Sprinting Down Memory Lane

Perhaps the most tedious task I’ve undertaken in law school was my recent, titanic effort to apply to take the bar exam. While I can’t speak for every other state, my particular application was unlike the application for any other standardized test I’d signed up to take. Usually, it seems as if you’re good to go as long as you enter your credit card information correctly. Oh no. In order to apply to take the bar exam, you must solicit letters attesting to your good character, list the address of every place you’ve lived for more than 30 days, obtain references from every employer you’ve had since you were eighteen, request a criminal record from every state in which you’ve lived, collect a driving record from every state in which you’ve held a license. The list goes on. I’m surprised they didn’t ask for my blood type. Rest assured, America. The Board of Bar Examiners knows a lot about its lawyers. Or at least about their speeding tickets.

As a professional nomad, compiling this information seemed like an impossible task. It didn’t help that I didn’t start the application until about a week and a half before it was due. I spent those overwhelming days on hold, listening to horrifically generic classical music and waiting for state driving agencies to just answer the phone. I wrote letters, printed letters, signed letters, notarized forms, ran through books of stamps and a box of envelopes. Of course, there were fun parts too. I caught up with former employers I hadn’t spoken to in months, had an excuse to talk to all the friends who would serve as references, and scrolled through my Amazon.com purchasing history to remember old summer addresses, alongside my forays into worlds of poetry, pottery, philosophy, and (suprirse!) law.

When I finally finished, I walked down the cold grey street towards the post office, clutching a thick manila envelope. Within that envelope was a brief history of my life. Since I graduated high school, I’ve been a barista, a river guide, a high school teacher. I spent a summer teaching gymnastics, and played piano in a jazz band. I’ve lived in six states, made life-changing friendships, and seen things I’d never dreamed of – both bad and good – and met people who have forever changed the way I look at the world.

And all of those experiences led me to a line in the post office, beads of frazzled, nervous sweat on my forehead, philosophizing about the breadth and depth of life I’ve lived since I first stepped out the door of my parents’ house to go to college. And while I’d rather get a little more sleep, rush a little bit less, and look a little more put-together in the line at the Post Office, it’s a life I wouldn’t change for the world. Bar exam, here I come!

Where should I live while attending BU Law?

(Written with guest help from 3L Deniz Aktas and other volunteers.)

It’s that time of year – students that have decided to come to BU Law have begun looking for housing. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed looking for an apartment in Boston from my home up in New Hampshire. So, I’ve asked some friends and I’m going to endeavor to put together some insights on where you might want to look for apartments to live in while you attend BU Law.

Some notes if you’re coming into Boston for the first time:

  • Rent is expensive. More roommates = less rent, but also more potential mess and conflict. The lowest rent I know of anyone paying while attending BU (absent living with you parents,) is $650-$750 per month and these folks live in shoe boxes with 3+ roommates. For a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment, expect to pay $850 – $1,000/month. Keep an eye on whether heat is included – if it’s not, it can bring a “cheap” apartment up by $150+ per month during the winter. If you’re really rent-averse, join the Boston Co-op Network and consider living in cooperative housing.
  • Broker’s fees are common, and a one month fee is standard. There are some non-fee apartments on Craigslist, but the best way to avoid the fees are by moving in to a room in an apartment where the other roommates are staying. If you use a broker, expect  a 1 month broker fee.
  • Expect to sign a 1 year lease. Sadly, month-to-month housing is likewise very hard to find. Make sure before you sign that your landlord will let you sublet during the summer in case you get a summer job elsewhere.

Some notes about residential life positions and BU housing:

  • Ciara: “My suggestion for prospective students: Get on the waiting list at 580 Commonwealth Ave. (bu grad student housing) as soon as you get accepted. It is a short walk to school, has elevators, a/c and temperature controls, and large laundry room. The building is clean, safe, and quiet. There is a B line and a BU student shuttle stop right in front and it is a block away from Kenmore and Fenway park. On the down side, the apartments and studios are a bit pricey and small, and there are no 2-brs so no roomies to come home to.” 
  • Kate: “I was an RA all three years in South Campus, where I oversaw two brownstones filled with upperclassmen undergrads. I became close friends with other grad students and undergrads who were RAs, and really enjoyed spending time with people who were NOT law students! Being an RA does require you to deal with occasional crises and plan events, etc even when finals are approaching, so it’s not for someone who wants to be able to focus 100% on law school at all times. Living on campus was an amazing experience for me. I loved being a 5 minute walk from the tower and having easy access to the B C and D lines, Fenway, and Coolidge Corner.
  • Jen: “Being an RA was well worth it, if only for the huge financial savings. There were times when there was a lot going on and others where the job was negligible. Getting to know the RA staff was a lot of fun, but the job was admittedly frustrating at times.” 

With further ado, let’s talk neighborhoods:

Boston Area Neighborhoods

(from http://www.bu.edu/law/prospective/experience/community/mapofarea.html)

Allston –

  • Pros: Often most affordable; close to school and multiple good transportation options; popular with BU students so you will likely have some friends nearby; tons of restaurants, bars, and shops.
  • Cons: Allston is a *party* on the weekends so make sure apartments are on a side street; residential parking is hard to find and most apartments do not come with parking spots.
  • (I’ve lived in Allston on the Brookline town line all three years of law school. It’s worked well but I wouldn’t live here minus the BU connection.)
  • Search for: Allston, Packard’s Corner, green line, BU, BC, Harvard Ave

Back Bay/South End

  • Pros: very nice areas of Boston; very easy commute.
  • Cons: $$$$$$$ – deals are hard to find. (Deniz: “like $1500-for-a-studio-money.”)

Brighton –

  • Alli: “good parking, less student neighbors. I like that I live on a park, and I have the option of taking the B line or the 57. It doesn’t have a ton of neighborhoodiness unless you live near the main drag. TBH, I wouldn’t live in Brighton if I didn’t have a student budget.
  • Jen: “I live in Oak Square Brighton. I love the area- its quiet, has great takeout, easy parking, a great YMCA and cheap rent. The commute is a bit tough (I am on bus routes but not the T) but with a car its very doable.
  • Pros: although rent is similar to Allston, my impression is you get more for your money in Brighton.
  • Cons: students relying on public transportation from Brighton had a *very* long walk to school during the week the T was shut down this past winter; minimum commute from Brighton is probably 30 minutes + wait time.
  • Search for: Brighton, green line

Brookline –

  • Pros: Residential – usually quiet, clean, close to shops, restaurants, etc.; the Green line (C and B lines) are easy ways to commute to school; close to school.
  • Cons: usually more expensive than Allston (though there are some deals); no overnight parking (but the ticket is only $20 if you’re not on a main street).
  • Search for: Coolidge Corner; Washington Square; Packard’s Corner; green line C, D

Central Square –

  • Pros: This is a fun area of Cambridge where a lot of Harvard/MIT students live; 15 minute walk across the bridge or bus access.
  • Cons: Similar prices to Brookline; very saturated housing market; you have to cross the river to get to school.
  • Search for: Central Square, 47 bus.

Cambridgeport –

  • Jordi: “pricier, mostly surrounded by young professionals. I like the amount of parks, the proximity of grocery stores and the red line, and the fact that the law school is on the other side of the river (but still a 20 minute walk). It’s a bit of a pain to walk over the cold bridge in winter, but I love living on the red line and having a bit of a gap between my home life and law school.”
  • Pros: Another fun part of Cambridge.
  • Cons: Crossing the river/tied to a bus schedule; can be costly.

Fenway –

  • Pros – very close to school & transportation. Near some of the newer/cooler bars in the area, and right by Kenmore station which is just two stops from Downtown Boston. Also, about a 10 minute walk from the BU Bus and 57 Bus, so you have options for transportation. Also a 20 minute walk from the South End/Back Bay.
  • Cons – you have to live near Fenway Park (read: crowds during baseball season); affordable options are available if you are diligent but the market is tight.
  • Search for: Fenway; Kenmore.

Somerville/Jamaica Plain –

  • Pros: Different areas of the city, but both are very fun, hip places to live; more common for housing to include parking options; affordable options if you’re willing to live with roommates.
  • Cons: The commute to BU would be obnoxious by public transportation – 1 hour+.
  • Search for: Davis Sq, Porter Sq, Teele Sq.

Deniz: “South Boston/’Southie’ (NOT THE SAME AS THE SOUTH END!!!!)

  • Pros: Young professional crowd that loves to have fun. You also get a lot of bang for your buck, and there are affordable options just minutes from the beach. About a 20 minute bus ride to Downtown Boston which comes in handy at times.
  • Cons: Crazy commute to BUSL. We’re talking about 45mins-1 hour if traffic is average and the buses are running on time. Also, literally nobody from BU Law lives here so you likely will not live near your law school friends (but maybe that’s intentional?)”

Everything you’ve learned is on trial

I’ve written here about negotiationclient counseling, and moot court before, in a competition context. In addition, as part of many BU Law classes, students have to participate in simulated trials or pretrial processes. Negotiation and client counseling are offered as classes, for example. This semester, I’m enrolled in mediation and trial advocacy, practical courses with a significant participation requirement.

Trial advocacy (and the fall component, pretrial advocacy) is required for participation in my clinical program. Recently, I had my final mock trial, the culmination of the course and 50 percent of our grade. We had a previous trial worth 25 percent and a series of writing trial document and trial-related preparation assignments totaling 25 percent.

The trial is a stressful exercise, but it’s meant to be. It starts with reading a detailed fact pattern and exhibit packet, learning who your partner is, and who your opponents are. Teams are expected to coordinate exhibits and stipulations with each other. We have to recruit “jurors” and a “witness,” and meet in a pretrial conference to go over which exhibits the sides agree to admit or exclude, and which ones we plan to contest. We are also assigned to a judge (in our case, a practicing trial attorney volunteering his day for us), with whom we must file pretrial motions on a tight deadline.

My terrific husband agreed to serve as my side’s witness, and I spent days preparing him for his role as the defendant in a vehicular accident negligence case. Fortunately, he’s a good sport, so I could drill him on facts about his character like, “What’s your doctor’s name? How many beers did you have before getting in the car? What is the speed limit in Kenmore Square?” while he did the dishes! By the day of the trial, he had his role down cold, and he acted very much like a real witness would in a trial.

The BU Law Redstone Building Moot Courtroom (note all the amazing technology — lots of room for showing off electronic exhibits)

My partner and I divided up tasks like motion writing, exhibit preparation, direct and cross examination, and the opening and closing statements. We practiced in front of each other and with anyone else who would listen. We felt very ready heading into the school courtroom, suited up and with an armload of binders.

Still, this wasn’t this judge’s first rodeo. He was very good at calling us out on rookie mistakes like sitting on the wrong side, justifying an objection after it’s been overruled, or failing to submit our stipulations into evidence. And just to be sure we didn’t get too cocky, he threw in a couple of curveballs, like granting the plaintiff summary judgment on our counterclaim and forcing me to rewrite the closing argument on the fly. It was realistic, exciting, and highly educational.

Fortunately for us (though, I assume, irrelevant to our grade), the jury saw things our way and ruled in our client’s favor. Frankly, it felt really good, even if it was just dumb luck based on a simulated fact pattern.

A Day in the Life

I’ve mentioned before a few times that I’m a dual degree student at BU. In essence, I’m pursuing both my J.D. and my M.A. in History concurrently; the two schools allow me to share some credits so that I can graduate after three years, having taken no extra classes and paid no extra tuition, with two degrees. It is, to say the least, a good bargain.

Despite its advantages, not a lot of BU Law students enroll in dual degree programs, probably because law school has so many options for credits already – clinic, study abroad, semester in practice, externships, and etc. I’ve only been in the program for two semesters, but I really love it, so I’ve decided to write a post explaining what a day in the life of a dual degree student looks like.

A (Semi) Typical Wednesday

  • I woke up early to finish some reading for my Evidence class. I also read over the rough draft of a paper from one of my classmates in my history class, The Historian’s Craft.
  • I got to school around noon for my 12:50 Evidence class.
  • Evidence ended at 2:00, and, coincidentally, it was Student Appreciation Day! There was free ice cream and BU stuff – pens, cups, bottle openers, that kind of stuff – all over the building, so my friends and I sat in the café and talked for about 45 minutes before I had to go to my history class.
  • Luckily for me, the history building is about a block from the law school. I walked over at 3:00 (in the middle of a random hail storm, might I add – the weather in Boston is a special kind of torture).
  • History class consisted of a brief meeting with our instructor to talk about administrative stuff, and then I paired up with one of my classmates to give detailed feedback on our drafts. We’ve been working on these papers all semester, and we finally have full drafts! My paper, which has to have both legal and history analysis as part of my program, is about how newspaper coverage of one specific trial reveals contrasting emotional communities that existed at the time. I know, complicated. My partner gave me some great feedback, and class, which normally goes until 6:00, was done by 4:30.
  • I grabbed an early dinner at the Thai place across the street and then headed back to the law school to do some reading for my Trusts, Wills, and Estates class the next morning.
  • At 8:00, I helped to judge an argument for the 1L moot court that all BU Law students have to participate in. I’ve been very involved with optional moot courts this year, so it was a ton of fun to be on the other side of the bench and get to play the role of judge for once.
  • I got home around 10:30 and did some reading for my First Amendment class the next afternoon, and finally got to bed around midnight.

Lest I scare you away from the dual degree program (or law school in general) and in the interest of full disclosure, that’s not really a typical day for me. It was a LONG, busy day, which is much more common in April than earlier in the semester. And the judging thing was totally voluntary – I am not typically at school at 10:00 at night.

Nonetheless, that particular does demonstrate one of the difficulties (and also one of the most fun parts) of the dual degree program. Within hours, I have to switch from learning the somewhat formulaic Federal Rules of Evidence to giving detailed feedback to my partner on whether or not I think a transnationalist interpretation of Benito Cereno effectively supports his argument about Melville’s perceptions of the slave trade. I love both of those things separately, but I occasionally get academic whiplash in trying to switch my brain from law to history and back again all in the course of the same day.

1L in 1Word

I asked fifty people in my first year section to describe either their experiences as a 1L or the culture at BU Law in one word. I wanted to offer a reflection of this year from someone other than just myself so that others can see the range of perspectives from an entire 1L section (or the majority of a 1L section). I’ve been privileged this year to share my first year education with former French professors, snowboard instructors, engineers, and everything in between. In a classroom filled with languages ranging from Russian to Korean to varying dialects of Spanish and fellow colleagues coming from everywhere in between Puerto Rico, Seoul, New York, and Miami, my experiences as a 1L have been enriched by the many backgrounds of all my classmates. In a community of students who came straight through from undergrad like myself to students who taught English abroad in Europe for a year to others who worked on political campaigns or in legal environments, it’s incredible how much I’ve learned about and from the group of students who sit in Room 211 five days a week.

Law school can certainly be a harrowing experience at times but the great thing I’ve experienced this year is that everyone is really trying to get through it together. I can sincerely say that I’ve enjoyed waking up every day (well, most days) to come to the Redstone building and engage with my classmates and continue to learn about everyone’s unique interests and hobbies outside of the law. The 68 seats in my first year section are filled with runners, chefs, ballerinas, symphony-enthusiast, ASL song-interpreters and the list could go on for much longer than I currently have time to write. The interesting and unique thing about 1L year is that it puts a group of competitive, high-achieving adults in a very high-school-like day-to-day structure. Law School, like a lot of things in life, is largely what you make of it and while asking fifty people to comment on their experience may seem like a fair amount, I should also note that there’s two other first year sections who are not represented (largely because finals are in about two weeks and so asking another hundred students will have to happen some other time).

The Dean’s words from orientation have resonated with me this entire year and as I approach my final weeks as a 1L (I should note that my hands are shaking as I type that last phrase while simultaneously  staring at a semester of Property notes), I confidently stand by my initial statement that Boston University School of Law is an exceptional place to be a law student and I am honored and truly proud to be a part of such a community. So attached is Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.20.10 PMa wide range of words my awesome section-mates would use to describe their experience this past year or the culture at BU Law.