Judicial Writing at BU Law

Legal research and writing may not be everyone’s favorite aspect of law school, but no one can deny its importance.  No matter where you end up after graduation, clear and concise writing will make you a more productive and efficient advocate.  As a 1L, I loved my writing class.  The simple, repetitive IRAC structure that bored so many to tears was, for me, one of the only things in law school that made any sense.  For this reason, I chose to continue my writing education in BU’s Judicial Writing Seminar, a two-credit course regularly offered in the spring semester.

First off, the seminar makes it easier to read opinions.  In the first year of law school, students don’t have much of an introduction to how judges write.  Many judges recognize this, and strive to produce more understandable opinions for the benefit of the less-experienced reader.  Others, however, don’t.  In class, we dissect the components of a legal opinion piece-by-piece to learn the best methods for conveying complex information.  For one of our assignments, we took what was perhaps the worst opinion ever written and rewrote it in its entirety.  This has made for much quicker reading of opinions and enhanced retention of important legal concepts.  In a sea of uncertain doctrine and big meaningless words, the Judicial Writing Seminar provides stress-reducing structure and clarity.

While the 1L writing seminar is intense and comprehensive, there is always more you can do to improve your legal writing.   To this end, the seminar involves two major assignments: a majority and a dissenting opinion.  These and other weekly writing assignments provide an excellent opportunity to incorporate the techniques learned in the 1L seminar into a different type of legal writing.   The seminar develops flexibility in your writing allowing you to tackle issues not only from a lawyer’s perspective, but from a judge’s who must make a decision only after considering all the relevant sides of the case.

Finally, if you aspire to be a judicial clerk or to do a little judging yourself, the seminar is a great way to work toward that goal.  While grades are important to judges in assessing clerkship applications, nothing is more important than good legal writing.  The Judicial Writing Seminar is another one those small, but great courses that BU offers to its students.  If you are looking to continue developing your legal writing skills, I highly recommend it!

Winter Wonderland

Since friends and family knew I was moving to Boston, everyone has warned me of the dreaded winters and nor’easters. I’ve been waiting hesitantly since December for a great storm and several feet of snow with harsh and bitter cold. Thus far, it has been a fairly mild winter in my book. Keep in mind, everyone has built up the New England winters into this monster, and I am unsure if I have mentally prepared for such monstrosity or I, myself, built it up to something more than it would be.

We have had a few fairly mild snowstorms and one snow day thus far, but nothing like the warnings people gave. Regardless of its harshness, I do not dislike the winters here. Yes, there can be days so cold your face just hurts from being outside and the leggings and layers do nothing to help, but I am a southern gal through and through so seeing the snow is quite amusing. My amusement and wonderment has been amplified by my two best friends in law school who are also from areas with no snow and my best friend from Atlanta visited this past weekend.

We are amazed by the Boston Common frog pond for ice skating, the frozen pond where the swan boats usually are seen where you can actually walk onto it, and the feet of snow. For those who have never lived through such winter, here are pictures of my adventures in the winter wonderland!

Feat feetWe are standing on a frozen pond in Boston Common. Clearly we are not the first individuals to try this. My best friend and I are amazed by our feet on water and the feat.

Below are pictures of ice skating on the frog pond in Boston Common, Capital building, and trees in Boston common.

WW Frog Pond

WW Capital

WW Boston Common

 

Hopefully despite the cold, you have been able to get out and walk around to enjoy the snow. I know I have. Two Georgia girls amazed at standing on frozen water tells you there is quite a bit of wonder in the world.

Happy Winter Wonderland!

“A mind, once expanded by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions”

Two things you’ll get a lot of in law school: Oliver Wendell Holmes (the title of this post may be cheating — it comes from the senior Holmes, rather than the opining junior, of Supreme Courts of yore) and new experiences.

This week brought one of my favorite mind-expanding undertakings to date. It’s not an experience I can guarantee that you’ll have during your law school career, but if you get the chance, you should jump on it.

My constitutional law professor invited our whole class to join her for a night at the opera. As she reminded us, BU Fine Arts performances are free to BU students all the time, but few of my classmates have made the time to visit amid so many hours of study.

The night’s show was delightful, a production of Daniel Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” by the Boston University College of Fine Arts
School of Music Opera Institute and School of Theatre. While the show was enjoyable from beginning to end, the beautiful music and the supporting performance of soprano Katrina Galka were the highlights.

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to being such a dilettante, but this was my first visit to any sort of opera. I’ve seen a few on PBS, so I knew more or less what to expect. The fact that this opera was in Spanish, which I studied in high school, helped, as did knowing that many of my peers were just as inexperienced as me. Any insecurities or uncertainties faded once we were all lost in the opera.

We came, we saw, we enjoyed ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, we did a little of that mind-expanding that we came to law school for, albeit in an unforeseen direction. Thankfully, we have the rest of our lives for cultural enrichment; at the end of the night, our minds were back to moot court.

“Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.”

― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Use Your Peers

Last year, I didn’t take advantage of having a student advisor as much as I should have. I’m not sure why a lot of 1Ls are hesitant to reach out to their advisor for help; I guess I didn’t really think of my advisor as a resource at the time.  Now that I am a 1L advisor, I have a new perspective. Yes, I failed to use my upper-class mentor as a resource, but this blog post is meant to encourage new students to avoid making the same mistake!

Each year, rising 2Ls apply to be student advisors. We go through a brief training process and are given a multitude of resources for advising and assisting our group of three to four 1Ls. Not that many issues have come up in my group of 1Ls this year, but I feel like I have many people to turn to – student advisor program coordinators and Student Affairs Office personnel – if there was a larger issue I could not handle on my own.

Besides this training period and the “meet your 1Ls” kick-off event, there are no mandatory activities. We are given some funds for a lunch out with our group and given the instructions to keep in contact. Other than that, advisors are left to support their 1Ls on their own schedule.

Last year, I don’t think I once reached out to my student advisor with a question. She was a very nice person and I’m sure that she would have helped me with anything I’d asked for; but I didn’t ask.

This year, I am making an effort to regularly send my 1Ls an email about things going on in the tower, along with an invitation to ask questions. Of course I don’t want to flood them with emails every week, but I want to make sure that they are comfortable approaching me with questions. And I wish they would! I’ve gotten a few questions here and there (better than my own track record last year) but I’m always encouraging them to talk to me about class, job searches, and extracurricular activities.

I guess it’s a good thing that none of them are struggling too much, and that they are confident enough in their classes/job hunts/activities to not look for advice. But I can’t help but think that they would benefit from asking more questions, just as I would have benefited from the same thing last year. Law school is such a steep learning curve – you know infinitely more about your environment in September of 2L year than you did September of 1L year; not to mention the real-world contacts and connections that rising 2Ls usually make during their summer internship. This alone is enough to encourage interaction between 1Ls and 2Ls.

And maybe it doesn’t need to be your student advisor that you turn to; now that I look back, I had several different upper-class friends and mentors that I turned to for specific advice. Student advisors are not matched to 1Ls based on interests, so maybe it turns out that you go to other 2Ls for advice about a specific career path or specific activity. But the point is to cultivate relationships with 2Ls and 3Ls – your peers are, and will continue to be, invaluable resources as you advance your legal career.

Let it Snow

 

thX59TNWU9We’ve already had our share of snow days this semester. Some winter storms have moved through New England that have shut down schools across the region. With as much as it’s been snowing, I’ve started to realize that the winter season reminds me of law school.

As a Floridian I had to learn how to deal with the winter weather when I moved here. As a law student you have to learn how to deal with adversity. Sometimes it snows all day, and you’ve got to make your way through the wind, ice, and slush to get where you need to go. Eventually the snow will melt, though, making things much easier to handle. There will be times when things get hard in school, but there will also be time to relax once the work is done.

You can’t let the cold freeze you in place. In order to keep moving forward, you have to do what is necessary to be able to withstand whatever is thrown at you. By knowing what’s ahead of you and preparing for it, you’ll find that there is nothing that can stop you.

 

‘So proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning’

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Bareheaded,
Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle

– Carl Sandburg, from “Chicago”

This weekend, I attempted to channel some of this fierceness, humor, and spirit. I didn’t butcher any hogs or handle any freight (read the rest of that poem – it’s great!), but I did negotiate with some formidable opponents in Chicago at the ABA National Negotiation Competition. My partner and I, with the help of our amazing student coaches, advocated our way to the top 16 teams in the nation.

Our journey to nationals started about 5 months ago at Boston University’s student competition. The directors recruit alumni and instructors to judge a school-wide tournament based on some tricky hypothetical scenarios. In the BU championship round, we faced off against some second-year students (repeat competitors, with polish and lots of skill), in a dim and acoustically challenging faculty lounge with six judges analyzing our every move.

Our technique was sloppy, our panic palpable, but we powered through. I smiled nervously the entire time, and said “um” far too much. Apparently, I came across as smug, which shocked me. We got what we wanted from our opponents and then some. Both teams were bound for the regional competition–and lots of practice in the meantime.

BU’s region spans eastern Canada and New England, and the teams that reached the regional at New England Law were universally impressive. Many were formulaic, others were aggressive or overly apologetic. Gimmicks and linguistic tricks were on the table, and every slip was a chance to seize an advantage. We relied on our tried-and-true model: I laid out the facts and rejected offers; my partner justified and explained, and kept us on track. We moved on to the regional final and had our best performance yet, to win a spot at nationals.

After the competition, I managed to get in a little bit of tourism

After the competition, I managed to get in a little bit of tourism

The ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago also hosted the national competition. Our preparation was brief and intense, and once again, we only faced upper-level students. Our first round was so sweet my teeth hurt afterward; our second round was so jumbled that I couldn’t tell my left hand from my right. We found out we had advanced to the top 16 teams and would have one more chance.

As we read the scenario for the round, we both cheered up. It was full of obfuscating acronyms, goofy characters, and outrageous demands, as usual. This time, though, we were interested in the real-world problem, and we believed in our “client” more than any other imaginary client. In the negotiating room, everything clicked! Our opponents spent an incredible amount of our limited time derailing us with irrelevant issues, and in the end, they pretended we hadn’t come to an agreement at all. But we both felt great about our own performance.

There was no expectation of reaching the final four and winning the national competition, but it didn’t matter anymore. We got our high-note ending; we had done our best.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s in it for you? I asked myself that more than a few times during moments of anxiety and intense studying squeezed in around negotiation events. I gained a few irreplaceable benefits, and you can count on all of these, as well, no matter how far you go in this competition:

  • Self-Awareness: A major component of competition at every level, the self-critique encourages you to parse where you fell short and succeeded–but most importantly, you have to recognize your flaws. What shocked me, however, were the issues that judges noticed that never occurred to me, like my nervous smile coming across as smug. I have reined in my expressiveness and slooooowed down my speaking style. I’m still an interrupter, but that’s my next battle.
  • Confidence: Interactions are all going to be smoother now. I don’t second-guess myself or couch my language in overly soft terms in situations where I used to be much shier about asserting my needs or advocating for what’s right.
  • A resume boost? I already have a summer position, but I figure it can’t hurt to say I’m a “national finalist” in anything.
  • Negotiation skills: Obviously. More importantly, I know what I still need to learn. And I know how to pick my battles.

The Health Law Association’s Annual Firm Visit: Holland & Knight

Last Thursday evening marked the culmination of my largest responsibility as the Networking Director for BU’s Health Law Association (HLA) – our annual firm visit. This year I arranged for us to visit Holland & Knight, which is known in part for its large and diverse health law practice. I felt a lot of pressure all year to find a firm that was willing to host us and get everything set up, so I’m really glad it finally happened. Marissa Urban, a BUSL alum at Holland and Knight, was really generous with her time and helpful in getting this event put together – many thanks to Marissa!

Our visit to Holland and Knight included a panel of 3 associates and 3 partners, moderated by Marissa. About 18 students attended. We got to submit our questions for the panel a few days ahead of time. While we heard a lot of great information about attorneys’ favorite cases and how they started their careers (as you normally would in a panel,) this format had a special focus. We heard about an example of a health law pro bono case, and about what issues are commonly litigated in health law right now. This was a great introduction to both the firm and the field.

I also liked this format because it was a great way to ask some questions students might like to ask but would feel hesitant to ask in one-on-one interview. My favorite question to hear answered was: ‘what should an associate do to recover if they make a mistake’? This is a question that would be too risky to ask in an interview, because it might make the wrong impression. The answer is critical, though, as we student lawyers are bound to make errors as we learn new materials.  Happily, two senior associates who often manage young attorneys had great answers. They told us that if a mistake is small and you can quickly fix it yourself, like a spelling error or a mistake in a citation, you should fix it right away and then hand in the corrected version to your project supervisor. If you make a mistake that you can’t fix alone and quickly, you should bring it to your supervisor’s attention as soon as you notice it. “Be honest and apologize,” the associates told us, “we’ve all been there and even though we may get frustrated, we remember what it is like.” I found this answer constructive and reassuring.

Our evening wrapped up with the opportunity to network with the attorneys in the health law practice group at Holland and Knight, as well as Bronagh Fay, who is in charge of Attorney Recruitment at the firm. One thing that was really nice about visiting the firm was that it was easy for attorneys who would have been too busy to come to an event at BU to attend, even if for a short time. We all got to meet a lot of friendly, helpful attorneys. If you’re reading this and you attended I can’t recommend enough that you follow up with your new contacts!

My final note about this experience is that it is illustrative of how extra-curricular participation can be a great opportunity in more ways than one. As Networking Director for HLA, I’ve had one-on-one emails, phone conversations, and/or face to face meetings with roughly 30 BUSL alumni working both in health law, and in related fields, simply due to the responsibilities of my position. I get to put this position on my resume and it was also a wonderful opportunity for me personally. Working with HLA this semester has been really, really worth my while.

Apartment Hunting!

When I was accepted to BU Law, I was lucky enough to receive a one-year housing subsidy as part of my academic scholarship – but in order to get the money I had to live on the Boston University campus.

I have to admit – the thought of living in university housing didn’t thrill me. But despite my visions (nightmares) of winding up in an undergrad dorm, the subsidy was too good to pass up and I set up an appointment with the BU Office of Rental Property Management.  Though the first two apartments I saw were less than impressive (a basement with tiny high windows followed by a nondescript studio in a building right next to the T tracks that shook when the trains went by), the third one turned out to be the place I’ve lived for about a year and a half.

It is a studio, but it’s big; it’s in a large building with all graduate students, but it’s mostly quiet. The best part is that it takes me about seven minutes to walk to the law tower. No public transportation necessary! The location is really the reason why I stayed here for 2L year; not only is it very close to school, but it’s close to stops on both the C and D lines too – lots of options when coming back out here from downtown.

So now it’s kind of bittersweet that I’ll be moving in a couple months! Though it’s been a great little studio for the first half of law school, my boyfriend is moving up to Boston and we’ll be getting a place together.

We’ve started our apartment search, and I have to say that it’s a bit overwhelming to find an apartment when you’re not constrained to staying on the BU campus! I have been spoiled by such a convenient location and such a short walk to school – pretty much everything we are looking at is further away. And there’s also the consideration of neighborhood: do we want to be in Allston, where our money will probably go a bit further? In Coolidge Corner (my personal favorite)? In Fenway (my boyfriend’s ideal spot)? How far am I willing to walk to school in the middle of winter? How long of a commute to his job downtown is my boyfriend willing to deal with? And that’s not even considering parking, laundry in the building, a kitchen with enough counter space, and other essentials.

But on the other hand, it’s a fun process. I love looking at apartments and exploring different neighborhoods around BU. When I first moved here, my search was constrained but I wound up with a great place. Now, with lots of options to choose from, I’m sure we’ll find something even better!

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

If you’re coming to Boston from somewhere else, (especially somewhere warm,) you might be curious about what the weather is like here in Boston. This fall and winter have been pretty odd – it was so warm through most of December, but then we had some very cold spells and on-and-off snow. We’re looking at another snowstorm tomorrow morning and all of our eyes on the lookout for an announcement as to whether school will be cancelled or delayed tomorrow.

As a lifelong northerner (I grew up in northern Vermont, another 2.5 hours north of Boston,) snow, cold spells, and long, dark nights seem normal to me in the winter. To get another perspective, I talked my fellow 2L Anda Lopazan, who spent her early childhood in Romania and then moved to the southern U.S.. Even though she’d seen snow before in Romania, Anda told me she had to buy a few key things to move back into a northern clime. I wasn’t surprised at all when she told me she had to buy snow boots with good tread and a heavy ski jacket, but I was surprised when she told me she had to buy a lot of socks. (I myself own about a dozen pairs of Smartwool and Carhartt wool socks, plus athletic socks and business socks. I did not even think about that.)

Anda told me the snow didn’t surprise her, but the wind was pretty shocking. She said her sense of what a cold day is has changed a lot: before, 40 degrees felt freezing, at this point of the year it feels great. This doesn’t surprise me, either – I think anyone who lives in a northern climate re-adjusts to colder and hotter temperatures as the seasons change.

Boston University and the city of Boston seem to deal with poor weather pretty well. So far, we seem to consistently have a few school days per semester cancelled due to bad weather. Typically the first of those cancellations is “built in” to the schedule and does not need to be made up – the rest require make up classes. If the T won’t be running, or it will be too hard for students & staff coming in from the suburbs to make it to school, you can bet that school will at least have a delayed opening to let the snow plows and sand trucks tackle the roads in the morning.

If you’re not used to cold weather, know that dressing properly can alleviate most of your discomfort. As Anda mentioned, waterproof boots with good tread and a good snow jacket are key. I also love Yaktrax and other like products for walking on ice, as well as the multi-tasking wool Buff to keep my face, ears, and neck warm no matter what. Products like Dermatone can protect your skin against chapping and sunburn. Remember that your choice of materials is key – materials like cotton and down will only make you colder once they get wet. Make sure to stock up on clothes (long underwear, tights, socks, sweaters…) made with wool, fleece, or synthetic materials designed to keep you warm even when they’re soaking.

The following pictures of Anda and I on our last snow day illustrate some ways of bundling up:

Anda ColdDee Cold 1Dee cold 2

Finally, some people find that adjusting to living up north can be a struggle in December and January when the days are very short. It can be a real bummer to get up at 8am to darkness, then leave school at 4pm to more darkness. Some people find themselves more tired, grouchy, or depressed in this weather. My boyfriend, Rob, finds the darkness really unpleasant and swears by sun-lamp therapy. Rob wakes up every morning to a sunrise alarm, which essentially creates a fake sunrise to gradually wake you. Rob then stares into a sun-lamp for 5-20 minutes, which he says makes him feel awake and alert no matter the weather outside.  In addition, we both use software like f.lux on our computers and phones to minimize the insomnia-producing effects of staring at a bluish computer screen near bedtime. If you try sun lamp therapy and still feel blue in the winter, the student health center and mental health center at BU can always give you more advice.

 

Semester-In-Practice with Reprieve in London: International Human Rights Law Opportunities at BU

My name is Genevie Gold, and I am a 3L at Boston University School of Law.  I am borrowing this blog space courtesy of Aaron Lang (thanks Aaron!) to tell you a little bit about my past semester in London working at a non-profit called Reprieve. In particular, I want to share with you how my time across the pond brought me full circle back to my past two and a half years at 765 Commonwealth Ave.  (And I also talk about tea.)

First a bit about me. After working with the Quakers in Cambridge, MA and government reformers in Washington D.C., I started at Boston University School of Law in 2011, keen on integrating my interest in in international law and social justice with a future career in law.  Throughout my time at BU I have been able to do just this. Highlights include, working in Kansas City with a BU alum at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic during 1L year, and spending my 2L year working with what was then called the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic (I am happy to report that since then the program has expanded and is now two clinics, the Immigration Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic).

In fact, I first learned about Reprieve during my time at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic. Reprieve regularly sends UK interns to work on cases of EU nationals on death row in the United States, and is known in the death row community in the States.  I saw Reprieve as a good intersection of my growing interest in the US criminal justice system with my long-time passion for international issues.  After getting guidance from Boston University Professor Susan Akram, who has worked extensively in the human rights field, I decided to go as part of Boston University’s Semester-In-Practice Program.

Let me tell you a little bit about Reprieve.  A London-based organization started in 1999 by Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve was formed in connection with Smith’s work representing British nationals on death row in US courts.  Today, it assists EU nationals on death row worldwide, and represents clients who have experienced abuses in counter-terrorism (including Guantanamo Bay detainees who languish in the center despite being cleared years ago, and victims of extraordinary rendition and torture).  The red thread that ties its work together is its mission to protect the rights of the most vulnerable prisoners.  This summary is admittedly missing a lot (including, how Reprieve has become one of the leading organizations in working at the frontier of human rights work related to the “global war on terror”). However, I hope this short description give you an idea of where I found myself when I started working there in September.

During my semester, I gained insight into the unique legal world of representing Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how courts of justice are used to sway the “courts of public opinion” (i.e. strategic litigation).  To give you a sense of what I did (within the bounds of confidentiality) my work ranged from crafting persuasive pieces to state officials on issues of international law to investigative work testing potential theories on cases which involved events and people across the world.  And I learned how to make tea for an office of solicitors.

I don’t have the space (and do not want to be greedy with your attention) to walk through all of my experiences. In fact, given Reprieve’s mission it not hard to expect that my months were full of many and new insights and learning moments (including how to properly make tea).   However, I will share one thing that was unexpected.  In many of these experiences, I recognized the previous work of my past two years at BU Law. For example, in crafting case theories I used my experience at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic and my work in the Asylum Clinic where I created chronologies and witness affidavits to clarify what happened and what was relevant to the court.  In spite of the novelty of my tasks, I continuously had a background to pull from, which allowed me to be a valuable addition to the team and mission.

I will leave you with a fun example of this. During my time in London, I met with a former visiting professor at BU, Oxford Professor Hugh Collins.  Professor Collins shared with me how he had witnessed his scholarship become accepted, albeit slowly, by judges.  And I understood what he meant.   During my time with the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic I had contributed to a project associated with the work of Prof. Akram who has, along with other legal scholars, argued for a harmonized approach to interpreting Article 1D of the Refugee Convention of 1951.  From this experience, I had seen how the work of Professor Akram, which spanned over a decade, was beginning to gestate in the legal field. I knew exactly what Prof. Collins meant, and was delighted to relate to the world of someone who was in an academic post first held by Sir Blackstone himself!

My time in London was an invaluable opportunity.  Looking back makes me appreciate how this experience was built squarely upon my previous years at BU.  And as I march happily towards graduation this semester, I am grateful to be able to use these experiences as part of the foundation of my legal career.

Plus, did I mention that I can now make a serious cup of tea?