Monday, February 10, 2014

Law school gives 2L the 'swimming lesson' she desperately needs

KU Law Student Ambassador Jordan Carter No one pushed me into the deep end of the pool when I was a tot. I had a fear of drowning and resisted formal lessons because swimming in the deep end terrified me. Today I am a competent swimmer, comfortable enough in the water to know I won’t drown, but I’m never the strongest nor the fastest person in the water. Instead of taking responsibility for this underdeveloped skill, I blame the fact that no one ever forced me to face my fears by just pushing me in the deep end. The people around me were too nice.

Law school, on the other hand, is not so nice.

Over the past year and a half, every time I begin to feel like I know what I’m doing and maybe I’m getting this lawyer thing down, I am pushed to try something new. As a result, I have had a whole host of experiences I would not have expected before starting at KU Law.

1L year was full of these moments because I just had no clue what was happening. In Lawyering, rather than just talk about what oral arguments were, we had to do our own oral argument. Sure, it was only 10 minutes for a mere 10 points in front of the most laid-back professor in the building. Even so, I panicked for days beforehand and my classy/professional look was sullied by some major sweat stains. And yet, I survived, and now I know how to do an oral argument.

Over the summer, I worked at a litigation firm. Midway through the summer, we did an all-day trial practice program. As a 1L, I had not yet taken Evidence; the only trial techniques I knew were the ones I learned from Law & Order SVU. Armed with a few questions I threw together and a vague idea of what I was trying to accomplish, I stumbled my way through a direct examination of a witness. I did not know how to get my witness to go where I wanted him to go. I did not know when or how to object. I literally said at one point, “Uh, I don’t know how to say what I’m trying to say.” IN FRONT OF THESE AMAZING TRIAL ATTORNEYS I WAS TRYING DESPERATELY TO IMPRESS. I was terrified. I sucked. And yet, I survived, and now I know how to do a direct exam.

This year I have a judicial internship for a district court judge in Kansas City. Even after a year of Lawyering and a summer of legal writing, this internship has been a totally different experience. It’s a whole new ball game when there are real people with real problems involved. The stakes are high when I know my draft order will influence whether a plaintiff can pursue his or her complaint or whether we will dismiss the complaint altogether. Whether it’s an employment discrimination claim or a civil rights action, people trust the courts to give them a fair and just result. The judge and his clerks are counting on me to provide a comprehensive, accurate draft order. Every time I turn something in, I feel nervous and question whether I got it right. And yet again, I have survived, and each week I feel more confident that I can write a good draft order.

Law school has pushed me out of my comfort zone in a big way. KU Law professors and the surrounding employers and mentors understand that the only way to prepare us for practice is to push us into the deep end. They offer us opportunities to safely try new skills with minimal potential for failure. We receive meaningful and constructive feedback so that when the time comes to do all this lawyer stuff for real, we’ll be ready. As terrifying as it can be, they are teaching us how to swim.

Jordan Carter is a second-year law student and a KU Law Student Ambassador from Topeka, Kansas.

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