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.
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.
If you’ve been following my law school journey here on the BC Law Impact Blog, you know that it hasn’t been an easy one. I was diagnosed with endometriosis – a chronic reproductive health condition that can cause back pain, pelvic pain, fatigue, and infertility among other debilitating symptoms – in my first year of law school. After a failed surgery between my first and second years of law school, and a successful, more intensive one in the winter of 2L, followed by a semester long leave, I am happy to be back on campus.
I spent the spring and the summer doing research for If/When/How on abortion access for teens, watching way too much of the X-Files, and working on my recovery. Getting your life back after a chronic illness sidelines you is a longer, and harder process than I expected, and I’m still working on getting my body and my mind back to where it was before I got sick. In the meantime, I’m taking it slow at school, and reflecting on what I’ve learned in the last few months. Here are some things I’ve learned about myself and law school along the way, and how you can apply them to (hopefully) make your time at BC Law a little easier:
It’s almost here: the first seat deposit deadline.
Has anything ever felt so surreal? Have you ever felt less prepared? Have you ever questioned yourself or your choices more?
I get it. I really do. And it was that sentiment that drove me to try to help make this process as simple as possible for you.
She was only seventeen when she realized she was pregnant. Having grown up in a predominantly white town in Ohio, she knew better than to bear a black man’s child, especially at that age. An adopted child herself, she decided someone else could provide her son a better life than a struggling high school student could. But my mother suddenly changed her mind seconds after holding me; by and large, my life’s greatest blessing. The struggles that would confront her may not have been clear at the moment, but she was willing to sacrifice plenty: forgoing college dreams, working multiple low wage jobs to put food on the table, being shunned by family for the color of her child’s skin, and most of all, being forced to do so alone. It was the nights that I awoke to her muffled sobs, seeing her still dressed in dirty waitressing clothes, that impacted me the most. I learned early on in life that the cards may not always be in your favor and that some people have to work harder to succeed. Yet by witnessing her struggle, I ultimately learned the value of resiliency and hard work. My mother’s perseverance instilled an insatiable hunger and an unrelenting drive, which ultimately would guide me through life. Continue reading
Yesterday was a day of celebration for me and my fellow 1Ls. It was the day that the writing competition was due. It was the day that we could finally embrace summer.
While all of us are understandably eager to have a break from school, I always like to leave a little room for nostalgia. Below are a few anecdotes that I gathered from my 1L friends about their favorite memories from this year, to remind us of what made our first year of law school so special. Enjoy!