Hello, my name is Thomas Just. I grew up in Indianapolis as a national gymnast. After high school I joined the U.S. Air Force and traveled the world as an intelligence analyst for six years. Then I took off the uniform and studied Philosophy and Government as a Longhorn at the University of Texas at Austin. During my undergraduate studies I became heavily involved in politics and was fortunate enough to become a Congressional Aide. During that time I became fascinated with the process of law. Though the decision to go to law school can be daunting it became clear to me that Seattle University School of Law is where I belong. When I am not studying I enjoy photography and playing competitive chess.
So unlike undergrad, my law school summers will not really be a break. This summer I will be working for the Attorney General’s Office as a law clerk. I am looking forward to taking a break from hypotheticals and doing actual legal work. It is the perfect fit for me, in that way I will be doing primarily intellectual property work; but will also be able to dabble in a wide range of legal areas. This month, for my legal writing class, I turned in my first memo regarding a real life client. It was also the first time I turned in a piece of legal writing that I felt really good about. Up until now legal writing has felt like trying to memorize enough foreign vocabulary and grammar to put together a coherent sentence. It was nice to finally turn in a piece of work that I knew conformed to the standards I expect of myself. The way I think about legal writing is a lot like chess. You first have to learn all of the rules before you can start being creative. Its just that this kind of writing contains more rules than I am accustomed to. Once the rules are absorbed they cease to eat up much of my mental energy when writing.
There is a trick to this law school thing and I call it escaping the bubble. The truth is law school can be all consuming. When law school students hang out they invariably start discussing, you guessed it, the law. While there is certainly a time and place for that, it is important I think to have some time outside of that environment. For some people this means quality alone time. For me its that plus time spent with people who are in no way connected to the legal world that I eat, sleep, and breath. The thing is I moved from Austin and didn’t really know many people when I got here. So it has taken me some time to make non-law school friends. In any case, I finally have and it has done wonders for giving me some perspective again on the real world. While I fully admit that law school students are definitely my people; if they become your entire world it can lead to a skewed and unhealthy perspective. Essentially I am talking about finding some semblance of balance while in law school.
I have also been spending a lot of my time this semester interviewing for summer legal positions. This includes updating my résumé and writing far too many cover letters. The interviews themselves have made me thankful that the Air Force provided me with an abundance of great stories that very effectively communicate why I am a great candidate. The Air Force also taught me how to iron with the best of them which helps me look good in an interview.
In terms of the classes themselves I have noticed that it takes me far less time to read the actual cases than it did last semester. It is just so much easier to tell the difference between what I can skim and what I need to pay close attention to. I also have a better idea on how I need to be preparing for the final exams; whereas last semester I just didn’t know what to expect on a law school final exam.
So break is over and its time to go back to the grind. No really break is over. I’m hoping if I keep repeating it, the message will sink in for me. The week after classes resumed my birthday fell on a three day weekend. So I went with some friends to Whistler for a ski trip. I am really starting to get used to living in the Pacific Northwest. It is absolutely gorgeous and I love to ski. Plus this grey and cool weather really works for me. No really I actually like it. This semester I get to take my first elective and I chose Intellectual Property. So far it seems like a fascinating course. It has also been really interesting seeing what elective my classmates have singed up for. I also think everyone is recalibrating their approach to this law school thing. We are all figuring out what works and how exams should be approached. Also, we are all updating resumes and cover letters for summer internship and externship opportunities. I am excited to actually do some real legal work this summer. I also get the sense that no one is intimidated by law school anymore and we have all sort of adjusted to this being our new normal.
Before coming to law school a friend of mine told me that the further you go into academia the more you become surrounded by your true peers. Most law school students are used to being at the top of the class. Being surrounded by an entire class of people who are just as smart, if not smarter, is a bit of an adjustment. I went to the University of Texas at Austin for my undergraduate where there are approximately 55,000 students. Now as a law school student I spend all of my time in one building surrounded by less than a thousand students. Additionally, law school grades are based off of a bell curve which means we cannot all get an A in every class. It is the month of December and I just finished taking my first round of law school final exams. I have definitely earned my christmas break! I don’t plan on looking at a book for the next three weeks. I know everyone is relieved to finally be done with finals; but I feel like I went from being swamped to having nothing to do. I plan on catching up on the last few months of sleep as quickly as possible.
I am looking forward to sleeping in again guilt free. Final exams are upon us and I am spending a lot of time making my outlines a thing out beauty. I am also trying to make my legal writing memo look like a polished piece of art. The good thing is that I feel like I am starting to see the forest through the trees. So much of the semester has been about granular analysis and the plain reading of statues. Its reassuring to begin to be able to put the seemingly disparate pieces into a cohesive picture. I used to play chess competitively and so being able to see the whole board and thus the big picture is necessary for me. I am very much a visual person.
It was really difficult to leave my friends behind in Austin Texas when I moved here. I didn't know what to expect in terms of settling in and creating a new network. My experience thus far in some ways reminds me of my time in the Air Force. I spend every day sitting next to the same people in class and am surrounded by some awesome people. While law school is competitive, that is not really the vibe I have found. Most take the attitude that we are all in this together and we are all trying to do our best to survive.
Law school has a way of taking over and rewiring your mind. I've even noticed the way I read and think has completely changed. As an example: I went into a restaurant the other day and someone had dropped a glass of beer. So there was broken glass on a wet floor. In my head, I immediately started doing a tort negligence analysis. What strikes me is that we all play by the same rules; but we do not all know what the rules are. This seems problematic to me for a number of reasons. In keeping with the Tort theme, I watched the new documentary called Hot Coffee and it was really interesting to see how that lined up with what I've been learning. Aside from that though because most people don't know how the law works, it allows major changes in our legal system with what I think is insufficient accountability. I've been thinking a lot about what my role should be in society once I pass the bar. Thus far I have been really fortunate to find a great group of fellow law school students who are asking many of the same questions. I'm also happy to have professors that take the time to tease out many of the ethical implications of the law in addition to ensuring their students know the law itself.
In terms of the work life balance in law school I have returned to Bikram Yoga and that has been amazingly helpful for my state of mind. There is a huge difference for me when I am consistently practicing. As a law school student I spend a disproportionate amount of time in my head. I think its incredibly important to have a time where you clear your mind and be physically present. I also need that physical exercise and the reminder to eat healthier foods. Managing stress is an absolute critical skill that yoga excels at teaching. This month I also had to fly home for a funeral and I have been really impressed at how understanding and flexible all of my professors have been. They have bent over backwards to make sure I got all of the materials and not fall behind.
I am also learning what kinds of law I find fascinating and am good at it. Criminal law, while interesting, is not my cup of tea. However, I love contracts and they feel very intuitive to me. This is sort of a relief to get into the weeds and find out there are areas of the law I seem to enjoy and excel in. Lastly, it does not rain here nearly as much as I was told it would before I got here.
I learned how to speak French as an undergraduate and was fortunate enough to do immersion while in Haiti for a summer. I remember feeling as though I was only grasping a fraction of what was going on. Fortunately, I embraced the experience and dove in headfirst. Slowly the language came together for me and the next thing I knew I was having a full blown political argument in French. At the moment, with regard to law school, I am in that former phase. So I am, once again, embracing the adventure of being thrown into the deep end. In the meantime, I'm just hoping it all comes together before the final exams.
I have noticed more than a few differences between undergrad and law school thus far. First, the reading assigned in law school is not a mere suggestion; it is absolutely necessary. Every class is run by the socratic method; which I prefer. The good thing is that as an undergraduate I took a lot of classes using this approach. By and large people dress a lot nicer and law school is a more professional environment. As a veteran there is something about an ironed shirt that makes me feel at home. I also appreciate the bluntness of my professors. So far they have let me know exactly what they expect and given corrections when needed. I am also starting to adjust to a new city. I moved to Seattle from Austin and when I left it was 103 degrees. I miss many things, but the heat is not one of them. Culturally these two cities have a lot in common, but Seattle feels bigger and more urban. I am loving the convenience of it all. Plus I am in coffee snob heaven. There are so many great coffee shops. So far Stumptown and Milstead are my favorites. I also joined the Seattle Chess Club and view the Friday evening rated game as my reward and escape for the week.