Monday, May 11, 2015

Missouri Law Review Spotlight: David Ferguson

Hello, my name is David Ferguson, and I will be graduating from the University of Missouri School of Law in about five days . . .  is what I say in emails to perspective employers.  But that really is my name, and I really will be graduating this week.  Well, I won’t actually be there for the ceremony, but I’m getting the degree, so that’s the important part.  As a part of my commitment to the Missouri Law Review’s editorial board, in my capacity as an associate editor, I have been asked to write a short expose about myself.  I thought that would be sort of silly because it is unlikely that anybody cares, and if they do, they could take a look at my Linkedin profile.  Instead, I decided to come up with five tips for law school success (which have been presented in a very particular order). 

I don’t know that I am in any better of a position than any other 3L to provide these unsolicited suggestions.  But in my defense I will say that, by the time I am done, I will have (1) spent time at 3 law schools, (2) started out abysmally, but turned it around quickly (as evidenced by the fact that I have been given this assignment), and (3) been pretty successful as a collegiate intramural flag-football coach/player at two Power 5 conference schools.   Regardless, I recognize that this is sort of trite, but I always wanted to take a stab at it.  So here goes. 

1) Grades.  I’m sorry.  It sucks.  But it’s a fact of life for people enrolled in 99% of law schools (I think that’s the actual figure).  Maybe you don’t want to practice in big law.  Maybe you want to help cats (I know someone who is doing this).  But I can tell you for a fact that you are going to want to be in a position at the end of your 3L year where you have options, and the only way to do this is to have grades.   You don’t have to be at the top.  You probably won’t be at the top.  In fact, statistically speaking it is almost certain that you won’t be at the top (I’m looking at you), but you need to do the absolute best that you can.  From my relatively extensive experience at two law schools, law school success appears to have far more to do with diligent work ethic than intuitive cleverness. Of course having some of the latter is helpful (I have far less than I would like), but working your butt off is going to put you where you want to be, because from an aptitude perspective, the playing field is relatively even.

2) Law Review/JESL/JADR.  There's a lot of tedium involved in working on a journal.  However, my experience has been that the most beneficial aspect of working on a journal is learning how citations actually work, like really work, like in the weeds.  So do the Blue Book stuff; diligently.  In my experience it's unlikely that someone will ask you about Law Review/JESL/JADR in an interview.  But it's important.  So do it.  It is a box that must be checked. 

3) Don’t let anybody tell you, ever, not even once, that you can’t do what you want to do (within reason).  A good friend of mine from law school would often (still does) describe law school as a toxic environment.  I think that is an accurate description, to a degree.  Law school is incredibly competitive, especially if you are striving for relatively lofty ambitions: which most people are, that’s why they are in law school.   Of course all the really cool goodies are seemingly reserved for a handful of choice people; and to a degree that’s right.  There are certain things that you just aren’t going to be able to do in certain grade related circumstances (if you are at the bottom of your class you are not going to clerk for the circuit court); but from my experience, that category of unattainable grade related goody type stuff is far narrower than many people will lead you to believe.  If you want to work at a law firm in NYC after you graduate from the University of Missouri, but you finished your first semester in the middle of your class, that doesn’t mean you can’t still do that (although a lot of people will tell you that you can’t), it just means you’re going to have to work your ass off to make it happen.  It’s not going to come easy.  You’re going to have to network and follow every nook and every cranny and take chances and follow roads far less traveled, but at the end of the day, if you want it bad enough, you can do it: I mean you’re at the 59th ranked law school in the nation. 

4)  Surround yourself with people who believe you can do it.  This seems straight forward, but, in conjunction with #3, it is of vital importance.  Of course you’re family believes you can do this (I hope); I think it is the rare outlier law student who doesn’t have the full backing of his family, non-law school friends, and spouse/significant other.  However, outside of that group, finding people in the legal community, professors, advisors, legal professionals, who believe that you can do a thing, especially when that thing has not been done, or not by someone like you, can be far more difficult.  They are out there though, if you are committed, and believe that you can do the thing you set out for, people will recognize that; and those are the people you must gravitate towards if you want to succeed in an incredibly competitive goodie bag.  A touch of pragmatism can be good, you don’t want people who promise you the stars on a foundation of sand, but naysayers are a dime a dozen, counterproductive, and unnecessary.  As they say, haters are, in fact, going to hate.  

5) “It’s a tough galaxy.  If you want to survive, you’ve gotta know . . . where your towel is.”[1]  This advice is doubly important if you are being chased by Vogons. 

Never cared for conclusions.  Please review the preceding for more information. 

[1] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Popular Theater Release 2005) (original on file with the author); see Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 18 (1979) (“A towel . . . is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”).

Article Summary: Incarcerated Childbirth and Broader “Birth Control”: Autonomy, Regulation, and the State

Seattle University Associate Professor of Law Deborah Ahrens’ article Incarcerated Childbirth and Broader “Birth Control”: Autonomy, Regulation, and the State,  explores the incidence of pregnant mothers in the penal system and how the intersection of ingrained societal prejudices and the nature of the American penal system work together to perpetuate and exacerbate existing extra-penal constraints on pregnant women; thereby magnifying pregnancy-specific patterns of control in our society that reflect and reinforce societal norms regarding race, class, and gender.  Specifically, Ahrens argues that the unique “constraints imposed on pregnant and laboring prisoners differ in degree rather than in kind from those imposed on non-incarcerated women,” and that the treatment of pregnant mothers in the penal system is simply the most severe extremity of a spectrum of coercion and control imposed upon pregnant women from all sectors of modern American society by the legal and medical communities.[i]  In fact, Ahrens’ animating theme for her article’s methodological approach is that the treatment of incarcerated mothers should not be viewed as an aberration specific to the unique circumstances found in the penal context, but rather, that its place on the coercion spectrum serves an instructive role in highlighting extra-penal abuses, and that the analysis becomes clouded when one analyzes the treatment of pregnant women in the penal context as separate from the treatment of pregnant women outside of the penal context. 

In attempting to illustrate this proposed spectrum of coercion, Professor Ahrens’ article is essentially broken down into three parts: (I) prison-based pregnancy and birthing issues; (II) pregnancy and birthing constraints on non-incarcerated women; and (III) a conclusion which utilizes the finding in (I) and (II) to highlight the interconnected and overlapping nature of the intra- and extra-penal societal controls imposed on pregnant women in making choices regarding their pregnancies.  Additionally, Part (I) is broken down into three parts, (A) a description of the affected population, (B) a five-part analysis of the specific difficulties faced by incarcerated women who are pregnant, and (C) a brief discussion of genesis of correctional indifference to officially promulgated medical guidelines governing pregnant women, and Part (II) is also broken down into three parts, (A) discussing the uneven race and class based resort to legal constraints, (B) discussing the legal constraints on women generally, and (C) a three-part analysis detailing various methods of sub-legal coercion utilized by society to undermine pregnant women’s freedom in choosing their birthing options. 

Professor Ahrens begins Part I by pointing out that over 2,000 babies are born in prison every year and that pregnant mothers represent the fastest growing prison demographic in America.  She then goes on to illustrate the specific issues encountered by pregnant mothers in the penal context, looking first to issues encountered in (1) establishing pregnancy, and then turning to issues related to (2) accessing appropriate prenatal care, (3) dealing with complications and emergent deliveries, (4) establishing autonomy and safety during labor (specifically in the context of (a) the timing and method of delivery, (b) choosing pain relief options, and (c) the limitations placed on the incarcerated woman’s ability to choose who will and will not be in the delivery room), and (5) common difficulties encountered by women who have recently delivered babies while incarcerated.  This portion of her analysis is highlighted by the anecdotal accounts of pregnant prisoners reporting the various difficulties encountered in everything from persuading prison staff that they are pregnant, to persuading correctional staff that they need proper nutritional items or that they may in fact be giving birth.  Here, Ahrens’ authority is, of necessity, often sparse and heavily anecdotal, however, Ahrens points to some of the more severe abuses to ask the reader what these may reveal about the more hidden, less severe, but more common abuses occurring on a daily basis.  Finally, Ahrens concludes Part I by asserting that these endemic failures are not a function of a lack of officially published guidelines on these matters, but rather these failures represent indifference, or potentially ignorance, on the part of correctional bureaucracies regarding officially published guidelines by organization such as the American Public Health Association. 

Professor Ahrens begins Part II of her analysis be reiterating her belief that while the nature of their incarcerated status means that “[m]any of the constraints that incarcerated women face in childbirth are less peculiar . . ., [w]omen who are not incarcerated also experience limits on pregnancy and birthing choices and behaviors,” both through legal and extra-legal coercion.[ii] In supporting this assertion, and her underlying thesis that the treatment of pregnant women in the penal context is simply the manifestation of the most severe uses of societal coercion on a spectrum of control, Ahrens first points to the uneven resort to legal constraint on pregnant women in the extra-penal context.  Specifically Ahrens points out that “[a]ttempts to impose formal legal constraints upon the medical and life-style choices of pregnant women are much more likely to fall on those who live in poverty, belong to marginalized racial groups, or otherwise mark themselves as outside of the mainstream,” and that this focus is demonstrative of the overlap of the extra- and intra-penal societal tools utilized to control these demographic groups.[iii]  Next, Ahrens points to the actual legal constraints imposed on non-incarcerated women, from all walks of life, to illustrate that “the drive to regulate and constrain the pregnancy choices of expectant mother transcends issues of race and class.”[iv]  Here, Ahrens points to a study conducted by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, that found that there have been 413 documented cases of legal intervention in the medical decisions of pregnant women regarding delivery choices between 1973 and 2005, to emphasize her point regarding the use of legal penalties as a coercive tool outside of the penal context on pregnant women from all demographic groups.  Finally, Ahrens concludes Part II by arguing that more subtle, “sub-legal” coercive techniques are utilized by the American medical and legal communities to motivate almost all women to make certain birth-related decisions, specifically in the context of C-sections and inductions, out of concern not for the wellbeing of the mother, but rather for  either (a) the bottom line or convenience of hospitals, doctors, or medical administrators, or (b) the avoidance of potential medical-malpractice liability by hospital administrators and their legal representatives.  Ahrens’ critique becomes somewhat vitriolic at his point, as she argues that the perverse incentives animating the legal and medical power centers in this relationship and chronic misinformation and under-information regarding pregnancy choices, cabin the ability of large numbers of pregnant American women to make truly enlightened fully informed birth-related decisions.

Professor Ahrens concludes by reiterating her underlying thesis regarding the spectrum of coercion, and the methodological utility of placing the treatment of pregnant inmates on that spectrum as opposed to relegating them to a separate analytical framework; thus, she asserts, enabling future researches to more clearly understand the coercive societal forces working both inside and outside of the penal context to limit the choices available to and the decision making ability of pregnant women in the days and weeks leading to childbirth. 

-          David Ferguson

[i] Deborah Ahrens, Incarcerated Childbirth and Broader “Birth Control”: Autonomy, Regulation and the State 60 (May 2013) (unpublished manuscript) (on file with the Missouri Law Review).
[ii] Id. at 40-41.
[iii] Id. at 42.
[iv] Id. at 44.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Missouri Law Review Spotlight: Kristen Johnson

My name is Kristen Johnson. I graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a B.A. in Spanish and political science. I am originally from Jefferson City, Missouri, and hope to practice as an attorney in that community in the future. After graduation, I will be clerking for Chief Justice Mary R. Russell at the Supreme Court of Missouri. 

For me, MU Law has been many things. It has been a goal I strived for through high school and college. It has been a lifestyle as I briefed, outlined, and studied my way through the last three years. It has been a stress factor as I prepared for exams and anxiously awaited my grades every semester. It has been a lesson in time management as I strove to balance family and school. And it has been a community that has supported me and lifted me up at every turn.

 Most of all, law school has been an incredible opportunity to grow both intellectually and professionally. The faculty at MU Law challenged us to think and act like lawyers and helped us develop the tools necessary for that task. I have had incredible opportunities through the law school that I could not have gotten elsewhere, including conducting a moot court argument before Missouri Supreme Court judges and appearing in court on behalf of real clients through the school’s family violence clinic. 

One such growing experience has been my membership with the Missouri Law Review. Working on the journal has fostered in me an attention to detail and has allowed me to stretch my wings as a legal writer. I know these skills will aid me throughout my legal career.
Law school has indeed been many things to me. 

But if I had to choose just one word to describe my experience at MU Law, that word would be: rewarding.