I never liked elevator speeches. I struggled with reducing my purpose in life or work to a rush of words that I could get out before reaching the figurative lobby. Now that I’m in law school, the task is a little easier. People generally have some sense of what it is to be a lawyer. But prior to this I was studying philosophy of religion at a divinity school. Fewer people have a clear sense of what that’s about. And these days, if I happen to divulge both of those pieces of my biography—law school and divinity school—I can often see the confusion work its way through their faces.
Often they’re wondering why a pastor, minister, or priest would become a lawyer. I explain that I, like most students at my school, went for a degree in religious studies, not ordination. Another reason for the dissonance seems to come from that old dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. Even as fewer people in our country identify with organized religion, there still seems to be some notion that those who take religion seriously at least have the courage of their convictions. Lawyers, on the other hand, are known for their moral promiscuity. Both generalizations need to be questioned. Still, when quickly explaining how I ended up at BC Law, I often try and fail to reconcile that perceived tension.
So I’m using this blog to break free from the limitations of an elevator speech and offer one explanation of how divinity school and law school go hand in hand. A warning up front: as an occupational hazard of divinity school education, I sometimes reason allegorically, and this will be one of those times.
We’re in our second month of 1L. By now, the Law Library has become our new home, caffeine and free pizza fuel our bodies, and we’ve all gone through the five stages of grief. And by now, almost everyone has been personally victimized by the supposedly random Cold Call.
So why is it that some of my classmates still carry a sense of alienation in the classroom?
The first week of school, one of my professors painstakingly struggled through a name pronunciation before giving up and joking, “I guess that’s the first and last time I call on you.” People laughed. To most of our classmates, I’m sure this incident wasn’t a big deal. They chuckled along with the professor, then probably forgot about it by the next cold call, not a second thought given to this well-intended yet problematic attempt at comic relief.
But as I glanced around the room, I met the eyes of other students of color. I could tell that there was a mutual understanding—this clear microaggression had triggered a feeling we all knew with aching familiarity. A feeling of hotness—a prickling sense of embarrassment and shame mixed with exasperation and invalidation. Of course, we knew that the professor had no malicious intent or meant any harm. But to us, the professor’s comment hadn’t just been a joke. It was a reminder of the underlying alienation and otherness we were conditioned to feel our whole lives.
There are many things you can do with your law degree. Just ask Caroline Reilly, a recent BC Law grad and former Impact blogger who has combined her passion for journalism with her legal education and training to advocate for change in reproductive health practices.
While at BC Law, Caroline took part in the school’s LEAPS program. The goal of LEAPS, or Leaders Entering and Advancing Public Service, is to provide opportunities for students to discover and develop their talents for advancing the public good through their chosen legal path. For Caroline, this path began with her desire to advocate for reproductive rights.
World Mental Health Day, celebrated annually on October 10th, is a day to bring awareness to mental health issues and for individuals to band together to promote mental wellness, improve public dialogue and care for those struggling with mental health issues. Today the BC Law community is rallying together to share other ways individuals cultivate joy, cope with stressors, and find perspective while in law school.
Unfortunately, a high-pressure environment along with a number of other stressors puts individuals in law school and in the legal field at risk for developing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders. In fact, law students disproportionally struggle with mental health issues in comparison to the general population, as previously discussed in A Necessary Look at Mental Health in Law School and Out of Place? You’re Not Alone. Fortunately, Boston College offers professional help to those struggling with a mental health issue – no matter how small. (Links provided below this post).
Along with providing professional mental health services, it is especially important for law schools to promote mental wellness. According to the World Health Organization, mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Thus, mental wellness is not necessarily the absence of mental health issues, but rather is the presence of positive strategies and characteristics for handling life’s ups and downs.
It is possible to boost your mental wellness by finding ways to elevate your mood and increase your resilience. Four wellness-building techniques are described in Beat Your 2L Lull: Four Strategies for Success.
Below, members of the BC Law community share what they do to boost mental wellness in their daily lives. As you read, feel free to share what brings you joy or helps you manage stress by commenting below or adding #LawStudentWellness, #WorldMentalHealthDay and/or #IamBCLaw to your post on social media. And please share this post with friends.
Welcome (back) to Boston College Law! Today, I’m pleased to host a guest post from 2L Rachel Weiss, a Weinstein Scholar, on her experience joining the BC Law community.
Like most students coming into law school, I was extremely anxious. The source of my anxiety, however, did not just stem from the typical types of stressors that so many students face, such as embarking on a brand new and highly complex discipline, moving to a new city, switching careers, or making new friends. While I did share those concerns with my classmates, one of the biggest changes for me in coming to law school would be attending a Jesuit school as a Jewish student.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by others who shared my culture and religion. From an early age, I went to Hebrew School, spent summers at a Jewish overnight camp, then attended a predominantly Jewish high school, and even managed to end up at an undergraduate university with a sizable Jewish population. Knowing people who had also been raised in the Jewish tradition and having the support of my religious community were constants throughout my life.
Coming to Boston College Law School, I soon realized that things would be different. I was no longer surrounded by people with similar backgrounds and experiences to my own. As I started to navigate this adjustment, I was introduced to someone who would later become a major part of my transition to the BC Law community.
Being at BC Law as a Jewish woman pursuing public interest law can sometimes create a sense of cognitive dissonance and difficulty feeling like I belong. My background and upbringing is very Jewish and very rooted in social justice. I’ve been actively involved in Jewish communities for my entire life and that has informed my values. I attended Smith College, a progressive women’s college out in Northampton, MA. Attending a Jesuit Catholic law school initially gave me some pause, especially knowing that most future lawyers are looking to pursue careers in “Big Law.” But attending the Public Interest Law Retreat (PILR) last weekend reminded me that I don’t need to check my public interest goals and passions at the door to the law school–rather, that there are people and systems in place to support them.
The PILR is a program for 1Ls, coordinated by the Law School and the incredible 1L, 2L, and 3L Public Service Scholars. The bunch of us drove out to Dover, MA to the Boston College Connors Retreat Center. We stayed overnight in the old stone building located in a more rural part of the state with lots of green space and trees. We entered a refreshing atmosphere the instant we arrived.
If you’re anything like me, you probably had a vague idea of what law review was prior to law school. As former Impact bloggers have discussed, there are ups and downs and benefits and drawbacks. Those bloggers have covered a lot of ground, so I won’t go into all that again here. Simply put, you should definitely do some research to determine if joining law review is right for you (reading those earlier posts is a good place to start!).
That being said, I knew I wanted to join BC’s Law Review for a number of reasons. I wanted to improve my writing skills, wished to keep the door open for potential clerkship opportunities, and hoped to go into the on-campus interview process with a strong resume. Plus, BC’s Law Review does not limit you to writing within a specific subject area and I am excited to delve into an area of the law that truly excites me next semester. To me, these benefits outweighed any potential drawbacks.
Although I still know that joining Law Review was the right decision for me and I have appreciated the opportunity to work alongside great editors and staff writers, there was one factor I never fully appreciated: the pressure that accompanies getting published. Don’t get me wrong: I knew it would be an invaluable opportunity to join the legal conversation this early on in my career. But what if I had an embarrassing typo or misunderstood the law?
I didn’t necessarily think law school would be boring. I swear I didn’t. But then, I didn’t necessarily think it would be funny either.
One of the natural barriers surely standing in the way of a law professor’s mission is what I have experienced as ‘the 1L jitters.’ Personally, I was very nervous about the start of law school, a new and defining chapter in my life. I was so nervous that I didn’t get much sleep for the first couple of days. Speaking with my fellow students, it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t the only one.
Now, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that getting at least a couple hours of sleep per night might be important for the learning process, so there was going to be a problem if we didn’t all release some of that 1L jitter-tension quickly. And that’s what laughter is, right? Releasing tension. I’ve found the class content lends itself to humor surprisingly well, and it’s where the professors can excel.
I’m sure a lot of you are starting to think about your personal statements. I know it can be pretty overwhelming to decide on the right approach. My advice? Don’t forget that you decide your own story.
I was not a perfect applicant. I had strong grades and a strong LSAT, but my background was…complicated. When it came time to write my personal statement, I was stuck. Do I talk about my past? I had overcome a lot. But it wasn’t something I wanted to share. And it wasn’t how I wanted to define myself to an admissions committee.
My torts professor often reminded us that lawyers are some of the last generalists. As a greater number of professions turn toward specialization, attorneys must retain their ability to move from client to client, constantly learning, always becoming well-versed in new subject areas.
This aligns with the small amount of real-world experience I have. Indigent defense carries with it no small number of clients, each fighting a battle which extends beyond any single criminal charge. Mental health, addiction, familial troubles, employment issues, educational difficulties, and systemic failures at every level are just a smattering of the struggles public interest attorneys must grapple with on a near-daily basis.
Seeing the work of public defenders up close, and knowing I planned to become one myself, I began to see a gaping hole in my legal education. If the role of a public-interest-minded law student is to become a fierce and able advocate, the traditional legal curriculum wasn’t getting me there. No matter how comfortable I became with legal writing, negotiations, client counseling, and trial practice, in three years’ time I knew I wouldn’t be ready to meet my clients where they are at.