Category Archives: Madison, Wisconsin

Three Years

Three years ago today, I graduated from Bryan College with my bachelor’s degree. I then chose to take a gap year (er, two) before attending law school. In an alternative universe, I would have gone straight to law school. Instead of ending of my 1L year, this week would culminate in my graduation from legal education. That was the plan. 

I am so glad it did not happen that way. 

It strikes me as funny when I talk about the past two years. I murmur offhandedly, “Oh, I worked for a few years before coming to law school.” As if two of the most formative years of my life were just NBD…no big deal. 

I suppose in the big picture they might prove just that: a mere blip in time between college and my “real” career as a lawyer. 

But even if that is the case, I wouldn’t trade those years with AFP for anything. My work there developed so much of who I am and how I see myself. I can’t imagine who I would be if I went straight from my undergraduate to the pressure cooker that is law school. That vision holds no appeal for me.

From an academic standpoint, straight-from-undergraduate-me might have embraced law school better. Independence would mean little to her, so a life of student loans and borrowed rides to church would feel natural. I would still be a perfectionist with an angsty desire to go go go so I imagine I would have joined just as many clubs (if not more) and still jumped into an internship as soon as possible. From a practical standpoint, I doubt my legal career so far would look very different. 

Yet that isn’t quite true. I landed both my legal internships to date because of my connection with AFP. I’ve prioritized certain activities and de-emphasized others because I know the sort of people I want to be around. I’ve approached projects and people and ideas with the confidence of someone who has achieved something difficult, and failed multiple times while doing it. 

I am so much more me because I waited two years. Also, I owe a heck of a lot less loans because I paid off those undergraduate ones. 

It gives me hope for the next three years. I never saw myself here three years ago, and yet here I am. Who knows what will come next? The only thing I know for certain is that  whatever it is, I’ve been equipped and mentored and well prepared for it. And if I fail? I’ve got an amazing community that will cheer me on anyway.

(Plus, I can always peace back to the mountains of Idaho and live the rest of my life in chacos, right?) 

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Shopping Sleepy

I know not to grocery shop hungry, but what about grocery shopping sleepy? I made a weird discovery today: I buy healthy if I’m too tired to think straight. 

I went grocery shopping this morning before my usual cup of coffee. The result? I walked out of the store with: 

  • Kimchi (duh, it is my main food staple)
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Alfalfa sprouts 
  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lime
  • Beets
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Greek yogurt  
  • Bell peppers
  • Bacon

I almost bought brussel sprouts, but when I went to check out, the cashier couldn’t find the bar-code. I decided it was a sign and chose not to buy them. 

ALL THIS TO SAY, I feel triumphant but also confused by the food in my fridge. The real test will be if I eat everything before it goes bad! Maybe I’m on to something? Go shopping before I can talk myself into unhealthy life decisions? 


What do I eat?

“What do you eat?” asks my roommate, peering at the food on my shelf: tofu, shredded cheese, and half-quart of milk. 

“I eat…what’s in my cupboard!” I suggest. We open my cupboard. “Rice! Except…I’m out of rice. Oatmeal. Kiwis. Almonds. And I think I have a pizza in the fridge.” 

“You should go grocery shopping,” she recommends. I think about my bank account and shake my head. 

“It’s enough!” Because somehow, it is usually enough. 

Supper rolls around. I stare at my cupboards, trying to figure out if I had a plan for dinner. Maybe I do need to go grocery shopping. 

Then my other roommate comes home. “Amy! Do you want mussels?” she asks. “I’m heating some up. And we can have rice, peas, yogurt, rolls…” 

There you have it, folks. I haven’t starved this semester because my roommate feeds me. Yet another reason to be grateful for the girls who share this tiny living space with me!


Credentials

Today I attended a fascinating lecture at the law school titled “Escape from Developmentalism” by Dr. Taekyoon Kim from Seoul University. Unfortunately, only two law students actually showed up, and I was one of them. (Otherwise, the room was full of non-law students.)

Afterwards, the Wisconsin law professor behind me asked if I had a background in the subject that drew me to the lecture. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I told him the truth, 

“I watch a lot of Korean dramas.” 

He replied, “Oh.”

Then walked away. 

I need to work on my international credentials. 


Apartment Tours

The carpet screams ’70s. The couch and dining room table look like they might be from the same era. 

“I provide all the furnishings free!” announces the chipper landlord for the fifth time in five minutes. “That’s mine…” he points to the large, tarnished lamp, “and that…” This time the cheap desk – a surprisingly modern-looking addition to the room. 

I smile and nod, trying to imagine myself in this ugly little space. Would a rug make the room more cheerful? Could I talk him into a fresh coat of paint?

“And this is the oven!” the landlord opens the little, brown box with a flair it hasn’t seen in decades. “Help yourself, help yourself.”

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to help myself to. The current tenant’s pots and pans? 

He moves on, pointing out the concrete ceiling and floor, the furnishings (he provides them all for free!), and the closets. 

“Help yourself! Help yourself!” 

The place is gross; grit and grime cover every surface not filled by the current tenant’s possessions. I wonder if it can all be blamed on the tenant. The room looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in years. 

“I’m the owner and manager,” says the landlord, as if reading my mind. “I do all the repairs. I’m here twice a week.” 

Doing what? I think but don’t say. I want to like this place. It falls within my budget and comes with furniture so I don’t have to figure out buying and storing furniture for a semester. He also will let me sublease – a handy option considering I’ve decided to study abroad next year. 

I can put up with anything for 5 months. But do I even want to think about how filthy the couch is? 

5 months feels like a very, very long time. Good thing I have another place to tour tomorrow. I don’t have high hopes, though! 


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!


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.