Only death’s forever

Secret Lovers.

This semester I’m taking Wills & Trusts, so it’s a natural by-product that I’ve got death on my mind. People generally don’t like the reminder of their mortality, but anyone with a date of birth will ultimately have a date of death. Pablo Neruda famously mused about the amount of time a person spends dying, and if the legal system is brought into play, it can take several years for one’s worldly possessions to be dispersed if things are not done properly.

There are many excuses for putting off will planning, but the reality is that unless things are done just-so, whatever you may want may not be respected. We may make assumptions about how our items would be dispersed based on what we believe is common sense, but common sense isn’t at all that common. If you have someone or something you care about and you want to ensure your assets are allocated as you wish them to be, you should hurry over and find yourself a good attorney to set things up for you beforehand.

It’s shocking and saddening for me to see how something like a missing signature is enough to throw carefully made plans into disarray. In this day and age where there’s information at our fingertips, there’s no excuse to be uniformed about the realities of what will happen when one passes away. Yes, the law has defaults, but given how much people care about customization, it’s unlikely that the default will be what you want.

I feel like I’m on a soapbox, but anyone in possession of any physical thing should have a will. Your loved ones will be saddened enough by your demise, it would be devastating to add to their suffering because you didn’t prepare for something that is inevitable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the expression goes. and it rings far too true in this area of the law.

Know better, do better

Peaceful Pond.

The most challenging aspect of any project is actually starting it, I suppose. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but what matters is whether one has the grit to see something through to completion. It’s not an easy task to open up and discuss the challenges I’ve faced in my life, probably in no small part due to the fact that I’m aware that talk is cheap and no one wants to hear about misery and suffering.

However, sometimes one’s own internal assumptions need to be thrown into question, in order to grow as a person.

Family from another country recently visited. I have to admit that even though I’ve worked in several law firms now, I still felt uncomfortable dressed in what I refer to as my “lawyer gear.” This is partially because it’s conservative clothing (the law is still a conservative profession) and also because of my own self doubts. As a WOC from a poorer socioeconomic background, I don’t see many people like me managing to do more than graduate high school, let alone find themselves attempting to enter this field.

It took a teenage cousin’s queries about my school and life experiences, and then afterwards overhearing her say that she was motivated to buck societal demands of settling down early that made me clearly see that part of what made me uncomfortable was I didn’t see myself as a professional. Despite my years of work experience towards this eventual goal of being a lawyer, didn’t see that it was realistic.

In the back of my mind, I was wondering who I thought I was fooling, trying to be a woman with career goals. Given all the internet’s had to say about why women can’t have it all, I’d started to doubt whether what I was doing was worthwhile. Despite it being close to the 100 year anniversary of women being able to vote in America, it still doesn’t seem like much credence is given to someone that looks like me in this country.

However, this isn’t true globally, as my cousin’s questions were able to show me. In her native country, she’s seen women rise to and hold positions of power, and the women in those roles look enough like her for her to be able to think it’s possible for her. Which makes all the difference: it’s not that she thinks being a professional would be easy, but rather that she thinks it’s possible.

That’s what gets lost in the discussions about whether America is postracial, whether the society we live in is actually a just one. The dialogue is so centered on believing that the present status quo is fine or not, that there’s no real assessment of how things might actually look like if somehow they were changed. Can we fathom a world where women were actually in half of the positions of power in America? It won’t ever be possible if those women lose their faith in themselves along the way.

Bittersweet

Few things are as universally loved as chocolate, given the myriad of forms it takes: liquid, solid, as a topping, as dip, you get the idea. Its ubiquitous consumption around the globe leads one to conclude that those involved in its production would naturally also be exposed to final finished product. In all my globe-trotting, I’ve managed to find the humble chocolate bar in most grocery stores, and I usually snag a few because they make for a delicious and relatively lightweight souvenir for the folks back at home.

So when I came across the video below, I couldn’t help but think it was anything other than bittersweet:

It was sweet to see that the workers savored their first taste of chocolate, and particularly touching that their first inclination would be to share the experience with each other. Is there anything more human than the urge to share with others our discoveries? We are a social species, and part of what’s made these past few decades so interesting is how quickly we can now share new information with each other, so much data lies at our fingertips.

And yet, there’s some aspects that are sad about this video, too. The fact that these workers do not even know what their hard manual labor produces, and the inescapable conjoining of racial and class divisions that lead to certain assumptions. That the consumption of chocolate, a luxury, is what makes white people healthy (and their guest, who they perceive as fairer skinned than themselves). The desire to save the wrapping to show to their children, a physical token that indeed they were able to partake in the grand chocolate experience at least once in their lives.

It’s what makes growing up so difficult, I imagine, this realization that very few things can be simply enjoyed because everything is interconnected. Both “good” and “bad” coexist and are inseparably twined together, and one is often left feeling powerless to do much of anything to change the status quo. The world seems so full of flaws that should be easy to fix, like this problem of workers separated from the end product.

Would it really be so hard for the cocoa bean buyers to pay these workers just a bit more, so that they can actually purchase what it is they make?

Would we, as global consumers, really mind it so much if we paid just a little more for the chocolate we enjoy, if we knew those making it continents away were living better lives because of it?

 

The Mighty Church of Capitalism

Money talks. Photo credit: 401kcalculator.org.

The decision by SCOTUS today is completely line with capitalist ideology. Corporations, entities which exist to generate wealth, are already considered people in the government’s eyes. Was it really that far of a logical leap for the majority to decide that if corporations were persons, that they would thus be persons with religious rights?

Let’s forget for a moment that women are people with their own set of religious rights. The decision reflected what one of my professors said about each case we read if it involved a well-known company: Mickey Mouse always wins. It’s a neat little loop: those who have the means are in the position to hire an attorney in the first place. Since the legal profession is one where the failure to dot your is’ and cross your ts’ has a real impact in whether your case is even filed correctly, it doesn’t surprise me that there would be an inherent bias built into the system that favors those with wealth over those without.

Which is more or less what happened. SCOTUS ignored the fact that for every corporate entity that is considered a person, there are usually several thousand people that generate the work that produces that company’s wealth. However, because the company is the entity valued at several million/billion dollars it’s the one whose rights get respected. After all, how much is any individual worker worth? Not as much as the company as a whole.

Mathematically, it’s a very neat and logical decision: Company X = $$$ > workers = $. So the winner is the company!

Most of the reactions supporting this decision are coming from a place of privilege, because most of them center around this basic idea: if you’re a woman working for a company that won’t pay for your medical needs, then leave. Which completely overlooks the reality that for many people, staying at a job is the goal, and they are loathe to leave the stable paycheck in this economy. Especially if they have other obligations, such as paying down a mortgage/student loans/children.

It also overlooks the fact that the process of switching to a new job is particularly difficult for those who find themselves in lower wage positions to begin with, because those are the jobs with the least amount of flexibility. I’ve been in that boat, and given that looking for a job turns into a full time endeavor on its own, I know that people stay in positions they’re miserable in because they need the steady pay. When you’re at the bottom and have several layers of supervisors to report to, your absence is quickly noticed, since in-person interviews take time and tend to be scheduled when all the vital team members for the hiring decision are present, which means you can’t just schedule it during lunch without running the risk that you’ll be late.

If you don’t want your present employer to catch on that you’re trying to abandon ship, there’s only so many ways you can try to maneuver without it affecting your work performance and endangering the job you presently have. This is a reality for those of us struggling to make ends meet, who do not have the luxury of being courted for employment or the security in coming from a background where family members or friends could support them should they wind up being unemployed. When your goal is a steady paycheck, you tend to not ask what your employer’s beliefs are, even if they are distasteful to your own.

Why? When you’re poor, you don’t have the luxury to care whether your employer hates women and will actively seek to avoid paying your medical expenses. You’re grateful to have something that pays the never ending bills for everything you need to keep a roof over your head, and to keep yourself fed. Even if you tried to leave to a better company, odds are you wouldn’t be able to, as in this market employers can afford to be choosy. SCOTUS just gave companies one more way to prevent women from breaking through the glass ceiling in certain industries, since I really doubt any organization unwilling to care for the health of its female employees could be fostering a work culture where women are valued and encouraged to advance to the top of its corporate ladder.

Liz’s Five Law School Lessons

Copyright by Moyan Brenn.

So I survived the first year of law school! Was it challenging? Yes. Did I hate myself/my life? At times. The overwhelming urge that drives the law student’s thinking is conformity, because your peers are who you’re competing against for those coveted good grades. The first semester no one knows what they’re doing (those that say they do are making themselves feel better with their false bravado) and the second semester the students that did well ramp it up because they feel the stakes are higher and everyone slogs through trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t so they can do as well as they hope to do without losing their sanity along the way.

For what it’s worth, I am very glad that I had some work experience under my belt (even though being out of school as long as I’d been made me doubt whether I had the capacity to still learn – the old dogs & new tricks adage) as it enabled me to better approach law school as a job. A person can only work so long at something successfully, straining for a long stretch of time leads to people burning out. As a reminder for myself come next semester, and hopefully as a sane guide for anyone stumbling across this in need of helpful advice on how to tackle the first year of law school, I present the following five lessons:

  1. Treat law school as a job. You’ll get a class schedule, so structure your days as much as you can so that you’re doing law school related tasks (reading, outlining, visiting professors during office hours) for roughly eight hours a day, planning to give yourself one day where you just don’t think about it at all. For me, that wound up being Sundays (church and family made it easy to decide it’d be my “off” day) and the break from the grind allowed me to come back to it with a renewed sense of vigor. It wasn’t always possible, I know I wound up spending more time focused on my studies during midterms and exams, but I did better than others because by the time they rolled around, I hadn’t burned out.
  2. Outline early and often. You’ll have the chance to get outlines from 2Ls and 3Ls, but making your own really helps you figure out what it is you’re learning and what you may need to make sense of still. The most straightforward way to outline is to follow the syllabus for the class, but I found I’d reorganize it to make concepts that fit together better for me. Your outline is how you see the information fits together so you can optimize how to use it to help you answer an exam question. While I pulled my share of allnighters in college, there’s no way to do this for law school. Your goal’s to get the information as your professor is teaching it to stick in your long-term memory. The only way this will happen is if you interact with it regularly throughout the semester.
  3. In your outline, page numbers will help you out. Some professors allow open book exams, it makes obvious sense to have page numbers included since you’ll want to be able to jump to the right page in your course’s book for citation reasons. For exams where it’s closed book, it’s still useful to have page numbers for personal reference. When you’re studying as a group, inevitably you’ll wind up in a controversy over a topic and being able to jump to the right page in the book will resolve those disputes quickly.
  4. Frontload your reading, when possible. If you can manage to get a course syllabus with the reading for the entirety of the semester on it, you can tackle the reading early and get it out of the way by finals time. This should go without saying, but you really don’t want to fall behind with the reading. Some professors love cold-calling, but it’s too easy to slack off on reading when the professor gives students an assigned date to be on call. My second semester, I was so glad I’d read ahead as often as I did because it allowed me to spend more time before finals were underway to outline and make sure I was really comfortable with the material.
  5. The simple way to do legal analysis is make sure you’re connecting facts with law. On an exam, you’re going to get a scenario where it won’t really matter how you come out with your final conclusion. What your professors are looking for is the reasoning behind your answer, and in this way law school’s a lot like math classes: you’re not going to get credit for the right answer unless you can show your work. The word “because” should be your new bff, because if you can’t connect the relevant facts from the exam with the relevant law discussed in the course, you just cannot do well.

PS – you’ll hear a lot about supplements and hornbooks. Some people are crazy about them, and worship them because it manages to make more sense than whatever the professor happened to say about a topic. I didn’t really use them, because they weren’t ever required for any of my courses and in general, I found them to be too general. Before investing in them, you should be able to look at them in your law school’s library to determine if you would find it useful. What worked for me was circling back with the professor (who you should remember will be the person grading your exam – not necessarily the author of the supplement/hornbook you’re using) and asking questions when I was confused. Your professor’s going to test you on topics they teach you, so I feel like it’s better to stick with your source and ask them for clarification.