Law Student Liz Och: Making Law School Meaningful Beyond the Classroom
By Lori Atherton
Liz Och wants you to know she gets plenty of rest. In fact, she gets eight hours of sleep each night, despite the academic rigors of pursuing a dual degree and holding leadership positions in four student organizations. Yes, 2L Och is busy, but she thrives on being involved and making the most of her Law School experience.
"This is very much akin to my high-school self," Och said. "As an undergrad, I was less involved and more focused academically, which explains why I'm so involved here.
"I'm from Michigan, so I feel a special connection to this school. I love my classmates, I love the environment, and I never found a reason to hold back."
The Leland, Mich., native and 2010 Northwestern University graduate, who double-majored in environmental sciences and legal studies, knew she wanted to join the Environmental Law Society (ELS), but never guessed it would lead to two major events: planning the recent Environmental Law and Policy Program (ELPP) Conference and starting the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law (MJEAL) . She also is starting her second term as president of the Law School Student Senate (LSSS) and is serving on the Student Funded Fellowships (SFF) board. Oh, and did we mention that March was rather hectic for Och, as the LSSS, SFF, and ELS hosted major events (a prom, an auction, and a symposium) over three consecutive weekends?
"I have fun with the events that demand a lot," said Och, who credits keeping a planner and to-do lists with keeping her focused. "It's a good kind of tired at the end of those events, because you feel like you accomplished something. It would be impossible to be this involved if there wasn't such a great community of students to be supporting."
As the ELPP symposium co-chair, Och, along with 2L John Broderick and their committee, was charged with "planning the conference from start to finish," including selecting the topics and lining up the speakers. Her favorite moment was a chance meeting with one of the panelists, Michael Gerrard, the director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. Och, who is pursuing a dual degree in law and natural resources, with an emphasis on environmental policy, considers climate change to be her passion, and appreciated the opportunity to discuss it with Gerrard.
"I asked for a reading list on very specific topics I wanted to know more about, and he provided recommendations, including a book of his that was coming out soon," she said. "It was unreal, because that will never happen again in the foreseeable future."
Och credits the documentary An Inconvenient Truth with piquing her interest in climate change. She said she's drawn to the issue not only because it's complex and challenging, but also "because it affects everyone."
"This isn't an issue you can avoid by moving to a different part of the world, or by choosing the country over the city," Och said. "It's truly a universal issue that is going to involve serious coordination between actors to tackle. It's daunting, but it provides an opportunity to be a part of shaping the future that we live in."
Och is equally passionate about her involvement in helping to found MJEAL, which, she said, is her proudest moment of Law School. Noting Michigan Law's absence of an environmental journal in comparison to other Top 10 law schools, Och and other ELS members took it up with the administration, did their homework to determine the journal's scope, value, and funding needs, and drafted a proposal that resulted in provisional approval to start it. Och was associate editor of the first issue, which was published in April; she's managing editor of the second issue.
David Baum, assistant dean for student affairs and special counsel for professional skills development, said Och "exemplifies the best qualities of a leader: intelligence, sensitivity, diplomacy, level-headedness, and, most importantly, good judgment. As the LSSS president, she seems to have unlimited patience for dealing with countless emails from students who complain to her about, well, everything under the sun."
Baum noted some of Och's accomplishments, which have helped improve student life at Michigan Law: "She worked tirelessly with the administration to come up with a reasonable policy about limiting access to the Aikens Commons to law students at high-volume times, and also to make sure the underground library continued to be reserved for law students," he said. "She also was instrumental in making sure that board games were put in the new lower Commons media room for law students to enjoy."
Och recommends that students join at least one student organization at Michigan Law, to make the Law School experience meaningful beyond what is absorbed in the classroom.
"Law school can be really daunting," she said. "I think taking a deep breath, keeping an open mind, and looking for opportunities to make this more than an academic endeavor is a great way to reach success. You are surrounded by people who are probably going to be future leaders of the world, so you might as well be friends with them."
Read more feature stories.