The Dangers of Mathematical Illiteracy in the Legal Profession

You don’t have to be a fan of the TV series Black Mirror to realize that our world is becoming more computationally driven. Yet, being a fan may help you recognize the dangerous ways that technology can expand to affect how society operates. Ever since I began law school just a few months ago, I’ve been led to consider the role that courts will play in organizing and controlling new scientific frontiers. An increasingly important feature of future courts will be mathematical literacy. Unfortunately, based on empirical data, our courts system has not been very effective at analyzing empirical data.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments grounded in statistics related to partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford. Many judges seemed dismissive of a mathematical tool, called the efficiency gap, that aims to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering. The computation simply involves taking the difference between each party’s “wasted” votes, divided by the total number of votes cast. The court suggested that the lack of public understanding would make this standard arbitrary and erode the legitimacy of the court. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last two months of law school rigorously attempting to internalize foundational legal concepts that I’m certain are puzzling to most lay people.

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Que esta passant aqui?

Walking the streets of Barcelona with my father used to involve a mild amount of embarrassment. In the city, where he was born and raised, and where most residents speak both Catalan and Spanish, there is a social convention: If you speak to someone you don’t know in Catalan, and they respond in Spanish, you should follow their cue and switch to Spanish because they do not speak Catalan.  When someone responded to my father’s Catalan in Spanish, he persisted in Catalan.  Sometimes they would call him out, explicitly telling him that they did not speak Catalan.  Sometimes he would respond, “But we are in Catalunya.”  I would stand by, hand blocking my face, hoping the interaction would end quickly.  After seeing the national police bludgeon citizens throughout Catalonia with truncheons in a feeble attempt to block the October 1 independence referendum, I have a harder time seeing my father’s obstinacy as embarrassing.

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Goodbye to OCI

No, that noise you hear as the calendar flips to November isn’t the sound of leaves blowing in the fall wind. Rather, it it a collective sigh of relief coming from BC Law 2Ls that the OCI process has finally come to a close. OCI, short for “on campus interviewing,” serves as the major recruitment tool for most large, national firms looking to hire summer associates. Over the summer, 2L students may submit resumes, cover letters, and transcripts to all of the firms that they are interested in interviewing with. The firms then select students they wish to meet with for screener interviews on the law school campus. These initial interviews are about twenty minutes long and are generally a way for firms to get a feel for whether or not the candidate is a good “fit.”

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When Textbooks Come to Life

Recently, it dawned on me that as a 3L, I only have one more year to enjoy what law school has to offer. Sometimes, I’m so eager to start my career that I forget to stop and appreciate the unique opportunities that I have as a law student, which may not be available anymore when I leave BC Law and start a full-time job.

One of these opportunities happened last week right on our campus. On Thursday and Friday, BC Law had the honor of hosting the Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules (thanks to Professor Coquillette, who is the Reporter to the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure for the Judicial Conference). The Committee, made up of federal judges and practicing attorneys, including members of the Department of Justice, is charged with making recommendations to the Judicial Conference on the Federal Rules of Evidence.

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What Exactly Is Art Law, Anyway?

I’m pleased to host a guest post from Samantha O’Neal, one of the leaders of BC Law’s Art Law Society.

It is a universally acknowledged truth that a college student majoring in Classics and Archaeology will be the subject of much familial concern and consternation, especially if that student has little desire to actually be an archaeologist. I was one of those students. Few moments can be as uncomfortable as your friends’ parents staring at you while wondering aloud, “But what are you going to do with that?” as they try to mask their sympathy for my poor, long-suffering parents who would probably be supporting me forever thanks to my desire to study a “dead” language (I’ll forego listing the merits of a Classical education for the moment.)

I had the great fortune to be born to parents who, while most certainly long-suffering, champion the Liberal Arts education. They always figured that, regardless of what I wanted to do, I would either need to go to grad school or be trained on the job, so why not study something I was actually interested in? But I never saw undergrad as some carte blanche to major in anything I wanted. Rather, it was an important step in my journey to studying museums and cultural property law.

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BC Law: The Happiest Place on Earth?

When I first heard BC Law called “the Disneyland of law schools” during my 1L orientation, I was surprised. How can a law school – something that is grueling and competitive by nature—be likened to the widely proclaimed “happiest place on earth?” My only experience with law school was limited to the crazed mumblings of relatives in legal professions and of friends struggling through their own intensely cutthroat law school experiences. Before classes began I had been preparing myself to be swallowed by a writing-intensive version of the Hunger Games. “Keep your head on a swivel” was the sage warning from my dad as I set off on my new venture.

But I also found the Disney analogy comforting and personally appropriate. I recently retired from three years touring as a professional figure skater for Disney on Ice, where I had been actually living in this Disney dreamland. Disney was something familiar. I wanted to know more.

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Arming Underrepresented Communities with Legal Power

I’m pleased to host a guest post from 2L Yetunde Buraimoh, discussing the Black Law Student Association’s recent “Know Your Rights” training.

When I sat down with the Black Law Students Association’s  (BLSA) E-board last spring to plan programming for the 2017-18 academic year, we unanimously agreed that it was necessary to increase BLSA’s presence in the greater Boston community. Given our nation’s current social climate, particularly the increased exposure of police brutality, we felt that it was crucial to facilitate programming that would equip individuals in over-policed communities with the knowledge necessary to make the best decisions for their safety.

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A Not-So-Typical Path to Law School

I have been grappling with the sometimes-tenuous relationship between my expectations and reality since I was a six-year-old girl, kissing my perfectly healthy mother goodbye before school. When I got off the school bus that afternoon, I expected my mother to be waiting for me at the bus stop, a snack to be on the table, and my father to be at work. Instead, it was my father waiting for me, no snack, and the news that my mother had taken a nap that morning and had never woken up.

Several years after my mother’s death, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, but I think emptiness is a much more complete way to describe what was happening inside my head. When people think of depression they think of sadness and tears, but depression is more like a parasite that sucks away all human emotions; happiness, anger, even sadness cannot exist as long as depression is present. Being depressed is like being locked behind a one-way mirror; isolated, invisible to your loved ones, and forced to watch them live their happy lives without you.

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“How Is That NOT Hearsay?” and Other Ways to Think Like a Lawyer

There are few things cooler for an 11-year-old kid than getting to stay up later than your siblings to watch an R-rated movie, so I vividly remember hopping on the couch with my dad to watch Crimson Tide in 1995. I clung to a pillow with wide-eyed excitement as the USS ALABAMA and a Russian submarine fired torpedoes at each other while Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman squared off with a nuclear war on the line.

At the movie’s tense climax, my dad, a Navy veteran, turned to me dead serious and said, “That guy’s wearing the wrong collar devices.”

My first reaction was “stop talking during the movie so I can see if the submarine sinks,” but my next thought was “how can he possibly know that?” I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but my dad’s time in the Navy had left him with attention to detail that he couldn’t turn off.  It was impossible for him to watch the movie without critiquing the uniforms, lingo, and behavior of the sailors after it had been so ingrained in him by his supervisors and experience.

That’s what 1L does to BC Law students.

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Behind Closed Doors

When people asked me about my summer (How was work? Did you like what you did?), I found it difficult to provide an adequate account of what I was doing. I spent my summer with the Child Protection Unit at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. The Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) there form part of the team that investigates and, if appropriate, prosecutes instances of child physical and sexual abuse in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Revere, Chelsea, and Winthrop. At the Superior Court level almost all of the cases they handle deal with allegations of sexual abuse involving children. To be clear, the following will include a discussion of those cases, and some of it may be difficult to read. Continue reading