When I started law school at Michigan State, I didn’t have a Twitter account. The main reason for this was that I had worked for a local law enforcement agency and the thinking for many years was that law enforcement and social media shouldn’t mix. After joining the student organization Legal Launch Pad, I was exposed to Prof. Dan Linna heralding the need for everyone to be on #legaltech Twitter.

Giant check for 3rd place in social media contest

When the Career Services Office introduced the Social Media Contest in the fall of my 1L year, I finally took the plunge and created a Twitter account. Entering the contest was very much motivated by my goal to fund a bar exam review course with “found” funds (funds that I won, received as gifts, found, etc.).

Since joining Twitter in November of 2017, my attitude toward social media has changed completely. At first, it seemed as though Twitter was filled with people patting themselves on the back. As my circle expanded, I began to see a different side. I found that legal tech twitter has many generous people who will take time to answer questions, share information, and congratulate others for their accomplishments.

Another side of Twitter began to come into view when I saw a tweet about the Access to Justice Tech Fellows program. I had heard of twitter jobs of course, but I thought that they were much like the elusive unicorn. This program was no unicorn, and I am proud to say I was accepted as a fellow.

Selfie while recording interviews at Iltacon

Jobs are not the only opportunity on Twitter though. Last summer, I was able to go to ILTAcon because I responded to a Twitter plea from Kevin O’Keefe (founder of LexBlog) for a law student assistant. For two days, I rubbed elbows with legal tech giants as Kevin interviewed legal tech company founders and introduced me to the many people he knew. (All the interviews now have their own home on the web at Legal Tech Founder and I highly encourage you to check them out).

For law students willing to take the initiative, Twitter is a way to find out what is happening in various areas of the law. It is also a way to make contacts in parts of the country where students might like to practice. Even better, Twitter is a way to learn from so many wonderful lawyers in all stages of practice. Some of my favorite accounts to follow are judges.

Today, I tweet frequently from my personal account (@edgeofempty) and also manage Twitter accounts for the student group Legal Launch Pad (@legallaunchpad) and a research group developing a new competency model for lawyers called the Delta Model(@deltamodellawyr).

Social media has opened doors that I never knew existed. Why not give it a try!

I am so glad that I was already working on an externship with a legal aid organization near my home for this semester. After the events of September, I still need to be at home for a while. The externship allows me to get back on track and make progress toward my degree while being at home. I feel so lucky that Michigan State has this program!

I can’t believe that the first two weeks of the semester are in the bag already. I am completely exhausted and feel that I have miscalculated the demands on my time and my ability to meet those demands. (Of course, this is law school so I think I am supposed to feel this way as prep for a legal career). So let’s review my weekly schedule:

  1. Work 30 hours each week at the externship
  2. Complete Advanced Legal Research course work
  3. Meet deadlines for Delta Competency Model research as we enter phase two
  4. Research and write a monthly article for Frontier of the Law
  5. Write a weekly blog post
  6. Keep up social media presence

What did I do this week?

  • Researched garnishments, foreclosures, landlord-tenant law, negotiable instruments, contract law, and more
  • Went to court twice
  • Assisted at intake office in the courthouse
  • Began long term research project on social security benefits
  • Attended attorney training with sessions on dementia, inclusion, and acting for lawyers
  • Used my tech skills to retrieve data from a phone
  • Dazzled ’em with my Microsoft Office skills (ok, it was just putting a Table of Contents in my research, but hey, if they think I am a magician, I am not going to correct them).

What did I learn about myself?

  1. I really like legal research.
  2. I like helping with technical prep for trials even more than doing research.
  3. I am still a work-a-holic. I have exceeded my time both weeks and have eaten lunch while pecking away on research every day instead of taking a break and going for a walk as planned.
  4. I was reminded that working in a busy office with constant noise is very draining to me.

Plan for the upcoming week:

  1. Ask about working Tuesday through Friday only. (Since I have to be in DC on Monday afternoons for class anyway, this would allow me to go to some of the Hubsters medical appointments or work on school work on Monday mornings).
  2. Figure out my plan for the school’s social media contest.
  3. Carve out some “me” time in my studio so that I can recharge with a little bit of quiet and solitude.

 

The fall semester of my 2L year at Michigan State University College of Law started with so much promise back in August. I assisted Kevin O’Keefe at ILTAcon at National Harbor then left the next day for East Lansing. I was excited to get back to campus to meet Carla Reyes, the new director of LegalRnD.  I was even more excited to take the classes that I had chosen to advance my legal tech knowledge: Artificial Intelligence with Prof. Reyes and Entrepreneurial Lawyering with Dennis Kennedy. I was also excited about heading the student group Legal Launch Pad.

As classes began, I was thoroughly enjoying them. Federal Indian Law, Family Law, Trusts & Estates, and Professional Responsibility rounded out my full load of courses. Even though the workload seemed heavier than that of my 1L year, I was happy because it meant that grades would be based on more than just one exam at the end of the semester. Along with classes, I was also waiting to see my ideas about facing challenges in law school (ironic) as interpreted by fellow law student Andres Y. Gonzalez in the September issue of Law Student Today. Additionally, I had been given the opportunity to submit an article to the ABA publication Law Practice Today so I was eager to complete that assignment and see if it was chosen (it was). I was also looking forward to a quick trip back home at the end of October to represent ATJ Tech Fellows at the Equal Justice Works Conference.

But then on Saturday, September 29, 2018,  my master plan was derailed with a phone call from my son. Within minutes of receiving that call, I had purchased a plane ticket, packed my backpack with books, and was headed to the airport. A few hours later, I was back home in Virginia and headed to an Intensive Care Unit. You see, my husband had suffered a stroke. After arriving at our local hospital by ambulance, he had been whisked by helicopter to a regional trauma center. By the time I arrived, doctors had performed a procedure to remove a blood clot from his brain. Two days later, doctors performed another major surgery. Over the next few days, each visit by a doctor to his room brought a seemingly never-ending stream of bad news.

Somehow, in the wee hours of those first mornings, I managed to complete the two papers that were due that week–in large part because I had not waited until the last minute to start them. (A good lesson in why students shouldn’t procrastinate). However, it was becoming clear that returning to school in time to avoid exceeding the absence limit was not going to happen. With great reluctance, I requested a leave of absence from school. I must say that the support that I received from the faculty and staff of the school confirmed that I made the correct choice when I decided to go to East Lansing the year before.

Despite all of the bad news in those early days, there were still bright spots in this period. Occasionally, my husband would show signs of lucidity and I could see that his personality remained intact. After my father’s stroke about 15 years ago, my dad couldn’t remember my name, so it was extremely precious to me that my husband recognized me and knew my name. As days passed, the weakness in my husband’s left side lessened. Most important of all, the MRIs showed that the stroke affected the creative side of the brain and not the engineering side that is needed for his work.

As the trauma of the past few weeks recedes, and we move to our new normal, I have two options. I can mourn the loss of our life before the stroke and the loss of this semester, or I can find ways to leverage this time to my advantage. Since the stroke, several people have commented on my positive attitude. I don’t see my attitude as being positive as much as I see it as being extremely thankful. Thankful that my husband of 28 years retained the personality and humor of the man I knew and loved before the stroke, thankful that the deficits caused by the stroke are lessening each day, thankful that my husband should recover and be able to return to the work he loves. Thankful that despite losing a large portion of his brain, my husband will eventually be able to return to most of the activities that he loves. Furthermore, I waited more than twenty years to go to law school so one semester isn’t going to change much.

I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture. I do have periods where I am overwhelmed. I also readily admit that if my husband had been permanently disabled, it would be much harder to find bright spots. Perhaps it helps that this is not the first time that life has thrown us a curveball. I am not going to bore you with the details–suffice it to say that I haven’t always been able to find anything positive about the situation for a long time. And while I am at peace with my leave of absence, my husband has taken it hard and blames himself for delaying my schooling.

What can readers take from this?

  1. Never take your loved ones for granted.
  2. Don’t procrastinate (thank goodness I had already done the planning and research for my papers).
  3. Mourn the loss (believe me, I shed many tears in the wee hours of the night so that I could be strong when I needed to be).
  4. Fake it–sometimes faking it for a while can help (I certainly had to pretend that I was okay with taking leave from school until I was able to make peace with it).
  5. Accept help–don’t let pride keep you from allowing others to help. Allowing friends and family to run errands or bring meals gives them a way to feel less helpless. On the other hand, feel free to say no or set boundaries.
  6. Seek out counseling if needed. There may be a loss that you cannot bounce back from on your own–there is no shame in going to a counselor, support group, or trusted professional. Keep in mind that this need may not surface right away and can hit months after the trigger event.
  7. Take care of yourself! No one can go for long periods taking care of others if they aren’t also taking care of themselves. (See #5).

Life happens, how you respond to it can make the difference.

As classes begin this fall, many law students have just finished their first opportunity to work in the legal field. As an ATJ Tech Fellow, my 1L (in law school, each of the three years is lovingly nicknamed 1L, 2L, or 3L) summer was spent in a non-traditional way. Since I am a non-traditional student, this fit me just fine.

Although the main project I was to work on was large, I found that I had time to tackle other projects. I mentioned this at a staff meeting and attorneys began mentioning little problems and annoyances. (Although I had to explain to one attorney that doing legal research using a computer did not qualify as a technology assignment). These jobs included everything from placing formulas in Excel sheets to programming the copy machine with staff email addresses. Although many of these jobs were more tedious than tough, they required time that the attorneys had not been able to find. By automating these daily annoyances, I was able to eliminate little frustrations. I am happy to say that I was able to help several attorneys with many little tasks that will make their tough job a little easier.

One of the jobs that I really enjoyed was creating fillable pdf forms. Although this may not sound like an exciting assignment, I knew that it could have a lasting effect. In this case, each of the forms that I created have been shared with attorneys across the state. Fillable pdfs may not solve the Access to Justice problem, but it can help smooth out some of the bumps. Literally minutes after I finished one form, an attorney asked if it was ready and used it for a case. The judge in the case was so impressed with the form that he mentioned it in open court. As you can imagine, the attorney was thrilled and bragged about it to everyone. And isn’t the job of an intern to make their attorney look great?

By volunteering for these extra assignments, I had the opportunity to learn new skills. This summer, I polished my flowchart skills using LucidChart, created fillable pdf forms with Adobe Acrobat Pro, automated Excel reports, began learning A2J Author, wrote press releases, created fliers for a new app release, and designed team shirts.

For law students looking for the point, it is this: Don’t be one of the interns sitting around waiting for something to do. Even if you don’t have a particular skill, take the opportunity to learn something new. In doing so, you will increase your skills and make life better for the attorneys.

But this attitude is not only for summer programs. Volunteering is great for life too!

This summer, I continued working on my social media game. This led to other opportunities such as starting a grassroots effort to get a mascot for the Michigan Supreme Court, booking Tom Martin to speak at my school, and becoming a videographer at ILTAcon.

 

Some might call my 1L summer less than ideal since I didn’t do traditional “legal” work and don’t have the magic legal writing sample that law firms love to require. I would argue that I have something better. I have new and better skills, I have several attorneys who have specific items that they can write about in letters of recommendation, and I have a firm that is eager for me to come back.

 

 

 

Last summer, I was nervously awaiting the start of law school after let’s say a “few” years of being in the workforce. I was also preparing to go more than 600 miles away from my comfortable home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to live in a dorm in Lansing, Michigan. I was nervous about the many articles that warned potential law students to run, not walk, away from law school. The job outlook seemed dim for lawyers with some studies reporting as many as 30% of students unable to find work.

But I packed up and went anyway! I decided that I would do whatever I could to make myself more marketable. Fortunately, Michigan State College of Law has the LegalRnD program. As a lover of technology, I was thrilled to hear of the opportunities available in the legal field.  As a first-year student, I was not able to take any classes in the program, but I was able to participate in the student-run organization Legal Launch Pad. Through this, I met Professor Dan Linna who encouraged students to become active on social media. While participating in the school’s social media contest (I won third place!), I learned on Twitter about the Access to Justice Tech Fellows program. I am a firm believer that the answer is always no if you don’t ask the question, so I applied. After months of feeling less than competent in the classroom, it was exciting to find out that I had been accepted as a fellow. The program pairs legal aid organizations with law students who have an interest in gaining practical experience in legal technology. Each project varies, but both student and organization benefit from the partnership. This summer, I am excited to be working for Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV).

After waiting so long to go to law school, it is exciting to be working in the legal field. I am even happier to be working for an organization that focuses on providing services to those with the greatest need. I don’t know where my journey will take me, but I am enjoying each step of the way!