Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ch. 4: Orientation

Anita and her family had moved down to Las Vegas about a week before I did and settled into a small apartment complex a few blocks away from mine. During one of our many post-admissions conversations, I had persuaded her to attend Boyd with me, rather than to University of Michigan. Although "U of M" ranked higher, the tuition and living costs alone would have crippled her family's finances. Besides, Anita's husband worked for a company in Reno and could transfer to the Vegas branch, even earning a raise.

Attending Boyd with Anita had many advantages for me. We could carpool to school, quiz each other, and go to the store together to buy our casebooks.

We had received directions to buy our books in advance, considering our teachers expected us to complete our first assignments before the first day of class. I had diligently checked the online resources every day until the syllabi were posted. I had printed a spreadsheet listing my assigned books, and since Anita and I were scheduled to take the same classes except for legal writing, she could shop from my list. My roommate, Sue, had gone before us to purchase her books, because she was in section two.

Boyd students were randomly divided into two sections. All the section one students had the same teachers, books and classes. Section two students had different teachers and books, although all of us had to take the same five subjects during the first year. Students could more or less choose their classes based on their interests during the second year.

When Anita and I visited the UNLV bookstore, she could hardly contain her excitement.

“Oooh! Look at this one!” she squealed. She grabbed a deep-red Criminal Law book off the shelf, as if picking out a lollipop. It was insane she was having this much fun.

“Uh, huh,” I said. I smiled at her enthusiasm but didn’t feel the same way. “Should I buy the supplementals? I think I’m going to need them.”

“I won’t need them!” Anita said. She had never needed supplementals before. She could glean what the teacher wanted by listening and making educated guesses on exams. It worked better for her than any other person I had seen.

“You can borrow mine,” I said. “Just in case.” I stacked Glannon for Torts, Property, and The Redbook (an optional citation manual) on top of my growing pile of books on the floor. Soon I split the tower in two columns, so it wouldn’t topple over. Yippee.

I could barely carry my books to the cash register. They must have weighed 25 pounds. The girl at the checkout smiled.

“We’re law students,” I explained, a little out of breath.

“Ah!” she said, as if she had never seen a bunch of future OneLs (first year law students) purchasing truck loads of books before. I charged over $600 to my credit card and hauled the newfound burdens home.

Once there, I released my books from their cellophane wrappers and carefully placed them on the unvarnished pine shelf across from my bed. Each book’s spine was at least an inch wide. Gold lettering gleamed from the heavy, hardback covers.

Which class would I like the most? Torts? That was all about personal injury. I looked up the definition of a tort before (it had nothing to do with chocolate and more to do with a civil wrong). Property? Naw. Property bored me. My sister talked about real estate all the time, ever since she started taking those phony get-rich-quick real estate investing classes in Las Vegas. Snore. Maybe I would like Civil Procedure—it was all about rules. I liked rules, right? Eh. What about Criminal Law? I had never even seen an episode of “Law and Order.” No “CSI” for me. Those shows made me queasy. “Boston Legal” and “Ally McBeal” didn’t count. My Lawyering Process legal writing books looked down-to-earth. At least they had paperback covers. No fancy lettering. I had three of them, but they were half the size of the other monstrosities.

Color coding time. Traditionally, I took all of my notes on loose binder paper, so if I took too many notes, I could always transfer them to another binder. I already knew I took notes prolifically, so I had purchased two-inch binders for all five of my classes. All I had to do was print out labels for each binder and come up with colors for each subject.

Easy enough. My torts book had a deep brown cover, but when I thought of torts, I pictured people falling down and getting black-and-blues, which usually faded to a purplish hue after a few days. Torts = purple label. Done.

Crim Law (Criminal Law) should be orange, because prisoners wear orange jumpsuits. Property should be green, like lawns in front yards. Lawyering Process would be blue because that was my favorite color—and writing was my favorite subject. What was left now? Civ Pro (Civil Procedure). That would be red because rules were like stoplights preventing people from doing illegal things. Well, some people.

I explained this color scheme to Anita over the phone later that day.

“You’re absolutely crazy,” she said. She laughed for a long time and paused.

“I know,” I said. Gotta make the binders look pretty. It was the least I could do to honor my mom the artist.


August 17, 2006. 5:30 p.m. Anita and I had signed up for our very first library tour, the informal kick-off event of Orientation. I came armed with my trusty notepad –a palm-sized book from the Holiday Inn that I had found during my pre-move shuffle.

I kept to my notes and didn’t look up until we passed the law journals on the third floor, across the indoor skywalk leading to the “quiet area.”

“Law reviews!” I exclaimed, not meaning to sound so enthusiastic. Law reviews represented the height of scholastic success for any legal writer/theorist. Boyd had a collection of law reviews from every major law school in the nation, it seemed, including Harvard. If I earned good enough grades during my first year, I might qualify for the Law Review the next year. Students could either “write on” or earn high enough grades to qualify by default.

“Yes!” agreed the talkative lady. She must have thought I intended to direct my comment for her. I tried not to look too friendly. Law schools graded on a curve and perhaps I should be careful who I befriended. The competition at some law schools was cutthroat.

“Can we have a copy of your notes?” she asked.

“No.” I said rudely. “Take your own.” It wasn’t like me to be short, but for some reason, I felt defensive, and disappointed that the library tour really didn’t reveal any secrets to the legal world. Now I knew where the bathrooms were. Whoop de do.

“I get lost easily,” I said, trying to excuse my large quantities of notes. She didn’t seem to mind.

When the tour was over, I looked at Anita.

“That’s it?! They had to give us a whole tour just to show us the bathrooms? We could have found that out just by walking around.”

Either the Boyd staff was trying to be friendly and hospitable, or they thought we were stupid. Anita and I shrugged and descended the cascading, black-slate steps from the third floor library to the main double doors. The bathrooms on the first floor impressed me, at least. They had modern, trough-like basins for sinks with automatic faucets, accented by beautiful silvery fixtures.

During the rest of orientation week, Boyd’s entire administration and staff babied us. They held our hands through each little description of the school, and lavished us with multiple opportunities to get to know the teachers and our peers. Monday morning, half the Boyd students reported to the Alumni building so a professional photographer could take our pictures, enabling the teachers to recognize us and call on us by name.

I smiled pretty for the camera and continued on to the next event on the agenda—the dinner with the faculty. We were seated alphabetically, so I went through the buffet line and sought the “A” table.

Most everyone already had taken their places at the circular table. I sized up my competition. To my right sat an Indian girl named Ruma. Zoe sat across from me. She had waist-length brown hair and an artsy, purple shirt with stars on it. She must have weighed no more than one-hundred pounds and wore almost no makeup. Zoe told us she was a theater major and a Las Vegas native. To her right was Krissy, a brunette whose silvery eye shadow made her look like a club-hopper. She had an annoying valley-girl voice, and told us she came from Las Vegas. Next to Krissy was Tim, a tall, lanky, geology major with a pale face and thick, Arthur-Anteater glasses. His voice vaguely resembled Ben Stein’s in the Clear Eyes commercials. He would make a great tax lawyer, I mused.

Before long, Professor Sullivan, a legal writing professor, joined us, sitting between Ruma and me.

“How’s everyone doing?” she said in a squeaky, girlish voice, unexpected coming from her mature face. “I’m sure you’ve already introduced yourselves to each other, but would you mind saying your names again?”

We didn’t have much time to chat before the dean’s formal speech, but I managed to squeeze in that I had written my undergrad thesis on plain English and the law and was looking forward to Boyd’s writing program. I’d read it ranked third in the nation, partly due to Professor Sullivan’s expertise.

Dean Langford began speaking. Because our table rested so closely to the podium, I had to twist uncomfortably to look at him. He came off like a wizened attorney and businessman, from his posture and confidence. Dean Langford repeated a line we had heard before: “Look to your left; look to your right. One of you won’t make it through the first year. Law school is a privilege. You all should be proud you’re here.”

I strained my neck to the side and clapped politely after the speech closed, feeling like I didn’t belong in this room full of future lawyers. I wondered if anyone would notice the imposter amongst them, since my motives for attending law school had to do with decoding legalese, not just making money by practicing law.

Orientation week was comprised of several social-bonding experiments, like a mock class the teachers put on to demonstrate what not to do in class (instant messaging your friends, leaving your cell phone on, slamming the door when you exit to go to the bathroom, or, the biggie: going on longwinded narratives about your personal life and how it may or may not relate to the case at hand). To top it all off, we had to reunite with our tablemates for a scavenger hunt to win a lunch with the Nevada Supreme Court Justices. The scavenger hunt survey contained some objective questions like “What is the maximum occupancy in Room 101?” and other questions Krissy claimed had to be trick questions, like the ones on the LSAT. One of the questions asked us to come up with a school slogan using the first letter of the first names of each Nevada Supreme Court Justice. And finally, the stumper—look up Boyd’s student handbook and write down the absentee policy.

Our group had already tried to download the student handbook on one of the library computers, but for some reason, we couldn’t access it.

“Maybe it’s a trick question,” Krissy repeated, as if it was impossible that one computer in the library may not be functioning properly.

“It’s not a trick question” I retorted. “We could ask one of the librarians to help us, or find a paper copy of the handbook, or look for a computer that works.”

“I think it’s a trick question,” she insisted. This coming from a girl who had suggested that our school motto might have something to do with beer and skittles because two of the letters were “B” and “S.” Our group sat defeated, circled around a table in the break room.

“Nobody thinks my jokes are funny. I have no friends,” Krissy said.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m going to go ask someone how we can get a paper copy of the handbook,” I said. I left the table, finding it suddenly unbearably irritating to be in the same room with Krissy. I didn’t exhibit the sun-shiniest of moods. No one in my group followed.

“Why doesn’t she like me?” I could see Krissy mouthing to the others, as I looked through the circular window in the door. Everyone seemed shocked I had left the room. I paced a few minutes outside before regaining my composure and deciding to go back to my group. Even if I hunted down the answer, I wouldn’t be participating in the stupid team-building exercise. We ultimately settled on a school motto based on Tim’s suggestions (something to do with the Adversarial Judicial System Always Winning the Best Result). We decided to leave the handbook question blank. Guess we weren’t winning the luncheon with the Nevada Supreme Court Justices. The group decided I should be the one to record all of our answers on the copy we turned in. I was glad to just get rid of the darn paper. At least Zoe, who suffered from a rotten cold that week, had gone out of her way to find out the maximum room occupancy of Room 101. Krissy had heard someone from another group say the room was locked, so she concluded the question impossible to answer. Turns out all Zoe had to do was look at the sign outside the door.

Orientation week culminated in Professor Merek Czarnecki’s second lecture about what to expect on a law school exam. He led Boyd’s Academic Services Department, CASE. Merek’s speaking style proved eccentric—during the first lecture earlier in the week, he’d opened his PowerPoint presentation with a story about running from a bear—complete with flailing arm gestures and a scream. I forgot the relevance, other than that law school induced panic. Somewhere in his introduction he had also made a very convincing argument that the first seven bars of “Ice, Ice Baby” –Ding ding dinga- ding ding dig-ding—were actually not copyright infringement of another similar song because the last two notes were different. For a skinny Polish guy, he had more energy than any person I had seen. Merek told us he taught Torts, and in his practicing years as an attorney, had even made old ladies cry on the stand. We could see why. All goofiness aside, he terrified us. Sure, he made fun of his unpronounceable last name, but once he launched into the real serious stuff, such as what it takes to write a convincing test answer, we forgot about his antics. Merek lit into a surfer dude student who was brave enough to engage in the Socratic Method Q&A. Merek pressed until he stumped just about everyone. At the end of the lecture, Merek gave us a sample exam question, with five minutes to write out our answer. He offered to grade our one-page written answers to the hypothetical. Turning in the assignment was optional. I started writing out my answer, but ran out of time and decided not to turn it in because I figured I was a good writer and could follow the format he presented in the lecture (cite the rule of law, and back it up with relevant case law precedent, referring analogous facts to the facts in the hypothetical, etc). Anita scrawled out several paragraphs and turned in her paper. The professor had promised he’d return the graded papers in our boxes (similar to cubbies in kindergarten).

Merek’s lecture had a sobering effect on the students. Everyone exited quietly.

“I’m scared,” my roommate, Sue, said as we filed out the door.

“I am too,” I said. All hand holding and babying aside, we had finally glimpsed the rigors of law school—and it wasn’t pretty.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Freewrite on Agents and Publishing

I sometimes compare working in a records office to working at a morgue. There is very little interaction with live people, and not much room for creativity. Hence my need to continue to write.

Today I was reading a chapter from Betsy Lerner's "The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers." Simply put, writers are neurotic. "Some pick their skin, some pull out their hair..." (p. 93). Sound familiar? I asked myself. Disturbingly.

So what keeps us from moving forward as writers? We want to be published, yet there is an underlining fear stopping us. I remember approaching a wizened pianist after one of his brilliant recitals. In response to my question if he ever got nervous, he said: "Never in the history of the world has the earth ever opened up and swallowed a pianist."

What's stopping me from finding an agent and getting published? Nothing!

The further I read into Lerner's book, the more I was convinced. Yes, I need an agent. No, I shouldn't self-publish an e-book just to avoid rejection and the vetting process of the scary, traditional publishing world.

Lerner recommends coming up with long and short term goals. Long term, I plan to have my books published, and I'll need an agent to land a decent publisher. I can also publish as many of the papers I write for my master's degree as possible, preferably in peer-reviewed journals.

And very, very, short term, I can post reflections on my progress to my blog. It doesn't have to be perfect. It's a blog, not Hemingway. :)

From there, I'll polish my query letter, proposal, and synopsis and (yikes) send it all off to agents. Lerner says the process is much like applying to college. Send "one submission that is a reach, two that are in range, and one 'safety school'. Try an agent at one of the big power firms, a couple at medium-sized firms, and one who is out on her own. And if you're also trying publishing houses, try a big conglomerate, a couple of smaller houses, and regional or academic press if that makes sense" (p. 148-149).

Sounds like applying to law school to me...but much more fun!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chapter 3: The Big Move

I had never moved out of my parent’s house before. All through college, I didn’t want to go anywhere, or even give the dorms a try. If I had lived on my own, I would know to clean. That was about it. Mom cooked all the meals and did all the grocery shopping. Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Costco—I hadn’t paid more than a visit or two to any of them, not even to buy my own Chapstick.

My mom gave me a crash course in cooking before I moved to Las Vegas so I could prepare my favorites: spaghetti and fresh sauce (it would be a sin to be half Italian and not know how to make sauce from scratch), omelets, and romaine salad with lemon pepper and rice vinegar dressing. I learned how to prepare cucumber and tomato salad, Auntie Lena’s famous meat balls, and Mom’s basic cauliflower casserole.

I stood next to her in the kitchen and recorded the step-by-step process on my notepad. Cooking and note taking. I excelled only at the latter.

My cauliflower casserole came out of the oven with a brownish-charcoal layer not specified in Mom’s recipe. Oh, well. I wouldn’t have much time to cook in law school anyway.

I had developed severe food allergies—anaphylaxis—during my sophomore year of high school. The symptoms were hives, plummeting blood pressure which caused skin redness, coupled with a feeling of impending doom and trouble breathing due to swelling of the throat. People could literally suffocate in a matter of minutes unless treated with an emergency auto-injector Epi-pen of Adrenaline and a handy dose of Benadryl. After my allergist tallied my scratch tests, we discovered I had to half the food groups: soy, beans, garlic, any kind of spice imaginable, peanuts, hazelnuts, bell peppers, corn, and much more.

“What’ll I do?” I asked my allergist.

“Eat cabbage,” he said.

How comforting.

The year before I went to law school, I was retested for allergies. The nurse made the same hundred pricks on my back alongside grid-like dots in permanent marker. Once the buzzer rang after thirty minutes, the nurse pressed a cold, plastic ruler against the itchiest patch of skin. My luck had changed.

“Humm,” she said, rotating the ruler to measure from the other side. “You’re allergic to raspberries.”

“Raspberries? I wasn’t allergic to raspberries before. What about soy and all the other foods?”

“The doctor will explain it to you when we’re through,” she said.

“It appears you’re allergic to peanuts, hazelnuts, and raspberries,” my allergist declared, more at the chart than to us, after my mom and I had joined him in an exam room down the hall from the testing area.

“Really?! No anaphylaxis?” I said.

“No anaphylaxis,” he said.

“But look at her back!” Mom said. Her short, brown hair usually formed wispy layers, but now resembled a sparrow’s rumpled feathers as she glared at the doctor. She pushed her glasses to the top of her nose, and pointed at my back. Mom had examined the bumps following the test and found the skin disturbingly red.

“Let me see,” my allergist said, taking another look. “No, it’s normal. See?”

Sure enough, no bumps, just dots from the permanent marker. Mom shifted her weight from one Birkenstock-clad foot to the other. She crossed her arms, forming a kind of warrior stance, albeit in purple fleece.

“You grew out of your allergies,” he told me. “But you’re allergic to the cold.”

“You’re kidding, right? Is that possible?”


“So I guess I shouldn’t go to law school in Boston. I should go to Las Vegas instead.”

“Boston, not so good, Las Vegas…fine,” he said.

Maybe God was telling me I should give Boyd a try. Either that or He was giving me more time to actually learn how to cook.

I was finally moving out and becoming a grownup, working toward a real job that paid real money. No more piano teaching. No more English essays. No more fun.

Dad wanted to buy me a house in Las Vegas, so we spent several months looking for condos in our price range. As generous as Dad’s offer was, I didn’t want to buy a house. I searched for flaws in every place the realtors showed us (ugly bathroom fixtures, too old and in need of remodeling, in a bad neighborhood, or too many stairs). I wanted an exit strategy, just in case law school didn’t work out.

Of course, we didn’t find a house we liked. Instead, we made a sole offer on a condo that had a permanent Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants toilet seat cover, white tile floors, and no carpet. The seller’s offer came back “for sale as is,” a clause we rejected outright. Leaving behind a frustrated duo of realtors, we decided to rent, ultimately going for an Italian-themed luxury apartment with a full-sized washer and dryer, two swimming pools, and a gym. Now all I needed was a roommate to share the rent: $1,075 per month.

During the summer, Bob Minard, the dean of admissions at Boyd, circulated an email survey for people wanting roommates. I advertised for a clean, organized, studious roommate with no cat or plan for getting a cat (I was allergic, and had endured my ex-boyfriend’s three).

A girl from Arizona e-mailed me a few weeks later. Her name was Suzanne, and she didn’t own cats. She said she loved Britney Spears, liked “Grey’s Anatomy” (my favorite TV show), and enjoyed watching a good ol’ episode of “Friends” every now and then. She used full capitalization in all of her emails. She was 23, and half Italian, half German. We both had Italian mothers. My only other alternative was a girl from California who had a typo in her first email and was interested in having two roommates. I could only handle one. Besides, typos meant lack of attention to detail, something which would drive an English major like me insane. I responded to be polite, but when I didn’t hear back from her, Sue became the de facto roommate.

When Sue e-mailed a picture of herself, I had one thought: She looks cooler than I am. She had straight brown hair with blonde highlights, and a symmetrical white face. She stood in the picture, smiling goofily next to her current roommate.

“Oops! Sent the wrong one!” read the e-mail’s body. “Sorry for the penis straws. This was taken right before a bachelorette party!”

And so they were. Plastic, magenta penis straws in a cup of beer. I decided not to disclose this when I showed the picture to my mom.

“She looks nice,” Mom concluded, completely oblivious to the straws.

Via several emails later (sans pictures to censor), Sue and I planned to move to Las Vegas during the last week of July. We wanted to get there at the same time. Sue had surmised that because my dad co-signed our lease agreement and paid the deposit, she would relinquish the master bedroom to me and settle for the smaller room. We didn’t ask her to split the deposit because she had a tight budget, and her parents were not as willing as mine to help with the finances. My 69-year-old structural engineer of a dad had generously volunteered to pay my half of the rent, although I insisted on paying my tuition with loans. I figured the more financial responsibility I took on the more seriously I would consider my law school studies.

I planned “Operation Moving Day” a full month in advance and compiled a list of the items to pack—down to the number of spoons, plates, and bowls. If all else failed, I knew I would have eight dinner plates and six drinking glasses. I even made a list of foods I liked to eat that I wasn’t allergic to previously, so I wouldn’t run out of ideas on what to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just in case I didn’t actually grow out of my allergies.

Sifting through the stuff in my room took longer. I kept every binder full of notes, every college textbook and nearly every assignment since high school. I invested so much energy in those classes; I couldn’t bear getting rid of it all. My mausoleum of study materials stayed behind in my closet. I packed the rest of my belongings into boxes and labeled them.

The week before moving day, Dad got a map from AAA and highlighted the route to Las Vegas. I printed backup Mapquest directions for all of us. My sister, Amy, volunteered to drive the U-haul. We booked a flight to Las Vegas for my mom for the following day because she was prone to heat stroke and didn’t want to drive with us. Everything was ready. Almost. Everything except the movers. Despite my careful planning, the one buff friend who I had asked to help move the heavy items didn’t show up until after we moved everything but a houseplant. By the grace of God, some of our neighbors agreed to help us pack the truck.

We set out the next morning. Amy and Dad in the moving van; me following in my two-door ‘98 Honda Civic. We stopped for breakfast in a casino at the first small town we encountered. My bacon-and-eggs casino breakfast, complete with pancakes, sausage and buttered toast settled unsteadily in my stomach. We had at least a nine hour drive ahead of us.

After a few hours, we decided to switch driving order. I got to lead this time, with Dad in the passenger seat.

“Do I turn here?” I asked, squinting at the freeway entrance sign.

“Yeah,” Dad said. “This road turns into the highway, I think.” It was a narrow, residential looking street. Before long, we passed all of the houses and any signs of civilization. Sagebrush and more sagebrush whizzed by my car window.

Amy followed in the moving van at an unusually slow rate of 40 mph.

“Why’s she going so slow?” I asked Dad.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Maybe she doesn’t want to break any of the loose items in the back,” I said.

I kept plodding. After about an hour, the landscape started to change. Instead of sagebrush, an unusual knee-height green shrub started to appear alongside the road. Then more green shrubs.

“That’s sure not a Joshua tree,” I kidded.

We were inching toward a magnificent mountain rising mysteriously from a completely flat plain.

This is too beautiful to be Nevada, I thought. Amy drove slower and slower.

At last, we reached the base of the mountain, and the first sign in two hours surfaced. It read: “CA State Route 167.”

California!! I knew shrubs like that didn’t grow in Nevada! Why didn’t I stop? Apparently Amy had seen the original California sign hours ago, and was slowing down in attempt to get us to rethink our route.

Dad had me pull over so he could jog to Amy’s truck, now parked a few feet behind us. She had tried to call my cell, but the road noise completely masked any ring tone. We had detoured two hours out of our way to Mono Lake, a resort town.

While Amy and Dad reconvened over the map to plan a way to get back to Nevada, I sat in my car, smirking sheepishly at myself, thinking only one thing: thank God Mom didn’t come.

Amy pulled a U-turn in the moving truck, and I followed her back in the direction we should have headed.

Mom really wouldn’t like this, I reiterated to myself, feeling like a guilty two-year old who had just knocked over one of her favorite houseplants.

Gotta do something to cheer myself up, I thought. I ditched the good-natured sentimental mush of Nat King Cole playing on my cassette player, for a more big-band Vegas sound: Frank Sinatra. And then I did something I very rarely do. I started singing.

I hate singing. As a music major, I suffered through eight semesters of choir to earn the corresponding ensemble credits to my piano lessons. Dr. Irwin always said pianists were cannon fodder for the choir. I wholeheartedly agreed.

But to keep from descending into self pity due to my lack of orienteering skills, I had to cheer up somehow. My car began to bake under the desert sun, despite its air conditioning. To make matters worse, we had to pass through a depressing burnt forest on the way back to the correct route.

My head started to feel woozy from not sleeping well the night before in anticipation of the day’s trip. I blinked hard and tried to take deep Yoga breaths. Gas was running low. Two hours later, we stopped at a small station outside of a secluded Mexican restaurant, the only populated area in miles. It had a grimy bathroom without toilet paper. I pumped a half a tank of gas into my car and continued.

The next fueling station rested about an hour outside of Las Vegas. Now eleven hours in to what should have been a nine-hour drive, we knew we were on track. The landscape had changed back to blankets of sagebrush.

I pulled into the gas station, got out of the car, slowly circled around to the gas pump, and lifted the nozzle.

It didn’t fit. What? Did the size of my gas thingy change? I pushed again, but nothing. Great. I broke the gas thingy. What’s wrong with me?

“Amy!” I said.

She strolled over nonchalantly, looking not so fatigued from the drive.

“You want diesel?” she asked.

I didn’t understand the question.

“No…” I said, perplexed.

“Then put down the diesel pump,” she said. A guy in a neighboring SUV flashed an amused grin.

I couldn’t help but giggle. Not only had I led us two hours out of our way to Mono Lake, but now I was forgetting how to put gas in my car. Three cheers for the baby of the family.

At last, we arrived at my new apartment. As I stepped out of my air conditioned car into the parking lot, the inferno hit me. The sun had set. At least in Reno it cools down at night. Not in Vegas. I suddenly realized a round bump had surfaced on my upper right arm—the same place I would always develop hives before a big allergic reaction. I had made it through the grimy gas stations and the unintended detour to California, only to find out I was allergic to Las Vegas air. I decided to keep mum as I dodged the quarter-sized cockroach that scurried ahead on the sidewalk, leading me to my new home.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Reflection on Stress

My critique group is off for the summer, so now is a perfect time to reflect on some of the chapters I have already posted.

If you are considering applying to law school, you absolutely need an effective way to deal with stress. Some people hang out with friends and laugh all night. Some people play video games. Others go drinking and party all night. That never really worked for me, but in retrospect, if there is anything I have learned from my experiences in law school, it is that stress is an ongoing part of life, and I need a better way of dealing with it.

This morning I read a section of Mike Walden's e-book, "Acne No More" on how to deal with stress to reduce acne. One sentence really resounded with me when I read it: "To find the right balance between working and playing is almost critical to your mental health and overall well-being" (p. 202).

My sister told me the other day that I am no fun, and I don't know how to have fun. Sometimes it feels like that is true, but it really isn't. When I was in law school, I felt guilty for enjoying my down time with my friends. I didn't want to give myself permission to laugh and have fun. The weight of the material we were learning and the stress from the cases we read continually jarred at my inner peace. That is no way to live. My friends were able to joke about what was going on, and even make fun of the stupidity of the actions of the people in the cases we read. It sounds mean, but in a way, it was a healthy way of dealing with the stress of learning about those cases.

I took a walk yesterday in the Villagio, an affluent housing development up the hill from my house. As you make your way through the curves of the road, you almost feel like you are in a wind tunnel, but when you get to the top, there are mosaic-inlayed fountains, Italian-villa inspired gates, and beautiful landscaping. I sat under one of the pergolas and literally just smelled the roses, looked at the clouds, and took time to listen to the wind rustling through the leaves. It was absolutely beautiful, peaceful, and yes--fun. We are very lucky to be in this world God created. Sometimes I lose sight of that while I am working behind closed doors in over air-conditioned buildings and in artificial light.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your Forth of July! 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chapter 2: Getting In

Law school dreams punctured my otherwise tranquil undergrad experience. I quieted the volume on my internal can-can’t war and began the most labor-intensive research project on legal careers possible. My search covered nearly all of the books in UNR’s Career Services Library about how to choose which professors to write letters of recommendation, how to write the perfect personal statement, and how to select the right school. Some books revealed how to overcome the epidemic of depression, suicide, and alcoholism that afflicts legal scholars more than any other professional group.

I sought anything to scare myself away from law school, only increasing my determination to apply. I rented “The Paper Chase” and mocked the main character’s floppy 80s hair style, ignoring his very real struggles with his demonic Harvard professor who bombarded him with questions in the notorious Socratic Method. Even people at the airport tired to dissuade me. One man told me about how he applied to law school, got in, stayed a very short time—then fled. At parties, I ignored dinner conversations about people who went to law school, had nervous breakdowns, and were never the same. I read Scott Turow’s brilliant novel, One L, a semi-autobiographical tale of a tortured Harvard law graduate who had taught English composition before applying to law school. He saw his highly-educated classmates’ bewilderment as they squirmed to avoid being called on in class. Horror stories about case briefing, group outlining, and final exam preparation flashed before me. I ignored them all, even the jokes from attorneys saying that if you were smart, you wouldn’t want to be a lawyer.

Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, I thought. Law school couldn’t be all that bad. Besides, what other career would bring the prestige, excellence, and money that law could? Even if the first year stressed out almost every lawyer I interviewed, most of them turned out fine once they found their niche.

The LSAT, however, should have diverted me. It contained many a bogus logic question on absolutely nothing to do with law. The better you did on the LSAT, the better you would perform during your first year of law school. The test didn’t correspond to a law student’s achievement in the rest of law school, nor did it have anything to do with a lawyer’s success after graduation.

The LSAT was a beast: a 4.5 hour test comprised half of logical reasoning, a fourth of logic games, and a fourth of reading comprehension questions. The 30-minute writing sample did not factor into the score. Law school admissions committees only wanted to make sure you could string a semi-coherent sentence together. As a writing major, I was ticked that the one thing I thought I was good at didn’t count.

One particularly bright blogger on a law-prep website I frequented, ( advised potential LSAT sufferers, er, studiers, to do this:

“When you reach a boring reading comp question, pretend you’re reading about the most fascinating subject on earth. For example, say one of the reading excerpts is about the migratory patterns of birds. Say to yourself: “Oh! Wow! I always wanted to learn about the migratory patterns of birds! Whoopee!”

As fun as it sounded to feign enthusiasm through the entire marathon of a test, I always ran out of brain power by the fifteenth question of each section. I downloaded my first practice exam for free from the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) website. The site has everything from study books and online applications, to a service that distributes letters of recommendation. I didn’t attempt to take the test in real time. I did a few questions a day instead. The result devastated me. I scored a 140, ten points below the average.

LSAT scores predominantly determined your chances of being admitted to a highly-ranked school. The highest score you could achieve: 180. If you scored a 179 (the 99% percentile of all LSAT test takers), you had a pretty good chance of getting into a Tier One school— Yale or Harvard, according to US News and Review, my favorite online rating system. The lowest you could score on the LSAT was 120. Average was 150. You would have to get at least a 149 to even be considered for admission to a third or forth tier school. If you scored below that benchmark, you might as well not bother applying.

I had no choice but to sign up for the only test preparation program in Reno: Kaplan. I charged $1,099 to my credit card to enroll in a month-long course consisting of four-hour lecture sessions, online exercises, and four practice tests.

On the first day of class, a Saturday, I arrived at the Mackay Science building on campus, only to find it vacant. I headed up the stairs to a locked classroom on the second floor. Twenty minutes passed, till another student came and hung out in the hall across from me.

“You’re taking the Kaplan course?” I asked. “It’s today, right?”

“Yeah,” she said, in a non-committal way, and looked down so she didn’t have to chit-chat.

“Where’s the teacher?” I said.

Five minutes later, he appeared, striding up the stairs in a hurried fashion to unlock the room. He had short, brown hair and wore a business suit in various shades of pale yellow, from the tie to the coat. He bore some resemblance to Noah Wiley, and might have been mistaken for attractive, until he spoke, stressing syllables in short, staccato strokes.

“Sorry I’m late. I’m dying of thirst! Does anyone know if the vending machine works?”

By now, two more students filled the room, and we stared at him blankly.

“Just a second,” he said, scurrying back out of the room.

“Bah!” we heard him exclaim from the hallway, followed by a thump as he pounded in desperation on the soda machine.

“Does anyone have a dollar?!” he asked, returning to the room. “The machine wouldn’t take mine.” He held up a pathetic, crumpled bill.

A hippie girl sitting in the front left row donated a crisper one.

When he finally settled down, he leaned against the front table and winked at the student in front. “I’m Jacob Travis Fartherlee, he said. As if his name alone should impress us. “Call me Travis.”

Apparently he didn’t want to be associated with anything Biblical, I thought as I stared at the two Kaplan books on my desk, both the width of telephone books.

Travis told us about himself—for the next half hour. He had studied geriatrics, but switched to logistics, then to law because he was such a kick-ass LSAT taker. Over the next month, we discovered he had an irritating habit of launching into 30-minute anecdotes about himself. He told us the diversions served as a reprieve from the weighty LSAT material. Travis also hit on every girl in our Kaplan class, including me. He often came up with his own hypotheticals modeled after exam questions—one in particular had to do with my mom buying my underwear. What possible relevance does that have to the LSAT? None.

In one of his many digressions, Travis said: “Some people don’t like me so much. But if a jury is full of females, I’d make ‘em like me. All my ex-girlfriends liked me.”


On another day, he felt the need to confess: “I know I come off as arrogant sometimes. I’m really quite mellow.”

I resisted smirking as I scanned to my books. Although we covered all aspects of the test during class, we never lingered on any type of question before moving on. The result was a schizophrenic sampling of LSAT questions, with no attempt at mastery. I ended up repeating my Kaplan course twice and postponing the test two times. The almighty Travis was the only teacher available. Originally I had enrolled during the summer before graduation, but at the time I was too busy focusing on my thesis. It didn’t help that I was still deciding whether or not to go to law school.

During my retake, Travis offered to give us one-on-one advice. When he met with me in the adjacent classroom, he sat on top of one of the student desks and said: “Gina, you have to stop thinking this test doesn’t matter. I know what your problem is: you’re a plodder. You just go through the questions and don’t stop to think about the answers before reading the multiple choice options.”

“Fine,” I said. I took issue with his label, but then again, I did sweep through the test despite diminishing concentration. “I do fifteen questions in a row and get them all right, but then I lose focus and get tired. I just run out of time and pick B.”

“You should complete the first fifteen questions of each section, then skip to the end and attempt the two or three easy ones. Because of the way the LSAT is scored, getting one or two more questions right could mean the difference between getting into law school or not. It’s a game.”

As much as I disliked Travis for wasting time talking about himself, he was right. The second LSAT class ended, and I still wasn’t ready. Panic time. I complained to the Kaplan manager, who offered me, of all things, a private tutoring session with Travis to make up for my poor Kaplan experience. After one session, I canceled. I just couldn’t learn from someone I didn’t respect.

And then I met Anita.

Without Anita, I never would have gained admission into law school. I was starting to think I would never raise my LSAT score above a 150.

Some people you just know should be attorneys. Anita was one of them. Her straggly black hair fell in thin curls over her large frame. She wore black pants with an elastic waist and a tee shirt with a ketchup stain from her son’s French fries. I could hear her laugh from down the hall, and she almost never stopped talking.

Anita and I belonged to Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity (PAD), which hosted a practice LSAT, compliments of the Princeton Review. We charged $15 to test-takers. Only five people showed up, including Anita and me. By then I had taken three or four practice LSATs in real time. As always, I spent too much time mulling over the answers before running out of time. Anita didn’t have any such problem. She finished every section with about ten minutes left. She told me after that she had enough time to hum a tune in her head and think about the boxes she had to move later that day. The family of three who occupied the upstairs rooms and lived rent-free in exchange for babysitting her two kids was moving out. Anita and I talked after the test culminated and the proctor called time. It would take two weeks for the Princeton Review to mail us our results. We promised we would report back to each other as soon as we could.

Anita’s score came back: 162.

162!? On her first LSAT! With a diagnostic score that high, she didn’t really have to study to get into law school. I told her if she wanted to go to Yale, her dream school, it wouldn’t hurt to improve her score. We quickly made a pact to study together for the June LSAT. My score had disappointed me as always: 149.

I set our study regimen. We took eight timed practice tests during the span of three weeks. I saved Kaplan’s online explanations and reviewed the answers to my tests—right and wrong, for every single question. I made crazy notes to myself in the margins of the tests in red, purple, and blue colored pencils, chastising myself for errors, marking a big “Yey!” for questions I got right. Anita didn’t need to resort to such cheerleading. She didn’t really have to review her answers since she didn’t need to gain points. Although we followed a Princeton Review study book, sheer repetition seemed to increase my scores the most. The LSAT wasn’t meant to be fun. It was designed to weed out the weak minded and the slow.

By the end of those few weeks, I had every question type memorized according to Kaplan’s labels and knew which ones I should bother attempting and which ones I should skip.

In the evenings after we finished our practice tests, Anita and I would sit for hours in my car discussing how it went. I would mostly listen to her talk about her life. Between her husband, her kids, and school, she had a lot to juggle. She didn’t waste time at all. She completed her homework, took her kids to school, made dinner and everything. And on top of that, she was going to be a lawyer.

I just had school. The LSAT mania had taken over both of us, but for Anita, the race was not as desperate.

A few days before the real LSAT, we decided to take our last practice test, the most recent previously-administered LSAT, in the same room where we would be taking the real test. We wanted to simulate the experience, get comfortable with the room, and visualize success.

I scored a 153. I don’t remember what Anita got.

I should have been happy. I passed the 150 mark, increasing my score a nearly impossible ten points. But I wasn’t happy.

“What’s wrong?” Anita asked. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she spoke as if I was a four-year old who had just fallen down.

“This means I’m not getting into Davis,” I said. I completely ignored the small victory I had achieved after a year of torturous studying and telling myself I was stupid. Davis was my dream school, but you needed at least a 160 for the admissions committee to even look at your application.

“But you got over a 150,” Anita said. “You should be happy. You’re going to get into Boyd.”

The odds of getting into my most realistic choice, Boyd, were good. Once I finally took the LSAT, I received a 152, no surprise. Test day felt like any other day because we had taken so many practice tests. Boyd’s median admittance score for full-time students hovered around a 154. I wasn’t off by much. Boyd only cost $8,900 per semester for in-state Nevada tuition—an incredible bargain—and because I planned to practice in Nevada to stay close to my family.

I had applied to six schools. Berkeley and Davis were dream schools, but basically out of the question. Boyd was my “perfect fit,” and Willamette and New England School of Law were my back-ups. I applied to Chapman as another backup, even though I didn’t really want to go there. They had an elder law clinic, which was the only appeal. The LSDAS online service, which came free with the LSAT registration, had a handy GPA and LSAT calculator that predicted which schools you would likely gain admittance to. For the most part, it was right.

By the time I had completed the LSAT, written my personal statement, compiled my letters of recommendation, ordered my transcripts, filled out my online applications, and sent in my application fees, the process was finally over.

I got into Willamette and New England, no problem, but I knew I wouldn’t attend either school; they cost too much, and I didn’t particularly want to move to Oregon or Massachusetts. “Sorry, but thanks for playing” letters from Berkeley and Davis followed, and so did Chapman’s, which came several months later because they wait-listed me.

When I received my letter of acceptance from Boyd, I stared at the white stationary with the bold, red and blue UNLV logo at the top, and grinned.

It is as it should be, I thought.

But somewhere, behind my pride, my hard work, and my head-banging stubbornness, I whispered to myself in quiet desperation: this means you really have to go.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Query Letter

One of the first steps to finding an agent and getting a book published is submitting a query letter. I've drafted the one below and am getting ready to send it out. Any thoughts?

To: Agent

Subject: Query: Tales of a Law School Dropout

Dear Agent,

What would you do if you found yourself pursuing a disastrous career path? Stick it out? Suffer for the rest of your life? Or do what I did—quit!

In Tales of a Law School Dropout, a 62,000 word memoir, I share what I wished I had known before going to law school. This book appeals to two audiences: people who are entertaining the idea of pursuing a legal career, and those who are just looking for a good read.

Law school has a way of multiplying your greatest weaknesses tenfold. After four months of studying gobbledygook at the Boyd School of Law in Las Vegas, I feel lucky to have anything left with which to tell my tale. My desire to make legal language understandable to everyone drew me to law school, but I discovered there were better ways to accomplish that goal.

Similar books on this topic like Scott Turow’s One L and Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky’s Should You Really Be a Lawyer? touch on the tortures of law school but don’t delve into detail about the dropout’s perspective. Retention is a real issue in any academic program—so far nobody has been brave enough to discuss law school retention in a personal, candid way.

I am a master’s student in Higher Educational Administration and hold a BA in English-Composition and Music from the University of Nevada, Reno. I work as a Registrar. My passion for education drives me to share my knowledge with those who need the truth about law school. Five years of Toastmasters has taught me storytelling techniques that appeal to broad audiences, and has given me the confidence to speak up about an otherwise taboo subject.

Thank you for your help, and I look forward to talking to you.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chapter 1: Cultivating the Dream

One seemingly ordinary day during my junior year of college, I was sitting in my Literature and Law class when suddenly, I knew—I could be an attorney.

The law school admissions process challenges applicants to submit a short narrative detailing why they want to attend law school, what makes them qualified, and what drives them toward graduation. I opened my personal statement for admissions committees with the sentence above, but reality paints another picture.

It began the fall semester of my junior year when I signed up for a class vaguely titled “Topics in Literature,” a course deceptively about law.

We were analyzing a judicial opinion. I usually made it a point to review the last few assignments before class, but when I pulled the one-page photocopy out of my notebook’s overstuffed pocket, I discovered I had not read the homework. I skimmed it quickly, found the language confusing, and decided to wait until the discussion to hear how my classmates hashed through it. Reading legalese induced instant amnesia. I would read a sentence, and it wouldn’t register in my brain.

The judicial opinion sparked a lively debate amongst my classmates. They scrutinized the sentences like dissecting lines of poetry. We searched for story structure, characterization, and voice. One of the older ladies in the class commented on the lofty language the judge used to emphasize Americanism. It was beginning to make sense. For the first time I realized that analyzing legal language was like examining literature, something I had been doing all along in my other English classes—something I was good at.

I could do this, I thought. I could be a lawyer.

As soon as the thought materialized, I discarded it like a used Kleenex. I had studied classical piano, and double majored in writing. I had no business thinking I could be a lawyer. Maybe I could make something of myself. Maybe if I became an attorney, I wouldn’t be so timid.

My thoughts shot back and forth like a madwoman’s metronome. Can-can’t, can-can’t, can-can’t.

Despite my interest in the law from class, I pursued something much closer to my safety zone—English with law intermixed. I later found out my Lit and Law instructor, Anne Hartman, specialized in plain English, a movement to make complex language understandable to everyone. I discovered a cause to fight for, and most importantly, a thesis topic: plain English and the law.

I emphasized my achievements in my personal statement, so I penned this:

"One seemingly ordinary day during my junior year of college, I was sitting in my Literature and Law class when suddenly, I knew—I could be an attorney. I was so steadfastly focused on completing my double major in English and music that I had not considered the idea before. Our class was analyzing the language of a judicial opinion, and although the words seemed opaque at first, I was fascinated by the way our class slowly unraveled the meaning of the judge’s words."

Inspired, I decided to write my honors thesis on the plain English movement. I wanted to explore ways of making legal language understandable to diverse audiences. As my research progressed, I realized I wanted to use the skills I had learned from studying plain English to translate legal language for clients.

In short, I embarked on a plain English crusade. I wrote numerous papers in my English classes criticizing the language of the law. I crafted a persuasive research paper arguing that Merrill Lynch needed to translate the legal hodgepodge in its prospectuses into plain English so ordinary people could invest intelligently. Nearly everyone in my English classes agreed legalese should be abolished and replaced with straightforward, unadulterated language the everyday reader could understand. I criticized law schools and law firms for adhering to antiquated legal boilerplate. Ideally, I believed most people want to understand the law they interacted with daily. Even the most complicated of legal concepts could be explained clearly.

I was out to change things. After two semesters of research and writing, I finished my honors thesis about making the language of the law more understandable to the general public. The Plain English Movement: Clarifying Legal Language for Modern Audiences was my crowning achievement.

The honors director and my thesis advisor, Dr. Anne Hartman, praised my efforts and hailed my work one of the best in the honors department that year. I thought I had found my calling: I wanted to translate legal language to make it accessible. Sadly, no “legal translator” jobs existed, so I opted for the next best option—I applied to law school.

I diligently researched my new career path and diplomatically explained away any uncertainty in my personal statement:

"Eager to explore my newfound interest in the law, I launched myself into an extensive research project on legal careers. I took a year off after graduation to make sure I really wanted to be an attorney…I interviewed attorneys from various fields of law. Most of the attorneys and judges I interviewed did not know what area of law they wanted to practice in before they went to law school. Even so, they helped me glimpse the many possibilities a law degree can offer."

A Juris Doctor (JD) had much to offer, as I found during my yearlong quest for a field of law I would enjoy. I toyed with many options:

"Multiple areas of law intrigue me: appellate law (because of my love of writing and research); contract law (because of my fascination with language); judicial clerkships (because of my respect for the system); child advocacy (because of my work with children); elder law (because of my empathy for my grandparents’ struggles); and environmental law (because of my desire to effect change). Even some of the more technical areas of law interest me, such as bankruptcy law or transactional law because they appeal to my detail-oriented side. By the time I took the LSAT, I knew why I wanted to go to law school. Becoming an attorney will allow me to use my skills to help others: to represent them, to counsel them, and to give them hope."

The thought of helping people intrigued me, but I had no idea how lawyers actually helped people. The brunt of my counseling experience involved listening to my friends’ problems and offering them suggestions. From what I could gather from TV, most lawyers resembled snakes. I joked that I would grow a forked tongue if I became an attorney.

Up until my “ah ha” moment, I had studied something as far away from law as you could get: classical piano. In my personal statement, I had to ever-so-carefully ask the law school committee to “please forgive” that digression:

"The skills that allowed me to master Beethoven sonatas will help me analyze cases in law school. Each piece of music I studied took months of preparation and practice until I could synthesize its multiple subtleties into a cohesive, finished work. Studying music theory allowed me to see how various rules applied to actual music, which often follows logical structures. Learning to perform classical music gave me an unshakable sense of discipline, patience, and focus. Although I do not envision myself becoming a concert pianist or teaching piano as a career, I value the time I have spent learning music. I hope to apply my talents to the law with equal zeal."

My piano teacher at UNR, Dr. Irwin, knew better.

I ignored the quizzical look on Dr. Irwin’s face when I told him I was applying to law school.

“You’re too nice to be a lawyer,” he said.

“There should be more nice lawyers,” I replied. He smiled without showing teeth and shook his head. I knew I wouldn’t be asking him for a letter of recommendation. Why would the admissions committee want to hear from a piano teacher, anyway? I was going to be an attorney. Besides, I didn’t want him mentioning how I had cried during one of my piano lessons the day he had forbidden me to use the word “can’t.” After my tears had subsided, he had joked that the mark of every great piano teacher was the ability to make his students cry.

Fear had stopped me from becoming the concert pianist my high school piano teacher told me I could be. As I progressed, the more terrifying piano performance became. Playing live felt like what I imagined a caveman running from a saber-toothed tiger would feel: pure, adrenaline-laced fear.

Every time I played at one of my “juries” (final exams for music majors were called juries, although they bore little resemblance to the real, legal thing) my cold, clammy hands sweated profusely. My fingers slipped and left dingy smudge-marks of perspiration mixed with dust on the keys. My left foot tapped uncontrollably against the soft pedal, while I tried to hold the other leg steady so I wouldn’t overdo the sustain pedal. I’d mess up in places I never messed up before. In my other classes, I prided myself on my dependability, but piano performances could be unpredictable and infuriating, no matter how much I prepared. Dr. Irwin kindly did not mark me down for my less-than-inspired performances. He told me not to worry—he knew I worked hard all semester.

I couldn’t be a concert pianist, so I opted to teach. I ended up teaching group piano lessons at a local music school the year before law school. Every time a student canceled a lesson because of a soccer practice, baseball game, ballet lesson, or any other activity more fun than piano, I felt foolish for pursuing teaching as a career. A few of my exceptional students made it worth it, but I fought discouragement every time I nagged my other students to practice.

I was accustomed to achieving more. I had graduated summa cum laude, earning myself the accolade Senior Scholar of the College of Liberal Arts, which was awarded to the graduate with the highest GPA from every college in the university. I had a brilliantly ambitious plan to attend law school, take the tortuous entrance exam—the LSAT—and gain admission to the only law school in Nevada, the William S. Boyd School of Law, in Las Vegas.

After perusing the school’s marketing materials, I listed many reasons why I wanted to go to Boyd in my personal statement:

"Boyd offers multiple opportunities to help me achieve my goals. The community service program will allow me to help unrepresented people and put my plain English skills to the test. The Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic offers ample opportunities to help children through its child welfare and education clinics. Participating in the Nevada Law Journal or the Society of Advocates would sharpen my writing and advocacy skills and prepare me for judicial externships. Boyd is my top choice because I plan to focus my future practice in Nevada. The same determination that drove me to become the Senior Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno will propel me to succeed in law school and beyond."

True, my experience teaching piano didn’t qualify me to work on serious legal issues facing children today.

I recall buckling under a six-year-old brat’s argument during one piano lesson:

“C…D…E,” I sang as he plunked the keyboard with sticky fingers.

“Do you have to sing?” he said, looking up with his nose scrunched.

“Unfortunately, yes,” I said. “How about trying it again with both hands?”

He shot me a look of pure distain: “Lady, who do you think I am? Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to play with both hands?!” he said between asthmatic breaths. “I’m not doing it!” he declared, giving my leg a small kick.

Great. I get beat up by six-year-old piano students. What kind of lawyer am I going to be? On the upside, I’d caught about a cold per month from my piano students, so my immune system would be in tip-top shape by the time I’d be ready to go to law school.

I wanted to go to the closest law school to home. During all four years of college, I lived with my parents. My mom babied me because I was the youngest. I was her little classical pianist. She made my lunches. She drove me to school—dropping me off outside the music building in the morning, and picking me up outside the student union at night. All I had to do was study, which I excelled at, a fact I certainly played up in my personal statement:

"Education has been my wholehearted focus for many years now. When I think of why education means so much to me, I realize how grateful I am to have the opportunity to apply to law school."

Now I had to introduce the one thing that would lead law school committees to believe I would make it past the first year. I needed to demonstrate some captivating reason to persuade them I would finish law school, beyond being a curious, studious, intelligent person with an interest in making the law more understandable to ordinary folk. I had a reason, but I didn’t want to use it. I didn’t want to talk about it, but I did anyway:

"When my dad was young, he was sent to a Japanese internment camp, an experience we rarely discuss. Nevertheless, my father’s experience quietly remained an unmistakable influence on my desire to further my education with excellence. Our family has never let the injustices of the past overrule our faith in the future. No matter what hardships we may have faced in our family history, we can overcome them through education. It is my duty not only to further my education, but to use my knowledge to help others in need."

My belief in education had begun to fail me as graduation approached. If only I had known a liberal arts degree was tough to apply. Out of my double major in music and English, it was easier to find a job in music. English was an incredibly broad subject. I had no idea what to do with it.

The prospect of law school represented hope. Hope that I would make something of myself, hope that I could use my transferable skills of writing and research and become some high powered, high-earning official, even a judge. Hope, perhaps, that I would prove I was smart enough to graduate from law school. Hope that against my intuition, I could transform myself from an overly-sensitive English major and stage-fright pianist into a powerful, confident attorney.

Table of Contents

Ch. 1: Cultivating the Dream

Ch. 2: Getting In

Ch. 3: The Big Move

Ch. 4: Orientation

Ch. 5: Day One

Ch. 6: Classes

Ch. 7: Briefing

Ch. 8: The Socratic Method

Ch. 9 : Competition

Ch. 10: Guardian Angel

Ch. 11: Legal Writing

Ch. 12: Outlining

Ch. 13: The Midterm

Ch. 14: The Fall

Ch. 15: Too Little, Too Late

Ch. 16: Thanksgiving

Ch. 17: Counseling

Ch. 18: Finals- Prep

Ch. 19: The Final Push

Ch. 20: The Decision

Ch. 21: The Fallout

Ch. 22: Too Nice to be a Lawyer

Ch. 23: The Move Back to Reno

Ch. 24: What Next?

Ch. 25: A New Start, A New Dream

A Virtual Critique Group

Hi everyone,

I started this blog so I can create a jury of my peers, of sorts. The goal is to publish my first book, Tales of a Law School Dropout, by the end of this year. But first, I need your help. The book is almost done. Give me your feedback! If you are a pre-law student, lawyer, or anyone who has followed a career path that just wasn't right for you, I want to hear about your experience.

Every two weeks, I submit ten pages (more or less) to my critique group. The process is fun and is a great way to write a book. Now you can be part of my virtual critique group!

Please let me know what you think.