Mr. Miyagi- Wax it all off

I was working on writing my reflection on the past ten years of life in a post-9/11 world reality.  This entire week is devoted to all sorts of memorials and special segments on T.V. regarding all the emotions and information surrounding 9/11.  Rightly its an immense historical event, its shaped this country and fundamentally changed us all as Americans.

I mourn.  I remember.  I reflect.  Like all Americans, and conscientious people around the world, the 10 year anniversary is a significant milestone.  I wrote significant pieces over the past ten years reflecting on what all this means to me, process out the feelings and the reality.  This year, probably nothing astounding or worth reading, I decided to reflect on how I have been trying to not focus on wearing my religious identity on my sleeve in my new life as a law student.

I reflect on how I am forced by the events happening around the world to become a “token Muslim.”  I guess the conclusion is that its unavoidable and that its an incredible challenge moving forward.  Islam and Muslims have become intricately woven into the American consciousness and with globalization and economic competition this reality won’t change.

Cutting to the short of it, I basically found myself struggling to think about historical “tokenism”, which immediately made me think of Mr. Miyagi (reclaiming Mr. Miyagi, cultural context and beef with Mr. Miyagi).  It helped that I was listening to a song where the lyrics for “Look at me now” by Chris Brown- “She wax it all off, Mr. Miyagi”—sigh, still being abused and used.

C.A. Esquire- The Most Important Weapon in Your Law School Arsenal

Its my third week of law school now.  I have ditched my comfortable apartment, along with the local coffee shop and am taking up permanent residence in the dreaded library.  It’s disturbing because it’s so quite here.

Anyway, there is so much to share from the past two weeks have been an immense learning curve (steep as Half Dome).  One thing that I have come to realize is that the case briefs are the most important weapon in your law school arsenal for success.

I have slacked on properly briefing my cases, but, regardless, when viewed from the “law school big picture” perspective, makes complete sense to brief your cases independently from the beginning.  If you are not in law school, then start thinking like briefing your notes for whatever subject you are studying.  Briefing your cases is not just about the case you are reading, its a total system of attacking the law school reading you are doing.

During orientation week they tell you and teach you all sorts of stuff.  I can say safely that most of the things they advised me on, I have thrown by the wayside.  They said “supplements are like crack”- yes, supplements, or commercial outlines, hornbooks etc. are like crack, they allow you to survive the madness that is law school and should be used in moderation, also you need to KNOW HOW TO USE THEM TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.  Supplements can help you or hurt you, short term or in the long term.  (I will leave the elaboration for another blog post)  Another thing they show you how to do is do your case briefs.  Learn how to do the brief the way they teach you, but ditch it after the first week of trying it and do it the following way:

  1.  Look at the reading assignment for your class, jot down all the cases and the minor cases mentioned in the text.  Also jot down the major themes or issues that the text is addressing.  If you are so miserably lost that you have no clue where to feasibly find this information out, let me let you in on a secret- read the table of contexts, read the titles and look for words that are repetitive; this will give you a good grounding on what subject are, or substantive issue, the reading is addressing.
  2. Hit up your supplements.  I got commercial outlines keyed to my textbooks and I also got further explanations on the substantive issues for my classes.  Take your cases and issues and match them up in the supplemental books.  I will sit down and read the explanations book first to get direction for the legal issues I am supposed to be understanding.  While I read this, I highlight and write in the margins the things that relate back to what I have on my jotted down notes.  I then hit the commercial outline and read the cases that we will be going over in class.  I don’t highlight or write in these at all, I focus on just reading through the case briefs provided in the commercial outline. (Don’t have supplements, not to worry, see below for a quick fix.)
  3. I hit the books, I read over the assigned reading, I work in my case briefing into the book, I take my notes in the book as well.  BUT LISTEN, DO THIS FIRST: skim to the Problems and Notes, or Notes and Questions section, you will find this after each significant case.  Read through that first.  Most likely you will find the most important facts and reasoning of the court highlighted there, you will find the rules or facts that change up the courts decision etc.  Reading that first can be a better compass on what your reading if you do not have supplements.  Once you finish this (and highlight, note as you see fit) read your cases, one at a time, just read first, then go back and read for issue, holding, reasoning, facts etc.
  4. Use a color coding briefing process- which technically in the short term will keep you from having to do individual case briefing- but will not prevent you from having to do the case briefing at some point before you midterm or final.  I have a system where I use 5 highlighters that identify the various parts of the case brief.  I go through reading the case a second time looking and identifying those various parts of the case brief.  After a while you book is going to look like a rainbow, but better a neon rainbow you can refer back to in class while your half asleep then to stare down at the book while your professors eyes glare down at you and you can’t make sense of anything on the page or recollect anything you read at 3AM in the morning.  Here at least you will know when you look down at your book, GREEN is the procedural posture- and respond as such.
  5. After class or better yet before class, you should write-up your case briefs.  Make sure you make marks or take notes on the things our professor points out and incorporate those into your case briefs.  With the volume of information being so intense, this little service the professor provides can save you from having to shift through thousands of paragraphs worth of information trying to figure out the black letter rule, facts and reasoning to apply on your midterm or final. (this part I need to work on)
I hope I summarized my process in a way that makes sense.  There is obviously more to this, what I have tried to do is quickly figure out what works for me, what other law students have advised me about and place it in the context of how I am approaching law schools bigger picture, academics is all fine and dandy, but I am more in-tune with the practice aspect and I need the tools of the trade from my law school experience, not necessarily the intellectual, or lack thereof, meandering through law school figuring things out experience.

C.A. Esquire- Lessons for a Smooth Transition to Law School

Law school, if you haven’t already heard or realized, is not like other experiences.  The honeymoon is very short lived.  Having finished my first week of classes, all I have to say is that I am worried about sustaining this pace of work, the demand is not anything I have experienced so far (…and this is the first week!).

Some lessons I am walking away with are the following:

Law school is a demanding mistress, don’t mess around with her

It’s all true- the first day of class horror stories, the reading expectations, the feeling of being completely stupid when you know you are not.  The thing is none of this is going to be easy unless you understand that this Law School thing is like an affair you are having, except it’s an affair that has to be all consuming.
You can sneak around, going to the beach, but take your books, take your supplements.  Do not do anything without your mistress.  If you want to succeed in law school, the course material needs to be on you all times, readily accessible.  Do not allow a moment of time to be wasted.  In fact, before you go to law school make sure you understand that this is the level of expectation necessary and get your act together. Prepare to psychologically devote your whole being to Law School.
If you treat it with the utmost disrespect, know that you will have your arse handed to you come finals or earlier, in class.

There is no sleeping around…

It might have been easy to flirt around with like say biology or anthropology in undergrad.  But Law School is a demanding jealous mistress.  You have no life outside of the time you need to devote to making her happy.  You can not sleep around with, I don’t know, a demanding girl who needs some extra special attention because she found out Justin Bieber is dating some twit.
What I learned was that the mistress is not happy with distracted lovers either.  I have run around trying to take care of housing, my laptop (for Steve Jobs retirement I donated to his pension and got me a MacBook Pro, yaay!), my ongoing nightmare with my car.
Whatever you got going on, make sure that you handle it and are prepared to devote yourself fully to classes when they start.  Its a headache otherwise.

The Mistress requires you to be ready with the right tools…

Yes, like any professions, being a lawyer requires you to be ready.  Honestly, if you don’t have a proper study set up at home, then you don’t have the right preparation or tools.  Your trade requires you to have a proper place to devote yourself to its practice.  First, make sure you have your own private room.  Do not share rooms.  Do not have your own room with a dozen other people living in your apartment to help bring costs down.  I realized, you already are taking out 120,000 bucks of loans, most likely, unless your blessed with a trust fund, scholarships or a decent savings.  You can afford to get your own room and have a decent living situation.  That domestic setup will be your savior, it will be your sanctuary and when you can’t stay another  moment in the library, that room will be a retreat for your continued studying efforts.
Do yourself a favor, get your own room.  Get a decent mattress (proper bed with sheets and pillows and comforter and all); your sleep is the only time you escape your mistress, if even, so it better be a comfortable sanctuary.
Get a nice large plank- go to Ikea and buy the table tops.  Buy a bookshelf.  Buy a filing cabinet, sturdy.  Buy yourself a decent desk chair.  Set up where you have lots of room to spread out your books on that study table.
Think library tables.  You need one of those at home.  Trust me, its something that has worked for me quite well.
I got more stuff to share on this, but I think for the time being this is definitely a good starting place.
(Picture above is taken by Richard Lawrence Cohen, and is titled “Studying for last law school exam”, check out the flicker stream here.  I loved this picture because it expresses how I currently feel as a 1L trying to get to grips with the substantive material in my classes.  To think that I feel like this now, what will I look/feel like when I get to my last law school exam?!)

Day 20- We Still Hungry!

A Mothers Kiss

Halima Hassan holds her severely malnourished 7-month-old son, Abdulrahman Abshir, at the Banadir hospital on Aug. 14 in Mogadishu, Somalia.  Pic courtesy: MSNBC

Famine.  Defined as “extreme and general scarcity of food, as in a country or a large geographical area” and “extreme hunger or starvation”

Every wonder what it means to die from starvation, which is the obvious result of a famine?  Here is how it starts, you body is beyond the normal state of feeling hungry, your stomach no longer is telling you that its hungry, rather your body has reverted to a form of cannibalism, it starts to eat itself, first the fat and extra muscles.  But the problem is if you live in an area where there is a famine, you have very little “fat”.  Famines are the result of a gradual worsening of conditions, where scarcity of food isn’t something that happens out of the blue, rather it occurs over a time until you get to a point where you look around, there happens to be no more “living things growing or running around” near you.  Because in a famine people resort to eating whatever they can find around them.

A person starving will have broken down all the cells that make up the fat and muscles to make up for the balance of energy that is necessary for it to sustain “life”.  At some point your body will begin to start breaking down its tissues for various organ systems, leaving your nervous system (i.e. brain, feeling, pain) and your cardiovascular system (i.e. your heart and the means to spread nutrients along with your lungs).  You would begin to feel irritability, impulsiveness and eventually it all leads to passivity and atrophy- wasting away- so that the stomach being so empty and weak over such a long period, stops registering hunger and thirst.  The atrophy causes your muscles wasting away, dehydration results in dry, cracked skin which makes movement not only painful but down right dangerous.  With a weakened body all those fungi and bacteria growing in you start to take over– its like you are dying alive, literally- so such as the stuff on your tongue starts to grow and create blockage in your esophagus making eating and drinking very painful.

But see its not that simple, by the time your body starts to triage your various body systems, it has began to experience severe lack of vitamins.  So while your body is cannibalizing itself, you are experiencing vomiting, diaherria, skin rashes, scurvy, edema, and heart failure.

All the while all you feel is pain but nothing around you registers.  Pain.  Pain.  Pain…to the point where death seems pleasant but even death has forsaken a starving person.  Starvation in human history was a death sentence given to people as punishment.  We have collectively sentenced East Africa to death by refusing to give.


Day 19- Ready Set Carpe-Laylatul-Qader

We are in the final stretch now, the precipice of attaining a lifetimes worth of amazing reward or washing out.  Can you handle the pressure?  Its immense and I know from past experiences when Ramandan hasn’t gone by all that well- lots of failure, lots of struggle, total lack of commitment the last ten days seem dismal.  You might be thinking “lets just get this over with” or feeling like you just don’t care.

But I want to tell you a little secret, from  my own personal experience, so listen closely.  Stop being such a defeatist!  The mercy of God is such a significant thing that a person on their deathbed, having lived a life of sin and craptacularness will be awarded with Paradise by doing a one simple little thing- saying the declaration of faith (Islamic one that is).

Dude that is immense to the infinite level!  You made it through this far and granted things weren’t going well, but that doesn’t mean throwing in the towel.  Up until the last few moments you can reap rewards from God and all you got to do is stop feeding your ego!  Yeah you heard me, its your ego- your pride, your stubbornness, your nags that is holding you back from benefitting!  There needs to be a recognition that you are not going to pursue your suicidal tendencies- yes, its true, you are committing spiritual suicide by not recognizing that you, yourself, are the one to blame for the funk you are in.

Alter your psychological self and just accept that you are at fault, so you can run to God and seek forgiveness.  Something profound that I heard after Isha prayer before Ramadan was from Sheikh Faqih, at IIOC.  He was talking about or reflecting on ‘duah’ or supplication.

Now, for a long time I was not a “duah” person- I would just quickly say somethings and be on with my day.  But your supplication is the only time where you are truly intimate with God.  This is where you can share your troubles with the Creator, who actually has the power to do something about it.  But I never approached the supplication like that, it was sort of the tail end of my prayers, usually only the obligatory prayers.  But Sheikh Faqih said something profound that night and it registered with me because I was already formulating that reflection inside my head/heart for sometime- the power of Duah, and why we fear it.

We fear dual, supplicating to God, because we fear change in ourselves.  If I ask for God to grant me a better life, that might mean a life without a “guilty pleasure” that I partake in- eating that delicious Hagaan Daz ice cream or that upside down caramel machiotto from the Israeli-aparthaid-supporting-coffee-shop-chain-that-will-not-be-named-on-my-blog.  You get the point?  If God answers our prayers we just might stop being the way we are comfortable with being.  Such a profound reflection, because, right in that reflection is the recognition that God is ultimately the one that can answer our supplications, but more so give us the thing that will make us the better us!

But Shiekh Faqih said that we run from this, we run because we are afraid, but also we are arrogant- “how do I know I don’t need this in my life?” in response to the idea that we should ask God for what is best for us, and not what we ultimately want or want to happen.

Man our own arrogance, not even the Devil’s does us in during Ramadan.  We can’t blame our circumstances on the Devil, because we all know during Ramadan they are locked up.  So I remember I would turn to other people or circumstances and blame my lack of Ramadan-spirit on that.  You read it in my blogs already, previous reflections complaining about how its a circus in the masjid.  We need to change our mindset and stop looking for excuses, when the plain and simple truth is that we are the fault for our own lack of Ramadan spirit.

Go forth, my wonderful readers, and seize carpe-layatul-qader (like how I took carpe diem and turned it on the Islamic concept of the “night of power“?!)  Check out these videos by my buddy Kareem Elsayed on making the most of your search for the night of power.

Day 18- Chronicles of An Aspiring Esquire- Orientation Week

So now that I got a name for my posts on law school experiences, its only proper to start the reflections for Ramadan with one that incorporates my experience with school thus far.  All week I have been at Law School Orientation (LSO).

LSO has been intense, not the content of the workshops, but rather because of all the running around I have had to do for school.  If you are applying to law school, I highly recommend not skipping out on your LSO.  It’s probably the only time where you get to see everyone in your first year class.  Each first year law class (1L) is divided up in sections and will spend all your times with the students in your sections- classes, legal writing class, study groups forming.

Which is actually another point, study groups are important, and you might be the sort that needs a study group to manage all the material covered, the LSO is the time to figure out who makes a good individual to be in your study group.

From what I have read and heard about law school, it’s an isolating experience and gets extremely lonely.  If you aren’t ready for that, than the first semester- if not year- will be very difficult to cope with.  You can’t socialize the way undergraduate years were.  You hit the ground running, in fact, I have for my first day of classes over 100 pages of reading that I must be ready for.

Once the school semester begins, you won’t talk about getting to know your peers, rather everything will seemingly revolve around the 210k dollar experience you have signed on the dotted line for.  LSO is your time to “have fun” and “socialize” with people who will make up your next 3 years of life experiences, as well as frame the professional corps of colleagues once you pass the bar exam.

But from my experience I highly recommend taking care of all your business before you get to LSO.  I found myself having to hurdle over financial aid- in fact I spent hours on the phone with the Department of Education, with my undergraduate (UNDIE) loan servicers, with the financial aid office at Law School.  I have come to love the financial aid folks at my school, they were immensely helpful and understanding.  I had a heart attack when i saw the loan amounts for financial aid and had to sign my name on the promissory note.  I have never seen that amount in my life, except at a CAIR Fundraising banquet, but yes it was immense.

Besides financial aid, I was buying books, figuring out supplements and outlines for my courses.  I was figuring out my housing situation, buying a car because my car broke down and became ridiculously expensive to get fixed.  I also was managing my budget.  I highly recommend you create a budget for law school.  The expenses are ridiculous and living without a budget is courting financial doom and disaster.  I also was dealing with my religious obligations- Ramadan and Fasting.  I will spend the rest of the post reflecting on this but all the above items I will expand upon as I experience more of what works and doesn’t work.

Its not a hidden fact that I am a fairly observant Muslim.  I don’t think many of my classmates know that I am, which goes more to the fact that I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve.  I am not interested in imposing my religious beliefs on the broader community.  Religion is an important facet to who I am and guides my day-to-day life, but it’s surely not the only thing that makes me such a dastardly good-looking unique character!

But I haven’t been in school for over six years, so I experienced a bit of “culture shock” to the degree with which people drink alcohol and everything evolves around alcohol.  Aside from law schools infamous “BAR REVIEWS”- the events have nothing to do with law school education, and everything to do with getting drunk and disorderly at a local bar; every social interaction has been around the idea of getting smashed or drinking beer.

Aside from the fact that I am fasting, I don’t drink alcohol.  But being in this environment plays with my head.  I found myself thinking about how I wanted to hang out with these folks and I could go and just drink soda or something.  The toying around with my head was really difficult to deal with.  I was fasting, breaking of the fast wasn’t until after 730, the socializing started at around 6.  For an hour and half I could not drink anything so I would stand around and have to explain to people why.  But the awkward position of being in a bar telling people I am an observant Muslim whose fasting, so couldn’t drink or eat anything, but then the scenario begs the question- well isn’t drinking alcohol against your religion?

Yes, by the way, the two things people probably know about Islam is that alcohol and pork are forbidden, “Allah’s curse will smite you down” if you touch the forbidden things- at least that’s how I thought of it as a kid.  But the whole situation smacked of religious hypocrisy, so I decided that I couldn’t compromise myself, especially during this month of Ramadan, and go to these social gatherings.  I am sure there are Muslims out there who don’t have the same strict religious observance as I do, so they might drink.  Don’t hold them as an example of all Muslims, and don’t hold me as an example of all Muslims- we are each individual Muslims, as such allow us to have our individuality.

(I just pray that I would never come to a time in my life where I have to test myself with such a situation.  The reality of the situation is that, there will be plenty of these opportunities, American business culture is premised on alcohol and getting drunk.  I have heard of interviews for law firms taking place at bars over drinks.  What a difficult set of circumstances!)

Besides the bar and drinking scene, I also realized to what extent my professional life was “Islamic culture sensitive”- A LOT!  Meetings during Ramadan would not have food or drinks, as a show of respect to the Muslim participants.  There were meetings where that wasn’t the case, but for the most part the majority of folks there were understanding so I did not have to explain I was fasting.  Which was all the more awkward to have to tell people I am not going to eat during lunch, or during the welcoming breakfast for LSO events.

For the most part LSO was great, now its over with, which means I can begin to jump into the books and tackle Contract, Property, Civil Procedure, Torts and Legal Writing.  To really benefit from the LSO experience you have to be there, so make sure you make yourself completely available to jump in and reap the benefit of your LSO events!

Hello My Name Is….

Crazy folks that took their time to vote- all 15 of you, probably 7 of them were my sister!- I want to thank you!  It was great to get feedback on what name to use for the next three years of my life when talking about my experiences in LAW SCHOOL.

Some of you took the opportunity to suggest some other names, many of which were really great!  I wish we could do another vote to figure out what to finalize, but there was a bit of a overwhelming majority (not really, just 1 more than the runner up, but this isn’t a pure democracy, its my world so I can tip the scale) that chose a specific name to roll with and I don’t want to disappoint.  But before I get to the finalized name I wanted to share some of the suggestions I found really funny or just down right ingenious.

  1. Raising the bar with Affad Shaikh
  2. Aspiring Esquire in Training
  3. and, Arbiter No More
All of them are GREAT!  Like I said earlier I wish I could do another poll and get which one would compete with the winner of the original poll, but its time to decide and the decision is….

Day 17-Laughing All the Way to the Hell

I spend a lot of my time laughing.  I approach life with laughter.  When I am faced with a very tricky situation I find ways to joke around about it, even if its painful to make light of the situation.  I often times feel thats the only way to address the circumstances, it will be a matter of a few days, anyway, when I can look back and laugh about whatever it was that was the big ordeal that day.

But a few weeks ago I posted a hadith, not sure how many people took notice of it.  I brushed aside a large portion of the hadith to reflect on the main concept of the hadith which was about eating less.

The hadith went as follows:

Prophet SAW was asked “who is the most superior person? SAW replied “He who eats little, laughs little, and is content with his breeches”

“Laughing little”, what does that mean?  And why did I title this post “laughing all the way to hell”?  Lets be clear the Prophet SAW was not  stoic man, nor was he one who did not laugh, here is a hadith that shows his sense of humor:

Ummayyah was sitting and a man was eating.  He did not mention God’s name until the very last morsel was left to eat.  When he raised it to his mouth, he said “in the name of God, at the beginning and at the end of it.  The Prophet SAW laughed…

We can establish by this hadith that a “little” does not imply no laughter at all and that the Prophet SAW was himself someone who expressed laughter.  “Little” also doesn’t mean he wasn’t visibly or overly expressive with his laughter, again another hadith:

Abu Huraira (RA) reported that a person came to the Prophet SAW saying “Prophet of God, I am undone.”  He SAW said “What has brought about your ruin?”  The man explained how he did something during Ramadan that he wasn’t supposed that broke his fast.  The Prophet SAW then went through a list of things to make up for the action, to which the man responded he had no means to do any of these things, finally the Prophet SAW saw a bag of dates the man carried.  The Prophet SAW said “Give these dates to charity” and the man responded “Am I to give to one who is poorer than me?” (there were was no one poorer than this man in Medina) To which the Prophet SAW laughed so that his teeth (molar, the ones in the back that are hard to see) were visible and he said “Go and give it to your family to eat.”

So that gives us idea of how little is not ‘never’ and possibly “laugh little” implies the idea of not wasting your laugh or time in joking around and not taking things seriously.

Chronicles of an Esquire In Training- Help Me Pick A Name!

So I have been playing around with this title “Chronicles of an Esquire in Training” but found it to be to wordy. I was hoping you might help me decide what to do! Take a look, vote and/or leave comments PLEASE!

Day 16- Gaining Weight?

If you are fasting you should be losing some of that weight.  You might even be getting excited like me about losing it.  Sadly though, I realized that its all water weight and what I call “a-blotation” the fact that you are not eating as regularly your body isn’t producing all those gases in your body from the chemical reactions that take place in your stomach due to digestion.

Yes, its quite sad isn’t it?  You realize you are doing well, getting on with weight loss and it turns out its just not the case.  Maybe you aren’t as focused on losing weight during Ramadan.  But I would challenge you to reconsider your health and approach it differently.

Right now the saying goes that there are 1 billion people going hungry in the world and that there are 1 billion people overweight and obese.  That is crazy to think about because imagine that those who are overweight are living in the West largely.  There is nothing wrong with living here and enjoying the wonderful things we got, except that we are killing ourselves in our life of plenty.

Be a healthy Ramadan-er this year and try out this Ramadan Nutrition Guide.


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