Posted on May 14, 2016
Tom Meier, L’16
Tom Meier took more than a few twists and turns on his path to graduation, but today he will earn his law degree after a 16-year journey.
Originally from Indiana, Lt. Col. Meier, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2009, completed his undergraduate degree as an ROTC member at Ball State, then launched his 21-year military career. He began his legal education in 2000 at George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C. At the time he was on active duty, pursuing law school at night.
“Literally every evening we had class, and then weekends were for studying, so pretty much all other activities came to a halt,” Meier said. Life was consumed by military duties, family commitments and coursework.
And then, during his second year of law school, the Sept. 11 attacks changed everything. The Army assigned Meier additional duties and transferred him to Fort Riley.
“I was fortunate that GW Law gave me an exception to continue my studies wherever I might be — with the understanding that I still needed to come back on campus to finish some of the credits,” Meier said. In the following years, Meier split his time between Kansas, South Carolina and Georgia, training National Guard brigades mobilized to go to Iraq. Throughout it all he never gave up his dream of finishing law school, completing military duties during the day and taking courses as a visiting law student at Washburn at night.
Meier next spent a year on deployment in Iraq, where he worked to find and bring to trial former members of the Hussein regime. The firsthand exposure to international law strengthened his determination to complete his legal degree. “It led to me thinking I wanted to do international law work,” Meier said. “Trying to help a host country implement the rule of law within their culture – that’s what I want to do after I graduate.” After he returned from Iraq, Meier was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, where he completed his military career and continued his studies as a visiting law student at KU.
When Meier retired from active duty, the prospect of returning to D.C. to finish law school seemed out of reach. But KU Law Dean Stephen Mazza had a solution: Meier could transfer to KU and take advantage of American Bar Association exceptions for various requirements in recognition of students who have served in the military. “As it worked out, not only was I accepted into KU Law,” Meier said, “but I was able to enroll in enough courses this semester to graduate and get my GI Bill to pay for the tuition.”
When Meier arrived in Green Hall as a full-time student in January 2016, he faced another transition: adjusting to life without the full-time paycheck he had been earning as a civilian military analyst. He continued working part-time, his schedule once again packed with family, career and school responsibilities. Today, he’ll gather with family and friends to celebrate the degree he began earning 16 years ago.
“The main reason for my success was the support of friends and the faculty and staff at KU Law,” Meier said. “There were so many things going on at the same time that an extra hand from time to time was really helpful. More so than I think many of them know.”
— This is the fifth and final post in a series profiling a select few among the many outstanding members of the KU Law Class of 2016. Read our profiles of Ashley Akers, Bryce Langford, Grecia Perez & Jacque Patton, and Bradley Thomas.
Posted on May 13, 2016
Bradley Thomas, L’16
Bradley Thomas brings a scientist’s reason and an artist’s creativity to the study of law.
The former research scientist holds an undergraduate degree in molecular biology, but he’s as comfortable behind a camera lens as he is behind a microscope.
“In law school, it’s an analytical creativity,” said Thomas, L’16. “The outcome I desire is x. Here are the rules. How do I get there? It’s a problem-solving logic exercise. The scientific part of me just loves that.
“But art is free-form expression that I don’t get from law school or from law. That’s not a problem. I just need something else in my life that allows that.”
Photography has fulfilled that need for Thomas since he was a child. At the age of 6, he blew through several rolls of film on a drive to Colorado for a family ski trip, and then continued taking pictures with no film. “It was just kind of fun to look through and see what I could spot through the viewfinder,” the Mission Hills native said. “A lot of times it’s much less interesting than you think it’s going to be, or the things you don’t instantly find interesting turn out to be fascinating from the right angle.”
Thomas began approaching photography more seriously at Shawnee Mission East High School, where he took classes and learned his way around the darkroom. He mastered the manual settings on his Nikon FM2 and even built a darkroom in his mom’s basement.
But shooting photos took a backseat to studying when Thomas enrolled at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2002. Jobs at AG Bayer Crop Science Research and Children’s Mercy Hospital followed. Although Thomas had dabbled with his dad’s digital cameras on holiday breaks during college, it wasn’t until his scientific work led him to Romania for a medical mission trip in 2007 that he really gained confidence in his images.
“Afterward, I had about 1,000 pictures,” he said. “As I looked through them, I thought some were pretty good.” He assembled a slideshow of his photos that the trip’s organizer showed at a gathering. “They asked me back the following year as the official photographer.”
A third trip – this time to Mali – followed in 2010. Thomas served as the acting pharmacist on that mission, but he took a camera, too.
“It really put things into perspective to be in one of the poorest countries in the world,” he said. “There were kids living on piles of trash. Open cesspools were their homes. It was a life-changing, emotional experience.”
Back stateside and looking for a new direction, Thomas earned his MBA at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he took a business law course that piqued his interest. Next stop? Green Hall. In his three years at KU Law, Thomas took every class the school offered related to intellectual property.
He passed the Patent Bar the summer after his 1L year, will sit for the Missouri bar exam in July and then join the patent practice at Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City, Missouri – helping inventors license their best ideas. And hopefully getting back to some creative work of his own.
“Law school has limited the amount of time I can dedicate to photography,” Thomas said. “But hopefully this education will afford me a lifestyle that will allow me to go on trips and see the world and take photos.”
HDR (High Dynamic Range)
— This post is the fourth in a series profiling a select few among the many outstanding members of the KU Law Class of 2016. Read our profiles of Ashley Akers, Bryce Langford, and Grecia Perez & Jacque Patton.
Posted on May 12, 2016
Ashley Akers, L’16
“The town was great, the school was welcoming, and the price was right,” Akers said. “From the first time I stepped foot in the law school, it was supportive and challenging. It’s everything I was looking for.”
A former student athlete, Akers played soccer and tennis in college, which she says helped prepare her for the competitive and rigorous nature of law school. “I’ve always been an overly competitive person,” Akers said. “Luckily the same lessons I’ve learned playing sports — working extremely hard and over preparing — will also be helpful when I’m practicing law.”
That competitive nature served Akers well throughout her legal education. She was president of KU Law’s student chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the 3-to-1 mentor program, won the school’s in-house moot court competition, and brought home a national championship from the National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition, all while graduating among the top 10 in her class.
“My experience in the NNALSA Moot Court Competition was indescribable,” Akers said. “Winning the competition was the result of months of hard work from our entire team with the help of professors in the law school. It was a great way to end my law school career.”
Classmate Robin Randolph served as vice president of the FBA, a new student organization that Akers helped elevate rapidly.
“She is a one-woman machine when it comes to creating new ideas, organizing events with federal judges, and raising funds to support those events,” Randolph said. “She shows a lot of enthusiasm in whatever she does and works well with others.”
Despite a full schedule of courses, extracurricular activities, and her work as a teaching and research assistant, Akers also found time to volunteer with Big Brothers & Big Sisters. “I enjoy giving back to my community, especially to help children,” Akers said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have this experience.”
After graduation, Akers will work as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. “I’m so thankful that I attended KU Law because I could not have had a better experience anywhere else,” Akers said. “I’m looking forward to putting my education into practice and figuring out what being a lawyer is all about.”
Posted on May 11, 2016
Bryce Langford, L’16
For Bryce Langford, pursuing a law degree meant giving up the family business.
“I worked as a pastor for eight years,” Langford said. “My wife’s parents and my parents and grandparents were pastors. For us as third-generation pastors, it was kind of the family business.”
Langford wasn’t unhappy as a pastor, but he sought something different. Through his ministry, he worked with immigrants and refugees, witnessing firsthand the life-changing work that lawyers do for those escaping hardship and instability.
“I saw how lawyers were able to help these amazing people get legal residency in the U.S.,” Langford said. “This is one of the reasons I moved from being a pastor to an attorney.”
Together, Langford and his wife left their jobs at a church, said goodbye to family and friends in Texas, and moved with their three children to Lawrence to embark on a new career path. The early days brought much adjustment, as Langford struggled to balance family time with the demands of school. He persevered by remembering that he was pursuing his degree for his family, not for a particular rank or GPA. He also embraced new friends and a strong community at KU Law.
Langford’s most memorable law school experience was serving as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review. “It has been the most challenging but fun experience I’ve had at Green Hall,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the friendships I have gained through the Law Review.”
Langford will work as a litigation associate for the Kansas City law firm of Stinson Leonard Street after graduation. “The firm does a lot of pro bono work with refugees and immigrants, and I will get the opportunity to work with these clients,” he said. “I am very excited about that.”
Though he’s pursuing a different career path now, Langford feels that his background in ministry helped prepare him for law school. “I think it helped me get along with people,” he said. “Law school can be competitive. I tried to be kind to everyone. I didn’t always succeed, and I made many mistakes. But I hope that being a former pastor made me kinder and more empathetic to my classmates.”
— This post is the second in a series profiling a select few among the many outstanding members of the KU Law Class of 2016. Read Grecia Perez and Jacque Patton’s profile.
Posted on May 9, 2016
Jacque Patton & Grecia Perez, L’16
For many, the friendships born in Green Hall last long past graduation. But some students gain more than study partners, becoming roommates, colleagues and lifelong friends.
Class of 2016 members Jacque Patton and Grecia Perez plan to move to California’s Bay Area after graduation to launch their legal careers together. The pair took different paths to KU Law — Patton a Kansas native who embarked upon law school straight after earning her undergraduate degree at KU, Perez a Californian who went to college in Los Angeles and worked for six years before law school.
“I knew who Grecia was my 1L year and thought she was intimidating — in a good way,” Patton said. The women bonded through a love of food, music, politics and feminism.
Both women faced an adjustment process as they adapted to the rigors of law school. Patton let go of the need to compare herself to others in a competitive academic environment, while Perez learned that balance was essential to keep her academic aspirations in line with her personal ones. To blow off steam, the duo screened “Sex and the City” marathons during study breaks.
“We analyzed the characters’ experiences through the lens of what it’s like to be women in the legal field — a field that is mostly dominated by men,” Perez said. “We do this often: take something happening in the legal field, politics or pop culture, and analyze through lenses of feminism, social justice and more.”
“We don’t agree on everything,” Patton said. “And we always challenge each other — something that might make it seem like we’re fighting to others around us, when really we are making each other better advocates.”
Patton and Perez brought that spirit of advocacy and justice to their legal educations. Patton served as President of Law Students for Reproductive Justice and interned with Kansas Appleseed, working to create legislation to help undocumented immigrants obtain drivers licenses. She plans to leverage that experience to launch a career in the public sector. Perez served as Student Bar Association President and interns at the district attorney’s office in Kansas City, Kansas. She is pursuing a career as a prosecutor.
After wrapping up finals and graduation festivities, the friends plan to spend the summer studying for the California bar, then fly out to take the exam in July.
While their close friendship may seem unconventional to some, for Patton and Perez it’s been a key to their success in law school.
“We are each other’s sounding boards,” Patton said. “We bounce ideas off each other, help each other study, and when we combine forces, we are capable of doing a great deal.”
“We get a lot of jokes about being a couple, most of them made by us,” Perez said. “It is difficult for people to understand how two heterosexual women can be so close. The sad reality is that women are taught to be competitors instead of sisters, and that’s the best way we could define our friendship: a sisterhood.”
— This post is the first in a series profiling a select few among the many outstanding members of the KU Law Class of 2016.
Posted on May 5, 2016
With an eye toward a career in public service, 2016 graduate Kevin Anderson weighs multiple employment opportunities
A University of Kansas law student with a history of military service has been named a finalist in one of the nation’s most competitive fellowship programs.
Capt. Kevin Anderson earned the designation of 2016 Presidential Management Fellow Finalist after an intensive application and interview process. More than 6,000 people applied for the fellowship, and less than 10 percent made the final cut.
The PMF program was created by executive order in 1977 to develop potential government leaders. It provides extensive on-the-job leadership and management training to advanced degree candidates through two-year, paid positions at federal agencies. Anderson is set to graduate from KU Law in May 2016 and will have one year to apply for PMF positions.
He is also entertaining offers from the Army, Navy and Air Force JAG Corps, a rare trifecta in a competitive program.
“I’m interested in federal service,” said Anderson, who has remained active in the Army National Guard during law school. “While money is important, it is not my main motivator.”
Anderson hopes to work in the intelligence community supporting national security. His interest in the field began while earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Colorado State University and the University of Colorado, respectively. Five years of active duty as a signal officer in the U.S. Army followed, including a 12-month deployment to Iraq, where Anderson was responsible for the health, morale, welfare and training of 67 soldiers.
With the continued draw-down of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Anderson saw diminishing opportunities for future deployments and decided the timing was right to continue his education. He left his post in Hawaii, moved to Kansas and started taking classes at KU Law in 2013.
In addition to his coursework, Anderson has served as a teaching assistant for the Law of War class taught by Professor Mike Hoeflich, whom Anderson considers an invaluable mentor and friend. Anderson also clerked at an Overland Park law firm and worked as a legal intern for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts. He credits that experience with enhancing his application for the PMF program and the JAG Corps.
“A lot of students interested in the intelligence field don’t take the proactive step of working for a senator or representative,” Anderson said. “I would highly suggest they do that because it opens a lot of doors.”
As Anderson decides which door to walk through next, he’s wrapping up final exams and staying busy as the father of two sons, 5-month-old Calvin and 3-year-old Benjamin. His wife of six years, Jenn Anderson, is associate director of institutional compliance at KU.
“We’re trying to move this country forward,” Anderson said. “Ultimately I would like to run for federal office. You have your sphere of influence in the Department of Defense, but when you get into federal office you can affect change on a national level. Hopefully it will be ‘Vote Anderson 2024.’”
— By Mindie Paget
Posted on April 28, 2016
Photo courtesy of University Archives
Rusty Leffel arrived on the KU campus as an undergraduate in 1966 and stayed until he finished law school in 1973. In his seven years on the Hill, student life evolved from a social experience to a political one. As a student leader, Leffel helped usher in that change.
“When I first came to KU the student council was based in social groups — fraternities and sororities, living groups,” Leffel said. “I had a substance-based agenda. I stayed at KU Law in part because I had a list of things I believed needed to be done at KU.” Leffel devoted his time in Lawrence to reforming student government, bolstering its impact on the university’s mission. “We declared war on the old way,” Leffel said. “We were dedicated to making student government more issue-oriented.”
As the student body became more active and vocal, unrest surfaced. The Kansas Union was set on fire, and the computer center was bombed. National Guard troops were called in to patrol, and faculty and students spent the night on campus to protect buildings.
“People were mad. We started seeing the Legislature cut funding for KU. As students, we felt we had a stake in this. We needed to express our concern that higher education is important. So we did.”
While some students protested national issues, Leffel and his fellow activists advocated for local initiatives. “Vietnam was not really something the Student Senate could control, so we went back to the people of Kansas,” Leffel said. “What can we do?”
Leffel helped found Students Concerned for Higher Education in Kansas, a group dedicated to getting results through dialogue and cooperation rather than disruption. “We tried to encourage every student group on campus to express their concerns, to express the importance of higher ed individually and to our state,” Leffel said.
KU’s student government responded to the state’s budget cuts by proposing that funds raised from student activity fees cover the shortfall. SCHE mobilized a campus-wide campaign to explore the role of student activity fees in the university’s budget, and the Student Senate measure was narrowly defeated. Gov. Docking vetoed the cuts and funding was restored, an outcome Leffel called “highly successful.”
Years after he graduated, Leffel’s legacy continues. KU still presents the Rusty Leffel Concerned Student Award annually to students committed to furthering the ideals of the university and higher education, a gesture that “humbles” and “overjoys” Leffel.
He credits his legal education with bringing a lawyer’s sensibilities to his activism. “It helps us to understand both sides of an issue — to study, research, present and advocate for all sides of a concern,” Leffel said. “The underpinning of democracy is the ability to argue, discuss and dialogue. Students at KU Law were prepared not just to be lawyers, but to be citizens.”
— A version of this post appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of KU Law Magazine. The issue celebrated the career of Martin Dickinson, KU Law’s longest-serving professor, and included reflections from several of Dickinson’s former students.
Posted on April 19, 2016
No more interviews with the Department of Homeland Security, no more meetings with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, no more facing her traffickers in court. The criminal case was finally closed. Now she was living in a foreign country, away from family and friends, with minimal funds, unable to speak English, and wanted to stay in the U.S. to avoid retaliation from her traffickers. This was the client I was assigned during the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) externship orientation.
I have never felt so nervous than I did when I left the MLP orientation. And I have never felt so confident and excited about pursing a legal career than I did on my last day at the MLP.
Orientation day for the MLP was the most overwhelming day I’ve experienced during law school. I walked out of the office with a client who had been a victim of human trafficking, a book about T and U visas (something I knew nothing about), and a list of people I had never met with whom I needed to schedule meetings. I had never had a real client, conducted an interview, worked with an interpreter, or written anything more complex than a summary judgment. I felt incredibly unprepared to take on my client’s task and was beyond scared that someone’s future had been placed in my hands.
My one semester in the MLP gave me invaluable practical experience. My first task was a trivial one — make a phone call. But I had to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ask for copies of documents filed during the criminal trial of the traffickers. My hands were shaking as I dialed the number. By the end of the semester I was on a first-name basis with my contacts in various government offices. My MLP experience taught me more than just how to do legal research, fill out forms, and write. It taught me how to connect with my client and maintain emotional health, showed me the importance of networking with people who aren’t lawyers, and that legal work is much more complex than class materials ever intimated.
I ended my time with the MLP by turning over an almost 2-inch-tall stack of papers that was my client’s T visa application. It needed one final review and would then be sent off. I walked out of the MLP confident in my work. For the first time during school, I felt like I had accomplished something. That day I was sure I was pursuing the right career.
Ten months later I received a phone call from the MLP office. My client’s T visa had been approved. The gravity of what I had worked on for an entire semester truly came into focus at that moment. I had helped make a real difference for a real person. This was my best day during law school. My MLP experience showed me that true success as a legal advocate is achieved when your client succeeds.
— Monica Hill Henning is a third-year KU Law student from Kingman, Kansas. She is set to graduate in May 2016.
Posted on April 13, 2016
Myth # 1: You won’t have time to have a social life in law school.
While I spent more time in the law library this year than I ever thought possible, I’ve still had plenty of time for other activities. Which is good because there are lots of opportunities to get involved at KU. There are 28 student organizations at the law school alone, and over 600 campus-wide. There are also plenty of social events such as Barrister’s Ball (Law Prom), Pub Night and TGITs.
Myth # 2: Everyone at KU will be from Kansas, and everyone will stay in Kansas after graduating.
I love Kansas. But after growing up near Fort Riley, an Army base, I recognize the immense value in having a student body that has a diverse set of experiences. At KU, the Class of 2018 includes students from 25 states and three foreign countries.
While KU does an excellent job placing students in regional jobs, the school also has a large network of dedicated alumni working outside of Kansas who offer invaluable assistance to students hoping to travel with their degree.
Myth # 3: Professors will teach “the law.”
When I came to law school, I expected to learn black-letter law by listening to lecturing professors. But instead of rote memorization of cases and statutes, law school has been more about actively learning how to “think like a lawyer.” Instead of focusing exclusively on legal theory, there are plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning while still in school. The school offers several workshops and twelve clinics, where students can earn school credits by improving practical skills.
Myth # 4: If you want to go to law school, you have to major in Political Science or Philosophy.
There is no major that will perfectly prepare you for law school. Focus on taking classes that will advance writing and critical thinking skills. At KU, there are a wide variety of college majors represented. As someone who received degrees in Political Science and History, it’s refreshing to take classes with students who bring many unique perspectives.
Myth # 5: School rank is the most important factor when deciding which law school to attend.
Law school experiences are difficult to quantify. While national ranking systems can be a helpful tool, they shouldn’t be the only thing you consider. For some ranking systems, cost of attendance makes up only 15% of the overall score. For me, cost was incredibly important, because I didn’t want to graduate with a level of debt so high that it would determine my entire career path.
There were also plenty of factors that were important to me but impossible to assign a numerical value. I wanted professors who were accessible, a career service office that would invest time in getting to know each student, and an environment where students were collegial and welcoming. Visiting the law school made it clear that KU was the best fit for me.
— Sarah McMillin-Beckman is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Junction City, Kansas.
Posted on March 24, 2016
Judge Jean Shepherd, L’77, was one of the KU Law women pioneers of the 1970s. Like several of her women classmates, Shepherd pursued law as a second career, leaving behind the fields traditionally open to women at the time. When she entered law school in 1974, Shepherd was a non-traditional student, a single mother and a former high school teacher. The campus had changed since she completed her undergraduate degree in 1968. Women were wearing jeans to class, and students were consumed with the Vietnam War and civil rights, which resulted in a more “aware and involved” student experience.
“I graduated in January of 1968,” Shepherd said. “Things were really changing on campus. When I was an undergrad the big ruckus was women not wearing dresses to class. Those were such non-issues when I came back for law school in 1974. Students were focused on larger issues. We were much more aware of the world and the country. It was no longer this idyllic, Midwestern isolated college experience. It was much more aware and involved.”
Though the atmosphere on campus was one of engagement and action, the KU Law community was still adjusting to women studying in Green Hall. “We had a little bathroom with just two stalls, and there would always be a long line coming out the door,” Shepherd said. “It wasn’t set up for women students at that point.”
Aside from the logistical issues, more fundamental challenges existed as well.
“I was a single parent,” Shepherd said. “I found out we were expected to have Saturday classes. I didn’t have child care. I went to Martin Dickinson, gathered all my courage, and said, ‘I don’t have day care for Saturday classes and can’t make that work.’ He rearranged my schedule, which was unheard of. But that was it for me. It meant I was able to stay.”
Shepherd and her women classmates banded together to tackle the challenges, developing deep friendships, professional connections, and a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation that continues today.
“I just remember how close the women in my class were, and it certainly wasn’t because we all had similar interests,” Shepherd said. “There was a woman who was a harp major and sold real estate, a woman who was a nun, women from a variety of first careers. There were not a lot of us, but we were really close. We ate lunch together and encouraged each other. It took that kind of a process for us to feel comfortable enough to stay there and get through it.”
Though she left teaching behind, Shepherd maintained her commitment to children and families throughout her law practice and judicial career.
“I always valued areas of the law that related to children and families and thought that’s where a difference could be made for the future,” Shepherd said. “In law school I was head of the juvenile clinic, and we represented children in court. When I first started practicing, I was in the DA’s office, so I prosecuted cases involving child victims. When I was in private practice I represented children and families in abuse and neglect cases. In those situations you have one or a few clients and can really advocate for and get to know them. As a judge you’re not an advocate for a child, but I could advocate for system changes and programs that would help children and families involved in the courts system.”
Shepherd also credits her teaching background with making her a more effective judge.
“I think teaching was the best training I had for being in control of a courtroom,” Shepherd said. “There’s a lot of teaching that goes on–explaining people’s rights and the process. There’s a look that students and adults get when they’re nodding their heads but don’t understand. You need to recognize that look and rephrase things, find other words to use so people can get some clarity. Sometimes the excuses people use are like all those excuses for why homework didn’t get done, only at a different level.
“In teaching, you learn how to act like you’re in charge even though you’re not sure you are, and there were certainly moments like that in the courtroom. You make really important decisions and you mete out consequences that are hopefully appropriate, but people have to understand the process. If people feel they’ve been heard and if they feel they understand what happened, there are very few complaints.”
– A version of this post appeared in the fall 2015 issue of KU Law magazine. The issue celebrated the career of Martin Dickinson, KU Law’s longest-serving professor, and included reflections from several of Dickinson’s former students.