Spoon Theory

I have been on vacation all week.

This summer that means a staycation at home to try and get things tidy and organized before the new school year starts. Things get started a month and a half from today and I can’t wait to start my second year of law school.

As I digitized some of our old files, I came across a pile of rejection letters–some from law schools and some from publishers and agents. I have eight rejection letters alone from SMU Dedman School of Law. I love reading them. Each one  gives me inspiration to keep on doing what I am doing.

One year of law school down and I managed to rank in the top 25% of my class (UNT-Dallas does not rank students, instead they provide a GPA based band), while working full-time and raising a family.

How did I do it?

Well, it wasn’t always easy.

First of all, I could not have done it without a supportive family. My wife is super human and shouldered a lot of the weight of parenting, especially during the week. Mondays through Thursdays she was pretty much a single parent. I read a lot of books and heard a lot of attorneys speak about law school and what to expect the first year. Many of them warned against starting a family while in law school and spoke of the difficulties of balancing family time and school time. That’s true to an extent, but I think if everyone in the family is all in on the law school mission, it doesn’t matter.

Second, and this is almost as important as point one, working in the legal industry helps–TREMENDOUSLY! I cannot emphasize this enough. If I were to give one piece of advice to a high school or college student considering law school (or adult considering law school), it would be to get a job in the legal industry.

A wise faculty member explained spoon theory to us during orientation. While spoon theory is most often used in helping people cope with disabilities, I think it’s a smart way to approach time management in law school. In short, we each have a finite number of spoons (think of it as bars of energy) to use over the course of each day and we must determine the most efficient way to use these spoons.

Students entering law school with limited or no previous experience in the legal field must use more spoons to learn the material presented. The more legal experience you have, the fewer spoons you have to use for law school activities and the more you can use for work, family, and free time.

Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I never spent a minute after class ended in my books or notes. Instead, I came home, ate dinner, and spent time with my wife. We do not have class on Friday nights, so on Fridays, I would not touch a school related book or look at my notes at all. Instead, as soon as I got off work, I would come home and spend time with my family. I would then spend most of Saturday and a couple of hours every Sunday morning to read and work on my notes. I still managed to watch every football game I wanted to watch and we stayed current on every TV show we watch together as a couple.

In all, I spent about 5 to 6 hours each week reading and taking notes. This was less than the amount of time I was actually in class each week and way less than what they advise a 1L student at the beginning of the year, but the main thing is to find what works for you and to stick with it.

Needles to say, my method won’t work for all students, but I think it shows how experience in the legal field can allow you to utilize fewer spoons than your peers and still have a successful law school career.

More than anything, the first  year of law school is learning to “think like a lawyer.” Working as a legal professional, you read case law, learn to spot issues, and how construct arguments on a daily basis, even you don’t recognize the acronyms IRAC or CRAC. Real world experience in the legal industry especially prepares you for Legal Writing and Legal Research.

 

 

 

 

1L

To my devoted readers, I offer my most sincere apology for failing to maintain this blog as regularly as I would have liked during my 1L year. When I began the year, I intended on chronicling my entire 1L journey, but that did not happen. I found that working forty plus hours a week and completing over twenty hours of law school took, while managing a family of four on the side, took up a little more time than I originally thought and I considered abandoning the blog not only until graduation, but until after the bar. An email I received a couple of weeks ago changed my mind.

The Dean of the UNT-Dallas College of Law–my law school–emailed me thanking me for my August post on UNTDCOL’s accreditation journey with the ABA. I noticed this particular post generates a ton of traffic, in spite of my lack of updates and I recognized their might be some genuine interest in what I have to say. 

So, as my 1L year nears its end, I aim to resurrect this blog from its cyber ashes. With finals fast approaching (next week is our final week of class), I don’t know how often I will post, but I have a lot of reflections from this first year I would love to share. Please check back frequently to see what I have to say and don’t be shy, share your feedback.

Why Does Everything Seem So Disorganized?

After one week, the toughest part about law school is figuring out what is due and when.

What’s that?

Your law school only gave a final and no other graded material?

Well, UNT-Dallas College of Law is different in a lot of ways, including that every class has multiple graded assignments, including quizzes, mid-terms, and finals.

I feel like every syllabus has been updated at least once since the official start of class on Monday, sometimes without the professor informing us of the changes.

The more I think about it, I think this might be intentional. In the “real world,” each court and judge have their own specific rules. Additionally, every case has some form of docket control order. An attorney is responsible for knowing all the rules for a specific judge and jurisdiction. They are also responsible adhering to orders entered that govern discovery, motion practice, etc.

I think our professors want to make sure we learn to read policies and procedures very carefully before sending us out to practice law. No hand holding here!

On UNT Accreditation

If you follow this link, it should pull up a PDF copy of an article that appears on The Texas Lawbook’s website. I wanted to link directly to the website, but could not get it to link properly. I think this might be the most enlightening piece I have read on the accreditation issue to date.

Interestingly enough, both Emmanuel Obi and Rocio Cristina Garcia both spoke to our 1L class at a Dallas Bar Association event last Thursday night. I think I speak for the entire UNT-Dallas College of Law when I say that we appreciate their support.

I especially like Ms. Garcia’s comment that the only thing a high LSAT score proves is that a student had the resources for a prep course.

Also, this is the only piece outside of my own that really tackles the battle between the ABA and the Department of Education.

Best Practice Standards for 1L’s

In order to effectively manage a case, legal professionals must adhere to standards of best practices. Many firms establish formal “best practices,” while other offices follow more general standards, but they all share many of the same features. One standard that I have found to be universal involves familiarizing yourself with the local rules for any jurisdiction in which a case is filed. Some jurisdictions, especially Federal jurisdictions (staring at the upper-right side of the state of Texas), have very specific rules in place. If you don’t follow the rules, you risk having your filing rejected (or worse).

I haven’t yet started law school, but I have read through some of the Course Policies and they read just like Local Rules. It confirms to me that one way to approach law school is to treat each course like a case and develop a standard of best practices, beginning with familiarizing yourself with the Course Policies. Unlike undergrad, it appears law school professors give very specific instructions on how to complete and submit assignments. Failure to adhere to these standards could prove costly.

Why I Am Not Afraid to Attend UNT-Dallas College of Law During Its Accreditation Process


By now, the news is out there that UNT-Dallas College of Law (“UNTDCOL”) has hit a bump in the accreditation process. I begin my 1L journey at UNTDCOL on Saturday and I have full confidence the school will secure accreditation during my matriculation.  UNTDCOL has been completely transparent with its students throughout the accreditation process and in a meeting in front of the student body on August 5, 2016, they assured all students that they would take any steps necessary to conform to the ABA’s stringent admission standards to achieve accreditation.

Compare this to the lack of transparency exhibited by SMU, a school that tries hard to present itself as a top tier law school, when they decided to suspend their part-time/evening law school program. As an applicant to the SMU evening program, I found out of their decision to suspend the program through an article on Texas Lawyer. About a month later, I received an email from SMU explaining their decision to suspend the part-time program and offering a position on the “wait list” for their full-time program.

But I digress, this post is not about SMU, but rather UNTDCOL.

Let us consider the facts:

  • On July 11, 2016 the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s (‘reporting committee”) sent a letter to UNTDCOL informing the school that they were recommending that the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar of the American Bar Association (“the accrediting committee”) not grant UNTDCOL accreditation at this time.
  • The reporting committee found that the curriculum and faculty at UNTDCOL were satisfactory, but suggested that the school admissions criteria, specifically as it relates to LSAT scoring, put the school at risk of admitting a high number of students unable to pass the bar.
  • The reporting committee’s recommendation is non-binding, meaning the ABA could choose to not accept the reporting committee’s recommendation and grant UNTDCOL accreditation.
  • UNTDCOL was originally scheduled to appear before the accrediting committee on August 5, 2016 to receive its decision, but since the reporting committee did not send their letter until July 11, 2016, UNTDCOL would not have had their allotted 30 days to respond, so the accrediting committee moved UNTDCOL’s hearing to their next scheduled meeting in October 2016.
  • UNTDCOL is actively preparing a response to the reporting committee’s assertion that it’s admission standards could potentially admit a high number of students unable to pass the bar.

This entire process raises a number of questions.

Is there any correlation between LSAT scores and bar passages rates?

There have been no peer studied reviews conducted that show there is any correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates. The cynic in me wants to say that the only thing a high LSAT scores proves is that you had the resources to take a prep course, but I know that the LSAT has been proven to be an effective indicator of success for the first year of law school, but that’s completely different than being an effective indicator of bar success.

Conservative columnist Megan McArdle penned a syndicated piece in which she argues in favor of the ABA of revoking accreditation for law schools that fail to prepare its students to pass the bar exam. She stops short of telling us what she thinks an acceptable passage rate for a school would be, but says  “a large majority of them.”

Let’s take a look at the bar passage rate for the nine  law schools in Texas currently accredited by the ABA. As you can see in the chart below, the University of Texas boasts the highest median LSAT score of any accredited law school in the state, yet the bar passage rate for its students over the past three years has been in the bottom third. Meanwhile, Texas A&M University School of Law, whose median LSAT score of 156 ranks right in the middle of the nine accredited Texas law schools, has the second highest bar passage rate over the same amount of time.

TX Law Schools

Why then  is the ABA taking such a hard stand against UNTDCOL’s admission standards?

It seems that UNTDCOL might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity threatened to take away accreditation powers from the ABA.This explains why the ABA would be reluctant to simply rubber stamp UNTDCOL’s accreditation, but the facts show UNTDCOL has earned its accreditation, in spite of possibly admitting some students with less than stellar LSAT scores.

What remains a bigger is mystery is why conservatives like McArdle are all of a sudden seeking to embolden the powers of the Department of Education. Strange bedfellows for sure, but I think Dallas City Councilman, Philip Kingston, might be on to something. In a responding to the July 11 letter, Kingston wrote:

 The practice of law in America, especially civil law, has become exclusively the province of corporations and the extremely rich. It’s just flat too expensive. When an entire industry fails to offer even the most basic service to the vast majority of our citizens, that’s a system failure. The legal education system has been entirely complicit in this failure. The admissions criteria for law students are very high, and the cost of tuition is stratospheric. Students exit with few choices other than to seek the maximum hourly rate they can possibly earn. The UNT model seeks to ameliorate this system failure at least slightly.

Kingston’s argument makes sense. In her article, McArdle does goes after trial lawyers like John Edwards.

From my perspective, as someone who has worked in the legal field for seventeen years, the bigger concern is students graduating from law school with no real world legal experience. Sure, they can wax eloquently about legal theory, but they have no idea how real world litigation works. I have seen it firsthand in young associates I have worked with and in negotiating settlement agreements with defense attorneys on my own.

In later posts, I will discuss how I have been able to collect on violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), on my own without any outside legal counsel, by simply writing a letter and making a phone call. Most companies dump consumer litigation in the laps of young attorneys fresh out of law school. Not only do these young attorneys not fully understand the TCPA, but they also haven’t yet mastered the art of negotiating.

I am not the only one who feels this way. 3Ls and young associates alike realize that most law schools rob them of experiential learning opportunities. UNTDCOL is well ahead of the game in this regard and has placed a premium on experiential learning opportunities.

By the time I graduate in 2020, I predict UNTDCOL will have earned its accreditation from either the ABA or Department of Education, that UNTDCOL graduates will be passing the bar at a 70% rate, and that we will come out with more experience and be better prepared to jump into a legal career. For those reasons, I am not afraid to attend UNTDCOL while it waits to earn its accreditation.

 

A New Beginning

I will always remember February 27, 2015 for a couple of reasons. First, it snowed that day, blanketing downtown in a beautiful white. It brought an end to a wild winter weather week in North Texas where we endured multiple winter storms, but I showed up for work everyday.

That’s nothing new. In 2014, I took a total of five days off from work and billed nearly 2,100 hours. During the summer, I worked a couple of 60 and 70 hours weeks. At the time, I didn’t really mind. The work was there and the 30+ hours of overtime certainly looks nice on a paycheck.

In spite of all this productivity, for the first time in my life, my employer relieved me of my job duties that snowy Friday afternoon. You never want to get a call from HR on a Friday afternoon and it’s even more ominous when you walk into the conference room and she’s sitting with one of the partners, yet surprisingly I felt some relief when I sat down at that table and heard the words “today is your last day,” came out the HR manager’s mouth.

As I drove home, I felt calm as I reflected on where I had been and  began to plot out the next step in my career.

In September 1999, I accepted a position as a part-time runner for a consumer bankruptcy firm in Tyler, Texas. The job worked well with my college schedule and allowed me to explore my own calling into the legal field. While I spent a lot of time performing menial tasks, such as washing my boss’s car every Friday, I saw every assignment as a learning opportunity.

When asked to update books in the library, I took the time to read the inserts. Similarly, when asked to file a document with the court, I would ask the attorney or their assistant how each document fit into the case. I found the work to be extremely interesting, but 21 year old Josh found it hard to reconcile his laid back personality with that of his boss, which could most politely be described as “extreme Type A.”

I moved on and went back to waiting tables, but I missed the excitement and a few weeks later when I saw a law firm advertise a position for a file clerk, I took my next step up the legal ladder. Here, I had the autonomy I desired and I began to understand a little bit more about litigation.

Since that time, I have worked in various roles in various fields in the legal industry—from paralegal to litigation manager and from toxic torts to patent litigation. I applied for law school back in 2009 and was accepted to my “fall back” school. I was a little disappointed and so I put off enrolling. After getting laid off, I knew it was time to begin my law school pursuit once again.

So here I am. I am officially a 37 year old 1L at the UNT-Dallas College of Law. I am married, have two wonderful children, and work full-time as a labor & employment paralegal for one of the largest law firms in the world. On Saturday, I began “Fundamentals Week,” the official kickoff to the academic portion of my law school journey. I am resurrecting my blog after almost a year away to document my time as a law student, husband, father, and paralegal. Additionally, I will share reflections from my past and maybe even offer a little political and pop culture commentary from time-to-time. I am glad you found this blog and hope you will come back and visit often.