On a whim, I opened my personal statement for the first time since hitting ‘submit’ nearly a year ago. Preparing to face my tendency to over-write, a habit which lends itself to often-cringeworthy grand pronouncements, I queued up the Aspiring Public Interest Lawyers Greatest Hits: “Is It Still Worth It? (After Signing that Promissory Note),” “Oh, Really? You’re Going to Save the World?” and the classic, “Naiveté.”
Instead, I came face-to-face with the prospect that the young, impressionable, wannabe lawyer nursing the cheapest drink on the coffee shop menu in exchange for five hours of Wi-Fi knew everything he needed to know.
See? Grand pronouncements.
Sure, one year ago, I would have failed every single first year course. I couldn’t brief, or outline, or read, or write, or even speak effectively. My Lexis points stood at zero and I had nary a dollar of Westlaw Starbucks gift cards. Every one of my classmates would have prayed to the almighty curve I was in their section. One year ago, I was a terrible law student.
This year Boston College gifted its students and faculty an extra day of reprieve on Columbus Day weekend, creating a new, four-day “fall break.” I took advantage of the extra time by heading down to visit my father in New York City, where we decided to spend a morning visiting Ellis Island and the immigration museum there. We set out with high hopes that were, unfortunately, chastened by missed opportunities.
Stepping off the boat at Ellis Island, you walk up to the main building that houses the exhibits and the only one that the standard ticket gets you into. The museum opens with a walk through the nation’s immigration history, beginning before Jamestown and stretching to the 1890s, when Ellis Island opened. The Trail of Tears, the Slave Trade, the mix of cultures that produced the likes of Jazz are all addressed. The history is deep and serves as a proper warm up to the story of the island itself, but, as my father pointed out, they might as well just hand you a book when you step off the boat. Displaying few artifacts, the exhibit doesn’t engage its visitors. You mostly step precariously around others, trying to stay out of their line of sight. I found myself gazing at the floor, which is a beautiful white tile, and wondering if it is original (it is).
I left the Jesuit Volunteer Corps with an Orleans Public Defenders shirt, heavy emotional scarring, and a strong idea of justice. I was prepared to ride into law school on a wave of virtue and morality, certain I knew what needed to be done and how I was going to do it. That wave crashed me right into Civil Procedure and Pennoyer and Rule 12(b)(3) and Contracts and estoppel and intent, and it wasn’t long before I realized it was going to be a while before I was certain of anything again.
Pretty dramatic, but the spirit is true. Law school is a change. There is a transition from being a normal person to a person who thinks legal jokes are funny. Still, overall, most of my preconceived notions have been proved wrong. Cold calls are not that bad, my classmates are also not that bad (fine, they’re pretty great), and six weeks in I have yet to muster any dazzling legal wisdom for family or friends.
I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Jason Giannetti, a 2003 graduate of Boston College Law School.
I have been an immigration attorney in Massachusetts for fifteen years and I’ve never been as proud to be one as I am now.
Let’s face it, in American popular opinion, lawyers are not exactly considered super heroes. In fact, in films such as The Incredibles, lawyers are the anti-superhero. It is due to them and their litigation and lobbying that the “supers” have to renounce their superpowers to be like all the rest of us. In the 1993 film Philadelphia, though attorney Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington) turns out to be the hero of the film, Andy, his client (played by Tom Hanks), asks, “Joe, what do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?” The answer: “A good start.”
Be that as it may, America is one of the most litigious nations on the planet. Perhaps Americans have low regard for lawyers because they are such “a necessary evil” in the eyes of most. The only profession with lower regard is politician and, as we all know, many of those politicians are themselves lawyers.
However, I think that besides hemming in people’s exercise of strength (Incredibles) and creating bureaucratic and structural obstacles to swift justice (Philadelphia), the real source of America’s collective ire with attorneys is that they seem to disregard the truth: they are mercenary warriors, defending whatever position (right or wrong, truthful or not) that pays the bills. The most egregious example of this to date is Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “Truth is not truth.”
I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Meg Ziegler, a 2L at Boston College Law School.
The outrage over the separation of migrant children from their families at our border is necessary and should be unrelenting. But family separations are happening in Massachusetts, too, and one root cause is that schools unnecessarily (or inappropriately) involve the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the courts in the lives of children and their families for school-based issues.
This occurs in a number of ways. If a student is deemed a “Habitual School Offender” or a “Habitual Truant,” schools can file a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) with the juvenile court. Once a CRA is filed, the school and family attend a preliminary hearing and may potentially have to attend a bench trial, a conference, and/or a disposition hearing. At a disposition hearing, the court may ultimately remove the child from his/her/their family and place the child in DCF custody.
I have the privilege of spending my summer in New Orleans, working on indigent capital appeals. A lot of my day is spent in the organization’s library, digging into criminal law research questions. I’ve also had the opportunity to join an attorney at a status conference for a federal civil suit challenging the heat conditions on death row, and to visit some of our clients there.
This is my house for the summer, a carriage house converted into a studio. A few things about New Orleans: it’s humid (imagine living in the moment when you step out of a hot shower), the streets flood (past your ankles), the cockroaches are prolific (and big), and it’s one of the most amazing cities I’ve been in.
I’m looking forward to the next eight weeks here, learning more about the city and meeting more incredible attorneys who are dedicating their lives to saving those of others.
I am pleased to host a guest post from co-presidents of the Boston College Law School Women’s Law Center, Liz Dwyer and Stacey Kourtis.
The Women’s Law Center aims to impact both its student members and the entire BC Law community by providing networking opportunities with women in the legal community, maintaining strong ties with women alumni for mentorship, and by providing a forum for discussion about women’s issues at BC Law and beyond. For us, the WLC has served as a supportive and engaging group here at BC Law. We’re proud to be members of the Women’s Law Center where we have both had the opportunity to meet wonderful women at BC Law, alumnae, and faculty.
Every year, the Women’s Law Center at BC Law chooses one alumna who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to advancing an area of the legal profession and recognizes her as the WLC’s Woman of the Year. This year, the Women’s Law Center nomination committee chose to present the 10th Annual Woman of the Year Award to Josephine McNeil ’87.
When I first started at BC Law as a bright-eyed, fresh-faced 1L, I was enthusiastic, but, honestly, utterly clueless about what I wanted out of law school. While diverse in backgrounds and experiences, it’s a safe assumption that, to some degree, BC Law students are cut from the same cloth. We are ambitious, friendly, and intellectually curious. And while that’s what I loved about our student body from Day 1, admittedly, having so many high achievers in one place can make forging an individual path somewhat challenging.
I waited patiently throughout 1L year, hoping to connect with a certain class or professor that would set me on my path. I struggled to make sense of what my past could mean for my future. As an undergraduate science major with work experience in communications, my interests have always been vast and varied. Without a clear-cut direction, I was determined that during my first months as a law student, I would expand my perspective on what it means to practice law in as many ways as possible. I joined student organizations, attended campus events, and most importantly, I continued to engage in all that I had learned prior to law school.
Finally, in the spring of my 1L year, something clicked.
This spring, BC Law Impact is excited to present guest posts from current students about the factors that drove them to BC Law and the impact the community has had on their lives. Today’s post comes from 2L Hannah Jellinek.
Cheshire Correctional Institution sits atop an uncharacteristically tall hill given the generally flat land surrounding the prison. Perhaps because of this elevation, the long thin driveway, and the large red brick façade, the prison has a haunting and overwhelming presence. The front doors lead to a separate world. One where razor sharp barbed wire sits on top of chainlink fences and seemingly cuts into the bright blue skies and puffy white clouds. One where you see kids running around freely, smiling and laughing, but then realize their obstacle course and hide and seek spots are the long wooden benches of the visitation room. The Cheshire world is separate from the small houses of the town, separate from the run-down basketball courts across the street, separate from what I have previously known outside of the gates.
Once I go through the weekly routine of submitting my license, clearing the metal detector, and gathering the light pink VISITOR pass, I walk out of the waiting room and through the lobby. A bright yellow line on the dark brown floors divides the hallways of Cheshire. It is what separates us from them. The free individuals who can decide their next step, their next meal, their next shower, from those on the other side of the line who decide nothing.
A couple weeks into my 1L year, on my drive into school, I heard a report on public radio about a recent Supreme Judicial Court (the Massachusetts state supreme court) decision. The court had found that black men might have a reason, even if they were not guilty of a crime, to run from the police. Even as a greenhorn law student, I could tell that this sort of decision was radical. When I got to school, I printed the opinion, pushed Torts, Contracts, and CivPro to the side, and raced through it.
Citing to a study conducted by the Boston Police Department, which found that black men are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police officers, and repeatedly so, the court noted that a black male, “when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.” This was the outcome I hoped to (but did not often) see in judicial decisions. I looked at the opinion’s author, Justice Geraldine Hines. The first black woman to serve on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court, she had worked in civil rights and defense before joining the bench. It seemed like the coolest career possible, and controverted the typical image of a judge as a stuffy old white man. Maybe if I was lucky, I thought, one day I would get to meet her.
That day would come sooner than I thought.