Recap: J.D. Advantage Panel

 

Wondering if the traditional Juris Doctor (JD) career path is for you? The Women’s Law Caucus had the pleasure of hosting a panel of seven women who have earned their JDs (the JD Advantage) and are now practicing in non-JD career paths. Each panel members’ careers varied from directors of nonprofits to the director of choral activities at the University of Montana. One panelist was an assistant professor in the University of Montana’s social work program and another is a child advocate for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Defender’s OfficeSome panelists spoke about realizing they did not want to become a traditional attorney halfway into law school  while others like Coreen Duffy, Director of Choral Activities, realized it while she was practicing law. One of the panelists, Heather O’Loughlin, who is now  the Co-Director of Research and Development at Montana Budget and Policy Center recalled she never wanted to be a lawyer but knew a JD would ultimately help her career path because it would open the door to more job opportunities. 

Many of the panelists agreed law school was challenging and difficult mentally and emotionally, but ultimately the panelists did not regret their decision to complete law school. Claire Charlo, now a child advocate for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Defender’s Office, felt she could use what she learned in law school to pass on that opportunity and knowledge to those who could not go to law school. Finally, Coreen Duffy noted if you are struggling with your decision to come to law school, “you are never stuck where you are,” and having a JD can lead to many other career paths. 

A Lesson Taught by Traffic: Relationship Between Self-Interest & Community

I have a regular mental debate on why there are some things I see in the world that others just don’t, and vice versa when I am sometimes completely blind to perspectives others know to exist. 

One such quandary regularly arises from the relationship between self-interest and selflessness. Disclosure, I am largely a self-interested individual (there is a lot to unpack behind that one). That said, I think my own self-interests promote rather than diminish my coexisting sense of selflessness. 

I was wondering at this unlikely pairing of internal motivators while driving home through Missoula construction one evening when a systemic epiphany brought some organization and clarity to my jumbled mind; self-interest can be promoted by acts of selflessness. 

Allow me to elaborate using a framework more concrete than ideologies; automotive commuting aka traffic.

Driving with other cars on the road is a practical application of small acts of selfless behavior, all of which in and of themselves are inconvenient, that totals to an end that is almost exclusively self-interested. From the moment a driver puts their key into the ignition, there is an intuitive awareness that extends beyond their entity, their property, and reaches into a public sphere. The driver has the self-interest to go from location A to location B without impeding their own safety. Fundamentally, I think that is all a starting point that can be agreed upon. Since there are hundreds of others on the same roads, with the same purpose, society has generated some basic rules of the road to allow the maximum number of drivers to achieve that goal each and every time they have to go from location A to location B. Every driver forfeits a small amount of self-determination accepting that following those rules of the road will serve a better outcome specifically for their own safety. At intersections, drivers stop their own progress to allow for others to go first in accordance with the rules everyone has agreed to. This process, although not perfect, is rather magnificent. While there may be a judgment in the cost, caliber, or status of an automobile, ALL cars stop in agreed-upon locations to allow for others to go first knowing that there are future intersections where other drivers will stop to allow you to continue on your journey. The destination of a person does not matter. 

Does this same cultural buy-in exist elsewhere? This is an example of a current deprivation for the hope that others will make a proportional sacrifice for you later. There is an concurrence that coordination with others is more beneficial than a competition to see who goes first. 

Imagine how beautiful our community could be if the rules we abide by on the road were applied to rules we follow as we engage with our fellow humans in all interactions.

What are your thoughts?

Snapshot: Montana’s Early Women Lawyers: Trail-Blazing, Big Sky Sisters-In-Law

  • Did you know Montana’s first woman lawyer was admitted to practice in 1889?
  • Did you know there were clubs founded with the purpose of discouraging matrimony and idealizing spinsterhood, to “produce smiles instead of scowls when the words ‘old maid’ were spoken?”

Getting outside of our own heads can be helpful from time to time while living through this law school endeavor. A good place to get lost in is Professor Bari Burke’s Montana Women Lawyers blog. The headline of the blog tips readers off as to what they are about to engage with. “Montana’s Early Women Lawyers: Trail-Blazing, Big Sky Sisters-In-Law.” The blog is “dedicated to the stories of the women admitted to practice in Montana between 1889 and 1950.”  

As law students in this state, we are a voice in a much, much larger narrative. It is always good to reflect on the echoes we may hear. 

A Spotlight on Domestic-Related Practice of Law

There is a perceived hierarchy in either prestige and skill (or both) when it comes to legal practice areas. Read more on why I chose the term “perceived”. At the bottom of that barrel is civil, or civil-criminal hybrid, domestic-related practice. Throughout education and practice, domestic-related law is situated as second-class law. Yet, I’ve seen the best models of extraordinary, intelligent, strategic attorneys working exclusively in that field.

This perception arises, as most complicated notions do, from a variety of reasons including: 

  1. What it Means to be an Attorney.

It is my belief that many individuals make the decision to attend law school with the ultimate purpose of helping people. Perhaps it is optimistic, but I do think it takes a combination of privilege + purpose to get us through the doors. Along the way of the ‘becoming an attorney path’, the privilege attempts to swallow the purpose. I see this specifically in domestic-related areas of law. At some point between pre-1L and post-3L year, there is a sense that a student transitions between totally incapable of managing domestic-related legal issues straight to be overqualified to be bothered by them. While the needs of society overflow with domestic-related legal issues, client’s potential loss of money becomes prioritized over a client’s potential loss of safety and security. 

     2. Bias.

The language around trauma-informed lawyering is becoming ever more sophisticated and normalized, but as that field of study continues to improve, the terms of art used such as “advocate”, “trauma-informed”, “survivor”, and “safety-planning” are ladened in bias. As soon as those terms enter into a legal strategy, some attorneys disengage thinking those meaningful terms of art are outside the scope of legal practice. Those terms, in fact, apply in all legal cases and in being functioning, decent humans, generally. 

       3. Prioritized Skill Set.

The skills taught and tested in legal training include: how to read cases, how to research using the platforms available, and how to write legal arguments to reflect that reading and research. The skills legal education hopes to-be attorneys to pick up along the way include client-management, communication both formal and informal, and some semblance of poise in challenging situations. 

To be a domestic-related attorney you need to be well-versed in the aforementioned skills, but additionally, you need patience, creativity, empathy, and realism. Read more of the skillset necessary to practice domestic-related law. Yet, these skills are not institutionalized or even deemed necessary to be a functional attorney.

      4. Value Calculation. 

Private, civil litigation is and some aspects of criminal law are well known for their monetary gains. The cost of attending school mandates there is some return on our investment specifically when it comes to monetary gains. The sales pitch to work with domestic-related law is that it is ‘fulfilling’. Fulfillment does not satisfy the value lawyers need to sustain the indebtedness of their newfound position as an attorney. Domestic-related law can be a career. In my opinion, those two goals are not binary; it can be both fulfilling and profitable. 

Through education and practice, we have the opportunity to quash the perceived hierarchy in civil, or civil-criminal hybrid domestic-related law. In a multi-year empirical study about what a ‘good’ lawyer is, Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Sedeck asking questions like, “If you were looking for a lawyer for an important matter for yourself, what qualities would you mostly look for?” The distilled results from this interviewing process revealed 26 Effectiveness Factors. Perhaps surprising or not surprising, those factors speak to the qualities I see reflected in domestic-related attorneys, spot-on.

  • Analysis and Reasoning
  • Creativity/Innovation
  • Problem Solving
  • Practical Judgment
  • Providing Advice & Counsel & Building Relationships with Clients
  • Fact-Finding
  • Researching the Law 
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Influencing & Advocating
  • Questioning and Interviewing
  • Negotiation Skills
  • Strategic Planning 
  • Organizing and Managing (Own) Work
  • Organizing and Managing Others (Staff/Colleagues)
  • Developing Relationships within the Legal Profession
  • Networking and Business Development
  • Community Involvement and Service
  • Integrity & Honesty
  • Stress Management
  • Passion & Engagement 
  • Diligence
  • Self-Development
  • Able to See the World Through the Eyes of Others

If we uphold the development and value of relational skills on par with cognitive skills at the law school level and beyond, perhaps the legal industry will see the result. Until then, “While the negative perception can be frustrating, it also often leads to family law, and family law attorneys, being underestimated, which from a practical perspective is just fine with me.” – Local Missoula Attorney
A quick note of gratitude to all practicing attorneys who have set exemplary standards for which I aspire to emulate. The writing of this post has renewed my appreciation and awe for the work you’ve done, all the lives you’ve impacted. Thank you for being warriors in your field(s).

Dear Law Student Support Systems

Dear Law Student Spouse, Child(ren), Family, and Friends,

For every breakdown, there is a period of being built back up. For every sleep disrupted night preceding a final, a courtroom appearance, or research presentation, there is a recovery. For every doubt, there is a champion. For every law student, there is a support system.

Spouses, children, family, and friends of law students, thank you.

We come into this environment knowing that it will be academically challenging. In fact, some of us even crave that aspect; what I’ve found to be unexpected is having my resolve tested. Critical moments have brought into question my character, my judgment, and my perception of my community. In this environment, I’ve stood up when the momentum of the situation has told me to sit down. I’ve paused to look twice at something against a strong current to move past it. I’ve found that self-doubt is a new constant when I write, speak, and observe. I’ve never felt so ugly, so dumb, so uncertain.

And then I come home to you. Here, I am accepted just as I am through turmoil and change. In fact, I am celebrated because you see my growth even when I see only chaos. You listen as I process. You distract when I obsess. You guide when I am blinded by my own righteousness. You bring balance, health, and see me with true eyes.

You knew me before and you will know me after my years here. I say with humble honesty this experience could have broken me or changed me into someone I never want to be. I’m sure I was not the easiest person to be around at times. I’m sure I snapped, spoke down, and forgot to be the best person I can be to you. You are living this alongside me, and I am speechless with gratitude. When I look back on these years, I will know I learned ‘the law’, but more long lasting, I rediscovered my relationship with you.

For every law student, there is a support system, and you are mine.

Thank you.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: One Missing Life is One Too Many

6 years after the first horrific stories broke into mainstream news/media, MMIW fully stands on its own commanding and demanding attention. Two frustrations I’ve had in reading on the epidemic are 1) my own ignorance on the topic and 2) the lack of uniformity of information being conveyed.

Below I look at the standard process of reporting a missing person so I can contrast it with the process of reporting a missing indigenous woman which brings to the surface why this crisis leaves indigenous woman so prone to fall through systematically instituted cracks.

WHAT DOES THE PROCESS LOOK LIKE?

The information below is an outsider’s look at the mechanisms that activate if someone were to go missing from my life.

When a non-indigenous person goes missing, generally, the first question is what qualifies as a “missing person” since being missing or falling out of contact is not illegal.

This determination considers a totality of the circumstances style test taking into account age, mental capacity, medical conditions, and status of their disappearance (suspicious / during or after a natural disaster, ect). It is fully within the police officer’s discretion to determine the proper way to investigate. Officers use technology (social media) to confirm or contradict information provided. At this point, there is typically an “attempt to locate” prior to declaring someone missing.

Once someone meets the critical mass to be considered a “missing person” they are entered into a national database, namus.gov, to put more jurisdictions on notice. Read More

  • NamUs reports 72 open missing persons cases, 64 resolved missing person cases, 18 open unidentified persons cases, and 12 resolved unidentified persons cases in Montana as of March 12, 2019.
  • Montana’s Department of Justice currently reports there are 144 missing persons.
  • Finally, a third, voluntary database called the Missing and Endangered Person Advisory (MEPA) requires the requesting agency to enter the person into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) using the proper message key: Missing (MNP), Endangered (EME), Involuntary (EMI).

When an indigenous woman goes missing …

First, some background on why indigenous women are more vulnerable to go missing in the first place. Keeping this framing very basic, tribes generally cannot prosecute non-indigenous people. This lack of capacity to act opens up holes in justice specifically when non-indigenous actors can commit crimes in Indian Country and not be held accountable.

The process/procedure of reporting a missing indigenous woman is logistically more complex and less zealously pursued than another missing person report. Additionally, even the scant numbers show that indigenous women are grossly overrepresented based upon the percentage they make up of Montana’s population (indigenous women are 10% of the missing when they constitute only 3.3% of Montana’s population (source); 36% of missing children are American Indian (source)).

Generally, the first question is often which governmental entity has jurisdiction to take action. More likely than not, it is not local law enforcement due to both the largely rural, underfunded nature and uniquely limiting legal enforcement structures in Indian Country. It is much more likely that the FBI, DEA, or BIA are the proper authorities, but officers of those entities are far and few between. This bureaucratic riddle means instant delays in action.

Typically weeks after an initial report, the authorities consider is this situation one that rises to the status of a “missing person”.  A similar totality of circumstances test is administered at the discretion of the lead enforcement officer. Enter deeply-rooted, caustic bias about the nomadic, loose, alcoholic tendencies of native culture. These corrosive stereotypes undermine determinations made about age, mental capacity, medical conditions, and status of disappearance assessment.

  • The best database that exists for MMIW started as an academic project by a doctoral student at the University of Lethbridge.
  • NamUs, Montana DOJ, and voluntary MEPA/NCIC also include incomplete cross-sections of information on missing indigenous women.

WHAT IS BEING DONE, HERE, NOW

US 2017 Session / Savanna’s Act – This bill requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to update the online data entry format for federal databases relevant to cases of missing and murdered Indians to include a new data field for users to input the victim’s tribal enrollment information or affiliation. Status = 12/10/2018 held at the desk while before the House.

2018 State-Tribal Relations Committee Final Report Addressing an Epidemic: Missing and Murdered Indian Women

Montana’s 2019 Session / Hanna’s Act – This bill would require the Department of Justice to employ a missing persons specialist to assist with all county, state, municipal, and tribal law enforcement agencies in pursuing missing person cases. Status = Passed the House on 02/19/2019; Senate Hearing 03/12/2019.

Reflecting on what this very superficial dive into Montana’s MMIW, I’ve mitigated some of my own ignorance (but my engagement with this topic does NOT end here) and brought profound clarity to my second frustration. It fundamentally doesn’t matter to me anymore that the numbers vary from resource to resource for that is the very nature of data-collection; the heartbreaking reality is that one missing life if one too many. That is the only number that matters.

Read More:

 

We Are Not All Alright & You Are Not Alone

We, law students, are not all alright. In fact, some of us are far from.

I’ve been reminded this year, this semester, this week that for some of us, law school is the most challenging thing we are facing. For others, law school is perhaps one of the most reliable aspects of an otherwise uncertain, unstable, and unforgiving chapter of their life. If law school is the boulder you’re pushing uphill, trust me, you’ve got this. If law school + exigent life circumstances make you feel like it is more than you can take, you have this. Either way, you are not alone.

Some of these statistics are dated, but I imagine they’ve only increased since these studies were conducted.

More than one in six had been diagnosed with depression while in law school. 37% of law students screened positive for anxiety, and 14% of them met the definition of severe anxiety. Depression coupled with severe anxiety can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, and 22% of law student survey respondents reported that they were binge drinkers.” AbovetheLaw.com

“Half of the [law school] respondents agreed that mental health challenges impaired law school academic performance, and just over half agreed that mental health challenges affected them socially.” AGATSTEIN ET. AL., FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS]; Benjamin et al., Psychological Distress, supra note 1; James M. Hedegard, The Impact of Legal Education: An In-Depth Examination of Career-Relevant Interests, Attitudes, and Personality Traits Among First-Year Law Students, 4 L. & SOC. INQUIRY 791 (1979). Full article here.

“27% of respondents screened positive for an eating disorder (18% of male respondents and 34% of female respondents, a result shown to have statistical significance at p < .001) (The range across law schools was 19% to 31%.)” Full article here.

We all enter this building each day. We greet one another, work alongside one another, and in overt or perhaps covert ways, challenge one another to become “better” and more learned. Yet, I am perpetually shocked by how little I know about these people I breathe the same air as and spend more time with than my own husband. We see one another at our best, so we need to be willing to witness and reach out when our peers are at their worst.

We are, by circumstance and situational alignment, an unintentional, temporary community. Fostering that community is the key. It is about time we claimed the unique microcosm we are a part of and strengthen it through intentional efforts to connect.

You are not alone.

We are all here, together.