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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week in July 2011 seems ancient now, given the twists and turns in my life during the last two years. For those of you not familiar with the “last Tuesday and Wednesday in July,” I am referring to the traumatic experience known as the bar exam.

Around this time of year, especially after the Fourth of July (when Bar Takers’ Panic officially sets in), one of the most common search terms leading to this site is “New York Bar Exam,” thanks to a series of posts I wrote on the first anniversary of my pilgrimage to Albany. (You can read the posts here, here, and here.) The series is less “how to pass the bar” and more “here is what my mind went through during the two days of hell.” Plus some hopefully useful tips here and there.

As most practitioners would say, the exam itself is not that difficult. It is the sheer volume of subject material and time constraints that kick your ass. But the questions and fact patterns are rather straight forward, if you put in the time to memorize the law.

Recently, I was asked a critical question. Can you bring coffee into the exam room? Critical question. If you are anything like me, the constant churning of neurons throughout the eight or so weeks of studying for the bar was fueled by coffee and more coffee. A sudden absence of coffee, therefore, may or may not have adverse effects on your brain, body, soul, mind, and entire being during the exam. One would hope that you are not so hopelessly addicted that you cannot sit through a few exam sessions without coffee. But to be certain, I looked up the single most important piece of paper for the New York bar exam – the Bar Examination Security Policy. (You can find the original file here.) This is the most recent version as of April 2013. As such, my experience from July 2011 is no longer relevant, as far as the security policy is concerned.

There are enough things to worry about during the exam period. You do not want to be distracted by what you can and cannot bring into the exam room. At that point in time, you’ve crammed so much black law into your head that a mere tilt may lead to a tragic spilling of precious knowledge out of your ears. That’s why reading the security policy on the night before New York day is so critical. On Monday night, set aside what you plan to bring into the exam room. Don’t wait to do it on Tuesday morning.

So, coffee. Is it allowed? Here is the relevant provision from the security policy.

“One beverage/drink in a re-sealable clear plastic container, (max size: 1 liter, no label, no glass, cans or cups). If the plastic container contains a label, the label must be removed. It must be kept under the table when not being used.”

From this, it seems like coffee is indeed allowed. The “re-sealable clear plastic container” part would be most important, as many coffee tumblers are not clear. A full liter of coffee is not necessary for anyone in any dire circumstance. Labels, both stickers and anything written or imprinted on the container, are not allowed. The container must be clear in all aspects.

If fretting over the nature of the container is not worth your worry, one option is to get some delicious cold-brewed coffee from one of the respected cafes around (none in Albany, in my humble opinion, but I could be wrong), and pour it into a clear plastic water bottle, with labels removed. Problem solved. The security requirements would be met (there is nothing saying that the beverage or drink itself has to be clear), and cold-brewed coffee during the exam will surely get your motors running. One caveat. My exam room was freezing cold, so maybe a cold drink is not advisable. Use your judgment.

I did not take coffee into the exam. I drank some as soon as I woke up, as to avoid an unnecessary restroom trip during the exam. I had a bottle of water with me, which proved useful, especially during the essay portion. All that typing perhaps?

In short, yes, coffee would be allowed for the New York Bar Exam, under strict guidelines. However, given coffee’s nature of triggering the bladder at the most inconvenient of times, I would advise you to reconsider. Water will do.

Good luck to all test takers during this final weekend. Regurgitation is right around the corner.

This is the sole opinion of the author and is not meant to be used as legal advice in interpreting the New York State Board of Law Examiners Bar Examination Security Policy. This does not reflect any official interpretation of the policy by the New York State Board of Law Examiners.

An occasional wet sauna has enormous benefits for the body. It relaxes tense muscles and extracts unnecessary contaminants through the pores. Its benefits are only realized, however, when the sauna lasts in the range of minutes, not days. The suffocating heat of the east coast has drenched my share of shirts this week, and while my world resembles a marathon Turkish bath, I opted for Turkish coffee.

Newly opened Retrospect Coffee and Tea serves freshly roasted specialty beans from local roaster M.E. Swings, a variety of high quality teas, and gourmet sandwiches. Pour over and French press are the main brewing methods at Retrospect, along with refreshing cold-brewed iced coffee during the summer season. Most impressive, however, is the cafe’s Turkish coffee. Rich, aromatic, with just the right amount of sugar.

I have yet to try the sandwiches, or the salami, but strong Turkish coffee is more than enough of a reason to return to Retrospect. With the limited number of quality cafes in Washington, DC’s business district, this addition is more than a welcoming sign of good things to come. Nothing quite like thick, sugary, caffeinated material running through my veins on another muggy day.

Retrospect Coffee and Tea

1020 19th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20036

Mon-Sun 7 am – 6 pm

The mind is composed of frames. Like reels of film, the mind churns at the tempo of frames per day, per hour, per minute, and per second. In a churning world where turbo speed is required, milliseconds per each frame, observance is the practice of pausing. By dissecting each frozen frame, one’s conception of time – and of life – is no longer a straight, one way arrow. Time curves. Einstein was right when he argued his “frame dragging” theory. The same sixty minutes allotted in each hour become an eternity for some, and a blinking stoplight for others.

Choice cuts of pork shoulder, thinly sliced fatty brisket, top blade of beef, whole mackerel, white shrimp (with their heads in tact), bratwurst, and spicy Andouille sausage. As a matter of human nature, these aforementioned items sizzling on the grill makes it almost impossible for one to think twice about the flames amidst the glowing charcoal. In retrospect, yes, one does think about the flames and the charcoal, and does so precisely and carefully, for the level of activity of the flames and the state of the charcoal is what determines the end quality of the protein suspended above. But, as a matter of human grilling nature, all attention is poured exquisitely on precisely that, the art of grilling.

Campfires are different. Smoring activities aside, building and enjoying a campfire is about the flames – the conception, the juvenile flickerings, the sweeping, roaring peak, the gradual decline, and the ultimate, flameless glow. After a marathon grill session featuring meat as varietal as the animals boarding Noah’s Ark, I stacked a few logs, allowing plenty of space and air between them. Starting the fire with only a few dry twigs proved a challenged, so I cheated and lit a kick-starter; and kick-start it did. As the crescent moon started to ascend above the rolling peaks of the Shenandoah Valley, I plunked down in a lawn chair, fresh coffee in hand, and observed the fire. Sip of coffee. Feed the fire with dry twigs. Throw my head back and look up into the sky, and become mesmerized by a sea of stars, the sheer vastness surprisingly suffocating. Sip of coffee. Repeat.

Flames are part of a collective entity – fire. Flames slowly subsume their surrounding, inch by inch. At its conception, and during its immediate gasps for air, it seems like the fire burns uncontrollably, leaping beyond its reach, frantically twisting and twirling in and through the stacked wood. This initial chaos is the fire gasping for oxygen, as a newborn lets out its first cries after taking in its first gasps of air. But after the flames settle, the fire becomes grounded, and its energy is harnessed, controlled in its center. At times, individual flames attempt to jump out alone, in search of uncharted wood, only to fizzle out in no time. Individualism has not place in the world of fire. It breathes as a unit. The flames slowly advance, retreating sometimes, yet returning again, crawling, creeping.

“Now he could hear the continuous rumbling of carts as they left the markets. Paris was chewing over the daily food of its two million inhabitants. The markets were like some huge central organ pumping blood into every vein of the city. The din was as if made by colossal jaws, a mighty sound to which each phase of the provisioning contributed, from the cracking of the big buyers’ whips as they started off for the district markets to the shuffling feet of the old women who hawked their lettuces in baskets from door to door.”

In his classic impressionist manner, Emile Zola, in “The Belly of Paris,” paints the Parisian marketplace Les Halles in the wee hours of the morning, comparing the bustling market to a heart pumping blood to the rest of the city. As the sun began to hide behind the slopes, the fire too resembled a central organ, pumping miniature flames left and right, incessantly burning brighter and brighter, not too fast as to fizzle before its time, but not too weak as to put a gap in the supply of red, orange and yellow. Its flickering veins stretch and contract, hissing at the wood, licking the air in unpredictable randomness. Chaos is no more, as the steady supply of energy from the grounded center reigns in the flames as if they were on chained leashes.

Fire is flexible. Its power comes from its flexibility. Flames do really dance, bending with the wind, riding the wind. They glide on the logs’ surface, morphing from one amorphous shape to another. Rigid flames would be short lived, broken. Survival calls for wind riders, adapting to the ebb and flow, using the oxygen from the wind to burn brighter than before. While one may think that the ferocity of a fire is a defiant act against the wind and the elements, it is quite the opposite. Fighting the wind makes no sense for the fire. No matter how ferocious the fire, it dare not pick a fight with the wind, for its flames cannot char the invisible. The fire’s dance is that of a skilled boxer, light on its feet, jabbing, shifting, ducking. Its dance outlines the contours of the wind; the invisible becomes visible through the dance of the visible. The wind actually feeds the fire. With every jab, left hook and uppercut, the flames kiss the wind and suck the oxygen, retreating shyly, only to return once more for another lick.

Smoring activities subsided, the coffee long gone. Served me well to bring along the Bialetti moka pot; dense, concentrated cup of coffee to match the dark of night and the billowing smoke from the fire, its rich Guatemalan flavors permeating my immediate vicinity. My longing for a wolf howl was not realized, and the stars shimmered brighter as the sky took on deeper shades of black.

The longer the fire burns, its flames become embedded into the glowing logs. The thicker of the dry twigs have not yet turned to ash, their vitality measured by the occasional hisses and crackles. The glow of the firewood is the beginning of the end for the fire. Older flames now vanish inside the logs, as if a persistent vacuum sucked them whole. The disappearing flames resemble the work of old women divers on the coasts of the Korean peninsula. Now an almost extinct profession, women would free dive into the depths of the freezing water, twenty, thirty, forty feet at a time, to pluck sea cucumbers, abalone, seaweed and other goods to be sold at the nearest market. The work is treacherous and painful, yet the remaining divers – most of them in their fifties, sixties and beyond – have kept up their livelihood. The manner in which they dive is reminiscent of the disappearing flames. Silent.

Like a small pebble dropping to the depths, no splashes are made, no fanfare. One moment the diver, in her black body suit and goggles, is there, and in a flash, she quietly disappears beneath the waves. Minutes later, she resurfaces, again silently, holding in her hand precious gems that would put food on her table later that night. Like the old divers, the flames, after traversing through the bright glow of the wood, burst out at the first opportunity, licking the surface once more, kissing the air and smoke. The process is repeated all around the logs, flames disappearing into glowing sinkholes, the wood, now almost an ashen gray, blinking brighter and brighter, and the flames poking their heads out once more, with the same vitality.

As the once vibrant campfire slowly subsides into a pile of glowing ash, I now wish I had just a few sips of Ethiopian Sidamo, just to get its dancing flavors to last a bit in my mouth. The clock has almost struck midnight, yet the hours spent observing the fire’s timeline culminated in a craving for coffee. Fire and meat earlier in the day, fire and coffee late at night.

Wrapping up the evening, I traced the fire to its origin. The kick-starter birthed this fire. The kick-starter speaks. Like an opportunity of a lifetime, it burst into flames the moment I clicked the lighter. The kick-starter was seemingly self-sustainable, as it continued to burn brightly on its own. The surrounding logs did not catch on instantly, while the kick-starter continued its self immolation, extorting energy. The logs eventually caught on, and the small, non-sustainable flames of the kick-starter rode the logs, spreading rapidly, crackling louder than ever.

Even with the world’s best kick-starter, the campfire would not have come into being if the firewood was wet. “Unprepared” logs would not have caught on, and the kick-starter would have burnt itself to the end, the flames fizzling out in the same vicinity as its birthplace. Readiness, then, is a must to start a fire. Kick-starters, in various forms, present themselves in one’s life. Like golden stars in a Super Mario game, they offer opportunities of a lifetime, something that will light that spark needed to get the fire going. But unless the wood is prepared just right, kick-starters are useless, and opportunities will pass by showing no signs of remorse. To catch the spark at the right moment, readiness may take time, patience and perseverance.

The “readiness” of the wood is also useless unless the logs are stacked as to leave some void space between them, creating enough space for oxygen to travel freely. The best wood, with the best kick-starter, will not produce a long-lasting fire if it is not fed with an abundance of air at its conception. In similar fashion, one must create and maintain a certain inner “void” to harness the fire, to ground it. One must not smother one’s inner self, and not fill it to maximum capacity. Ten logs stacked like bricks may never catch on fire, while three logs stacked carefully like a pyramid will burst into flames as soon as the kick-starter hits its peak of self-destruction.

No fire is sustainable with no void. This inner void is a mental room that allows creative thinking. Stuffing one’s mind with knowledge and experience only takes you so far. To sustain creative, meaningful output, a vacuum is needed to fuel the thought process with fresh oxygen. The void, in Zola’s terms, is the organ pumping fresh blood to the veins stretched throughout Paris. The void pushes the flames out, reigns them in, allows them to travel through the logs freely. It is not the amount of information one stores that determines success; it is the ability to harness that information, to channel it, and to sustain it in the most flexible manner.

Dance like the fire.

For creative professionals, lawyers, athletes, chefs, physicists (basically everyone), one of the most commonly thrown around expressions regarding creative thinking is “think outside the box.” To illustrate this point, a simple test was devised to see how well people actually carry out this concept. Perhaps some of you have already seen this, as this is certainly not news. The objective is straight forward. Using only four strokes, connect the nine dots on the page, with your pen never leaving the surface. For those of us that are visually challenged, here is my illustration, aided by my child-like handwriting.

In my two-dimensional brain, this was hard. Like a raged bull constantly charging a brick wall at the end of a dead end street, I zigzagged my way across this grid, seemingly lost.

The outcome was something like this.

The solution is rather simple, revealing a critical assumption – no one said you had to stay within the “boundary” created by the nine dots.

Taking that into consideration, here is the answer.

“No one said you had to stay within the box.” The illustration above, I hope, is self-explanatory.

The expression “think outside the box” sounds very creative, insightful, and is indeed useful. It reminds us to lift our heads out of the gutter, step back, and observe the situation as a whole. It reminds us to not allow the given rules of the situation limit our thought process by throwing up brick walls at every turn. It reminds us that the answer is actually “outside” the box, not within it.

This expression, however, is not always accurate.

Often, there is no box at all.

“Think outside the box” assumes that there is indeed a box to think “outside” of. Take a look again at the diagram of nine dots. Let me assure you, there is no box. A simple grid of nine dots. This “box,” then, is a pure creation of our imagination. The imaginary box dupes us twice. First, when we were trying to connect the dots (unsuccessfully), we assigned ourselves an imagined rule that we had to stay “within” non-existent boundaries. That led to nothing. Second, even after we figured out how to connect the dots with four unbroken strokes (by going “outside” the self-assigned, non-existent boundaries), we slap our knees and resort to saying something like “and that’s why people say think outside the box.”

Often, there is no box at all.

The only alleged box is the imaginary one we perceive, limiting our thought process to such non-existent boundaries. Therefore, the correct expression should be “think like there is no box.” In other words, think like you’re drawing your own boundaries, because there are none to begin with.

Problem solving requires one to work with a set of “givens,” meaning there already exists certain pieces to the puzzle that one simply cannot discard. Fair enough. But those pieces themselves are rarely “boundaries” imposed to set the outer limits of one’s proposed solutions.

Creativity, unlike problem solving, rarely prescribes a set of givens to work with, so thinking like you’re drawing your own box should be simpler. The dots on a grid do not signify anything; they are mere reference points, mere suggestions, designed to prick the tiniest of holes in a bulging water balloon of ideas. The reference points do the pricking, and the gushing thought process does the rest. Remember, no one told you to connect the dots within a supposed square outline. But also remember, no one told you to imagine a box in the first place.

Think like there is no box.

I am known for saying “lawyers are assholes,” but I make a conscious effort to include the word “most” before the phrase. Some of us are creative, some of us are virtuous, and some of us are simply amazing people.

As I often lazily do on lazy mornings, I was browsing through a jumble of news articles when I came across Ms. Miyoun Lee’s story. Two things hit me. First, she’s a lawyer, but her office is combined with a café. Mind blown. Second, she’s a young, solo practitioner, and her practice focuses on sex crimes in Korea. As I read through a myriad of interviews (all by Korean media), I knew I had to contact her and interview her myself, in the hopes that her story would spread further than the natural borders of the Korean peninsula. So I did that.

In a maiden Q&A for i am not a lawyer, I conversed with Miyoun on her creative venture, her passion for helping victims of sex crimes, and why she does what she does – in the small town of Euijungboo on the outskirts of bustling Seoul. Affectionately known as the “Neighborhood Lawyer,” her true colors shine from start to finish. The following is a translation of the original interview, which was conducted in Korean. Thank you Miyoun for taking the time to do this. It was definitely a meaningful opportunity for me, and I know it will resonate in the hearts of many, lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

*          *          *

INL: A law office and a café. This is a breakthrough combination. As a total coffee addict myself, and as this blog contains many essays on coffee, I’m curious about your coffee preferences and patterns. When and how do you drink coffee throughout the workday? Do you brew your own or have preferences?

Neighborhood Lawyer: By no means am I a coffee connoisseur or snob. I know just enough to detect whether the coffee is weak or strong, burnt. I prefer stronger coffee and don’t really have a preference. As soon as I reach my office in the morning, my sister brews me a strong Americano, and I usually drink about three cups a day.

INL: “Law” and “law firm” sound stiff by nature, which makes the convergence of the law with coffee more intriguing. What prompted you to come up with such a unique combination? Do you take part in running the café?

Neighborhood Lawyer: I couldn’t stand structured bureaucracies, so I didn’t want to work in an established organization. A good thing about being a lawyer is that you have the option to open up your own shop and go solo if you wanted to, and in doing so, I wanted to create a workspace that personally appealed to me. “General Doctor” in the Hongdae area in Seoul is a neighborhood hospital mixed with a café. I was intrigued by that concept and thought, if a hospital can be run like a café, why not a law office? So I discussed the idea with my sister, a gifted craftswoman, and devised our café-like law office. My sister is in sole control of running the café. But at the moment, it’s such a small operation in a small town, so I’m supporting the café financially through my practice.

INL: As I read through the “Neighborhood Law Firm” blog, I hinted a level of pride in the cookies and pastries offered at your café. Do you have any particular treats you’re fond of? Are all the pastries baked in-house at the café? Where do you purchase your coffee? Any special drinks you’re particularly fond of?

Neighborhood Lawyer: My talented sister does all the baking herself. Personally, the carrot cake and peanut butter cookies are my favorite. As for the coffee beans, we purchase them from a small local roaster we frequented before we even opened the café. Our coffee is good, but I’d also recommend our seasonal beverages, including our in-house ginger ale and lemon tea. Delicious!

INL: It’s interesting that your office is right in the middle of a traditional outdoor market in the small town of Euijungboo. Why did you choose Euijungboo over Seoul, and why did you choose a marketplace? Could you tell me more about the market? I’m also curious as to how you found your current building, and how you went about remodeling your office space and café. What are some pros and cons of opening your practice in an open-air market?

Neighborhood Lawyer: I was born and raised in Euijungboo, so returning here for my practice made sense. While many law firms in Korea are located near courthouses and other official buildings, I didn’t want to follow that path, so I expanded my search beyond the usual legal and business districts. I’ve walked these streets in my youth, so choosing Euijungboo came naturally.

My office is in the midst of a traditional outdoor market, known as “Cheil Market.” It’s fairly big, and the “ddukbokki” [Ed. rice cakes, fish cakes, lettuce, and other goodies smothered in smoltering gochujang sauce] is incredible. Everyone in the market is warm and welcoming.

Euijungboo is a relatively small city, with many older buildings still standing throughout the market. Many of them don’t even have elevators. After a long search, we luckily found one renting its second and third floors, perfect for our dual-concept approach. And the landlord cut us a great deal on the rent, which never hurts.

In terms of design, my sister and I researched the layout and interior of several cafes we liked and remodeled our space accordingly, and more importantly, we had to stay on budget. My sister hates dainty things, and I also felt that we could slowly fill the space out, little by little. So our café has a lot of intentional “empty” space.

The "Neighborhood Lawyer and Cafe" is on the second and third floors of the building in the forefront, in the middle of the market.

The “Neighborhood Lawyer and Cafe” is on the second and third floors of the building in the forefront, in the middle of the market.

INL: Given the location of your office, how would you describe your client base? What were some memorable cases you had this past year?

Neighborhood Lawyer: Even in small Euijungboo, there are many chain cafes around the central downtown area, where my office is located. Most of our café customers prefer our atmosphere over those of the chain shops, and we have regulars who camp down for hours with a MacBook, enjoying our space.

My clients are as varied as the market itself. Some clients stop by while strolling through the market. Others were dissatisfied with the legal service they received at other firms and intentionally looked me up to change lawyers.

Given the type of work I do, I’m frequently asked about the most rewarding cases or memorable moments. To me, every case is worthwhile and meaningful, and every case and client has been memorable. I’m still a young lawyer, so everything is still new, offering valuable learning opportunities at every step.

INL: Why did you choose the law? Did you have any different plans or goals while growing up?

Neighborhood Lawyer: My father suggested that I choose law as my undergraduate major. As a law student, I assumed everyone had to take the judicial exam after graduation. If I’d known how tough that exam was beforehand, I wouldn’t have even started. I spent about five years preparing for the exam. After I failed the first round, I quit, and wanted to write fiction or take up photography for a living. I felt groundless, lost.

INL: Taking the bar exam here was a pain. I’ve heard horror stories about the Korean examination process. Could you tell me more about the exam, the preparation, and what happens after you’ve passed it?

Neighborhood Lawyer: The Korean judicial exam is comprised of three stages. The first round is all multiple choice, the second is a series of essays, and the final round is an in-person interview. If you pass the first round of multiple choice questions, you are granted two opportunities to take the second round of essays. The multiple choice questions cover four subjects − constitutional law, civil law, criminal law, and an elective of your choosing. The essay portion cover seven subjects − constitutional law, civil law, criminal law, civil procedure, criminal procedure, administrative law, and contracts. The essay round goes on for four days, a true killer. Two subjects a day, for four days. I don’t even want to think about it.

If you pass all three rounds of the judicial exams, you now enter what’s called the “Judicial Research and Training Institute,” where you take part in practical training for two years. Specifically, you practice writing judicial opinions for civil and criminal trials, and receive practical training for civil and criminal defense. The first year is mostly spent in the classroom, learning theory, while the second year is spent in real world of courts, prosecutors’ offices and law firms.

Ever since Korea adopted the law school system four years ago, the judicial exam and “bar exam” are being used concurrently. In the law school system, you take a grad school entrance exam, and upon graduating, you take something similar to a U.S. bar exam to earn your license.

INL: Compared to the bar exam here, your judicial exams and the two additional years of training sounds tough. So instead of choosing the big law pay check or a comfy judicial post or prosecuting job, why did you decide to open a solo practice? What were the difficulties of going solo, and what were the rewards of working alone?

Neighborhood Lawyer: As I mentioned, I wasn’t made for structured organizations or bureaucracy. I didn’t think I would be happy in any of those.

Financing was the toughest part of opening a solo practice. I was constantly worried about whether I would earn enough to even keep the office running. My goal wasn’t to make the big bucks, but rather, I wanted something more sustainable for the long run.

Working alone is a perfect fit for me. I’m kind of a perfectionist, and I’m not good at distributing work to others. And I really hate people nosing around in my work [laugh]. These traits totally make me sound like I have a personality disorder or something (just kidding, I’m fine).

INL: I’ve heard that you specialize in representing victims of sex crimes. Is that your sole practice, or do you take on other cases as well? What sparked your interest in sex crimes? In terms of client interaction, what’s different about representing sex crime victims?

Neighborhood Lawyer: During my second and final year at the “Judicial Research and Training Institute,” Korea initiated a public defender service program for victims of child sexual molestation. Within the confines of Korean criminal procedure, the victim is usually left out of much of the process. However, in sexual harassment cases, the victim’s testimony is often the most critical piece of evidence, or sometimes the only credible evidence. Taking this into account, there was a great need to assist the victims in the process.

The problem was that, while the victims were getting assistance during the trial, they were actually re-victimized by unrelenting and insensitive government agencies, lawyers and other arms of the justice system. The press certainly did not help protect the victims, either.

So when I started my own practice, I was determined to focus on sexual harassment cases, to make sure that the victims were fairly protected throughout the entire trial process, and not seen as mere nuggets of information. Of course, to pay the bills, I regularly take on other civil and criminal matters as well.

I was first interested in victims of sex crimes in college, when an upperclassman introduced me to some women’s study courses. There were a myriad of different areas within women’s studies, but given my law major, I was more interested in sex crimes. As I researched the issue in depth and read through critical court opinions, I noticed something wasn’t right. So before I started studying for the judicial exam, I spent more time delving into books and documentaries focusing on women’s issues.

In terms of approaching sex crime victims, there isn’t one clear method or checklist. Victims come from different age groups and professions, and the degree of victimization and relationship to the assaulter vary greatly. Also, approaching a client with special needs presents a new situation as well. However, even with innate differences, there are a couple of key things to watch out for. First, to maintain the integrity of the victim’s story or statement, I try to stay away from leading or suggestive questions that would embellish or alter the facts in any way. I also try not to prejudge anything in favor of or against the client. Second, keeping my emotions in check is important. I can’t afford to be too emotionally attached to the victim’s story.

INL: I’d like to ask you about sex crimes and cruelty against people with special needs in Korea in general. What’s behind the never ending news on these horrific crimes? How can Korea, or society in general, solve these issues?

Neighborhood Lawyer: Sex crimes and cruelty against people with special needs can be categorized as “power crimes” aimed at socially vulnerable individuals. The greatest problem is that our society in general is losing sensitivity towards socially weak and vulnerable groups. The current education system, only rewarding “first place” achievers, is also a problem, along with the common recognition that only praises and encourages success in terms of monetary gain or political influence.

There are too many issues, and they cannot be solved at once. To implant a sense of community and care for the socially vulnerable groups, the most important thing is to educate our children in that manner from a very young age. But to correctly educate our children, the parents’ values need to change first. Because of the interconnectedness of the issues, no one educational program or simple approach will present a cure. I constantly worry about these issues, and yet never come up with a clear solution.

INL: Whether in Korea or here in the U.S., I think lawyers are in a tough spot financially, as there are fewer opportunities. Any words of advice for current or future law students, and practicing lawyers who are concerned about their career path? How did you overcome your financial difficulties and expectations of others? Now that you’ve been going solo for almost two years, what are your dreams and goals, both personally and for your neighborhood law firm café?

Neighborhood Lawyer: I’m in the same boat as other young lawyers, with financial debt and a practice that doesn’t yet rake in the cash. I guess I’ll be able to pay off the loans at some point. I try not to let the finances get too much in the way of having fun, though. Getting through school was tough, and studying for the judicial exam and completing the two years of practical training was worse, and I basically sold my happiness throughout those years. I thought I’d be happy after I passed the exam and became a lawyer, but that wasn’t necessarily true. So instead of choosing a particular “job,” I honestly asked myself what it is I wanted to do, and opted to choose a path that was centered on allowing me to pursue what I truly wanted to pursue. I found something that would make me happy in the long run, and I am glad and thankful to be doing that now. My true passion is helping victims of sex crimes, but I also have to take on other cases to keep that passion a reality. Because I know that all of my cases fuel my true passion and calling, every day on the job is fun and meaningful. I am now thoroughly convinced that doing what you love for a living is the greatest blessing of all.

My dream is to stay put in Euijungboo as its neighborhood lawyer, for a long, long time. There will undoubtedly be obstacles along the road, but I will never quit trying.

Ms. Miyoun Lee and the Neighborhood Lawyer and Cafe own all the rights to the images incorporated into this interview.

As many of you are acutely aware, I am a coffee addict. Sourcing, brewing and drinking, however, are just acts in a grand symphony. Café history and culture has the breadth and depth that eclipse those of pubs and bars, and yet what the average coffee connoisseur sees and experiences seems all too one dimensional. To enjoy coffee at its fullest potential, a discussion of the “coffeehouse” – the brick and mortar, the counters, the stools, the people – is more than relevant.

Enter Niels Lee, a close friend of mine, trained historian, and fellow coffee addict. The combination of years of wandering through cafés all over the map and a thorough understanding of contextual coffee history is the prime reason I reached out to him to author the first guest piece for i am not a lawyer. As I have broadened my own observance from the mere taste of coffee to its significance of “place,” Niels reminds us of what it means to enter a coffeehouse, to order your special drink, to plunk down in your seat. What it means to “drink coffee.”

Enjoy.

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Our contemporary coffee culture has been in a mood swing of sorts. Coffee is still consumed in copious amounts in its most traditional form, yet it seems our modern gleeful entrepreneurial spirit, mixed with a hint of capitalist innuendo, has produced some interesting outcomes. People for some time have been using coffee grinds as ant and flea repellents, additional ingredients for their compost and odor sanitizers. Many of you thought that coffee from monkey droppings was weird; well, here in the West we are now being introduced to a $50 per cup coffee made from the finest ingredients from elephant dung. Oh, and coffee obsessed conservationists should rejoice, as you can now wear your recycled coffee beans on your daily runs. And of course, amidst the Americanos, cappuccinos and espressos, we have witnessed the rise of the ice blended drink that tried to sound sophisticated by labeling itself as a “frappuccino.” Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy these new attempts at recycling coffee beans and inventing new forms of coffee. “Tradition,” if anything, is built on the steady acceptance of innovation. I occasionally enjoy the drink that skyrocketed Starbucks to a passable franchise. I just wish the “frappuccino” didn’t try so hard to join the traditional coffee club.

The actual modern pushback against the adulterous affairs of coffee is lead by the “Epicureans.” No, not the pretentious “coffee snob” crowd whose sole identity is defined and confined by their defiance against Starbucks. I’m talking about the “true believers” who discuss and practice the fine art of grinding, roasting, temperature obsessing, hand-pouring and finger-giving to those who can’t tell the difference between a hand-pour and an Americano. I for one could never join this elite subculture where most seem to be card carrying members of the Specialty Coffee Association of America or hippies who spend their time in cafes well known for their torn up couches. Not that I would reject a certificate from the SCAA or avoid spending time with my friends who seamlessly use the words “those were the days” and “fair-trade” in the same sentence. I guess I’m just more of the view that the greatest evil is not a terrible cup of joe from 7/11, but energy drinks that shamelessly promote their relevance by claiming it can replace coffee simply because it is more convenient, devoid of heat, and full of “energy inducing ingredients.” Let’s face it, toothpaste and shampoo commercials with their fake smiles are more convincing. At least those selling bad coffee know how terrible their products are- the energy drink crowd actually seem to believe in their messianic pomposity.

Up to this point, most of you have heard it all, the cries of the coffee cultural wars. Yet I bring up the energy drink industry for it to act not only as my personal linguistic piñata, but because it is part of a larger issue regarding the coffee industry. While the battle between the “innovators” and “true believers” continue, I lament at the decline of the “coffeehouse” culture. The very idea of the traditional coffeehouse culture is steadily contracting to the point of nonexistence, and those pesky energy drinks aren’t helping.

What is this coffeehouse culture you ask? Wait, aren’t the young, old, and odd all converging to the nearest coffee shop to relax, engage in conversations, get work done, and to use the restroom? Aren’t I actually typing this very post in a coffee shop filled with people engaging in various social activities? Well, not exactly. I’m a son of the South, studied in the Midwest and currently live in the East Coast, all the while stormed every coffeehouse my Wal-Mart bike would take me. Whenever I stopped by local establishments, I was often struck by how customers were always quite self-enclosed. People were either on their laptops, talking about work with (usually) a single co-worker, reorienting their iPhone screens or zipping out of the café while juggling their cup of joe, briefcase, suit jacket, and divorce papers. If a local talent is out there in the corner singing hear heart out, barely half of the room seemed to notice, with pockets of people looking up once in a while to give an indifferent round of applause. Now, I will be the first to say there is nothing wrong with relaxing with a friend or ignoring a struggling musician, but it seems like we have gotten used to bringing our individualistic tendencies out into the public. Yet coffee houses in the past were more than extensions of our living rooms. Let me explain, with a very, very short history of the cafe.

The first users of coffee as a social beverage were the Sufis in Yemen during the turn of the 15th century. Within two centuries, the beverage had spread through the rest of Europe. According to pre-eminent Ottoman historian Cemal Kafadar, coffee houses on the other hand were first established in Istanbul in 1551 primarily for local Sufi orders, but the idea of a coffeehouse steadily expanded into the public arena, and by the 18th century, coffee and its houses became an integral part of Middle Eastern and European social gatherings. This was possible not only due to coffee’s bittersweet taste and its ability to manipulate our biological clocks, but because coffee houses’ cultural and intellectual output. Initially, the coffee houses gained popularity in the Middle East due to its various forms of public entertainment, such as shadow puppet theatres and meddah (storytelling), while European cafes steadily began to define their place in society as unique intellectual hubs. While great German composers such as Beethoven and Bach often composed their works in cafes, English coffeehouses or “Penny Universities” gathered intellectuals, playwrights, local professors and journalists to discuss obscure philosophy and the politics of the day. In Vienna, those who were shunned by mainstream academia – the majority of which were the Jewish intelligentsia – would relocate themselves to salons and cafes to discuss the social ills of the day, so much that as the historian Steven Beller notes, the proverbial local saying was “the Jew belongs in the coffee-house.” With this in mind, Matthew Green has recently asked, “Can you imagine walking in, sitting next to a stranger and asking for the latest news? Or slamming a recent novel down next to someone’s coffee and asking for their opinion before delivering yours? It’s not the done thing.”

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. In many ways, the modern coffeehouse has improved, with relatively cheap coffee, free WiFi, semi-comfortable chairs and endless supply of bad music. But aesthetics and service aside, most coffee enthusiasts seem to be unaware of how historically, coffee itself was not the major focus, but rather the brick walls and wooden tables that allowed a place of refuge from everyday toils. The great intellectual and cultural hubs of yesterday are now either glorified vending machines for the busy worker or where the coffee elite can converse about the superior quality of their beans.

We can discuss the rising rent costs, the inevitability of cultural manipulations, the menace of the buy-one-coffee-and-stay-for-three-hours crowd, the fact that some people are just turned off by graduate students pretending to understand Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, and the simple hectic schedules many of us have to maintain. (It is of course during this confusion, the “energy drinks” with their closing caps, portability, and lack of a burning sensation, steadily rose to feed on our modern illness.) For some political conservatives, the constant Republican-bashing and promotion of a socialist utopia in certain cafes is disturbing, thus driving three individuals to establish the Conservative Cafe in Crown Point, Indiana. This conservative themed café has great ambitions to create a new franchise, where the “fair and balanced” is on 24/7, coffee blends include Conservative, Liberal, Moderate, Radical Right and sells T-shirts with patriotic slogans such as “Peace Through Superior Firepower,” whatever that means.

These troubles aside, if part of our modern civilization was born and sustained with the help of intellectually curious individuals holding cups of coffee in shady cafes, perhaps it’s a tradition worthy of continuation despite our modern ills. I’m not too pleased that one of the most historical coffeehouses in London is now home to a random Starbucks, but if that particular café focuses on creating an atmosphere that draws the various forms of social activity instead coming up with another “frappuccino” flavor that sounds great on paper but a monstrosity to taste, I think I could live with that.

The revival of the coffeehouse culture, of course, transcends politically themed cafés, does not really care about whether you’ll join in on the revolution, loves conversations that will last for hours, invites local talent for various kinds of entertainment, and tolerates poor graduate students struggling to sound significant. The coffee shop was influential because it provided alternative forms of entertainment and intellectual activity; the cup of coffee you bought was a mere entrance fee. Call me a romantic, for imagining such a cafe in world of instant gratification and uber-capitalism at its finest. But then again, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “I’m a romantic; a sentimental person think things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.”

Anyhow, until I see the rise of snobs decrying the deteriorating state of coffeehouses, I’m staying out of all coffee related controversies, clashes and discussions.

Oh, and energy drinks, I await your defamation lawsuits.

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Niels is one of the many poor graduate students you will find wandering around various coffeehouses. He is trained as a historian, a romantic by trade, loves Dostoyevsky, and hates taking out the trash. Publications include “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and Ukrainian Identity” published by The Birch, but understands that most people don’t really care much about tedious history.

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