Monday, October 13, 2014

How This Year is Different

I was under the impression that the first year of law school is the hardest and then it became easier the second year.  I was a little right, but more wrong, at least when it comes to my experience in the Evening Program at Loyola Law School.  I’ll start with the good news which is that nothing compares to how hard it is to start law school, really having no idea what to expect or what a professor wants on an exam.  Last year, I’m not too proud to admit that I bombed my first law school midterm ever in Contracts.  I’m also not too humble to admit that I studied my butt off for the final exam and pulled it all together in a nice way—so know that’s possible to do.  What’s easier about 2nd year is that the unknowns are out of the way.  By 2nd year, you know what’s expected of you, how much time you really need to give your studies, and what a professor is going to want you to write on their exam.

What was I wrong about?  That 2nd year would be easier course-wise.  I’m finding that the workload in the first semester of 2nd year Evening is significantly more intense than that of last semester.  Whereas last year I could take one weekend night off to go out with my friends, this semester is not like that.  I have no social life this time around, and can’t have one.  This isn’t the end of the world, however, as long as I keep telling myself the truth…that, “If I stick with this, it will all be worth it.”  The end truly does justify the means here.

If you’re an Evening Program student, keep in mind that in the first semester of your second year, you’re mostly still working through the standard “core” curriculum of first year law students who are in the Day Program.  Be mentally prepared to stick it out through another half-year before you get to choose a nice set of courses you’re really interested in, notwithstanding any built-in interest you may have for the core I just mentioned.  Oh and be prepared to use words like “Whereas” and “Notwithstanding” like I just did in this blog entry, without even realizing it.  Now that the lion’s share of my brain storage is filled with court opinions, I have no control over this behavior.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How I Spent My Summer

It’s good to be back in school pushing further through law school as a 2nd year Evening student.

Before law school, I spent 9 years in television, and before that 9 years in the Air Force, so I think I’m still adjusting the shock of being a student again.  One of those adjustments is realizing that during school, I’m just not really going to have any kind of a life outside of school and work.  I spend most of my time running a financial services company I started a little over 2 years ago.  It kind of took off just as I got in to law school, so it’s been tough to get it all done from day to day.  I spend about 8 or 9 hours  per day working, and then I go to class in the evening.

This summer I took the class Legal Drafting with Professor Maureen Johnson.  The class was EXCELLENT and I learned a lot about writing legal documents.  This helped me also because I had just started a clerkship just before summer began at Girardi&Keese law firm here in downtown L.A.  Because I’m a commercial pilot, the firm has me managing their plane crash cases.  I don’t just service the files of the case, but get ample opportunity to analyze the evidence available to any crash and give my professional opinion of what might have happened to cause the accident.  That’s has been amazing work, and leads to me pretty much KNOW that I want to be an aviation attorney.

Other than that…yeah, just more work on my financial company.  I tell myself every day that all this busy time will pay off.  I went in to law school at 39 years old to make a change in my life and I knew that the transition wouldn’t be an easy one.  I tell myself every day that “this will all be worth it,” and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get through each day.  In my last career, I feel like I worked very little for lots of reward that came in the form of money.  Now I feel like I work so much with little monetary reward compared to what I do from day to day.  Ironically though, I’m happier now than ever.  Doing what I want to be doing, following several dreams at once.

How I Spent My Summer: Summer School and Italy

Summer School
This summer, I took Marital Property and Legal Drafting.  As a married person, I found Marital Property to be rather eye-opening.  Turns out there were all sorts of rights and responsibilities I had assumed of which I was completely unaware. After all, when I got down on bended knee in the glow of a wintry sunset overlooking the vast Pacific, I imagined my romantic life with my wife and how we would start a family, not the legal implications of community property.  I highly recommend the course, but I’m not sure if it’s better to take it before or after getting married.  In Legal Drafting the professor created a fake case that dealt with a character startlingly close to the soon-to-be former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who had also made racially reprensible statements.  Researching and writing for that paper was fascinating, because the subject matter was so emotional, and so steeped in the history of race relations in the U.S.

Vacation in Italy
My wife, Stefania, is Italian, and in Italy, vacations are sacrosanct.  So it was without debate (almost) that we would take our three-year-old son, Kyler, to Italy this summer and visit her family and friends.  It was a noble sacrifice on my part, I know.  We stayed with my in-laws and enjoyed amazing Italian meals, courtesy of my father-in-law, who’s a wonderful cook.  Although my wife doesn’t come from a stereotypical big Italian family (in fact, Italy currently has the lowest birthrate in Europe), there was nevertheless a lot of family, because almost no one moves away.   We took day trips to visit friends on Lago Maggiore and Lago Como in the north.  We spent time by the beach in Tuscany.  We stayed with friends at the beach in San Remo, just relaxing (and chasing Kyler).  After the grueling first year of law school, it was a much needed break.

Traveling on an airplane for 15 hours with our three-year-old son, Kyler, is an exercise in patience and distraction.  Thank God for the little TVs on the seatbacks.  Truthfully, it was much easier than last time, and he was pretty well behaved (just don’t ask the man sitting in front of him).

How I Spent My Summer: Externship

I landed a position as a law clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (LADA)—at the Torrance Branch—the summer following my 1E year (the ABA recently passed a rule requiring law students to complete 28 credits toward their J.D. degrees before being eligible to participate in field placement externships, but I was fortunately grandfathered in before the rule took effect). There, I shadowed a seasoned Deputy District Attorney (DDA) in a special unit known as the Victim Impact Program, which prosecutes family violence cases, child/elder abuse cases, sex crimes, and hate crimes.

Working for the LADA was not something that crossed my mind prior to law school. But, during my 1E year, I was selected for jury duty on a case involving a sex crime charge. Once the trial concluded, I met the prosecuting DDA, we exchanged information and decided to keep in touch (I had disclosed my status as a law student during voir dire).

 Once summer rolled around, I applied for a clerkship with the DDA who had prosecuted the case I was a juror for. Soon thereafter, she became my externship supervisor—and, more importantly, she became my friend and mentor. She took me with her on day-to-day work tasks, which included: interviews with witnesses, court appearances, trials, pre-trial hearings, meetings with law enforcement and crime scene investigators.

The intensity of it all was exciting—I felt like I was living the real-life CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. More importantly, though, I saw first-hand what an important role the LADA plays. It is the largest local prosecutor’s office in the United States, and it serves not only as a source of comfort for victims and their families, but it is the instrument that keeps dangerous criminals away from the rest of society, while also filtering out unsubstantiated claims.

The job isn’t for everyone—particularly not the faint-hearted—but the rewards DDAs reap with each successful conviction are immeasurable. They gain valuable trial experience, and they walk away with the immense satisfaction of knowing that they have helped make the streets a little safer.

While law school graduation is still a ways off for me, I know that if I am fortunate enough to land a job offer at the LADA after passing the bar, I’ll take it. And that’s what summer externships are all about. You may not necessarily find your “calling” as I feel I did, but you should certainly take advantage of the opportunity to learn, network, and foster friendships. And, don’t fret when you get summoned for jury duty! It’s great experience for law students!