Category Archives: Law School

“It is time to begin outlining.”

Hereby declares Becca on November 15, 2012.

This elusive process of “outlining” is apparently a very arduous one, so this moment of courage and resolve feels very dramatic.  Dramatic feelings call for dramatic YouTube clips.

Outlining. So let it be written. So let it be done.

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A Tale of Two Cold Calls

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” So begins Becca’s tale.

——-

Let’s get beyond the definitions first. “Cold calls” are exactly what they sound like. Professors call on students without us necessarily expecting it. We don’t know if the question(s) will be straightforward or completely abstract. We don’t know how many questions we’ll get asked before the professor moves on. Cold calls are part of the Socratic method of instruction, with the purpose being to guide us through the thought processes we should exercise when critically examining legal problems in the future. In other words, they utilize this method in an attempt to teach us how to “think like lawyers.”

I had my first two cold calls this week. The first one was the worst of times, and the second was the best (relatively speaking, of course) of times.

The worst of times: We had to read two cases for one particular class. One was considerably longer, both in actual case length as well as the subsequent analysis devoted to it in the casebook, while the other seemed rather trivial. (After one week of law school, I apparently considered myself fully qualified to deem a case as “rather trivial.” That was not a wise move.)  Therefore, I prepared pretty heavily for the first case but not nearly as much for the second. Of course, the universe supported this sound life choice by subjecting me to the first cold call on the second “rather trivial” case. I was asked to explain the case’s overall importance, the facts, as well as some of the broader implications on a policy standpoint. I did not do well. My answers were vague. Unconvincing. Not the slightest bit nuanced. I felt humiliated. The professor eventually moved on.

Law school isn’t college. It took me feeling humiliated to fully understand this. In college, especially in large lecture settings, one can often slide through lectures without having thoroughly done the reading. (Omit the word “thoroughly” and this still would be accurate for a number of classes.) Usually the more eager students who raise their hands get called on, and everyone else can continue to slouch in the back and troll Facebook. Law school isn’t like this. I read the case, but not thoroughly. I didn’t take the time to look up words I didn’t understand or to get a firm grasp on the case. I felt crushed upon leaving class. This is professional school. I owe it to myself to be as prepared as I can each day. I owe it to the amazing friends and family members who support me with those little texts/emails/calls just to make sure I’m doing ok, to let me know they’re thinking of me, and to cheer me on. I owe it to the mystery person/people who decided I was worthy of a scholarship to this school. I owe it to my future clients. I won’t do this again.

The best of times: In this class, we usually discuss two cases per day, with roughly half the class period spent on each. I learned my lesson from “the worst of times” two days prior. This time, I was called on for the second case…and I was ready. I was “on call” for about 30 minutes. While this was about six times longer than the previous cold call, I did not embarrass myself once. Victory was mine, and it felt GREAT.

——-

Dickens was right. He’ll continue to be right. I’m going to continue to have those bright, beautiful dreams of using what I’ve learned someday in a way that will change the world. (And it WILL happen someday. I never dream more than I work.) I’m going to have several days where I’ll go home at night and just want to cry out of stress, frustration, and maybe a little dose of loneliness. Some days, my heart will feel both the unbridled promise and the bouts of pain at a very intense level. This will, for better or for worse, be my law school experience…and I’m going to embrace it! Wholeheartedly. I will one day look back upon the experience, remember Little Becca the 1L, and smile as I realize how far I’ve come.

“…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

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My Favorite Part About Day 1 of Law School…

…was that one of my professors walked into class and politely greeted us, while wearing a tie that featured Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

A premonition of things to come this semester?

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Orientation, Day 3: “When I was your age, I walked a mile uphill to get home from school while carrying 22.4 pounds of required books.”

Says the older Becca one day to her future children, if/when they ever whine about not wanting to go to school.

And if her children are astute, they will furrow their little brows and ask, “Mom, why didn’t you simply take the Metro home if you lived in the city?”

And she will respond, “Because your mother was not as bright as you are. LITTLE DID SHE KNOW that buses with letters written after the main bus number – such as ‘9B’ and ‘9C’ – have very different meanings. Her phone died so she couldn’t check bus routes. And nobody looked friendly enough to ask for help.”

And hopefully they won’t ask if my walk was really uphill. And if it was really a mile, or if I rounded up from, say, 0.54 miles.

In leaving my terrible future anecdote – YES, we got our first-semester law school books today! 22.4 pounds of required statute and casebooks. 22.4 pounds of knowledge I have to acquire in the next 3.5 months. This, of course, does not include the flashcards, general study aids, and the “hornbooks” that most students seem to already be purchasing. (I’m not sure yet which, if any, of these types of materials I’ll choose to make use of.)

The “burden of proof” of my walk home today is featured below:


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Orientation, Day 2: Celebrating in Minor Strain

Today was a long day. A mentally stimulating, yet thoroughly exhausting day. We had our first course lecture (and it’s not even the first official day of school yet!) and learned what “briefing a case” means. We have to tackle it ourselves before we reconvene tomorrow morning.

I am excited. I want to be challenged. I want to be living in a new city and meeting new people. I want to have this intellectual forum that helps me grapple with the questions of freedom, inherent human rights, the rights of the government in relation to individuals…questions I’ve thought about for years.

But I’m also feeling uncomfortable as hell. I moved here knowing that I left what was, despite my itch to move somewhere new, ultimately comfortable – my best friends, the life-changing experiences and people that gave great meaning to my college years, a city I loved, and family living within a couple-hour drive. While I’m starting to meet people here, friendships aren’t exactly solidified yet. Two wonderful new 1L friends I did make today both discussed their supportive, calming significant others. Not something I can relate to at the moment!

Let’s move to law. Reading cases is hard work! I have to look up words within definitions of other words. I find myself having conversations with the cases within the margins of the cases. I find myself arguing with my own reasoning that I thought was just SO brilliant just two minutes prior. To put it simply, I’ve never felt more intellectually unstable in my entire life.

On this first day of pseudo-law school, something pretty cool became actualized, though – a thing that people have been saying to me for years. It goes something like: “Becca. Music will probably keep you happy in your adult life. You might not be taking lessons anymore, but never stop playing. It’ll be the best way for you to unwind.” Indeed, the first thing I did when I got home tonight was play one of my favorite piano pieces, Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” The music is based off of the Paul Verlaine poem of the same title. I’ve always found the poem to be hauntingly beautiful, and the music equally so. While my mind may feel a bit strained today, it’s minor. I will overcome.

The poem describes the feelings of uncertainty (and sometimes even sadness!) that can accompany even the most celebratory of times. Fitting for what I – along with many of my classmates, I’m sure – are feeling as we begin a victorious, yet arduous, three-year journey together.

Listen here to the piano piece, and below is the poem (translated from its original French) on which the music, and the title of this post, are based:

 

 

Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,

Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,

They play on lutes and dance and have an air

Of being sad in their fantastic trim.

 

The while they celebrate in minor strain

Triumphant love, effective enterprise,

They have an air of knowing all is vain, –

And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,

 

The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,

That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,

And in their polished basins of white stone

The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.

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Orientation, Day 1: I’ve decided that this “law school” thing will be ok because…

1. The first professor that spoke to our entire 1L class today began his address by invoking the words of none other than Albus Dumbledore: “I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Oddment! Blubber! Tweak! Thank you.”

2. Two free meals. (Pre-packaged desserts included.) Signs I saw in the bathroom stalls and things I heard (while being talked at all day) are leading me to believe that there will be many more food-filled opportunities down the road.

3. The first form we filled out today ended with the question, “Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?” In college, I would be lucky if most of my friends could even name more than two Justices! I quickly learned that in law school, we’re expected to not only know who they are, but who is our “favorite.” I had a feeling of “Ahh, I’m HOME!” at this moment of discovery.

This exercise – assuming we could sneak a glance at the responses of our neighbors – was our very first opportunity to pinpoint the political ideologues in the class. The guy behind me asked me how to spell “Sotomayor.” I wrote “Scalia” on my form.

I got one reaction of eye-rolling and one of “I’m not sure we can be friends,” which was stated with a combination of a scowl and slight smile. Perhaps he will be the Sam Seaborn to my Ainsley Hayes this year.

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“Legos lied to me as a kid.”

Declares the chief executive of Best-Lock, a company Lego has recently sued for alleged intellectual property violations. 

There’s nothing that unusual about the case itself.  Best-Lock’s toys, specifically the little brick people, look a lot like the famous yellow guys made by Lego.  (Check out Best-Lock’s website.) Lego sues Best-Lock because they don’t like that. Even for a rising 1L, this is pretty straightforward.

However, this is still notable for two reasons:

(1) I like Legos. And the law. I was a complete Lego nut as a kid, even building the city of Chicago at the age of seven. (However, there’s no proof. Thanks for not taking a single picture, everyone!) Kudos to the two friends who sent me this article in the past week, knowing that I’d find this combination simply too good to be true.

(2)  It’s apparently FAR more personal for the Best-Lock executive, though. He has spent his entire career creating something like Legos because…well…he’s upset that Lego wasn’t the first to create something like Legos.  (“They never invented a thing.”)  Specifically, it appears that he has channeled his rage into the creation of the little brick people: “I did the figures because I wanted to piss them off.” Is it just me, or does mimicking an alleged mimicker seem like an awfully strange vendetta?

Looking past the absurdity, this article is reminding me of something important – that law is so very personal. As I sit at my desk and page through my brand new books, the sentences I’m perusing seem incredibly impersonal. Full of long, florid legalese, the new language I’m trying to wrap my head around seems so far removed from how we talk, think, or feel about most issues that are important to us, such as our innermost motivations for our career choices.  However, cases like this serve as reminders that there is humanity (however weird or jaded the emotional context may be) even within the confines of something as arguably droll as a standard intellectual property case. I find that comforting.

And as far as the Best-Lock executive, it does seem that the odds are stacked against him, no? (Decide for yourself if the pun was intended.)

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