I’m Bill, on Capitol Hill

For those of you loyal readers of the BU Law Blog, you may have seen Brynn’s earlier post about the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform in Washington, DC. I also had the chance to head down to our nation’s capital last week and participate in the conference, which was co-sponsored by BU Law.

When Professor Kealy first sent out the email letting us know about the conference, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a few days in DC and hear from some of the experts who write the words that become law around the world. The agenda was packed with an interesting and diverse set of speakers who covered a wide range of topics relating to the creation and refinement of legislation.

I took the overnight Amtrak from Boston and arrived in DC to a spectacular spring morning. On the drive from Union Station to the conference at American University, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom as if to welcome the conference attendees in a uniquely Washingtonian way. Right off the bat, Professor Voermans from Leiden University set the tone with an interesting presentation on the balance between legislative efficiency and transparency. Of note, he cited Professor Kealy’s study of American legislative drafters to illustrate the role technology has played in the field. I have to say, it was pretty exciting to see my clinical professor’s work globally recognized; it just goes to show what a terrific opportunity the legislative drafting clinic is.

There were other great presentations, including U.S. Congressional and Senate drafting veterans discussing their experience with the demands of legislators who want bills written in impossibly tight timelines. They provided a glimpse into the practical realities of Washington, and how we, as the public, often think that laws should just magically appear when we want them. There were presentations on the legislative approaches in the EU, Ethiopia, and China. Still others discussed some of the hot topics of the day, such as ways that legislation can address climate change and the needs of post-conflict states.

Overall, it was an extraordinary privilege to sit in on some of these discussions as a law student and gain an appreciation for the technical and professional complexities that come with the work of making law. For those of us who took the legislative drafting clinic, we had some exposure to the effort that goes into each bill, though we mostly worked on a single piece of legislation. It is quite another thing to deal with demand of dozens of different constituencies, so it was fascinating to meet the community of a scholars and drafters who do so on a daily basis.

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…and I finally got to wear my lapel pin.

After the conference wrapped up for the day, I had dinner out in town and took a walk around the capital. I felt that I had a different appreciation for the city and its inner workings. Among the neo-classical buildings, windows were lit sporadically, behind which government employees were likely burning the midnight oil to do the work of the people. As serendipity would have it, earlier that same day, the bill I wrote in the legislative drafting clinic was reported favorably out of committee in the Massachusetts State House. I am grateful that law school has given me the tools to do my part—perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, the bill I worked on will become part of the Massachusetts General Laws and I can count myself among those who have helped translate an idea into legislation.

A Day In The Life: Kourtney Kardashian, Bill Markup, and Senate Bean Soup

Next week is my last as a Law Clerk in the U.S. Senate. I have enjoyed every minute I’ve spent working for the HELP Committee and would recommend this experience to any law student in search of an adventure.

Here’s what I was up to today:

 Paul Morigi/Getty This morning, none other than Kourtney Kardashian came to the Hill to advocate for cosmetics reform alongside Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook. The A-list celebrity teamed up with EWG for a congressional briefing, during which she discussed the importance of eliminating toxic chemicals from household products, including cosmetics. Their testimony highlighted legislative efforts, led by Sens. Feinstein (D-CA) and Collins (R-ME), to strengthen the FDA’s authority to regulate toxic chemicals found in all sorts of personal care products – from face wash and shampoos to eye makeup and anti-aging creams. Many everyday products contain harmful contaminants such as asbestos, mercury and lead.

During the morning briefing, Kourtney discussed how motherhood opened her eyes to the potential dangers posed by personal care products. (As a mom-to-be, I completely relate to this!) She spoke about how overwhelming a simple shopping expedition can feel: “Going into a store to buy just about anything—you shouldn’t have to walk around aimlessly asking, ‘Is this okay?’…Everybody should have the right to healthy products. I do feel like it’s time for Congress to do its job.”

HELP_Opioids exec session - daisBy 10 o’clock I was seated in a packed hearing room, waiting for the HELP Committee’s Executive Session to begin. The day’s business centered around marking up the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018—a comprehensive, bipartisan bill to address the devastating opioid epidemic. This multi-faceted legislation provides funding for states to respond to opioid abuse and deaths, creates treatment and recovery programs, and increases the CDC’s ability collect data in order to identify effective prevention methods.

HELP Ds_OpioidsAs is typical with bill markups, the Committee began by voting on a series of amendments to the bill. This was a fascinating exercise to observe. Some amendments were unanimously adopted while others were rejected along party lines (12 nayes to 11 ayes); still others revealed intraparty divisions. Ultimately, the bill was unanimously voted out of committee.

After one more meeting I headed to a lunch appointment at the Senate Buffet. Between the three Senate Office Buildings there are several dining options—all of which I have sampled several times over with the exception of the Senate Buffet. This was my lucky day! To be honest, I expected my internship to come and go without exploring this mysterious dining facility. Unlike the large, open cafeteria or any of the walk-in underground cafes, the Buffet is tucked behind an imposing wall and seemed reserved for people more important than me. Fortunately, my lunch meeting was with a veteran Senate staffer who made our reservation. (It is entirely possible that I could walk into the Buffet tomorrow and grab a table; I simply don’t know the protocol.) You can even follow the Senate Buffet on Twitter!

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Senate. Bean. Soup. As thrilling as it was to dine in the Senate Buffet, the real highlight of lunch was finally trying the Senate Bean Soup. You must understand: Senate Bean Soup is an institution around these parts. The stories, perhaps apocryphal, only add to its legend:

“According to one story, the Senate’s bean soup tradition began early in the 20th-century at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho.  Another story attributes the request to Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, who expressed his fondness for the soup in 1903.” (U.S. Senate, Senate Bean Soup website)

How was it, you ask? DELICIOUS! I went into this culinary experience with the same enthusiasm I had upon finally reaching Wall Drug. (If you’ve ever driven across the country and seen Wall Drug advertised for over 600 miles, you know what I mean.) Eating the Senate Bean Soup has been a bucket list item for months now because, well, when in Rome…

To my great enjoyment, the soup was fantastic – hearty, simple, rich, and full of beans. I can’t wait to make it at home. And now you can, too!

The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe

2 pounds dried navy beans

Four quarts hot water

1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks

1 onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened. Place beans into pot with hot water. Add ham hocks and simmer approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the onion in butter. Add to soup. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.

After lunch I settled into a fascinating research project, then called it a day at 6 o’clock.

And so ended another great day in the U.S. Senate.

International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform

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Last week I had the privilege of once again attending the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform, held at the Washington College of Law at American University. I had attended last year’s conference along with several other alumni from BU’s Legislative Policy & Drafting Clinic; you can read that blog entry here. This time around I had the honor of participating in the conference as a panelist!

02_Goals of Legis ClinicsSeveral old favorites returned as speakers, such as the inimitable Judy Schneider, although the conference also featured a number of new panels.

Judy, a legislative expert at Congressional Research Service who co-authored the Congressional Deskbook, captivated the audience with her witty rendition of how Congress really works. Judy runs a boot camp for each new class of U.S. Representatives on congressional procedure. She shared with us the magic formula for passing bills that she gives to incoming members of Congress: You need the policy; you need the politics (though this is not to be confused with party politics); and you need the procedure. She went on to explain that most of us learned civics incorrectly—Congress was not created to pass laws, but rather “to prevent bad laws from being enacted”—then walked us through each chambers’ political and procedural hurdles in committee and on the floor.

I also really enjoyed a panel on Outside Drafters, which was new to the conference this year. The panelists were Rochelle Woodard, from the Department of Commerce, and Ronald Lampard, the Criminal Justice Task Force Director at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Both brought fascinating perspectives on drafting language for lawmakers, although neither worked within the legislative branch. Rochelle spoke of the challenges she faces as an agent of the executive branch whose job is to implement treaties and consult on export control, and discussed how she goes about balancing these responsibilities with drafting language for Congress that Legislative Counsel will inevitably review and revise. Ronald, by contrast, works for a national advocacy organization that drafts both model legislation and state-specific legislation for lawmakers. With respect to the latter, he emphasized the need for local buy-in and how he approaches collaborative drafting with stakeholders.

04_me speaking I had the great honor of participating in the last panel of the conference, Teaching Legislative Drafting, with my clinic professor, Sean Kealy. Professor Lou Rulli, who runs the Legislative Clinic at Penn Law, was also on the panel with one of his former students. Both professors spoke of the importance of teaching legislative drafting to law students and discussed their respective curricula. I talked about the bill that I drafted when I was a member of BU’s Legislative Policy & Drafting Clinic. My client was a State Senator who asked me to draft a bill from scratch, aimed at mitigating collateral consequences to incarceration in Massachusetts. I had a great time sharing my experiences as a student in the clinic and how the skills that I learned have come in handy during my externship with the Senate HELP Committee.

While there were far too many fabulous panels to highlight here, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the international nature of the conference. Half of the panels were dedicated to legislative issues that drafters in other jurisdictions face. I heard from drafters from Ghana, Ethiopia, China, the EU, and members of the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel. They spoke on topics ranging from telecom regulations in Uganda to public participation in the legislative process in Korea to promoting drafting uniformity in Australia.

If you are interested in gaining insight into the intersection of policy, drafting, and law reform, this annual conference is not to be missed! For information about future conferences, visit http://www.ilegis.org/.

Finals Prep: 2L Edition

It’s hard to believe that the last week of classes is just around the corner, and with that, finals week. I have three traditional exams this year. I said I wouldn’t do this after 1L, but I truly wanted to take each of the classes that required a formal exam, so here we are. Here are a few tips for preparing for finals as a 2L:

  1. Outline in advance. This is a universal recommendation, regardless of whether you are a 1L, 2L, or 3L. I learned this the hard way during 1L when I hand wrote all of my class notes and didn’t anticipate how long it would take to transfer those notes into an outline. What I do now is directly outline into a Word Doc as I do my readings and as I take notes in class – it saves me tons of time later, when I start to:
  2. Streamline my outlines. There comes a point in the semester where you transition from doing work for day-to-day classes and start to comb through the notes you already have to remove extraneous information and start to develop broader understanding of the scope of a particular course. I always hope to do this earlier than I actually get to do it, but regardless of when you start, it’s a great process to see things big-picture.
  3. Make short outlines. This has helped me a lot both as a 1L and 2L. I hate the word “attack outline” so I just call them all short outlines. I gather the major topics and then list relevant cases, standards, tests (along with their corresponding page numbers in my big outline). I also color code them to make it easier to distinguish what is what.
  4. Go to office hours early with questions. This is another ‘learn from my mistakes’ piece of advice, because I did not go to office hours enough as a 1L. If you can, try to go to office hours or make appointments with professors throughout the semester when you’re initially confused about a topic, that way you won’t be even more confused about it right around finals preparation time.
  5. Take care of yourself. This should really be tip #1 in my eyes. Get enough sleep, try to exercise regularly, get your Vitamin D, and eat well – basically do whatever works for you to manage your stress load. Put your best foot forward, and trust that whatever the result, you tried your best.

Scripted v. Prepared: Trying to bring that pilgrim-level confidence to the Moot Court

Let’s just say that public speaking at law school has not my strong suit. From awkwardly introducing myself to a cute boy at the first Bar Review as “Oh hey! You study in the café in the morning right next to me, and I watch you!” to almost crying on my first cold call in Civil Procedure, the social, interactive parts of law school have perhaps been the most difficult for me. I have gravitated to where I am most comfortable – mainly, using my pen as my sword and focusing on my writing. However, I have also been aware that this barrier to public speaking does not make much sense. As a former pilgrim interpreter, I quite literally used to talk for a living. I told stories all day, every day, and I did so with confidence. The contradiction has been frustrating.

Thus, using my overly-analytical brain, I considered the problem and decided that the difference was that while pilgriming, I always felt as prepared or more prepared for my conversations than I knew the visitors would be. So, of course I did that thing that Kim does, and I obsessively prepared for this argument. I was ready to tell you the name of each case, the court that decided it, the year it was decided, the facts, the holdings, the lawyers for both sides, my argument, my opponent’s argument, my opponent’s favorite color, the lawyer’s favorite color, the alumni judge’s job, the alumni judge’s favorite color… you name it. I stood up to present, tried to get my hands to stop shaking, started speaking as slowly as I can physically manage, and felt like I doing well until the judge asked his first question.

“If we adopt your materially adverse standard, is this an objective or a subjective test?”

And then I froze.

For the record, I did well on my Torts exam. I know the difference between an objective and subjective test like the back of my hand. And yet, in that moment, I froze not because I did not know the answer but because it simply was not an answer I had prepared; and, as a result, I assumed I should not be confident in my answer.

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That post-moot court vibe

Being prepared for a presentation is important; however, knowing the difference between being prepared and being scripted is potentially even more important. At Plimoth Plantation, I was never scripted in my interactions. I was confident in my knowledge base, and I crafted my narratives based off that sturdy foundation. I hope next time I have an oral argument like this in law school that I will be able to do the same – namely, to walk into the courtroom with confidence that I know the answer simply through my work and preparation, not because I practiced the exact wording in advance.