So this is the last week of law school for me before I go into finals. I’m finishing papers, giving a presentation on the inclusion of new classes of primary care practitioners to address the healthcare crisis, and generally going full force trying to complete everything that I must before taking finals. It’s at once impossible and yet totally within the abilities I’ve developed. Lewis & Clark has prepared me to think and act clearly under pressure, to respond and produce under whatever circumstances I’m presented. I don’t know if it’s also Portland’s influence that I tend to be calmer or whether it’s simply knowing what to do and how to do it that give me peace and presence. It’s obviously influenced my language. But I feel good about my work here, and the work I will do. I’m a workhorse, and a happy one. What’s next for me is amazing. I’ve got options I couldn’t have imagined, and I’ve got support beyond my hopes. It keeps me motivated that my mission to use everything I’ve learned to help shape the future of healthcare in a more responsive and inclusive way will be fulfilled. And while it was a long path getting here, I am confident that the law school has helped me become who I hoped. After finals I’ll have more time to reflect and give a more thoughtful essay tying things together, but I thought I’d check in. I’ve enjoyed blogging for the school, and I actually know my ties to what will be my alma mater will be strong because of the special people that helped create the edifying experience it has been.
I can’t believe it’s March! I’m writing papers furiously, but this year has brought a mild winter, so I’m making an effort to be out seeing the sun as much as I can (if you live in Portland, you’ll understand this inclination). So, a café with a lot of windows is where I like to be; there are many.
Recently I’ve pondered the fact that the deeper you get into this profession, the more you must hold in confidence, while at the same time you are held to higher standards to be honest and above-board lest you violate, intentionally or not, one of the myriad ethics rules. If ever there are tensions in competing values, the attorney will feel it here. Contrary to popular opinion, lawyers cannot lie. Really! A inconsistency can result in discipline, however minor. And it will be pursued.
It’s easy enough to do what you think it right, to be a nice person, to not not lie–but mistakes, even if honest, does not result in easy forgiveness by a state bar ethics committee. Every jurisdiction also defines what constitutes the practice of law, and to be a lawyer in one jurisdiction does not necessarily authorize you to even hold yourself out as a licensed attorney anywhere else because someone might think you’re licensed in that jurisdiction, ask you a question, rely on it–and tag, you’re it. Some jurisdictions don’t even require that there be a matter in front of a court. It’s always on you to be clear, specific and darn sure people around you understand who you are, what you’re doing, etc. Sometimes it feels like the end of being a person.
In real life, lawyers are real people, and I’ve met plenty who have kept their humanity. I intend to be one of them, notwithstanding the fact my interest in health law seems to compel such. There Is a real balance to be had, and even though there are many burdens placed upon you, there is support and guidance to be found. Your colleagues generally want you to succeed, and the best of them will help you. While I intended to be a mentor as I have volunteered to be in the past, here in Oregon, the bar assigns new attorneys a mentor to help them get oriented, which is a real comfort as I intend to join the Oregon bar.
Who you are in terms of character does matter–not just to pass character and fitness for the state bar, but to do the job effectively. It is entirely relevant that one be conscientious about staying true to her word, and follow through on obligations. To join this profession means that you will acquire great knowledge and will be given keys to many doors others cannot enter. You will be a trustee and effective manager of assets for clients, and so it’s especially important that you be above board in money matters, and to be true to your word that you do what you say you will do, and to regularly communicate with others about what you’re doing because you are accountable. You have legal duties to do this, but social norms give rise to these expectations. Silence and inaction are not options for the attorney. In sum, the threat of punishment should not be what drives you to comply–it should really be a facet of who you are to do the right thing, to communicate that you’re doing the right thing, and to follow through on what you say you will do.
So, I have a calendar that tells me what do when, and to make sure I’m touching base with everyone just so I set proper expectations, and remind myself of my obligations. I’ve made sure that much of those communication-type things are part of my calendar, and that my calendar is on sky drive so it syncs with my phone and I can get multiple reminders. These are all good practice for what lay ahead as I take on more obligations and increase my accountability to others.
But this is my way of doing things. I don’t say you should do these things because I have many effective colleagues who are completely different and won’t do all these “Type-A” things because they have another system that works for them. The fact that others are effective and yet very different from me reminds me that diversity in the profession meets needs that I won’t necessarily address. Indeed, if I thought that others should do exactly what I did, I’d be mimicking the conduct of those who in recent era would say I couldn’t be an attorney because of my personal or physical traits, for example.
So, it’s always good to do a reality-check and make sure your perspective is balanced. Character and fitness for the profession may well be adjudicated by the fact you are willing and capable of responding in a responsible way to the requirements of the profession, but ethics do not dictate logistics on how you get the job done, nor tell you what works in which context. Hence, law requires creative Type B personalities in addition to all the diversity that individual experiences can offer. Reflect on that and think deeply about what you can bring to the table.
To be a good writer is the gold standard in law school. In hiring decisions and even admissions decisions you hear some version of the question: “Yes, but can he/she write?” That is the question, I think.
Indeed, I recall reading a law school blog that advised others to focus on numbers and really the LSAT sample was a throw-away–like it didn’t matter so much if your numbers were good. I can confidently say that the blogger did not make it into Lewis & Clark, and likely neither did anyone who took that advice.
Lewis & Clark is a top writing school and you will write, write, write until the crescendo that is your capstone paper, which is basically the law school thesis you must complete to earn a what is a type of doctoral degree. You must have spent time developing your ability to write before you come to law school, not only because it’s most of what you will do here, but also because you will refine and practice it ad nauseum. You will learn to do the type of research which is highly focused and driven toward persuasive argument. You must understand that legal research and writing is what an attorney does. Allow me to elaborate.
Whatever the fact pattern presented, ultimately it must be backed up, considering both sides and argued why one side (yours) is the more persuasive one. You will be crushed if you dare do anything as (frankly, unethical) as not discuss relevant precedents just because they detract from your agenda of winning. No, what law school does is to train you–even if it’s by trial and error–to face down any adverse information head-on and then say why your argument prevails anyway.
And you must discuss both sides. You must acknowledge and wrestle with your adversary. That’s our system, and that’s what you must do, even if you’re thinking you’re going to be a transactional attorney or never litigate. Law school isn’t about being some sort of intellectual; this is vocational school. Mind you, this is coming from someone who has spent a lot of time learning for pleasure. Law school is learning for a purpose, and that purpose is not to impress your friends. It’s to give you a powerful tool of how to persuade effectively when it matters.
As I’m writing a research paper now and I’m finding some of my ideas are indeed novel, I’ve had to research outside the legal literature. All I can say is that it’s a different world out there I see now with these 3L eyes. Some writers with doctorate degrees who are writing on subjects that are important to me–and I’m totally interested in what they have to say–seem unfocused, meandering, abstruse, etc. It drives me nuts.
This is not to say that all legal writing is wonderful–believe me, it isn’t. But I know good writing when I see it, and legal writers get there more often. It’s clear, concise, logical and despite my critical mind (at this point naturally looking for holes in arguments) is satisfied that necessary considerations have been taken, and the only basis I have for disagreement is that reasonable minds can differ, not that something totally destroys the writer’s credibility because they left something out that should have been considered.
Now, back to life in law school: some courses in your upper division coursework will have papers due, not final exams. These papers are typically in the range of thirty or so pages, and your capstone may well exceed that. But the thing is that they are well-researched and original. Having your own ideas is all very well, and I’m sure you do if you’re interested in law school, but the ability to communicate them is essential. Backing them up and deeply analyzing them deeply considering everything you can find that both supports and detracts from your thesis is no task for meek. But look, I’m a chemist and I found my way, and I’m always getting better; the journey is the destination, as they say.
So, if you are applying to law school especially in these days when the economy is down and the legal market is experiencing paradigm shifts, there’s more pressure on you to prepare yourself well so you have the best opportunity to be darn good at what you’re going to do. Learn to write, practice relentlessly, and demonstrate your skill on every piece of paper you put your name on–from your undergraduate research paper(s), to your LSAT writing sample and personal statement–make sure it has no errors, is carefully reviewed, makes sense, considers both sides and puts your best foot forward. Then you’re ready to join the profession.
Part of knowing you have a good law school advisor is the sense of being uplifted when you meet. I have had that type of experience with my advisors at Lewis & Clark Law School many times as they have supervised and encouraged me along my path to gain skills and experience in the legal filed.
As is the case with many students at L&C, I thrive on challenges, and so as I’m preparing my final papers for my final law school classes, I proposed some topics in a spectrum from conservative propositions that eke out a small place between other well-researched topics of a similar flavor to a bolder ones which the literature has left largely untouched. “Start the conversation,” urged one advisor with a smile.
It was as much elating to hear as it was terrifying, because to do so left me without much guidance of other legal researchers of how to think about the topic, and I would be forced to go outside of the legal field for authorities and information, and I would have to propose a new framework. Could I really do this?
And then I began to draw on the knowledge I had gained over my years at law school and began a process of careful analysis and drew analogies to other frameworks and realized I could do it. As much as I would innovate an application of law in a new context, I could make it seem logical and reasonable to include nontraditional actors in a regulatory regime that tended to exclude others–and boldly propose greater inclusion, even integration. Thus began a journey that begins my greatest challenge and my greatest work that will be my segue to my career. I’ll have to keep you posted on how it progresses.
So these things are always in tension, but I think in hindsight the tension is much greater in 1L than in subsequent years. I felt a great deal less stressed about finals because by now I know what to expect and I know the drill of what it is what I need to know to fill in the gaps and write a convincing essay that demonstrates I don’t merely know the knowledge but I can weigh and consider factors appropriately tailored to facts and argue for a reasonable outcome under (usually) the totality of the facts and circumstances that would likely be consistent with a modern court. I suppose that’s what we do in a nutshell, and what awaits me in the bar, except more crossover between subjects as the world is complex.
So, this finals session will be somewhat less intense than in the past, and next semester will likely even be less so, but I will be taking the MPRE and doing the ramp-up toward filling my head with whatever I need to be ready for the bar, just because I want to make doubly sure it’s an experience I need not repeat except by choice and in another state.
But bottom line, things do look different now than in the past. There’s also a quandary of choosing my last semester to just take a minimum number of units since most of my requirements are done, or if it makes sense to explore more subjects that pique my interest. It’s nice to feel confident and even a bit whimsical because I no longer have doubts in my ability to accomplish anything I set my mind to do. It will happen for you too.