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The Paper Chase

In this episode of Summary Judgment, Josh and Aaron are joined by Lauren Bush and Sarah Chavey, two of the Paper Chase Legal Writing Competition winners, to discuss their success and upcoming legal careers!

Listen here or read the transcript below. FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.

0:00:00.1 Aaron Von Flatern: Hey Josh.

0:00:16.3 Josh Fogelman: Hey. Good morning, Aaron.

0:00:19.0 AF: Good morning to you we are not doing our normal bit this morning. I’m not sitting here with a dad joke. I don’t have anything goofy to say.

0:00:27.1 JF: Oh, I’m sure you do.

0:00:29.2 AF: I’m holding back.

0:00:30.4 JF: Yeah, that makes more sense.

0:00:32.2 AF: Okay. I’m jumping in today because we have guests, one of the six or seven people who listened to this podcast told someone that we were here and they told someone and we ended up getting guests on our show. So this is a big day.

0:00:46.2 JF: Should we tell the audience that we had to pay for the guests?

0:00:49.8 AF: No.

0:00:50.4 JF: Okay, good. Let’s, we’ll cut that part out then.

0:00:53.1 AF: Why don’t you introduce our fine guest today?

0:00:53.6 JF: Alright, I’ll do that. We have Lauren Bush and Sarah Chavey, both students at the University of Texas School of Law and brought here together to be with us because they both recently participated and performed extremely well in a writing competition hosted by Baylor Law that FVF law sponsors called The Paper Chase so welcome and congratulations. Why don’t both of y’all or one of y’all kind of tell us a little bit about what the competition was about and then each of you talk to us about why you decided to participate in it.

0:01:32.9 Sarah Chavey: Sure. So it’s a closed packet competition in which we wrote a motion to dismiss. So we were given a number of cases and just said just hold to write a seven page motion to dismiss without doing any outside research. The case was about a retaliatory arrest in which really pertinent Fifth Circuit and US Supreme Court, precedent was involved and we were arguing that a Fifth Circuit interpretation of some recent US precedent was binding on the district court and that therefore they should dismiss a claim because the Fifth Circuit’s precedent barred it.

0:02:17.0 JF: Got it. Lauren can, do you remember kind of generally what the facts were in this kind of hypothetical situation and what kind of the general like concept or nature of the dispute was?

0:02:26.1 Lauren Bush: Yes it’s been a few months, so correct me if I get any of these facts wrong, but from what I can remember, the plaintiff went to… The plaintiff had gone to like a rally of some sort. And then the speaker had gone into some territory that had made the audience members upset and there was some shouting and name calling and things of that sort. And I think the plaintiff was involved a little bit maybe in some of that and then she got arrested and it was retaliatory arrest in the sense of that she was exercising her First Amendment rights.

0:03:10.3 JF: Yeah. And I’ve participated in some of these competitions before when I was in law school, and usually when you’re presented with a set of facts, it sort of touches upon an area of the law where the law is sort of unclear. And so the idea is you kind of gotta pick a side or you’re given a side and you have to sort of articulate how you think the United States Supreme Court would evaluate and rule on that issue if in fact that sort of a situation were to come to fruition, is that kind of also the situation here?

0:03:42.0 LB: Yeah, we were really arguing that the Fifth Circuit’s interpretation of the US Supreme Court fell a certain way and that the evidence of the retaliatory nature of the arrest had to be excluded because of the fifth circuit’s kind of binding precedent. So it was less about how we thought the US Supreme Court would deal with it and more about how we were arguing the Fifth Circuit already has dealt with it.

0:04:06.4 AF: So lemme see if I can summarize the case and I’m gonna do it in the kinda layperson fashion, which is a person shows up at a rally, they say something like, they call this politician a racist or something like that. And the crowd gets agitated. The police arrest this person who’s a protestor. Protestor says, “This is a retaliatory arrest I have first amendment rights.” And then the police say, “No, you were inciting violence. That’s not protected speech.” And then the protestor says back, “Hang on you didn’t arrest other people you just arrested me ’cause I was the only one criticizing the politician.” And then that, is that what the fact said?

0:04:54.5 LB: Yeah. And the argument is that I think it’s not a retaliatory arrest as long as there was another basis for the arrest. And as you had mentioned, like inciting violence here was the kind of argument that we were making.

0:05:05.7 AF: Yeah. And I really enjoyed reading how you guys put it together, I noticed that you did something that I know I was trained to do in law school. It’s not intuitive, and that is basically to make your arguments in the headlines. And so I would read y’all’s headlines and it would basically, if the judge wasn’t paying any attention at all and was on an airplane reading the brief in between vacations or whatever the judge is doing, they could just look at that and kind of figure out, okay, quickly this is the way… This is why they win. And so I really thought it was compelling and it was just impressive to me. I’m someone who came into law school thinking I was a great writer and immediately figured out that I’m not as good as I thought I was. And legal writing is a very peculiar way to write. Did y’all have similar experiences with the way you kind of thought about writing and then how you think of it now?

0:06:04.0 LB: I was an under… Like in undergrad, I was a math major, so I actually came into law school of being absolutely terrified of writing just because that I’d felt like it wasn’t my strong suit, but I think in a way that almost gave me a leg up from all of the other people who had more writing heavy college backgrounds because legal writing is so different. So I feel like a lot of students have to un-train what they thought that they know because you don’t really take, like legal writing is a new kind of writing. And so I think me coming in with not much writing experience really helped. And I also feel like legal writing can be in certain circumstances, like really formulaic. And so I really thought that my math major kind of helped me get you… Or like, I was more comfortable with legal writing than I am with like, fluffy English writing, I guess.

0:06:51.8 AF: Right. What did you think, Sarah?

0:06:54.3 SC: Yeah, That’s really interesting that the clean slate was kind of a nice approach. I was coming from a very different background. I worked as a journalist before I decided to go to law school so I’d had quite a bit of writing experience, but as y’all said, it’s very different writing legally than it is writing for a standard public audience. I think one thing that is kind of common between them is trying to take complex either narratives or complex concepts and explain them in a way that doesn’t appear confusing because you’re either trying to explain something to the public or sway a judge and so I think that’s where a lot of those headlines and like those headings come in for me, it’s like, “Okay, let me just try and make this into one bite-sized piece that the public or the judge can easily understand and hopefully that helps.”

0:07:41.6 AF: And you know, what’s frustrating is that you’re trying to write, but you’re forced to use the language of the courts who have come before and written opinions before. And so sometimes they hand you something as in this case where I think this… The main, one of the core tenets of the law in this area has like three double negatives in the statement. And I’m reading it three times and I said, “This person got an award, we paid for this award.” And then I’m reading it and I’m like, “Wait, they’re quoting the court and it’s not their fault.” So anyway, you have to deal with curve balls like that.

0:08:22.2 LB: Really clunky language a lot of the times.

0:08:23.5 JF: Was this the first competition y’all had participated in a writing competition?

0:08:29.2 LB: Yes.

0:08:30.5 SC: Yes.

0:08:33.3 JF: Wow. And it’s a voluntary competition. So what prompted you to want to participate in it?

0:08:37.1 LB: I just had more time and really wanted to get a little bit of experience. And the motion to dismiss I think was also appealing because I had never drafted one and so I thought that would be a cool learning experience.

0:08:56.8 SC: Yeah. Pretty similar on we really learned primarily memos and briefs in our writing courses, and so I kinda wanted to see how to apply it to a new scenario, which was the motion to dismiss. And it also was just a really interesting set of facts and it’s been going up on appeal, so it’s been interesting to kind of follow, not this exact case, but the case that it… The precedent it was based on.

0:09:21.8 AF: Yeah. You know, being a lawyer can be really liberating in some ways because you’re equipped with things that a lot of society doesn’t have. First and foremost with your law degree, you get a seat at the table. There’s a saying that lawyers run the world, I hope that’s not true, but there is some truth to it insofar as a lot of the rules that we all live by and a lot of the change that happens with those rules and changes to the way we live comes through the law. And so once you have that law degree, you’re sort of armed with something that the rest of society is not, and that allows you to sort of be more of your authentic self because you’ve got this sort of internal power once you have that degree in your hand once you’re out there.

0:10:06.9 AF: And then there’s all the other things you layer on top of it, the skills. So trial law is a particularly weird set of skills to have. Writing well, good legal writing is this like superpower to me. This is when I look at all the lawyers in our community here in Austin who have really pulled the rest of us along we have all these lawyer groups we belong to people that volunteer their time, help other lawyers with challenges understanding the structure of the law between federal and state law and where they meet those people are great writers almost every time. And it’s the people that are able to sit for hours and hours and really dig deep, who tend to be the people who become like the pillars of our legal community. So I think it’s really exciting that y’all have done this good things to come. And I hope you stay here in Austin at least, if you can. Or are you both in Austin or where are you gonna be?

0:11:09.3 LB: I’ll be in Austin, Yes.

0:11:11.7 AF: Okay.

0:11:14.7 SC: I’ll be moving to Arkansas for a year for a clerkship, but then I’ll be in Dallas after that.

0:11:20.2 AF: Okay. Well Dallas is close enough just come back and see us.

0:11:20.6 JF: Talk to us about the clerkship that you’re going to participate in.

0:11:24.4 SC: I’ll be clerking for Judge Bobby Shepherd. He’s on the eighth circuit, and so there’ll be quite a bit of writing in that experience, I think.

0:11:31.1 JF: Yeah. I did a postgraduate clerkship at the Texas Supreme Court here, and it was something that I hadn’t really considered doing until I interned there the summer before, and that was really just, I had free time and I had the opportunity to do it, and I did it, and I really wasn’t interested in legal writing. And I’ll tell you the year that I spent training to be a high level legal researcher and writer beyond that, which I learned in law school, which was also extremely helpful, really laid the foundation for the entirety of my practice of law. So I think going to do a clerkship like that where you’re gonna have that exposure with people who are really outstanding at that craft, is something that’ll serve your career really well. What drew you to the appellate clerkship that you’re going into?

0:12:31.1 SC: Kind of what you described with the ability to develop writing, but also to just really hone in on specific legal issues, kinda as you were saying earlier. It’s so fun to just take that deep dive and really figure out what’s going on and then try and resurface and convey it to others and I love learning those and I love writing about those. So it really feels like it’s the perfect fit.

0:12:54.2 JF: Yeah, it’s a great idea. Would like to learn a little bit from both y’all, like what drew y’all to want to go to law school to become an attorney to begin with? And Lauren, we can start with you.

0:13:05.8 LB: Yeah, sure. So I went to college thinking I wanted to go to law school, and I think I took like one political science course, like Mary… Maybe American government. We were reading the Federalist Papers. I was a freshman in college. I was like, “This is absolutely not for me. I’m not gonna go to law school.” And then I kind of fell into math, did math for a couple years and just wasn’t really satisfied with it and I had, some family or in-laws that had gone to law school who had also come from a math background. And so she kind of gave me that push to be like just ’cause you’re a math major doesn’t mean you can’t go to law school. I know it seems like an untraditional path so she kind of gave me that final push to go. I think I just really like critical thinking and problem solving, and I think that’s a big part of your job as a lawyer.

0:13:48.1 JF: Well, so much of math is logic.

0:13:51.6 LB: Exactly.

0:13:52.0 JF: I mean, it’s what a great skill to have developed prior to this sort of career path, so I don’t think that when I was growing up a lot of in going to college, a lot of people sort of discussed that political science was like the most appropriate path, and just learning about the governmental processes. But the reality of it is all sorts of life experiences end up sort of factoring into the way that you approach the practice of law, the way that you learn about the law, the philosophies you develop, and honing in really what you want to do once you achieve your law degree and pass the bar and begin the practice. So I think there’s not really a right answer. How about you, Sarah?

0:14:40.9 SC: Yeah, it’s interesting because again, I have a very different background from Lauren. I studied music in college and then I had done a few different things, journalism and some other work before deciding I wanted to go to law school. But I was kind of motivated by a lot of the same reasons. The problem solving, the critical thinking, and also the the service to clients. I love that law is an industry where you’re providing a service to others and pretty much in any part in any practice. So I was really excited to kinda engage in that.

0:15:13.7 AF: That’s a great demeanor to have. I think we’ve always preached FVF that we wanna service mentality from our lawyers. I think on TV you see these big egos, you see people that are kind of like acting like rock stars, but in real practice, the really great lawyers put their clients on their back and take them up the mountain. And that’s really what you should be proud of if you’re able to do that. If you have that mindset, I think it’s gonna take y’all far.

0:15:38.0 JF: Yeah. And now Lauren, we understand that you’re staying here in Austin. You’re gonna go to Jackson Walker. Yes. And you’re gonna get into the commercial litigation world. What draws you specifically to litigation? Are you excited about that? That’s kind of a hyper specialized skillset. A lot of arguing in the courtroom, a lot of motion practice. What draws you to that? What do you hope to sort of learn and gain there?

0:16:06.2 LB: Yeah, I’m very excited to be joining their litigation group. I think what drew me originally was honestly my 1L fall writing course. I just like loved the research and I loved the writing and you go to a bunch of networking events your 1L fall talking to other like firms. And I expressed I really enjoyed research and writing, and so many people had said, “If you really like that, you should consider litigation.” And so I was a summer associate in the litigation group for two summers and just really liked that kind of work, the drafting of the motions and I think it’s really a really cool experience to get a case and from the start, be able to craft like strategy and how you’re going to approach it and the arguments that you’re gonna make.

0:16:55.5 JF: Outstanding. And was that with Professor Mason by chance? Did you take Lori Mason? Either of you have Lori Mason’s class?

0:17:00.6 SC: No.

0:17:01.6 JF: She’s an amazing professor at UT. But so in Dallas, Sarah, what’s kind of your plan after your clerkship?

0:17:07.5 SC: Yeah, so I’m planning to go to Weil, Gotshal and do complex commercial litigation there, very similar.

0:17:20.8 AF: Wow so a massive global player, but these are both prestigious firms for the listeners who may not know. Jackson Walker and Weil, Gotshal are like outstanding firms, and it’s a great way to start, even if you don’t end up in that kind of like robust, large firm practice. It’s a great way to kind of learn things the right way, ’cause that’s something that I think I don’t wanna say it’s big law, ’cause I think Jackson Walker’s, I don’t know if they would call themselves big law or not, Weil, Gotshal definitely fits that mold but they have a certain way of doing things or a certain way of training people, and they’re more patient than say, the boutique firms who are gonna hire someone and it’s like, “You need to be ready to do everything within six months and you may or may not be doing it right, but we need you to do that.” That’s just the model of the smaller firms. So hopefully you’re going to get trained right, and probably meet a ton of people. That’s the other thing is that those firms just have large networks. So hope that works out well for y’all.

0:18:21.6 JF: So before y’all go, do you have any questions for us about practicing attorneys? And it’s okay if the answer is no.

0:18:28.6 LB: One of my favorite questions is, do you have one tip for a young lawyer who’s just starting out.

0:18:36.1 AF: I have a tip I’ve stole from another lawyer. Yeah. And it’s one word and it’s commit. There’s a… You have an image already of what a great doctor looks like, you don’t imagine that person spending tons of time at the bar. You don’t imagine… Or drinking, you don’t imagine that person getting in fights, petty fights with other people. You have an image of that person and that person hopefully has that same image for themselves. Lawyering and doctoring really no different in that regard. Once you decide you’re gonna take this on the service mentality and the commitment are what’s going to make you long-term satisfied, it’s what’s gonna allow you to find that meaning in what you’re doing working towards mastery is something that will be self-fulfilling. I mean, your whole life, it’s gonna be fulfilling and will give you purpose. And so now’s the time to choose.

0:19:39.5 JF: Yeah, I would say law can be a great source of joy what you accomplish with your clients and the challenges that you’re gonna face that seem insurmountable at the beginning but by the time you ascend that mountain, the things that you’ve learned along the way and what you’ve accomplished and the lessons that you’ve learned and the hardships you’ve endured are just incredibly fulfilling. There’s nothing like it. Very high highs and very low lows when I was young, when I first started in the practice of law, I worked at a general practice firm sort of by design. I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do within the practice of law other than I knew I wanted to litigate so going to a general practice firm gave me the opportunity to have exposure to a variety of different practice areas and ultimately led me to find my passion, which was personal injury law continues to be personal injury law.

0:20:41.3 JF: So I would say I understand that you’re going to a big firm, you’re gonna be… Or you’re going to a prestigious firm where the work’s gonna be really challenging. I’m sure the hours are gonna be really challenging you’re gonna be faced with challenges that you’ve never faced up to this point in the academic world and it can be overwhelming, but take the time, especially early in your career, to choose your path wisely. Make sure that before you pot commit to a particular area of practice keep an open mind when you’re encountering other people in other practice areas, take the time to learn about what the lifestyle is for those practice areas, what the day-to-day is like in those practice areas. And take the time to choose the right path that’s going to give you kind of a lifetime of joy and fulfillment and make sure that it’s the actual craft that you really want to hone.

0:21:38.7 JF: Because as Aaron said you know, the practice of law can be really defeating. There’s a reason why mental lawyers are frequently on the top of the list of people with mental health issues, drinking disorders, and a lot of negative can come from it because it’s so heavy. You take it home with you so much. But if you can find the practice area that really brings you fulfillment it can just really bring a lifetime of meaning and purpose. So take your time especially earlier in your career, and don’t lock yourself psychologically into a particular career path or into a particular practice area.

0:22:23.9 AF: Y’all thanks again for being here.

0:22:27.6 JF: Yeah. Well, you guys both very impressive it’s outstanding to accomplish this kind of success in a really competitive writing competition. And I mean, even getting to where you were, at getting admitted to UT Law, in and of itself is a feat let alone just excelling at that institution and putting yourselves in a position for success. So congratulations to both of you for what you’ve accomplished so far. We can just sitting across from you, the energy y’all have, I think y’all both have a very bright future ahead of you, we’re appreciative that you’ve been generous with your time with us today, and we wish you all the best.

0:23:08.7 LB: Thank you.

0:23:12.5 SC: Thank you so much. And thank you for helping host the competition.

0:23:14.6 JF: Yeah. Happy to do it, I’m happy to do it. So thank you all for being here.

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