Saturday, February 9, 2013

What I am learning in law school

      This semester my school cranked up the heat for us ILs by requiring us to take an additional class. Now my weekly course load includes: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Property, Torts, Legal Research and Writhing (Global Lawyering Skills GLS) and Criminal Law. Over the past few weeks I feel like I have been learning some very transferrable life skills, some technical legal skills that will only be applicable in my life as a lawyer and learning about some laws that make me very sad/angry/frustrated.

Transferrable Life Skills
Recently in Property we have been learning about leasing and buying real property (land/houses). I have been paying close attention because I realized I know next to nothing about that topic. I have leased residential property a few times in my life but I certainly did not take a close look at the lease to learn my legal rights and responsibilities. I realize now that a more careful read of a lease could protect me in the future as a renter, and that if I need to, I can even negotiate the terms to get a better deal (not necessarily in price, but it terms to security and amenities). And, when the time comes, I am equipped with a basic understanding of buying property. I know the basics of how the sale of real property works from purchase agreement, to examining the title, to mortgage and closing. I understand the fundamentals of what types of deeds and securities exist and which ones protect the buyer the most. It is nice to know that when Tim and I buy our first home we will be coming into the process armed with substantially more know-how than many first time home buyers so we will be able to make sure we are getting a good deal and will be safe from problems down the road.

Technical (read: boring) lawyerly skills
If I tried to explain the complex rules of submitting a pleading to court and what one must disclose at the discovery phase of a trial, I would bore you to sleep.  However, these are crucial skills that I am developing in my Civil Procedure class. This week, we are participating in a simulation of the discovery phase and I may have the opportunity to conduct a mock deposition. The technical rules are complicated but the rules of procedure are so important for a good lawyer to know to make sure that the client doesn’t lose their case on technical errors. Although the class is tedious at times, I feel like I am being well prepared, not only to pass the Bar exam in a few years, but also to earn the (hopefully) big bucks that people pay for a top notch attorney who can work the rules of procedure to conduct an efficient trial from the initial filing of the complaint, through discovery and all the way to the judgment.

Laws that Make me Mad
I have unaffectionately dubbed last week, “Rape Week” at school. In our criminal law class we focused on rape law and read case after graphic case illustrating the complex analysis of rap law. It was so upsetting to read detailed descriptions of these horrible, brutal sexual assaults. As I read the cases, I tried to focus on the law but it is hard to read those cases without thinking of all the beautiful women I know. It was hard not to imagine each cousin, friend and mother in the place of the women in these cases. The infuriating part was two-fold:
First, rape law is in need of serious reform. Each jurisdiction has a different definition of the crime of rape. The most common similarities are that the prosecution must prove that the intercourse was done with “force” and/or “without consent”. Now, most young women I know have heard the quip, “No means no”. Well, it turns out in many courts, even if a woman says no, she might still not be able to win on a conviction of rape because she cannot prove “forcible compulsion”. The opinions I read brought in supporting facts from the surrounding circumstances to try to prove that the women consented. Facts such as; she went into his dorm room willingly, she was murmuring “no” passionately, she didn’t scream or scratch or run away, therefore she must have consented. Those of you who know me, can anticipate why this makes me so mad. What happened to “no means no”?!? Rape law today often requires victims of the most invasive, degrading crime to stand up for themselves. If a woman were robbed, we wouldn’t be asking why she didn’t stand up to the robber and defend herself. Yet we do with rape.
The second thing that made me just sick to my stomach, was listening to some of my classmates adopt and defend this position. I am slightly embarrassed because at the end of Rape Week, I couldn’t play nice anymore and so I jumped up on my proverbial feminist soapbox and spoke out in class. The gist of my position was that we should have a criminal system that does not require the victim to magically produce evidence that proved her subjective mindset that she did not consent. Instead, we should shift the burden to the defendant and ask him, what led him to believe that the intercourse was consensual. I know it flies in the face of the traditional process of criminal justice to place the burden on the defendant, but frankly I would like to hear how the defendants in rape cases can justify why they thought the sex was consensual when the victim was crying, or muttering “No, I need to leave” or asking questions like “If I do what you want, will you not kill me?”. These were examples from actual cases that we read and some of my classmates tried to argue, with these facts, that there was not enough evidence of force to find a conviction of rape! Seriously, what the hell?!?
Despite my frustration, I am glad we engaged in these conversations. I know there were men in my classroom who had never heard some of the counter arguments that I, and some other of my colleagues, were espousing in class. Our assigned reading consisted of some brutally honest feminist scholars discussing rape law reform with much more authority than I can. I think it was good for all of us, young attorneys to-be to gain insight to different positions from those that we were familiar with growing up.
Whereas I am unfamiliar with issues regarding buying and selling real property, I certainly had my fair share of exposure to women’s rights issues growing up in a feminist community in Santa Cruz. And, as my mom and I have to remind ourselves often, not everyone was raised in a women’s circle. So, perhaps my colleagues may be more familiar with discussions of estates and trusts than women’s rights, but we are all learning and filling in the gaps in our experience to become well rounded, level-headed legal scholars. Little by little, week by week. I hope. 

If you want to stand up against violence against women, check out One Billion Rising:



On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 14 February 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.
What does ONE BILLION look like? On 14 February 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.


A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

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