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August, 2010:

Maintaining Perspective in Law School

I’m taking six classes this semester.  In two classes, the professors like to assign 70-150 pages of reading per class.  I’m also working on two papers and doing research for a professor.  Needless to say, I’m pretty busy.  I feel like I’m constantly running between classes, work, and other commitments.   When I have “free time,” I’m struggling to get through my immense reading assignments and hoping that I’ll remember half the information.  I had to quickly accept that the majority of my weekends this semester would be taken up with reading.

By four o’clock this past Saturday afternoon, I was tired of reading cases.  There was no end in sight, and, if anything, I was becoming a little panicked by the amount of work I had left to do.  I decided if my Saturday night was going to be spent alone with my books, then I deserved to study with cake.

I don’t keep junk food in my house.  My rule is I can eat any junk food I want if I’m willing to leave the house and get it.  One of my guilty pleasures is the “single serving” of white sheet cake with frosting from Safeway.   I usually make myself walk or ride my bike to get my junk food, but the sky was turning dark with storm clouds and I didn’t want to get caught in the rain.  I also didn’t feel like I had the time to spare, so I opted to drive.

Tybee Island
Image by Rebecca_M. via Flickr

As I pulled out of my driveway, the reality of my life hit me like a ton of bricks.  I thought, “Wow, I can read.”  I spent  my drive to the store thinking about how many people in the world don’t know how to read, especially women.  I am surrounded by piles of books and more information than I know what to do with.  How many people don’t have the opportunity to go to school?  Who am I to bitch about all the opportunities I have, when the majority of people on the planet never have the chance to go to law school or even get close to it?  My life is awesome, even when it’s hard.

This experience doesn’t change the fact that I miss seeing my friends, getting a full night of sleep, or having enough time to shower every day.  It has, however, made the long lonely hours more bearable.

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Top Ten Ways To Annoy Your Fellow Law Students

I started my final year of law school last week.   It made me reflect on what I’ve learned about being obnoxious in class.   Doing any of things listed below puts you at risk of being viewed as inconsiderate & called a “douche” by your fellow law students.

10.  Forget to Mute your Laptop Before Leaving the House.
No one wants to hear that your “file’s done” or that you have a new message or email.   It’s also generally annoying to hear the standard sounds your computer makes when you first turn it on.

9.  Print a Ton of Documents at the Library & Forget to Pick Them Up from the Printer.
It is one thing to occasionally forget to pick up a single-page print out from the printer, & another to print hundreds of pages & forget to pick them up.  Making your fellow classmates sort through the stack of papers on the printer to get to their print out is bad form.

8.  Type Loudly.
This behavior received the most complaints.  Don’t pound the keys of your laptop, or worse, type with long, acrylic, or press-on fingernails that make a loud “click” every time you touch a key.  Women are usually the culprits, & they are usually oblivious to how much they irritate everyone around them.

7.  Be Needlessly Competitive with your Classmates.  Take Advantage of Every Opportunity to Show Them that You are Smarter than They Are.
You’re in law school.  Congratulations – you’ve already proven that you’re smart.

6.  Come to Class Drunk.
If you decide to have a liquid lunch or to blow off steam by heading to the bar after a stressful morning midterm, don’t come back to class in the afternoon.  Just stay at the bar.

5.  Talk About Grades.  
Rule #1 at law school is, “Never discuss grades.”  This rule extends to discussions about class rank & how well you think you did on exams.   When the final is over, don’t talk about it.  Move on to preparing for the next test or better yet, talk about anything that’s not related to law school.

4.  Be Late to Class.
This is particularly bothersome at my school because every classroom is set up with the door at the front of the room.  Watching & listening to you walk through the room & set up your laptop is distracting.  It’s ok to be late if you have a good reason, but these instances should be few & far between.

3.  Make Argumentative & Irrelevant Statements during Class Discussions.
Every class has at least one of these guys.  Don’t be that guy.

2.  Monopolize the Professor’s Time the Week Before a Paper is Due.
When I was a 1L, my professor had very few office hours during the week before our first memo was due.  One day, the first person in line used up 45 of the 90 minutes he had for office hours that day.  By the time she was done, there were 11 of us waiting – not cool!  I don’t think she meant to be that inconsiderate, but she definitely earned the reputation that day.

1.  Talk Excessively & Loudly in the Library.
The library becomes a second home to a lot of law kids, but that doesn’t give you permission to treat it as such.  It’s still a library & people are trying to work.  Talking at what would otherwise be a normal volume is too loud.  Take your conversations outside – & I mean outside the entire building.  If you’re talking in the lobby, we can still hear you.  Don’t think that getting a study room is an acceptable alternative because the walls aren’t soundproof.

Still Demanding the Maximum Value for my Tuition

Every time I think about how much I’m paying to go to law school, my head starts to hurt, my stomach gets queasy,and I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out.  Last semester, I paid over $9,800 in tuition and fees and I expected the full value for my money.  This fall, the cost just for tuition alone is $10,630 ($4,255 for graduate school tuition + $6,375 for law school tuition).  With the cost of law school tuition on the rise nationwide, every time the institutional powers that be raise my tuition, I in turn raise my expectations.  I had to do the math to see how much I’m paying for this semester’s experience.

This semester I am taking 16 credits of class – 5 regular classes and a 2-credit externship.  I am paying $664.375 per credit.  Here’s the break down for each of my classes.

Criminal Procedure, Copyright Law, and Cyberspace Law are 3 credits each.  They all meet twice a week for 85 minutes.  Each course is valued at $1993.125, $76.66 per class, or $0.90187 per minute.  The cost to attend one of these classes is more than the price to see Kathy Griffin live.

Trademark Law is a 3-credit class, but we only meet once a week for 175 minutes.  This class is valued at $1993.125 for the course, $142.37 per class, or $0.81352 per minute.  Going to this class once is more expensive than buying a lower level ticket on the 50-yard line at an Arizona Cardinals game.

Privacy is a 2-credit seminar class that meets once a week for 115 minutes.  Its value is $1328.75 for the course, $110.73 per class, or $0.9629 per minute.  Going to class is about what I pay for a pair of running shoes.  I have a friend who recently paid about this much to see Lady GaGa in concert and sit in the nosebleed section.

My externship is basically a class where I pay to work for a judge or agency.  To earn 2 credits, I have to work for 120 hours.  I’m paying $1328.75 for this experience or $11.06 per hour.  Working for them for an hour is more expensive than going to a movie.  This is my least expensive class from an hourly perspective, and it’s still a lot of ramen.

If I am paying this much to sit in a classroom, I expect the value of the experience to be equal to what I could be spending my money on instead of tuition.  Last semester, I wanted the academic equivalent of glitter, fanfare, and dancing girls.  This semester with the increase in tuition, I expect an even higher value.  I still want glitter, fanfare, and dancing girls, but this semester I want the academic equivalent of skydiving too.  I want to be so entertained and engaged by my professor’s stories and explanations that I forget that I’m in school, overworked, exhausted, and stressed.

Last semester I didn’t get the value of my tuition and I unsuccessfully demanded my money back.  As students, it’s frustrating that we don’t have much power over the classroom experience besides dropping a course when the professor or the class doesn’t meet our needs.  For the most part, I have been happy with my law school experience, but I will ask for my money back if I feel like I’m being ripped off.  When I demanded my money back from the law school, I was told that I had to seek compensation from the university.  I wonder how the president of the university would react if he received a demand letter.

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Appearance on Kade Dworkin’s Meet My Followers

My friend, Kade Dworkin, started a new podcast this month called Meet My Followers.

Kade Dworkin

Each show is a 20-minute interview with one of his followers from Twitter.  I was impressed when I saw that he’s challenging himself to release a new show every weekday morning.  So far he’s had some awesome and interesting guests – including me.

I met Kade in November 2009 when we were both presenters at Ignite Phoenix #5.  He spoke about “The Art of Misusing Stuff,” and my presentation was “Frosting the Law.”  Since then I’ve stayed connected to him and his adventures on Twitter and Facebook.  When he announced that he was starting this podcast and was soliciting guests for it, I immediately said I was in.

Kade asks all of his guests who they follow on Twitter.  I had to gush about some of my favorite people:

  • Lawyerist: @lawyerist, one of my favorite legal blogs
  • Eric Mayer: @ericlmayer, one of the best attorneys and courtroom advocates I’ve ever seen.  He’s new to Twitter, and his blogs are very thought-provoking.
  • Evo Terra: @evo_terra, my friend that I love for his intelligence, humor, and the fact that he just tells it like it is.  I’m also a fan of the occasional guest tweet from @jmoriarty.  Evo’s podcast is one of the highlights of my week.

We also talked about why I decided to go to law school and my aspiration to practice intellectual property and internet law, and to keep the crew at Improv AZ out of jail.  I’m glad that there are people like Kade who work in this area who remind me that there will be plenty of work for a neophyte lawyer in this area after I graduate.  You can listen to my episode of Meet My Followers on iTunes or on the show’s website.

Thank you, Kade for having me on your show.  I had a lot of fun and I look forward to hearing who is going to be on your show next.

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The Final Word – My Quarter

I am a classic Libra.  The symbol for my zodiac is the scales.  In my life, it’s all about balance.  When I have to make decisions, I like to mull over my options.  Once I make a decision, it’s hard to get me to budge, but getting to that point can be almost painful.  I have literally burst into tears while shopping for sneakers because it was so hard to make a decision.

Most non-Libras don’t understand how hard making decisions is for Libras.  I get overwhelmed if I have too many choices.  I had a friend declare that he would never go shopping with me again because it took me over an hour to pick out a ceiling fan.  The funny thing is that it’s usually the most arbitrary decisions that are the hardest for me like, “What do I want for lunch?”

In the last few years, the quarter has become a lifesaver for me.  I carry a designated quarter in my purse, separate from my wallet, that is used solely for decision-making purposes.  I can usually get my options down to two choices, but then I make myself crazy trying to make a final decision.  My quarter is the final word in these cases.  I’m sure it looks silly when people see me flipping my quarter in restaurants and shopping malls, but it’s saved me a lot of mental anguish.   Whatever decision the quarter makes is what I go with.  My quarter has helped me order food, select which brand of contact lenses I’m going to use, and pick out my clothes in the morning.

And I know that I’m not the only one who uses such an arbitrary system for making decisions.  According to Lowering the Bar, at least one company uses Rock-Paper-Scissors to make decisions when the voting members are deadlocked.  I was delightfully surprised when Judge Greg Presnell ordered the parties in Avista Management v. Wausau Underwriters to use Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine where to hold a deposition when the lawyers involved worked in the same building.  Whoever won the game got to decide where the deposition would be held.   Based on Lowering the Bar’s blog, it appears that the parties in this case had run to the courts for every minor issue and the court had had enough.  I was impressed by the decision.  It sounded like something I would do if I were a judge who was exasperated with opposing counsel.

Photo from Flickr by ThenAndAgain.  (CC)

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How I Ended Up In Law School

My friend, Eric Mayer, wrote a powerful blog about why he became a military criminal defense attorney.  It made me reflect on why I was inspired to go to law school.

Before law school, I worked in the mental health industry for nine years.  I started out as an intern at a residential psychiatric facility for children.  On a good day, I got paid to drink chocolate milk and play soccer.  On a bad day, I spent my shift holding patients down so that they could not harm themselves or anyone else.  All the staff was trained on these protective techniques and could perform them without risk to the patient.  These were not inherently bad kids.  Most of them had been dealt a bad hand.  When I read the patients’ files,  I saw that these kids had been through some horrific experiences – severe neglect, sexual abuse, and abuse from their biological and foster parents.  Many of them had not been nurtured or properly socialized, so they coped with life the best they could with substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, depression, and physical violence against themselves and others.  I remember one patient who was constantly verbally belittled by her family.  She had no other abuse in her history.  It was words alone that caused her to have severe enough depression that she needed residential care.  It was our job to show her that it was ok to have her own thoughts and opinions.  It was amazing to see these kids get better and be able to leave the unit with some of the tools they would need to effectively function in the world.

This experience, along with others, inspired me to become a therapist.  It was very humbling to have people come into my office, unload their problems, and hope that I could help them.  Sometimes I had clients whose problems seemed minute to me, and I had to remember that it didn’t matter how I viewed their problems, but how they viewed their problems.  Sometimes it was scary when I had clients who I feared might be suicidal.  On a handful of occasions I had to call the police and ask them to perform welfare checks on my clients to make sure they were still alive.  One time I even called the morgue to see if one of my clients was there.  Thankfully he wasn’t.

One of the challenges of being a therapist is that you have to let the clients do the work.  I could help them process their feelings and explore their options, but ultimately they had to take the actions that will improve their lives.  This process can literally take years.  It’s frustrating when you have the answer and you can’t make the person do what you want.  Trying to force things actually leads to setbacks.  I felt like I was on the sidelines of the problem-solving process.  I decided to go to law school because I wanted to keep working with interesting people and complicated problems, but I wanted to have a more active role in the process.

One thing I’ve learned in law school is that people hire an attorney in two situations: 1) when something bad has happened or 2) when they are trying to prevent something bad from happening.  Regardless of what area of law I practice, I hope that I can always remain humble and remember that my clients are putting their livelihoods, families, and sometimes their very lives in my hands and asking me for help.  Even when their problems are easy for me to handle, I hope I remember how stressed and frightened they might be feeling.  I hope I always respect the power my clients give me and their expectations that I can help them.