Archive for the ‘law school’ Category

Top 5 Tips I’d Give My First-Year Self

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16 Northwestern University School of Law)

This time last year I was reading a million “Top 10 Tips for 1Ls” lists and feeling like most of them were generic and aimed at the masses. So instead of speaking to all 1Ls, I’m going to speak to myself as a 1L. After making it through that experience, here are my top 5 tips for myself this time last year. Here are the honest things I would tell myself, a racial minority from a lower socioeconomic background at a T14 school, who was interested in social justice and not the pipeline to big law.

  1. Don’t talk to the white people about racial stuff. I didn’t come in to school very fixated on race, and I had no idea how much racial tension I’d encounter. I’m not saying that white people won’t understand or be sympathetic. But racism in law school can be very smartly hidden and excused by “logic” and especially competition. You never know who thinks that you’re just there because of affirmative action and not because you “earned” it. Save yourself the distress, and go talk to the diversity counselor or a professor that teaches something like “race and the criminal justice system.” 

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  1. It’s not your responsibility to educate anyone else. For every person who tells you that they “wouldn’t want to be embarrassed to not have earned their spot,” there will be a very well-intentioned White Savior randomly telling you, “It’s so great that you [people] are here.” You’re not there to provide the “minority perspective,” or to teach the rest of the student body about racism. You’re not there to “create a diverse educational experience” for the kids who only have only ever been around people like them. You’re there to learn contracts.brb-saving-africa
  1. Get your tools ready, ya trailblazer. The machine is not-so-gently pushing you through the big law pipeline. So if that’s not part or all of your plan, you’re going to have to figure it out yourself. Surely there are schools out there that support public-interest folks better than others, but you should still talk to everyone. Find as many options as you can. Google. PSJD. Look up attorneys who do what you want to do, and see what steps they took.
  1. Don’t knock it. I know you’re suuuuure that you’re not interested in big law. But trust me; you don’t want to close any doors just yet. A happy work life isn’t just about your substantive work; your work environment is equally (if not more) important. Plus, big law opens some doors in the public interest world, just like it closes others. I had many attorneys tell me that their organizations looked skeptically at candidates who came from big law. Other attorneys told me their organizations like candidates with some big law background because they are well-trained. You’re just going to have to figure out your own path.
  1. If you want to leave, that’s ok. It’s too much time, energy, and money to spend on something you hate. If you want to take a year off, go between 1L and 2L (but ask about 2L OCI eligibility first). If you decide you don’t want to be a lawyer, you’ll find a way to pay off that year of loans. You are not stuck, and if you think you are, you’ll only hate it more. This is still your life; it doesn’t start later.2qklzz4

Good luck, 1L self. Remember, you’re the shit and don’t let anyone tell you different.

LSReJuvenated after the Annual Leadership Institute

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)

Ever experience “social justice burnout”?  When your day-to-day is filled with researching and discussing painful topics, it can feel daunting, or even impossible, to continue in RJ work.  The 2014 Leadership Institute gave me new energy to approach the rest of this internship and to continue my work in reproductive justice.  After a whirlwind weekend starting and ending with the cute/ creepy Virgin America safety music video, the LSRJ national office is back in Oakland.  The LSRJ seventh annual Leadership Institute, hosted at George Washington University School of Law, was beyond successful from both the national office side and the attendees’ side.  I was excited to represent an organization and wear the “LSRJ hat,” while also wearing the “attendee hat” which  meant that I could check in with folks who I could consider my peers for honest feedback of the conference.  Everyone I had the chance to talk to loved the weekend as much as I did! Here were my five favorite parts of the 2014 LSRJ Leadership Institute:

1) Panels and workshops.  Of course, this was the main content of the LI, and I had the opportunity to sit in on several workshops as the point-person.  During the presentations – which varied from ways to message around abortion, to a how-to for strategic LSRJ chapter planning, to an introduction to policymaking – I got to absorb knowledge from experts across the spectrum of RJ advocacy.  Judging from how engaged our attendees were, they also appreciated the breadth of knowledge that they can now take back to their LSRJ chapters.

2) Experiencing behind the scenes facilitation.  There’s so much that goes into facilitating a conference, and I only played a small part in making sure this LI went smoothly.  Working with the national office to ensure every detail was set made me appreciate how much forethought and planning has to go into organizing successful events.  From handing water bottles to speakers, to timing each workshop, I was only able to successfully complete my part of the work because of the effort that Keely and Samantha had already put in.  Y’all are awesome!

3) Giving a presentation to a large audience.  Part of my responsibility at the LI was presenting one of LSRJ’s event toolkits to the chapter leaders.  Because of the preparation work we all put in beforehand, I felt 100% comfortable and in control of the materials I presented.  As I said to my mom on the phone afterwards, now I understand why you’re supposed to prepare presentations instead of winging it!  I’m hoping that my presentation of the sex-ed event toolkit, along with Gavin and Sasha’s event toolkit presentations, helped chapter leaders better understand how to put on successful events on their campuses.

4) Connecting with LSRJ folks. One person I spoke with this weekend called the LSRJ network a “family.”  She said the term networking is too scary and inaccessible to describe the connections formed during the LI.  I appreciated that so many law students were willing to engage with me – a lowly undergrad!- and suggest different organizations I should check out in the upcoming semester.  Like I said before, I was lucky enough to both represent internsLSRJ and interact with attendees in a more interpersonal sense.

5) Bonding with the office!  There’s something about flying across the coast that makes a national office closer.  I can’t speak for all of us, but I have the feeling everyone had a more-than-fun time together, especially us interns.  Yes, this is a Snapchat:

Thanks to everyone who attended the 2014 Leadership Institute, and I hope that everyone there found it beyond worthwhile!

Dropping the F-Bomb

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

How many times has one of your friends started their sentence with “I’m not a feminist, but…”? If you answered “one,” that’s already too many. We [read: self-proclaimed feminists] hear the beginning of that sentence not just from our friends, but from celebrities, professors, acquaintances, and even blind dates. Sometimes, the qualifying “but” isn’t even thrown in; sometimes it’s the conclusory “I’m not a feminist.” A few weeks ago, a fellow female law student told me after class, “I would never call myself a feminist, but pregnancy discrimination has gotten out of control.” Does that mean feminism could finally warm its way into her heart if pregnancy discrimination hit absolute rock bottom? Now, to be fair, some people just refuse to ascribe any labels to themselves [read: hipsters]. But the most common “I am not a feminist” utterer isn’t someone who really doesn’t believe in feminism or hates labels, it’s someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a feminist, or just does not understand it. I’ve been told “I can’t possibly be a feminist because I like pink and I like to get my nails done.” But when I pressed whether this person believed that there were social and cultural forces that prevented women from achieving equality on par with men, she answered with an unqualified “yes.” So what is it about the F-word that gives people the heebie-jeebies?

Embarassingly, I used to be a feminism-denier when I was an undergrad at Harvard. But there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by scary-rich young men of privilege to turn you into a practicing feminist. It didn’t help my anti-feminism either to learn that many of my friends had been survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault; and apparently, it hasn’t gotten much better. Aside from the traditional, feminist groups on campus where I gained some much-needed perspective, there was also a growing coalition of conservative women. When one of these women (a board member of the campus republicans) was interviewed about her work, she proudly noted that she was a feminist. In response, one of her male, republican colleagues commented “that’s cute that she thinks that.” His comment gets at the source of the ire for the F-word: supposedly, it’s only reserved for certain women – women who don’t shave their armpits, who attend Lilith Fair, who go on diatribes about killing off the male race.

But the crux of feminism is that, as my Women and the Law professor reminds our class, there are many, many feminisms. They don’t all agree with each other. My feminism, for example, has been pulled in so many directions that it now feels like salt water taffy. But they all embrace the idea that something is wrong with the way our society treats women, and it needs fixing. If you can acknowledge that, then you are a feminist. And when you’re ready, I have an extra ticket to the Lilith Fair revival tour with your name on it.

Lady Parts

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Dear LSRJ Blog Reader,

Lady Parts (LP) is a student-run production that highlights the issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and identity, as pertaining to women. Through a series of monologues, LP aims to educate, enlighten, and empower both women and the surrounding community in order to accept, advocate, and celebrate.

In 2013,  Emory Law Students for Reproductive Justice, in partnership with the corresponding student organizations at the Public Health and Medical Schools, brought Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” to the Emory Graduate community for the first time. This year the show has progressed toward new goals. In the interest of creating a more diverse and inclusive show this year’s production will be featuring monologues written by Emory students about the modern day triumphs and hardships of being a woman. We are particularly interested in exploring the intersectionality of other aspects of identity (age, race, orientation, class) with womanhood and how our experiences are both shared and different.

If you’re in the Atlanta area and interested in acting or would like to learn more about the production, please click here and get involved. The show is on March 20, 2014 at 7pm in Tull Auditorium. We look forward to seeing you in March! If you’d like to support us but are unable to do so in person, please consider donating to our beneficiary SPARK on behalf of LadyParts here.

XOXO, Emory LSRJ

As a LSRJ alum, I care about women winning

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Kate Baxter-Kauf, Guest Blogger, (’11, University of Minnesota Law School)

Like most alumni members of the LSRJ, I was active during law school in my chapter, serving as the co-treasurer for two law school years and going to meetings all three, and helping to organize fund raisers, educational events, and visiting speakers (though perhaps not as active as two of our co-presidents during my law school, both of whom LSRJ has profiled!). Also like most alumni members of the LSRJ, I’m committed to fostering legal expertise and support for the realization of reproductive justice. During law school, my involvement with LSRJ made the method through which I supported these goals clear —my LSRJ chapter had a full and vibrant schedule of ways to learn and get involved.

But since graduating from law school, I’ve been less sure how to support reproductive justice in more tangible ways than being informed and following smart activists on Twitter. I work in private practice; my job doesn’t involve non-profit or advocacy work on a day to day basis. There does not seem to be much of a need for pro bono direct legal services for those seeking abortions in my area—I looked, for example, as to whether minors requiring a judicial bypass proceeding needed counsel in Minnesota, where I live, but my research and discussion with providers indicated that guardians at litem and not lawyers were the ordinary volunteers. Every pro-choice organization needs donations and holds events, and I’ve found a few I especially like, especially those that directly fund abortions for people who can’t afford them.

Over the past year I have found a different opportunity to participate in the movement through an organization called womenwinning. The organization recruits, trains, and helps pro-choice women candidates get elected and the events it puts on directly support this mission—I went to a house party that discussed essential traits of successful global leaders in the context of women in the workplace with Dr. Annmarie Neal that was fantastic, and last year’s annual luncheon with former Senator Olympia Snowe was both inspiring and informative about the ongoing need for pro-choice women officials across the ideological spectrum. Next week, I’ll be attending my second annual Wine, Chocolate & Choice event, which is specifically designed to aid young pro-choice women like myself in fostering the next generation of reproductive rights advocates.

If you’re in Minneapolis next week and a supporter of LSRJ, you should join me. If you’re not, I highly encourage you—in addition to supporting LSRJ, supporting and funding direct reproductive rights services, and other events—to seek out these types of organizations. Finding a way to elect pro-choice women candidates to all levels of public office is a concrete step in the fight for reproductive rights and justice.

Note from the LSRJ national office – as a 501(c)(3) organization, we do not support or oppose any candidate running for public office. Any LSRJ alum or member affiliating with WomenWinning is doing so as a private individual.

Bridging the Divide

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Every year on the anniversary of Roe v Wade anti-choice and pro-choice protesters clash in a media frenzy that feeds on the stark divide between two divergent views on abortion. Though meaningful access to abortion is an integral part of the reproductive justice movement, focusing on the black and white morality of abortion can detract from a deeper discussion on the root causes of social inequities that affect women’s lives.

Is it possible to imagine a political landscape where women, regardless of our views on abortion, mobilize our significant resources and unite to work towards a world where all pregnancies are intended and welcomed?  Where we are addressing structural change to our current patriarchy-centric society?

As unlikely as it seems that you may be able to see eye to eye with anti-choice advocates, consider the possibility of reaching out to the Advocates for Life student organization on your law school campus to see if you can work together on less polarizing issues.  Have an honest, civil conversation with someone from across the divide and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much support you can offer each other.

Roe: One Con Law Experience

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

I had been dreading and yet also looking forward to this con law class for months – the class on Roe v. Wade. The attacks on Roe were the reason I came to law school. I meticulously read the opinion the night before, and steadied myself for a battle. But the class came and went without so much as a 1L wincing at the word “abortion,” which turned out being the worst case scenario – Roe passing by as just another case to remember for the final.

I looked back at the (truncated) case in my textbook and realized that all of the fervor from the opinion had been sucked dry. There was nothing from the original opinion on the incredible hurdles that women had transcended to get an abortion, or on the devastating effects unplanned pregnancies had on women who were forced to carry them to term. Or just as importantly, there was no discussion of the federal and state policies put in place since Roe that have made it so difficult to access abortion that Roe is practically moot.  Instead, my 1L con law class read a few legalese passages on the “penumbra” of privacy rights. So for Roe’s anniversary, as a LSRJ chapter leader at my law school, I hope to bring the real Roe story to my classmates – that it’s not just a case to memorize for the final, its about women and our right to control our bodies

The Rape Apologist

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

As a TA for a criminal law class this past semester, I witnessed some pretty scary comments about sexual assault from law students.  Those comments were the inspiration behind this post.

A “rape apologist” is someone who sympathizes with the rapist (The onion has summarized this affliction oh-so-well.)  Here’s how to identify and treat the symptoms of such a person:

  1. The raised eyebrow at the mention of rape. Treatment: pretend you were talking about rate…s of inflation in this country. Get out while you still can!
  2. Outlining his perfect rape apology scenario: “So things are getting hot and heavy between a girl and a guy. She decides she’s not into it, but she just lies there, and doesn’t say anything. And the guy still thinks it’s great, so he keeps going. How can you blame him when she doesn’t say anything?” Treatment: “Does that sound like good sex to any reasonable human being? You make sure your partner is properly lying like a frozen, dead fish, you don’t speak, and you just continue? LADIES: GET IN LINE, THIS GUY JUST CONTINUES.”
  3. The proper allocation of blame: “The ‘victim’ [read: air quotes] needs to ask what she was doing to cause her rape.” Treatment: “Sir, I believe you are speaking to personal responsibility. You know what’s a good barometer for personal responsibility? Simply asking your partner, ‘is this ok?’
  4. “Science” that conveniently apologizes for rape: “Besides, science says that men are biologically predisposed to commit rape. So, come on: science…” Treatment: “I believe you are referring to Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, which can be summarized as: ‘male scorpionflies seem to rape, therefore male humans obviously need to rape.’ You should read Besteman and Gusterson’s book, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong. They are leading anthropologists who de-bunk biological determinism. But I understand if you’re too busy reading… Reddit…?”

If you or someone you know suffers from rape apology, there is still hope. Call that person out on it today!

True Story: I Volunteered As An Abortion Clinic Escort

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Caitlin Bancroft, Guest Blogger, (’15, George Washington University Law School)

This article was published by The Frisky.

“Look at me. Look in my eyes. Let me tell you why I’m here. I’m here because I figure that the women who come here have already agonized over this decision enough. They have considered their own circumstances, looked at all the options, and come to the best possible decision that they can make. Once they get here, they deserve support. So please don’t listen to those people, because they aren’t listening to you. Only you know your story, and only you have the right to tell it.”

Clinic escorts are never supposed to say “good morning.” We are taught to never presume anything about the women and men whom we guide into the clinic, including however good or bad their morning is going. I usually ask them if they had trouble finding the clinic or I make a generic comment about the weather. During these raw moments of extreme vulnerability, I would rather that they judge my clichés than focus on the self-righteous hate speech emanating from the protestors. Most of the time, I am able to get them safely from their cars to the front door of the health center with little more than comments about traffic and Google maps. But sometimes it’s not that simple.

On my first day as a clinic escort, I was horrified by the cruel protestors. New to the game as I was, I couldn’t understand how anyone could see a scared woman and feel the need to publicly shame her. Their behavior was appalling. Their humanity was questionable. But for the most of the morning, I did not focus on the fear-mongering extremists. I wanted to help the women and no one else mattered. My selective deafness worked well for most of the day, until a young woman came out of the clinic and went to her car to smoke a cigarette.

She had barely taken her first puff before the anti-choicers surrounded her like demonic soul suckers. A woman with sign covered in doll heads kept saying, “We know the best doctors. You need to see our doctors before you do this.” But the man with the grotesque sign kept yelling, “What’s the real truth? Why are you really doing this to your child?” When I got to the woman’s car I began to understand the impetus behind the protestors screaming. This young woman was shaking and repeatedly telling the protestors her diagnosis. She had visited multiple high risk OBGYNs, and every single one had told her that she wouldn’t survive this pregnancy.

I did the only thing that made sense at the time. I put my body in between her and the determined zealots. When I caught her eye, I was able to calm her down by telling her the reasons why I chose to become a clinic escort. Once she had calmed down enough to speak coherently, she began to tell me her story. She already had a very young son. He was healthy now, but he was very sick when he was born. In fact, the delivery had left her in a coma for a month and her son was in a coma for three months. She loved him so much. So when she found herself pregnant again, she didn’t want an abortion. But her doctors had made it very clear that another pregnancy would kill her. Despite her desire to continue the pregnancy, she couldn’t risk leaving her son motherless.

For the entire time that she bared her soul, the protestors screamed at her. They called her selfish and sadistic. They told her that she was evil. They called her a murderer.

When she finished her cigarette, I walked her back to the clinic doors. On the stairs in front of the clinic, she reached out and squeezed my hand.

Whenever I feel like this work is too much to bear, I remember her. Not because she “needed” me, and not because she was upset. I remember her because during one of the hardest moments of her life, she looked me in the eye and thanked me for my compassion. As if my sympathy was a gift, and not a natural human response. Empathy should be an expectation, not a shock.

I stand with women because caring is still radical.

And if it were me, I couldn’t do it alone.

Scalia, Semiotics, and Same-Sex Marriage

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Courtney Fraser, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of California, Berkeley Law School)

The whole internet was an envelope this morning, and I did NOT want to open it. Like seeing the letter from your top-choice college come in with the mail and knowing it is either an acceptance or a rejection, I stared at my laptop in a state of quantum uncertainty. Google Chrome was Schrodinger’s SCOTUS ruling. After stress-drinking two cups of coffee, I braced myself. I double-clicked, scrolled through the headlines, and cried.

The explosion on Facebook was unbelievable. Since I’m my college mates’ resident “law student friend,” I found my name tagged in myriad status updates asking for clarification. Is DOMA dead? What is “standing”? Do we rejoice? I answered to the best of my ability (despite my admittedly tenuous grasp of civil procedure, but, really, whose head doesn’t Article III hurt?) and beamed. Yes. We do rejoice.

While I was hoping for a broader ruling in Hollingsworth, the fact is that today Californians can get married, while yesterday, many of them couldn’t. (Well, according to this guy, they could.) Plus, given that we got Kennedy on our side after all (this is the face I made when I saw that he wrote the Windsor opinion), I feel like the Supreme Court has typed some winking emoticons between the lines of Hollingsworth. Next time everyone has standing, I would be surprised if SCOTUS skirts the seven-state solution. And the victory re: DOMA is spectacular. As activists are quick to remind us, the war is far from over, but this is a battle we’ve won – and the spoils are many. I don’t need to talk about tax benefits for surviving spouses like Edie Windsor, or immigration protections for bi-national couples in queer-friendly states. These things are accepted as real, tangible rights that were being withheld from same-sex couples, and that state of affairs was accepted – five to four – as unacceptable. What I want to draw attention to is the semiotic victory we won in Windsor – because that seems to be what Scalia just can’t get over.

Sorry. I was a Linguistics major in college. “Semiotics” is how we make meaning out of symbols – it’s systems of communication, including language, that teach us to associate a thing with a message. Let’s say the “thing” is marriage – the word, the institution, and every iteration thereof being lived out by lawfully wedded couples. The “message” – until today – was that as far as the federal government was concerned, all of the pomp and circumstance our culture attaches to marriage (not to even mention the bundle of substantive rights) was only for straight people. The message was that queer couples were different, lesser, and excluded. We all knew that there were 1,138 actual rights that non-straight couples did not have – but the differences that were being encoded ceremonially, symbolically, and culturally were far more insidious. Semiotically, bias creeps in without us realizing it. Even people who hold no actively derogatory beliefs about LGBQ people would probably show some implicit discriminatory attitudes on this test (proceed to Sexuality IAT) because we were all inundated with messages of queer inferiority, bombarded by all sorts of things that hinted, stated, or screamed that we are not equal, and that’s just what happens. DOMA was one of those things. With its ruling today, the Supreme Court stopped the transmission of that cultural signal. Oh, there are others, still coming through loud and clear, but with the Constitution on our side, I at least feel vindicated.

Scalia doesn’t want us to have this satisfaction. First, in a fit of denial, he maintains that although the legislation’s purpose to defend traditional marriage is plain from its name, ” to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions.” From his analogy, it’s clear that Scalia at once views same-sex marriage as fundamentally separate (“other constitutions”) from opposite-sex marriage, and holds this view so entrenchedly that he doesn’t even see the problem with his framing. It’s not for want of an education in semiotics, though. He sharply perceives that

 “[b]y formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is ‘no legitimate purpose’ served by such a law, and will claim that the traditional definition has ‘the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure’ the ‘personhood and dignity’ of same-sex couples [citations omitted]. The majority’s limiting assurance will be meaningless in the face of language like that, as the majority well knows. That is why the language is there. The result will be a judicial distortion of our society’s debate over marriage—a debate that can seem in need of our clumsy ‘help’ only to a member of this institution.”

So, he sees that Kennedy’s opinion provides a robust toolkit for re-framing the discussion in a way that will make it possible for us to talk about how laws privileging opposite-sex marriage are semiotic instruments of stigma and oppression – he just doesn’t like it.

According to Scalia, it’s not even the Court’s job “to say what the law is.” I – pardon my sass – dissent. By interpreting the law, a court precisely tells us what that law is, or what it isn’t. In that sense, jurisprudence is perhaps the premier tool for promoting social change through semiotics. A law is passed; a  law is interpreted. While these are not “magic” guarantees that behavior will follow, there is something magical about performative language. A declaration that queer marriages stand equal to straight ones in federal eyes – or that a woman can get an abortion – or that a boss cannot grab an employee’s a** and get away with it – tells us that we’re right. That we don’t have to take the harassment, the stigmatization, the denial of rights anymore. Of course, it rarely works out so neatly in practice, but at least we know that we can stand up to our bullies, and Uncle Sam will stand behind us. So, tell me, Scalia  – what part of Windsor is any different than what we were “owed”?

Amid other cheap shots in his scathing dissent, Scalia opines: “It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad.” After decades under the predominant cultural signaling that us queer folks are monsters, it’s frankly nice to see the tides change, and I have just one more thing to say. Scalia, shove it up your argle-bargle.