Saturday, February 25, 2006

So, You Want To Be A Lawyer, Eh?

I vaguely remember owning the "American" version of this book, and am delighted to report that there's now a Canadian version for our neighbors to the north. I just love the title. So what, the German title would be "Wollen Sie Gehoren Der Jurist, Ja?" (don't take the German seriously, I just cobbled that together from a dictionary)

So I'm back. It feels good to be back. I'm sorry I didn't come back earlier, as promised, and am grateful beyond expression for all of you who have checked in throughout the week and on the day I promised to return. I appreciate all your well-wishes and the "positive energy" you were sending. In fact, all my friends who personally know me (not the lovely virtual ones I've found in Blogistan) have seen the effect that this blog has had on me--I am more centered, happy, and stimulated these past few weeks. Moving back home with my parents was incredibly intellectually isolating. Imagine having two parents who don't speak much English when you don't speak much Vietnamese to talk to most of the day. Imagine still that neither they, nor your siblings understand what you do or why you do it, and don't really care either about even the general pop version (e.g. politics, "the law"). You're away from all your friends from school (who don't really like talking about "the law" either because they're not academic track), and you can't get out much due to childcare duties, research obligations, and crazy puritan Asian strict parents who are kind of the same as they ever were back in high school. Kind of lonely, you know? So I've been dying a slow intellectual death since May, conversing with myself, writing research prospecti no one but maybe my advisor reads, and becoming a hermit clutcing my books to my hollow chest. So I am incredibly, incredibly grateful for this online community of academics (most of you not law) who I can talk to (if virtually). I really am so happy that there's a way for me to share what I'm interested in, thinking about, and researching, and that there are those who will read me. And I am glad that there are so many wonderful scholars to read. You are the wind beneath my wings. Also, I am particularly pleased to discover new visitors Blogmeridian and A Frolic of Her Own, two wonderful, insightful blogs after my own heart (law and literature?! hubba hubba!) and appreciate the linkage and blogrolling. I am your new fans. And so I apologize for not keeping my promise to return to you in good time. So why am I back so late?

I was very tired. More than I admitted to myself. I slept fitfully for only a few hours each night of the exam, and then ran on adrenaline and sneaked in contraband chocolate covered expresso beans. Then I came back home, slept 11 hours, and had to take care of babies (whom I missed very much) yesterday and today. They finally went home, all 6 babies/children and 2 preteen/teen. It has not been terribly restful here either, actually, especially since I've taken up the idea that cleaning my room thoroughly (we're talking a little Asian girl lifting up two queen-sized mattresses to vacuum underneath the bed) will purge myself of the past few months. You know what? It's working. Tomorrow I'm cutting off long sexy hair into a chic bob just to feel like I'm letting go of something old and cumbersome.

So the exam was bad of course, but not too bad. Despite not feeling terribly prepared or having sufficiently memorized the material (at least compared to all the crazy mo-fos out there), I was pretty calm throughout, not too freaked out or scared shitless. Took care of myself. Ate well, didn't overly stress, managed to have a little fun at least going out to dinner (again, unlike the crazy mo-fos who order bad, expensive room service so that they can cram each night a tiny bit more). I at least tried to sleep well. Sometimes I think the best thing to have is your health and a healthy attitude. Some people truly freak out and start puking and/or crying. Some are truly annoying and dissect their answers very loudly, very publicly with their friends. My rule is: don't talk about it. It's annoying. Give it up.

So, despite being tired and chilling out to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (You don't own it? It's going to be okay. There is hope for you yet.) , I'm going to take this opportunity to do a public service type blog for everyone who ever thought about being a lawyer, whose parents wanted them to be one, who are going to enter the profession now. This is the USEFUL stuff. Let me break it down to ya:

Things You May Not Know About Law Schoool:

It is like junior high, but worse.
  1. There are lockers and hallways, so you can't avoid seeing/saying hi to people you don't like, unlike a large college campus.
  2. There are mandatory classes and "sections" first year, so you definitely can't avoid forming/being rejected from cliques, study groups, group think.
  3. There are great classes and professors to be had. Don't just go after the Bar classes. Do 5-6 bar classes (on top of first year classes, which are all bar classes), but choose the best professors based on the student evaluations. Teaching style is all-important, as is exam format (in-class, closed book, take-home). Your grade is based on one final exam, so put all your effort to that (unless of course, you value "learning"). Take classes for their intellectual value as well as usefulness, but don't be afraid of "scary subjects"--I wish I had taken Tax, for example, and am glad I took Remedies and Corporations. I am a civil rights scholar, and my favorite class was Corporations (surprisingly, there is such a thing as "progressive corporate law" and "progressive tax law.") I also studied bankruptcy law, which is informing one of my future projects on race and administrative law. Challenge yourself.
  4. There are "organizations," e.g. student-run journals, legal clinics, and many student organizations (many ethnic-affiliated) which often make you feel that if you don't join, you're left out
  5. There is a lot of peer pressure to go out to these stupid things, for the sake of "networking," being perceived as social, friendly, cool, a drinker.
  6. There are kegs in the courtyard (I am not kidding) and other SBA organized social events, which again make you feel like a loser if you don't go.
  7. By the way, SBA stands for "Student Bar Association," which is really similar to the "Associated Student Body" back in high school, which is again, a popularity contest with election slogans like "better vending machines" and "increased printer page allotments." The class president is the same jock you would have hated back in high school.
  8. There are still the jocks, the homecoming queens, and the geeks social enclaves like in high school. The most annoying thing is, everyone has money or is used to the idea of money. Lots of pretension. Learn to identify cheeses by region and talk about rinds. Say that you eat at expensive celebrity chef restaurants. Flaunt expensive leather goods and designer shoes/jeans. Eat organic. Become an oenophile. Learn to hate yourself and question your roots.
  9. Married people have it better in navigating the social waters, simply because they already have someone to be friends with in a new city, and because they can play the marriage card "I can't go to every stupid club/social event because I need to spend time with the spouse."
  10. You shouldn't join every club, journal, clinic, or ethnic org out of guilt or resume building. Stick to one or none first year, two maybe second year, and continue with one or two third year--AT most. So that means one journal and one clinic (like HALSA/AIDS) and minimal involvement in a social/ethnic org. Do something because you're interested in the work or the work is worthy of your 10-20 hours a week, not because it's resume padding or because you feel guilt from going from 0 to whitewashed. (Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to sound bitter.)
Things to Know About the Bar Exam

It is like every horrible exam you've taken, but it's three days of it

  1. Subjects for CA Exam: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Corporations, Community Property, Evidence, Remedies, Wills, Trusts, Torts, Property, Professional Responsibility (Legal Ethics). Subjects for the Multistate Bar Exam: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Evidence, Torts, Property.
  2. Day One: Morning Session: Three Essays, Three Hours. One hour break for lunch. Afternoon Session: 3 hours to write a legal brief based on a provided set of facts, client file, and library of cases/statutory material.
  3. Day Two: Morning Session: 100 multiple choice questions in 3 hours. One hour break for lunch. Afternoon Session: 100 multiple choice questions in 3 hours.
  4. Day Three: Morning Session: Three Essays, Three Hours. One hour break for lunch. Afternoon Session: 3 hours to write a legal brief based on a provided set of facts, client file, and library of cases/statutory material.
  5. Evening of Day Three: get drunk.

This is pretty much the most exhausting, horrible exam ever created. It's all closed book, no notes, all rote memorization. I cannot, for some reason, read or write very fast despite being a whiz when I was in college (hey, I was an English major and could write an essay on Hamlet in an hour). For some reason, I just can't do it anymore. The Socratic method favors blurting out the first thing that comes and sounding confident and persuasive when you do it (but not necessarily right or on point, a lot of professors have to go "I think what you're saying is..."). So if I can't write an essay in an hour or pretend to know what I don't maybe it shows that I'm the dissertating type, not the dissembling type. I remember in law school working incredibly hard in Criminal Procedure, attending each class, doing EVERY asssigned reading, going to office hours, preparing an elaborate outline--and I got a C+. Trust me, doing all the work and going to class are not givens in law school, where in the first year, they have to tell you to stay home if you're sick, and by second/third year, they have to remind you that AALS rules compell your attendance subject to disciplinary action. So I can work hard, and do pretty badly. I can also do jack and do well--for instance, reading the "cliff notes" version of First Amendment Law and getting a B+, taking a Criminal Law exam with only 2 days of studying someone else's outline and relying on knowledge from "Law and Order" after not having read or attended the class for 8 weeks and getting a B. It's a crap shoot. Keep that in mind in law school, and on the Bar exam. The best attitude is a calm one--because preparation doesn't ensure anything.

That slightly bitter, cynical "public service" spiel over, I have to confess that I'm going back to law school. On the second night of the exam, via email, I found out I got into the LLM (Master of Laws) program at a presgitious Liberal College Town Law School! I am very happy. It's been a dream of mine to go there since 17 (and in case you think you know where that is, there are plenty of Liberal College Towns with prestigious affiliate law schools). I'm accepting and sending in a deposit, but I'm still waiting for a response from WASPy Privilege Law School and Elite Secret Society Law School before I start apartment hunting. I doubt the prospects for the latter two, since I got rejected by Elite Secret Society for the graduate program in political science, and got rejected by Prestigious Policy Wonk Law School for its LLM program. But since I have about 15 schools/programs left to hear from, I'm going to keep some fingers crossed for more yesses and more options. I'm extremely happy and content to go to the program I was accepted to, since it's one of my top choices, and am already picking out couches.

So what to take from these varied and conflicting statements? You should go to law school if you really want to. I wanted to go because I really love the study of law, and you can't get taught these courses in any other program (not political science, not urban planning, not history, not public policy...) in the same deeply analytical way. I also went because I want to be a legal academic specifically, with some cognate training in political scientist--but I'm not the best political scientist. I read cases and write analytical articles--I don't conduct regression analyses (very well) or write quantitative articles on political behavior (yet). You should really prepare yourself for a different grade curve. My law school finally changed their pretty harsh one to a kindler, gentler one, but still expect that Cs are given, and that As and Bs are not the default the way they are in graduate school. Work is often unrewarded, since work doesn't matter--the one-shot final exam does. Prepare yourself for peer pressure the likes of which you have not seen since high school. Prepare yourself for a lot less anonymity and freedom from observation. You're not just another blip in a tens-of-thousand state university--you're in a class of 300, in a schoool of 1000, and everyone is watching and gossiping.

Finally, don't let any of this deter you from something you want. If you truly want to be a lawyer then go out and be one. If you don't want it, and are just doing it for the money, the prestige, or because your family wants you to, give it up--it's not worth it. The social pressures, the firm life, the bar exam, the job-search, the mandatory grade curves--it's not worth it unless you like the subject well enough to study it for 3 years and put some of the best years of your life into it well after you've taken the bar exam.

I'm going back, and I'm going to be taking some really standard law school courses like Federal Courts, Administrative Law, Tax and Tax Policy--but just two years ago, I was ready to drop out. I had lost the passion. It took a year to realize that I didn't lose it, I just misplaced it--the passion wasn't for firm life or bourgie wine and cheese parties--it was in the study of law. If you can't find it there, don't be a lawyer.

End of Public Service Announcement.