Monday, May 17, 2010

Ah, the End

I graduated yesterday. Phew. Three years + 87 credits = 1 law degree. On a magnificent Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg, all the work, fun, and enlightenment of law school culminated in a wonderful commencement ceremony on the Sunken Garden, in the heart of the undergraduate campus of William & Mary. Sandra Day O'Connor gave the keynote address, advising the graduating class of 2010 to do public service and as lawyers, to "disagree agreeably," a fine piece of wisdom. Her speech and presence (she's the Chancellor of W&M) delighted us all, as evidenced by the bursting of flash bulbs when she took the podium.

There is much I will miss about this place, and about law school. First and foremost, the people. The friends I've made here are incredible people, and I am truly, decidedly excited to see how their futures develop. The moment commencement ended, we began fanning out all over the country, from D.C. to Dallas to L.A. to Portland, and many places in between. Of course a good chunk of us will stay in Virginia, even in Williamsburg for the summer to study for the Bar, as I will do. I will also miss the professors and other staff at the law school, who have added so much to this experience. Several professors have done so much for my friends and me that I can hardly express sufficient gratitude. Well, if you're reading, thank you.

So, what next? It's still up in the air. After the Bar, I'll work at a public defender's office in northern Virginia for at least ten weeks. Then there are several possible directions. I've interviewed for a job in Richmond that I should hear about soon, or I could find my way into a PD's office, or I could do something else entirely.

Wherever I land, I'm excited to be done, and to move on to the next phase of my life. Goodbye, Burg Law.

—Rob, J.D.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Finally, a Bar decision

After many months of deliberation, a pros and cons list that took about a dozen states into account, and after interviews for jobs in New Hampshire, Colorado, California, and Virginia (with one more in Wisconsin yet to come), I have decided to take the Virginia Bar this summer. This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. California still holds much appeal for me, but the job climate is so bad there—and getting worse—that I can't move out there in good conscience, knowing that it's entirely possible I could pass the California Bar, one of the two hardest in the country, and still not find a law job. I also thought long and hard about returning to the Midwest, perhaps Illinois, but having gone to school in Virginia and knowing more attorneys here, I have a much better chance of making connections that will lead to a job. (If I were to get the job in Wisconsin, I would have to take the February Bar there.)

There are many upsides to taking the Bar here, in addition to the connections I've made, which could lead to job opportunities that I might not have elsewhere. Some have to do with location: Virginia is a beautiful, geographically diverse state, with ocean, mountains, rolling hills and plenty to do outside. It's right in the middle of the East coast, seemingly just a few hours from everywhere. The weather in southern Virginia is terrific most of the year. It's also close to D.C., so if I were to get a job in the District, after passing the Virginia Bar I could waive into the D.C. Bar and practice there. There's also the fact that Virginia has the death penalty, and one of my greatest passions in the law is capital defense. And of course, many of my law school friends will remain in D.C. or Virginia.

The two biggest downsides are one, that I'll remain 1,000 miles from my family and friends in the Midwest; and two, the Virginia Bar exam. The latter requires me to learn things like Secured Transactions, Trusts & Estates, and Virginia Civil Procedure. Ugh. But of course, I hope only to have to take the Bar once. The family and friends part will be harder. I will continue to miss lots of birthdays, holidays and everyday life events. Without getting too emotional about it now, I'll simply say that it will be hard, and that I did not reach this decision easily. There was no right decision, only a choice to be made, and I was the only one who could make it.

So I'm committed to another two and a half months at my townhouse in Williamsburg. Starting May 24, eight days after graduation, I'll attend Bar prep class in the same room where I took Civil Procedure nearly three years ago, with some of the same people. Each day after class I'll come home to study, as if it were my job. In late July, I will drive to Roanoke, put on a suit—still a requirement in Virginia—and sit for the Bar exam over two grueling days. Then I'll wait, as will we all, for nearly three months, until the results are posted. This is the path to lawyerdom, the part they never told me about on Law & Order. Ah well. I'm ready.

One more paper, one more exam, then 3L year is done.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

9500 Liberty

During the summer after my 1L year, I worked on a criminal case in Manassas, Va., and part of my job involved poring over news articles, letters, and blogs, searching for incendiary comments about illegal immigrants. Such comments were not hard to find. After decades as a sleepy, distant suburb of Washington D.C., Manassas — located about 30 miles from the Capitol — and the rest of Prince William County had turned into one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. The demand for cheap housing labor had brought thousands of Hispanic immigrants to the area so that by 2008, the group comprised nearly 20 percent of Prince William County's population.

Change that quick does not come without conflict. The new film, "9500 Liberty," beautifully details the battle waged between "Help Save Manassas," a grassroots anti-immigration group, and the immigrants and their allies in the community over the span of several years. The film follows the actions of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, which due to pressure from Help Save Manasssas, enacted one of the most stringent anti-immigration policies in the nation.

Last night one of the filmmakers of "9500 Liberty," Eric Byler, came to William & Mary for a screening of this outstanding documentary. Byler and his girlfriend/co-documentarian, Annabel Park, are also co-founders of Coffee Party USA, a movement formed in response to the often incendiary antics of the Tea Party. The Coffee Party has nearly 200,000 fans on Facebook, and I've heard Annabel on the Washington D.C. NPR station and seen her on CNN. Last month, the Coffee Party held meetings in 44 states, with an aim toward introducing civility into our political discourse. In her interview on NPR, Annabel spoke of the common grounds (NPR's pun, not mine) the Coffee Party shares with the Tea Party — both loathe corporate influence in government. But unlike the Tea Party, the Coffee Party believes that government has a significant and perhaps even a positive role to play, if we the people will only get involved in it.

The film's website does not say when "9500 Liberty" will be available, but last night a professor of immigration studies at W&M said that she had seen many movies on this issue, and this one was "fantastic." I agree. Check out the trailer here.