Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Zenterview - 1L Experience at UofL Brandeis School of Law

Our first follow-up Zenterview is with a fan of Zen of 180 who just finished her 1L at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.

EF spent two years after her undergraduate studies working and applying to medical schools; although she interviewed with several top programs, she decided instead to drop medicine and turn to law school.

She was accepted to 10 out of the 11 law schools she applied to, and received full scholarship offers from most of those schools. Her 1L summer follow-up interview is the first in a series we'll conduct with our previous Zenterviewees, each of whom were exceedingly successful but chose to attend very different schools.

What one thing do you wish that someone had told you about at the beginning of your first semester, but didn't?
The one thing I wish someone had warned be about is that law school throws a certain percentage of people back into high-school mode. Being confined in the same building with the same limited number of people seems to regress people back into high school, and when they regress they tend to want to re-live the types of drama present in high school. It's somewhat disconcerting given that these people are in their early-to-mid-twenties at the earliest. I hear that gets better second year though.

The one thing everyone told me and I wished I had listened was that it's do-able. Yes it's stressful, yes it's a lot of work, but if you put in the work, study, etc., it's all OK. I heard that a lot but still worried and wasted time and energy worrying when really I shouldn't have.
How was the transition from the working world back into academia, and law classes specifically?
The transition was aided by taking the summer off, no doubt. It would have been much harder if I had left work the week before orientation. Having the summer off let me ease out of work-mode into neutral which made it easier to shift back into school-mode. The hardest part without a doubt is the lack of paycheck. It's not even that I'm particularly hurting for money; it's a psychological issue. The paycheck is affirmation that I'm doing something, that I'm working. That wasn't as big a deal after I got my grades; they seem to substitute pretty well. Transitioning to law classes specifically presented pros and cons. On the bright side, law school is more like work than undergrad was, so that mind set is a bit more similar between work and law school. On the downside, I had never done anything with law before and going from something I knew well to something I knew nothing about was somewhat difficult.
How would you compare and contrast undergraduate courses to law courses?
I'm not sure there's much comparing to be done; there's far more contrast. Typically in undergraduate classes, roll is taken and counts for some percentage of the grade. In law school, roll is taken and if you are absent more than a certain number of times you are dropped from the class. There is no reward other than the status quo for appearing in class. 

In undergrad, the majority of classes could be passed relatively easily with next to no attendance. If a person doesn't attend class in law school, they are not going to pass. Period. 

In undergrad, they give you assignments, quizzes, homework, etc which is designed to supplement the motivation to study and work. In law school, there is one massive test at the end of the semester, and that it is. They aren't interested in grading anything else, and they aren't interested in forcing you to be interested. It is all pure self-motivation. 

Also, it is vital in law school that the text be read and understood. Simply reading the text once and getting a superficial sense of the material is as worthless as having not read at all. In undergrad, that normally could get a person through the class. 

Last, the professors address you even more as adults and autonomous individuals than even in undergrad. In undergrad, there is usually still that, "I need to teach these kids something" current. In law school, the undercurrent is more, "I need to teach these competent adults how to think as required for their profession."
What do you think about your school's grading system?
First, it pays to point out that unlike most law schools, including the Ivy League, the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law does not believe in grade inflation. The average GPA at the law school tends to run 2.8 or so. This upsets a decent percentage of incoming students who were not warned. The surrounding schools in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana have grade inflation, so the majority of their students end up with a 3.3 - 3.5 GPA, and ours end up with a significantly lower GPA. 

How this translates for students is that rankings become our ray of hope to compete with students from the surrounding areas. A 3.5 may make a person 40/130 at the University of Kentucky, but that would make someone at the University of Louisville probably in the top 10 of the class, certainly the top 15. 

I don't mind the grading system personally because I think it's a more accurate reflection of the amount of effort a student puts in, but I understand why some of my classmates get frustrated with the lack of grade inflation. The point system used is the standard point system, with which I have no problems.
What extracurriculars did you take part in during your first year?
U of L is not big in letting 1Ls participate in much. I did participate in the First Year Moot Court Legal Skills program, the Women's Law Caucus, and the Lambda Law Caucus. I had the opportunity to participate in a 1L oral advocacy competition, but I decided that it was too close to finals for me to spend the time on that. Most of what I did my second semester was apply for extracurriculars available staring the 2L year.
How did your first semester compare to your second semester?
First semester was scary, second semester was hard. The first semester I was nervous, unsure, and petrified of failure. After I got my grades, I realized that I could do this and it wasn't scary anymore. 

However, second semester U of L adds a 5th doctrinal course, which is brutal. Just brutal. Essentially what the law school does is put a one-hour half-semester class in the first semester (Legal Research) and replace it second semester with a three-hour full-semester heavy-reading class (Criminal Law). That was a very hard adjustment for a lot of people. That worked in my favor though because I geared up so much for having this extra course and having to work that much harder and that much more that I actually ended up getting significantly better grades my second semester than my first. 

As far as work/life balance, that remained the same between the semester. Sunday - Friday was work, essentially non-stop. Saturday was day of rest. I'm not a particularly social person, so that kind of schedule suits me, but a lot of my contemporaries had adjustment issues with their partying and bar-hopping schedules, especially once second semester and its added work came along.
What did you do during your winter break?
U of L requires that law students complete 30 hours of volunteer work in the legal community in order to graduate. That seems like the stupidest reason to not graduate on time: "I forgot to do my volunteer hours." I decided I wanted to get those over with as soon as possible. With that in mind, I went down to Hardin County over winter break and volunteered with the Elizabethtown branch of the Department of Public Advocacy. I went to court, and researched several different issues for my supervisor, Mr. McCrary. That worked out well because I also got to spend my free time with my family.
What are you doing this summer?
This summer I am working as a law clerk with the Hardin County Circuit and Family Court judges. I watch a lot of court proceedings, mostly because they are fascinating. At the moment, I'm writing my fourth memo for one of our judges. Also, the Kentucky law on domestic violence orders is changing pretty drastically starting July 1, so I'm going through the not-yet-enacted bill and writing up a memo for our Family Court judges on how that will affect what they can and can't do.
How did you secure the position?
This position is actually through an independent study with my Civil Procedure professor, Professor Abramson. The independent study awards 2 hours of credit in return for clerking for a judge of general jurisdiction. I decided to take this opportunity in Hardin County rather than Jefferson County (where the law school is located), because I have strong ties to Hardin County, and it would allow my classmates who are originally from other areas a greater opportunity to work with Jefferson County judges. I simply emailed Judge Howard, who is the Chief Circuit Court judge, my resume, a letter explaining the independent study, and a copy of the information sheet given to the students by Professor Abramson. He agreed to have me for the summer, and here I am.
What are you excited about when you return as a 2L?
I am all kinds of excited about starting my 2L year! I made Law Review, and I'm eager to start editing for it and working on my note. I'm also on the Moot Court Board; I'd really like to help with the 1L oral arguments and/or facilitate the Health Law Moot Court competition through that. I'm also now the secretary of the Lambda Law Caucus, and we have some exciting ideas for how to fund-raise and recruit LGBTQ students. 

I'm trying out for the Health Law Moot Court competition, but if I don't make the team I will be perfectly content to help facilitate it. I'm thrilled that I got into Evidence; I think that's an extremely important class and I wanted to take it as soon as possible. I'm also excited that I get to take another class with Professor Abramson. I'm signed up for a seminar with my Criminal Law/Constitutional Law professor called Sexual Orientation and the Law. 

Unfortunately, if I get onto the Health Law Moot Court team, that will put me over the allowed amount of hours and I would have to drop the seminar. We'll just have to wait and see!

11) Has your career trajectory changed or been clarified?

I'm even more sure that I do not want to do Criminal Law. It is the furthest thing from fun as far as I'm concerned. Other than that, my career trajectory hasn't really been affected.