On my second day of law school, my torts professor called on me to answer a series of questions about one of the assigned cases. It was probably only about a 20 minute colloquy, but it felt like ten years. The case involved a man with epilepsy and a drivers license who had a seizure while driving and drove through a bicycle shop owner’s front door and window, wounding the owner’s wife and destroying quite a bit of property. Owner and wife sued the man with epilepsy. Sadly, I cannot remember how the case ended. I do remember being nervous, and my classmates all kindly reassuring me after class I had done well.
Since then, I’ve learned quite a bit. I no longer need to constantly check how to spell the word “defendant,” for example. I understand (and have opinions about) the federal court system. The petitioner/respondent and plaintiff/defendant dichotomies no longer confuse me. I write sentences about impeaching witnesses on a collateral matter with extrinsic evidence, understand what they mean, and can explain them in normal-people-English (proving a witness is mistaken or lying about a particular fact using some proof other than the witness’s own testimony, when the fact isn’t something the trial completely hinges on). I can help you get a temporary restraining order, defend you against evictions, advocate for your rights to cash assistance, unemployment assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid, and so on. (Of course, a disclaimer – as a law student, I actually can’t do any of those things on my own. There’s an attorney supervising me. As a law student, I can’t dispense legal advice.)
I am excited for my final year, to develop the skills I’ve started learning, and to add new ones. Already this year, we’ve had an asylum officer give a fascinating talk and answer questions in my Immigration Law class. We have thoroughly dissected Windsor and Perry in my Family Law class. I’ve riddled my way through a number of evidence problems as part of my externship at the Victim Rights Law Center, providing comprehensive civil legal aid to sexual assault victims. In Criminal Procedure, I am reading about how the Supreme Court has continually whittled away at the 4th Amendment such that, as a good friend of mine says, “You have no rights.” (Slight hyperbole, admittedly. But you get the point.)
I don’t think anyone will ask me about whether a shop owner proximately injured by a man who has a seizure while he is driving will win a case against the driver during this last year, or for the rest of my life, for that matter. I do think, though, that the skills my professor was trying to teach me with that case – how to read cases, how to communicate ideas, how to make arguments – will be tested this coming year, and for the rest of my career. Those skills are, I think, the foundation of lawyering. And if you build that foundation, and add heavy doses of compassion, creativity, passion, curiosity, empathy, respect – and some wine and coffee, let’s be honest – well, BU might just make a lawyer of me yet.
I hope you’ll stick with me for my last year, and if you have any questions about what law school has been like, ask in the comments!