7Sage LSAT Blog

Sometimes it can feel like we are prisoners to our own habits, and indeed, research suggests more than 40% of our daily actions are automatic processes we no longer screen. As author Charles Duhigg explains in his popular book The Power of Habit, “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. [...] So unless you deliberately fight a habit–unless you find new routines–the pattern will unfold automatically.” For the LSAT, eliminating bad habits and developing productive new ones can be tremendously helpful in improving your score, especially if you’re shooting for the 90th percentile and above.

Three elements make up a habit–the cue, the routine, and the reward. Duhigg suggests that one way to replace a bad habit is to change the routine, as smokers often do by substituting gum or other snacks for cigarettes. Another way to tweak an existing habit is to tack on a new, good habit to the routine, such as doing a few squats while brushing your teeth or more pertinently, adding the blind review process to your normal practice test schedule.

What Duhigg calls “keystone habits” should be another point of focus. These are the habits that when changed, can also impact other habits in positive ways. Making one’s bed in the morning is one such habit, producing a small “win” early on in the day and instilling confidence that “bigger achievements are within reach.” For the LSAT, you can create a pre-test routine of several “keystone habits” to build up confidence with each step–a process that, as Duhigg writes, will help you feel victorious even before you reach the main event of the day.

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I built a pre-test routine similar to what Duhigg recommends, practicing it each time I took a sample exam: eat some oatmeal while reading Wired (stimulating but not rocket science), do a really easy logic game to get my brain going, and “free write” my anxieties (i.e. what could be the worst case scenarios, what would be my plan, and reminders that these things had never happened in the previous practice tests). If nothing else, it cut down on my anxiety by making the exam less of an event and more of a natural next step on my checklist.

You can read more about changing habits in the Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Featured image: Made in Canva, image purchased by CL.

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We’re looking for striking photos of 7Sagers to go up on our front page!

Ideally the photos would:
1. include 7Sage student; and
2. include laptop / tablet / phone used to access 7Sage; and
3. be visually arresting and in good taste; and
4. communicate how one uses 7Sage or what 7Sage is or studying for the LSAT.

That’s it.

Whether you’re cramped up in your 100 sqft NYC “apartment”, or sprawled out on the steps of your Savannah portico, or hunched over in a greco-roman columned ass old library room, or looking ever so disdainful in your hipster coffee shop, think outside the box, work the angles, and break out the premium filters. We’re looking for some creative stuff!

Submit photos as attachments with subject “7Sage Photo Contest” to jy@7sage.com

Multiple submissions welcome and $100 per photo chosen to use on the site ye shall receive. 

Contest ends June 1st. 

Featured image: Francisco Osorio

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An expert on human rights law, Rebecca Hamilton is a Research Scholar and Lecturer at Columbia Law School. Prior to her work at Columbia, she was a Special Correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post and a lawyer for the International Criminal Court (ICC). Here, she talks to 7Sage about her experiences as a joint JD-MPP student at Harvard Law School, her work at the ICC, and her thoughts on the ICC and present-day human rights concerns.

Can you talk about your time at Harvard Law School?

Harvard is like New York City in the sense that its size brings a lot of diversity.

I had an incredible time at the law school. I remember Dean Kagan telling us as 1Ls that Harvard is like New York City in the sense that its size brings a lot of diversity, and I found that to be true.  You have a large number of classmates and so  from among them you can find your own niche. I very much found my human rights niche there with a great human rights clinic that enabled me to do a lot of things that I was passionate about doing.

You did a joint JD-MPP degree. Is that something you’d recommend for students interested in international law?

I don’t think it’s necessary for people going into international law as a career, although any additional experience is invariably useful in whatever you do.

I don’t think it’s necessary for people going into international law as a career, although any additional experience is invariably useful in whatever you do. For me, it was a nice balance of subjects, and I liked having a very policy oriented focus in the mix. I was in the extremely privileged position of having a scholarship, but the costs are significantly higher when you do a double degree – both in terms of the tuition and the opportunity cost of another year out of the workforce – so I really advise people to think hard about whether it is worth them taking that extra burden on.

What were some of your most enjoyable classes, whether in your JD or MPP program?

But I made some great friends, and as a result I’ve now got friends who work on all sorts of areas of the law that I know absolutely nothing about, and that ends up being quite useful in daily life.

The law school’s human rights clinic was certainly a highlight. I also had fantastic seminar experiences in my third year with other students who were doing a joint public policy and law degree. What’s exciting at that point is you’re starting to build a core community that’s going to stay with you after law school and be part of your professional life. In your third year, you have more of your bearings and understand more of what’s going on whereas the first year is generally overwhelming.

Although I will say that my first year, I had a fantastic section. It’s a group of 50 students you do all your required classes with, and most of those people will never go near international law. But I made some great friends, and as a result I’ve now got friends who work on all sorts of areas of the law that I know absolutely nothing about, and that ends up being quite useful in daily life. People come to you, knowing you’re a lawyer, and say, “I’ve got this custody issue, can you help?” As an international lawyer I’m of no use to them, but at least I probably can find them someone who will be!

How did you initially become interested in international law?

I saw what a precarious situation refugees were in, legally.

Back in in Australia, I had worked with asylum seekers, and they seemed to have very minimal legal protections under refugee law. I saw what a precarious situation refugees were in, legally. Only after that did I learn about internally displaced persons (IDP). When you are an IDP, you are suffering persecution just like a refugee but you can’t actually cross the border and get away from the government that is persecuting you The end result is that you have no formal protection of international law because you are still stuck in your country. I couldn’t understand how this could be, and I was really interested in studying and understanding that, which led me to get interested in Sudan. It was a country, which at that moment (and this was pre-Iraq), had the largest number of internally displaced people. So I began working with IDPs there, and everything else flowed from that.

640x589_Flickr_JosefStueferInternational Criminal Court, 
Hague, Netherlands

I know that you worked for the International Criminal Court (ICC) after graduating from law school. Can you talk about that experience?

It was a huge privilege to be working on cases of that scale so early in my career.

It was incredible to be at the ICC at such an early stage in its institutional development. I was really seeing it from the ground up. It was a huge privilege to be working on cases of that scale so early in my career. Just seeing what this radically new court on the international stage was trying to do and the reactions of states was an enormous education.

It was also frustrating—the degree of cooperation that the court was receiving was not as much as it needed to be, particularly with the Sudan situation. After an initial period, the court could no longer get investigator access to the situation at all.

Do you think the U.S. will be joining the ICC in the future?

I don’t think it’ll happen soon but the relationship between the U.S. and the ICC since the second term of the Bush administration has been one of constructive engagement, and I think that’s a pretty functional status quo. Still, I hope at a future point, the U.S. will ratify.

Fatou Bensouda became the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor to much fanfare in 2012. How has she been doing in this role?

I think her tenure needs to take on a different role from the first Prosecutor.

It’s too early in her tenure to make any assessment but I think it’s fantastic to have an African woman at the head of the Court. I think her tenure needs to take on a different role from the first Prosecutor. The role of the first Prosecutor was really to convince the world that this thing called the ICC could be viable and could be a player on the world stage, and that’s an important part of any new institution’s role. The role for the person who comes in after that is really about consolidation and showing that you can do the day-to-day operations and make the trials credible, both procedurally and substantively. That work happens farther removed from the spotlight. That’s the role she’s taking on.

Can you talk more about the article you wrote on the lack of capacity of domestic courts in states where ICC cases are pending?

So the root of the problem is that those domestic jurisdictions can’t – or wont’ – take on the cases themselves because if they could, then the ICC would not be in there at all.

It was in the context of this charge that the ICC is targeting African states, which, despite the over-representation of African cases, is misleading in the sense that most of those situations have been referred to the ICC by those African states themselves, or by the U.N. Security Council. But the bigger issue is that the ICC only gets involved when the domestic jurisdiction is unwilling or unable to do so. So the root of the problem is that those domestic jurisdictions can’t – or wont’ – take on the cases themselves because if they could, then the ICC would not be in there at all. So the question I had was whether these African leaders who are saying that the court is racist are trying to deflect attention from the debilitated state of their own domestic justice systems.

ICCInformation via the ICC

Is that the ultimate goal, to have domestic courts that can handle these types of cases?

Yes, in an ideal world, you wouldn’t need the ICC. In a truly ideal world, you wouldn’t need the ICC because none of these atrocities would be happening. But at the very least, justice is always best if it can be closer to the victims and survivors. So if domestic courts could be prosecuting these crimes, it would be a great result for everybody. But we need an ICC for as long as domestic jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to play that role.

How would we go about doing that, and is there a role for international law in that process?

I think we spend, as lawyers, a lot of the time looking at the legality of getting into situations and not nearly enough time thinking about the exit.

There’s a role for international actors. That’s a little bit of what you’ve seen in Yugoslavia with the ICTY taking on a coordinating role with other actors to help establish the ability to do war crimes trials in Bosnia for instance. It takes a sustained period of work. One of the papers I’m writing now is about how unless the ICC has an exit strategy in place in the situations that they are in, it’s hard to motivate these actors to think about how to get their own domestic systems ready to handle these crimes in the future because they think the ICC will do it. But the ICC should not be doing this on a permanent basis in any one country.

I think we spend, as lawyers, a lot of the time looking at the legality of getting into situations and not nearly enough time thinking about the exit. Yet we know from the perspective of people on the ground that the way exit is handled has a huge impact on long term outcomes.

You have and continue to work with civil society groups against mass atrocities and have significant experience on the ground. What is memorable or surprising about these on-the-ground interactions?

The resilience of people is always absolutely humbling. I’ve spent time with women who’ve experienced things that I feel like would completely destroy me, and yet they are making it work and doing the absolute best possible job for their kids. It gives one a good sense of perspective.

What areas in the world are you concerned about now for the potential of genocide?

South Sudan, where there is horrific violence. What started as a political conflict has escalated. There has been highly irresponsible leadership that has been fueling atrocities between different communities on the ground. But there is any number of places to be watching out for. Obviously, the moral stain that the world is facing with Syria, and similarly with Myanmar and the Central African Republic. And it seems that world leaders never have the bandwidth to deal with more than one crisis at once.

Are there lessons you wish you had known as a law student, or earlier on in your career?

You won’t remember 90% of the actual coursework that you learned but the relationships you make will last.

I think what shocks me still is the degree to which a J.D. opens doors into things even vastly outside of the law. It seems, in the U.S. context in particular, that the J.D. is a unique signal of credibility. I know my ability to work as a foreign correspondent in Sudan for instance was partly perception that well, she’s had that legal training and critical thinking instilled through the J.D. so we can trust her analytical abilities.

And the other is that they always tell you in law school, but that you don’t fully appreciate at the time, is that you learn the most from your colleagues. Turns out they’re right. You won’t remember 90% of the actual coursework that you learned but the relationships you make will last.

You can read more of Rebecca’s thoughts on international human rights law at the UN Dispatch and also at her website.

Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with lawyers and law students

Featured image: 640x427_Flickr_TomRoeleveld

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See the top law school rankings from US News in full technicolor!  You can track the progress of every school that was in the top-100 since 2009, all interactive and pretty like :)

Top Law School Rankings

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Currently Co-Director of the Advancement Project, Constance “Connie” Rice is a Los Angeles legend who has affected tremendous change on the city’s school district, transportation system, anti-gang initiatives, and even the LAPD. She narrates her experiences with the latter in Power Concedes Nothing (see our book review here) and recently spoke with 7Sage about her law school experiences, advice for students, and more.

In your book, you have this great paragraph where you condense all the lessons you learned as an undergraduate. What were the lessons you learned from law school?

If you’re there to learn liberty, most of what you learn in law school is about how you limit liberty.

I didn’t learn very much in law school. I mainly worked. Maybe more of the same. Maybe just confirmation of what I learned in college.

Law school was so different because it’s a system of constraints, and I was there to learn freedom. If you’re there to learn liberty, most of what you learn in law school is about how you limit liberty. So it was sort of counterintuitive in some ways. The thing about law school is it’s very artificial. They didn’t used to have law schools. They used to apprentice to become a lawyer.

I had some very good courses and very good professors. State and Local Government was very interesting because it was the first time I really understood power at different levels of government and first got an idea of how you manipulate those powers to get what you need for your client. For social change, you really have to learn State and Local Government.

In the summer after your 2L year, you worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where you focused on death penalty cases. Can you talk about that experience?

It’s a heady process to save someone’s life, and I don’t think I’ll ever do anything as important as saving those men’s lives. It’s a very very emotionally heavy world to be in, and it’s exhausting. It’s very disappointing and tragic.

Speaking of tragic situations, you’ve dealt with so many trying scenarios, even a nine-year-old assassin. Does any of this make you a pessimist?

When you’re fighting, you don’t have the time or the luxury of being sad.

Not yet, not yet. I guess I am basically a pessimistic optimist. There was a lot of sadness but that doesn’t mean that I’m sad. It means it motivates me. I find it more motivating than depressing or anything. I have a very even level of feeling. That comes from being very secure in knowing who I am and all those good things that people with good parents always have. I’ve never made the mistake about thinking this is about me so it doesn’t touch me in that way. I guess that’s one way to think about it. Also, you’re fighting. When you’re fighting, you don’t have the time or the luxury of being sad.

Another thing that jumped out at me while reading Power Concedes Nothing is how fearless you are, whether dealing with gang members, corrupt cops, or even death threats.

It takes enormous stamina to work the way we did, to do David and Goliath everyday.

When I look back at how fearless I was back in those days, I am amazed. ‘Why weren’t you afraid?’ And I just wasn’t. I don’t know how to explain it. Fearlessness is different from courage. Courage means you’re afraid and you overcame it, and in some ways, it’s more admirable. I just didn’t think to be afraid. I just drove right in there and did whatever I had to do. I wasn’t afraid. It didn’t occur to me to be frightened.

There were times when I knew when I was in danger, especially with the gang stuff and some of the police stuff, and I was in shock over some of the threats, just for a second. But I never felt fear, and that’s a psychological condition I can’t really explain. I should have been afraid in some circumstances. I think of the attributes I had, fearlessness is the [third] most important. The first is that I’m pretty much unflappable, and I had enormous stamina. It takes enormous stamina to work the way we did, to do David and Goliath everyday. We had to work around the clock, and I couldn’t let anyone see that we had no resources because otherwise they’d be able to beat you.

You have a very vivid memory of your childhood, including heroes from that age such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan. As you’ve grown up and become involved in civil rights, how has your perception of your heroes changed?

I probably appreciate what they lost more, now that I am older and have been through my own wars. They gave up so much, much more than I did. [I also appreciate] just how much we owe them. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.

Since the publication of your book in 2012, what’s been a memorable experience?

I have to say that was a real kick, standing up there, seeing all those cops take notes from former gang members.

Perhaps seeing the gang intervention guys teaching at the police academy. They and I have created a gang academy, and they teach each other how to do gang intervention. The instructors are the best of the intervention guys, and they teach at the police academy, the sheriff’s academy. I have to say that was a real kick, standing up there, seeing all those cops take notes from former gang members. That was very moving to me.

Can you talk a bit about what’s changed in Los Angeles since the publication of your book?

It takes work every day to transform a culture of a police department, and that’s what I’ve been doing.

LADP has changed enormously and is still in the process of changing. I still have to do that work every day. I was just at the HQ yesterday to say goodbye to someone I did most of the reform work with. I saw all the guys we did the reforms with. It was very sad to think that they’re all retiring. LAPD is a place where I don’t think they’ll ever go back to what they were, which is good, and it’s been an amazing journey.

In the last three years, we’ve been doing the hard work. It takes work every day to transform a culture of a police department, and that’s what I’ve been doing. We’ve created a mini-force, and I get to change all the promotional criteria. Cops don’t get promoted for arrests. They get promoted for showing how they avoided making arrests. They get promoted for showing how they helped people. So it’s real community policing, and I’m having a marvelous time with that. The work continues in some amazing ways.

Education is worse than ever. We’re getting nowhere there because of the politics, and I’ve got to find a new way. I’m really thinking of working on slavery now. It’ll be a last act but I’m really thinking of it.

What would be the goals if you became involved in the slavery issue?

To end the epidemic, just like we worked to end the epidemic of gang violence. I want to end the epidemic of slavery in foster care children. That’s a population I think we can actually do.

Can you speak about your current work with the Advancement Project?

It’s a civil rights action tank [focused on] police reform, violence reduction, safety for children. The education piece is focusing on early children ed. We want the little ones to get a head start. The other part of it is the technology. How you use technology to advance the interests of the poor.

What advice do you have for pre-law and 1L students?

Dream your dream and go make it happen.

Know who you are so you can figure out what you want to do. And when you figure out what you want to do, do it. You really have to stay calm enough to understand what life is teaching you, and really being able to pick up what’s going on around you rather than just going through the motions or not paying attention at all. Doing what you want to do, that takes a lot of courage because most people feel that they have to do certain kind of jobs or be in a certain place. They may never do what they want to do or even ask themselves what they want to do. People at the end of their lives will feel cheated. Dream your dream and go make it happen.

Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with lawyers and law students

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1. To Kill a Mocking Bird
A classic! There’s one scene where Scout calls out a neighbor she knows from a maddened bloodthirsty mob and in that moment reminds him of his humanity and individuality.

2. Inherit the Wind
Just listen to the amazing arguments.

3. 12 Angry Men
Fascinating character study of the “types” of jurors and the human psychology of judgment and persuasion.

4. Central Park Five
This is a documentary about white women v. black men.

5. Into the Abyss
This is a Warner Herzog documentary, so it’s cerebral, it’s contemplative, it’s meditative. You should probably watch this in the morning, after you’ve had a cup of coffee since you’ll have to actively engage with the movie. If you manage to stay awake and think, it will likely change the way you view the death penalty.

6. Fruitvale Station
Dramatic retelling of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by BART officers on New Year’s Eve 2008.

7. West of Memphis
This is a documentary about a gruesome satanic murder.

8. The House I Live In
Also a documentary but this is about America’s war on our poor people I mean drugs.

You know now that I’m done compiling this list I noticed that it’s very documentary heavy. I know you probably think documentaries are boring. Me too, sometimes. I kind of have to make myself watch documentaries.

But I do it because it’s an education. You educate yourself about the facts by just sitting there and staring at a screen with pretty moving pictures for two hours. When you’re done, you’ve gained a brand new perspective on important issues and you’ve become a better informed citizen. That’s a good deal.

Featured image: mpclemens

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Sam Edandison, a 1L at the University of Michigan Law School, talks about Michigan’s collegiality, the curve, and 1L lessons learned.

What do you like most about law school?

I like the people here at Michigan. People here are very collegial and friendly. Perhaps it is because it is a Midwestern school. The law school has a welcoming aura to it. Of course, everyone wants to do well, but there’s none of this outward competition. Most of the competition is within. I made a lot of great friends and that really helps with liking a school.

What do you dislike the most about law school?

I dislike the curve grading. I don’t think anyone here is a slacker. Almost everyone works hard, and it’s tough to see someone who works hard not have anything to show for it.

What aspect of the academic work do you find most challenging?

Law school is not that tough. The material is pretty easy if you put in the time. The time, however, is what I find most challenging. There are many other things to do and to get involved in. However, you cannot do those things at the expense of your school work. Deeply understanding the material takes time, and it’s challenging to find the time and be social as well.

Do you brief cases?

No. Briefing cases is a waste of time. All that matters at the end is the holding and how you apply it in a scenario you haven’t seen before.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make?

The biggest adjustment is finding a work-life balance. I worked beforehand, and when I was working, I knew from 9-6, I’ll be at work and after work, I’ll have the time to do whatever I want. However, in law school, it’s tough to [...] separate life and work. I can go take a nap during the day, but that means, I’ll stay up late reading. Work-life balance in law school is more flexible than in the real world, but that flexibility can also be a bad thing.

Is there a study tactic or method you find most helpful?

A weekly review is really helpful. You can sit back and see the bigger picture of where the class is heading. It also reinforces what you learned beforehand.

If you could do 1L first semester differently, what would you do?

I would do more practice tests and start doing practice tests early. I can’t stress enough how important practice testing is. It makes a big difference. With practice testing, you are actually practicing what matters. Of course, class and the intellectual aspect of law school matters. But in the end, you get a grade. And that grade is all centered on one test. It’s best to concentrate on the that test.

Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with students and lawyers. 

Featured image: 640x426_JSmith Photo

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Dami Animashaun, a 1L at Harvard Law School, talks about Harvard’s trial by fire curriculum, therapeutic extracurriculars, and legendary professors.

What do you like most about law school?

There is very little that is likeable about first semester, but it would have been unbearable if I didn’t have the friends I did.

That it gives me 3 years to figure things out…There is very little that is likeable about first semester, but it would have been unbearable if I didn’t have the friends I did. I met some great people. Also, I joined some organizations that really gave me some perspective and helped me cope.

What do you dislike the most?

I disagree with the way the first year curriculum is structured at HLS and the trial by fire, hazing nature of it.

I disagree with the way the first year curriculum is structured at HLS and the trial by fire, hazing nature of it. As I said, it’s academically challenging, but not because it is overly theoretical or sophisticated but because they just throw a ton of busy work your way. The average students goes to class, reads, and sleeps, without ever getting the chance to think or digest or analyze what they read or were told.

What aspect of the academic work do you find most challenging?

There is a premium on time in law school.

The most challenging…one is staying ahead of the reading. I have three to five hours of reading every night. Another is figuring out what I should read and what I should skim- or not read. You can read everything, but if you are not interested or it is irrelevant, then the cost is time. There is a premium on time in law school.

Do you brief cases?

I probably went back to my briefs something like five times.

Never brief cases! I started briefing cases because other people were. But I don’t anymore. I probably went back to my briefs something like five times. It is more time efficient to just jot down notes or highlight relevant parts of cases. Plus there are old outlines and class notes available that have everything you need to know.

Is there a study tactic or method you find most helpful?

I took practice tests, and my biggest mistake was not taking more practice tests.

I combined a few outlines and then made them into my own outline. If I didn’t understand a concept, I would read what a few hornbooks had to say on and really try to grasp and understand it. I took practice tests, and my biggest mistake was not taking more practice tests. You also have to know how to apply it and know what the professors are asking and are looking for. Read, outline, and know where things are on your outline. Take a lot of practice tests.

How accessible are professors at Harvard?

Also walking down the hall ways and seeing some legendary professors working in their offices with the door open is surreal at times.

Most of the professors are very accessible. You can schedule a meeting with almost any professor, whether or not you are in their class and that is really cool. Also walking down the hall ways and seeing some legendary professors working in their offices with the door open is surreal at times.

Are you involved in any extracurriculars?

… to get away from the institutions and actually interact with and help people in need was really special and therapeutic.

Harvard Defenders.  It is a student practice organization that allows students to work with indigent criminal defendants. It’s something that means a lot to me—to get away from the institutions and actually interact with and help people in need was really special and therapeutic.

Any general advice for law school?

When it got really tough and I wasn’t interested in my classes, I wondered if I should have come to law school.

You should really find out more about law school [before coming]. Find out if you really want to be a lawyer. All my concerns about law school aren’t new. Everyone tells you about these concerns beforehand. You can do a lot of great things in law school but a lot of great things outside of it. When it got really tough and I wasn’t interested in my classes, I wondered if I should have come to law school. You have to really critically evaluate what you want to do with your life and whether it’s worth the money.

Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with students and lawyers. 

Featured image: 640x426_FlickrCredit_Eszter

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Back in 2011, I attended a pre-law conference run by PLEN, a women’s leadership non-profit based in D.C., and had the opportunity to listen to a number of highly accomplished female lawyers and law students. A few years later, the person I remember most vividly is Shama Farooq, a Fredericksburg public defender whose passion and genuine empathy for her clients impressed and resonated with me. Here she speaks to 7Sage about the learning curve, warfare-like litigation, and her experiences in Palestine with the International Legal Foundation.

What is your day-to-day schedule?

You have this routine of court, jail, office.

A normal schedule for a public defender would be to head to court in the morning if you have an assigned docket or a case. Then I would go back to the office, where I have some managerial duties–advising other attorneys on their cases for example. Usually I go to the jail at least once. Then I’m back in the office, making phone calls to clients, speaking with investigators, visiting crime scenes, and looking up case law. You have this routine of court, jail, office.

What is the learning curve like for a new public defender?

The legal learning curve is definitely going to be very steep.

You are basically learning how to interact with others and how to develop trusting relationships with people. You are learning how to talk to judges, juries, prosecutors, police officers, and most importantly, your clients. You are learning to recognize what the priorities are for people. This is something you develop at your individual pace.

The legal learning curve is definitely going to be very steep, everything from learning to recognize the elements of a crime to listening to a story and within two minutes, being able to understand what the problems are for you and the other side. The first nine months as a public defender, you learn a ton, and afterwards, you learn the complexities.

Can you talk about the adversarial side of being a public defender?

 It is like warfare but civilized warfare. You’re using the law and procedure practices as your weapons.

Being inside the courtroom – you have to recognize for yourself if you are the sort of person who can deal with the tension of being inside the courtroom because you are not really on your best social behavior [in this setting]. It is like warfare but civilized warfare. You’re using the law and procedure practices as your weapons. At the same time, you have to be professional, you have to be civil, and you have to be courteous. If the other side needs to break, for a legitimate reason, and it doesn’t hurt your client, you should give it to them. Those courtesies will come back to you. So on one side, you have to have this thick skin but you also have to remain a human being. Be kind and generous as long as it doesn’t hurt your clients.

What was a memorable case you worked on?

The experience really reaffirmed my faith that judges understand that they are human beings who make mistakes and that when presenting a reasonable legal argument, you can convince a judge to change his or her mind.

I had one very recently. I had a client who is a drug addict, and by the time she got arrested, she was on her way to recognizing that it’s a disease and to dealing with it. But the law is a bit tough on it. It only gives you a few options for avoiding a felony conviction for example. We wanted to use some of those options for her. But the judge was a fairly new judge, wasn’t being convinced, and was using something on her record as a hindrance. He wasn’t giving me a chance to explain when my client really deserved another chance. It was a devastating blow. But we filed a motion after her conviction and put in all the laws I knew he wasn’t aware of. To his credit, he let me argue again in court and reversed himself. He acknowledged that he was wrong. The experience really reaffirmed my faith that judges understand that they are human beings who make mistakes and that when presenting a reasonable legal argument, you can convince a judge to change his or her mind. That’s an amazing thing.

What advice do you have for students interested in public defender work?

It’s very rewarding–being an advocate for someone else and putting your heart in it.

It’s one of those jobs that you are going to love. It’s going to be really tough but you are going to love it because you have an impact on people’s lives every single day. You are upholding a basic human right and the Constitution in a way very few people get to do. It’s very rewarding–being an advocate for someone else and putting your heart in it.

From the very beginning, take as many basic criminal law courses. If you can do internships in public defender offices, there’s nothing better you can do. Everything you learn in your 1L year, you can put into use immediately. You can also seek out opportunities in a criminal justice clinic, which most law schools have, or find people in the local legal community to shadow, even if it’s only for a few hours.

You mentioned that you were interested in international affairs in undergrad. Is that something you miss?

You’d be surprised that many of the same principles of protection apply for criminal defendants in Palestine as in the U.S.

No, actually, I took a three-month fellowship last year in the Palestinian West Bank where I was training Palestinian defense attorneys with the International Legal Foundation, an NGO based in New York that helps set up attorneys in post-conflict societies. In Palestine, I was doing the exact same work as I do here, and I was training attorneys to analyze the law, conduct investigations, and how to argue. You’d be surprised that many of the same principles of protection apply for criminal defendants [in Palestine as in the U.S.]. So many constitutions have similar provisions for the right to counsel, having affidavits, and preventing the mistreatment of detainees. Pretty much every major democracy has those.

Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with students and lawyers. 

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When it comes to correct LSAT answer choices: There can be only one

I tend to always hear from typically new students, disgruntled at having gotten a question wrong, “Hey, I totally understand why C is right, but I’m sure B is also right. Here, look at my proof.”

Since, you’re just starting down this long road, I want unburden you from this misconception. It makes for lighter travel. Plus, I don’t want to yell at you later.

So, drop this misconception on the ground, dig a fire pit, burn it, and bury the ashes. There is never another answer choice that is even arguably right for any LSAT question. Don’t even think about it.

I’ll say it again. There is only ever one right answer choice and four massively, horrendously, embarrassingly, wrong answer choices.

This is not to say that it’s easy to identify the right answer choice. Quite the opposite, it’s very difficult. Often, I have a difficult time figuring out why an answer is right or wrong. But, I never think it’s because the LSAC messed up. Rather, it is invariably true that I just haven’t figured it out yet.

Why am I so certain of this? For a couple of reasons. First, I’ve done or taught every LSAT question in existence (over 7,000) and I have never run across a wrong answer choice that I thought was even arguably right. Second, I’ve discussed this issue at length with other LSAT instructors and high scoring students and we’ve always independently come to the same conclusion. Third, and this is the important one, LSAC’s policy in dealing with possible mistakes in their questions guarantees this result.

Of the four LSATs administered each year, the June, October, and December LSATs are disclosed to the test takers. You receive a PDF of the test and you have 90 days to challenge any question you want.

Just think about that for a second. Think about the importance of your LSAT score. The difference even a few points make. Think about the level of neuroses that pervades LSAT takers. When you get your score back and you see that you got some questions wrong and the LSAC is telling you that you have the option to challenge every one of those questions and that’s your only chance of getting a higher score, what do you think you’re going to do? Of course you’re going to scrutinize the shit out of every single question.

Except it’s not just you doing this. It’s everyone who took that LSAT. That’s the insane level of scrutiny that every LSAT question is subject to.

It doesn’t even end there. Say you sincerely believe that the LSAT has made a mistake. You write in your challenge. The LSAC will answer every challenge in writing showing you why the right answer is right and the wrong ones wrong and why your argument fails miserably.

But, say you get their response back and you’re still not satisfied. Then, you get to appeal this issue to a panel of independent outside experts. This means that the LSAC writers must ultimately write their questions with reasoning solid enough to persuade a entire fucking panel of independent outside experts that there is only one right answer choice and four wrong answer choices. If a wrong answer choice was even arguably right, they would be unable to meet this standard.

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean the LSAC never makes mistake. Even the LSAT writers are human after all and even though the system they designed is solid, any human system is subject to error. Every once in a while a written challenge does reveal an error. When that happens, the question is removed from scoring and removed from the published Prep Test. By the time you are taking that Prep Test, it’s already been through hellish scrutiny. You’re not going to find anything new that tens of thousands of people just like you only with way more riding on the line haven’t found before.

So remember. There is only one right answer choice.

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