Dear 1Ls

Dear 1Ls,

It’s almost November. I have no doubt most of you are beginning to feel the acidic feeling of panic in your throat every morning when you wake up. I am here with a  message for you: you are not alone, and you are going to be okay.

You know why 1L year is more nerve-wracking than the other years of law school? In my opinion, it is mainly the fear of the unknown, coupled with the pressure to succeed in the first year that is imposed by the legal recruiting schedule, that makes 1L so stressful. Here’s the thing though – here’s the thing - everyone feels like this. Even the ones that were paralegals, yes. Even the ones that are going into IP practice, yes.

Law school can be very isolating. You have to study, and that includes many hours of reading books and writing outlines, all of which you must do yourself. I think this isolation only amplifies the feelings of fear and stress that so often accompany the first semester of 1L year.

I know that there is a culture in law school of keeping quiet – we do not talk about our grades at all in law school. When it comes to jobs and internships, we speak mostly privately with our trusted friends. This derives, I think, from a culture of sensitivity to others’ private pains that come from disappointment about grades that did not meet our type-A expectations, or jobs we wanted that we did not get. Though this hush can feel a bit oppressive at times, I think you’ll find that if you make a few very close friends, you can discuss these sensitive subjects privately, and this will satisfy your desires to celebrate or commiserate.

Here’s my punchline, dear 1Ls: now is not the time to stay silent and alone. This very year is the time that you should reach out to your classmates! Want to know the best way to figure out if you’re understanding the course material? Create a study group among a few people you like – promise each other to be supportive and positive – and you will find, by completing practice exercises with your peers, that you can come to understand what aspects of your classes you already understand and what aspects you need to spend more time on. You will feel so relieved to find that, for the most part, your peers are very near where you are in your understanding of the material. Together you can come to understand more, as you help each other fill in the blanks. My friends from my 1L study group (which we named “the LOL study group” after Professor Hylton shortened “loss of enjoyment of life” to LOL in torts class one day,) are three of my very best friends now. They will be for the rest of my life.

Trust a few people. Commiserate together and work together. You will learn from each other while at the same time, you all help each other relieve the fear that comes from being alone and not knowing. Then, you will celebrate together just as we did at the end of our first semester:

The original LOL study group at  our first post-exams bar review, December 2012.

The original LOL study group at our first post-exams bar review, December 2012.

Finally, I want to remind you that there are so many people here that can help you through this difficult time. BU’s behavioral health services can speak to you if you’re feeling overly stressed and want some tips on reducing that stress. If you want to talk to a friendly 3L about one of your classes, finding a summer job, etc., I am happy to speak with you. Just leave a comment on this blog with your bu email address (I have to approve them before publication, so your comment can only be seen by we BU law bloggers,) and I will email you back. We can have coffee.

With great sympathy and encouragement,

Dee.

Trial Advocacy: Great Class, or Greatest Class?

Some people come to law school knowing what they want to do with their JD: maybe further a lifelong interest in public service, maybe they knew that their math degree would be an asset to a tax law career. All I knew for sure was what I was not going to do: talk in front of people. I was all about transactional practice, no litigation for me thanks. At 5’1″, naturally soft spoken and with a NYC-paced speech pattern if not actual accent (which is exceedingly odd that I picked up during my childhood in suburban Philadelphia but that’s neither here nor there), public speaking was an uphill battle I had no inclination to fight.

In a way I was glad that BU requires 1L participation in the Moot Court competition, because I knew that it was a valuable experience and knew with an equal certainty that I would never elect to do it voluntarily. The feedback I received from the judges was predominantly along the lines of “What we heard of your argument was really good, but… we couldn’t hear most of it.” This simply wasn’t going to do. Maybe I’d never be up in front of a courtroom, but I’d certainly have to speak to conference rooms and other assemblages. I should work on this.

I decided to take Trial Advocacy solely for the experience of forcing myself to speak in front of a class every week for a semester. It was the scariest thing I could thing of, which is why I knew it was so important that I do it.

It was scary, and a good deal of preparation was required every week… but it was also way more fun than I anticipated, from “witnesses” (i.e. fellow students) who got the giggles to not being entirely sure what you were objecting to but just having the sense that it was appropriate and justifying your outburst as you went along. The instructor, a federal district court judge, told me that although I definitely had to get my pacing under control, he’d seen being softer-spoken serve as a tremendous asset in his courtroom (especially during longer litigation when a jury could easily tire of too much bluster and gusto).

The course culminated in a full scale trial in the judge’s courtroom, giving us the actual experience of standing up in district court to address a jury (comprised of my sister and friends and relatives of my co-counsel and opposing counsel), cross-examining a witness (a friend bribed into participation with a bottle of wine), the works. And while it was terrifying, it was also an incredibly exhilarating experience. While there’s still a lot I’m interested in in other forms of legal practice, now I’m not so sure about a transactional-only career trajectory after all.

Life After OCI

“OCI” is “On Campus Interviews,” and there are also “Off Campus Interviews.” The Career Development Office (CDO) invites several firms to select from applications you submit online through Simplicity. You will be asked to submit your application and wait to find out if you are selected. Based on which firms pick you, you will find out which days you will need to show up for the on campus interview. The interviews are approximately twenty minutes and are back-to-back with a break for lunch. The CDO sends more detailed information as OCI nears, and your upperclassmen are always available to provide more information.

Overall, OCI is a nerve-wracking experience and not everyone receives an offer for a position through it. A large portion of my class participated in OCI even if many of them were unsure if they wanted to try the big law route, but only a smaller percentage of my class actually received offers. I recommend you try to make the process as painless as possible by understanding there is life after OCI.

By the time callbacks and offers finalized, 2L fall semester picks up speed, and I hit the ground running. Somehow between classes, journal assignments, note research, and affinity group events, I squeeze in time for job applications and interviews. There are times I am quite overwhelmed, but the two things I do to keep my sanity are (1) schedule priorities and (2) take a deep breath and focus on one thing at time.

Firstly, schedule priorities literally means to  schedule into my calendar everything and anything I need to do so I can see it clearly in my calendar and budget my time. This method helps keep me focused on the task at hand and ensure I don’t outright forget to do something. Time is important in law school and if you don’t manage it strictly, it disappears quickly. For instance, I normally schedule a time in my calendar to remind me to print my notes for one of my classes where we are not allowed laptops. I forgot to input a reminder to print my notes, and sure enough, I showed up to class without my briefs. Oh, the horror! Luckily, the professor gives us a ten-minute break during class during which I ran to print my notes. As you can see, a busy schedule means small things fall through the cracks.

Secondly, I do not let the list overwhelm me. I simply review my day, take a deep breath, and focus on one thing at a time. Sometimes we forget that we can only do our best. There are only so many hours in the day and so many things you can do before you run out of steam or need to rest. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting yourself is bound to make you feel more rundown than you are and you won’t perform as well as you can. When scheduling my day, I make sure to schedule realistically and in order of priority. I am guilty of always trying to do too much at once, and if I realistically plan for one class, I accomplish as much as I can before moving onto the next task.

Finally, once you handle your schedule and already full plate, you schedule time to apply for jobs and interviews. Yes, there are job opportunities outside of OCI, and yes, you will find something. Keep an open mind because law school is a process constantly shaping and molding you.

The Rules of Health Law

I’ve had the opportunity to gain a great deal of practical skills during my time in law school.  I took a course on contract drafting, where I learned to review, edit, and write a variety of agreements. I did a health law externship, which allowed me to spend time outside of the school and gain experience dealing with legal issues related to clinical research, drug development, and conflicts of interest. This semester I decided to take a class that combines my interests in health law and administrative law. A class that has never been offered before. A class known as Administrative Rule Making in Health Law.

This was my first course with Professor Kevin Outterson, who teaches health law and corporate law here. I have taken many seminars at BU Law, but not one like this. Professor Outterson structures the course like a clinic, allowing us to participate in an agency’s rule making process directly. We get to choose an agency and a rule that is related to health law and open for comment. We then take a stance on the rule that has been proposed and write a comment to the agency advocating our position regarding how the final rule should look. Professor Outterson provides feedback and advice throughout the course to help make our comments more effective, but in the end it is our name on the comments that will be submitted and read by the agencies.

I chose the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, otherwise known as CMS, as my agency. The Proposed Rule I chose to comment on was on that related to the coverage of preventive services under the Affordable Care Act. I wrote my note for the American Journal of Law & Medicine on the cases leading up to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, which was decided by the Supreme Court this summer. This rule was a response to the Court’s ruling and proposed to change the definition of an “eligible organization” that could receive an accommodation instead of being required to provide contraceptive coverage to which it religiously objected. I felt the need to comment on this rule to make sure the regulations stayed true to the Court’s reasoning in Hobby Lobby and made sure the definition remained narrow.

Writing the comment involved plenty of research. I read through many articles and treatises on corporate law, especially the law related to close corporations. The Proposed Rule sought to add a “closely held for-profit corporation” to the definition of an “eligible organization,” so I included precedent from state and federal law as well as data from studies to support the idea that such a corporation should have a limited number of shareholders.

Professor Outterson was a great resource for both the health law and corporate law components of my comment. He suggested sources to find and read, helped me to refine the thoughts I had on different parts of the rule, and guided me in writing a comment that an agency would not only be forced to respond to, but one they would be interested in reading. By taking a clear position and providing support for that position, I was able to write and submit a comment I was proud of. I look forward to seeing how the agency responds.

If you’d like to read my comment, just click on the following link:

Zachary Rothman Comment on Proposed Rule CMS-9940-P

 

Legal Follies, Part 3L

If you follow this blog back to the very beginning, you’ll see that the one extra-curricular with which I have stuck throughout law school is the legal follies. 1L year I was on the cast and was challenged to step up and embrace the intense spring semester rehearsal schedule. 2L year my plate was very full with my responsibilities to the International Law Journal and the Health Law Association, so I dialed by involvement back to just being on the follies’ stage crew. This year I’ve rejoined the follies cast, and I’m also serving as the show’s producer. Knowing what I would be getting myself into this time, I’ve front-loaded my most difficult classes this year so I won’t feel too overwhelmed this January and February.

This year we’ve been dealing with a number of logistical changes. As producer, I’ve been practicing my financial and leadership skills in working with our directors, the law school, and BU’s Student Activities Organization to find a new venue for our show since the Law Auditorium will be closed this spring. While we’re sad that we won’t perform where we’ve always performed, I am optimistic about our  new space, which is in the GSU Conference Auditorium.

I love the follies. We are such a fun group – our whole purpose is to come together and create humor. Our alumni come back year after year to watch and support our performances. We work our butts off spring semester – when we have three hours of rehearsal four days a week for six weeks straight on top of all our classes – but in doing so we become closer. If you like theater or comedy and you’re willing to take on the challenge of our spring rehearsal schedule, I highly recommend trying out for the follies! Joining the follies has added a special community and a great outlet to my law school experience.

As an example of the fun you can look forward to if you join us in the future, this past weekend we had our annual retreat. We drove up to a weekend rental house in Cape Cod and spent the days getting to know each other and come together as a new group by taking part in theater exercises, improv, and writing exercises. We cooked and cleaned together and got to know our four newest cast members. We have a great group this year and I think we can look forward to great show this February – we hope to see you there!

 

“If you aren’t afraid of getting it wrong …”

My Evidence professor says we are going to go over the hardest problem in the book. He explains that it is the best-written problem, with the most complex answer, in the entire semester.

He gives his usual speech about he doesn’t embarrass anyone, ever, and I have my usual thought: How would you know? Isn’t embarrassment 99 percent internal? My tag sticking out doesn’t embarrass me, I’m embarrassed by my tag sticking out. (Yes, law school logic is infecting my inner monologue.)

Then, he asks for a volunteer: “So, if you aren’t afraid of getting it wrong …”

I had gone over the problem with a classmate ahead of time, and worked out the kinks we recognized. The problem-based teaching method isn’t entirely new to me — my Criminal Law class was about 30 percent working through hypotheticals — but this course is made or broken on your understanding of three to six problems from the textbook each day. Even worse (in a class of 70 or so students), participation counts, and it’s primarily on a volunteer basis. “What the heck?” I think, and raise my hand.

“Ms. Margolis!” the professor shouts.

Oh, great. I am the only one with a hand up. I guess I’m in for it.

“Just so we’re clear,” I couch my reply, “I’m definitely not afraid of getting it wrong, or I wouldn’t have raised my hand.”

I outline the scenario, and start to give my take on the outcome. I’m on a roll. He interjects, “But what about …”

I try to give the answer. I know the answer. But my terminology is just slightly off. I feel clumsy, unsophisticated.

He throws me a bit of a bone. I still fumble, flustered by my misstep.

“Anyone else?” he says.

I guess my turn at the hardest question in the book is up.

But there’s always next class, and the one after that, and the one after that. Participation doesn’t stop counting just because you give a dumb answer (or an answer that makes perfect sense in your head but comes out sounding less than). I keep participating, more or less, because that’s how I learn best. I need that feedback to tell me where I’m floundering and where I’m all set. Luckily, I’m not afraid of getting it wrong anymore, and somehow, most of the time, I don’t.

 

Young Alumni Networking Event

When we talk about networking, I think we sometimes forget what we’re actually talking about. We aren’t (or aren’t *just*) amassing a rolodex of business cards and contacts in various parts of the country and sectors of industry: we’re forming connections with people. And some of those connections may end up being essentially superficial, email-check-in-every-few-months type relationships. There’s nothing wrong with that. But others are real friendships that happen to have a legal career-tinged flavor to them. You’ll text a former supervisor to see if they caught the latest episode of the show you’re both addicted to and also have they heard anything about that position that was maybe going to open up, you’ll grab lunch not just to review your resume but because you both love that one Thai place, etcetera. Networking contacts are people too!

This was reinforced when I attended a BUSL young alumni networking event last week. You hear the word ‘networking,’ you look at your calendar, and if you can possibly make it work, you go. Whether you have a job already lined up or not, whether you plan on practicing in this geographic area or not: if you’re serious about this whole being-an-attorney-in-the-legal-community thing (which is both a much bigger and yet simultaneously smaller pond than you would think), you should go.

Who are the young alumni though? Some graduated ten or more years ago and it’s not my business to say why they’re attending events with an adjective in the title that perhaps no longer applies to them quite so accurately, BUT others graduated last year. You know, when I was a 2L. So, Fall 2012-Spring 2014, we were classmates. So the dreaded ‘networking’ became more catching up with old friends, commiserating with the anxiety of those who haven’t gotten bar exam results back yet, reminiscing on the greatest moments from our Trial Advocacy class… and trading business cards, hearing a bit about what life as an actual first year associate is like, and introducing each other to yet more students-turned-alum. It turned out to be a thoroughly fun as well as successful evening.

Team Me

I am a workaholic. I know that about myself. I tend to dedicate full force to whatever it is I have committed myself. I tend to neglect my physical, emotional, and mental health. Last year, I stressed too much about school and pushed myself harder than ever to improve my grades. By the end of the year, I was burned out. I filled my first year with learning, laughter, tears (no shortage of tears), and stress, but I didn’t fill it with time for me. I definitely pushed aside all of the things that mattered to me before law school (like exercising), and I deeply regretted it.

I decided I am on “Team Me.” I can’t put myself last and hold myself to an unrelenting and unreasonable standard to work, work, and more work. This may sound very obvious to many of you, but you will get swept up in law school’s stress, anxiety, and pressure. You’ll convince yourself to sacrifice an hour you would otherwise give yourself, and you’ll justify it by saying, “I’m showing dedication and commitment to my studies.” Yes, sacrificing one or two additional hours a week to your studies especially during peak times is perfectly reasonable, but slowly those one or two additional hours become zero hours for you. You start by slightly tipping the scales for one over the other then you completely give everything to one. Whoa. How did that happen?

You forgot that you are a priority too. Sometimes that priority shifts depending on varying circumstances, but it should never completely miss the list altogether. It’s incredibly easy to forget about making time for yourself just like you make time for everything else you deem important. You may feel guilty doing it because it means taking away from studying, but it’s a necessary balance. What is the “right” balance boils down to who you are and how you learn. For me, I need to exercise a few times a week because it allows me to clear my head, push out negative feelings, and come back to my books refreshed. For you, well, you decide but don’t forget to make it a priority.

Things To Do In Law School: Be A Campus Representative

Many of us are going through law school without having school-year jobs that require a big time commitment. Some people take some work-study positions during 2L year and beyond, such as working at the law library. Some people work as Research Assistants for professors, which gives you both research experience and also pays. Even if you do not do these things because you are keeping yourself very busy with classes, journals, moot court, or other time consuming law school activities, I highly recommend taking some time during your 1L or 2L year to research bar review companies and to become a campus representative for the company you prefer.

Personally, I’m a Themis representative. After looking into the companies that recruit on campus during 1L year, I decided that I like their education and recruiting models. I also liked their regional managers, and they offered courses for all the states for which I’m thinking of taking the bar. I have friends who are representatives for other companies, such as Barbri and Kaplan. For most of us, the commitment is the same: you sit for an hour a week at your company’s table and let other students know what that company offers and why you chose it. I believe some companies set recruitment goals and  sometimes offer incentives based on recruitment numbers. Once you do this for a specified period of time (for Themis, it is currently two years,) you earn a yourself a bar review course. Some companies offer varying incentives to students willing to ‘table’ for a third year. Keep in mind that these days, 3L is usually too late to sign up as a representative and earn a full course – researching this early in your 1L or 2L year is to your benefit.

Come on, you might say, how valuable is this, really? Well, bar review courses range in price from ~$1,400 to $3,000+ depending on what you need to sign up for (e.g. multiple states’ courses). Student loans are not available to cover these courses, but “bar loans” are. However, bar loans tend to have high interest rates, which means these loans are expensive to you as a consumer. (For example, Sallie Mae rates range from 3.75% – 12.74% APR; Wells Fargo rates range from 7.23% to 9.53% APR; Discover rates range from 2.99% to 10.99%. Harvard has published this guide to understand bar loans that can also be helpful.) Since they are not government loans, bar loans cannot be ‘bundled’ with any federal student loans you take out.

You may well succeed in your plan to get a firm job which will pay for your bar review course. If you don’t, or if this is not the kind of job you’re looking for, being a representative can keep you out of the bar loans situation, or free up savings you would have had to use on the bar otherwise. Even if you do get a job that pays for bar review, you may be able to use the fact that you don’t need your bar review course paid for in salary negotiations. It shows initiative in any case.

Being a representative gives you occasion to understand how bar registration works, and what is on the bar, before that last minute when you need to learn it. It also provides you with additional connections, as well as practice speaking publicly and giving a sales pitch. All this for the very low cost of one hour per week sitting at a table, and a willingness to talk to your friends and classmates about why you chose your company’s bar review course over the others that are available.

You Can Rarely Go Wrong With Saying Too Little

If you aren’t sure if you should say something, the advice I received from the Chief of the Violent Crimes Division of the Pittsburgh United States Attorney’s Office was simple: don’t.

This isn’t bad advice in life in general, but in the legal profession in particular, you can never go wrong with saying too little. Unsure if telling your friend or parent an amusing antecdote from work could compromise a case? Don’t do it! Will mentioning a colleague’s peccadillo to a third party in passing reflect poorly on them and you in turn? Don’t do it! Is it devastatingly relevant to something you aren’t even aware of that you ran into so-and-so when they weren’t expected to be in town? You just don’t know, and safe is so much better than sorry/fired, even if it means having to be frustratingly vague about your work life and keep some fantastic seemingly-harmless details to yourself.

If something hilarious happens in open court -and things frequently do- it’s technically of public record, but does it reflect well on your office for you to recount it on the bus, or even worse in the courthouse elevator in earshot of who knows? It does not. Pro-tip: Just don’t speak in courthouse elevators at all ever, odds are far too high that jurors or opposing counsel are crammed in there with you, soon you’ll get used to just pausing conversations for the duration of your lift. 

So who can you confide in? With occasional exceptions, your coworkers are probably a safe bet if there aren’t other conflicts of interest involved. Or, can you craft a hypothetical that shares the best part of your story without disclosing any of the incriminating details? Maybe! But if not… well, by now you know what to do.