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.

Early in my first year of law school, I noticed how many times the word ferret was used in cases. (I even blogged about the Property book’s description of ferrets). One day when logging in to Lexis to get my daily research points, I decided to do some more research on ferrets in the law. According to LexisAdvance, the word ferret appears in 13,645 cases. Through the years, the word “ferret” has appeared in cases in all 50 states and 5 U.S. territories. Even Guam, where ferrets are not allowed, is represented with the case Rapadas v. Benito (2011 Guam 28). In that case, the court described the ‘considerable latitude in devising the procedures it will follow to ferret out the facts pertinent to jurisdiction.”

Cases referencing the word ferret cover nearly all areas of law including Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Environmental Law. Not surprisingly, the North American black-footed ferret appears in several (24) cases. “The black-footed ferret was among the animals and birds listed.” Defenders of Wildlife v. Administrator, EPA (882 F.2d 1294). Plenty of cases such as New York City Friends of Ferrets v. City of New York (876 F. Supp. 529) involve litigation over whether ferrets are legal to own as pets.

The non-furry but curious tax ferret also appears frequently in cases such as R. C. Jones Cotton Co. v. State (1929 OK 482) where it was decided to “thereby save the county the fees paid the tax ferret.” During my searching, Lexis suggested the related search for the “anti-ferret rule” leading to 1213 cases dealing with this rule of evidence.

I found this all very interesting so I dug a bit more. The very first time that “ferret” appeared was in the case of Brown v. Union Ins. Co. heard by the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut (5 Day 1) handed down on June 1, 1811. The case was brought by the owner of the merchant ship Franklin when the insurance company refused to pay for the cargo lost when the ship was captured by the British sloop-of-war Ferret.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts became the next court to reference “ferret” in March of 1812 in the case of Robinson v. Jones (8 Mass. 536). Strangely enough, this case again involved both the British sloop Ferret and the merchant ship Franklin.

Picture of case in Munford Reporter

According to Lexis, the third case occurred on February 13, 1813, when the Supreme Court of Virginia handed down an opinion in the case of Custis v. Lane (17 VA 579). In this decision, the court became the first court to use the word “ferret” in a manner that has persisted to this day. The court refers to the curious nature of ferrets when it stated that the court should “detect and ferret out every shift and device.” (One can only imagine that the court was influenced by English court decisions. Using Hein Online, I found multiple references where English courts used ferret as a verb. In England, using ferrets to hunt rabbits is still quite popular).

I found it very fitting that the first use of “ferret” as a verb in a court opinion occurred in Virginia. Even more interesting to me, the case originated in Fairfax County near where I have lived for the last thirteen years. I mentioned the case to the excellent staff at Fairfax County Circuit Court’s Historical Record Center hoping that they might have some of the original documents. Unfortunately, the documents are no longer available (due to events of some historical importance in the mid-1800s).

Although they did not have any of the documents for this case, they did seem to recognize the name of the appellant. When I explained that the case was brought against Fairfax County Sheriff William Lane for refusing to allow the appellant Custis to vote in the election of 1809, their suspicions were confirmed.

To understand, we need to go into a bit of history. In 1790, part of Fairfax County had been transferred to the United States to become Washington, D.C. Mr. Custis’ land was included in that transfer. Then, in January of 1808, Virginia passed legislation requiring residency in Virginia in order to vote. Thus, we have Mr. Custis arriving at the polls in Fairfax County only to be turned away because he was a resident of Washington, D.C. True students of history may realize at this point that the case involved George Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson of George Washington, whose land was ceded to Washington D.C., later returned to Virginia, and eventually became Arlington National Cemetary.

Interestingly, the University of Pittsburgh Law Review states that this case is the first court decision on the issue of taxation without representation for DC residents. (109 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1010 (1961)). “The refusal to permit a person to vote, who is lawfully entitled, is an injury which deprives him of his rank in society, and subjects him to be taxed, and legislated for, without being represented.” Custis v. Lane (17 Va. 579, 590). This remains a touch issue to this day.

This case has so many interesting turns and there are still more. The case records state that the case was argued by Edmund I. Lee, but I unable to find any history for Edmund I. However, I was able to track down another Edmund Lee. Edmund J. Lee was a relative of Custis who served as mayor of Alexandria and had a long career as a lawyer. He was a well-respected member of the bar and argued before the Supreme Court. Although I have not been able to confirm this yet, I believe that Edmund J. likely argued the case.

Awesome case, right? Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

 Munford Reporter

After getting all excited over the Custis case, and doing all that research, it turns out that the Lexis entry was incorrect. When the helpful staff at the Fairfax Circuit Court Public Law Library provided a copy of the Munford Reporter for the case, I realized that the Lexis case entry included pages from the Appendix. In those days, corrections to cases were printed in the Appendix of the next volume. Unfortunately, Custis v. Lane was the last case in the volume and the Appendix began with the next page.  Whoever entered Custis v. Lane into Lexis included the pages from the Appendix by mistake. Unfortunately, our wily “ferret” appeared in the Appendix and not Custis. Even worse, the information from the Appendix never was used to update the case from the previous year’s volume. This means that “ferret” should have appeared in an earlier case in my search. The actual first case to use the word “ferret” as a verb was Watkins v. Taylor (3 Munf 595). (For Westlaw fans, you will be pleased to know that they had it right all along. Lexis grudgingly corrected the error once I brought it to their attention).

Although I tried to transfer my loyalty to Watkins, it just is not as interesting a case as Custis and does not have the same local ties for me. As a result, I have decided to keep Custis v. Lane as the official case of Ferreting Out Justice even though the case turned out to be ferret free. After all, it took quite a bit of ferreting to discover the truth.

 

 

 

I have always loved keeping up with advances in technology. At times, I have considered going back to school to learn computer programming. Ultimately, my love of law won out and I chose law school instead. Getting involved with Michigan State’s LegalRnD program under Professor Dan Linna showed me that I can use my love of technology in the practice of law. I see technology as one of the many tools that I can put in my legal toolbox, and I am confident that technology will allow me to better serve future clients. (On a personal level, I am hopeful that technology will set me apart from other applicants).

When I read about the Access to Justice Tech Fellows Program on Twitter (#twitterjobs), I was excited. As it says on the website, the “Access to Justice Tech Fellows Program is a 10-week fully funded experiential learning program that places law students at legal services organization to develop innovative solutions that leverage technology, data, and design to expand access to legal services and improve our civil justice.”

When I saw that there was a host organization near my home in Virginia, I knew that I should apply. I have always believed that not asking means the answer will always be no, so I applied. I was so excited when I found out that I was chosen to be a Tech Fellow. As a non-traditional student, knowing that the Tech Fellowship board saw my potential was reassuring. I was even more excited to hear that the host organization was interested in interviewing me! Over Spring Break, I went to the interview and they offered me the position that day!

This summer, I am proud to be working with Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV). LSNV is a non-profit law firm that provides legal assistance for clients with financial need. They also provide assistance to clients in at-risk populations such as domestic violence survivors and the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. Funding for LSNV comes from Legal Services Corporation, local governments, foundations, private bar associations, and donors. LSNV focuses on areas of law not covered by other organizations; this means that they provide services for civil instead of criminal matters.

 

“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists . . .. [I]t is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

— Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

My project this summer is to assist with two guided interview systems. The first system will be used by front-desk staff to assess if a client is eligible for services, if there is a conflict that would keep LSNV from representing the client, and which attorney can see the client. LSNV is actually one of the largest law firms in Virginia, so matching the client to the correct attorney is critical. Many clients do not wish to repeat their stories or change lawyers once a relationship is established, so correct placement is important for their sake as well. The second part of the project will be used by the attorneys who provide advice by phone. If clients do not qualify for full services, the phone consult allows LSNV to provide information to help the client in their pro se (self-representation) efforts. The guided interview system will route the attorney through questions based on the responses of the client. Having these guides will allow attorneys to provide assistance for a variety of cases and not just their area of expertise.

In my previous career, I worked with a computer system that was built on a Microsoft® Access® platform. I learned that system from top to bottom in order to do my job as efficiently as possible. Last summer, as I anticipated the start of law school, I never dreamed that my previous work experience would ever be relevant in law. As it turns out, LSNV utilizes a case management program that is also based on a Microsoft® Access® database. Understanding how the system functions has been extremely helpful in working on the fellowship project. As the summer progresses, I hope to help the attorneys use underutilized features of the case management system to lighten their load.

I have had so much fun working at LSNV. I am excited to know that changing careers does not mean starting with a blank slate. Having skills that are immediately beneficial to an employer makes me so optimistic for the future!