Archive for the ‘Legal Education’ Category

Dear Other Recent Law Grads,

It’s funny, how now that I’m in my thirties, now that I’ve joined a secret society (by this I mean the field of law), now that I’m starting to find even footing in life, I find more and more that what I crave is a sense of community. Sounds cheesy, right? Or like I’m pointing out the obvious? Well, hold on. I would like to share a bit more of my story.

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See, when I was younger (for some reason, the theme song to All in the Family plays in my head here — “thhhhhose were the dayyys”) I used to run away from whatever required sustained team efforts. I would feel frustrated trying to communicate enough to get everyone onboard with a certain approach to problem-solving or I’d recognize that who I was and what I had to offer wasn’t being honored off the bat so I’d want to call it a day. When I looked for jobs, I was able to find really cool fits — very cool if you ask me. But I always sort of kept in my mind this idea that these things were temporary, and that there was no way I could keep doing what I was doing for very long. Short attention span it seems. And yet, now I wonder, was it a short attention span all of these years or was there something missing in terms of how I was presenting myself to the world and what I imagined was possible to receive in return?

Cryptic, I know. But to bring this back into current focus, let’s take the precipice I am currently on. Having finished my JD, having decided I do not necessarily want to take the bar (at least right now), I have found myself in a place of major uncertainty. Where do I fit in? What is going to allow me to feel comfortable and valued enough where I can keep throwing down every day and feel gratified by the experience? (NOTE: if you don’t feel that this is an important element in the realm of employment, I warn you, you may not want to continue reading…) Conventional wisdom as we graduate law school appears to be this: now you are a lawyer; you have a community; you just have to find some job in that community and everything will be fine. Well I would like to say STOP — if you have found this to be the advice given by people in your life or the mentality demonstrated by your law school community or your local bar association, please, do keep reading.

I am finding that legal education has provided me with a platform from which I can assert even more strongly who I am and what I bring to any table (whether it is a table at a church amidst massive grassroots organizing, whether it is at the table of those who are attempting to found a progressive school, or whether it is at the table of big wigs in finance and industry — all of which are tables I have recently found myself seated). Law does not provide an easy plug-in for individuals who want to find for themselves niches that capitalize on who they are, their authentic voices and gifts. You may have to go outside of the “law community” if you want to find a nexus between whatever your interests in law are and the qualities and preferences that make you who you are.

The good news of course is that there are many lawyers who have realized this — that their ability to perform in the legal world is not tied to wholly identifying with whatever firm culture or bar association bullshit is most prevalent where they are working. It is not necessary to pigeon-hole ourselves in an industry where authenticity and creativity are feared or suppressed. It is actually possible, and I would argue desirable, to put out feelers when you are networking for individuals and organizations that feel like a fit for who you are. Find a sense of community and then be open as far as how your training and expertise from law school may be integrated into whatever culture you find gives you that feeling. Do not be afraid to seek that community or lie to yourself and assume you have found it simply because these are the individuals who would hire you, or because this is the firm that everyone in your family is impressed by you becoming a part of. Find what impresses YOU. Seek what and who inspires YOU and invest in that community. There is too much out there for us to be boxed in by whatever fears or narrow mindedness has come before.

With love and affection,


This post is in honor of my friend and mentor J. Kim Wright.  Her thoughts have been posted in this blog before.  Today though, I offer her words not just as inspiration, but as a complementary piece in the puzzle I am working on conveying through HolisticToolKit.  This puzzle is the whole of our justice system, the whole of our lives as human beings who must organize themselves somehow in order to survive.  Kim’s vision is shared below as a means of illustrating what the integration of mindfulness into our concept of justice can mean, what it can translate to in the lives of real people.  It is about social change.  It is about peace.  And leaving fear, leaving attachment to the past, behind. Many thanks to Kim for sharing her view of what the field of law may become and for including HolisticToolKit’s take on what legal education can become… Screenshot 2015-06-15 17.24.23

This post represents a departure for me.  Most obviously, this is my first post since having officially graduated.  But it is also the first of a series of “conversations” I am beginning to engage in with law professors (from across the U.S. & the world).  Sometimes it will be presented in the form of actual dialogues, captured in real-time, mediated through remote devices.  Sometimes it will actually be in person.  And sometimes, often I expect, it will be in the form of responses I have to work of these profs, or reflections they have put into the world, ON their work.  On teaching.  On “practice.”  On “the law.”

I’ve chosen to begin this series by responding to a post recently published by Debbie Sanders of  Debbie’s personal narrative as far as what brought her to this field and how she currently contributes to it is inspiring.  But moreover, her blog posts are powerful.  They revolve around something seemingly dry and banal — bar exam prep.  And yet, what she offers is INSIGHT.  What she offers is TRUTH.  It is not stuff you need to empirically validate.  It is not stuff you need to commission study after study to prove or refute.  And that’s because what she says “rings true.”  You can FEEL it.

The post that turned me on to Debbie is entitled An Open Question to Recent Law School Graduates: Why are you taking the bar exam?  In it, the author reflects on her own journey to and through law school as well as the bar exam by noting: “the idea that some students did not elect their pursuit of a law degree, not, at least from some personal independent passion, was jarring to me.”  Yes!  Preach!  That is what the voice inside MY head shouted as I read this.  Tell it, because Lord knows that shit has plagued me since I began this journey.

In fact, the idea that not everyone came to law school in order to “fight” for justice was hard for me, on an emotional level, to deal with throughout my career as a student.  It triggered feelings in me of being “different,” of anger because how dare anyone not appreciate the social (or even spiritual) privilege of having their dharma turn into a career as powerful as one in the field of law?  What kind of a field was I even intending to enter?  What kind of cottage industry was law school if so many seemingly disaffected youth could be enlisting in these ranks with so little sense of political orientation or purpose?  What kind of a sham or cult had I finally succumbed to joining?  And that’s not even hitting on the pedagogical issues I have had with the status quo in legal education.

But I digress — what else has Debbie to say?  Well, point #2 of hers that I’ve globbed onto is this: “[E]veryone’s struggle is real. There is no qualitative difference between yearning for entry into an otherwise elusive “club” or pining for liberation from its confines. Everyone’s oppressor is real to them. What the struggle means to bar exam preparation is that anyone wrestling with why they are taking the exam will suffer in a way greater than the population of bar takers who want the end result. In that sense, the self-compelled student is the more privileged.”  Amen, lady.  That is what I’ve been sayin!!  To wit:

If I could spare a student from unnecessary pain at the threshold of the exam, I would ask them: “Why are you taking the bar exam?” If they cannot conjure any authentic response, I encourage them to reconsider, maybe not forever, but until there’s some clarity about the impetus.

Of course I appreciate this line of inquiry, as it is the very line I have found myself engaging in over the course of the past couple months.  But I also appreciate it because this is a BRAVE thing to suggest to students that they do.  It requires them to introspect.  It requires them to look within and conjure up the most honest responses they can.  And, it requires them to listen to themselves.  It requires them to act in accordance with what their authentic selves are seeking.  It requires them to, in the words of my yoga teacher Rolf Gates, who quotes the word of the gifted teacher Eric Schiffman (and before that Swami Yogananda), step more fully into the truth of who they are.  It requires them to lead THEMSELVES.  And insodoing, in requires them to be leaders in the field, whether they become barred lawyers or not.

See for Debbie’s full post & comment on either of our sites if you feel so moved…

Sometimes it can be challenging to make shifts in mindset and behavior patterns when we are in transtiion from one chapter of our lives into the next. After exams this semester, my final semester, it made sense to take a couple of days for quiet in the woods. I shot this video as soon as I got back in the hopes of giving myself a bridge to get back to the feelings of calmness & serenity I experienced while on retreat (camping). It’s a quick guided meditation to help ground us in “woods energy,” or feeling quiet and peaceful.  

Well, amidst finals (and this time is the last time…) I’ve been re-calibrating from an amazing trip.  It was four days spent at a Zen center just outside of San Francisco, essentially in the middle of a Redwood forest.  What for, you ask?  For inspiration, collaboration and re-generation.  My time was spent with around 30 lawyers and law students, all at different points in their lives and careers.  Not everyone is even studying law in a formal school environment.  These are out-there folks doing incredible things…  From conscious contracts to restorative justice to sharing law and mindfulness education, my sense of why I am entering this field and how I fit into it were strengthened through the community we all formed. One exercise we did had us rely on each other to provide personal & professional coaching.  After a guided meditation on what moves us in life — what is our power — and how we may be stuck or suffering in the process, I drew a picture.  This is what I shared with my group as a way of framing the inner-conflict I’ve experienced while in law school and when anticipating what it would be like to become a “real” lawyer.

IMG_1204As you can hopefully see, there are two images at play.  The first is a brain in a jar.  Think Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the diabolical brain — literally — whose mission was to take over the world).  If you require more imagery here go ahead & run a Google image search…  Or, check out my take on the theme of a being that feels stripped of its body and soul.  Mine is not so nefarious looking, but it is stark nonetheless.  Often, when I’ve studied for exams or especially first or second year, when I’ve needed to just keep cranking no matter how ‘out of my body’ I’ve felt, this is the image that has come to mind.  Feeling like the whole value I bring to this model of education has been focused on the strictly cerebral exercises we are forced to engage in without the “human component” that reminds us of why we are needed as lawyers, and how it possible for us to engage with our clients and society overall.  Because in “real” life there is a need for bodies to be engaged; there is a need for the soul of a person, their emotions, to play a role in whatever job is being performed.

Intelligence is multi-faceted and simply the rote memorization of rules or facts do not add up at the end of the day to a job well done.  It certainly does not seem to make lawyers happy.  So what does seem to make them — me — happy?  Feeling like I am growing.  Being enabled to “open” and reveal what it is that makes me a valuable asset to whomever I am working for or collaborating with.  The image here is of a flower.  Not necessarily one in full bloom (yet) but one that is making its way toward the light and offering itself in an authentic way to the world.

Now, in my final week of exams, every time I begin to feel like that brain in a jar, every time I find myself conjuring up that image or telling myself that story about what it is like to be me at this moment, I shift and remember the flower.  I remember there is a whole other story that parallels my journey of the mind.  That is the one where I live through creative expression, even when it comes to analyzing the law.  And where I practice opening, not staying closed, in everything I do.  This is the story I want to be living in and out of as I graduate.

As a final semester 3L I think about this a lot — give a listen to see if you identify with this worldview or if approaching your legal career from a more creative perspective is something you might want to give more consideration to… Please also look out for future posts on this topic, including exercises aimed at facilitating tough conversations with your own self…

Originally an assignment for a class, this is my presentation on lawyer stereotypes that are reversed through film.  Please enjoy this light-hearted look at what lawyers can bring to the table…

Imagine…  You are sitting around a conference table with a number of other students your first year of law school.  Let’s say in the first month, if not week.  Perhaps you are sharing a meal.  At the least, you are together in an open and collaborative environment.

Keep imagining…  Whomever is facilitating — whether a law professor or maybe even an executive coach — explains the ground rules to everyone.  I.E. this is a circle, a ritual gathering really to mark the beginning of your time in law school.  Moreover, a gathering to establish tone and intention for what is ultimately a rite of passage.

There will be no arguing at this table, in this circle, in the ways that the rest of your classes seem to invite.  The objective here is not to persuade, dissuade, cast value judgments or establish anyone’s worth (in general or to the field).  The goal here is to engage in a process that allows everyone to speak THEIR truth and hear one another’s truth.  And by ‘truth’ we mean story.  This ritual is about creating space for each student to explore and reveal some of whatever story has brought them to law school.  We are here to respectfully and lovingly if possible, become away of our own motivations for taking this path and become sensitized to the differences in trajectory that exist between us.  We are all working to create a common space — a shared space — where this mode of inquiry has gravity and can serve as an anchor for us in the coming months and years.

IMG_1041There is no interrupting.  There are no insults.  There may be questions, but whenever we are asking questions of one another, we are first asking ourselves those same questions.  Or we are considering how we ourselves would interpret such a question.  Would it make us defensive?  Would it trigger in us anxiety or fear of some kind?  If yes, tread carefully.  Maybe we even frame our questions with the admission that such a question even makes us uncomfortable.  And we would go on to explain why we want to ask it.  If no, we still witness whatever reactions come up in us as we listen to the other’s response.  We notice what fears, irritations or anxieties the other’s speech raises in us.  And we continue to engage in this inner-then-outer dialogue about where that fear comes from, what the information of our feelings in relation to the substance of our questions and answers means for us in terms of understanding who WE are, where philosophically and emotionally WE are coming from, and whether there is more space within us to entertain, honor even, the beliefs and motivations and perspectives of others.

Perhaps we do not find space in our hearts for others’ truth.  Perhaps we find what we are hearing repugnant or ignorant or ill-informed.  It is very possible.  But this table, this group, this circle, is about finding those spaces of discomfort and testing ourselves not with multiple choice questions or absurd essay prompts, but with our own ability to continue listening and to continue digging deep for the most honest responses we can muster.  In so doing we are also taking the brave step to trust that what is in our hearts matters and is safe to express.  To do this though, and to derive value from it, we continue on in our legal education.  We let facts and doctrine guide us into viewing our own “material” (what has brought us here) into a more objective, but still consciously grounded place.  This is the form of knowledge we seek.  The capacity for objective analysis within a context of subjectivity that is alive because of it we are consciously aware.

Once the values and purpose (and rules) of this process are clear, we would begin by going around and exploring what brought everyone to law school.  What are the most surface reasons?  What are the more deeply held reasons?  And then, likely in another session, we would go on to explore our individual experiences with the law.

Were we objects of custody battles as children?  Were we witnesses as children or as adults to crime?  Have we ourselves ever been arrested for a crime we committed?  Have we ourselves or people we love been victims of police brutality?

Have we been plaintiffs or defendants in tort actions (personal injury suits, etc)?  Sexual discrimination?  Other forms of discrimination?

What jobs have people held in the past where they saw how useful knowing the law might be for the sake of clients?  Or in order to advise at a policy level?

Have we had children who have struggled with the law?  Do we have parents or others in our lives that cannot care for themselves and need advocacy in order to receive adequate medical or psychological care?

Have we lost loved ones?  Have we had to deal with probate issues or estate planning?  Have we had tax problems?  Trouble accessing benefits or subsidies from the state?

Imagine this kind of conversation is where students started their first year.  In little cohorts that meet on a regular basis, where students FEELINGS about the law and their relationship to it could be explored in such personal terms.  Yes, this would be a challenge to many.  It could seem like a violation of privacy.  It could seem like opening a Pandora’s Box, which can be scary…

But it would also create a space for honesty in legal education; in fact it would place VALUE on honesty.  It would place VALUE on the concept of vulnerability and would EDUCATE students in the art of self-expression, active listening and critical thinking.

It would offer students a safe space to explore their emotions and see how these emotions can inform and be formed by their legal studies.  It would demonstrate that who we are as individuals has everything to do with our capacity to survive law school (thrive if you like) and would set an example for them as far as how to cope and promote emotional intelligence and self-care in the field.  It would also help to remove the stigma associated with not knowing things or of being unsure as to how one fits into this industry.  It would open up creative channels of inquiry and in that sense serve as a profound tool for professional as well as personal development.

Imagine conversations during the second year following up on what was raised first year.  As students gain more and more experience ‘in the field’ and with ‘the rules’ they would have a table to return to where the values and beliefs that brought them to law school could be revisited.  Cognitive dissonance in terms of what they are learning in books versus what students perceive through their experiences in the ‘real world’ would come to light — come to light and be acknowledged by faculty…  The imperfections of both our justice system and our legal education system could be brought into some tangible form of relief.  Then there is no holding onto frustration and confusion because what one is being told does not jive with what one has lived or witnessed.  There is space for truth.

Once this ‘space of truth’ comes into being, imagine students now talking about their plans for the future.  Their hopes and dreams for work in the field and for their lives overall.  There is no reason to hold back at this point.  They know they can be truthful about what moves them and because of that, they can envision in much fuller ways what they want to accomplish after they graduate.  They know themselves AND they know the law.

This is because a contextual form of learning that hinges on reflective practices and voicing to a group has been formed early on.  In a sense, we could think of this in terms of attachment theory in child development.  There has been a latching!  There has been a connection made for students within themselves, between one another, and in relationship to the field, ultimately the practice, of law.

My interview with Elon University School of Law’s Professor Steve Friedland, on “modern learning” in legal education (from Elon’s Second Symposium on Experiential Learning in Legal Ed)…

My interview with advocates for creative, community-driven approaches to legal education — from Elon University School of Law’s Second Symposium on Experiential Learning in Legal Ed…