2 Weeks-In

September 4, 2011 at 11:04 pm (Law School Life)

My apologies for not updating my blog sooner. I intended to check in during orientation and then after the first week of classes but once the first day of orientation came, I pretty much hit the ground running and had very little extra time. So I’ve completed my second week of law school and what can I say, I am absolutely loving it!

Law School is definitely a lot of hard work and nothing I have ever done could have prepared me for what was ahead. As you know, I read a lot of pre-law school preparation materials but to be honest, the only thing that has been particularly beneficial is the fact I had already read and briefed opinions before. Getting used to reading and learning in a new language (the language of law) is one of the biggest changes from undergraduate coursework and though I had worked as a paralegal for 5+ years prior to beginning law school, I hadnt’ been asked to think critically or analyze (legally) what I was reading. It isn’t just about reading and knowing the facts of the case but knowing what they mean in terms of how and why a court ruled a certain way. Whether or not I agreed with the court’s decision. And how a given case changed or added to my knowledge from previous cases.  It is all about analyzing the law. Time management skills are of course important, and suggestions on how to prepare for class were helpful, but at the end of the day, no one book is going to give you that knowledge. It is really about what works for me – which I’m still relatively figuring that out. One thing that is a must-do is to review your case briefs and reading notes 10 minutes before class starts.  It is amazing how just a few hours between reading and class can make that information dissapear. I haven’t been cold-called yet but my classmates tell me it is easy to forget everything you know when you are on the spot.

Contracts is quickly becoming my least favorite class.  Consideration . . . it’s just so vague. I love criminal law and torts. And legal writing and research are sort of my “comfort” classes because I feel like I can draw upon at least some of my prior knowledge to help me make my way through.

One thing I had been forewarned about was that law school is a lot like high school. This is no exaggeration! I carry a book back, have a locker, there is already a lot of gossip going around, and the clicks are already forming. It is kind of fun but I’m thankful that I get to stay out of a lot of the high school-esque behavior (my marital status has granted me immunity!)

I have about 60 pages of reading every night to prepare for the next class.  It isn’t really beneficial to read too far ahead on the weekend when time permits because then the material isn’t as “fresh” and some of it is better learned after a given class. For example, if pages 10-20, 21-30, and 31-40 are due in a given week, pages 21-30 might make more sense after the class that discussed 10-20 has met. I know 60 pages an evening doesn’t seem like much but boy does it take forever!!!

Another thing that will take some getting used to is uncertainty. Everything is pretty vague. There is no right and wrong answers, rather, there is only what a given court thought on a given set of facts.

I will do my best to post more frequently, but these first few weeks have been quite busy.

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Orientation: T-10 Days!

August 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm (0L Summer Prep, Law School Gear)

Law school orientation is in 10 days.

How did that happen?

I am feeling excited/anxious/prepared. I have actively put myself in the mindset that I am ready to attack the material. I’m going in guns blazing.

Aside from reading various law school preparedness materials (and I’ve updated my blogpost/review which can be read here), I’ve also spent a lot of time relaxing. I bought a bicycle, which I plan to use almost every day. I purchased my first backpack in 15+ years (it will take some getting used to). And I’ve already met a few of my classmates, whom I already adore. I feel like I’m quickly finding my place  . . . and my footing.

My schedule and book list came a little later than expected. I know some incoming 1L’s at other law schools have had their schedules and book lists for a month. I just got mine a few days ago but was able to save around $150 on purchasing just two of my required casebooks online. Unfortunately, I’m finding that since I am just now able to purchase books online, many of the books are priced higher than they may have been just a few weeks ago. I wish I could have jumped on all of the early bargains before desperation/inflation took effect.

Well that’s all I have for now . . . I will try to update my post  on 0L guides again this week and look forward to updating you on my first days of law school!

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Cheap, Last Minute Law School Guides

August 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm (0L Summer Prep)

For many of my soon-to-be 1L colleagues, the summer is closing-in. I know I have crossed off only about half of my pre-law bucket list which includes reading various 0L prep materials. For those of you who have limited time and/or limited funds, checkout these quick but informative last minute law school guides:

Law School – Materials for Success. This free guide is entirely online and consists of 7 chapters. It is written by Professor Barbara Glesner and touches on law school success as well as personal survival (and sanity).  It’s a terrific concise guide and could be read in a few short hours.

BarBri’s How to Succeed in Law School. This free short 45 minute video provides a quick overview of notetaking and outlining and spends a considerable amount of time on the most important part of law school: exam taking. I found it surprisingly valuable to learn about law school exams this early in the game – it’s never premature to start thinking about what really matters in law school!

Hard Nosed Advise from a Cranky Law Professor is a quick read and the kindle edition is just $10! See my review on my 0L prep post.

Checkout my review of 0L prep materials, which I hope to update during the next two weeks!

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Gatekeeping

July 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm (Legal Professional Tips)

This post over on the Lawyerist prompted me to think about Gatekeeping. It has been some time since I have blogged with tips from my (former) life as a paralegal and I saw this as an opportunity to pay homage to the profession that has carried me so much farther than I had ever anticipated.

Gatekeeping. We hate to be “gatekeeped” (made-up definition: calling to reach the exec/lawyer/head honcho but instead speaking with an assistant/subordinate/message taker. Our attorneys love us (paralegals/legal assistants/receptionists) to gatekeep for them because it allows them to stay productive without getting sidetracked (or bombarded) with non-urgent phone calls/solicitations/annoyances.  The trouble is, gatekeeping is almost an art form that has to be handled with utmost tact and delicacy.  In other words, don’t piss off the wrong (or right) people and don’t make it obvious that the gatekeepee is being screened for importance.

I was lucky to have one boss who insisted on taking his own calls because he found it was better to address the call immediately as opposed to having to remember (and put off) returning the call.  My other boss, on the other hand, never took his own calls and even had his firm voicemail transfer calls into my voicemail. He would also forward messages from his firm-issued cell phone voicemail to my voicemail. (Grrrrrr.)  While this may have provided him the opportunity to keep working uninterrupted, this kept me from completing my tasks. Aaaaaand, I am completely ADD. So, being interrupted every 15 mins to take a phone message, which often required the advice/response of an attorney kept me from staying on-task and was frustrating for the client.

Regardless, read the Lawyerist article, I found it very insightful and know many of my readers will wholeheartedly identify with the issue of gatekeeping.

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Letter to my Future Self (in the first semester of 1L year)

July 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm (Letters to my future self)

Dear Law Student:

You have entered an academic program that is robust and full of challenges. You are also attending a law school that is known for it’s political thinking – that which is opposite of your own. You may not fit the typical or ordinary student “type” which attends this school. However, all of these traits make you supra-ordinary and will aid you to stand out from (and above) the pack.  All of these factors will allow you to “think outside the box,” even when the box you are thinking from is that of your own.  You will be exposed to differing opinions, a new environment, and the “next level” of your journey.

Do not change your beliefs because you now think they are wrong, change them only if you have been enlightened. If you now find that the alternative makes more sense, adopt it. If your own beliefs are affirmed, maintain them.

Do not lose sight of your purpose.  There is a reason you were brought to this point in your journey. Fulfill it everyday and make each day count.

Never lose sight of where you came from.  It is your past that shapes your present and your future.  Losing your past will certainly lead you astray. Though your past will differ greatly from many of your classmates, this is what makes you uniquely qualified to be here. Other students should be so lucky to understand the value of hard work and to earn an education not only based on hard work but to work hard for it.

Maintain perspective. Your world will come crashing down . . . many times. The natural diva inside of you will want to make a fuss, but you will have control. Freaking out will only blur your vision of the solution. Don’t think for a second you are the only one in panic-mode; your classmates may just be better at concealing it. That said, don’t let your classmates see you panicking – make like a duck – calm above the surface but paddling like hell underneath.

If your classmates act or think for a second they are more deserving or better prepared remember this . . . how many of them are attending for free?

You have overcome many challenges and worked very hard to be where you are today – this is the time to give 100% – you have come too far to give anything less.

Best of luck,

LawSchoolDreamer

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Bittersweet Partings

July 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm (0L Summer Prep, Personal Thoughts)

In preparation of the next chapter of my life, I have parted ways with the firm and attorneys who have served as my mentors and without even knowing my goals, encouraged me to follow my dreams.  If you are just stopping by, this may not make sense to you (what does she mean “without even knowing my goals . . .”?)

I was a Dreamer. I didn’t have the self-assurance to know with certainty that it would be possible for me to begin and complete an undergraduate program (3/4 of which was achieved thanks to night school and online classes), nor the confidence in myself to study for and take the LSAT. To get up the nerve to ask for a Letter of Recommendation from my boss (and professors I admired, who in turn, seemed to admire me too). I wasn’t entirely sure I would be accepted to law school, and even then, be able to afford it and sacrifice my income.  I wasn’t sure I could make the giant leap of faith and leave my security blanket (the quid pro quo of a full-time, stable job) to enter law school. Therefore, I kept my aspirations of becoming an attorney a secret.  The first person at the firm I told about my goals was the boss who wrote my LOR (and even then I swore him to secrecy). But yet, the attorneys encouraged me by congratulating me on each step of my academic undergraduate career, exposing me to new things, and by encouraging me to take on greater responsibility via leadership roles and projects (thereby building self-confidence and learning more about the legal profession).  Once I had been admitted to several schools, the secret came out.  Feelings were mixed. My five years with them were life-changing, fulfilling, and a major part of my journey. This made my parting particularly bittersweet.

I plan to stay in-touch but I know it won’t be the same. There is also a finality in leaving a job as a paralegal to go to law school. I will never again be the support staff, but this doesn’t mean I can’t continue to be the student. I have learned so many things from the wonderful attorneys I worked with and I hope that mentor/mentee relationship will continue through law school.  One female partner at the firm (who graduated from Dreamer School of Law) warmly welcomed any questions I may have about the law school, legal profession, etc. It was in conversing with her that I realized a new relationship is also emerging, that of colleague.  As she shared stories about her days at the law school, “Professor Dread is very intimidating but you will learn the most from him . . .” I felt a closeness that I hadn’t felt before.

By the end of my last day I packed two banker’s boxes containing the contents of my cubicle, ate far too much cake, and said my goodbyes.

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Law Graduates’ Standard of Living

July 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm ($, Choosing a law school, Financing Law School)

I’ve blogged about non-traditional ranking systems before and one of the best entities to do so is the National Jurist.  They rank best law libraries, best law schools for public interest programs, and now they’ve ranked the best law schools for standard of living.  Smart move. Of course, a rankings list of this type (taking into account tuition, debt, salary, and law graduates’ living costs (in the geographic areas the law schools tend to place in) can be difficult at best, faulty at worst.  The National Jurist weeded-out some of the problems that occur inherently when taking law school data and analyzing it to rank schools.  For example, it has been well-documented that law schools fudge numbers and report data that comprise less than 50% of the graduating class.  The National Jurist tackles this problem by excluding several schools that do not have enough data available and/or not enough of the graduating class reported their salaries.  Bottom line, take it for what it is and be a smart consumer.  Check it out here: Best law schools for standard of living | the National Jurist.

Standard of living post law school graduation had weighed heavy on my mind when deciding whether law school was the right path for me. For many non-traditional students who are already established professionals, a benefit v. cost analysis is a wise idea.  Regardless if corporate law or poverty law is your goal, it just doesn’t make sense to undertake a huge debt burden if you will end up worse-off than you were pre-law school.  I had already been working as a paralegal for several years and earning a decent salary.  At the time, I did not know much about law school scholarships and couldn’t have predicted that I would be headed to law school on a full-tuition fellowship. Additionally, my enthusiasm for public interest law caused me to caution against undertaking law school debt  – which could potentially keep me from doing what I’m hoping to fulfill in the first place. I couldn’t imagine leaving a great job as a paralegal to undertake $100,000 in loans only to turn around and earn the same salary (or less).  Moreover, there are many opportunities for paralegals to get involved in public interest and volunteer service, but I felt I wanted more. If I had thought for a second going to law school would prohibit me from doing what I wanted to do with my life, I would have stopped dead in my tracks.  Luckily, things worked out in my favor, and I strongly believe this is my directive.

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Dreamer, Where Are You?

June 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm (0L Summer Prep, Personal Thoughts, Relocating for Law School)

I received a very nice email yesterday asking where I’ve been, why I haven’t posted in a while, and asking me to post something soon.  I was warmed by my noted absence, so to “J” and all of my other friends, this is for you.

I’m very happy to begin law school in T-56 days! But, in terms of blogging, this is a weird time for me. I literally have nothing to blog about. It’s kind of amazing how I went from constant LSAT prep obsession to application mode to receiving decisions to actually making a decision (and then changing multiple times). Now, however, there isn’t a lot going on. I promise that as soon as things get interesting again I will return to blogging more regularly. In fact, I’m really excited to share my law school experiences with you.  But now, for the sake of posting and letting you all know what I’m up to, here’s a summary of my currently less-exciting-life . . .

  • Since receiving the additional scholarship offer from Dreamer School of Law which happens to be an hour away from my current home, I’ve gotten really excited about attending and have gotten to know a few of my future classmates thanks to a Facebook group.
  • Initially, my husband and I thought I would commute to Dreamer School of Law but then realized spending two hours in a car would really cutdown my study time and spending roughly $3,000 a year on gasoline would be a major drain. So we found a nice house 1.5 miles from campus and I’ve entered into a wager with my husband as to how many days I will actually ride my bike as I promised him I would.  Our house will also be a little closer to my husband’s job, too.
  • So, for the last two weeks I have been packing up all of my belongings, minus those items that I’m putting in a garage sale. Muscles I didn’t even know I had are hurting! But, it’s kind of fun going through all of my stuff and reminiscing . . . and purging.
  • I’ve been reading law school success guides and have updated my reviews of them on this blog post.
  • I’m also thinking a lot about how I want to carry all of my books around school.  I have this really great messenger bag that I got on Zappos (they really do have the best customer service ever, by the way!). But I’ve been thinking about switching to a back-pack. My only hesitation is that I don’t want to look like I’m hiking through the mountains . . .or an undergrad. So, I’m really not sure what I want to do. Recommendations would be much appreciated!
  • I found a blog that was written by a student who went to Dreamer School of Law nearly 15 years ago (blogs really did exist then, apparently).  It’s been really cool reading it. I found it using a blog directory and I highly recommend doing so.
  • I also purchased some official Dreamer School of Law swag (t-shirts, coffee mug, etc.) I’m completely outfitted!
  • I’m considering buying an entire case of paper. Staples has it on-sale through today for 50% off, making it $25 (coupon is in this week’s flyer). I go through paper so fast and even though I will have a printing allowance at Dreamer School of Law, I question how much I will actually use it since I prefer to work in my home office. I’m also on  the lookout for any other items that may make my 1L life a little easier (again, would love to hear your recommendations!)
  • I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I have been spending entirely way too much time watching the Casey Anthony Trial on TruTV. It’s been quite an education.
  • Generally, I have just been “taking it easy” and trying to relax. I’m also mentally preparing myself for the rigors of law school (in other words, “kick back and relax now because I’m giving 210% when I start law school).
Full steam ahead . . . .

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A Letter to my Future Self (as a Summer Associate)

May 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm (Legal Professional Tips, Letters to my future self)

In preparation for law school in 85 days, I have begun transitioning out of my position at work. This has entailed finding my replacement, training the replacement, and on a personal level, preparing to be unemployed.  My replacement started a few weeks back and she has been quite excellent. This had left me with some spare time on my hands, which has been filled with assisting our 2L summer associate.  I am appreciative of this opportunity because it allows me to see what my life will be like a year and two years from now. However, there are a few notes that I have taken based on my assessment of our summer associate and have written them in a form of a letter to my future self.  If this were a “real” letter, I would guess it would not be received well.  But I tried to make it worthwhile anyway.  I wanted to document these realizations to two purposes: 1) To remind myself of the support staff perspective of the summer intern with a goal to review my feelings again a year from now; and 2) to share my findings with others and solicit feedback and additional comments which will help me be a better associate when that time comes.  In reality, I don’t know how helpful this will be to my future self because if I am keen enough to notice these issues, I am (hopefully) unlikely to repeat the same mistakes.

Dear Summer:

Thank you for this opportunity to work with you as you learn the ins and outs of law firm life.  I am eager to learn from you and hope that we will have the opportunity to discuss (off the clock) your experiences as a first year law student – perhaps we could meet for coffee one morning this week?  I appreciate that we seem to “mesh” well and believe we will stay in touch in the future.  You graciously asked for my help and to provide you with any helpful information that may benefit you this summer.  Below are some things to consider:

It is wonderful that we are close in age and it is great to see fresh new blood in the office.  As you are aware, all of the partners here are 40+ years in age and very traditional in their ways. Your command of technology and helpful tips on using computer software to enhance productivity is a helpful asset.  Just remember that email should also be used appropriately and that the recipient of your email correspondence likely has differing opinions on the appropriate level of formality for emails. You may be unaware that our firm management software archives emails to client files – these emails can then be viewed by anyone with access to our firm’s client file system.  This includes attorneys who will be later evaluating your work.  While we are the same age and I “get” the use of emoticons and “LOLs” the attorneys evaluating your work (including these emails) may not. Though I too, am “youngish,” I expect the same level of professionalism from you as I would any other attorney and you can expect the same level from me.  Additionally, there are times when emails must be shared with other attorneys; forwarded on for clarification or to keep your supervising partner “in the loop.” It would be difficult to go through and redact every :) and “LOL” for the sake of appearing professional. It is best to simply be professional in the first place (and at all times).

Though it has become clear that your internship at our firm was not your first choice, you shouldn’t burn bridges.  Keep an open mind, though, while your first choice was “big law” you may find you enjoy the atmosphere here and may ultimately be happier with a mid-size firm such as ours.  Don’t write-off a future with us just yet.  You may not realize it, but your lack of enthusiasm and unwillingness to learn our firm-specific procedures yields insight to others that you feel you have wasted your time (or are only here to earn a few bucks).  Regardless if you hope to return next summer or an employment offer is ultimately extended, the contacts you make here will be invaluable to your professional development.  You may need to use your experience here as a professional contact, a letter of recommendation, etc.  Moreover, even if you do not wish to stay in the area, attorneys are all connected in some way.  You want to be able to tap into that network without fear of an unpleasant experience coming back to bite you.  Always be tactful, courteous, and intelligent.

Don’t be afraid to field work (appropriately).  Let me help you type the file memo, track down a missing file, etc.  Don’t ask me to run down your supervising partner to ask a question about a task he has assigned you. Those type of tasks are an opportunity for you to demonstrate your communication skills.  The partner is already aware of my abilities – this is your time to shine! Also, don’t be afraid to communicate with the partners on the status of your workload. If its too heavy and you run the risk of submitting sub-par work for the sake of getting everything done, communicate to them what your running against.  They will respect you for it and you can do it without seeming weak or as complaining.  Communication is key.

On another note, platformed 4”heels are all the rage right now – they allow for height while maintaining some degree of comfort.  They are sexy and very stylish.  However, they are not popular with the other professional women of our firm who equate them with stripper heels.  Men, too, may view them as inappropriate and are hoping you are not in their office when their wife visits them for lunch.  No joke.  Moreover, you need to gain the respect and confidence of everyone around you.  This entails dressing the part.  If you don’t want to be mistaken for the 18 year old pre-college file clerk, don’t dress like your fresh out of high school.  Try to mirror the attire worn by the 30 year old associate who has earned the respect of the named partners.  Also, designer shoes are expensive and if you have chosen to wear them only once inside the office (wearing flip flops or sneakers outdoors), you must either use our side/private entrance (as opposed to the one that opens into the client waiting area) and change into them privately in the stairwell or change your shoes in your car and walk the few steps into the office wearing your professional attire.  Since we live in a rural area with no public transportation, it is less forgivable to be seen wearing flip flops into the office. We know you didn’t just get off the train and walk 10 blocks to get here.

Best of luck to you this summer.

LawSchoolDreamer

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Law School Grading Curves

May 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm (Choosing a law school, Financing Law School, Law School Grades)

Grading curves. It’s been a term I’ve heard thrown around but paid little attention to until now (since the fact I will be a law student in less than three months is suddenly dawning upon me!)  Admittedly, I should have paid closer attention to law school grading policies during the decision making process. It may not have swayed my decision from one school to another, but comparing curves could potentially help in analyzing the differences and similarities between schools. It is also possible that the curve could yield insight on the student body competitiveness of a given law school.  There is a very helpful and comprehensive list of Law School Grading Curves on this wikipedia page.  It really wasn’t until I visited this page earlier today that I saw the differences between schools. Fortunately, “Dreamer School of Law” has a terrific grading policy (no mandatory curve) and my scholarship is contingent on maintaining “good standing” and a 2.0 GPA. But some of the schools I was considering are very harsh. Interestingly, the admissions officer at one particular law school claimed there was no grading policy, mandatory curve, or ranking. Yet, according to the wikipedia list (and cited source) their policy is among the most steep.

A current law student could probably comment more heavily on this than I, but my understanding is that the law school’s grading policy is very important. It can make the environment more or less competitive (or even incite competition), it can make it more difficult to maintain a merit scholarship, and (for those schools who have a mandatory flunk out curve) it may mean a discontinuation of law studies even if the student maintained relatively decent pre-curve grades but managed to fall in the bottom 10% of the class.

The wikipedia article warns of the following:

“The main source of this competition is the mandatory curve you will likely encounter once you enter law school. The curve affects the class rank, affects the chances of making law review, affects the chances of scoring that big job/externship.”[1] Some law schools set their curve lower to retain scholarship funding.

Photo Credit: NYT

An enlightening NYT article has created a lot of buzz among prospective and current law students.  It turns out, a lot of law schools award far more merit-based scholarships to attract prospective students than they actually intend to pay.  (Scam artists, I say!)

For what its worth, I received a total of 5 full tuition-scholarships. Of those, two had very low stipulations (maintain a 2.0 gpa and remain in “good standing”). Of these two, one was offered from a T4 (but locally respected) law school and the other is the Top-25 I am attending this fall (a/k/a “Dreamer School of Law”) – I demonstrate this to reflect the fact the law school’s USN&WR or tier does not automatically correlate with grading policy (so make no assumptions).  The other three had strict requirements and were nonrenewable if I were to fall below the mandatory status: One scholarship, to a T4 law school in a big city required I remain in the top-third of my part-time class (!), the remaining two (at T2 schools) required I maintain a minimum 3.0 gpa (which computes to roughly top-half of the law school class). I, like everyone else entering law school, assume that I will find law school challenging but still be able to hold my own (and certainly not fall below the top-half). But the truth is, not everyone can be in the top-half, top 1/3, etc. thus the scholarshiped half, 3/4, etc. risk losing their merit-based scholarships.  This is detailed in the article, which is a must read for any prospective law student. A summary of articles recently written on this topic can be found at the Tax Law Prof Blog.

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