Updated on July 16, 2019
A law school alumnus has pledged to support students pursuing public interest work at the University of Kansas School of Law.
The planned estate gift by Donald Giffin, L’53, is a percentage of investments with a maximum value not to exceed $1 million. The gift will go toward establishing the Donald and Esther Atha Giffin Public Interest Law Fund. The fund will provide support that may include scholarships, stipends, awards, fellowships and research assistantships for KU Law students pursuing public interest law.
Donald Giffin said he hopes the gift will allow KU Law students “to study public interest law and to become interested in it, despite the cost of obtaining an education in law.”
Giffin had followed the work of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale Law School, and wanted to support interest in work that’s “compassionate and considerate to all members of society” at KU Law, he said.
Stephen Mazza, dean of the law school, expressed his gratitude for the gift.
“The Giffin family’s commitment to supporting education and opportunities for future Jayhawk lawyers is admirable. This latest gift will open doors for students wanting to pursue public interest law, regardless of their resources,” Mazza said.
Giffin has been a consistent supporter of the law school as an alumnus. He has been part of the school’s Board of Governors for nearly 30 years, including time as the president of the board and as a senior governor. In 2007, Giffin received the Distinguished Alumni Award, the law school’s highest honor. He is a recipient of the James Woods Green Medallion and previously was an advisor and supporter for the school’s LL.M. in Elder Law program.
During his time as a student at KU Law, Giffin was a founder and editor in chief of the Kansas Law Review, and a member of Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity and Order of the Coif. Giffin also holds a bachelor’s degree from KU and an LL.M. from Yale Law School.
“My legal education has been very good to me,” Giffin said. “I’ve appreciated it and been able to use it throughout my life, and I’ve been very grateful for it.”
Giffin is a retired partner at Spencer Fane, LLP, where he practiced business litigation and alternative dispute resolution, concentrating in the areas of civil litigation, antitrust litigation and officers, and directors and professional liability law.
Updated on July 15, 2019
Student Spotlight: Mohammad Hameed uses background in engineering to excel at intellectual property law internship
When applying for summer internships, second-year law student Mohammad Hameed looked for a position that would enable him to gain a solid understanding of the foundations of intellectual property and gear his legal education toward patent law.
He saw a job posting on USAJOBS.gov to work at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and followed the selection procedure. Hameed is a summer intern at the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia.
“I figured there’s no better place to understand patents than the place that grants them, the Patent and Trademark Office,” Hameed said.
Hameed was born in Kuwait, but moved to the U.S. as an infant. He has lived in Olathe since he was 7 years old. He earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas in 2017.
He decided to pursue a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law because of the school’s “well-rounded student body and the expansive IP coursework available.”
Last year, Hameed was the 1L representative for the Student Intellectual Property Law Association, an IP research assistant for Professor Andrew Torrance and a member of KU’s Muslim Student Association. He will be the vice president for the Asian Law Student Association and secretary for KU’s Muslim Student Association during the upcoming school year.
At his USPTO internship, Hameed examines patents directly related to his engineering background under the supervision of patent examiners. He also attends Patent Trial and Appeal Board trials.
“I like IP because it directly relates to my engineering background, and this puts me at the forefront of legal and technological innovation,” Hameed said.
He has also learned some valuable life lessons at his internship. Hameed said the best piece of advice he has received is to explore a variety of topics you’re interested in instead of becoming hyperspecialized in one field.
He enjoys the challenge of learning new facets of intellectual property law at his internship.
“The hardest part is learning the rules of patentability and what qualifies a patent’s acceptance, rejection or further hearing,” he said. “As with anything however, understanding the law gets a lot easier with practice!”
Hameed’s internship has solidified his intent to become an IP attorney. Within the next year, he hopes to decide which subset of IP law he’d like to specialize in.
“I’m getting valuable knowledge related to IP law that is guaranteed to help me in the future as an IP attorney,” he said. “I’ve also met some high-ranking officials including the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.”
Intellectual property law is an ever-evolving field of law, and Hameed is intrigued to see where it will take him.
“Though several fields of law have seen shifts, IP law has seen drastic changes within just the last few years alone,” he said. “This trend will continue with new technology.”
— By Ashley Golledge
This post is the third in a series highlighting the diverse internships and jobs KU Law students and recent graduates are engaged in over the summer of 2019 and early in their careers. Check out earlier posts from this series about David Biegel and Samantha Natera.
Updated on July 16, 2019
I arrived at KU Law on the first day of classes with laser-like focus on being a health law attorney. I had no clue, however, that the 6th Semester in D.C. program would end up being the perfect way to find my start in this type of work and, more importantly, to feel firm in my self-confidence as a soon-to-be-lawyer.
During my semester in D.C., I worked at the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). This experience gave me several reasons to love the D.C. program, but here are my top three:
While this seems obvious, you cannot forget that you get to live and work in D.C. for an entire semester. More often than not, you are encouraged to take a little bit of time away from the office to truly experience D.C. I had an opportunity to sit in on hearings on the Hill, hear a Supreme Court oral argument and a case presented before the D.C. Court of Appeals. Each time, I felt motivated and inspired to do good work as a lawyer and think bigger in terms of my goals.
I dived into important and challenging work alongside practiced, impressive lawyers. NAAG also made an effort to tailor my work assignments to align with my interests in health law. Although not directly health law related, one of the most important projects I assisted in was a comparative law research assignment. The end-goal was to help Central and South American countries develop prosecutorial guides to combat human trafficking.I feel proud knowing my research will be used to train Latin American attorneys, in the midst of drastically changing judicial systems, on effective ways to reduce human trafficking and how to work with and treat victims.
The fact that I have listed networking as one of the things I enjoyed most from the program is insane. I am your classic introvert. However, in the 6th Semester Program, I had my first real opportunity to meet with professionals who had already walked the exact steps I also hoped to take. Because of this, I made meaningful connections that helped me land my first job post-law school. Through many interactions with people I genuinely enjoyed getting to know because of our shared interests, I was offered a position doing policy-related work for a healthcare non-profit that serves Latino communities, like my hometown of El Paso, Texas. I even learned that the organization that hired me hosts regular health initiatives at my alma mater – The University of Texas at El Paso!
The 6th Semester program offers countless unique experiences that you just cannot get in a traditional classroom setting. D.C. is great way to boost your resume and learn on-the-job. You will also discover your own abilities and find that it is always an important time to be a leader in compassionate, thoughtful lawyering – the way KU Jayhawk lawyers are taught and trained!
— Emory Saucedo, L’19
After graduating from KU Law, Saucedo accepted a position as a Policy and Program Associate at the National Alliance for Hispanic Health in Washington, D.C. The National Alliance for Hispanic Health is a national non-profit serving Latinos through community-driven services and investments in leading community-based partners.
Samantha Natera grew up on the border of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, where it is not out of the ordinary to cross the U.S.-Mexico border on a daily basis.
“I have family in both the U.S. and Mexico, and for me it was normal crossing the border every day to go to school or see my friends and family,” Natera said.
Natera, a second-year law student at the University of Kansas School of Law, strives to help the migrant community. This summer, she is a legal intern at Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Inc. (DMRS) in her hometown of El Paso, Texas.
At her internship, Natera translates client statements, researches case requirements for clients, goes to court with lawyers, visits detention centers to interview clients and calls clients to assist them with applications.
“Going to the detention center has been tough because it seems like a prison even when most of these people have not committed any crimes. They have just crossed the border,” she said. “They have to be detained and away from their families.”
She said the most gratifying part of her job is having the opportunity to help others.
“It is rewarding to see that lawyers here help people who don’t have the means to pay for legal help,” she said. “Having organizations like this makes a difference in people’s lives. I admire DMRS for all the good work they have done and the awareness they have spread.”
The work that Natera does through her internship is directly relevant to current events in immigration law. In June, President Donald Trump pledged to deport millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and made threats to impose a tariff on Mexican goods. Conditions at migrant detention centers are “horrendous,” according to the Washington Post.
Having grown up on the border of Mexico and Texas, Natera has seen first-hand the conditions that migrants face when they cross the border.
“Most people have misconceptions about the immigration system and immigrants in general. The situation is much more complex,” she said. “There must be more awareness about the conditions most of the people migrating are coming from.”
In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities, Natera tracks updates about the current situation at the border and monitors laws that impact the migrant community.
“Being informed about the current situation is very important,” Natera said. “The law is always changing, and it is important to be aware of this and keep track of the changes.”
Natera applied for her positon as a DMRS legal intern to learn more about immigration law and how she can help people.
“I am very thankful for this opportunity and for being able to help in any way possible to keep families together and educate them about the law,” she said. “This internship has been a great experience, and I am very happy that I can help the migrant community.”
The border-town native earned undergraduate degrees in both finance and international business from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2018. She decided to pursue a legal education at KU Law because of the strength of KU Law’s international law program and the approachability of people in Green Hall.
“When I visited Lawrence, I really liked it. The people were so nice, and everyone was so welcoming,” Natera said. “I think choosing KU Law was the best decision.”
Natera is the treasurer for the school’s Hispanic American Law Students Association.
“I like being part of HALSA because we try to represent Latinos in the legal field,” she said. “We participate in activities like blood drives, a salsa competition and dance lessons to raise funds for the organization.”
She is also the president of the International Law Society, a member of the Women in Law organization and a participant of the school’s intramural sports teams. During the next academic school year, she will also work at the law school’s Office of Career Services as a student office worker.
Natera’s career aspirations have international reach. Her dream job is being a lawyer for the United Nations.
“I want to become a lawyer to improve the lives of people and communities,” she said. “I would love to be part of the United Nations’ legal team and help the UN to provide stability and protection of human rights.”
— By Ashley Golledge
This post is the second in a series highlighting the diverse internships and jobs KU Law students and recent graduates are engaged in over the summer of 2019 and early in their careers. Check out an earlier post from this series about David Biegel.
This summer, second-year law student David Biegel is working as a legal intern at the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska’s legal department in the criminal division.
“The best part of my job is getting to observe court hearings every day, sometimes walking to and from court twice a day from Anchorage City Hall,” said Biegel, who is originally from Anchorage.
At his internship, Biegel researches and writes both motions and appeals, contacts other states to get certified copies of past convictions in those states, screens cases when charges are received from the police department, watches trials and assists with jury selection. He also had the opportunity to participate in an overnight police ride along.
Biegel said he is gaining a better understanding of what makes an effective prosecutor and defense attorney through his internship experience. He is also learning which arguments hit and which miss as well as the best way to treat the other side in order to get the best deal. He enjoys participating in a process “that means something” and helps shape the lives of community members.
“I think it’s special that every conversation I have in this job centers around a person. Whether I’m talking about a defendant, a victim, a jurist, a judge, a police officer, other attorneys, conversations always revolve around people; as opposed to profits, or tracts of land, or contracts,” Biegel said. “Every single thing we do will affect someone’s life, and that comes with a great responsibility and reward.”
The best advice he has received at his internship? To look at personal mistakes from the perspective of an outside observer.
“You should only be as hard on yourself as you would be on someone else who had made the same mistake,” he said. “I think this really helps put mistakes into perspective.”
Biegel earned his undergraduate degree in biological sciences from Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Deciding where to pursue a legal education was an easy choice for Biegel because he is a third-generation Jayhawk. His grandfather, Stan Ditus, graduated from KU Law in 1957. His mother, Shelley (Ditus) Biegel, graduated in 1984.
“Although I’m a resident of Alaska, I consider my heritage to be a Kansas one,” Biegel said. “Alaska doesn’t have an in-state law school, so it was an easy choice to choose KU for law school. Lucky for me, KU Law is a great school in what I consider my ‘other home state.’”
At KU Law, Biegel serves as the incoming chief defense attorney for Traffic Court. He is also a member of Women in Law, the American Constitution Society and the Federal Bar Association.
Biegel ultimately plans to use his law degree to pursue a career in criminal law, but he’s keeping his mind open to new opportunities that might come his way.
“I lean toward a career in criminal defense. I think experience in a prosecutor’s office is extremely valuable, both for my own legal education as well as for potential future clients,” he said.
— By Ashley Golledge
This post is the first in a series highlighting the diverse internships and jobs KU Law students and recent graduates are engaged in over the summer of 2019 and early in their careers.
Posted on May 30, 2019
University of Kansas School of Law Professor Corey Rayburn Yung has been selected to do a one-year fellowship at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
The fellowship program has a 3.7 percent admission rate, and is one of the nation’s most prestigious interdisciplinary programs. The program includes 55 fellows from 10 countries.
Previous fellows from the program include Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, renowned theoretical physicist Lisa Randall, former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and three Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.
Yung’s research specializes in criminal law and sex crimes. In 2009, he was the first law professor in the U.S. to offer a course on sex crimes.
Yung will take sabbatical leave from KU Law for the 2019-2020 academic year while pursuing the fellowship in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He plans to conduct research and finish his book, The Sex Crimes Paradox.
“The point of the book is that we as a society manifest our problematic myths about sexual violence in sometimes contradictory ways,” Yung said. “But the net result is still a system that’s highly dysfunctional, that doesn’t get justice done and leaves many offenders free to commit more crimes.”
Yung was attracted to apply for the program because of its connection with the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.
“The Schlesinger Library has a lot of special collections and a wealth of 20th century resources related to sexual violence and sex crimes,” Yung said. “Since my book is focused on sexual violence particularly in the modern era in the United States, the resources there made the program really interesting to me.”
Yung is excited about the opportunity to interact with academics from a variety of different fields.
“Being able to talk to psychologists, sociologists and political scientists about things I’m working on and things they’re working on is a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “It gets me out of my academic bubble and helps me grow as a scholar.”
Yung joined the KU Law faculty as a visiting professor in 2011 and accepted a full-time position in 2012.
Yung’s scholarship has appeared in publications, including the Boston College Law Review, George Washington Law Review, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Iowa Law Review and Northwestern University Law Review. His research has been cited by federal and state courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States in Kennedy v. Louisiana.
Before he began his professorial career, Yung served as an associate for Shearman & Sterling in New York and clerked for the Honorable Michael J. Melloy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. As part of his work as a lawyer, Yung helped create a training program for the Liberian criminal defense bar, assisted the Office for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, represented a death row inmate in Florida, and investigated criminal allegations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
— By Ashley Hocking
Updated on May 28, 2019
When Nate Crosser and Samantha Wagner signed up for the LEAD program as 18-year-olds, they were on a fast track to law school. Now, six years later, they are law school graduates and the first two students to complete the program.
“I’ve enjoyed being part of the LEAD program,” Wagner said. “It’s been a really positive experience, but it’s also been kind of a whirlwind experience.”
LEAD (Legal Education Accelerated Degree) is a program that gives students a unique opportunity to earn both a B.A. and a J.D. degree in six years, instead of seven.
The LEAD program started in 2013. The University of Kansas School of Law and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences collaborated on the degree track to provide an opportunity for high-ability students to maximize their coursework at KU.
The size of the program has grown over time. Over 100 KU students are currently enrolled in the LEAD program. The program is offered at both the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.
Wagner recommends the program to students with an interest in the law.
“If you have any interest in law, then there’s really no down side to it,” she said. “If you know you want to go to law school, then you’re ready to go.”
For students considering the LEAD program, Crosser recommends finding your intellectual passions.
“Find areas that you’re really interested in and learn a lot about them,” he said. “Once you get to law school, it’ll be helpful if you have some kind of background in other areas. It’ll also help you decide what to do with your future.”
As a KU LEADer, students have opportunities to connect with KU Law professors and students prior to law school. They are also given career preparation through specialized law-related educational activities and internship opportunities.
Crosser said the most valuable aspect of the program for him has been the relationship building. LEAD Program Director and Professor Lumen Mulligan recommended Crosser for a program with the Kansas City University Venture Fund, where he was able to complete extensive training on venture capital and private equity business models and operations.
“I wouldn’t have even known about the program if I didn’t have a relationship with Professor Mulligan, where we talk about my career interests,” Crosser said. “He recommended this program to me. That’s changed my trajectory and what I want to do.”
Crosser plans to practice transactional law at Dentons law firm in Kansas City, Missouri upon his completion of the bar exam this summer. The Lenexa native earned an undergraduate degree in economics from KU in 2016 and a J.D. from KU Law in May 2019.
While at KU, Crosser was an Associate Editor for the Kansas Law Review and a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. He served on the University Student Senate as a Post-Graduate Senator and on the Student Board of Directors for KU’s Legal Services for Students. He also founded KU Legal Hackers, an organization that explores the pressing issues at the intersection of law and technology.
During her time at KU Law, Wagner was a student ambassador. She was also a judicial intern at the Shawnee County District Court, an intern at the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and a legal intern at Joseph, Hollander & Craft law firm.
After graduating in December 2018, she joined the firm of Joseph, Hollander & Craft in Topeka. She works as an attorney in the firm’s domestic department. She is originally from Paola, Kansas. She earned undergraduate degrees in American Studies and religious studies from KU.
— By Ashley Hocking
Growing up in rural Kansas, I was able to gain a variety of agricultural experiences. My family hayed most of our five acres, raised chickens and sold their eggs, and on the rare occasion, helped our neighbors wrangle their cows back onto their property or help with calving. Despite not being a natural farmer, I have always maintained a great respect for those who work in the agricultural industry and I greatly value what they contribute to our society.
This past semester, I was able to participate in KU Law’s 6th Semester in D.C. Program, led by Professor Jennifer Schmidt. The 6th Semester Program allowed me to spend my final semester of law school living, studying and working in our Nation’s Capital. It is a program that led me to apply to KU Law and ending up in Washington was always my end goal. I knew that I wanted to work in policy, preferably somewhere in Congress, and wanted it to be something I truly cared about. So, when I was offered an internship with the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, I did not hesitate to jump at the chance to work on ag-policy.
Since Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill in December, much of my work was focused on the implementation process for the Farm Bill. I also worked on agriculture appropriation issues, trade, and reauthorizations of pesticide registration and child nutrition. I was able to apply what I had learned from classes, such as Professor Schmidt’s Legislative Simulation and Study, Professor Quinton Lucas’s Administrative Law, and Professor John Head’s Global Challenges in Law, Agriculture, Development, and Ecology. I even drafted a policy paper on state production processes of hemp under the Farm Bill’s provisions, which has helped me land a job in the public policy sector starting this August.
While I came into the semester equipped with the tools needed to achieve success on the Hill, I learned that there is much more to the real world than what law school teaches. These lessons can be boiled down to three points. First, there is no substitute for experience. There were several instances where I had to stop my research just to look up what a certain acronym meant or what a base acre was. Although there were several staff members who did not have law degrees and some who had minimal agricultural experience, they were able to handle these complex issues easily because they have been working on them for years. Being in the trenches of the legislative process will teach you the nuances of the law that you just won’t get from a casebook.
Second, bipartisanship is not dead! It seems like in today’s political atmosphere we only hear about the instances that are highly partisan are political hot potatoes. But if you get the chance to work in Congress you will quickly see that there are many issues that unite both parties and bring all members together. This is most evident with the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have a close working relationship. They are friends who work together to ensure that farmers, ranchers and those impacted by agriculture get the support they need. While there are some issues that can still divide members on the committee, agriculture is the one area that perhaps unifies Congress more than any other.
Finally, agriculture is much more than just going out and planting corn or milking a cow. Agriculture touches on a variety of issues that impact Americans. These issues include infrastructure for rural broadband, disaster relief for areas impacted by floods, fires, or hurricanes, the development of alternative sources of energy, and many more topics. Agriculture is a demanding sector that requires a wide range of subject-matter experts to help develop the best policies. Just because you may not have experience on farm doesn’t mean that you can’t help American farms or rural communities.
My time spent in Washington was incredible. I made new friends and learned many important lessons on how to survive in the working world. The 6th Semester Program has helped me bridge the gap between student and professional, and I have no doubt that I will be able to take what I’ve learned at KU and become a successful Jayhawk lawyer.
— Wesley Williams, L’19
Starting in August 2019, Williams will be a policy analyst for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.
Updated on July 16, 2019
What does Professor John Peck enjoy about teaching law?
“Almost everything,” he said.
“I get to be with smart, challenging young people and wonderful colleagues. I have the freedom to conduct legal research and writing on any issue I’m interested in. I’ve been afforded many opportunities to travel both in the U.S. and to foreign countries.”
Peck, L’74, will retire this summer, after 41 years on the faculty at KU Law. He teaches courses on contracts, water law, land transactions and family law.
A native Kansan, Peck graduated from Kansas State University in 1968 with a degree in civil engineering. After working three years for the U.S. Public Health Service and the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., he earned his law degree at KU in 1974. He practiced law with Everett, Seaton & Peck in Manhattan, Kansas, from 1974 to 1978 before joining the KU Law faculty in 1978.
Peck hadn’t planned to teach – he wanted to practice. But when then-dean Martin Dickinson gave Peck a surprise call asking him to join the faculty, Peck said yes.
“I had no plans to go into teaching either before or after graduating from law school in 1974,” Peck said. “After much thought and discussion with family and friends, I accepted the offer. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
A highly regarded teacher, Peck asks his students to be self-reliant. He encourages them to brief their own cases, write their own outlines, and “ask themselves first, before asking others.” He also stresses the importance of professional and personal ethics.
“To study, learn and practice law is a struggle requiring much self-reliance and self-discipline,” Peck said.
His dedication to students hasn’t gone unnoticed. Peck received both the Immel Award for Teaching Excellence and the Dean Frederick J. Moreau Award in 1998. KU Law students give the Moreau award to a professor who has made an impact on their lives.
Peck was named a Connell Teaching Professor of Law in 1999, and received the university’s W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 2004. In 2018, the trustees of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation awarded him the Clyde O. Martz Teaching Award.
In addition to teaching, Peck works as special counsel to Foulston Siefkin LLP in Wichita and is a recognized authority on Kansas water law. He’s contributed to the field by authoring statutory changes on water law since the 1970s. And he’s taught the subject to Kansas students, legislators, governors, judges and practitioners.
“The legal consulting and practice I’ve done in Kansas have helped keep me abreast of current legal issues, and those experiences have provided examples for class discussion and questions for me to pursue in law review articles,” Peck said.
In 2016, KU Law honored Peck with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the school’s highest honor. The award celebrates graduates for their professional achievements, contributions to the legal field and service to their communities and the university.
He’s also received the James Woods Green Medallion. Named after the law school’s first dean, the medallion recognizes the school’s major financial supporters. Peck said he gives to both KU Law and the Kansas State College of Engineering.
“Those are the places that have taught me how to practice law and teach law students,” he said. “I owe everything in my professional life to my education, elementary through law school. I’ve had excellent teachers along the way. One reason I returned to the law school was the respect I had for the faculty who taught me here.”
After teaching his final class of contracts at KU Law this summer, Peck is looking forward to continuing the practice of law, as well as auditing college classes and participating in CLE programs. He’ll also pursue hobbies including reading, golfing, playing piano and doing volunteer service work.
— By Margaret Hair
Updated on May 22, 2019
I just finished my first year of law school, and it was everything that I didn’t think it would be.
Ever since I was a little kid, I have wanted to be a lawyer. When my mom would read stories to me before bed, I remember there was a book all about people who work (construction workers, teachers, doctors, etc.). However, like most kids for no rational reason, I only wanted my mom to read one page: the one with the people in suits carrying briefcases and talking to a jury. Ever since I was a little kid (except for 3rd grade when I was going to become an astronaut), I have wanted to be a lawyer.
When I was a senior in high school and I was looking for schools to get my undergraduate degree, I chose KU because of one thing: the LEAD program. The LEAD program allows students to “double dip” their undergrad elective credits with their first year of law classes to get a Bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor in 6 years. Though getting a Bachelor’s degree in 3 years was definitely challenging, it was nothing compared to the intimidation of being a 20-year-old in a law classroom where the professor calls on you regardless of whether or not you raised your hand.
Sometimes, it is difficult to talk to other classmates when they have had such a wealth of life experiences to draw from. During my first few weeks of classes, I thought that people wouldn’t take me seriously because I was so young. However, I had quite the opposite experience: when my classmates heard how young I was and about the LEAD program, nearly every single one said something like “wow, I wish I had done that,” “what a fantastic idea,” or “that must have saved you a lot of time and money.” Though I am younger than most of my peers, Green Hall is a very supportive environment where people of many different experiences contribute to the school’s character.
My two points of advice for students thinking about doing the LEAD program or to anyone starting law school are:
1. Take it seriously and do the work. Law professors expect way more out of you than your undergraduate professors. One of the hardest things for law students is that everyone did well in their undergraduate studies and might not have made many mistakes or received bad grades before. There were multiple times this year when I rushed through a reading, misunderstood a case or did poorly on a test. In fact, I made more mistakes this year than any year of my life… and it doesn’t stop. One of the most challenging things for me was to slow down and do a thorough job on every task I had. Though you will likely make mistakes, get comfortable with not knowing everything or being able to zip through a class like you could in undergrad.
2. Keep a YAC mindset. YAC stands for “You Are Capable.” This mindset is adapted from a speech by Chief Judge Julie Robinson that I heard at KU Law’s annual Diversity in Law Banquet. There are many situations where you might feel like you aren’t smart enough to make it in law school. The secret that people don’t know their first few weeks of law school is that almost everyone doubts themselves at one point or another. When I start to doubt myself, I try to say “You Are Capable” to myself a few times. I am capable of making it, and so are you.
This week, all of my friends from undergrad are graduating and I just finished my first year of law school. This year was incredibly challenging, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s safe to say that after my first year in law school, and now my first week of work at a law firm, I have not seen the inside of a courtroom and I definitely don’t talk to juries or carry a briefcase. But, I know now more than ever that the law is where I belong.
— Zachary Kelsay, a rising 2L