Reflection on the 1L Spring Brief

The 1Ls at my school are working on their Spring Brief. This is a big paper that is meant to introduce them to legal writing.

I remember my 1L Spring Brief. How I tried to understand the arguments I needed to make. How I researched and researched, constantly worried that I didn’t have the right cases. How as I sat down to write, I felt discouraged. I felt uncomfortable. “Why am I so bad at this? Who am I to say that I could be a lawyer?” I felt like a fraud.

But I wasn’t a fraud. I was not stupid. I was incompetent. And incompetence isn’t bad. Incompetence means that I still have a lot to learn.

After 1L year, I got my Legal Research and Writing grade. It wasn’t what I would have wanted. It was below median. It stung, to be sure. But it didn’t mean that I would never be successful as a lawyer.

This week, I received confirmation about my plans for next year. I will be working for a year at a civil rights nonprofit in San Francisco, advocating for the housing rights of people with criminal records. I will work to help those who are leaving correctional control get decent housing, so that they can get a job, a future, a life. I’m sure there will be plenty of times that I will mess up. But I’m learning to say that that’s OK.

Celebrate my birthday with me!

Hi all,
My birthday is coming up on May 8th! For my birthday, I’ve decided to partner with One Day’s Wages to help fight extreme global poverty. The World Bank estimates that 702 million people live in extreme global poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.
One Day’s Wages works with local partners in multiple countries to address issues like access to clean water, job training, and gender-based violence.
This year, my birthday coincides with Mother’s Day. Thus, I will be supporting ODW’s project to Invest in Better Maternal Care. According to the World Health Organization, every day 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. ODW’s partners work to train midwives and nurses and build maternal wards and delivery centers.
So this year, celebrate my birthday with me by giving to my birthday campaign. Even $10 would help. Click below for more info.
Thanks for reading!



More information about ODW’s Invest in Better Maternal Health campaign (including their partners), how they select their partners, and financial transparency.



Hiatus

I’m taking another writing hiatus.
The chronic back pain that I experienced last fall (and that never really went away completely) is now back. I’m also experiencing possible symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. I have pain in my wrists, forearms, shoulders, and back. I plan to see the doctor this week, and may need to return to physical therapy. I will also need to get plenty of rest.
I will need to limit my computer time. I also have a paper due in a few weeks. Thus, for the time being, I’ll be writing less.

Legal Aid and Second Chances

During the week, I intern with LAF, a legal aid agency in downtown Chicago. One of the lawyers with whom I used to work, Tim Hufman, gave this speech several years ago upon accepting an award for his service.

“When we think of LAF and who we are, a number of things come to mind. We think of our efforts to provide justice, to empower those who are powerless, or to secure the rights of the disenfranchised.

I think all of these go to define who we are and what we do. However, there is another role that LAF plays that I would like to briefly discuss.

In life, all of us in this room have, at one time or another, done things which are not in our own best interest. We have made mistakes. We have made bad choices in life. But fortunately, most of us have had the resources to fall back on so that we can pick ourselves up and get on with our lives.

That same luxury is not available to a person in poverty – who cannot afford to make a mistake – who cannot afford to made a bad choice. For there is no margin for error. Even minor mistakes can lead to serious consequences.

It can be the purchase of an inoperable used car from a deceptive dealer, and now having a car loan you cannot pay back due to losing the job for which the car was purchased in the first place.

Or the loss of subsidized housing due to using the rent money to pay for an eighth grade graduation party for that daughter who means everything,

Or becoming involved with an abuser, and now that there are kids from the relationship, it’s economically impossible to leave as the only source of income for everyone is that of the abuser.

These are the mistakes and errors in judgment that lead to the pain and suffering that our clients experience and which comes to define for them what it means to be living in poverty.

But here’s the thing, it is at these critical moments in our clients’ lives, that LAF can play an incredibly important role. We can step in and level that playing field and be an instrument to force society, to force the bad actors to back off and to give our clients the opportunity to get on with their lives and not have to continue paying retribution due to the mistakes and errors that are the result of the human frailties that we all share.

Now, these may not be the kind of cases that make the headlines. But isn’t it important that LAF be engaged in these endeavors to provide our clients at least some measure of the kind of grace, or at least a portion of the margin of safety that you and I take for granted as we stumble through our own lives.

I think so.

So when a client comes to LAF, having stumbled, or once again having received the short end of the stick, it is my goal as an attorney, and as a supervisor, to make sure that this time it will be different.

For at LAF:

This time, they will be heard.

This time, they will be taken seriously,

This time, they will not be shortchanged,

This time, their needs come first.

For this time, they will not just be getting an attorney who will just go through the motions,

But due to the fervor and commitment of all of us here at LAF, this time when they get an attorney for the fray, it will be the better attorney.

For this is what we do.

And ultimately, this is who we are.

Thank you.”

Is Rape Ever Justified?

Is rape ever justified?

Is rape ever OK?

Is it ever OK to make a joke about rape?

Most people would say no. They would be horrified. They would say that rape is terrible. They would say that it would be terrible to joke about rape. I agree. Rape is horrible and should not be taken lightly.

But what about prison rape?

What about when prisoners are raped by other prisoners or by staff?

We make jokes about prison rape. “Don’t drop the soap.” The Powerpuff Girls made jokes about prison rape. In any other context, a rape joke would seem almost unthinkable.

Some might say that prison rape is different. Why? Is it because prisoners are not humans? Because I’m pretty sure that they are humans.

Some might say that prisoners are bad people. Let’s put aside for the moment people who are in prison who aren’t supposed to be there, who are locked away because of an imperfect justice system that gets things wrong. You might say that prisoners who are raped “deserved it.” So they “had it coming.” So they were “asking for it.” Haven’t we heard this line before?

Some might say that rape is part of their punishment. Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that our laws don’t mention rape, or prison conditions generally, as part of the punishment. If rape is part of the punishment, why not make it more clear?

Let’s say a man was convicted of rape. He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. What if instead, we decide to punish him by subjecting him to an hour of violent rape? Maybe we feel uncomfortable about having another person rape the man. We can use a machine. We can use a rape machine to rape him. Do we want the government to use a rape machine to punish people? That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

It seems strange to me that the way that we think about rape (and a lot of other terrible things) changes if the person experiencing it is a prisoner. What does this say about how we think about people in prison?

President Obama’s Visit

Today, President Obama came by the law school to talk. We got the announcement of his visit last week. Classes and events were cancelled. A team of event staff came over the weekend to assess the space. They closed off the student lounge area (where the talk would be held) all of yesterday and today to get things ready. They set up chairs, flags, television cameras, the whole works.

We lined up in the snow two hours before the President’s arrival. We sat and waited. Every so often, the music that they were playing would pause, and we would look up in expectation. The music would start back up, and we’d laugh in impatient anticipation.

Finally, Professor David Strauss came in, then the President. He talked about Judge Merrick Garland, his nominee for the Supreme Court to fill the seat held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He talked about the current polarized political climate. He was personable and charming, although he was careful in his answers. I’m glad that I got a chance to hear him speak.

I was sitting at the top of the risers, right before a black curtain. During the President’s talk, I heard people whispering and walking around behind me. One person opened a granola bar and started munching on it, the plastic crinkling. I thought about all the aides, assistants, and staffers that make events like this possible. Having worked in event planning, I can tell you that behind every big event are planners running around on caffeine and granola bars, trying to make something happen.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask my question. Here is what I would have asked:

“Mr. President, I’m an intern at a legal aid agency. We help defend poor tenants in eviction proceedings. Because of a lack of funding, we can’t take every case that comes to us. And for every tenant that we represent, there are dozens that can’t afford a lawyer. They show up to eviction court and get taken advantage of by landlords’ attorneys. They don’t know their rights because they don’t have a lawyer, and they don’t have a lawyer because they are too poor to afford one. Unlike in criminal cases, there is no guaranteed right to counsel in civil cases. What will you do to make sure that people have access to justice and aren’t taken advantage of just because they are poor.”

After the event, I walked back, bought some tacos, and got home. Unfortunately, I managed to tear a huge hole in the seat of my pants. Good thing that it didn’t happen while at school, though. That would not have been a good look.