Thursday, April 27, 2006

 

Distractions as the end nears....

So this past Tuesday night I had my last law school class ever. It was a joyous feeling, but one that hasn’t quite hit me yet – mostly because of the lingering bar exam. In fact, I doubt that it will hit me until August, after I finish taking the bar. I feel like I’ve been on cruise control for the past few months now – just going to class and making sure that I meet deadlines, but not stressing out about anything. That includes the final project that I just turned in for one class and the final exam that I have coming up in a little over a week. I couldn’t even convince myself to read through and edit the final project one more time.

Tomorrow is the big symposium event for the journal for which I am an editor. I’m planning on doing an article about being an editor on a journal for a future post, but right now I think that I’d just like to take a break from lecturing on my thoughts on various aspects of law school to discuss my current state of mind as my law school career comes to a close. The main things that I’m feeling right now are:

(1) Oh my God, I’m almost done with law school. What a relief.
(2) Do I actually have to study for this law final exam? What a waste of time this is; I could be using this time to study for the bar exam – or at least enjoying the NBA playoffs.
(3) That’s right…I should probably start looking at some bar exam materials so that signing up for the PMBR (another bar prep class like Kaplan) isn’t a complete waste.
(4) What’s the weather like outside? Are the Cubs or Tigers playing? Are the Pistons going to even lose one game during the playoffs (*knock on wood*)?
(5) Can’t wait to go the KY derby in a week! Who’s the favorite?
(6) Oh my God, I’m almost done with law school. What a relief.

So as you can see, I’m not really focused on classes or final exams right now. I would say that this is the same mindset that 95% of third-year students. Should I be focused? Maybe. Why would I want to? Make sure that I graduate at the level that I was striving for throughout my law school career and, more basically, make sure that I don’t embarrass myself. Overall, though, I’ve realized that these grades don’t really matter unless you are still trying to get a job or would like some extra “insurance” in case you believe you will be switching jobs and that your future employers would hone in on your GPA.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the difference between right now and first-year. “I can’t even imagine how we stayed at the library from 8am until 10pm for weeks at a time. How did we do it?” To which the response was: “Because we were worried and there were consequences to not doing your best.” That made me feel much better as I see the bar exam looming on the horizon. And I think that’s just it – there will be consequences to not doing my best on the bar exam and I worry about them. That should be enough to get my butt out of bed early every morning (in the summer in Chicago!), head down to a Bar/Bri review class, spend hours going over outlines, and then more hours going over review questions, and then do it all over again – for 12-14 weeks. We’ll see….

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

 

"I read the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who made the grade..."

“A Day In The Life” is one of my favorite Beatles songs, blending the dark verses of John, the poppy versus of Paul, and orchestration from George Martin (plus a ringing alarm clock!). However, a day in the life of a first year law student is not quite as wonderful. If I had to describe it in three words they would be: frightening, confusing, and overwhelming.

There are basically three different types of “days in the life” of a first semester, first year law student. There are the days in the first week of class. Then there are the days in September and October. Then there are the days in November and December. The three words above, however, basically apply to each and every day.

Looking first to the days just after spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks (which will ruin your back while carrying them around school), you try to figure out where to go and what exactly you’re supposed to be taking from reading all of those books. The first days of class can be very frightening. You will realize that all of your classmates are smart. You will also hear some of them describe just how smart they are by past accomplishments and where they went for undergrad. My experience has been that it really doesn’t matter where people went to undergrad or what their past accomplishment are – usually the hardest workers end up doing the best. So while most of your classmates will be guessing who will be in the prestigious “top 10%,” it is safe to assume that, for the most part, they will be wrong because it is very difficult to figure out just who are the hardest workers. The girl who won the CALI award numerous times first year (the top student in each particular subject) almost never spoke the entire year and was extremely unassuming. But she worked her butt off to understand the material and how to write a good exam answer.

Those first few days of school you will likely read the cases and text assigned. And then re-read it. And maybe even re-read it again. And still not know what’s going on. That is normal. It takes a few weeks to get a feel for what the class is about, what the professor expects, etc. Speaking of professors, there’s some that will try to use the “Socratic Method” of teaching that is discussed in detail in the book “One L.” Basically, the teacher calls on a student randomly and that student will have to answer all of the questions that the teacher poses – either for one case or one topic or potentially the entire class period. If you get those teachers then you better be prepared for class every day. Those classes can be a little nerve-racking, but in the end you’ll find that you know that material very well. Other teachers might just ask for volunteers or let you know ahead of time what people or rows of people are “up” for the next class.

Speaking of class, I need to run to one – but I will continue on my “Day In The Life” of a 1L next blog.

Monday, April 10, 2006

 

Question #1: Do I Want To Be A Lawyer?

I sat down to write a new posting about what a day as a law student is like, but I realized that I would really be skipping an important step – and maybe a step that I should have mentioned in my first blog (even before discussing law school applications). The issue is whether and why you want to get a law degree. I say law degree because there are a number of law students who do not become lawyers, and even some that had no desire to ever become a lawyer. Many want to start their own businesses or become writers or go into politics or become business professionals (to name just a few options). There’s even a doctor at my law school and a woman who is in her 70s that is going to law school just because her father once told her when she was younger: “Women can’t go to law school.” The best thing about a law degree is that it is beneficial in almost any field. Even the experience of law school is highly beneficial, as is the experience of studying and passing the bar exam. However, it is a very expensive venture and deciding to go to law school is something that should be considered with much thought.

So, setting aside all of the other ways that a law degree can be beneficial besides actually becoming a lawyer, what exactly does a lawyer do? A lawyer is defined as a professional person who is licensed to practice law. Not too helpful. The definition continues that a lawyer conducts lawsuits and gives legal advice. I would add that a lawyer also drafts legal documents. In my mind there are three “types” of lawyers: criminal, civil litigation, and civil transactional. There are probably many other types (like, for instance, an in-house counsel), but these are the main categories that I see. The thing about law school and the bar exam is that is trains you to be all three. In fact, as a lawyer, you have the ability to practice any type of law – “specializing” in a particular field of law is something that the lawyer himself or herself does on their own. So, for example, if you work extensively on patents and then your parents ask you to write their will, you have the license to do that. Now there are some special categories that you would need to get special certification for (like patent and admiralty, I believe), but for the most part any lawyer can write up any legal document and work on any case (as long as they follow the rules of professional responsibility, aka ethics). There is never any real need to figure out exactly what type of law you want to practice, especially in law school. Much of what type of law you practice will come through your experiences in law school and what jobs are available at a particular time.

Going back to my three main “types,” a criminal lawyer works on criminal cases – litigating on behalf or against a criminal. A civil litigation lawyer works on civil cases, which are those cases that do not involve crimes. Basically, the civil litigation lawyer would work with a client that has a problem and might want to sue or is being sued. A civil transactional attorney is basically one who deals in transactions not involving a lawsuit – this would include drafting wills, making real estate transactions, giving tax advice for corporate mergers, etc.

So what does it take to become a lawyer? Well, it somewhat depends on what kind of lawyer you want to be. However, the overarching qualities for all lawyers are to be effective communicators, great writers, dedicated researchers, and hard-workers. Criminal attorneys are always “in the action” and get the most court room experience earliest; but, generally speaking, they also make the least amount of money and the work can be very emotional. They need to attain good speaking skills and writing skills. Civil litigation attorneys also need to attain good speaking and writing skills because they will write a lot of complaints, briefs, and motions and are in the courtroom arguing their case. There will also be a great deal of researching. Civil transactional attorneys are usually experts in a particular area and must have very high attention to detail and excellent writing skills. For example, if you are a patent attorney it helps to have an engineering background so that you can effectively communicate with your client about their idea.

All of this is very general, but I hope that you get a basic picture. The decision to become a laywer is an important one because, while you might hear about all of the money that attorneys make or how much power they can have, it also takes a lot of money, hard work, and time. I looked at becoming a lawyer as a challenge and a way that I could help people. I believe that I made the right choice.

I’ll try to provide further detail in future postings – feel free to comment if you want more information on a particular area.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

 

Help Your Community and Become a Better Lawyer!

To take a break from the boring discussion of law school admissions (this must be one of the most boring blogs ever, right??? – I’ll try to make it a little more exciting), I thought that I would discuss how service organizations and non-profits have played a role in my career.

Two weekends ago I went back to the University of Michigan to witness Dance Marathon at the Indoor Track and Field Building. If you don’t know about Dance Marathon check out the website at www.umdm.org (and get involved!). The organization raises money for children’s pediatric rehabilitation programs throughout the year, culminating in a 30-hour event where UofM students stand on their feet for 30 hours to show their dedication to the cause and have fun. While a student at UofM, I danced in the Marathon twice and was involved with managing the organization. I had an excellent undergraduate in experience, in great part due to the time I spent in Dance Marathon. I was able to test my mental and physical strength by standing on my feet for thirty hours, attempt to use some of the skills I was learning at the business school to assist the non-profit organization, and met wonderful children, students, and members of the University and Ann Arbor community. I also met some of my best friends through the organization and got to see many of them again at the Marathon this year.

I would highly suggest becoming involved in a service organization. Aside from the benefits listed above, I believe that experience in service organizations can help you in law school, assist in finding a job after law school, and make you a better lawyer (and a better person, obviously). One of the best skills that I learned from DM was time management. Attempting to balance school work, time with Dance Marathon, and having fun my senior year taught me to structure each day and prioritize my time. This became very useful in law school, especially the first year. When you realize that final exams for law school are coming up in a month it is very important to organize and prioritize your time so that you are getting the most out of your studying. Being involved in a service organization also makes you take a break from studying and focus on (what many see as) more important “real-world issues.” I was involved as an alumni member in Dance Marathon after I left the University, and I believe that taking a break from school work to assist the organization really helped to clear my head and feel that I was accomplishing something. When I got back to law school work I was more focused. The first semester of law school becomes very depressing and frightening because you will not know how well you are really doing (and if all of your hard work is paying off) until February or March of the second semester, so being able to get away for a while and accomplish something helps boost your confidence.

My experience with Dance Marathon certainly played a part in the scholarship that I was able to get to law school and the admissions process in general. As I stated before, my personal statement was about my experience in DM and (evidently) it caught the eyes of some of the law school deans. One of the deans even personally called me to discuss my experience in service organizations and he expressed his belief on how important it is for a law student to have a well-rounded background that includes community service.

I think that my experience with DM also played a part for me in finding a summer associateship. In fact, community service was the topic discussed the most in all of my interviews during second year – and was stressed by all firms as something that they valued. Now, I’m not really sure if some of the firms were just saying that to look good – but I know that the two firms I was choosing between at the end truly valued community service and make sure that their lawyers continue to give back to the community. I also heard that the legal profession does the most pro bono work of any other profession. I’m not sure if that’s true or not (I’ve got to think that social workers, non-profit workers, and doctors do a great deal of pro bono work), but it is definitely true that lawyers do quite a bit – it is recommended that lawyers do 50 hours of pro bono work a year. And quite a few young attorneys get their first experience with their own client and in the courtroom by taking a pro bono case. So, I guess lawyers don’t deserve to be the butt of all those bad jokes after all, right???

Dance Marathon raised a new record of $326,000 for children’s pediatric rehabilitation programs at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the UofM two weeks ago, and pushed the 9-year total to roughly $1,500,000! Congratulations to all of the dancers, committee members, Central Planning Team members, and all that contributed to the huge total!

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