Eye on the Prize

Intersession felt like cherry blossom season in Japan: a time of togetherness, a profusion of color, an ephemeral celebration. Before I knew it, I was back in Boston for Lawyering Lab, a rigorous week where 1Ls get a taste of transactional law. We practiced counseling clients, analyzing and drafting contracts, and negotiating the terms of a commercial partnership. (Check out the view from our negotiating room!)

negotiation view

Equally important, we practiced these skills collaboratively, grouped into teams comprising 1Ls from every section. I had the honor and pleasure of working with a stellar team best characterized as a well-oiled machine. Each individual brought a unique skill set and leadership style and had the opportunity to shine as we confronted various scenarios throughout the week.

Blog Pic_team negotiation

Coming off of finals and the blitz of winter break, the dive into Lawyering Lab felt rather dizzying. Detecting an inopportune moment, my body decided to throw me another curve ball in the form of Bell’s Palsy – temporary facial paralysis that strikes without warning.

As it happened, I was reading Article I, § 8 of the Constitution in preparation for my first Constitutional Law class when my face froze. Suddenly my right eye couldn’t blink, my lips couldn’t purse, and my dimple vanished without a trace. Doctors later explained that this affliction can be triggered by a dormant virus such as chicken pox. Whatever the mysterious cause, it was a bolt out of the blue, curiously timed to coincide with the advent of spring semester.

I walked around with an eye patch, crafty smirk, and slurred speech for the next two weeks. Surprisingly, I didn’t panic. This episode was simply too absurd to be upsetting. My only fear was being called on to discuss Marbury v. Madison, as I couldn’t pronounce the name of the case. Fortunately that didn’t come to pass.

What did I take away from this bizarre experience? Some say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I’ll add that when life gives you an eye patch, make pirate jokes, and when life freezes your face, play poker. Depth perception may go out the window, but one eye is enough to keep on the prize. Also, I can now affirm that Congress’s powers are literally jaw-dropping.

blog_full Laywering Lab Team

Spell Check Doesn’t Believe in ‘Externships,’ but I Do

Externships are my favorite thing about 3L year! I have had the opportunity to enroll in two great externships (for the uninitiated, externship = internship done for class credit), so I can authoritatively say that they are worth the time and energy you put  into them, and the rewards are far greater than any risks you take by embarking on a ‘nontraditional’ educational path.

Part of what makes them so great is that they are entirely customizable to your career interests. I knew after a year in the civil litigation clinic and summer placements at CPCS’ Children and Family Law Division and GBLS’ Family Law Unit-Divorce Work Group that I wanted a civil litigation career with a focus on families and young people. These opportunities have cemented those interests and expanded on them.

My first externship was a judicial placement at the Middlesex Probate and Family Court. There, I got to know several members of the bench, but nearly all of my time with one specific associate justice. She imparted her wisdom gained from years on the bench and as a family law attorney, guided me through challenging writing assignments, and allowed me to observe her busy — even chaotic — courtroom.

The value of this experience was in understanding what actually goes on in family court. I learned all about the gritty procedural stuff that varies so much from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I interacted regularly with behind-the-scenes folks whose expertise and acquaintance is invaluable to any attorney. I saw what litigation strategies work — and what definitely doesn’t. I read many, many filings from all sorts of lawyers and self-represented parties. It was a quiet experience much of the time, typing in an empty chamber while the judges sat in the courtrooms below, and I needed to be focused, driven, and attentive to detail.

I would recommend this experience to anyone who knows specifically which court they would like to practice in after graduation. More broadly, it is worthwhile for anyone considering clerking. (Though judicial externs aren’t clerks, the role is as close as you can get before graduation.) Even if you cannot extern in the court where you aim to practice, if you’re thinking of becoming a litigator, the observation experience alone is worth the time.

This semester, I am an extern at the Victim Rights Law Center. I chose this placement because I wanted to do something a little different in my final semester of law school. I sought experience in a small, collaborative office, working on issues I am genuinely passionate about (with colleagues who are, too). This office works on a wide range of sexual assault-related civil cases in Massachusetts, representing victims.

So far (just three days in), I have done three research projects, none the least bit like the others. Soon, I anticipate observing and participating in client meetings, working on filings related to restraining orders and other cases, and doing a lot more research. I can already tell that this will be a completely different experience from my past experiential education. I am sure there will be more news to come soon, so keep reading!

Legal extern: Like an old-timey smith’s apprentice, but tidier

So, aside from my personal externship anecdotes, what else is great about these for-credit internships with the funny name?

First, the course options! You can enroll in an externship at a nonprofit, government agency, or for-profit firm, or with a judge. Each option has different benefits, and a few different courses are offered to complement different types of externships. They teach you about ethics and practical issues like writing or communication. And, if you’re like me and you’ve already done an externship class (or you don’t want to bother), you can do an independent study, and meet with a professor-supervisor on your schedule, while writing regular journal entries to keep the program up-to-date with your progress.

Next, the schedule options! You can extern for three or more credit hours per semester; each additional credit hour requires about 50 more hours of work spread across the semester. I went with a lower per-semester option because I suspected I wanted to do two different externships, and BU does limit the number of ‘ungraded’ credits you can get. I really like spending about half my time working on school, and half on work.

Finally, no matter where you are placed, you are putting yourself out there in a positive way. The externship selection process is great interview practice. The work you do mirrors what you will do as a “real” attorney. Or, in the case of a judicial externship, if it’s not the same exact work, it certainly can’t hurt. You might not love your externship, but you won’t be there forever. Or, maybe you will be — who knows!

A Day in the Life of a 1L

Having completed the first semester of law school, I thought I’d write a bit about what a typical 1L day looks like. I’ve tried a few different daily routines since the demands of the day tend to influence things significantly. Overall there are two strategies students seem to commonly use.

First, a bit about how 1L classes work. Yes, you are with your section all day every day (with the exceptions of legal writing and the occasional divided class – for example, my section was split in two for torts). No, it does not feel as much like high school as some may lead you to believe (unless having a locker epitomized your high school experience). It is expected that you have read the cases and are able to understand them at a level where you can answer questions when you are on call and synthesize strategies. That being said, no one is perfect while on call and professors are generally forgiving so long as you show that you made a good effort. Everyone is human, and no one will remember your mistakes. Classes will not take up the majority of your time – about one hour and fifteen minutes for each 1L class. The remainder of the day is devoted to studying and everything else.

The first daily routine I tried was one I heard spoken of often before ever getting to law school: treating the day like a job and staying at school for the full business day. This has the obvious advantage of being able to leave all the heavy books in your locker rather than lugging them home. I find that there are some days where this works very well for me. Finishing homework at school between and after classes allows me to leave the building knowing I am free of work, at least for the remainder of that evening. Working through the readings at school forces me to focus and eliminates the potential for procrastination that an apartment offers. Though this routine is, in my eyes, ideal since it separates your work life from your home life, it is not always practical. I don’t always successfully convince myself to stay at school, so inevitably there are days where I pack up a casebook or two and head to my apartment to do the work.

At the other end of the spectrum is heading directly home after class. Carrying multiple casebooks tends to be a pain in the back – literally. However, there are days where studying in the comfort of my own home sounds like a benefit that outweighs the cost of carrying heavy books. Sometimes, this proves more efficient because it offers a break or a change of scenery. The difficulty in this, as noted briefly above, is the number of distractions that may exist at home. Inevitably, it seems that the work takes longer. That said, it is important that you structure your day in a way that will be positive for you and allow you to work best. If you can’t stand the thought of staying in the library to study, that’s ok. Not every day has to be treated like a business day. In fact, none of them do if that’s not how you learn.

Pick and choose, test what works for you and helps you to keep good balance in your life (school, exercise, hobbies, free time…). I am still figuring out an optimal routine that works best for me, but that very well may be keeping a little variety in how I handle my day-to-day schedule. 1L can seem very overwhelming at times. In my opinion, the most important thing is that you work/study in a way that will not cause you to burn out. Work in a way that will allow you to stay positive.

On Flying, and Who We Lost.

“They will speak of things that are spiritual and beautiful and of things that are practical and utilitarian; they will mix up angels and engines, sunsets and spark plugs, fraternity and frequencies in one all-encompassing comradeship of interests that makes for the best and most lasting kind of friendship any man can have.”

— Percy Knauth, describing those who fly

There is a moment in flight school, on your first flight in the helicopter, when the instructor hands you the controls for the first time.

“I will buy you a case of beer if you can keep the helicopter in the boundaries of the square,” says the instructor. “But if you can’t, you owe me a six-pack.”

The square, painted on the ground of the airfield, is enormous– at least 50 yards in each direction. This, you think, is a no-brainer. “I’ll take that bet,” you say.

“You have the controls,” says the instructor.

“I have the controls,” you respond, just as they teach you during your time in the simulator.

You proceed to pull power on the collective. The helicopter shoots up like a rocket, forty or fifty feet. The sudden increase in torque jerks the nose to the right, so you adjust by stomping on the left pedal. The helicopter leans heavy left, so you throw the collective to the right. You are completely out of control, and now the ground is rushing up at you.

The instructor takes the controls from you. “I have the controls back.”

You are so focused on the effort to keep the aircraft level that you can’t even respond. The instructor makes a few smooth inputs, and the helicopter returns to a level attitude before the instructor gently puts the skids on the ground.

“I guess you owe me a six-pack,” says the instructor.

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With a few exceptions, that’s pretty much the experience of every budding helicopter pilot in the naval services. On my first flight, I remember thinking that there was no way that a human being could possibly control this thing. I wondered what kind of evil mind designed something so difficult to handle.

And then something happens in the first couple flights—suddenly it clicks, the coordination comes along, and you are controlling the airframe. By the third flight, you are hover taxiing within feet of other spinning helicopters. Every step of the way, you are made to do things that go against every survival instinct in your body. As if flying the helicopter wasn’t hard enough, now they throw in things like, “Hey, why don’t we try autorotations, where we practice landing without engine power?”

A few flights later, “Why don’t we try formation flying, where we fly within a rotor’s distance of another helicopter?”

Just a few flights later, “Now let’s try night flying, where we take your normal 180’ degree field of vision and reduce it to 40 degrees on night vision goggles?”

Not scary enough? “Let’s try night formation!”

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From my first days as a flight student, I was always amazed at how close to the envelope we flew our aircraft. Even with a few hundred flight hours under my belt, there was always something new that I could not believe we could do with our helicopters. We conducted externals, precision hovering at 10-15 feet while personnel under the aircraft hooked us up to multi-ton payloads. We landed on boats, squeezing a hundred-foot helicopter into a parking spot on a moving ship with multiple aircraft spinning just feet away in either direction. We flew hard hit raids on the darkest nights, flying into enemy territory and landing in zones that kicked up so much dust that visibility came down to zero. We had troops fast rope from the back of the aircraft, did air-to-air refueling from the back of a C-130 tanker, flew terrain flights through the canyons, and even conducted fire-bucket missions dumping seawater on wildfires threatening local homes and supply storehouses.

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When put in those terms, it is perhaps miraculous that serious mishaps do not happen more than they do. Unfortunately, they still happen from time to time. There is a familiar routine among the aircrew when news of a CH-53 crash hits the press; a group text message goes out among the pilots, those who have details fill in what they can, and slowly the names come out. It has struck closely to home a few times, but I have always been on the periphery, knowing the names of the crews but never close enough to them to claim the grief that their close friends and families must know.

On Friday afternoon, as we closed up our books for Constitutional Law, I checked my phone to see the familiar group texts I have seen a half-dozen times. Two 53s down in Hawaii. I didn’t really think much of it, to be honest. I figured two helicopters must have made an emergency landing and someone would have an interesting story to tell.

Then I checked my email. A forwarded news story—two 53s collided off the coast of Oahu with no signs of survivors and 30-foot seas. They had been flying a low-light level training mission, and contact was lost sometime around 11:40 pm the night before.

Details were sparse.

I sat through my writing seminar, in another world, thinking of that place where the search was ongoing. I had flown it more times than I can count, “Police beach for Kahuku point,” was the radio call, the turn you make at the end of a night of training before heading home. It’s the strip of North Shore that includes the most famous surf spots in the world, including Pipeline and Waimea Bay. At night in the winter, when the surf is at its highest, it is spectacular to see on NVGs—the violent churning of the waves kicks the sea spray up high enough to coat the cockpit glass at the altitude of 300 feet. It is hard to explain the thrill of flying at a moment like that.

Shortly after the seminar, I started to hear about the crews on the aircraft.

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There were twelve names in all. Kevin “Redtime” Roche, Steve “Hangman” Torbert, and Brian “Kenny” Kennedy were my peers in the ready room. I worked with Major Campbell over at headquarters for a while shortly before I moved on from the Marine Corps. Of the aircrew in the back, not one was over the age of 25, but every one of them I knew to be a hard-working professional; the job demands it. I had the chance to fly with most of them, and I can honestly say I loved seeing their names on the flight schedule whenever we had the chance to conduct a training mission. Sergeant Semolina, Sergeant Sempler, Sergeant Schoeller, Sergeant Turner, Corporal Jardas, Corporal Drown, Corporal Orlando, and Lance Corporal Hart leave an absence on the Pegasus flightline that is hard to fathom.

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When I started writing this post, I did so with the intention of sharing some anecdotes about the guys I knew, and how they impacted me. I have written the stories out a dozen times, just to delete them and start over. I could never do them justice. I guess I will leave the memories to be kept among those who knew them best, but I will share a note Kevin left me when I transferred out of the squadron in 2014. “We will drink scotch one day on a Scottish estate reflecting on Afghanistan, RIMPAC, and Australia,” he wrote, referencing a vision for retirement we often talked about, “Thanks for the memories.”

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Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, September 11, 2011, after a 9/11 memorial run. Kevin is on the left.

 

The CH-53, it is often joked, does not fly, but rather beats the air into submission. As I think of my friends and peers, of their empty desks and lockers, and of the hushed tones spoken in the ready room and along the flightline, I cannot help but think of that first time I was handed the controls, and how absolutely improbable it seemed that a helicopter could take to the air. These twelve men, now lost at sea, were operating at the envelope of what seems possible. Beyond serving their country, they were fulfilling the dream of every person who has stood with their feet on the ground and looked up at the sky.

It occurs to me that there is little that can be said to fill in the giant void left by these Marines; not for the families, the loved ones, or the squadron that feels their loss so intimately. I guess, after writing all of this, I could have just summed it up in a sentence; I’m going to miss my friends.

Semper Fidelis, gentlemen. Fair winds, following seas, and most of all, thanks for the memories.

hmh-463-2-squadron-patch

The Last Semester

I’m unsure how it happened, truly, but apparently I’m about to begin the second week of my last semester of law school.

I feel… bizarre. That’s probably not the most useful word, but I don’t really know how to describe it. On the one hand, there are so many reasons I’m excited to not be a student anymore. For example, I will not miss paying exorbitant amounts to rent or buy textbooks twice a year. I will not miss weekends spent hunched over my computer while normal people watch football and spend time with their families and take day trips. I will not miss living on a shoestring budget with the knowledge that I am constantly going more and more into debt. And I will not miss the near constant guilt of feeling like there is always some homework assignment or paper I should be working on.

And yet, it’s not like I’m dying to graduate right this very minute (although I know many 3Ls who feel that way!) I don’t have a job lined up for next year yet, so that’s basically terrifying. I don’t want to enter the phase of my life where I stop seeing my friends three or four times a week. I really enjoy the flexibility of my class schedule, because it means I have several days free each week to do homework and run errands. And, perhaps more fundamentally, I came straight to law school from college, so I’ve literally been a student for twenty consecutive years now. With the exception of 9-5 summer jobs, I don’t have any experience doing anything else. It’s a little daunting to face the fact that this entire huge phase of my life – the student phase – is about to end, in all likelihood forever. Hence, this moment in my life, where I’m situated on the precipice of a huge and uncertain life change, it somewhat bizarre.

I’m not huge on New Year’s Resolutions, but I did set a “Last Semester Resolution” for myself. As hard as it’s going to be, I’m going to try to enjoy these last months of student life; I am going to consciously attempt to appreciate some of the things about being a student that I have come to take for granted over the years. That includes the camaraderie that comes with late night study sessions and rapidly fading motivation; the privilege of learning from so many exceptionally talented and dynamic professors; and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you worked really hard and put forth your best effort on a school project or exam.

This all sounds kind of cheesy now that I’m reading it back, but I know there will come a point in the not-so-distant future where I look back on law school with some nostalgia. Although I am very ready to enter the professional world and close out this part of my life, I am also just the teensiest bit sad to see it go.