Law School Graduation Year: 2012
Current Employment Status: Associate Attorney at Cantey Hanger, LLP
Undergraduate School: Mississippi State University
Undergraduate Major: Transportation & Logistics
Hometown: Columbia, MS
Status: Full-Time Day
2/8/13 - It has been over a month since my last blog entry, and a lot has happened in that time. I had my first legal defeat in a courtroom. I had my first legal victory without stepping into a courtroom. I landed my first client. I received my first tongue lashing by a judge. I negotiated my first settlement. I collected my first judgment. AND my son said, "Papa!"
A couple of the firm's partners came to my office last week for a talk. It was time for my first performance review. I've given and received countless number of performance reviews over the years, but this was only the second time in my life to receive a 1st performance review. The last time was in January of 1994.
I still remember sitting down in my then boss's office anticipating the great things in store for me. I had been a manager at the Frito Lay Plant in Jackson, MS for an entire year, and I was certain that my boss was going to bestow upon me a huge raise and "attaboy." By the end of the meeting, I was very disappointed. Not only was my raise very meager, but my hopes of being showered with praise also went unrealized. It took me a few years to realize just how unrealistic my initial expectations really were.
There were no delusions of grandeur before my latest performance review. In reality, I didn't have time to fantasize about what the review would be like because I didn't know it was coming. I've only been with the firm for five months, and I am keenly aware of just how far I have to go before I can realistically expect the partners to sit up and take notice of my contributions. It takes an average of seven years for an associate to make partner in most firms.
I would be lying if I said that I was not dedicating a tiny amount of brainpower to imagining what it would be like to be named a partner one day. But for now, the notion feels like pure fantasy. Or maybe it is just my way of following author Steven Covey's advice to "begin with the end in mind."
1/4/13 - Last week, I was given the oath of admission by a Federal Judge to be admitted to practice in the Northern District of Texas. What does that mean? It means that I can now file pleadings in Federal Court. Good thing, because I drafted my first federal court pleading about a month ago. The pleading had to be filed by another attorney in the firm because I had not yet been admitted to practice in federal court and time was of the essence. Before I joined the firm, I had no idea that my admission into the State Bar of Texas did not automatically entitle me to practice in federal courts.
Turns out that you must apply and be admitted into each federal district court system where you intend to practice. Being admitted to the Northern District of Texas Bar does not automatically get you membership in the Eastern District, the Southern District, or the Western District of Texas. You must apply, take an oath of admission, and pay a fee for admission into each district. The same process applies if you intend to practice in the U.S. Courts of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The fee for admission into the Northern District Bar is $201, plus you must pay the State Bar of Texas $25 for a current letter certificate of good standing which must accompany the bar admission application. The good news for me is that the firm covers the cost of bar admission.
I was told by other attorneys in the firm that it was a good idea to be admitted to various federal jurisdictions. I intend to follow that advice.
12/14/12 - It's hard to believe that 2012 will be a memory in just 14 days, but here we are... another year has come and gone. The good news is that I don't have any finals to take. Although it's sometimes hard to believe, that part of my life is over (for now). What is not over is learning new things or even sitting in a classroom, but I'm pretty sure my days of sitting for three hour exams are done.
Now my days are filled with looking for ways to help the firm's clients solve their legal problems. I must admit that I love using the law to untangle the thorny limbs ensnaring a client's business or personal life.
I didn't really expect to feel like a contributing member of the firm so soon after joining, but I do because some partners and associates have actually listened to my point of view on legal issues. There are times when I'm talking to other attorneys in the firm, and it hits me - they are actually listening to what I've got to say!
At the same time that I'm assisting other attorneys with research or drafting pleadings, I'm learning new skills as an attorney. There has not been a day that goes by that I don't learn something worthwhile from a fellow attorney, paralegal, or legal assistant.
11/16/2012 - On November 1st, I was having lunch with one of the firm's partners, and I couldn't help but be distracted by the knowledge that at any moment Bar Exam scores would be posted. As we ate lunch and talked about professional and business development, I felt the excited nervousness sitting in the bottom of my stomach. I don't even remember what I eating or whether I enjoyed it. I only barely recall the partner introducing me to some influential banker who gave me his business card and told me to call him (which I haven't done yet). What I do remember very vividly is the moment that I knew Bar Exam scores had been posted.
The partner was talking to me when the phone in my pocket vibrated letting me know that I had just received a text message. I casually reached into my pocket, retrieved my phone, and looked at the message. The one word staring back at me from the screen of my phone conveyed an ominous warning or glorious triumph. The message said, "Posted." The message was from the other associate that was hired with me at the firm. We promised that the first to learn our fate was to immediate alert the other. I wasn't sure what to make of "Posted." Was it his way of telling me that I failed the most important test of my life without having to actually type the words? Why not just type "Congratulations" or "We Did It"?
Seeing "Posted" made my mind go through about a million scenarios in which the outcome was me heading straight to my car and driving away never to be heard of again. Somehow I gathered the strength to ignore the impulse to jump out of my seat and run for the garage. While pretending to listen to the partner sitting across from me, my shaky hands and fingers managed to navigate through the screens on my phone to my internet app. By the time I reached the screen with the title "Examinees who passed the July 2012 Texas Bar Examination," my insides were turning to jello. Holding my breath, I began scanning down the list of last names that began with the letter "A, " and initially I thought that my worst fears were being realized because I didn't see my name!! For about five seconds panic set in and I wondered how I was going to explain failing the Bar Exam to my family and friends and the firm, but then I saw it: "Allen,Antonio Undrea, , ,2381." And I could breathe again.
A couple of weeks later I was sitting in the swearing in ceremony for State Bar of Texas in Austin. Addressing the throngs of newly born baby lawyers, Buck Files, State Bar of Texas President stated, "You've gone through the crucible of law school and examination, and you have been found worthy." I couldn't agree more!
10/26/12 - One week before bar exam results! Wow! I will definitely be glad to know whether the eight weeks of intense study paid off. Interestingly enough, my attitude about my results has gone through a metamorphosis over the last three months. I remember walking out of the testing site in July feeling very confident that I had performed more than well enough to pass, and that feeling stayed with me for quite a while. In fact, my most confident refrain to friends and family was “I’m not worried. If I didn’t pass, a whole lot of people didn’t pass.” As the November 2nd release date has grown closer and closer, that statement has given me a diminishing amount of solace.
With less than seven days to go before the results of the most important exam I’ve ever taken in my life are due, the phrase that gave me so much comfort now seems really stupid. What difference will it really make to me if I and 99% of the people who took the bar exam fail? None! As I sit in my new office of my new law firm (where I’m constantly reminded that in the firm’s 130 year history only one associate has ever failed the bar exam on their first try), my comfort now comes from words that I scoffed at during bar prep: “the bar exam tests minimum competency.”
If nothing else… I’m certainly minimally competent! I sure hope so anyway.
9/28/12 - Today was the end of my fourth week in my new job as an associate attorney, and by the end of the day I was pretty exhausted (but in a good way). I finally finished the draft of a memo I was asked to research and write by the firm’s managing partner, and I felt as if I could breathe again. I didn’t realize it until I finished, but I was a little nervous about the assignment. I had not expected to be doing research for the managing partner this soon into my tenure at the law firm. But there I was earlier in the week, with the managing partner sitting in a chair in my office explaining to me what he wanted.
My job as a new associate is to produce good work for every single attorney in the firm that asks for my assistance, no matter if they are associates, partners, or the managing partner. If I want to be able to have enough work to do every day, I need the established attorneys at the firm to give me work. Each attorney at the firm is expected to bill an average of 38 hours per week, and “baby lawyers” without a bar number don’t have paying clients. Therefore, my clients are the other attorneys: the associates and the partners. If they like your work, they help keep you busy.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that as a “baby lawyer” it might take twice as long to write a demand letter or draft a pleading or write a memo as it would take a more experienced lawyer. As a result, the assigning attorneys discount the work by “writing off” some of the accumulated hours when billing clients. That means the 38 hours worked for the week become only 19 hours billed.
You might be wondering whether the number of hours billed equals the actual number of hours spent in the office behind a desk. The answer as I’m sure you have figured out by now is a resounding “No”!
For example, today I helped to “shepherd” law students interviewing for a summer clerkship between each of their interviews (quick aside: It felt soooo good being on this side of the interview process). Anyway… shepherding law students is not billable to a client, so the two hours I spent leading law students from one office to another will not count toward my 38 hours per week goal. Did I mention how great it feels not to be interviewing for a summer clerkship?
9/7/12 - My first week as a working attorney is in the books, and I must say that it feels even better than I imagined. I can't believe how easy it has been to slip back into early mornings and long working days. What has proven to be a bit more difficult is working once I get home. All of my friends with children were absolutely right: priorities change when you become a parent. I never thought that I would find changing "poopy" diapers or reciprocating baby sounds enjoyable.
As a household with two working parents, my wife and I had to decide whether we wanted to put the little one in daycare or hire a nanny. Ultimately, we decided that hiring a nanny was the best option for us. It is more expensive, but having a nanny gives us both the schedule flexibility we need and the peace of mind that our son is being cared for by someone that we trust.
Now let me tell you what you really want to know: was it all worth it? Well, if you ask me again in a year or so, I should be able to tell you. What I can tell you right now is that I'm enjoying talking to my fellow attorneys about ways to solve the problems of real clients with real cases and controversies. I'm only just now starting to grasp the enormity of an attorney's obligation to the people and organizations that are depending on their lawyer to protect them or champion their cause.
For this week's practical message I want to share my thoughts on some of the classes that I chose to take in law school as electives: Litigation Drafting; Trial Advocacy; Texas Civil Procedure; Texas Trials & Appeals; Consumer Law. I'm telling you about these classes because in my first week as a practicing attorney I have drawn on each of these classes in some way.
I will also tell you that there are other classes that I wish I had been able to take. And no matter where you think you will end up after law school, you cannot go wrong taking advantage of the free training offered by Lexis and Westlaw. Take the time to make these tools your friend, and I promise you that your first months as a "baby attorney" will be more enjoyable (95% of what you will be doing at first is legal research).
You ask, "so what?" Well, the "so what" is that wherever you work after law school will likely not have free access to the online research databases that we have grown to take for granted. Imagine knowing that every time you run a search or print a case, it is costing $20-$30 per search. Now think about how many searches you performed on that last trial brief assignment. Now you are starting to get it...
8/24/12 - WOW!! What an absolutely incredible summer. Not only did I survive eight grueling weeks of bar prep and three days of bar exam torture, but I also survived the most wonderful and the most terrifying day of my life.
This is my first blog as a law school alumnus, an unlicensed attorney, and a new father. Let me say that between graduating law school, (hopefully) passing the bar exam, and hearing my son's first cry in the delivery room, there is no doubt about which event gave me the most joy. As I'm sure any parent would tell you, a bond like none that I have ever experienced was formed on June 10th: the bond between parent and child, father and son, protector and protected.
If you had asked me a year ago what was going to be the most significant event to occur to me in the next year, I would have said, “law school graduation and passing the bar exam,” without hesitation. A year later, both of those events now rank third or fourth on my list of significant occurrences. Don't get me wrong, earning my law degree has given me an incredible sense of accomplishment, and I'm chomping at the bit to do some real lawyering. But... holding my little boy in my arms for the first time... nothing compares.
Over the coming weeks I will try to convey to you what it is like to be a new associate attorney learning how to practice law. Right now... I feel like I'm a bull rider sitting in the chute on the back of a big snorting bull. The adrenaline is pumping; I'm anticipating the ride; but there is still a healthy dose of fear sitting in the bottom of my stomach. Sometimes... fear is a good thing.
5/9/12 - A friend of mine once told me that I should slam my pencil down when I finish an exam to exhibit my successful dominance over the defeated beast of a test. One problem with that suggestion is that I've taken all of my law school exams using a computer, and the idea of slamming down my laptop as a display of confidence in my testing prowess seems a bit paradoxical.
The only reason I'm thinking about that friend's suggestion is because today I took my last final exam of law school. I told another friend this week that I have enjoyed taking almost every law school exam I've had here at Texas Wesleyan. After my friend stopped emphatically telling me that I was not "normal," I tried to explain what I meant. I have enjoyed the challenge of taking law school exams as much as I'm sure Kobe Bryant enjoys having the basketball in his hands for a game winning shot attempt. There is no better feeling than knowing that you are supremely prepared to meet every challenge a professor throws at you on the final exam. I can't say that I've been able to hit the game winning shot every time I've taken a law school exam, but what I know is that when Allen Iverson said, "We're talking about practice. I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice, not a game... but we're talking about practice," he would have been just as wrong if he had been talking about law school (or almost anything). What I've learned over the last three years of law school is that the game (final exam) is always a little anti-climactic if you practice (read, go to class, and study), and it is the quality of the practice that eliminates game-time drama. The last thing you want during a law school exam is drama.
Interestingly enough, the same can be said of the end of my law school career. Yes, there is the anticipation of the graduation parties and graduation itself. There is the joy of family coming into town to celebrate. But when I typed the last letter of the last word of my last law school exam, there were no sirens and no bells and no fireworks. No drama... The clock on my time in law school just quietly expired. I'm okay with that because I know that it is really just the end of regulation, and my coaches at the Texas Wesleyan School of Law have more than adequately prepared me to meet the coming challenges of the overtime period (the Bar exam). That's right... I'm talking about practice.
I have enjoyed sharing my law school experience with all of you over the last two years. If you are dreaming of attending law school, the Texas Wesleyan School of Law is the perfect place to pursue your dreams. Law school is hard enough, so choose a school that will be as vested in your success as you will be. Good luck!!
4/25/12 - Seventeen days before graduation, and I don't really know what more to say to those of you thinking about going to law school. If you have read any of my blog postings over the last two years, you know that highs and lows come with this journey. The best that I can do for you at this point is to hope that if you do decide to attend law school that your experience is as rich and as rewarding as mine has been.
I have been attempting to temper my excitement about graduating because there is still work to be done. As much as I would like to start the celebration today, there are these not so insignificant events starting next week called “final exams” that serve as a brutal reminder that the pomp and circumstance must wait.
In spite of the pressure-filled grind of studying for finals, there was a moment this past weekend that reminded me that even attorneys engaged in serious courtroom arguments can be distracted by silly juvenile thoughts. Over the weekend I assisted with the law school's upper level (not 1L) Intramural Moot Court Competition. During one of the rounds, a competitor used a common camping phrase to describe the act of erecting a tent. Unbeknownst to the competitor, this camping phrase had a second and more well-known salacious meaning. This double meaning did not escape the attention of several people in the room including one of the judges, a local attorney. The broad grins on the faces of the judge and several of the spectators in the room was also noticed by the competitor who bravely soldiered on (using the phrase repeatedly) despite knowing that nothing he said should have elicited that kind of reaction.
For me, there was something very comforting and a bit conspiratorial about that moment. It was a realization that becoming an attorney doesn't mean that I have to divorce myself from those things that make me human. Experiencing the camaraderie and lightheartedness of that moment was akin to getting a peek at the man behind the curtain. I can't really explain why, but that moment made me feel a little less anxious and a little more excited about my future career in the legal profession.
4/11/12 - I have three more days of law school classes! Today I picked up my cap and gown for graduation... so surreal! It seems like it was just yesterday that I was walking into the law school for the very first time. Now... I'm preparing for all of the "this is the last time" events that will occur over the next few weeks.
I must admit that keeping focused on classes and the upcoming finals is becoming increasingly difficult. Getting the flu last week didn't help matters. The good news is that I only have two final exams. For the first time in my law school career, I dropped a class. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be to let it go. It was my only class in Mondays and Wednesdays, and without mock trial practice anchoring me to the school on those days, it seemed like I lost the will to make the 90 minute roundtrip for a 75 minute class. As much as I enjoyed the class (Texas Criminal Procedure), the additional day at home has been really great.
I'm gonna miss law school. I'm gonna miss being a law student. I'm gonna miss being in law school classes. I'm gonna miss my law school classmates. As excited as I am about graduating and practicing law, I'm gonna miss being a student at the Texas Wesleyan School of Law.
3/28/12 - Today is one of those days where life interferes with law school. I learned yesterday that one of my aunts passed away. Even though she had been ill for most of the past year, her death still came as a shock. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of me spending time with my Aunt Inez and her family in Sandy Hook, Mississippi.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the bubble of law school can't protect you from the realities of life. Whether it is the illness or death of a loved one, a busted water pipe, unrest in Syria, or injustice in Sandford, FL, you will learn to compartmentalize your dread, your grief, your anger, and your angst. Why? Because law school classes go on even when you are physically or mentally absent. You don't get to take a few days to clear your head without consequences. That being said... there are times when your law school success will depend on you recognizing when it is time to take a moment to reconnect with the world.
I have certainly had to compartmentalize my feelings these past few weeks. I was horrified and outraged by the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed seventeen year-old kid who was shot while walking home from a store by a man now claiming self-defense. I can't imagine a more heartbreaking way for parents to lose a child. However, it is my legal education and my faith in the rule of law that gives me confidence that when the man responsible for taking Trayvon Martin's life is given his day in court, justice will prevail.
3/7/12 - I was reminded today that when people hear that you are a future lawyer, they either scowl or they smile. There are usually not a lot of in-between reactions. Well today, my BLSA (Black Law Student Association) Mock Trial teammates and I were at the airport waiting to board our plane to Washington D.C. for the National BLSA Mock Trial Competition. I decided to get a haircut before our flight, and as is generally the case, the barber asked questions like "Where do you live?", "What do you do?", etc. After explaining why I was getting a haircut in the airport, the conversation turned to my status as a law student. The barber, an elderly African-American woman with a very pleasant demeanor, couldn't hide her pleasure in the knowledge that I was going to be a lawyer.
She went on to tell me about a niece of hers who actually went to law school, only to decide (after three years and a failed Bar Exam attempt) that being a lawyer was not for her. That apparently only increased my temporary barber's admiration for anyone choosing to join the legal profession. I must admit that it was a very nice feeling to have the unsolicited admiration of this woman that knows nothing about me, other than the fact that I'm a couple of months away from finishing my legal education. She even gave me a discount on my haircut! Now that's what I call service: a cut and a much needed ego boost. So if you find yourself in need of a good haircut or just a reminder of some of the non-economic reasons for becoming a lawyer, make your way to the DFW Airport Barbershop in Terminal C and let it be known that you too are an aspiring lawyer to be.
2/22/12 - I heard a quote by Sir Winston Churchill this week that caught my attention: "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."
This quote spoke to me because sometimes that's how I feel about law school. I don't mean to say that law school makes you feel like a failure, but (and this was especially true during my 1L year) every class provides you an opportunity to realize that your understanding of the law or your application of the law is not necessarily on par with that of your professor or classmates. The key to success in law school is to not be discouraged by the daily "failures," and instead, learn from those moments of realization in order to forge a stronger and broader base of knowledge.
If you can do that while continuing to enjoy the process, you will be well on your way to not only succeeding in law school, but also succeeding in life.
2/8/12 - It was one of those days that you hope will repeat itself. As I stare out of a hotel window overlooking downtown Oklahoma City, OK, I'm struck by how even the most dreary of sights can be cast into a different light when you feel victorious.
Yesterday, I experienced an accomplishment that I had eluded me for the past year and a half: being 2-0 after day one of a Mock Trial Tournament. I and three fellow students (Angel Jackson, Marcus Johnson, and Matthew Jackson) are representing Texas Wesleyan Law in the National Black Law Student Association's Regional Mock Trial Competition.
For two of my teammates, this is their first Mock Trial competition, and they haven't even had Federal Rules of Evidence yet!! I am amazed by how hard all of my teammates have worked to get competition ready. And their preparation didn't stop when we got to Oklahoma City - it intensified. Their conduct this week says a lot about the caliber of students that Texas Wesleyan Law is attracting, and no matter what happens today, I will always think back fondly on this moment as a shining example of what can occur when desire, preparation, and opportunity collide.
1/25/12 - When I woke up this morning, I was feeling a bit ambivalent about the day. Today is my birthday, and to be honest, I'm not all that excited about turning 44. Nothing makes you feel older than having a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings wish you a “Happy Birthday,” and then ask how old you are. Now on the flip side, nothing makes you feel more appreciative than having almost every person you see wish you a “Happy Birthday.” Despite my initial doubts about the day, my family, friends, and classmates have made today a pretty special day! I don't even mind that it rained all day.
So I have to share some of the contents of an email that I got today. The email was from a blog reader contemplating law school. It read,
"I was just reading one your blog entries on the Wesleyan School of Law website, and I’m looking at your picture along with the other students. At first glance, you all look “commercial,” meaning models, instead of real people giving real accounts and testimonies about your current law school experiences. So, are you a real law school student?"
I got such a kick out of this email. First of all, I was flattered that someone out there thought that my fellow bloggers and I could be models. But then I started wondering whether there were other potential students out there like this one, reading our blogs and thinking that our stories are too good to be true.
The answer is that it depends on your perspective. If you are reading our exploits thinking, "If they can do it, so can I," then you are reading the blogs with the right perspective. However, if you are reading the blogs thinking that it seems like an overwhelming effort, just go back and start reading from the beginning of our law school careers. Challenging - Yes! Doable - Absolutely!
1/11/12 - "No Worries." That's my new expression for anytime I begin to feel a tiny bit of stress during my last semester of law school. The hard part of law school is over. This semester will be all about keeping an even keel while I attempt to end my law school career the same way I started it: full of hope, anticipation, wonder, and a healthy dose of fear.
Likely to the annoyance of many of my 3L classmates, my enthusiasm for law school classes has not yet succumbed to 3L-itis. This semester promises to shape up as one of my favorites so far. My performance last semester probably has a lot to do with my attitude. I had one of my best law school semesters in the fall, and I would like to finish up this journey on an even higher note.
I've also decided to make this semester one of my busiest semesters of law school. In addition to writing this blog every other week, I'm taking 14 hours (I only need five to graduate), and I'm a member of two Mock Trial traveling teams. Three of the four classes I'm taking are Bar tested courses (Advanced Torts, Payment Systems, & Texas Criminal Procedure), which was a motivating factor in my course selection this semester.
As if the semester and upcoming summer were not going to be busy enough, my wife and I are expecting our first child in June. No Worries!!!
12/14/11 - Final exams are over, and now the waiting begins. While finishing finals provides a welcome sense of relief, this period of time has historically been a source of anxiety for me. The control is out of my hands, and I don't particularly like that feeling. I feel pretty good about my performance on all of my exams except one. My time management was an issue on the essay portion of the exam. I spent way too much time answering the first essay question, and I'm afraid that it cost me valuable points on the last question. However, there is no need worrying about it - there is absolutely nothing I can do but wait.
The waiting would be much easier if I was having a cool drink and watching the sunset on some tropical Caribbean island like St. Thomas, St. Maarten, or Tortola. But alas, I can only dream about enjoying any of the splendors available at those destinations. Instead, I'm suffering through minor caffeine withdrawal because of the amount of Red Bull I drank during the examination period. It always takes me a week or so after finals to catch up on sleep and get my internal clock readjusted.
The exciting and scary thought beyond final exam scores is about being one step closer to graduation from law school. I attended the Texas Wesleyan December Graduation Ceremony last week, and it was a little surreal. While most of the graduates were part-time students that were on a four-year track, there were at least three folks who started law school with my class two and a half years ago. One or two more summer classes and I could have been among them. That thought really makes my head spin.
I will gladly wait until May because I know what lies beyond the cocoon of law school: the Bar exam and life. While the thought of being a practicing attorney give me goose bumps, the idea of taking the Bar exam gives me nightmares. I've seen all of the statistics that say success in law school equals passing the Bar, but that doesn't really allay my fears. And that is okay, because I plan to use that fear to my advantage. And why not? It certainly worked for me during my 1L year.
11/22/11 - We have officially entered "Dead Week," and this is my last blog for the fall semester. "Dead Week" refers to the week before the start of final exams. There are no classes or assignments. The library is open for extended hours, but it is closed to the public. Classrooms are converted into study rooms on a first-come, first-serve basis. And students embark on a week-long attempt to assimilate and study all of the materials amassed during the semester. Neither the term “Dead Week” nor the concept of a week-long reading period before final exams is unique to law schools. In fact, a quick Google or Wikipedia search will reveal that it is a pretty common occurrence at undergraduate institutions across the country. The reality that makes "Dead Week" in law school so intense is both the amount of information that must be absorbed and the weight given to the exam score for your final grade. In most law school classes, the weight is 100%! That is the case for me in 3 out of 4 of my classes this semester, and in the one class where the final exam grade does not account for 100%, it will be 60% of my grade, with the other 40% coming from a paper assigned earlier in the year.
Since this is not my first ride in this particular rodeo, I know many of the pitfalls. The most important one is not waiting until "Dead Week" to assemble materials or study. The reality is that if you have a family, you work, or you are even remotely involved in school activities, "Dead Week" may be your first opportunity to truly study the material that your professor covered during the semester. If you kept up with reading assignments, attended class, and took good notes, preparing for exams will be a daunting task, but still doable. If you did not study, read & brief, or attend class regularly during the semester, you will be facing Mission Impossible, and I would suggest updating your life insurance.
11/16/11 - This has not been a good week. Last week of classes and I get sick. I have managed to avoid sickness during the most crucial time of the school year over the last two and a half years, but my luck ran out this week. I began noticing a sore throat last Thursday or Friday, and I rushed out to the pharmacy to get throat lozenges and cold and flu medication. I was apparently too late, and on Saturday I was in the bed with congestion, fever, and a cough.
Determined to work my way through it, I got up on Sunday and began my regular class preparation routine for Monday. On Monday, I went to class fully medicated and ready for the last full week of the semester, but by my third class of the day, I knew that I had made a mistake not taking the day off.
Here is the thing: Going to class on Monday was not only a bad idea for me, but it was probably a bad idea for some of my classmates. I'm not sure how contagious my illness was, but it would have been more thoughtful of me to stay home. In the long run, I would have likely missed the same number of days of class without exposing my classmates to my sickness.
I thought I did all the right things this semester - I've been eating healthier, I've been exercising, I got a flu shot! I don't know if I got exposed to someone else's illness or if the change in temperature got me. It really doesn't matter because finals are coming no matter what. Things happen. You get sick. A child gets sick. You get a flat tire. It doesn't matter. This is law school. You just deal with it. Dealing with it is much more manageable if you have cultivated a supportive network of classmates willing to share notes with you from those days that you have to miss class.
Fortunately for me, I have such a network. Thanks S.T., L.N., A.S., K.W., and J.S.!
11/2/11 - I'm sitting on a plane headed to Buffalo, NY to represent Texas Wesleyan Law at a mock trial tournament for law students. I am both excited and nervous about the prospect of competing against law school teams from across the country. Our team has been preparing for this competition for the last 6 weeks, but I could still use a couple of more weeks to hone my advocacy skills. Before coming to law school, I had never heard of "mock trial," but I have since learned that some students even compete in mock trial competitions during high school and college. This will be my fourth mock trial competition, and I really want to win.
It is definitely true that just participating in these competitions will do wonders for your confidence and court room skills, but I still want to win! In my opinion, a mock trial competition is the ultimate opportunity to match wits with other law students. A mock trial lasts about 3 hours, and it is every bit as intense as a real trial (minus the monetary or physical risk to the parties). The mock trial cases are always a lot of fun. For example, the case we will be trying this weekend is about a philandering charismatic mega church pastor accused of murdering his young mistress. At first glance, the case file reads like a slam dunk for the prosecution, but of course it is anything but a slam dunk. The creator of the case has included plenty of evidentiary twists and turns that would give even the late great Johnny Cochran a run for his money.
Well that's it for today, but hopefully I'll be able to share some good news with you next time about the outcome of this weekend's competition.
10/19/11 - Today I had an opportunity to visit Texas Wesleyan's main campus, also known as the “historic” campus. I don't know why I haven't done it before, but I regret not taking advantage of some of the facilities available to law students until now. The Morton Fitness Center is really a top-notch facility - the equipment is state of the art, and the best thing about it is that it is FREE for law students.
Enough about what I can't change... Let's talk Texas Rangers baseball! You want to talk about excitement… every other person I see in the halls is wearing a Texas Rangers t-shirt or hat. I will admit that I'm a bandwagon Texas Rangers fan - I don't really like baseball that much, but I do like watching the drama of the playoffs and World Series. Even the professors are getting into the act. I never realized how superstitious baseball fans can be. One professor who substituted for our regular professor told a class that if the Rangers won the first game of the World Series that evening, he would have to visit the class each time it met on days that the Rangers played. Unfortunately, he won't have to grapple with that issue. (Rangers lost game 1 to the Cardinals 3-2).
How does any of this relate to law school you ask? It doesn't. It's kind of like an eight foot Wookie living on the planet Endor with a bunch of Ewoks. It just doesn't make sense... Sorry about that, I just was reliving a moment of mock trial practice hilarity. I'm back!
There is actually a point to my rambling: to be successful in law school, you have to make trade-offs. You should think about what trade-offs you are willing to make now before you have choose between studying and watching the Super Bowl, game 7 of the NBA Finals, or game 7 of the World Series. These are the easy trade-offs, because there will be another BCS Championship game next year, but your kid turns three only once, and the number of Thanksgiving dinners to be had with your parents and grandparents gets smaller each year. Depending on your situation and goals, these may be some of the things you miss while pursuing a law degree. Make sure that you are ready, willing, and able to make trade-offs and sacrifices. Otherwise, what should be a positive, uplifting life-changing experience might only be life-changing.
10/5/11 - Since you are reading this blog for insights on being a successful law student, you should be aware that good blog topics are becoming harder to come by. Therefore, I apologize in advance if some of the things I choose to write about in the coming weeks seem a little off target.
Not a week goes by without some activity or event reminding me and my fellow 3L's that the end is near. Last week, we took the picture that will forever be displayed as part of the composite photo of the 2012 Graduating Class of Texas Wesleyan School of Law. I should have felt more elated than I did, but there was something that I realized while taking the photo that put a damper on the experience: I'm fat!
Somehow, it didn't register until I saw my photo. When I started law school, I was arguably in the best shape of my life. I wasn’t at my ideal weight, but I was fit. I ran several miles every week, and I worked out enough to stay one step ahead of my awful eating habits. Law school changed that for me, or rather, I changed when I started law school. While my eating habits remained the same, my physical activity significantly decreased.
If there was one thing about my law school experience that I could change, I would have taken better care of my body while I was improving my mind. I just didn't make it a priority, and now I'm heavier than I've ever been in my life. I'm fat!
During this recent epiphany, I decided that it was time for a change. So I'm now on a diet and exercise regimen that I hope will help me end my law school career in at least the same physical shape as when I started. If you can integrate a healthy diet and regular exercise into your law school routine, you will have more energy to do the things required of a successful law school student…AND when you take your 3L year picture, you'll be thinking, "Dang! I make this cap and gown look good."
9/21/11 - So far, 3L year is not boring me to death. In fact, I am enjoying all of my classes and staying just busy enough to feel like I'm not slacking. There does seem to be a slight slow down in extracurricular activities, but I credit not being a 2L Law Review member for most of that reprieve. I almost forgot how much work is required of new members. Learning how to properly edit articles while researching and choosing an article topic is a daunting task, one that I am happy to be done with.
I love my class schedule this semester. I'm taking four classes - three of them meet on Monday and Wednesday, and one meets on Tuesday and Thursday. I have no classes on Friday, and I'm able to get most of my reading and briefing for an entire week of class done Thursday through Sunday. However, there is one drawback to reading several days ahead: remembering all the necessary details of the cases I read four days before class.
During my 2L year, I felt forced to adopt book briefing (highlighting or marking key facts, issues, and holdings directly in the case book) for some classes. I felt like I didn't have enough time to write out briefs (see 1st paragraph). I never felt as prepared as I wanted to be for class when I book briefed. Because my schedule now allows it, I have recommitted myself to writing out my case briefs this semester. Writing out my briefs not only helps with comprehension of the case law, but it also helps alleviate some of the issues with reading several days ahead. A properly written case brief allows you to quickly scan one page for pertinent case facts, legal issues, and court holdings.
The thing I love most about my schedule is that it meshes with my late night study habits. My earliest class on Monday/Wednesday is at 1:00 PM, while my Tuesday/Thursday class does not start until 10:30 AM. I will pay a price for the great schedule during finals, when I will have consecutive day final exams for three of my classes. However, regardless of the suboptimal final exams schedule, I could not be much happier with my class schedule.
9/7/11 - I can now exhale. I've been holding my breath for weeks, waiting to find out if the hard work of the last two years would pay off with a job offer. I can now answer with a resounding, "Yes!" Last Friday, as I was driving from Carrollton to Fort Worth to conduct some interviews for the Student Ambassador Recruiting Team, I received a phone call from the hiring partner of the firm that I clerked with for six weeks this past summer. It went something like this:
Hiring Partner: "Antonio, these are the kinds of phone calls I enjoy making. I'm calling to offer you an associate attorney position with [our firm], once you finish law school (and pass the bar)."
Me: "I accept."
Hiring Partner: "Really? Don't you want to take the weekend to think it over? You don't want to know the starting salary or what section you will be working in?"
Me: "Sure. But I still accept."
In retrospect, I probably should have played a little harder to get. Maybe I should have waited until I learned that I would be working in both the general litigation and employment law sections of the firm, my preferences. But the truth is that even if the job market wasn't in the tank, I still would have accepted this job, working for this firm.
I'm not sure that I can adequately convey the relief, excitement, and thankfulness that I feel right now. Texas Wesleyan Law has given me the opportunity to realize a lifelong dream, and I am now one step closer to making that dream a reality.
8/24/11 - As I walk down the halls of the Texas Wesleyan School of Law, I am keenly aware that "[law school] days [are] swiftly pass[ing] imbued with mem'ries fond ...," and like so many other past experiences in my life, "the recollection [will] slowly fade away." I am also reminded by the young exuberant faces around me that many of my fellow law students are just beginning to realize how fleeting life can be.
It is with that thought in mind that I dedicate this blog entry to my fellow travelers who began this journey with me toward the previously unknown landscape of legal theory and language. I want to thank you for your help, even if you never intended to lend me a hand. I could not have done it without you.
I greet a fellow 3L and ask, "How's it going?" The student responds, "It's going well." As we stop in the middle of the hall, there is this awkward silence. Then my fellow 3L asks, "Aren't you happy that we are starting the last year?" I half-heartedly responded, "Absolutely." The truth is that I haven't really decided how I feel about finishing law school. That's not to say that I'm not excited about the prospect of graduating - I am. However, there is also an accompanying sense of a growing unease.
My unease does not stem from the uncertainty of the job market or the scary idea of becoming a practicing attorney. It comes from a deeper understanding that I'm about to pass another great milestone in my life, another milestone that may one day be a distant memory. Well... I don't want to forget. Let us not forget.
8/17/11 - I am halfway through week 1 of 30 (30 being the number of weeks of class before graduation). It has been great being back in class, seeing friends, and learning about new areas of the law.
One new area of the law that I've been dreading is Oil & Gas. The thing is, my fear has not been based on any rational or concrete reason. I did not take the class during my 2L year because I was afraid that the class would be too technical and complicated. However, I knew that my fear would not keep me from eventually taking the class, as it is highly tested on the bar exam. Well, this week my fear came face to face with reality.
The reality is… there was nothing to fear. I had my doubts at first - the authors of the casebook started out by introducing students to the technical workings and terminology of oil & gas production. While reading the assigned pages for the first class, I felt cold beads of sweat forming on my forehead as I read sections on porosity of sedimentary rock, stratigraphic reservoir traps, and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. "fracking"). Before hearing an attorney use the term "fracking" during an Oil & Gas Symposium sponsored by our Law Review last spring, my knowledge of the term was based on watching the Syfy Channel's television series, Battlestar Galactica.
By the end of class number two, I knew that my fear was unfounded. The subsequent assigned reading was more like my first semester Property class. And while I know that the class will be challenging, I now believe that I can understand the legal concepts without going back in time to get a degree in chemical engineering. If I had spent some time researching oil & gas law instead of allowing my fear to frame my perception of the class, I would have saved myself countless moments of worry and been more open to a pretty important area of legal practice.
Oh well... better late than never.
8/10/11 - The summer break is just about over. I vacated my Austin apartment yesterday, and I was happy to do so. Dorothy was right; there really is "no place like home." While the clerkship experience of researching the impact of newly enacted laws and performing discovery document reviews was fascinating, I am glad to be sleeping in my own bed once again. I am less convinced than I was six weeks ago that clerking for a state agency 200 miles from home during the second half of my summer break was worth the expense and inconvenience. Part of my change of heart is likely the result of my realization during the clerkship that I missed the pressure that accompanied a clerkship that offered the possibility of a job.
The Law Review held its annual orientation and reception for new members tonight. It felt great not being one of the law students with a "deer in the headlights" look on their face. I could not help but chuckle inside at the anxiety that I know the new members felt as we explained their new responsibilities. I am sure that I saw more than a few eyes gloss over when the editor-in-chief of Law Review told the new members that they will spend at least sixty hours cite checking and editing Law Review articles. And I definitely heard gasps when I told them that it would require an additional 150 hours to research and write a sufficient student article. The good news is that this new class of Law Review members is solid, and I am expecting them to "be impressive."
7/27/11 - I have finally hit my summer clerkship saturation point, and (believe it or not) I am ready for school to begin. I have enjoyed the last four weeks in Austin, but I am now ready to get back to my wife and dog in Carrollton. Austin is a very progressive city with lots of attractions, historical landmarks, and good restaurants; however, the Texas heat coupled with stifling humidity is not an aspect of this town that I will miss. I know that the Dallas-Fort Worth area has also been experiencing record-breaking high temperatures over the last few weeks, but I think I would rather take my chances with the “dry heat” of North Texas.
While I will not miss the humidity of the Texas capital, I will always appreciate the great legal experience and perspective that I have gained from working for the State of Texas this summer. I now have another data point to plug into my personal forecasting model to help me plot the appropriate course of my future legal career. I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the diversity of legal work that is done on behalf of the citizens of this state by very talented and capable attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants. I do not believe that my legal career path will start in Austin, Texas, but my experience this summer has certainly convinced me to keep an open mind to future opportunities.
Finally, with the beginning of my 3L year right around the corner, I have not been able to help thinking about what my summer will be like next year. I have been keeping up with friends who graduated in May and are taking the Bar Exam this week. The tenor of Facebook status comments a day or two before the exam ranged from excitement to despair. Most academic commentators say that bar passage is highly correlated to academic success in law school and participation in a bar prep course. That is the one unexpected revelation about law school that still bugs me a little. After spending three years and thousands of dollars learning how to think like a lawyer, the first thing that I will have to do after graduation is fork over more money and head right back into a class room to prepare to take the Bar Exam. No vacation… No relaxation… So why does thinking about next summer make me feel like a child anticipating a family trip to Disney World?
7/6/11 – It’s hard to believe that the summer break is less than six weeks from being over. It is even harder to believe that I’ll be spending the next six weeks away from home. I started my second clerkship of the summer yesterday with a State agency located in Austin. I think the work will be very interesting and very different from the work that I did during the first six weeks of the summer.
I’m staying in an efficiency apartment that is close to downtown Austin. It feels more like a dorm room, because the bed and living room share the same space. The kitchen is pretty small, but that’s ok, because I’ll be either eating out or making dishes that don’t require me to cook. The apartment is located close to the University of Texas, and much of the surrounding area is dominated by student housing. Fortunately, because my apartment caters to grad and law students, the environment within the complex is more subdued.
Today, I and my fellow law clerks attended a “brown bag” lunch presentation by a couple of division heads. The purpose of their presentation was to share with us the type of legal work done by their respective divisions. You could tell that both attorneys loved the work they do, and that was refreshing to see and hear. At least a third of the lawyers that I’ve met since starting law school do not enjoy the kind of legal work that they do every day. That’s why it is imperative that law students take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to learn about different areas of legal practice before graduating.
Last summer, I interned with a county public defender’s office, even though I have no desire to practice criminal law. However, the experience confirmed for me that I want to practice in an area of law that will require me to spend time in the courtroom. I’m not yet sure how the next six weeks will impact my future legal career, but I hope that the experience will continue to sharpen my focus on what I want that future to look like.
6/22/11 – I must admit that I have loved doing the work of an attorney during my summer internship, and it has made me even more excited that in 393 days I will be finished with law school and the bar exam! I am trying really hard not to get ahead of myself, because I know that there is still a lot of work to be done before I will be able to call myself an attorney, but I can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel.
My internship has been a wonderful experience. The truth is, I would have paid the firm to allow me to interact with its attorneys and do the kind of legal work that I’ve had the opportunity to do over the last five weeks. I’ve got one more week at my current internship, and then I’m off to Austin, TX for six weeks. I will be interning with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and while I’m really looking forward to that experience as well, I can’t imagine it being any more rewarding than this internship has been. If I’m wrong, so be it.
Grades were finally posted, and I was disappointed with most of my grades. I experienced the entire emotional gambit this time around. I felt the sting of utter defeat because I received my lowest grade of law school in a class that I really enjoyed, but I also felt the fist pumping thrill of victory because I received my highest grade of law school in a class that was universally feared. Overall, I was disappointed by my performance, but I’ve accepted the outcome, and I’m moving on. The last thing in the world that I want to do is shortchange my summer experience by dwelling on things that I cannot change. Besides, my disappointment will serve as the fuel that drives me through my 3L year.
6/3/11 - It has been less than a month since taking the last final of my 2L year, but it feels like a lifetime ago. The summer has been super busy already. I started my summer with a weekend trip to Las Vegas to relax, a sixteen hour roundtrip drive to Mississippi to see my sister's graduation from junior college, and a couple days rest back in Texas to recharge before starting my summer internship.
I must admit that I was pretty nervous about starting my summer job as a law clerk at a Fort Worth law firm, but two weeks in, I am really enjoying the experience. I've completed my first two projects - real legal problems for real clients! Knowing that the work I'm doing is for actual paying clients (versus for a grade) is a little scary but very exciting.
The associate attorneys and partners at the firm have been more welcoming and engaging than I thought they would be. Not sure what I expected, but I've been pleasantly surprised by their willingness to go out of their way to give me advice and encouragement.
Including me, there are four law students vying for an end of summer offer of permanent employment from the firm. In some ways, it feels like being part of a season of Survivor or The Apprentice. We are all part of the same tribe or team, and for the most part, we are willing to help and encourage each other. However, we are all keenly aware of what is at stake.
I am staying focused on enjoying the experience and doing work of which I am proud. In other words, my goal this summer is to "do my best, and forget the rest." I cannot control what my fellow law clerks do or the hiring decision(s) that the firm ultimately makes, but I can control the quality of my work and the joy that I experience in accomplishing it.
5/11/2011 – This is my last blog of the semester, and what a time to be writing it. I'm going to give you a little insight into what it's like to be in the midst of final exams in law school. I am a little over nine hours away from taking the last exam of my 2L year, and what a year it has been. There have been some pretty big highs and a few really big lows during the semester, but by the grace of "all the gods that be …", I've managed to keep my ship afloat.
There's one thing that I will never be able to say about my law school experience, and that is that law school is boring. That's not to say that there isn't a snoozer class here or there (you should always do a little preliminary "recon" on classes and professors), but I'm talking about the "whole ball of wax." Day in and day out, law school is about keeping the fires stoked in your gut, and during no time is that more true than finals.
The experience of taking finals can fall anywhere along the continuum of taking a leisurely stroll through the park to walking through a mine field while blindfolded with a scorpion crawling up your leg. It can be a really wild ride, but in the words of a very wise woman (my mother), "Son, if it was easy, everybody would do it." No truer words have ever been spoken about law school. If you want easy, law school is not the place to be. As another sage soul once said, "The steps you take are no easy road, but the rewards are great for those who want to go."
Thanks for joining me on my journey through the world of being a 2L law student. Writing this blog has been a pleasure, and I hope that something I've written has helped make taking your next step toward being a law student a little bit easier or at least, a little more informed. Have a wonderful summer!
4/27/11 - I attended the last class of my 2L year today. I expected to feel more sentimental about completing two-thirds of my law school classes, but I think that my impending final exams put a damper on the recognition of that accomplishment.
My study group also met today for our first final exam study session. With less than a week to go before our first exam, today went a long way toward reminding me that it's not just what I do over the next two weeks that will determine my success. My success will be determined mostly based on what I've already done over the last fifteen weeks. That is a real relief. If I had to "cram" all of the material covered in classes throughout the semester into two weeks of studying, I would likely implode. Finals are stressful enough without having to teach yourself legal concepts in a few days that took most people months to grasp.
I'm really looking forward to taking a trip with my wife to Las Vegas as soon as finals are done. Although it's only for a weekend, I can't wait to rest my brain for a little while. After our trip, I'll have a week off before I start my summer internship. I do intend to "cram" a semester's worth of movies and leisure reading into that week.
But before I can wave goodbye to my 2L year, I have to say hello to five final exams. I must say that my most prevalent emotion right now is excitement. Let's just hope that I can hang on to that excitement and convert it into the perseverance I'm going to need during the next 15 days.
4/13/11 - There is less than a month left in the semester, and things are really heating up around here. It feels like every student organization is attempting to hold its last event of the year in the last two weeks before exams begin. This weekend is the Moot Court Intramural Competition, Alumni Crawfish Boil, and Phi Delta Phi Legal Fraternity initiations. I'm sure there are other activities happening as well, but I have to participate in each of these activities on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In addition, I have to find a way to squeeze in some outlining this weekend for the upcoming exams.
Speaking of exams... The standard formula for the recommended amount of studying required to be prepared for finals is 10 hours per credit hour of class. I'm taking 16 hours (6 classes + Law Review) this semester, but I only have to take exams for five of my six classes. Those five classes make up 13 of my 16 credit hours this semester. Therefore, I need to schedule 130 hours of studying for finals between now and May 11th.
This task has been made a little more difficult this semester because of makeup classes for those cancelled during the snow storm earlier in the semester. While most of my professors were able to get the makeup classes scheduled before now, a couple of my classes will have to meet for one additional class after the originally scheduled last day of class.
Normally, we get at least six days after our last class before the first exam. For some of us, those six days have been reduced to four days. It could be worse; so I choose to see the glass half full.
3/30/11 - Arrived in San Diego, CA today for the National Conference of Law Reviews. It's my first opportunity to represent our school as a member of the 2011-2012 Texas Wesleyan Law Review Board of Editors. It's a little weird - this year is not over yet, and the 2011-2012 Board doesn't officially take over until the current board of 3Ls graduates in May.
Wow!! It really floors me that I am a little more than a month away from being a 3L. On Monday, we begin registering for fall classes, and I will be signing up for Oil & Gas, Secured Transactions, Business Associations, and Texas Trials & Appeals. It freaks me out just typing the course names because it will be the last semester of law school in which I take a "full load."
By the beginning of the fall semester, I will need only 15 hours to reach the 90 hours required to graduate, and although I am registering for 15 hours in the fall, I will not graduate until the spring 2012 semester. That's exactly how I planned it. It's not often that I can say that things worked out just as I planned, but with respect to my primary goal of taking as many bar tested courses as possible before graduation, I couldn't really hope for a better outcome.
Taking two bar-tested courses during summer school last year has enabled me to not only realize my primary goal of taking more bar-tested courses, but it will also help me accomplish my secondary goal of having a course load during my final semester that is conducive to beginning my study for the Bar exam.
Again, I feel a little weird even writing about these plans, but I think it is important to have a realistic plan of study following your 1L year. For me, this semester is a testament to the speed with which my law school days are swiftly passing.
3/23/11 - The last week has been pretty challenging. Seven days ago, my fellow mock trial team members and I learned that we lost one of our mock trial coaches to a horrible accident. Barrett M. Havran was a brilliant 31 year old attorney when he died on March 14, 2011.
Barrett's positive impact on my life as a second year law student was immediate and lasting. You might remember me blogging last semester about my failed first attempt at cross-examining a witness during a mock trial practice. It was Barrett that joyfully taught me a lesson in humility that I will not soon forget. I also remember how Barrett taught our team that successful openings and closing arguments begin and end with the phrase: "This trial is about three things …"
It's not just Barrett's litigation prowess that I will always remember. I will also remember his boundless capacity to give of his time to those in need. I am grateful to have crossed paths with someone whose reach touched so many lives.
Rest in peace my friend, and know that you will be missed.
3/2/11 - It is 6:52 PM, and I'm sitting in a school parking lot somewhere in West Plano because I just remembered that my blog was due today at 6:00 PM. It has been that kind of week. Over the last four days I have had 10 hours of sleep, but I'm not complaining. In reality, sleepless nights are sometimes necessary as a busy law student, but it should definitely not be the norm.
On Monday at midnight, my fellow Texas Wesleyan Law Review junior staffers and I reached a huge milestone - we submitted our articles. Every person that joins Law Review must write a publishable law review article on a current topic that is relevant to the legal community. In addition, the article submitted cannot be "pre-empted" by another article that has already been published on that topic. The article must be 460 lines long (25-27 double spaced pages), not including footnotes, headings, or lines of less than two words.
The article writing process started in September with topic selection, legal research, and pre-emption checks. Throughout the writing process there were minor and major milestones when we had to submit our progress to our Notes and Comment Editor (NCE), a third year Law Review member who helped guide us made sure that we were meeting the requirements. The heartbreaking thing about the process is that although all of the junior staffers have expended an incredible amount of time and effort into researching and writing publishable quality papers, only a few of us will be selected for publication in the journal.
Despite that inevitability, the sense of accomplishment I felt when I submitted my paper was tremendous and worth every sleepless night. I will repeat what I have written before. If given the opportunity to be a member of Law Review, take it. Yes, it will mean working your butt off for no pay, but the writing, researching, editing, and citing experience that you will get in return cannot be easily duplicated.
2/16/11 - What a week this has been. We're finally back to Texas winter weather. After suffering through two weeks of snow and ice, we've had beautiful sunny weather the last few days, with temperatures nearing 70 degrees.
I've had some pretty late nights this week because of preparation for an upcoming Mock Trial Competition in Houston, Texas. The team has been practicing until close to midnight every available night during the last week or so. Of course, another "snow day" last week didn't help matters, but we are ready, in spite of what I certainly hope is Old Man Winter's last hurrah for the year.
I'm really looking forward to putting to the test the additional advocacy skills that I've gained since participating in my first Mock Trial competition last semester. I feel more confident about questioning witnesses, talking to a jury, and recognizing when to object to violations of Rules of Evidence by the other side. I'm also a little wiser about knowing when to let evidentiary violations slide during the trial.
I must admit that during my last competition I got a little objection happy. I was so thrilled to realize that I actually recognized the violations during the opposing side's questioning that I kept jumping up like I had ants in my pants. "Objection, hearsay your honor." "Objection, leading your honor." It got so bad that one of my teammates passed me a note that said, "PLEASE STOP OBJECTING." That's when I snapped out of the trance I was in just in time to realize that while my objections were technically correct, the frequency of them was probably turning off the jury (i.e. judges) and costing my team points.
It's that kind of experience that you just can't beat! I get to make mistakes now that might cost me points in a competition or a few glares from my teammates, but hopefully, the lessons I'm learning will keep me from needlessly costing future clients' their money or their cases. I think that the late night practices and additional workload required to participate on a Mock Trial, Moot Court, or Alternative Dispute Resolution team are definitely worth the extra effort, especially given the HUGE payoff in trial advocacy experience.
2/2/11 – It is a balmy nineteen degrees outside, and two days into February, I have yet to attend a class this month. That is because people in this town (and surrounding areas) are not equipped to deal with accumulations of snow and ice. I don't just mean that metaphorically - if there is enough snow and ice accumulation and the temperature stays below freezing, the DFW area literally shuts down until it all melts away.
So what does that mean for those of us here at Texas Wesleyan Law? It means that we receive text messages, emails, and voice mail messages from our school telling us to stay home for a couple of days. Some people take these unexpected "snow days" as bonus time to spend with family and friends while others take them as an opportunity to catch up on reading or outlining. To the dismay of my wife, I happen to fall in the latter category.
Although writing it makes me feel a little like Scrooge on Christmas morning, I don't like "snow days." Now, I like to play hooky from work or school every once in awhile, but I do not like being forced to stay cooped up at home watching from my window as the neighborhood kids attempt unsuccessfully to boogie board down our icy street. What really makes me dislike snow days is the fact that every law school class cancelled has really just been postponed.
You read that correctly, ABA accredited law schools require approximately 700 minutes of instruction time per “credit hour,” exclusive of time for exams. Therefore, a three credit hour class that meets for seventy-five minutes per class two days a week is required to meet a minimum of 28 days (or 14 weeks) during the semester. You want to guess how much flex time for "snow days" is built into a semester class schedule in Fort Worth, Texas? That's right, the answer is zero. Thus far this week, I have 515 minutes of class time that will have to made up before the end of the semester because of "snow days." This doesn't include the couple of days of professor absences because of illness, family emergency, etc., which also have to be made up.
The best thing to come out of these "snow days" is that I'll be far enough ahead on reading to take Sunday off to watch my Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Go Steelers!!
1/19/11 - My final "lottery number" was posted, and I, like most real lottery players, was disappointed. The final analysis of my fall semester grades: In my opinion, I got the grade I deserved in all but one of my classes. I got lower grades in a couple of classes where I expected to do better, and I even got a higher grade in a class where I expected to do worse. It was my worst academic semester of law school, but overall my semester G.P.A. was not a disaster. I'm by no means thrilled, but I'm also not rushing to any rooftops or overpasses. It is what it is. Time to move forward.
I promised to talk this week about what I'm doing to reduce my environmental footprint while in law school. Given that I drive a gas guzzling vehicle during my daily commute to school, I certainly have room for improvement. In addition to my twinge of environmental guilt, I realized that I'm running out of room in my home office for the three ring binder notebooks that I have for every class that I've taken in law school. That's roughly seventeen notebooks (maybe more -- I needed two for some classes). Each notebook is filled to capacity with my hand written class notes, syllabi, and class handouts.
Before I tell you how technology is going to help me save a few dozen trees, I should explain my note taking/outlining process. I'm a little "old school" when it comes to taking notes in class. I don't like using a computer to take notes for several reasons, but the biggest reason is that I think it takes away from my ability to stay engaged with what is going on in class.
Using a computer requires me to concentrate on typing EVERY word spoken by the professor correctly, whereas, writing gives me the liberty to only write what is important to my understanding of the topics covered in class. I'm a lot more selective about what I put on paper because I know that I'm going to have to convert what I've written into a class outline. If I already had my notes typed, my outline would be less focused because I would be less likely to synthesize them further. I would just cut and paste what I have into my outline. Typing my hand written notes into a Word document later is a key part of my studying process. My recall of information that I've read and briefed, taken hand written notes on, and then typed into an outline is much better.
So... During the Christmas break, I had the opportunity to play around with my brother's Apple iPad. Besides being jealous that he got the newest electronic gadget before me, something about the number of applications available for it piqued my interest. After a little research, I found an iPad application that let you hand write notes. The application (Penultimate) allows you to create notebooks. Ding! Ding! Ding! I realized that I could have the best of both worlds by using an IPad to hand write my class notes. I'd still have to synthesize and type them into an outline, but I would get rid of the three ring binders. I even found an app (PDF Expert) that lets me display and take notes on PDF versions of my briefs. The only downside so far is that you can't have multiple windows open at the same time so I have to switch back and forth between the apps. Maybe there is an app for that...
1/12/11 - Last month, I told you about the anxiety that I experience while waiting for the final exam proctor to say, "You may begin." Well, not even that anxiety matches the horror of waiting for final grades to be posted.
The way it works at Texas Wesleyan (I think) is that professors have approximately 30 days from the last final exam to turn in final grades. Because grading is done anonymously, professors grade the exams without knowing the identity of the test taker (each student has an exam number for identification). The professor turns in the final grades to Student Services, and Student Services matches grades to students. After being approved for distribution, Student Services electronically posts grades. Therein lays the dilemma. Depending on how quickly all of your professors get their exams graded, theoretically, you could see all of your final grades online within 1-2 weeks after taking your last final. The most common scenario, however, is that you will see each grade trickle in over the course of 30 days.
When the new semester begins, and you are sitting in your new class attempting to focus on a strong start, your mind is distracted by the need for closure. That's where I am right now... I need to put last semester to bed, but I'm still waiting on one last grade. I almost wish it was impossible to see any grades until all of them have been posted.
How does the waiting make you feel? It feels like having a lottery ticket with what could be the winning numbers, if the last number matches your ticket. You are on the edge of your seat staring intensely at the screen as you click on to the "grades" site (for the 99th time since lunch), attempting to make the right number appear as if by telekinesis.
Am I exaggerating? Yes, but only a little. While the results are certainly not as random as a lottery ticket number, the order in which grades are posted is very random, and at least for me, the desire for closure is strong indeed. While I've already chosen to respond the same way regardless of the final outcome, that decision doesn't deter me from making click number 100.
Next blog: Using technology to reduce my environmental footprint during the remainder of my law school career.
12/15/10 - If you have never experienced a law school final exam, there is very little that I can say that will convey the anxiety, excitement, and fear that is all rolled up into one huge gigantic knot sitting in the pit of your stomach. The good news is that if you are prepared (and you can prepare), that feeling goes away as soon as the proctor says "begin." I cannot tell you what it feels like to take a law school final exam unprepared, but I imagine that it’s like having the knot of anxiety, fear, and excitement (minus the excitement) with you the entire three hours. Not something that I want to experience.
Approaching finals is also like approaching New Year’s Day. As you reflect on the previous semester, you begin to make promises to yourself about how next semester will be better - you will start outlining sooner, review flashcards throughout the semester, etc. What's great about law school (and life) is that if you don't like the results you are getting, it is a given that doing the same thing over and over will not get you better results. Notice that I didn't say, "just do something different." In law school (and life) that may get you "different" results, but it will not guarantee you "better" results.
Another good thing about law school is that someone you pass in the hall or sit next to in class everyday knows what change will make a difference. At Texas Wesleyan Law, we call these people Academic Support TA's. They are the 2L and 3L students who volunteer their time to help 1L's learn how to be good law students. They don't teach law, they teach techniques: good note taking, good outlining, good essay writing, etc. Academic Support TA's are usually students who put these techniques to work every semester for themselves, and they like sharing what they've learned with others. The worst thing that you can do is to recognize that you need help, have help available, and never ask for it. The only place that path leads is disappointment and mediocrity, neither of which are generally awarded in law school (or life).
It is now one week after taking my last exam and day four of a five day cruise to Mexico. There is nothing like spending quality time with loved ones visiting beautiful beaches and the ruins of lost civilizations to put the last 15 weeks in perspective. For those of us that have chosen this journey, law school is important. To us, how well we do or don't do on our law school exams is important. To our family and friends, it is our well being that is important. Spending time with them reminds us that we are not alone.
11/23/10 - This week's blog is going to be a little shorter than usual, as I'm desperately attempting to fill every waking hour of the next two weeks with studying for finals. After finishing my last class yesterday, the exhilaration of knowing that I've got another semester of law school under my belt was quickly displaced with a renewed sense of urgency. Finals!
I got an interesting question from someone that read this blog, which I’d like to address. The question was related to the amount of time required to prepare for finals. Let me start by saying that I'm not an expert, but I've got three semesters worth of law school finals under my belt, so I'll tell you what works for me.
First of all, I was truly blessed during my 1L year to meet five people that are still part of my study group (shout out to ANSID, LLC). If you decide to join a study group, it is really important that you pick people that you do not mind being around and that do not mind being around you. Why? Because you will be spending a lot of time together. In addition, you want to pick study group members that are committed to similar academic goals. You do not want to realize two days before finals that you would have been much better off studying alone.
The next thing that is required is to decide how much time you need during the weeks and days leading up to finals to get prepared for several two to three hour long exams. The formula (based on Texas Wesleyan Academic Support Standards) that my study group uses is ten hours of study for every one hour of class credit. This translates into approximately 150 hours of study during a 3 week period. You might be thinking that this is no big deal. One hundred fifty hours is only 30% of your available time.
But wait... You have to sleep, eat, and actually take the tests right? Well, that adds another 225 hours, and all of a sudden, you are left with a little over 6 hours per day over a 21 day period to run errands, drive between school and home, enjoy time with loved ones on Thanksgiving, and watch a little college football during rivals weekend. I think you get the picture. Finals are no joke, and you have to take them seriously.
With that in mind... I think I just went over my allotted time for writing this blog. Happy Holidays!
11/10/10 - I thought that the time prior to my first law school exams were full of anxiety and uncertainty, but with approximately 23 days until final exams, I find myself looking back on my 1L year with fondness. I feel as though things were much simpler "back then," but I am not referring to the subject matter of classes. I am talking about all of the other things that I have allowed to take up residence in my already crowded life.
For example, last year I would never have imagined participating in a Mock Trial competition two weeks before the start of exams. In fact, my participation would not have been allowed. That is what I think I miss most about being a 1L. The law school placed a protective cocoon around us during most of the first year. Sure, there were plenty of needed distractions in the form of law school social events or hanging out with friends at our favorite "watering hole," but going to class, reading, and studying were ninety-five percent of our daily activities.
As a 1L, you had to make a concerted effort to participate in the extracurricular activities happening around you, but as a 2L, you have to make a concerted effort to keep the extracurricular activities from usurping the time that you have allocated to what really matters: going to class, reading, and studying. Having almost finished a semester in which I feel the outcome is still in doubt, I have the opportunity to reflect on a favorite quote of mine by author Stephen Covey: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness."
The second year of law school is somewhat illustrative of that space between "stimulus and response." The anxiety I am experiencing about being a 2L is linked to the realization that I alone have the "freedom and power" to make choices which will affect my future "growth and . . . happiness" as an attorney. Whether right or wrong, I will view exam results as a proxy for the correctness of the choices I made this semester. At the end of the day, I am okay with that.
10/27/10 - I'm having a hard time thinking of a useful topic for this week's blog. The last two weeks have been filled with a lot of activity, but somehow it doesn't feel quite as hectic as the previous eight or nine weeks. Finishing the first very rough draft of my Law Review article dominated the majority of my time last week, so let me share some thoughts about Law Review.
Before I started law school, I participated in a law preview course. During the course, one of the presenters emphasized not over participating in extracurricular activities during the first year of law school. To be more specific, he said something like, "Just don't do it." He also talked about which law school organizations were (in his opinion) worth joining before graduating. Law Review was at the top of his list, because he said that it is the only law school organization which every lawyer keeps on their resume, no matter what other accomplishments are garnered during their careers.
What he didn't tell the group (if he did, I wasn't really listening) was that to become a Law Review member, you must dedicate hours of free labor to the law school's student run publication during your second and third year of law school. As a candidate for Law Review, you are required to dedicate sixty hours per semester to Law Review related activities, and those hours do not include the hours that you are expected to spend researching and writing the Law Review article that you are also required to complete. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining (not really). I just think that it is important that you go in with your eyes wide open. Law Review is a very prestigious honor, but it is a lot of real work.
The payoff is in the fact that every lawyer that sees "member of Law Review" on your resume will assume two things about you: 1) you have excellent grades and 2) you know how to research, write, and cite. Based on what is admittedly limited knowledge picked up from conversations with other law students, lawyers, and Google searches, the second assumption is likely the most helpful in securing a job with a law firm. Why? Because researching, writing, and checking citations is likely to comprise 90% of your time as a first year associate.
Disclaimer: Being a member of Law Review will not guarantee you the job of your dreams. Moreover, there are other law school activities (i.e. Moot Court, Mock Trial, etc.) which provide very helpful experiences that can set you apart from the masses. My point is that you need to think about what you want to accomplish, both as a law student and lawyer. Law Review may or may not be beneficial to the accomplishment of your goals, but now is the time to think about what it will take so that you can act accordingly.
10/13/10 - Let me start this week's blog by saying that the obsessive checking of my phone for missed calls and daily trek to the mailbox for potential rejection letters is finally over! Yesterday, I accepted a summer internship position with one of the oldest and most well regarded law firms in Fort Worth. I'm pretty excited right now because last week I was pretty sure that I was going to end up with great grades, Law Review, Mock Trial experience, and still asking, "Would you like an apple pie with that meal?"
Now imagine feeling that way and then receiving an email from one of your professors (without any prompting whatsoever) encouraging you to send your résumé to a former student working at a large prestigious law firm. You want to talk about gaining some perspective. I realized once again as I do almost daily that this school, its professors, its staff, and its students are absolutely awesome!
Here is the thing about me...every once in a while I have to step out (or be pushed out) of my law school bubble to remember what's going on in the rest of the world and how very lucky I am. There are thirty-three Chilean miners whose perspective has been oriented towards survival for the last 69 days. There are thousands of soldiers in harm's way nearly seven thousand miles from their home whose perspective is oriented towards protecting and liberating a nation. There are approximately 3.5 million homeless U.S. residents whose perspective is oriented towards finding their next meal or a safe place to sleep.
The truth is that any additional anxiety that I suffered over the last few weeks was self-induced. I've always said that going to law school is a selfish endeavor, but that doesn't mean that I have to lose perspective. And when I do, it's nice to have people in my life to remind me that I've got it pretty well. For that, I'm grateful.
9/30/10 - 12:02 AM. It is t-minus-sixteen hours before I take the first exam of my 2L year (Constitutional Law midterm worth fifty percent of grade), and I should be sleeping. However, today has been a very long day, and I need to do some therapeutic blogging before I jump in bed.
The last 2-3 weeks have been even more hectic than usual - I have had the wonderful experience of participating in the process through which some law firms hire 2L summer associates. It is really quite amazing how the whole chain of events unfolds. In my case, it started with participating in OCI (On Campus Interviews) and a minority job fair for law students held in Dallas. After students bid on interview spots by submitting a resume, writing sample, and cover letter, the participating law firms selected students for twenty minute interviews with one or two attorneys from the firm. The On Campus Interviews were typically conducted by associates (often Texas Wesleyan Law alums) recruiting for their law firms.
I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the interviews. I kept expecting to be quizzed on Torts or Contracts, but the interviewers seemed more interested in figuring out if I was someone with whom they might enjoy working. The tone of the interview was formal yet conversational, and I definitely got the feeling that the interviewers were just as interested in hearing the questions that I asked them as they were in my answers to their questions.
In my former life before coming to law school, I had the opportunity many times to interview and be interviewed for jobs, but this interview process is unique because of the high stakes riding on the process. The opportunity to earn a coveted 2L paid summer associate position with any law firm is the reason that many law students work so hard during their 1L year.
Therefore, when I got that first phone call inviting me to participate in the firm's "Callback" interviews, I was understandably very excited. However, the experience of actually running the gauntlet of five interviews with eleven associates and partners was a bit surreal. The importance of the process to the firms did not really hit me until a hiring partner at one of the firms explained that this process was really about interviewing 2L students in the fall of 2010 who will become summer associates in 2011 and hopefully, first year associates in 2012.
For now, the interviews are over and I can concentrate on everything else that law school is throwing at me. Well... except when I make my daily trek to the mailbox hoping that it will not contain the thin envelope of rejection.
9/15/10 - I am still in the midst of getting my bearings while soaking in this new world of being a 2L. There are so many non-class related balls to keep in the air while still reading, studying, and learning the law. It can be a very humbling and exciting experience.
Speaking of humbling experiences, I have to share what for me has been one of the most frustrating and hopeful moments of my law school career. Because I want to be a litigator, I am taking a trial advocacy class that provides law students with actual training on conducting a trial. So far, it is absolutely my favorite class of the semester (with Constitutional Law running a very close second). During last week's class, I had to perform a six-minute cross-examination of a witness to a hypothetical crime, and I was really pumped. Even though it was my first time, I was convinced that I would hit a homerun.
I pored over the case file looking for inconsistencies in the testimony and evidence, and by class time, I was sure that I had discovered a gaping hole in the other side's case that would become what I thought of as my "Perry Mason moment." Boy was I wrong! Not only did the "Perry Mason moment" not materialize, it instead turned into a debacle of epic proportions. What sounded like a brilliant observation while I was rehearsing and preparing for the cross-examination in front of my mirror sounded more like "conspiratorial crazy talk" to the professor. What is worse is that the experienced practicing litigator playing the witness knew exactly where I was going, and he was more than happy to lead me down a deep dark rabbit hole.
You might think that after this experience that I would be ready to head for the hills, but in reality, I was more excited after that doomed encounter than I was on my first day of law school. I learned an invaluable lesson that I will never forget: "the goal of cross-examinations is to cause the death of the witness's credibility by a thousand cuts, not with a knockout punch."
After class, a couple of classmates and I stuck around to rehash the whole experience, and I saw in their eyes what I felt. We were all excited about getting our butts kicked, and we were chomping at the bit for a chance at redemption. Law school has a way of reminding you that sometimes you learn as much if not more from the occasional struggle and even failure than you do from the triumph of a "Perry Mason moment."
8/25/10 – It’s not so hard to believe that I'm done with the first two weeks of my 2L year of law school, especially after taking a couple of upper level courses during the summer. What is hard to believe is the amount of effort expended during this time period. I am literally and figuratively exhausted.
I'm actually not taking any more credit hours than I took last fall. In fact, as far as classes go, the pace, timing, and content of my self-selected schedule is pretty good. After cramming fifteen weeks of reading and briefing into eight weeks of class during summer school, a regular reading schedule feels downright slow. However, that time is now taken up with extracurricular activities that I have gleefully added to enhance my law school experience. That's right - the additional work is mostly self-induced.
Just like me, many of my 2L classmates are volunteering to be a part of this committee or that team or this board. Why? My immediate response is that we all want something "legal" to put on our resume, but that doesn't really account for the mad rush to work ourselves into an early grave. My intuition tells me that it is really a natural response of a class full of intelligent type-A personalities filling a noticeable void created by the departure of last year's graduating class.
As members of the incoming 3L class proudly ascend to leadership roles of various law school organizations or silently contemplate their own graceful exit into the "legal world,” members of the class of 2012 excitedly take their place as the new Texas Wesleyan worker bees. I suspect that this same phenomenon is playing itself out at law schools all over the country.
The dilemma for me is that I'm trying very hard to resist the gravitational pull of what I like to call the "2L Volunteerism Vortex," so that my participation does not impact my academic success. I believe that the key is to prioritize, know my limits, and practice politely saying "no, thank you". I worked much too hard as a 1L to squander some hard earned gains or diminish my "enhanced" law school experience.