Tag Archives: law school

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! 


The Auditory Learner

For most of my life I was – or thought I was – a visual learner. I like to read and I used to process convoluted or theoretical passages fairly easily. When focused on something, I could block out all the noise around me. Because of this, I learned to study like a visual learner. I took copious notes, used different colored pens and highlighters for different subjects, and recorded assignments on note pads and on check lists to make sure I remembered them all. 

As I prepared for law school, I implemented all my usual habits. However this time around, they did not work like they used to. I didn’t understand why until I took a Learning Styles test and discovered I am an extremely Auditory Learner. In fact, while Visual Learning came in second, it scored half the effectiveness of when I learned audibly. 

How do you recognize an auditory learner? Here are a few descriptors*: 

  • Talks to self, aloud
  • Enjoys talking
  • Easily distracted
  • Has difficulty with written directions 
  • Memorizes sequentially 
  • Whispers to self while reading 
  • Distracted by noise
  • Outgoing by nature

This list hits too close to home! Who would guess my learning style is the reason I memorize sequentially? It does explain, though, why I’ve struggled so hard over the past few months to study where there is noise. I can’t concentrate even if someone is having a quiet conversation behind me! That is definitely a new problem. 

I am not really sure how to study as an auditory learner. The main recommendation I have seen are study groups, but they don’t work well for me. It is too much like a group project. I’ve started looking up what I’m learning on YouTube and that has been helpful. The Academic Enhancement Program at my school also recommends saying information aloud and then recording it on a tape recorder to play back. 

The weirdest part of transitioning from a primarily visual to auditory learner is how powerless I feel. The old tricks don’t work. I can’t write something out and then understand the subject. I have to talk it through and listen intently. When I read something convoluted, re-reading it doesn’t work. I need to hear the professor explain it to actually get it. While this leaves me somewhat frustrated, I’m glad I know this about myself now. I think it will make next semester a lot easier. 

Then again, I am a verbal processor. Why am I shocked that I am also an auditory learner? 


*See https://www.webtools.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ 

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. 



If I had a word for 2017, it would be unexpected. At this point last year, I thought 2017 would be the year I got my wisdom teeth out, paid off my student loans, and read 200 books. I didn’t imagine much else. Well…I did get my wisdom teeth out. I paid off my student loans. I read 119 books. I also spent a summer in Idaho being a camp person (Whhhhaaattttt!) and then moved to Madison for law school. It all seems kind of crazy and impulsive, and it was. 

Yet on paper, it wasn’t. I have wanted to go to law school for 18 years. I planned to go after I paid off my student loans and naturally I applied to law school after paying them off. But…Unexpected. Picking Madison after years of planning to go anywhere but there. Unexpected. Discovering that I actually hate living in the city. Unexpected. The social isolation of law school. Unexpected. Learning I don’t love law school. Unexpected. Realizing I’m okay with that. 

This was a bumpy year for me. I’m grateful for it. I am grateful for all the uncertainty and confusion and failure. It sucked and left me drained and anxious but it forced me to grow and rely more on God. It reminds me of Romans 5:3-5. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Hope. What a wonderful word. 

Thank you to all the friends and family who kept me sane this past year ❤ I am so grateful for you all. 

Goals for next year? Read 118 books and live more gratefully. Hold me to it! 


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. 


A Delightful Day

I think Tuesday/Thursdays are going to be my favorite days. At least, today turned out to be really fun. Here are some highlights: 

  • On my way to school, a homeless man told me I was beautiful! (In full disclosure, he also asked me for apple juice so he might have been just buttering me up.) 
  • I made a new friend! (Not the homeless man, though he did ask for my number.) 
  • I got free pizza at lunch.
  • I won a Starbucks gift card! (Won might be too strong a word. I was given it because I got cold called on twice my first day of classes and the lady at the Lexis Advance training was very sympathetic.) 
  • I wore my hair in a low bun all day and it STAYED! (Yay perms!) 
  • I read a book for fun between classes called Loyalty and Legislative Action: A Survey of Activity by the New York State Legislature 1919-1949 by Lawrence H. Chamberlain and it was so unexpectedly good I gave it 5 stars. 
  • My roommate bought me KIMCHI so I got to eat that with my dinner.  

All in all, a delightful day.