Monday, October 25, 2010

Clubs v. Classes: the schedule tightrope of a 2L

It is said that the first year of law school scares you to death, the second works you to death, and the third bores you to death. Now that I'm close to halfway through the second year, I can testify to the truth of the first and second parts of this equation. Actually, the courses are perhaps one of the easiest parts of being a 2L. Sure, there's a lot of reading. Sure, there are exams looming on the horizon. But that's only half of it. Partly because my law resume is still looking a bit threadbare, I try to keep at least a few other balls in the air. My list of extracurriculars:

Plenty of other 2Ls have much more ambitious schedules. Quite a few even manage to find time to work for law firms part-time while they take classes. Striking a balance between classes and law-related activities is not always easy, but it's a vital part of the experience. Volunteering at a legal clinic, for example, is a great way to learn how to interview real clients. The blog keeps me informed about stuff  going on at the school and elsewhere, and the health law association offers a window into a very specialized area of law that I otherwise would not learn much about in classes. Special plug: tomorrow at noon in Room 275, the Speaker's Bureau of MHAKY (Mental Health America of Kentucky), will present the next topic in the school's Diversity Forum Series, "Severe Mental Illness, Stigma, and the Value of Treatment." The event is co-sponsored by the Diversity Committee and, you guessed it, the Student Health Law Association. And yes, there will be pizza.
I plan to write more about the law review in future posts, but in the meantime I can say that it's made me a much better writer, and contributed, at least indirectly, to landing a part-time job for next summer at a downtown law firm. The lesson in all of this, if there is one at all, is that it is never too early for prospective law students and 1Ls to think about some of the activities that they will pursue in their second and third years of school. They will help to shape your law school experience, and help you decide what you do when you finish. But choose wisely. Don't work yourself to death. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Law school meeting tackles gay suicide, bullying

College campuses across the nation are holding events in response to the recent string of suicides and bullying incidents involving students who are LGBT. Here at U of L, more than 100 students attended a vigil at the Red Barn, and the university's president, James Ramsey, sent out an email yesterday praising the event and encouraging people to review the school's diversity policy. All of this is fine and good, but it doesn't guarantee that something similar won't happen here. The key, at least in my opinion, is to maintain an atmosphere where this type of activity won't happen. That's easier said than done. Louisville does a pretty good job of that, at least compared to the rest of the state and the region. We have a local ordinance that addresses sexual discrimination and gay rights, and an active group called the Fairness Campaign that backs it up.
The law school also does a good job of promoting equality and tolerance. I have attended events at the school about transgender issues, military recruiting, and other gender- and sex-related topics. Additionally, this afternoon, the law school will host a "conversation" about LGBT suicide, with the goal of "raising awareness, facilitating safety, and identifying any action that may be taken." It will be held at 5:30 p.m. in Room 75, and is sponsored by career services, student life, the diversity committee, Lambda Law Caucus, Louisville Youth Group and the school's Office for LGBT Services.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Video: so you want to go to law school?

Like a rubber-necker staring at a train wreck, I just can't get enough of these sarcastic YouTube videos on law school. One comment summed it up perfectly: we laughed until we cried, and then we cried.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Good advice about bad advice: how to deal with law school tips from other students

I'm kicking off the week with some sage advice from Kimberly Ballard of the law school's Academic Success Program (for a full interview with Ms. Ballard, click here). The advice is actually a critique about dealing with bad advice. According to Ms. Ballard, bad advice is often given out by well-intentioned students:

"Critique these pieces of advice carefully and consider the alternatives.
Bad Advice:  Save up your absences and use all of them the last two weeks of class so that you can focus on exam studying.  
Why this advice is bad advice:

  • Important topics are often covered at the end of classes because the topics are more advanced than some of the material you have had previously.  You will be dependent on another student’s version of the material if you miss classes.
  • Your professors are likely to tie the course together in the last weeks of class.  You will be dependent on another student’s version of the course if you skip classes.
  • Your professors are likely to talk about the exam in more detail during the last weeks of class.  You will be dependent on another student’s version of the exam instruc tions, tips, and study guidelines.
  • You will go into exams with less personal understanding of the material covered at the end of the semester.  Some professors emphasize material covered at the end of classes very heavily in the exam questions.
  • If you follow this advice, you will also not be reading your cases.  You will only be more behind in understanding the course than you were previously.
  • Plan your time management for the coming weeks so that you get all of the tasks done that are necessary for success – including going to class prepared.
  • Do not stop reading your cases.  You need to understand the material through the last class.  Become more efficient and effective in your reading.
  • If you do not know how to structure your time for the remainder of the semester to get each task done, visit the Academic Success Office for help."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Photo of the Week: fall colors at Cave Hill

One of my favorite spots in Louisville, 162-year-old Cave Hill Cemetery, is the setting for the latest Photo of the Week. Actually, it's a slide show that I created with iMovie this morning while I should have been studying for Con Law. I don't feel guilty. Fall is arguably Kentucky's best season, with the possible exception of the weeks surrounding the Derby each spring. Got your own favorite place to check out fall colors? Post it in the comment field below.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I'm learning about in law school: cows, trash, cheap cars, and other assorted topics

We're now halfway through the fall semester, which means that I am officially 41.7 percent finished with law school (not that anyone is counting). Here is a quick glance at some of the topics that are being explored in my classes: 

  • Constitutional Law: we're knee deep in the Commerce Clause, studying cases that decide whether a state can pass certain laws that impact citizens or businesses of other states. For example: a New Jersey law forbidding the importation of trash from nearby states was struck down, but the Supreme Court held that a Minnesota statute that outlawed plastic milk cartons was OK. 
  • Professional Responsibility: lots of nuts and bolts about how to behave. For example: don't have sex with clients; what is a "reasonable" legal fee; how do you deal with conflicts that arise when you leave one law firm and join another; why judges should think twice about being Boy Scout troop leaders; and whether it is ever OK to lie to a client.
  • Business Organizations: the role of a company is to make money, and the board of directors has a legal duty to promote the pursuit of profits. But what happens when the majority owner of a company decides to cut prices on a popular product, and not reward other owners with a fat dividend? For details, check out Dodge v. Ford.
  • Evidence: say you're on trial for rape, but your accuser has a history of sexual misconduct and a pattern of lying about being sexually abused. Can you introduce that evidence to impeach the accuser's credibility and, perhaps, avoid a lengthy prison sentence? The answer, in most cases, is no for the sexual history, but yes for the false accusations. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Photo of the Week: 'thinking' about mid-term break

The latest Photo of the Week, below, reminds me that today is the start of mid-term break, and a lot of students are "thinking" of something other than law school. The bronze statue known as The Thinker faces the lawn in front of the law school, and it frequently appears on ESPN for a few seconds during basketball and football games, when the station offers shots of the campus and community. For a bunch of additional information about the sculpture, click here
The Thinker

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2L at U of L interview: Kimberly Ballard shares secrets of law school academic success

Kimberly Ballard

As the law school's Director of Academic Success, Kimberly Ballard aims to give students the keys to the Holy Grail of law school:  good grades. She oversees the school's Structured Study Group program for 1Ls, who attend weekly meetings with upper-level students during their first semester to learn about outlining, efficient studying, legal writing, taking notes in class, and other crucial skills. The Academic Success program's Web site also offers a wealth of online information for prospective and current students, and Ballard, a former litigation associate at Stites & Harbison and a 2004 graduate of U of L Law (magna cum laude), knows what she's talking about.  As part of my ongoing series of interviews with folks at the Brandeis School of Law, I interviewed Ms. Ballard via email about her job, the program, and her thoughts about law school in general. 

2L at U of L: How was the Academic Success Program started at U of L? Does every law school offer something similar?

Ballard: In 1991, the Law School created a new position for a Director of Academic Development to assess the academic needs of law students and to develop a program to supplement classroom teaching.  The initial program included student led tutorials and academic counseling.  Over the years, the Law School’s Academic Success Program has continued to evolve and now offers broader services designed to meet a variety of student learning needs.  Today, the majority of law schools offer some program of academic support to law students, although the scope of those services varies from school to school.    

Q: You offer a lot of great advice to law students. Is there a single lesson or tip that stands out above all the others?
A: Time management!  Almost all law students feel pressed for time.  To help curb the unnecessary stress that can be associated with the heavy workload, I strongly encourage all students to create their own personal study schedules.   I have found that the students who do not consciously plan their time in advance and self monitor the amount of time spent each week on various study tasks, are more likely to procrastinate, fall behind in their classes, be less efficient and effective when they study, and/or forget to complete an important study task.  Students who are successful in managing their time in law school are setting themselves up for success in practice.

Q: Of all the tips you offer, what's the one that students most frequently ignore, and why?
A:  When I informally survey upper-division students and ask them what they wish they would have done differently during their first year of law school, the majority of students tell me that they wish they would have started outlining sooner and updated their outlines regularly.   I think some law students tend to push the task of outlining off for a number of different reasons.  Some are intimidated by the process; some students (especially those who have not developed a study schedule) do not feel like they have enough time to begin outlining; some students simply do not understand the benefit of outlining until it is too late; and others simply try to take shortcuts and do not commit to creating their own personal outline.  After exams, students tend to better understand the correlation between the quality of their outlines and their exam performance.  

Q: I followed your advice very closely during my first year of law school, but with all the responsibilities of being a 2L I have started to modify my study techniques. For example, instead of briefing every case in a separate document, I now do a truncated brief that goes straight into my outlines. Does this show that I am:
a) hopelessly screwed
b) making a shrewd modification of my study habits to save time
c) hard to say before grades arrive
B, assuming you’re routinely reviewing your outlines and synthesizing the information

Q: Why do students spend so much time surfing the Internet during class?
A:  I’ve read a couple of articles about this issue and apparently some students believe that classroom surfing reduces sleepiness, increases their willingness to attend class, and helps them stay productive during dead or badly taught portions of class.  Yet, many studies have concluded that our brains just aren't designed to do multiple tasks simultaneously and do them well.
  Moreover, when students surf the Internet, play games on their computers, or check email, it is distracting to other students in the classroom.  It also sends a signal to others that you don’t care about class.  These types of distractions make students less present as participants in class discussion and degrade the quality of their attention.  I can’t understand why a student would want to invest so much financially in obtaining a legal education, and have solitaire be a central part of his/her educational experience.  

Q: The demands of law school are brutal, and the results can be downright cruel even for those students who follow your techniques and spend lots of time studying. What advice can you offer students who don't end up at the top of the class?
A: I give students a copy of an excerpt from Succeeding in Law School by Herbert Ramy.  I think he sums it up best:  Instead of striving for a particular spot in the academic pecking order, students should attempt to achieve their personal best.  Keep in mind that your personal best may not translate into “A’s” or even “B’s” on your examinations.  However, by definition, your personal best means that you had nothing left to give.  Anyone whose grades represent their best work has to be satisfied.  

Q: What's the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A: Getting the opportunity to work with law students on a daily basis and see them progress through law school is the most rewarding aspect of my job.

Q: How has law school changed since you finished in 2004?
A: Other than the obvious changes to the physical space (renovations to classrooms and common areas), the two biggest changes since I attended law school are related to technology and skills instruction.  During my 1L and 2L years, we handwrote exams (I feel like a grandmother!), and very rarely used technology in the classroom.  During my 3L year, students were given the option to take exams on computer, which most of us opted not to do.  Today, the overwhelming majority of students take their exams on computer, and can’t imagine it any other way.  With respect to skills instruction, the new Law Clinic allows students who may be interested in pursuing a career in litigation the opportunity to learn those skills and practice them before graduating from law school.  In addition, the Law School’s commitment to offering skills instruction in courses is also new.  These changes are benefiting students and helping them to be practice ready at graduation.

Q: Aside from grades, what are the top qualities that law firms seek in students, and how can students develop those qualities?
A: In my experience, law firms seek students who possess excellent writing skills, who have practical experience, and who are self-motivated and driven to produce their best work consistently.  Students can develop these qualities in law school and demonstrate their commitment to hitting the ground running by taking an active role in opportunities available outside the classroom – being a research assistant for a professor; serving on a journal; competing on a moot court team; participating in the Clinic; enrolling in an externship; assuming a leadership role in a student group or community project; and/or taking an independent study to intensely research and write about a specific area of interest.  These are just a few examples of what law firms are looking for in a candidate’s resume because students with these types of experiences are more likely to possess the qualities noted above.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oct. 1: day of symmetry for U of L Law

The latest Photo of the Week is a shot that I took a few days ago of the front of the law school. I picked this image because the columns seem to reflect the startling symmetry of Oct. 1, 2010 -- the first day that applications are being accepted for the 2011 entering class, and also the day that last year's graduates received their scores from the Kentucky Bar Exam.

For the first group, there is a long road ahead simply to get here. The current 1L class of 143 students (out of 1,769 applicants) posted LSAT scores of 155 and 160 at the 25th and 75th percentiles, respectively. That's pretty good for a very difficult test, and slightly ahead of recent years.

And if you were part of the second group, today was arguably one of the most important days of your life. I talked to a close friend who took the bar in July -- a guy who was always calm under pressure, a veritable Cool Hand Luke of law school -- and he said the anxiety was almost indescribable. "Way worse than checking on exam scores," he told me, adding that his hands were shaking as he scrolled down the screen to find his number on the pass list. It was there. And before long he was at O'Shea's with his buddies, hoisting cold ones on a crisp fall afternoon with the future spread out before him like a carpet of leaves. They all deserve it.