if justice is blind... Sua Sponte
My law school odyssey: three years, three time zones and beyond.


Tomorrow my clerkship begins, which means that today is truly the last day of my law school odyssey. I will go to sleep an adventurer and wake up an ordinary working stiff, and this whole saga -- melodramatic and exhausting and ungodly long -- will be concluded. Full stop.

There were so few of us at the beginning: JuBu, Jeremy, WT, me, Mellow-Drama at blogspot, and Omer's original weblog. (I think those are the only survivors. Did I forget anyone?) A few advanced souls started at the same time as we did, but we were the first 1L class to blog. By the time we were 2Ls, the act of keeping a law school journal in public had caught on, and by 3L year everyone and their brother was doing it. But we were there in 2002 -- the first crew of 1Ls to conclude that the full catalogue of our law school experiences, from prelaw through the bar exam, were worth sharing with the Internets(tm).

I think we'd all agree that it was worth it. If you're considering keeping a weblog during law school, do. This may be the last time in your professional career that you can blog about same with impunity. And a blog can introduce you to some of the most priceless people you'll ever need to know in law school. Without Sua Sponte, I never would have met some of my greatest mentors and advisors. I wouldn't have written on to law review. I almost certainly would have failed in my quest to transfer schools. And at times when everyone and everything in my life felt alienating, without Sua Sponte I would have been a lot lonelier.

I'll leave the archives up, in case there's anything to be learned from them (aside from St. Daniel's Pennoyer v. Neff catechism). If you're wondering about anything here, you can always email me. If you took a bar exam this summer, I'll be sending waves that you passed. And if you've ever given me advice, alcohol, or any other form of support, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Parting thoughts:

Goodbye is never final; people invariably meet up again, where you least expect it.
There's always someplace where you can eat well.
Only if it'll still be worth it ten years from now.
Anything is possible with work and luck enough.
A good decision feels like one.
Try again. There's probably a way.
The prize is in your head.
No regrets.
Be happy.
Be happy.
Be happy.

thus spake /jca @ 10:43 AM...


final thoughts on: work and vacation

It is starting to dawn on me that I'm going back to work this week. Not just a summer job, an externship, or any other short-term engagement that will conclude upon my return to school. This is real, honest-to-pete full-time employment. The kind of work you do when there's no more school to return to.

I think I'm ready.

This month has been the first vacation I've had in years. Imagine it: an entire August with absolutely nothing left on my worry-dar, nothing demanding any of my mental bandwidth, nothing whatsoever to do except whatever the hell I felt like doing. I could take a week and gad about eastern Pennsylvania and central New Jersey with my relatives if I wanted to. I could spend hours on end brain-dumping massive blocks of text onto my weblog. I could drink an entire bottle of wine in one evening while watching Hayao Miyazaki movies with my husband -- all with impunity.

It's been blissful. I think this is the definition I was aiming for, back last summer when Sua Sponte played host to the old vacation debate. Vacation, I'd submit, is not just being in control of your time or your labors. It's that plus an additional degree of freedom: having both the right and the opportunity to control whether you need to do something. On vacation you can either pick up the to-do list or walk away and forget about it. But there's nothing hanging over your head, nothing that has to get done without your consent.

This psychological liberty is key. This was the reason why I found myself unable to treat school as a vacation: there was always something needing done, every little thing mattered, and the whole experience was a one-shot deal. I went out of my way to seek out as many second chances as I could find -- transferring schools, writing on to law review, getting into my clinic off of a waitlist. Even so, taken as a whole, law school was my one and only chance to have the law school experience I wanted. If I screwed this one up, I'd be stuck with the fruits of my screwup. But if I got it right, the benefits would keep for the rest of my life.

Work has never been like that for me. I can't say that I've never gotten in over my head; it's entirely too easy for a personality like mine to get invested in my job. Of course there have been times when I failed to wipe my feet. (Once I even sleepwalked due to work stress. No kidding.) But no matter how much I found myself growing attached to my outcomes, there was never an exclusivity problem. You weren't banned from gainful employment if something went wrong. There was always another job, another way to succeed professionally if this turned out to be the wrong path. There was always more than one chance to do something right.

It'll be a relief to return to that universe. I may have never had a moment's peace in law school, but now, perhaps because of that peacelessness, I'll never be in such a position again. It's sort of like rock bottom for the stress-addicted: once you realize that things can't get any worse without impacting your health, you never want to get back on that treadmill. The alternative is just so rich -- to be able to work without worry, to enjoy free time untaxed by all the stuff you should be spending it doing. No matter how many hours it may take, or how tired you may get, you win if you can still go home and relax at the end of the workday. The pile of things on the to-do list doesn't need to weigh on your mood if you don't let it.

I've always been told that I take things too seriously: work, school, relationships, myself even. This is probably true. But telling someone like me to quit taking things so seriously is about as effective as swearing at traffic. Realizations like this, on the other hand, can be as edifying as being in the traffic accident yourself. Do your work, and then stop worrying about it when you're done. It's that simple. Holy crap, it's that simple.

Now to never worry about my to-do list again.

thus spake /jca @ 11:36 AM...


final thoughts on: law school and relationships

I wonder what law school would have been like, had I been single.

I've been married since 1999. It's the first time I've ever had to try sharing my personal space: I grew up with divorced parents, no siblings, and a relatively small extended family scattered to the four winds. If I didn't like this guy an awful lot, there's no way in hell I'd put up with some of the more invasive aspects of marriage -- throwing his sweaty gym clothes into my laundry basket, for example, or "needing" the entire living room to sprawl across while he pursues a release deadline. But I do like him. An awful lot.

Still, I guess I started law school with the preconceived notion that marriage itself was hard enough. But then my husband surprised me: he turned out to be a tailor-made 1L companion. Unlike me, he never spent much time in college -- not a moment, in fact -- pondering his navel or trying to Find Himself. Instead, he worked himself to the point of physical illness. The illness thing was a drag, of course, but it paid off: there aren't too many people who, in the space of four years, can graduate MIT with a perfect GPA in two majors and a master's degree. He knew from brain-jam. I knew nothing, and was extraordinarily glad he was there to be my guide.

I didn't need much motivation. I knew I wanted to transfer law schools, so an insane workload was basically a foregone conclusion. What I didn't know was how to work smarter rather than harder. He did, though. "You're doing a lot of briefing," he'd remark, seeing the green database screen reflected in my eyeglasses. "You should be focusing more on exams." When I protested that I didn't know enough law yet to face down a practice exam without wetting myself in a panic, he proposed a solution anyway. "You should at least be taking what you know, or taking each new thing as you learn it, and asking yourself: now, how will this turn up on an exam? If I were writing exam questions, how would I test someone on this?"

He was right. He has always been right when it comes to matters academic. I spent too much time briefing and outlining, and not enough internalizing actual exam mechanisms -- and I tanked on half my first-semester exams. It was horrific, watching my dearest dream shatter into shrapnel before my eyes. For a period of about two weeks, I had trouble even speaking. But my husband, once again, proved his incredible worth. He didn't coddle me or indulge my rampaging depression. Instead, at the end of those two weeks, he sat me down and gave me the drill-sergeant treatment. "This is unworkable!" he shouted as I gaped at him, unable even to summon tears. "You can't live like this! So alright, you can't transfer. This is where you're stuck. That means you need to be at the fucking top of your class. And you'll never get there like this. You need to snap out of it!"

Again, as usual, he was right. So I did snap out of it.

Despite his faith in me, the top of the class was basically out of the question; to get there, I'd need far more intuition and legal talent than I possessed. But would it really be so bad, being stuck in-state? California was a perfectly nice place to live. My husband had a great job. If I cleaned up my act enough, I could probably find someone who'd hire me as well. We might even be able to buy a house. I decided to shelve my globetrotting dreams and invest my energies into going native.

Then, as if some giant fairy somewhere had checked off a box indicating that I'd learned my lesson, suddenly everything shifted with a great big jolt. Moot court not only worked out for me, but turned out to be a sparkling beautiful thing. My spring-semester grades put my fall ones to shame. And I did manage, after the dust settled, to transfer schools. My globetrotting dreams revived instantly. "We can go back to California next summer if you want," I giggled excitedly to my husband, "or even...to Boston."

He loved his startup, the reason why we'd moved to California in the first place. He'd been there since the beginning, one of the founders, and delighted in watching the company grow so large he no longer recognized people's faces. But he'd never forgotten the Ph.D. he started so long ago, before going on leave to try the Startup Thing. (Nor had I. The day after our wedding in New York, he was on a train back to Boston; the following day he began his first round of preliminary written exams. We still haven't taken an official honeymoon.)

Even so, he followed me to my ultimate law school without much enthusiasm. The startup, which thankfully appreciated all of my husband's late nights and foregone vacations, agreed to let him telecommute until I graduated. I thought this would be a terrific setup, since the guy would gladly live in his pajamas if he could. But while the pajamas thing was a fair success, being more or less housebound and working late into the night on Pacific time left him frustrated, stressed, and pacing like a caged lion. "We shouldn't be here. You should be at Stanford!" he'd yell, or "Harvard!" as his own dreams tugged him first toward one coast, then the other.

But he understood why we were there. And no matter how many times I offered to undertake a long-distance relationship so that he could return to his job in person, he refused. After a wake-the-neighbors row that probably had a lot to do with my diminished winter-quarter 2L grades, my husband and I finally made a deal: he would have the run of the apartment whenever he needed it during the term, but if I had an exam week coming up, he would arrange to be in California. This worked as long as it needed to; about two quarters, as it turned out. Ironically, the following quarter, when he timed his trip to coincide with my citecheck rather than exams, my grades came back just fine. Not that they particularly mattered any more. We'd already found a way back to Boston.

And here we are. And that's how we got here.

In retrospect the thing that wound up being most important in our relationship, especially through law school, was our respect for each other's personal space. My husband grew up an only child, just like I did; between that and his super-perceptive understanding of my required study schedule, he knew exactly how much I needed to be left alone to do my thing. I gave him the same courtesy, which made for some lonely late nights, but was the least I could do. When we can help each other, we do. But when we can't, the next best thing is to get the hell out of the way.

If law school is going to screw with a relationship, this is probably the reason why. You just can't be demanding of a person who's seriously committed to a course of action. People seriously committed to a course of action will understand what I mean: there's a certain amount of effort below which you may not dip without compromising your master plans, plans which ideally include your significant other as well. They'll benefit as much as you from your success. Wise significant others will understand this. Priceless ones will take an active part in helping you succeed. But if you're coupled with someone who demands your time when you can least afford it (or vice versa), yeah, that could be a problem.

At the end of the day, it's your call. Law school is an enormous weight on your time and your relationships. Even the most ideal match -- someone who shares your values and understands why you need to be in a certain place -- can still devolve into viciousness when either party feels slighted. And of course, it's just as easy to sacrifice your law school efforts for the relationship as it is to do the reverse. Only you can say which of the two will be more valuable for you to preserve in the long term. Just be sure that that's where you're focused: on the long term.

Because that's where the love should take you.

thus spake /jca @ 7:35 AM...


final thoughts on: pursuing your dreams

Opportunism gets a bad rap. It's all too easy for the uninformed observer to assume that the act of wanting something other than what you've got is due to greed, or elitism, or problems with your self-esteem. From childhood we're taught not to want. Learn to be satisfied with what you have, the received wisdom goes; that's how you'll be happy. Be thankful for what you have, even. Think of all the poor people who don't have what you do. In the grand scheme of Haves and Have-Nots, there is no reputable place for the Want-Mores.

But there's so much to be said in praise of ambition. Wanting to be something other than what you already are, even if the comparative greatness is only in your own eyes, is something that ought to be worthy of encouragement. Why should you accept less than you think you're worth? Why should you settle for a trivial salary when you know that you can earn more? Why should you pursue a career path that doesn't inspire your enthusiasm when you could be doing something you'd love? Why should you be discouraged by the failure rate of other people aspiring to the same goal? When someone's telling you, however implicitly, that you deserve no better than your current situation, the problem is hardly with your self-esteem.

Sure, there are basic needs you'll need to cover. You don't want to be in your thirties and still hitting up your folks for rent money. But there's no reason to invest your finest energies in the pursuit of paying bills. My husband and I have not stuck by each other through move after vertiginous move just to establish ourselves as small-town tradespeople (even though we may wind up doing just that, if that's what we want, at the end of our adventures). We both dream of how it must feel to stand shoulder to shoulder with the truly incredible people in our respective professions, which is why he supported my transferring law schools halfway across the country, and why I support him finishing his Ph.D., even though it means losing out on the income that supported our fancy restaurant and B&B habits.

It's hard to walk away from apparent success when what you really want is something different. The naysayers will reliably gasp in wide-eyed chagrin and howl that you're making a mistake, that you were doing great and there was no reason to want anything different. And those naysayers may even be in your own head. "I should be providing for us," my husband worries. "No," I tell him, "now is the time for you to be chasing your dream!" We have enough of a financial cushion that neither of us will have to be a Wal-Mart greeter this year to make ends meet. My clerkship pays more than I earned in my last full-time job, and my husband earns a stipend as a teaching assistant. I'm already thirty; he'll be there too come March. We can afford this now in a way we may never again.

Aspirations are a double-edged sword, of course. They can stalk you and drive you to madness. If you dream of something beyond your means, it can become a nasty fairy that taunts you repeatedly. And if in the pursuit of your dearest desires you yourself are found wanting, that can be more of a heartbreaker than anyone's initial suggestion that you didn't deserve the good thing to begin with. It is hard as hell not to shatter to pieces when faced with the reality that you simply can't achieve the object of your dreams. Disappointment can be crippling, if you let it.

But don't let that stop you. As important as dreams are, they're also fungible. My mother did not spend her entire career as a software engineer dreaming of running a horse farm, and yet, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, it became exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Most aspiring stand-up comics don't succeed, so the odds are against my cousin; but even if he doesn't wind up being the next Seinfeld, he'll still have won a bunch of competitions and made hundreds of people laugh, and at the end of the day he'll still be happily married and gainfully employed in his favorite city. My husband may decide to quit the Ph.D., and I may go back to California with him, and things may turn out as though we'd never taken any extraordinary measures to pursue our dreams at all.

Except they won't, because we did. We went to Chicago. We went to Boston. We were both devoted practitioners of the art of extreme education. Even if that doesn't catapult us to the nosebleed heights of our chosen careers, we will still have taken our chances at doing so. Because it's not just the fulfillment of the dream that matters; it's crediting the dream itself. Don't just tread water somewhere because it's passable, workable, good enough. Respect your own aspirations. Let no one convince you that you don't have a right to wish for something else. Chase any butterfly you choose, because that's the only way to catch one.

Ten years ago, in a cute movie you've probably never seen, Al Pacino played a dying grandfather during the Great Depression. He had a quarter. His grandson needed one. Al Pacino told the grandson that the quarter would be his after he, Al Pacino, died. The grandson eventually felt guilty that he lusted after that quarter (and therefore his grandfather's death) so badly, but with grandpa Pacino's dying breath, he gave the grandson one word of advice:


thus spake /jca @ 9:46 PM...


final thoughts on: the three years of law school

Recently noise has been made debating the (f)utility of a third year of law school. (See also wide-ranging discussion at Volokh and a non-starry-eyed perspective at Sapere Aude.)

I loved my third year. Like the corporate lawyer cited in the MSNBC article, I can happily say that 3L was perhaps the best year of my life. Even though I spent much more of it on journal and clinic stuff than on beer and softball. Even though I wound up doing far more work than was really necessary. Even though I didn't blow it off, 3L was the time of my life.

Whenever anyone challenges the purpose of a third year of law school, my first response is always selfish. If law school hadn't been three years long, I never would have gotten to have the fun that I did in my second year at my degree-granting institution. If law school weren't three years long, no one would even be able to transfer. We'd basically be MBAs. And while it's debatable whether we already are just a different breed of MBA, I'd rather believe that we're not.

At the very least, for a proposal to eliminate 3L to be reasonable, 1L has to be made a lot more humane. I understand that not everyone's first year was as nightmarish as mine, and the principal reasons why mine sucked so royally were my own fault. But, just as with bar review, some aspects of the present first-year model are just so inherently rotten that they'll weigh on the experience of even the most satisfied and optimistic 1L. Getting rid of these would unload a lot of the nastiness of law school, which, at least in my view, would obviate the need for subsequent niceness to balance it out. There you'd have it: two years of not-unpleasant education, culminating in a trade credential. If you're going to dumb down law school until it becomes business school, then make it be business school.

Having said that: don't make it be business school. As tough as 1L is even for the people who love it (and, obviously, for the people whom it eats alive), it's a feature of the profession whose value is seldom disputed by actual practitioners (much though it may be vilified by its current and recent victims). It's what makes us lawyers. And even if becoming a lawyer isn't the only reason to go to law school, it remains the best one.

My second year of law school, my first at the school that gave me my J.D., was a peculiar blessing. Starting afresh with a blank transcript meant that I'd been given the much-desired chance to do 1L over again -- only this time with a clue. I could redeem everything from my Torts grade to the depressing return on my first round of law school applications. I could reinvent myself as a successful law student instead of just a lucky one. I needed that year, to wrestle my demons to the mat once and for all. After such an effort, my third year was a gift.

Maybe it's different if you stay in one place, particularly if it's not a place that ever inspired you to wax rhapsodic. But it doesn't have to be that different. I've got to imagine that it's possible to spend your 2L year working out all the kinks in your 1L performance even if your grades haven't been zeroed out -- and that once you've done so, a year to sit back and savor what you've learned is still more valuable than immediately rushing out to chase dollars and ambulances. We came here to be lawyers, yes, but let's leave the job of insulting the profession to people who aren't members of it.

That's not to say that 3L couldn't be made a lot more practical. People have proposed an apprenticeship-type model, where you spend more of your third year practicing than in class. My clinic effectively made this happen for me, and based on my experience, I wholeheartedly support such a proposal. Even if I didn't worship the judge who supervised my clinic, even if I'd never actually gotten to stand up after a U.S. Attorney and extemporaneously debunk what he'd just said, the practice of drafting and filing motions alone taught me more about actual federal practice than an entire term of Advanced Trial Advocacy. I can see a judicial externship serving this same purpose, or even a term-time placement as a clerk in a law firm. You'd not only practice, you'd network. And ideally, you'd find work, which is still a concern for 3Ls in most of the law schools in the country.

If another year's worth of tuition is truly an unfair burden for grudging third-year students, firms could offer partial tuition fellowships to the kids they hire through the apprenticeship program, or fund clinic stipends, or something of that ilk. Mitigate the opportunity cost of another year spent learning in a controlled environment, if such learning really creates better eventual lawyers. Let the profession kick in some money to fund the third year if it's truly that valuable to the profession. It would seem like a better investment than funding happy hours, at any rate. Because law students will always be quite happy to fund those themselves, without complaint.

thus spake /jca @ 10:56 AM...


final thoughts on: who we claim to be

Every time my dye job starts to grow out for real, I'm reminded of how gray my hair actually is. They spring up from my scalp like angry little white wires, stiffer and wavier than the hair I grew up with. They appear no happier to be there than I am to see them.

Periodically I ponder letting it grow out and just going natural. Maybe I could be one of those women who wears gray well. Or maybe I'd just look funny. Old before my time. When your hair is brown and razor-straight, there's seldom a way to make short grays poking straight up out of your scalp look like they belong there.

So I dye. And I go to the gym, as though that will bring about anything more than a superficial sheen of health over the same slothful flabby core that has always been me. "Your heart rate should NOT be going over 170!!" my husband snaps in alarm. "It's not doing you any good up there!" And yet, after three years of devotion to the elliptical trainer, conventionally-defined Cardiovascular Fitness(tm) eludes me still. "Of course it is," I snap back at him. "You like to pretend that there's some point to this endeavor other than physical pain, but we both know that that's the whole point." I go hiking in California, as Californians are supposed to, and silently curse my escalating pulse. Doesn't it know what state we're in?

I have passed for Californian, as well as I could. I have passed for French in Paris, happily giving directions to the Quai d'Orsay to the Americans who used a phrasebook to ask me where it was. I have passed for a social conservative, declining to share my views on homosexuality and abortion on the floor of my debating Society. I have passed for a full-fledged liberal, helping to found the most far-left journal at my 1L school, appealing the sentences of convicted criminals in my 3L clinic, and otherwise keeping my head down at opportune moments. If you put me in water long enough, I would find a way to pass for a fish.

It gets tiring, taking a turn at being everyone.

But it's amazing. It's so much more fun than just being me, answering to one name only. Nor does it have to put you in the bad place, if you're in control of what's at stake. Imagine seeing the world from the opposite perspective of your own. Imagine the things you learn about people, the stories you collect, when you drop your barriers and are willing to give someone else's existence a try. Imagine walking so many miles in another man's moccasins that they become as comfortable as your own, and then repeating the process with someone else's, until you can slip on any set of shoes you find and still dance.

I love liberals. I love conservatives. I love Californians. I even love French people. I love fat people who eat dessert without shame, thin people who run circles around me on the ellipticals, miserable law students and jubilant ones and the woman whose kid wouldn't quit squealing last night in the Greek diner while my husband went white-knuckled with annoyance. I love people who have survived tremendous awfulness, and people who will never have to. Because I can imagine being all of these people, and being happy.

And not faking it.

thus spake /jca @ 12:49 PM...


final thoughts on: the things we carry


A package came in the mail last week, one which I'd been half hoping would get lost. Immediately after the bar exam, I realized that there was no way in hell that I intended to shlep my stack of bar review books around California until we got home. So I threw them in the mail to myself, bookrate, figuring that by the time they made it back to Boston I'd be over my disgust of them. And here they are, uniformly green and evil-looking, with the even-nastier PMBR Blue Book sticking out like a sore thumb.

They still disgust me, as it turns out.

I sat down with the stack on my living room floor, dumped out the Rubbermaid tub in which I kept the rest of the Barbri books, and sorted through them all together. The multistate ones I knew I'd have to save for my next go-around with the National Council of Bar Examiners in February. But the California ones, ahh, those were destined for eBay immediately. Er, as soon as possible. Er, that is, as soon as I find out that I passed the California bar.

Which might take awhile.

I found myself swearing quietly. I wanted rid of these monsters so badly, but the chance was just too great that I might need them again. There was nothing to be done but pack the books back up -- multistate ones back into the Rubbermaid tub, California ones crammed into the bookrate box. They're still in the living room. Some day soon my husband will ask what they're doing there, and I will have no good answer.


My husband didn't recognize the origin of the message on our answering machine, but I did. "It's the framing shop," I told him as I deleted it. "The diploma's ready."

And was it: maroon-matted in a mahogany frame that still cost less than the crappy ones they were plugging at the university bookstore, monstrosities with the school name in Gothic gold leaf on the mat. The framing-shop guy briefly pulled the completed work out of the padded sleeve to show me, and it was beautiful, warm like a hug. My law degree. I'd had little time to ponder it, between dashing to Boston and bar review and moving house and more bar review. But there it is: the sum of all my efforts. I went to law school, this law school, and now I have a law degree. This one.

With a mite of regret, I realized that it was time to take my final transcript down off of my refrigerator and file it away. The 'script was the only piece of paper I brought home after graduation, since I'd had to give my original diploma back for reprinting. Then it had been talismanic during bar review -- past evidence that I was capable of passing tests on nearly all of the subjects I was bar-cramming. But now it was just an old piece of paper full of numbers, meaningless to anyone outside my law school. And the warmest fuzziest part of it -- the part that read "Degree granted: Doctor of Law, Honors" -- had been supplanted by the real thing.

"Where do you want to hang it?" my husband asked.

"In my office," I told him.

But as a state court clerk, I'm only going to have a cubicle. At least that's what my predecessor had when I came to interview last fall. Even so, for reasons I can't rationally explain, right now I want that piece of paper near me while I work.

Oddly, last night I dreamed that I was working at a law firm and hung the diploma up (unframed, in its leather portfolio, as could only happen in a dream) in an area that turned out to be shared. I got in mild trouble for this, but worse, someone took down the diploma and I couldn't find out where it had gone. I woke up, rolled over, stared at my pillow and thought: things are meaningless. things are stuff. stuff weighs us down when we move. stuff can be replaced.

Perhaps I give it too much credit. This, too, can be replaced.


At 855 square feet, our current apartment is the smallest we've ever shared. (Last summer's temporary abode came close at 810 square feet, but since we left all of our stuff back in our principal residence, it wasn't as problematic.) Accordingly, my husband decided that our routine purging-of-chattels -- which happens whenever we relocate, both before and after the move -- was going to have to cut a lot deeper this time. Specifically, no storage space in our new apartment meant that the stuff we'd previously kept in storage was going to have to go.

"We need to clean out these old boxes of files," my husband concluded.

By "clean out" he meant "shred," and I could hardly object. Of course we were never going to look in the lion's share of these files again. But as we fed page after page into the rotating jaws -- electric bills from 1996, pay stubs from my first real job, records from the first credit card for which I was ever approved -- I started to feel lightheaded. I was bleeding out all the most basic accomplishments of my adulthood: surviving on an entry-level liberal arts major's wage, paying my rent and my bills, building up my credit, paying off my debt. I was hemorrhaging history.

I mourned the several dozen bags of paper-bits we hauled down the hallway to the giant recycling bins, filling one after another with the remains of the last decade. It was true: I was never going to look in those files again. What sense did it make to derive comfort from their existence, then, when it was obvious even without them that my affairs were in order?


It is so easy to confuse object with meaning. Particularly if, like me, your superstitions tend to endow objects with powers independent of their form. There is a danger in investing *too* much meaning in an inanimate object, particularly when the truth it represents does not depend on its existence.

The hardest thing to remember, the most Buddhist thing even, is that the meaning will almost always exist independently of the object. You'll know if you're ever going to open that book again. You'll know if you reached a certain stage in your life without a zillion little pieces of paper, or one big one, to tell you. And you alone can decide how lightly you're going to need to travel through life, how much you can carry.

thus spake /jca @ 5:57 PM...


Vegan Avocado Milkshakes

In your blender, toss in

1/2 super-ripe avocado
1 cup vanilla soy milk
Enough ice cubes to move the liquid level up to the 2-cup mark
A healthy shaking -- maybe a tablespoon or two -- of your favorite sweetener (I like almond-vanilla flavored powdered sugar)

Puree and serve immediately. Makes two coffee-mugsful. We like these for breakfast.

thus spake /jca @ 7:53 AM...


final thoughts on: transferring law schools

In the two years since I transferred schools, the market for doing so has changed. Previously there was little to no real information on the process to be found. DeLoggio had a page of old rumors, the Princeton Review had a few words of nonadvice, and one lone transfer student had recounted her experience on a now-defunct AOL home page. But now, with the advent of incredible resources like the transfer applicants' Yahoogroup, a real supportive community has come into flower for people pondering the lonely road.

This is terrific. But with it has come a level of animosity which, while probably ever-present, I never had the misfortune to encounter when the T-word was a topic avoided in polite company. Now, apparently, no holds are barred: on the boards where our peers' true feelings are laid bare, their distaste for transfer students turns out to be surprisingly sharp. If transfer students can be open about our aspirations and communal progress, so too, it seems, can our newly-acquired colleagues resent us openly because we "essentially coasted at easier schools and yet receive all the benefits the real [top school] students worked so hard to get."

Rumor feeds on anecdote, but there's really very little to say in response to this. You know how hard you worked as a 1L. Employers do too. In reality, the only people who assume that it's easier to do well at a lower-ranked school where jobs are scarce than at a top school flush with recruiters are those law students whose career options have never been an exclusive function of their class rank. And fortunately, they're not the ones making either admissions or hiring decisions.

But there are transfers out there who will probably feel threatened by this, folks who might now worry that the stigma of a resume with two law schools on it (which isn't as bad a stigma as you might think, but isn't trivial, either) is bad enough without having to confront the active resentment of the industry. If your interviewers were newly-minted 2Ls once, and most were, who's to say that they won't also harbor this illwill toward perceived trespassers on their hard-bought prestige?

Fear not. They won't. While the legal profession is a good deal more prestige-driven than serves it well, in this case it doesn't hurt you: if anything, you've probably increased your prestige by transferring, a move for which you are credited. Nor does the fact that you completed 1L at a different school necessarily doom recruiters' opinions of you. Among all my screening, callback, and clerkship interviews, I never once encountered a lawyer who overtly assumed that my prelaw numbers were unworthy of my degree-granting institution. And even if they implicitly felt this way, it didn't influence our conversation. Frankly, it never came up at all. By the time you've made it to 2L recruiting, your prelaw numbers (with the possible exception of topical undergraduate grades) are all but irrelevant.

The toughest industry bias you'll face as a transfer student -- and be relieved, it's not that tough -- is the thinking most recently explained by Alex Wellen in the New York Times. Wellen observes that, like part-time programs for students with low prelaw numbers, admitting "weaker students" as second-year transfers is an easy way for law schools to fill out their classes without affecting their USNWR rankings. As uncharitable as this sounds, though, just keep in mind that if you've successfully transferred, this is a problem you've already solved. A good set of transferworthy 1L grades will instantly dispel any recruiter's fear that you might be "weaker" than your peers (particularly since nobody looks at your prelaw numbers). Moreover, interviewers will often kindly assume that transfer students were at or near the top of the class at their ex-law schools. And even less generous recruiters know that top-flight grades at any law school are not earned by coasting. Don't worry. You'll do fine.

But if you're like me, negative expectancies trouble you more than laughable generalizations about the ease of doing well at lower-ranked schools. You don't want to be a Weaker Student, particularly when this label seems to precede you. So you fight it. After transferring, when most post-1Ls gratefully embrace the license to cool it, I beat myself up workwise long after I should have slowed up. I craved opportunity, yes, but also couldn't shake this itching desire to vindicate myself. Sure, I wanted to earn things like law review because those things would be assets for the rest of my career. But I also wanted them as warding talismans, crosses I could thrust in the face of the insidious vampiric fear of my own Weakness.

I got lucky. With the exception of moot court, I reached every law school milestone that I set for myself. My CV is now exactly what I'd hoped for. But while I was busy chasing all these butterflies, I noticed that most of my peers were not. And they didn't need to be. It's nice to acquire bells and whistles for the ol' resume ("transcript bling," our old registrar used to call it) but, and please take my word for this, you don't have to. You are not a Weaker Student if you choose not to pursue every damn thing you possibly can. Curbing your greed and learning to define your strengths independently of the conventional wisdom are enormously valuable takeaways as well. Debunk the negative expectancy in your own head first.

I'd like to say that these were lessons I learned in law school, but in all honesty, I'm still working on internalizing them. I think I'll always relish chasing butterflies, just because it's fun. But my goal now is simple: to have just as much fun even if I don't catch any.

thus spake /jca @ 1:28 PM...


final thoughts on: the bad place, and how to avoid it

The strangest part of my bar review experience was how anticlimactic it turned out to be. A whole crop of bar bloggers sprang up after graduating, venting and sharing all of the upset and nervous angst that I recalled so well from 1L. I joined the circle and waited for the panic to hit me: I am long familiar with Anxiety Issues, and if so many of my peers were clearly in the bad place, I could hardly expect to be immune.

And yet it never happened.

I never had a single panic attack. Bar review was nothing more than grunge work: weeks and weeks and weeks of horrendously boring exercises in memorization and test-taking. I had a few demoralizing setbacks, and on the whole I'd say that bar review was basically a negative experience, but it never actually became the bad place that I feared it would be -- the place where so many other people, all around me, were truly, madly, and deeply freaking out.

Even the bar exam itself was surprisingly fear-free. It was excruciatingly long and grueling, and the Calbar people should not be forgiven for banning foodstuffs and water bottles from the exam room. But it was not the bad place. At least not for me. I saw people standing up and pacing, watched eyes bug out and lips get chewed, and felt as much surprise as relief: I am so lucky. While my peers and neighbors were having kittens, the biggest downer sentiments I could muster were hunger, exhaustion and boredom. I was bored! Hallelujah, there was truly no fear left!

Compare this to my first year of law school, which has now been retired to the top shelf of the trophy case where the Worst Experiences Of My Life are on display for future reference. In retrospect, 1L should have been boring, at least in part. Based on other folks' 1L stories, a normal person's first year of law school should be entertaining, periodically exciting, a surprising amount of work, stressful at times, periodically dull, and, in sum, just another year of school. It should not be the crucible in which your entire future is forged, where everything depends on everything and the slightest mistake can damn you and oh yes, the outcome is largely beyond your control.

I sympathized with people who felt this way about the bar exam, because I remembered being there. The only difference was that, as so often happens, I happened to be there out of synch with everyone else.

In my defense, I was never one of those self-aggrandizing gunners so disliked by the law school masses. I was an opportunist. My goals were clear: I needed mobility, which meant I needed law credentials with bicoastal street value, which in turn meant that I had to transfer out of my California law school. No matter that it placed brilliantly in California. The state itself had become almost like an abusive parent, gripping my chin and forcing me to look it in the eye while it berated me: Look around you. Look at all the healthy and athletic and blond people who love the summer and are comfortable in flip flops and go hiking for fun. What are *you*? How can *you* claim to belong here? You are so different, so unlike us. A cheap import. An out-of-towner.

On good days, I felt like a spy in my 1L class, a secret foreigner moving with relative ease through a community of full-soul Californians. But on bad days, I felt like a fraud. I worked on a journal where no one would have even been on speaking terms with me had I been forthright about my politics. Many of my friends, and 100% of my professors, would probably have found me equally distasteful had I not kept my worldview to myself. But I needed to do well enough in law school to transfer, and if that meant not only working myself to a pulp but also living on the down low for a year, then I'd do what I had to. I'd go to office hours. I'd walk the talk on exams. I'd pretend to fit in with any group that would have me, because that was my way out.

"Was your school really that awful?" a reader once asked me at our first face-to-face meeting.

"I made it worse," I told him.

This is why 1L was such a bad place: not because my law school wasn't a good school (while I obviously didn't fit in there, the school itself is great, far better than the rankings would have you believe), but because I was a square peg in a round hole, and had to fake it mightily to pass for round. Maybe I could have played it differently -- been an honestly disagreeable bitch instead of struggling to feign agreement with the strange perspectives everyone else seemed to share. But I don't think that would have made me any happier; I'm just the type that prefers subverted disagreement to open conflict. And I did succeed in transferring, so now I suppose it's all water under the bridge anyway.

But all this, on top of the regular 1L stress with which any first-year law student can identify, was what made it such a bad place, and why I still can't look back on it with full objectivity. This was the price of getting to where I am now: in Boston, bearing law credentials with bicoastal street value, exactly as I'd hoped. I've never been happier or more satisfied in my life than I am right now, so it must have been worth it. But I think it'll always hurt to look back and remember how miserable I felt, how frustrated, how powerless, how afraid.

But other good things have come of it too, in addition to my desired outcome. For one thing, I've got religion now, at least comparatively. I no longer feel stalked by the physical superiority of native Californians, even though I do still go to the gym. But most importantly, I've lost my fear. I didn't panic at the bar exam because there was no reason to. Big Life-Changing Things may still upset me, but my definition of those has changed, and less significant things (which most things now are) no longer have the power to send me into night terrors. I have better uses for my excess energy now, and as long as I can control it, it will not be expended on fear.

And for that reason alone, I think the bad place may be a thing of the past.

thus spake /jca @ 9:29 AM...


Summer Pesto

Leaves of 3 stalks basil
1 clove garlic, put through a press
1 handful parsley (curly parsley, not the flatleaf kind)
1 handful pignoli nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Whirl all of these in your food processor. Add olive oil, roughly a quarter cup, until sauce is smooth but not runny.

Toss with pasta and serve at room temperature or cooler. If you can get good summer tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, those are excellent on the side.

thus spake /jca @ 9:13 PM...


final thoughts on: exams and grades

First and foremost, I'm glad they're over. I'm thrilled that I'll never have to take a law school exam again. They are like no other exam I've ever had before, not even the bar. And despite the contrary message that my paper credentials kindly broadcast, I never did quite figure out how they worked.

To this day I cannot explain why I did so poorly in Torts, which I knew fluently, and at the same time aced Contracts, which I did not understand. My preparation for exams at my degree-granting law school, after I'd ostensibly found my groove, was more or less constant -- but my grades were anything but. I did nothing different to learn Con Law IV than I did when studying for Con Law III, but the grades are spread so wide, you could drive a truck between them. I have a dozen similar comparisons. I even got the same grade in Legal Profession, the one class for which I actually did no work, as in Copyright, for which I did quite a lot.

The best I could conclude, after three years of labor unequaled, is that the correlation between work and grades is only sort of random. Every so often you'll get an aberration: a superhigh or superlow grade that's clearly unwarranted. But most of the time, a constant level of work invested will lead to outcomes that usually stay above a certain floor. And the magical flashes of brilliance? Sorry, those I never did manage to reverse engineer. But anyone who tells you that you can get them simply by working hard enough is either lying or unaware of their own talent.

So what the hell is the point? an ordinary person might grouse. Short of dowsing through the law student community in search of those intuitive professors-to-be who just get it without trying, why do we bother with these stupid exams? To those of us who lack the Magical Exam-Grokking Superpowers, they're at best a mechanical recycling of issues already retreaded to death in class, and at worst a politically-motivated exercise in contortionism which compromises either the victim's GPA or personal integrity, take your pick. Either way, it's lose-lose.

Well, yes. And no. Like I said, it's not so difficult to mechanize your process to insulate yourself against nasty surprises. A transcript showing hard work and solid, if not uniformly beatific, performance will still stand you in good stead. I bet it's a lot more fun to approach exams holistically, unrehearsed, relying solely on your intuitive sense of The Law. But by choreographing my exam answers in advance I learned a hell of a lot of law, which some might argue is the point of studying. And my grades did not dip back into shock-and-awful territory after my 1L year, so something must have worked.

Here's what I did. Or, at least, what I meant to do; my investment in the system obviously waned over time, as anyone's would. (Much credit goes to my husband, who schooled me in this way of thinking.)

Mechanically: I did the reading. I never used canned briefs, but *always* got the Gilberts. I did not practice on E&E books or hypos. I hated them, and still do: they always seemed to involve rules that I didn't know, because nobody had friggin' told me what they were. Blessed Gilberts did. Gilberts outlines are the one type of book you'll ever buy in law school that's actually worth what you'll pay for it.

I kept a case briefs database in Microsoft Access, but did not actually write my own briefs. Instead, when a professor would spend class time discussing a case, I'd take notes in the relevant database fields -- issue, rule, analysis, holding -- instead of in my word processor. I'd then fish through my database entries in the "rule" field when making my outline, which was otherwise based on class discussion. (Not to mention other people's outlines, when I could get them. I always made my own, but would never say no to a second opinion.)

From the outline, and with plenty of help from Gilberts, I'd cook the main issues down to either a checklist (for checklisty type classes like crim law or evidence) or a flowchart (for process-oriented questions like civ pro or con law). If there was a relevant statute or set of rules, those would go in a grid of their own. We did not use exam software at my school, which meant that on an open book exam (which most were) you could have a dozen different documents open while you wrote your answers. On any given exam I'd have a basic toolkit of minimized windows: outline, checklist/flowchart, rules grid, case briefs (although these dwindled to nil as 3L wore on), and Gilberts. Also key were lucky charms, lucky clothes, a bottle of water and a Luna bar.

Once the tool chest was full, I'd get a bunch of old exams and A answers -- but I soon stopped trying to write A-level answers myself. I found it more valuable just to outline the answers before even trying the question, at least for the first few. Those wacky intuitive people come up with all sorts of nifty ideas that I know I'd never think of in an exam situation. (I still owe a big chunk of my property grade to the dude who suggested that a constructive trust could be imposed when the adverse possession test fails. Thanks, whoever you are.)

Mentally: My husband's method requires getting under the skin and inside the head of the professor, from which vantage point you can predict how they'll write an exam. Professors are people not so different from us; most of them write exams much like you would in their shoes. They'll emphasize what's important to them. From this perspective, the professors whom you find most politically distasteful in class are giving you a gift: naked agendas make for easily-scripted exam questions, and answers. Any fascination that the professor makes clear in class will likely influence the way they draft the exam. Mark it.

Look to the old exams for this as well. Frequently you'll see themes recurring -- not just the fact that every contracts question involves some sort of breach, but more detailed stuff, like the way your property professor always works in a particular puzzle about joint tenancy or a lease implied in fact. My Corporations professor loved to mine the fact patterns of actual cases -- at a level of detail the casual briefer would miss -- for exam questions. Knowing stuff like this puts you in a much better position to prepare for what's coming. The ability to anticipate blows is just a bit of labor away from the ability to parry them.

Most importantly: you must not fear. fear is the mindkiller. If you spook, there's a real danger that you'll waste all that preparation. But you shouldn't have to spook. You've done this before, over and over in your living room, reviewing old exams and your outline and all the work you did all term long. Just drink some water, breathe, and stay calm. This is stuff you know.

At the same time, don't get carried away. Don't flag an issue and squeal I know this! to yourself and then go soaring off-topic; this will almost certainly lead you to miss other issues. High nerves can derail you just as quickly as plummeting nerves. Stick to your checklist. Follow your choreography. If anxiety has no place on a law exam, neither does euphoria. Never abandon sensibility when they're grading you on it.

Examtaking in this mode feels like a robotic grind, because it is one. By the end of law school you will almost certainly be as sick of it as I was. But it'll get you to the end of law school, most likely in decent form. And then you'll never have to take one of these godawful nightmare things again, never have to touch the briefs database, never have to crack a casebook again for the rest of your long and successful career.

From this end, I can assure you that it feels as good as you're hoping it will.

thus spake /jca @ 2:31 PM...


Well, crap.

I had great plans for August. This blog was going to ride ever so elegantly into the sunset, scattering petals of wisdom in its wake. I would regale all of the readers who had survived the ordeal alongside me with everything it had taught me.

Then Grandpa A. passed on, and after the funeral I was possessed of an urge to reconnect with my own side of the family. I spent a few days in sweltering Allentown, Pennsylvania, where my Poppop is now in assisted living (and my Nana is too, although she doesn't require any assistance; she just prefers to stay with Pop). My mother flew up from Florida and we camped at a Ramada near their place, where we were joined by Mom's two sisters and even one of my cousins. These are people I never see. I spent the time with them rather than trying to get the hotel wifi working. (Ye Olde Blacke Boxe is still kaputt, although a new power cable is on the way, which my husband thinks will resolve the overheating problem.)

From Allentown I drove back up through my ancestral homeland in New Jersey, stopping off by my stepmother to go gymming, outlet shopping (oh, the leather coat I found! the deal I got on it!), and then for a cup of tea with my other remaining grandmother. This one, my stepmother's mother, had recently done me an enormous honor: she donated a whole Sunday's worth of church flowers in honor of her granddaughter's graduation from law school. "JCA follows in her Dad's footsteps," read the worship program. This was not a time to excuse oneself to go blogging. This was a time to steep in one's family like a tea bag in hot water.

I composed a big long blog post in my head on the trip home to Boston, all about family and footsteps and getting older, and the things you learn at funerals and assisted-living establishments and over tea with grandparents. But when I got home, I could barely stay awake long enough to change into my jammies.

And then Movable Type died.

My ISP is a terrific little organization, a handful of guys who were once a consulting client of mine. One of them had emailed me several months back to warn me that my MT install, version 2.64, had some security holes; I should, he suggested, upgrade it promptly. This I never got around to doing. Now, finally, he'd upgraded the entire server, causing MT to freak out. I could no longer read comments. Then I could no longer log in at all. To date, no one is quite sure why. And frankly, it seems sort of silly to spend effort sorting through MT problems when the curtain is still scheduled to fall on this blog in scant few weeks (on or about September 1, to be precise).

So it's back to Blogger for now. I'll find a way to get the archives back up soon, but for now, the Month Looking Backward should resume its regular programming right here. Slightly accelerated, but hopefully intact.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

thus spake /jca @ 8:48 PM...


Test post to make sure that Blogger, unlike my MT install, is still willing to play nice with me.

thus spake /jca @ 5:26 AM...


The Month Looking Backward, which should have been chugging along at full speed by now, has been delayed by a family funeral.

We'll be back before long. In the meantime, the prayerfully inclined are welcome to send a few good words along after my husband's grandfather. His name was Joseph.

thus spake /jca @ 10:10 PM...


final thoughts on: law firm recruiting

Commenter "please (help@me.com)" proposes the following kickoff topic for the Month Looking Backward:

a suggestion for a timely retrospective topic: OCI. some of us Tier 2'ers who did well but chose not to trasnfer have a billion interviews next week, and any advice would be MUCH appreciated!

Congratulations on doing well enough to have a lots of interviews! We aim to please here at Sua Sponte, and are happy to take other retrospective requests as well.

I experienced Oh See Eye at two law schools. First I was a spectator, bemusedly watching the 2Ls a year ahead of me squirm in their black suits. My 1L law school was in California, not a place where people tend to be particularly comfortable in courtwear when there are flip-flops and board shorts to be had. I smiled to myself, finding it all very humorous and hoping that I would never be in such a position. Not that I knew what to hope for instead: a court job, maybe, or something in government. Even so, whether out of sour grapes or just sheer ignorance, working for a law firm was not on my to-do list as a 1L.

A year later I was a participant, freshly transferred to a school way the heck outside of California and awash in euphoric disbelief that my luck had taken such an astounding turn. Suddenly firms wanted to interview me. I couldn't believe how many screening interviews I had. Unlike Please, I did not do that well as a 1L. Or rather, I did fine except for one train wreck grade, which then protruded from my transcript in a way that was hard to ignore. And yet it wasn't held against me. I was amazed.

Here is what I learned. The standard disclaimer applies: your mileage may vary.

Be prepared. Checklist here.

Grades matter much less than you think. Look, all these on-campus interviewers are lawyers. They went to law school too. They know what law exams are like. They probably got a B or two or nine themselves. It's something you have in common, more likely than not. Frankly, a somewhat variegated transcript gives recruiters something to talk about during the interview (which -- put yourself in their shoes -- can get excruciatingly tiresome after eight or nine in a row). "Good job last year, but what happened in Torts?" was a common question in my interviews. In truth, an albatrossy grade -- particularly in isolation -- doesn't have to sink you if you aren't afraid to acknowledge it. Don't try to hide it or project the blame on a bad professor. Admit you screwed up. Then explain why (again, do not redirect fault here; however true, it doesn't play well in interviews). Then explain how you solved all those problems. Recruiters like people who solve problems. Less-than solid grades are much less of a handicap than you might think, so long as you play fair with them. Really, don't worry about your grades.

Your school matters enormously. By this I don't mean the degree of prestige associated with your school (although if you go to Harvard, sure, expect to have offers thrown at you like it's going out of style; if you don't, read on). Rather, I mean the connection your school provides you to your interviewer. Maybe they're an alum, hoping to recruit more alums. Or maybe they just appreciate the school's local reputation. To this day I'm convinced that every job offer I got while in law school -- from my 1L externship, to my two 2L summer offers, to my clerkship -- was due either entirely to my school, or *far* more to my school than my grades. And yes, I'm talking about both schools in that statement. It's not the "whoa" factor, it's the "ah yes" factor. People who went to your school, who understand where you're coming from, who can appreciate everything you've done thus far. I can't overstate the importance of this. Your school is money. Not the name of the school, but the school itself.

Bid deep, not wide. The career services folks who advise you to pick a location or two and concentrate there are correct. Choosing too many cities in your lottery picks may result in some absolutely killer callback trips, and you MUST be alert and awake for your callbacks (I lost a good half dozen offers by being too tired, jetlagged, or otherwise unexciting to the firm in my callbacks). Clustering your firms of choice in one or two cities will make callbacks much much much easier, as well as save time and energy that should be spent on interview prep rather than cross-country plane flights. So pick one or two markets where you'd like to work, and then go deep -- larger firms, smaller firms, lifestyle firms, branch offices of firms headquartered elsewhere. Span the market. Once you've decided where you want to be, try to meet with firms at every level in that market. And don't just take the callbacks with the ones that pay big bucks. Talk to them all. Remember the old Sua Sponte mantra -- not giving it a shot is the same as a rejection, ex ante.

On your callback:

  • Be awake, awake, awake! Get as much sleep the night before as you can. Or else ingest lots of coffee, soda, No-Doz, Jolt, whatever works for you. This was my single worst mistake. I would routinely fly home to California for callbacks (Oh See Eye happened very soon after my transfer decision, so we hadn't moved yet) and spend more time taking part in my husband's packing frenzy than I would resting up and preparing for the interview. DUMB plan. DUMB DUMB DUMB. Don't waste a single callback on sleep deprivation, sore muscles or other distractions. Stay focused!

  • Connect with the recruiter. Yes, it's nice to have a vibe with the handful of folks with whom you'll interview on-site. But I lost at least one, and possibly two, offers by not making an effort to track down and thank the one person who had interviewed me on campus for flying me out. Even if you're hosed all throughout the interview and don't get a chance to see the recruiter in person, remember their name and bring it along in your mind. If they don't show up to say hi during your rotation, ask after them with at least two of your interviewers. And if they do pop in at some point, remember their name -- I repeat, remember their name, no matter how little else you remember about them from your screening interview -- and be sure to thank them BY NAME. I'm not sure I can overemphasize how embarrassing it can be if you miss this one. *blushes*

  • Etiquette! Make eye contact. Do not pick crap off the soles of your shoes, fuss with your suit, look at the stuff on their desk (unless there are family pictures or something appropriate to discuss), or chew gum. If you're nervous that your breath needs a boost, eat a Listerine or Altoids Strip in between sessions. Accept water or coffee when they offer it to you; don't let your throat go dry or your energy flag. Answer the questions you're asked. Ask appropriate questions when they give you a chance. NEVER talk politics, religion, or any of the other subjects that would be taboo at a nice dinner party. And if you're wearing red knickers, make sure your thong isn't showing or your fly is zipped (as applicable).

  • At lunch, do not order rich or sloppy food. Even if your lunchmates do. In fact, avoid any red sauces, uber-creamy things or meat with bones. If you're actually a vegetarian, more power to you, but keep it on the DL if the firm proposes to take you to one of those mahogany paneled old-money steakhouses for lunch. They usually serve pasta, and may even have nice veggie entrees. Order yours without any "hey I'm veg" fanfare; it doesn't tend to play well at steakhouses, and your callback is all about playing well. Only eat as much as you want. Let your companions suggest dessert; sharing it is only wise if it's a cheese tray or something else in small bits where your forks are not likely to cross tines. DO NOT drink alcohol at lunch.

Dealing with dings: Laugh. Wipe your feet. And move on. The world is full of law firms. You have plenty of time to collect all one of the offers you're going to need to guarantee yourself employment. And even the perfect firm may either not be as perfect as it seems, or may change in a way that affects your practice group of choice. For that matter, even if they remain perfect, they may prefer to hire you a few years from now. Hang in there.

Collecting expenses after the ding: You are still entitled to your travel costs -- airfare, hotel, ground transport, meal allowance. Just be civil about requesting reimbursement. Grab a bunch of copies of the NALP form from Career Services, save all your receipts (even for public transit tokens!), and send 'em off with a nice letter. My boilerplate text was simple:

"Thank you once again for facilitating my callback interview with[firm] on [date]. I had a positive experience meeting [list of people] at your office, and while I was disappointed to learn that I did not receive an offer for summer 2004 employment, I nonetheless appreciated the opportunity to visit and get to know your firm. Perhaps in the future we may work closely together.

Attached please find an accounting of the travel expenses I incurred in my visit to [firm's] [location] office, detailed on the NALP standard expense form. Copies of all receipts accompany this form. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or for any additional information."

Sure, one firm sent my check to "Jennifer A.," and my name is not Jennifer. But since they'd already dinged me, I could have cared less.

Choosing between offers: May you be so lucky. Once you are, it is perfectly OK to ask firms to fly you back out to meet with more people and further distinguish among your options. It's also perfectly OK for them to stalk you. Don't blow off people who call you every few days to see if you're still entertaining their offer; if you are, return their calls. If not, thank them and politely decline. Make sure you do this in writing even if you've already spoken to the person or left an operative voicemail. Acceptances should also be in writing, even if they made you the offer on the spot. If you can find a way to split your summer, you're golden. I could not manage the logistics of a bicoastal split, a failure I still regret.

No regrets. Let go of bad interviews, verbal faux pas, and any other embarrassing bloopers you may have made during Oh See Eye. Trust me: reputations are made during the summer, not during the interview process. If you blew your callback due to lack of sleep and lost the offer, move on and be awake to get the next offer. Don't let a track record of dings influence your sense of your own value proposition. Most people in the industry do not get jobs through 2L Oh See Eye; you will not be any less of a lawyer if you don't either. So long as firms are hiring, there will be interviews to be had, even if the time of Oh See Eye has passed.

thus spake /jca @ 7:29 PM...


Today my husband went to the university bookstore and spent our entire stash of Barnes & Noble gift cards, and then some, on a small pair of textbooks. Not wishing to be outdone, I marched off to the mall and spent somewhat less than our entire stash of Borders gift cards on six new novels.

Six new novels.

I haven't been able to read for pleasure in, like, forever. But these look so promising: a half dozen volumes of the immersive-yet-fluffy historical fiction that doesn't feel like I'm wasting my time reading it. Two are set in feudal Japan, one in Imperial China, two in the British Isles and one in the ancient Middle East. I'm sitting here enjoying an IPA and more hot sauce than I even have chips to scoop up (had to switch to Trader Joe's soy pita bread), deciding which book to taste first, luxuriating in a degree of freedom that I haven't experienced in recent memory. I have six books that I can read whenever I feel like it. Now, even.

Life after law school is rich like oil.

One of the Borders gift cards was a souvenir from a public-interest auction event last spring. Back in May when I could least afford it, my husband and I joined LawFairy and a bunch of friends for a fine dinner and blackjack at the home of a nearby professor. Her husband, a partner at a big firm a few blocks from our apartment, served as dealer. Her eleven-year-old daughter teased both parents mercilessly. A grand time, and a great deal of alcohol, was had by all. (Except the eleven-year-old.)

I confess without shame that I have no skill at games of strategy. Yet somehow, even after many glasses of excellent wine, I managed out of nowhere to smoke the whole table at blackjack, with a pile of chips at the end of the evening at least a third larger than that of any of my friends. (My husband, who is far better at things strategic than I, came close to my haul -- but I beat him, too.) The prize was this gift card.

"What a fun evening that was," I remarked to my husband as we strolled home from the mall. (Our apartment is within walking distance of a mall, a Jersey girl's dream come true.)

"Yeah," said he, although I think he's still a bit peeved that I convinced him to give the runner-up prize (another Borders gift card) to the friend who had the next-best haul.

"Watch out for me, I'm a sleeper," I bragged. "Look all clueless, fake everyone out, and then sneak up on everyone when they least expect it."

"Bah," my husband replied, "you got lucky. Or rather, the dealer got unlucky, repeatedly, and you bet high the most consistently."

"The best gamblers are the ones who have nothing to lose," I said. "Just like on the California bar exam."

"The best gamblers are the ones who obsessively count every card and know the game inside and out," he countered.

This explains a lot about why he is where he is, right now. And why I am.

thus spake /jca @ 5:13 PM...


Several days later and the car has been sold, the wills have been executed, lunch has been had with the financial adviser, various (but not enough) friends have been caught-up-with, Mendocino was as magical as ever, the flight home to Boston was painfully crowded, and now California is another line item on the list of places where we used to live.

Also, Ye Olde Blacke Boxe still doesn't work.

"Aren't you glad you didn't bring that machine to the bar exam," teased my husband, as I retreated into the study to boot up our desktop computer.

"I would've died."

"You would've handwritten."

"I couldn't have finished the exam by hand in the time we were given." This is true. If they make us handwrite the Massachusetts bar, I may well not pass.

I may well have not passed California either, for all my gut is telling me; but apparently this feeling is universal. "Out of all those multiple choice questions," my uncle told me of his own California bar experience two decades ago, "I walked out of there uncertain that I'd gotten a single one right." I'd put my money on about half a dozen of mine, but out of 200, that's still cold comfort. "If I fail this test," said the girlfriend of a former summer colleague of mine, "it'll be because the multiple choice kicked my ass." It kicked mine, too.

All told, though, I feel like an enormous crybaby when people ask me how the bar went and I tell them "It was awful!" On one hand, it was three long days of hard work prefaced by two months of repulsive drudgery. It was no fun at all. It's probably fair to call it awful; in retrospect I can confirm that the whole process was without any redeeming qualities, unlike even the worst parts of law school.

But was the California bar exam really that awful? I can see how it could have been, if you went in there under pressure. Plenty of people around me did. But for the first time in my entire law school career, I found myself sitting for an exam with absolutely no stake in the outcome at all. No pressure, just labor, just three days of intellectual grunge. If I passed, good, then I'd never have to take it again. But if I failed? I'd try again next summer, with plenty of time still left before my California firm would expect me back. And it would be a pain in the ass, but not enough to make me afraid to fail. The truly awful part of law school, the obstacle course where you had everything to prove and only one shot at doing so, is over, and I beat that game fair and square. How awful was this exam in comparison? Only as bad as any test can be when you have unlimited opportunities to try again with impunity.

And it's not like I'm going to be avoiding bar exams for the foreseeable future, anyway. Massachusetts is apparently a Wednesday-Thursday exam, so now I'm pondering squeezing a third jurisdiction into the Tuesday-Wednesday slot come February. CA and MA are our Most Likely Outcomes as far as eventual domicile, but increased mobility is only ever a good thing. Who knows that some day we might not want to try living in New York, or Texas, or Florida? What's the harm in trying? If I fail, I fail. If I pass, that's one more option that will remain open to us.

See how quickly the focus disappears once the girl gets a J.D. in hand? For the past three years, I had all the clarity and drive and direction I could ask for. Now, everything seems so misty, so fluffy. Anything can happen next. A few months back, over lunch with Sherry and Jeremy, I rhapsodized about how crossing so many ancient items off the to-do list -- finishing school, finally returning to Boston so my husband could do likewise -- would leave me free to redefine my life, completely, from scratch. The reality of everything ending feels a bit less rhapsodic and a bit more like huh, now what?

But the accomplishment of longstanding goals is as sweet as I'd hoped. No longer do I need to plan my days and hours around the goal of acquiring a portable trade or finding a way back East. I've done that. I've shed all the major constraints on my life to date, and whatever comes next is as wide open as the sky.

Sadly, though, the end of the story augurs the end of this blog. Within a month, I'll be clerking for a judge who disapproves of such excesses as Sua Sponte. But this is a prior restraint I don't mind accommodating, since there's really not much left of the story to tell. This is what law school was like. This is what transferring was like. This is what writing on to law review, working in a clinic, attempting moot court, summering at a California law firm, and thrashing through the California bar were like. Don't take my word for it; your mileage may vary. But for me, this is how it was.

For the next month I'll be doing a bit of a retrospective. I've been loath to give advice while still inside the belly of the beast -- invariably, too much remained that could still go wrong and make a liar out of me. Other people felt differently, and that was their prerogative, but it made me wince to read the tips of people who hadn't yet beaten the game. That's not to say their advice isn't good; the lion's share of it is. (Nor do I mean to imply that you should favor my advice over anyone else's. Please don't. What works for me probably wouldn't work for most.) But I know I barely trusted the perspective of anyone in the same boat as me. My best advicegivers had all graduated already. I did not feel qualified to offer such counsel until I had, as well.

Now, finally, I've seen the law school odyssey through to its natural conclusion. I'm a lot more comfortable reflecting on everything that did happen, now that there's no further danger that some unforeseen calamity might obliterate all the ground I gained in law school. I can't tell you anything other than what I've learned, but that, at least, I'm happy to share.

thus spake /jca @ 5:20 PM...

more final thoughts...

sua sponte
transferring law schools
on the moblog
the short list
otherwise of note
recurring themes
fellow travelers
other blawgs