Georgia State Law

Student Organization Spotlight: Black Law Students Association

One of the most active student organizations at Georgia State University College of Law is the Ronald J. Freeman Chapter of the Black Law Students Association, better known to many Georgia State Law students as BLSA.

The organization is appreciated for its robust members-only outline collection, and its annual mock exam, which gives new students exposure to real testing conditions prior to final exams.

Tanya Washington, professor of law and BLSA advisor gives a lecture on exam writing, before the mock exam.

“We try to provide valuable opportunities to the student body with events like the Mock Exam and Law Week, and we give back through events like BLSA Feed the Hungry,” said Thomaesa Bailey (J.D. ’20), a BLSA executive board member. But, BLSA is much more than just those two benefits, the organization offers a wide variety of opportunities throughout the year including community service, mentorship, and panel discussions highlighting social justice issues in the legal field and in the community.

“The attorneys who volunteer their time to speak or host a meeting actually want to see the people they speak with do well,” said Roland Turner (J.D. ’19), BLSA president. “That can lead to a lot of things down the road.”

“ …We also advocate for change by protesting injustice and speaking out against institutional wrongs. And just in case there’s any confusion, the community doesn’t just include Black law students at Georgia State University.  BLSA is for everyone! We put on events that are beneficial for the entire student body and tackle issues that impact all communities, not just the Black community,” Bailey added.

Georgia State University College of Law BLSA chapter, visits the Georgia State Capitol.

Given its commitment to positively impact the community, the organization was excited about its most recent event, “BLSA Day at the Capitol.” “This event was designed to give students the opportunity to network with elected officials, [for the elected officials] to educate them about what is going on under the gold dome, and to teach them how to advocate for policy changes at the state level,” Bailey said.

The organization offers a lot of information and event access to all Georgia State Law students, but the benefits drastically increase upon becoming a member. Membership benefits range from a private supplemental library, access to the outline bank, and priority access to the Mock Exam, including eligibility to apply for NBLSA scholarships, regional job fairs, academic retreats and unparalleled networking opportunities with other law students, BLSA’s extensive alumni and practicing attorneys.

BLSA’s national network is the largest student run organization in the country. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the National Black Law Student Association. Algernon Johnson (“AJ”) Cooper founded the organization in 1968 with the mission of articulating and promoting the needs and goals of black law students, as well as effectuating change in the legal community. The national organization has more than 6,000 members strong, with more than 200 chapters, and aims to increase the number of culturally responsible Black and minority attorneys who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. The chapter here at Georgia State University was created with the purpose of achieving those goals locally.

The chapter’s commitment to creating a supportive community for its members, as well as working to better both the legal and local community in Atlanta, makes it no surprise that members point to their relationships as the greatest benefit of membership.

“BLSA provides a tight-knit group of peers for me to learn from and socialize with,” said Charles Theodore (J.D. ’19), BLSA member, “It provides a connection to a huge pool of graduates and lawyer organizations that are eager to help out fellow BLSA members.”

“I want a community around me that will support the actions I take or forgo doing. I can’t speak for everyone, but it allows me to feel a sense of camaraderie between my peers,” Turner said. “The people you meet during your tenure in law school will be the professionals in your field, so this helps you gain access to everyone before they become busy with their jobs. As law students, we are the first people to establish a network with each other and being a part of an organization opens that door.”

Catherine Gavrilidis (J.D.’20) is a Graduate Research Assistant for Law Communications and she serves on the boards of the Association of Women Law Students and Phi Alpha Delta.



If/When/How and AWLS Team Up for the Spring Menstrual Material Drive

The If/When/How student organization, formerly known as the Law Students for Reproductive Justice, and the Association of Women Law Students (AWLS) have teamed up with the American Constitution Society for another Menstrual Material Drive.

Beginning Feb. 19, the women’s restrooms had baskets of menstrual products available free of charge. This week, a donation box can be found in the Catherine Henson atrium of the law school for people to donate feminine products. If/When/How and AWLS hope that by pointing out the lack of convenient menstrual products in 85 Park Place will alert students to the importance of providing materials to those who are less privileged, and thus donate.

AWLS is a student organization concerned with the under representation and lack of parity of women in the legal profession. Members also focus on the importance of interaction and communication among women law students, attorneys and judges to promote and support women’s issues and needs in the field of law.
“Our goal is to create a culture of women helping and supporting other women, beginning in law school and continuing throughout our legal career,” said Emily Polk (J.D. ’18), AWLS president.
If/When/How is a national network of law students and professionals focusing on reproductive justice. The unusual name refers to “Because ensuring that all people have the right to decide if/when/how to create families depends entirely on if, when, and how hard we fight.” The organization operates with an awareness of how race, class, sex, age, ability, immigration status, and gender expression shape one’s reproductive options and destiny.

The College of Law chapter was dormant for the past few years. “With the revival of If/When/How this year, and members who serve in both organizations, it felt like the perfect time to join forces for the two groups’ common goals: serving the women and people with periods at Georgia State,” said Olivia Shellman (J.D. ’19), president of If/When/How.

After noticing that the College of Law doesn’t offer feminine products in the bathrooms, Shellman wanted to provide free materials for students, but after brainstorming with other AWLS members the idea evolved into a service project. In October, the two groups started placing baskets filled with sanitary napkins and tampons in the bathrooms, along with facts about menstrual cycles, hoping to inspire people to consider the importance of having access to menstrual products.

Last fall, Nicholas House received the donations. “We chose this organization because it specifically serves homeless families in the Atlanta area,” Shellman said. “We felt that this was a part of the community that could particularly benefit.”

“The drive worked! We were able to donate 24 boxes of menstrual materials (nearly 750 items!) to our target organization,” Shellman said. “It is the shared belief of If/When/How and AWLS that no person’s period should be a barrier to her learning or success. This concept applies to law students and people in the community alike, as an unexpected period could be the reason that an indigent person misses a job interview, or the reason a law student is late to an exam.”

The price is much higher for those who don’t have access to menstrual products. In addition to being linked to high rates of infections, women have been known to trade food stamps for tampons.

College of Law students embraced the drive. Some took photos of the baskets and posted them on Facebook, while others commented “YES! It was so cool to see this.” with a series of heart emojis.
“I’m donating for sure! This is so AWESOME!” and couponing tips for menstrual products, “Spoilers: you can get $0.99 pads at Kroger this week. ;)”.

“The menstrual product baskets were wonderful,” said Misty Gann (J.D. ’19), Student Bar Association president. “On a side note, for some strange reason, it made me feel closer to the women in our school. The baskets appeared, and I was like: ‘so, I guess I’m not the only one that has had this problem.'”
This spring, the products will be donated to the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. More information on the Spring Menstrual Materials Drive can be found on the event’s Facebook page.

Catherine Gavrilidis (J.D.’20) is a Graduate Research Assistant for Law Communications and she serves on the boards of the Association of Women Law Students and Phi Alpha Delta.

What to do about Mediocre First-Semester Law School Grades

If you just received your first-semester grades and are wondering whether you’re going to survive law school, I’m sympathetic. I’ve been in your position. My first-semester law school grades were my lowest. They weren’t terrible, but they weren’t what I wanted or expected from myself either.

And I’ve done what you want to do—my grades steadily improved. And despite my less-than-amazing first semester grades, I still made law review and still graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. So don’t despair—all hope is not lost. But you’ve got some work to do. Read on for my tips and suggestions to learn from your first-semester mistakes.

First, be thoughtful about what went wrong. You may already know some of the areas that need improvement.
•    You may have left your first-semester exam rooms knowing you were woefully under-prepared and had only a cursory understanding of the material.
•    Maybe you realize that you procrastinated and waited too late to begin studying for your exams.
•    Maybe you relied on a commercial outline or one prepared by another student, and you now know that you need to outline yourself to learn the material through that process.
•    Perhaps your professors offered sample exams and answers from past years that you could have used to prepare, but you didn’t take advantage of those resources.
Whatever the case, use that knowledge to plan for the spring semester. Don’t know how to get started? Most schools have academic success programs, and academic success personnel or your academic adviser can help you prepare a plan to keep you on track in the future. Schedule a meeting with an adviser now (don’t wait until the middle or end of the semester). Ask for help in developing a study plan that will, hopefully, ensure you gain a deeper understanding of this semester’s material. Of course, you have to be disciplined in following that plan, so make another appointment to meet with the adviser mid-semester or a little later to ensure you stay on track or to help you adjust the plan if it’s not working.

Assuming you still are flummoxed by your grades, ask for a copy of each exam prompt and your answer. You professor likely won’t have provided written feedback (you’ll probably just see papers with checks or similar marks) but you’ll use your answer to figure out what went wrong. Reread the exam prompts and your responses. You may immediately see that you misread the instructions—maybe the prompt instructed you to address only intentional torts and most of your response was devoted to negligence. Or you might see that you misread or skipped some important facts in the prompt that were crucial to the analysis. While these revelations may be frustrating, you will at least know to look out for these problems when your spring exams roll around.

If your exam review doesn’t turn up any glaring problems, see if your professor has a strong sample exam answer you can review. If the professor does, take advantage of this resource. Go through that sample exam answer and make a list of every issue the writer addressed. Then go through your exam answer and list every issue you addressed. Compare the lists—you may see that your list is substantially shorter. Look at the sample exam to see the breadth of the writer’s analysis of each issue. Then compare your exam answer. You may see that you didn’t completely address each issue—for example, maybe you only addressed the elements of a contract but the professor was also looking for you to address other possible ways for the hypothetical client to recover, such as promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. Or maybe your analysis was simply wrong because, for example, you failed to address the mailbox rule. Make notes. Obviously you won’t be re-taking that exam again, but you’ll learn the types of analyses professors are looking for, which should help you better prepare for future exams.
If your professor doesn’t have a sample exam answer, then meet with the professor and be prepared to ask specific questions. Students sometimes come to professors with questions such as, “What could I have done to get an A?” The answer is always going to be: “You could have written a better exam.” The professor isn’t likely to go through your exam step-by-step, telling you each place where you could have earned additional points. Remember that law school exams aren’t like other tests you’ve taken—you earn points for issues you address rather than lose points for incorrect answers. The onus is on you to ask thoughtful questions, such as “I see I only earned half of the possible points on the second question. Did I fail to address a major issue? Did I misapply the law in my analysis?” Listen carefully and take notes during the meeting.

What if your professor isn’t available, won’t meet with you, or you still don’t understand why you received the grade you did? Try to meet with the professor’s teaching assistant or graduate assistant, who likely knows the material and the professor very well. Ask the same questions you’d ask the professor and take the same types of notes. If that fails, make an appointment to speak with an academic success advisor (and bring your exam answer, if you can) to get his or her opinion about areas for improvement.
An important note: No matter who you meet with, be open to feedback. Thoughtful critique and feedback isn’t a personal attack on you—it’s an effort to help you improve. If you go into the meeting feeling defensive, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.
Once you’ve done all this, work on adjusting your expectations and learning to keep some perspective. You’ve probably been a big fish your whole life. Now you’re a big fish in a pond packed with other equally big (or bigger) fish. Maybe you’ve never made a grade other than an A and your first-semester grades are a shock to your system. If so, take a deep breath—I’m about to tell you something important: Bs are perfectly acceptable grades in law school.

What does a B grade represent? That a student has adequate mastery of the subject. Not great mastery. Not the best mastery. But adequate mastery, which is something to celebrate, not bemoan.
Do you know what would happen if you made Bs in every class you took in law school? You’d graduate with a law degree. Do you know what would happen if you made mostly Bs and a few Cs in your law school classes? You’d graduate with a law degree. Do you know what would happen if you never made an A in any law school class?* You guessed it—you’d graduate with a law degree.

For most students, law school is a means to an end—you need a law degree to take the bar exam and become a lawyer. As long as you graduate and as long as you pass the bar exam, that will happen, regardless of your grade in criminal law. Grades are important—don’t get me wrong. But keep them in perspective.
And while we’re talking about perspective, don’t waste your time and energy dwelling on your mistakes or lamenting your first semester grades. Once you’ve figured out what you can do better, put your energy into improving your study habits or exam writing skills for this semester’s courses.
Finally, remember that you are not your first-semester grades. They don’t define you or your worth as a person. The most successful people aren’t perfect, but they do learn from their mistakes. And you can too. So pick your head up, get to work, and rock this semester!

*Assuming, of course, that you remained academically eligible.

Megan E. Boyd Megan E. Boyd is a legal writing instructor and freelance brief-writer. She has written numerous articles on legal writing and is co-author of the book Show, Don’t Tell: Legal Writing for the Real World. She maintains a legal writing blog and tweets about writing at @ladylegalwriter.

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Georgia State Law Professor Partners with High School Students

Timothy Lytton, associate dean for faculty development, Distinguished University Professor and professor of law, helped members of the Young Israel of Toco Hills examine and compare the preambles to three of history’s most important legal documents: the Code of Hammurabi, the Ten Commandments and the U.S. Constitution, during a Nov. 19 session on Thanksgiving and Law.
“Each of these preambles provides reasons for why those subject to them ought to obey, and they provide insight into how law works  that is, how a ruler can govern a population using not brute force but obedience to law,” Lytton said.
The Code of Hammurabi was one of the earliest and most complete written legal codes, proclaimed by the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who reigned from 1792 to 1750 B.C. The Ten Commandments are a set of biblical laws from the Old Testament.
And, the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. One of the main takeaways from the discussion was that Ancient Near Eastern Law Codes attempted to secure fidelity to law by convincing subjects to be grateful for all of the benefits provided by the law maker.
By contrast, the U.S. Constitution attempts to secure fidelity to law by offering a vision of a shared future (“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility….”). The session offered insights into how law works–how it secures obedience without overt violence, which is a significant advance in the technology of governance.