most important test of your life

A year ago, I was sitting in a room with other prospective attorneys, hand writing the answers to the essay questions for the bar exam. I thought that I was in the midst of the most important test of my life, but as it turned out, I was wrong.

A good friend of mine pointed out to the bar-takers of today that the most important test of your life might be a pregnancy test, or cancer screening. The bar exam certainly was the most important test of my career, but it is not anywhere near the most important test of my life.

The most important test of my life, right now anyway, is probably that little stick that told me that this baby was already growing. He already existed before there was really much of a way for me to tell. It’s definitely all about the perspective, because at the time I took the bar exam I would have laughed at anyone who told me that it wasn’t the most important test of my life. I studied all summer for it, took classes through law school to prepare me for it, and couldn’t work in my chosen career unless I passed it.

While failing the bar could certainly have been life-changing, nothing really is going to compare to what life is going to bring all because of the two little lines that appeared on that stick.  Like I said, it’s all about perspective!

un, एक, një, uno, yksi, ein, ένας, en, um, 一个, jeden, isa, אחד

The number one has been on my mind a lot lately, because I learned a very valuable lesson this week.  It is a lesson that you may think is common sense.  I would agree but I also will say that the situation in which I learned this lesson was definitely a situation rife with a lack of common sense.

One little word can make the world of difference.  The inclusion or exclusion of one little word can have enormous, life-changing consequences in any type of case.  But it seems to me that this is especially true in family law cases.  Words like primary, or shall, or exclusive, or may, or joint, or sole.

It can mean people not doing things they clearly agreed to do, or doing things they clearly agreed not to do.  It can mean the difference between making ends meet or getting your home foreclosed on or your car repossessed.  It can mean a drastic change in legal custody or physical care of children that was not intended.  It can mean another attorney seizing on that inclusion or omission and running with it no matter the clear spirit of an agreement or decree, and no matter how ethical that behavior may or may not be.

I’ve always known that the legal world is one of technicalities, and accuracy is paramount when you are constantly in that kind of domain.  I would say that I look for those same inclusions or omissions to protect my client’s interests just like any other lawyer would.  But I know the difference between protecting my client’s interests and taking advantage of a situation when it is clear to everyone involved that my argument is absurd to begin with.  I would never give the kind of advice that was given in the case I’ve dealt with this week, because I know that it is wrong.

I know where to draw the line.  I guess that is one difference between this other attorney and me.

And I like that one difference.

dear radio announcer man,

4.5 million people on Facebook and Twitter CAN be wrong. And, I don’t care how many people have decided to drink the Dane Cook koolaid.

This girl is definitely not one of them.

Sincerely,

The Girl Who Thinks He’s An Unfunny, Overrated Idiot

a little perspective

As the end of the semester approaches, I’ve heard questions from a ton of first year students about school, finals, grades, and so on. The subjects of these questions as well as the intent or meaning behind them makes me feel obliged to post a little unsolicited advice. Of course, I hate unsolicited advice . . . but I simply cannot resist in this situation. This advice does not only apply to students at my school — this is for all of the first year students out there.

Law school is not an extension of undergrad. You’re supposed to be learning a new way of looking at things, a new way of thinking. 1L year is supposed to be one of the hardest things you’ve done. It is not supposed to teach you how to try a case or interview a client. It is not supposed to teach you how to practice law. 1L year is sort of like boot camp. It will try to defeat you, to strip you down to the core of your very existence and change the way you view things. You are supposed to feel challenged, ignorant, clueless, unsure, frustrated, hesitant.

You should not concern yourself with things like what percentage of points you earned in a certain class. The percentage is irrelevant. You may have earned 94% of the points, but that doesn’t mean you get an A thanks to a lovely little thing called a curve. Most law students come into law school having rarely gotten anything below a B, and used to enjoying being at the top of their class in undergrad. In fact, they are used to being the ones that set the curve. But half of your class will be in the bottom 50% of the class rankings. It’s a fact. You cannot all be at the top of your class.

Please, please, please understand that law school grades are not the be-all, end-all that you imagine them to be. What you make of your education and law school experience matters so much more in the long run. So maybe you earned lower grades. Did you take classes that were challenging and relevant to your area of interest? Were you involved in leadership of organizations? Did you commit hours upon hours to doing public service? Did you work as a clerk in the summers? Did you participate in academic extracurriculars like journals, moot court, or mock trial? Did you work during the school year, or participate in internships or clerkships or clinics? Did you assist a professor with research on their latest passion?

Just take a deep breath and do your best to understand this. It’s all new, and you are trying to put all of this information into perspective through the only frame of reference you have — your past experience. Move beyond that, and you’ll be just fine.

voter, educate thyself: thoughts on the judicial retention election

The question of judicial retention has been a huge weight on my mind as the election draws nearer. I do not write this entry as a soon-to-be attorney, but simply as a citizen of the state of Iowa who is tired of the manipulation of the masses by outside sources. National attention has been focused on Iowa ever since the decision was released for Varnum v. Brien. This widespread interest has certainly peaked in the months leading up to the November 2nd vote on whether to retain three of the Iowa Supreme Court Justices. In case you’re not aware, Chief Justice Ternus and Justices Streit and Baker were part of the unanimous decision holding that the state statute that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman was in violation of the Iowa Constitution. Bob Vander Plaats and his organization, Iowa for Freedom, are telling people that the solution to what they view as a problem is to unseat these Justices as some sort of punishment. This idea or cause or whatever they would like to call it is absurd.

I am not going to cite the Federalist Papers, quote our Founding Fathers, or make lofty intellectual points. I am going to simply make a common sense argument that amounts to this: voter, educate thyself. Do not permit people from outside our state whose main goal is to send a message to judges who are simply doing the job for which they were appointed to manipulate you. You should be skeptical of any information you receive (including my post – that is exactly what I mean), and do a thorough job of educating yourself in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not you check yes or no November 2nd.

Ask yourself whether you know the answers to the following questions: Who is Bob Vander Plaats? What is Iowa for Freedom? Where does their funding come from? What is their real purpose? Do you know those answers? Are you aware the Bob Vander Plaats has attempted to run for Governor of Iowa and lost at the primary level twice and voluntarily become candidate for Lieutenant Governor once? His last campaign focused a great deal on issuing an executive order to stop clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples (which, by the way, is the incorrect mechanism for ‘reversing’ or ‘overruling’ an Iowa Supreme Court decision). Iowa for Freedom was founded by Vander Plaats after he ran a losing primary campaign to “stop judicial tyranny,” “defend marriage,” and “protect freedom.” This organization accuses the Iowa Supreme Court of ignoring the Iowa Constitution and “the will of the people.” If you go to the organization’s website and click the Contact link, you will find that they are “a project of AFA Action, Inc.” Checks can be made payable directly to that organization. If you know where I am going with this, you should next be asking yourself who AFA Action is. They are an arm of the American Family Association, which is an extremist organization founded in 1977 in Mississippi that uses the Bible as a weapon against all they disagree with. They spout hateful rhetoric all over their website, and are most commonly known for things like boycotting Disney because they had some secret “gay agenda,” and blaming gays for Biblical plagues (i.e. crop failure).

 The “Vote No” campaign is a classic red herring. Iowa for Freedom wants Iowa voters to unseat three Iowa Supreme Court Justices because according to their argument, this is the correct means to “check and balance” the courts. They are showing you their right hand, when really you need to pay attention to what their left hand is doing. The group argues not that the system is broken, but that by issuing a single opinion on a controversial issue, these Justices crossed some invisible line and therefore should be unseated. The question of the validity of a single case should not be the question at hand. However, it is and impossible issue to ignore in the face of this manipulative campaign. Anyone who argues to the contrary is simply missing the point. Iowa voters are being barraged with misleading information from an organization whose purpose is far removed from instituting justice under the Iowa Constitution.

Iowa for Freedom accuses the Justices of legislating from the bench or somehow doing something that took away the legislature’s power. Professor and former Dean of Drake Law School David Walker responded to this assertion quite well in a recent bipartisan forum on the issue. He said “nowhere in our Constitution is a court given the power to abstain from a case properly brought before it.” Varnum was properly raised by individuals who felt that the Iowa marriage statute (the act of the Iowa Legislature) violated their constitutional rights. The Court did not have the ability to just avoid this case simply because it was difficult or controversial. The Justices of the Supreme Court took an oath to uphold the Iowa Constitution, which contains an equal protection clause (Art. I, Sec. VI). This equal protection clause requires that those similarly situated must be treated equally. Therefore, the statute not treating those similarly situated equally is contrary to the Iowa Constitution. I say this at the risk of oversimplifying the issue, but I want you to go read the Iowa Constitution (link). I want you to go read the Varnum v. Brien decision at 763 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 2009) (link). Take a look at the nonpartisan Iowans for Fair and Impartial Courts website so you have a better understanding of how merit selection works.

I will be up front and tell you that I agree with the Court’s decision in Varnum. But that is not relevant to what I am arguing here. The question should not be whether you agree with a particular decision the Court reached, but instead whether these Justices are doing the job for which they were appointed. That is why you should read the Constitution, and Varnum, which will show you that the decision was absolutely within the power of the Court and in accordance with the Constitution. That is why you should look at the Iowa State Bar Association’s 2010 Judicial Plebiscite, which will show you that in an actual survey where participants answered only once, over 70% of attorneys stated they would retain Chief Justice Ternus, and over 80% would retain Justices Streit and Baker.

Voting “no” when asked if these Justices should be retained is not going to magically reverse the Varnum decision. It just does not work that way. I do not for a second believe that there should be a Constitutional Convention on this issue, but that is your means of redress if you feel so inclined. Contact your legislators, or vote for a Constitutional Convention on November 2nd. Do not buy in to the arguments that are truly meant to politicize the judicial system and to “send a message” to other judges in other states and scare them into doing what is popular, not right under the Constitution. Do not let out of state money, politics, and hateful rhetoric fool you into taking an action that has nothing to do with the Iowa Constitution.

intelligence FAIL

Recently the city council decided to reduce the number of lanes on a fairly busy thoroughfare leading in and out of downtown in order to better accommodate bicyclists. They reduced the lanes from two each way to one, with a turn lane running the length of the road in the middle, and the bicycle lane between the traffic and parking.

Since the change, I have driven this road many times. I cannot say I’ve ever seen a bicyclist even on it…until today. While I was having that very thought to myself as I drove to the bank, I noticed that there were in fact two bicyclists utilizing the roadway.

They were cycling down the turn lane. In the middle of the road. Not using the specifically designated bicycle lane. Once again, the intelligence and common sense levels of the average individual astound me.

a little guidance

This time of the year, when my summer job is winding down and I start to focus on the beginning of the school year, always makes me think back to the excitement and apprehension I felt before starting law school. I’m sure that tons of other about-to-be law students are out there just like I was — obsessed, clueless, and feeling kind of helpless about everything.

This recent post by Jansen reminded me exactly how I felt, though I never really resorted to directly contacting anyone. I may have, had I found a blogger I knew for a fact was attending my school. So I thought I’d follow his cue and give a little unsolicited advice.

Here it is: law school is a very different experience for everyone.

Not really all that profound, right? Here’s the thing — some people mesh well with professors while others do not; some people live and breathe their outlines while others repeat flashcards over and over; some people find study groups and succeed while others study alone successfully; some people do smashingly well in certain subjects while they crash and burn in another; some people study consistently all semester long while others cram it all in during the last few weeks; some students love a good essay question while others crave multiple choice; some students take notes by hand but most surf the internet take notes on their laptops; some students brief every case through law school while others step back and either book brief or just take quick notes over the very basics; some students don’t read a case in law school while others read every single page…

You get the picture. I can tell you what works for me, but who knows if that advice will even partially apply to you?*

I feel as though this is the best possible advice I can give to potential law students and soon-to-be-1Ls: take what works for others into account as you discover what works for you, but at the same time take it with a grain of salt. You have to be unafraid to try and fail – it will be fairly clear to you if something isn’t working. Be flexible and you will find your niche — your class prep methods, your favorite study spots, your exam prep methods. You might be any combination of the above students I’ve described — or you may find your own way to do something I’ve mentioned entirely.

Law school has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No matter what path you’re on, I wish all of the soon-to-be-1Ls the best of luck!

*If you’d like to know, feel free to ask!