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posse.b&wIf you are looking for specific advice pertaining to law school, skip this blog. You’ll be disappointed. If you want to hear about a few life lessons, keep on reading.

Every fall, our recruiting season starts in Boston. We fly in from our corners of the country and like clockwork we meet in the hotel lobby at 9:30 on Monday and hop in the rental car. The travel season ends in Los Angeles a couple of months later and we head home to hunker down for the reading season. Year after year, season after season. We’re migratory creatures – like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano each spring, or senior citizens seeking the warmer temperatures in Florida each winter. If you’re lucky enough, really lucky actually, you end up traveling with a group of people whose company you enjoy immensely and whom you think of as your extended family.  I found an old photo the other day – that’s Bill Hoye from Duke standing next to me, Rick Geiger from Cornell sitting in front of Bill, and Ken Kleinrock from NYU sitting in front of me.

When Rick mentioned to us that this past year was likely to be his last in the business, we sat in silence. Then, we tried to talk him out of it. Rick, being the good sport that he is, listened to us come up with all kinds of scenarios to keep him with us for a bit longer. I even offered up unlimited vacation time at our house in Hawaii. The house isn’t built yet and is just an idea, but the timing could be perfect, I said, if he put off his retirement for a while. I think we actually believed we had managed to convince him to stay one more year. In hindsight, though, knowing Rick, he would have thought it all out before verbalizing it to us. Once he put those words out into the universe, there would be no turning back. It was selfish of us to try to talk him out of it – we were thinking of what we wanted and of what we feared losing rather than what Rick needed and wanted. We were selfish at that point, but we eventually got on board as is usually the case with any family.

We’ve learned lots over the years from Rick. Let me just mention a few things that stood out for me. First, he’s got this uncanny sense of direction – an internal GPS. You will never get lost if you’re with him. He always turns and glances back to get a sense of the view from the other direction. What a great way to approach life. Geiger Life Lesson #1: Turn back every once in awhile and realize where you’re coming from. Find your “place” and don’t forget to look behind to see where you’ve been, where you’ve come from. Second, Rick became someone I regularly turned to for advice. We’ve known each other for a long time. In that time, trust was developed and, more importantly, trust was constantly reinforced. I was always on the receiving end of honest and thoughtful advice. Geiger Life Lesson #2: Find your trusted sounding board; find that essential circle of trust. In your life you will seek out advice from others and you will dispense advice to others. Don’t just pick anybody; pick the person who has shown himself or herself to be a steadfast and trustworthy ally. And remember that every circle needs care and tending. Third, when I suffered losses in my family, I found solace in my travel schedule. Of all places, right? Rick knew how much to ask; he knew when to let me talk; he knew when to divert my attention; he knew when to make me laugh. All three of my travel buddies were such rocks of support and provided a much-needed respite from my grief and, by doing so, allowed me the space to grieve. Geiger Life Lesson #3: Learn to be a good listener. When you listen well and carefully, you’ll know how to respond and you’ll know how best to help. Listen with your heart and you’ll hear what you need to hear.

Rick’s departure leaves a void. Plain and simple. And, it’s not just in our travel group. He’s had such a huge impact in the law admissions world. When we were last together early in the summer, we watched him very quietly say his goodbyes; we watched him leave our admissions world for his next adventure. He slipped that ring on his finger and disappeared. And now, here we are. It’s just the three of us. The posse of four rides no more. We sit at our desks – one here in Palo Alto, one in Durham, one in a tiny village called Manhattan – and we’re putting our fall travel plans in order. There is a void and we are feeling it. There is a great disturbance in the Force. (Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in one paragraph!) But, let me come back to the notion of family. When you think about your own family, you realize that family members are constantly moving in and out of the family sphere. You go to college, you strike out on your own. Yet, you come home for the holidays or for vacations or for extended stays. We don’t begrudge our family members from moving on. It’s just what happens. We let them go – to the next step, the next phase, the next adventure. So, Rick, see you soon. You’re hosting Thanksgiving this year.

I’m throwing in a short Simon and Garfunkel song to end this blog. Bookends. What a time it was.









I love flip-flops. I never leave home without at least one pair in my suitcase. I’ve got them scattered all over the house. Blue ones, green ones, red ones, brown ones, ones made of leather, ones made of rubber, ones with Hawaiian-inspired designs, ones with Japanese-inspired designs, ones with contoured foam footbeds, ones made of durable 100% EVA, ones that are on the dressy side (is that possible?) and even one with frilly bows (no $$ was spent on this one – it was a gift). As you can see, flip-flops are high on my list of faves.

I know what you’re asking yourself right now. “Is she really doing a blog about flip-flops?” Hah! You should know me better than that by now. What I really want to draw attention to is the other definition for a flip-flop – not the noun usage of a backless, loose sandal, but the verb usage of a sudden change or reversal. So, let’s make a move and transition from the realm of footwear into the realm of wait list behavior. Do not flip-flop. Do not be the one who flip-flops. If you’ve decided to remain on the wait list, think carefully about what you will do when I come calling with an offer to join the class. I will never ask you to decide immediately and on the spot. I am fully aware that by making the call to you I am throwing a fair amount of chaos into your life. Plans need to be reconfigured on short notice. Can you make the move in time? Can you really walk away from that lease you just signed? Can you realistically switch gears at this point in the game? The responsible and organized wait list candidate has thought through all the ramifications of making the move and has worked through his or her own “if this happens” scenarios. As the summer progresses, you’ll not have the luxury of planning a visit to the campus next weekend if I make that call to you today. That homework was due yesterday. You need to be proactive and think ahead. If you can’t afford to stay on the wait list to the bitter end, then it’s great to have a plan in which you decide that if a call doesn’t come by August 1, for example, then you’re committing whole hog to the other school. If you can afford to wait it out, more power to you and you will have a special place in my heart. In either case, YOU have a plan. And, that’s the smart thing to do. Do not be the candidate who accepts the offer only to email or call me a few days later saying you just made a B-I-G M-I-S-T-A-K-E. Sure, it’s frustrating for me on the receiving end, but imagine what it does to you to shift gears yet again. That back-and-forth movement is making ME dizzy. All I’m saying is that this doesn’t have to happen if you think things through carefully and thoroughly. Consider where and how you want to spend the next three years. Listen to your gut telling you where you will thrive. If it feels right to you and if you strategize ahead of time and come up with your own personal methodology (if this, then that; if not this, then…), you’ll not be one who flip-flops.

Flip-flops sometimes make a flapping sound as you walk. The only flapping I want to hear should be coming from the flip-flops on your feet.



L.A.W.S. Season 2, Episodes 3, 4 and 5…

We’ve taken our 14-school show on the road again this year. We were in DC and New York in late June – Episodes 1 and 2 – and we’re heading to Chicago and Los Angeles next week for Episodes 3 and 4. We’ll be in the Windy City on Tuesday, July 14 and then we’ll all head on over to the City of Angeles for the July 16 event. We wrap up the season with Episode 5 in Atlanta in September. After that, we hunker down and start working on bringing in the Class of 2019. Yes, 2019.

Last year was a huge success – great attendance, great conversation on the panels, great conversations with candidates at individual tables after the panel. If the DC and New York events are any indication of how Season 2 will end up, we’re in really good shape for another lively summer. Just so you know, there were no cliffhangers in Season 1. We didn’t leave anyone hanging with any mysterious insights or unanswered questions – at least I hope we didn’t. So, rest assured that no former law school representative will reappear this season in a shower scene after a dream revelation. It’s dawned on me that most of you will have no idea of what I’m talking about so take a look at this and you’ll understand the reference.

Go to our L.A.W.S page to get more details and to register. Come and hang out with us for a bit– we’re actually a pretty fun group of people to be around. Usually. See you in Chicago. Or LA. Or Atlanta.

(As a teaser, I have a L.A.W.S. attendee from each of the cities we visited last year enrolled here at SLS. Just saying…)


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Remember getting cards in grade school and never knowing for certain if someone thought you were special because your teacher said everyone had to give everyone else a card – no playing favorites? She clearly did not know the true meaning behind this holiday. You wanted that affirmation! And what about those candy hearts with such sweet messages? BE MINE. I’M YOURS. KISS ME. TRUE LOVE. YOU AND ME. SEND CASH. Oh, wait, scratch that last one. Hearts all over the place. Too many red roses. Chocolate this and chocolate that. Too much pink and too much sugar.  So, what will I be doing on the 14th? I won’t be sending any cards – to whom would I send them? And I won’t be receiving any in return – who would send them to me? Not my husband – it’s all he can do to remember my birthday. Why tax his brain with having to remember to get a birthday card AND a Valentine’s Day card in the same month? There will be no red roses. No candy hearts.  Instead, I’m going to spend the day at my computer reading your stories. I’ll try to think of your personal statements as longer versions of those candy hearts. LOVE SLS. ADMIT ME. SLS 4-EVER. I’M YOURS. CALL ME. So maybe love will be in the air after all. And when I need a break from those applications, I will instead celebrate a somewhat more obscure holiday. Ferris Wheel Day. Yes, February 14th is the birthday of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. who invented the ferris wheel. Can you imagine a world without ferris wheels? This is something worthy of a holiday.

Just so you don’t think I’m a complete curmudgeon about Cupid and his arrow, let me leave you with a song appropriate for this day given it’s title and the fact that it has a timely message we all should take to heart (pun intended).

Gotta run. Need to find a ferris wheel…



It’s funny, isn’t it, how a single word can have one meaning to you for the longest time and then all of a sudden you come to the realization that there is a whole other life to that word?

Growing up on the Big Island, the term “wayfinding” has always for me described the method by which the ancient Polynesians charted their course as they navigated across the ocean to new lands. To find your way, look up to the stars. Look up to the sun. Look at the ocean around you. In Hawaii during the 1970s, a double-hulled sailing canoe similar to the ones that brought the first Polynesians to the Hawaiian archipelago was built and launched. Imagine all that went into the building of that canoe – the opportunity to connect with your past, to trace where you came from in the same fashion that your ancestors did generations ago. Think about the chance to recover your voyaging heritage, think about the possibility of a cultural reawakening. This canoe, the Hokule’a, the Star of Gladness, would travel to other islands in Polynesia with seafarers using no mechanical sailing instruments and, instead, opting to guide by looking up.

That journey of the Hokule’a is not really what this post is about. Let me get back on track. Earlier this quarter, I was sitting in on a three-hour (yes, three hours) website redesign meeting and the first person speaking was talking all this computer design mumbo-jumbo talk. My mind was flitting off in multiple directions and then I heard him use the word “wayfinding” and I sat up a little taller in my chair. He used the word to describe how visitors to the website find their way from the home page to the pages they’re interested in reading. Oh my gosh, wayfinding is not only about navigating by stars? I jotted the word down in my notebook in capital letters and have since become even more fascinated with the word. I remember thinking at the time that the topic would be a good blog entry, but as you may have noticed, it never got written. Then just this past Friday, two colleagues sauntered in to my office to chat and I mentioned how I got lost up on the newly renovated third floor of our building because there are no signs. “Better wayfinding needed.” one of them stated. There’s that word again. So go back to the first sentence of this blog. Wayfinding is that word for me.

Think about it. Wayfinding. Finding your way. Let’s say you’re in college and you aren’t 100% certain law is in your future. Should you take the easy route and just apply anyway? Not the best course of action, right? Instead, check out the career planning office; go to some pre-law events; spend time with a panel of four law school deans who travel the country every fall talking about this (Geiger, Hoye, Kleinrock and Deal!); visit the law school on your campus and learn what’s going on at these places; see if your interest areas overlap with any faculty research interests and volunteer your time. See if your alma mater has alumni who are practicing lawyers and connect with them. Shadow friends who are in law school at the moment. Do some exploring. Let’s say you’re sure you want to go to law school at some point, but you just don’t know if you want to do it now. Should you ignore this timing issue you have and just figure you’d end up in law school anyway so you might as well apply now? Not the best course of action, right? Think about what interests you have right now and let it flow from there. Check out organizations whose missions overlap with your areas of interest. Maybe there’s an employment opportunity; maybe there’s a chance to really see if that’s what you want to do. Again, shadow friends who are in law school and learn first hand the advantages and disadvantages of taking some time off. Whatever you do, don’t just sit back and let life happen to you. Do some exploring. No, you’re not going to look up to the stars to find your path as the ancient Polynesians did, but you are going to chart a course to get to your goal. You may veer off course, but you’ll steady yourself and get back on course. In a previous post, I talked about the importance of maps. The ancient Polynesians did not have a physical map to hold on to, but they had a map nonetheless. That map was above in the skies. But what happens when the skies are clouded over and you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you and certainly not anything above you? You don’t panic. You look around. You observe. You listen. You gather information. You learn to trust your instincts. You recalibrate as necessary. You find your way.

I usually end my first blog of the admissions season with a song that’s tied to California. I actually thought about “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas and The Papas but opted for this one instead – a nod to the stars…

328 Days…

That’s quite the dry spell between my last blog and this entry, isn’t it? To be truthful, though, that September 8 posting wasn’t really mine. I had a paragraph only and Jake Klonoski did all the heavy lifting, but I just can’t face the day count being any higher so I’m still calling that posting one of my own. I won’t delve into any kind of deep analysis concerning the reasons for the radio silence on my end. Let’s just chalk it up to my muse being on an extended vacation or, even more fittingly, to the vagaries of life and leave it at that.

So, let’s now flip the lens back on to you and let me mention a summer project I’ve been working on with a group of very good friends from across the country. I feel like I’m about to write that all-too-familiar “What I did on my summer vacation” essay we all wrote way back when. At a gathering in December right here on the Stanford campus, a few of us came up with an idea for a series of summer workshops for law school applicants to be held across the country in four major cities. Get a cohort of law schools together who are similar in numerous ways – our applicant pools overlap considerably, we approach legal education in comparable ways, our graduates’ career opportunities remain robust – and make the very strong case that attending law school is a worthy undertaking. Come up with a catchy name – L.A.W.S. (aka Law Admissions Workshop Series) and we are on our way. Over the course of the winter and spring we worked out a plan via 14-way conference calls (try finding a time that works for all 14 school representatives from three different time zones to be on a call), smaller working groups and lot of email flying back and forth. And, at the same time we’re all trying to read files and build our classes. How did we manage it all?

Our first two events – Washington, DC and New York – were big hits. I say this based on the packed room, on the quality of the panel presentation by my colleagues, and on the quality of the questions posed to me during the law school fair-type event that followed the panel. The next two events are coming up – Tuesday (August 5th) in Chicago and Thursday (August 7th) in Los Angeles. If you’re in either city next week, make sure to add the event to your calendar. To get more details and to register, check out http://www.lawadmissionsworkshopseries.com/.

Come and spend the evening with me and thirteen of my good friends.

Gotta go. I’m keeping this short because I need to get this posted before I hit 329 days…

Bookends, Reflections and Jake…

January 12, 2011.  Jake Klonoski was a 1L starting off his winter quarter and I asked him to be a guest blogger.  Fast forward to June 16, 2013 and Jake is walking across the stage at graduation with his daughter in his arms.  Where did all the time go?  I thought it only fitting that Jake be a guest blogger once again.  Kind of like bookends.  He was there in the beginning to give some advice and now here he is again to reflect back on the past three years.

Jake is on another tour of duty – in Kabul – as I type this.  Katie and Maddy are here at home.  Thousands and thousands of miles separate them, but those ties are ever so strong.  Stay safe, Jake.  Come home soon.

Thoughts on Three ­­­Years at SLS

By Jake Klonoski

Remembering the two long lines of velvet tams, family with excited waves and clicking cameras, and the rising notes of Handel’s “The Trumpet Shall Sound” while the Class of 2013 recessed from the graduation ceremony that completed our three-year journey, it is difficult to identify—in that moment or the years leading up to it—any lesson so important that it outshines the sparkle of daily thoughts and reflections that flash through the Stanford Law community.  One of the downsides of being in a place of such creative and inexhaustible minds is that it is nearly impossible to come up with an original reflection that has not been shared more eloquently by a classmate.

Failing to spot any universal exhortations, let me offer a completely personal one: if you have a child, take your child onstage with you to accept your diploma.[1]

Now, child accompaniment is not without risks.  Carefully thinking through the neonatal pick-up BEFORE getting in line to wait for your name to be called is critical.   There is the possibility of the on-stage meltdown.  And woe to the law student who fails to consider how to unload the bundle of joy after descending the stage—juggling the diploma and the infant for the rest of the ceremony, in fear of an ear-piercing cry during the dean’s “Charge To The Class” prevents proper reflection on the gravity of the moment.  You can count yourself lucky if the only disruption is an emphatic yawn.[2]

But the crescendo of applause for the baby accepting a diploma, from audience and classmates alike, makes all the stress worthwhile.  The cheering intensity from onlookers at least doubles, which has the added effect of stunning a carried child for the critical stage-crossing, diploma-receiving moments.  Whether the kid emerges from this stupefied state into smiles or into tears is a question of temperament, but regardless, your official graduation photo, no doubt snapped at that moment, will be suitable for framing and conversation years later.

But a graduation baby is important for more than just future conversation. The cheer that arises from onlookers is more than simply the normal excitement at a cute miniature human.  Instead, a law school baby is a testament to the strength of our law school community, proof that a class has moved beyond the bonds of legal professionalism and grown towards being something more akin to a family.

For one, it seems to be biological instinct to avoid beginning a family at times of danger or uncertainty. [3] Some sense of security in one’s surroundings and in the future seems a prerequisite to take the chance of bringing a new life into the world.  Not every law school offers such assurances.

Secondly, it seems impossible to maintain a law school workload with a newborn without support from your law school community.  Without classmates willing to share notes with an expectant mom slowed by morning sickness, summarizing readings skipped during missed classes, and reassuring a new parent that “no, that lecture missed while your child was sick really wasn’t all that important,” beginning a family can be a recipe for a quick burnout.  But with supportive classmates—like those who threw my wife a baby shower—a baby’s arrival becomes a source of communitywide celebration.

Lastly, the attitude of the faculty and administration is critical.  How much understanding of real life enters into the academic realm?  Is your school the intolerant and uncharitable environment of “The Paper Chase” or are you at the kind of school where the Dean of Admissions offers to babysit?  Do your professors share their tips for training a newborn to sleep through the night?  Does your clinical professor allow you to arrange your trial workload to ensure you can spend precious time with your new family?

A graduation baby offers witness to the fact that a law school has done more than simply prepare its students to take the bar exam.  It has created a home for its students where it is possible to live outside the casebooks and outlines, to enjoy life as more than simply a number with an “L” after it, worrying day after day about securing a job as a law firm associate or judicial clerk.  Though a graduation baby demonstrates this phenomenon, the benefits of a school with such a culture repeatedly touch every student personally and professionally over the three years, and for many years to come.

For the Stanford Law Class of 2013, over a dozen babies were born to a class of 189.[4]

But counting births is not the only, nor the best evidence of Stanford Law being something special among law schools.  And this reflection is intended to be more than a proud father crowing about his baby.  Certainly you don’t miss out at Stanford Law if you aren’t ready or interested in starting a family.  Rather, what makes Stanford remarkable is how much faith it gives in those around you and the community at large, and how much support it offers you if you are willing to take difficult or exciting personal risks, whatever they may be to you.  In my three years here, again and again, as life intervened, the community within the law school proved itself to be exceptional.

In 2010, following the first quarter of my 1L year, when I lost a brother to suicide, I found great comfort in the small kindnesses and support of classmates.  And from professors, there was thoughtful patience and compassionate understanding.  Looking back now, I realize how easily I might have given up on law school and how reasonable such a decision would have been.  Reflecting on that time today, I believe staying at Stanford Law gave me more support than I would have gotten anywhere else.

The next year, when ordered to return to military service and travel across the Pacific with the Navy following the tsunami and nuclear disaster in northwest Japan, the first few weeks of the quarter brought emailed readings from professors and excellent notes taken by classmates.  When I came back, my classmates welcomed me into study groups and patiently caught me up on what I had missed.  Without that support, there is simply no way I could have avoided an academic leave of absence from law school.

These are dramatic illustrations from one student’s experience, but they demonstrate something I witnessed each day: classmates supporting classmates, professors investing in students, and Stanford staff creating a community where all serious (and even some trivial) needs are addressed.

I personally will never forget the day I came into the library after tearing my coat sleeve on a fence.  I asked the librarian at the front desk for a stapler so I could temporarily staple the sleeve together until the end of the day.  Taking a look at my problem and insisting staples were not the best solution, she insisted that I leave my jacket with her.  She said she’d look into what could be done. When I returned a few hours later, she had sewn the jacket back together.

There is simply no place like Stanford Law.  Without a doubt, it offers up a first-class legal education, both in the classroom and with its clinical programs.  A list of the amazing legal minds and professional opportunities at the school writes itself.  But it is the community that is built each year, the woven fabric of mutual support and lasting friendship, that makes the law school experience here exceptional.

Following graduation, while at a legal conference in July, I ran into a recent graduate of a peer law school from a large city in Massachusetts.  After watching my 14-month-old, Madeliene, toddle between my wife and a flock of birds during one of the breaks, the recent graduate asked how it had worked starting a family while in law school.

“Well,” I began, “My wife did the hard work, but I was lucky enough to go to Stanford Law. . .”

Her cinched face stopped me.  “It’s not right,” she interjected with a scoff, “At Stanford you guys have the chance to actually enjoy going to law school.  Who ever heard of such a thing?”

“It is just not right,” she repeated, shaking her head as a bird Madeleine was chasing sprang into flight.

As the students in the graduating class of 2013 study for the bar and take flight, it occurs to me that perhaps our three years were abnormal, that we simply enjoyed good fortune and an overabundance of good people in our class.  Ours was after all the class that began with Stanford’s football team winning the Orange Bowl and ended with victory in the Rose Bowl.

That is why at future SLS graduations I will watch for graduates with their children crossing the stage with them, and I will cheer a bit louder for each of them, their remarkable families, and the community that makes it possible.  Each child tells a story about the kind of school Stanford Law is, the trust students are willing to place in those around them, and the hope Stanford inspires for the future.

To each and every one of you who helped build this supportive community—thank you from me and my family.

And as a final note, if you are the fool who forgets to arrange a baby hand-off with your family and you end up terrified in your seat with your child, unable to really concentrate on what the Dean is saying, it turns out that the Dean’s Charge is uploaded to YouTube a few days after the graduation ceremony.  And it no doubt will be worth your full attention.

For your sake, I just hope your baby is as heavy a sleeper as Madeleine is.


[1] Were this graduation stage imagery to portray my family situation accurately, I would be holding our daughter and my wife, Katie, would be carrying both of us.   Mothers are amazing!

[2] The baby’s, not yours.

[3] Certainly the New Jersey baby boom following Hurricane Sandy offers an alternative narrative of babies springing from times of great distress.  Regardless, I acknowledge the risk of a law student claiming any knowledge of science, patent lawyers aside.

[4] More than just SLS community support, Stanford is a uniquely wonderful place to begin a family due to the informed conversation in birthing class about which contraction tracking app is the most user friendly and which lactation app is most effective in the days after birth.  And in Silicon Valley, if the app doesn’t work well, no doubt a parent in the birthing class is working on Version 2.0.

Yellow is Always Good and It’s Getting Better…

It’s been exactly 95 days since my last entry.  It seems like just yesterday (well, not really just yesterday, but certainly not 95 days ago) that I was trying to get to you know better.   It’s been rather quiet on my end, I know, and while I’ve still got calls to make and files to read before the day is done, I want to put all that aside and come out of my hibernation just for a bit and tell you about a very good thing that recently happened here at SLS.

When the Yellow Ribbon Program was established, SLS made a commitment to provide a match up to $3000 to all students who were Yellow Ribbon eligible.  Soon thereafter, we increased that match to $10500.  A couple of days ago we made the following commitment:  Beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, SLS will contribute the maximum amount possible under the Yellow Ribbon program.  The VA will then match this amount so that between SLS and the VA, the full cost of tuition and fees will be covered for Yellow Ribbon eligible veterans.

Hooah.  Hooyah.  Hurrah.  Huzzah.  Oorah.

Getting To Know You, Getting To Know All About You…

Some of you have already submitted your application and are now waiting on me to do my job.  (No worries – I’m working away and not procrastinating at all.  Really.  The hydrangeas definitely needed to be cut back this past week, the bonsai plant needed immediate attention otherwise who knows what shape it would morph into, the linen closet required rearranging and the spices had to be organized alphabetically.)  Others of you are anxiously awaiting the downtime during the holiday season to put the finishing touches on your application and, for some of you, this break from classes or that project at work means hunkering down and writing the personal statement.  If you find yourself in the latter category, this blog’s for you.  The rest of you can stop reading here and go off and do something a lot more entertaining than reading my advice on personal statements.

Thinking about the personal statement oftentimes conjures up all kinds of anxiety.  Sweaty palms.  Lots of doing other things so as to not do this one last task – you know, avoidance techniques.  Skittish behavior.  Fingers tapping aimlessly on the keyboard.   Stringing sentences together in your head.  It’s a daunting task, isn’t it?  Take two-to-three pages and tell me something that will make you stand out amongst the thousands of others whose personal statements I’ll read this year – not to mention the thousands I read last year or the year before (you get my drift).  Take two to three pages and make me sit up and take notice.  Let’s pause here just for a second and allow me to set the record straight and alleviate any palpitations you may be experiencing by just thinking about the statement.  Forget standing out.  Don’t approach it that way.  Don’t think about a “wow” factor.  No need to do it up in a big and loud fashion.  Instead stop and think for a bit about what it is that you want to convey to me.  We all have stories to tell so your task is really to figure out which story you want to tell me.   If you’ve gone about this properly, you’ve been thinking about topics and have jotted ideas down on a piece of paper or on some electronic device.   You’ve then looked at that list of options and condensed similar ideas, culled out the bad ideas or the “not much to say on that topic” ideas.  The swirling sentences in your head seem a bit more manageable now, don’t they?  So, get started.  Put pencil to paper (or the electronic equivalent).  Just do it (Thanks, Nike, for the catchy phrase).  Let the words flow.  The words probably won’t be pretty on the first try, but keep at it until your voice comes through.  Keep at it until you get to the point where you feel content after that last sentence is completed and you breathe that sigh of relief not because it’s done, but because it’s good.  Read it out loud.  Ask yourself a few questions like these (or exactly these if you trust my advice):  Is this what I want Stanford to know about me?  By the end of the statement, will Stanford know more about me  – beyond how well I write – than before reading it?  Does my statement illustrate how I think, how I view my world?  If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, then you’ve done your job.  I will read your words and I will sit up and take notice.

As I read over this entry, I’m tempted to no longer call this part of the application the personal statement.  The word “statement” sounds so formal.  It should more appropriately be called the personal story.   I say switching out one word for the other makes the task less intimidating and more real.  Unfortunately, it’s too late for me to call up the powers-that-be at LSAC and beg to update our application and make the switch from “statement” to “story”.  But that shouldn’t stop either of us from thinking of it in this way.  From here on out, it’s all about the personal story.  Tap into the creative side of your personality and start writing.  Tell me a story.

[P.S.  I don’t really alphabetize my spices.  Last one out, first one in.]

The Importance of Maps…

A couple of weeks ago as we headed to UCLA for an evening panel, I was lost in my thoughts watching the cars on I-405 creep by ever so slowly.  I was only half-listening to a conversation my travel buddies were having about interstate highways that traversed the country.  Two things dawned on me as I did my half-listening.  First, my travel buddies had a very healthy dose of interest and excitement about the topic and I did not because I have no sense of direction.  I am not good with road maps so 1) never assign me the task of being in charge of reading them when on a road trip and 2) never ask me to partner with you in an orienteering competition. Second, I realized then that while road maps are no doubt fascinating and critical to getting from point A to point B or to points anywhere else, there is also another kind of map that is equally important…your life map.  What is it that you want to do with your life?  What is the direction your life is taking?  Where are you going?  Are you on your way to a meaningful life and, if so, how are you getting there?  The turn on the map I’m concerned about at the moment is the path to law school.  Is your true north pointing to law school?  If so, have you planned out your route?  Get a pencil and a piece of paper and start jotting down some notes or flip open that laptop and start tapping away.  Are you ready to tackle law school now or is there something (or a few things) you’d like to do first?  Remember this – one rarely, if ever, regrets taking time off before heading to law school.  If thinking about other things to do is an apt description of where you are now, then your route will veer a bit before getting back on the JD road.  This is absolutely okay.  How many times have you gone on a road trip and decided to take a side trip along the way and do some exploring? How else would you have come across that little café or that fruit stand that had the coldest drinks in the heat of the summer?  How else would you have discovered that hike which led to a glorious view of a valley usually only seen by those brave (or foolish) enough to ignore the private property signs?   Or come across those wild orchids in a field yet to be trampled by anyone?  I know these examples may seem small in comparison to opportunities you’re facing or options you’re thinking of, but I bring them up only to illustrate the point that side trips can lead to wonderful discoveries. For sure, there are definitely some side trips that you could have done without, but you learn from those as well AND you can always tell a good story about it so don’t consider those wasted opportunities.  You get the picture, right?  Detours, side trips, veering off – these are not bad things.  Use them to create a fuller and richer life map.  Don’t worry so much about always staying on the path that you’ve mapped out.  Allow for spur-of-the-moment left-turns and allow for detours that may take a bit longer than a quick stop.  The nice thing about maps is that you can always find your way back.

When drawing up your map, it is important to keep yourself honest.  If you’ve taken a right turn and you realize you should have taken a left turn instead, mark that down.  That right-turn journey has told you a lot so you want to make sure it gets a place on your map.  When looking back on this map of yours whether in a year from now or twenty years from now, you’ll really want to see all the twists and turns that got you to where you are.  Leaving out that right turn doesn’t reveal your entire route – thereby disqualifying your map as being true to you – and you will have forgotten what you learned by taking that turn.  The absolute best thing about creating this life map and keeping it always with you is that it you have in your possession a most valuable treasure map and you will find your treasure – along the way and at the end.

Last year I ended my first blog post of the season with a link to a song.  Let me do the same this year and leave you with something to get you into the mood for heading to California – if you’re not already living in this great state of ours.  It’s an oldie, but goodie.  I dare you to listen to this and not twist or shimmy along. The song sounds a bit scratchy – just like listening to an actual 45-rpm vinyl record.  The Rivieras singing California Sun way back in 1964…