October 28, 2008

I need the advice of strangers. Please give me your advice, as a law or non-law person. Please don’t hesitate. I know dozens of people look at this page each day. At least a third of you should have enough time to make a comment. Don’t let me down. ::end of begging::

So it’s that time to think about Summer 2009. That may sound ridiculous to the non-law reader, but around my school, November 1st marks the official opening of career services (ie. staff whose job it is to help us find jobs) communication with first-year students. The point is, I need to start figuring out what I should do next summer.

Here are some facts to consider:

1) As most of you know, I am quite certain I will pursue immigration law upon graduation.
2) I am not quite as certain but still basically planning to open my own immigration law practice upon graduation.
3) I already know at least one area I will certainly practice (within immigration law). But I want to focus on some other areas as well, but I’m not sure what those will be yet.
4) I’m currently going to school in college town, about an hour and a half from hometown, where my husband F lives.
5) I am not really, under any circumstances, interested in doing court work, ever. Writing – maybe, but I have about no desire to ever argue in court. I’m not saying I won’t do that ever, but it’s not appealing to me in any way.

Options possibly on the table:

  • Los Angeles. Pros: going to work for a solo immigration professor who I know and respect; learning firsthand from a woman who runs her own law practice (with staff); opportunities to work in the practice area I want to eventually do and two others I am interested in; it could be fun to be in L.A. for the summer. Cons: L.A. is very far from where I live; not seeing my husband most of the summer; probably not making much more money than I would need to live on.
  • Law School clinical program. Pros: Interesting array of work which would expand my horizons; seven free credits toward my law degree for the summer work, plus another eight credits in the 2009-10 school year by continuing to work on the cases started during the summer (ie. less class, more practical law experience next year); spending the summer just an hour away from F, meaning I can keep doing the M-F at school, home on the weekends deal; this could possibly help me graduate early, which I am definitely considering to save money. Cons: My school does not have an immigration professor, so even if there were immigration law issues to come up in the community I would be working, I don’t think I could really “take” any of those cases as a student since there would not be a supervising attorney to help; having to commit (I think) to spending next school year doing classes and the clinical – this isn’t necessarily bad, but it will take time away from any immigration work, and also mean I can’t pursue a project/research/teaching assistantship, which is one of my plans to avoid paying tuition the next two years; they only take six students for the clinicals I am interested in, so I don’t have any idea what my chances are.
  • Hometown: Pros: Possibly working at an immigration firm at home; saving money by not paying rent elsewhere all summer; spending the whole summer like a normal married couple; Cons: I have one friend who can refer me a specific firm, but I have no idea what kind of work I would be doing; probably not doing any work in the practice areas I am specifically interested in within immigration; wearing suits all summer.
  • Other: Could be: Interning at some national immigrant rights’ organization or other organizations that do immigration law; working at some other sort of law firm in my hometown; bartending; anything else you suggest. (Kidding about bartending, I hope).

So help! I need advise, insight from people who know or don’t know me, who know or don’t know about the law.



October 28, 2008

The days are brisk. The leaves are faded and falling fast. I got my winter coat out this weekend. There are rumors of flurries. Snow that is.

If I watched any regular television these days I suppose I would have already starting seeing marketing for the holiday season. Thank god I hardly watch any television though, because I hate Christmas advertising before December; maybe I hate it completely.

I’m nearing page 500 in some of my law school books. People are outlining and reviewing and starting to talk about finals. My civil procedure brief, which takes the place of a final, will be assigned soon. The reading seems manageable now. I’m definitely over that hump. It sure helps when you don’t have to look up what summary judgment or certiorari mean.

The weeks fly by. Get up early Monday to drive from hometown to college town to my part-time job. Finish work, go to class, make dinner, study, sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Oh look, it’s Friday already! Go to one class (maybe) and get back to hometown. Hang out with F. Study in places without any law students. Sleep in. Cook something warm and delicious. Watch Desperate Housewives as some sort of weekend-end treat.

Overall, things are going well. The two or so weeks that felt like hell are over. I got a very positive review of my first memo draft, which made me extremely proud. Honestly I felt nervous about it. I thought it was good, but who really knows? Legal writing is its own baby. But I dare say I am okay at it, with the potential for excellence. I feel thankful every day for writing skills. It is absolutely an advantage in law school.

There’s a lot of work ahead, but I can’t help thinking how amazing it is to finish class and have six days until my first exam. Six whole days! And an entire two free days between the subsequent exams. Compared to my memory of undergrad exams, it seems like plenty of time to refresh the mind of the semester’s learning. I wouldn’t say that I’m retaining everything the first time I read it or anything, but I do think I’m absorbing a lot of info. I’m starting to come across concepts in contracts that relate to something I learned previously in torts or civil procedure.

I can only hope the seemingly never-ending, frozen winter ahead will go fly as fast as the past few months have.

when the world looks increasingly gray

October 25, 2008

Thursday I went with a small group of law students and attorneys from an immigrant justice organization to one of my state’s two detention centers for detained immigrants. Since there are no Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities up here, ICE basically rents space in county jails to detain immigrants on their way to court or eventual deportation. Our goal was to do intakes, basically interviews, of the 175 newly detained immigrants in the jail to see if any of them had a case that would merit pro bono legal services.

I spoke with six Chinese restaurant workers, all of whom had been in the U.S. since the early 1990s, none of whom had ever been arrested for any sort of crime. All had been picked up recently for driving – either with a taillight out or speeding – and detained after the local police determined they were possibly in the country illegally. Only one of them spoke a little English. It was one of the sadder half hours I can remember.

Several months ago I read a book by Jennifer 8 Lee (yes, middle name is really 8) called “Fortune Cookie Chronicle,” where she did some investigation on the underground world that staffs the hundreds of thousands of Chinese restaurants that serve bland, not-very-Chinese food in strip malls and small towns across the U.S. From reading this book and other stories about illegal Chinese immigration to the U.S., I can assume at least some of these men paid tens of thousands of dollars to enter the U.S. illegally. They have probably worked 70 hours per week, occasionally asked to travel from state to state or city to city to work for a different restaurant, for the last fifteen years. Only one was under 30, the rest were between 50 and 60 years old. Their faces were so sad and hopeless.

I wanted to so bad to sit there and try to ask them questions, resurrect some of my old Mandarin (although none of them spoke Mandarin as their first language, that much I could tell). I wanted to confirm my theories about how they had arrived here, what states they have lived in, find out if they had wives and children in the U.S. Only one of them had a relative legally in the U.S., a daughter, who lived in North Carolina. That one has a possible but very unlikely claim to immigration relief, the rest are likely to be deported.

I talked to a Cuban with a criminal record who never filed for his residency (all Cubans entrants have a right to file for permanent residency within a certain time frame of their legal or illegal entry) and is now in constant limbo. He served a prison sentence for a deportable crime, but since we have no formal relations with Cuba, he cannot be deported. He was released under an order of supervision but missed some meetings and is now back in detention. I didn’t understand what happens with deportable Cubans, but one of the lawyers explained he would eventually be released under supervision again. If he violated, he would go back in detention, and on and on. He is a person with no place, home, no foreseeable end to living in linbo. He has no chance to become legal in the U.S., and cannot return to his home country.

And of course I talked to more than a dozen Mexicans. About half had been moved to immigration detention after being in jail for something. Most were minor things, like public intoxication. One had been stopped and searched by a police officer while biking to work. The officer found heroin. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not very sympathetic to people here illegally who either use or sell illegal drugs, but I had to wonder why a police officer would stop and search someone riding their bike anyway. My guess is racial profiling and the fact that the guy “looked” illegal.

The other half of the Mexicans I talked to were either taken by ICE from their homes or detained after a city police officer stopped them for a light out on their car, for speeding, or for driving without a license. Like the Chinese, they had no criminal record. They mostly wanted to know when they would get deported. They just wanted to get out of the detention center and get back to Mexico.

Apparently, this is one of the “nice” jails. It was pretty clean and bright, but I don’t think jail is ever nice. Most of the immigrants were depressed and desperate. One guy’s U.S. citizen wife was suffering from leukeumia but he was scared to fight his deportation so he had already signed his removal. Another guy didn’t remember his wife’s cell phone number and was not allowed to access his own phone even to get the numbers to call his family. He had been detained for three weeks and figured his wife and kids didn’t even know what had happened to him. He had just vanished one day…

autumn weekend

October 19, 2008

Well, week-o-hell is over, and my weekend recovery has almost passed as well. I took the bus home Friday night, listening to a newish Coldplay album I had just downloaded (Viva la Vida) while reading ahead for torts. It was extremely calming to sit on the bus, listening to music, and know I didn’t have to worry about class or obligations for two days.

Last week held a lot of challenges, but it’s over, and all in all, everything was fine. According to my Contracts prof and a number of other people I spoke to in the last few weeks, mid-October is the worst time for a first-year law student. There are midterms, memos, loads of reading and a general sense that finals rapidly approach. Time is flying. As great as that is since it’s so stressful, it starts to get scary to think ahead to exams.

I wasn’t too dedicated to school this weekend. I caught up with my mom over a great lunch at a neighborhood cafe. I went to the farmer’s market to buy 10 pounds of apples, onions, and a leek. I made chicken soup with potatoes and spinach, visited my grandma and picked the squash I had planted on her land earlier this summer. I took a few photos of the spectacular color of this fall:

Tomorrow I leave home early to get to my job in college town by 8:30 am or so. Then I have two classes and a free evening. I’ll get a midterm and my memo draft back. I’m excited and nervous for both. I should get some sort of grade thing on the midterm, and enough comments to at least have an idea what my legal writing instructor thinks of my way with words.

This week will be busy, but not nearly as stressful as last. Hopefully.

rainy day and a full moon

October 15, 2008

As I was biking home after a very long day just now, I noticed it’s practically a full moon. Hmm. Today was neither a complete failure, nor a complete triumph, but one of those days you just have to soldier through…

Against all better judgment, I started a very part-time job this week. I need the extra cash, and I think it willl keep me from wasting so much time on the internetz. It’s really simple and mindless, the people are great, and it’s a non-restaurant job that involves lots of free food. However, the job is about four miles off campus. I have a car though, so no problem. I usually don’t touch my car other than to drive to my hometown Friday afternoons and back to college-town Monday mornings.

Last weekend I didn’t go home though, and F came to visit me here. He took the bus here, and drove my car home. I didn’t think much of this because I can take the bus home Friday. Except Sunday night, long after my car was back home, I had a moment of clarity, remembering the impending start of the job and the absence of car at the same time. Doh.

Good thing my college town has exceptional public transportation (for a medium-sized city) and great bike paths. Tuesday was a gorgeous, warm, fall day. It took me 35 beautiful minutes to get to work, on a route mostly surrounded by quaint backyards and multi-colored trees. The last ten minutes of the ride, however, went dismally uphill, and I arrived for my first day winded and a little sweaty.

I wanted to test the bus route today, and good thing I had prepared, because it was raining. But I didn’t realize it was actually raining until I left the house without my umbrella (which I thought was in the car, in the other city) and biked to what I thought was the most convenient bus stop, also near the law school. I locked my bike, and realized there was no number 6 on the bus stop I thought I should be at. Soaked and already irritable, I went to different corners of the intersection until I found the right bus stop, and waited 15 or so minutes, only to get on the bus and have it backtrack five blocks toward my apartment before heading west to work. I dried a little on the bus.

I got rained on again as I walked from the bus stop three or four blocks to my actual workplace. I jogged as best I could in my inappropriate-for-running shoes, holding a ride guide over my head in a futile attempt to stay dry. Work was fine. Yeah! I checked the ride guide just before noon, thinking the bus probably ran every fifteen minutes, just like it had that morning.

Except it only runs every half hour now, and the route alternates between the one that passes in front of my work and the one that involves walking six or so blocks to a different street. I should mention that it’s still raining at noon, I’m extremely hungry because I didn’t have time for a normal breakfast (go figure – no free food today), and I’m not exactly sure where the other route picks up. I leave and pray that my ride guide interpretation is correct, half jogging the distance to the street where I think the bus will pass in a few minutes. I notoriously misread bus routes, so one highlight of my day is that I was actually right about this judgment.

I get back to campus and remember I am supposed to bring a snack to my late class, so I walk to Walgreens (yes, it’s still raining) and pick up some granola bars, since there is no suitable place to purchase a better snack at this point. Sad, because ordinarily I would bake or at least bring a reasonably impressive snack. Oh well.

I skipped crim to read for Contracts. I got called on in Contracts, just after the professor commented that he liked the back row today (I’m not in the back row, so I thought myself safe). I re-read the discussion question he referred to, making the class wait, and my notes made no sense to me. I had one of those moments of extreme lack of clarity, and said I really wasn’t sure about the answer. The teacher said something about that sounding like an honest answer, and moved on to another student. The first time I got called on in Contracts the professor said something about how my answer was wonderful, so now my rep is ruined. Awesomez.

The rest of the day, spent indoors, drying, reading and writing a discovery plan for our mock lawsuit, was much better. No one laughed at my sad snacks, and during my last class our research teacher took us to one of my favorite rooms in the law school, the reading room of the original law library, reeking with history and and filled with old Federal Reporters. I opened an old book and smelled it. It made me happy. The day was over. It wasn’t raining on my ride home, the full moon lighting the way.

leaves and dives

October 12, 2008

This weekend was too gorgeous for…. oops, I almost revealed my location. So, it’s fall, and it’s gorgeous. It’s pretty rare here to ever get a chance to go out in shorts and t-shirts while the leaves are in their glorious transition. It had to be 80 degrees today, definitely not the signal of the winter to come.

Fall snuck up on me this year. I hadn’t been looking at the trees much. Then yesterday, my dad was in town for a college football game, and we went walking around and I realized it was a perfect day in a perfect fall. I realized I have to spend more time enjoying life, even if that is substantially less than before law school.

Since I’ve got so much coming up this week (memo, two mid-terms) that I stayed on campus and my husband came here last night. We walked a mile or so through the neighborhood park to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant I’ve heard a bit about. It was indeed dive-y goodness. But not dive-y in a greasy, afterwards-you-feel-sick way, it was really just good. And cheap. And tiny. And run by a family. I love it and I might have to go hang out with them in the middle of the week when I miss my husband – speak some Spanish, feel a bit “normal” again.

Today, we ran some errands, went for another long walk and then I started back to the reading, memo-editing and now, outlining. All I have to say is, I’d rather be watching Desperate Housewives.

words from a wise man

October 10, 2008

Yesterday my contract professor took ten minutes to give us his so-called “fatherly” lecture. Having taught for 40 or so years, he said he knows six weeks in is the time in the semester students start to hit the peak anxiety level. I guess 40 years has really allowed him to nail this one down, because I’m definitely feeling the pressure, and I think that is the truth with a lot of my classmates. So, for the benefit of other 1Ls or prospective law students who may read this, I will pass on the advice. I found it helpful.

1) Keep in mind that law school is like learning a new language. First, you just learn some vocabulary and grammar. Most people do pretty well with reading and writing when they study language in a classroom setting. Then one day you encounter someone who speaks this foreign language, and you realize, you don’t understand anything, it doesn’t make any sense, and you feel like a failure, a let-down, an idiot, etc. And you panic. (That’s where we are now, in the analogy). But at some time during the process of learning a language, you realize you do understand, and it’s usually like a light bulb turning on. According to Prof. Contracts, that light bulb tends to flip on sometime in the month of November. So, depending on the person, you’ve got 3-7 more weeks of utter mental struggle ahead.

As an aside, I really like this analogy. I lived in China for a year, and during that year I totally had the increasing struggle, followed by the light bulb moment when I started to understand conversations in regular society. Once the light bulb came on my learning was significantly faster and much less stressful.

2) When studying, focus on quality, not quantity. Sacrificing adequate sleep for studying is not helpful. Spending 12 hours in the library, reading and reading and reading, hoping to understand – probably not going to work. At some point, you aren’t absorbing anything you are reading. If you are confused, talk through it with some classmates.

3) When outlining, don’t make a list. Prof. Contracts is really big on the outline process. He believes it is the most important learning tool for the semester. But he cautions against having a huge (like 100-page) outline for an exam. The best outlines are much, much shorter. They show how the rules work together with the principles, but they are not a restating of a semester’s worth of notes.