Tag Archives: law school

Final(s) Approach


My office sits in the middle of Seaver College where a few thousand students will take final exams this week. Just up the hill in the world I inhabited for the past nine years are hundreds of law students sitting for final exams this week, too. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter is facing final exams in her study abroad experience six thousand miles away.

But I’m happy as can be. Been there, done that, as cool people used to say (and obviously I still do).

Well, there is the tiniest bit of guilt at the lack of cumulative examinations in my own life. No, my bad, I think that was just a little indigestion. I’m good now.

It has been interesting to compare the way the bulk of undergraduate students and law students cope with the stresses of finals season. One set apparently prefers letting stress go through singing loudly and/or funny Internet videos while the other likes to curl up in a fetal position and cry. I’ll let you guess which is which.

My job is and has been to offer kind smiles in the general direction of the test-takers wherever they happen to be.  It is good work that seems to be appreciated.

I guess this reflects life in general. Sometimes you face testing. Sometimes you are off the hook. When the latter applies, encourage the former. It has been my experience that you will appreciate it when it is your turn to be tested.


Followed Through

18579549_1670127713295036_4028566310173540352_nPepperdine Law’s graduation ceremony occurred last Friday at Alumni Park, and the venue is simply unbeatable — a spacious green lawn on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean under the warm California sun. Spectacular.

Having recently resigned from the law school, I had no official responsibilities at graduation, but having recently resigned from the law school, I had hundreds of reasons to be there.  I ran into several friends on the way in, and knowing how graduation works decided to wander over to the place where the graduates would march in to see if I could offer a high five or two as they passed by.  (I really did not know that this would produce a lead candidate for my life highlight reel.)

I was dean of students when the Class of 2017 began its law school adventure and had the honor of welcoming them aboard on their very first day as well as cheering for them on their arduous journey.  There was no way that I would miss this culminating event.  As I stood there on Friday, my high five or two suddenly became a line full of hundreds of high fives and hugs.  It was an amazing experience for me. At one point I wondered if I was holding up the ceremony, but then I remembered that they couldn’t fire me and just kept hugging these wonderful human beings.

Several mentioned that they remembered to “follow through” as they passed by, letting me know that they remembered the little talk that I gave during their law school orientation when I taught them how to shoot a basketball. I explained that you could do everything right but forget to “follow through” and the shot would be unsuccessful. I gave them a little stress ball that looked like a basketball that day with the words FOLLOW THROUGH printed on.

They remembered.  And they surely followed through, and I am proud of them.

I stuck around afterward and met family and friends and posed for pictures and offered congratulations. It was their day of honor, but the warm smiles and good hearts of the Class of 2017 provided a happy day for me, too.

Me & Pepperdine Law


DCF 1.0

Me as a 1L (August 2008)

In October 2007, in the midst of what now seems like a mid-life crisis my wife and I concluded that I would apply to law school, so I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase an LSAT study book and signed up for the December administration and secretly began to imagine where we might end up.

Initially, there were two schools on the list.  Ole Miss was a strong choice for a Mississippi resident, but I also had dreams of Pepperdine two thousand miles away.  I had visited the breathtaking campus once for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures and spent time with my good friend, Mikey, who taught English there, and the idea of law school at Pepperdine was how I imagined it would feel to win the lottery.

Here I am, over nine years later, and I am pretty sure that I won the lottery.

My wildest dreams did include law school at Pepperdine, but nowhere in those wildest dreams did I think it would be my home for nine consecutive years.  Well, during my first semester of law school, I did think that it might take nine years to learn enough to graduate (if ever) but once I survived that first semester it never occurred to me that I might have the honor to work in this special place for six years after law school.

Tomorrow, I hear there is some sort of farewell party as I transition into a new role as the preaching minister for the University Church of Christ here on campus.  This is directly backwards.  I should be throwing a party for the law school out of sheer gratitude for these past nine years.

I learned so much from the faculty, many of whom became close friends.  I was a proud member of the staff and developed deep relationships as we worked together.  But the students…well, I don’t even know how to begin to describe how special the students have been to me.  From being a student to serving them, spending time with students has been my deepest honor.

Meetings with prospective students.  Move-in days at the George Page apartments.  Launch Weeks.  Freak-out moments.  Personal tragedies.  “Is-law-school-right-for-me-after-all” conversations.  Academic successes.  Academic challenges.  Final exams.  A zillion emails.  Facebook groups.  Administrative announcements.  Just for 1Ls/2Ls/3Ls.  APIL auctions.  Santa Anita horse races.  Orange books.  Dodgeball tournaments.  Quiet gyms.  Saturday morning runs in Santa Monica.  Law school dinners.  Student organization events.  Open conversations.  Global village days.  Sack lunch Saturdays.  Interfaith evenings.  Sunday morning Bible studies.  Wednesday nights at the Gashes.  Thanksgiving dinners.  Job searches.  Moral character applications.  Graduation celebrations.  The dark days of bar summers.  Bar lunches.  Swearing-in ceremonies.  Even officiating twelve weddings!

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It is all too much to capture in words right now.  I can just say that it has been a deep honor to walk alongside impressive human beings on an arduous journey.

We law school folks say that law school is a marathon, not a sprint.  Mine took nine years.  And it was awesome.

What Gives Me Hope

interfaith-group-2017As nostalgia sets in at the prospect of leaving the law school, the privileges I enjoy become more pronounced.  One of my favorites has been hosting the Interfaith Student Council.

Early this week, sixteen wonderful people—fourteen law students, one undergraduate student, and one lawyer—showed up for an evening of discussion (the lawyer took the picture above!).  This fine group represented various flavors of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Atheism.

The leaders offered two potential topics for the evening: a heavy discussion about the controversial Trump immigration executive order, and a lighter discussion of dating practices in various faith traditions.  The group decided to do both and briefly discuss the heavy topic before moving to the lighter topic.  It may be unsurprising in the rear view mirror, but we never made it past the first.

Early in the conversation, one of the kindest people I have ever known shared a personal story that involved a close acquaintance sharing things that characterized this person’s entire religion in a terrible light.  I don’t think this kind soul has the capacity for anger, but there was definite hurt.  And confusion.  I mean, what do you do when someone you know portrays you and everyone in your faith as evil?

Everyone tried to help, and a good conversation ensued.

Later on, after the conversation took several twists and turns, a different student spoke up—one who comes from the faith that was used to characterize the other student as evil—and directed remarks back to that tough situation.  And she apologized.  She apologized on behalf of her entire faith.  And then she started crying, which made the other student start crying, and if we weren’t careful it was going to get all of us but they hugged it out and gave us a fighting chance.

If I am honest, as I sit here and type away, you know how your tears like to hang out in your upper cheekbones watching television and how they stand up and put their shoes on when you start thinking about touching moments like this one?  Well, maybe that is happening right now, but you’ll never know.

At the end of the evening, I asked everyone what gives them hope when times seem dark.  Folks shared some great answers, but I have to tell you that what gives me hope is an evening like that one and an encounter like the one between those two wonderful students.

Some may look at the world right now and just see stormy weather, but in that one embrace I believe I saw a break in the clouds.

Bring It On


Happy Friday the 13th!

I suspect we are all more superstitious than we want to admit.  I don’t like to switch positions on the sofa when my team is playing well on television, which just makes tons of sense.  But, come on, because a particular numbered day falls on a Friday bad things are expected to occur?  That seems a bit illogical.

So I consulted my friend, Google, and searched “good things that happened on Friday the 13th” for proof that all this is silliness.  This returned several lists that shared the following highlights:

  • Ben Franklin said “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” (1789)
  • The accordion was patented. (1854)
  • Alfred Hitchcock was born. (1899)
  • Black Sabbath released their first album. (1970)

Um.  Those are the highlights?  Maybe I should stay indoors today.

It didn’t help to learn that some really bad things have happened on Friday the 13th.

  • The collapse of the Aztec Empire. (1521)
  • The first of seventy-six consecutive nights that Germany bombed London. (1940)
  • An oxygen tank exploded on Apollo 13. (1970)
  • Tupac was pronounced dead. (1996)

I’m not feeling better.

And coincidentally (?) law school grades are released to our first-year students today.  This will be a particularly good day for several of our students, but experts in mathematics informed me that 90% of the students will not be in the top 10% of the class (I double-checked their math to be sure of this).  More disappointment than elation on the way.

So what to do today?  Well, I have to go to work.  But beyond that, I have a carefully designed plan of attack:

  • Face the world head-on;
  • Bob and weave; and
  • Dive into the fray singing the classic song from our Malibu neighbor, Pat Benatar: “Hit me with your best shot!”

When I go down, misfortune will at least be worn out from the fight.

‘Twas the Week Before Winter Break (at Pepperdine Law School)

sol‘Twas the week before winter break, when all through the law school
Not a creature was discussing the best evidence rule;
The students’ exams were all printed with care,
In hopes that the final grades soon would be there;

The students were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of CALI awards danced in their heads;
And the faculty in offices and staff at work stations
Were wishing that they had begun their vacations,

When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains and turned the little plastic thing that theoretically opens the mini-blinds.

The sun on the break of this morning so bright
Gave the lustre of mid-day, a beautiful sight,
When, what car did I see driving into my view,
But one with a bumper sticker: “I love judicial review.”

The driver was an expert in interpreting the law.
I knew in a moment it must be Dean Tacha.
Like a swift legal eagle she flew out of her car,
And called to her troops for an urgent sidebar;

“Dean Saxer, Dean Schultz, Dean DeWalt, and Dean Caron!
If he was still around, I’d call to Dean Perrin!
To the dean’s suite let’s run!  We have much work to do!
Let’s all meet up in the dean’s conference room!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the dean’s suite the administrators all flew,
With their blank legal pads and with Dean Tacha too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the deans’ suite
The shuffling and settling of associate deans’ feet.
As I ran up the stairs and was turning around,
In the front door Dean Tacha came with a bound.

She was dressed in blue and orange, from her head to her toe,
And her clothes were adorned with the Pepperdine logo;
A bundle of casebooks she had in her knapsack,
And looked like a law student lugging a backpack.

Her eyes — how they twinkled! her expression so merry!
Her gait was determined.  (I found it quite scary!)
I tried to keep up, though it wouldn’t be easy,
She works circles around me until I am queasy!

As she rushed in the conference room ready to go,
I marveled at the energy of this dean dynamo;
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
And soon said, “I found it!” then turned with a jerk,
She arose from her chair and delivered her rule:
“Let there be peace on earth, and at Pepperdine Law School.”

She sprang to her car, to her team gave a whistle,
And away she flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard her exclaim, ere she drove out of sight,

Season of Giving (Exams)


The end of November launches a holiday season in these United States, but for those involved in formal education it is also a season of papers, projects, and examinations.  Thanksgiving break does provide a break from classes, but not from work, as our youngest daughter bemoaned on her short trip home from college.  There is no rest for the wicked.  There are turkey sandwiches, sure, but no rest (yet).

Law school is particularly relentless.  The killer combination of a single grade-determining final exam and a pernicious grading curve that pits all-star students against one another for a handful of A’s produces a motivation that is not helpful for proper digestion.  If you want to experience stress with all of your senses, visit your neighborhood law library.

During this season of final exams, popular metaphors include heads down, noses to grindstones, shoulders to wheels, and so on, but not much related to actually looking up.  Unless looking up information or in desperation count.  From my seat in a law school, while I strongly recommend long hours and hard work, I also advocate periodically looking up for a little perspective.  Specifically, the following perspective:

Carol Dweck famously teaches the advantage of a “growth mindset” as compared to a “fixed mindset.”  For the latter, final exams are personal evaluations (i.e., I am good at this or bad at this; smart or stupid; etc.), but for the former, the exams merely reveal information helpful for growth and improvement (i.e., How can this make me better?).  And in case you are wondering, growth mindset leads to greater success than is ever possible with a fixed mindset.

This is a season of giving—professors giving assignments/exams, and students giving their very best effort—but the frenzied effort from the students is misspent if motivated by fear of failure as defined by a letter or number.  Instead, everyone is better off if the heroic efforts are motivated by the capacity to grow and learn.

Study hard, my friends, and look up long enough to remember that you are here to learn and not to be graded like cattle.  And learn well.  A real break will be here soon.

Universal Ideals of Human Dignity

1I traveled to San Francisco last weekend with my friend and colleague, Ahmed, to represent our dean at the annual conference of the International Association of Law Schools and was humbled to gather with people from all over the world who are responsible for training the next generation of lawyers.  It is no exaggeration to say that the world depends on this good work.

Neither is it a statement of pride since I was obviously out of my element in a conference full of legal scholars.  This was particularly obvious when we were asked to divide into small groups based on our areas of expertise, and, um, I don’t have one.  But, I had to choose something so, given the choices, I chose “human rights” because, well, I’m for them.

But what an honor.  In two separate sessions, I sat in a small classroom with a handful of individuals who consider it their life calling to teach human rights to law students.  There were professors from South Africa and India, Australia and Italy, Russia and Canada, Indonesia and the United States.  Can you imagine?

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claims that “[h]uman rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” and purports to represent “the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity.”

I like that phrase—universal ideals of human dignity.

What I found surprising in the privileged opportunity afforded me at this unique conference was what that special group of people found surprising in their visit to San Francisco.  And that was the homelessness on full display in the short walk from the hotel to the conference location.

I have often been told that the poverty in these United States does not compare to poverty in the developing world, and I’ve traveled enough now to understand the proposition.  But please slap me if I ever fail to remember that the universal ideals of human dignity apply to the people on the American margins, too.


Forging Pathways


“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Waze calculates thirty-four miles from Pepperdine University to East Los Angeles College; the Pacific Coast Highway to East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue; the celebrity-populated western side of Los Angeles to Cheech Marin’s East L.A.; Malibu to Monterey Park.  It sure seems longer, even in rush hour traffic.  They are two different worlds.

I serve on the advisory council for the East Los Angeles College (“ELAC”) Pathway to Law School Transfer Program, a coalition of educators and practitioners brought together to destroy obstacles that stand in the way of a young person advancing from high school to community college, from community college to a four-year college, and from a four-year college to law school.  It is an inspiring group, and I am honored to be a part.

It is also personally disconcerting.  I’m not exactly sure how I, a first-generation college student from rural Arkansas, the son of a butcher who dropped out of high school to provide for his family during the Great Depression, am suddenly the picture of white privilege in a room full of impressive human beings, but as a lawyer who drove over from his condo in Malibu, even my expertise in denial simply tossed in the towel and admitted the truth.  I may be the most reluctant privileged person around.

It was dark when the meeting ended, and on the stroll across the ELAC campus to drive back to idyllic Malibu, I noticed several classes in session.  Maybe I was wanting it to be so, but it sure looked like all of the students in those classes were engaged in the instruction and not bored on Facebook.  I’m just sure of it.  I then wandered by the math tutoring center, and it was undeniably a hub of academic activity late on a weekday evening.  All this made me feel particularly hopeful in this perplexing world of ours.

If I must come to terms with privilege, and I just might have to, I must use it to help those inspiring students hungry for knowledge in those hushed classrooms gleaming in the darkness.

Life in the Outside Lane

Anyone with track and field experience knows that the 400 meters is a brutal, gut-wrenching, death sprint, and those same people know that the absolute worst draw is the outside lane, that lonely place where the only sounds one hears after the starter’s gunfire are screaming lungs and the invisible footsteps of your competitors—invisible until that terrible moment when they enter your peripheral vision stage left and you realize all is lost.

Which is why South African Wayde Van Niekirk’s world record in the Rio Olympics is so remarkable: his shocking destruction of the seventeen-year-old record occurred in lane eight.  Afterward, ESPN.com quoted the new world-record holder as saying, “I was running blind all the way . . . and it gave me motivation to keep on pushing.”

Last week, I told an auditorium full of new law students that law school is designed to be run from Lane One where you keep an eye on all your competitors, um, I mean, colleagues, and constantly compare yourself to them.  I encouraged them to do law school in Lane Eight, and who knows, they might set a world record, too.

Sometimes law school is a lot like life.  I say give life in the outside lane a shot and see if you  find in the loneliness some “motivation to keep on pushing” toward accomplishments previously beyond anyone’s imagination.