I began the day by covering Boston University School of Law’s American Journal of Law and Medicine Symposium. The topic this year was Critical Race Theory and the Health Sciences. The conference brought professors from across the country and across the disciplines to discuss how the sociology of race intersects with the fields of law and health. As an interdisciplinary major in undergrad, it was right up my alley! The research was dynamic, the messages powerful, and the presenters motivated. The law school’s report on the conference should be out soon, so be sure to check it out!

Next I worked my way to Copley and the Prudential Building to go on a Career Treks to Wayfair. The Career Development Office sponsors Career Treks, basically mini-field trips, for students to go visit local corporations and speak with attorneys who work there. A group of 10 of us, accompanied by James Kossuth, the Assistant Director for Alternative and Emerging Careers, spent time touring Wayfair’s headquarters in the heart of the city and then having a Q&A session with three of their in-house attorneys, including general counsel. The office was amazing- open concept, laid back, complete with a game room, snack room, and spectacular decor. The attorneys were friendly and eager to answer all of our questions. They really gave us a feel for what it means to work in-house at a company that isn’t solely focused on law. They stressed that they needed to be prepared for any and every type of legal question or problem to come through the office each new morning, and how teamwork across the different divisions at Wayfair helped provide solutions. I really enjoyed this opportunity and think this program is great, as you get to see different parts of Boston and talk to attorneys in their environment- which gives you a better glimpse of the real world after law school.

My last stop of the day (before shlepping back to the law tower to pick up my Admin law textbook I forgot to grab earlier) was to meet with an alumni who works for Foley Hoag, located in the Seaport District. Man, I think the only part of Boston I didn’t see on Friday was the North End! Which is a bummer, because that’s where Regina’s Pizzeria is located… I digress. I met Peter when he came to our 1L career conference and spoke about his job in international arbitration with Foley Hoag. I’m highly interested in international law careers, so I reached out to him at the end of last semester. He didn’t hesitate to invite me to the office to have coffee and pick his brain about his time at BU Law and what he does now. This trend- alums that are both happy and accommodating- is something I’ve fallen in love with at BU. Peter is one of many alums that I’ve reached out to for advice, and each one has been eager to answer my questions and help guide me. In citing the top five things I love about being at BU Law, the alumni community is definitely on that list. 

After leaving the Seaport District (and the beautiful modern buildings), I made my way to Park Street (and the lovely old buildings) and then on to the law tower before walking home. Friday was full of information, gleaned not from the books or the classroom, but from future colleagues and practitioners I’m excited to join in a few years.

All About the Lawyering Lab

I finished the Lawyering Lab last Friday and, although I was a bit disappointed that my winter break had to be cut short (and that I was still getting over a massive cold when it began), I can honestly say that the week was well-worth traveling back up to Boston early for.

The days were long, but they were filled with practical instructions and exercises, and it was an added bonus to get to interact with professors and classmates whom I ordinarily would not have the chance to get to know. I think that being in a designated section, especially during the first year of law school, is extremely helpful, but it was nice to mix it up a bit and get to know new faces (or get re-acquainted with old ones).

The first day was filled with classroom lessons surrounding topics like client counseling and problem solving, and ended in our breaking up into our assigned teams and working on the first assignment due that night. The second day was more hands on and started with an actual client counseling simulation with an alumni member of BU Law. Some teams took the approach of divvying up the roles specifically, and others just let the session unfold naturally. We were also given the opportunity at the end of the session to be critiqued on what we did well and where there was room for improvement. Our alumni member even let us ask him general questions both about his overall career trajectory and specific practice area. Afterward, we had a lunch with all of our classmates and said alumni and the day wrapped up with a review of everything that we had learned and experienced in the morning hours. Our second assignment was due that night.

The third day focused on more practical skills that lawyers need, and mainly dealt with negotiation and contract drafting. We were also given the option of meeting with our assigned faculty members if we had questions before our final contracts were due. The day ended with an actual negotiation with our opposing team, and we then were all to submit a final contract that included the terms we had successfully negotiated. The fourth and final day was a half day in which each team presented on how our negotiation had went the night before, and finally wrapped up with a presentation from a lawyer who had worked on the real case that we had been studying and working with all week. This was one of the most interesting and entertaining sessions for me personally.

Overall, I found this experience to be worthwhile not only in the practical skills that it exposed me to, but in the collaborative nature of many of the activities. Before the lab, we were asked to complete a survey about our values and work-styles, and many of my classmates (myself included) stated that they preferred working alone as opposed to on a team. I always thought this was true about myself, but working on a team this entire past week was more enriching than I would have initially expected. We each used our specific strengths to fortify the group as a whole, and the abilities of my classmates in areas that were uncharted for me enabled us to achieve success in a way that I never could have on my own. There is tremendous value in working well with others, being open to everyone’s suggestions, and capitalizing on each individuals’ strengths in order to move forward successfully. The quote “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t” comes to mind. I learned so much this past week, but the lesson on collaboration was unexpectedly the most important of them all.

It All Works Out

I’m the first to admit I am a hugely cynical realist. I don’t believe in optimism or pessimism—there’s just the actual truth. So, when people tell me “it will all work out in the end,” I never believe them and their cliché remark. “It will all work out in the end” is the type of phrase I imagine to be on an inspirational poster complete with a kitten hanging on to a branch. Hardly the type of thing I want to be told when I’m freaking out about a class, my grades, my job search, or even my entire future. Yet, as the nine months that was my 1L year dragged on, “it will all work out in the end” was all anyone could tell me. Will I find a job? Will I ever take a class I enjoy? Will I ever do well in a class in law school? Will I ever figure out what I want to do with my professional life? It will all work out in the end.

Though I’m nowhere near the end, I must confess that these optimistic Positive Patty’s are on to something. Halfway into my law school, I finally found those classes in which I excel and even greatly enjoy. Suddenly, out of what feels like completely nowhere, I enjoy studying for my classes and don’t feel completely clueless when dreaded finals come around.  Even the career front has vastly improved—I’ve gone from not understanding the concept of networking at all to voluntarily setting up networking meetings over my winter break vacation. If you told me last year that I, myself, would voluntarily schedule networking meetings over vacation break I would have laughed myself to death. It is so easy to fall into the trap of being disappointed in yourself or comparing yourself to everyone else. Everyone does it whether they’ll admit it or not. It’s completely normal—law school is not built to be easy or to boost your academic ego. It’s difficult and it wears you down and it doesn’t make life easy.  But, as they say, it all works out in the end.

Whether you’re a 1L sitting in a new semester of classes still dejected over your Fall semester grades or a 3L sitting in your last semester of classes ever still dejected over not having a job post graduation, it will all work out in the end. And, as they all keep saying, if it hasn’t worked out then it’s not the end.

What I Learned From My First Semester in Law School

I’ve just now started coming down from the whirlwind that was my first semester of law school. I’m a big fan of self-reflection and personal growth, as cheesy as that may sound, and I think it’s important to take the time after a milestone such as this to evaluate what I learned, what I wish I had done differently, and how I will take those lessons with me moving forward in my academics and in my personal life. So without further ado, here are the major lessons that my first semester as a 1L taught me:

  1. Take the time to read over (and really understand) your case briefs before class. This sounds so simple, but it honestly took me until November to have this light-bulb moment. I was so focused on reading the cases, writing my briefs, and getting everything done within a reasonable amount of time that I rarely took the time to say to myself: wait a minute, what does this actually mean? For me personally, one of the most challenging parts of a cold-call is not reciting the facts or holding of a case, but thinking on my feet to answer questions that were not located within the textbook or on my brief. So the lesson here is really to take a bit of time after completing each brief to break the case down and figure out 1) what it means, and 2) how it relates to this course and/or the current chapter we are focusing on.
  2. Take advantage of office hours. I was far too intimidated to even contemplate going to office hours before December, and I made a vow to make a one-on-one appointment with each professor with the questions that arose as I outlined between November and early December. Once I went, I immediately kicked myself for not going sooner! My professors were incredibly helpful and none of them made me feel badly in any way for having questions – that’s what they’re there for. Needless to say, I will be taking advantage of office hours much sooner next semester.
  3. Take advantage of the advising staff. I cannot say enough about this! I came from an undergraduate university that was all about independence (i.e. advising was not really an available resource), which was great because it taught me how to organize myself because I knew that I was the captain of my own ship. Coming to BU, I have been pleasantly surprised (and sometimes shocked) with the amount of help that I have been given when I have asked for it. This means making appointments with your CDO advisor separate from the group session that you are given after the Career Conference in October, making appointments with other members of the advising team, and scheduling mock-interviews and resume editing sessions. I truly cannot believe that this type of support even exists, and I am so grateful that I started taking advantage of it so early on in my legal studies.
  4. Strive for some form of school-life balance. I was so, so bad at this to be perfectly honest. I barely made time for social events because I was so focused on keeping my head above water with my readings and other assignments. I don’t think that 50/50 balance is possible just because of the sheer magnitude of the workload, especially as an adjusting 1L, but I do think that it’s possible to mix it up and be more social, or just take time to do things solo that help balance out the stresses of law school. I gave myself self-compassion the first semester for not being more involved, but I know that moving into the spring semester, I will make good on my promises to move a little bit more toward balance.
  5. Take care of yourself in the ways that make sense to you. This can mean so many things. For me, it’s all about eating well and finding time to exercise. Sleep is essential, too, but my sleep aspirations are far less strict than they used to be. My very first blog post back in November has more detail on stress management and self-care, but I thought it best to include it again because it’s just that important.

So here’s to a fresh start in my second semester with all that I’ve learned from the first. Happy New Year, Everyone!

Killer Show: BU Law Alum John Barylick on the Station Nightclub Fire

On November 30th, BU Law alum and professor John Barylick gave a presentation about the Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island. Barylick’s firm co-lead the plaintiff team that represented all the victims in the civil litigation. The talk was fascinating and a remarkable representation of the power of well-conducted research and dedication to finding justice after a tragedy. For those who may be unfamiliar, the Station Nightclub fire took place in West Warwick, Rhode Island in 2003. The club was hosting a rock band that set off pyrotechnics during the show. The pyrotechnics lit the foam on the walls of the club that was being used as acoustic padding to absorb the noise. The whole club lit up like a tinder box, and any patrons who were not evacuated within 90 seconds from the fire starting were trapped and killed. The fire killed 100 people and left over 180 grievously injured. The padding on the walls is now often referenced as “solid gasoline.”

Barylick’s team was facing a difficult task as the three main culprits of the fire, the two nightclub owners and the band manager, were insolvent. Not only that, but many believed the criminal proceedings let them all off a bit too easily. With a tragedy so large and victims with lifelong pain and suffering, finding justice in the form of monetary compensation was the only route left. This was especially relevant for the victims who were still alive and would be grappling with exorbitant medical bills and daily pain for the rest of their lives.

The team conducted masterful detective work to trace back all of the conditions that contributed to this perfect storm of a disaster. They discovered the fire marshal’s questionable increase of the club’s capacity limit and his failure to cite the yards and yards of foam padding on the wall. They used what was left of the foam (with the help of a performer who discovered pieces of the foam in his guitar case) to determine the manufacturers and used the manufacturer’s own advertisements to prove that using the foam as acoustic padding on walls was foreseeable and perhaps encouraged. They used the videos from the news reporter who was there filming stock footage (brought in by the club owners) to not only recreate the final moments of the club but also indicate that the camera man likely impeded the patrons’ ability to exit the club quickly. They used fire protection engineers to conduct tests on the foam padding in order to exhibit just how deadly and dangerous the club was. And perhaps most chillingly was the audio footage they recovered from the body of one of the victims, whose hobby was to make bootleg cassette tapes of rock shows. All of these pieces and more helped recreate the conditions and mistakes that led to this tragedy. Most importantly, they helped reveal who was at fault for contributing to this tragedy.

After determining who could be held liable, Barlyick’s team faced two more difficult tasks. The first was getting all the victims to agree to a settlement system. The next was either securing settlement or taking to trial those who were at fault. For the first task the team enlisted expert help in the form of Duke University law professor Francis E. McGovern, who worked out a system of distributing the funds that were secured. They then had to get each victim and each victim’s family to agree to the system-before any money was even acquired. The decision had to be unanimous among all victims and their representatives, which totaled over 300 people. After getting everyone to agree, the team went into settlement talks with each company or representative who they believed were at fault. Defendants ranged from the State of Rhode Island to the media conglomerate parent company of the news reporter’s local station. The settlement talks and the detective work paid off, as every defendant settled and not one case went trial. In the end, Barylick’s team secured over $176 million for the victims.

Barylick’s talk was fascinating because it perfectly exemplified how tort litigation is conducted in real life. It showed how much time and effort is needed to explore every single avenue of possibility to create the fullest and most complete picture of what happened. It showed the interdisciplinary nature of law and how fields of engineering, science, forensics, technology, sociology, and more can play very important roles in a case. The most striking aspect of the talk was how gracefully Barylick and his team handled this tragedy in regards to respecting the victims and their families. Not once during the talk did one forget the human element of this case and how devastating of a disaster this was.

This talk resonated with me, as my boyfriend is a fire protection engineer and comes from a long line of fire chiefs and marshals. It was an interesting way to see both of our worlds intersecting in such a remarkable manner. It also taught me the importance of paying attention: paying attention to one’s environment, paying attention to the role one plays in their job, paying attention to the duty one has to ensure safety in whatever capacity they can. It was easy to see how Barylick poured every ounce of energy he had into this trial and how tirelessly the team worked to secure justice. They had to think outside of the box and go from lawyers to detectives to fire protection engineers- and more. This sets an example for the type of lawyer I hope to be in the future, in whatever field I end up in. I hope to be as dedicated as Barylick and his team in the pursuit of justice.

Barylick has published a book about the fire, titled Killer Show. It is available for purchase, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in law, science, or the way our justice system works after complicated mass tort tragedies. It is well written, comprehensive, and humbling.