Tag Archives: law

“Why this class?”

“And why did you decide to register for this class?”

With dawning horror I realize the professor is looking straight at me. The entire class pauses to stare. For half a second, I consider giving him my real answer.

“This class sounded more challenging than Constitutional Law.” 

It would make people laugh, but I don’t know if this professor would find it funny. In truth, I had no clue what “Law of Information Technology” consisted of when I signed up. I am not even sure I thought it sounded interesting. But it did sound useful. And so, I decide to answer with the reason I would have given if I knew what I was getting myself into before I signed up,

“I want to learn more about the GDPR,” I say.

The professor looks slightly disappointed and moves on to ask another student. I think, “I should have given him the Constitutional Law answer.” 

 


The Water Law Professor

“Great weather we’re having!” says the professor, as a few remaining students trickle in. “Great that Spring finally arrived.”

“But it is Fall,” says a literal minded girl in the back. 

His smile falters somewhat.

I think, “This professor is funny. I am going to like this class.”

Then he starts teaching. He explains he is half Chippewa and was raised on the reservation listening to the stories of the elders. 

We nod politely. There are only 8 of us in the class so it is noticeable if you aren’t paying attention. 

He continues. However, instead of heading to water as one would expect with a class titled Water Law, he mentions Locke, then Marx. He talks about property rights and ownership. If his thread is a little unclear, we are at least in familiar territory. 

Then he starts talking about the Chippewa’s worldview, about the giant turtle who crawled out from the sea and formed North America. Warming to the subject, he talks about moon cycles (“our men have them too!”) and the Chippewa calendar based off a turtle’s back (not “the rule of some pope!”) 

We are all now totally lost but the professor is just getting started. He shows us pictures of his Grandfather – happily sidetracking to talk about the crazy stories the man told – and his brothers. He talks about the infinity symbol and how all of nature must work together. He discourses on Native American farming and spends a good five minutes ranting about Europeans who claimed the tribes were nomadic. He talks about the importance of the numbers 3 and 4; he shows us a picture of corn, squash, and beans and tells how the 3 of them fit together. He then explains the 4th element is mankind. 

Puzzled about what this has to do with water law? Oh, me too! Our professor lost his syllabus and openly told us he was teaching from a slideshow used for a different class. (Presumably one about the Chippewa worldview.) His main points however, were that conflict is an anathema and that all things must be brought into balance, otherwise “the Creator will bring it into balance for us, and we may not like the result.” 

I have a feeling I may not like the result of this class. 


Scalia Dissents

I have spent a lot of time this summer reading cases about religious liberty and the role of the First Amendment. Some rulings I agree with; others I strongly do not. The best feeling in the world, however, is reading a case I adamantly disagree with, noticing the year, and realizing Justice Scalia was on the court. His dissents are the best. Just take this line (internal citations removed): 

“Our cases in no way imply that the Establishment Clause forbids legislators merely to act upon their religious convictions. We surely would not strike down a law providing money to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless if it could be demonstrated that, but for the religious beliefs of the legislators, the funds would not have been approved. Also, political activism by the religiously motivated is part of our heritage. Notwithstanding the majority’s implication to the contrary, we do not presume that the sole purpose of a law is to advance religion merely because it was supported strongly by organized religions or by adherents of particular faiths. To do so would deprive religious men and women of their right to participate in the political process. Today’s religious activism may give us the Balanced Treatment Act, but yesterday’s resulted in the abolition of slavery, and tomorrow’s may bring relief for famine victims.” 

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 615 (1987).


Not the CEO

I thought I was done geeking out about the Strength Finders test. But I’m not. 

I learned something new about myself today!

The Strength Finders test measures strengths based on 34 different attributes. So much I knew. (As previously blogged, my top five are Strategic, Communication, Positivity, Learner, and Input.) However, what I didn’t know was that Clifton Strengths classifies those 34 attributes into 4 different types: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking

The sheet I received describes the types like this: People with dominant Executing themes know how to make things happen. People with dominant Influencing themes know how to take charge, speak up, and make sure that the team is heard. People with dominant Relationship Building themes have the ability to build stronger relationships that can hold a team together and make the team greater than the sum of its parts. People with dominant Strategic Thinking themes help teams consider what could be. They absorb and analyze information that can inform better decisions. 

Guess what I learned? I do not have a single strength in Executing. Not this time I took the test. Not the last time. I guess not ever! 

Slightly less shocking given my recent discoveries, my dominant strength comes from Strategic Thinking. I absorb facts and find problems. I look for solutions. I’m happiest and most effective when doing this. I do not know about Amy 2017, but that sure describes Amy 2018. 

And I think I am okay with that. 

Strategic Thinking doesn’t sound like me. It sounds like someone who likes math, or plays chess, or runs the War Department. But I guess it also sounds like someone who loves writing research papers and playing Sudoku and growing community field offices. So that’s me. 

My results illustrate two other things about me that I did not previously realize: 

1. Leadership Style.

When I think of leaders, I think of the executive type. Those people know how to get things done. They have descriptors like Achiever, Arranger, Discipline, and Responsibility. I want those strengths and to be the sort of person who leads others with a single-focused drive. But that isn’t me.

Just because I am not an executive leader doesn’t mean I am not a leader, though. My leadership skills reflect big-picture problem solving. I plot. I plan. Sometimes I even follow through on those plans. I am less the executive CEO type…and more the in house legal consultant. (Hey, that’s convenient!) 

2. I might not be as entrepreneurial as I thought. 

I love entrepreneurs. I want to be one. But when I started thinking about my strengths, the lack of executing stands out pretty strongly. It also explains some of my previous difficulties running a field office. Just because I can see a problem does not mean I am good at fixing it. I need to work with others who can. 

No one functions entirely solo, but turns out I really can’t. I would never accomplish anything and I would unhappy if I tried. It isn’t the way I am wired. Far from depressing me, I find the realization somewhat freeing. I do not need to build, or accomplish, anything on my own. I am most effective when working with others.

I suppose that is probably true for everyone, but I still find it gratifying. I do not need to partner with an Executing type because I am weaker or underdeveloped in that area, but because I am better and more fulfilled doing something else. Heck, that’s the beauty of the free market. I do not know why it surprises me so much to find that in my everyday life!

On a more personal level, my discovery looks like this: Maybe I do not actually want to start my own law firm like I thought. Maybe that was the expectation I placed on myself because I am not a natural, executing leader but I still want the independence that comes with authority. So I told myself I needed to start a law firm to gain that independence. You know what that tells me, though? Independence is the value I crave, not authority. 

Where does that leave me? Somewhere between a need for others and a desire for independence. I do not know what that looks like yet, but I do know that when I find that sweet spot, I will be set


Shifting Strengths

Law school does things to you; it changes the way you think and the way you interact with people. You start viewing language differently. You exist in a pressure cooker all semester and when finally released from it…the world seems different. I have struggled to explain the difference to people. I feel…firmer. Or grounded. More analytical. Possibly more capable, or at least developed. 

Yesterday I took the Clifton Strength Finders test and I might have more words now. 

The strengths test measures your inherent “talents.” It isn’t supposed to change much, at least not once you hit adulthood. Yet over the past year, my strengths shifted dramatically

I took the test the first time almost exactly a year ago. At the time, I was leaving my adult job to move to the mountains of Idaho to work as a camp counselor and hopefully attend law school in the fall. Uncertainty was my watch word. It shows in my strengths:

Adaptability
Activator
Positivity
Intellection
Includer

Roughly translated, that tells you I am a flexible, happy, smart, inclusive person. Which I like to think is true. 

I took the test again yesterday. This time my top five strengths were: 

Strategic
Communication
Positivity
Learner
Input

First off, I don’t think anyone has ever called me strategic before, much less ranked that my top strength. 

Second, while input sounds cool, it really just means I collect things like words, books, and ideas. 

Third, initially, these results really shocked me. They seemed so…different. But then I started reading about them. And, y’all, these are me. Future oriented, chatty, enthusiastic, thirsty for new ideas and intent on remembering them. Throughout, the test emphasizes my love of books and reading.

I really do love books. (Though the test also says I think speed reading is a waste of time because I want to ponder each new idea, which isn’t true by a long shot. But I do process things fast.) 

These results are not as far off from last year as I initially thought. Adaptability and Strategic strengths share a common theme of flexibility – just with the Strategic strength I have learned to pick an option and follow through on it. With Activator I got people excited about projects, now I use Communication to carry through on the whole project, not just the beginning. 

My main purpose in sharing all this stems from a broader theme I’ve learned over this past year. Going into law school, I felt a bit like a fraud. Detail-oriented people are supposed to go to law school. Not big-picture, idea people like me. You go to law school to put things in boxes, not to turn the box upside down and beat on it like a drum. 

Or so I thought. Over the last year, I have learned my talents aren’t that uncommon for the law, and are in fact quite valuable. Where I am weak, I have learned to adapt. And where I am strong, like in communication, I flourish. 

I am waiting for one last grade, but in all but one class so far this semester I’ve gotten an A or A-. You might find that par for course knowing me, but in law school that is hard. But I am learning and I am loving what I learn. It is a bit of a relief to realize that I am not a fraud and 6-year-old me wasn’t crazy when she announced she wanted to be a lawyer.

Moreover, I am good at this. Just saying that makes me feel a little bit crazy, but also happy. I see God’s hand at work around me and I cannot wait to see what comes next.


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. 


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.