Friday, 20 April 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - Serious Doubts

Six weeks into the bar review course (which was mid April), I was starting to have serious doubts about whether I was ready for the exams in July. I felt pressure because in order to sit the July exams, we had to submit our completed application by April 30, and pay the $750 fee as well. I had already invested a lot of money to join the course, so was I really prepared to spend a further $750 to apply to sit the exam as well as put money aside for flights and accommodation for the July exam?

I had a catch up call with the mentor that Bar Bri International had assigned to me. The call was helpful to some extent, she encouraged me keep doing the practice questions and learn the substantive law. But honestly, it did not erase the doubts I had at the back of my head. I was really struggling with Constitutional law, Real Property and Torts which were 3 of the main subjects to appear on the exam without a doubt and my scores on the practice questions for these subjects were relatively low. But, because I had been waiting for this opportunity for so long and had already got this far, I decided to apply to sit the exam.

I reasoned with myself that as my working hours were going to be reduced from 30 hours to 22.5 hours a week closer to the exam dates and I still had 10 weeks before I flew out to New York to sit the exam, I could do it! I had no choice but to believe right? All the sacrifices I had make surely would not be in vain right? What did I have to lose? Not sitting the exam would cost me £500 to defer until the following year which was around the same amount as paying the fees to sit the exam when converting into British Sterling so either way my pocket would be a little lighter! At least I got a little trip to New York choosing to sit the exam LOL!

By this time I had not even heard back from the New York State Board of Examiners about my eligibility to sit the exam, so it was a bit of a gamble but I was advised that once I had applied, they would probably respond quickly about my eligibility and they did!

Following the application to sit the exam and eligibility confirmed, I had the task of finding a notary public to attest to my handwriting sample that had to be sworn and sent back to the Board of Examiners. There are not many in my city and the one I found wanted to charge a rate that I felt was extortionate just for me to write a few lines in front of them! LOL! I was able to find a solicitor close to my workplace who charged more the half the price!

Now that all the administrative stuff had been sorted out, it was back to books..focusing most of my time outside working hours and weekends to study.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - My Own Cheerleader

When the bar review course started, an email was sent to all those who had enrolled on to the home program, encouraging us to set up a Facebook group and/or a WhatsApp group for us to keep in touch with one another and provide support while we were preparing to sit the exams in a few months.

It was not the first time I had chosen a home study program, but it was the first time doing one on this level, having invested a lot of time and money into it and studying the law of another country! I knew I needed extra support and I was happy this was being offered. It was great to know there were others I could reach out too when I needed help with my studies and to just talk about what we were doing...and I did. The group was so diverse with candidates from different parts of the world...the UK, Poland, South Africa, Dubai, Belgium, Bahrain, Lebanon, Mozambique (that's all I can remember).

I joined the gym on Good Friday too. I remember watching one of the introduction videos for the course and one of the speakers mentioned that we should have enough time to rest; make sure we ate well and exercised regularly to help us prepare for the exam.  During my time studying for the exams, the gym was my 'go-to place' to escape when I had done hours of revision and needed to give my mind a rest and unwind. When I was feeling frustrated that I was not understanding what I was reading. I went 3-4 times a week and it was refreshing. Also, I had stopped all extra curriculum activities and things I used to do to keep busy; to invest more in my studies. So, going to the gym was one of the only few things I was doing, a part from working, studying and going to church!

Although I had a new virtual support network through the WhatsApp and Facebook group, it was just that...virtual. Physically speaking, I did not have a study partner or anybody around me to share my journey with,  have lengthy conversations about what I was learning, struggling with etc, because it seemed like they would not understand. But that was the beauty of it all. It was MY journey! It was not meant to be lived or shared with or for anybody else. It is something I had to do for me and grow personally and professionally through it!

So, I became my own best friend! My own cheerleader and motivator on the days when I did not feel like revising, or when I did not get the results I expected! I invested more in my relationship with myself and with God through this!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar: The Slight Hiccup at the Beginning

Once I had enrolled onto the 4 month Bar Review Course and received the course materials and books through the post, I was excited to officially start my journey to becoming a New York Attorney. 

I had more or less organised my time which was to work 30 hours a week (Monday to Thursday) and dedicate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to review the pre-recorded lectures and work through the study plan provided by Bar Bri International. I was fortunate that my managers at work were flexible and allowed me to cut my hours down and not work on Fridays. 

The course started on Friday 4th of March at 6.30pm and I was so ready for it....until I started to feel unwell and experience chest pains. During the day, I felt so bad I had to go to the walk-in health centre to get checked out and ended up spending a few hours in the waiting room, waiting to be checked out. I was told I had strained a muscle near my chest that's why I was in pain and I needed to avoid movement for a few days. I didn't leave the medical centre until after 8pm and on my way home I found a very drunk lady on the street with vomit all over and in need of help. As we called for an ambulance she stood up and walked into the middle of the road and laid flat on the floor to sleep! This caused a fleet of cars to line up behind her because she was blocking a very busy road and me and 3 other passers by kept trying to get her off the floor but she wouldn't budge! One of drivers came out to see what was happening and was surprised to find out that that the lady was her neighbour! She managed to get her up and take her home! I'm glad she got home safely. An eventful day!

Going back...this was not the start I planned and I had to play catch up with the few days I missed to rest. I also had a lot of adjusting to do, becoming a student again and juggling work and knew I had to put aside things that were not a priority, to invest more time into my studies. 

One of the first things I did was contact those closest to me to explain to them that for the coming months, I would not be as available to do things, meet up and even socialise as I usually was because I would be concentrating on my studies. I asked them to be considerate and to bear with me. It helped so that those around me wouldn't expect too much from me! 

Choosing the home program was ideal for me because of my work schedule and distance from London...but it also feel somewhat lonely because I would be doing this alone, without anyone to consult or feedback too (apart from the tutors). This is what I thought until I received an email from one of the course leaders....

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - Confronted by a stranger

At the beginning of January 2016, I took the day off work and went to London to attend an open day held by BarBri International. Although I had already decided to enroll onto BarBri's U.S bar review course starting in March that year, I wanted to meet some of the course tutors, mentors and other students to get more of an insight into what I had chosen to do.

The open day was very informative and I left knowing that this was exactly what I wanted to do. As I had a bit of time to spare before traveling back to Nottingham, I decided to sit in Cafe Nero and treat myself to a hot chocolate and some cake. Needless to say, in the end I did not get the chance to enjoy the hot chocolate because an inconsiderate stranger intruded on my quiet time!

As I started sipping into the hot chocolate and began reading the literature given to me at the open day, a gentleman sat next to me noticed it and asked me about it. He mentioned that he was a qualified lawyer in England and without using any functioning brain cells linked to awareness, intelligence, empathy and consideration (or maybe not), he said to me "but you have a stammer, why would you want to sit the New York Bar, it's tough." (I guessed he picked up on the stammer during the conversation).

My eyebrows rose up so high and I had to think twice about the ignorant comments I had just heard! I was in disbelief! He kept commenting (as if he was on repeat mode) how someone "like me" should focus more on jobs where I would be more comfortable and where I would not need to speak much because doing the bar exam was overly ambitious and setting myself up for difficulties.

I don't know why I allowed him to keep talking, but when I had heard enough, I abruptly told him to stop talking because I didn't want to hear anymore of his negative comments. When he tried to explain his points of view further by telling me he was only thinking about me (haha yeah right!), I cut him off! I knew exactly what was behind all of this and I was not going to let the negative words infiltrate inside of me to make me question or doubt what I had decided to pursue!

I reminded him that he should be careful about making such comments and not to judge my intellectual and academic ability because of the way I speak. There are lawyers at partner level in law firms who are deaf, some deaf and mute, others who are blind and communicate through an assistant, but their disabilities do not impede from doing their job.

My quest to keep this as private as possible to avoid such situations, still did not impede it from taking place and this is how things are in life. No matter what we do or do not do, they will always be someone who will have something to say. But when we know who we are, what we are doing and why we are doing it, other peoples' comments will not deter us from our goal; in fact it will add more fuel to the fire that is already burning inside of us to keep going, keep pursing, to show to others it can be done! And that is what I did!

I was tired of being put into a box and shoved in the corner. At 27 years old, I decided enough was enough. I should be allowed to pursue what I have faith to pursue, even if I did not meet the status quo. That's what faith is move mountains, jump over hurdles, and break down barriers!

I found the picture I took on the day, of the hot chocolate I did't get to enjoy lol

Thursday, 4 January 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - In pursuit, silently and discreetly.

My decision to sit the New York Bar exam and qualify as an Attorney in the U.S was solely based on the dream and vision that had awakened within me, one that I truly believe God gave me.

I didn't consult anyone when making the decision. Once I was fully decided and registered for the Bar Review Course, I told a select group of family and friends and my manager (as I would need to reduce my hours at work and have time off to sit the exams). I decided to keep this as private as possible. I used to be the kind of person who would seek approval from others. Whenever I had an idea that seemed good or I was thinking about doing something or travelling somewhere, I would always consult someone, either a friend, family member, or one of my peers.

Looking back, there were things I wanted to pursue but was talked out of it. Due to not being defined and knowing what I wanted and also because of my respect for the person advising me and my belief that they knew better, I listened to them. But later, I felt frustrated because the other option given didn't produce much and I regretted not doing what I believed was good for me.

There are people who out of love and concern for us, advise us not to pursue something because they think it's not in our best interests. They mean no harm. And there are others who try to put their limitations on us because they do not have the same mindset, vision, courage or faith to do what we are doing or want to do. They think we are being overly ambitious and the risk is not worth it.

In both situations, we have to be very careful not to allow other peoples opinions to interfere or divert us from the calling we wholeheartedly believe we have or the career path we have chosen.

I didn't keep silent about my plans just to avoid people coming to me with their opinions or suggestions of what I should or shouldn't do, but also because I learned that when we talk too much about something, most of the time we get little or nothing done. The energy we put in discussing what we want to do could be put into actually doing it! When I started doing this (and it's something I continue to do) things actually starting happening and moving forward.

I remember there was a period where people were making comments to my face and behind my back, saying that I was spending too much time travelling to America and other places, spending money, instead of focusing on investing and building my life. Little did they know, that's exactly what I was doing! The times I travelled to the U.S was either to sit the different exams required to qualify as a U.S lawyer or to gain work experience out there. I was very selective of what I posted on social media, not to disclose everything I was doing, so a lot of the time it looked like I was just sightseeing and having fun. But in truth those touristic places I visited were usually while on a study break, on my way to and from the library or a meeting. That's why you shouldn't believe everything you see on social media. It's not always a true reflection of what a person has or what they are doing.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

My Journey To The New York Bar - Being Intentional, Living on Purpose

After spending the summer gaining legal work experience in New York, I came back home to England and everything I did from that moment was focused on qualifying as a lawyer in the U.S. I started to act intentionally and with a purpose.

I started a new position at the company I worked for. The role was an advisory role, providing advice over the telephone. Up until that moment, as a person with a stammer, I had "avoided" or "limited" myself from talking to people over the phone and having lengthy conversations with people I didn't know. This was because I stammered more when speaking over the telephone and felt more comfortable speaking to people face to face.

The new job would require me to speak to between 20-40 people everyday about serious and sensitive issues and providing clear and accurate advice and information over the phone. I saw it as preparation for what I was now pursing, because as a lawyer, I would be put in situations where I would have to hold conference calls, do presentations, attend court hearings and lengthy trials and many other things. If I couldn't come out of my comfort zone and advice people over the telephone, how would I be able to deliver as a lawyer when communicating verbally in certain environments?

I learnt and developed a lot from this role. I worked there for one year before moving on to something else, and it was definitely a job that helped me to come out of my comfort zone, boosted my confidence and developed my knowledge and understanding of family law issues and the role of our local government's social services.

When I started the job, I had 5 months to go before I would commence the bar review course to prepare for the New York Bar Exam. I decided to do some independent background reading on the United States Constitution and contract law, to familiarise myself with some U.S law. I did this in between working and other commitments.

 I also decided that I would not take any holidays or trips abroad. Everything I engaged in had to solely be for my personal development and qualifying as a U.S lawyer. I could not afford to be side tracked or spend money unnecessarily because I knew the journey to the New York Bar would cost me a lot of money, effort, dedication and time.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

My Journey to the New York Bar - Redeeming The Time

Redeeming the time for me at that moment was to go to New York and do a legal internship.

Several years before, which was during my second year at university, I chose to study a  module called The Justice Process. It was focused on studying both the criminal justice system and the civil justice process in North America. We had an option to do an eight to ten week  internship in a law firm in the U.S or to write an essay about a particular topic. I chose to do an internship in New York and secured one at a Brooklyn law firm that practiced criminal and personal injury law.

From what I recall, everybody else on the course chose the southern  states like Indiana, Mississippi and Texas but I chose New York. It just appealed to me more and I remember my professor telling me that I had to find my own placement because they did not have connections with places in New York. I contacted a lot of different law offices and firms in New York to secure a placement myself.

I was preparing myself for this once in a lifetime opportunity, however about 5 weeks before I was due to go, I cancelled the whole thing. It was a personal decision I made due to a particular situation I was facing at the time. No one around me understood, especially my dad who insisted I went, "even if he had to drag me on the plane", but I was adamant I was no longer going. It was not an easy decision to make and I had to contact the law office to inform them, as well as other people who were going to assist me during my stay there.

Fast forward to that Saturday morning in September 2014 while cleaning the house,  when it came to my mind that the time had come for me to redeem the opportunity I 'gave away'. Two months later,  I went to visit relatives in Maryland for Thanksgiving and spent a few days in New York to get a "feel of the place."

Before the trip I was just thinking about  doing an internship to finally do what I always wanted to do and cross it off the 'bucket list', but God had now opened my vision to  actually qualify as a U.S lawyer and practice law internationally. I went to the United States with a purpose, and everything I did from that moment on, I did to work towards the dream that had now awakened within me.

I went back to New York at the end of May 2015 for three months and did an internship and also pro bono work, providing legal advice and assistance to low income families and residents of New York City.  During that year, the New York Bar Association had implemented a new requirement that applicants had  to fulfil 50 hours of pro bono work as part of their application for admission as an attorney.  I found out that I could use the pro bono work I was doing, as part of the 50 hours requirement for my application. Without even knowing, I was doing certain things to assist me on my journey to the New York Bar.