Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why Law School Grades Shouldn't Matter

Let's get one thing straight...yes, yes I know, this blog isn't exactly a bastion of all thing straight...moving on...

Let's get one thing straight: law school grades don't tell you how much a person knows about a subject or how well he or she is going to perform as an attorney. They might tell you if the student has had the professor before, if he or she got enough sleep the night of the final, if the person's culture or learning style was that of the dominant law school culture or maybe how much adderall the student had access to. But grades don't tell you anything meaningful about a student's (or job applicant's) capabilities.

In 2009 Berkeley Law Professor Marj Shultz conducted research for the Law School Admissions Council on the attributes that are correlated with success as an attorney. You can view the study here. She found the following contributed to effective lawyering performance:

- Analysis and reasoning
- Creativity/innovation
- Problem solving
- Practical Judgement
- Researching the law
- Fact fining
- Questioning and interviewing
- Influence and advocating
- Writing, Speaking, and Listening Skills
- Strategic planning
- Ability to Organize and manage one's own work
- Organizing and managing others
- Negotiation skills
- Ability to see the world through other's eyes
- Networking and business development
- Providing advice and counsel and building relationships
- Developing relationships with the legal profession
- Able to evaluate, develop, and mentor others
- Passion and engagement
- Diligence
- Integrity/honesty
- Stress management
- Community involvement and service
- Self-development

Notice what's missing? Grades and LSAT scores are no were to be found. Why? Because they aren't good predictors of success in the legal profession. So why do we cling to these standards with such ferocity?

Most interesting (to me at least) is that LSAT scores and law school grades show considerable race gaps. Many of these other factors don't. So, if a person's LSAT and GPA aren't good predictors of success and they disadvantage people of color...why are we so slow to abandon our faith in them?

I recently asked this question of recruiters at top national firms. Let me say, the conversation was depressing...and deserves its own blog post...stay tuned.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Coping with the Horrible Legal Employment Statistics

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that there are no shortage of terrible statistics about the lack of legal employment prospects for new grads (For a sampling check out NALP, VAULT, The Huffington Post and the ABA Journal). There is also a growing movement to "expose the law school scam" (see Lawyers Against the Law School Scam, The Jobless Juris Doctor, Temporary Attorney, or But I did Everything Right! to name a few) .

Admittedly some of the Exposing blogs come off pretty biased and bitter...but where there's smoke there's often fire and I think every law school applicant or entering 1L should look at all the data (good and bad) before signing up for over $100k of debt.

But my current question is: how do you deal with all the negativity if you're already...say... 2/3 of the way done? Me, I've adopted the head in the sand approach. I wont read the blogs, I wont think about it, I'll call those people bitter and something will work out.

I'm not going to have the $150k of dept, but I'm going to have more than I'm comfortable with....and I'm definitely not going to land the Big Law job (not that I want it). So sometimes I freak out. I wonder what advise I'll give in 5 years. Even if law school is a good cultural fit for you, I wonder if I'd advise public interest-minded people to take on the debt. From this vantage point I do wonder if I could have had a similar social impact without the JD (and the debt) or if the letters behind my name will truly help me. Will the magical loan repayment programs work out for me? Or will I have to eat ramen noodles until I'm 45?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Gender Binary, Bar Application, and Forced Dishonesty

I am currently working on a proposal to the board of bar examiners to make the bar application more inclusive for trans folk. Here's what I've learned so far.

No one is talking about this. It's shocking really. It almost never makes sense to reinvent the wheel so I started by contacting my local and national GLBT bar associations. The national GLBT bar association told me that I was the first one to inquire about the issue. Really!?

This leads me to believe that trans-identified people just have bigger battles to fight. Trans folks are over represented among homeless people, people living in poverty and people in prison. I can understand why.

This is where allies come in. If you're not a law student/lawyer or haven't taken a legal responsibility class you may not know the fear of god put into law students who are applying to the bar. Lying, even if you don't know you're lying can be grounds to stop you from being admitted (you know, after you've paid over $150k for your education). For example, the application asks for every place you've lived since you were 18 or every place you've live in the last 10 years...forgot that summer sublet in college? Welcome to liar's ville. Now imagine that this application asks for your gender and demands that you tell the truth, but doesn't make the truthful option one that you can select. What are your options? Well, if you're too busy just fighting for the right to use a restroom comfortably, you probably don't have time to do with this. Enter allies...hopefully.

"Gender: _________" would be better than "Gender: Male Female." The medical profession and colleges/universities seem to be slowly moving away from the gender binary. Curiously, the legal profession seems to show no signs of movement (although HRC and The Sylvia Rivera Project do have some helpful recourses). I feel like the only way to be truly inclusive is to let people self identify the gender identification they feel comfortable with.

Bar examiners love them some excuses. So far we've heard that they don't want to have an open field for gender because it's hard to code for data tracking (even though the form is not a scantron and currently has to be hand entered). They don't want to have an "other" category because it's insensitive (even though they have an "other" category for race). They don't want to have seven options for gender because it might confuse/offend people (What!? Who? Not to mention there are a whole class of people who are being offended by the imposed gender binary that currently exists...why is it that the [ignorant] dominant culture is the one who has the right to not be "confused" or "offended"?).

Is your law school, bar application, or firm more inclusive than the ones I'm experiencing? If so feel free to send recourses my way!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Working During Law School (or How Riding a Bike is like Meditating)

Happy Monday everyone!

Hope you had a good weekend, I did. I went home from the office pretty frazzled on Friday so it was nice to spend the weekend relaxing...people watching on a walking mall, bike ride to Ben & Jerry's, (small) African American Arts festival. It was nice.

And it gave me some cool down time from work. Why was I frazzled you ask, well, I'll tell you.

I attended a rather expensive private liberal arts college for undergrad and I'm currently at a rather expensive (is there any other kind?) private law school. In both situations I've had a really had time being ok with the fact that other people (students, faculty, staff...) assume that you have enough money to finance this education and not work. I realize that this is my own -ish but it continues to be frustrating.

It's not that I inherently mind that I have less money than most of my peers...it's that they refuse to understand. In undergrad I was regularly penalized for not attending out of class meetings ("optional" review sessions with the professor, unscheduled labs, etc) that were scheduled with less than 24 hours notice. Most people at my undergrad didn't work. In fact, I was the only person I knew who worked off campus. The thing was...if I wanted to eat, I had to get a job for more than 10 hours at the library. So I held 2 on campus jobs and a 30 hour a week retail gig. As long as I had a week's notice I could move my schedule to accommodate almost anything...but 24 hours was not going to cut it. And I don't think that's unreasonable. I often found myself angry, not that I had to work, but that people wouldn't make reasonable scheduling accommodations. It was as if my (perfectly reasonable) economic situation was inconveniencing them.

Fast forward 5 years...and here I am in the same situation.

I want to work at a non-profit which means my income is going to be modest for the next few years and I'm not really willing to mortgage my income for the next 50 years to finish this degree. If I don't want to take out some astronomical debt I need to work.

Most my friends in law school get support from family. Parents pay rent, buy condos, pay tuition, cover health insurance, or send a monthly check. As much as my parents might like to do those things...they can't. That's not a bad thing, it's just reality and I get really uncomfortable when my peers fault me for working.

I was told not to work during my first year...I did it anyway...and my grades were crappy. But I don't think the grades were a result of working. They were a result of hating law school and feeling really unwelcome in the culture. I worked more my second year...and my grades got better.

So when my boss told me she thought I'd be "crazy" to work 30 hours a week during the fall (and hence she wouldn't give me the hours; therefore, I should probably start the job hunt) it was hard to hear. I'm not crazy...I'm just not rich. Yes, it would be stressful and there would probably be some ugly moments...but how else does she think I've paid for life thus far?

I have a pretty strong emotional response to all of this and I think some part of that comes from feeling like an "other." I'm reminded that I'm not part of this culture every time I have to explain that I can/have/will work to a colleague, prof., or supervisor. I'm reminded that I'm way outside of my SES...people in this world expect you to be able to come up with $53k a year without working.

It's not that I'm ashamed of working. I take a lot of pride in what I was able to accomplish in undergrad and I know I'll feel the same way about law school. In the meantime, the teachable moments continue and I will just feel blessed for the strength this process allows me to acquire.
And, you know, job hunt.

Ah, clarity. Maybe I should ride my bike to Ben & Jerry's more often.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Because this blog wasn't gay enough

Yay for the DOMA decision!

Yesterday, Judge Joseph L. Tauro of United States District Court in Boston found for the plaintiffs in two separate cases brought by the Massachusetts state attorney general and GLAD. When I originally read the headlines I had hoped that the decision would relate to the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that says that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states...sadly it doesn't. What it does do (which is still pretty awesome) is make same-sex couples in states where marriage is legal eligible for federal benefits that are currently only available to opposite-sex married couples.

According to Judge Tauro, "This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status." He goes onto say, "the federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state." Woot! Way to go Judge T.

The Department of Justice has 60 days to appeal the decision which GLAD "fully expects" them to do. In the meantime, it's a victory!


ACS Blog - Marriage Equality Victory: Federal Judge Rules DOMA Violates Constitution
GLAD Pres Release - Federal Court Strikes Down DOMA Section 3
NY Times - Judge Topples U.S. Rejection of Gay Unions
Con Law Prof Blog - DOMA Unconstitutional: Massachusetts Federal District Judge Finds Section 3 of Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - What we're reading: DOMA Edition
Judge Tauro's Ruling

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ask "Anything" Panel

I'm very involved at my law school. I'm on the board of multiple student organizations, I facilitate diversity workshops, and I see myself as a resource for other students. So when the email from administration came out asking for volunteers for this year's orientation "Ask Anything" panel I responded that I'd be happy to participate if they still needed volunteers. Today I received this email:

Good Afternoon-

Thank you for volunteering to be part of an Ask Anything Panel during orientation. The five of you will be the panel for Section Two which will take place [date & time in Room 100]. Please come to Student Affairs that day prior to the panel to pick up your t-shirt and name tag. Please be in the room promptly at 2:30.

All of you probably remember this panel from when you went through orientation. You will start by introducing yourself, letting them know what year you are and what you are involved with and then open it up for questions. I urge you to be positive, orientation is not the time to get down on law school and scare them away. If anything inappropriate is said you will be pulled from the panel by a staff member. [Bold added by Reconstructing Law School for emphasis]

So please get back to me and let me know if you are still available and willing to sit on the panel, and also your t-shirt size. T-shirts are first come first serve so get back to me fast. Thanks all!

[Student Affairs Person]

Apparently the "anything" in "Ask Anything" is a relative term. I'm not suggesting that an orientation panel is the appropriate place to air one's dirty laundry but that was a pretty forceful email. The scary part about this thinly veiled censorship is that one person's truth might be another institution's "inappropriate" comment. If I say something "inappropriate" (whatever that means) do you think they'll employ force?

I wonder is they let the incoming 1Ls know that they are attending a panel whose members have been muted? Advise to 1Ls: get the email addresses of your orientation leaders, you might get more honest answers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is The Daily Show Sexist?

Jezebel reporter Irin Carmon recently published a piece on the lack of gender diversity on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The article opens with the announcement, "The Daily Show is many things: progressive darling, alleged news source for America's youth, righteous media critique, And it's also a boys' club where women's contributions are often ignored and dismissed." The article goes on to report that in the past seven years only one woman has been considered as an on-air correspondent. This year there have been 63 male guests but only 13 female guests.

The Washington City Paper did a great follow up to the Jezebel piece theorizing what exactly is going on over at The Daily Show. I recommend checking out the article because my recap isn't going to do it justice. The Washington City Paper concludes that:
Stewart is not (a) a tyrannical sexist, but he does fail to take into
account (b) societal forces and (c) ingrained prejudices when making hires and
booking guests. He and his show operate in a culture that values men over women,
both as comedians (his staff) and people (his guests). And he—according
to every woman on his staff—believes that by hiring and booking the people
(men) who reliably rise to the top in this sexist system, he’s making decisions
based on merit—and nothing else. Attempting to counteract the ingrained sexism
of comedy by deliberately seeking out women performers and writers would “risk
compromising his show’s quality.”
Here’s an easy rule for any manager to live by: If you haven’t considered
the societal forces and ingrained prejudices that may contribute to gender
disparities in your hiring practices, your hiring practices are probably sexist.
And if you respond to suggestions that your hiring practices may be sexist with
a letter signed by all the women on your staff dismissing these claims out of
hand, then your hiring practices are almost certainly sexist. That, or men are
just better than women.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

This all reminds me of Beverly Tatum's analogy between racism and airport-style moving sidewalks. We're all on the sidewalk. People who are overtly sexist are consciously walking along (faster than) the sidewalk. The rest of us who are standing still are being moved toward the same destination as the overt sexist even though we are not necessarily conscious of our unintended destination. To be actively anti-sexist (or anti-any system of oppression) requires on to not only turn around on the sidewalk but also to start walking in the opposite direction, bumping into people and up-setting the usual way of things.

I hope Jon Steward, media outlets and American institutions in general (ahem, law school) begin to think more about what walking in the other direction might look like.

Oh, and The Daily Show's response can be found here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Advice for 1Ls

I remember the summer before I started law school, it felt like suddenly everyone I knew had an opinion or word of advice about law school. And yet...I still felt like there were things the universe forgot to tell me. Here they are.

You are great just the way you are.
There's this huge push for assimilation in law school. One of the biggest blows to my sense of self came during my first semester of law school when a career development person told me to take all my identity-marking experience off my resume (women's center, Feminist Majority Foundation, GLBT equality work). I was so lost at the time I almost did it. I'm so glad I didn't, if an employer doesn't want someone who's progressive, biracial, and a little gay then I shouldn't want to work there.

It's OK to talk (or not talk) in class.
I have no problem talking about equal rights or sexuality or a host of other topics to large groups of strangers when I'm in my role of activist or diversity trainer. But get me in a 1L seminar...and I'm silent. I spent much of my 1L year thinking that professors were asking about facts. Objective truths about the law. The thing is, objective truth doesn't exist in the law. As a 1L you know as much as the gunner next to you. Don't be intimidated, if you have something to say, say it. If you're introverted and don't want to speak that's ok too. Just realize that the law school system isn't set up to appreciate introverts and you might have to remind yourself that it's them not you (see above).

There are really cool people (some of them professors).
You just have to be on the look out. And don't be afraid to stop by office hours, even if the prof doesn't turn out to be your bff it can't hurt for them to know that you're interested in them/their class. This is especially true if you're the kind of person who doesn't adore speaking in a class of 70.

Don't freak out when you can't find the brown people.
Um, because I totally freaked out. The legal field is one of the least diverse profession in the United States. We're doing work to improve on this but for now the reality is that if you're a person of color you might have some trouble finding folks who look like you. The good news is, once you find (the 6 of) us we'll be a great support system.

Buy the E&E!!
Why it took me so long to figure this one out I have no idea. Case books are just that...case books. What they are not are text books. If you're having trouble seeing the big picture or nailing down the concepts you're going to need a text book and I recommend the Examples & Explanations series. Read it along with your case book or cover-to-cover before you outline.

Do something that is you.
You'll be told that you should make law school your whole life: don't work, don't join clubs, don't have an outside life. I actually disagree. I felt small and out of place in law school. I didn't think it was very inclusive and it made me doubt myself. I need things that remind me that I am still a whole (and valuable) person. If you need a part time gig, or softball team, or mommy-and-me-group you should definitely do it.

You are great just the way you are.
I mean it.

For more great advice check out The Undeniable Ruth.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


I finally received the last of my grades this week (you know, 5 weeks after finals, no big deal). GPA-wise I'm not sure if it was my best semester...it was definitely close. It was my most consistent semester. There were grades that I'd hoped would be a little better (isn't that always the case?) but, for the first time, I wasn't actually disappointed with any of them.

And it felt good.

I hate to say that. I know that grades are crap. They don't measure how well you know the material, how hard you worked, or how good of a lawyer you're going to be. They measure how well you did on one test...that you couldn't have totally prepared for because there's no way of knowing how the professor is going to test or grade (ex. I took Civ Pro and Evidence with the same - awful - professor. I didn't learn anything from him in either class and yet I did a full grade better in Evidence. I don't think I put in anymore work in Evidence but I did know what to expect from the professor's grading/testing style and I could study accordingly. Seems to me that if professors truly wanted students to do well they would give midterms).

I try to remind myself that law school grades are not accurate reflections of, well, anything, when I'm disappointed with them... and I usually fail at making myself feel better. I guess it's nice to know that this truth doesn't resonate any better when I've done well than when I've done poorly.

I know grades aren't an accurate measure of my progress let alone my worth, and I hate to admit it, but I feel a little more worthy now.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

This is Simple. This is Just Love.

I get a little weepy just watching the trailer. If you've every read any part of this blog you know what a screaming progressive I am. You might be surprised to know that I have a large percentage of LDS friends. In fact, my closest friend in law school is Mormon...and this is the one subject we can't talk about. When Prop. 8 passed I was so sad, and so angry. Crying about this in front of my first year writing professors was not one of my finer moments.

I'm sure it'll be insanely biased but I'm really looking forward to Prop.8: The Mormon Proposition. If it's not coming to your town (heck, even if it is) consider getting a free copy by donating to NCLR or HRC.

Don't have $75? You can link through NCLR's site to by a copy for $20 and have half the cost go to working for GLBT rights.