Crusading for the planet

KU Law 3L John Truong at Earthjustice

3L takes on polluters, habitat destroyers through environmental law internship

When people ask what kind of work I did this summer at Earthjustice, I tell them it was like being one of Captain Planet’s planeteers: battling villains that breathed smog, slung sludge and stomped on cute, defenseless endangered species. But unlike the cartoon, these problems didn’t resolve in 30 minutes. Instead, Earthjustice has been defending the environment, and the communities dependent on it, for over 40 years and counting. This summer, Earthjustice gave me the opportunity to fight alongside them. From its team of experienced lawyers, I learned about the intricacies of international environmental law and policy, connected with current events around the world and awakened a deeper appreciation for the threatened environment Earthjustice lawyers strive to protect.

At Earthjustice’s headquarters in San Francisco, I clerked for its International Program with two other third-year law students, addressing environmental issues on a global scale. My work took me on a metaphorical journey around the world to countries like Indonesia, Australia, Mexico and more, each facing their own environmental issues and each having their own environmental laws, policies and jurisprudence to learn. The diversity and depth of the work may have been intimidating at first, but under the diligent guidance of the International Program attorneys, we managed to quickly understand and address these complex issues. The attorneys constructively challenged our research, investing time to sit with us one-on-one and give feedback on our work ― line by line and word by word ― with the intent to help us grow and develop our skills as lawyers.

More than just handing out assignments, Earthjustice took care to give its interns and clerks an opportunity to learn of all its endeavors. The organization arranged a number of brown bag lunches for us to hear from attorneys in offices across the country about their work. Whether in Seattle protecting marine life, in Denver challenging reckless fossil fuel development or in New York City defending farmworkers from harmful pesticides, Earthjustice attorneys shared their diverse experiences with incredible vigor and were open to any questions we had for them. The International Program team invited us into meetings and gave us a platform to help brainstorm ideas, contribute to strategy sessions and share how we felt Earthjustice should proceed in the future. In every way, the attorneys treated us like colleagues rather than “just interns,” respecting our ideas and appreciating our contributions.

Beyond work, the attorneys also treated us like friends. They planned a hiking day out for us, giving us an opportunity to appreciate the environment we work to protect and spending time getting to know each other. Every two weeks we shared communal office lunch, homemade by one of the International Program staff. As our clerkship came to an end, we were invited into one attorney’s home for dinner as a final farewell. This experience taught me more than just skills to be a great lawyer. Seeing how Earthjustice’s team worked and communed so passionately for a cause so significant for our world inspired me to do more than just work for a good cause, but to do so in a manner embodying the care and passion demonstrated by the team at Earthjustice.

John Truong is a 3L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Wichita, Kansas.

Alumna selected for prestigious health policy fellowship

Trinia Cain Health Policy Fellowship

A 2009 KU Law alumna has been selected for the 2017-2018 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Fellows Program, one of the nation’s most prestigious learning experiences at the nexus of health, science, and policy.

Lt. Cmdr. Brutrinia Cain, senior policy adviser in the Office of the Surgeon General, Division of Commissioned Corps Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will spend a year in Washington, D.C., working on health-related legislative and regulatory issues with members of Congress and the executive branch. She will also engage in seminars and discussions on health policy and participate in leadership development programs.

“I am incredibly humbled, excited and honored to have been selected for this year’s fellowship class,” Cain said. “I look forward to using everything I experience to deepen my expertise in health policy and the legislative process, and to become a stronger leader.”

Fellows were chosen in a national competition for highly accomplished health, behavioral and social science professionals who have an interest in health policy. Their experiences in Washington will enrich their understanding of federal policy formation and how federal and state governments relate to the mission of their home institutions and local communities.

Read the news release

Bhala shares international trade, Islamic law expertise in New Zealand

Professor Raj Bhala

Photo by Rebekah Robinson.

KU Law students aren’t the only ones who escape Green Hall to gain practical career experience and explore broader horizons during the summer. Our faculty members also take advantage of their breaks to engage in enriching scholarship, faculty development and teaching opportunities in Lawrence and beyond.

Professor and Associate Dean for International and Comparative Law Raj Bhala served as the 2017 New Zealand Research Foundation Visiting Scholar at the University of Auckland in May and June. The competitive program selects one distinguished scholar each year from a worldwide pool of applicants. The visiting professor delivers major public lectures, produces work for the New Zealand Law Review, and teaches in Auckland’s intensive international LL.M. course.

Bhala at lectern.

Prof. Bhala speaks on China and India trade policy.

“Given the competition, luminaries who have been selected in the past, and prominence of the LRF, my first response when I heard the news was, ‘Wow, this is manna from Heaven!’” Bhala said. “The LFR holds a very high status in New Zealand.”

During his time in Auckland, Bhala spoke on the World Trade Organization, the Trans Pacific Partnership, Islamic legal interpretation, China and India trade policy, and Islamic finance, and led a workshop exploring the interpretation of international legal texts using literary theory. “At each event, the questions and comments were excellent,” Bhala said. “Many came from perspectives not normally heard in an American setting.”

Bhala’s work also captured the attention of New Zealand media. His Radio New Zealand interview explored Islam-friendly finance, while a profile in the New Zealand Listener shared his perspective as a Catholic Indian-American teaching Islamic Law in Kansas.

Bhala znd Zainab Radhi

While in New Zealand, Bhala connected with Zainab Radhi, SJD’15. Radhi is developing an international trade consultancy and works on refugee resettlement issues in New Zealand.

Ranked among the top 50 law schools in the world, the University of Auckland attracts students from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Bhala’s International Trade Law course included LL.M. students from Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, India, Norway, Netherlands, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, China, Russia, and New Zealand.

International programs help build KU Law’s global profile and build ties with leading international institutions.

“At KU Law, we have first-rate programs that add considerable value to the life and career of a law student from overseas,” Bhala said. “With a targeted admissions class size of about 105, our students from overseas count within this figure, meaning that continuing to attract overseas students can help us focus on the best and brightest American students.”

Exploring immigration and asylum policy at UNHCR

Interning at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, seemed like a hopeless goal a year ago, but it became a reality this summer. Thanks to KU Law’s Career Services Office, I attended the Equal Justice Works Conference in Washington D.C. this past October. During this trip, I met KU Law alumni working in Washington and interviewed with the UNHCR and other non-governmental organizations. A few days later, I received a summer internship offer from the UNHCR and immediately accepted it.

My interest in UNHCR stems from my background. I am a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico and grew up in a border town. My background invested me in immigration issues, which ultimately pushed me to attend law school in hopes of becoming an immigration lawyer. I’ve worked in immigration law firms, the Mexican Consulate and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. International exposure seemed like the obvious next step.

Historically, the admission of refugees was not always a partisan issue, but the new administration has made it contentious. Whether it’s dealing with the admission of Syrian refugees or looking for solutions to handle the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle, Congress can’t seem to agree on solutions. Washington’s current political climate makes working for the UNHCR’s U.S. Protection Unit quite exciting.

Garcia and UNHCR High Commissioner Fillipo Grandi.

Garcia with UNHCR High Commissioner Fillipo Grandi.

Part of my work has consisted of monitoring legislation addressing asylum and immigration policy in Congress. I have attended House Committee and Senate Subcommittee hearings to keep track of lawmakers’ debates and developments relating to issues of concern. I work with other staffers to better inform lawmakers about the role of international law. I assist affirmative and defensive asylum seekers within the United States by explaining the process and providing evidence that will help them present their case before an Immigration Judge.

I have prepared memoranda concerning United States’ ratified treaties to analyze how it may affect existing immigration/refugee law. I work closely with staffers to prepare amicus briefs before the Board of Immigration Appeals, U.S. Circuit Courts, and the Supreme Court. I hope to extend my responsibilities by working on refugee status determination in the Caribbean Unit.

I am very appreciative of the Public Interest Law Society stipend and Brad Bradley Fund to make this summer possible. I hope to come back to Washington during my last semester of law school through the 6th Semester in D.C. program. While I still don’t know where my career will take me after law school, coming back to Washington seems like a great opportunity to continue working with immigration and asylum policy.

– Arturo Garcia is a 3L from El Paso, Texas.

Building cultural bridges and living in peaceful coexistence

I earned my undergraduate degree in Medinah, the second  most sacred city for Muslims after Makkah. Some of the classes I took in my undergraduate studies included Is­lamic jurisprudence in several schools in Islam, principles of jurisprudence, Islamic law of inheritance, Islamic economics, contracts, judiciary in Islam, Islamic political law, and Islamic education. I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2008 with dis­tinction and honor and then pursued my master’s in Islamic law and graduated in 2013 with distinction and honor. Dur­ing my master’s degree studies, I focused on family law, the criminal code, and financial law. With this background, I now intend to pursue LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees in programs that focus on international trade and other kinds of law includ­ing: contract, tort, constitutional law, criminal law, civil pro­cedure, jurisdiction, administrative law, property, and family law.

My interest in international trade and civil law stems from their significance to the individual as well as the whole society. Investigating these fields will allow me to gain more knowl­edge on the specific laws concerning the rights and obligations among people. Additionally, I would like to dig deeper into these fields because I already have solid background knowl­edge about them from an Islamic perspective. Now I would like to expand my horizons and explore other international laws and law in the United States. To follow my dream and fulfill my goals, I decided to apply to the law school at KU which has a wonderful reputation and is replete with stories of people who have become successful in their careers. I still recall the first moments after I learned that I had been admitted to the KU School of Law; I was more than happy because my dream had come true.

Almohammadi poses with KU Law Dean Stephen Mazza and SJD graduate Sulaiman AlGhafri at KU Law’s 2017 hooding ceremony.

The KU School of Law is the best place for me because of the sense of community the faculty and staff maintain with the students and the school’s dedication in supporting international students. I have found friendly people who are very kind and caring. They have greeted me and made me feel at home. Since classes began, I have “knocked myself out” acquiring more knowledge about the American justice system. I faced many challenges. One of them was reading cases. It was like pulling teeth getting myself to read so many pages in depth every day, to write an accurate and specific memorandum, and to cite from the Bluebook. Fortunately, I have had wonderful, competent professors and classmates who would give the shirt off their back to help me. As time went on, I overcame most of the difficulties I had at the beginning of the semester. I felt more comfortable participating in the class.

I have come to the United States to follow my dreams and to help build a bridge of knowledge, cultural awareness, civil­ity, and respectful communication between the east and the west. When I was in Medinah, I often found myself dreaming of how we could live in peaceful coexistence despite a world full of conflicts between people. Since I have been living in Lawrence, I have had an excitement and curiosity in a new stage of my life. With these experiences, I believe, the answer is yes. With more education and justice, we could live togeth­er in harmony on this planet.

Finally, I would say my slogan in life is what Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the fl.ow of social progress.” This powerful quote expresses my perspec­tive on the significant influence of law over any given society. Personally, I strongly believe that law is a crucial pillar ensur­ing the continued existence of modern societies. In fact, law is the key to stability, prosperity, improvement, and-most importantly-peace. People across the world must remember to work together, with respect and love, to pursue this goal.

— Bander Almohammadi recently completed his LL.M. degree at the University of Kansas School of Law and is embarking upon the S.J.D. degree at KU Law. He was born and grew up in Medinah, Saudi Arabia, and moved to Lawrence with his wife and two children to pursue his legal education in the United States. He earned his bachelor and master’s degree from Islam University in Medinah, where he taught as a teaching assistant for several years. Following graduation, he plans to teach and practice in the areas of international trade or civil law. This column originally appeared in the April 2017 Journal of the Kansas Bar Association.  

Law and wanderlust

Cachet Hancock in Antarctica

Curiosity, sense of adventure draw student to 7 continents in 10 months

Cachet Hancock’s legal education spanned three years and seven continents. The 2017 graduate combined her love of travel with her educational pursuits, visiting all seven continents within a span of 10 months during law school.

“I fell in love with traveling as a little girl,” said Hancock, who grew up in rural Wabaunsee County, Kansas. “I was on the road a lot with my family and remember loving learning about people and culture.”

Hancock was drawn to travel for many of the same reasons she was drawn to law school — to learn, be exposed to new ideas, and consider unfamiliar perspectives. “I love learning, seeing new things, and interviewing people,” she said. “I learn to understand and hopefully walk away with new insight.”

During her first semester of law school, Hancock heard about KU Law’s study abroad program in China and became intrigued by the prospect of immersing herself in a region she knew little about. She participated in the program during the summer of 2015, then began seeking ways to integrate international experiences into her remaining coursework.

Cachet Hancock with fellow KU Law students in Italy.Cachet Hancock with a kangarooCachet Hancock in India.A semester in Trento, Italy, followed, as well as a visit to India for a friend’s wedding. “I remember thinking that I could hit six continents within the year if I was conservative with my money,” Hancock said. “Then I thought, ‘What if you hit seven?’” She began researching study abroad programs in Antarctica, eventually settling on an independent research trip to explore the continent’s unique legal status, including jurisdiction elements, environmental laws, and enforcement measures.

Beyond her legal studies, Hancock’s globetrotting adventures satisfy a personal curiosity. A highlight of her trips is reaching out to local people to conduct interviews. “Most of my interviews have been focused on finding people who do what they love or who have overcome challenges,” she said. “I’ve met people from all walks of life and always learn something.”

One of her most compelling interviews was with the operator of a successful horse farm in New Zealand, who found peace and fulfillment through following his talents and passions. She hopes to eventually compile her interviews into a book or archive for others to enjoy.

As she concludes law school, Hancock is still considering her options for the future. She doesn’t know exactly where she will launch her legal career, but she’s confident that her curiosity and love of learning will serve her well as a young attorney.

“Asking questions comes naturally to me,” Hancock said. “I’ve always been a curious person and love hearing about the lives of others.”

— Emily Sharp

This post is the final in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2017. Check out stories about James Houston Bales, Hannah BrassKriston Guillot, Taylor RayMatt Scarber and Sylvia Hernandez as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.

El Paso native finds her niche at KU Law

Sylvia Hernandez

Challenging coursework, enriching leadership experiences, practical learning opportunities recipe for graduate’s success

Sylvia Hernandez is the first to note that her transition to law school wasn’t an easy one. Moving from El Paso, Texas, to Lawrence required a big adjustment and new perspective. “In El Paso I never saw myself as a minority,” Hernandez said. “However, here in Kansas and in law school that was one of the hardest things I faced. This, unfortunately, turned me into a shy person, which I have never been.”

As she got involved with the Hispanic American Law Students Association and absorbed herself in challenging coursework, Hernandez found her niche.

“I came to law school with the mentality to be a litigator, but I began to doubt myself,” Hernandez said. “I took a jurisdiction class that forced me to gain my confidence back. It was one of my favorite classes, and it made me realize I could do this.”

With her confidence recharged and one year of law school completed, Hernandez started exploring different practice areas.

“I was never fixed on one type of law,” Hernandez said. “I always kept an open mind and believed that I wouldn’t know what I liked if I didn’t try it.”

After interning with the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies, Hernandez enrolled in KU Law’s Medical-Legal Partnership, then interned with Baldwin & Vernon in Liberty, Missouri. The internship led to a job offer as an associate, doing plaintiff’s work in employment discrimination cases.

In addition to her practical experience, Hernandez remained heavily involved on campus. She served as a student senator, a member of the Legal Services for Students advisory board, and as president of HALSA.

“Leadership positions were really rewarding. I like to be involved, and I like to take on  responsibility,” Hernandez said. “Being part of the Student Senate and Advisory Board of LSS gave me so much knowledge on how the university worked. I learned a lot about the issues students faced.”

While she initially felt like an outsider at KU Law, Hernandez’s perspective ultimately proved to be an asset to her clients and the KU Law community. “Two of my clients spoke only Spanish,” she said, recalling her field placement with the Medical-Legal Partnership. “Their faces lit up when they realized I could truly understand their situation. It was fulfilling to put people at ease while I advocated on their behalf.”

As graduation approaches, Hernandez looks forward to starting her post-graduate career at Baldwin & Vernon.

“It is exciting but also a big responsibility,” Hernandez said.

– Rachel Riggs

This post is the sixth in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2017. Check out stories about James Houston Bales, Hannah BrassKriston Guillot, Taylor Ray and Matt Scarber, as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.

Business owner, student, mom

Taylor Ray and her daughter EmmaGraduate’s student experience enriched by expanding roles

Some babies are rocked to sleep with lullabies. Taylor Ray’s daughter Emma was lulled into slumber with voice recordings of Professor Webb Hecker’s Mergers and Acquisitions lectures.

In the midst of an enriching 2L year serving as president of Women in Law and staff member on the Kansas Law Review, Ray added a new title to her resume: mom. Throughout law school, the former loan officer balanced academic and family commitments while operating her own small business and working as a summer associate at Lathrop & Gage in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Before Emma, I had free time, even though I thought that I didn’t,” Ray said. “Now I am constantly doing something. Life is way busier, but it is so much better.”

Ray pursued law school after two years in the mortgage industry. Her experience handling mortgage closings led to a side hustle, Preferred Signature. Ray owns the mobile notary business, representing title companies as an independent agent and working to ensure timely and accurate closings.

Though she remained focused on professional pursuits throughout her legal education, Ray also relished student life. She counts her involvement with Women in Law as a favorite law school experience. “I was able to meet so many amazing women and participate in a group that gave back to a great cause,” she said. Women in Law’s annual Pub Night raises funds to support local organizations that advocate for women in need. The group’s 2016 event raised $12,500 for the Willow Domestic Violence Center and Jana’s Campaign, an advocacy group that raises awareness to prevent domestic violence in honor of former KU Law student Jana Mackey.

Ray, far right, and her Transactional LawMeet teammates with their coach, Professor Webb Hecker.

As a 3L, Ray competed at the regional Transactional LawMeet in Dallas. The event offers a moot court experience for students who plan to practice transactional law. Ray and her teammates advanced to the semifinal round, winning the prize for the competition’s best draft agreement.

Ray’s growing family added a new dimension of complexity to her professional and extracurricular pursuits, but a strong support system and healthy perspective helped her keep priorities in check.

“I try and always remember how lucky I am,” Ray said. “I am lucky enough to be incredibly busy going to school so that I can have my dream job and parenting the most adorable baby girl. Staying focused on the important things and prioritizing how I spend my time helps me balance it all.” She notes that completing law school was a team effort with her husband Earvin, who was always eager to help her study for final exams or occupy the baby.

Ray plans to build on her mortgage experience by focusing her practice on real estate law at Husch Blackwell.

“I know that there is a big learning curve when you go to work,” she said, “but I am excited to jump in and get started.”

-Emily Sharp

This post is the fifth in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2017. Check out stories about James Houston Bales, Hannah BrassKriston Guillot, and Matt Scarber, and stay tuned for more graduate profiles as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.

Blazing trails in Barber County

Service, community draw 3L to rural practice

With commencement just around the corner and a promising career on the horizon, 3L Hannah Brass is already living up to the promise of her last name. After graduation, the former ranch hand and rural Kansas native will head back to western Kansas to start her post-graduate career as the first woman attorney in Barber County. She will practice in Medicine Lodge, a town with just over 2,000 residents.

“I am looking forward to practicing law in a rural area,” Brass said. “I grew up in this part of the country, and I have seen firsthand the need that rural communities have for access to quality legal representation.”

Her small-section classmates and small-section professor, Laura Hines, have helped Brass juggle the challenges of law school and extracurricular involvement. She clerked for Chief Judge J. Thomas Marten of the U.S. District Court in Wichita, assisting with draft orders and legal research and observing criminal proceedings, then interned in the criminal division of the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office.

“The internship provided unbelievable hands-on training and trial experience,” Brass said. “I had the opportunity to learn through doing — working alongside talented and experienced attorneys.”

Brass credits her internship and time as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy as her two most influential law school experiences.

“At the Law Journal, I had the opportunity to work with  talented peers to produce a high-quality publication,” Brass said. “It was challenging but worth the time and effort.”

Brass looks forward to blazing new trails in Barber County.

“I have had the benefit of learning from and practicing with some talented female attorneys who have passed along their wisdom and encouraged me throughout my education,” Brass said. “I am looking forward to providing this service for my friends and neighbors, as well as being part of building up strong, small communities.”

 — Rachel Riggs 

This post is the fourth in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2017. Check out stories about Kriston GuillotJames Houston Bales, and Matt Scarber, and stay tuned for more graduate profiles as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.

Building community

Matt Scarber

Arizona transplant leads through service in adopted home

Three years ago, Matt Scarber packed up his life in Arizona into a backpack and two suitcases and headed to Lawrence for the first time. Leaving his friends and family for a state he’d never been to wasn’t easy, but Scarber set out to become the first lawyer in his family.

“What helped me overcome the difficult transition was the support of great friends and mentors,” Scarber said. “The support I received from the Black Law Students Association and Hispanic American Law Students Association really helped me through some tough times during my first year.”

Scarber has returned the favor countless times since finding his footing in Green Hall, as revealed in comments from his classmates:

  • “Matt Scarber is one of the friendliest guys. He’s always willing to help other students out if they have questions about anything or just need to vent. He’s also very funny and is really good at making you feel better if you’ve had a rough day.”
  • “Nobody has worked more for the KU student experience or for the cause of diversity than Matt.”

Indeed, Scarber engaged deeply in the KU Law community despite the consuming nature of law school academics. He participated in KU Law’s Mock Trial Competition and served as a member of the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council, treasurer of the Non-Traditional Law Students Association and president of the Black Law Students Association.

“BLSA’s Thanksgiving Food Drive has been an amazing experience to be a part of for the last three years,” Scarber said. “Collecting nearly 5,500 pounds of food items for the hungry and collecting $3,328 in monetary donations are indescribable experiences I will remember forever.”

Scarber, left, was a student finalist for KU's inaugural Diversity Leadership Award.

Matt Scarber, left, was a student finalist for KU’s inaugural Diversity Leadership Award.

For his many efforts to organize programs and activities to raise social awareness and benefit the broader community, the University of Kansas singled out Scarber as a student finalist for its inaugural Diversity Leadership Award.

During his summers at home in Arizona, Scarber stayed focused on his legal career. In Tucson, he interned for the Pima County Legal Defender’s Office – a complement to the work he did at KU Law representing incarcerated clients in the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies.

Although Scarber has called Lawrence home for the past three years, he plans to return to Arizona to take the bar exam. He’s looking forward to applying all he has learned at KU Law to helping those in need as a criminal defense attorney.

– Rachel Riggs

This post is the third in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2017. Check out stories about Kriston Guillot and James Houston Bales, and stay tuned for more graduate profiles as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.