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BEN REESE '13 (Political Science, Economics; Minor in Leadership Studies)
First-year student at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.
POST #5: November 8, 2013
I forewarn you that this blog is more serious in nature than my previous posts. I have been prompted over the past week, in part because of the passing of a former elementary school classmate, to reflect on the reasons why I am studying law. In truth, this reflection began when, after writing my previous post about the law school admissions process, I took a moment to re-read my own personal statement; over the past few days, that initial contemplation has become much deeper.
On my refrigerator here in Ann Arbor, hangs a copy of the “Commitment to Integrity” pledge that every law student must take before beginning study at Michigan; promising to maintain the highest levels of ethical conduct not just as a student, but as a lawyer. A magnet holds this there, bearing the quotation: “One person can make a difference and everyone should try. ~John F. Kennedy.” Now I can’t claim that I consciously created this pairing, but I think it does say a lot about my philosophy and the reasons I applied to law school and want to be a lawyer; reasons that Marietta College helped to nurture and develop.
To some, behaving ethically is something that can be done without necessarily committing oneself to a “life of service” or “making a difference;” and perhaps this is true. To me, they are one and the same.
It is easy for us, I think, to forget just how lucky we are to have reached the point that we are at. And I do mean “we” as in you (the reader) and I. Whatever point you are at in your undergraduate education, you have been incredibly fortunate to get there. As a law student, this statement is only truer for me. I don’t mean to say that you haven’t worked incredibly hard to get there, nor that there haven’t been tremendous hurdles along the way — for some, this is even more true than for others. But you have still been fortunate. There are many, many people for whom hard work, struggle and hardship have not lead to anything approaching the opportunity that a Marietta College education provides. No choice of yours or mine is responsible for the qualities (such as determination, perseverance, intelligence, or courage) that allowed us to reach the points in our life where we currently reside. Whether you attribute that to fortune, fate or divine planning, the one thing that all three explanations have in common is that they have nothing to do with our choices.
If, then, we have each been given such gifts and they have opened to us the opportunity to succeed, it seems to me that we have an ethical obligation to use them to make a difference and serve others. What this obligation means to you is for you to decide; I am firmly convinced that any profession — indeed, any job — can be a force for positive change, for service, for making a difference. All of them are necessary, and individuals in all of them face ethical dilemmas, chances to better the human condition, and opportunities to make a difference in the life of others (yes, even Wall Street brokers and lawyers).
For me, I feel that the calling is more direct: it means eschewing life in a law firm for a legal career in public service, but my choice need not be yours, just as you need not go to law school. Law was a natural next step for someone who studied political science and economics and who enjoys writing, argumentation and public speaking. Marietta College helped put me on this path. The leadership department led me to volunteer at Ely Chapman (an experience that impacted me deeply and was the focus of the aforementioned personal statement); Forensics taught me that I had a voice and how to use it; Political Science and Economics taught me how to analyze problems deeply and from all angles. Each and every opportunity I had at MC revealed a piece of the puzzle that likely still faces most of you: figuring out what to do with the gifts I had been given. I came to Marietta interested in law; I left knowing why.
So, I can give you one piece of advice that is universal: take every opportunity you are offered. Whether you know where your interests lie or not, it is almost certain to help you find what it is you can do to make the world a better place. And I ask only one thing of you when you do find it: do it well, do it with your whole heart, and do it in a way that speaks well of you and the school from which you will, one day soon, have a diploma.
I’ll close this post as I opened it, with another quotation, this one from Bill Gates directed at new college graduates and based upon advice his own mother gave him: “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
POST #4: October 27, 2013
So, as this is a blog for those considering law school/graduate school, I figured I would pause from reporting about law school itself and offer a little advice about the law school application process. Some of this may be relevant to graduate schools in the abstract, but my focus will be on law school admissions.
Here are the best answers I have to some fairly common application questions:
Is it true that law school graduates are no longer getting jobs?
NO! But it is true that you need to carefully consider what your options are. If you go to one of the top fourteen to twenty law schools in the country, you are probably fine no matter where you want to work. Otherwise, you should pick a law school in the area (city or state) where you want to work following graduation.
The reason for this is simple: firms and other employers are familiar with the national schools and the schools that are located in their area. If you apply to a firm in Boston from a law school in Idaho, they may wonder how sincere you really are about wanting to work in Boston and are certain to be unfamiliar with how your school grades, etc.
What should I look for in a law school?
Law school is a professional school. It is about training you for and placing you in a legal job. Accordingly, job placement statistics are important, as is the criteria discussed above.
After that, the next important thing is environment. Look for a school where students get along (not necessarily common in law school) and professors are open. Law school is tough and draining enough, you don’t need nasty classmates or unreachable professors to make it more difficult.
After the first two criteria, I would consider finances. But bear in mind that federal loans will be forgiven after 10 years if you work in public service and if you do work for a firm those loans may not be as significant as they first appear. If you are interested in public interest work, be sure to check out various school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs), as some schools offer a lot more help than others.
What should I study in undergrad?
Whatever you want. Period. Law schools don’t care what you studied; in fact, non-typical law school track majors (i.e. Biology or Music) often make you stand out amongst applicants. Study what you are passionate about and what you will do well in. Whatever you study, be sure to take courses that develop your ability to think and write.
There is one exception. If you are interested in patent law or intellectual property, a science background is almost essential. It is incredibly difficult to get a job in either of these areas without it.
What should I write my personal statement about?
You. Write about something, an experience that defines you or demonstrates who you are. Don’t simply restate your resume; you don’t have space to do yourself justice and the review committee already has that. Pick one thing and describe it in detail; this is a chance for you to be more than a resume, GPA and test score….use it! For example, my personal statement focused on my experience as a tutor at Ely Chapman and the impact that had on me and my desire to be a lawyer.
How many schools should I apply to?
Between nine and twelve is ideal; certainly no more than that. Pick them from three categories: safety, realistic and reach. Pick a few schools that you are fairly certain (based upon GPA and LSAT medians) that you will be accepted to. Pick a few that you have a good chance (are within the medians) of getting into. Pick a few that you are less likely to get into (near the bottom or just below the medians).
How should I prepare for the LSAT?
To begin with, you cannot wing the LSAT. Don’t go into it expecting it to be like the SAT or ACT; if you don’t prepare for it, you will regret it. Also, law schools tend to frown on taking it more than once unless you have a good reason to and that reason is reflected in a significant difference in scores (i.e. you were ill the first time).
As for how to prepare, I simply used review books from the bookstore. Other people take classes offered by Kaplan and other similar companies. Really, I think it comes down to what works best for you. If you can’t afford the course (they are expensive!), don’t worry that you are going to have no chance of doing well. The books cover the same methods and all of them have practice examinations. Be sure you take at least one practice exam under real timed conditions so test day is not the first time you feel time pressure.
POST #3: October 9, 2013
I’m almost halfway through the first semester of law school. This is, in a word, terrifying; but, it is also exciting because concepts in my courses are finally beginning to come together and fit into a cohesive set of principles/way of thinking. What have I learned so far?
1. The answer to every question, and I do mean every question, is: “Well, it depends…” or, to put it another way, to every rule there is at least one exception.
2. If you park by Michigan stadium, miss the university shuttle and are at risk of being late to Property…you can run from South Campus to Central Campus in approximately five minutes.
3. Law firms are insane and make hiring decisions in the summer between a student’s first and second year (when they only have 1 year worth of law school grades to go on)…making me rather glad that I want to pursue a career in public service.
Being halfway through the semester also means that I have encountered a barrage of terms and phrases like:
Res Ipso Loquiter
Judgment Non Obstante Verdicto
And so on.
In short, all the phrases that people so often call “legalese,” by which they really mean “stuff lawyers make up to sound smart and make law so confusing that no one can understand anything without them.”
But, contrary to popular belief (and this is where I bring this back to the purpose of the blog), there is a reason that lawyers do this and it isn’t all that different from what happens in the fields you are studying at Marietta College. The reason is simple: efficiency. By using “terms of art” experts in a field can communicate a whole set of concepts quickly to others experienced in the field and thus save time and energy to better address the actual problem at hand.
Lets consider an example:
The phrase “judgment non obstante verdicto” in English translates to “judgment non-withstanding the verdict.” When a lawyer uses this term, he is of course referring to a motion by a party who has lost in a jury trial asking the judge to overrule the jury and find the opposite way. But he also means more than that. He is suggesting that the evidence is so one sided that, even considering all of the other side’s evidence in its most favorable light and drawing all inferences in favor of the jury’s decision, no reasonable jury could have reached the conclusion that appears in the verdict. He also conveys many more concepts/standards/ideas that come along with a motion for judgment N.O.V. (to abbreviate) that no one reading a casual blog wants to know about.
The point is that he does this in one simple phrase as opposed to a long and cumbersome paragraph.
The same thing happens in your leadership courses. Consider the term of art “Charismatic Leadership.” This connotes a whole set of ideas concerning what factors make up such leadership and how it operates to motivate action. To other leadership students, you can easily say Charismatic leadership in the course of a discussion of a given case study and, if they have done the reading, they will likely know what you are talking about without your having to summarize the entire concept for them. You can move to the heart of the discussion without needing to spend time filling everyone in on background information.
So, perhaps law and lawyers are not quite so devious as people and pop culture make them out to be. Which leads me to the last thing that I’ve learned (and/or had reinforced):
4. If you see it on Law & Order, it isn’t real law.
POST #2: September 8, 2013
I have now officially made it through my first week of law school (well, my first four days: U of M, unlike MC, does not have class on Labor Day in accordance with state law). And so, I thought this might be the perfect time for a brief discussion of how the law school classroom compares to the environment at Marietta College. First, however, it is probably best to begin with a brief overview of what a law school curriculum looks like.
For those who don’t know, law school is three years in length (typically referred to as the 1L, 2L and 3L years — as opposed to freshman, sophomore, etc.). In the first year, all classes are required (though U of M 1Ls do get to choose a seminar elective from a short list of courses in the second semester) and generally consist of the following courses:
Civil Procedure (studying the basic rules governing the filing of private lawsuits)
Torts (the study of liability for private wrongs, such as medical malpractice, accidents, etc.)
Legal Writing/Legal Practice (practical and generally pass/fail course on how to write/research in a legal setting)
However, some law schools, including Michigan, have adopted what is known as a “reformed” curriculum. This means that they also require a course called “Legislation & Regulation” which studies the making/interpretation of statutes (laws) and the regulations (rules) drafted by administrative agencies (such as the FDA, FEC or SEC). Accordingly, one of the core classes, typically Constitutional Law, is pushed into the 2L year. Michigan is unique in being the only law school to require all students to take Transnational Law, which is an introduction to international legal issues, sometime in the 2L or 3L year. After that, all other courses taken in law school are electives.
This semester, I am taking courses in Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Property and the first half of the Legal Practice course.
So, what does a law school classroom look like? Well, to any student who is familiar only with a straight lecture type classroom setting, it would be very foreign. However, to most leadership students or any other students who have experienced a more Socratic (discussion-based) form of instruction, it is not so different. The professor typically calls on students (often referred to as “cold calling”) and then leads a continuing discussion of the cases/readings for the day. Generally, there is little to no lecture. Students are expected to learn from the discussion and develop skills in critically analyzing the issue and legal rule presented by the case for the day.
This week, in Criminal Law, our discussion focused on State of Florida v. Zimmerman. (You should note that this is somewhat unusual in law school because it is not an appellate decision — that is, there has been no appeal in the case and accordingly there is no written decision or explanation of legal reasoning). However, my professor (a former federal prosecutor) provided us with copies of the instructions on the law read by the judge to the jury in the case, the appropriate Florida statutes and copies of all of the discovery (evidence) information provided to Zimmerman’s lawyers to allow us to prepare for the discussion. We then focused on what the prosecution had to prove and whether or not there was enough evidence to charge Zimmerman or convict him. On Wednesday, we will also discuss whether or not the Justice Department can and/or should press hate crime charges against him.
To many of you, I think this might sound very familiar. Exploring current events as a means of putting into operation concepts addressed in the reading or elsewhere in the course (in this case, proof beyond a reasonable doubt) is a hallmark of teaching in many departments at MC. As are critical thinking about readings and theories presented in the previous night’s reading and free wheeling classroom discussions of those theories. Law school is different in the sense that the classes are typically larger (anywhere between 60 to 90 students), but similar in nearly every other respect. The only real differences, in my opinion are (1) that the topics are legal in nature and (2) the reading material is much denser.
And that will conclude this blog post so that I can go and look over rules regarding testimony by Jurors (Federal Rules of Evidence 606(b) for anyone who is curious and/or may be suffering from insomnia and would like help sleeping).
POST #1: August 21, 2013
If you are reading this blog, you are probably either (A) considering law school, (B) considering graduate school of some sort — though you don’t know in what field yet — or (C) have absolutely no idea what your are going to do when you graduate MC, but think graduate/law school might be an option. Whichever you are, I hope that you will find the information in this blog interesting, at least passably entertaining, and informative. But first, to some preliminary questions I’m sure you have:
Who is this person?
My name is Ben Reese and I am a member of the Marietta College Class of 2013. I am originally from Marietta, Ohio and attended MC as a commuter student. I majored in Economics and Political Science with a Minor in Leadership Studies; I was an active member and president of the Forensics & Debate team, participated in Moot Court and Model UN, completed the Honors Program (Curriculum & Research), and was a volunteer Tutor at Ely Chapman. Between my junior and senior year, I took courses in Legal History and Comparative Public Law at Cambridge University in the UK as part of a program offered by the McDonough Leadership Program.
I am currently an incoming 1L (first year law student) at the University of Michigan Law School, where classes will begin on September 3. Next week will be orientation week for law students.
Why the University of Michigan?
I picked U of M for a variety of reasons, not least of which was because it is among the top ten law schools in the country. The biggest factor, however, was the atmosphere. Michigan was the law school that reminded me the most of Marietta College — actually, the law school is about the size of MC with approximately 1000 students. Those of you who have begun the law school search are probably familiar with the word “collegiality.” For those of you who have not, nearly every law school you will ever visit will claim to have a “collegial” atmosphere. Every law school class and every law school is also, at least during the first year, graded on an absolute curve, which means people can get really competitive (AKA nasty). Some schools actively try to combat this by not revealing GPAs, etc. When a school claims to be collegial, they are saying that the law school community is generally welcoming; students helpful to each other; and the school’s policy and general feel is not “cut-throat.” Of course, this is truer at some schools than at others.
Of all the schools I visited (five in total, including the University of Chicago, Cornell, and Vanderbilt), I truly felt comfortable and welcomed at U of M. Like at Marietta College, everyone at the law school seemed to know each other, the faculty were genuinely interested in talking to and helping both current and prospective students (even if not all of them came to Michigan), and people were truly excited to by what they are studying. Michigan also had far more clinical and practical training courses (more on this in another entry) than the other schools I was considering. The law school also provides generous loan repayment assistance to students interested in public interest (government or non-profit) jobs following graduation. Taken all together, these were the factors that ultimately led me to choose Michigan.
What do you want to do after law school?
The short answer is that I don’t really know for sure. I do know that I do not want to practice criminal defense, but beyond that I want to keep my options open until I learn more about the various areas that I could specialize in.
What should I expect from this blog?
My hope is that this blog will achieve a couple of objectives:
1. Give current MC students some insight into what law school is like
2. Discuss what aspects of my undergraduate career at MC were most helpful to me as a law student and connections between what I learned at Marietta and what I am learning in Michigan
3. Provide any other useful information I discover from the experience for those considering graduate school, whether or not they pursue law school
That about concludes this blog entry. As I mentioned above, classes will not officially start for another week, but I hope to submit some reflections on the admissions process and the first few days of law school in the coming weeks. Until then, good luck on the start of a new semester!