And Sixty Pages to Go Before I Sleep …

This semester, I went against the popular wisdom and took nothing but seminars. Seminars at BU Law are small, upper-level courses taught on subjects of interest to a smaller number of students than the typical ‘bar course.’ They are generally heavy on the reading, and they do not end with a final exam. Instead, they end with a research paper of around 20 pages. Whew.

Now, it’s time for a brief Thanksgiving break (or, in my case, writing marathon). In order to get my thoughts together a little bit and give readers a bit of insight into the kinds of things we think about in law school, here are the fascinating topics I will be writing about from now until mid-December:


BU Law sent us this adorable little Thanksgiving Rhett (the BU mascot) this morning!

But first … BU Law sent us this adorable Thanksgiving-style Boston Terrier Rhett (the BU mascot) this morning!

Juvenile Delinquency: The topics in this course were all interesting: history of juvenile law and detention, waiver into adult courts, life without parole, detention conditions, recidivism, and disproportionate minority contact. I did a presentation about the latter for my in-class project, but I did not feel like I had many original thoughts to offer. Instead, the topic of my paper will be so-called “crossover kids” — juveniles who have one foot in the delinquency system and the other in the child welfare system. I will talk about the simultaneous histories of these two systems, one designed to reform children, and the other designed to help them in a very different way. I will propose that there is a need for a specially designed program to rehabilitate, heal, and address the needs of nonviolent crossover kids, one that looks more like the foster care system than a juvenile detention center.

Sex Crimes: This course focused mainly on defining ‘sex crimes’ and ‘sex offenders,’ calculation of recidivism, treatment in and after prison, post-prison consequences, and important case law related to these issues. I knew before the first day of class, when I searched for new or interesting sex offense cases, what I wanted to talk about in my seminar paper. The article I found was about Doe v. City of Lynn, a sex offender residency restriction case decided in Massachusetts this summer.  I am fascinated by what I see as a kind of perpetual post-prison punishment and by recent efforts to stop it. My paper will look into the history of registration laws and residency restrictions affecting sex offenders, and at how effective these laws are at stopping sex offenses. I will discuss how, if at all, a sex offender residency restriction might pass muster under Doe and under the Constitution.

Judicial Externship: This course focused on practical skills and ethics for students interning (or externing, which is BU Law speak for internships for credit) with a judge. Working in the Middlesex Probate and Family Court has been quite an experience, which I might reflect on in greater detail in a future blog. In the family court, I have seen vast numbers of self-represented, or pro se, litigants. These folks present an interesting challenge to the court, in part because they may not be quite as familiar with law and procedure as non-lawyers. In my paper, I will talk about how judges are trained to address these unique needs. I will discuss judicial education, and ways to improve the experience of the pro se litigant both directly and indirectly. I will also be speaking to my class next week about this issue, so I am developing paper and PowerPoint simultaneously, a difficult task because the content of an engaging presentation and a well-researched, detailed academic paper can be significantly different.

I realize that not all of these topics will be of interest to all readers, but that’s the beauty of the seminar. You go in-depth on a particular topic that is of the greatest interest to you. Sure, you still have to read about some topics that don’t spark that same excitement, but you do not have to go back and study them all over again. I highly recommend taking as many seminars as you can manage in your two years of freedom to pick your own courses at BU Law.

Looking Back on Applying to Law School

The law school admissions process can be daunting. Everyone has different suggestions regarding what you should and shouldn’t do in approaching this task. Now that I am in my first year of law school and applications are a seemingly distant memory, I thought I would share my top 3 recommendations for those who may be looking to apply.

Start with the law school rankings list, but consider this a tool of convenience, not a means to an end. I relied heavily on this list when researching law schools simply because it compiled all the law schools in a simple list. However, just because U.S. News decides a school is number one and another is number one hundred, doesn’t mean you must feel the same. We all are looking for different things in pursuing law school and a legal career. You’ll find your number one, but it’ll take some searching.

Ask yourself where you would be willing to live. When I was sorting through law schools, the list of schools of interest seemed to be growing like crazy. Because these were all law schools that had the general concentrations I was interested in, I began sorting through them based on where I could reasonably see myself living. Schools quickly came off the list simply because I could not envision myself living in certain cities. Consider whether you want to be east, west, north, south, in a large or small community, in an urban or rural setting. There are plenty of law schools to fit each bill. I found this method particularly helpful (and a good, honest way to keep your application costs down! Why pay to apply where you would never consider living?).

Set an early deadline for yourself. Applications seem to open early in the scope of the admissions cycle. However, setting an early (dream) deadline for yourself can prevent problems later in the game. Realistically, you will likely encounter delays somewhere along the way. I hoped to submit my applications in late September or early October. This pushed me to get materials underway promptly (there are plenty of things to prepare). It also came in handy when one of my letter of recommendation writers notified me that she was delayed on other projects and would not be able to get my recommendation done for another month. If I had waited until late in the admission cycle and encountered this delay, it would have caused even more stress than it did. Additionally, I found that I had some polishing work to do on my personal statement. Setting an early deadline allowed for wiggle room when these delays arose.

In retrospect, these three approaches to law school applications served me well. In the end, I applied relatively early in the cycle, I am happy to be living in Boston, and I certainly found my personal #1 school: Boston University School of Law.

Reflections on the Voting Rights Act

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Legacy Series event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) with distinguished speaker Rev. Rahsaan Hall, Director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. I was particularly excited for this event, as I worked at the ACLU of Washington when it successfully challenged a municipality’s electoral system that had prevented Latinos from being elected to the city council. As a result of the lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the city to adopt an all-district system, which took effect this election. Listening to Rev. Hall discuss the VRA’s origins as the centerpiece to the Civil Rights Movement was like indulging in a satisfying narrative where you know that justice will prevail where equality had been denied.

The conversation then turned to where the VRA stands today. Suddenly it became clear that the story’s ending has yet to be written, and the reality is stark and sobering. The truth is, the assault on voting rights never ceased. If anything, systematic efforts to disenfranchise communities of color have become more insidious, cloaked in regressive voter ID laws, efforts to eliminate weekend and early voting, and banning same-day registration. The shift in the room was palpable; the mood, despairing. Rev. Hall closed with the words “hope springs eternal.”

I likely would have felt similarly deflated had Election Day not just arrived the week prior. Election years such as this one tend to fly by under the radar. Eyes are not yet feasting on the Electoral College, and odd years do not typically result in a dramatic changing of the guard. But on Election Day this year, history was made in eastern Washington, where three Latino candidates were elected to Yakima’s City Council for the first time in the city’s history—thanks to the VRA. Now, finally, the Latino community is being represented in their local government. What a powerful reminder that there is never an “off year” where democracy is concerned!

The work is not over. I’m willing to bet that protecting democracy will never go out of need nor style. But it’s also important to stop and celebrate victories along the way. Let us go onward, for hope springs eternal.

No Sleep Til Publication

At the end of your first year at BU Law — at, literally, the last moment of obligatory 1L duties — you get the chance to do more work. You can take a 300-page packet home after your final final exam, work for the better part of a week on a hypothetical legal memo and a bunch of editing exercises, and cross your fingers that you’ll get picked for one of the six BU Law journals.

I, like more than a hundred of my peers, did just that a year and a half ago. I ranked the American Journal of Law and Medicine as my top choice, and they picked me. As a second-year student, I was busy basically every minute with classes, clinics, interviewing and applying for internships, and leadership roles in several organizations. On top of all that, I also had regular, intense journal “source coordination” and “tech check” assignments — the grunt work of the journal world. And on top of that, I had to write my “note.”

A law journal student note is a pretty standard part of law school. The amount of effort you put toward research and writing is up to you, though. Plenty do the minimum necessary to stay on their journals. Many others go the extra mile, writing papers that qualify for “cert” (BU Law shorthand for certification, which is shorthand for a paper written under faculty supervision that meets the 7,500-word, high-quality paper upper-class writing requirement). Everyone has to cert before graduation, but not everyone does so with a journal note; some people write a seminar or independent study paper that qualifies.

Some of us went above and beyond that, polishing our work until we were satisfied enough with it to start submitting it to journals for actual publication. That’s not to say that many of the basic or non-cert papers weren’t awesome. Publication is just not something everyone wants to pursue.

I knew I wanted to be published. I also knew I had to write on a topic that fit under the broad umbrella of health law, the subject of my journal. I was honestly only minimally interested in health law at the time, so I struggled a bit with this. I conferred with my faculty supervisor, a specialist in family law, about intersectional areas between the fields.

Then, I chose a thesis that I knew was likely to be a hot topic, an issue on the leading edge of family law with a grounding in psychological and physical health issues. It was time to write, and I was finally excited!

I spent a huge amount of time reading books and articles and writing and rewriting and rewriting my note until it was something I could be proud of. It qualified for cert, which was a relief after a year of hard work. In the late summer, I researched journals that would be a good fit (like my BU journal) and those that would be even better (child and family law journals), and began submissions, tailoring and editing as I went along to conform the note to each journal’s needs.

My note was picked up for 2016 publication as an article in the Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy, a great fit for the topic and an exciting capstone to my legal education. I can’t say any more about my actual topic until the article comes out, but keep your eyes peeled in five or six months (or subscribe to the journal — it’s not on your average newsstand!). I promise it will be interesting.


How To Get Away With Murder and How Not to Be a Lawyer

I’ll be the first to admit that the seeds of law school were sown in my head around the age of four, when I began to obsessively watch Matlock reruns with my Grandma. For those of you who don’t know, Matlock is a legal drama starring Andy Griffith as the titular character, a cantankerous criminal defense attorney based in Georgia. Ben Matlock had a killer Southern accent, an impeccable fashion sense, and a court demeanor that teetered on the brink of outright hostile. I loved Ben Matlock. I wanted to be Ben Matlock.

Matlock in his trademark grey suit. Source: MeTV Network.

Matlock in his trademark grey suit. Source: MeTV Network.

Fast forward twenty years or so and the cable courtroom drama has become a staple in most of our lives. Even if you don’t watch one, you’ve heard of one. In the 90s and early 2000s, it was Law & Order, Boston Legal, The Practice, and Ally McBeal. More recently, it’s been Franklin & Bash, Damages, The Good Wife, (still) Law & Order, and How to Get Away With Murder.  Although I’ve chosen Shonda Rhimes’s latest endeavor as the title of this post, what I’m about to say could really apply to any of them.

Simply put, nothing on television bears even the remotest relationship to the actual practice of law in any way, shape, or form. On some level, this statement is obvious; I think most adults reach a point where they realize that Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t showcase what doctors actually do any more than Friends accurately depicts the experience of living in New York City with no regular income or marketable skills.

And the thing is, that’s fine, because it’s television. I don’t think there’s any real harm done when cable networks consistently, grossly misrepresent the legal profession. People don’t really base their decisions to become lawyers on personal admiration of Ben Matlock or Perry Mason or Annalise Keating, and I certainly hope we are intelligent enough to not take statements of the law at face value when they come out of a television set.

No, my beef with these shows is more superficial. With only a few exceptions, legal dramas credit success or failure in the legal profession to the personal qualities of the lawyers in question. Ben Matlock wins cases because he has an eerie ability to tell when his clients are lying to him. Annalise Keating wins cases because she breaks (quite literally) every single ethical rule that binds lawyers and (inexplicably) never gets caught doing so. Alicia Florrick wins cases because of her steely demeanor and the fact that she is calm under pressure.

What legal dramas don’t ever talk about (understandably, mind you) is the amount of super boring, incredibly tedious, and very hard work that goes into preparing for trials. I’m not a lawyer yet, so I can’t fully speak to how insulting it must be to see your profession represented as being based wholly on how manipulative individual lawyers can be. As a law student, I can speak to how annoying it is to watch those five dumb-dumbs on How to Get Away with Murder learn the exact opposite of all the things you need to learn in law school. They apparently never go to any of their classes, never study for any finals, and only occasionally read any cases or learn any substantive law.

Listen, I completely understand that an hour-long drama about studying in the library would not do well in the ratings. But it’s still frustrating to watch these shows (and, admittedly, I love most of them) and see such a misrepresentation of how hard law students and lawyers work. Another great example is everyone’s favorite law school movie, Legally Blonde. No, you can’t get a 180 on the LSAT and get admitted to Harvard Law School merely by studying for a few months. And no, you won’t be a good lawyer based solely on how well you perform in public speaking or how well-dressed you are in court.

In sum, I love de-stressing with the weekly drama on How To Get Away With Murder as much as the next person. But please keep in mind that perhaps the most dramatic part of that show is how vastly it underestimates the real life workload of law students and lawyers.