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!

Making the Case

When I toured BU (in 2009!) my tour guide took us by the Stone Moot Courtroom. All first year students, she explained, have to do moot court, where you write a brief on a fake set of facts and then argue in front of professors, lawyers, and judges while they pepper you with questions. I didn’t even know what a brief was. However, I understood enough to conclude that the idea of standing at a podium in a suit trying to answer legal questions on the spot did not seem particularly appealing.

I have since changed my mind (except on wearing suits, wearing a suit is always a pain). It turns out that moot court is much less scary when you understand a bit more what it actually is. So: if you sue someone and you don’t settle, you go to trial. At trial, lawyers give opening and closing statements, witnesses testify, everyone presents evidence – this is the Law & Order type stuff. BU has a killer mock trial team that competes against other schools. But moot court is different from mock trial. Let’s say you lose your trial, and you appeal. At that appeal, there are witnesses, no evidence, none of that. Instead, lawyers just get up and argue, usually for 15-30 minutes at a time, and judges interrupt them with questions. That’s moot court.

If public speaking’s not your thing – well, you have lots of practice time, you only have to do it for 15 minutes out of your entire law school career, it’s pass/fail, and there’s wine and cheese afterwards. If public speaking is your thing, lucky you, because BU also has a killer moot court program. Your second year, you can compete in two intra-school competitions, and then if you do those, your third year you can apply to join a national moot court team. Public speaking is at least not-not my thing (I have been called “very audible” by some). So, this year I, along with my (super wonderful) classmates Kristen Dooley and Marco Romeo competed for BU at the Sutherland Moot Court Competition in D.C., at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law. We had a wonderful time. And (spoiler alert) we won!

We got to D.C. Friday midday, had lunch, unpacked at the hotel, changed, and did some last-minute prep – including Kristen and I spending a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how to make the lobby computer with Windows 8 work so we could print our notes. Jen McCloskey, associate director of BU’s Appellate Advocacy program, travelled with us, which meant she got the thankless tasks of reminding us to pause and think before answering questions, helping us spin arguments we really hated making, and remembering which courtroom we were in. Catholic gave us goodie bags (moot court party favors!) with lint rollers, mints, cookies, candy, and water. After that preliminary round, we had dinner (at a ping pong dim sum place, and no, I don’t get it either), then crashed back at the hotel so we could get up bright and early the next morning for preliminary round two.

Both of the teams we faced in our preliminary rounds were excellent. One of the opposing team members had such a mellifluous voice I wanted to find him an agent to get him doing audiobooks. After prelim 2, we had lunch (provided by Catholic, and including powdered sugar cookies. Here’s a tip: if you are wearing a black suit, do not eat a powdered sugar cookie.) We spent all afternoon slowly moving our way through rounds, a little surprised every time we found out we were moving on. Then, we found out we were going to argue in the final. I was the first speaker after the bailiff announced, “Please rise, the court is now in session.”

I got it through, “May it please the court, my name is Elizabeth McIntyre,” listed the issues I’d be discussing, and reserved time for rebuttal. But then, right when I took a breath to begin the meat of my argument one of our judges interrupted me with a, “Counsel, let’s move to the weakest part of your argument.” She then preceded to point out what was, unfortunately, absolutely the weakest part of my argument. I spent half a second inwardly cursing that I was going to have to start there, another half a second cursing the lack of helpful caselaw, and then launched into, “No, Your Honor…” One of the tricks to moot court, I have learned/decided, is to not be intimidated. Don’t be an idiot by trying to convince judges of argument they are just not at all buying, but don’t cave the first time a judge challenges you. Push back. Make your case.

This case was about a qualified first amendment right of access to the termination review hearing of a state employee. I very much doubt I will ever again care about that issue. The skills moot court has taught me, however, are eminently transferrable. Those skills could still use quite a bit of refinement – I still have two volumes, loud and louder, which don’t always work well for smaller courtrooms; I am sometimes too combative or talk too fast; I don’t pause long enough before answering questions or often enough during argument, etc. But, I’ve learned how to spend the time developing the best argument I possibly can, and then having the confidence to stick to it. That, I think, is called being a lawyer.

Friday, April 4: Syrian Refugee Presentation at BU Law

From time to time, I’ve posted information on the Boston University International Human Rights Clinic’s fieldwork and research concerning Syrian refugees in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.  Now that our report is close to completion, I wanted to let everyone know about two presentations that the Clinic is hosting: one at BU Law and the other at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Our first presentation is at BU on Friday, April 4 in Rm. 920B from 10:30AM to 12:30PM.  The event is open to everyone, and we encourage you to drop by even if you are unable to attend the entire presentation.  Sarah Bidinger (2L), who recently posted about her trip to Turkey, will be discussing the research she and the Turkey team conducted in Istanbul and Ankara.  Danielle Hites (2L) will discuss her research in Jordan.  And I will be explaining our findings from the interviews that the Egypt team conducted in Cairo.  At the end of this post, I’ve included the flyer for our event, which contains further information about our presentation.

Then, on Monday, April 7 at 4PM the Clinic will be presenting our Syrian refugee report again at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Details for that presentation may be found here.

Our report addresses the situation of Syrian refugees focusing on international law and refugee law and policy in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.  During the presentation, we will highlight certain improvements that each state could make in their treatment of Syrian refugees.  The purpose behind our individual analysis of each state is to isolate harmful legal and political trends and to make broader recommendations to the international community on sharing responsibility in refugee protection.  The Clinic urges major international actors, such as the United States and Europe, to take a greater role in the protection of Syrian refugees.  With responsibility for Syrian refugees spread more evenly across the international community,  problems with detention and return of refugees in the four frontline states will hopefully diminish.

If you’re interested in refugee law or comparative and international law in general, the Clinic would welcome your attendance next Friday!  We hope to see you there!

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Transitions

I know I’ve written a lot about my involvement in the Health Law Association, but this time I’m writing about passing the torch to a new president. We recently held elections for the new board and the last task of the year is to help the new board transition into our roles.

While standing there listening to the candidates give their brief speeches, I was struck by how quickly time has passed. It seems like just yesterday that my section-mates and I eagerly attended all of the student organizations elections and watched each other get elected to various boards – committing the next year of our lives to a legal specialty, an affinity group, or student government. Even before signing up for classes (or even finishing our 1L exams), our 2L years were taking shape and we were beginning to carve out our own spaces within the school.

Now that I’m approaching the end of 2L year and helping to guide a new board into their new roles, everything has come full circle. Taking on this leadership role has led to other opportunities and other leadership roles. I’ve be able to collaborate with the leaders of other groups and meet so many interesting people through HLA events – both those affiliated with Boston University and those who work in the health law field.

Now it’s time to help the new board transition. Like the previous president did for me, I’ll pass down information about everything from financial forms to event planning to publicity tips. Next year will be slightly more difficult for the new board; since the law school is moving into a new building, there will be limited space for student groups to host events. But just as the previous president was there to talk me through our first few events, I’ll be there for the new president.

When I was on the beginner side of the transition meeting last April, my 2L year stretched out for months ahead of me and Spring 2014 seemed very far away. Hard to believe it’s here. Now that I’m on the experienced side of the meeting, I’ll remember to tell the new board to enjoy every minute of the experience;  it goes by all too quickly.

Upper Class Writing Requirement

Let me take a break from writing to do some more writing,’ I thought to myself as I settled in for my gabillionth consecutive afternoon-into-late-evening cert paper work session and opened up my blog home page instead of my saved WestLawNext research folder.

As the website reads, “BU School of Law is committed to ensuring that our students graduate with a thorough understanding and ability to conduct legal research and writing.” The work product certifying that you’ve gained these skills is known as a cert paper; ‘cert’ is also a verb in that you can “use a seminar to cert” or “really hope that your note advisor will cert you”. There are a number of ways to fulfill the requirement: writing a note for a journal, writing an independent research paper, or writing a paper for a seminar. I’ve opted for the last option and am accordingly immersed up to my eyeballs in Mental Health law… the irony of the project driving me slightly crazy is not lost on me.

My topic evolved from something I had a deep personal interest in. As I believe I’ve blogged about before, throughout law school I’ve held a part time job as a caretaker for a young woman with severe mental impairments: she is fortunate to have parents able to care for her, but I began to think about what would happen if she weren’t, prompting an examination of public guardianship and the nature of competency. I had hoped to examine if a right to treatment existed for treatments that increased competency, only to discover after consulting with a psychology research librarian at the BU undergrad Mugar library* that indeed almost nothing could increase competency in a legal sense (some treatments and services can increase function, but nurturing cognitive ability to the point of being competent to handle financial and personal affairs is a practical impossibility).

This tangent was not a total loss -although my paper has since diverged into a discussion of plenary versus limited guardianship- because it uncovered the single greatest piece of academic writing I have ever encountered. “Dolphin Assisted Therapy: Flawed Data, Flawed Conclusions,” a scathing critique of a clinical study attempting to improve the communication skills of developmentally impaired children by exposing them to dolphins which apparently, shockingly, hugely disappointingly, wasn’t all that effective.

While I am accordingly unable to make a case for the constitutional right to dolphins, I am making decent progress on wrapping up the first 30-ish page draft of the paper. Wish me luck.

*Did you know that as BU grad students we have access to virtually all the resources that the undergrads do? That is a staggering amount of resources, from subscriptions to paid databases of psychological research journals to discount movie tickets at the student union. The more you know.

 

Greetings from Beirut!

Note: This is one of several blogs on my semester long externship. I’m currently doing a Semester in Practice with Conflict Dynamics International, where I’m working on a peacemaking initiative on Syria. Check out my past blogs to get the scoop.

imageOne of the perks of my Semester in Practice program is international travel. To be honest, I just left Beirut and am now writing to you from my hotel room in Paris. So, bonjour! Right now I’m on the tail end of a 10-day trip to Beirut and Paris to meet with members of the Syrian opposition as well as those aligned with the Syrian government. Lebanon’s proximity to Syria means there is a lot of cross-border travel; currently, the UN estimates that there are around 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

In addition to the serious refugee flow, the Syrian war has spilled over into Lebanon in many other ways. In Beirut, for example, there has been a marked increase in insecurity, which has led to less tourist traffic. Perhaps for the best, our meeting schedule was so packed, I hardly left our hotel, except to attend off-site meetings and eat delicious Lebanese food (like my delicious Lebanese breakfast!).

Lebanese breakfastWe’ve heard an array of narratives so far, from activists, members of civil society, businessmen, and former government officials. All agree that the Syrians are tired of fighting and want to seek viable ways to end the war. The challenge is in how to make this operable. It seems that many have a vision of what a post-conflict Syria could look like, but few have a clear idea of how to escape the current stalemate and begin a meaningful dialogue process. This I suppose is on everyone’s mind – Syrians, US/Russian diplomats, UN officials, etc.  – and illustrates just how much work there is to do.

Surprising Skills From Law School

Time for Taxes

Once upon a time, several days before I graduate from college, I learned that I had won two awards from the Smith College Department of English for a poetry manuscript I had written as a part of an independent study project I did with poet Annie Boutelle. Professor Boutelle had encouraged me to apply for these awards, but I assumed I could not win them since I was not an English major. Imagine my surprise when my name was announced – twice – during the awards ceremony! I went over to the awards table at the end to pick up what I assumed would be some kind of plaque, and turned out to be a nice check. Imagine my surprise to learn that Smith has over  a dozen endowed poetry prizes.

At that time in my life, I knew nothing at all about taxes. I put 1/3 of the prize money away, assuming the taxes I would owe on it would be about that amount. (I didn’t even know how to figure out my marginal tax rate – ha.) When tax season came around the next year, I received a W-2 from Smith for hourly wages I had earned as a work-study participant. The prize money was not included on the W-2. I had no understanding that “income” might be reported under any other form – here, a 1099 form. When my mother’s tax accountant (who was helping me fill out my return) asked if Smith had reported the prize money I gleefully said no. I used the amount I’d saved to put down the deposit on an apartment lease in Brooklyn.

Two years later I got a letter from the IRS informing me Smith had reported the prize money and my return from that previous year were therefore incorrect. “You owe us $XXX,” the IRS told me. Oh. Crud. Since that time my tax returns have filled me with anxiety and I’ve paid $200 every year to have my tax returns prepared for me.

This year, though, with a semester of Federal Income Tax I and another 2 months of Taxation of Financial Instruments under my belt, I prepared my tax return myself for the very first time. Although I used TurboTax, which gives you a lot of guidance, I truly understood how to report my income items, look for exemptions/deductions for which I was eligible, and apply for certain tax credits. I never expected that law school would turn around how I think about taxes, but it really has. It felt great to do the return myself, and to feel confident that my return was filled out correctly. This set of skills and knowledge was not one I expected to gain going into law school, but it’s great!

Spring Break and Lists

Last year I spent my spring break in the Dominican Republic with my boyfriend. It was a relaxing, fun, warm five days.

This year, I spent my spring break sitting at my desk. As the new Senior Articles Editor for the BU Law Review, I orchestrated my first article selection process. I also worked on my Law Review note, outlined for classes, and thought about all the other things I wasn’t going to have time to do.

Throughout February, Spring Break was a mystical time-when-everything-would-get-done. Didn’t have time to do my taxes? I’d do it over spring break. Needed to get organized for the Health Law Association board transition? I’d take care of it over spring break. Write some posts for the BU Blog? Spring break. Organize my closet? Spring break.

The short version is that none of these things got done. I got through the extremely time-consuming Law Review work and managed to do a little bit of outlining.

And now that the cure-all Spring Break is over, the law school world is spinning faster than ever as we careen towards final exams.

So I come to the point of this post, which is the incredible power of the list. As I’ve taken on different roles and responsibilities throughout 2L year, adding different spheres of duties on top of classes and an externship, I’ve come to depend even more on my organizational skills. Whether it’s a list of people to email, a list of errands to run on the way home from my externship, or a list of the reading I need to do, the list is crucial.

While managing the article selection process over spring break, I learned that it’s really not productive to think about all the other things I need to do when trying to complete the task at hand. Nor is it productive to switch from task to task as I think of other things I need to do. The list allows me to just jot down a thought and stay focused on the task I’m doing, instead of flitting from thing to thing as I think of it.

When overwhelmed with a list a mile long, it’s simply a waste of time to think about the list. Maintain sanity by just doing one thing at a time, and eventually everything will  be crossed off.

 

Public Interesting

This month has been a bit of a rushed stress-fest, so in lieu of a story about law prom (which you should definitely go to, by the way!), I thought I’d offer an excerpt of an essay I recently wrote to explain my interest in public interest and pro bono work. Writing it reminded me why I’m at BU. Here you go:

As a first-year law student, I jumped into public interest work as quickly as possible. As a representative for the Law Students for Reproductive Justice, I helped organize educational events for fellow future lawyers. My most exciting work with the organization, however, is an ongoing research project. We are talking to lawyers and other advocates to gather comprehensive information on prisoners’ parental rights for the Prison Birth Project, a reproductive and criminal justice organization that recognizes the issues faced by the 85 percent of incarcerated women who also mothers. The end product, most likely an easy-to-understand set of flash cards, will be distributed to female prisoners in Massachusetts, up to 7 percent of whom are incarcerated while pregnant. Over the summer, I plan to attend the national LSRJ conference, and next year, I will serve the BU chapter as vice president.

Last semester, I volunteered to research Swedish asylum practices with a focus on the ongoing issues faced by Syrian refugees. My research assisted the Human Rights Law Society’s refugee rights project, in conjunction with the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, which focuses on international human rights law from a Palestinian perspective. It was such a privilege to be a small part of a public interest project with the potential to reach millions of desperate refugees worldwide, easing their transition to new, safe homelands.

This semester, thanks to the BU Pro Bono Program, I was selected to attend the Spring Break Service Trip to Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Portland, Maine. More than anything else in the past year, this solidified my commitment to public service and family law. Our research over one short week has amazing implications for the resolution of everyday legal challenges faced by people in Maine and nationwide. The work was invigorating, but the people of Pine Tree were an even bigger inspiration. Everyone I met cared deeply about their work, their clients, and their colleagues. Each was eager to impart as much advice and encouragement as possible. I also took the time to meet one-on-one with the family law attorneys, recent graduates whose passion for their work and wisdom beyond their years were infectious.

Law Prom (masquerade theme) counts as professional networking, right?

Law Prom (masquerade theme) counts as professional networking, right?

To bolster my future career, I have joined the ABA, Boston Bar Association (free to all BU Law students!), and National Lawyers Guild. Activities with these organizations have included workshops at the BBA, where I got a primer on the fundamentals of domestic violence law, and the NLG, where I learned how to teach communities about “street law.” What a great start to my law career, thanks in large part to the opportunities provided by BU Law and the great city of Boston!