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April, 2012:

How To Survive Law School Finals

My friend RJ knows that I was one of the least stressed people during finals week during law school. She asked me to share my wisdom with all of you. So here are my top 10 tips for surviving law school finals.

  1. Law School Textbooks

    Law School Textbooks (Photo credit: Jesse Michael Nix)

    Identify your Goals. You may have been at the top of your class in high school and undergrad, but in law school, you are surrounded by severely smart people and only one of you can set the curve. I went to law school to learn the law so my goal for every final was just to pass. For most people, that goal is enough, unless you want a judicial clerkship or a job at a super prestigious law firm that will only talk to you if you’re in the top 10% of the class.

  2. Study When you Can. There will be times when you can’t focus to save your life and you’d rather clean your house than read your outline. When those times hit, put down your notes and pick up a broom. Studying is about quality, not quantity. If you’re not being productive, take a break.
  3. Study Where you Can. Some people can only study in the library. Some people have to be anywhere but the library. Being in the law school tended to make me really anxious, so I avoided it like the plague during finals.
  4. Use Study Techniques that Work for You. Don’t feel the need to have big beautiful 100-page outline if something else works better for you, like flash cards.
  5. Don’t Bother Studying Right After a Final. Your brain will be toast. Go get something to eat and get a good night’s sleep before your next study session.
  6. Get to the Test Room Early and Set Up Camp. I didn’t like people too close to me during exams so I’d get to exams early and set up camp. I always had water, soda, apple slices, Jolly Ranchers, a sweatshirt, pens, pencils, my computer, and my notes. I’d spread my stuff out and put my bag on the chair next to me so no one could sit next to me.
  7. Make the Instructor Laugh. You will get more points if you entertain the person who is grading your test. My professor for civil procedure called parties in the cases we read “morons” so I looked for an opportunity to call someone a moron on my final. My trademark law professor had a tendency to swear in class so when he asked what I’d tell the client in the hypo on the final, I wrote, “I’d say, ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me if you think you have a case.’”
  8. Don’t Talk About the Test After the Test. Once you turn in your test and walk out of the room, don’t think or talk about the test. There’s nothing you can do at that point to change the outcome. I used to yell at people who talked about the test after the test.
  9. Don’t Panic. I wrote about the seven layers of academic hell during law school. The seventh layer is “Fuck It.” You want to get to that level as soon as possible. No matter what, stay calm while you’re studying or taking a test.
  10. Don’t Check Your Grades. After my first semester of law school, I never checked my grades. At the end of each semester I sent the assistant dean of my law school an email to make sure I passed. Since my goal was to pass, I never needed to know what my grades, GPA, or class rank were – and I was a happier person for it.

Good luck to everyone taking finals. Kick some ass!

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Reflections on Gender Bias

Shoe Shopping by Jerine Lay

Recently, I was contacted by a law student at Arizona State University. She and her friends noticed that all the winners of the Oplinger Closing Argument Competition since at least 2005 have all been tall, thin/muscular, white males. She asked me to share my thoughts on this phenomenon.

To be fair, I must disclose that the majority of people who participate in this competition are men, so based on pure numbers, it’s more likely that a man will win. It raised a red flag for me when I heard that all the judges in the finals for this year’s competition were white men.  It made me wonder if the judges picked the best performer or if they were biased towards individuals who looked and sounded like them.

There is a general bias towards tall white men in our society. NPR reports that women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts and obese women make 12% less than thinner women. The shoe lift industry is thriving because taller people generally hold higher status jobs and are assumed to be more intelligent.

I have to be mindful of my own bias. If you look at my professional rolodex, the majority of my contacts are men. In my defense, I generally lean towards people who are leaders, low-drama, sci-fi geeks, and improv performers. This leads to having a lot more men in my sandbox than women. But, when it comes to picking a professional where gender is irrelevant, like a dentist or an accountant, I need to make sure don’t automatically pick a man.

In thinking about gender bias, I was reminded of a trial I watched during my summer with the Army JAG. The prosecuting attorney was a woman who was maybe 5 feet tall and 110 pounds. The defense attorney, Eric Mayer, towered over her at 6+ feet tall with broad shoulders, a chiseled jaw, and a stance that oozed confidence. I was completely intimidated by him. Both attorneys put on good cases and the defendant was ultimately convicted, but if you didn’t hear the case and only saw a snapshot of the courtroom, most people would suspect that the defense was going to win.

As professional speakers, men have an advantage. It’s easier for them to command a room because they generally take up more space and have deeper voices. They are socialized to be more assertive than women.  Conversely, women are socialized to be nice. They take up less space, especially when they’re teetering on heels, and their professional appearance requires them to be attractive, but not too pretty or sexy.  They generally use more qualifying statements and smile at inappropriate times.

Some women face an uphill battle when they want to establish themselves as professionals. Women have to be more mindful of how they talk compared to men. Everyone has an upper and lower voice. Most men speak in their lower voice; women have a tendency to speak in their upper voice. This makes them sounds more child-like and less professional. Women who up-talk are worse. If you up-talk, I will tune you out because the sound of your voice annoys me.

And women need to figure out how their boobs factor into their professional appearance. Big boobs can get you free drinks, but they can be a hindrance to moving up the corporate ladder as many people associate bigger breasts with lower intelligence or being less professionally focused. I’m very grateful I pass the pencil test.

Unfortunately, gender bias will not go away overnight, and I encourage everyone – men and women – to confront it when it occurs. According to my source, a judge at the Oplinger competition told one of the women that she was “too aggressive for a female.” Another female competitor reported that a judge told her that he docked points because she didn’t wear a skirt. I hope both those women told those judges to fuck off.

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Scheduling Lunch with a Litigator Made Me Never Want to be One

All's Well That Inks Well by Chris Wightman

When I started law school, I thought I wanted to be a litigator. It would be fun to work on cases where you have to dig through case law and statutes to form viable arguments and to go to court. I had an externship supervisor who liked to give me needle-in-a-haystack problems and I was pretty good at finding him the cases he needed. I’ve also been a performer for most of my life and watching court taught me that the courtroom is the ultimate theatre.

And then I tried to schedule a networking lunch with a litigator.
I think I had to reschedule it four times before we were able to meet.

I learned when you are a litigator, your life is not your own. Your clients and the court own you. If your client gets sued on a Friday, you might be scrapping your weekend plans to work on the response or packing your bags to visit the client to do some on-site interviews and preliminary investigation.

I think I could be a good litigator, but I don’t want the lifestyle. I don’t want my vacation plans cancelled at the last minute because I have to attend a hearing. Some people thrive on that type of excitement, but it would make me absolutely crazy. I want to generally know when I’m working and when my time is my own. And when I’m on my own time, I’m not answering the office phone or email.

Transactional law comes with its own challenges, but so far I know well in advance what my deadlines are and I can plan for my long days and my days off. (Yes, I take days off. . . not many, but I have them.) So far in my practice, I’ve discovered drafting contracts gives me perverse pleasure. I’d rather work on the front end and prevent problems than to have to deal with the jumbled mess that results when everything falls apart because people didn’t have their ducks in a row at the beginning.

I have friends and acquaintances who are litigators and they’re lovely people, but when I schedule coffee or lunch with them, I expect it to get moved at least once. It comes with their territory. I respect it, and I’m glad I don’t live in it.

My First Trip to Chicago

I had the pleasure of spending three days in Chicago last week for the American Bar Association TechShow. It was a geek-tastic time. I met a lot of wonderful people and learned a lot about ways law firms can use technology to be more efficient. Our keynote speaker was the awesome Ben Stein. It was weird to hear him speak with inflection in his voice. I also got to present on flash mob law during the Ignite-style kick-off event LexThink.1. The audience really seemed to enjoy it.

This was also my first real trip to Chicago. The conference didn’t give me much free time. I only had one evening and one afternoon to get in all my sightseeing. Chicago is known for having wonderful museums and an aquarium, but I skipped those. I am someone who can appreciate art, but I need a guide to tell me why things are significant or else it will be lost on me. Without a guide, I can walk through a museum in 10 minutes and wonder why I spent $20 for the experience. When I’m traveling alone, I prefer to use Roadside America to find a city’s quirky gems.

On the second night of the conference I decided I wanted to experience some Chicago flavor. I asked the doorman where I should go for real Chicago pizza. Without hesitation he said, “Lou Malnati’s.” It was a delightful little pizza place with wonderful deep dish Chicago-style pizza. I grew up on the west coast, so this was the first time I had to eat pizza with a fork and knife. If you want Chicago pizza, try this place.

After the conference was over, I had a few hours to take in the city with my cousin who lives in Chicago. He’s in a medical residency, so he doesn’t have time to see the city. He said there’s a wonderful architectural boat tour and a gangster bus tour in the city that he’d love to go on. Unfortunately our schedule didn’t allow for that so we took our own walking tour near the lake.

Our first stop was Millennium Park. I had to see Cloud Gate – aka “The Bean.” Despite it being a freezing cold day, there were a lot of people out to see the giant sculpture. Being an ex-gymnast, I had to do a handstand in front of it.

Our walk around Chicago also featured the Chicago Cultural Center, the Navy Pier, and the beginning of Route 66. I was tickled when I randomly encountered the statue of Bob Newhart and his couch. After I explained to my cousin who Bob Newhart was, I posed for a picture. It was odd to sit on a couch that was rock hard and ice cold. There was also a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe in her signature pose from The Seven Year Itch. We giggled when we walked around it and saw that the sculpture included an accurate depiction of her backside and panties. We also walked around Tribune Tower which has pieces of other buildings embedded in the outside like the Parthenon, the Taj Majal, the World Trade Center, The Alamo, and the Great Wall of China. I was little bummed when I didn’t find a piece of Stonehenge but I was happy to see that it had a piece from Antarctica.

It would have been nice to visit Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower). They have a glass observation deck that sticks out over the street on the 103rd floor. It would have been fun to do a handstand on that, but it was cloudy day and kind of expensive. Instead, my last adventure in Chicago was a ride back to the airport on the L.

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