Where did you grow up? How did you come to be here?
South Florida—I was five when my parents and I moved here from Brooklyn. Nonetheless, I’m not a Floridian—"You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the boy." I have a long, synchronicitous connection with this cluster of schools NSU is part of here in Davie (the South Florida Education Center). I went to Nova’s University School from kindergarten through 8th grade, then off to the public Nova High School. I went away to college, then dropped out (it took me 11 years to get my B.A.!). During this time, I took classes at Nova, one a legal research and writing class. I worked in a computer software store for two years, then came back to Broward Community College (now Broward College) to get my A.A. Off to finish my B.A., at New College of Florida (on a trivia scholarship—really!). I went to law school at FSU (though my loyalty is completely to New College). Then I practiced law for a while—which was not my cup of tea, really. So I went back to school to become a librarian… and now here, back home again.
When did you begin working for the LLTC?
I started working here in November 2009, as a temporary reference librarian, and became a permanent employee in May 2010.
What do you do at LLTC?
As Outreach and Emerging Technologies Librarian, I’m the LLTC’s point person for reaching out to and helping students, alumnae/i, and local practitioners. I work a lot with our faculty and their research assistants as well. I guest-teach in and prepare materials for law school classes, help library patrons with questions at the Reference Desk, and also do longer research consultations.
What do you like best about your job?
All of the above. (No, really.) A lot of what I love about the law is doing research and pulling all the information together. This is the part of the law that few lawyers do much of, and that librarians do all the time. I get to work with many different topics and areas in the law—I love variety and being exposed to different things. I like to say that I can get interested in any area of the law for half an hour! Helping students, especially, is a blast—when the “light bulb” lights up over their heads. I had a student tell me “I just enjoyed doing legal research—who’d have imagined it?” That made my year.
Also, I really like the “Emerging Technologies” part of my job. Part of my job is like playing a huge computer game called “the Web”—news, blogs, software, email, Facebook (which I do use for work). I even use the so-called “deep Web”—databases, like Westlaw and PACER, that aren’t indexed by search engines like Google. I have a new iPad that I am seriously grooving on—I thought it would mostly be a tool, but it’s turning out to be a serious workhorse as well. (Plus, my wife and I watched an episode of “House” on it—an amazing experience, watching TV on something that has the form factor of a book.)
What are your proudest accomplishments on the job?
The way my outreach to our students has blossomed. I put together a collection of research resources that I presented in Professor Jarvis’s American Legal History class. I volunteered to help his students with their research for their papers, which was helpful for them and rewarding for me. I started telling other students about consulting with me—and Professor Jarvis’s students told their fellow students too!
Also, because I love this job, I’m always networking with students, practitioners, and even our faculty—“selling” myself, offering whatever help I can provide. I’m already on my second box of business cards!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I read a lot, though not as much fiction lately as I would like. I love Web browsing—I get a lot of technology information that way (a busman’s holiday). My wife and I love live theatre—we’ve seen plays, excellent, professional local theatre, and all very different—the last four weekends in a row. I love good food—not necessarily gourmet, a good hamburger can be a wonderful thing—but excellent, unpretentious food of just about any style and from just about anywhere is wonderful.
Lately I’ve been craving spicy food, and really vinegary pickled vegetables. I love Jewish ethnic food—lox, chicken soup. My wife is from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and I get to eat a lot of neat stuff that she’s introduced me to (I’m a recent mango addict). Indian, Italian, Greek, Irish, pan-Asian, Vietnamese (I’m very partial to phở, the Vietnamese soup), Latin (anything from Argentinean to Colombian to Mexican, which are not even similar), barbecue… I could go on, but now I’m getting hungry.
I love reference books—surprising, right? (One thing I love about my wife is that she owns and uses more dictionaries than I do—she’s a professional translator.) Fiction, well, I love John Sandford, the science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson, and the fantasist Neil Gaiman—his story “A Study in Emerald,” a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, is amazing. Speaking of Lovecraft mash-ups, Charles Stross’s Laundry series, a mash-up of, get this, Lovecraft and Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) is astoundingly good, funny and terrifying both. I’m reading Susan Collins’s book Hunger Games, at Becka’s recommendation—slow going for me right now, but very good.
Do you have any other interesting connections to NSU Law?
I’ve known Professor Richmond, Mike, and his wife, Professor Fran Tetunic, for at least twenty years. I was in a play Mike directed at the synagogue I used to go to, “The Convertible Girl” (written by Neil Simon’s older brother). I played a rabbi. That was an experience, let me tell you.
Is there any particular advice you would like to share with students?
Two things. First, the research and writing skills you learn in LSV and improve in your upper-level classes and seminars are critical in the practice of law. Lawyers write all the time: memos and letters, some of which are painstaking, time-consuming efforts, like demand letters; but also motions and briefs. This sort of writing is required in federal court: the local rules for the Southern District of Florida (S.D. Fla. L.R. 7.1(a),(c)) mandate that memoranda of law in support and in opposition be filed for almost all motions. Florida state-court motions on many substantive and procedural matters will also need to include case law and arguments, or be supported by separate briefs.
Writing a seminar paper—a good seminar paper—involves the same skills as writing a legal brief. Finding and evaluating materials, analyzing them in written form, using those materials to construct an argument, refining your analysis and arguments through successive drafts, citation-checking, even proofreading—these are all an important part of lawyering. Even in transactional work, skill at researching, analyzing, synthesizing, arguing, drafting, and revising all require practice. One of the most difficult—and potentially problematic—things a transactional lawyer will be called upon to do is to draft an opinion letter, which very much requires these skills.
And now for something completely different. Storytelling is very important to lawyers also. The process of laying out a case—from demand letter, to complaint, to discovery, to pretrial practice, and especially arguing a case to a judge or jury—is all about the story you tell and who you portray as the good guy and who as the bad guy. Even as a transactional lawyer, when negotiating, for instance, you want to craft a narrative with the other lawyers and businesspeople you work with in which everyone wins.
One of the hardest things I’ve done here was when an LSV professor asked me to teach her students about storytelling research. I despaired of where to start. But once I was reminded of how important storytelling is, and how ingrained into and essential it is in our legal system, I was able to approach the class in an effective, useful manner.
Oh, and a third piece of advice (if any of you have gotten this far). This stuff you’re getting thrown at you in law school is hard—confusing, terrifying even. And sometimes it makes no sense. Ask questions—lots of questions. Ask your professors—even in class. (It's a good way to avoid being called on when unprepared!) Ask other students. Law is a very collaborative profession; you should get used to cooperating with your peers now; that kind of cooperation is essential to being an effective lawyer. Also, ask us—that’s what we’re here for. Ask us research questions. Ask for advice—if you talk to me about your interests, I might be able to suggest a seminar class you might like, or help you find a paper topic that might work for you. I might even be able to offer a bit of career advice (or give you one of Career Center Associate Director Denise Corin’s business cards).
The concepts you are learning in your subject-area classes are very important in practicing law. You may not really get them, or see how they interact, until you use them in practice—and that's okay. But your practical skills are also very important. Research and writing (learned earlier and improved in law school), active listening (including asking appropriate questions at the right time), storytelling, networking, and accounting—all of these skills will help you to be a better lawyer. Anything I can do to help you develop these skills—to become, or be, a better lawyer—is not just my job, but a real pleasure.