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.
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.
This Friday, May 22, BC Law 3Ls and LLM students were supposed to gather in Conte Forum and receive their degrees on stage in front of faculty, family and friends. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into those plans, of course, as it did for many other graduates across the world. But BC Law has stepped up to offer some virtual hugs and high fives.
The Law Student Association, with support from the BC Law administration, has put together a celebration that runs all week on the Class of 2020 Facebook group page. The celebration kicked off this morning with a video from the faculty:
LSA events this week include a Facebook Watch Party screening of Legally Blonde, a virtual Trivia Night, a favorite memory photo contest and messages and live video appearances from the LSA president, members of the faculty, staff and Dean Rougeau. Grads, faculty and staff can all join the group and participate.
While they may not be able to get together in person, they can still celebrate the graduates’ accomplishments with the people who helped them along the way. For those who are able to make it back, a physical ceremony is also being planned for sometime in October.
Courtney Ruggeri is a rising 3L at BC Law. She loves to hear from readers: email her at email@example.com.
Today I am hosting a guest blog by Irit Tamir, an adjunct professor at BC Law who teaches Business and Human Rights. She is also the Director of Oxfam America’s Private Sector Department. In her role, she is focused on working with companies to ensure that their business practices result in positive social and environmental impacts for vulnerable communities throughout the world. Irit leads Oxfam America’s work on business and development including shareholder engagement, value chain assessments, and collaborative advocacy initiatives, such as the successful “Behind the Brands” campaign.
Business has an important role to play in addressing the health and economic impacts of this crisis. Here’s a checklist of what companies can, and should, do.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for governments to take their duties seriously in protecting people and their human rights. Society’s ills can never be solved by business and markets alone. For several decades, the US government has taken a back seat as it relied on the private sector to solve public challenges—a system that is now being shaken to the core as benefits tied to employment are lost with jobs, and business is forced to shut down.
As soon as I heard rumors about states issuing stay-at-home orders, I jumped in my car and headed home to the DC area. On March 30, Governor Northam of Virginia issued an order mandating that people only leave their homes for food, medical care, and exercise until June 10.
The thought of spending over two more months in quarantine made me realize that I need to create a list of things to do while stuck at home. So, I’m sharing my ideas with you, Impact readers:
I’ll be honest. When I first read the email about the pass/fail policy this semester, I was upset. I have been working really hard this semester to boost my GPA, and I was looking forward to the chance to improve my performance during finals. I’ve been pretty anxious about this whole COVID-19 situation, and I felt like this was not the news I wanted to hear.
And then I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. After putting everything into perspective, I realized how much this pass/fail policy might mean to someone who is facing more difficulties than me right now. Throughout my time at law school, I have gotten involved in various diversity initiatives because I’m a woman of color and I know this puts me at a systemic disadvantage. I fight for these causes because they personally affect me. If I am so quick to stand up for causes that personally affect me, I should also be as committed to standing up even when my own interests might not be at stake.