Two Views of Law School: Doctrine and Lawyering Lab

The first semester of 1L behind me and fully rested from break, it was with enthusiasm that I showed up yesterday morning for the first day of spring classes.

Yet more than my recent weeks of (1) sleeping in, (2) visiting long-lost friends, and (3) watching all the iterations of Bandersnatch, my experience last week at BU Law’s Lawyering Lab rendered me confident in my choice in law school and even more positive about entering the legal profession. Much of this stemmed from the experiential, rather than doctrinal, nature of the pre-semester program.

In a nutshell, Lawyering Lab groups 1Ls from across sections into teams that negotiate on behalf of a party in an immersive transactional simulation. Our scenario involved biomedical tech, IP, and contract drafting. As a practice overall, it was valuable because it (1) introduced students to those from other sections, (2) provided a low-stakes environment in which to learn, and (3) focused primarily on practical skills rather than purely intellectual enrichment.

Meeting students from other sections might seem trivial, but honestly it was refreshing. I’m in section C, home to around 95 students. All of my classes have been with these same folks, and we’ve grown close as a group over the past semester, but it means inteconnectionthat I basically don’t know the other 2/3 of my peers in the class of 2021. I worked in a team of five. Part of what the benefit of meeting these people was gaining exposure to the qualified character and diverse backgrounds of my peers, information I cannot always access in a large doctrinal class during a series of cold calls. Day after day of Lawyering Lab, I was impressed my my teammates’ various abilities to organize and apply themselves in space and time.

“I’ve reserved room 414 for us to plan in from 2-4pm.” “Guys just checking in we have about 45 minutes until client counseling so make sure you update your part of the Google doc.” “I think we need to spend time later not just prepping our points but anticipating what the other team is going to find important in the contract.”

We all had different strengths and points of weakness, but I was thoroughly impressed by the positive attitude and willingness to collaborate my peers demonstrated. It made me proud to be studying at BU with them, and optimistic about our potential to make a positive impact on the legal field.

Lawyering Lab’s low-stakes learning environment was an excellent way to return from break and prepare for spring classes. Don’t confuse “low-stakes” with “boring” or “unimportant.” I have several criticisms of the way 1L doctrinal classes are structured and assessed, one being the radically overdetermined effect that a single curved exam can have on a student’s employability absent any other balancing mechanism.speed bus jump

If you consider 1L cynically, it can feel like the 1994 film Speed, featuring a scenario where Keanu Reeves must keep a bus from dropping below 50 miles an hour in order to keep it from exploding (i.e. reading, briefing, and anticipating cold calls for three months). At one point, the bus must bus clear a 50ft gap of elevated highway: not making the jump means the end of the movie (i.e. taking final exams). For the record, the foregoing description is certainly not how I felt last semester, though on certain days I did feel the need to keep my foot pressed down on the pedal.

This is all to say that Lawyering Lab lowered the stakes. We were present to learn and to develop professionally, and the absence of quantitative assessment made the experience sincerely enjoyable. Having had several years of professional experience before entering law school, it was a refreshing return to problem solving, learning by doing, and succeeding by collaborating with talented colleagues.

The practical skills we applied in Lawyering Lab also made for an enriching experience. Doctrinal classes certainly do teach relevant content and cultivate rhetorical proficiencies necessary for practice, but Lawyering Lab allowed us to apply some of lawyering labthat knowledge in a simulated real-world environment. Day two involved a client counseling session where a BU alum visited to play the client your team represented. We had to describe her legal options and help her reach an independent decision on what course of action she felt would benefit her business and address her concerns over risk. The feedback she provided was valuable. For one, she empowered us to be confident in our position as legal counselors: “If I say as your client that I intend to breach a contract, you as my lawyer are compelled to give me proper advice. That means clearly explaining to me the repercussions of breach and having me acknowledge as your client that you do not advise me to do that, that if I do so it’s on me, and that you’ve given me the right guidance and warning. That’s what you’re there to do. You know that. You need to make that clear.”

Prepping materials, conducting research, counseling a client, negotiating and drafting a contract, and reflecting on our performance was a rewarding experience. It has given me excellent subject matter to bring up in my judicial internship interviews (more on that in an upcoming post) and more importantly has given me confidence in my practical ability to succeed as a lawyer.

Cold Calling 101

I have a pretty high tolerance for looking foolish in front of people. Like every single student in my class, I know deep down that I am qualified to be studying at BU Law, so the small (albeit public) glitch of bombing in front of 100 students rolls off me rather quickly. Of course my heart rate picks up a little bit. Of course I feel freezing cold or burning hot when my name is called. But I bounce right back.

I may be the exception. Many students feel anxious speaking in front of such a large room. Nerves are totally normal! You are normal! But even so, I am here to give you reasons why you should not dread cold calling—and perhaps should enjoy it.

  1. You are brand new. Cut yourself some slack.
  2. Not every question has a “right” answer. Law school forces you to reason through problems, and everyone reasons differently. Why would we have a Supreme Court if there are neat, clean, obvious answers to every legal question?
  3. Cold calling provides great incentive to come to class prepared. There may be times when you need to skip or skim a reading, but on the whole, grappling with the reading is essential to understanding the subject.
  4. The method keeps class engaging. Have you ever met someone who enjoys listening to lectures for an hour or two straight? Please introduce me to this unicorn.
  5. Professor Van Loo. All I am going to say is (a) you are lucky if you have him and (b) he is the monarch of cold calling. Perfectly balances guiding you through a stressful situation while pushing your brain farther than it wants to go.

Truly, cold calling should be low on your list of law school worries. Winter should be at the top of your list.

What is Lawyering Lab?

When my classmates and I heard we had to return a week early from winter break we let out a collective groan. We had to come back for 1L’s Lawyering Lab. Much of your doctrinal focus during 1L is on briefing cases, extracting laws, understanding legal theories, and not so much actually learning about being a lawyer.

Lawyering is great for developing our legal writing and research skills as well as client counseling and partner simulations. However, there is more of a litigation focus. For example, we were given a hypothetical of a man who is seeking counsel to sue a landowner when he dove into a pond on the landowner’s property and became paralyzed. We counseled our “client”, doctored a research memo, and met with a “partner” to discuss the research and recommendations.

Lawyering Lab, however, is focused on transactional law. We are first given a lecture on contract basics. This lecture differed from our Contracts doctrinal course, because it was more concrete in looking at a sample supply contract between two companies. We then focused on teamwork and how to work on a team of lawyers effectively by leveraging one another’s strengths. As a team we then learned about our client, who they are, what they want out of a deal, and what their risks and concerns are through an email. As a team, we then collaborated on analyzing the options available to our client and how we can best present these options to our client. Later in the day, we met with a BU Law alumna who served as our “client” and we had the opportunity to simulate a client counseling session. It was great to receive real feedback from a practicing alum, discuss their careers since graduating from BU Law, and we had a networking event with them later in the day.

The following day we had a negotiation simulation. We learned about negotiation skills, tactics, and planning strategies through our lawyering lecturers. Then, as a team, we created a game plan for negotiating with an opposing team for our client who we had met with yesterday. Later in the day, we negotiated directly with the other team, which was a great way to simulate a real negotiation. Some students tried to be difficult in negotiations whereas others tried to provide more of a relationship before task attitude. Our teams continued to negotiate until we felt comfortable we had reached a contract that was fair to both of our clients.

Ultimately, our moaning and groaning was because we had to come back a week early from break. However, the introduction to transactional law was informative and helpful and the Lawyering team definitely did their best to make it as fun of a simulation with alumni as possible.

Let Google Help Organize 1L

One of the best things I did in preparation for 1L was setting up my Calendar before the semester started. There are a variety of calendars out in the market however my favorite one so far has been Google Calendar. Google Calendar allows you to maintain a full calendar on a variety of devices, because it saves the information to the cloud. That was helpful for me, because it was so much easier to just pull out my phone and open the app to check on something, then having to carry around a planner all the time.

Additionally, you can set up time alerts on google calendar. This has been super useful, especially when teachers alter class times. 

Moreover, you can click on a particular event on the calendar -allowing you to open the event up and save a substantial amount of information within the date. This is one of my favorite features of Google Calendar, because it allowed me to save all the homework assignments on the particular day, so I didn’t have to pull out the syllabus every time I needed to check what the assigned readings were. This is much different then a physical calendar, because it allows much more space to write things out. 

Lastly, SGA hosts a variety of events thought-out the year and Google Calendar makes it so easy to add these events with just one click to assimilate the dates into your calendar. 

I highly suggest trying out Google Calendar and the best part is that it is free of charge as long as you have a google account -and everyone at BU Law is issued one anyways so there is no excuse not to try it out ! 

Michaela’s Top Ten Round-Up for January!

Welcome back BU Law!

Here are some things happening around town to get you out of the Boston cold!

  1. What I’m really excited for… the Phantom Gourmet Winter Phest on Lansdowne Street! FOOD FOOD FOOD!
  1. If you’re studying at the Boston Public Library or just want a bite to eat check out Newsfeed Café by the Catered Affair:
  1. Head to the TD Garden for a Bruins Game!
  1. Or if you’re more into basketball, also head to the TD Garden for a Celtics Game!
  1. If sports aren’t your thing, there’s always the Museum of Fine Arts (it’s free on MLK day!)
  1. Rock Spot Climbing in South Boston is something different to try
  1. Visit the Skywalk Observatory at the top of the Prudential Center on a clear day for an amazing view of Boston:
  1. There will be the Boston Women’s March on January 19th
  1. If you’re a fan of the office and are over the age of 21 to drink beer, check out Night Shift Brewing’s “The Office Night” (there’s doughnuts too!)
  1. And of course, another food option, the Winter Wine & Cheese Fest at Eataly!