Sunday, January 31, 2016

About OCI

Let's talk about OCI.

OCI, or On-Campus Interviews, happen in the fall before the second year of law school. Dozens of employers come to interview students for jobs for the following summer (summer after second year). The vast majority of these employers are large law firms that employ hundreds of lawyers (referred to as BigLaw firms). These are firms that retain big clients like Apple, Boeing, or Caterpillar. These are the firms that pay their associates the most money; starting salary is $160,000, or $3,000 a week. For students strapped with debt, these jobs are quite attractive, and the vast majority of my classmates go toward these firms. At the end of the summer with the firm, most are offered a permanent job after they graduate, which most accept. This means that after only one year of school, many of my classmates knew where they would likely work after they graduate.

As you can imagine, competition for these jobs is fierce, and OCI is a very stressful experience. The interviews on campus last only 20 minutes, and interviewers are usually meeting with candidates back-to-back throughout the day. You need to make a strong first impression. Confident handshake. Winning smile. Thoughtful questions. Successful candidates are flown out to callback interviews at the firms to meet with more interviewers.

I went into OCI thinking that I wanted to work in the technology industry. I have worked in the industry before (although not from a technical standpoint), and believed that I could learn a lot from the experience. I spent countless hours researching firms and thinking up questions. I forget how many OCI interviews I had. Maybe 15? Maybe 20? The process was very stressful, and I had to find creative ways to deal with the stress. Right before an interview, I told one of my classmates that I sing to let off steam, which led to an impromptu rendition of "Love on Top" by Beyoncé, right on the spot.

OCI is stressful because a job is not guaranteed. Out of OCI, I got two callbacks, along with two other callbacks that I got through reaching out directly to the firms. None of those callbacks converted into offers. I got shut out at OCI. The story we hear in the first year is that the only people who don't get offers have bad grades, are terrible interviewers, or have miserable social skills. My grades were not the best, but were OK. I don't think that I'm a bad interviewer, but that's hard to tell. And I think I have decent social skills.

I was pretty bummed after I got shut out of OCI. I couldn't help second guessing my decisions. Maybe I should have studied harder. Maybe I should have done the writing competition and tried for a journal. Maybe I should have gone to another school.

But then I talked to my parents. They said to me, "We were surprised that you did OCI. We were expecting you to pursue public interest. Remember, we came to this country so that you would have the freedom to do what you love and not have money dictate your choices. Money should be the least consideration in where you work."

My parents are pretty great, especially because I know other parents (particularly immigrant parents) who would say something different.

My experience at OCI got me thinking about why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. I wanted to be a lawyer to gain skills to directly help others, particularly those who have no resources and no voice. I wanted to be a lawyer to live out my faith: care for the weak and vulnerable, the abandoned and oppressed. This path has led me in my current direction of pursuing a career in direct services, particularly in the intersection between housing and criminal justice.

In retrospect, I'm glad that I didn't get an offer from OCI, as going to work for a BigLaw firm would not have been the right fit for me. Maybe it's a good fit for other people. I know that for some people, the financial pressures are real, and the salary of BigLaw helps them support their families. I know that I'm fortunate to have parents who are financially stable and support my decision to pursue a career that will probably not pay very well. And I know that for some, the work of BigLaw is appealing, and they would choose to work there for a fraction of the salary.

But it's not for me. And that's OK.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Third and final CLF Auction

Last week was my third and final Chicago Law Foundation Auction. CLF is a student-run nonprofit that helps raise funds for public interest work at the school. Students who work at nonprofits or government agencies during the summer don't get paid by their jobs. Our school provides a stipend to help them get through the summer. CLF is one source of funding for those stipends.

CLF conducts various fundraising events throughout the year, including selling Law School merchandise. But our biggest event is the Auction. We collect donations from businesses, student groups, and professors. Some of these items are quite valuable. For example, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is an alum of the school. He donated two tickets to the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, which go for hundreds of dollars.

The Auction is also one of the best nights at the school, with live music and free food and drink. I'm happy that I got to play a part in school tradition. Although I'm a bit sad that my time at school is coming to a close, I'm glad that I got to make an impact.

What I really enjoy about working with CLF is how the funding can make all kinds of public interest work possible. Through this funding, students at our school can work on protecting victims of domestic violence, advocating for the homeless, pursuing innovative policy reforms, or any number of different causes.

As President of CLF, I have learned a lot about leadership and delegation through this role. Our team worked incredibly hard to make this Auction come together, and I am very proud of them.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

That Dragon, Cancer

Last week, I watched a playthrough of "That Dragon, Cancer". TDC is a video game made by Ryan and Amy Green, with the help of a few others. TDC follows Ryan and Amy and one of their sons, Joel. Joel was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer at the age of one. Although he was initially only given four months to live, Joel was able to live on for four more years.

TDC follows Ryan and Amy as they cope with the struggles of caring for Joel. In one scene, Ryan is in the hospital with Joel. It's late at night, and little Joel is crying. No, he's not crying. He's wailing. The pain in his head is too much to bear. He starts hitting his head against the bars of his crib. Playing as Ryan, you try to calm Joel down. You bounce him and hold him. He's still crying. You give him apple juice. He gulps it down greedily, then vomits it. This goes on for several minutes, as you desperately try to find a way to calm Joel down. Eventually, Ryan sits and prays. He prays that God would bring peace to his son. Suddenly, it's quiet. Joel is asleep. Peace. At least for tonight.

TDC also explores the role that faith plays for Ryan and Amy, both of whom are Christians. Amy earnestly believes that God will heal Joel of his cancer, that she would bear witness to a miracle. Ryan tries to believe, but finds himself struggling. He prays out of sheer desperation, with nowhere else to turn.

To say that one "plays" That Dragon, Cancer isn't quite accurate. There are some gameplay aspects about it, mostly surrounding exploration. Instead, it is an invitation into a very personal story. There is no simple answer, no magic cure that brings healing. But in the end, there is peace.

The game invites players to reflect on death, loss, and faith. I will hopefully never experience what Ryan had to go through in that long night in the hospital room, watching hopelessly as he tried to comfort his dying child, knowing that nothing he could do would make Joel feel better. But I am thankful that Ryan and Amy have invited others to share in their story.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Someone has a crush on me?!

There's a Facebook group here called UofC Crushes, in which people post anonymous romantic notes. My friend alerted me to a post the other day:
"I am in a committed relationship. HOWEVER, I spent last quarter fantasizing about my life with the beautiful Asian lawyer in my class whose mission was to represent homeless people. Take me now."
My responses:
1) I think that might be me. The "lawyer" bit makes me think that this is not a law student, and I did take two non-law school classes last quarter. I am Asian, and I did say in both classes that my mission was to represent homeless people.
2) Assuming this is me, I'm flattered that this person thinks that I'm beautiful. Don't get that a lot.
3) That said, I'm not worth breaking a committed relationship over. If you're committed to someone, you promise to stay with that person through thick and thin, not until something better comes along. And maybe I'm not that much better than who you're with now.
4) Still, I appreciate that this person noted not only my physical appearance, but my desire to advocate for others. Anonymous admirer! I will not let you down! I will keep fighting for others, because everyone deserves justice!

Law School Grades

Let's talk about law school grades.

Grades are one of the main sources of stress in law school. Many law schools, mine included, place grades on a curve. Students are compared against each other. Some will end up at the top of the curve, and some on the bottom. Everyone could turn in the exact same answer, and we would all get different grades.

Grades are an especially big source of stress during the first year, because they play a large role in the On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) process in the fall of second year. I will share about my experience of OCI at another time, including what is was like not getting a job offer from a single law firm. Grades play a big role in the outcome, and so people stress over them.

But law school grades can seem so arbitrary. Last spring, I took Privacy with Professor Lior Strahilevitz and Legal Profession with Barry Alberts. I studied hard for both classes, stayed engaged in class, took notes. I enjoyed both classes; Barry Alberts even told me after class one day that he thinks that I would make a great lawyer. I felt prepared for both exams. When grades came out, I got a high grade for Privacy and my lowest grade in law school in Legal Profession.

Looking back, I'm not sure if I could have done anything differently. Maybe I'm not inherently an ethical person? Maybe I should have studied more for Legal Profession? Or maybe I should have studied less and got more sleep, more exercise, and focused on rest? There's no reason to believe that studying more would have resulted in a better grade.

Maybe this experience is preparing me for practice. Grades can seem like an arbitrary decision, made in an opaque process by someone without complete information, based on a work product created under intense time pressure, that can have a significant impact on my future. So in this sense, it's sort of like getting a decision from a judge. You can do your absolute best work and still lose. Only in the real world, a loss doesn't mean a bad grade, but that your client loses her housing and becomes homeless.

Not that I'm blaming professors, as grading 50 exams and laying them on a curve is no easy task. Or blaming judges, for that matter.

Last fall, I took Constitutional Law: Equal Protection and Due Process with Professor David Strauss. Strauss is an amazing professor with an expansive knowledge of the Constitution. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court 18 times, an impressive feat. There was a waitlist of 40+ students for the class. We read interesting cases like Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges (last year's same-sex marriage decision). I learned a lot from the class.

I got my grade for that class yesterday. I did OK, but not as well as I would have hoped (below median). But I refuse to have a single number dictate my memories of this class. I want to look back on this experience and say that I was fortunate to tackle interesting questions with an amazing professor and a great group of classmates, instead of "Oh, that's the class in which I got grade X."

And if an employer rejects me because my grades are "not up to our standard," that's fine. Having worked in recruiting, I know how difficult it is to differentiate between candidates. In the end, it's their loss, not mine.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Change for the New Year

I plan to make some changes with the new year. One change would be prioritizing rest and health. Don't worry, I don't have any pressing health concerns. But I recognize that I won't always be young and healthy, so I want to put in place good habits that will last me a lifetime. I want to get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and eat well. I want to continue to develop life-giving relationships. I want to invest in spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, and worship.
What this means is that other things, such as writing, will take a lesser priority. I will still write my thoughts on here, but probably less often.