Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Upcoming Term and Proposition 8

As a student currently taking a constitutional law class, one of my first thoughts this semester was, “Wow. My Con Law book is enormous.” In fact, I recently heard an undergrad say to his friend, “Is that guy reading the dictionary?” as they walked past me while I studied. Fortunately for me, I find most of my Con Law cases interesting. Unfortunately for future law students, that textbook is about to get bigger.

The new SCOTUS term is set to start this next week (October 3rd), and it has the potential to be one of the most influential terms in recent memory. The Court already has cases on its docket regarding ministerial exceptions and searches and seizures. However, there is a good chance the Court will also address such hot-button issues as affirmative action, immigration (Arizona’s SB 1070 case), “Obamacare,” California’s Prop 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act. Although all these topics can spark vigorous debate, the topic LDS attorneys and law students are most likely to have strong opinions about is same-sex marriage.

Although there is potential for Prop 8 (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) to be heard by the US Supreme Court this term, in my opinion it will not happen. In January the 9th Circuit Court certified a question to the California Supreme Court regarding the defendants’ standing. The California Supreme Court heard oral argument on the question earlier this month, and their decision is still pending. Simply put, this gives the Prop 8 case two possible paths: (1) the CA Supreme Court can decide there is no standing, potentially resulting in a dismissal, and (2) the CA Supreme Court can decide there is standing, allowing the 9th Circuit to make a decision on the appeal. If option 2 occurs, I think we can all agree that no matter what they decide, the case will be appealed to the US Supreme Court. However, the chances of the Supreme Court granting certiorari before this next term ends are relatively slim. One thing is certain, though: this could be a blockbuster term for the United States Supreme Court, one that will force future Con Law students to spend even more time hitting the books.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lawyers as Problem Solvers

A couple of years ago, before I started law school, I worked at my dad’s firm. He does a lot of contract drafting for commercial developments, and his partner does construction litigation. As I spoke to my dad’s partner one afternoon, he clarified the difference between those two fields of law in a way that stuck with me. He said, “your dad prevents problems, and I clean up problems.” My dad, who happened to be in the vicinity, responded by saying, “many attorneys forget that we are not here to create problems, but to resolve them.” As a clerk at a family law firm this summer, I realized that those words are not only applicable to any field of law, but they are also important to remember as we work with clients that are passing through very difficult experiences.

Today I received an email with a link to a talk by James E. Faust, which was posted on YouTube by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. The video, entitled “Lawyers as Healers,” discusses the duties we, as attorneys (or future attorneys), have to society, and how we can best fulfills those duties. President Faust counsels, “you need to be more than skilled advocates, you need to be decent human beings trying to solve problems.” Of course, this is counsel that is applicable to all attorneys, and not just those of the LDS faith.

As I watched the video I was reminded of a talk by Boyd K. Packer that I read during my 1L year. In that talk President Packer declares, “The Lord needs you who are trained in the law. You can do for this people what others cannot do . . . You have, or should have, the spirit of discernment. It was given you when you had conferred upon you the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This counsel is both humbling and ennobling. Although President Faust’s words are applicable to all attorneys, President Packer notes that there is an added responsibility for lawyers within the church. If we live up to that responsibility by trying our best to resolve problems, we can bring peace to the lives of our clients and fulfillment to our own lives.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Reality of Student Loans

“Yep. It’s not just monopoly money anymore.”

My wife received her student loan information in the mail a few days ago, and the reality of our student loans hit us both pretty heavily. As I work on my JD, my wife is concurrently working on her MSW. And, like most grad students in general, we rely on student loans to help us pay for those extra letters we’ll add to the end of our names on graduation day and that piece of paper we’ll frame and put in our office (about half of law students graduate with at least $100k in student loans). Knowing that we don’t need to worry about making payments on the loans until we graduate tends to make the loans seem almost fake. However, the reality of the fact that we are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, thanks to student loans, has hit us hard.

This moment of enlightenment (discouragement?) is compounded by the current state of the economy and the job market. It causes me to wonder: How long will it take us to pay off these loans? Will we ever pay off the loans at all? Will I find a good job after I graduate? Where can I find a cardboard box large enough for my wife and I to live in? I’ve always believed that a legal education is something I will never regret obtaining. I still feel that way. The real question, however, is how long it will take after graduation before my family and I can live comfortably.

Fortunately, I attend one of the law schools on this list, which means I won’t have over $100k in student debt when I graduate (interesting sidenote: 5 of the top 10 “Mormon Friendly Law Schools” from 2010 are mentioned on the list). As a result, I’ll either be able to pay off my student loans more quickly or buy some Wendy’s chicken nuggets.