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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Peer Review Time: Law School Essay

Ok, Loves. I've finally got a decent draft of my law school admission essay, and I'd be grateful if I could get a little feedback on it. Feel free to criticize large things like sentence structure or content, or small things like word choice or word order. Criticize anything at all. You can even do so anonymously if that makes you feel safe.

I'm going to be submitting the applications as soon as tomorrow evening (Oct. 1) and no later than on Friday, so feedback of the ASAP variety would be much obliged. Thanks!

Sra





It’s a day like any other day. I’m sitting in the front seat of my 1991 Buick Park Avenue with the windows rolled down, inviting in the gentle breeze of late summer that whispers of approaching autumn. My left foot rests on the dash next to the steering wheel, and my right side leans into the armrest that divides my seat from the empty passenger’s seat next to me. It’s quiet, apart from the rustling sound of my fingers flipping open the jewel case of Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism. I have long been a fan of Death Cab’s evocative indie melodies in combination with Ben Gibbard’s poetic lyrics, and so after I slip the disc into the Park Avenue’s stereo, I remove the booklet from the CD case so I may scan the lyrics. But as I flip the booklet open, my eyes immediately fall upon words which are not part of Gibbard’s lyrics: “Legal: Conrad Rippy / Levine, Plotkin & Menin, LLP”. And that’s the moment I know I’m going to law school. But to put this moment in perspective, a little background is called for.

My journey toward law school began at the end of my junior year of college in 2004. I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degrees in German and linguistics at the University of Utah, but I had developed no real plan for what to do after college. When I had decided upon my course of studies a couple years prior, I espoused the na├»ve notion that attaining my degrees would automatically set my future in motion, and that the details of my future career would take care of themselves. Now at the end of my junior year, I realized that my future was coming whether I was prepared for it or not. This reality loomed heavily like a storm threatening to break on the horizon. What would I do with myself once I graduated in a year? I hoped that I could figure that out over the course of the coming summer.

I signed up for an 8-week summer linguistics seminar on the subject of legal language. The class would help me in attaining my linguistics degree, but I was also interested in the subject based on my exposure to the legal field while working as a file clerk with a medical malpractice law firm for the previous two years. After the legal language seminar, I would be departing on my second study abroad program to Germany for the last month of summer to help finish up the necessary credits for my German degree.

The legal language seminar approached the legal world from a linguistic perspective. It explored issues like the tendency of legal language to alienate people who are not well versed in it. In pondering this divisive nature of legalese, I wondered whether there might be a way to bridge the gap between lawyer and layperson. It is laypeople, after all, whom the law is largely intended to serve. Why then shouldn’t the common person have better access to understanding the law? I learned that much of legal language is firmly ensconced in tradition, which explains the somewhat archaic phrasing and syntax and the prevalence of Latin terminology. But tradition aside, what purposes do the peculiarities of legal language serve in the law today? And more importantly, does legal language ever compromise justice, for instance when it is used in communications directed toward laypeople, as in the instructions to jury people during the process of voir dire?

These questions prompted me to consider pursuing a legal education, and I began preparations for the LSAT in anticipation of taking the test after I returned from Germany later that summer. The problem with this decision was that there was no particular reason that I wanted to study law other than that I was fascinated by legal language. But what would I do with a legal degree? I wasn’t sure that I could make a career as an expert of legal language, and even if I could, law school wasn’t necessarily the best avenue to achieve this end. I also wasn’t sure whether I was particularly interested in practicing law. By the time I went to Germany, and over the course of my month-long German language studies, I realized that the foundation supporting my decision to go to law school was rickety at best. So I shelved my law school plans and returned to the States to finish my undergraduate studies without having secured a plan for my future.

After that I did what every disillusioned graduate does when she realizes the mere attainment of a degree does not solve all of life’s problems: I sought gainful full-time employment in the real world while trying to figure out what it was, exactly, that I wanted to do with my life.

My love of language and fascination with legalese didn’t supply a satisfactory reason for me to go to law school. But I knew following my passion would be important for achieving a sense of fulfillment in whatever life path I ended up choosing. Still, I didn’t want to make the mistake of blindly following my passion without some purpose to guide me along that path. So in the summer of 2005, after I graduated college, I started thinking more seriously about another passion of mine – music – to see whether I could find purpose in that.

Music had always been a strong presence in my life. I grew up in a household of talented musicians, from my jazz piano playing father, to my classical flute playing mother, and finally to my bass playing brother who has managed to make a career for himself as a musician in Manhattan. Surrounded by these people, my childhood provided the perfect environment in which to develop a passion for music and an appreciation for artistic creation in general.

I spent my adolescent years developing my own musical skills playing the saxophone in my junior high and high school bands. But in college I really hit my stride as a musician when I took up the guitar. Suddenly the creation of music became something completely personal. With my saxophone I was a player in the team performance of other people’s songs, which was fulfilling in its own right, but didn’t satisfy my longing to create something of my own. With the guitar suddenly music became my own creation. I began writing my own melodies and lyrics, and I found that even in playing someone else’s piece, I could adapt it to my own tastes and make it my own by adding a different spin to the melody or rhythm. I was no longer confined to my role as a performer; I was also an artist.

As I cultivated this passion for musical creation, I gave some thought to trying my hand at the world of professional musicianship. But ultimately I felt that my passion for creating music, like my passion for the language of law, also constituted a path without a solid purpose. Creation for its own sake seemed so meaningless. What I really longed for was a reason to celebrate my passions, and a mode through which to do so. So I kept music as a hobby but shelved it as a potential career.

The winter after my graduation from college, I took a job as a legal secretary at an intellectual property law firm and was quickly introduced to the legal side of the creative world. My eyes were opened to an area of the law that I had previously not considered during my experience working at the medical malpractice firm. Intellectual property was about celebrating creation and cultural progress; it had substance, cultural relevance, and purpose.

Which brings me back to this moment in the car. This seemingly insignificant moment constitutes a significant moment of clarity in which I realize that my passions for music and artistic creation on the one hand, and for language and legal structures on the other hand could be combined with the spirit of cultural progress prevalent in intellectual property to create a career path with a purpose. This is a path that I finally feel good about following, and it is with excitement that I approach law school as the first step on this journey.






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9 comments:

Sarah said...

Well done.

B.R. said...

This is a solid piece. The reason why it reads well is because it oozes honesty.
Now to the critique.
The first paragraph takes the reader on a journey to your narrative. That is good. You want to grab your readers' attention, of course. However, the register is slightly colloquial. Did you make that decision deliberately?
Economize on the first sentence....i.e., 'a day like any other.'
Also, since not many committee people might know who DCfC are, [I know, how dare they!] it would be good to contextualize the music selection a bit. The idea is to have your readers follow you with a good measure of facility, ja?
So something like, listening to the music of DCfC, a contemporary group of artists from the Pacific Northwest, or sth akin to this, might be an idea.... Creating an umbrella of healthy context will allow the reader to get absorbed in your story, as they should be. This is a genuine story and you need to help your readers to get absorbed in it.
Now, about the conclusion, I think it would help if you provide more information re: your present interest in Law. Why is it exactly that you want to pursue Law? You inform the reader that you have spent much time and have received formal training in Ling. and language-related things et al., but it would also help if you list some specific short and long term goals as they pertain to your future pursuit of Law. What would you like to do with a degree in Law? State your interest in the field more matter-of-factly and market the good product that is you more directly and firmly. Statements like, I will become a lawyer so that..... My practicing of Law will consist of....., As a lawyer I would like to do the following: .....
Now, true, your interest in the field is bound to shift and morph into other things, that is what happens when you're engaged in post-graduate studies, however, stating some current academic interests as they relate to Law would be a good idea.
Overall, a solid piece. Mostly because it's unique, current, and informing of you.
Thanks for sharing and best of luck with this process. I am confident you will end up in your program of choice. Fingers crossed!!

Trovan said...

Very well written. I realize you may have already sent this off, but good job.

You have successfully fought the urge to sound like a pretentious little college girl. Usually when I read this sort of thing, all it is is a bunch of "HEY, LOOK AT ME!" sentences strung together.

tauns said...

The first paragraph really draws the reader in. Like Trovan, I liked that this wasn't a "From the moment I had my 1st grade career day, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer" letter. You were honest and didn't make it appear that being a lawyer was a dream from a child. Rather, this was a decision you made consciously as an adult, not some childhood dream you are fulfilling because you don't know what else to do. I really liked that!

Ben Sloan said...

I'll print it off and go over it over my lunch break at work, and email you the results tonight.

Sra said...

Thanks everyone, it's officially done, and the applications are submitted. You were all very helpful with your comments and criticisms, and my essay is definitely stronger in its final version thanks to your help.

Now if I could just get you all to come to law school with me, I'd never have to worry ;)

Ben Sloan said...

I'll print it off and go over it over my lunch break at work, and email you the results tonight.

tauns said...

The first paragraph really draws the reader in. Like Trovan, I liked that this wasn't a "From the moment I had my 1st grade career day, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer" letter. You were honest and didn't make it appear that being a lawyer was a dream from a child. Rather, this was a decision you made consciously as an adult, not some childhood dream you are fulfilling because you don't know what else to do. I really liked that!

B.R. said...

This is a solid piece. The reason why it reads well is because it oozes honesty.
Now to the critique.
The first paragraph takes the reader on a journey to your narrative. That is good. You want to grab your readers' attention, of course. However, the register is slightly colloquial. Did you make that decision deliberately?
Economize on the first sentence....i.e., 'a day like any other.'
Also, since not many committee people might know who DCfC are, [I know, how dare they!] it would be good to contextualize the music selection a bit. The idea is to have your readers follow you with a good measure of facility, ja?
So something like, listening to the music of DCfC, a contemporary group of artists from the Pacific Northwest, or sth akin to this, might be an idea.... Creating an umbrella of healthy context will allow the reader to get absorbed in your story, as they should be. This is a genuine story and you need to help your readers to get absorbed in it.
Now, about the conclusion, I think it would help if you provide more information re: your present interest in Law. Why is it exactly that you want to pursue Law? You inform the reader that you have spent much time and have received formal training in Ling. and language-related things et al., but it would also help if you list some specific short and long term goals as they pertain to your future pursuit of Law. What would you like to do with a degree in Law? State your interest in the field more matter-of-factly and market the good product that is you more directly and firmly. Statements like, I will become a lawyer so that..... My practicing of Law will consist of....., As a lawyer I would like to do the following: .....
Now, true, your interest in the field is bound to shift and morph into other things, that is what happens when you're engaged in post-graduate studies, however, stating some current academic interests as they relate to Law would be a good idea.
Overall, a solid piece. Mostly because it's unique, current, and informing of you.
Thanks for sharing and best of luck with this process. I am confident you will end up in your program of choice. Fingers crossed!!

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