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Day 2

So after an amazingly long 12 hours of sleep, I woke up feeling pretty good.  I was a little rushed to get ready to head to work, thinking I would be walking the 20-ish minutes to get there.  However, I talked to the front desk people and they were like “no no, take taxi” so I did.  Once again, the guy didn’t really know where I wanted to go, but at least this time I had the address in actual Chinese characters, so he was able to figure it out.  After I got there, I was in this area that looked like a residential neighborhood and I got super nervous that I was lost. I finally asked some guy sitting outside, who ended up being a photographer or something that was doing a project with Greenpeace, and he pointed me to the right building and I figured out where I was. I made it up to the office, and got to meet Caidan, the lady I’ll be working with, and got a quick tour of the office.  She had to leave not long after that for a meeting, but she gave me my first assignment and some reading to do about various Greenpeace projects.  The reading looked fine, but her assignment brought back bad memories… two words that will make everyone (ok, maybe not everyone, but certainly me) break out into a cold sweat: International Shoe. I had immediate and terrifying flashbacks to CivPro, and begin to wonder what I was really doing here and if I hadn’t made some kind of huge mistake.

The assignment ended up being pretty easy, I just had to write a memo about a fictional (I think) situation.  One of the questions I had to answer was whether a US court would or could have jurisdiction over a case between the two parties, neither of which were from the US, but were arguing over a piece of property in the US. I was able to finish that with little problems (other than the CivPro flashbacks) and got started in on my reading.  Caidan was supposed to be back from her meeting at 12:30, but she ended up getting stuck there. Her coworker, who’s name I forgot to ask,  offered to show me where to get lunch near the office.  We walked outside and she was like there are lots of places all along there… but oh wait, you probably don’t speak chinese, and they definitely don’t speak english. So she took me to the 7-11 in the next building over.  When she said we were going there, I thought great, my first real meal in China is going to be a Slushie and a big giant hotdog.  Thankfully, i was so wrong.  They had all these awesome dishes, and I ended up getting a big bowl with rice, steamed veggies, and a very traditional (so i was told) Chinese dish made with tomatoes and egg. It all ended up being delicious, and I had such a huge portion that I couldn’t finish it.  That plus a bottle of water  (which, based on the yellow label and lemon-looking art, I assumed was lemon flavored, but was actually mango), for only 16 yuan, or $2.60.

I spent the rest of the afternoon fixing up my memo and reading about all the horribly depressing studies Greenpeace has done that show how rampant illegal logging is, how bad climate change will effect China, and how toxic chemicals from clothing manufacturing are being dumped right into rivers, streams, and the oceans.  At about 6:30, Caidan came over and was like, uhh, you know you only have to be here until 6, so you can go now.  So i packed up and with a little help from her, I started to walk back to the hotel. My Google directions seemed very difficult, but in the end it was literally just a short walk on a couple of streets and I ended up right in front of my hotel without even realizing I was already there.   Much to my surprise ( and now delight), I noticed another 7-11 next to my hotel.  I stopped in and grabbed some dinner (some kind of cold noodle dish with peas, some sort of mystery meat, and soy sauce).  I have to say, I may lose a lot of weight over here, simply because of how terrible I am with chopsticks.  Part of the reason I didn’t eat all my lunch was because of the size of the meal, but also because of how long it took to eat what I did and how frustrating it is to try to pick up food with these things.  I know I would look like the typical American, but I wish had brought a fork to carry around with me, it would definitely make eating dinner a lot easier!

First day in China!

After a long 24 hours, I am finally in China! The trip over wasn’t too bad, just very long and frustrating.  I was at least able to sleep a little on the flight from London to Beijing, but not nearly enough to count as a full night or even a good nap.  After some difficulties, I survived the taxi ride to the hotel.  It looks like its close to the office, but I will only be here for a few days.  I start work tomorrow, and hopefully then I will find out more about, oh, finding an apartment and exactly what I’ll be doing for the next three months! I still can’t believe this is happening/that I am actually here.  I applied to this position completely on a whim, and considering all the applications I sent out, I didn’t expect much from this one either.  Crazy to think that, even without any knowledge or experience with China, someone picked me out of however many people to come over here.

So far the air quality doesn’t seem too bad, though I haven’t spent much time outside. However, my allergies are going nuts, but I think that might be at least partially to blame on the dry dirty air on the 10 hour flight from London.  I started sneezing about 2 hours in, then fell asleep for a couple hours so no sneezing then, but woke up and sneeze all the way through “Finding Nemo” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.” Oh, and all through the cab ride, which the driver found hilarious.  Even with his only english being “100″ (to tell me how much I would have to pay for my ride), its funny that you can still communicate with someone without any words, or even an alphabet in common.  Even telling the guy what the phone number for the hotel was was a challenge.  Twice he tried to call my cell phone number, but I kept shaking my head and point at myself.  After circling it with a pen, he finally got it and was able to call for directions. Then spent the next 30 minutes weaving in and out of 4 lanes (plus the breakdown lane) of traffic. Nice to see that Mass-holes aren’t the only ones who drive in the breakdown lane. :)

I’m still exhausted, so, even thought I probably shouldn’t, I’m going to take a nap.  I used to always have a hard time with jet lag when I would go places, until my friend Aniek in Holland forced me to stay awake allll day after I got there at 8am once.  She finally gave in and let me to go to bed around 8pm (I think, it might have even been 730), but imagine my surprise when I woke up the next day feeling great.  That works well for a 6 hour difference, but this 12 hour jump is new to me.  It would be one thing if it had been a straight 12 hour change, but the 6 hours in London, which is 5 hours ahead of the US but 7 hours behind Beijing, totally threw me off. Anyway, off to take a nap, and hopefully get this thing posted somewhere that people can read it! I’ll do my best to keep this up to date, but I know once I get into the swing of things at work it will get boring for everyone for me to write “so I woke up today, and went to work, then had dinner, then hung out, and that’s it.” But I will try to write about the big exciting things, which, for a little while, will be just about everything that happens to me here!

What goes around. . .

Four years ago, the VLS class of 2009 graduated on this very day. That calls for a bit of navel gazing to say the least! Looking back  on the days festivities,  I can recall the feeling of euphoria, untested expectation and overall anxiety about the things to come. I felt as if I had finally tapped into something bigger than myself, and today I can soberly say that I had.  The hooding, the ceremony and the somber scramble to clear my apartment of books, furniture and memories was just the beginning of a mad dash into the future.

There have been some remarkable highlights since those days.  And there have been some well documented low-lights, shared with graduates of that year, across schools; which include a staggering jobless rate, mass firings of seasoned professionals and the disheveling of an entire class of mentors by offers that were not extended or those extended and retracted in the face of unprecedented restructuring, hiring freezes, and other unnatural economic disasters.  The professional internship, replaced the time honored apprenticeship.

Four years later I look back at graduation day and say that the greatest asset I have now is same one I had then. My law school friends, and the professors who helped me sort through my thoughts, all of the folks I laughed with, cried with, stayed up all night with who instantly became my colleagues. They are the people who care about the person behind the bullet points on my resume, the summers in interesting place A and the classes in exotic locale B. They are my network because in as many years we have fanned out across the globe to government agencies, firms, judicial clerkships, solo practice and the nuanced non -profit universe.  They have given me leads, recommended me for interviews and in my case in particular introduced me to my fiancé. 

I owe them, and VLS, the place that connected us. In exchange for all they have freely given I will always open doors for those who have come behind me. I have been the beneficiary of a deep kindness that I am happily obliged to  pass along. As such I have and will continue to share the leads, recommend those who have traveled through the same halls, for the same and different reasons. In short, what comes around goes around.

TDT

Summer Suggestion: Vacation with a Mission

 

At the beginning of the summer of 2011, I was wrapping up a three-year tour as development director at the nonprofit high school I had attended, Saint Joseph Regional in Montvale, New Jersey. It was a longer tour than planned; what was supposed to be a quick career move to a higher post had taken on a life of its own through mentoring, creating new charity programs, building a community presence, and working side-by-side with individuals who had once been teachers and had remained inspirational figures.

The passage of time in a job occupied long enough is, like the tolling of years for a family, bittersweet. While the self-named “Dream Team” of some of the school’s most dedicated students celebrated college acceptances, award-winning yearbooks and theatrical performances, the school also said goodbye to long-time faculty members at retirement parties and within a few months, at funerals. While the next generation showed hopeful promise, we buried the heroes of our collective past.

Alongside the students in their most formative years, I too grew up.

Vermont Law School was the next step from the first day the law school’s Admissions department sent a course catalog, detailing upper level courses dedicated solely to sustainable land use, preservation of our nation’s waters, the survival of endangered species, and new solutions for clean power. VLS, with its reputation and rank as the #1 environmental law school, draws a global student population to a small New England village half a century distant from its agribusiness glory days.

But various shocks – academic, social, and cultural – would accompany the journey north.

So with the support and encouragement of the Saint Joseph Regional High School guidance department, its principal and my boss, and alumni, I took other leaps that prelaw summer. The most significant of these came in the form of a parting gift, sponsorship by Saint Joe’s to travel to Nicaragua with a group of alumni to work on a school build in El Cacao. The Seeds of Learning school-build concluded a two-year Container Drive program at the high school. During the program, which was run by alumni and volunteers from the student body, more than 250 boxes of relief goods were gathered, sorted, and sent via container crates to schools and orphanages throughout Nicaragua.

The trip was many things for its scribe. A chance to leave the familiar view from the back doorstep. The beginning of a lifelong dedication to traveling once a summer with a mission purpose. A chance to learn of the struggles outside of the American educational system.

Emily Dickinson once wrote: “The world is too much with us.” In law school, the emphasis could be placed on the line’s final word, “us.” We students focus too much inwardly, entangled in webs of competition, fear of loan repayment, social drama. These reflections followed a trip to Nicaragua in 2011, which has kept me grounded in law school. A service trip, completely unaffiliated with professional development, can be good karma. It can remind of the mission, and of the fact that justice, beyond all borders, is a human entitlement.

Standing apart from the shy 10-to-14 year old children gathered in a small, one room schoolhouse in the hills outside of Cuidad Dario, a young girl hazarded an answer to the first question posed by the gringo outsiders.

As part of an exercise in cultural sharing between the United States and Nicaragua, between the first and third world, the American volunteers asked the young students “What’s your favorite thing about your country?”

The girl waited for a teacher-assisted translation into her native Spanish, reflected for a moment, and replied with a confident smile “la escuela.”

Saint Joe’s Alumni Jim Burns ’67, Chris Burns ’07, myself and eleven other volunteers took our malaria medicine and left the United States for uncertain plumbing, undrinkable tap water, mosquito netting, rooster-alarm-clocks at sunrise, and the heat and humidity of the Nicaraguan rainy season.

We were many things – laborers, backpackers, adventurers riding on the gates of pickup trucks and drinking mysterious brown liquids made of cocoa and corn, and teachers.

Most of all, we were students.

We learned humility as we acquiesced to the leadership of site manager Dimas and the children who arrived at the worksite in rural El Cacao each day, sometimes on horseback, always neatly dressed in white and blue school uniforms, to work side-by-side on a project that would give them a chance to attend school past the 8th Grade.

The students were eager and proud to show their American counterparts the right way to dig foundations, mix mezcla, twist rebar for the school’s earthquake resistant columns, soak bricks, and lay them in rows with handmade cement.

But as host and Seeds of Learning founder Patricio Rickon told us, the mission of the week-long trip was not just to help purchase materials and erect the three-room high school.

“People always ask me “’Have I done enough?,’” recalled Patricio the night before we began our daily expeditions to the site, “And I ask them back ‘Have you learned the names of the neighbors? Have you played soccer with the kids? Have you shared a piece of food with one of the workers? It’s not just about how hard you work. We are here to work together.’”

We learned this and other wisdom from Patricio, an ex-patriot of the United States who visited Nicaragua in the late 1980s as a translator, fell in love with a plighted people and his wife, and never looked back. Today, the couple raises their two teenage sons, who are dual citizens, in Dario. Patricio serves as program director, spokesman, guide, and more for Seeds of Learning and its small staff of educators. He is the cultural bridge between two worlds, and, as one who keeps his groups’ travel itineraries in his own worn notebook, routinely keeps up on e-mails from the Consul General, lifts the hoods of fleet vehicles to check their engines, and can negotiate the special dinner needs of visitors in perfect Spanish, he is also a shining example of how a global nonprofit should be run: transparent, deeply rooted in its past, and eyeing its future.

“Even an ambitious, academically-gifted student couldn’t just leave Nicaragua to study in another country like the United States,” Pat said one day on the worksite. “She wouldn’t be ready with a high school education. The level of work would be overwhelming. We are trying to break a cycle by supporting the country’s school system. It may take more than one generation, but we are hoping to turn things around.”

One of Seeds of Learning’s major moves forward is the SOL Learning Center in Dario, which supplements public and private schooling options with instruction in the trades and a vibrant arts program. The SOL library contains more than 3,500 books available for research by students from the lower grades through University, as well as a technology center with Internet access being used, among other things, to communicate with international sister schools. Older students, on scholarships to provide for their clothes and school supplies, work as interns to learn the use of SOL’s growing academic resources.

They take what they learn with them into their homes, many in barrios, isolated urban districts, or campos, farm communities.

It was with Patricio and our group leader, Nyack, New York-based accountant Bill Paolino, while bonding in sweat equity, cramming in the back of a rickety Toyota Land Cruiser, and savoring nightly meals of beans and rice, fish from the Pacific Coast, and fried plantains, that we learned the greatest lesson of all: gratitude.

The systemic ills of poverty cannot be easily treated.

As we showed pictures from our homes and played Frisbee and futbol with the children, Pat reminded us not to give away toys and gifts, which leads to schoolyard bullying and nurtures a sense of paternalism from the first world. The same lesson applied to our day in the Massaya mercado, where shoe-shiners, palm-shapers, bootleg DVD merchants and a child trying to sell homemade honey all descended upon us.

“We try to encourage groups to not just empty their pockets of spare change when asked, because when they leave, who is left to provide for people who cannot provide for themselves?,” Pat said. “Whenever possible, SOL tries to give people a hand up, instead of giving hand-outs.”

Officially registered as the “New York City Group,” our mission team was diverse, hailing from post-Katrina New Orleans, the Midwest, North Carolina, and Manhattan’s Bergen and Rockland county suburbs. We had among our ranks teenagers who will write about the experience during the college application process, and adult professionals who believed deeply in getting their hands dirty and exposing their own children to vacations memorable not for their luxuries, but for the impact they make on the lives of others.

Although we took many medicines, there is no prescription that can be written for exposure to Central America’s second poorest nation, a place where desperate storefronts selling soda and cerveza spring from the backs of houses, where the handful of wealthy isolate themselves on islands and behind wrought iron gates, where open, generous people with a sincere desire to work face weak or nonexistent infrastructure, lack of opportunities, and lingering economic exploitation by developed nations.

But Patricio and the several groups that visit his dream each summer, whether bound together by geography, familial ties, or matching t-shirts, share a common purpose in helping to improve the outlook of Nicaragua and its next generation, one lesson at a time.

Seeds of Learning forms work groups in Nicaragua, as well as El Salvador, each summer. For more information, contact work group director Dan Plies atpliessol@gmail.com or solnica@seedsoflearning.org

Nicaragua SOL Trip_Photo 01 Nicaragua SOL Trip_Photo 02 Nicaragua SOL Trip_Photo 03 Nicaragua SOL Trip_Photo 04

I love law prom.

So, there’s this awesome thing in law school called prom. At VLS we call it the Barrister’s Ball. This year’s theme was a masquerade. It’s just another thing to make law school feel like High School. But, it’s better in law school because you are expected to just go with your friends, and you don’t have to sneak in alcohol, there are drinks served at the dance! This year was my third, and by far my favorite law prom. Every year it’s held in Burlington on the water front a the Hilton. My mom made my dress, my friend bought me a mask, and I danced my booty off!

 

I started it off by getting ready for dinner by just putting on my make-up. Then my girlfriend and another friend of ours went to the Farmhouse close to the Hilton. We had amazing beers and a YUMMY farm-to-plate dinner. Then we went back to the hotel and put our dresses on. When we got downstairs to where the dance is there was a professional photographer taking pictures. We showed our ID’s and get wristbands and then took silly pictures with the professional photographer. When we got inside the dance floor was set up and I did not stop dancing for the next four hours!

When the dance was over, everyone shuffled in to taxis and we danced even more at Red Square, a bar in Burlington. I only had water to drink and was pretty tired and ready to go really soon. I slept so hard that night!

In the morning we went to Magnolia’s for breakfast, which is another restaurant in Burlington that does awesome local and organic food. I had a vegetarian eggs benedict and it was sooo yummy. We made it back to SoRo by 1pm and I worked on homework for the rest of my Sunday.

Long story short, I love me some law prom.

Fresh start feels good.

So, last semester I was supposed to be on a semester in practice through VLS in D.C. Unfortunately, plans changed quick when my mom was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer. I made the decision to take a semester “off” and stay to help my mom while she did chemotherapy. We were wildly blessed, and my mom is now done with chemo and cancer-free. But, I have had a pretty rough time during all that. I was greatly supported by the school, and my SiP employer and I will be going back there to finish my JD next fall instead.

 

I have been asked a lot how it feels to be back. It seems that everyone was thinking good thoughts for my mom and I. I am still dealing with some residual stress from my time away, but I am mostly elated to be back in SoRo because I love this town, and I have been so happy to have my friends and my familiar life back.

 

I won’t be graduating until after my SiP in the fall, and I will be taking the bar in February. There’s a lot to figure out till then, but I am just thankful that VLS is so supportive in helping me make it to the finish line!

Keeping warm in the winter; Wynterfest is coming

Keeping warm in the winter; VLS Wynterfest is coming

When I first passed through New England in the winter, even though I was about half a year from a life-changing acceptance to Vermont Law School and the move, I didn’t come here to check out VLS. I was actually coming back from Quebec City’s annual Carnaval, with ice sculptures, ice bars, and a giant winter-weather prince named Bonhomme who could take Mickey Mouse, gloves off, in any snowball fight. Trying to change up the route a little from New Jersey to North America’s second oldest city, I drove back around sunset on a highway called Route 91 (students of VLS come to know 91 oh so well as the corridor that divides Vermont and New Hampshire along the White River, and gets us to the stores for provisions and the eateries in West Lebanon).

On the way back from Quebec, it was a new kind of cold. Down to your bones cold. Pick up a strange illness that antibiotics can’t cure cold. The good news is that, experiencing -15 degree weather this week, I’ve also learned it’s a cold you can only experience one time. After you set the threshold, you harden up. You eat more soup and drink less iced tea. You start to layer.

So with the cold not slowing myself down as Student Bar Association Vice President, or anyone else here for that matter, here’s a list of things Vermont Law Students do to pass the time together during the coldest part of the winter. Every year, the SBA runs two festivals: Octoberfest, and Wynterfest, where teams rally to unite faculty, community members, and students from all the geographies and backgrounds one can imagine for a week of friendly competitions. Here’s what on the horizon:

Take a Hike; Kent’s Ledge; 01.26-01.30

Teams are challenged to conquer the summit of the local mountain during a four-day window. Boots, appropriate clothing, and a thermos are recommended. Points are awarded for participation; to the first, second, and third teams to reach the ledge, take a photo, and submit it via email; and to the team that sends the biggest expedition party out into the tundra.

GleeLS Karaoke Home Edition; 01.26-01.29

Since no one was an English major in undergrad, this may be the toughest challenge of all. Teams are invited to write a minimum of one verse / one refrain of an original spoof of life at VLS / in South Royalton and to set it to a pop song. The deadline for submission is Wynterfest Wednesday. The SBA will then narrow the submissions to a top three winners, who will have the chance to grab the microphone and battle.

Mascot Presentation; Library; 01.28

What unites famous sports teams, brands, and our hometowns? Mascots. Some disconnected from reality like the McDonalds Moon Mac of the 1980s. Some, like the Fighting Swan of VLS, near and dear. Teams are invited to develop their own mascots, whether a person in costume, a friend from the animal kingdom, an inanimate object, or otherwise. The Library Staff and friends will judge the first, second and third place winners.

Red Cross Blood Drive Part II; Chase Center; 01.28

The Red Cross will be on campus for much-needed donations of blood. Points will be awarded for challengers who donate and those who volunteer in the Candyland area/snack station, helping the technicians attend to the needs of donors, and as siting with setup and takedown.

Magic Mountain Day Part II; Davis House; 01.28

The little tykes next store can use our help brightening up, organizing, and undertaking other projects as needed by the staff. This volunteer opportunity also provides a chance to meet the local celebrities behind the real “kidder-pillar.” Monday afternoon will be dedicated to prep work, taping off, spackling, moving furniture as needed for some painting. On Tuesday, teams get rolling.

Poutine Bake; Chase Center; 01.29

In honor of a fortified people just to the north of Vermont who laugh in the face of old man winter, teams are invited to select ingredients and develop recipes for their best poutine, a cheese and gravy dish with tres variations. Cheese curds are the tradition, but any fromage is acceptable.

The Art of Tug-of-War; Debevoise Back Lawn; 01.30

The adversarial model takes on a new form as strength and footing meet the challenges of slick winter weather.

The International Law Society’s Annual Empty Bowl Benefit; Chase Center; 01.31

Teams will be awarded points for making and donating soup to be sold at this annual tasty ILS benefit in the Chase Community Center.  Proceeds will benefit the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP). Founded in 1980, VRRP provides services to newly arrived refugees in Vermont helping them adapt to life in the United States.   Since 1989, VRRP has helped resettle more than six thousand refugees from more than thirty countries including Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Russia, Iraq, Burma, Somalia and Bhutan.  

Team Trivia; Crossroads Bar & Grill;  01.31

Remixed by the Student Bar Association with guest hostess Allison Stokes; categories to be announced. No cover and points for the first, second, and third place teams. Winners are then announced at the end of trivia. Then everybody gets a bye. And then, and then, and then…

 

BARRISTER’S – A MASQUERADE BALL. This one is better left to legend. 

 

I Get to Do what I Love – that Makes me Special

I have been doing really well. Nope, I still don’t have a job. No, I have no idea what I’m doing after the end of next month. Heck, I don’t even have my own place, or half of my wardrobe with me – I’m returning to the States after five months abroad (one suitcase and no budget for new clothes), and I’m going to live at my Uncle’s place in Vegas for a few months while I figure out the next step. Still, I’m good.

In my blog about failing the bar exam, things were bad. They are still bad, but the truth is that I had forgotten something really important. I am special. I have a Masters that I earned at the same time as my Juris Doctorate. I also have an undergraduate degree in something rather unique to the law field – Marine Biology. More importantly, there are places where environmental law is still new and underdeveloped. So thank goodness I inundated myself with environmental law and policy, international environmental law, and a good background in marine and conservation biology. I am a unique well of environmental know-how. Did I mention I interned in environmental law firms and NGOs during law school? That means that I also have experience!

All things considered, I am special.

Even if I had passed the bar, people wait months to half a year to know whether they can sign legal documents and appear on a client’s behalf in court. You need a game plan during that waiting period. If you are lucky, you have a law job that is waiting along with you for your bar results. I planned an unpaid internship in a foreign country and calculated out my costs of living. Since my five month program in the Middle East would cost less than five months of unemployment on my parent’s couch, I estimated that it was worth the travels, the unknown, and any language barriers. I was right.

The NGO where I ended up working is one of extremely few NGOs in Israel that is working for environmental justice. When they received my resume (or “CV” everywhere else in the world), they couldn’t believe their luck. They NEEDED someone with an analytical mind and a really good grasp on U.S. and EU environmental law, as they made pitches to the legislature and regulators for basic or improved environmental regulation. I may not have my Bar license, but I have been doing EXACTLY what I went to law school to do. I am advocating for environmental justice in a place where there is none. I am influencing decision-makers through my work, and I am changing public awareness. I’m actually doing more good here than I would be doing in the U.S., where there is already a well-established environmental lobby. Amazing, but true, my supervisor and other members of the office, all attorneys or lead scientists, seek my advice. Not just my research input, but they ask me for what I think. Then, they thank me for all my work and remind me that I was an integral part of the project, and they can’t believe how lucky they are that my credentials are exactly what they needed. They are happy to chat with me about major projects because, you know, I know stuff. All my fancy degrees aren’t just ink on a CV.

This must be what post-law school heaven feels like, ’cause I’m on Cloud Nine.

You see, when I was in law school, I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were just like me. Lots of J.D. students and MELPS, and in my 2012 graduating class, many, many, many joint degree students. It makes you feel like you shouldn’t be singled out because there’s absolutely nothing special about your education. It may have cost you a quarter of a million to get it, but there’s nothing special about it. That’s not true. Not everywhere has joint degrees, especially not with Masters of Environmental Law and Policy with an emphasis in international and comparative law and policy and a focus on EU environmental law. Just because you are farmed as one unit of hundreds at law school doesn’t mean you aren’t rather unique. Somewhere out there, other professionals wish they knew what you do.

I forgot that. Now, after doing some pretty awesome work, and seeing that I have certainly made positive changes, I have a brighter outlook on my worth. I don’t have a bar license, but that hasn’t hurt my ability to make good judgment, research and analyze complicated law, or any of those things that lawyers are trained to do. I’m still stressed that I’m gaining hundreds of dollars in interest on students loans every month, and I have no income to begin paying my way in the world, but I have been doing what I love, and I am respected as a professional in my field. And isn’t that the reason why I went into public interest law in the first place?

Back to School at VLS

Today was the day. A cordial bustle of how was your break” and “what classes are you taking” that didn’t skip a beat from the “where are you going for Christmas” excitement that closed 2012. Friendly faces in the local restaurants in South Royalton. A mad dash of planning upcoming events, and reading for classes.

 

The night before our obligations began to loom again, my friend and I went to watch “The Promised Land” at the Nugget in Hanover. Funny thing is, we’re friends first and law students second; we don’t have those conversations about the books, and grades, and gossip about classmates when we’re together. But, strategizing poorly and neglecting our last chance for freedom from law and the environment, we dived back into Big Ideas with a movie about a hydrofracking rep (Matt Damon) experiencing a crisis of conscience as he tries to sell the monorail to the rural Pennsylvania equivalent of Shelbyville. At the film’s climax, an older man in the community shares a cup of tea with Damon’s character on the porch, and tells him: “You’re a good man. You have so many of the things people nowadays lack. I just wish you would do something else.”

 

Sure, Matt Damon bought a zoo for his kids last holiday season, taught himself the law in the free public library, and was Jason Bourne.

 

But what are we being asked to see in his latest role?

 

What do people lack, nowadays, that his latest character’s got in abundance?

 

Spoiler alert; fearlessness.

 

Our return back to Vermont Law School today was for a 2L bar preparation. It was an earnest and casual effort by the Academic Success Program, with Woodchuck ciders and a spread of pizza, cheeses and boneless wings. It was well-timed, when students were upbeat and energized following a hiatus. It raised good questions, about where best to sit for the bar, reciprocity, saving money, dedicating the 8-hours a day for two months that it will take to score a passing grade. Graduate, but don’t get married that summer, our advisors warned. Do not be lured into non-stop celebration. No back-patting marathons. Your time is not yet your own.

 

It also had a dark moment. Not everyone, not here, not anywhere, passes the bar on their first try. This seems to put fear in people. But why?

 

Having worked before getting to law school, I see nothing but opportunity to be a better person through this process, a fuller person, a more able contributor. The work world takes; education feeds the mind and the spirit. We are on one of the three most highly regarded professional tracts in the modern workforce: doctors, engineers, and lawyers (okay, maybe quantum physicists study harder, but they’re kind of unsung heroes and some end up scratching formulas into windowpanes).

 

So the old man in “The Promised Land” is disappointed in Matt Damon’s salesman, because he only sees the success in his life as defined by the company he works for. But the man also recognizes things in Damon’s character that are lacking nowadays, like conviction, and courage, and confidence to refuse to be defeated by somebody’s else game.

 

And that’s the other part of law school, the part that no paper or computer test can draw out, but day-to-day interactions do. The experience teaches one to respect people, from baristas to barristers. The case books are filled with true stories of people from all different fields and walks of life across hundreds of years, turning to legal counsel to help them communicate. The experience teaches to not waste words, because the stakes are too high; to not waste time, because staying ready, healthy, and sane requires a careful accounting of hours. The experience makes a person one of the smartest in a lot of rooms, but at the same time teaches them to hold back and to listen as much as talk. It demands confidence; it begs for individual, well-informed moral choice.   

 

There is so much more to it than memorization of statutes and rules. It builds completeness of character.

 

It can develop so many of the traits that the old timer in the movie says are lacking, nowadays.   

 

And there is no proper test for the strength of those traits than to own them and just keep going.   

A Costly Shame Spiral

There’s not much shame in failing. The problem with failing is that you have to do something again if it was worth trying in the first place. Sometimes, you have to internalize a lot of costs because of the failure. That can be worse than shame, because then there is even more pressure to finish what you started.

I failed the bar exam. I paid for the prep class ($2000+). I paid for the extra rent for my apartment in Vermont ($800 per month). I paid to fly to Oregon ($$$$) and stay at the hotel for the bar exam ($$$). I paid for the bar exam ($625), and for the extra software so I could write my essays on my laptop ($125). It was not cheap, and now I have to do it again, but with less hope that I will pass. If you have to take the exam again, your chances lower significantly. But, I have turned in my bar application again, which was super easy the second time, and I included a check. That is really difficult, since I currently work as a volunteer intern and have no income. Did I mention I’m interning overseas and my BarBri books cost more to ship, I had to pay $50 for a notary to sign my bar application, and I have to pay a few hundred to get my BarBri books out of customs? Costly.

I hate it. I’m no longer downtrodden, but resigned. Did I put in enough effort the first time? How will I put in enough effort the second time when now, I have a job and there are other activities. This isn’t like last time when I had all day, everyday to sit and study, and had eight weeks after law school graduation to prepare. I don’t know that I can pass. My scores from the first exam weren’t actually that bad.

What I do know is that I’m not alone. Thankfully, some of my law school friends told me they didn’t pass either. I was surprised with who didn’t pass. I know they put in a lot of time, and they didn’t have the distractions that were so common to me. Maybe there’s a higher power directing this traffic of who passes and who doesn’t? Just like who lives and who doesn’t? It feels that way.

I know that the bar exam doesn’t have to do with how “smart” I am. It has to do with how well I can memorize and regurgitate paragraphs that should be triggered by certain key phrases. This makes me crazy. Why did I pay so much, twice now, to be tested on something I will never use in my practice? Also, at least in Oregon, where I am taking the exam, there is no state-specific law on the bar exam! I have a JD, I know how to analyze laws, and the way states interpret laws is so important to any case, so why is there this method for testing me on whether I am able of practicing law?

Of course, there’s the added problem of applying for “real” jobs. I’m interning right now, for what it’s worth, but what happens after I take the exam in February? I have no prospects for jobs, and I’m applying to jobs below my skills set, that pay less than my education is worth. I’d be very happy in a policy campaign job, and I cannot even try to apply to many attorney jobs. It doesn’t matter that I AM a lawyer. I am not barred anywhere, so I am basically NOT a lawyer. This is very depressing considering my education cost me a cool quarter million dollars. Ugh. I will have to sell my first-born child, who I won’t be able to afford, to pay my monthly student loan installments. I wish I had bought a house! I could downgrade from a house! Liquidate that asset! I can’t go back to just having a B.S.