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This month, I devoted almost all of my Facebook status messages to Black History Month. This wasn’t an intentional project. The first day, I posted a picture I took at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati of Henry “Box” Brown, who escaped slavery by mailing himself in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia. My motivation in choosing Mr. Brown was simple: before I visited the Freedom Center, I had never heard of him; I figured many of my friends probably had not heard of him either. Also, he escaped slavery by mailing himself in a box! In my opinion, this is one of the greatest escape stories of all time.
The second day, I posted part of Malcolm X’s biography – the part where he taught himself to read. I read this excerpt in an English class in my very first semester of college. The reason that this particular section has stayed with me is because of Spike Lee’s biographical film X. You may remember that in X Mr. Lee used a surrogate “figure” who represented different people from Malcolm’s life to help him with his transformation from street hustler to activist. Part of this help came in the form of reading – he told Malcolm to read the dictionary from cover to cover. Malcolm’s autobiography tells a completely different story, one that I find far more inspirational – he wanted to communicate with Elijah Mohammed, but felt that it would be inappropriate to speak to him using the kind of language he would use out on the street. So, he got the dictionary on his own, read through it and learned how to write from it. Again, my motivation in posting was simple: Malcolm X did something inspirational and amazing on his own accord that I figured many people probably didn’t know.
The whole thing just snowballed from there.
Although I never said it outright, I hope that those friends of mine who read my posts understood the point that I was trying to make, a point that I learned from reading A People’s History of the United States and Lies My Teacher Told Me. Black history, like general American history, is taught with an emphasis on heroes. The result is a rather boring recitation of names of people who were “the first Black person to” engage in a particular activity, and the extremely short version of history that starts with the first slaves being brought over, skips to the Civil War, jumps to the Civil Rights Movement, and hops directly to President Obama.
History is far more interesting than the short version indicates. The first group of Africans brought to the Americas rebelled and escaped to freedom within six months. Slaves rebelled so often (over 250 reported incidents) but were also so important to the Southern economy that the Southern States would not join the Union unless protection was built into the Constitution. These protections included, but are not limited to, a Northern promise to return fugitive slaves to their owners and the Federal government’s promise to use the Militia to put down “Insurrections.” Even with so much protection for slavery written into this founding document, people of all races can read it and see protections for their own freedoms within it, even if that wasn’t what the Founders intended.
But wait, there’s more: some escaped slaves returned to slavery; some free Blacks owned slaves (usually family members, who got to live as free persons); in the 1860s, White people saw Black people as honest and trustworthy; by 1880, Whites saw Blacks as being criminal (thanks to bad publicity on the part of those who realized that they could make a profit from free prison labor). Despite all of this, one can easily find examples of cooperation between Blacks and Whites (especially those in similar situations) from the beginning of slavery to the present day. I am convinced that if history was taught with context and detail, the portion of people with racist attitudes whose opinions are informed solely by what they see on Cops and Jerry Springer will start to fade away.
Malcolm X once stated that Black self-respect and respect for Blacks from all other races would only come about if Black people made a concerted effort to educate ourselves, run our own businesses and otherwise establish ourselves in the same way other races have. There is no question that since his death we have come a long way toward achieving this goal. However, we are still overrepresented in jails and unemployment while simultaneously being underrepresented in colleges, law schools, and the upper levels of businesses across the country. Petitioning the Court is a slow process. Petitioning the Legislature is quicker, but is also a slow process. Direct action – tutoring a child; creating programs that teach people their legal rights, how to build wealth, or how to read to their children; and showing Black people that there are times when obstacles to success are all in the mind — are all ways that we can move quickly toward this goal.
I challenge anyone reading this to not shy away from making hard decisions where race is involved. Regard the people you meet as individuals. Try to understand those people according to their values, rather than imposing your own beliefs on them. Take some time to learn history that is not simple hero worship. For those who privately hold racist opinions and choose to take this challenge, I can’t guarantee that taking these actions will change your opinions – I can’t even guarantee that you will like the people you meet. What I can guarantee is that taking these actions will make it harder for you to base your opinions about people solely on their race. But you never know, you may make a new friend. And if I am that new friend, I will be happy to clear up any misconceptions about Black people you may have. ☺
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It is with great irony that today I opine about reliability, as it marks the first time in my life I have ever committed the sin of the unexcused absence. I woke up at 7:30 AM and could not support and lift myself off of my mattress until after 10 AM because of horrible, horrible, back spasms. 75 minutes after I was supposed to show up, I finally got in touch with several people that work at the library. They understood, did not accuse me of lying, and covered for me.
I have noticed a lot of complaining of late about the alleged scarcity of jobs. Indeed I have written about it before. And perhaps it is no longer just an allegation – but a fact. But I would like to offer an alternative to self-pity: just show up.
A very famous man once said 90% of life is showing up. And when it comes to the practice of law, the statement is accurate (more or less). The only time you don’t show up in court is when you know you have nothing, and you would rather take a default judgment than waste your time fighting a losing battle. But when there is no more than a scintilla of hope, and you still show up, you set a good example. People will respect you for doing that. Unfortunately most of my argument rests on social and not legal grounds.
A spectre is haunting America—the spectre of communication breakdown. We have more tools than ever before to communicate with one another, but people have lost their love for the phone, and fallen for the text. Of course, everyone has cell phones, and few people have landlines, and it would follow that, a person keeps their phone on them at all times – so how come they’re more difficult than ever to reach?
Maybe they just don’t like you, or think you’re ugly. Maybe they’re “shy on the phone” and prefer to send emails. Whatever their excuse, it’s troubling. Every cell phone has caller ID (I think). Do you remember the days before caller ID? I do. It was a wilderness. Prank phone calls abounded. Answering machines were the preferred defensive method. I ask people, “Why don’t you ever pick up? Are you screening your calls?” They reply, “What do you mean by that?”
I may be two or three years over the median age, but I am not that old. Still, I have to say, these kids today drive me crazy! Oh, how pathetic it becomes! When, for example, I met with a certain committee a couple weeks ago, and we were waiting for all the other members to show up, and every single person was looking at something or texting something on their cell phone. I don’t have a Smart Phone and people make fun of me for only having 250 Text Messages a month to use.
Answering machines were vastly superior to voice mail because they allowed for a great deal of creativity. Your greeting could be a work of art, if you so chose. Once I left an incredibly long greeting on our family answering machine, and several of my parents’ friends thought it was just about the cutest thing in the world – could they record it and save it as their own? I have heard ONE “creative” voicemail greeting, and it sounded very dumb. The medium is not conducive.
Not only was there creativity – but there was screening. You could have that desperate moment, when you are listening to someone leave a message, and maybe they are saying, “I know you are there. Pick up.” And perhaps you do pick up – in 1993. But if it were 2012, you wouldn’t. You would be too intimidated by the prospect of telephonic conversation. You would write back a text, saying, hey I saw you called, what’s up? And then you are forced to fit your thought into 160 characters. You’re forced to be much more efficient. You’re also forced to ignore the finer details of the matter. Lose your feelings, just state the facts.
Christopher J. Knorps is a 2L at Brooklyn Law School. He has written two novels, a book of short stories, and a memoir of his 10-month-stint in L.A. He enjoys studying bankruptcy law. He ranks in the upper 54% of his class. You may find his blog by visiting flyinghouses.blogspot.com.
Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a piece for my college newspaper – back then my column was called Reflections in Shades of Black and Blue – about the presidential election that was taking place. It’s a pretty decent read if you have a few minutes; I was much funnier in my youth. I think the point I was trying to make was that while the media was focusing almost exclusively on sensational and ultimately irrelevant details, there was something much bigger and more important going largely unnoticed. It seemed, at the time, as though more people cared and were well-informed about politics than at any other time in my memory. There was something new in the air. And, to me, that felt like it was worth spilling some ink over. A lot of time has passed since then and a whole lot has transpired. But, when I look back, I feel a certain degree of vindication.
In the past, I would often think about how you could frequently see on television, in cities and countries around the world, people marching and demonstrating in their public squares. On the other hand, in America no one every marched or protested anymore. Why was that? Was it because Americans didn’t care about anything? Perhaps it was because Americans were more civilized. Maybe we dealt with our frustration in other ways. Or, maybe it was because we were at such an advanced stage of development that our problems just weren’t as significant as those in other countries. The difference between a 36% and 39% top marginal tax-rate just doesn’t rise to the level of whether your family will eat this month. Maybe our cities just aren’t designed for protests. We don’t really have the kind of central squares that facilitate mass protests in other countries.
Whatever the cause, for two generations most Americans have been largely apathetic when it comes to politics. Long past are the cultural upheavals of the late sixties. Today, so many people don’t vote and so few have a firm grasp on the issues of the day. And yet, for the first time in decades, we know what a true populist movement would look like on our own soil, and just where it would take place. For that, we have the Tea Party and Occupy movements to thank, and regardless of whether you find yourself on the left, the right, or in the center politically, it’s nice to know that we still have that in us as a people. We certainly don’t agree on what to care about, but there seems to be a mutual agreement that it’s time to care.
Without doubt, this has been brought on largely by the recession. In times of struggle, people become more attuned to their surroundings. But I think there’s something else at work here, something that goes back a few years.
The public always pays attention to the ebbs and flows of a presidential election, and maybe that’s all I was seeing when I wrote that article four years ago. But then something else happened. This Obama fellow started tingling the little hairs on the back of our public imagination in a way that no one had for decades. Beloved as he was by the left for what he represented, despised as he was – and still is – by the right for what he represented to the left, in an historical blink of an eye, this man had transcended politics, becoming a symbol for the outpouring of our, until then, collectively repressed public emotions. And, once those emotions started flowing, they’ve done nothing but increase steadily ever since.
On the left, we began with a Messiah complex. That quickly turned to anxious confusion as when the object of our affections hasn’t texted us back in an hour (Did he not get our texts??? What could he be doing??? Does he not like us anymore???). Finally we settled on a resigned sense of disappointment. But then we found a new love…
I can’t speak personally about what it felt like from the right, but I imagine it being something like: At first we were horrified by Obama. Then we grew to utterly loathe him. Finally our feelings evolved into a slowly simmering rancorous hatred.
Anyway, the real key here was that not only were our emotions on our sleeves, but our actions were finally in line with our feelings. The conservative outcry over Obama’s health care reform spawned a political movement that would inspire millions and have massive repercussions at the polls in 2010. Next came the Occupy movement – partly a left-wing response to the Tea Party and partly a long-overdue call for social and economic justice – which would literally redefine our national discourse. All that liberal discontent over Obama could be channeled in a new and proactive direction.
In the last few years, both sides have found a reason to care and the strength to stand up for their beliefs. Looking back, I can’t say that I ever could have predicted what was coming, but I remember being excited and feeling that things might just be different. And different they certainly have been.
It’s pretty amazing to reflect upon how much things have changed in such a short time. As we pass through yet another compelling election cycle, I’m just as excited to see whether these new waves of popular engagement will last and where they will take us, both in November and in the years ahead.
More on November next time…
– Mike Berman is a graduating 3L, an aspiring political pundit, and a Co-Chair of Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest (BLSPI). Come say hello to him this Thursday, March 1, at the annual BLSPI Auction.
On February 23rd, students and faculty gathered in the Subotnick Center for the Sixth Annual Sara Robbins Memorial Spelling Bee. Before the competition began, attendees enjoyed refreshments and a silent auction, reminding them that this event was not only in fun but for a good cause.
SBA President Elliott Siebers welcomed the crowd, and Harold O’Grady, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Law and Librarian at Brooklyn Law School, introduced the event as a tribute to Sara Robbins, the director of the Brooklyn Law Library who held the position for twenty years until she died in a tragic pedestrian traffic accident at the early age of 54.
O’Grady recalled that Sara laid the groundwork for major transformations in the library which continue to help students in their legal research, and include the library’s catalog system (SARA). Professor O’Grady spoke about Sara’s dedication to the school, recalling that any time a she made a decision about the library she would ask, “Will it help the students?”
Sara’s family decided that she would be best remembered through a scholarship fund, to which students and faculty contribute through this entertaining annual spelling bee. Her sisters, Anne Robbins, Marlene Robbins, and Kay Ehrenkrantz, were all in attendance to support the event and remember their sister.
This year, Dean Cahill and Professors Yakowitz and Bambauer judged the spellers. Over thirty students and faculty participated in the competition, and about forty others watched and cheered on the contestants, including Deans Gerber and Jones-Woodin. Dean Cahill announced that the theme, “Arizona,” was specifically selected because Professors Yakowitz and Bambauer are moving on to the Grand Canyon State after this school year. To add more good humor to the event, categories within this theme included “dessert flora and fauna,” “Mexican food,” “old people,” and “guns and border patrol.”
While the genre seemed to be relatively innocuous, with words related to national flora (the “succulent” plant) and familiar lingual imports (“quesadilla”), contestants were eliminated on words ranging from “javelina” (an animal in the “New World Pig” Suborder), to “fainéant.”
SBA Secretary Erika Lorshbough, the 2010 Bee winner, moved through a few rounds easily with words such as “blunderbuss”—defined by Professor Bambauer as a type of gun used by Elmer Fudd to “hunt wabbits.”
But ultimately, first, second and third place trophies found their way to Donald Glassman, 2014, Erika Giovanetti, 2015P, and Perrie Malone, 2013, respectively. As first place winner, Donald won with the word “clinquant,” and in addition to a first place trophy, the competition hosts awarded him a copy of Sara Robbins’s book, Law: A Treasury of Art and Literature.
Photos courtesy of the SBA’s Veronica Kapka.
This week, cafeteria catering giant Bon Appetit Management Co. made an unprecedented commitment to animal welfare that will raise the bar across the entire food service industry. Bon Appetit caters to over 400 U.S. corporations, colleges, and universities, and says that starting in 2015, it will no longer source any food from hens in battery cages or pigs in gestation crates. If they follow through, tens of thousands of animals will be spared lives of intensive and protracted confinement. Bon Appetit is also expanding its purchasing requirements for animals raised without subtherapeutic antibiotics and hormones, and that are allowed to engage in some natural behaviors.
Helene York is Bon Appetit’s director of strategic initiatives. She announced their new commitment yesterday on CivilEats.com, explaining that “[g]ood animal welfare isn’t just about the animals. It’s about starting to dismantle a system that has enormous costs for our society, including the loss of medically important antibiotics, the pollution of our air and water from animal waste, and horrible working conditions in factory farms.”
The problem, she notes, is that Bon Appetit uses 800,000 lbs. of bacon alone every year. The company is such a large consumer of animal products that there might not currently be enough humane-certified meat, milk and eggs out there to reliably meet its enormous demand. York’s hope is that by making this commitment, producers big and small will feel secure enough to make the switch to more humane operating systems. “The best chance for change,” she states, “is to stop waiting for everyone else to make the first move. We’re committed to shifting production practices in the marketplace one way or another.”
Kudos to York and the folks at Bon Appetit, but what about their competitors? Companies like Culinart – which manages BLS’s 4th floor cafeteria and caters most of our school functions – could learn a lesson or two. On a company level, Culinart has failed to implement any meaningful animal welfare standards. Last year, BLS SALDF worked independently with our school’s director of dining services to introduce cage-free eggs. Unfortunately, that commitment was dropped when Culinart switched egg suppliers this fall.
That puts our school among a dubious minority. Sixty-four percent of college cafeterias currently provide cage-free eggs [pdf]. Additionally, nearly a hundred university cafeterias celebrate “Meatless Mondays” by providing expanded vegan options once a week. For law students on the go, these improvements make eating a tasty, healthy, and humane diet that much easier.
I’m glad there are leaders out there like the folks at Bon Appetit, and hope to see them meet and exceed their goals. Meanwhile, the humane train is coming, and Culinart needs to get on board. If they don’t, we ought to find a food service provider who has.
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Let me give you a hypothetical. You are 25 years old. You are a 1L at BLS. You have a “pretty good” scholarship. You’ve gotten your Fall grades. They are average – let’s say a 3.2 – you don’t know where you stand in the class but you see those scholarship renewal statistics on BLS Connect and it says you need a 3.35 to be in the top 40%. You need to do much better in the Spring if you don’t want to lose your money, and law school feels like an endless parade of reading, memorization, deadlines, obligations, and opportunities that you would be remiss to ignore. You have no idea what kind of law you want to practice and you haven’t gotten an internship yet. Let’s add into this special fact pattern that you’ve taken out $20,000 in loans (no grad plus), your scholarship covers the majority of tuition and housing, but your parents are still supporting you, and floating you spending money. Let’s say your parents are having financial difficulties of their own and they’ve mentioned the word “bankruptcy” more than once. Soon the Spring will be over, and you will have your full year grades, and you will know your rank, and you will know how much money you will be keeping or losing. And you will hopefully have an internship by then. Let’s say you do slightly worse in the Spring (because those extra two credits weigh a lot heavier than they seem), and you end up with a GPA approximating ∏. The internship is going alright – but your options for OCI are non-existent, and you hear all of this talk, endless talk, about how hard it is for a lawyer fresh out of law school to find a job in this day and age. What do you do?
In my case, I punched my sister on the arm. We were on a beach in Nantucket. She said, “I think it’s amazing how much money mom and dad are giving you. You should be taking out more loans.” I said, “I can’t believe you said that. You should know that is the main thing hanging over my head. I should hit you for that. Wait, I am going to hit you for that.” And I gave her a little “dead arm,” which any boy will recognize, hurts for about a minute, then goes away. And it wasn’t even a hard dead arm, but of course, gender stereotypes being what they are, she gets up, walks away, and starts saying I’m going to be an abusive husband when I grow up.
1Ls Considering Dropping Out: people are going to tell you things like, “it gets better” and “it gets easier” and “it gets more interesting.” In my experience at least this has been true. My first year was an emotionally devastating experience that brought me to the brink of suicide. It is perhaps worth noting that medication may be the only reason I have been able to deal with the 2L year. It truly is an exhausting experience and if you don’t have the energy or the motivation, doing two more years of this seems like a daunting prospect.
And maybe perhaps you’ve seen that members of the class of 2015 entering with a scholarship will be entitled to keep it all so long as they stay in the top 80% and maybe this seems manifestly unfair to you.
But I know two kids who dropped out. They both seem relatively happy. One of them is going to get his M.B.A. The other is working as a paralegal and from what I can tell by her status updates, is partying more than ever. Law school was “not for them” and maybe their grades were not so high – but I do believe whether it is “for you” is the most important factor to consider. Ability to pay, potential for future success, the quality of the summer internship experience, and general comfort and ease with your classmates and professors are other important factors to consider.
I flirted with dropping out up until October 20, 2011. I was able to make a relatively substantial improvement in my grades in the Fall, I am on my third very positive internship experience in a row, and I just had the most important interview of my law school life. I may not be on moot court or a journal or place even in the top 33%, but my post-grad job search anxiety is nothing compared to what it was a year ago. I told everyone I am going to get by on my charm and it feels like it is working. But who knows – come back to me in a year and ask me how I feel then.
Christopher J. Knorps is a 2L at Brooklyn Law School. He has written two novels, a book of short stories, and a memoir of his 10-month-stint in L.A. He enjoys studying bankruptcy law. He ranks in the upper 54% of his class. You may find his blog by visiting flyinghouses.blogspot.com.
Hibernation is sometimes necessary. Indeed, it was a nice change to spend some quality time with myself, rather than listen to people mourn over Whitney Houston and obsess about Linsanity. Instead I spent this period practicing my elementary cooking skills, running home on Wednesday nights to watch the latest episode of Revenge, and listening to Asher Roth’s Be By Myself on repeat. However, we know that “necessary” does not equal “sufficient” – my nights became lonely and my phone was soon textless. Hibernation hit a low when I ended up spending Valentine’s Day with my parents (albeit this meant a free meal full of genuine love and affection).
I decided shortly thereafter I needed to wake up and snap out of it – I may not want commitment at this moment, but why should that stop me from flirting and having fun? And though I refuse to limit myself to the usual BLS stomping ground (finals-flings are light years away!) I want to take advantage of this grace period in which I can spend some time with non-BLSGs. So far, I’ve danced with a med student in a Bulgarian bar, discussed Eastern philosophy over coffee with a web developer, and am set to grab some French food with a finance fellow later this week.
I honestly don’t expect anything serious or long term with these gentlemen. As an overly committed law student desperately seeking full-time employment, I’m lucky I had time to fit this into my already jam-packed schedule. Yet through this process, I’ve come out of my shell and am letting go of my need to control. Plus, I’ve begun to discover the types of characteristics I prefer in a partner, while weeding out those that clash with my personality.
Keep in mind that I scored high on the Briggs Meyer “extrovert” scale. My dating style is not for everyone, but everyone still deserves a chance at love – one never knows when cupid’s arrow will strike. So for the more shy types, I recommend checking out alternative (and free) online dating services such as HowAboutWe, Trek Passions and DateMySchool (honorable mention to Purrsonals for cat lovers). And if you prefer to stay within the confines of Brooklyn Law School Land, just make sure to comb your hair, wear your “I-know-I-look-good-in-this” outfit, and actually show up to school functions like the upcoming Spelling Bee and BLSPI auction.
My point is that we have to put ourselves out there. Each time I meet someone new and go out on a bona fide date, I know I am one step closer to finding Mr. Right. Even better, I come home feeling good about myself. My push to get out of my apartment and slap on some makeup led my new repeat song to change to Rihanna’s Rockstar 101.
Doing good at BLS just got a little harder. On Friday, January 13, Interim Dean Michael Gerber announced that for summer 2012, public service grants, which fund otherwise-unpaid legal internships in government and not-for-profits, will be cut to $3,000 from $5,000.
Many students’ summer legal internships with government and not-for-profit employers are unpaid. Few of these offices have the resources to pay interns a stipend, and some rely on unpaid interns to handle higher caseloads. Many BLS students who are financially independent rely on fellowship and grant programs to make ends meet during the summer, when federal student loans are ordinarily unavailable unless a student enrolls in summer courses for credit.
The Public Service Grant program has consistently been popular among BLS students. More than 450 took advantage of the grants last summer by taking otherwise unpaid internships in judicial chambers, not-for-profit organizations such as the Innocence Project New Orleans, and government offices like the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Last spring, Dean Gerber all but promised that cuts to the popular program would take effect in 2012. The cuts were originally planned to affect Summer 2011 stipends, but the administration reversed course after students objected to the unfairness of announcing cuts after many had already finalized their summer plans.
“We will maintain the grant amount by using our entire FY 2012 federal work-study grant in the summer of 2011, as well as expending substantial additional Brooklyn Law School funds,” Interim Dean Gerber wrote at the time. “[I]t is difficult to predict what the structure of the program for summer 2012 will be, although it is certain to be substantially restructured and grants will almost certainly be reduced.”
Now, the hammer has fallen, and cuts have been announced. In his January 13, 2012 email, sent only to non-graduating students, Dean Gerber identified the reason for the cuts as “continued massive cuts in the Federal Work-Study funding that helps support our public service grant program.” Public service grants are funded in part by federal work-study funding, with Brooklyn Law School paying an unspecified portion from its operating budget. However, in 2009, according to its most recent public IRS tax return, work-study funds accounted for only $52,308 of school revenue.
“This choice strikes me as a failure of priorities of the highest order,” said SBA Secretary Erika Lorshbough, ’12. “The school absolutely squandered the chance to capitalize on its growing reputation as a public interest nexus by striking at the foundation of that development, which is support for students doing public interest work.”
Kristie LaSalle, ’12, who helped found the BLS Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (ATA) last spring, said that students were cut out of the loop again this time around. “Those of us who spoke with the administration last year on behalf of ATA learned about the changes to the PSG program when it was announced to the student body” on January 13, 2012. “We weren’t specifically contacted by the administration, either before or after the announcement, and we weren’t approached for our input or reaction.”
Some involved in the student movement against the 2011 cuts have since graduated or will graduate this year. It remains to be seen whether students will organize to oppose cuts to the summer 2012 public service grants, which do not directly affect the graduating class, but rather the pockets of the 1L and 2L classes.
The grants are also now limited to those students who qualify for work-study, which is the “vast majority,” according to Dean Gerber’s announcement. “If you aren’t certain whether you do, please contact the Office of Financial Aid, which can advise you.” Previously, the grants were made available to all students, regardless of qualification for work-study. And as recently as the 2009–2010 academic year, grants were also made available for public service externships during the academic year. When the academic-year grants were cut, then-Dean Joan Wexler stated that the cuts were necessary to preserve the summer grant program.
Students with qualifying internships can earn up to the maximum (now $3,000) at $12 per hour. While some students may only spend half their summers working a qualifying job and may never reach the $3,000 threshold, many grant recipients work between 350 and 400 hours at a single unpaid internship over ten to twelve weeks, reaching the grant’s payment ceiling in as little as half that time. For 400 hours of work, a $3,000 grant amounts to $7.50 per hour, which is above the legal minimum wage but below the $8.50 minimum wage proposed three weeks ago in Albany.
Affording rent in New York City can be a problem on such a low wage. Rents elsewhere, such as Washington, D.C. and environs, however, might be cheaper. Given the availability of online resources like InternsDC to help find cheap housing shares, a $3,000 grant could be “reasonable for a D.C. summer,” said Steven Gordon, Deputy Director of Career Services. Gordon has helped place many BLS students in DC summer internships, though he admits his direct experience living there is limited to the mid-1990’s. BLS also allows students in school housing to sublet during the summer. Mr. Gordon hopes that the opportunities inherent in a public service summer internship would prevent people from deciding against it for budget reasons. “I’d hate to see it,” he said.
Finally, alternatives exist. The Office of Public Service Programs has prepared a list of competitive grants and fellowships available to law students for summer funding, sometimes limited by geography or practice area. While many deadlines have already passed, some applications are still being accepted. That the announcement came six weeks earlier this year, before the NYU PILC Fair and some fellowship deadlines, and after promotional materials sent to prospective students were carefully scraped of any mention of a specific dollar figure, seem to have ameliorated some likely critics.
One of the hardest parts of being a public interest lawyer is maintaining an ever-optimistic disposition. It means believing that hard work will eventually be rewarded, that justice is its own reward, and that just because you are financially limited does not mean that you cannot achieve success. This is one of the reasons I chose Brooklyn Law School— because it is a Mecca for public-service minded students, supporting them to ensure the perpetuation of these important legal fields. Up until the last couple years, BLS has promised time and again that it will fund public service jobs so that students can work hard without worrying about making ends meet. So, having endured several rounds of funding cuts, I must say I am lucky to have attended BLS when I did because, unlike students in other years, I have been put on notice that the pursuit of a public interest career will require my own funding and independent endeavors.
Cut #1: In the clear
During my first year, the law school eliminated work-study funding for public service internships that had been available to former students during the fall and spring semesters. Regardless of this cut, summer and post-graduate stipends were not affected, and so, my plans remained the same. Further, I was on notice for the upper-class semesters in which I would be working: clinical credits, no pay. What seemed to be a fantastic summer stipend became something that would have to cover me through the fall semester, but that was OK, because I am not someone who needs much beyond rent and food (although I am a big eater). With an up to $5,000 grant, I optimistically took a job in DC, a city with a lower cost of living. I sublet my apartment, albeit at a discounted rate, and paid even less to share a two-bedroom apartment with three other girls. It was like college again! While there, I still had to work other jobs, bartending and babysitting. (Two side jobs I continue to do here in New York. Please tell your friends.) When I returned to New York, President Wexler raised tuition, partly in the name of maintaining public service programming [see Letter to Students-Tuition-Jul 2010]. Sure, our loans were going up, but that was fine because that money was a direct investment in my public service career: I would be paid the following summer in a stipend and later for post-graduate work—if I needed it.
Cut #2: Close call
On March 1, 2011, Interim Dean Gerber sent a letter to students, informing us that, after much deliberation, the public service summer grant was to be cut from $5,000 to $3,000 [see Memo to Students -Public Service Grants. He did not encourage or bar the pursuit of outside funding. Outcries echoed around the school. We had already attended the NYU PILC Fair and accepted jobs across the nation and world, relying on the full $5k. I was lucky to have received the BLSPI Fellowship, which promised $5,000 for my public interest work, but this cut affected everyone because our tuition was supposed to be taking care of our summer. Regardless, I joined my classmates in discussing the issues and remedies to seek, but a divide became apparent: redressing grievances against your own school cannot have very good repercussions when you apply for a job. Were we biting the hand that feeds us, or were we not being fed at all?
Before we could answer that troubling question, the deans were somehow able to restore the full promised stipend back to 5k, and we were fortunate to have one more summer of decent wages, being put on notice that we should be prepared for the real cut in FY 2012. Sorry, incoming 1Ls.
Cut #3: Not out of money, not out of luck
While the first and second year students could keep the full stipend one more year last summer, the 3Ls could not keep the post-graduate fellowship as they knew it when entering school. In maintaining summer funding, the school reduced the usual $5,000 for 200 hours ($12/hour) of public service to $3000. For a moment, I wondered where our rising tuition was going if not toward public service funding? Quickly, however, my optimism dismissed these ponderings. These 3Ls were lucky because the school still afforded them an opportunity to keep their resumes fresh and refrigerators full while struggling to find full-time work. Right?
Further, this 2011 cut clearly forewarned me that the post-graduate program may actually be a hindrance to my job search. After all, working below a living wage at least part-time would mean that I have to work that second job and make time in between for interviews, were I lucky to get them. In a down-turned economy, living 3,000 miles away from home, I appreciated the tough-love of my academic institution. It kept me creative and working hard.
Going into my third year of law school with this awareness (Oh! And with a brand new, snazzy marble quad in front of BLS! Now that is an investment in our future), I reconsidered my course for finding a job before I am off student loans and the BLS campus. Fortuitously, I found a part-time legal job this semester (for pay!) so that I can save up for post-bar life. It has been difficult pushing through what is sometimes a 14 hour day of work and school, but I figure it “builds character,” as my dad used to say, and diversifies my resume as the one non-public interest item (I guess bartending and representing Pieper Bar Review are the others, but that’s questionable).
As I gear up to graduate, I realize that my public interest commitment would not be as strong without the internships and mentors I acquired through BLS (Thank you, Betsy Kane, Danielle Sorken and Linda Feldman). Because of that, I am grateful to my school. However, the most important lesson of all is that while I thought I was relying on Brooklyn Law School’s promise of financial and career support to public interest law students, BLS has taught me more about self-reliance than I could have ever imagined, and really that means my legal career thus far has been based on sheer luck.
Meredith is a graduating 3L and former co-chair of Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest (BLSPI). This article is independent of her affiliation with BLSPI. She is pursuing a career in public defense, but is open to suggestion and opportunity. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions, comments, or scheduling any of the above side-jobs.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE SEE PREVIOUS COLUMN ON FACEBOOK ETIQUETTE
As I learned from my column last week, I am limited to 750 words on The BLS Advocate so the previously-cited language about the elements of Intentional/Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, which I intended to include in every column, will be referred to via re-direction to that article. It is perhaps worth noting that I did not receive “a lot of hate mail” but I did receive a note of concern for my well-being, and a somewhat transcendent comment on my blog. “Thomas Cooley” obviously missed my point. This is not a column about academic success – or rather, that was not a column about academic success. This one is.
For people like “Cooley” that think top 55% at BLS is mediocre, I wish I could challenge them to come into one of our classes and see what they are up against. BLS, like so many schools beneath the top 50 before them, secures the seats in their class by offering merit-based scholarships. That many of these students (myself being one) may lose a significant amount of money by failing to finish in the top 40% is of vague concern to the prospective student. After all, I had the option of going to Loyola Law School, with a scholarship that was some $12,000 higher, but with the requirement of staying in the top 33%. It was a very tough choice between the two—and to this day I’m not sure I made the right one, because who knows, circumstances being different in L.A., I might have done very well during my first year—but ultimately LLS and BLS are practically identical twins on opposite coasts. But this isn’t an article comparing the two – it’s about The Curve.
It is worth noting, however, that Loyola Law School raised all of its students’ GPAs by .3333 starting in the Fall semester of 2010. BLS then did this after Fall semester grades come out for 2010. Loyola said it was done as an indication that their students are so strong and that they deserve a better reflection of that in their GPA. BLS said something to similar effect – but really, this has no effect.
The result of raising the GPA comes with the equal result of raising the cut-off point for scholarships. Recently the 2L class ranks were re-calculated because the transfers had not been included. I moved up 1%. It’s only 1%, but now I’m only 4% away from moving into the next level, which will recover 80% of my scholarship. I need to do the math for that today, to determine what grades I need to get.
I go back to my challenge to “Cooley” and want to mention my friend that transferred to Harvard Law School. First, she was not the only one to transfer to Harvard, nor was she the only one to transfer into a truly prestigious school. Second, at her going away party, I told her, “I am going to friend you on Facebook and I am going to ask you to compare Harvard and BLS after you get your grades. How much harder was Harvard than BLS?”
Her response? None. (Reliability will be the topic of column #4, but if she eventually responds, I will be sure to post a comment to summarize her experience.)
To be sure, The Curve is an instrument by which the institution of law school negligently inflicts emotional distress upon the student. Some schools, such as UC-Berkeley Boalt Hall, only use a system of passes and high passes. I believe there is another law school that has almost done away with grades entirely. A new school like UC-Irvine keeps its class super-small and its student-faculty ratio super-low (the class of 2013 has 83 students; the school employs 35 faculty members). UC-Irvine is the only law school that never sent me a rejection or acceptance letter. I am sure it would have been a rejection. As far as I can tell, they also use The Curve, and their median requirement for each 1st year class is a B+. BLS does not state this outright, but is probably close to the same.
In summary, The Curve is an outdated model that keeps the top 10% going into places like Skadden. The top 10% may be qualified to work at Skadden, but so may someone in the top 65%. The latter person may be the better investment, for it is not always true that the best students make the best attorneys (in the same way that the LSAT is not the most reliable indicator of first year success). Maybe Skadden et. al. should think about offering “bargain basement” salaries of $90,000 a year to non-OCI applicants. I’d take it.
Christopher J. Knorps is a 2L at Brooklyn Law School. He has written two novels, a book of short stories, and a memoir of his 10-month-stint in L.A. None of his creative writings have ever been published in print form. He enjoys studying bankruptcy law. He ranks in the upper 54% of his class. You may find his blog by visiting flyinghouses.blogspot.com. It consists primarily of book reviews, a dozen or so film and music reviews, a few pieces of sports journalism, and a light smattering of “special comments” about the study of law in 2010-2012.