Upper-level Writing Courses Offer an Interesting and Rewarding Educational Experience

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.

Shaw, Austin Austin Shaw, Class of 2015

Public Interest Law Center Clinics Provide Invaluable “Hands-On” Experience

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.

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Networking Can Give You a Head Start on Your Job Search

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.

Student ambassadors for the College of Law Jaycee Peralta, Class of 2015