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.
I’m delighted to guest host 2L Ryan Sullivan today, who is bringing us the first ever Intellectual Property and Technology Forum podcast. The IPTF is dedicated to providing readers with rigorous, innovative scholarship, timely reporting, and ongoing discussion from the legal community concerning technology law and intellectual property. The Forum is designed, edited and published by students at Boston College Law School. And if you missed Episodes 2 and 3, check them out here!
What does the FCC’s rollback of limitations on ISPs really mean for consumers? Is the hysteria surrounding the rollback warranted? Are we closing in on the end of Net Neutrality under the Trump administration?
Tune in to Episode 4, where our guest is Gesmer Updegrove Litigation Partner, Joe Laferrera. In additions to leading Gesmer’s Data Security and Privacy practice group, Joe is a techie through and through.
At BC Law, your education does not only consist of the material you learn in your courses. BC hosts many conferences, functions, presentations, and discussions on just about every subject you can think of, from panels put on by professors addressing recent political actions to all-day events sponsored by BC’s journals and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy. Recently, the Rappaport Center sponsored an all-day conference on criminal justice reform in Massachusetts that was open to both students and practitioners. There were three panels as well as a keynote address by Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
People often ask me what’s different about 2L year compared to 1L year. Among other things, like more challenging classes and having a better handle on the way law school works, there’s one thing in particular that has made my 2L experience a whole lot different from my 1L year: being on a journal.
What’s a journal? At the end of their 1L year, BC Law students have the opportunity to participate in a writing competition in order to be on the staff of one of BC Law’s nationally-recognized law journals. Currently, there are five journals at BC Law: the Boston College Law Review (BCLR), the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, the Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, the Boston College Journal of Law and Social Justice, and the U.C.C. Reporter-Digest (note: with the exception of the U.C.C. Reporter-Digest, at the end of this academic year all the journals will be consolidated into the Boston College Law Review, and each subject area will be given appropriate space for articles within BCLR). All 2Ls hold staff writer positions in the journal to which they belong, while the 3Ls hold different editorial positions.
One night in the 1960’s, a Coast Guard sailor, whose ship was in port for repairs, came stumbling back to the vessel in, to use the words of the judge, “the condition for which seamen are famed.” His ship was in a dry-dock, a floating tub of water which is drained once the ship is inside so that repairs to the hull can be made. The sailor, buoyed by drink, tried his hand at the dry-dock control wheels, letting in water which eventually caused the boat and dry-dock to partially sink. The dry-dock owners sued the government for the money damages the sailor’s actions caused, and the government eventually had to foot the bill. Continue reading