Monthly Archives: July 2012

I had no respect for chicken sandwiches. I’m a burger addict, and a proud one at that. If ever given the opportunity to write about food for a living, I’d beg for a month-long tour of the country’s burger joints. Then off to Vietnam for some real pho in the streets.

Chick-fil-A was damn good. I was utterly disappointed when I first sampled the “original” chicken sandwich- at American University’s cafeteria The dry, semi-hot specimen with two pickle slices was a disgrace to my tongue and esophagus. But I guess that was just an AU fluke. In Fairfax, where the real action is, the fresh, steaming protein on a bun was delightful to say the least. Paired with the Chick-fil-A sauce, the experience was divine, beautiful.

Then the man expresses his belief in public.

There are different ways to say things. Some of us are blunt and unashamed, at times using our socioeconomic positions to better deliver our message. Like a blunt blow to the side of the head with a cast iron pan. Some of us are more reserved, crafting our message and subtly implanting it like a microchip in the brain. Dan Cathy chose the former method. Arguably, In-N-Out Burger (by the way, when will we ever get one of those on the East Coast??) chose the latter. Enthusiasts of their animal-style fries, like me, would have surely noticed “John 3:16” on the bottom of their soda cups and fries (on a separate note, the “John 3:16” message is a more profound, complete statement of one’s faith, more so than anything Cathy said).

Then some mayor, surely without consulting his lawyers, thinks he can ban a legit American business from his city’s boundaries. Sure, he has retracted and modified his statement since then. But hey, the guy should’ve read his How to be a Mayor for Dummies before speaking in public. Some say Cathy is an ignorant bastard, right? It doesn’t really matter who is right or wrong. Mayor Menino is an equally ignorant bastard. An eye-for-an-eye, so to speak.

Mayors and CEOs have a First Amendment right to voice their opinions, because they are just that, opinions. One should be able to say (even a CEO), with relative ease, “I don’t approve gay marriage”. One should not, however, be able to say (and carry out as proclaimed) “I don’t approve gay marriage and now will slap you silly with my cast iron pan because you approve gay marriage”. A mayor, governor, president, or your Italian mother-in-law should all be allowed to say “I approve gay marriage”. A mayor, governor, president, or your Italian mother-in-law, however, cannot set up barbed wire and electric fences around city hall because you don’t want to sink your teeth into a mouth-watering, savory filet.

We live in a civilized democracy. Or maybe we live in such an illusion. I thought “political muscle” was only appropriate (and beautifully portrayed) in The Godfather or any other mobster movie. “If they need licenses in this city, it will be very difficult…” What the hell?! This statement is absurdly uneducated, and quite offensive. I understand if you think homosexuals have the right to marry. I understand if you think marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. But who the hell are you, as mayor, to decide which businesses get licenses based on personal belief? Isn’t this America? Didn’t we try to (and still do) brainwash developing countries into carbon-copying our ever-successful model democracy?

Oh the fleeting images of Marlon Brando, dim cigar smoke-filled rooms, bada bim.

Political muscle belongs in mobster movies, period. I thought it was embarrassing to constantly read about Korean presidents and politicians being arrested and indicted for using their political muscle. You can (kind of) forgive them though- their democracy is only sixty-years old. But I thought this was the U.S. of A.

So, my friends, let us be free to enjoy the food we enjoy, regardless of what the restaurant owner says, thinks, or sleeps with at night. Food, after all, is food.

Chick-fil-A for lunch, pho for dinner. Why not.

First things first. I have the utmost respect for those of you who went through the three-day exams. How unthinkable! I had a few friends take the train up to New Jersey to take that bar, and another few who did the ordeal up in Massachusetts. Two days of nervously shaking hands and fidgety madness was more than enough for me. After the MBE, I was spent, ready to pack my bags and get the hell out of miserable Albany, never to return.

I stuffed down a bagel and fueled myself with hot coffee. My mind was numb, probably from the carnage of the day before, and my brain was buffering longer than usual. Great.

And so came MBE day.

Since I was old enough to read street signs, I hated multiple choice questions. Why? Because you can’t bullshit your way through them. Essays, especially through high school and college, are pinnacles of master bullshitting. Even on the bar, I dare say, if you don’t know the exact rule, you can make up a decent sounding rule and bullshit from there. You might end up sounding half intelligent and score some points.

Different story for multiple choice questions. You learned how to use POE to get rid of the obvious wrong answer, and if you at least read your outline, you can probably eliminate another choice. It always comes down to the last two choices. You think you remember bits and parts of that rule from somewhere, buried deep in your ever-congested mind. Clock is ticking. You need to move on. You move on, but only after you circle the question number to come back to it later. Damn I hate that feeling. It’s like stepping on gum on the sidewalk.

The MBE is a battle against time. The last thing you want to do is run through the last twenty questions, blindly filling in those cursed scantron bubbles with supposedly high-probability Cs (or in some cases, “B” for BarBri). So my strategy was to make sure I had enough time to correctly answer the questions I knew for sure. Skip the RAP questions, skip the ones that make you draw little diagrams (seriously). I didn’t want to look back and realize that I had missed all those easy crim questions because I was sulking over some RAP battle.

The first half of my MBE wasn’t too bad. I actually had time left! (unusual, because I am a painfully slow test taker). I decided to use earplugs to minimize the paper shuffling noise, and it helped tremendously. Under that kind of time pressure, critical reading is an invaluable skill. You don’t have time to read and re-read the questions. One shot, get the point, summon up the rule, and dive into the answer choices. Through the simulated BarBri practice test session, I learned that the sound of paper shuffling, to me at least, became annoyingly deafening. Earplugs did the trick. But keep this in mind. They do kind of feel funny when you first use them, and you can hear yourself breathing at times (can be an intimate, even religious experience of sorts). So my advice would be to go through practice rounds with the earplugs so you’re used to having a sponge fill up your ear cavity.

I wasn’t about to have another dry roast beef sandwich for lunch. I wasn’t too hungry anyway. I was glad the first half wasn’t that tough, but an eery fear of a blistering second half was starting to creep up already. The first half was easy, so they must have saved up the tough ones for the second half, as a cruel joke. With a million versions of this thought going through my head, I hustled over to the coffee bar for a muffin and some fruit. Again, good carbs go a long way during the bar. Reading through two hundred of those MBE questions will drain your brain, and sugar is the cure-all.

The second half was, in my mind, tougher than the first. But by that time, after a day and a half of testing, I had less trouble rolling the dice and moving on on the tougher questions. I just wanted to get it over with. Enough of this crap. Fail me if you’d like, you bastards, but I’m getting the hell out of here (I probably already failed the New York portion already). So I walked out of the testing center with minutes to spare. I’d started looking over some of the questions I had circled for myself, but I just couldn’t take it any more. And you know you’re usually better off sticking with your first choice anyway. I said a quick prayer and bailed. Oh the sun was shining brightly, and maybe there were even some birds chirping in the distance. The last thing I expected to see was a group of surveyors with clipboards, grabbing us as we exited, like a pack of blood-thirsty piranhas. I was about to shun them in vain, until I realized they were handing out five bucks in cash. God bless America, I thought, and I giddily answered their questions for my cash.

I broke down in my hotel room. The past eight weeks passed by in my head, like the film rolls in those old movie cameras. All those lectures, the notes, the essays. The trip up to Albany. The first day of testing. The night before the MBE day. What I had for breakfast. The lunch break. Everything was melting together.

I was confident that I had failed. No way in hell I could have passed. Not after I left out or terribly misconstrued those issues on the essays. Not after I completely butchered the MPT. Not after I guessed on all those MBE questions. Sure, there was some relief. We were done, after all! But I just felt like shit. I asked myself, if I had really failed, was I willing to take it again in February? My immediate answer was an emphatic no. Couldn’t imagine going through eight weeks of that hell again.

My roommate dragged himself back to the hotel too. We offered our condolences, and our congrats to ourselves and each other was sincere, none of the half-ass remarks that law students typically give one another. We knew what we went through that summer, and no matter what the outcome, we were done. At least for now, hopefully for good.

The rest is history. The celebration, the plane rides home, the endless misery of waiting for the results (which is another posting in itself).

In the end, we passed. How I managed to squeeze by, I still don’t know. But hey, all you need to do is pass, not ace.

So on this Wednesday night, I offer my sincere congratulations to all of you who have completed this leg of the journey. For those of you fighting on for a third round, the best of luck til the bitter end. Waiting for the results will be even worse than the test itself. But don’t let that worry you for the next few days and nights. Get back out into the world, get some sun, get your life back.

The summer has just begun for you. Enjoy, with vigor! You deserve it.

The walk back to the hotel was miserable. The day was already a blur. All I remembered was that it was freezing in our testing room and that I didn’t even eat half of my roast beef sandwich during the lunch break.

The New York day went by so fast. I guess the bar exam itself (both days) went by quickly, but to me, time was not on my side on the first day of testing. Those damn New York multiple choice questions. During the last two weeks of review, I’d put off going through practice multiple choice questions for New York day. Preoccupied with memorizing every detail of my outlines, I paid no attention to those gnarly practice questions. And I’d pay for that mistake.

Compared to to the MBE, New York multiple choice questions are more detailed and knit picky. They are annoying. Not necessarily hard- if you know the law, and if you’re used to the formatting. Sure, I had the MBE down. As you probably know, the MBE questions have a certain flow, a certain ring to them. Maybe a certain predictability can be detected, after you go through your twelve-hundredth practice question (as recommended by BarBri). Same thing for the New York questions. BarBri actually assigned significant amounts of these bastards, especially towards the end of the review. But hell, I barely had time to go through the other one thousand MBE questions and all the essays that I had pushed back. So I figured the fifty New York questions wouldn’t be so bad. It’s just fifty questions, right?

The problem for me was that I did those questions first. Pro and con to that. Going through the multiple choice questions can serve as a mental warmup, jogging your brain before you take on the heavy blows of the essays. The con for me was this: if you’re guessing on three, four, five questions in a row, that is no mental warmup. No better way to start the first hour of the bar exam bent over and taking it up the alley. I recognized some familiar rules here and there, but for the most part, I was running blind, to a point where I just giggled like a little girl, amazed at my stupidity, cursing at my procrastination.

The essays themselves were not that bad, at least while I was typing away. The property question was decent- there was no RAP! A little crim pro here, a little wills and trusts there. One truly annoying sound was that of my next door neighbor’s typing. She was a Duke grad, Korean-American, looking definitely prepared and confident. I swear she didn’t bother to outline any of her essay answers. She would glance through the questions in no more than three, four minutes, and off to the races she was, crunching away on her laptop as if she was performing Beethoven’s Fifth. The typing was obnoxiously loud, half machine gun and half helicopter. What was more annoying was that she always had time left over to actually edit her work. Me? I was just happy to get my thoughts onto the computer screen in a semi-coherent manner before time ran out.

One tip about lunch: know your food options before the test begins. Explore the eateries around the testing center, ask if they take orders for sack lunches beforehand. I tested at the Desmond Hotel, so I figured I could grab something quick in one of the hotel restaurants. Apparently, so did a hundred other testers. It took nearly a half hour to grab a roast beef sandwich. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but figured I’d better eat something if I wasn’t going to pass out during the afternoon session.

I dragged myself outside to soak some sun while I ate, but after a few bites, I really couldn’t force myself anymore. Nerves can get the best of some, and it did sure got me. Eating between sessions is important. You don’t want anything too strong and exotic that will send you to the crown, but you want to make sure you have good carbs. Fruit is always a good choice (although I should say, I did have a mad craving for a hot bowl of pho..).

The afternoon session was tougher. I didn’t really know the rule to one of the essay questions (I don’t even remember the subject). But you have to improvise and sound like you know what the hell you’re talking about. When you don’t know a rule on the bar, you still want to construct a logical answer, and make up a rule if you have to. Just be sure to logically apply your made-up rule to the given facts. Sure, I did that. I was kicking myself while doing it, but it’s better than leaving a question blank.

Then came the MPT. Talk about having fun. In my opinion, the MPT is something you can really prepare for, to a certain extent. There are only four or five types of formats they can throw at you, and if you go through enough of the practice MPTs provided by your barprep service, you should be fine. Or you can be like me and not do the practice questions, in which case you’ll be cursing yourself for the entire ninety minutes. Going through the File and the Library took so much time, and I didn’t have enough time to really organize my answer. My rule statements were unclear, and some paragraphs were totally illogical and incoherent.

When I got back to the hotel room, things got worse. That’s when you start discussing your answers with your roommate. By the way, you should never be doing that, period. All throughout law school, most of my friends did not utter anything about an exam once it was over (with the exception of one good friend who seemed to take great pleasure in rehashing every painful detail of the fact patterns). I don’t know what got into me, but the next thing I know, my roommate and I were slapping ourselves silly after every realized mistake. For me, I found out that I had completely left out an issue in one of the essays, and that I had stated a completely wrong rule for another. Ouch.

The mood was generally gloomy, and I don’t even remember what we had for dinner. Cheeseburgers at a sports bar maybe?

But the MBE was coming up, so the best I could do was get a good night’s sleep. After glancing through some outlines and looking over a few sample questions, I was out.

To be continued…

In your life, you have those moments you’ll remember for years to come, those moments that seem cemented in your nervous system, the sites, the smell, the surroundings, all of it.

Exactly a year ago today, I was in Albany, NY, about to go through a moment of my own: the bar exam. So much in my life has changed since those three nights at the Holiday Inn Express, and I lived to tell the tale. I write this reminiscing that fateful night. Many of my law school friends are going through their own moments at this very hour. I write this in their honor. This is for all of you bar-takers.

*     *     *

It’s truly a right of passage. After three years of the good, the bad, and the ugly, you have the high of finally graduating, earning that valuable (arguably not so much anymore) juris doctorate. You’ve had enough lectures, term papers, mock trials. You are a gangly white from all those hours under florescent lighting in the stuffy, windowless trap they call the library (especially if you went to my law school). You’re done, free at least, initially not knowing what to do with free time on your hands.

Well, at least for a few days, maybe a week.

You’re in the eye of the storm, in the midst of that nervous calm, your fingers trembling slightly, as you wait and brace for a mad whipping through June and July.

Getting to Albany was a pain. I could have been smart like the rest of my buddies- take the train! But no, I opted for fancy air travel, and ended up transferring through Boston’s Logan. My flight out of Reagan National left at 6:30 am, and I think I landed in Albany sometime around 2:30 pm. This was Monday before the storm (of Tuesday and Wednesday), and I had spent precious hours in the plane and sipping bad coffee in airports. Sure, I nervously flipped through my outlines, but honestly, my blind was slowly going blank. The liters of coffee and energy drinks were taking a toll; I just had to hang on for the next two days. Not a problem. But I just could not get my mind to focus on the ink and scribbles on my outlines.

After arriving at my Holiday Inn Express, I reserved a spot on a free shuttle for the next morning to the Desmond Hotel, my testing center. Surprisingly, there were already hosts of nervous, whacked out law grads lined up for shuttle service. I barely saved a spot.

I was hungry, and my roommate had not arrived yet (he had overslept and missed our flight out of DC). I asked the front desk if there were any decent eateries around within walking distance, and he just went off, as if he was describing a list of amusement park rides for fifth graders. I nearly cut him off and dragged myself outside, turned to my right (with no logical reason or thought) and kept walking until I hit an Olive Garden. Take-out chicken parmesan and a Mountain Dew from the vending machine, in my hotel room, watching Sports Center. That’s how I spent those precious first hours in Albany.

I’d like to tell you that I spent hours poring over my outlines, rummaging through decks of flashcards, cranking out last minute sample essays. I didn’t. More accurately, I couldn’t. I was just so damn nervous that I couldn’t keep my mind straight.

It’s ok to be nervous. After all, it’s the bar exam for crying out loud! At moments like that, you must drop what you’re doing, grab yourself a Diet Coke, plunk down in your comfy Holiday Inn queen-sized bed, and watch meaningless reruns of Sports Center. Get those cobwebs out of your system. Breathe. Eat. Relax.

I did manage to review some subjects that dark Monday before New York day. You already have that top ten hit list from BarBri (or something comparable from Kaplan or elsewhere), so you go through some of the heavy-hitting nightmares (Contracts, New York Practice, Property, so on). And you also know what you suck at, so go ahead and review those as well.

What I didn’t do (wisely, now that I look back) was go through more sample questions and essays. I knew I would get some wrong, and I knew that would bring fits by the fistful.

Sleep is crucial. Don’t trust your brain to function on four hours of sleep before your essays; you’re asking for it then. My roommate finally got there (we can laugh about it now), and after nervously going through some outlines together, quizzing each other on some hot topics (not always a good idea, especially if one person seems to know more than the other, the emphasis being on the “seems to”), I took a hot shower and slept.

Nervous as hell? Check. Felt like I wasn’t prepared? Check. The weight of the world crushing down on what frail of a body and soul you have left? Check.

My friends, welcome to the New York Bar Exam.

To be continued…

Getting up every morning. You’re about to spend the next 8, 9, 10 plus hours doing something, somewhere for a living. People are motivated by different things, be it money, power, recognition…maybe some are motivated by work itself, just the feeling of accomplishment after a good, hard day’s worth of production.

What “moves” you?

Being “moved” is not to be compared with being “motivated”, for the latter can easily fizzle as the root of the motivation fizzles over time and circumstances. On the contrary, what “moves” you is permanent, a permanent fixture or engraving powerful enough to send chills down your spine every minute you send doing it.

As a lawyer and law student, the only time I felt “moved” to do something was while volunteering at a local legal resource center, a pro bono service center for economically challenged Asian Americans with limited English capabilities. All I did was answer phone calls to right down facts for new cases.

But what moved me was listening, listening to the pleas of desperate individuals grasping for the last strand of hope in their varied struggles. Most lawyers do not deal with real people. Ok, we do meet people. Our clients are millionaire CEOs, and some of us may interact with other well-educated lawyers and so on. I don’t know about my colleagues, but at least until now, I have not yet been “moved” in dealing with the legal struggles of multinational companies and their CEOs.

*     *     *

It was just another day of volunteering at the legal resource center. Checking the voicemail, returning calls, taking notes, opening case files.

She was almost 80 years old and spoke absolutely no English (like most of our clients). She was a victim of immigration fraud; someone had asked her to pay him tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for an eventual green card. She had given him her life savings, in hopes of starting a new life in the States. He took the money and disappeared without a trace. She had called our office out of desperation, telling me that she already tried the police to no avail.

Legally, there was nothing she could do. The police had already closed the case due to a lack of evidence, and even her last resort of referring the case to the FBI seemed feeble. It was my job to tell her that she had no options of recovering even some of her savings. At times like these, I feel an odd connection to doctors who face the reality of telling patients that they have cancer or some other incurable, deadly disease. Cruel.

She just wanted someone to listen. Someone to tell her tale of sorrow, horror, and anger. Strangely, I felt honored to be that someone on that cloudy afternoon. We spoke for almost two hours; she did most of the talking. Following her life’s footsteps, my heart raced through a myriad of emotions: her sorrow, her disgust, her anger, all became mine. I couldn’t do anything for her legally. But I did what needed to be done: listen.

We parted ways on the phone, unable to make any promises of relief, not even a referral.

*     *     *

The following was just one example of what moved me during my time at the legal resource center. Interaction of people was what moved me. Hearing their life stories. Listening. Knowing that I was their last resort of hope, then using my unique background and abilities to alleviate their struggles.

Our profession is unfortunate in that corporate lawyers make the most money, even though their clients are “corporations”, which are by no means “people” (no matter what the Supreme Court might say). That’s where the money is. Lawyers dealing with real people (the public defenders, the human rights lawyers) barely make a living.

Let’s be honest. How many of us lawyers are “moved” by our work, day in and day out. Some of us are stuck in debt and with no options. It doesn’t matter what our passions are; we’ll go where the work is, where the money is, and we are told to be thankful that we even have paying legal jobs.

There is no right or wrong answer to this dilemma. The issue is simple: what moves you?

할머니…그 때 더 도와드리지 못해서 죄송해요. 부디 마음의 평안을 찾으셨길 기도합니다. 항상 건강하시고..오래오래 행복하게 사세요..

Whaling. The first image that comes to mind is the preview of “Whale Wars” on cable TV, the crazy Green Peace guys sparring with government coast guards. So the bearded leader got out on bail, right?

South Korea has recently raised international eyebrows by announcing its intention to allow whaling off its shores for scientific research, stating that the whale population is no longer endangered and that the fishing communities’ livelihood has been negatively affected by the whales themselves. International environmental groups, including Green Peace, have condoned such intent, stating that the whales are still endangered and that the South Korean fishing industry’s livelihood was not hindered by the whale population.

The current issue revolves around whaling for “scientific research purposes”. In this post, I’d like to shift the focus on commercial fishing, and the dichotomy between animal rights and human rights.

I am not familiar with environmental law, and I am no marine biologist or ecologist. I am, however, familiar with the hardship of day-to-day living as a local fisherman in the remote parts of South Korea.

Whales are precious, and we need to ensure that our many endangered species are protected and nurtured. However, human livelihood is more important. Believe it or not, some South Korean fishing communities have been absolutely dependent on commercial whaling for generations. A white-collared lawyer like me can easily condemn and tell them to fish for other species. The demand for other tasty seafood is surely great enough, is it not?

Easier said than done. Commercial whalers in Korea are concentrated only in certain areas, and the market that consumes whale meat is also concentrated in certain areas (to my knowledge and personal experience, whale meat is not universally consumed in Korea, it’s a local delicacy, usually in the southeast part of the peninsula, Kyungsang-do). Although the market may be small, the market still exists, and that market has been the lifeblood for these folks. These fishermen have devoted their entire lives to this type of fishing, following the footsteps of their forefathers. Although I’m no expert, surely, abandoning your sole skill set as a whaler to go after completely new species must be a difficult, if not impossible, task. These fishermen probably lack the monetary and technological resources to make such drastic changes, and I don’t know if the Korean government has the resources or will to come to their aid.

Some people do not have the luxury of worrying about the survival of other species. Some of us live daily worrying about their own personal survival, about putting food in their children’s mouths, about having a tomorrow.

It wouldn’t be fair to not consider their lives as well before we protect the whales.

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