30 March 2009

Timing

I know I haven't updated in a while, but believe me, it is not because there isn't stuff to talk about! I am bursting with news, updates, decisions. But we don't want the wrong news falling into the wrong hands right now, so I can't say anything at the moment : (

So I'll update with something practical. Two books came highly recommended to us as preparation for law school: Law School Confidential and Getting to Maybe. We only have the former at the moment. We'll probably buy the latter once my husband finishes some of his other reading. Getting to Maybe (we've heard) talks a lot about how different law school is from any other type of college in the world. In most schools, there is a black and a white, but law school deals a lot with the gray, which can be difficult for people to grasp. Law School Confidential bills itself as "A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students" (sic).

We heard from several professors during visitations that Law Preview is not necessary. They recommended saving our money and enjoying our summer. Once we got the brochure in the mail and I saw the $1200 price tag, I agreed. My husband is enrolled in a speed reading course at Washtenaw Community College. It is one of those life-long learning classes, so we didn't have to worry about applying, registration, etc. It is only six weeks long and entirely online. He is a rather slow reader and we didn't want the normal 4-6 hours of reading a day to become 6-8. It starts tax day, so I'll let you know how beneficial it is.

Law School Confidential lists "Ten things you must do before classes begin." I'll give you the six we're supposed to do before we arrive on campus.

1. Read their book cover to cover. They highly recommend reading the entire thing before law school beings, then re-reading the appropriate chapter as the student progresses through law school. My husband is working his way through it right now, learning a fair bit, and feeling more prepared for law school. I recommend that you buy your husbands this book and read it when he is done with it.

*2. Arrange for housing. Now, the book assumes all its readers are single. My blog assumes all its readers are married. Step #2 is your job! The student is too busy preparing, working, etc. So the responsibility to do all the leg work is in your hands. Find a list of apartments that meet both of your initial qualifications (price, location, layout), find some houses or condos available for rent. As soon as the deposit is paid, start visiting! More about this later, as Matt and I start our hunting.

3. Use the summer to get in shape. If your student starts a regiment now, when they are not super-busy, it'll be easier to keep later, when all they can think about is law school. They also say that building oneself up now, pre-law school, will help deal them deal with the rigors and stresses that classes bring. I am a bit skeptical about the second half of that logic because I have never, in all my preparation, and all our visits, heard that we should workout before going to law school. Everyone says "Enjoy your summer! Because it's going to be your last!" But never "work-out." However, because our society struggles so much with weight and since exercise is healthy, I am going along with this advice.

Because I am unemployeed, I already work out 3-4 a week. Getting my husband to the gym, however, is a much different story. He never feels like it, he never wants to, he gets grouchy when I push him. Sometimes I just deal with his grouchiness and push him anyway, but not usually. Thankfully he loves hiking and biking, so whenever the weather is nice, we go for a walk after work. Once the temperatures rise, getting him to exercise will be much easier. Once we get into law school, I'll try to keep him active by using exercise time to help him study (I'll have his notes on my treadmill, and I'll shout out questions to him who will have to answer from his note-less treadmill. That is the current plan anyway.

*4. Read now, sign up later. The author recommends keeping all the flyers you get for discount laundry services, law-school only services and clubs, limited-time offer computer sales, etc, but not signing up until you arrive on campus. That way you'll be able to talk to L2s and L3s about what services and clubs are worth the effort and which aren't. It promises that all those "one-time" offers will return...which I believe.

5. Buy a computer. Currently, I have a MacBook and he has a Dell desktop, so we're working on this step. A Mac or a Windows? A basic model or something with more power and capabilities? My husband isn't worried about the weight or size of his laptop, but I know walking and biking to class at some point with either a big heavy Vaio and a small, light MacBook, that even a few extra pounds will feel like a ton in a very short amount of time.

Most programs are designed to work both on Macs and on Windows, on Firefox (there is a Mac version) and in Internet Explorer. But fairly often, I run across some flash-based program, or some secure site and I can't contine with my viewing, or purchasing, or whatever on my MacBook and I have to fire up my husband's desktop and finish my task. Of course, nowadays, we can always buy a Mac and partition the hard drive, so he can still do both. Plus, that way he can run mostly in Mac version to avoid viruses! (One of my biggest computer fears). We still can't decide between a little $500 nothing from Dell/Gateway/HP or a $1000 MacBook with a partitioned hard drive. I prefer the latter, but $500 is a lot of money to save.

7. Check-in with the Registrar. Mostly he says gather up a folder and put multiple copies of every important document in it. This way, when people want a copy for an internship, graduation, a clerkship, it'll be much faster and your student will look more professional. He also recommends getting an up-to-date passport in case some big shot wants to take them to London to work on a case or something. We already have valid passports. We'll take care of the folder this summer too.

There you have it, the Law School Confidential official list of what-to-do the summer before law school along with where we stand in the mess. Once we get settled in our first semester, I think I'll create my own list.

21 March 2009

Choosing a School

Once the letters arrived, our work started to pile up again. After recently being laid off due to the recession, I had tons of time to research. I put myself in charge of scheduling law school visits, and keeping track of the scholarship information. I researched the cost of tuition per year, the cost of living in the various cities. I arranged the campus visits and urged my husband to make question lists.

Campus visits were quite a lot of fun. Our first was at Michigan State University. At the time, we weren’t intending to attend MSU. We chose to visit for a number of reasons. First, because we were both grads wanting to visit our Alma mater and we had a free parking pass. And second, since it fell so early compared to the other visits, we thought it would be good preparation for visits to our “serious schools.” We learned two things as a result of our experience: First, never close a door to an opportunity until you have made a final decision; and second, go to as many campus visits as you can.

MSU shocked us with their professionalism, their seriousness, and their preparation for our visit. The went from being number seven (out of eight) on my husband’s list to number three. We went in with open minds and took copious notes. We also noted what questions students asked that were good and revealed much about the school, which allowed us to ask better questions at the other schools. They most certainly set the bar for what to expect, and they did an excellent job. We also attended Wayne State University’s campus, which was my husband's second choice school. WSU was so unprepared for us, they had such a dissapointing student and faculty panel, their presentations were such a disaster, that we really began to see the difference between the calibur of the two schools. So the number two school fell back to number seven and boosted MSU up one more spot. We also confirmed that the number one school, Ave Maria, was really number one.

It is very important for a law school wife to attend the campus visits. Remember that the wife is going to be right next to the student every step of the way! Not to mention that she’ll think of questions, remember facts, and give fresh insight to each of the curriculum. Lots of students bring their parents, siblings, and spouses. Some schools even have “spouse and parent” meetings while the students attend a mock class! At every single event that we went to, discussion we had, meeting we observed, the topic of being married and having children in law school surfaced. I took lots of notes and asked lots of questions (which I’ll post later : )

This brings me to another point, talk to people! Encourage your husband and ask questions yourself during the student and teacher panels, find professors outside of the visit day to email, talk to students who attend the school but are not on the student panel, see if anyone in the family knows someone who attended the school your hubby is interested in attending. Talk to everyone you know who has ever attended any law school. For the schools we’d have to relocated to, I pulled faculty members aside and asked about that city’s job opportunities. The best way to find out what being a law school wife is like, is to ask your most pressing questions. Identify your biggest fears, put them in question form, and ask how the other women dealt with it. I promise you that there are several other women wondering the exact same question.

After the campus visits, we had to pick a law school. I asked my husband what he wanted to do with his degree, forced him to vocalize his five and ten year ambitions. I researched companies he liked, printed my findings, researched the credentials of the men he wanted to be. I encouraged him to talk to everyone he knew who’d been to law school. We spent countless days pouring over prospectuses, notes, career placement rates, and intern/externship rates.

The question your husband needs to ask himself, and be able to clearly vocalize, is "what kind of lawyer do I want to be/what kind of law do I want to practice?" The next step is obvious, but still often overlooked: find the schools that churn out the kind of lawyers he wants to be. We found during our visits that many people chose the school they did because of it's proximity to family. If that needs to be a deciding factor, then so be it, but proximity alone does not make a law school, and in my opinion, that is a recipe for disaster.

My husband wants to be a religious freedom lawyer who writes and is published in a theory-based publication, but also has a large roll in mostly state-level litigation. He is open to federal-level litigation and has an interest in a few other types of law, which have nothing to do with the first amendment, but are more marketable, so we'll investing with career services the best classes to take, but his dream, what he really strives for, we found at the school that has been his top choice since he started looking at law schools.

19 March 2009

Sacrificing

Being a law school wife means sacrificing. Thankfully, I'm Catholic, so I can offer my sufferings up to God and have them be worth something not only in this world (my husband's betterment), but for the state of my family and friend's souls, or for whomever else I offer them up. I try not to spend much time dwelling on what I'm sacrificing, because I know that my husband is sacrificing a lot as well. But I do want to discuss them a little bit, because of the future law school wives who'll need to know.

The pre-L1 sacrifices:

1. Time. Most of my weekends recently have been spent visit law schools. That means that we missed parties, hanging out with our friends, sleep (going to bed late, getting up early)

2. Money. Visiting Florida takes a lot of money, as does registering for the LSAT, the LSAC, and applying to schools, and we've bought books that current students recommend. In the future, I foresee us needing to buy him a laptop, and all the software he'll need.

3. Us. Just like any other venture, we had to put in a lot of initial time, which meant less time for us to be together. When we have a free evening now, we feel a little guilty, like we're skipping an obligation or something.

4. My higher education. I've always wanted to go to grad school. Ever since I was in high school, I knew I wanted at least a master's degree. Throughout college I discovered that I wanted to be a librarian. I applied and got into WSU, but we don't know where we're going. Of course we could really try to secure me a school, maybe live between cities so that we each commute an hour, take out a few more loans. It isn't that my husband is unwilling, it's that I can't ask that of him. I do not want to have the both of us in school. With the money, time, and pressure demands, I don't want to see what would happen to our marriage.

5. Our family. We both want to have kids, but that is simply not an option right now. As much as it is difficult, we are careful NFPers. Obviously kids in law school is do-able, we know several families who are living that, or just finished living it, right now. Mabye once we move and get settled, but not in the immediate future.

I'm not unhappy, by any means. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to give these things up, I really am. On a cheesy level, I want to see my husband succeed, and I'm excited to see him support people's freedom OF religion once he graduates. On a more selfish level, if we invested this much time and money into me, I would have to "bring home the bacon" and I'm glad I don't have that pressure. I would much rather raise kids than a paycheck. Also, I'm not a particularly smart or pretty individual; I don't think I'm worth all that effort. On a spiritual level, just imagine all the Graces I'll rack up in the process of minimizing myself ; )

15 March 2009

The Application Process

“I don’t know what to write!” I must have heard my fiancé shout a hundred times. He was stuck on his personal statement. No matter how many outlines we took, how many ideas I jotted down, he didn’t know where to go. Now, with my background as an English major, and my experience working in a Writing Center, I know all the tricks in the book to overcome writer’s block. One thing I don’t know, is how to administer motivation. I am worried that his frustration and anger management will set him up poorly for the rigors and stresses of law school. I did what I could to mitigate his anger by letting him release some and talking him through the rest. It didn’t always work, but I learned how to hear my husband angry, and understand that his suffering was helping him deal with his emotions.

The months ticked by and little work progressed on the personal statement. As we neared our wedding date (spring of 2008), law school officially hit the back burner. We moved in to our first apartment together and went on our honeymoon. Once we were back, settled, and established in our routine as a married couple, law school started to creep back into our thoughts. It was now late summer/early fall 2008: the original date he’d hoped to be in school. He needed to seriously ask himself what he wanted to do with his life.

We saw three options: 1. keep working where we were; 2. get a new job, one he really wanted, with his current degree; or 3. go back to school. The job he was currently working was nice, honest work with great coworkers. They liked to promote from the inside and we could live decently off his current pay. But we knew he’d never be truly happy. As his wife, I asked myself what life would be like with my corporate-working husband. Would he be happy when he came home from work in five years? What would he tell his friends when they asked what he did? Would he be proud of himself and his accomplishments? I had to honestly answer “no." We then researched the types of fields he was interested in pursuing and discovered that he would need more than just a Bachelor’s degree. We drew out a time-line diagram for each possible route, and what would happen if kids were added to the mix, etc. But with numbers one and two off the list, we knew that left only once choice: it was law school for us.

We went back to the application process. He followed up with professors to get in letters of recommendation, we spent hours on the personal statement. He’d write, I’d edit, he’d save as a new draft, repeated the processes over and over again until we were on draft 12.2. Since he worked 40 hours a week and I only worked part time, I did what I could for him, I researched all the ABA accredited law schools that met my husband’s requirements, I fixed his resume for him. Our evenings were still filled with law school stuff, but I wanted to make them as streamline as possible, getting as much done as I could. In many ways, I felt like his personal assistant. I made his lunch, cleaned the apartment, scheduled dentist appointments for him, did the laundry, managed his to-do list. I never felt bitter, in fact, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough! My husband worked 40 hours a week, then came home to work on personal statements and getting application fee-wavers. He told me time and time again that he felt like he was on the ball because of all that I did. It was a very important lesson for me in putting myself second. I’m trying to pack in as many selfless lessons as I can before law school begins. From what I hear, it’s quite the bear.

I think one of the most important things for law school wives to realize at this stage of the application process, is that nothing will go according to the original time-line. When people asked, I told them we’d know where he got accepted by Thanksgiving and where we were going by Christmas. And in the fall of 2008, that was an honest answer with a viable schedule. But as professors held us up and resumes needed to be reformatted, we found ourselves waiting until December to apply, and February before the schools replied. As it turned out, we didn’t know where we were going until March, three months off schedule.

Once we finally got all the resumes, personal statements, transcripts, letters of recommendation, car accident explanation forms (believe or not, they require one) submitted, we could sit back and relax! We started focusing on our social life again, reading more, watching movies together. It was quite a wonderful break while we waiting for the law school acceptance letters to arrive. I'm glad we savored it, because our difficulties didn't end there...

14 March 2009

From high school to LSAT

When I met my husband in high school, I knew he was meant to be something political. He was chocked full of political knowledge and opinions. Academically gifted and motivationally driven, he applied solely to Michigan State University, went to James Madison College and majored in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy. It wasn’t until he gradated in 2006 with his Bachelor’s of Arts that he slowed down. At this point he didn’t know what he wanted to do. After a few years in the workforce, he prepped for the LSAT, the post-undergraduate exam students take to get into law school. He was scheduled to take it in September 2007.

When people asked me what my fiancé wanted to be, I told them the truth: a lawyer. Everyone had their two cents. I was going to be rich and would need to remember them and share the wealth. I better not plan on ever seeing my husband again. I heard about so-and-so’s problem and was insisted upon to remember it once my husband passed the bar. We even got phone calls from family wondering about different legal situations: all before he’d even applied! I found the entire thing mildly amusing. I thought a little about what life would be like married to a lawyer. I knew the statistics, that most lawyers don’t make six figures, that they don’t live in mansions and drive fancy cars. I knew they worked long hours. I think my realistic, surface as it was, understanding of what law school entailed, has set me up with good expectations of what to expect once we reach that stage of our lives.

The months leading up to the LSAT were somewhat difficult. He didn’t want to take a formal class due to the cost, so he bought a few books from the bookstore and called it good. From then on, study enveloped him. Four nights a week usually, plus a few hours each day of the weekend, he would spend locked in his room studying. We were engaged at the time, and the nights we’d hang out, I’d read a book on his bed, while he sat two feet away at this desk, pencil in hand. I’d make and serve him dinner, he’d eat, and I’d clean up. Each time he finished a practice section, he’d grade himself and if he hadn’t improved from the last test, he’d get furious. The book was thrown, curse words were yelled at it, pages torn, every time the poor book dared to question my fiancé’s answers. It was our first law school sacrifice, so to us, it was a big deal.

Thankfully, all his hard work paid off, he got an excellent score on his LSAT. We were stoked. We studied the “entering class profiles” for the law schools, checked and double checked his LSAT and GPA to determine his likelihood of getting accepted and getting scholarships. We laid out timelines: apply now, get accepted in the spring, go to school in the fall of 2008. Perfect. But as the days wore on, the timeline was stretched out. On top of the standard application, he needed personal statements, a resume, letters of recommendation, and a whole lot of money. As we quickly learned, a middle man was necessary for applying to law school. LSAC, the Law School Admission Council ran an Law School Data Assembly Service to which we needed to submit everything and professors’ letters needed to be sent directly to the school. With all this confusion, and all these steps, it was not long into 2008 that we hit another road block.

13 March 2009

In The Beginning

I knew long before I married what my husband wanted to do and that our marriage would have to endure three years of, from what I've heard, hell. He asked me if I knew what I was getting myself into. I did. Some women marry men with houses, jobs, and cars. They get hitched, start a family, and live happily ever after. I was tying the knot, moving randomly around the country, watching as my husband made his second home in a library, and spending more time with books than with me.

Hello everyone, my name is Jacqueline, and I'm a law school wife.


Well, almost.

My husband will be attending law school this fall and I want to document our journey. I want to record the emotional, mental, physical (?), spiritual, and financial stress that the "brutal machine" that is law school enacts on a married couple. I will soon record our pre-journeys: where we started and how we got to a point where we are now selecting a law school to attend. Believe it or not, that in itself is quite a road.

If you're thinking about being a law school wife, stay tuned; I have a feeling this journey is going to be quite the experience.