Friday, January 15, 2021

Fall Semester Recap

Hey Jury of Peers!

I can’t believe I’m finally on the homestretch of my first semester of law school. Where did the time go? I blinked and suddenly I’m preparing for finals. With the fall semester coming to an end, I want to reflect upon my past three months at Loyola.

Looking back on the semester, I feel very proud of myself. Law school always seemed like an enigma to me; a daunting mystery I wished to one day hopefully solve. And here I am with three months under my belt, slowly cracking the code and unpacking the intellectual challenge that is law school.

Before I started law school, I expected the workload to be constantly overwhelming. I remember looking at the various syllabi and thinking how on earth am I going to manage the reading assignments each week. It’s safe to say I was very intimidated. But each week, I kept up with my studying and reading, and honestly, it was much more manageable than I anticipated. The workload is heavy, but if you stay organized and consistent with your study schedule, it is much less overwhelming.

One thing I didn’t anticipate about law school is how much it affects your mental health. I knew school would be challenging, but I only expected the challenge to revolve around course material. About midway through the semester, I found myself exhausted, homesick, and a little burnt-out. I spent the majority of my time alone in my apartment studying, barely taking any time to care for myself. I knew I needed to make a change. I started implementing simple self-care activities into my weekly schedule, such as going on small hikes, cooking healthy dinners, calling my friends and family, and even indulging in a few episodes of reality TV. Prioritizing my mental health made a world of difference in not only my happiness, but my performance in school as well.

Despite the challenging times, law school has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve learned so much in the past three months, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. It is so rewarding when the material clicks in my brain and I finally understand a puzzling rule or case. These moments of clarity make the difficult times worth every second, for they encourage me to keep my head up and work hard.

And there you have it! Thanks again for the read.

Until next time,

Madison




Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Law, A Vicious Culture?

Prior to my acceptance into law school, my undergraduate education exposed me to many theories as to how the law school experience would affect the students during the three years required to complete a law program. In fact, many professors, who held Juris Doctor degrees advised the students to avoid law school as if it was the plague. Yet, none of the “myths” of law school that I heard paled in comparison to the “myths” that I heard during the law program’s orientation week upon being accepted. The orientation staff informed my fellow students and I of the fate that awaited us, that is primarily, the lack of a social life. While that could certainty be the case for some students, who choose to take on a heavy course load with numerous extracurriculars (including employment), I found the opposite to be true.

While I have certainly found myself missing the occasional meal, missing weightlifting sessions which are vital to managing my stress level, lacking sleep, and missing networking opportunities, these occurrences were rare and certainly did not inhibit a healthy work-life balance. My law school friends, and I would take an average one to two hours out of our day, after classes, to walk around the neighborhood surrounding the law school and simply talk. No subject was off-limits. A small routine but one that meant the world to us and our mental health. Our chats allowed us to clear our minds of the stresses of the dreaded first year courses even if we discussed the contents of those classes. Being able to speak freely was a value we came to appreciate and even though our chats would sometimes take up to four hours of our day, we did not regret the time we spent together, in fact it became a vital component of our success. 

Law schools, like many other institutions as of the late, are becoming more conscious of the need to maintain a healthy work-life balance among its members. In the field of law, this balance is important as it has the ability to impair or enhance our ability to represent our clients. The ethical rules maintain that we must remain a zealous advocate for our clients, but we must also consider ourselves, our mental health, and our needs as human beings. Personally, I would say that managing a healthy work-life balance is an unspoken tool acquired in law school.

Monday, January 11, 2021

If Only I Knew (Part II) – Plan Your Routine and Stick to It

Last year, I wrote about some advice that I wish I had known as a 1L. Today I wanted to revisit that topic with a focus on ‘routines.’ First, I want to distinguish between my routine and my schedule. My schedule is the list of upcoming events I put into my calendar. My routine, however are the ‘little rituals’ I do every day that add structure and continuity to my life.

During my 1 and 2L years, my time on campus made up the bulk of my routine. I would get ready for the day, eat a quick breakfast with tea or coffee, arrive on campus between 8 and 10 AM (depending on my schedule), attend my first class, go to the library or law review to read, go to my other classes, swim or go to the gym in the early evening, drive home, eat dinner, spend time with my wife, read until midnight and then go to sleep. Of course, every semester requires some adaptation but I could usually count on some consistency with meal times, drives to and from campus, finding my own quiet space to read on campus, some form of exercise in the evening, family time, and predictable time to get to bed.

The pandemic has forced me and many others to reinvent our routines and the experience has given me a new perspective and new appreciation for just how important the daily ‘little rituals’ are. For example, I’ve always loved my commute to and from campus or work as a chance to organize my thoughts, listen to the morning news on the radio and generally prepare for or wind down from the day. Now, I take my dogs out for walks around the neighborhood and use the time to learn Portuguese through an app on my phone. In space of swimming, I’ve taken up running every day to get in my exercise (though I have to confess I loathe running).

A quiet, distraction-free study space has been the most difficult thing to recreate. I had to spend a good deal of time at the beginning of the semester turning our guest room into an office where I can comfortably work for hours. I deleted my Facebook app from my phone and programmed restriction certain timewasting apps and websites to help me avoid distractions.

I’m certainly not perfect and I’ve struggled to maintain my routine when the unexpected happens. For example, when the HOA began construction right outside our condo, I drove 30 miles to my parent’s house with dogs in toe every day just to get work done in peace. Even without bulldozers shaking the entire building, it’s always difficult to stay on track when the dogs decide they need attention or start barking at some interesting activity going on outside.

Still, in times like these, I can still fall back on some consistencies – meals, exercise, evening family time. If you can, be mindful of your own routine and what little things you do throughout the day. If you can’t think of any, try developing a few. It’s surprising how easily the day can get away from you without that little consistency to keep you grounded.


Friday, January 8, 2021

What I Wish I Knew As A 1L

Hello again, Jury of Peers! It’s so nice to see you again. This time we’re tacking … duh, duh, DUUH … law school myths! Law school myths run amuck thanks to TV shows and movies and stereotypes. * While some law schools may be cut throat and really psychologically intense, I haven’t found that to be the case at Loyola. Law school, just like most things in life, is much scarier from the outside than the inside.


Instead of running through the myths you might already know, I’ll tell you what I wish I knew going into law school.
  1. You’re not going to learn the “law.”

    Yes, okay, you will learn substantive law but don’t expect to leave law school being able to cite every existing statute. Law school is about learning methodology to create good arguments for your cases. It’s about learning how to think rather than what to remember. 

  2. Organize your class outlines by rules rather than cases.

    I made this mistake my first semester because we talk about specific cases to learn how the rules work, but that doesn’t prepare you to see the big picture of how rules really “work.” Organizing the class by rules allows you to see the big picture first then use specific case law to emphasize exceptions or explanations of that rule. Plus, you won’t be asked to regurgitate case facts on a final, you’ll be asked to pull the rule from the case and apply it to a new set of facts.

  3. Cold Calling can actually be amazing.

    Hear me out. As a 1L, I was so nervous to be cold called. One time, I blanked on the difference between a crossclaim and a counterclaim. I could have sworn the room was dead silent for about a million years. But it exposed that I wasn’t as fast as I should be on certain terminology. And, no one really cared that I messed up because they were just glad they hadn’t gotten called-on for this ridiculously complex Civil Procedure case I got stuck with.

  4. Tab your Bluebook as you find citation rules.

    You’ll understand when the time comes. And you’ll thank me later. Just tab your Bluebook.

  5. You will not get straight A’s and that’s OK.

    Okay, maybe some of you will, but the rationale behind this advice is to temper your expectations about grades. You are really smart and you will be in the room with seventy other really smart people, which means curves are going to be tight and the difference between an A and a B is going minute. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t keep up that straight-A streak you’ve been on for the last 20 years. 
If I can leave you with anything from this post let it be this: you will make it out of law school even when it seems like there’s no way you’ll be able to do it. I heard an alumnus say at my orientation panel that he struggled all through law school, but without the struggle, he would not be the attorney that he is. If he can do it; if I can do it; then so can you!


See you in the next one,

Kelsey


*Fun Fact: Professor Laurie Levenson consulted on the cinematic masterpiece Legally Blonde so it’s pretty accurate!


**Fun Fact: my sweatshirt is from Etsy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Debunking A Law School Myth

Before my first day at Loyola, my older brother called me to offer some advice. He warned me about the gunners I would encounter, and encouraged me to get the books I needed from the library quickly before the more unscrupulous students could cut the important parts out with razors. All in all, he warned me: “everyone will try to eat you alive.” 

So imagine my surprise when, after missing a torts class, I ran into a classmate who volunteered to send me copies of everything the professor had reviewed. Everything was color-coded with all the main topics highlighted for good measure.

I thought this kind of helpful classmate would be the exception, but it turned out that everyone I met was just as quick to jump in and help. If students struggled answering cold calls, their neighbors would surreptitiously point out helpful information or raise their hands to answer questions as co-counsel.

This is part of what I have enjoyed about my Loyola experience. There’s a sense that we are all in this together. You can go up to anyone else in class and ask them to explain something to you, and they’ll either help you or admit that they’re in the same boat.

The lack of drama and cutthroat competition might make a lousy movie, but it makes a wonderful student experience.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Debunking Law School Myths: Outlines Edition

I think anyone who has even thought about law school has heard about outlines. In my experience, before my 1L classes started, outline was a word used with such weight (yet so frequently) that I saw it as a terrifying monster I knew nothing about and not as the simple study guide it is.

If you haven’t heard about outlines, they are what everyone will tell you is one of the most important parts of law school. You’re learning a lot of new material in law school and you need to be able to keep track of them, organize them and… outline them. In law school, this means outlining cases: find the facts, issue, rule, reasoning, holding and… a lot more about each case you study. While this is true (and I do it when I need to), I think there’s a better way to describe outlines (one that I’m sure could be plain as day to anyone who has finished their first semester as a law student, but it wasn’t to me before I started).

An outline is your map for each class. The typical structure I mentioned helps (and it’s explicitly taught to every 1L student), yes, but what helps even more is to write the important parts of each chapter or rule that you are studying in class in a way that YOU understand best. Not using only one structure and not only for cases.

In fact, cases are fascinating and definitely a huge part of understanding the law and legal reasoning, but they are also long. And sometimes even distracting (when they read like stories!). I find that I have very little time. So it’s been most helpful to me to realize that throughout my education and career, I will likely have access to cases. While it’s important to know them, it’s more important to simply learn how to focus on what the case is trying to illustrate about the rule you are learning. Then outline that. And by outline, I mean: write the rule and how it’s used, as thoroughly as possible, in a way you understand. That’s it. That seems to be what’s working best for me so far, but it doesn’t mean it will be for you. That’s kind of the point, you’re supposed to do things how they work for you.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Debunking a Law School Myth

Coming into law school, I had many ideas of what it would be like. (Most of them, I’ll admit, stem from the movie Legally Blonde.) Today, I am here to share two law school myths that have proven not to be true.

First, I assumed that the professors would be strict and unforgiving. (I attribute this entirely to the scene where Elle Woods is kicked out of her class for being unprepared. And while Hollywood movies have proven time and time again not to be an entirely accurate portrayal of reality, I was fully prepared for my professors to be exactly like this. Because better safe than sorry.) Therefore, I believed that you had to go into class knowing everything, and that questions directed at you would feel more like an interrogation.

I have been very relieved to learn that this is not the case. In the courses I have taken, the professors have been encouraging and supportive. While you are prompted to delve deeper than your initial response at times, not being 100 percent certain on your answer is totally fine. Moreover, it’s okay to get things wrong, to not know all of the answers, and seeking guidance is encouraged.

One such experience came two weeks into the semester, when one of my professors sent an email to the entire class. He wrote that he had noticed that many of us were not yet participating during lessons. He wanted to be certain that everyone understood the material, and emphasized that if we weren’t comfortable asking or answering questions during class, we could schedule a private session to ask him any questions.

This second misconception might be more relevant to international students, but, coming from a civil law system myself, I believed that I would have an extremely difficult time at LMU Loyola Law School. I would, essentially, be starting from scratch in an entirely new legal system.

However, as anyone interested in the LLM program might know, all international students are required to take the courses American Legal Research & Writing and Introduction to American Law. These two classes are pretty much crash courses to the American legal system. They have helped me feel prepared, and the professors understand that as international students, many of us are being introduced to an entirely new system. (Granted, I haven’t taken the end of semester exam/submitted the final papers yet, so here’s hoping I don’t end up with terrible grades.)

While I don’t expect my remaining months at Loyola to be a breeze (just because this is, well, law school), I’m very happy that the professors encourage asking for help inside and outside of class, and that LMU Loyola Law School has made the transition for international students as easy as possible. (Perhaps I’ll be able to write in my final blog post that law school being challenging is also a myth, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.)