Steps From the Capitol

FSU law, while being one of the best schools in the nation, is also conveniently located less than a quarter mile from our state’s legislature. This provides both current and prospective students with a wealth of opportunity to work with and learn from lawyers who are shaping the laws of our state. Personally, I have had the opportunity to work with our state representative while here in Tallahassee. In my capacity as a volunteer, I was researching proposed legislation and writing memos on areas where the creation of new legislation could be beneficial. This provided me with a real-time look at the front-line issues which our legislature was facing and gave me the chance to be part of the conversation. This is due in no small part to being at FSU Law.

Capitol from Balcony
Tallahassee Capitol Building, as seen from the Admissions Office balcony.

Getting involved is as simple as sending an email. It does not matter if you have never worked with government, either locally or statewide, it’s all about how willing you are to put in the work. The majority of state senators and representatives are eager to get law students involved as our skill set as soon-to-be-lawyers translates well to the work they need done.

Students can also get involved in more formal programs, such as the legislative intern program and the gubernatorial fellows program. Legislative interns will be put into a committee or office in the legislature and work through both fall and spring sessions. This is an invaluable program for the networking potential alone, but you also get compensated through law school credits paid plus a wage. The gubernatorial fellows program is largely the same type of program but puts students within executive agencies.

This level of access to the leaders of your state and the wealth of knowledge and guidance they are able to provide is simply more readily available to the students of FSU Law than any other law school in the state. Do yourself a favor, if you are interested in working at any level in government or if you simply want to get involved early with the issues facing our state, FSU Law is the place to be.

Walk to Capitol
A short walk from FSU College of Law to Capitol Hill. You are always a few minutes away.

 

College of Law. Student Ambassadors.   Jorge Torres, 3L

Graduating from law school debt-free

“Law school” and “debt-free” may seem like an oxymoron these days. Main stream media and law school admissions blogs alike are filled with stories of newly-minted lawyers who are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and without an income adequate to pay off that debt. But I am here to tell you that it is not only possible—but entirely attainable—to graduate law school without any (or with only minimal) student loan debt.

To start, you need to know a few things about me to understand how and why I made it to my last year of law school without any student loan debt. I am a “non-traditional” law student; that is, I did not come to law school directly out of undergrad. I completed my undergraduate education, started my career, got married, and had a daughter. This path for me was part planning and part fate. I applied to law school for the first time just one year after I graduated from the University of Miami. I excitedly filled out applications, received acceptances (back when they only came via postal mail), and had to make a very tough decision. At the time, I weighed those acceptances (and scholarships) along with the prospect of a fantastic job offer—and I accepted the job. Before I signed on the dotted line and committed to the time and cost of three years of law school, I got out a piece of paper and figured out exactly how much those three years would cost me. For me, it just didn’t add up. Ironically enough, I was forced this year to calculate my “opportunity cost” of attending law school as part of my Law & Economics course. This would be a wise calculation for anyone thinking about law school.

Fast forward a few years and I found that I still wanted to get my law degree. This fact in and of itself was important—law school is a huge investment of time, energy, and money, and to get the full value out of it, you must really want to be here. The second time around, my application process was more focused and guided.

Step 1 – Pick a “best value” law school (hint—FSU is one!)

I looked very hard at the value of education I would be receiving at each school. I considered not only tuition costs and scholarships, but also things like job placement rates and expected starting salary. FSU College of Law had everything that I was looking for.

Step 2 – Savings

Consider student loans as your last option (at least for now), and start with other sources of funds such as savings. First, save early and save as much as you can. It may not seem intuitive to be saving money from your paycheck in your early twenties, but if that means not having to “live like you are a student” in your thirties, then it makes sense. For me, this was saving part of my paycheck from my career. But a little savings even from college and summer jobs can mean a world of difference if it means not paying interest on loans.

Step 3 Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships … (and more scholarships)

Reach out to law schools first. FSU College of Law was exceptionally generous to me with institutional scholarship funds that came from generous donors (often from attorneys who were in exactly the same spot as you are in trying to fund your legal education). So if you are still in a position to increase your GPA or LSAT score, focus on those. Next, think about what makes yourself interesting and unique and why you would be valuable to a law school, to the legal market, and to society in general. Personally, I am the wife of a veteran, the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, and a former environmental consultant. All of these facts resulted in scholarships for me because I was able to find and connect with organizations that supported these things. I am immensely appreciative that these organizations believed in me and my promise as an attorney enough to help fund my legal education; they have been supportive not only in terms of finances but also networking and moral support (hearing from attorneys that were in exactly the same position that I’m in now). I hope that one day very soon I will be able to help another law student graduate debt-free by supporting these organizations when I am an attorney. But remember that you can’t get these scholarships unless you invest the time into applying for them; I have applied for far more scholarships than I have been awarded.

Step 4 – Get the full value of the legal education that you are paying for

Once you have been accepted to law school (congrats!), likely signed for your first student loans, and started classes, there is still more work to be done. Your 1L year should be laser-focused on getting the absolute most you possibly can out of this legal education you so desperately wanted. That means treating it like you would treat your paying job—because after all, you are foregoing income to be here (that’s the “opportunity cost” I mentioned before). Stay focused on studying, stay focused in class (that means coming to class and staying off Facebook), connect with your professors, and take exams very seriously. If you have done everything you possibly can during your 1L year to be successful, then you will likely be rewarded with good grades. These good grades translate to more scholarships. That’s right—the pursuit of graduating debt-free doesn’t end once you’ve started law school. This is your chance to show that you are dedicated to the law and maybe a particular area of the law. Good grades, pro bono work (after your 1L year), and involvement in organizations and the legal community all demonstrate your promise as a future lawyer (and worthy of scholarship funds).

Step 5 – Consider taking on a legal job during your 2L and 3L year

The value of this is two-fold. You will be paid for your work (and have to take out less student loans), and you will gain valuable experience in the field of law that you may be practicing one day. If all goes well, your part-time legal job may even turn into your full-time legal career.

College of Law. Student Ambassadors.   Valerie Chartier-Hogancamp, 3L

International Opportunities at FSU Law

My time at the College of Law has not only been an engaging environment centered on academics and community, but has expanded my horizons into the international arena. Thanks to FSU, I have taken international courses taught by preeminent scholars, met alumni working in international tribunals and contract arbitration, and have travelled to Europe every year (with financial assistance from the school). Here are just a few of the amazing opportunities!

Study Abroad at Oxford (and more!)

Florida State has the longest-running law study abroad program at Oxford University in England. Unlike most other programs, ours boasts actual Oxford professors who teach English Legal History and European Union Law. I had the opportunity to reach deep into the roots of our common law system, while living in a hall originally built in the 13th century. The material, the environment, and the opportunity to travel every weekend made this an unparalleled opportunity. Though it does come at a cost, there is financial aid available! We also offer exchange programs with schools in The Netherlands and Australia!

International Opportunities 2
Pictured (left to right) : 3L’s Michael Hoffman, Sarah Leon, and Brent Marshall on a weekend trip to Amsterdam during the Oxford Summer Program (2016).

International Arbitration in Vienna

Every year, hundreds of law students from around the globe convene in Vienna, Austria for the Willem C. Vis International Arbitration Moot. Arbitration is becoming an increasingly preferred method of dispute resolution and this competition offers the opportunity to learn the requisite skills and network with practitioners. The College of Law sends a team every year and I have been fortunate enough to be selected twice for this wonderful experience. It has opened my eyes to previously unseen opportunities in the field of international arbitration and helped cultivate my abilities as a researcher and oral advocate.

International Opportunities 1
Pictured (left to right) : Melina Garcia, (#FSULawGoldenGrad18), Michael Hoffman (3L), Natalia Nincevic (3L) and Tyler Antolik (#FSULawGoldenGrad17) outside of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria in April 2017.

Alumni Abroad

Law Noles have staked claims in international jobs for years now. Some of our illustrious alumni have served on international tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and one currently serves as the Executive Director of the International Bar Association. In fact, the IBA accepts one student each summer to intern in London with the IBA. This network displays the possible paths from Tallahassee to work abroad, as well as guidance from these distinguished alums!

 

College of Law. Student Ambassadors. Michael Hoffman, 3L

Eliminating the Awkwardness of Networking

The truth of the matter is that most legal internships and jobs are found through personal relationships. For some, this means floating through a room of lawyers and judges, making small talk with ease. For others, networking is less of a graceful ballet and more of an awkward middle school dance. It has been my experience that most law students fall into the latter category. Nonetheless, good networking is the key to finding internships and jobs within the legal field, and therefore is unavoidable. However, if you are one of those people, don’t feel discouraged – networking is a learnable skill and can be enjoyable. I consulted with former Dean Janeia Ingram from the Student Affairs Office and put together a few tips to help you eliminate the awkwardness of networking.

1) I want to go, but do I really want to go?

Create a game plan for yourself, saying something like “I will go for an hour, talk to two people and then leave.” Don’t stand in your own way of creating professional contacts or obtaining a great internship opportunity. While it can be scary to attend networking events alone, be cautious of always attending with a friend or fellow law student. Too often, this will result in the two of you speaking only to each other instead of making those invaluable professional connections. However, do take advantage of your professional mentor relationships. If you have developed a mentor through a student organization, reach out to that attorney and ask if they can attend with you and introduce you to other attorneys at the event. This is one of the major reasons why student organizations have mentor programs! If all else fails and you must go alone, then do so. Chances are, most of the other attendees will be solo as well, so you will be in the majority.

2) “Help! I don’t know how to start a conversation.”

Before you attend the event, do some research about a few of the attendees and look for those familiar faces. Once you arrive at the event, walk over and introduce yourself to those people first. You should find that you are more comfortable talking to those people, since they are not complete strangers. Additionally, showing up to an event with a couple of “pocket questions” can go far in squelching the fear of a post-introduction mind blank. Begin your conversation with questions like “What area of law do you practice?” and following up with questions like “How did you get into that area?” Open-ended questions such as these will be your greatest tool, and will lend themselves to being more conversational and less like a cross-examination.

3) What do I do when the conversation loses steam?

We have all been there: the conversation has run its course, leaving both parties standing there in a forced discussion about the weather (or in my case, just repeating “so, this is a great turnout” several times before slipping back into the crowd). Once the conversation has run out of steam, it’s ok to put an end to it before moving on. The best way to accomplish this? Extend your hand to the other person and tell them that you have appreciated the conversation, but there are a few other people you would like to meet too. You are there to network, and attorneys expect you to move from one conversation to the next. Remember, the attorneys are there for the same purpose, not to remain in one fixed interaction for the duration of the event.

4) What do I do next? Follow up!

Many attorneys fail to carry business cards all the time, so take the initiative and invest in a small notepad. Once you meet an attorney or judge, record their name and area of practice. Make note of a few things that you spoke about that made your interaction more personal – did you discuss your pets, travel plans, or a shared interest for Italian food? If you did not get an e-mail address, do a quick Google search. You can also search websites like the Florida Bar’s member directory, where, chances are, you will find their contact information. In your follow-up e-mail, keep it short and concise. Let them know you enjoyed talking about (fill in the blank here) and ask if they wouldn’t mind you contacting them from time to time for advice or information. Remember, it’s not as important how you follow up, but that you follow up.

College of Law. Student Ambassadors. Jenna Von See, 3L

 

Why a 1L Judicial Clerkship was the best decision of my Law School career

The first year of law school can be nerve-wracking: lots of reading, being cold-called, and trying to comprehend Pennoyer v. Neff. As if worrying about classes wasn’t hard enough, by the time spring semester rolled around, I needed to start thinking about how I was going to be spending my first summer as a law student. Little did I know, this decision would have the biggest impact on me and only confirmed my passion for the law. Doing a 1L judicial clerkship was the best decision in my law school career thus far.

While it may seem scary to think so far in advance, your first summer as a law student is such an important time. For most people, they are finally getting some hands-on legal experience, and trying to put all of the theoretical concepts they learned during first year classes to work. The Career Services and Professional Development Office here has so many options for 1Ls looking for summer jobs.

A judicial clerkship is a two or three credit hour course, taken pass/fail, over six to eight weeks. You work directly with a judge and the experience is as varied as the people whose names grace the chambers in which you serve. A judicial clerkship gives a law student the experience of clerking for a judge, researching and writing different issues before the court, while also earning class credit. Students have the opportunity to summarize parties’ briefs, research legal issues, search through trial records, write memorandums, discuss their recommendations with the judge, and even work on some published opinions. The research and writing experience gained can be invaluable. To receive credit, you maintain a weekly journal of your observations and research as you complete your mandatory number of hours (150 hours for two credits and 180 hours for three).

Participating in a judicial clerkship can also prove beneficial upon returning to campus for Fall semester.  During on-campus interviews, which usually take place at the start of your 2L year, it can be a great topic of conversation with potential employers. As an added bonus, any hours that you work under a judge’s supervision beyond the mandatory requirement for the internship, count toward your pro bono requirement. The judicial clerkship can be a magnificent opportunity to see how the courts function. Clerking, in general, is a great opportunity to learn about the judicial branch, and how judges think.

 

garcia_web Melina Garcia, 3L

College of Law. Student Ambassadors. Michael Hoffman, 3L

Food Tour of Tallahassee!

Law students need a little R&R, so use this as a guide to discover some of the best local eats in town. Tallahassee is full of hidden gems in the culinary world. With a number of award-winning restaurants and even some featured on Food Network, don’t let your time in town go by without exploring all of the tasty treats around you!

Must-Try Breakfast and Brunches

The Lunchbox on Magnolia Street – take yourself back to childhood with this breakfast dive! The walls are lined with lunch boxes from all eras and the food is fresh, delicious and most importantly – very affordable!! For less than ten bucks, fill up on the corner of Magnolia and Tennessee. Get there early though – they close at 2:15 PM every day.

The Egg Cafe and Eatery – this award-winning breakfast and brunch restaurant features fresh ingredients, southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, and mouth-watering hashes, scrambles, and benedicts. Also a favorite for those who love whole-grain waffles and gluten-free options. Mimosas and brunch favorites also await – including some interesting seafood twists on breakfast! There’s usually a wait, but it’s well worth it. Located on Austin Davis Drive off Capital Circle.

Maple Street Biscuit Company on Call Street – you can smell warm, flaky biscuits and delicious fried chicken from the sidewalk. This fun, collaborative atmosphere is met with quite possibly the most interesting and absolutely delicious biscuits, hash, sweet potato fries and more that you can ever imagine. Just minutes from the stadium and right behind the Tennessee Street strip.

Food Glorious Food on Thomasville Road – another award-winning feature restaurant and it’s most definitely deserved. Just look up the menu and you’ll be ready to drive over. Great for groups as well!

Own Your Lunch Hour – Venture out

Kool Beanz Cafe on Thomasville Road – don’t let the name fool you! This local gem offers much more than just beans on the seasonal menu – everything from smoked gouda mac to boneless duck to bacon-wrapped grouper to cilantro lime and jerk spiced sea scallops. Highly recommended for lunch when the prices are more student-friendly, but always well worth it. While you’re in this Midtown area, also check out another hideaway joint, Paisley Cafe.

Avenue Eat and Drink – located downtown and within a short distance from the law school, Avenue is a cool, modern, but very tasty place to settle in for a wild ride with your taste buds!

Merv’s Melt Shop – This local dive is a great hangout spot for a quick bite if you’re feeling like burgers, melts, tots, and the best grilled cheese in town right in the midst of a bustling art community.

Wells Brothers Bar and Grill – best burgers in town, just try it.

Date Night or Friend Group Dinners

Nefetari’s – Looking to transport yourself to another country? As soon as you walk through the door you are met with delicious smells of unique cuisine, a life-sized stuffed lion, art and a complete royal experience. Dine at the King’s Table for a special occasion or just enjoy the unique flavors that Queen Nefetari and King Ramesses have put together for you. This hidden gem off Gaines Street also features live jazz music, open mic nights, wine nights, and much more!

El Jalisco – two-for-one drinks all day every day (21+)! Great atmosphere, multiple locations around town, fresh guac made at your table and chips and salsa for every Tex-mex lover!

The Flying Bear – the best sweet potato waffle fries drizzled with honey that you will find anywhere! This Great American Grill has a wide variety of food to offer, and you won’t be disappointed. Located off of Thomasville Road north towards Bradfordville.

Tally also offers a number of great pizza spots (Uncle Maddio’s, Dave’s Pizza Garage, Momo’s Pizza) and sushi restaurants (AZU Lucy Ho’s) all around town as well as drinks at Liberty and Brass Tap. If you feel like venturing just outside of Tally, I highly recommend Riverside Cafe in St. Marks (about 30 min) and Angelo’s Seafood in Panacea (about 45 min). Both feature waterfront views of waterways into the Gulf and the best seafood in the Big Bend!

When you’re done, don’t forget your dessert at Small Cakes Cupcakery or Big Easy Snowballs, both with multiple locations around town. The list can go on and on forever, but if you start here, I guarantee your taste buds will thank you!

Vegan Options Around Town

If you’re vegan or suffer from food allergies, it’s great to be able to walk in to a food joint knowing nothing on the menu is off-limits. You don’t have to practice vegetarianism to enjoy these places though. With an inviting atmosphere and delicious cruelty-free food, it’s no mystery why some of the best restaurants in town are quirky, local innovations.

Soul Vegetarian Restaurant & Catering – The food is 100% vegan, so vegetarians and vegans may safely select from the many menu options. This restaurant offers vegan food with a southern twist. They also offer cooking classes, which is a great way for law students to learn the skills they need in order to stick to their grocery budget!

Bread & Roses Kitchen – B&R Kitchen serves feisty vegan staples with daily specials that won’t disappoint. The Kitchen sources locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as promotes sustainability and community cooperation. B&R Kitchen is anchored by the Bread & Roses Food Co-op, one of the two local food cooperatives in Tallahassee. Described as, “out of this world,” by one yelp reviewer, Bread & Roses Kitchen may knock you out of this galaxy!

Sweet Pea – The menu hosts gluten-free options and daily specials based on the local growing cycle. With an incredible brunch, and home-baked cookies, Sweet Pea café resonates an eclectic, European vibe. The outdoor picnic areas are perfect for cool fall days around Tallahassee, and the restaurant structure has grown to offer more spacious seating indoors. Bring a friend or two to share a delightful meal and enjoy this casual, warm atmosphere.

To make your exploring even easier, Tallahassee offers a complimentary trolley service. It’s never been more convenient to take a break from your daily routine and support the local economy while expanding your dining options and making new connections. Hop on board, leave your car behind and enjoy a scenic ride to Tallahassee’s culinary offerings.

 

cassandra decoste  Cassandra DeCoste, 3L

Student Ambassadors for College of Law  Lauryn Collier, #FSUGoldenGrad (Class of 2017)

 

“Non-Traditional” Law Students—Balancing Law School and Family

It’s the first day of law school and I’m sitting in Civil Procedure class hearing about the interesting experiences and character traits that makes each of my classmates unique (thank you, Professor Lee for making the time for this exercise in class!). I decide to share with my classmates that I have returned to school as a “non-traditional” student with a two-year-old daughter at home. I can’t say I’ll forget the look of surprise (and maybe sympathy) that I saw from many of my classmates. We are all told how challenging the first year of law school can be, and attempting to confront that challenge while also guiding a toddler through the “terrible twos” seemed either courageous or completely foolish. However, I soon found myself being encouraged by classmates whose parents had returned to graduate school when they were kids and even met a few brave souls like myself who had families and kids. I watched as one of my classmates welcomed his first child into the world over the weekend during Spring semester and was back in class on the following Monday morning—a very impressive feat!

Despite all of the wonderful encouragement and support I’ve received, balancing law school and a family is certainly not without difficulty. I smile to myself when I think of some of the more trying moments, like the day that I desperately needed to study for my Civil Procedure exam and my daughter was home sick from preschool. I turned my back for a few minutes, during which she had taken a dozen eggs out of the refrigerator and smashed them on the floor; I finally caught her when she was trying to put them back together. While I was cleaning up the eggs, she took all of my sticky notes for my class and stuck them to herself, the table, the floor, and even the dogs. A note to Professor Lee—if I was less than optimally prepared for your exam, this is why!

But on days that went as planned, I approached my classes just as I did with my career that I left behind—lots of planning, prioritization, and organization. I had to use my time wisely and could not afford to procrastinate. I was almost always at school by 8:30 a.m., typically worked through lunch, and rushed home after my afternoon classes to pick up my daughter from preschool. Professor Cahill always tells her students she doesn’t respond to emails, texts, and calls between allotted hours in the evening; this is the time she spends with her young children, and she doesn’t return to technology until after they are in bed. I found this inspiring and always try to adopt the same attitude with my daughter. My time after 5:00 p.m. and until she goes to sleep belongs to my daughter. I also have to thank my devoted husband for the days he is home from work and rescues me when I have fallen behind on reading. On that note, I also have to applaud my classmates that are single parents—I don’t know how you do it!

I survived the dreaded first year of law school and so did my family. I’m still almost always at school by 8:30 a.m. and still feel like there are not enough hours in the day. But when I have a bad day and return home to my daughter saying “I love you, mama, I’m so glad you’re here,” it gives me a fantastic perspective that makes the stress melt away. For that, I feel like I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to experience law school with a beautiful perspective on life.

 

College of Law. Student Ambassadors. Valerie Chartier-Hogancamp, 3L