When people hear about the opportunities that I have had in my life, they sometimes say that I have been “so lucky.” There may be some truth in that, but I believe there is more to the story. They say that opportunity knocks–I don’t disagree with that statement, but I do believe that opportunity doesn’t come knocking on your door at home. I think that you have to prepare for opportunities. Then you must do something more than sit on the couch and wait. Finally, you must be open to opportunities when they find you.

In the video today, I talk about one opportunity and then write about another opportunity below.

[If you want to learn more about the Delta Model of Lawyer Competency, there is a pinned tweet with links to many articles on our Twitter profile page (@deltamodellawyr)].

A more personal opportunity happened while I was living in Japan. While returning home from Japanese class one night, I said good evening (in Japanese) to a woman as I passed. She stopped in her tracks and grabbed me by the hand. I don’t remember what was said, but I ended up in her house a few minutes later. From this brief interaction, I gained a friend and my children gained a Japanese grandmother. You see, she was terribly lonely after just moving to the area. Her husband was a prominent businessman that was always away on travel. She had studied English for years, but had never really had the opportunity to speak with a native speaker. The next three years were such fun as she introduced me to a side of Japan that I would never have seen. She even came to visit once we returned to the States.

My point is that this chance meeting would never have happened if I had stayed home. By taking Japanese (prepare), saying hello (doing), and going to her house (being open) I gave opportunity a chance to find me.

Now, I am preparing for my next opportunity by going to law school. By engaging in this experiment, I am doing something. And I am certainly open (and looking) for whatever opportunity comes next! So, what do you think, are my experiences simply luck?

 

See more on the Video Per Day Experiment in my introductory post.

How do you pick a law school? Silly me, thinking that my one minute video below would be enough to dig into this topic. Watch the video and then read on for a bit more information below.

As I mentioned, LSAT scores are huge in the law school admissions world. (Don’t take the exam cold! Please at least spend some time with a prep book). If you don’t get a certain score, many schools will be out of reach. So, let your score be a guide. If you don’t like your score, you can take the exam again, but it is expensive so make sure you commit to doing some work to prepare.

Applying to law schools is expensive. You must pay application fees to the school and then there are the LSAC fees for compiling the paperwork. One tip to help with these costs is to go to the LSAC information sessions. Many schools offer a waiver of their application fee if you sign up for their information. Other schools offer waivers to those who have signed up for information through the LSAC site. Barring that, it never hurts to ask the admissions office of a school for a waiver.

Check out lots of schools. Michigan State’s College of Law first came to my attention because they had pointers online detailing how to go through the application process, write the essay, prep for the year, etc.  They also offered webinars that were quite helpful. I’ll be honest, I had no intention of going away to school, but those resources were very helpful. When I learned more about the school, I saw programs that weren’t offered by other schools.

That leads to my next point: look at the programs the school offers. Do they specialize in the type of law that you want to practice? Are there student groups that meet your interests? Is the school able to meet any accommodations that you may need? MSU has a trial practice institute that I was very interested in pursuing. Since I have been in school, I realized that the Center for Law, Technology and Innovation was more suited to me and my interests. Additionally, the specialty certificate from the Indigenous Law and Policy Center has become important to me.

Finally, visit the schools if at all possible. Many schools offer some travel expense reimbursement that may allow you to visit-don’t be afraid to ask. Many schools have special events for admitted students. Although these events were good, they often fall on weekends when attending class is not possible. I learned more about the school and the students when I went by myself and attended a class or two. Trust your gut instinct! If a school feels uncomfortable, do you really want to spend three years in that environment?

Good luck and feel free to reach out if you have questions!

 

See more on the Video Per Day Experiment in my introductory post.

 

So often we build road blocks that we hide behind and keep us from moving forward. We look at the accomplishments of others and forget that they had to work to get there.  Trying new things gives us a chance to see if we want to learn more. Sometimes it is ok to jump in and learn as we go. My video today talks a bit about these ideas:

See more on the Video Per Day Experiment in my introductory post.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am participating in the Video Per Day Experiment and today is day one for me. Well, actually it will be day two since I am posting the videos here the day after they go on Twitter but on the blog it is still day one. (If you can’t stand the suspense, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @edgeofempty).

So, I had not found Twyla Verhelst’s video when I made this first video and didn’t know that there were no outtakes allowed. Oh well, what is 1 or 15 retakes between friends?

I hope that you enjoy learning a bit about me over the next month. I have no idea where this journey will lead, but I look forward to taking it.

 

The Video Per Day Experiment was started by Twyla Verhelst. A friend on Twitter posted her first video and I was intrigued. A successful attorney was opening up, being vulnerable, and admitting to imperfection. And imperfection is something that I can relate to!

I will let Twyla explain the concept through this video:

Over the next month, I will be joining the challenge by posting the videos on Twitter (@edgeofempty) and then here on the blog the following day. Would love to hear your thoughts or even have you join in!

Since becoming a fellow last summer, I have remained involved with the ATJ Tech Fellows organization. Over the last year, I have been able to meet many of the other fellows from my group. I have also been able to spend time with the founder, Miguel Willis. If you have never met Miguel, you are missing out. He is such a dynamic individual. While in law school, he started at least three companies–one of those was the ATJ Tech Fellows. If you are ever given the opportunity, please listen to his tale of getting this non-profit started and the wild ride that was finding funding.

Since my fellowship ended, I have kept in touch with Miguel and have worked on a few projects for him. One of the projects that I have been able to work on this summer is the Justice Innovation Challenge. In the challenge, teams were asked to come up with an idea to solve an access to justice problem. The team could be multi-disciplinary but needed to include at least one law student. Teams were also asked to work with a legal aid organization or bar association.

The teams came up with so many great ideas! I am not sure how the judges were able to narrow the field, but somehow they did. The result is that seven teams will be presenting their ideas via a virtual pitch on August 21st at 3 pm EDT. This pitch is open to anyone who wishes to watch. To register, please go to the challenge page on Adobe Connect.

Seven teams made it through the semi-final rounds to the virtual pitch competition. Here are the teams, presented in no particular order, who will be making a pitch in the finals:
  1.  Michigan Legal Advice is the entry of Sarah Lilly (University of Miami School of Law) and Angela Tripp. Their sponsoring organization is Michigan Legal Help.
  2. ADAptive is the entry of a team led by Ross Steinberg (NYU School of Law | Institute for Executive Education). The team included Nicholas Feuer and Bryan Knouse. The sponsoring organization is the New York City Bar Association Justice Center-Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project.
  3. Welcome Home Justice is the entry of Shola Oladetimi (Washington and Lee School of Law). Connecticut Legal Services is the sponsoring organization.
  4. My Legal Needs is the entry of Anna L. Stone (Georgetown University Law Center) and is sponsored by Whitman-Walker Health.
  5. Privity is the entry by team Belmont BLSA led by Tenia Clayton (Belmont University College of Law) The team includes Lesley Smith, Elena Ferguson, and Ashley Gholston. Their sponsoring organization is the Tennessee Alliance for Black Lawyers.
  6. Pocket VAWA Self-Petitions is the entry of Team VAWA led by Emilie Schwarz (Columbia Law School). Sanctuary for Families is the sponsoring organization.
  7. Cyber Civil Rights Resource Guide is the entry created by Talia Boiangin (University of Miami Law School). The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative is the sponsoring organization.
During the finals, the judges will choose the winners. Then, a member from each of the top three teams will win an all-inclusive trip to Washington, D.C. to present their ideas to a live audience on October 1st. The prize packages are valued at a total of $30,000.
For more information about the challenge, visit the Justice Innovation Challenge page.
To view the Devpost entries, visit the Challenge Submissions Page.
To view the finals, register on the Adobe Connect Page.

Since I was young, people seem to be compelled to tell me their problems. The first time that I really remember this happening was when I was 6 or 7 and my step-great-grandmother Ida decided to share the VERY personal problem of “prickly heat” rash that she was experiencing in the swamp of humidity that is summer in Alabama. Mind you, her sharing was more of a visual than a verbal kind–and it still haunts me today.

The next time I remember someone over-sharing was in 5th grade when I was spending the night at my future best friend’s house. Anna (name changed for privacy) and her mom had just moved to town and we had been thrown together through a mutual friend of our moms. Anna was not a night owl like me and had fallen asleep fairly early; this left me alone with her mom. That night, I came to learn that Anna’s father had committed suicide and they had moved to get away from the past. Looking back, Anna’s mom Sue was perhaps trying to get me to understand that Anna really needed a friend; I think that Sue needed one also. Over the next few years, I learned a lot about Sue and her struggles to pick up the pieces of their lives.

I certainly heard lots of stories while working nights in a diner during my college years.  The diner was across the street from a popular strip club in Kentucky. We would watch as patrons would bring their “date” for a “bright light test.” Sometimes, we would hear their tales of woe due to alcohol loosening their tongues.

While shopping at a big box store a few years ago, a woman unloaded all of her fears about her son who had just been arrested. All I really wanted to do was get my supplies and head home, but I was unable to walk away.

My job at a local sheriff’s office required frequent ride-alongs with the deputies. Almost without fail, victims at calls would turn and talk to me rather than the deputy.  This would irritate the deputy beyond belief of course, but I understood.

Perhaps the reason that people talked to me when I was young is that I was desperately shy and sat mostly in silence as they spoke. (Does that count as being a good listener?) Maybe it was that they thought I was giving them my full attention when it was really more like staring at them like a deer into headlights. Whatever the reason, the phenomena continues to this day.

Over the last few months, as people have come into the office looking for help, I have heard way more information about their situation than I should. A few times, the managing attorney has come to my rescue (or to chasten me?).

In fact, just today, a client came in to drop off paperwork. As I gathered the information that was needed, she began to describe a personal situation. Of course, I stated that we couldn’t get into the details of the case, but each time I tried to redirect her, she told a bit more of her story. When she finally turned to go, I could tell that she felt much better for having voiced her concerns. (I, however, felt much worse due to worries of hearing the information). But it made me realize that, sometimes, our clients need more than a lawyer. Sometimes, our clients need us to be a sympathetic listener.

I guess the moral of the story is that I should not be assigned to work in the reception area of a law firm.

 

Today, I had the privilege to accompany a legal aid attorney to a social security hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Washington, D.C. The hearing was held in one of the many non-descript office buildings in the northwest sector of DC. Visitors arriving at the building must present identification in order to venture past the lobby. And this lobby was not one of the friendly lobbies that corporations sometimes host. This lobby was bare-boned with not a chair or restroom in sight. After a 15 minute walk from the Metro station in the June heat, I was desperately in need of a few paper towels to mop my glistening cheeks. With no relief available in the lobby, I continued up to the correct floor under the false belief that I would find a restroom there. I actually did, but they were locked and “for employees only.” Discouraged, I returned to the lobby and inquired at the desk.

Armed with the information that there was a public restroom in the social security lobby, I returned upstairs and entered the hearing office. By this time, I was so distracted by the sweat dripping down my neck that I walked blithely past the security checkpoint and straight to the restroom. (This wasn’t as much of a relief as I hoped since there didn’t seem to be any air conditioning vents to cool the space). Upon my return to the lobby, I was a bit more observant and realized my faux pas. I quickly apologized to the security officer and went through the correct security procedures. Of course, this leads to other questions about why I was not challenged previously, but that is a discussion for another day.

When our case was called, we entered the courtroom. And it was undoubtedly a courtroom with all of the accouterments including the bench, the bar, and a clerk. Although it was smaller than the typical courtroom, there was no doubt about its purpose. Interestingly, the berobed judge was already in his seat when we were admitted.

As we entered, the ALJ addressed the attorney and enquired (quite unhappily) who the unexpected visitor (me) might be. Once my identity had been established, the judge asked our client whether my presence was acceptable. He then instructed the attorney–in no uncertain terms–that I should not participate or disrupt the hearing in any way. I actually was amused by this–what did he expect that I would do?–before I realized that my presence was starting the hearing out poorly for our client.

Reflecting upon the ALJ’s queries about my presence, I understand that these hearings often involve discussing medical issues and medical records so HIPAA regulations apply. Also, the hearings are not open to the public. However, I am still puzzled because as a law clerk, I am already privy to all of the medical information in the file. In some cases, I become more familiar with the medical findings than the attorney since I spend hours poring over the records in order to find anything that was missed or that would help our client. (In a recent case, I was sure that our client had been misdiagnosed. Completely independently, a new doctor changed the diagnosis). As the hearing proceeded though, I was relieved to find that the ALJ focused on the case and did not seem to let his pique over my presence cloud his fairness in conducting the hearing. In fact, I was impressed with the questions that he asked and way that he clarified the issues.

However, the event left me with many questions about the administrative court system. How many administrative hearings are held behind closed doors each year? How intimidating are the hearings for citizens who represent themselves? How do clients survive financially for the years that it can take to navigate the social security gauntlet (6-8 years is not abnormal)?

As a result of this experience, I am more interested in the Administrative Law course that I will be taking soon. I am curious to learn about all of the government entities that have administrative courts. I am also interested to see if my experiences will translate into a better understanding of the topics covered when I return to class in the fall.