law school

Bar Prep for Dummies (No Offense)

11419067_1625977054308494_1340602524_n

If it’s 9:45 on a Thursday, and you are making property law flashcards, you might be studying for the bar.

I wouldn’t know about this stuff either unless I was doing it. In fact, no one should know about it because it should be banned, because it’s evil and stupid and we all hate it.

Anyway, for those of you that don’t know I’m in the middle of bar prep – aka all finals and tests and stresses you’ve ever gone through in your life jammed up into two months of studying. It’s been a blast.

For you lucky suckers that aren’t involved in the bar, I thought I would take a few minutes to complain inform you on this magical horrible process.

1. What is this test?

Passing the Connecticut Bar exam is one step to becoming a lawyer in my home state. The other steps include earning a law degree at an approved school, passing an ethics test or ethics course, and passing the bar committee’s extensive standards regarding my background (everything from criminal history, to mental health background, to employment records, to credit checks).

Every single state is annoyingly different (from a legal perspective) in these beautiful country, which means almost every state has a different bar exam. In Connecticut, it looks like this:

Day 1 (July 28) – 2 MPT essay questions in the morning (requiring us to read facts, review documentary evidence, read case law and statutes, and assemble them into some organized presentation), and 6 essay questions in the afternoon, in 7 hours, including lunch.

Day 2 (July 29) – 100 multiple-choice questions in the morning, 100 multiple-choice questions in the afternoon. This is again 7 hours, including lunch.

Day 3 (July 30) – sleep and/or celebrate and try to forget about this whole thing.

We get our results in October, and we will (hopefully) get sworn in by the Connecticut Supreme Court in November. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

2. What are you tested on? (a.k.a. Why is this exam so stupid?)

Good question! The exam is stupid because it tests you mostly on national common law, which is also known as law that judges make, and is usually modified by statutes in each state. And, even though it’s a test for Connecticut, and I’ll be practicing Connecticut law, I’m not tested a whole lot on Connecticut law, common or statutory.

The subjects in this test are really freaking broad, too, which is ridiculous because no one practices every area of the law – there’s too much! They even test you on federal civil procedure, which is totally unnecessary unless you are going to practice in federal courts. The test covers: Constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, federal civil procedure, real property, torts, administrative law, agency and partnership law, conflicts of laws, family law, trusts, commercial paper and bank deposits, secured transactions, and wills.

Some of the most important papers of my life are found in these quasi-juvenile binders.

Some of the most important papers of my life are found in these quasi-juvenile binders.

3. Why is studying so time-consuming? Didn’t you already learn this stuff in law school?

Yes and no. Most of these subjects I did study in law school, but some classes don’t cover every aspect of that subject. For example, in my Constitutional Law course, we ran out of time and had to only briefly glance at First Amendment issues, so studying that now is practically brand-new to me!

Also, most of these subjects (all the Day 2 subjects) we studied in the first year of law school, which was three years ago for me, but is even longer for some students. In other words, I’m trying to remember things I shoved into my brain to pass my first year, when law school was more about surviving that locking away the nuances of the rule against perpetuities for, well, perpetuity.

4. How do you study for this thing?

Most students take a class, either in the classroom or online. We have to pay for these classes, too, which are not at all cheap. My course is online, and usually consists of one lesson per day, Monday through Friday. The lessons are usually a review of a certain subject, where the professor attempts to squeeze one semester or one year of a course into a 4-12 hour lecture. You take notes, answer questions, and take a number of quizzes after each lesson. There are also skills lessons, to help you master strategies for handling different parts of the exam. Then in your “free time”, you write out rules, make note cards, write essays, and take more quizzes.

I’m also working while doing this, which is definitely not ideal. (Repeat: for anyone in law school now or planning on it, try to design your life around not working May through July of your bar summer.) I’m trying to cut back how much I work, but money doesn’t grow on trees, you know?

So between working, studying, church, family, and attempting to remember to take a shower every once in a while, my brain is practically mush. If you know someone who’s suddenly disappeared from the world, but when they do appear they laugh at things that aren’t’ funny, and get annoyed at things that aren’t annoying, they are probably studying for the bar exam. And you should roll with it.

Bar preppers are simple people - they don't require a lot to get excited. Just a stroll down the street for some jelly beans will do the trick.

Bar preppers are simple people – they don’t require a lot to get excited. Just a stroll down the street for some jelly beans will do the trick.

5. Well that sounds tough. How do you pass this exam?

It sounds ridiculous but, in my state, I only need 264 points out of a possible 400 to pass (that’s only about 66%). Half of that score comes from the multiple choice questions, half from the essays. Although that sounds like a D+ to most of you, it’s actually relatively difficult. Only 77% of the testers last July passed the Connecticut Bar exam, but 88% of the testers from my alma mater passed. I’m hopeful (and just about anyone who passes says this) that if I put the time in, I will be in that 88% percent. I’m tentatively certain I will never do this again.

So there you have it – more than you ever wanted or needed to know about bar exam prep. And for me fellow “preppers” (no, not this kind) out there – we will get through this! And hopefully, like they say about the pains of childbirth, it will all be worth it someday.

debarbibee

Advertisements

How To Be a Good Client To Your Attorney

11254026_686726763616_881682359517945663_o

My sister, Judith, and I celebrating my new hood.

In this window between the already an not yet (having graduated law school, though not yet holding my law license), I find myself in the unique position of being trained enough to offer advise on this subject, though not yet responsible for my own clients, so as to not be accused of talking smack about anyone (a practice frowned upon by the classiest lawyers).

Those outside the profession are often surprised to hear that most lawyers agree that all their best cases are ruined by the clients – whether it’s being unreasonable, hiding information, or never getting off our case. But you, wise reader, do not have to fall into this stereotype. As a team, a good lawyer and great client can really get the job done. And if everyone practiced these few, simple habits in litigation, I promise that the judicial system would turn upside-down in the best way possible.

1. Get an attorney.

This might sound like a no-brainer, but an increasing number of people think they can do this law thing on their own these days. I, along with anyone else who has spent three years studying the subject, will tell you that the law is complicated. Not just a little bit –  a lot a bit. We are the professionals, we know what we’re doing. When people go pro se (represent themselves), it throws a wrench in the whole process, slowing it down, limiting options, and putting the judge in the ethically dicey situation of having to offer advise to a litigant while trying to maintain their duty of impartiality. If money is the problem, look for a local legal aid office or legal clinic. But please, for both your sake and the sake of the integrity of the justice system, hire an attorney you trust.

2. Shop around for that attorney.

You shop around for your doctor, your educators, and your financial advisers, so why not shop around for an attorney? Whether through personal recommendations, knowledge, or internet research, you should find out who has experience in your type of case, and who has a style you are comfortable with. A lot of people don’t consult with multiple attorneys before hiring one and this could lead to a big mistake because an attorney-client relationship is usually a long-term relationship.

3. Listen to your attorney.

Your attorney has a duty to act in your best interest. A lot of people think that attorneys are just greedy scam artists, but most of us honestly are in it just to help people – and when you hire that attorney, he or she is there to help YOU. For this reason, no matter what you’ve done in the past, going forward listen to your attorney and do what he or she advises you to do. Listening and following his or her instructions will probably help you get more of what you want out of the case, and perhaps even save you money. On top of this, if your lawyer says that the law doesn’t allow you to get what you want, or that a certain fact is irrelevant (for example, an event that can’t be brought up because of the rules of evidence), then trust her. She knows that it stinks and that it seems unfair, but a lot of times that’s just the way it is and it’s not her fault.

4. Tell your attorney everything she needs to know.

Communication is a two-way street. Your attorney needs to hear from you, too: we need to know anything that could come up later. No matter what, it is so better to hear it from you, now, than hear it from the other side later. Lawyers really don’t like surprises. Make sure you keep telling your lawyer new things that come up. Law is a living, changing thing, so it’s important to keep your lawyer informed so he or she can best help you.

P.S. A lot of lawyers can tell when you are lying. So don’t do it.

5. Pay your attorney.

A law firm is not a bank. Lawyers are professionals, trained in their field, and carry a significant responsibility in this society. A lot of solo practitioners and small firms are not necessarily “rolling” in it, either. For the same reasons that you should pay builders, chefs, graphic designers, and doctors, you should always, please, pay your lawyer.

-debarbibee

Have you ever been a client? What did you think worked well or didn’t go so well in that relationship? Are you a lawyer? What items would you add/change from this list?

10 Things You Need to Know Before Going to Law School

Being weeks away from graduation, we law students get all sentimental and junk. These are a few things I wish I knew before going to law school. Good luck to everyone contemplating and working on applications currently. Everything will be fine 🙂

tumblr_m5ewk8oULm1qke7z9o1_500

1. In law school, you will learn a new language, and no one will understand you.

At first, but they do catch on eventually. And it’s not just the Latin phrases, doctrines, and landmark cases you will find creeping into your daily language. It is also all the abbreviations and terminology 100% unique to law school (I’m talking about Crim Law and being an “L”). You may even find yourself having to explain what “Bar” means from time to time.

2. Law school is not really anything like college.

I’ve heard that grad school in general is not anything like college. It’s impossible to describe, but generally speaking, college looks like a breeze compared to grad school: it’s less work, way less pressure, and grad school prepares you so much better for your career than a liberal arts degree.

3. Law school is freaking a lot expensive, but it can be worth it.

One day I calculated the actual cost to become lawyer, and it came to roughly $240,000.00  – that’s undergrad and law school tuition, books, and bar expenses. This is essentially a mortgage, but with no equity. Don’t panic, because it’s an investment that can be worth it, if you know this is what you really want to do.

4. Law school is like boot camp, but worse.

A friend of mine at law school was also an military officer, and I asked him which was worse. His answer? Law school, because it’s much longer. Also, instead of coming out all fit and trained, you generally come out 20 pounds heavier and completely unaware of culture and current events of the last three years.

5. Don’t forget about balance.

Law school, especially the first year, is designed to break you and make you you fight through the heavy workload. You will read more than you ever thought possible, your books will be heavier than ever, and you will go nuts just hoping for something – ANYTHING – different to do. I found it really helpful to have some time to do something creative – sing, paint, or write. Others like working out or volunteering. Although you won’t have much time, try to find a few moments to use the other parts of your brain.

6. People will always talk about how much money you’re going to make, which can be awkward.

My undergrad degree was in communication arts, so when I was working towards that no one ever commented on me becoming a rich journalist. Later, when people found out I was in law school, a lot of people made comments like, “Oh, but you will make so much money,” and, “Then you will be set for life.” Don’t forget: there are no guarantees, and law school isn’t like winning the lottery – it takes a lot of hard work, skill, and sacrifice. You really shouldn’t (well, don’t) go to law school for the buckets of cash, because money isn’t everything and lawyers can be just as poor as the rest of us.

7. You can technically go to law school anywhere, by staying local has its benefits.

Although all law schools teach the general rules and common law, so technically you can go to school in Wisconsin and work in Maine, going to school in the state in which you plan on working has its perks. For instance, the school may offer some classes unique to the local state (like Connecticut Civil Procedure); some states are straight-up weird (I’m looking at you, Louisiana and New York), so you will want to immerse yourself in that totally different legal culture as soon as possible; and you can start to make connections and look for post-graduate work while in school more easily.

8. “Legally Blonde” is mostly not accurate, but has a few moments of truth.

As a whole, most law students would say that Legally Blonde lied to them about law school. But there are some things that are surprisingly accurate, like the struggle of studying for LSATs while everyone else is enjoying senior year, the importance of class rank and earning an internship, and that one 1L prof who is just there to scare the bejeezus out of you.

9. Your undergrad concentration doesn’t matter.

When I decided to go to law school, I was one year from graduating will a bachelor’s in communication arts. I was really worried that it was too late for me because I couldn’t switch to a pre-law program. My advisor assured me, however, that a good law school will prepare me with everything I will need to be an effective attorney – from passing the Bar to running my practice. In fact, having a unique undergrad degree, like art, can help make you stand out to the admissions committee. Don’t worry – go for it!

10. Law school will become your Taylor Swift ex-boyfriend.

Law school was really alluring and exciting at first – so much potential and hope for the future. But now it is needy and cruel, and you are singing to yourself that you are never, ever, ever getting back together, you would really like to feel like a normal 22-year-old, and you just want to tell law school that it didn’t have to be so mean. But, like all needy, tormented exes, it will make you a stronger person when you make it through.

-debarbibee

As Against: Is it really your’s?

enhanced-12434-1424198888-39

It’s Mine

I’ve read numerous articles lately discussing the very important issues of sexual violence and sexual exploitation. Any act of sexual violence or exploitation is absolutely, 100%, totally, and entirely wrong, and, in my book, anyone who works to combat these serious evils is working towards a very noble cause. However, in several of these pieces I’ve seen a recurring theme: that is, that a woman’s body belongs to HER, and no one should do anything to infringe on her physical autonomy.

Now, there are several reasons the idea of physical autonomy is so central to this cause’s message, one reason among them is the historical and present reality around the globe that in many cases, legally, a woman’s body was and is not her own. There also remains the tragic idea in some people’s minds – especially victims of sexual and other abuse – that they have no physical or psychological autonomy. I certainly don’t want to undermine or belittle that reality, but I do want to merely address the intoxicating idea in our society that what we have – everything from our time to our bodies to our money – is our’s and our’s alone.

This theme of independence and autonomy is seen throughout our culture in various ways; we see it every time an advertiser tells you, “It’s your money, do what you want with it,” or “It’s your life, fill it as you wish.” These messages are everywhere, and while it is incredibly important to impart self-worth in vulnerable or victimized people, such autonomy can only go so far before it is harmful and just plain false.

As Against

In law we learn that rights are not absolutes: it’s not a simple case of “Do you have this right, or don’t you?” Rather, we speak of rights in terms of “as against,” as in, “As against whom would you win in a fight for this right?” To understand this, imagine when you were a kid, and would race your sibling to the car in order to get the front seat. If you get there first, or call “shot gun” at the right moment, you could win the right to that front seat as against your sibling. However, if you pick up Grandpa on the way, mom is going to insist you give the front seat to him, and you lose the right the seat as against Grandpa. Grandpa has a superior right than you to that front seat, and he wins.

A community

What does this all have to do with autonomy? First, when we take the idea of individual autonomy too far, and assume all our rights are absolute, we can lose the very real fact that we are a part of a community.  While we certainly do have certain rights over our bodies, our minds, our money, and our lives, sometimes those rights become subject to another individual’s similar rights. We cannot forget that our actions are not our own. Collectively, we have to give up this idea that everything is just for ourselves, that it doesn’t matter to anyone else, and that no one else has a right to even ask you to change your behavior or heart. Because they DO affect other people: your racism, your love of debt, your sexuality, your addictions, your hatred, your struggles, your gluttony, your self-indulgence. Your actions, even behind closed doors, have far-reaching consequences, beyond what we can even imagine.

A creator

The second reason we cannot take the idea of autonomy too far is that we are also subject to our Creator. Fair market value is defined by the IRS as the price paid by a willing buyer to a willing seller, under no compulsion to buy, with adequate knowledge of material facts. Your value is defined as what someone would pay for you. Jesus, with full knowledge and without any compulsion to buy, paid his life for me. I am worth his life, and therefore I owe him mine. (His purchase, by the way, comes with privileges and protection beyond your wildest dreams.) I don’t get to do whatever I want, I have been bought and paid for and therefore my rights are not absolute as against my Father: He wins, always.

As one final thought, I leave you with this scene from the TV show Parenthood. This is my favorite scene in the entire series, and illustrates both that our actions have a very real affect on those around us, and that we owe everything we have to someone else. In this scene, Amber, a recent high school graduate struggling with finding her direction as a young adult, has recently gotten into a serious car accident while driving recklessly under the influence. She is taken to see her car with her very loving grandfather, who gives her a speech a lot of people should hear.

In case that doesn’t work, you can watch the clip on Hulu here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/233852

debarbibee

Confessions of a Legal Intern

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I, like most of my fellow lawyers in training, am working as a legal intern this summer. Actually, I’m working at two law offices as two legal interns for two lawyers.

So what is this mysterious creature, a legal intern? What are it’s habits, and needs, and what on earth do they do all day? Well, I’ll give you the low-down on what it really means to be a legal intern.

Being a legal intern means you are actually encouraged to get a new job every 3-6 months because you get more experience and beef up your resume.

It means learning a new filing and labeling system, new motion writing methods, and new office practices every 3-6 months, and then getting criticized every time you make a mistake. (Do they underline or italicize case names in this office? I can’t remember! But I’ll get to do it all over again when I guess wrong.)

It means we need to try to fit in with our supervising attorneys’ wardrobes, who make six-figures, while making minimum wage or less (some of us do all of this and not only get no paycheck, but we are actually paying for the credits we earn there).

10537263_517606431701941_1437728018_n

Legal interns get the questions that none of the other attorneys can figure out, and after spending hours in the library or on Westlaw, we still look stupid when our basic research skills don’t yield any fruit.

It means we write and print a lot of drafts of A LOT of letters, send more certified mail than you can imagine, and throw out 95% of what we produce. We are basically the earth’s worst enemy.

It means that we can easily spend all the money we earned that day in gas, parking meters at the courthouses, and paying for copies of documents. But we have to get copies of everything because 1) our freaking backwards country has not digitized everything yet and 2) if we miss the one thing that makes the difference, we have to come back and do it all over again. When in doubt, GET A COPY!

1690237_333740853455317_313111404_n

Legal interns know how awkward it is when we sit in on your meetings and court appearances, but we really appreciate it because it makes so much more sense to watch a lawyer work than it does to read about it in a book.

It means that some days we basically surf Facebook and the news all day, while other days we are so swamped we forget to go to eat.

It means we spend half our time thinking our bosses have the best job in the world, and the other half thinking that we will never, ever go into this type of practice.

It means we mostly just wish we paid a lot more attention to personal versus subject matter jurisdiction in Civil Procedure, and can’t believe Property Law was SO LONG AGO BECAUSE I CAN’T CUSSING REMEMBER ANYTHING!

It means we actually can tell you how important it is to have a will and get an attorney, but not in any specific way because we’re sworn to secrecy. Literally. I can’t even tell you how frustrating it is to know exactly all the bad stuff that can happen in any given situation, but not being able to warn you.

It means that we handle on a regular basis more cash and check deposits than we make in a year. No biggie.

It means we can take no credit for the good stuff we do and get blamed when everything goes wrong. (Devil Wears Prada much?)

It means I do realize how pale I look, and that I don’t get nearly as much exercise as you kids working at the bar, but I only have three months to work full-time and learn hands-on how to be a lawyer, so no, I can’t take a day off to go to the beach with you. I’m sorry.

It means that most of the time we are lightyears ahead of our bosses in terms of how to use a computer, but we still can’t remember how to make a proper heading without using an older motion.

It means we are constantly playing catch-up, trying to cover our massive insecurities, and trying to fake it till we make it, hoping and tripping the whole way that we will someday know what the cuss we’re talking about.

-debarbibee