In 1941, a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral was walking with his dog in the Alps. As both he and his dog brushed up against the surrounding vegetation, George began to wonder why burdock seeds were sticking to his wool socks and his coat, as well as to his dog. Out of curiosity, he decided to look at the burrs under a microscope, where he discovered tiny “hooks” in their surface that stuck them to fabrics and furs. Mestral, after experimenting with a variety of textiles, found he could manufacture a material with the same tiny hooks—out of nylon, that had the ability to stick to other fibers in a similar way. This invention, known as Velcro, proved to be a new, efficient, and reliable way of fastening things together, and is one of history’s greatest serendipitous discoveries.
Since what may as well be the beginning of time, students have gone to school and had their performance and knowledge of material assessed by some form of examination. In law school, the “final exam” brings to mind timeless and harrowing images of students shut away in large wooden rooms straining over pen and paper, toggling between some existential worry over the exam itself, and a broader heartache over the neurosis of law firms’ sordid infatuation with first year grades.
Other than the advent of the Scantron, and students over time writing their exam answers on computers instead of by hand, the setting, schedule, and convocation of final exams has hardly ever changed.
(What does this have to do with Velcro, you ask? Read on.)
Re-reading my admissions essay this week was a strange experience.
My aim was to communicate what had ultimately brought me to the point of applying to law school. For me, law school was not something that I’d set my heart on from a young age. I grew up in London, far removed from matters of American jurisprudence, and a severe stutter had frequently left me wanting to avoid any public speaking situations rather than enter a profession where it is so central. My decision to apply was ultimately the culmination of a realization – built gradually over an extended period of time – that law school offered perhaps the only real avenue to pursue my goals in public service and social justice.
Re-reading my essay now, I realize the extent to which the way I ultimately decided to tell my story was impacted by the unique post-March 2020 context: a period indelibly marked by the outbreak of COVID and police murder of George Floyd. Having spent most of the last seven or so weeks getting to know my new classmates, I recognize similarities in many other students’ stories. For the incoming 1L class, all of our applications were forged in this period of tumult and grief where the world seemed to be undergoing a process of deconstruction and re-making in front of our eyes. This cannot help but impact the ways in which we conceive of ourselves as lawyers in training, and ultimately, the way we decide to practice law. I see this reflected in a collective determination to question the status quo and re-examine structural inertias, and ultimately, a commitment to equity among many of my fellow students.
For those interested, I’ve shared my essay below.
It was 2011 when I first fully comprehended the power of the law. My local council had threatened to close our neighborhood library—a vital community resource in what is simultaneously the most diverse and most impoverished borough in the UK. In response, I co-founded a charity with other community members and, when our efforts to pressure local elected officials failed, we took the council to the high court to seek a judicial review of their decision. As I sat in court, enthralled, for two days as our attorney argued that the council had failed to comply with equality legislation, I had a moment of revelation. Decisions from higher up were not something to be simply accepted with resignation; rather, they were something to be interrogated and scrutinized, even overtly challenged. As our attorney deftly navigated webs of associated law and litigation, I had a deeper realization. The law was a guarantor of rights and protections, but it was also a living thing: an inherently participatory project reliant on there being individuals on both sides to make their cases. It requires people to “show up” on behalf of the less powerful, the under-resourced, and marginalized. In order to function, it demands individuals continue to make the case that all groups factor equally into public policy.
I am sitting at my desk in my childhood bedroom, in the home where I grew up, starting my summer internship virtually and feeling admittedly silly as I pour a cup of coffee and don professional clothing while I am surrounded by mementos of my youth. Though the coloring books and childhood photographs on my desk have now been replaced by my laptop and a Bluebook, things still feel eerily similar to what I remember growing up.
It makes me think back to this time last year. Coming home last March as the pandemic shutdown hit was almost incomprehensible: sitting in the home that felt so familiar to me, I was also painfully aware of how foreign just about everything else around me really was. I watched my professors (and later my summer employer) scramble to get a handle of how best to continue on in a world that was suddenly unfamiliar. I adapted to virtual meetings, technical difficulties, and Zoom hangouts. I took on the unfamiliarity with an open mind, trying to adjust to the temporary surroundings I believed I was in.
But now it has been a year, and the unfamiliarity has transformed into the ordinary. What was once a few weeks at most is now over a year of remote school and work. Summer internships, clinics, classes, and virtual events have come and gone. Countless in-person events and programs have been transformed to account for the virtual world we remain in. I and most other rising 3Ls (ouch), are entering into another remote summer internship.
As everyone keeping up with the media lately will be aware, the current situation in India is dire. At the beginning of the pandemic, India was doing relatively well, with rising cases under control and recovery rates relatively stable. India was scheduled to send millions of doses of vaccines to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In fact, approximately ⅓ of the population in the world’s poorest countries was relying on India to deliver their vaccines.1 Now, India itself is in calamity, with over 300,000 cases being reported daily – and many experts believe this number is a significant undercount. There is a shortage of oxygen, ventilators, and hospital space, to the extent where parking lots are now being used as mass cremation sites.2 Reading this news and seeing these photos is, of course, troublesome to everyone. Watching all of this unfold as an Indian-American immigrant, though, has been especially taxing.
For those who aren’t aware, I like to take on new challenges (like joining this blog, for example). As if 1L year isn’t busy enough, right? One of my favorites this year is the Just Law Podcast, which we launched in November 2020. We’ve put out ten episodes so far, with more great content coming before the end of the semester.
We have a great team. One of the toughest things (other than launching a podcast in the middle of a worldwide pandemic) is saying goodbye to good people, and this year we will be losing our 3L friends, Co-Hosts Lea Silverman and Kevin O’Sullivan, and Executive Producer Mark Grayson. These three helped found the podcast and were the main drivers in getting it off the ground, long before I came in. Suffice it to say, replacing them will be impossible.
But Joanna Plaisir and I will continue on, and our hope is to add new talent for next year to help us expand the podcast marketing and production team, as well as assist with interviews. We want to build Just Law for the long term, and hope to make it part of the fabric of BC Law, just like the Impact blog. Next year we’ll be in the studio (we hope) on campus, ready to record more great episodes for everyone out there listening. So if you’re a current or incoming student and have podcasting or sound mixing and engineering experience, and you want to get involved, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. And check out Just Law on Captivate, or your favorite podcast platform.
The following is a reflection based on my experience observing a Zoom hearing in housing court. Attending this hearing was part of an assignment for my clinic, the COVID-19 Relief Housing Clinic. The case I observed is not that of a client of our firm, but simply that of a litigant who virtually appeared in Zoom court that morning.
When I watch courtroom scenes on television and in movies, I am captivated by the persuasive oration, surprise evidence, and yes, the juicy drama. Superficially, attending a status hearing in Housing Court via Zoom was not so different from watching a televised courtroom experience. After all, I opened up my laptop and sat down at my desk to watch the scenes unfold through my screen. But the experience was nothing like watching a media portrayal of a courtroom drama. Because this wasn’t Netflix, and the spectacle wasn’t written with the sole function of my entertainment. That morning, I left feeling the opposite of entertained. It’s a lot less fun when the characters aren’t just reciting their scripts on a stage. It’s hard to find enjoyment in the unfolding of real problems of real people, especially when you can sense that there may not be a happy ending.
In my eyes, the protagonist of today’s narrative was the defendant tenant (let’s call her J), setting forth her case for numerous civil damages against her landlord, C. Particularly, she was experiencing various issues with heat, both in a bedroom and with her oven. This made me remember my own apartment last winter, when the heat was stuck at 64 degrees for less than a day. I was angry, less so because the cold was intolerable, and more so because I feel I have an entrenched right to this utility at all times.
J was situated in her apartment, wearing what looked like a bathrobe. She had attended the hearing after getting three hours of sleep after her overnight shift at work. She looked stressed and overwhelmed. It was like the frustration I feel when I have to stay up late for RA duty, but still have an 8 am class the next day.
The one year-mark of the Covid-19 shutdown that forced BC Law to fundamentally change its operations came and went last week. This pandemic-focused world has created realities that none of us could have ever predicted, simultaneously shutting doors and forcing new opportunities to emerge in their wake. The only thing that has remained constant over the past year is the uncertainty of what the near-future will bring.
BC Law has done its best to adapt. A unique example of this is the emergence of the Covid Relief Housing Clinic earlier this semester. What began as a Summer 2020 effort to help people in the greater Boston area receive unemployment benefits has transformed to a semester-long clinic opportunity, addressing urgent legal issues regarding housing and upholding the original goal to meet the timely legal needs of those within our community.
I spoke with Professor Ana Rivera, who runs the clinic, to discuss the creation and utilization of this new addition to BC Law’s Experiential Learning Center.
1. When and how did the idea emerge for this clinic?
The idea for a clinic focused exclusively on housing came to me in the fall 2020, when the federal and local moratoria on evictions were scheduled to expire. There was a great concern that the number of eviction matters would spike exponentially, as workers in the retail, hotel, and restaurant industries continued to struggle either to find new work or to receive unemployment insurance benefits. It seemed right from a social justice perspective to divert resources to this particular problem. I contacted WATCH CDC, a family, housing, and adult education advocacy organization in Waltham, MA, with which our Civil Litigation Clinic has collaborated in the past, and proposed a partnership with BC Law to identify and provide legal assistance to Waltham tenants facing housing insecurity as a result of Covid-19. Having such an intimate relationship with tenants in Waltham, WATCH, through its executive director Daria Gere, was acutely aware of the need and embraced the opportunity. With the support of Professors Judy McMorrow and Renee Jones, the idea was realized.
525,600 minutes. Daylights and sunsets and midnights and cups of coffee. I’ve always found that Rent offers a beautiful melodic sampling of ways to conceptualize this fickle thing we call time. But the question, however harmonized, remains: how do you measure a year?
Thinking too long on this subject brings a heavy lump to my throat. It’s been one year. We’ve lost so much and so fast. Tearing apart businesses, families, and entire communities, the pandemic has stripped us of so much of that closeness our society once had: a handshake over a new business agreement, a scorched smile over too hot coffee on the morning commute crammed in a subway car, a visit to see a loved one, a high five with a stranger over a touchdown at the sports bar. We were told to be, for an undetermined amount of time and with no warning, alone. And yet, the very science and expertise unto which we cling to guide us through this madness is debated like the merits of contemporary art by politicians. Some people believe this is a globally orchestrated hoax. Our democracy is still in the ICU. This year has, as a great mentor of mine says, given our entire society a CAT scan. It’s shown our inequities and injustices. It’s shown the unyielding power of the few and the overwhelming lack of access for the many.
As this year’s 1Ls have surely discovered, and as future attendees of BC Law will come to realize, going to law school is a strange and special experience best tackled alongside friends and peers. Whether it’s cramming rules of civil procedure into your head, navigating the do’s and don’t’s of law firm networking events, or just figuring out where to find a good cup of coffee, one’s time at BC Law is easier and more fulfilling when you leverage the buddy system. As students, it is important to find and leverage a support system at the school. Friendly classmates are one; the BC Law administration and its prioritization of the health and wellness of the student body is another. In this blog, I’m considering a third support system: the people with whom we choose to live.
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales
In the law, and especially in litigation, it can seem like being gentle has no place. The adversarial system is set up like a zero-sum game, and it can feel like softness is in direct contrast with winning in the courtroom. However, in a profession where we lawyers are painted as aggressive and combative, perhaps gentleness is a silent strength, particularly in our relationships with our clients.
I’m in the COVID-19 Housing Relief Clinic this semester, and we spent this first week in trainings. During these training sessions, we conducted role-play situations, both interviewing and counseling “clients.” In our training, the “clients” were just our supervising professors and the situations were merely hypothetical. Yet, these simulations reflected the very types of cases and clients that, as student attorneys at the BC Legal Services Lab, we might see this semester. For example, some of these scenarios included a wife trying to keep custody of her son in a divorce case with her potentially abusive husband or a landlord using unjust practices to force evictions.
At first, I wondered how useful this training would be. After all, how much is there to learn about just talking to clients? Turns out the answer, is a lot.