This past January, I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t wait to submit my last final exam at the end of May. It was an exhilarating feeling that lasted for a day or so until I received the Writing Competition email with hundreds of pages of materials. I was eager to complete the assignment over the next two weeks, so that I could finally take a breather. I submitted my competition materials, but it was on the same day that my summer internship started. Oh yes, and then grades were released. Then, the window for OCI (on-campus interview) applications were opened. Did I mention the anxiety of class registration for next year in the middle of this?
If this all seems like a lot… it is! Yet, every first-year law student persisted through this process and thrived. Although the past year felt overwhelming for a variety of reasons, we were all able to persevere because Boston College Law School prepared us.
On my first day of my summer internship at the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General, I was handed three assignments. One task was writing a memorandum that needed to be submitted five days later. Another task was assisting a supervising attorney by acting as a judge in a moot court as she prepared to argue before the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The other assignment was drafting a motion for an upcoming proceeding. All of this was in the first week.
Dean Rougeau was among the first people to speak to my class during orientation. He welcomed us to BC and to the legal profession. Then he talked about truth. This was the summer of 2019 and then, as now, there were concerns that the very notion of truth was being degraded beyond redemption. At the time, an iconoclastic media personality-turned-politician had unsettled what many thought were enduring, if only partial, methods of verifying truth.
We don’t need to dwell on the politics of it. Dean Rougeau didn’t. He just took the opportunity to center truth in legal education and practice. He talked about how our profession’s procedures, norms, and expertise offered one important solution to the challenge our society faced. I was skeptical. But less than two years later, completely unsubstantiated claims of election fraud ran rampant through the public square until they crashed into the brick wall of the courts’ evidentiary standards. He may have been onto something.
What is the role of faith in our democracy? For starters, freedom of religion is the first right enshrined in the First Amendment. While amendments are not listed in order of importance, it’s hard not to read something into that drafting choice. Yet constitutional meanings frequently play hide-and-go-seek with text. This is especially the case for religion, which is never defined in the Constitution.
Maybe the Founders’ generation assumed the meaning was self-evident. I would hope, however, that they knew there is little that is obvious or uncontested in religion. The etymology of the word itself suggests how difficult it is to define. Religion comes from the Latin term religio. The Latin phrase itself likely came from the root ligare, to bind. Joined with the prefix re-, religion is the process of “binding together again.”
The question is: what does religion bind together? Some believe it bound an individual to the discipline of moral discernment. It referred to epistemic responsibility, the responsibility to properly know what you know. A related but distinct interpretation was that it referred to the oaths taken by members of cults or religious orders. It emphasized the practical, ritual, and ecclesial dimensions of religious life. Over time, as religion started to assume more individualistic and mystical associations, the root was understood as referring to the re-connection between the human and the divine.
I first wrote about being a parent in law school shortly before my daughter’s second birthday. I was planning her second annual feat of strength. When she was one, she shuffled the last 100 meters up a paved path to the summit of Peter’s Hill. At two, she did a longer stretch of the road that winds around the hill. A few weeks ago, for her third birthday, she climbed straight up the hill, bottom to top, in the snow.
I started explaining the challenge to her the day before and then continued to prep her the morning of. When we started, she was ready, quiet, and about as focused as she gets. We started working our way up. In the middle, she struggled. She asked me to carry her. I told her she had to do this herself. She paused, rallied, and made it to the top. Breathing hard, but with a smile.
I took her for her three-year check-up at the pediatrician a couple of weeks later. The doctor told me, “Imagination is big at three.” She asked, “She imagine a lot?” That would be an understatement. She is constantly narrating her adventure: a highly consequential choice between the blue path and the red path, a search for a purple cow in a yellow valley, an escape from a thieving fox.
The first month of law school felt daunting, yet inspiring. The incentive to perform well and desire to keep pace with my classmates helped sustain my initiative. As that motivation began to diminish slowly, once finals were over I entered a complete hibernation from my legal studies. While it’s necessary to step back and recharge over break, it’s not so easy to make the return to a new semester.
As we all know, in law school there is no “syllabus week.” Instead we jolt into full length classes and hundreds of pages of readings. If you’re also struggling with the stark transition from over-indulging in the latest HBO series (I recommend His Dark Materials) to your respective Wolters Kluwer, I’ve researched a number of techniques to reinvigorate motivation.
As a 1L, you often hear advice to “Do your own thing,” and “Study whatever way works for you,” or “Stick to your learning style from undergrad.” However, if you’re still figuring that out or if you’re willing to try something new, I’ve compiled a list of study tips. Despite the increase in open-book exams afforded by the pandemic, let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security. Below are five scientifically based tips that may accelerate committing your material to long-term memory.
When this year’s 1Ls sit down for their first Property Law class they are likely to discuss Pierson v. Post. The case concerns a dispute over who owned a wild fox killed during a hunt. Lodowick Post and his pack of hunting dogs were in pursuit of the fox, having chased it through a stretch of the town commons when Jesse Pierson suddenly intervened to kill and claim it. Post insisted that the fox was rightly his, as he and his pack of hounds had been in pursuit and were on the verge of capturing it. Pierson countered that a wild animal is no one’s property until it is definitively captured or killed.
Pierson is a 1L classic because it dramatizes the legal construction of ownership. The dividing line between the fox’s state of nature and its state as property is whatever the majority opinion says it is. More subtly, the case also dramatizes a key assumption driving much of Anglo-American property law: settling the question of ownership clarifies many of the rights and responsibilities that shape our relations as political subjects. Pierson can feel anachronistic, with the majority discussing obscure legal treatises and the minority perseverating on the noxiousness of foxes. But the case was not really about a fox.
On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, explicitly protects against discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation. To reach its answer, the Court consolidated three cases that all touch on this issue, including Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners. The plaintiff in Bostock was a gay man who worked for the County as the Child Welfare Services Coordinator for over a decade. In January 2013, Bostock joined a gay recreational softball league, and in June 2013 he was fired from this position.
As a member of Boston College’s Law Review, I spent the Fall semester drafting a comment on the Bostock case, which was published by the journal’s online supplement. My comment ultimately argued that the Supreme Court should follow the guidance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces Title VII, and definitively hold that sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII.
Although our reasonings were not identical, both the Supreme Court and I agreed that LGBTQ individuals cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. There are still many changes that must be made before sexual orientation discrimination is completely eliminated, but this decision is definitely a historic milestone worthy of celebration.
As the Impact blog covered earlier in the semester, BC’s decision to go pass/fail led to a flurry of responses and emotions. Some were disappointed by the inability to boost their GPAs, while others were relieved to know that this meant they could dedicate more time to navigating the COVID crisis. But with exams just around the corner, I found myself reflecting on the meaning of exams and grades in law school.
Sure, at first after the pass/fail decision I thought to myself, “What exactly does passing mean and how much work do I really need to put in to get that passing grade?” Even with these looming thoughts, I still found myself regularly attending (Zoom) classes, keeping up with my readings, and getting a start on my outlines for finals. And I do not think I am alone here.
In the first days of social distancing, my daughter kept asking about school. She had a vague understanding of how weekends typically broke up her daycare routine but eventually it became clear that this one had stretched on to an absurd degree. Every morning for the first couple of weeks of lockdown she asked, “Baby go to school?” Then she rattled off the names of her teachers and classmates. Those early days were tough. She’s very social. School is thrilling for her. I was not an adequate replacement for ten friends and two loving teachers.
All work spaces and readings are shared.