Trials and Tribulations: My Moot Court Team Tryout

For the last (and 1000th) time, I said my opening statement to the rearview mirror and grabbed my folder of “in-case-you-get-off-track” reminders and headed for the John W. Frost II Courtroom. My legs were a little wobbly and my heart was in my throat. It was the final round of Moot Court Intramurals – the tryout competition for all Moot Court hopefuls. As I began to turn my phone off, I got an FSU Alert text message notifying me of a “Severe Thunderstorm Warning” for the Florida State University campus. As the thunder crashed, I couldn’t think of a more epic way to enter an intimidating courtroom filled with the entire Moot Court team armed with grading rubrics and pencils and the ability to extend you an invitation to the team.

What a difference a semester can make. At the start, just a few months before, I really didn’t know what a brief or an oral argument was. Now, after countless hours preparing an appellate brief, preparing and delivering an oral argument for a Legal Writing and Research course grade, spending more time perfecting my argument, and two rounds of Intramurals, I was about to deliver my off-brief arguments. With little sleep and a lot of nerves, I was certain that I would start arguing for the wrong side, but as I walked into the courtroom the background thunder helped to set the mood, and a certain “Here goes nothing!” feeling came over me.

My face was either ghost-white or purple (I could not tell you which) as I clinched the podium with my thumbs to stay steady and to prevent my hands from flailing if or when the questions got dicey. Shortly after my intro of “May it please the court,” the judges were off and running with their questions. I answered some questions well, and with others I was thrown for a loop. I said the dreaded “um” filler and then saw dozens of pencils take to paper to note the error. I then answered the always-tough “public policy” question with ease and saw dozens of heads nod in approval. Before I knew it the “One Minute Left” sign flew up; I had answered my last question, and had left the courtroom.

With finals just around the corner, I should have been spending my afternoon outlining, but my eyes were glued to the phone waiting for “the call.” It came in around 9:00 p.m. After having delivered a polished argument, just hours earlier, I could hardly say a word as my judge extended me his verbal invitation. With a lot of hard work and some luck, I had finally become a Florida State University College of Law Moot Court Team member! As my tennis playing instinct took over I gave a fist pump to the air, but managed to stifle a loud “Come on!” While normally I am pretty well poised, to this day, when it comes to competing on the Moot Court Team, I remain just as excited as ever.

Image Austin Shaw – 2L

Taking the Scenic Route – A Non-Traditional Journey to Law School

At 30 I decided to apply to law school.  A lot of people ask me what happened to cause me to make this decision. It all started when my brother was falsely convicted of murder. Wait, that wasn’t me.  That was Hilary Swank in the movie Conviction.

I’d rather tell her story because it has a strong narrative structure that everyone can understand. Avenging a family member is a good reason to go to law school; or become Batman.  It’s just a really great motivation for almost anything.

My own reasons are sort of idiosyncratic.  There was a Buddhist Monk, Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings, a Law and Order: Criminal Intent marathon, my best friend’s wedding, and a bad day at work. The details are a jumble of random events that defy logical explanation.  What I can explain is the more universal feeling behind my decision—I just wasn’t happy.

It wasn’t the type of unhappiness that results from a canceled Joss Whedon show or bad break-up. There was just this deep and fundamental lack of passion for my life.  I had a job in an office where I answered phones and played computer solitaire.  I also would work as a freelance writer on the side to afford fun stuff like a big screen television and orthopedic shoes.

This is where the list of random weird things comes into play.  A talk on the Buddhist concept of “Right Livelihood”, seeing my best friend and her co-workers talking about their job in video game design, and following along with the Kagan hearings on NPR at work…you get the idea.  I realized that it was easier to be passionate about your life when you were passionate about your career.  I had always been interested in the law and I was one of those people who read Supreme Court decisions for fun.

I still wasn’t sure if I was cut out for law school.  I had seen The Paper Chase and Legally Blonde and neither one looked like a fun place to spend three years.  The good news is that law school is not anything like you’ve seen in the movies.  It is a lot of work, but it is work reading legal cases and talking about them.  If you want to get a feel for what law school is like, just read any recent Supreme Court decision on a topic that interests you.

Did you like reading the case?  Would you mind reading five more every night?  That is the bulk of law school—especially during your first year.  You read cases and then talk about them.  You try to argue both sides.  You change the facts to see if it leads to a different result.  You learn that there usually is no right answer, just different answers based on different reasoning.

I appreciated school much more after being away from it for almost a decade.  Traditional students may see law school as something they have to overcome in order to get into the “real world.” Non-traditional students know that the real world is not fun and appreciate the classroom experience from a different perspective.  You’ll also get all of your professors’ out of date pop culture references and can chuckle as your classmates ask, “What’s a tape player?”

If you’ve read this far then chances are that you see yourself in my experience.  You’ve been away from school for a few years (or more) and are wondering if you can come back.  The answer is yes.  Not only can you go to law school, you can also be really good at it.

You don’t need a great reason to go to law school.  You just have to be passionate about the law.  Some people recognize that passion when they are a teenager or in college.  Some of us just take a more scenic route to making that decision.

If you would like to talk to a real live 33 year old law student, feel free to reach out to me at mdb11f@my.fsu.edu.  You can ask me any questions you have about what law school is like, how to pick one, or tips about the LSAT.

Image  -Melissa Becker, 3L

My Successful Transition from “Teach for America” to the Florida State University College of Law

My name is Alejandra Berlioz and I am a second-year law student at the Florida State University College of Law and a 2010 corps member of the Teach for America (TFA) program. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in Criminology at Florida State, I decided to take some time off and committed two years of teaching before entering law school.

I was initially hesitant to postpone law school, especially to do something completely unrelated, However, I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My experience as a teacher actually helped prepared me for law school in numerous ways. I have also found that one of the great things about law school is that you can come with no background or experience in law and still be incredibly successful.

Although the adjustment back from being a teacher to being a student was at first strange, I feel that I was more mentally prepared than some of my other law school classmates. I came with a true understanding of the value of an education and an appreciation for my professors’ willingness to make themselves available for my many concerns.

I was also able to apply many of the same concepts I had learned in TFA to my law student experience. My end goal was to pass every final exam with a B or higher and I worked backwards, planning the many things I had to do to accomplish this goal. After having become accustomed to working a 9 am-5 pm job, I approached law school the same way. In doing so, I worked hard and tried to be as academically consistent as possible.

The culture at the Florida State University College of Law was also very conducive for me in applying what I had learned as a TFA corps member. All of my professors are extremely helpful and accommodating and the staff tries very hard to make the students feel welcomed and loved. Having helpful and caring classmates also definitely made the process easier. While I do not think anyone can be totally prepared for law school beforehand, coming in with the willingness to work hard and having such a great environment to work in definitely makes the transition process more feasible.

I was also happy to discover that the Florida State University College of Law provides past TFA corps members with opportunities to stay involved with children in a different capacity. Through the Public Interest Law Center’s Children’s Advocacy Clinic, students have the opportunity to learn and actually represent children in state courts, in trial and appellate cases and in state and federal administrative hearings. We also have a student mentoring program with one of Tallahassee’s local middle schools.

If you have any questions about transitioning from Teach for America to law school or the law school process in general, please feel free to contact me at agb08c@my.fsu.edu.

Image Alejandra Berlioz, 2L

If You Are Interested in Environmental Law, Florida State Law is Hard to Beat

The Florida State University College of Law (COL) is a great place for students interested in environmental law. Students are able to take courses on a wide range of topics, including climate change, natural resources, water, oceans and coasts, oil and gas, hydraulic fracturing, and more. There is a much broader selection of courses than you will find at many law schools, and our faculty are approachable, well-respected in their areas of expertise, work really hard to help students succeed while they are in law school, and help them find meaningful placements after graduation.

Anyone can take environmental law courses, but students wishing to set themselves apart can also participate in the Environmental, Energy and Land Use Law Certificate program. This Certificate signifies to employers that a student has a strong interest in the environmental law fields, has completed a significant amount of relevant coursework, and has practical legal work experience. Getting the Certificate requires three foundational courses (environmental law, land use, and administrative law), elective coursework, and a practical skills component which can include an externship, moot court competition, and pro bono work in the environmental law field.

The practical component of the Certificate program allows students to get hands-on legal experience in a way that is tailored to fit their personal career goals. As an added perk of the program, participating students are also invited to a number of events with practicing attorneys, environmental professionals, and prominent academics. It is a great opportunity to learn more about environmental job opportunities and to network with people who are at the forefront of the environmental law profession. This year, our professors have also opened up their homes to participating students for some really fun parties, too!

The College of Law also offers co-curricular opportunities, where students can get class credit while gaining hands-on experience in environmental law. There are a number of environmental externships that students can get involved which include working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, Earthjustice, and more. Externships are a wonderful way of getting practical legal experience on your resume, making connections, and breaking up what might otherwise be a monotonous semester. These opportunities also allow you to test out jobs you think you might be interested in after graduation and see if they are right for you.

You can also get writing experience as part of COL’s Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law. This journal is published twice a year, is a good opportunity for students to get legal writing and editing experience while learning about hot environmental topics and issues, and also looks great on your resume.

Another co-curricular activity is our Moot Court Team which participates in a number of environmental competitions. In teams of two or three, students write an appellate brief and argue the issues before a three-judge panel. Last year, our team advanced at the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition (NELMCC) at Pace University School of Law in White Plains, New York, and took second place at the National Energy and Sustainability Moot Court Competition at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia! The issues change every year, but they always mirror issues that are being tackled by the courts of appeals or are up for review by the United States Supreme Court.

I participated in the NELMCC at Pace Law last year, and it was an amazing experience. I could not have been more terrified in the weeks leading up to and at the beginning of the competition, but my coaches and teammates prepared me really well and gave me the confidence we needed for us to advance. One of the best things about the experience was getting to work with experienced attorneys who served as our coaches. They were incredibly tough on us while we prepared for competition, but by the time we competed, there were no questions we had not heard before!

There are also extra-curricular opportunities for students interested in environmental law. The Environmental Law Society (ELS) hosts networking events, brown bag lunches with prominent speakers, and fun, outdoor activities. We have also started a mentoring program to connect students with attorneys in the environmental and environmental administration fields. The mentoring program allows students to meet with attorneys one-on-one in social and professional settings and allows students to gain exposure to practical and substantive environmental law. ELS is also a great way to get involved and to meet fellow students interested in environmental, energy, and land use issues.

In addition to the things I have already mentioned, one of my favorite experiences so far has been visiting a Superfund site with my Environmental Law class to see what it takes to remediate land from a degraded property to one that the community can safely enjoy. I have also enjoyed the mock trials and administrative hearings that we have had as class exercises because they have allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in a practical way.

The environmental programs at the COL are a big draw for students from all over the country, including myself. It has been a great place for me to learn about environmental law and to test out jobs to figure out what I want to do and, perhaps more importantly, what I definitely do not want to do.

Image 
-Sarah Spacht, 3L

Start Thinking Now About Legal Internships!

Many law students choose to work an internship during their second summer of law school. While the actual application process for these internships would not begin in earnest until your 2L year, it is something you should keep in the back of your mind throughout your 1L year. Some federal internship applications are due as early as September or October for the following summer, so start planning early for where you want to go, and what you want to do.

Because the application for an internship may require letters of recommendations from professors, make sure you get to know your 1L professors! Many professors offer students the opportunity to interact with them outside of class through various mixers, small group lunches, and etc. Take advantage of these opportunities. If you wait until the beginning of your 2L year, it might be too late and professors may not feel they know you well enough to be comfortable writing a letter for you.

Also, keep in mind that professors are busy and it can sometimes take several weeks for them to find the time to write a letter. Make sure you ask them early enough so they have time to get letters sent in before the application deadlines. Forming relationships with your professors can also be useful if you are seeking a faculty advisor, sponsor for a law review paper, or taking an independent study class.

The FSU College of Law also has an extensive externship program where you can intern at one of their approved sites and receive academic credit. Considering that most internship opportunities are voluntary and do not offer a paycheck, this option will allow you to continue to receive financial aid and earn course credit during the summer.

It can also be important to decide where and in what area you want to practice after law school before deciding on your internship. You will be meeting and networking with a lot of people during your internship. Therefore, doing an internship in the city and in the area that you want to practice will allow you to meet people who are well positioned to help you find a job after law school. This will make your job hunt easier because you will have practical experience in the field, as well as with attorneys and stakeholders in the city where you want to work.

Image -Andrew Westcott, 3L

Reflections of a Recent Law School Graduate

As a recent graduate, the first thing that I have to say is that law school has flown by in what seems like the blink of an eye! A lot goes into preparing to graduate and take the bar exam. Fortunately, the College of Law has the resources students need to get ready for this next step, and I have certainly utilized many of them myself. Of course, the thing weighing heaviest on a graduating law school student is future employment.

The College of Law Placement Office is a fantastic resource for students. As a 3L, I used their website daily to check for on campus interviews, job postings, and new employers using the resume referral service. They also host networking events with local lawyers, judges, and law firms. One thing I have learned from the Placement Office is that most legal jobs are not advertised, and that networking is the most important thing a law student can do.

Taking advantage of these events has put me in contact with mentors and many attorneys I would not have otherwise had the chance to meet. In addition to these services offered to all students, the Placement Office has gone above and beyond for me during my job search. When I received a job offer, the placement office helped me evaluate my offer and find all the market information I needed to make an educated decision.

For me, and many other students, my student loans and finances are also weighing heavily on my mind. I have financed law school exclusively through student loans, and those payments will begin in a few short months. The Office of Student Affairs brought in a Department of Education employee who did a presentation about loan repayment. Our guest prepared slides and handouts for us, went through everything we should know about repaying student loans, and answered all of our questions. Having someone there to walk me through that process was so helpful, and it put my mind at ease.

In addition to student loans from school, many students need financing for bar preparation, the bar exam, and the cost of living between graduation and receiving bar results. Members of the Office of Student Affairs met with me personally to help me explore my options and determine which was best for me. For these and the many other aspects of graduating and transitioning into the workplace as a new attorney, the College of Law has addressed my questions and prepared me well for what is to come.

Image  - Kelly Dunn, Florida State University College of Law, Class of 2013

Summer Reading List

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First Year Experience

In reflecting on my overall experience as a 1L, I have found that being in law school is much different than I thought it would be. As a prospective student, I was under the impression that my entire life would be devoted to a set of textbooks. While there certainly were difficult times where studying filled my calendar, I also had some very rewarding and fun times throughout my first year.

Faculty and Staff: FSU Law understands that hard work will pay off, and the school encourages us all to do the work necessary. However, the faculty and staff here have really made a point to make sure their students are relaxed and having an enjoyable experience, not just a stressful one. Faculty talent shows are more fun than it might sound, and networking events are a great mood enhancer after a long day. I think the thing that I was most surprised about law school at FSU was how much the faculty and staff cares about their students.

Activities Outside of Class: Student organizations go a long way in ensuring that their members retain their sanity during their first year of school. I was specifically involved with the Environmental Law Society, the LitiGators, the Student Bar Association, Phi Alpha Delta, Student Ambassadors, and the Cuban-American Bar Association. What is great about these organizations is that they bring people together who have similar interests and allow them to do activities that get their minds off of their school work. This proves to be invaluable after a tough week, and especially needed after a tough exam. Life is so much better when being in an organization and I cannot stress enough how important it is to find one or two you really enjoy.

Gaining Important Experience: This summer I am interning with the Honorable George W. Maxwell III, Brevard County judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit in Melbourne, Florida.  I am excited about this opportunity, but I am not really sure what to expect. I spoke with Judge Maxwell on the phone in early spring and it was great to hear how enthusiastic he was with me coming to work for him, so that helped. I’ve also never been to Melbourne before, but I hear it’s nice.

Overall I really enjoyed the time during my first year as a Law Student. I’ve met so many great people and have gotten so much good advice. It’s really a great feeling when you know that you’re where you belong.

College of Law Student Ambassadors

- Ryan McCarville, 2L

First-Year Reflections

My fall class schedule is finalized. How can it be that my first year at FSU College of Law is already coming to a close? In just one year I’ve learned more about law and made more meaningful connections with new friends and professors than I imagined possible. Instead of a stream-of-consciousness exposé, here is a highlight reel of my experience as a 1L at FSU College of Law:

Orientation: I didn’t think this would be fun but I was definitely wrong. I was so encouraged by what I heard from professors and fellow classmates and I instantly knew I made the best decision possible attending FSU College of Law.

Coffee with Atkinson: It actually seems trivial now – students get coffee or lunch with professors all the time here. But early on in the year, the quality discussion I had with Professor Atkinson outside of the classroom really stood out to me and demonstrated the sense of community that exists here.

Football Season: Being a Florida Gator at heart, I didn’t know how this would go. But I found out that football is football no matter where you are and every weekend was a great experience getting to know new and different classmates while watching a game.

Exams: I didn’t think I’d survive exams, at least based on what I had heard from others. But they obviously didn’t attend FSU Law. My professors gave me more than adequate guidance and preparation and I got a lot out of my study groups.

Making Summer Plans: This was supposed to be intimidating. However, I found that I was able to make several inroads to employment through the Placement Office and my own connections back home. For employers, it really carries a lot of weight saying you are a student at FSU College of Law. I ultimately decided to take an externship with The Innocence Project of Florida so I will be gaining valuable experience while earning class credit this summer.

Breaking My Arm: Long story short, I broke my right arm. Rather than worrying about my health, I instantly worried about making it through classes and exams. But that concern was unfounded. The Office of Student Affairs was incredibly accommodating, as were my professors and classmates. I never wish that anyone breaks their arm, but if they do, I hope they are at FSU Law because they won’t get as helpful of an experience anywhere else!

That’s a quick(ish) run through of the events that made my 1L year something special. I am incredibly encouraged for what the future holds and beyond proud that I am student at FSU College of Law.

Image - Austin Shaw, 2L

FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW TIPS TO 1L’S FROM CURRENT FSU LAW STUDENTS

BEFORE STARTING LAW SCHOOL

Relax and enjoy yourself-Yes, law school will be much more stressful than your current life, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Nevertheless, use your current free time wisely and go to the beach, go out with friends, do whatever it is that you enjoy.

Stay healthy-get yourself in a healthy routine that involves some type of physical activity. Getting yourself in a rhythm prior to law school will greatly aid in coping with stress during your time in school.

Take at least one week before the start of the fall semester and do something you enjoy that isn’t law related every day that week. The worst thing you can do is start off your semester stressed and burned out. There will be plenty of time for that once exams roll around.

WHILE IN LAW SCHOOL

In law school, do not expect straight A’s. The fact is, only 10% of you will be in the top 10%, and even the top 10% are pulling a B+ or A- average, so be realistic. Just try your best, and if at the end of the semester you have no regrets about how hard you worked, than just be glad you go to a school that doesn’t require a certain number of people to fail, and move on with your life.

Get to know 2L’s/3L’s – not only will these people be valuable resources when looking for a job later down the line, but they will also be able to provide you with old outlines and study materials and may also be able to clue you in on what certain professors mainly test on.

Go to Office Hours with your professors – building relationships with professors is critical. They can be used as references to write letters of recommendation and may prove extremely helpful when searching for jobs.

Remember why you applied to law school in the first place. Everyone has a reason, so keep your goals in mind and that will help you keep law school, studying, and job searching in proper perspective.

Keep track of your progress – this will make you feel better about what you have accomplished and it will keep you motivated.

Use past exams to study – this is the KEY! After you are done with your outlines, study by taking past exams. This way you will get accustom to the exam style of the professor. Most of the professors have their past exams available to be printed (for free) in the Research Center.

Highlighters are your friends. Use them well and often.

Do not neglect the things that are most important to you while in law school. Whether it’s spending time with friends or playing a particular sport or calling your mom every night, make time for the things you enjoy. Just because you’re in law school doesn’t mean you should stop living, and taking time for non-law-school things will help you to do better in school.

The people you go to school with will become some of your best friends and will be your professional peers for years to come. Be nice and don’t create a bad reputation for yourself.

Take classes you aren’t sure you’re interested in. Sometimes the random classes you take to fill up your schedule are the ones that end up being most interesting and may lead you to a career you never would have thought of.

Do an externship or clinic. The hands-on legal experience you gain not only makes law school more exciting but also looks great on your resume and will give you a leg up in the job application process.

Try to gain experience in a variety of legal areas. While you might be set on one specific type of law, you never know what jobs will be available when you graduate and it is good to be marketable in various fields.

Take your upper level writing before your final semester – you will be over it by then and it’s hard to focus.

Enjoy your time here! It will fly by and before you know it you’re heading out into the real world.

Don’t take your Legal Writing and Research classes for granted.

Don’t be afraid of criticism or the word “No”.

Don’t pass on a job opportunity while in school just because it does not pay: that experience can either turn into a job opportunity or help develop transferable skills and knowledge that can be used later on in another job.

Get to know the law librarians: they are super helpful and great assets for your research projects.

Get involved in the school’s co-curricular originations (Mock Trial, Moot Court, Law Review, etc.).

Turn disappointments into character builders.

Find a mentor: many organizations on campus offer mentorship programs that will allow you to have a lawyer and/or judge help you throughout law school and even later on in your professional career.

Always be yourself.

Come with an open mind: you may find out that you are interested in subjects you never thought you would want to pursue.

Find your own way and do what works for you.

Get to know (and be nice to) your classmates: you never know who is going to be a future judge or on the hiring committee for a firm that you want to work for.

Take advantage of being in a state capital. Go watch the legislature or visit any of the numerous courts in town to hear cases.

Do a grad check at the end of every year that way you won’t miss a requirement and have an issue with graduation!

Most importantly, have fun! Law school can be extremely stressful at times but in the end it’s worth it.

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