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.
Above photo is the BC Veteran’s Memorial “dedicated to the memory of Boston College alumni who died in service to their country.”
Two days into a trip from Boston to the Panama Canal, my Coast Guard cutter tucked into a harbor off Long Island to anchor while we waited out a winter storm. Like most of the crew, I took advantage of what might be my last hours of American cell phone service for three months to text family members and obsessively refresh my email. I stood on the flight deck and felt a momentary reprieve from the wind and snow whipping my face as I read the subject line, “Congratulations from BC Law.”
My first reaction was an embarrassing combination of shock and fist pumps directed in no particular direction. My second reaction was a sobering, “Now what?” After ten years in the military I’d grown accustomed to having a checklist and pre-planned response card for everything I did, now I was temporarily severing my connection to the outside world without any idea how I’d prepare or pay for law school. I didn’t know what kind of help to ask for, much less who to ask for it.
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.
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.
The personal statement section of the law school application can sometimes seem like an artificial reconstruction of particular stories in a person’s life that is carefully molded solely to convince administrators that they should choose one individual over the thousands of other people they evaluate. And, for some, the statement turns out to be exactly that. Yet, the process of writing my personal statement forced me to re-evaluate my pedagogical journey in attempting to justify to myself why I was going to law school and what I could possibly do afterwards. Thus, I can think of no better introduction to who I am for the readers of BC Law: Impact than the personal statement that put me on this path.
I see each person as an accumulation of his or her experiences. More specifically, they are a representation of the events, cultures, opinions, ideas and ideologies that shaped who they are and inform their perspective. This perspective, in turn, shapes how they see the world, and how they understand their responsibility to other people.
Now, what is my perspective? I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico to parents of Spanish and Cuban ancestry. My maternal grandmother was raised in San Juan by her grandfather, Jose de Diego, an active voice of the Puerto Rican independence movement in the late nineteenth century. As an independentista, he fought for sovereignty and the equal rights of Puerto Ricans under colonial rule. My grandmother was a firsthand witness of his struggle for equality, as the status of our island was debated and its future decided. Although neither of my parents were able to attend college, they worked long hours to start a cargo business from the ground up. Consequently, my grandmother took care of me during much of my early years and I have vivid memories of coming home to sit on her lap and listen to stories of de Diego’s battle for the people of Puerto Rico.
Heads up: There is so much to read in law school. And the case materials are not written in plain English. You will have to read some cases twice or even three times to get a clear picture of what’s really going on.
Then there are a myriad of 1L events to welcome us law-newbies – and overwhelm us further – on this exciting journey into the world of jurisprudence.
You have half-a-dozen student organization meetings to attend. Socialization follows.
Of the little time you have left for yourself, you’re given the choice to sleep or…
…go rock climbing, kayaking, run, hangout at the beach, and try out kiteboarding.
Sometimes, life has a funny way of telling you where you’re supposed to be.
In February, I had decided on a law school. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t BC Law. The school I chose was a highly-ranked choice close to home. I was beyond excited to send in my seat deposit, but for some reason I felt obligated to justify my decision to my friends and family. I remember pining over the ABA 509 Reports for some kind—any kind—of justification to back my decision. Now, of course, I know that the only person I needed to convince was myself.
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 so excited to be hosting a guest blog from 2L Lauren Koster on her public interest experiential learning experience.
For the spring semester of our 1L year, Boston College Law introduced an exciting element of choice: selecting an experiential learning elective to start building the skills it takes to be a lawyer. Some of our classmates opted for a course to practice negotiation or civil litigation. In the course of my choosing, “Leadership, Communication, and Social Justice for the Public Interest Practitioner,” our experiential element was driven entirely by a team project of our own design.
“What kind of law are you going to practice?”
It’s a question every incoming law student is bombarded with from the moment they register for the LSAT, but I never felt fully prepared to answer it. I was interested in dozens of legal paths before law school, and a year at Boston College has only broadened my interests.