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Mardi Gras, Voo Doo & All That Jazz

Who dat?  We dat!   Greetings from N’awlins and the American Bar Association Judicial Clerkship Program!

Today was the first day of the three-day program and it was quite an experience.   My colleague and I arrived in New Orleans pretty late and by the time we got to the hotel, checked in and got something to eat, it was the early hours of Thursday morning.  Lucky for us that the program didn’t start until noon.

We’ve been split up into groups and at my table there are four other law students and four judges…two district judges (one from Ohio and the other from Pennsylvania), one Administrative Law judge, and a judge serving in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.

What could I possibly have in common with a judge in The Hague?  A lot!  Turns out she is retired from the Air Force and did a stint in my home town of San Antonio, Texas AND she also spoke of commuting 500 miles a week her first year of law school.   We had lots to talk about when I told her I’ve commuted 1000 miles a week for the last 3.5 years!  It was quite a bonding moment.  She gave me her card and invited me to visit the Hague (Yeah!  I’m thinking I need to make this happen at some point.) and she’d arrange a tour for me.  HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!  I am definitely going to put this on my bucket list of things to do and will start researching this soon, no doubt.

We got our legal research assignment, which is a major part of this conference, today and worked in our groups with our assigned judges to tackle the problem, isolate the issues and research to find relevant law.  More than just telling us what we need to do to become judicial clerks, they are showing us what the job entails and equipping us with the skills to do the work.

Tomorrow (Friday….even though it is already Friday when I’m writing about this) a panel of Justices from the 4th Circuit will be here to listen to oral arguments on several cases on their docket.  Originally, we were supposed to go to the court and hear the arguments there, but since there is such a large group of us the court instead decided to convene in our hotel.  I am so excited to see how this works in real life!

After our cocktail reception and more networking, my colleague Liz and I got out of the hotel and took a walk down Decatur Street.  We got a good look at New Orleans at night, stopped and listened to jazz on the street and picked up some beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe Du Monde. Since Mardi Gras is coming up soon the city is bathed in green, purple and gold everywhere you look.  I purchased some glittery mardi gras masks and t-shirts for the family. While out shopping the clerk at a local Walgreens noticed the ABA t-shirts that Liz and I were wearing.  She started asking questions about our conference and when she found out that we are law students, she wanted to know  more.  Liz and I had one foot out the door and when she wanted to know about OUR law school we did an about-face and talked to her at length about our experiences in law school, but in particular, at Texas Wesleyan.  She was amazed that the both of us are doing what she’s always dreamed of doing and we both have kids and a family too.   She also has kids and so our stories seemed to give her hope.  I passed her my business card and invited her to email me if she wanted more information and she promised that she would.  Maybe we planted a seed.  I’d like to think so.  It’s been a really fun and exciting event so far.

Since we have to meet for breakfast and another long day of legal clerking at 7:30 am…I better get some sleep.  It’s already after 1 am!

More to report tomorrow, I’m sure!


Prepping for Bar Prepping

So many things have gone in in these first two weeks of the semester that I haven’t even had time to organize my thoughts for publication.  I think there are about three incomplete blog entries sitting in my ‘Drafts’ folder  on topics that may, or may not, ever see the light of day.

The most pressing topic today is the incredible amount of money that is flowing OUT of my bank account and into all things “bar exam related.”  I finally got up the nerve to look at the balance I owe for my bar prep course (which shall remain nameless, but begins with a “B” and has another “b” right close by the first one).  I literally wanted to throw up.  Graphic…I know, but there is no other way to describe the sick sinking feeling of discovering that I have four (4) months to pay in excess of one extra HOUSE payment to re-learn what I’ve just spent nearly six-figures learning for almost four years.

Actually, I should clarify, bar prep teaches you what you need to PASS  the bar but in no way captures all you learn in law school.  But let’s be real, the vast majority of people go to law school to practice law, you need to pass the bar to practice law, AND getting through law school in no way GUARANTEES you will pass the bar…ergo, bar prep is way more important than law school per se just because passing the bar and getting licensed is the key to the city.

Yeah, yeah…I know you can’ t take the bar exam (at least in Texas) WITHOUT getting a J.D., but my logic is meant to make a point:  If what you need to reach minimal competency (A passing bar score is only 67.5% or 675/1000 possible points) can be accomplished in 2.5 months of diligent (Read: 12 hour days) study for the price of one month’s house payment (Read: A decent chunk of change, BUT much less than the cost of a 4 yr. J.D. plan), then WHY does law school take so long and why is it so dang expensive?!?!   When I become SRU (Supreme Ruler of the Universe) I am going to insist that law schools INCLUDE a good bar prep course at the end of the program just because, dang it, by then we’ve spent enough.  We should get a full-fledged bar prep course as a parting gift or graduation present!!  Something.

I can see it now:  THAT magic day when you’ve completed your program and are to transition into bar prep the professors just stop mid-Socratic sentence and say, “Alright…no more hiding the ball, here’s what you need to know to pass the bar…”  By all means, throw back the veil, show me the wizard behind the curtain!

I actually have one professor at Tex Wes who does that.  Contracts used to be 2 semesters long (I say “used to be” because I don’t know what curriculum changes they’ve made since my 1L year), but he’d play “What am I thinking” or “Hide-The-Ball” or “I-Don’t-Know,-What-Do-You-Think?” all year-long and at the tail end of the spring semester it was like he turned the corner.  He’d try to keep playing his law professor games, but then he’d just relent and say, “Ok, let’s just bottom-line this.”  Hallelujah!!  What a wonderful idea!!  From what I heard about bar prep, that’s all it is:  2.5 months of bottom lining.  Sweet.

[Truth be told, this professor isn’t really very good at the whole Hide-The-Ball game.  I think you have to have a kind of sick sense of humor or enjoy making ignorant law students squirm to be good at the true Socratic method.  This guy is just too nice.  Thankfully.]

Anyway, my conclusion on bar prep can be summed up in the words of my fortune cookie:

That’s why this semester one of my current classes is Passing the Bar.  It does NOT replace my over-priced bar prep course, but is in addition to.  I’m taking this class very seriously because I want to get into the right mindset of discipline and working hard to pass the bar.  I might as well start now, right?

So I read all the handouts Professor Chambers gave us the first day.  One was a mnemonic using the phrase: MUST PASS BAR.  Each letter stood for something and the whole hand out  was meant to give us some words of encouragement when we get the bar blues…which I continually hear is inevitable.  It’s not “if” you’ll have a meltdown, it’s “when.”  So be it.  I was fine until I read the last paragraph on the letter “R” which stands for RESULT:

“Result will be to your liking.  You will pass the bar exam.  You may not think so during or after the exam, but you will pass the very first time you take the bar exam.  You will pass because you worked hard and smart for the entire preparation period.  Above all, you will pass because during the exam, you kept your head clear and your nerves steeled, and followed your carefully crafted plan for tackling each section of the exam.  Very soon, you will get to do the very thing your Momma said you shouldn’t do, swear.  Only this time you can swear with Momma’s blessing, in fact she’ll be downright proud to hear you swear.  Heck, she will even encourage you to swear!”

I read all of this.  Used white out and changed all the “yours and yous” to “my, I and me.”  Then I proceeded to have my first mini-melt down.  Yep, this is gonna be a long 7 months….


Spring Semester 2012: Bring It On!

Well tomorrow is my last first day of law school.  I’m excited and nervous and a bit sad because I know full well how fast semesters fly by.  The sooner it starts, the sooner it will be over.  I’m not really sure if I’m ready to move on; I’ve grown comfortable here and I like comfort.

The Spring semester officially kicked off for most people today, but my new schedule is sleek and compact.  I have 9 hours to graduate and have managed to squeeze those into a three-day week; Tuesday through Thursday.  Although it sounds easy, once you add my 7 hours a week working as a Westlaw student rep. at school and the approximately 15 hours per week I’ll be working at the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office (more on this later), it’s just as much work in fewer days.   Wish me luck squeezing all this into the time I’ve got. I’ve not yet had any classes, so comments on that will have to wait until later this week.

I will say that my Winter-mester class was fantastic!  I just loved it.  I spent WAY too much time on it for a pass/fail class, but I really wanted to get the most out of the experience.  Our last assignment was to argue a Motion for Summary Judgment.  We only found out which party we were representing on Friday evening, so I ended up working all night and into the wee hours of the morning to get my argument and Powerpoint together.  I got about three hours of sleep, so when the alarm went off at 6:45 am, I was a bit slow.

It ended up that I was one of the last pair to argue and by then, I was dragging.  I felt like it wasn’t my best performance (we’ll get a video of it in about a week, so we’ll see!), but the critique I got from the Judge was excellent and all my classmates gave me top scores and positive comments.  In all it was a great experience and it’s just nice to get a little more confidence about arguing in front of a judge and thinking on your feet while your opponent makes his or her points.  It takes practice to juggle all that’s going on at one time.  I long for the day when this will come to me more naturally.

Judge Sudderth was so helpful and patient in answering all of our questions.  That was by far the most helpful thing–just having someone to ask the simple questions like, “Which side of the courtroom does the plaintiff/defendant sit?” or “How do you stop the proceedings if you have to go to the bathroom?”  Seriously, things like this become important and it’s good to know the protocol from the judge herself.

Another important thing I learned from this experience meeting Judge Sudderth up close and personal:  Judges are just people like us.  In law school we’re trained that judges are on a different plane than regular attorneys and well, they are, but still they put on their shoes one at a time like we all do.  You can only do the best you can do; the judge, for the most part, doesn’t want to embarrass or humiliate you.  Everyone is just trying to do their job.  I hope to keep this lesson in mind as I progress through my career meeting all kinds of judges and attorneys.

In other news, I’m still waiting on some grades to post, so the fall has yet to wrap up, but tomorrow….my spring begins in earnest!  Time for one last dance with Texas Wesleyan School of Law!

Is It Easy to Get Into Law School?

As a new blogger (well, THIS is a new blog for me) I am fascinated by the statistics that WordPress keeps for my blog.  I am slowly getting more hits and comments, some of which aren’t spam (Yay!!).  Today I saw an interesting search that showed up on my stats page:  Is it hard to get into Texas Wesleyan Law School?  I have to admit, it made me think.

My first thought was I wish I knew why someone would search using that query.  Were they looking for a law school that would be easy as in, they take anyone?  Or do they REALLY want to go to Texas Wesleyan and are trying to gauge their chances?  I think I’d have a different answer depending on the motivation behind the question.

For example:  According to this blog nearly 79,000 people applied to law school last year.  The same site quotes an approximate 25% of these applicants failed to get into at least one ABA-accredited law school.  So, 1/4 of applicants who wanted in, didn’t get accepted.

I don’t know how these numbers came about, nor how accurate they are.  What seems clear is that there are way fewer seats than there are people waiting to take them.  That fact alone means that it is difficult to get into any law school.  And, depending on what one is looking for in a law school, some are more competitive than others.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here:  Just because there is more competition to get into one school over another doesn’t necessarily mean that the former is better for you. There are many considerations:  Cost, location, reputation, types of programs offered, atmosphere, alumni network etc.  Moreover, at some level you have to decide what it is you want to do because not all law schools produce the same types of lawyers.

For instance, in Texas, several law schools have “reputations” for their approach to teaching the law.  One school might be known for its emphasis on trial skills and so they produce some great litigators.  Another school is known for its emphasis on a philosophical approach to the law and its graduates often become law professors and scholars.  That’s not to say that great litigators and scholars don’t come from OTHER Texas law schools, just that certain law schools seem to focus on a particular approach and as a result, lawyers with a forte in that skill set come out in the end.

Texas Wesleyan Law just celebrated its 20th birthday in 2009, so we’re relatively young compared to other Texas law schools.  I don’t know that we yet have a “reputation” as storied as some other schools.  However, I can confirm that our school has a tremendous focus on good legal research and writing skills which are essential for any area of law in which you want to practice.  If I had to venture a guess as to what Wesleyan’s reputation is locally I’d have to say it’s based on the level of expertise its students have in the areas of legal research and writing.  I know for a fact (through personal experience and by hanging around certain circles privy to this information) that some of the “best” law schools in Texas are generally known to put out poor legal researchers and writers.

Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, all law schools are going to give their students the basic general legal education, but if you go to a school where they focus more on philosophy or trial advocacy, other skills will necessarily defer accordingly.  I’m not trying to bash any law schools, it’s just the reality of 3-4 years in law school and not enough time to teach everything about everything.  There are certain courses that law schools must teach in compliance with the American Bar Association, many of which are necessary for passing the bar, but the other course offerings provided by a law school tend to reflect its focus and so the cycle that feeds THAT school’s reputation, perpetuates itself.

At Wesleyan we take many more required legal writing/research classes than several other schools in Texas.  We also offer a really good assortment of upper-division practicum classes where you get hands on experience in the nuts and bolts of lawyering like drafting documents, making oral arguments,  and conducting trials etc.  I think all law schools obviously have a little bit of all this, but at Wesleyan it is a big deal.  It’s all well and good to know “book law,” but learning how to apply the law and do the work is so much more educational when you can get your hands dirty.

So, back to the search query that inspired this blog entry:  If you’re searching for “Is it hard to get into Texas Wesleyan Law School” because the other schools you’re considering require one extra essay or their class profile seems more welcoming of  your “average” LSAT score or GPA, perhaps you should reconsider whether you really ought to begin such a journey if ease and comfort are your main focus.  If what you’re looking for is “easy,” I hate to be the one that breaks it to you (not really, it’s  kind of fun, actually!), but law school, ANY law school, is not it.  Law school is demanding, time-consuming, life-changing, and requires your utmost attention at all times.  You will, for 3-4 years, sacrifice your personal time, your family, your friends, your health and well-being, but if it is truly what you were meant to do, it is so worth it.

If, on the other hand, you’re searching for, “Is it hard to get into Texas Wesleyan Law School,” because this is where you want to be more than anything.  I wish you the best.  You could not find a more welcoming and nurturing environment in which to grow into a fine lawyer.  Some people get all hung up on a law school’s ranking or tier, but I tell you this—-your law school experience is what YOU make of it.  No matter where you go to law school, we all take the same bar exam and get the same license.

Lastly, the most enlightening advice I ever got about law school came from a wise woman and mentor of mine:  You have to decide whether your goal is to go to a particular law school or whether the goal is to become a LAWYER.  The two goals are not the same.

Comments?  Questions?  Leave me a reply or see Texas Wesleyan’s Law Student blogs and read what others think of their experience.

Groan! ONE Last Assignment I Forgot!

Ok…so I lied.  Not really and not intentionally.  I keep forgetting that I have one more assignment to complete before my semester is over for real.  I had my final assignment in Criminal Law Practicum–a trial notebook, that was due the day after my dad passed away and I still haven’t done it.  I called our Dean of Students and he called my professor that very day and I was given an indefinite extension.  Big mistake.  I promptly forgot all about it and then after the funeral when final exams started, this project just wasn’t on the radar.

It hit me last week sometime that if I don’t write myself a note and/or put it in my planner I might just forget all about it.  After my Evidence exam last Thursday my mind just wants to go on auto-pilot for a few weeks and I’m having to fight that feeling.  That and the feeling that I need a nap…like often…and maybe even right now….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Hours later: 

Um, yeah…sorry to snooze off for real in the middle of blogging.  Guess I was really tired. So, where was I?  Right!  The trial notebook.  It’s not like it’s  a big deal, I have it all electronically and I just have to organize it, burn it to CDs and mail it to my professor.  He even said, “Take your time,” and I have.  But I know this has to get done and soon.  I just don’t like it hanging over my head.

(BTW:  If you don’t know what a trial notebook is, it is what you make it.  But basically, it’s a way to organize your case when you take it to trial.  It typically is divided into sections like: Main File, Pre-Trial Proceedings, Witness Files, etc.  and then you put all the materials you use in prepping the case or working the case in the notebook so that in trial you have all your materials at hand and organized so you can find anything you need quickly.  You should have all the indictments, offense reports, any kind of relevant evidence, copies of your motions and those of the opposing side, legal research on the case issues, proposed jury charges, opening/closing statements…everything for taking the case from beginning to end. We did many of these drafting projects as individual assignments throughout the semester, so I’m just really putting the notebook together and organizing it with materials I prepared earlier. )

The problem is that I’ve messed up my sleep pattern so much throughout the semester I’m paying for it now.  You can only burn the candle at both ends for so long.  It’s a lesson learned though.  I cannot have this chronic lethargy when it’s time for bar prep.  This new year I have to work on a better sleep pattern by maximizing my day hours and going to sleep by 10 or 11 at the latest.  That’s gonna be difficult because I’m a night owl and enjoy staying up to work when all’s quiet and nobody bothers me.

Well, the good thing is that as I’m getting back into this trial notebook I’m finding that I’d done a good deal of work on it already, so finishing is not going to take too long.  (I hope!)  It’s not so bad now that I’m sitting here, it was getting to this point that was hard.   You know how when you write a research/term paper and you practically live with that thing for weeks or months until it’s done.  Once you turn it in you don’t want to look at it again. Ever.  When you get it back you check the grade, smile or groan and go on.  NOBODY ever wants to go back over it and analyze or fix the mistakes.  By that time, they are so over it.  Well, I was so over this class just because we didn’t have a final and I missed the last class on top of that.  Makes it doubly hard to pick it up again.   But pick it up I have.

Sigh.  Speaking of, I should get back to it.  Once I drop this assignment in the mail I will be completely free.  Tomorrow I’m back to work at UT.  I wonder what’s in store for me there?   More to blog about, I’m sure!

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