Working While In Law School: Part II Legal Edition

‘Oh right, I’m good at this. In fact, I love this.’ That is not a thought most people get to have all that often in law school, and it isn’t one that’s occurred to me with much frequency while on call under the Socratic method or drafting a moot court memo. I’d like to think I have a reasonable level of competency with those things, but do they thrill me? Not per se. Luckily, those aren’t the only ways you can spend your time.

A lot of people will tell you that working while in law school is insane. They said that about my care-taking job with a special needs child… and maybe they were right: that commitment was a big undertaking, and I ended up having to cut back my hours this semester.

But that faceless ‘they’ of outside input also told me not to take a clerkship position. It’s time away from campus, it’s stress on top of my studies, I don’t need the experience during the semester because I can get it over the summer. But that’s where I’ve learned that ‘they’ are wrong, at least for me: I need the experience. Not just for my resume or as an interview talking point. I need to do real substantive legal work and remember that I enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really liked a lot of the classroom academic work I’ve had a chance to do, but over the course of 2L year there were times I forgot how much I adored the legal work I did last summer at the Office of the Attorney General, or all the other bright shiny exciting things that make you want to go to law school in the first place. What I did enjoy was the clinical work I did at Greater Boston Legal Services.

Which is why when I came across a chance to be a clerk in a university Office of General Counsel for the spring semester, I had to apply. It’s paid, which I won’t pretend isn’t nice, but that isn’t the most important thing. I can’t get very excited about incomplete fact patterns and fictional clients, but give me a real problem? Even if it’s mundane or super technical (Does absolute immunity apply to testimony given at quasi-judicial hearings that aren’t under oath? How is an emotional support animal different than a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act?) it’s real, and that is what I get excited about. Real situations, real people, real problem solving. Some day not all that far off (one year of school left!) I’ll get to do this all the time, and that helps make everything else worth it.

PIP PIP!

Let’s talk about PIP for a minute. It’s just such a cheery sounding organization. Some law schools have a Public Interest Group (PIG), or  Pitt Law’s Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF, which is just a tad clunky sounding and tricky to pronounce). But the Public Interest Project (PIP!) is more than an adorable acronym. Now in it’s 30th year, the student-run organization helps fill a critical gap: funding for students working in unpaid positions with non-profits, public interest organizations, government, and pro bono work. Some of the best summer work opportunities are unfortunately sometimes the ones least able to compensate their interns and clerks. These organizations do important work and benefit from the free legal assistance from their interns, and the students get invaluable work experience.  It’s a win for everyone.

Receiving a grant from PIP enables students to work 40 paid hours a week for 10 weeks. My experience the summer of my 1L year drives home how important that can be: of the four interns working in my division of the Office of the Attorney General, I was the only one who was able to be there for a full work day, every day: the other students in the unfunded internship program had to take jobs outside the legal industry to make ends meet.  While I wasn’t necessarily making much money I was definitely able to pay rent on my PIP grant alone.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have a terrific experience if you need to work part time for financial or other reasons (or work in two different legal positions part time, which is a separate matter entirely), but I believe I got a much richer experience by being there more, from getting to know my supervisors better to getting more assignments (The first few weeks were like It has to be done by tomorrow and the other intern won’t be in until Friday? Give it to Sarah. and  It’s going to need several dozen hours devoted to it? Give it to Sarah. Which mean that later on it was Oh, Sarah has already written a brief like that, Sarah has experience with affidavits, Sarah already has a rapport with the Alabama Department of Corrections Prison Ministry*… give it to Sarah. It was awesome.)

Some students enter law school set on the goal of practicing public interest, and obviously PIP is ideal for supporting them in their career paths, but the program isn’t necessarily just for them. Even if the public sector isn’t your end game, either of two things could happen if you work in a PIP grant-sponsored position: you could build skills that will be tremendously useful when you go to the private sector or wherever you envision yourself, OR you could fall in love with work you wouldn’t have had a chance to do otherwise and end up seeing yourself somewhere different than you had originally.

How does it work? Each applicant must fulfill a quota of service hours (some to the organization itself through activities like tabling for the highly anticipated Cupcake Wars fundraiser or helping with administrative tasks, others to the larger community either through Boston Cares or other volunteer projects), write an essay expressing their interest and qualifications and, perhaps most importantly, help find auction items for the annual PIP Auction Gala, a fundraising event that helps fund the grants. Trust me, it’s not as labor-intensive as it might sound, and it is entirely well worth it.

*Long story.

Did you see what Justice Scalia was wearing?

“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
― Isaac Asimov

Boston University School of Law has a great male-female student ratio, two of my eight instructors are women, and the female presence in administrative positions and student organizations is awesome. Most importantly, the school’s programming shows that it understands the value of diverse voices. Gender inequality is not a “BU problem,” but an endemic one.

To be fair, law seems to be about on par with most formerly male-dominated fields. Progress has been made. Women are getting jobs, and excelling in them. The issues have evolved. I’d like to hear what aspect you think is most pressing today.

I’ve been thinking about a few issues at the intersection of law and gender, of late: First, assuring that our profession does not dismiss our problems as “female problems”; second, that our words get more attention than our skirts; and third, that all ways of learning, not just ones that work for one type of person, are respected and nourished.

It’s easy to label issues affecting women as “women’s issues,” but doing so misses the bigger picture, and it’s definitely a problem. For example, when I attend law school events related to reproductive justice (the very term represents an effort to broaden the conversation), the room is 95% female–both future lawyers and practicing attorneys and professors–no matter the publicity effort leading up to it. The numbers don’t lean as heavily toward one gender (or another) at any other event, and it’s not because men are unaffected by the Affordable Care Act. It’s not the law school’s job to let men know that it’s OK to care, but this glaring gap isn’t doing anyone any favors.

A recurring theme in law school is about how stuffy we feel in our suits. This naturally segues into how we’d better get used to it. And then, in this conversation I’ve had a half-dozen times, we turn to appropriate courtroom attire. Keeping in mind that this is 2014, I was shocked to hear that some judges care about whether a woman wears pantsuit or a skirt suit. Now, (future employers, this one’s for you) I will absolutely behave impeccably well in any courtroom I’m fortunate enough to enter, and I will certainly dress to bore-slash-impress. But my clothes are no one’s business but my own. We’re better than that, and my law school peers are certainly smarter than that. Trust us to dress ourselves.

The Socratic method is the ancient, lumbering elephant in the room. Frankly, and this relies on some serious stereotypes: It rewards traits societally valued in men (boldness, assertiveness, bravery) and squeezes out traits traditionally valued in women (demureness, politeness, allowing others to take the spotlight). Happily, we realize today that learning styles are not all about our gender or sex. Some of the loudest voices in the room today are women. But for those who do walk a gentler, quieter path, masculine or feminine, the classroom can be a terrifying place. I cringe a little every time I see a smart and shy woman begin her turn before the class with, “Um, I just want to say …”  I want to tell her: “Own it! What you have to say is valuable. Don’t let the method get you down!”

BU Law is a great place, in a flawed society. It’s easy to forget that we’re still a part of the bigger picture, but these struggles don’t take a three-year break just because we do. What can we do now?

“I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
― Amelia Earhart

The Externship Experience

thHPPAPTJUThis week I completed my externship at Boston Children’s Hospital. When I started at Children’s as part of the Health Law Externship Program, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought that since I was working with Dianne McCarthy, Chief Counsel for Research Affairs, I’d be reviewing consent forms and protocols throughout the semester. It turned out to be so much more than that. I can honestly say that working at the Hospital was one of the most rewarding and educational experiences I’ve had while in law school.

As my supervisor, Dianne mentored me while I was at the Hospital. She allowed me to sit in on calls with her and attend all kinds of meetings, including those with the Institutional Review Board (or IRB), which is responsible for approving research protocols at the Hospital. We dealt with issues ranging from intellectual property disputes to cases of scientific misconduct. I had the opportunity to see both the legal side of things as well as the medical side. As someone who is very interested in health law, this was the perfect place to be.

Not only did I get the chance to learn from Dianne, but I was also fortunate enough to work with Suzanne Tannenbaum, who worked down the hall in the Office of General Counsel. Suzanne showed me what it was like to work on compliance matters and how to deal with conflicts of interest at the Hospital. I had no idea that amount of regulatory issues that there were, but after hearing first-hand from scientists looking to develop the next innovative treatment or technology I realized that navigating the complex web of rules and regulations was a very important task.

My experience at Children’s has only strengthened my interest in health law. I now know what it’s like to be a lawyer for an academic medical center, and I can say that it is very much something I would like to do in the future. Every day is a new adventure, you get to work with great people, and you have the chance to help advance the field of medicine while improving the lives of others. There’s really nothing else like it.

The home stretch

In less than one month, I will be done with law school. 21 days, in fact.

So, in this home stretch, I thought I would share a few closing thoughts – the first on making friends in law school.

Making friends is both difficult and easy. In your first year, you are stuck with the same 70 people day in and day out. You have all your classes with those people, which means you stick with that cadre like a lost lamb and you eat, study, party, study, and study with those same 70 faces. You can’t escape them – they share the same locker room; you see them in the elevator, in the library, at the gym. It’s almost suffocating. But then, in 2L year, you start to realize how much you miss those familiar faces, the familiar names, and the sense of camaraderie.

And, those familiar faces are the same people I still hang out with two years later. Okay, so maybe not all 70 of them. But all of my closest and dearest friends are from my 1L section.

As an older, non-traditional law student, I was worried about being able to connect with my fellow students. But, even I have been able to cultivate a hilariously fun and talented group of friends. BU is a very collegial place – people are more likely to commiserate with you over a beer than steal your crim law outline. The trick is to find your tribe, your law school family. For me, it was finding a group of people who are serious about their careers, but who do not take themselves (or school) too seriously and know how to unwind.

Please take note – I am not the social chair of our class. I hardly attend bar review. You don’t have to be the most popular kid in school to find a lunch date. But you do have to try. Study groups form and disband. Friendships will be tested by gossip and short-term romances. Grades happen. Stress happens. But, you will find friends, I promise.

Running Through Law School

Note from Elizabeth: This is a guest-post from my friend and  BU Law classmate Amy Baral. The Boston Marathon is coming up in just a few short weeks, on April 21. Last year, I wrote about what it was like to see my home shattered, and what it might be like to pick up the pieces. This year, Amy is running the Marathon to support the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. If you can support her, do so here. I can’t wait to watch Amy, and all the Marathoners run, run, run.

Amy, on the left, and our fellow classmate Michelle Pascucci, on the right, after running the Hyannis Half Marathon earlier this year.

Amy, on the left, and our fellow classmate Michelle Pascucci, on the right, after running the Hyannis Half Marathon earlier this year.

Law school is sometimes referred to as a marathon. It takes three years of hard work that just cannot be rushed – don’t try skimming cases during 1L year, you will most certainly miss the most important parts!

So, who would try to run an actual marathon during law school? That would be me, and several other current and former BU Law students. On April 21, I will be running in the 118th Boston Marathon as a charity runner raising money to support the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

I decided to run the Boston Marathon for several reasons:

I believed in the charity I am running to support. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is a camp for children with seriously illness, like my young brother who attended camp for two summers while he was undergoing treatment for leukemia. Camp is such a magical place that I wanted other kids to have the same opportunity to attend. I could raise $7,500+ for charity, right? Will you donate?

I wanted to get back into running. I ran on my high school’s cross-country and track teams, but since high school I had mostly been elliptical-ing. BU Law’s 5K race – the Ambulance Chase – never fit into my schedule, so why not try the Boston Marathon?

I thought the Boston Marathon would be a great way to cap off my 3L year. After 2+ years of law school, I was ready to shed my books and pound the pavement. Wouldn’t it be great to run through the streets of Boston (and Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline) to throngs of cheering fans?

Training for the Boston Marathon has been tough. But, I’ve learned several life lessons along the way, applicable to running and lawyering alike:

Never doubt yourself. Running 26.2 miles is hard, training is hard, law school is hard, and life is hard. I’ve learned to try to turn a difficult task into a more manageable one. Is your next training run 16 miles? It doesn’t sound as bad if you know that you can eat all the ice cream you want after! Are you doing an assignment for the highest-grossing partner in your firm? That’s okay, ask the associates that usually work with her for advice and whether they will review your work.

Network, network, network. If you start networking during 1L year, you’ll meet attorneys who will become mentors and people you can rely on to key you into pro bono, internship, and job opportunities. As a bonus, you can reach out to your legal network while you’re trying to raise $7,500+ for your Boston Marathon charity team!

Don’t forget to eat. During law school, I’ve often forgotten to eat while studying or writing papers. But, while training for the marathon, I learned that it’s very important to fuel your body before the run, on the run, and after the run. You don’t want to crash, do you? Remember to eat – snacks, meals, coffee – to keep up your stamina and focus.

Balance is so important. Yes, I’ve slipped on the snow and ice while training this winter during the polar vortex, but that’s not the balance I’m referring to. I’m talking about the work-life balance. Somehow everything will get done – schoolwork, running, and wedding planning – that’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past several months. Training has helped me balance the things in my life better. You have a 15-mile training run planned for this Thursday? Well then you better get ahead on your schoolwork now because you’ll only have the time and energy to do a couple of hours of homework on Thursday.

You have to work for what you want. It wouldn’t be a good idea to run a marathon if you hadn’t trained, just as it wouldn’t be smart to sit for the bar exam if you hadn’t studied. So train, study, and do all that you can to perform your best.

The Boston Marathon is only three weeks away (which means spring semester exams are only four weeks away . . . yikes!). It’s time to taper, carbo-load, and do plenty of schoolwork so I can run my heart out on Marathon Monday and then relax in the days that follow.

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April Fools

April Fools’ Day is all about pranks. Websites change, special offers are introduced, and big announcements are made. Many of these turn out not to be real, but some are so realistic that many people actually believe them. It all comes down to the power of persuasion.

When it comes to legal issues, there is almost always an argument that can be made for either side. It is our job as lawyers to persuade a judge or jury that the outcome we are arguing for is the right one. Persuasion is more about personality, though. In order to have a truly persuasive argument, you have to have something to back it up.

That’s where legal precedent comes in. Cases decided in the past can often decide the outcome of a case in the future. Depending on the court that decided the case, precedent can be simply persuasive or binding on another court. Find the right precedent and your argument becomes much stronger.

There’s no tricks involved. You may have to engage in some courtroom maneuvering, but in the end it is about researching and writing in the most persuasive way that you can. With enough support, almost anyone can be persuaded to your side.

A Foodie’s Paradise

Before moving to Boston, I was unaware that the city had such a vibrant restaurant scene.  For my first two years of law school, I didn’t venture out of Brighton too much.  Now that I live in South End, I have all the wonderful restaurants within walking distance.  Little did I know these restaurants were totally accessible from campus.  The BU medical campus is located in the South End and BU operates a shuttle bus that runs from the law school to the South End, with a stop near a Whole Foods along the way.  To help you take advantage of the free transportation, here’s a list of some of my favorite restaurants in the South End:

  • Toro – Great tapas and a South End staple.  The catch is that they don’t take reservations, and if you put your name in on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, it could be up to a 2 hour wait.
  • The Gallows — Good food, better drinks.  Hop on over while you are waiting for your table at Toro.
  • The Beehive — Great vibe with affordable drinks and live music.  Well-known for their jazz brunch, the Beehive is a great place to revive yourself after a long night on the town.  It’s also a really cool vibe at night too.
  • Union Bar and Grill — Again, really good food and drinks.  They change their menu seasonally and their venison hit the spot for me.
  • The Butcher Shop — One of Barbara Lynch’s restaurants, the charcuterie boards are the best in town.

Looking for a new place to study?  Find a change of scenery at the BU’s medical campus library.  Make sure to take a break nearby at Blunch or Flour to recharge with coffee, sweets, and awesome sandwiches.

Time Flies

I cannot believe I am nearly finished with my first year of law school. Simply typing the sentence makes me shake a little. When I started law school, I was fresh faced, alert, and nervous, and I am finishing my first year fairly exhausted and anxious.

This spring semester is so much more difficult than the first semester because of the extra class and Moot Court. A few people warned me to not slack off and it overwhelms you so quickly. I cannot stress enough how true it is. I struggled near the end of last semester with preparing for finals, and while I am not struggling as much, I am  incredibly overwhelmed. It honestly feels like the minute one assignment goes out the door, I am working on another assignment already.

Today, our Moot Court final briefs were due. Tomorrow, I have a negotiation assignment to complete with my partner then on Wednesday, I have my oral argument practice, and I need to go to office hours and keep outlining and reviewing. The most positive thing is I have been able to manage my time efficiently to ensure I am not working on assignments until the very last minute.  I cannot imagine this workload along with my normal reading assignments and working until late into the night to scrape by the deadlines.

I know the next few weeks will be incredibly hectic, stressful, and overwhelming, so I hope this post will help exorcise whatever anxiety I may have before the crunch time. I hope my successful time management skills stay sharp to ensure I do not crack under pressure. Most of all, I hope I know in a few weeks, it will be over. My first year will soon be a memory.

I Ran (So Far Away)

3.1 miles to be exact!  Last weekend, BU Law hosted its annual 5K race.  The race is open to students, friends and alumni, and faculty.  It was very well attended this year, and the school did a great job running (pun intended) the race.  This was my first year running and was pleasantly surprised to turn in a time of 20:55.  I was just hoping to break 25 minutes (I haven’t been running recently — it’s been a cold winter, folks) and exceeded my own expectations.  All around, it was a run to feel good about.

I feel even better about the funds raised from the race, which go to BU Law’s Public Interest Project.  If you don’t know, PIP provides law students with grants so that they can do awesome non-profit and government work over the summers while still making rent and eating (both important things).  PIP at BU Law is very strong, and it’s great to help out your classmates who choose to do work in the public’s interest.  Helping classmates while exercising, what could be better!  And that brings me to the real focus of this blog post: exercise!

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the facilities at BU, and in the City of Boston generally.  FitRec, the BU gym, is a great place to relieve some of that law school stress and stay healthy.  We even have an indoor rock wall!  Additionally, since Boston is such a big running city, there is no shortage of 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon races to check out.  Another benefit of being in a big city is that there are a ton of gyms offering fitness classes — from CrossFit to spinning, and everything in between.  The FitRec also offers some classes that you can take for credit (don’t worry, no extra charge!).

In law school, it’s important to stay healthy.  Lawyers deal with a lot of stress, and we are often stuck at our desks all day, so make the most of your time away from the tower and remember raise your heart rate a bit.  BU makes it pretty easy!