Final exams for the fall start tomorrow – what better time to reflect on the term that was?
With the freedom to select a schedule from a very broad array of class offerings, how does one decide how to proceed? If you have a specific focus area, or are seeking a certificate, decisions about what class to take might mostly be made for you by the schedule itself. In my case, my intent was to explore a few different areas of the law while accommodating my extracurricular interests.
Thanks to the evening program at Lewis and Clark, there are a wide variety of classes and class times available for crafting a schedule, which made it possible for me to fit my schedule around work and volunteering, while still carrying a full load of interesting classes in a number of subject areas. Animal Law, Administrative Law, Bankruptcy, Business Associations, Capital Punishment and Constitutional Law II were my choices for the term – a mix that allowed me to touch on a few different areas of the law while preserving two days a week class-free for other purposes.
What other purposes? For one, the chance to volunteer my time with the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), an opportunity that grew directly from Lewis and Clark itself. In the current climate of reduced hiring, even volunteer positions are very competitive for law students, so it was a great pleasure to join the first class of students at this brand new non-profit, founded by three 2011 graduates of the law school. The OJRC assists local non-profit legal organizations with trial and appellate litigation on behalf of indigent, prisoner, and low-income clients in federal and state courts on a range of civil liberties and civil rights matters, including but not limited to the death penalty, immigrant rights, and unfair procedural barriers to the courts.
My role with OJRC has been as a volunteer supporting the Oregon Capital Resource Center with appellate advocacy as part of the Death Penalty Project. Working on real cases, with experts in the field, has been made possible by the dedication and hard work of the founding directors of OJRC, the open and collegial relations between attorneys in the Oregon Bar, and the flexible scheduling options that Lewis and Clark provides for students.
On top of my classes and my work with the OJRC, a flexible schedule also provided the opportunity to hold on to my part time job as a snow reporter for a local ski resort, Mt. Hood Meadows. Most students at Lewis and Clark seem to indulge some kind of athletic interests, including runners who ply the trails of Tryon Creek State Park adjacent to the school, bicycle riders who take advantage of the CATS towel program for commuting to school, and the crew of dedicated gym rats that work out daily at the student athletic center. Students here understand how to maintain a balanced life.
In the interest of keeping my own life in balance, this was my last term as a full time student at Lewis and Clark. No, I’m not dropping out, transferring, deferring or taking a sabbatical – I’m just switching to the ‘evening division’, which means 12 credits, instead of the 17 on my schedule this term (what was I thinking?). This kind of flexibility in scheduling sets Lewis and Clark apart from other schools, and allows students to make connections in the community that will serve us well as we transition from living as students to working as lawyers.
Did I mention that this semester was supposed to be the one where I took it easy?
As an evening student, I’m supposed to take between nine and twelve credits per term. I’d initially signed up for nine, figuring that would give me more time to really focus on the courses I’d signed up for.
But the semester began with an interesting twist. On the second day of classes, I ran into a podmate who told me about a seminar class called Street Law. It’s a three-credit seminar in which participants visit a high school civics or government class once or twice a week to teach students about the law. The content varies by semester, but in the fall, the class focus on the basics:. essentially, the students get a simplified crash course in what we covered during the first year of law school.
Intrigued, I visited the first class session to get a quick sense of what we’d be doing. By the time I left, I’d decided to switch my schedule around to include this class (which actually put me at 13 credits for the term). I’m really glad I did. As an undergrad, I had planned to become a high school teacher, but ultimately did not because I felt I was too young. It just seemed to me that I needed more life experience before trying to teach someone else. Obviously, over a decade later, that’s no longer a problem.
I’ve taught four sessions so far, and have three left before the end of the year. Surprisingly, though they are seniors, most of my students are still fairly enthusiastic — sometimes a little too much so! We get off-topic really quickly, and it can be difficult to reel them back in. Still, as long as I remember to let them do most of the talking, I think the class is in good shape.
Another interesting course this semester is Children & the Law, with Professor Steverson. Another seminar, this class also involves one session of teaching — but instead of high school students, you teach a lesson on the law from a child’s perspective to your classmates. My classmate Anna and I recently gave our lesson (on general principles of child custody, as well as specifically addressing surrogacy and custody of preembryos/zygotes). Since we weren’t booed out of the room, I assume we did okay.
Both of these experiences have reminded me of just how much preparation goes into teaching, at all levels. My partner and I spent hours reading and researching the history of custody, read at least three times as much as we had our classmates read and had a couple of activities planned that we didn’t even get to do with the class. Better to overplan than under, but I sure wish we’d had another crack at it.
Of course, right now I’m too busy to even think about do-overs. In addition to teaching at the high school, and keeping up with the work for my classes, I’m trying to ramp up my volunteer work. Thus far, I’ve volunteered with Legal Aid Services of Oregon for their Night Clinic, walked in the Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation Fashion Show (so. much. fun!), and am once again going to be a witness for the Law School’s Mock Trial (interestingly, it’s the same case as last year, though I will be playing a different witness).
Of course, there’s a host of personal stuff to consider this semester as well: with three kids, any time that I’m not studying usually means doctor’s appointments, classes, school conferences. The other important plus I have to remember to make time for the other adult in my house as well. After not taking any classes over the summer, I re-discovered how much more manageable our life feels when we spend more time together. Thus, I’ve made a point of going out with my husband more this semester. I want to get to the end of law school at least as happily married as I began it!
Did I mention this semester was supposed to be easy? Well, I don’t know if I can call it that. But it’s definitely been interesting.