Category Archives: Law School

Trial Team Practices

What we have here is the gold standard in stressed-out procrastination. I won’t fit in a skirt tomorrow after this – I’m moving on to tortilla chips with lime. I wonder if we have beer…

So Magnolia has me thinking I want to intimidate people. If at all possible.

Ha ha*. I kid. Mostly. There are a couple of other Southerns in my sphere right now and it appears that one advantage of the southern charm is that the other side just likes us and begins to spill in deposition, expert interviews, etc., and then we can go for the jugular in the nicest possible way in the courtroom. The two times I’ve needed this advantage thus far this semester, I’ve had it.

At any rate, I was able to edit my trial team videos. (It only required $29.99. Not that I assume anyone other than fam wants to watch videos of me or Trial Team practice, but I’m a gawker by nature, so maybe you are too – my aunts definitely are), and I think two things:

(1) I am more commanding without the voice. And when not pumping up the hair.

(2) I am more commanding when I know the case. In theory. One takes Trial Team more seriously. Apparently not seriously enough to record /sound/, the whole point of the exercise, but whatevs. Watching action and movement in the well of the courtrooom is good too.

What I love about this video is Conor just about to object and then not, me grabbing things from and off of opposing counsel/’s desk (because that is so real), and Eric and Conor’s “Is she still going” poker faces. This was a thirty minute vid.

The next video is Eric cross-examining a witness. We cross up close and personal to both witness and jury. We direct from behind the jury. This video is short and just shows standard practice, really.

This one is really just for us and is therefore not cut down to a reasonable length. Cross-exam / objection mannerisms / laughter. 2:02-3:45 Extended objection by Conor.

You know, I think the whole Nancy Grace thing is coming. Watch for it.

*If, in reading this, you are uncertain as to whether a specific statement is meant seriously or not, simply apply this rule of thumb: If the statement makes you consider filing a lawsuit, I was kidding. Ha ha! – Dave Barry

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Four Letters: Pibb, Cute, and Then Some

I’m busy. And apparently competent. To stand for sandbagging, as my fabulous professor put it.

2L Bites. Hard. I didn’t know this. So I’ll tell you something you don’t want to hear: I don’t think in sentences that don’t include four-letter-words any more. Sometimes that’s the only part of the sentence I get out. I believe how I put it was: Law school has simultaneously expanded my vocabulary and reduced it to a series of four letter words.

I go days without doing anything but sitting in front of a computer. I go weekends without responding to emails and saying anything more than “Go. away.” to people. I want to see “Paranormal Activity,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and I can not miss whatever the second “Twilight” movie is, but until they start playing these movies at 1:00 A.M. downtown, I’m out. I no longer want to read. I never thought this possible. (I also never thought I’d fondly remember 1L and long for the good old days.) I am interested in books the way I’m interested in art and music that I no longer get to look at or listen to. What a lovely idea. I do get out, though. Because I now understand why we drink.

Because, not unlike right now, my head’s gonna explode. Because I should not be doing this, but should be writing a direct exam, two closing arguments, and the rough draft of a note. However, if you’d seen the various other ways I’ve blown a perfectly good “working” morning, you’d wonder why I wasn’t updating the blog on 2L. So, a few notes for the memories –

My videos are getting better for whatever _that’s_ worth…

I taught myself a while back to forego “ums” when speaking professionally by popping my wrist with a rubber band. Low-rent but effective. I’m going to have to start doing that and like, now, to stop the “Shellie Stephen-zzzz, for the Defen-zzzz.”

(This particular video is an opening statement. The class is pass/fail and I finally realized I was spending too much time on this class. I want the skillz, but I must prioritize. Fifteen people in this class. A bazillion at Trial Team competition in a few weeks. (That just made me physically ill.))

Speaking of “like, now,” my latest review from the head coach on Trial Team practice: “You said “totally not troubling” – my goodness! You might as well have said ‘like totally not troubling’”. I laughed out loud.

And speaking of laughing out loud, at a recent Trial Team practice (10-25-09), I videoed my partner, Eric, and myself but they are thirty minutes long (no sound) and these .movs will not import into iMovie so I can cut them and make a perfectly hilarious montage with music or sound effects. The first few minutes of “Mime Trial Team” has me in highly animated form, talking to the team about something very important, I’ve no doubt, then flipping my head over and pumping my hair for my performance. It’s all about what matters. (Edited: this is now edited and on youtube; url edited above. Still sans sound.)

I’ve got thoughts on Learning Sneaky Lawyer Tricks and How I Now Love Them and Use Them Mercilessly, How I Talk to Everyone in Cross-Examination Form, and Becoming So Liberal You Should Put Me On House Arrest Now Because For the Love of Cthulhu We Do Not Kill People On My Watch.

It’s only by the grace of Pibb Extra and the woman who assures me my paranoid ideation is cute that I’m getting by these days. Srsly.

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So How Many Cameras Are Actually On You?

For the love of all that’s holy, have you ever had to watch three videos of yourself a week? Don’t. Or, only if you must. My classes are tailored to trial law this semester. I have CFI: Counseling, Fact Investigation, and Interviewing (dealing with clients); Trial Advocacy: study of trial practice and one night per week simulations at the county courthouse; and Trial Team, that competitive team thing. Each of these classes record me. Practical Shelle is enthused at the prospect of getting better and having the tape to prove it by semester’s end. Shallow Shelle is practically in pain watching the videos.

Perfectly frank: people tell me I’m good at this. My classmates have said I’m “great,” “totally believable,” and “You handled that rape victim so well – you were so soothing, credible – it sounded like ‘Honey, you’re just mistaken. It wasn’t my client, but some other monster.'” I sincerely appreciate it. What they mean though, I think, is that I will be good at this. Because right now, watching my past three video assignments hurts.

What am I doing with my hands? Did I just nod in response to that witness’s BS answer?!? Whatever I’m doing with my head looks like a tic. I’m rushing my questions. Me in a suit – The Ghost and the Darkness. Am I wearing make-up? I’m washed-out. I’m not convinced I have a chin anymore. I think of Friends, The One with the Prom Video: Monica: “The camera adds ten pounds!” Joey: “So, how many cameras were actually on you?” Ally McBeal was invisible. The cameras created all thirty pounds of her.

My videos, thus far:

(1) New client intake: you think the fact that my client was naked with her paramour on the living room couch while the welfare worker walked in and her two and four year old daughters played on the floor might come out at the custody hearing? Yeah, me too. That would have been a handy bit of information to elicit. But, Ms. Jones said she really trusted and liked me. w00t.

(2) First closing argument: “You don’t have to believe the veterinarian’s testimony that the dogs were not abused and in fights. It’s not reasonable to believe Micah Victor didn’t know about the dog fighting operation. You don’t have to believe her testimony because she stands to lose 75% of her business, her pro-bowler boyfriend, and her professional license. She has a stake in the outcome of this trial.”

We’re going kind of strong here for a first argument, yeah? That can be remedied.

“You don’t have to believe her. You aren’t going to lose your license. At the end of the day, you’ll get to keep your license to be a . . . juror.” We have minor internal WTF? moment. I’d like to tell you I stopped there.

I’m not going to be entirely too hard on myself – this closing argument was eight minutes long, had to be given without notes, and was on a case I’d looked at for a couple of days. Hard to do. I did manage to work in a Cat Woman analogy which Coach liked: “Your neighbor has six cats? You think she likes cats more than you. Your neighbor has 16 cats? You wonder where she keeps them. Your neighbor has 26 cats? Does she moonlight? How does she pay for the kitty litter? Your neighbor has 66 cats – you call someone and complain. And that’s exactly what happened. Sixty-six dogs on the Micah Victor compound – the neighbors complained.” Emphasizing “it’s not reasonable” was also effective.

(3) Cross-examination of rape victim: The One Question Too Many. My theory? She’s mistaken. The victim only “named” him after being attacked and given drugs at the hospital to help her relax. She says it was the man who made an improper advance on her the night before in a bar. I theorize he may be inappropriate, but he’s not her rapist. She only identified him when she was asked to come to court to identify a potential suspect and saw him standing next to the bailiff and sheriff. Bias confirmation. I get going on the identification only coming hours after the attack and after the administration of drugs. I add (which was particularly effective, the attorney tells me, or was, until I refused to stop):

Me: You’re a student at NITA University? Do you have student privileges? Library? Cafe?”

Witness: “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

This is good.

Me: Are you aware that my client is a student at NITA University?”

Witness: “No.”

This is bad.

Later, our Trial Advocacy class watched the Irving Younger classic on cross-examination. Brilliant.

Favorite take-away: “Sit down; shut up. Why? Because every minute you’re standing up, you’re f—ing up.”

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1L: It Was

It’s really that much time. We really do read that much. We really do analyze what “is” means. (“Most? Most? How could he use the word “most” on a true/false exam question? “Most” is not a true/false kind of word. “Most reliable?” Inconceivable.) We really, really write quite a bit and stress over memos and appellate briefs for weeks. We really don’t maintain outside relationships very well. For a year, it’s hard to talk about anything but class and cases. For a lot of us.

I think the purpose of 1L is to fundamentally alter (if necessary, and for most I’d say it is) the way you think. The statistics I read bear out that it fundamentally alters the personality of a large proportion of the students: “as many as two-fifths . . . experienc[e] severe psychological disturbances” within months of starting law school.1 I, and several of those I know and love, are still reeling in various ways.

But we made it. And you can make it, and the best part of making it is that it’s challenging. The strategy is learning to deal. I found things that work for me and things I wish I’d known prior to law school but so much of the experience is personal that I have no idea how much can be extrapolated to the 1Ls who will begin on Monday. But I think it’s valuable to hear and play with various strategies:

(1) Used books are fine. Last year’s edition is fine.

I realized, after dropping $750 on books first semester that I can actually read through someone else’s highlighting and notes (which can be a gold mine, depending on who wrote them). A casebook (those big red books) is a huge book of abbreviated cases and then very few notes and questions (without answers) to get you thinking. You don’t know enough to be thinking.

Seriously, if you buy used, you will miss some new questions and your pagination will likely be off. Buy used and then sit on the floor of the bookstore and using your syllabus, figure out what pages in your edition you need to read. IF you are missing a case, do not stress. For the love of Cthulhu, you have free access to LexisNexis and Westlaw which not only have the cases in full (the only drawback I note – the case isn’t abbreviated so there’s more to read/skim) but they’ve briefed the case for you too.

Second semester, I dropped $150 and bought my books on Amazon used. I gently pried off the red hardback cover, paid $3.00 to have Kinko’s chop off the page binding (the glue) and then sat for an hour and 3-ring hole-punched two of my red casebooks. Each week, I just carried around the pages we were gonna read and discuss. My back felt better instantly. You have no idea how much weight you’re gonna be carting around in casebooks. One book I left intact – Dressler’s Crim Law because it’s not a real big book anyway. Maybe twice was a case referenced that I’d left at home. No. big. deal. You may think you want to keep your casebooks forever. You don’t. Don’t.

(2) You can brief cases if you want. I don’t.

It’s a valuable skill, no doubt. You don’t have time if you want to sleep during the first six weeks when you’re learning to write and research. LexisNexis briefs each case using the precise language from the case itself. Westlaw’s briefs are in Westlaw’s paid lawyers words. In class, you’re gonna want the case words. Go over the Lexis headnotes which are the rule(s) you’re looking for.

In your class notes, copy/paste from Lexis or Westlaw the things you want briefed. Read the facts (in the beginning, profs love to quiz you on the facts you don’t even remember reading) and try to make short notes on each judge’s opinion. Can you sum up their opinion in a sentence of your own? Wikipedia.org is amazing at this. Well, not in your own words, but for summing up and noting major concurrences and dissents.

During class, I keep open my notes into which I’ve copied and pasted things from the case (using Lexis) and which contain hyperlinks to Lexis, Lexis opened (new tabs for each) to the cases we’re gonna talk about, an oyez.org summary, wiki, Facebook (this is because everyone is on FB or g-chat during class) and/or somebody’s brief on the Internet I may have found. When the prof starts in on some phrase in the case, I’m doing a CTRL-F in Lexis.

(3) You’re not going to class to be taught the Black Letter Law, per se. You’re going to class to torque Black Letter Law (BLL) and you can’t do that if you don’t know it first.

You want supplements. This really comes before briefing, if you ask me. Look at the syllabus. Are you discussing Pierson v. Post? Look it up on wiki. Why are you reading Pierson v. Post? It’s about possession? Go grab your Crunch Time Property or Emanuel’s or Gilbert. Read them. Now, go skim Lexis and your casebook. Now you might be ready to answer casebook questions or your prof in class. This is time-consuming. But I’d do a supplement and Lexis before I’d read the casebook.

You do have to know how to read a case and you do need it to become natural, but that process will be smoother, I think, if you know why and what you’re reading first.

(4) The supplements you want are kind of personal. You’ll look at some and think “overkill.” And they are. For some profs, the supplement may lead you down the wrong path. Sorry to say you’ll just kind of feel your way here. I like CrunchTime because the others are overkill for 1L. Maybe your library has them. (Speaking of, your library may have your casebook and you can just read it in the library instead of buying it.)

(5) Notetaking software: it does not matter.

I use a Mac. If you’re on a PC, a lot of people swear by Microsoft’s OneNote. Looks like severe overkill to me. Many people just use Word to take notes. There is no point in taking class notes or book notes in outline form. Your exam outline should be an outline of your class notes. That said, I would try to outline each section of the syllabus when you finish it in class. End of semester is a hard time to completely outline a course. But, I managed and I never quite outlined before the last two weeks. Look at outlines online and you’ll see what people do. (Just found this blog draft from last semester: Finals begin a week from Thursday. Con, Crim, Prop. I’ve got two mostly finished outlines and one that I swear looks like I just began it tonight.) (Ha.)

I use OpenOffice on my Mac and am very happy with it. I save everything in .doc and can easily share with classmates and can easily (easily!) make a PDF if I want.

(6) Back everything the freak up. Use Dropbox. Use Mozy. Use Google docs. Email your notes and outline to yourself. Back it up. I mean it. Don’t be this guy.

(7) Share. Your notes or outline will not propel someone into the grade stratosphere; you can afford to share. Unless the dude is never coming to class, I share. If he’s not, I just say I don’t share. It’s a pet peeve. I’m not doing all your work, but if you miss a class or two, or need to step out, ‘s’all good.

(8) The issue isn’t always black and white. Listen to other people – their arguments are going to come in handy on the exam when you need to see both sides.

(9) Don’t sweat the questions in class. None of us knew the answer and we were all just glad we didn’t get hit with the question. Unless you’re a gunner, we are so not laughing at you.

(10) For the love of Cthulhu, do something social with your class: beer darts, softball, whatever-it-is-you-do-in-groups besides drink (that’ll be a natural occurrence for most of us in law school).

Ran out of time on this, but a lot of stressing occurred over this year as I look back over it, so I throw out there what worked for me. I wanted to add some more positive things, but I’ve got to get this up. I meet the 1L’s I’m peer advising in 2.5 hours and can not understand the new mass transit system map. Unless it means we have no service to the law school. (I think that’s what it means. I hate them. I hope they die.)

Now Playing: When 2Ls Ruled the School.


1See Grant H. Morris, Preparing Law Students for Disappointing Exam Results: Lessons from Casey at the Bat, 45 San Diego L. Rev. 441, 442 (May-June 2008) (citing a 1986 American Bar Foundation Research Journal study which reported that seventeen to forty percent of the alumni and students studied suffered from depression and “reported other significantly elevated symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, hostility, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism (social alienation and isolation).”) The students were normal when they began school.

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Seriously Neurotic

I wear the same shirt to bed before every exam. Last semester I wore this shirt (Nautica mens’ nightshirt) to my last final, Contracts. I needed a new lucky charm.

I wear the same Gap boyfriend jeans and Loft navy hoodie sweater to every final this semester.

I sit in the same blessed seat for every final in the auditorium – this semester and last.

Uh, Ryan? No. That’s, like, my seat. Can you move? Do you mind moving? Are you sure? Cool. ’cause I need you to move. Perfect. See? That‘s where you were last semester for Torts final. This works. Thanks. This is drama. Not a meltdown.

Tomorrow 8:30a is Property final. I don’t know future interests to save my life and they, follow me closely here, won’t. The freaking Rule Against Perpetuities? Hazing. 1L hazing.

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Test, Criminal – tomorrow

Implicit meaning: let’s blog.

No, really, I’m good with crim; the policy question may give me some trouble but my feeling is I have opinions; I shall elaborate. Seriously, I love this stuff. Property – confidence lower, but no unmanageable anxiety whatsoever.

We’ll talk later about exams, 1L and anxiety; I need to mean that. I have meant to write up 1L for a while now, but there is just little time and when I do have down-time, I take it away from the computer screen. I drive. I meet with friends at A-Bread (Atlanta), Chili’s or Cheddar’s. But tonight I’m here because I totally forgot to record a cool thing I did (and I’m relaxing from crim-study): made the College of Law’s cheerleading team, aka Trial Team.

There aren’t a whole lot of 1Ls who try out for the college’s competitive trial team; the competition is mostly rising 3Ls. Good reasons for this exist, or at least they did this year. The tryout for the team came precisely when earnest studying for finals should begin – 1Ls have no time for not-studying. The try-out consisted of drafting and giving a five minute opening statement, based on the fictional case of “Micah Victor,” a clear play on the Michael Vick 2007 dog-fighting/abuse case (which I’d never heard of), five minute direct examination of a live witness, and five minute cross examination of a live witness.

You will spend your entire 1L year in classrooms and not once will they mention or read to you an “opening statement.” There will be no “direct” or “cross” examinations considered. It’s all case law, all the time. You’re writing memos or appellate briefs (and definitely not reading them – honor code violation) and briefly arguing both. Unless you’ve watched Law and Order or Perry Mason, opening statements are not in your little 1L sights.

I took two days, probably, in toto and researched how to draft a statement, how to examine witnesses on direct and cross, where to stand, and how to enter exhibits into evidence. I learned that no one really knows what being “argumentative” is during an opening statement, so you can probably get away with it for around 15-20 seconds before opposing counsel’s eyebrows begin to lift. Four hours one Sunday, right before my try-out, I memorized my opening statement.

Fifteen minutes before a video camera and six 2 and 3Ls. Five minutes seemed like an eternity when I realized I hadn’t researched how to shut the defendant up on cross examination. Also when I realized my shoes didn’t fit. Curses when I buy shoes because they are too cute* but clearly not my size. I kept walking smooth out of them. I stood still on cross.

I’m utterly excited – tentatively I’m on the part of the team (there are twelve of us total attending 2-4 competitions throughout the year) that will attend the Chicago ABA Labor Law Competition in November.

red heels*Apt. 9’s Glance Red Patent Heels.

Adorable. I have them in black and red. I’m keeping the red – sentimental reasons, really, and because I rarely have need to wear red shoes. The black ones are not functional for me whatsoever. Want a pair of 7’s?

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iPhone: If Found Please Write

2009_05_07_finals_1L I’m exhausted. I finished the 3 hour Con Law exam less sure of myself than I wanted to be, but there’s nothing for it. I began some crim tonight. Totally not fun to walk into that. I’ve taken some breaks, most notably to create an “If Found” message for my iPhone. I kept thinking this does not require extravagant moves or money (although this is a lovely app for just $.99 and may be well worth your dollar).

(1) Choose your wallpaper from the web, there are many beautiful images free to download.

(2) Save it to your computer and then import into an image editor. For ease of use, I used picnik.com, a free image editor.

iphonepasscode2(3) Add text to your image – your email or an emergency contact number, save to your computer and synch with your iPhone. I had to play around with the exact location of my text to prevent it from being hidden from view under “Enter Passcode” and the passcode entry area.

(4) And now my email address is visible on the wallpaper; no passcode required to contact me. The first day of school this semester, I left my purse on the shuttle bus. I came unhinged and had the company not worked with me to secure my purse immediately (The first dispatcher would not actually “work with me” and contact the driver but would “file a report.”) I would have wished I’d had some form of contact information available on my phone in case a student should have secured my purse and attempted to return it.

Now, should an honest soul find my iPhone and wish to reunite it with me, they are not locked out of all contact with me by my password; they’ll have access to my email address, in plain view on the wallpaper. (My phone is always password-protected and therefore ICE – In Case of Emergency listing in contacts – could not be viewed and used to contact me without the password; now wondering why I have an ICE entry….)

anonherethen

EDIT: I wrote this last night, clearly for people who already understand what I’m getting at and while zonked on nighttime meds. I’ve since clarified a few things because, hey, I have time: I watched Unsolved Mysteries yesterday in the nail salon on my way to my Con Law exam and correctly identified the accomplice who will be charged with the same substantive crimes as the principal and noted attempted felony murder and discarded – heh, attempt is a specific intent crime! – for purposes of exam-work and charged that bad boy with attempted murder, robbery and kidnapping (we have asportation!).

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