Just as the new 1Ls are buzzing around town gathering their first set of books and hurrying to complete their first set of reading assignments, the 2Ls are congregating and having new experiences too. One group of 2Ls in particular is enveloped in enticing opening statements, expressive direct examinations, fiery cross-examinations and convincing closing arguments. All of this presented in full courtroom attire in the courtrooms of the Florida State University College of Law Advocacy Center.
These new members of the Florida State University College of Law Mock Trial team were chosen through a try-out process held during the past spring semester. Throughout the summer some participated in optional clinics to provide that extra “oomph” of practice for upcoming competition. In August and September, these new members are broken out into smaller, three and four-member teams with each being assigned to a returning member who will act as their coach for the upcoming intramural sessions.
All of the teams receive an identical case packet and each team practices for weeks determining how they will approach the case, perfecting their presentations, and strategizing. In the latter weeks of the process, the teams compete against each other in several rounds of intramurals, or “IMs”. The purpose of IMs is to simulate the mock trial competition experience and to give new members exposure to what mock trial competition entails. During this process, they learn about how the process works and are provided with the opportunity to actually go through the motions in a real-life setting. Local attorneys, often College of Law Mock Trial team alumni, are brought in to judge each round and offer feedback to each team.
As someone who has gone through this process, I can attest to just how much IMs help in getting one past the mock trial learning curve. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to realize just how much talent, hard-work, and commitment each member brings to the Mock Trial team. Each night of competition we arrived with our game faces on, ready to give it our all. I was thoroughly impressed by my team as well as with the skills and abilities of the other teams. I was especially fascinated with how other teams presented the case in ways that my team had not even considered.
It was also amazing to witness the dedication of Tallahassee’s legal community to the College of Law Mock Trial team. They gave their time and undivided attention to judging each competition (each lasting 3 hours) and then provided individualized feedback to the competitors for improving their performance in future state-wide and nation-wide competitions.
Overall, Mock Trial is a great opportunity to acclimate yourself to the courtroom experience, especially if you are interested in a career in litigation. I was interested in Mock Trial because I wanted to become more comfortable with public speaking. I can definitely say that this has already come to fruition. Whatever your interest, there is a wide array of skills to be gained by any future attorney through participation in the College of Law Mock Trial team.
I am MaryCatherine Crock and I am a third-year student at Florida State University College of Law. Although I plan on pursuing a career in criminal law, constitutional law has become a passion of mine, both inside and outside of the classroom. I had the pleasure of having Professor Nat S. Stern for Constitutional Law I and Constitutional Law II. Professor Stern is a well-known instructor and scholar and is a favorite among the students at the College of Law. I had the opportunity to interview Professor Stern about his passion for constitutional law, his research and academic activities, and what advice he would offer to both prospective and current law students.
MaryCatherine Crock: Can you give us a little background about your legal education?
Professor Stern: I received my B.A. from Brown University and my J.D. from Harvard University.
MaryCatherine Crock: How did you become interested in constitutional law?
Professor Stern: My favorite course as an undergraduate was a political science class about the judicial system that included a significant number of Supreme Court opinions on constitutional law. Unsurprisingly, my favorite class in law school was Constitutional Law.
MaryCatherine Crock: What are your research interests?
Professor Stern: I focus principally on First Amendment doctrine and specifically on commercial speech and defamation.
MaryCatherine Crock: What advice would you offer a student pursuing a career in academia?
Professor Stern: In academia, especially, publication is crucial. A person seriously interested in pursuing such a career should begin writing early.
MaryCatherine Crock: Why is Florida State University College of Law such a great choice for one’s legal education?
Professor Stern: I don’t think I can list all the reasons! One of the most important, though, is our wonderful student culture. Faculty visiting from other schools routinely comment to me on how supportive our students seem to be of one another. Another is the deep commitment of the faculty to the law school’s teaching mission. While the faculty is best known to the outside world for its scholarship, extensive publication has in no way come at the sacrifice of devotion to teaching. Surveys of our students have consistently confirmed this to be the case.
MaryCatherine Crock: What do you love most about teaching?
Professor Stern: It would have to be the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of really bright, talented, and enthusiastic students.
MaryCatherine Crock: Are you involved with advising any extra-curriculars? If so, can you tell us about them?
Professor Stern: My principal involvement since coming to the law school has been with the FSU College of Law Moot Court Team, which had established a tradition of excellence and success long before I assumed the role of advisor in 1993.
MaryCatherine Crock: Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice and why?
Professor Stern: I really can’t single out one. I guess it shows my affinity for constitutional law that I enjoy reading the opinions of Justices with a wide range of judicial philosophies.
MaryCatherine Crock: What is your biggest piece of advice for incoming/prospective law students?
Professor Stern: Don’t feel that you need to concentrate on learning law before you arrive at law school. In particular, don’t feel pressed to load up on “pre-law” courses in college. On the contrary, the more broadly you are educated before attending law school, the more effectively you’ll be able to employ the legal tools that will be placed at your disposal there.
Since the age of twelve I knew that I wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer. As the time grew closer for me to actually apply and attend, I became very anxious about what law school was like. The thought of law school was definitely intimidating and when I arrived I found out that some things I had believed about law school were not true:
You cannot maintain personal relationships while you are in law school: I believed that once you began law school you had to shut yourself up in a room and never come out. Contrary to this belief, I have not only been able to maintain existing relationships outside of law school, but also form new relationships with both my Florida State law school professors, my fellow classmates, and alumni.
The professors are here to make you cry: Before law school, I was under the impression that law school professors were there to tell you how wrong you were and to embarrass you in front of your peers. I have definitely found this not to be true at Florida State. All of my professors are genuinely interested in knowing how we view the material as well as how and why we reach the conclusions we do.
Trust no one: I thought that everyone in law school was focused on making it to the top of the class and would do whatever it took to get there. What I have discovered at Florida State is that while working hard to do the best they can, students also work together to help each other succeed. Whether it is through study groups, mentoring, or student activities, students maintain a very positive and collegial atmosphere at the College of Law.
What I have learned is that law school is not always what you believe it to be. What you read in books or even what others who have been to law school tell you will not always the case. In reality, your law school experience is what you make of it and each person will have an entirely different law school experience, whether at the same or at different law schools.
You will also face choices and how you prioritize things while in law school will affect your overall experience. One example is that if you feel that time spent with a significant other could be better spent studying; you may want to minimize or decide not to have a relationship while in law school. Before coming to law school, and even while choosing a law school, you should take the time to analyze what it is that you want from your law school experience and what areas of your life you want to maintain. If you do this, you will be able to find a good balance and ensure that your law school experience is not what you thought law school would be but what you want it to be.
You will hear a lot about all of the exciting opportunities that law school brings. You will also hear about how to hone your legal writing skills, how to make yourself marketable, and how to perfect your resume. I am here to tell you that the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to establish a support system. Make friends and find people with whom you can be vulnerable. Establishing personal relationships and taking care of your personal life is the basis of a good, solid, law school experience.
The stress of law school can be a burden, but this is just something that comes with preparation for a challenging career. If you (like me) moved to a new city to attend law school with few (or no) established personal connections, it can also be an isolating experience. The friends that you made in college have already moved on to careers or other educational endeavors and you may sense that there is something different about law school than other educational experiences you have had. If you let it, this can be a source of internal conflict and struggle.
As humans, we are social creatures which need to vent, be heard, and most of all, to feel as though someone else “gets us”. It may be hard to understand that coping in law school is a different kind of experience. In the past your parents and friends were there to love and support you. Now, they may be impressed with your being in such a prestigious program, but they are unaware of what you are actually experiencing. Some of your friends in medical school might understand how busy you are, but theirs is still a remote experience from yours. What you need to get through all of this is a solid friendship with a fellow law student (or two) experiencing the same things as you are day-to-day.
You need someone who can laugh with you at the surprisingly robust humor coming through the staggering amount of legal puns, mishaps, and minutiae. You need someone to vent to about the material, how frustrated you feel about a thorny legal issue, and how confusing some of the opinions can be. Someone who also asks: “Do we really have to read all seven pages of Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent?” (Answer: Yes). In short, you need a friend who can relate to your experience.
My first month as a 1L is still a hazy blur from which few details emerge clearly. Fortunately, I met two close friends during that time. They have since been with me every step of the way. I am convinced that our friendship actually helped keep us sane. Of course, the College of Law is filled with wonderful people. I have an extended circle of friends that goes far beyond my two closest confidants, but these two individuals were there for every late night study session, all of the endless lunches, many heated debates, and long hours of confusing lectures. We had a lot of stress and even more work. Mostly, though, we had someone else to call when it felt like it was too much.
One of the biggest things facing an incoming 1L student is adjusting to law school life and all of the associated challenges. The educational experience is very new and different. While it sometimes seemed like a chore to go to class as an undergraduate, I have never felt the same way about my law school classes. You may already have heard about some of the challenges you will face, but you may not have heard about some of the exciting opportunities you have to look forward to while in law school. With that in mind I thought it may be helpful share some of my experiences.
Time commitment: The amount of time you will have to dedicate to your studies cannot be understated. You will find that you will have to dedicate more time in this area than you did as an undergraduate. Good time management is the key to success in this area.
Reading load: The reading load is tremendous compared to what you had as an undergraduate. Professors do their best not to completely overload you with the number of pages assigned, but it is still a lot. You may have three or four classes in a day, each with their own cases and briefs to read. You have to keep up with your readings because of the next challenge.
Cold calls: Professors randomly call on students in class to explain a case or to answer questions. It does take a while to understand how to read cases so that you can be prepared if you are called on in class. Once you have mastered this it will seem like you have learned a second language and only you and your fellow law school friends will understand.
Finals: Final examinations in law school are as tough as anybody has ever told you they are. Finals week is an extremely stressful time and will be very different from what you experienced as an undergraduate.
Law student community: Being part of the student community at Florida State University College of Law is the most positive thing I have experienced since arriving as a 1L. Students are so nice to each other and everyone tries their best to help each other. You are also now among some of the best students in the country who all have the same goal that you do.
Legal community: Law school students, past and present, have all been in your shoes and know what you are going through. It is almost like a secret society, providing for an instant connection, whenever you are talking with another law student or attorney, and they all know and understand exactly what you are talking about!
Supportive faculty: The faculty is a tremendous help, both inside and outside of class. We are fortunate to have professors who are not only great teachers and expert researchers, but who also make themselves available to students. Take advantage of this!
Activities: Do not expect to just be sitting around studying all the time because you will have some free time and there are many ways to use it. You will have opportunities to gain work experience through externships and clinics and there are so many student organizations that you can join. Some of these activities provide for an opportunity to travel, including overseas opportunities. There are also concerts, sporting events, and other activities in Tallahassee and at Florida State that you will be able participate in. We are also only a short drive to some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches.
The best piece of advice I can give any incoming 1L is to work and play hard. It may seem like you are never going to make it through, but it does get better with time and practice. You will definitely be fine as long as you work hard, do what is asked of you, and always keep a positive attitude.
As an undergraduate student at another university, I had not participated directly in student government because the political party system that existed seemed to be more aimed at obtaining and maintaining political power than in bettering the lives of students. We even voted in a different political party twice for the purpose of eliminating the political party system, which did not happen. However, when I arrived at Florida State I experienced a different reality.
The Student Government Association (SGA) at Florida State is not only responsible for creating and updating student statutes, but also for allocating a budget of millions of dollars in student activity fees. As a result, I decided to participate not only to be involved in my new school, but also as a way to meet new people.
For College of Law students there are a few very unique options for getting involved in student government. One option is to join the legislative branch as a member of either the Congress of Graduate Students or the Law School Council. Another is to join the judicial branch as either a member of the Elections Commission or the Student Supreme Court.
During my first and second year of law school I served on the Elections Commission, which has the responsibility of holding hearings and ruling on violations of the election code by student candidates, campaigns, and political parties. One might assume there would not be much to do in this area, but that is not the case. Each year, the Commission holds about 7-10 hearings, which last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours depending on the violations.
While at times holding hearings and deliberating is an onerous task, these cases provided me with some of my favorite memories from law school, all the while serving an integral function of the SGA. It was also great practice for future lawyers because not only did we write judicial opinions, we sat on the bench and got to experience first-hand what judges do. I also served with some of my best friends and we had a lot of fun, especially during my second year when I had the opportunity to chair the Commission.
For my final year of law school I decided to move on to the Student Supreme Court. Due in part to my experience on the Elections Commission I was able to get an appointment from the Student Body President and after a lively senate confirmation hearing I was confirmed as an Associate Justice. The best part about serving on Student Supreme Court is that we got to wear judicial robes to our hearings, which I thought was pretty cool.
The Student Supreme Court is much more involved with the rest of SGA and we were even required to appear at Student Senate meetings to offer advisory opinions. Other duties included swearing in new senators at their inaugural banquet following student senate elections, holding hearings on violations of the Student Body Constitution, and making decisions on cases by appeal from lower judicial bodies, like the Elections Commissions. When interpreting the Student Body Constitution, Student Statutes, or in hearing cases on appeal, it was very important for us to do a thorough job because beyond a decision of the Student Supreme Court there is no appeal.
While you will certainly be busy in law school, it is important that you take part in activities that you find both fun and rewarding. If you have not considered participating in the SGA at Florida State University, I would highly recommend it. Whether you choose the legislative or judicial path, the opportunity will provide you with valuable experience and will definitely bring you in contact with some new and interesting people.
PJ Hebb, Class of 2015
Law school is an overwhelming time for many students and it is easy to hide away in the library, studying for hours, without seeing a single person. However, the need to get out, network and meet people is critical for one to succeed in their legal career. One of the most understated, but most important things you can do as a law student for your professional career is to get to know the students around you.
Getting to know your fellow law students, their interests and passions, and creating strong relationships with them will take you beyond your time here, well past graduation, and into your career. After all, we are all going to be attorneys someday! From the bonds and relationships that you build during your time at the College of Law, will come a group of young legal professionals, all connected to each other through a common law school experience.
While law schools are generally competitive by nature, Florida State fosters an atmosphere of cooperation. The College of Law community is a very positive and welcoming environment, and this is a direct reflection of its students, faculty and staff. So, while competing academically and professionally, we do so within a support system of friends. This not only makes our time here much more enjoyable, but also provides us with a great opportunity for meeting and getting to know other.
The College of Law campus is also unique in the way that it encourages students to participate in various activities together, whether it is getting involved in a student organization, playing intramural sports, or attending the weekly Student Bar Association socials. These activities give you so many opportunities to make friends and foster relationships that may have otherwise not developed on their own.
It is also important to remember that already having the built-in support from friends and colleagues through law school will help you succeed as you begin and develop through your career. For me, joining an alumni network and knowing that there are hundreds of other attorneys out there that I can call on for help and support is a comforting feeling.
One thing that I was not aware of when deciding to attend Florida State University College of Law was the upper-level writing requirement for graduation. To fulfill this requirement, students must take a class that is graded based on a final paper that is about 25 pages in length.
Upper-level writing courses should be something to look forward to, not something to be dreaded. While “normal” law school courses have many of the same qualities as upper-level writing classes, it is a challenging, but rewarding, experience to write a well-thought-out paper on an interesting legal issue of your own choosing rather than just taking an exam.
Understandably, some students can get anxious about the thought of writing a 25-page paper. I personally enjoy writing, but even if I did not, writing a paper is a nice change of pace from taking a final exam. I fulfilled my upper-level writing requirement by taking Race and Law with Professor Franita Tolson and it was certainly one of the best academic experiences in law school for me.
To be clear, writing a lengthy legal academic paper is no small feat. It takes a lot of time to come up with a topic, doing the research, coming up with ideas, organizing those ideas, writing multiple drafts, editing, and finally preparing a presentation of your paper for your class. Luckily, you have assistance every step along the way. Your professor will be available to sit down with you to come up with a topic, the librarians will go out of their way to make sure you are aware of the most up-to-date information relating to your topic, and many upper-level writing classes require peer review of your drafts by your classmates.
Class time is spent covering various topics that often relate directly to what you are writing about. You will have various deadlines set throughout the semester so your professor can monitor your progress and help you if he or she notices anything that could be improved upon. The resources are there and if you utilize all of them you will be able to write a great paper.
There are two unique things about upper-level writing classes that make them something worth looking forward to: the small class size and the interesting topics. Having small, discussion-oriented classes centered on cutting-edge and often contentious legal issues makes for a worthwhile educational experience as well as an interesting and thorough paper. Additionally, there is a wide variety of upper-level writing courses offered at the College of Law. I took Race and the Law, but while I was a law student other offerings included:
- 20th Century American Legal History
- Clean Air Act
- Climate Change
- Coastal and Ocean Law
- Comparative Constitutional Law
- Cyber Law
- Environmental Crimes
- Environmental Law and Policy
- Game Theory for Business Lawyers
- Health Reform
- Human Trafficking
- Intellectual Property
- Law and Economics
- Sex, Reproduction and the Law
- Supreme Court Role-Play
These are just a few of the many and constantly changing upper-level writing courses offered. As you can see, there is quite a wide variety offered so you are always able to find a topic that is interesting to you.
The Public Interest Law Center at Florida State University College of Law houses the Family Law Clinic and the Children’s Advocacy Clinic. Students who participate in these clinics receive academic credit for representing low-income clients and each clinic is limited to 8 students per semester. A portion of the clinic is taught like a normal law course, with slides and lecture. The rest of the time is spent working on the cases that have been assigned to you. The case portion involves communicating with your client, drafting pleadings, e-filing, attending mediations and hearings, and more. Additionally, students are required to attend and observe a number of court proceedings.
The requirements for participation in one of these clinics is that you first have to be cleared for character and fitness by the Florida Bar, have completed 45 credit hours, and be approved as a Certified Legal Intern (CLI). CLI’s can represent clients, even in court proceedings, but practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. I participated in the Family Law Clinic during the summer semester after my 2L year. This clinic handles various family law issues which could include dissolution of marriage, custody, visitation, and paternity cases.
For my first trial, I represented a father who wanted to spend more time with his son. We had previously attempted mediations with the child’s mother, but were unable to reach an agreement. During the court proceedings, I called nine character witnesses, presented several exhibits, handled a very emotional client, and even drafted the final judgment at the conclusion of the case. At the end of the proceedings, the judge ordered 50/50 timesharing, left the room, and left it up to the parties to agree on visitation for holidays. We struggled to come to an agreement, but in the end, our client was ecstatic.
It was extremely gratifying to provide legal assistance to individuals who otherwise would not have been able afford these services. The experience I received was invaluable and has helped me to feel more secure inside and outside of the classroom. During my 3L year, my Florida Civil Practice professor asked the class if anyone had ever sat in on a deposition. I was able to raise my hand because I had actually taken a deposition. Conversely, courses that I had already taken prior my participation in the clinic had helped prepare me to better serve my clients.
Participation in the Family Law Clinic also gave me the opportunity to observe and work with attorneys in the area. More importantly, this experience enabled me to start recognizing myself as a future lawyer, and not just as a law student.
One of the most important parts of the job search for new legal professionals is networking. Making connections with established legal professionals who are willing to reach out to current law students is an invaluable part of making progress toward getting your career started. Students at the Florida State University College of Law have many opportunities to do this including participation in Networking Noshes organized by our Placement Office, checking out local events hosted by the Tallahassee Bar Association, and by attending mixers organized by College of Law student organizations. To get the most out of these events you should be prepared to network efficiently and effectively and the following are some simple tips for those of us for whom networking may not come naturally:
Get Organized: Once you begin networking you should set up a contact record to keep track of the individuals you have met. I recommend setting up an Excel spreadsheet that includes their names, contact information, the networking event where you met, their job/position, and the topics you discussed. Whenever I get a business card from someone, I always write down tidbits of information related to what we spoke about for my spreadsheet. The more information you include in your spreadsheet, the more you will be able to remember about the person, how your conversation went, and what details you may need to relate when you reconnect.
Work the Room: Networking events are sometimes very short and you will want to maximize your time and meet with as many professionals as possible while also making a lasting impression. Spend about five to ten minutes with each person, depending on how your conversation goes, and always be prepared with your “30-second sell”. Your pitch should include your competencies, areas of interest and any other educational or career-oriented information that you would want people to remember. Do not be afraid to ask for tips on entering the area of practice you are interested in pursuing and about the types of things these professionals deal with in their practice. You can even get their perspective on the legal job market both in the city where they practice and in their area of practice if that is important to you. After you have had an opportunity to effectively present yourself and learn something about an individual, politely excuse yourself before moving on to another person. Also, do not forget to get a business card from each person you meet so that you can contact them after the event.
Establish Relationships: The most important reason for making each of these contacts is that you are establishing business relationships. During networking events do not just go through the motions of a conversation and then move on. You should make an effort to get to know and learn a little about each person you speak with. A kind, warm approach is normally well-received and will help you stand out. You should also actively show an interest in the other person and what they have to say. Asking questions, being excited, smiling, and asking for details are good ways to show that you are engaged. Even if you are nervous, be upbeat and friendly and people will respond!
Follow-up: After these events, it is extremely important that you always follow up! If you never follow up with a person you meet, you are effectively cutting off the professional relationship that you established during an event. You should always write, call, or e-mail a thank you to people who give you information, advice, and referrals. If you spoke about something specific, bring it up, or send a copy of an article you may have run across on the topic – it will be very well received and will show your dedication to the relationship.
Networking is extremely fun once you get into it and have the opportunity to put some of these tips into practice. You never know who you may meet or what you may have in common. It is extremely important to make these networking connections because they are an investment in your future. It is not uncommon for College of Law alumni to attend these events and sometimes they are looking for people they may want to hire in the future. Letting yourself shine through, staying organized, and following up on these relationships will give you a leg up on the job search and help you solidify your future.