The Final Days

As the final days of my law school career approach, I wanted to write about how much has changed and how far I have come over the past three years. It has been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least, but I am so happy that I got on. I applied to one law school before 1L.

I applied really late in the game because I was originally planning on taking a year or two off before going, but with the job market being so poor, I decided to go straight through from college. My first year of law school went really well academically, but I was miserable. I had gone from the University of Miami to a school in the middle of nowhere where my entire 1L class was ninety-nine students. It felt a lot like high school, to be honest. I also ended a two-year relationship with my girlfriend whom I was living with and had a dog with. I was severely depressed, and if it were not for my dog, I do not think I would be here right now. Athough it took me a few months before I wasn’t so ashamed of my depression, I finally got the help I needed. I have been told that depression is very common among law students and lawyers.

I ended up transferring to BU, which meant giving up a scholarship to pay full tuition and take on more student loans (I am up to $180,000 now), but it also meant being healthier and happier. Transferring was the best decision I could have made for myself at the time and it has helped me not only with my mental health, but it will also help me more in my career.

My personal life also changed so much these past few years. Going to college in Miami meant that my friends were from other places. I also went to boarding school for high school, so the few friends that I kept in touch with from high school do not live around here either. I mainly had my girlfriend and my family, so when my ex and I broke up, I was left feeling lonelier than ever. Before 2L, I was contacted by a couple of people I had met through hockey a few years ago. They asked if I wanted to play on their team in a women’s league. I jumped at the offer. These girls are now two of my best friends. I am also now dating someone who has really impacted my life in a positive way.

I am so happy with my life and I am excited to see what life has in store post-graduation. Law school has been one of the most trying things I have ever done, but it has also been one of the most rewarding. I would not have been able to do it without the support of my family, friends, and professors. Thank you all so much!

A Tale of Marathon and Spring

I always joke that April is my least favorite month of the year, followed closely by December. I say “joke” because I don’t think I’m actually serious; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of those months, objectively, and Christmas is my favorite thing in the entire world. However, for the past eight or nine years of my life, April and December have meant FINALS and all of the stress and lack of sleep and inappropriate eating habits that come with that. I especially haven’t had a ton of fun the past few Aprils, since starting law school, because finals are so much more important as a law student.

But, a funny thing is happening this April; I have… free time, or something closely resembling it? I did what many 3Ls do and took a fairly light course load for my final semester, meaning I only have one final and a few final papers standing between me and graduation. Although it’s still a lot of work, I definitely have plenty of time to accomplish it all without too much stress. All of this means: I’ve been enjoying spring in Boston for maybe the first time!  The weather has been amazing, and just finding the time to get out of the house to walk around or go grocery shopping is honestly relaxing.

Today, for example, was Patriots’ Day (a state holiday in Massachusetts), which is when about 25,000 runners and thousands more spectators descend upon the city for the Boston Marathon. I’ve never had the time to go witness the festivities before, but I knew a few people who were running, so my friends and I headed down to the area around the finish line at 8 am.  We drank a lot of Sam Adams 26.2 Marathon beer at a bar, and then saw the first few runners finish the race before calling it a day. It was so much fun being right in the middle of the action on a gorgeous day (instead of outlining in my pajamas, as I usually do on Marathon Monday)!

The Patriots’ Day holiday means that we had a 3-day weekend, and a 4-day weekend for those like me who don’t have Friday classes. In addition to the marathon, I made the most of the free time by doing some homework (and yes, outlining), and seeing THREE movies in theaters (arguably did a bit of overkill on that one). I also have tickets to a Red Sox game next week with seven of my friends, after I finish my only final, and I’m really excited about that!

I don’t really know what the deeper message of this post in, because I definitely remember this time last year, when I was way too busy to be doing any of these things.  No amount of work-life balance would have made me this zen a year ago, and I know that being this close to the (figurative) finish line is a big part of the reason I’m so relaxed.  I guess what I’m saying is: although law school requires a LOT of sacrifices over the course of three years, I am just so grateful that NOW, during the last few weeks of my academic career, I finally have the time to enjoy this beautiful city with my friends. There’s light at the end of the tunnel after all!

Moot Court

While wrapping up the semester and studying for finals, I have also been preparing for moot court. Moot court is part of second semester legal writing class. In fact, it’s a considerable part of the second semester. Moot court cases were released a couple months ago, and since then, writing class has been devoted to drafting an appellate brief and preparing for oral arguments. Students are paired up, and each takes one of the two issues presented in the case. Students work independently on their specific issues and then combine their work with their teammate’s and with the other elements of a brief. Oral arguments follow, in which you and your teammate argue against another pair.

When I heard about the moot court requirement before law school started, I was apprehensive. I have never wanted to pursue litigation, and moot court sounded extremely daunting and unfamiliar. At first glance, it seemed out of my comfort zone. However, if anyone is feeling the same way, know that your writing instructor and writing fellow guide you through the process. Moot court is not intended to be high stakes. It isn’t meant to be an actual competition. It’s meant to give students a new experience and some practice with what may turn into a very important part of some students’ careers.

Writing and arguing are spread out over the course of a couple months, so there is plenty of time to get comfortable with your topic. Through reading up on your case and investigating precedent, you will feel comfortable with the subject matter in no time. Though writing an approximately thirty-page document seems like a lot, writing it with a teammate over time is very possible. There is enough ground to cover for these pages to go by quite quickly. I will vouch for the fact that the hardest part was the very particular Word formatting required (don’t wait until the last minute to brush up on your Microsoft Word skills).

In terms of the oral argument component, everyone is on a level playing field since no one has ever argued before a panel of judges (comprised of writing fellows, judges, and attorneys). Oral argument is graded pass/fail. If it turns out you are not a gifted litigator, your grade is not necessarily in jeopardy. All of this means that moot court – both writing your brief and arguing your case – are not as stressful as they may initially sound. Give it your best shot, and appreciate the new experience.

With my brief submitted, the last part of this experience is to present my case with my teammate before the panel of judges. Reviewing my own argument, my opponent’s argument, and creating a simple outline for quick reference is all that remains. It is amazing how quickly the past two months have gone and how this project has come together.

World of Difference Under the Same Roof

As my second semester as a 2L comes to a quick close, I’ve been reflecting on some of the major differences between 1L and 2L year. Needless to say, there are drastic differences between the first two years of law school. In my opinion, 2L appears to be a much better reflection of how the working world operates. Time management is critical as you often have to balance classes, journal responsibilities and extracurricular activities all at one time. Some students also choose to participate in clinics and externship opportunities which allows you to get varying amounts of class credit with no letter grade assigned. Much less of the focus of 2L is on the outcome of classes and grades and instead, gives you a much well rounded experience of the practice of law. While grades remain important and law students, as part of their nature, remain motivated and competitive, a lot of attention shifts away from grades during your 2L year and more towards the experiences that you have.

One of the major differences in your 2L year is being able to not only choose the substance of your classes but also the time when you take classes. This allows students to plan their schedules how they see fit and not be assigned class times and days as they are during their 1L years. With this flexibility, students are able to take on part-time jobs or participate in other activities outside of law school – something most students elect not to do during their 1L year. In addition, students are generally more engaged and interested in the subject matter of the courses. Student occasionally will have a background in a certain area of law which is less likely to be the case during 1L year. For instance, most law students don’t often have a background in contract or tort law but may have past experience in a human resources position that they bring to an employment law class.

Class size and dimension is also drastically different from your first year to your second year of law school. For example, just this semester, I have a class where there are only 12 students enrolled as compared to a class last semester where there were over 100 students enrolled. Professors who teach upper class courses often go away from the traditional cold call system and instead use panels or volunteer systems to generate class participation. Many professors remark that they understand how busy 2L and 3L year can be and they are much less demanding in terms of classroom participation. With this said, the reading assignments are typically much heavier than your 1L courses because you are expected to be able to comprehend and understand the material at a quicker level.

All in all, 2L year has been much different than my 1L year. I’ve learned a lot about how to manage time and what it takes to understand a lot of material in a shorter period of time. With finals on the horizon, I look forward to what my third year will bring and look forward to the anticipated differences in that year.

‘Here I am (at court), to speak what I do know’

Today, I argued my first case beyond the immediate suburbs, as well as my first case in criminal court. Though the learning curve was steep, I was well-prepared, thanks to the diligent supervision of my Victim Rights Law Center supervisor and my education at BU Law.

New Bedford District Court, where I argued a few hours ago.

This was my first case before a district court. Previously, I have argued at the Brooke Courthouse in Suffolk County (housing and family courts) and the probate and family courts in Middlesex and Norfolk counties.

Today’s hearing concerned Massachusetts Criminal Procedure Rule 17(a)(2), which governs document production requests in criminal cases. A Rule 17 hearing is a rare opportunity for the victim of a crime to have an attorney advocate directly for their position — in this case, to limit the defense’s access to the victim’s (otherwise) private records.

The New Bedford District Court courtroom was extremely crowded, and very small. Picture a typical courtroom, with opposing parties seated next to each other. Not the case in New Bedford! The room is so narrow that the two tables are set up in single file. Parties arguing before the court had to stand in front of the tables and within two feet of the judge. Family members supporting parties or witnesses were kicked out to make room for people required to be present. Attorneys stood, leaning on the jury box to wait their turn.

In that stress-cultivating environment, I had an excellent final court experience in law school.

From the start, my appearance on behalf of the victim was unexpected. The judge noted, “You guys don’t usually show up!”

The defense attorney presented his argument. Then, I presented mine — or started to, only to be interrupted almost immediately by the judge. I could barely get out two sentences before her next question came. Fortunately, I had an answer every time. My supervisor had prepared me well. The defense attorney had a lot of yelling to do, once it was his turn to respond, which I took as a sign  that I was doing a good job.

I gave an impassioned defense but did not raise my voice to match his. Who wants to see a shouting match (other than on Court TV)? I was proud of my argument, and my supervisor seemed to think it went well, too.

Though the outcome will take weeks, I can use this experience now to reflect on how much progress I have made since starting law school.

I am the same woman who had tears in her eyes from performance anxiety while reciting a passage from Julius Caesar in front of her 10th-grade English class. I am the same woman, but I don’t have the same fears.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

I have grown far more assertive and poised since then. I hesitate to say I am a “better” person, but I am certainly a better-prepared one (though maybe not quite ready to try Marc Antony’s funeral speech any time soon). The oral advocacy, negotiation, mediation, and black-letter law knowledge gained in law school prepared me for court today, but more importantly, this education has set me up for a more fulfilling, self-confident career and life. I graduate in about a month, and I feel ready to go forth and practice law. What a gift this experience has been!