Joy and the Art of Note-Writing

BU students who are on law journals are responsible, at some point in their time on the journal, for writing a “note.” As you will find with many things in law school, “notes” are deceptively named behemoths; weighing in at 35 or 40 pages, a note covers a legal topic from a unique perspective.

As a member of the International Law Journal, I wanted to really relish the experience of writing my note. (Yes, I am a nerd.) Rather than stress about writing while I was taking classes, I decided to let my ideas marinate until Christmas break of my second year, when I could really hunker down and soak in the whole writing process.

I come to law school with a general interest in economic and social rights, like the right to work, and decided my note would touch on this topic in some way. I started reading books like Constituting Economic and Social Rights and Rights Talk, which discuss the feasibility of guaranteeing economic and social rights. I looked at countries like South Africa and Italy, whose constitutions grant their citizens the affirmative (and enforceable) right to work, and compared employment statistics in these nations to employment statistics in other nations. No particularly legal argument jumped out at me. I travelled home for Christmas break without any strong idea of what I’d write.

I let my brain rest at home, and returned to Boston a week before classes started – just in time for a series of spectacular snowstorms – and settled in for a long winter’s thinking session.

Taking a thinking break (and cheering on the Terriers Hockey)!

Taking a thinking break to cheer the BU hockey team to victory. Gooo Terriers!

Finally, it all hit me. During the fall semester, I got to take a trip to Turkey, studying refugee issues with the International Human Rights Clinic. (I wasn’t a BU blogger back then, but I wrote about the trip anyway – to read more about that amazing trip, see my guest post on Aaron’s blog.) While I was in Turkey, I heard time and time again that refugees in Turkey were not legally allowed to work. Turkey had signed an international treaty on Economic and Social Rights, guaranteeing its own citizens the right to work for a living wage. After some research, I found that nobody had tried to make the argument that signing the treaty obligated Turkey to provide Syrian refugees with the legal right (though not the guarantee) to legally work within the country, where jobs were available.

Suddenly, I was off on my research adventure. I poured through research databases, downloading every article I could find about economic and social rights, issues specific to Syrian refugees, refugee rights, and economic and social rights generally. I prowled through the stacks in the Law Library Annex, picking out books about economic and social rights, as well as general reference books on economics and poverty policy for general reference.

The snowy banks of the Charles River: a perfect thinking spot.

The snowy banks of the Charles River: a perfect thinking spot.

I spent the next week camped out at coffee shops and bakeries near my apartment in Brighton, munching on cookies, sipping coffee, and pouring through research, letting my thoughts rumble around, gaining weight and substance. I took long walks in the snow and talked my ideas through with friends. I didn’t actually write a sentence. It was a blissful week of academic freedom.

Study snacks at Athan's Bakery in Brighton.

Study snacks at Athan’s Bakery in Brighton.

I cherished the feeling of deadline-free thinking for as long as possible, and wrote my first actual draft in a single frenetic weekend. I needed the push of a hard deadline to finally get all of my ideas out onto paper. From there, the process flowed just as it does for any other paper. After catching up on sleep and taking a bit of a break from my ideas, I revisited the paper for a round of editing. I turned my paper in to my faculty advisor, and she provided excellent advice about further research to ensure that my paper roundly addressed the issue I confronted. The end of the semester was fast approaching, and with it, exams. Rather than rushing myself through the revision process, I decided to wait until the summer so that, again, I could enjoy the process. The end result was an article that will soon be published in BU’s International Law Journal. While my only reader will likely be my grandma—and she may only read half—the experience is one that I cannot recommend enough. Writing a note is truly an exercise in free thinking, and an incredible opportunity to consciously focus the act of learning. Enjoy it!

Study-life balance, eventually

Breaks in law school are few and far between, and they come with lofty goals and (in my experience) a mix of disappointment and re-energizing. This long weekend, for the Thanksgiving break, my first priority was relaxing with family. We drove out to see my husband’s family on Thursday morning, and my in-laws visited our house Friday and Saturday.

Unfortunately, our visit was tinged with a sense of urgency on my part that did not mix well with relaxation or casual, touristy fun. Thursday, I dedicated myself fully to focusing on family (that 30 minute interlude staring at Evidence notes totally doesn’t count). Friday, I made myself forget for a few hours that I was supposed to be at home hard at work, and we visited the Freedom Trail and Paul Revere house, and I even had a beer at a pub with them. But by the time we got back to our place late Friday afternoon, my guilt had overcome me. While they heckled the nightly network news and belly-laughed through something on Netflix, I sat with my headphones on, at my desk, reading the last 50 or so pages of the semester for my Family Law course.

The family Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be complete without a beautiful centerpiece.

It was the same story again on Saturday. My husband led his folks around Cambridge and Downtown Boston, and I plugged away on my note and outlines. I snuck in a 30-minute break to make 6 pounds of garlic mashed potatoes, but otherwise it was work, work, work. Of course, once the in-laws came back with stories of beautiful artwork at the Harvard Art Museum and awe at the Boston Public Library, I tried my best not to sound jealous. Then, it was time for a rushed goodbye and yet another Thanksgiving gathering. The party, hosted and attended by law students, was a nice reminder that I’m not alone, as well as the first time I’ve sat and chatted with some of my friends in weeks.

Sunday was a vacation from the vacation — no parties, gatherings, visitors or errands, just me instructing my husband to take care of everything we needed done, and sitting at my desk or on my couch, laptop in front of me, from 9 a.m. to midnight. I managed to make some delicious eggplant curry, if you call directing my husband to get up and stir it every 10 minutes “making” something. More importantly, I managed to finish my Evidence outline and get everything else 95% in order, including the start of a journal note I’m actually proud of. In other words, I shoved a four-day weekend into one frantic study day. I might even be caught up, except that by about 8 p.m., it became quite clear that some well-meaning family member’s welcoming hug had passed along a funky bug. Our household will be investing in DayQuil stock this week.

Onward to finals, tissues raised!

Gobble, Gobble

Thanksgiving break is a great time because it means there is an abundant amount of food to eat and great fun with friends and/or family. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is right in the midst of finals preparation. Last year, I did not plan my semester well and spent pretty much the entire Thanksgiving holiday break fighting a mental and emotional breakdown and scrambling to outline. Prioritizing is a key skill to learn from your 1L rite of passage.

This year, I am able to prioritize my time much better, and even though more work piled onto my plate, I did my best and accomplished what I could. I spent my holiday with my husband’s family, and I actually enjoyed myself. Nothing like great food, friendly smiles, and boisterous laughter to remind me there is life outside of law school and finals. If this were last year, I can tell you I would’ve been balling in the corner while solemnly eating my food because I felt immensely stressed.

If there is only two things you take from your first year of law school, please know you can only do your best, and there is always something to improve. Improve what you can, learn from your mistakes, and actually change. Even my closest friends struggle to find their own balance. Do not simply believe it’ll get better because only one person can make it better – you. With that said, you probably won’t truly appreciate this advice until you come out on the other side. I wish you the best of luck on your finals and hope to see you on the other side.

Gradsgiving

Thanksgiving is a not an ideally situated holiday for law students. Finals are SOON, like less than 2 weeks away soon, and most people (myself included) have a very hard time compartmentalizing at this point in the semester. For me, it’s further complicated by the fact that I like 1000 miles away from my family.  Flying home for 3 or 4 days in the middle of the busiest part of the semester is just not an option for me.  Nonetheless, I’m a pretty festive person. I really like celebrating holidays and making traditions. So one of the challenges of this time of the year is finding a way to balance my stress level and my desire to actually DO Thanksgiving. The solution: Friendsgiving/Gradsgiving.

Unfortunately for me, most of my law school friends are from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, so they tend to go home for the more minor holidays – Easter, Thanksgiving, long weekends. But both my roommate and a mutual friend of ours are fellow Southern converts who can’t make it home multiple times a year. And my law school friends are more than willing to have pre-emptive holiday celebrations before they go home.  This year, I managed to coordinate not one, but TWO fun Friendsgivings.

The Monday before break, my law school friends and I headed to Cheesecake Factory for an early Thanksgiving dinner splurge. It’s a long story, but Cheesecake Factory has somehow become a thing for us. Even though it’s not actually that expensive, for some reason we treat a dinner there as though we are in an exclusive, five-star, Parisian restaurant.  (Probably this is because we all end up getting drinks, entrees, and cheesecake, thus raising the price of said dinner to somewhere around the five star chef range.)

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Sorry for the quality/lack of photos of this night. We describe Cheesecake Factory as a timeless void precisely because the world is always sepia in that restaurant, regardless of time of day.

For actual Thanksgiving, my roommate, our mutual friend I mentioned above, a friend of mine from college (who was in town visiting from Philadelphia), and a college friend of my roommate’s all congregated and had an actual Thanksgiving dinner! This was a big deal for many reasons, not least of all that I hadn’t seen my college friend in almost a year.  I also attempted to cook a turkey for the first time in my life, which turned out… pretty well, actually? I was overly nervous about that turkey, but it turns out it’s not that hard to bake a turkey after all. Everyone said it tasted good and, more importantly, it was cooked correctly and no one died! I set the bar pretty low for my culinary aspirations.

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The greatest accomplishment of my life to date.

We also had mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a fruit turkey (long story, but my second biggest accomplishment after the actual turkey), pumpkin muffins, 2 different pies, and rolls.  Possibly we went a little overboard.

The Gradsgiving spread

The Gradsgiving spread

 

Fruit turkey!

Fruit turkey!

This year, I’m particularly grateful to have people in my life who are willing to rearrange their schedules for Cheesecake Factory dinners and take overnight buses to Boston to see me and host Friendsgiving in their apartment. Because of them, it was a super fun, successful, fairly inexpensive holiday spent with people I love.

Location, Location, Location

It’s common knowledge that how valuable a piece of real estate is depends on where it is. Location is also an important factor when it comes to deciding where to go to law school. One thing I often thought about when I was sending in applications was where I would be living. Considering I would be spending years in one place while earning my law degree, it was a big part of my decision. Thankfully, I believe I made a good choice in moving to Boston.

It really depends on where you want to be located. Some people enjoy rural areas while others like the big cities. I grew up in the South, but found that I fit in more with the culture of the Northeast. Boston is also a great city for health law, which I hope to practice soon. Overall, your preferences will determine the best place for you the study law.

Another thing to think about is the legal market in the area you’ll be studying in. Some are much more competitive than others. You’ll want to look into how many opportunities there are in the region. That way, you’ll have a better idea of your career options going forward.

I hope to stay in Boston after I’m done with law school. I love the city and the people in it. Though, I wouldn’t be opposed to moving if the right opportunity presented itself. Flexibility is important when it comes to finding a career. Just make sure that wherever you’re going is the right location for you.

Enjoying The Ride

The holidays are a time for travelling. The roads are crowded with people heading home to visit their families. Sometimes it can take more time than expected to reach your final destination, but when you finally do it feels great. Too often we’re so focused on getting wherever we’re going that we forget to actually enjoy the ride.

Law school is quite the journey itself. Three years of study to earn a Juris Doctor, followed by the bar exam. At times we think so much about becoming lawyers that we fail to truly appreciate our time in school. Just as you can make memories riding with someone in a car during the holidays, the time you have with other law students is limited and should be treasured.

The relationships we establish during law school may have a large impact on the rest of our lives. We may meet people that end up working with us or against us. We may also meet someone who can help us to accomplish our goals in the future. Either way, having a personal relationship with people allows us to have better interactions with them.

Do your best to treat every day in law school as an opportunity to form a new relationship or improve the ones you already have. You’ll likely see the people you are studying law with again when you begin practicing. Take the time you have now to make sure your time together later is the best it can be.

The University Outside the Law School

The metaphor is less apt now that BUSL is no longer confined to an actual literal tower, but in many ways the law school experience does tend to function in isolation from the rest of the BU community. We’ve got our own library, our own Starbucks, all our classes are in one building. Why deal with outsiders? For the most part, I am pretty okay with this- Undergrads tend to be at best a fleeting annoyance, at worst a painful reminder of carefree times gone bye, and other than the occasional foray into their union for a snack I am content to keep my distance. As for the other graduate schools, what could I possibly have in common with them*?

This is very much the wrong approach. The university has so much to offer with just a little more awareness of your surroundings (and perhaps sufficient time management to allow opportunity for exploration). For the one, take a cursory glance at your BU Today daily email. Many of my classmates have found a way to unsubscribe from it but the annoyance of dealing with one more email is outweighed by the value of finding out which authors or political scientists are holding free and open to the public lectures on campus that week, how the university sports teams are doing, or that the restaurant you pass by all the time and thought was sketchy is under new management and getting rave reviews.

The other night a friend and I indulged in theatre-going (she had been a professional stage manager in her pre-law school life; I had been a theatre critic for various journalistic endeavors, neither of us have nearly as much to do with the arts as we’d like to these days) and while discount student tickets to various professional venues around Boston are easily available through the student union (take advantage of that too!) we found an actually spectacular undergrad production mere footsteps past Marsh Plaza at the Tsai Performance Center. And directly (roughly) above the Tsai Performance Center is the BU Observatory, open to the public for Wednesday night stargazing! The astronomy students are more than happy to focus the telescopes for you and give a quick informative overview of what celestial bodies you’re looking at.  I walk past the 808 Gallery literally every day on my way to Fit Rec (the university gym) and while the floor to ceiling windows allow for a pretty decent walk-by viewing of the art exhibits, I really should pop in there more. For that matter Fit Rec itself, the one non-law building I visit with any consistency, offers a bevy of fitness class options and even free ice skating.

The law school and accompanying community are amazing and yes ultimately what we’re all here  for, but a slight effort to participate in the BU outside BUSL can be very rewarding.

*More on this and the awesome interdisciplinary opportunities available in a later entry

BU Law’s ongoing commitment to civil rights

Last weekend, I had the great fortune to attend the BU School of Law’s two-day conference, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 50. The event brought in dozens of scholars and speakers, all of whom shared their perspectives on the Civil Rights Act — what it meant 50 years ago, how it has shaped the past 50 years, and what lessons we can draw as we build a better future.

William Julius Wilson at the BU Law Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 50 Conference.

In my time at BU Law, I’ve  been pleased with the opportunities available to put the law into context, and this event was no different. In fact, both keynote speakers, Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum, were careful to discuss the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as just one component of a broader movement. I’ve written more about the details of what happened at the conference for the BU Law website, available here.

But what about civil rights and progress in the context of my daily life at BU Law?

Course offerings support a curious student’s inquiry into these subjects. From fair housing issues in Property Law in my first semester, to cases involving the right to equal protection under the law in Constitutional Law in my second semester, to cases on the right to marry and parent in Family Law this semester, I’ve seen open, honest discussions of progress and roadblocks all along the way.

Additionally, the school is very supportive of affinity groups for students from a variety of backgrounds, and all of those groups are genuinely welcoming to students regardless of their individual backgrounds. Their mix of fun and serious events enliven the whole campus.

While there’s not necessarily an active culture of protest or even overt politics at BU Law, groups like Law Students for Reproductive Justice, the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society do make their stances known by hosting events and bringing in exciting guests who urge active participation and lively debate, like the recent event I planned where a nationally touring speaker taught a workshop on effective advocacy skills.

It might be more exciting to chant and march in front of government buildings, but students at BU Law are getting the skills we need to be different kinds of advocates: the kind who stand up for people like Mildred and Richard Loving when they want to marry in their home state even though their skin color means they can’t; the kind who stand up for the privacy rights of men like like John Lawrence and Tyron Garner; and the kind who advocate for people like Edith Windsor’s right to have their marriages to the the people they love recognized by their government. That’s good enough for me.

Firms Make Impressions Too

Your reputation precedes you, and if it doesn’t, how you carry yourself will quickly color how people interact with you. Keep in mind that although it is immensely important to ensure you interact well with attorneys and various individuals in law firms, it is equally important you also build a good reputation with your peers. Your peers include those within your class and those either a class ahead or behind you. Even if you do not believe these peers can help you get a job, you should remember (1) you do not know who is connected to whom in the industry and (2) even if your peers cannot affect or influence your current job search, they may be asked in the near future to lend an assessment of you. Never discount someone simply because in their current status you do not believe they wield any influence.

With that said, firms also make an impression through their representatives at various networking events, panels, and interviews. There are firms who readily address it, and they know we talk amongst ourselves about our own experiences and whether it colors our perception and impression of this firm as a whole. Like any organization or group or even at school, there will be individuals who are outgoing and an open book and others who may be less bubbly, open, or loquacious than others. Depending on which of these individuals you feel comfortable speaking to or with, it will influence your interaction or your impression of the firm. You should not necessarily generalize or fault an organization as a whole because an individual may not be your cup of tea.

Essentially, if a specific individual impresses upon you the firm’s particular image or culture, you must keep in mind that this individual cannot and probably will not represent the entire firm as a whole. The individual may actually only represent a small fraction, either his or her particular department or even just him or herself as a person. Give the firm another chance by reaching out to speak to someone else you find either through alumni connections or simply browsing the firm’s website to find someone aligned to your interests. Discuss with peers or upperclassmen to find out more because this one person may simply be an anomaly. On the other hand, the person may be the norm, but you want to ensure you do your homework before forming a full impression. If even after your research and your impression remains unchanged, well, firms do make an impression on us too

Law School Fitness

This past Thursday, one of our professors invited our section to go on a six-mile run along the Charles River. How cool is that? It’s no secret that BU Law consistently ranks as having some of the country’s best professors. I think the run is a perfect example of how accessible the professors are at BU Law. In my first semester as a law student, I’ve found all of my professors to show a genuine interest in getting to know the students they teach.  Our professor welcomed us to do either the first three-mile loop or run the entire six miles. I was originally planning on just doing the first loop but afterwards decided to keep going and run the entire six miles. It’s not everyday you get to exercise with your professor. The run was also a good substitute for my time at the gym on Thursday.

Oddly enough, one of my biggest worries coming to law school was whether I would have time to workout everyday. Thankfully, I’ve found the short answer to be yes. However, lately that’s meant having to wake up at six everyday to go to the gym so I can be at school early enough to begin reading. With finals steadily approaching, sacrificing a few hours of sleep in the morning has been necessary in order to manage the increasing workload.

I’ve found that everyone (almost everyone) needs some sort of activity to balance the overwhelming stress that can be inherent to law school. Last week, my civil procedure neighbor and I decided to go on a run along the Charles together. We decided to do it again this week in order to get away from the law building for a while. As much as I love the new Redstone building, spending all day everyday at the law school can sometimes make it hard to breath. (I’m currently in the process of relocating the majority of my living essentials from my apartment to my law school locker.)

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that a good amount of my classmates value personal fitness as much as I do so it’s been nice to bond over our common method of alleviating stress. All in all, my first semester of law school has left me with very little time to do the things I enjoyed doing in the past.  However, I’ve found that carving out time each day to get to the gym has allowed me to maintain some sort of stability in my increasingly unstable life—especially now that finals are looming around the corner.