Friday, November 22, 2013
Why I Applied to Law School at 29
Many evening students don’t enter law school straight out of undergrad. I, personally, had no idea I wanted to pursue an education in law until I was in my late 20’s. My parents would have loved seeing me off to law school instead of watching me board a flight to Paris at the age of 22, but the idea of committing myself to 3 more years of intensive schooling simply didn’t appeal to me at the time. I was young and I longed to be free to see the world. Well, now that I’m a working mother, I’m really glad I took the time to do that. I’m pushing 30, and I feel like I’ve lived 6 different lives—one at home with my parents in Palos Verdes, one at UCSD, in Paris, in Romania, one as a working mother back in Los Angeles, and now as a student again. It hasn’t always been easy, but each step has brought me to where I am now.
So, which one of the many events led me to take the law school path? After I returned to Los Angeles from Europe, I began preparing to get my license as a real estate salesperson. I dove right into the business with a prominent brokerage, Shorewood Realtors, upon completing the license exam. Not surprisingly, my first clients were my parents. My dad had specialized in developing townhomes all over Los Angeles County for many years, so my first transaction involved a prime piece of land in Redondo Beach, just a few blocks from the beach, sold to my parents. There were two nearly identical pre-war bungalows built on the land, and since the construction of new townhomes would not be able to begin for 2 or more years, my parents decided to rent the bungalows out.
I was given the responsibility of finding and screening the tenants. The first of many interested parties to inquire about the bungalows ended up being one of the selected residents. I had some doubts about the tenant—during the screening process, some red flags were raised, but none so blaring that I had to pass. And to be completely honest, I was new to the business and had no idea which references to check and double check. Well, now I know!
Within a couple of weeks, the tenant had molded up the property (a fact that was confirmed by a mold specialist to be caused by the tenant’s failure to properly ventilate the home). The tenant subsequently brought an action against my parents, even though my parents were the ones that would have to shell out thousands in mold remediation fees. I later found out the tenant was suing her previous landlord after trashing that landlord’s home as well. We have a term for people like this in the industry—they’re called professional tenants. They move into rental properties, especially older ones that may be easier to bring lawsuits against, and pocket money that the landlords inevitable have to concede to paying out unless they want to proceed to a lengthy, risky, and costly trial. Fun!
Because my dad was battling pancreatic cancer at the time, and because I felt guilty for not tracking down the previous landlord before accepting the tenant, I stepped in to handle the case along with my parents’ attorney. For months, we prepared for the mediation. It was a stressful time—I lost sleep over it. Never once in my adult life had I felt so cornered, betrayed and helpless. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.
The night before mediation, I drafted a case brief (not having the slightest idea of what a case brief even was) and e-mailed it to the mediator, a retired judge. I received an automated e-mail response from the mediator stating that, due to the high number of e-mails he receives, he probably will not read or respond to them all. It was late at night anyway, so I figured my e-mail would not be read, and I was actually relieved.
The next morning at mediation, the mediator shook my hand, settled down at the table, and asked me which attorney drafted the case brief that I had e-mailed to him. I was shocked. Not only had he read my e-mail, but he also thought an attorney had written it! When I informed him that I had written the brief, he looked at me with surprise. My parents’ attorney, who was also a little taken aback by the conversation, turned to the mediator and said, “She’s going to be a lawyer some day, she just doesn’t know it yet.” And, just like that, I realized that I could have another calling in life.
I hated the feeling of being helpless against a lawsuit. As much as I enjoyed working with my parents’ attorney, it was difficult for me to stomach the idea of needing to turn to a lawyer for help sorting out a problem that I felt responsible for. I never wanted to feel that way again. I also wanted to be able to help anyone else stuck in my situation.
In the end, the case settled out of court. My parents paid out more than I thought they should have, but it was the cost of closing that chapter. The mediator had told me that a good mediation ends with both parties walking away upset. Each side feels they compromised too much. It’s a battle of the wits—it’s a game of chicken. Perhaps no side “wins,” but there is a sense of closure, and that’s about as good as winning.
Pancreatic cancer claimed my dad’s life before I took the LSAT. He never witnessed the euphoria I felt when I received my first law school acceptance, when I received my first scholarship offer. But, I’m confident that, even in another “dimension,” he’s proud of me—proud that I made the most of a sour and stressful situation.
That’s my story. It’s why I’m in law school, and why I love what I’m learning. It’s not easy, but there’d be nothing special about being an attorney if law school was a piece of cake. Many evening students have the benefit of “growing up” a little more after college before going back to school. Many choose law school not because they have no idea what else to do with their lives, but because it’s a passion of theirs. For this reason, I love being an evening student. And, as much as it irks me to say this, I am thankful for that mold lawsuit. Without that experience, I doubt I’d be in law school today; I might still be wandering aimlessly, trying to find my calling.