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I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin & a best friend. I am a poet, a lawyer & a survivor. I've learned that God will give you a second chance.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A lawyer walks into a bar . . .

Sounds like the start of a good joke. Actually, it’s the title to an independent film that I just watched on Netflix. It brought back memories of my own experience with law school and the California Bar Exam.

My story started while I was in law school. I attended Concord Law School (one of my inspirations). It has a wholly on-line delivery system and is not like any other law school I’ve ever heard about. We created on-line Yahoo Groups in which to “chat” and share ideas. We developed study groups and were able to study together on-line through audio chat rooms that were available at the time. There is a Student Bar Association. We worked together to succeed rather than compete with each other for class ranking. And I developed life-long friendships.

Six weeks before the end of my coursework I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I told no one. My husband knew because he was there. With less than a month to go, a major paper due for my internship course and a capstone class to complete I had surgery. I spent the majority of November at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. I attended my classes and handed in my assignments but felt as if I were going through the motions. I just had to get through law school and finish my classes.

My coursework was done by mid-December. I had undergone surgery and was facing chemotherapy. I was also facing the February 2008 bar exam and a March 1, 2008 graduation ceremony. At this point a small circle of my friends, including some of my classmates, knew what was happening in my life. I was flooded with an outpouring of love and support from all directions.

Before undergoing my first chemotherapy treatment I discussed taking the exam with my doctors. I had decided to study for the exam and take it. After all, I had already registered and it was past the deadline for a refund. As I discovered, studying also gave me a focus and purpose beyond the cancer diagnosis. (In October, before the doctor’s appointment that started it all I had been told that my job contract would not be renewed at the end of December). In many ways I had lost everything; my job, law school had ended, and it appeared that I had lost my health. But I am stubborn and did not believe that this was the end. Rather, I knew that God has a purpose for all of this. This was just the beginning.

After losing my hair to the chemotherapy I realized that I would be showing up to graduation bald. I had chosen not to wear a wig during treatment. Instead, I wore hats. I have a wonderful collection now and occasionally take one out to wear again. I knew that my appearance would shock my classmates and professors if I didn’t let them know what was going on in my life. So I sent out more emails.

What happened next was an outpouring of incredible magnitude. I emailed one of my Capstone professors who is actively involved in bar preparation as well as a pivotal member of the graduation ceremony. She lives in California. I live in Massachusetts. I sent my email around 9 a.m. one morning. Within minutes my phone rang and it was her! At 6 a.m. she was reaching out to me with kindness, compassion and encouragement. She did not try to talk me out of taking the bar exam. Rather, she was supportive of my decision and was genuinely glad I had decided to make the trip for graduation.

Yes, I took the bar exam that February. I was not successful at that administration of the exam. I “missed” by 17 points.* But God had blessed me with love, kindness, support and determination. I was bald at graduation but would not have changed anything for the world.


*I went on to take and pass the July 2008 California Bar Exam.

3 comments:

  1. This very proud mother attended the graduation and cried when Heather received a standing ovation upon receiving her degree. What an inspiring and moving day.

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  2. I was reading about law as I am enrolled in paralegal degree at Liberty University and thinking about applying next year at Oak Brook College of Law. How nice of you to tell your story, to hear how you continued on, and how God gave you the strength! I was very moved by your story. Good for you!
    We have a family crises that has generated an interest in law so as to help others who are facing what we are. I am almost 60 years old, but I am going to see if my brain still works to get the credits I need to get into law school. Every day I pray for the strength to endure our crises and to be able to study. I'll keep your story in mind. joan

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    1. Joan - thank you for your comments. I wish you and your family all the best. Law School was challenging, but one of the best things I've ever done. I know that God will guide you in your decision. Know that whatever happens with law school it will be the right thing. Blessings to you.

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