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Friday, July 21, 2017

Skin

There is a difference between white skin and black skin. There shouldn't be, but the statistics bear out otherwise. The color of your skin is relevant to your jail sentence, your job hunt, your mortgage, and your student loans, among other things. Rising awareness of the ways racism has been built into the way our systems work has revealed another difference in our skin, that of thick skin and thin skin.

I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw a post about five teenagers who watched a man drown and got away with it. I was perturbed but unsurprised because I'm studying for the bar so I am deep in the "no duty to rescue" doctrine, but the OP was livid that such cruelty could go unpunished in our society. What caught my eye was the sole comment below the post, "They sound like black kids . . . go figure."

My heart started pounding. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Unsure if I should say anything (quick list of reasons why engaging is a bad idea: I didn't know the commenter, I only very loosely know the OP, and nothing good ever comes from a Facebook debate), I googled "how to respond to racist Facebook comments" and chose to engage after reading this article.

I'm always deeply conflicted about engaging on such things, and I have a quick anecdote as to why.

My neighbor flies a Confederate flag, and I often wondered what our black neighbor thought of it, driving past it every day. When a lawn jockey appeared beside it, my rage intensified and I felt helpless knowing our cousins would see the unequivocal combo. When I worked up the courage to ask one of my cousins if the display offended him, I was stunned by his response, just a shrug.

In that moment, I thought of that Cracked article that counseled that it's pretty rude to get offended for someone else, and you can't force someone to be offended. Maybe it was gracious and mature of my cousin to let my neighbor's racism roll, to not internalize it or take it as an affront of his personhood. Maybe he has thick skin.

On the other hand, My dad occasionally recounts with shame the time a police officer in pursuit of some neighborhood criminal stopped my dad to ask him if he had seen "where the n***** went" and all my dad said was no. We often have opportunities to speak against evil, but it's hard to know what to say or how to say it.

See, I have thin skin. I often see for the first time things other people have witnessed all their lives. I don't have a good barometer for what fights are worth fighting. I don't want to contribute to the widening of the culture wars by jumping down people's throats about things that don't really matter. (I don't want to be part of the hamburger problem.) Like the penguins in Madagascar say, you have to pick and choose your battles in life!

And I wonder if people who say things like, "They sound like black kids" also have thick skin. When I came back to that Facebook post an hour later it was filled with comments levied at the first commenter, calling her a c**t. Not only did I feel guilty for stirring the pot, but now I felt obligated to come to her defense. #classicFacebookdevolution Much to my surprise, she let it roll.

Maybe it's better to just have thick skin. But it must also be true that there are consequences for our harsh and evil words. Words aren't just words. For Jesus said, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." (Matthew 15:18) Careless words, careless hearts, and then a careless culture? Luke puts it a little differently than Matthew, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."

Thursday, June 29, 2017

So you want to go to law school


The obvious question is, why? You will have to answer this question and thousand and one times, so you would be well-advised to craft a solid go-to answer that is true-ish. Then you'll have the rest of your law school journey to hone and workshop your answer through admissions essays, interviews, and networking events. But you have to have something solid to work with.

Pro tip: "I like to argue" is a terrible reason. The money used to be a good reason, but with wages falling as the legal labor sector becomes more automated and dense, makes financial incentives illusory these days. The nice answer for millennials, we who are so social welfare minded, is "I want to help people", but you might find the idealism and naivete latent in that justification a smidge cringe-worthy for your taste. The best answer is always a story. One time I got stopped at the border trying to leave Kazakhstan for Turkey because I mistakenly overstayed my visa, and my brush with the migration police in a foreign country gave me a depth of gratitude to immigration attorneys that was enough of a wellspring to get me through.

That's not the real reason I went to law school, but it's a fun story for me to tell and it opens the door for me to talk about one of the more interesting periods of my life. Birds, stone.

The thing about the decision to go to law school is that if you don't already have exposure to or experience in the field, it's hard to know what's out there, to say nothing of determining whether you have both the skills and inclination to make it worth it for you. That was my biggest fear about starting law school, that I was going to be bad at it and that it was going to be boring. While the jury's still out on the former, it was to my delight in that very first civ pro class that I was going to have a grand time learning the law. 

So this is what I recommend, if you can pull up a statute on a law you've heard of, and read it, and then find a state supreme court opinion applying that statute, and you find yourself enjoying the puzzle of figuring out how the statute and the opinion fit together, then all other considerations aside, you will probably enjoy law school coursework. (A difficult but maybe compelling example might be the Ohio marriage statute, linked here, and the SCOTUS decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, linked here.) 

You don't have to enjoy the law to feel justified in your decision to go to law school, but if you're going to suffer through to get the piece of paper, you better have 100% assurance of a job at the end. It's all just a carrot on a stick. 

There is also the financial consideration. The student debt situation is ludicrous. It's terrifying, hinging on absurd. I'm a little sanctimonious about this topic, so I'll spare you a lecture and just say that my path worked great for me and it's a path that you might want to look into for yourself. A 3.9 undergrad GPA and a 154 LSAT score got me a full ride at Michigan State, Penn State, and my alma mater. Not T2 schools, but being hard working is more important than the reputation of your school. Who's to say how the market will change, but this was a pro tip from family friends who sent most of their kids to college on a variety of full ride scholarships: don't pay for school if you can avoid it. On the other hand, if you're loaded and can pay your tuition out of pocket, definitely shoot for the stars. Harvard may be a diploma mill, but it still makes doors fly open, which is probably enough to justify the price tag if you are heart eyes for the law.

I don't have any other advice about choosing a school. But there are loads of internet forums with heaps of opinions to fill that void.

My last recommendation is to take a beat before starting law school. People who go straight to law school from undergrad may "maintain momentum", but they are also more likely to be burned out or lack workforce experience that imparts valuable perspective to the law school experience. I knew I wanted to go to law school since I was a senior in high school, but I still took some time in between to work as an ESL teacher. Working cross-culturally gave me skills and contacts that I drew from frequently in my immigration law work. I also go to check some life experiences off that I didn't have time to tackle while I was in law school. I was only out of school for a year, but I missed studying so much during that time that I was actually looking forward to going back to an academic setting by the time I matriculated. You can also use that time to get more financially stable.

(A casual suggestion that I have no personal experience with, but have seen many of my friends try: get an entry-level paralegal position after undergrad, make yourself invaluable to your firm, and then get your firm to either send you to law school or promise you an associate position when you graduate. The practice of law is apprenticeship and firms would much rather hire someone who already knows what they do than train an outsider. Find your job offer before you even start law school. This path is very common, and IMHO, very smart.) 

So you've got your motivation sorted, you've taken the LSAT, you've applied and matriculated, and now law school is foisted upon you. I have some various and sundry advice for you regarding the law school process.

  • Skip journal. Whoa, whoa, whoa, what??? Let me get the exceptions out of the way: people who are destined for editor in chief of the law review, people who want to clerk for federal judges after law school, and people who legitimately enjoy legal writing. Those people should join a journal, preferable law review, but a journal in your concentration is also acceptable. (If you are not interested and will never be interested in the subject matter of your journal, skip it.) Journal is difficult, boring, time-consuming, and stressful. Employers are not as impressed with journal participation as they used to me. Journals are high cost, low reward.

  • Get a legal job ASAP. This is two-pronged advice. First, all legal experience is going to do you a solid, therefore, the more of it you have, they better prepared you are to be good at your craft. Law is apprenticeship. Get in the trenches early. Second, there are only two summers. 2L summer associates are critical for people looking to go the big law route. That leaves you with only four semesters and one summer to diversify your experience and figure out what options you have for after law school. The sooner you can get started on that process, the better. And it is totally possible to balance 1L coursework with part-time employment. Just work hard. It's what you'll be doing as a lawyer anyway.

  • Find two attorney mentors. Mine ended up being my supervising attorneys for my two student practitioner gigs during 3L. I wouldn't recommend waiting that long, it caused me a lot of stress, but both individuals have become valued friends in my life, so take comfort that things can work out. Practical steps to get an attorney to adopt you: go to professor office hours, take a research position, and ask about opportunities and current events in their specialty. Pick people who have margin in their lives--the faculty "rock stars" of your school, though definitely well-connected, will probably already have a full plate between research, writing, advising, teaching, and school politics, and while they might take an interest in you, they probably also won't have the time to meet with you regularly. In contrast, adjuncts, new attorneys, or people on the "fringe" of the faculty or the firm you're working at will have more space to give you attention and will be flattered that you're seeking their advice and support. My school did not have an alumni mentorship program, but if yours does, jump on that. 

  • Do moot court. If you must participate in some extracurricular school activities, skip the clubs (but get on their mailing lists--job opportunities in your inbox and advance notice of where free food will be) and student government, and compete in legal simulations. It's the next best thing to employment experience.

  • Talk in class. If you think this advice will be easy for you, ignore it and do the opposite. (Everyone hates those people who waste class time asking useless and obscure hypos.) But if you are not naturally inclined to speak up in class, push yourself to. You will sound dumb and people will think you're dumb, but you'll learn the material well and you'll remember the material. If you're academically gifted enough to be considering law school, you already know how you best learn. Leverage class time to maximize your content retention. Another perk, talking also makes boring classes go by faster.

  • Talk to your classmates. My biggest regret from law school is not making more friends. Law school is that much easier when you have people to share notes, collaborate on outlines, laugh with, commiserate with, and all around related to. I avoided people at law school because I didn't want to catch their anxiety or lose perspective. In the process I missed out laying the groundwork for my professional network and I was a little bit lonely and miserable. There are plenty of loners at law school, and the law school social scene is definitely a minefield of judgment, but do your best to rest in the balance.

  • You don't have to outline. I outlined only one class in my entire time at law school and I did fine. Make of that what you will. See, I know how I learn and it's not via outlines. You know how you learn. Don't force yourself to make flashcards or study groups if it's not going to help you just because everyone else is doing it and they're judging you. 

  • Start studying for the bar early. Don't take froufy classes, take the subjects that will definitely be on the bar, since many schools make some of these courses optional. (I made it through law school without taking commercial paper or wills & estates. Studying those topics for the bar had me stressed out of my mind.) Learn the doctrinal law well the first time around, and start doing MBE question practice sets during 2L. Set aside two hours every Saturday of 3L to review bar resources. Bar prep is literally memorizing three 900-page paperback outline books, which is literally impossible to do in the two months between graduation and the bar. Chip away at it earlier so that you can have a little fun with your summer.

Above all, remember that if you are discerning, diligent, and dedicated, you will find the path that works for you. I truly feel like my path to and through law school was the path that was best for me, and I offer my experiences as a template for those seeking some guidance to get them started on a sensible path. However, I was struck at graduation by just how many of my classmates had taken paths that I had previously considered ill-advised but were nevertheless stepping out of law school into viable careers or receiving valuable accolades for their contributions to the legal community. That was a humbling and encouraging realization. My way is one way, but it's not the only way. My way was best for me, but it's not best for everyone. And it's not productive to stress about incongruence between your choices and the choices of others--don't be reckless, but don't be despondent. 

And best of luck. :)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Psalm 42:11

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The world is very hard. This week I held the hand of a man who just one week before could talk for hours and lived independently, and now aphasia has robbed him of his ability to communicate and he is too weak to feed himself. 

This week I sat across the table from a man who lost his health, his reputation, his home, and his family to violence and political strife, and now arcane laws keep him from reuniting with the family that remains in his hour of need. 

This week I watched myself, helplessly grasping at straws to honor my God with my words and my work, and I watched myself fail, fail, fail. A slave to self-gratification, struggling to wear my identity of freedom. 

I know why my soul is disturbed within me. The world is not as I imagine it should be. 

He gave us bodies of dust, but He will give us new bodies that will never decay. He allows injustice to leak like a poison into the lives of the vulnerable, but He will avenge all wrongs one day. He sees me flounder in my devotion and my faithfulness, but He will unite my heart to fear His name. 

He is my Savior and I will praise Him. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why I am single on Valentine's Day

You may be familiar with the rom-com trope: guy obsessed with girl, girl is wrapped with with some other guy--usually a jerk or otherwise unsuited for her--and therefore oblivious to our guy, girl gets her heart broken by the jerk, girl realizes she should give our guy a chance. This trope reinforces the underlying misapprehension of Gamer Gate, that girls never notice the nice guys, and that nice guys finish last. Ergo, girls need to stop being stupid and give the nice guys who are obsessed with them a chance. 

My issue is, I can't make myself like the nice guys who like me. And in my defense, it's not like I don't give them a chance. It's not like I rule those guys out because I'm fixated on vapid things like height or career. I look for sensible things like shared values and similar life trajectory. I make a good faith effort to assess the potential, and there's always a lot of potential because these guys are perfectly wonderful. But even then, when everything seems like it should click, it still doesn't click. What's with that? 

It may be as simple as, I haven't found the right guy yet. That sounds kind of cliche and a cop out; it assumes that there is one cosmically-designated person for everyone, and I just don't think that's accurate. Love isn't some mystical, magical thing. It's not a first glance dart to the heart. I told Rebecca I might only be able to find love via a rom-com meet-cute and she exclaimed sadly, "Don't say that!" because she knew as I do that that is not real life. 

So, while it is possible that my designated "soulmate" person just hasn't yet appeared, it is more likely that I am getting in my own way with romance. Primarily, I am culpable in that I am not open to making new friends and getting close to people in general, so in these generally maladaptive behaviors I block myself from building any kind of romantic connection, must less a connection with "the One." But I also wonder if there are more nefarious issues involved than mere antisocialness. It is also possible my issue is with the wooing process. 

Unfortunately, I fairly am comfortable flirting (or, just being a human, I mean) with people I have limited knowledge of and little connection with. I have an endless stream of silly crushes on random boys I have had little to no interaction with. I shoot smiles at cute strangers I see in transit with no fear, because I know I will never see them again. But being pursued is terrifying, it makes my heart race . . . not with infatuation but with anxiety. When I have already decided a guy is not for me, his continued attention and wooing makes me feel guilty for not reciprocating; unlike with normal people, it doesn't kindle any affection. I want to say that wooing just doesn't work on me, but that conclusion seems inconsistent with what it means to be human. 

Because what about the Church's Bridegroom? We love Him because He first loved us. He woos His creation faithfully, with science and art, with rain and drought, with grace on grace on grace, and it is His kindness that drew us to Him; we did not chose Him unbidden. I was drawn to Him via so many channels: a personality predisposition to seek transcendent ideals, a fear of the dark and a child's need for peace, a yearning to be perfect, and my parents' tender example. He put so many lures for me, but I confess that I wonder, am I often unmoved even by His wooing, initiation, and pursuit? 

This sobering hardness of my heart is no great mystery to me, but rather stems from my pride and independence. I know because one of those Facebook personality tests scored me the highest on the self-sufficiency metric. A once-friend was the first in my life to articulate this to me, that I didn't need anyone in the very worst way. And he wasn't necessarily wrong. I think one of the worst thing in life is asking for letters of recommendation--I die inside every time I have to ask, and one of the reasons I didn't apply to clerkships was because I couldn't take the stress of getting those letters. I hate going to other people with my problems, and my reticence to depend on other people affects my willingness to depend on my God and be moved by His care for me. 

But oh, crooked heart, I am still inexplicably pleased with my ability to take care of myself, and of this I repent, daily asking that my heart be transformed. Failure and redemption are two sides of the same coin. I am poor and needy, but the LORD takes thought for me. 

Anyway, here is a takeaway for the nice guys: if you're hung up on a girl that doesn't appreciate your feelings, maybe she has not just a few issues but the whole subscription. You will be happier with someone less complicated, but it takes time for feelings to run their course. Be angsty, or don't be, and from a crazy girl, sorry and thank you. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rogue One

If the below reads with the melodrama of a fan transported by an over-active imagination and a penchant for reckless empathy, well, that's probably because I love Star Wars. And I love movies. The subtle ways cinematography and the music score and flawless acting tease out a person's emotions and make good stories become that much more dazzling, it really is movie magic.

And the magic is not just in being transported to another time and place, it's also magical how movies pound on the struggles of our times. It was hard to watch the hubbub of Jedha and hear Kassian describe fighting with the rebels for a lifetime and not draw parallels to the war and unrest in the world today. As the slow tilt towards tyranny in my own country begins to pick up speed, Rogue One has me daydreaming about what resistance looks like and how to do it ethically.

So I think I might be a pacifist? This is the influence Michael and Rebecca and Wendell Berry have had over me in my formative years . . . It was an easy bent to have when the wars my country was involved in displaced the principle of national sovereignty in the name of protecting our monetary and political interests. It was easy to say that Americans should come home when I didn't fully understand what they were doing abroad in the first place.

Pacifism is harder when you have something you think could be worth fighting for.

In Star Wars it's not as though they're even so much fighting for some greater ideal or religious freedom; it's a matter of self-preservation. At this point the Empire already has the political power; it just wants to wipe those who dissented out. So when the Alliance doesn't want to send rebels to steal Death Star plans, Jyn tells them they don't have a choice; it's futile to surrender and plead for mercy.

And so in the name of self-preservation they do a lot of sketchy things. The first time we see Kassian he's shot a source, no hesitation, just popping caps with such nonchalance that I assumed he was a bad guy. Jyn herself is a criminal, but the rebels break her out of jail so they can use her as bait to, wait a sec, kill a rebel extremist? And then kill her father, who is also a double agent? Rogue One makes an excellent showing of how coordinating a resistance is fraught with opportunity to become the thing you're fighting.

(I'll hand it to the Imperial Army; in spite of their internal political squabbles, their strong leadership keeps them organized and on-message.)

This is how I feel about a lot of activist efforts mobilizing in my area. I am very thankful of the efforts of the ACLU and AILA and other attorneys that have provided support to those affected by the "terrorist ban" executive order. I am encouraged by the demonstrations and protests and discussions I see happening in the media and in book clubs and person to person. But the discussion is sometimes not nuanced enough, not precise enough, not careful enough to pose a truly ethical challenge to an unethical administration. We have a group of extremists (or I don't even know anymore, maybe Breitbart trolls?) at Berkeley smashing windows and starting fires. We have misinformation or exaggeration of the facts floating around. We have factious silencing of diverse viewpoints from within the "resistance" itself, alienating many potential allies and undermining fundamental American values. So, you know, democracy can be a check on power but it can also be a mob unto itself. #flawedhumanproblems

I left Rogue One thinking about the allure and glamour and horror of war; the bravery, the self-sacrifice, the purposefulness, the loss. I don't believe that a civil war is coming to our country, but I see in Rogue One the appeal of giving up everything to be the resistance, and with that appeal is also the danger that our conscience becomes obscured.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Threat of Opposition

Here is where I would like us to get as a culture, to a place where we can cease to see disagreement and opposition as threatening. 

I know that's a lot to ask; didn't Anakin strangle Padme because they wanted fundamentally different things for the Republic?

So, not being threatened by disagreement from people who oppose your ideas takes some trust that they're not going to Force Choke you if they get the chance, and that is absolutely hard.

However, I think it's better for our democracy and our sense of humanity if we can normalize that trust in our culture and give regular disagreement-driven dialogue a chance. 

This is what I loved about Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren appearing together on one show talking about the issues. Granted, it was utterly fruitless. No one changed their minds and fans of either media personality emerged convinced their side at pwned the convo. But whatever the reaction of their followers, those two individuals proved it is possible to disagree with someone over deeply emotional and value-laden issues and still be relatively blasé about it. Blasé in a good way. 

A friend of mine flipped out when she found out I believe Genesis is literal and historical. She wasn't sure she could have a close personal relationship with someone who so denied logic and science, things that to her are fundamental and non-negotiable. (For the record, I too am a fan of science and logic, but my roommate's experiences lead her to conclude they are incompatible with a literal reading of Genesis. And I disagree, but I see why she would conclude as such, and thus I do not find her perspective threatening.)

To her credit, she has since calmed down and decided that our friendship is not nullified by my crazy beliefs, but this interaction was illustrative for me of just how difficult it is to agree to disagree when the stakes are so high. 

Another friend of mine is in denial that behaviors I label as sexist are indeed a bad thing. I shared a whole spectrum of experiences I've had--being patronized in the workplace, being felt up at bars, being let off easy during traffic stops--but for each anecdote the response was the same: "It's all in your head." Or, "That's not sexism, that's life." This was difficult for me to hear, especially because I don't consider myself a passive victim. How can someone who claims to care about you also say to your that your perspective is fabricated and that you deserve the bad things that happen to you? 

But don't you know it, that person is still my friend. No, we're not as close any more, but I am also acutely aware that while there are experiences which have brought my friend to a perspective that is hostile to my own perspective, he is still a person. Though he does not appreciate that his perspective diminishes my humanity, he is still himself a human, a work in progress, an image bearer. It's not easy to have grace and trust in these disagreements, but it's worth it if it keeps both of us humble.

And I should offer the caveat that I don't necessarily believe it is a good and desirable thing for ALL people to seek harmony with those who deny their identity. I see the pain caused to my gay friends by families that tell them, "We love you but we don't support you." I feel deep offense when acquaintances express support for anti-miscegenation laws or the dissolution of native governments. I get that for many people those relationships may not be worth it. 

But I am also inspired by generations of black folks who have worked inside a system that was not structured for them, and who labored alongside ignorant white folks that did not care about their struggles, but spoke out or sought progress that their humanity would not be ignored. And when white feminists weren't there for civil rights, women of color were still there for feminism. There is so much power in that magnanimity. And there's a lot more common ground up for grabs than we realize.

Maybe I've gotten a bit astray from my original point, because in all reality, for most in my circle, the conservative/liberal friction is not one of identity but of ideology. My peeps are mostly white, middle-class, evangelical, and millennials. No one is telling that cohort that their identities don't matter. So disagreements of ideology, of liberal versus conservative, are considerably easier, to my mind. And maybe I'm a naive moderate for saying so, but I don't think conservativism and liberalism are always mutually exclusive. A car needs both gas and breaks. Americans need both freedom and equality. Our country needs both fiscal responsibility and a social safety net. 

So if I can find it in my heart to move past the misguided rhetoric, warped statistics, cherrypicked anecdotes, and fundamentally different values of the other side, I can appreciate that there must be another way to get a long. Self-righteousness is a terrible poison, and interaction through disagreement bring the antidote of humility.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

I don't want to despair (because in my Jesus I always have hope).
I don't want to condone (because where there has been wrongdoing there must be justice).
I don't want to minimize (because my own isolation from the problem does not excuse me from caring about those who are indeed affected).
I don't want to dramatize (because premature alarm levies its own form of damage upon the public conscience).

But truth be told maybe things are both worse than I think but better than I deserve.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Last First Day

A wave of anxiety overtook me last night, I'm sorry to say. I was (am!) nervous about what tomorrow would bring, my last first day of school. Will I sit for a few minutes in the completely wrong classroom? Will I get cold called and not know the answer? Or will I talk too much and get labeled a gunner? (Will I ever stop worrying about such trifling things?)

But there is the thrill of it, too. I learned so many interesting things in just the first hour of my day! Did you know, for example, that until just this past summer, the federal government had a monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes? That's right, the DEA controls a federally owned and operated facility at Ole Miss that grows, processes, and sells cannabis. Weird, right?

When this semester is through, I know that I will miss study sessions at Boston Common Coffee Co (with it's splatter-paint artwork featuring images like a cartoon unicorn-wolf hybrid with its ribs showing and the outline of Rhode Island), and looking out from the fifth floor commons over he Park Street Church steeple and the State House's golden dome, and eating that amazing combination of pickle and rye grilled cheese from the Sargent caf. I will miss being part of an academic community, for all its warts and bruises.

But I know that I will not miss having to juggle work and school and clinic, I will not miss completing meandering writing assignments and 24-hour finals, I will not miss this weird tension I still feel sometimes between wanting to be thought a smartypants by my peers and wanting to just keep my head down and get my work done. I will not miss the panic of seeing someone walk into the classroom wearing a suit and wondering what interviews are happening that I am not participating in. I will not miss FAFSA.

Law school has been so different from undergrad, and I know I will miss it less, but change is a'coming, and that's always its own thing.