Category Archives: Madison, Wisconsin

Checking In

“Of course I have time!” I claim optimistically. “I have a student’s schedule. As long as I go to class, I am good! Monday? Well, I have something…but Tuesday! No, actually I work then…Now, Wednesday…except not. I have to get some homework done. Thursday is so empty though! Or, it was empty. I filled it last week. Friday is crazy. This weekend! This weekend is soooooo…full. Yeah, I have no time.”

And people wonder why the law student doesn’t blog more regularly.

Just kidding, hi everyone! I am alive. I ended an internship, started a job, and discovered 2nd semester involves twice as much reading as 1st semester. Life has been busy. Thankfully, I am really enjoying it!

My Constitutional, Comparative, and Property law classes all require lots of class participation. I was a little worried at first I would not have enough to say. Then I discovered I disagree with a great many of my classmates, so the real question is finding what not to say! It is a good problem to have.

This weekend I am headed to a conference in Chicago.

For my Wisconsin friends, don’t forget to vote this Tuesday!

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Chemical Imbalance and the Law

I recently finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In the book, Sinek demonstrates how work environments impact five different chemicals in the human body: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. Endorphins mask physical pain with pleasure in times of stress or fear (the “runner’s high”). Dopamine rewards goal oriented behavior with a rush of pleasure when we complete something we set out to do. Serotonin releases feelings of pride and pleasure when we feel like people like or respect us. Oxytocin generates a sense of love, friendship, or deep contentment when we see people we like and trust. Cortisol triggers flight or fight instincts in times of high stress or danger.

Since these chemicals impact the way humans survive and interact with one another, they play an important role in work environments. High stress, competitive environments where employees feel powerless and pressured to produce big or risk losing their jobs produce unhealthy, chemically imbalanced workers. This imbalance applies to CEOs and janitors alike, regardless of perceived job pressure. (In fact, the imbalance likely impacts the janitor more if he feels powerless to change the situation.)

In jobs that emphasize short-term results over long-term relationships, workers depend on their survival chemicals: Endorphins, Dopamine, and Cortisol. This creates an environment where people live in a “flight or fight” mentality and are constantly stressed about meeting high goals and expectations. When Cortisol is released, the body shuts down “unnecessary” systems, including the immune system. This impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. However, because of Endorphins and Dopamine, it doesn’t feel like a constant barrage. It can feel good and even addicting. These chemicals, however, only mask the damage caused by stress, they don’t fix it.

Further, with work environments that foster uncertainty and anxiety come lowered levels of Serotonin and Oxytocin – meaning people feel less appreciated, content, and socially engaged at work. Where jobs are highly competitive, employees view each other as competitors instead of allies. People feel less comfortable sharing ideas, making mistakes, or collaborating on projects. This impacts not only a company’s ability to thrive, but the individual’s.

A prime example of an unhealthy business environment would be General Electric at the end of the 1980s. At the end of each year, the bottom 10% of GE managers whose divisions contributed least to the company’s share price were fired. If the bottom 10% automatically get fired and you see someone struggling, would you help them out? Probably not. You would be putting your own job at risk.

However, more than isolating employees, such environments also foster unethical behavior. When short-term goals matter above all else, things like honesty, integrity, and compliance fall to the wayside. People focus on survival, and when that behavior gets rewarded, they get a Dopamine hit and continue to behave that way. Spread out over time, this behavior leads to corruption and the eventual downfall of a company.

As an avid reader of business books that emphasize the importance of culture, Sinek’s analysis did not surprise me. It shouldn’t surprise you either. People want fulfilling jobs. Humans weren’t designed for constant, high-level stress. It is easy to recognize bad practices in a business.

Yet this stressful, high-pressure, chemically imbalanced environment reflects the very culture that is expected, even rewarded, in the legal profession.

Want to go “big law”? Think long hours and high stress loads. Want to work in criminal law? Prosecutor or defense attorney, someone’s freedom now depends on you. Want to work at a boutique firm, or even start your own law firm? Gotta make sure you make enough to pay off those heavy student loans. How do you pay those off? You take on more jobs, create a higher stress load, and keep going, going, going. For each client, you must strive for justice. Money is at stake. Freedom is at stake. Your ability, or lack of ability, impacts countless lives.

Is it any wonder the legal profession is rife with alcoholism and ranks third in suicides behind doctors and dentists?

The pressure doesn’t begin once you land your first job: it starts pre-law school. Where you work often depends on where you go to law school. The best jobs go to the best schools. Early on driven, goal-oriented people with a natural affinity for Dopamine stand out and get into the schools. Once in the school, the best employers take only the best students. This is the way of the world. You are now competing against your classmates, and because law school grades on a curve, this isn’t a place where everyone can do well. You either receive one of the scarce As, or you don’t. If there are limited As, are you going to help your classmate get one? Not if it hurts your chances. Goodbye Serotonin and Oxytocin, this is not the place for you.

Law school is 3 years. For 3 years, you can survive anything, right? You can survive finals worth 100% of your grade (STRESSSSS!) You can survive competitive classmates and high interest rates on your loans. You can survive…sure, your Cortisol is firing but your Endorphins and Dopamine tell you it is okay. And maybe it would be okay if it actually ended in 3 years, but that isn’t the way the legal profession works. In the real world, law school is child’s play. But this too will be okay, you’ve learned to cope. Probably through alcohol. Definitely through something addictive. Want to make partner in a firm? Want to save the world? Of course you do. Time to get to work. Hit me with the Dopamine.

What happens in the business world when the wrong things get incentivized? Companies become corrupt and self-destruct. Now imagine what happens when you wrongly incentive a whole profession.

Is it any wonder lawyers get a bad rap? Lawyers are stigmatized as ethic-less and money-hungry. Yet the law is designed as an adversarial system where every case comes with high stakes and in law school we are taught to deal with that pressure through isolation and alcoholism. Culturally, we’ve created a chemically imbalanced environment for the very people we entrust with justice. I am sure there are lawyers and law firms that overcome this. There might even be law schools out there seeking balance. It is still a huge problem, however, and not one that only affects those who “have a personality for the law.” Just take a look at our justice system.

I don’t know what the solution is, or if there even is one. I do know that change needs to happen and it needs to start in our law schools. 


Future Nun In Denial

Last Sunday my Catholic roommate took me to mass at her church. The new University Catholic Center on State Street is beautiful and includes lovely, soaring spaces, interesting mosaics, and ornate bookshelves without enough books. (I did spot a few works by C.S. Lewis, though, so it passes muster in the end.) 

My other (non-Catholic) roommate also came along. She was a bit slap-happy from lack of sleep. When we walked into the sanctuary, she looked at the large mosaic of Jesus and loudly said, “Jesus wasn’t white!”

I was more puzzled by the peacock designs everywhere. I still haven’t gotten an answer about why those are a thing. 

Then the priest began speaking and he sounded just like Thor.  

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To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying because I was so distracted by that. There was guest priest also present who looked like a movie actor, but I couldn’t remember which one. Maybe Rufus Sewell. 

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(I’m pausing here in annoyance because that isn’t what he looked like at all but I can’t figure out which actor he does look like. It was someone villainous. And dark haired.) 

The service ended with a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. I wanted to know how an archangel could also be a saint so I asked a priest (not the one who sounded like Thor or the one who looked like a movie actor but a third one.) He gave me a half answer about how the word saint = santos = holy and then told me I should become a nun.

This statement came so abruptly that for a few seconds I wondered if I had stumbled into a charismatic Catholic church and if this was a word from the Lord. Then he suggested my roommates also become nuns. And the girls around us waiting their turn to talk to him. In short, all young women should become nuns. He went on for some time about the benefits of celibacy. 

I don’t necessarily disagree, but I’m probably not going to become a nun.

Catholicism does run in my veins, though. One of my ancestors was the child of a Catholic priest and his housekeeper. I told this to my roommate but she didn’t get it. She kept asking how a priest could have a child. I didn’t feel like explaining that one. 

Overall, I enjoyed my experience attending a Catholic mass. They gave out dark chocolate at the end. I don’t particularly want to go back, though I enjoyed the theological discussion (and the chocolate.) Also I can also now answer people who ask me why I don’t have a boyfriend with, “I’m supposed to become a nun.” 


Reformation Day Adventures

Happy 500th’s Reformation day, everyone!

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It may only be 9 am, but my day has already gotten off to an…interesting start! I attended a Lutheran church last Sunday but was disappointed when no one mentioned it was Reformation Sunday. After all, this is the 500th anniversary. I assumed every church would celebrate!  An announcer did mention, though, that they would have Bible study on Tuesday morning, “actual Reformation Day.” 

He literally said “actual Reformation Day,” so I showed up to Bible study this morning assuming the pastor would at least mention it. But…

Nothing. Not one word. Not even a very good Bible study, either. The pastor read from the hymnal and that was about it. Afterwards, he let his dog out of the office and the dog promptly peed on my shoes and then licked it up.  No one found this strange. 

Throughout the study, the 20 somethin’ year old guy sitting next to me kept pulling out a legit, cotton handkerchief and loudly blowing his nose. I am pretty sure he had a cold. It added to the oddity of the situation. 

With a such a morning, I expect great things from the rest of this day! 


College v. Law School: Office Hours

Professors’ office hours confuse me. I think I used them wrong during my undergraduate. Either that or Bryan College had an exemplary open door policy. Office hours here at the law school baffle me somewhat. 

You see, during my senior year of high school I read an article that said graduate students should make sure to stop by and chat with their academic advisers on a regular basis. I figured if that held true for graduate students, it ought to hold doubly true for undergraduate ones. In college, I visited my academic adviser at least once a week. As long as his door was open, I marched in and struck up a conversation. Topics ranged from Starbucks ice cream to Biblical restitution to the state of Virginia politics. I went by myself; I dragged friends with me. It never occurred to me this was unusual. I built relationships with all my professors in a similar way, though perhaps not so specifically. Office hours, to my mind, meant an opportunity to get to know the professor outside of the classroom. 

Office hours here at the law school look somewhat different. You go in, ask your very classroom-specific question, and move on. You might fit some small talk in, but dropping by just to drop by is an alien and discouraged idea. 

In a sense, I get why. Even my smallest law school class rivals the combined student numbers of the Politics and History department at Bryan College. If all of us wanted to drop by for a chat, the professors would have no time to do anything else. They aren’t my academic adviser. In the big picture, they churn out a lot of future lawyers, and I am just one more. I get it…

Yet it still throws me. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced Bryan College was unusual. The school set a policy that sought to value each student and each interaction with them. Whether they always succeeded is up for debate. However, being in an academic setting away from it, I am doubly grateful for it. Bryan College gave me quite a sense of entitlement! 

What does this mean for me here law school? If I want individualized attention, I will just need to put a little bit more effort in. I am sure it will be easier to find specific mentors once I have more direction. Until then, it is up to me to seek out the people who can help me find that direction and sit in those stale office hours until I get it! 


Midterm Musings

I accidentally gave up coffee again. I really didn’t mean to, but here a week has gone by and I haven’t had a drop. I used to drink at least three cups a day. There is something comforting in the thought that I can fall out of my bad habits quite as easily as my good ones.

The problem started with midterms. I had my first ever law school exam on Monday. The Thursday before, I started throwing up and blamed a 24 hour bug. By Saturday, I acknowledged that it was probably nerves (and possibly coffee withdrawal.) I remained nauseous through Tuesday morning.

I have never been someone with test anxiety so it is rather embarrassing to experience it now. I find it perfectly understandable that someone else might be nervous, but me? The thought takes me down a peg.

Or six.

So goes law school. I want to blog more but attending law school is a lot like walking fast up a steep hill in high heels. I know I am getting somewhere, and I will have great calves when I get there, but in the moment I am afraid that if I try and talk about it, all you will hear are my gasps and sobs. 

My brain knows that this all part of a bigger process, but I am not sure my heart does yet. I am broken down to be built up. I will eventually reach the top of the hill and it will be worth it. However, here in the weeds, it is easy to forget that. Emotionally I feel drained. My habits, good and bad, are erratic and the thought of quitting crosses my mind at least once a day. I feel socially isolated and academically unmotivated. The future seems dim and uncertain. I have always been the girl with a goal, now my goals shift and flutter and fall apart. 

Everyone tells me that I am normal, that this is just the way law school is. Sometimes that knowledge helps, sometimes not. After all, I did not come here to be everyone else. Yet, at the same time, it is comforting. The faculty and staff here get it. They went through this. The 2 and 3Ls may smirk knowingly, but at the end of the day, they survived. I will too. 

Amidst my  angst and uncertainty, there still remains an unshakable confidence. I like being here. I am happy. I am challenged. I don’t want to quit (usually.) The law is fun and I am learning interesting things. This is a world I enjoy being part of. I like the fast-paced learning style and the substantial amount of stuff I know now that I did not know two months ago. I can see my progress quite easily.

The disconnect comes when I turn around and try to see my future. People at the law school always ask me what kind of law I want to practice, and then tell me that no one actually knows anyway, so if you do know, you don’t know, so don’t stress. Simple, right? If only. It is a weird mix of “don’t have a plan” but simultaneously “try everything so you can make a plan.” Oh, but also, “don’t overwhelm yourself.” Yet while not overwhelming yourself, “MAKE SURE YOU GET GOOD GRADES.” Ahhhh, but there is a curve, so statistically, you won’t make good grades. But that is okay, because everybody gets a job eventually. (Probably.) Now go figure out what kind of law you want to practice, so that you can network in that area. But remember, don’t have a plan.  

Is it any wonder the law is full of alcoholics? 

In this mess, I got nauseous and stressed and accidentally gave up coffee. Now I think I should make a concerted effort to stay off it. The last thing I need is another stimulus. We’ll see how long this good intention lasts!  With the way life has been going, I may be downing six cups tomorrow. 

I think I will make it a little longer than that, though. 


Badger Game!

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I had a BLAST today at the Badger Game with my brother! Who knew football could be so fun to watch?