Moot Court Fears

The Socratic method can be a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when you have lively discussion and listen to people ask questions you may also have but are too scared to articulate or cannot even form words coherently to ask. The curse is when you freeze up with anxiety or you have no idea what is going on. Even if you love the spotlight, and admittedly sometimes I do love the spotlight, being called on is not the ideal spotlight. 60+ people looking at you with a variety of expressions ranging from “you poor thing” to “OMG, did you even read the materials?”

Well, Moot Court oral arguments are sort of like that, except you are in a room with only six people, and instead of one professor grilling you, you have three “judges” (mix of students and guests) staring at you. If you want to be a litigator or prosecutor, you’ll find Moot Court quite helpful because it does require thinking on your feet, being prepared for questions about your issues, and composure. If you are like me and you will avoid the courtroom like the plague, it is not so much a fun experience.

A large portion of Moot Court is the time and the unknown factor. You may receive a panel of judges who hardly ask any questions (this is known as a “cold” bench) or you will receive a panel like mine, and it is a “hot” bench. A hot bench means the judges fire questions rapidly at you and do not give you an opportunity to actually just spit out your argument and sit down. It is pretty scary. You are standing for a full 15 minutes and being grilled, but once it is over, it is not the worst experience. You build it up in your head to be so much more stressful than it really is.

My biggest piece of advice (now that I am on the other side and much wiser for it) is to relinquish the fear of “sounding stupid” and looking foolish. Feel free to apply that advice to not just Moot Court but also the Socratic method. See what I did there? There is a method to my madness. Law school is really about being brave enough to be wrong and sound wrong because you need to understand how you are wrong in order to learn more about yourself and the subjects. When you relinquish this fear of looking foolish or sounding dumb, you can focus on figuring out the material and how to tackle it.

Judge Denise Casper’s Tips for Law Students

Recently, I’ve had a chance to work with the Law School’s marketing staff to produce some articles for the main school website. It’s a win-win: The school gets coverage of its events; I get to attend the events and get paid. Any extra money helps during law school, of course, but I honestly enjoy attending these events and learning more about the legal profession.

The student organizations at BU Law bring in panels and individual speakers an average of twice a week, I would guess. I’ve seen some excellent presentations by leaders in their field, both scholars and practicing attorneys. The events the law school puts on are equally likely to be entertaining and educational.

My final big event of the year was part of the James N. Esdaile Jr. Lecture Series. While I’m sure the Hon. Denise J. Casper of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts would have been an interesting speaker on any number of subjects, I appreciated that she chose to focus on her advice to law students and young lawyers.

Judge Denise J. Casper (Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe image labelled for reuse)

We get so much “career advice” in law school that it has started to run together. I chose, however, to listen to Judge Casper with an open mind, and I’m glad I did. My personal takeaways from her presentation were:

  • Be the type of lawyer who chooses wisely at the outset: Go for “zealous advocacy” when appropriate, even disagreement with the court, but also know when you don’t know something.
  • Remember that your reputation will be set early and that it will stick with you.
  • Don’t restrict yourself to your office–get to know other lawyers and join professional organizations.
  • Keep the idea that you’ll likely change jobs at least once in mind. Diversify your education.
  • Advocate for well-funded courts and representation for indigent individuals.
  • Look for good mentors and keep those relationships strong.
  • Balance work and life for better perspective on both.

It’s encouraging to hear that the things I see as important are also important to a successful judge. It gives me hope as I put my first year of legal education to rest that I might even be on something of the right track!

Read the full story on the lecture here.

Spring is finally coming to BU. Flowers bloom and grass gets green on the last day of classes!

Spring is finally coming to BU. Flowers bloom and grass gets green on the last day of classes!

Collecting Advice

Last week I had my last corporations class, my last administrative law class, and the last day of my externship. At the end of each of my classes – like in years past – the professor took a moment to impart a little advice. Some of the advice was specific to law school exams but much of it was general career advice: things they wish they had known, things that we should keep in mind as we strive to find the job/specialty that is right for us, and some comments about the legal job market.

Though some of the advice is frustrating (“law school exams don’t reflect what you need to know to be a good lawyer” – thanks a lot), I appreciate these brief insights from professors. I’m sure they say similar things to their classes every year, but I believe it is genuine each time. They truly do want us to succeed and are happy to send us to the next phase of our education/career with a few gems of advice.

During the last day of my externship, my supervisors took me out to lunch. As the lunch ended, more welcome advice: how to best position yourself at a law firm, a comparison of different types of jobs they have held within the legal field, and wise words about the reality of being a female litigator (and about being a mom and a litigator).

I pay close attention when these words are spoken, and truly appreciate them. But then it’s off to the next thing – taking the T back to campus, or settling down in the library to finish my outline, and the advice is only as good as my memory. Will I remember my supervisor’s recommendations about which government agencies are the best to work for if, someday in the future, I want to apply to work at a government agency?

So, from now on, I’m going to take a moment to write down any pieces of advice that really resonate with me. And if I could go back in time, I’d start this project at the beginning of law school. Whether it’s school-specific or about your broader legal career, there will be many people – professors, supervisors, mentors, older students – who offer excellent tidbits of information. You will recognize it and try to commit it to memory in the moment, but if you have the foresight to jot it down you’ll soon build up a resource to turn to when you’re gearing up for the next semester or next career move.

Journal Community

Exams are fast approaching, but the 1Ls won’t be done with the semester after time is called on their last exam. After that last exam comes only a brief respite, followed by the (in)famous 1L Writing Competition.

In preparation, the current 1Ls are – as I was last year – starting to think about which journal might be the best fit for them, their legal interests, and their contemplated career path.

But no matter which journal you join, you’ll be doing mostly the same things: gathering sources and checking citations in articles, and working on your Student Note. And, no matter which journal you join, you’ll be entering a new community.

Joining a journal means joining a group of 2Ls and 3Ls all working toward the common goal of creating quality publications. The number of books you will help publish depends on which journal you join – each has a different schedule – but each repeated publication process brings you closer to your peers as you work to bring articles up to publishable quality.

Sometimes this camaraderie means commiserating about the terrible quality of the citations that you have been tasked with fixing or the looming deadline for a draft of your Student Note. But other times the camaraderie manifests itself in more positive ways like hanging out in the journal office and attending journal social events together. Some journals even make t-shirts, or take professional group pictures (yes, very high school).

While you spend your 1L year with your section, this section community disappears during 2L year. For me, the journal community has come to take its place. Through the Law Review community I’ve become friends with students in my own class who I never even met during 1L year. I’ve gotten to know the 3Ls too – not only are they great leaders for the journal, but they’re a great source of advice, mentorship, and support.

In a previous post, I mentioned my new role as Senior Articles Editor of the BU Law Review. I hope to use my role to cultivate that sense of community I have enjoyed so much. Commiserating over the challenges of publishing is inevitable, but I hope that our class will be as welcoming and positive towards our new journal members next year as this year’s 3L class was to us!

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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