I love to plan ahead. Predictable structure gives me a sense of peace unachievable even through the best vinyasa practice. But during my first couple years of law school, an important part of why I’m here has been mostly absent from my obsessive planning. For those of us hoping to practice at some point after graduation, we have to pass the bar.
It’s been easy to push thoughts of the notoriously difficult test aside with classes, exams, papers, law review, externships and clinics taking up so much time and mental space. But whether we are consciously aware of it or not, the bar is there, hanging over everything else that we do in law school. Are there things I should have been doing to prepare, even during my 1L year?
I’m pleased to host a guest blog from 3L Jenny Moore, one of the winners of last year’s Grimes Moot Court Competition, describing her experience in the competition and on a moot court team.
Around BC Law, the dawn of Spring means the annual Grimes Moot Court Competition is reaching its conclusion: two teams vying to be champion in front of three distinguished judges. Grimes is BC Law’s internal moot court competition. Pairs of 2Ls spend a month writing a brief on a hypothetical appellate dispute, and over a month facing off once a week at oral arguments. Last year, my partner, Brooke Hartley, and I took it all home.
Participating in Grimes was one of my favorite parts of law school. Preparing for argument and arguing in front of the judges was unlike anything I had ever done before. I had always enjoyed public speaking but never felt the nerves beforehand until Grimes. Each week I was incredibly nervous right before my argument, but as soon as I got going and received questions from the judges, my nerves would turn into straight adrenaline. I enjoyed the challenge of being on my toes and trying to answer difficult questions in the most effective way possible to win the argument.
Brooke and I were pretty surprised each week when we would advance, and it was always exciting to see how the next round of judges would put us to the test. The day of the finals was one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life, but it will always be a special memory that we got to argue in front of such a distinguished panel, especially Merrick Garland.
When I first started at BC Law as a bright-eyed, fresh-faced 1L, I was enthusiastic, but, honestly, utterly clueless about what I wanted out of law school. While diverse in backgrounds and experiences, it’s a safe assumption that, to some degree, BC Law students are cut from the same cloth. We are ambitious, friendly, and intellectually curious. And while that’s what I loved about our student body from Day 1, admittedly, having so many high achievers in one place can make forging an individual path somewhat challenging.
I waited patiently throughout 1L year, hoping to connect with a certain class or professor that would set me on my path. I struggled to make sense of what my past could mean for my future. As an undergraduate science major with work experience in communications, my interests have always been vast and varied. Without a clear-cut direction, I was determined that during my first months as a law student, I would expand my perspective on what it means to practice law in as many ways as possible. I joined student organizations, attended campus events, and most importantly, I continued to engage in all that I had learned prior to law school.
Finally, in the spring of my 1L year, something clicked.
We live in an age in which it seems increasingly difficult for people to agree. From topics like politics and morality, to food and movies, there seems to be constant debating over what is good and right in this world.
So how do we address this growing polarization? How do we respond in everyday interactions with people who have various viewpoints? Those of us in the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at BC Law have been grappling with these questions, and wondering how we can be better classmates, colleagues, and neighbors in the midst of our country’s chaos. We want to learn how to embody a Christianity that is genuine and true to scripture, and distinct from the one that is so often portrayed in the media. We also wanted to invite others on the BC Law campus to explore these questions with us.
So, to learn more and dig deeper, CLS decided to host a discussion entitled “How to Disagree Well in an Age of Ideological Chaos,” which took place on March 27. We invited Kasey Leander and Matthew Mittelberg, two Fellows from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to come and share their insights. Having studied at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, the primary focus of Kasey and Matthew’s work is to engage in conversations about faith and help others understand God in light of today’s moral, philosophical, and cultural issues.
Your first graded assignment in law school will be drafting an Office Memorandum. Mine was horrible, and I’ve been drawing paychecks as a writer for nine years.
An “Office Memo” is a lengthy analysis of a specific legal question and its most probable answer. You are given a bundle of facts and an overarching question. It’s your job to identify the legally significant information, find the applicable legal rules and explain to your reader how those rules apply to your facts.
Below are three tips, and memorable advice from my legal writing professor, to help you avoid making the same mistakes that I made.
A couple weeks into my 1L year, on my drive into school, I heard a report on public radio about a recent Supreme Judicial Court (the Massachusetts state supreme court) decision. The court had found that black men might have a reason, even if they were not guilty of a crime, to run from the police. Even as a greenhorn law student, I could tell that this sort of decision was radical. When I got to school, I printed the opinion, pushed Torts, Contracts, and CivPro to the side, and raced through it.
Citing to a study conducted by the Boston Police Department, which found that black men are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police officers, and repeatedly so, the court noted that a black male, “when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.” This was the outcome I hoped to (but did not often) see in judicial decisions. I looked at the opinion’s author, Justice Geraldine Hines. The first black woman to serve on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court, she had worked in civil rights and defense before joining the bench. It seemed like the coolest career possible, and controverted the typical image of a judge as a stuffy old white man. Maybe if I was lucky, I thought, one day I would get to meet her.
That day would come sooner than I thought.
There’s no way around it: law school is arduous and stressful, even without law review. An average law student can expect to spend around 40 hours a week preparing for and attending class, and the average law review member can expect to add another 20 hours a week on top of that. If you’re one of the bold who would serve in a leadership capacity (editor in chief, senior editor, etc.), expect to add another 10-20 hours a week.
So why did I do it? It is not necessarily intuitive why someone would want to voluntarily subject themselves to such conditions, but serving as a member of law review comes with a lot of practical benefits.
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.
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.
In law school, the primary method of teaching, at least in larger classes and especially during the first year, is referred to as the Socratic method. A professor will call on and question a student (usually at random) about the day’s assigned reading, typically a judge’s written decision or case. You’re asked what happened to cause the dispute, what position the opposing sides took and argued, and how the court reasoned through the issue. This happens in front of the eighty or so other students in class. Public speaking consistently ranks among our greatest fears. The cold call in law school has you speaking in public without much preparation because you cannot know exactly what question will be put to you.
I didn’t know cold calling was a thing in law school until family and friends started asking me if I was nervous about it. I did some research and became terrified – and while it’s normal to feel that way, let me tell you why it might not be justified.