BU Law’s ongoing commitment to civil rights

Last weekend, I had the great fortune to attend the BU School of Law’s two-day conference, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 50. The event brought in dozens of scholars and speakers, all of whom shared their perspectives on the Civil Rights Act — what it meant 50 years ago, how it has shaped the past 50 years, and what lessons we can draw as we build a better future.

William Julius Wilson at the BU Law Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 50 Conference.

In my time at BU Law, I’ve  been pleased with the opportunities available to put the law into context, and this event was no different. In fact, both keynote speakers, Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum, were careful to discuss the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as just one component of a broader movement. I’ve written more about the details of what happened at the conference for the BU Law website, available here.

But what about civil rights and progress in the context of my daily life at BU Law?

Course offerings support a curious student’s inquiry into these subjects. From fair housing issues in Property Law in my first semester, to cases involving the right to equal protection under the law in Constitutional Law in my second semester, to cases on the right to marry and parent in Family Law this semester, I’ve seen open, honest discussions of progress and roadblocks all along the way.

Additionally, the school is very supportive of affinity groups for students from a variety of backgrounds, and all of those groups are genuinely welcoming to students regardless of their individual backgrounds. Their mix of fun and serious events enliven the whole campus.

While there’s not necessarily an active culture of protest or even overt politics at BU Law, groups like Law Students for Reproductive Justice, the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society do make their stances known by hosting events and bringing in exciting guests who urge active participation and lively debate, like the recent event I planned where a nationally touring speaker taught a workshop on effective advocacy skills.

It might be more exciting to chant and march in front of government buildings, but students at BU Law are getting the skills we need to be different kinds of advocates: the kind who stand up for people like Mildred and Richard Loving when they want to marry in their home state even though their skin color means they can’t; the kind who stand up for the privacy rights of men like like John Lawrence and Tyron Garner; and the kind who advocate for people like Edith Windsor’s right to have their marriages to the the people they love recognized by their government. That’s good enough for me.

Firms Make Impressions Too

Your reputation precedes you, and if it doesn’t, how you carry yourself will quickly color how people interact with you. Keep in mind that although it is immensely important to ensure you interact well with attorneys and various individuals in law firms, it is equally important you also build a good reputation with your peers. Your peers include those within your class and those either a class ahead or behind you. Even if you do not believe these peers can help you get a job, you should remember (1) you do not know who is connected to whom in the industry and (2) even if your peers cannot affect or influence your current job search, they may be asked in the near future to lend an assessment of you. Never discount someone simply because in their current status you do not believe they wield any influence.

With that said, firms also make an impression through their representatives at various networking events, panels, and interviews. There are firms who readily address it, and they know we talk amongst ourselves about our own experiences and whether it colors our perception and impression of this firm as a whole. Like any organization or group or even at school, there will be individuals who are outgoing and an open book and others who may be less bubbly, open, or loquacious than others. Depending on which of these individuals you feel comfortable speaking to or with, it will influence your interaction or your impression of the firm. You should not necessarily generalize or fault an organization as a whole because an individual may not be your cup of tea.

Essentially, if a specific individual impresses upon you the firm’s particular image or culture, you must keep in mind that this individual cannot and probably will not represent the entire firm as a whole. The individual may actually only represent a small fraction, either his or her particular department or even just him or herself as a person. Give the firm another chance by reaching out to speak to someone else you find either through alumni connections or simply browsing the firm’s website to find someone aligned to your interests. Discuss with peers or upperclassmen to find out more because this one person may simply be an anomaly. On the other hand, the person may be the norm, but you want to ensure you do your homework before forming a full impression. If even after your research and your impression remains unchanged, well, firms do make an impression on us too

Law School Fit

This past Thursday, one of our professors invited our section to go on a six-mile run along the Charles River. How cool is that? It’s no secret that BU Law consistently ranks as having some of the country’s best professors. I think the run is a perfect example of how accessible the professors are at BU Law. In my first semester as a law student, I’ve found all of my professors to show a genuine interest in getting to know the students they teach.  Our professor welcomed us to do either the first three-mile loop or run the entire six miles. I was originally planning on just doing the first loop but afterwards decided to keep going and run the entire six miles. It’s not everyday you get to exercise with your professor. The run was also a good substitute for my time at the gym on Thursday.

Oddly enough, one of my biggest worries coming to law school was whether I would have time to workout everyday. Thankfully, I’ve found the short answer to be yes. However, lately that’s meant having to wake up at six everyday to go to the gym so I can be at school early enough to begin reading. With finals steadily approaching, sacrificing a few hours of sleep in the morning has been necessary in order to manage the increasing workload.

I’ve found that everyone (almost everyone) needs some sort of activity to balance the overwhelming stress that can be inherent to law school. Last week, my civil procedure neighbor and I decided to go on a run along the Charles together. We decided to do it again this week in order to get away from the law building for a while. As much as I love the new Redstone building, spending all day everyday at the law school can sometimes make it hard to breath. (I’m currently in the process of relocating the majority of my living essentials from my apartment to my law school locker.)

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that a good amount of my classmates value personal fitness as much as I do so it’s been nice to bond over our common method of alleviating stress. All in all, my first semester of law school has left me with very little time to do the things I enjoyed doing in the past.  However, I’ve found that carving out time each day to get to the gym has allowed me to maintain some sort of stability in my increasingly unstable life—especially now that finals are looming around the corner.

Boston in the Fall

One recent Sunday afternoon, I left the law library, in need of a study break. I walked the footbridge over Storrow Drive to the path that runs along the Charles River. It was the weekend of the Head of the Charles, the world’s largest rowing regatta, and the races conveniently start at the BU boathouse, less than a five minute walk from the law building.

The stale book smell of the library evaporated almost instantly, and crisp leaves swirled around my boots. My hands were tucked cozily into the pockets of my pea coat as I strolled through throngs of bystanders, taking in the majesty of the crew boats gliding down the river. Paddles swooshed through the water, the announcer’s voice boomed, and coxswains shouted encouraging words, punctuating the steady cheers rising from the crowd. Hot apple cider and clam chowda’ in bread bowls wafted towards me. The best of the best rowers in the world were rowing less than 100 feet away from me, and all I had to do was put my books down for a minute and go outside to see them. (You can actually see the river – and the race – from most windows in the law building, but there’s something so much more special about seeing it in person!)

A crew team rows under the BU Bridge at the start of the Head of the Charles regatta.

A crew team rows under the BU Bridge at the start of the Head of the Charles regatta.

I don’t think I can over-exaggerate the magic of Boston in autumn. While the Head of the Charles happens only once a year, Boston seems to find something to celebrate during every fall weekend: art, beer, books, light, activities street bands – if you can think of it, Boston probably has a fall-time festival for it.

A brass band parades down the street during Honk!, a yearly festival of music, activism, costumes, and fun!

A brass band parades down the street during Honk!, a yearly festival of music, activism, costumes, and fun!

A building in downtown Boston is transformed into a canvas of light at one of Boston’s newest (and hopefully annual) festivals, Nuit Blanche.

A building in downtown Boston is transformed into a canvas of light at one of Boston’s newest (and hopefully annual) festivals, Nuit Blanche.

Boston is generally not plagued by the chilly humidity of other eastern seaboard cities. The fall air is crisp and cool on your skin. The leaves are absolutely breathtaking. And the sense that winter is approaching means that people generally celebrate every sunny day. Need I say more? Boston is the perfect place to be a law student (or really, any kind of person) in the fall.

Brilliant trees line the Charles River Esplanade, just a walk or jog away from BU’s law building.

Brilliant trees line the Charles River Esplanade, just a walk or jog away from BU’s law building.

Evolution of the BU Tax LLM

I like taxes. Not always in the political sense (if you want to geek out about tax policy chat me up and I’ll pencil you in for two hours…), but in terms of interesting law, I really like taxes. Tax law is business law, and a puzzle, and full of rich economic policy. This year I’ve been taking a lot of my classes through the Graduate Tax Program here at BU. Since late 2L  year I’ve been considering completing the accelerated 7-semester J.D. LL.M. dual degree, but a recent turn of events changed my plans and I’ll be working next fall instead (hooray!)

So, I emailed the head of the Grad Tax Program (a.k.a. the “GTP”) and asked if BU allowed accelerated completion of the LL.M. on a part-time basis. I was pleased to hear that BU was one step ahead of me, and they were voting on that very issue the following week! I was even more pleased when I received the news that I will be able to complete the LL.M. on both an accelerated and a part-time basis. I got exactly what I wanted, and it makes me so happy! I think this also illustrates something great about our school – the administrators here are always considering what’s next – what do students need and employers want? Students are invited to comment on new and old programs annually at our school’s community meeting with the dean. I really appreciate the fact that we have a forum to make suggestions regarding classes we’d like to see, administrative issues we’ve experienced, or anything else that comes to mind.

What’s this accelerated LL.M. program though, you ask? Well, it is simply BU’s nationally-ranked Tax LL.M., but instead of studying for my LL.M. full-time for a year, or part-time for, say, 3 years, I am taking twelve qualifying GTP credits during my J.D. studies, and t hose twelve credits will count towards my LL.M. This should halve the time it takes me to finish the LL.M. on a part-time basis while working! I love everything about this: (1) I can take great tax classes now; (2) I can take great tax classes to enhance my practice when I start working; (3) all the classes will count towards my LL.M and half of them will also count towards my J.D. So, for BU J.D. students, the dual degree J.D./LL.M. in tax is now available on a 6-semester, 7-semester, or 6 semester plus part time basis. If you attend and are interesting in getting a tax LL.M. you can begin by taking Federal Income Taxation as a 2L and continuing on from there!

The Tax LL.M. is also available to J.D. graduates from any school on a full-time, part-time, or now even an online-only basis. (The fact that all our tax classes are videotaped for the online-only students, and are also available to us on Blackboard is also incredibly helpful to those who occasionally have to miss class due to, say, job interviews.) Tax LL.M. students are eligible to a program-specific recruiting schedule, which provides great access to the Big Four accounting firms, as well as law firms with established tax practices.

“Do My Shoes Match?” and Other Thoughts from 2L Year

Hello everyone!  This is my first post as a BU Law blogger, and I am super excited to be joining the team this semester.  I wanted to post a quick introductory post to let everyone know a little bit about my commitments so far as a 2L.  The short version is that I have a lot of them. However, that’s not atypical. If you haven’t heard this maxim before, I have  to say that, in my experience, it’s proving true: “1L = scare you to death, 2L = work you to death, 3L = bore you to death.”

Don’t get me wrong, 1L year was no cakewalk.  (What the heck is a cakewalk anyways?)  Being scared to death is no fun. But 2L has been approximately twice as busy, which is both overwhelming and exciting.

A little summary of my school life:

I am a 2L editor on BU’s Public Interest Law Journal (otherwise known as PILJ).  I am in the process of writing my Note, which is essentially an article about a legal issue that no one else has addressed yet.  I am also a student advisor, meaning I have been assigned three 1Ls who I will hypothetically provide sage guidance and uncompromising emotional support to.  (In reality, I will probably just bake them a lot of unhealthy desserts because I am such a stress baker.)  I also participated in Stone Moot Court, an optional competition which helps to improve oral advocacy skills.  This is essential for me since I hope to practice litigation some day. Finally, I am diving headfirst into the legal networking world of Boston in my continuing attempt to, you know, have a career at some point.

I am, of course, also taking classes.  I am in Corporations, Family Law, English Legal History, and European Historiography.  If you are saying to yourself “But wait! Those aren’t all legal classes!” you would be completely correct.  I am actually enrolled in BU’s dual degree program, which is essentially the best thing ever.

BU offers simultaneous degrees in several fields; because I was a history major in undergrad and because I would love to teach at some point (way) down the road, I am in the process of getting both my JD and my MA in History.  The beauty of this program is that the two schools allow me to share credits: I get 2 degrees with no extra classes, no extra tuition, and no extra semesters of school!

Guys, I cannot overstate how obsessed I am with this program. I was always that kid who was annoyingly peppy and excited on the first day of school.  I love learning, and I love being in academic settings.  This deal was just too good for me to pass up. It’s not that I enjoy my history class more than my legal classes, but that sort of thinking definitely comes a little more naturally to me.  It’s just the best opportunity I could imagine to blend my professional aspirations with my personal interests.

If you lost count, that’s four classes!  Although that is not an insane amount of classes to take, a lot of people choose to only take three their 2L year due to journal commitments and the job search process. Although I technically could have taken one less class, I really don’t want the dual degree program to limit my opportunities to take substantive legal classes. After all, I did move to Boston primarily for law school and I do need to pass the Bar when this whole show is over.  So, I chose to do four classes and have potentially a bit more stress than some of my peers.

I am not complaining at all, because I knew what I was signing up for, but I just have to be really careful with budgeting my time.  Despite what you might hear about law school, we do actually have lives.  I still make time to go to the gym and have Wine Nights (a Thursday tradition) with my friends and yes, occasionally, eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s while marathoning Orange is the New Black.  Law school is absolutely going to be stressful, but it absolutely won’t be unbearable if you find the time to relieve that stress.

The Proverbial Gorilla in the Room

In 1L year, my philosophy was “try everything and see what sticks.” Problem was, nearly everything stuck. I liked so many of the things I tried, I was fated to have that incredibly busy 2L year I swore I wouldn’t have. One activity I promised myself wasn’t so great, to the point where I swore I wouldn’t try it again this year, was moot court.

And then came time to sign up for moot court. I was in line for free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (an annual tradition at BU Law that may in fact be designed to capitalize on students’ brain freeze and resulting poor decision-making). My friend was behind me in line. He said he hadn’t found a partner yet. One fist bump and two scoops later, I was committed, with sprinkles on top.

Writing my brief took up the better part of an entire weekend and had me regretting my choice to participate and declaring that I refused to care about the outcome. My oral argument was yesterday — Halloween. My partner came in a gorilla suit, as promised — I thought, tongue-in-cheek. But there he was, in a gorilla suit with a moderately shredded business suit on top. I told him to take it off. He refused. I asked the judges how it would affect my scoring. (That’s the scoring I didn’t think I cared about at all until I was there, with a gorilla.) It wouldn’t.

Getty Images; Imagine trying to argue with (or against) this.

Getty Images
Imagine trying to argue with (or against) this guy.

The nerves I didn’t have an hour before — or the day before, when I was in real court for the first time — were all kinds of worked up, and it was all because my friend, my partner, my classmate who normally looks decidedly not like a gorilla, was in a goofy, smelly gorilla suit. But at that point, I didn’t feel that I had a choice but to give it my best shot. My best was good enough to be named best oralist in the room. It was gratifying, to know that even the proverbial gorilla in the room (that’s a proverb in some culture, right?) couldn’t shake me too much.

I don’t know whether I had a good enough score to advance to the next round, and I certainly don’t know whether I want to compete if selected. But I surprised my worst critic (you guessed right, that’s me) yesterday by having fun doing something I didn’t even know I wanted to do, so who knows where I’ll be this time next semester.

Section Bonding

For our 1L year, we’re all split into three sections—A, B, and C. We have the same schedule as everyone in our section for the whole year. Clearly, we’ll all get to know each other very well. Also, for just one class during the year, each section is split in half to form a smaller section. My section (Section A) was split this semester for Torts into A1 and A2. Coming from a small college, I really like my torts class because it’s half the size of my other 70-person classes and we get a lot more interaction with the professor.

In several ways, the first year of Law School is a lot like high school:

• You spend all day, everyday with the same group of people in your section

• Students bring their baggies/packed lunches (and dinners) to school

• We all have lockers (for which I am incredibly thankful considering the dinosaur textbooks we need)

 

Obviously though, there are many ways in which Law School is not like High School

• The cold calling

• The dense reading

• The cold calling

• The endless reading

• The curved grading and,

• The cold calling

Needless to say, the possibility of being “on call” kept me on my toes the first few weeks of school. I’m lucky, however, because of my three courses this semester, only one course (Contracts) really employs cold calling in the traditional, legally blonde sense. My other two classes (Torts and Civil Procedure) have a much more relaxed way of using the Socratic method.

So in the spirit of surviving our successful cold calls, my A1 section did “section bonding” after the first two weeks of school. There was a general consensus to go bowling so a bunch of us went to Kings on a Saturday night to have some drinks and bowl. It was nice to get to know each other outside of our torts class. A couple weeks ago we had another “section bonding” and had an A1 potluck. As you might guess from the pictures below– the. food. was. amazing. It was definitely a successful night evidenced by the food comas many of us experienced.

I would say the thing that has surprised me the most during my first two months as a law student is how friendly and supportive everyone has been. I came to law school expecting an aggressively competitive atmosphere but have fortunately not found that to be the case. Although at the start of the semester, cold calling had us hiding behind our laptops, it was nice to know that many of us were rooting for each other and could laugh at one another about how bad (or good) we were at bowling. So in spite of the fact that we spend a large portion of our day (life) with the same students (especially those in our subsection), I’m very grateful to be at a school where I am consistently surrounded by such an encouraging and intelligent group of people. Shout-out to my A1 section!

 

photo-2

photo-3

photo

The Process

Many people request upperclassmen outlines. It is very helpful to see how others who have gone through the 1L process organized, formatted, and understood the information. While upperclassmen outlines are great reference point, they are not meant to be a shortcut to the process of outline. When law students talk about outlines and outlining, it isn’t the end product that is truly valuable. The process of reviewing your notes, organizing it into a comprehensive and understandable system, and editing as your knowledge builds upon itself are what make the final outline a valuable tool for your finals.

When you receive an upperclassmen’s outline, it is a pared down, systematic, and very, very personal system of how that person learned, reviewed, and pared down his/her notes. As a 1L receiving it during week four of the semester, you will feel overwhelmed or confused or just plain lost. This outline is the by product of 26 weeks of learning and studying the subject whereas, your four weeks barely encompasses a quarter of what the upperclassmen has done. Not to mention, everyone learns differently and has his/her own preferences in how to format. For instance, I prefer to organize my outline by major doctrinal topics and include under such topics tests, factors, or rulings with case names. Depending on the class or the professor’s focus, I may or may not include the case’s holdings. If I give a 1L my outline in the first few weeks of the class, it would probably seem like my outline were missing a few steps from A to B, so it will probably confuse more than it will help.

This is not to say seeking upperclassmen outlines will not be helpful. It can immensely help you find a starting point in your process for your own personal outline. It may even provide some insight into particular sections or cases with which you struggled. It should not be a shortcut or replacement for your own process to review your notes, check your understanding of key concepts, and find any areas you feel fuzzy about. Those fuzzy areas are opportunities for you to talk to classmates or go to office hours to ask the professor to clarify. The sooner you start reviewing and outlining, the sooner you can work through what you do and do not understand. Even if you use other outlines, the process is still the same; you need to review. In the end, your outline is personal to you and don’t take shortcuts.

Being Professionally Responsible

The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, otherwise known as the MPRE, is this weekend. For those of you who may not know much about the test, it’s a 2-hour, 60-question multiple-choice exam that is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners 3 times each year. It’s also required for admission to the Bar in all but 3 states. The test is based on the rules the govern the conduct of lawyers, such as the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Each question provides a fact pattern involving a lawyer’s conduct followed by 4 possible answers to a question related to the rules. Since I’ve been studying for the MPRE, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be professionally responsible as a lawyer.

Lawyers have certain duties to their clients. They have a duty to represent them competently, which means they have the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation to handle a legal matter. These are the traits that many law students have and will only improve upon during law school. There’s also a duty of diligence, which means a lawyer cannot procrastinate and must act as a zealous advocate for their client. Again, most law students will know what procrastination entails as well as what it means to zealously defend a position.

While law students may not have much experience with the duty of confidentiality, it is one of the most important duties that lawyers owe to their clients. With few exceptions, any information relating to a lawyer’s representation of a client must be kept confidential. This is an essential part of the client-lawyer relationship, and a duty that should not be taken lightly.

There are many other rules that all lawyers must know and follow in order to be professionally responsible, but I believe it is the duties we will owe to our clients that should be our guiding principles throughout law school and beyond. Our time in law school is preparing us to be the kinds of lawyers that we should aspire to be. It is up to us to follow through.