Three chief judges

Chief Judges Janice Miller-Karlin, Julie Robinson and Karen Arnold-Burger

Alumnae, friends rise to lead respective courts

First, they were KU Law students, then they were Assistant United States Attorneys, then they were judges. Today, some 28 years after they first started working together as litigators for the Department of Justice, they are all now chief judges of their respective courts.

Janice Miller Karlin, L’80, graduated first, immediately heading to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City, Kansas. Julie Robinson L’81, was next, first completing a two-year clerkship with Chief Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin E. Franklin, and then joining Karlin as an AUSA in 1983. And the triad was completed when Karen Arnold-Burger, L’82, who had worked for Shell Oil Company, then as a prosecutor and police legal advisor for the City of Overland Park, joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1989.

These three neophyte AUSAs navigated their early years of practice together.  They not only shared litigation strategies, but maternity and baby clothes, as well as tips on raising their collective eight children, who ranged in age from infant to 7 years old. They were too busy for lunch together, but resolved to spend one lunch hour a week together, power shopping for diapers and other child necessities.

Karlin noted, “At first, I was disappointed that in 1979 when I began interviewing, the big firms were not all that interested in hiring women. As it turns out, going to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where I was immediately assigned first chair responsibility on all of my cases, was the second best thing that ever happened to me. The first was having these two women by my side, and being able to discuss everything from the intricacies of the Federal Rules of Evidence to which brand of diapers was best.” Robinson recalled that “we counseled, affirmed and supported one another, with healthy doses of empathy and laughter.”

One by one they navigated from trial lawyer to trial judge. Arnold-Burger was the first to leave the U.S. Attorney’s Office, when she was appointed a municipal judge for the City of Overland Park in 1991. Five years later, she became the first female chief judge of that court. In 2011, Arnold-Burger was appointed to the Kansas Court of Appeals, and became chief judge of that court in 2017.

Robinson left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1994, when she was appointed the first female U.S. bankruptcy judge in Kansas. She also served as a judge on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2001, Robinson was appointed a U.S. District Judge in Kansas, the first African-American appointed to that position. In 2017, she became chief judge of that court.

Karlin left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2002, when she was appointed the second female U.S. bankruptcy judge in Kansas. In 2008 she was appointed to serve as a judge on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and became its first female chief judge in 2015. In 2016, Karlin was appointed the first female chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Kansas. Robinson and Arnold-Burger, thus, affectionately refer to Karlin as “Chief, Chief.”

And the constant throughout all the years? These three chiefs have remained fast friends and loyal KU Law alumni. All have served on the law school’s Board of Governors, and Robinson is a past president of the board. They know their journey started with getting an excellent education at KU Law, and they are forever grateful to the professors who prepared them for their careers.

Although they serve as chief judges on different courts, they remain a strong support group for one another. Arnold-Burger noted, “Being with two other women who were going through the same thing was incredibly empowering. We had each other to talk to about the challenges we faced from that moment on. Now we perform the weddings of each other’s children, share pictures of our grandchildren and wonder how we did it all.”

Internationally focused

Josh DeMoss in Kyiv, Ukraine.

As finalist in prestigious federal leadership program, KU Law grad accepts international trade appointment

A recent University of Kansas School of Law graduate has been named a finalist in one of the nation’s most competitive fellowship programs.

Josh DeMoss, L’17, earned the designation of 2018 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.

DeMoss accepted an appointment with the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce.

“I applied to the PMF program because I knew it was a prestigious avenue to federal government service for those with advanced degrees. I have wanted to work in the government since I was a child – even enlisting in the Air Force when I was 17,” said DeMoss, a native of Gilmer, Texas. “I would love to have a career that is internationally focused. I aspire to one day be a Foreign Service officer or work in international development, particularly through trade.”

Josh DeMoss in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Josh DeMoss in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Josh DeMoss with Ukrainian colleagues at the 25th anniversary celebration of US-Ukraine relations.

Josh DeMoss with Ukrainian colleagues at the 25th anniversary celebration of US-Ukraine relations.

DeMoss is certainly laying the foundation for the career of his dreams. He earned a law degree and a master’s in Russian and East European studies through KU’s joint-degree program after studying the Russian language and interning in Moscow as an undergraduate at Baylor University. He switched his focus to Ukraine during his first year at KU, when that country’s revolution signaled future interest in development.

En route to earning a Certificate in International Trade and Finance at KU Law, DeMoss spent a semester studying, researching and living in Ukraine. He sharpened his Ukrainian language skills and learned “surzhik,” a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian that allowed him to maneuver seamlessly in social, academic and professional settings. The summer after his second year of law school, DeMoss interned in the Office of East Europe and Central Asia at the joint United Nations/World Trade Organization’s International Trade Center in Geneva, helping Ukrainian exporters enter the EU market.

DeMoss spent his final semester of law school in KU Law’s Sixth Semester in D.C. Program. He met alumni who had similar professional interests — even one who had worked on legal development issues in Eurasia.

“I also gained experience at an international trade law practice and worked on my legal writing and research skills at the National Association of Attorneys General,” he said. “I attended events for Eurasia specialists and a conference about contemporary legal issues in anti-corruption enforcement and compliance.”

After graduation, DeMoss worked on a State Department program with American Councils. Through the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) Program, he led teams in Kazakhstan and Ukraine in testing, evaluating and interviewing students for possible study in the United States.

“I took the contract job while waiting for the PMF results and to get more international experience and practice my Russian and Ukrainian,” DeMoss said.

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.

— By Mindie Paget

For the children

Katie Gilman, being sworn in as a CASA volunteer

Katie Gilman being sworn in as a CASA volunteer during her 1L year at KU Law.

Future prosecutor goes above and beyond for young clients

Katie Gilman has a passion for helping children.

Although she wasn’t sure where her law degree would lead her when she arrived at Green Hall three years ago, she found her calling advocating for the court system’s youngest, most vulnerable clients. She mentors a 9-year-old boy through Douglas County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, attending all of his hearings, writing reports and more.

“CASA requires volunteers to meet with their child once a month, but Katie spends time with her mentee every week – taking him to the park, movies, bookstores and out to dinner,” classmate Annie Calvert said. “She is one of the most caring and compassionate people I know.”

Gilman’s dedication will be recognized at graduation with Pro Bono Distinction, an honor reserved for students who contribute 50 or more hours of uncompensated legal service during law school. She estimates that she has devoted about 140 hours toward her child and his case since becoming a CASA volunteer her 1L year.

“It has been amazing to watch him grow and to see his case develop,” Gilman said. “I cannot wait for him to be adopted and out of the system.”

Katie Gilman studying abroad in Ireland.In addition to her work for CASA, Gilman interned for the Child in Need of Care Department at the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office in Wichita, where she prosecuted abusive and neglectful parents and worked cases through the foster care and adoption/reintegration process. She also interned at the Johnson County Youth Court, a program in which minors are tried by their peers for first-time misdemeanor offenses.

Not all of Gilman’s advocacy has focused on prosecution. She gained experience in criminal defense by taking the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies during her 2L year. “Participating in the Project for Innocence was especially important for me as a future prosecutor,” she said. “I was able to learn a lot about the decisions attorneys make in trying cases, and the incredible impact the criminal justice system can have on a person’s life.”

Gilman was a member of Women in Law and Phi Alpha Delta. Her most memorable law school adventure? Studying abroad in Ireland with Professor Laura Hines.

“The best part was traveling for an extended period of time with my classmates and experiencing a new country,” Gilman said. “I will never forget how friendly and welcoming the Irish people were to us.”

After graduation Gilman will return to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office. She can’t wait to get to work.

“I enjoy the fast-paced environment of a prosecutor’s office and spending most of my day in court,” she said. “Long term, I hope to be able to move back to the Child In Need of Care Department, as that is where my passion lies.”

She leaves Green Hall with lifelong friends – a perk she didn’t necessarily expect.

“Even though law school is an extremely competitive environment,” she said, “I have met and become friends with some amazing people who really inspire me.”

— By Anna Buhlinger + Mindie Paget

This post is the sixth and final in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018. Check out stories about Maya TsvetkovaSam LaRoque, Joe Uhlman, Waynell Henson and Benjamin Stringer as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.

High court ambitions

Ben Stringer, left, at Legal Career Options Day in 2015.

Benjamin Stringer, left, at Legal Career Options Day in 2015.

Accomplished student advocate eyes SCOTUS appearance

Benjamin Stringer’s ultimate dream is to one day argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. If his advocacy record at KU Law is any indication, that dream is well within reach.

Stringer has achieved a rare combination of success in both the Mock Trial Program and the nationally ranked Moot Court Program. He competed on the KU Law team that won the regional round of the 2018 Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) National Trial Competition. His National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court team took fifth place overall, and Stringer was named the second best oral advocate in the competition. In recognition of his promise as a trial advocate, Stringer recently received KU’s James P. Mize Trial Advocacy Award.

Ben Stringer, right, with TYLA National Trial Competition regional champion teammates Joe Uhlman, left, and Jordan Kane.

Benjamin Stringer, right, with TYLA National Trial Competition regional champion teammates Joe Uhlman, left, and Jordan Kane.

“My most memorable experience was winning the TYLA regionals with the mock trial team this year,” Stringer said. “Professor Alice Craig and Jean Phillips are two of the most phenomenal advocates and teachers I’ve ever met, and getting them to nationals for the first time is something I’ll always be proud of.”

Stringer has always enjoyed public speaking, researching new topics and collaborating with people. That’s what brought him to KU Law from Florida State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science.

“I thought a legal career was the best way to utilize my skill set,” he said.

Stringer has certainly tested that hypothesis by participating in a wide range of academic and social pursuits. He served as vice president of the KU student chapter of the Federal Bar Association and a member of the Business & Tax Law Society. As president of the Native American Law Students Association his 3L year, Stringer helped plan and execute the most successful Diversity in Law Banquet in KU Law history – resulting in more than $16,000 donated to the Diversity Scholarship Fund.

In addition to his competition team experiences, Stringer interned for Johnson County District Court Judge Paul Gurney through the Judicial Field Placement Program and served as a Senate reader for the State of Kansas. He also worked as a law clerk at Dysart Taylor Cotter McMonigle & Montemore PC and with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s Office of In-House Counsel. Stringer most enjoyed the people he encountered in all of these roles.

“Over the past three years, I’ve met classmates from all over the country and world, learned from professors who are the top professionals in their fields, and worked for everyone from state senators to federally recognized Indian tribes,” he said. “Each person I’ve had the privilege of interacting with during this time has left me with something that has made me a better advocate.”

Stringer will join the litigation team at Dysart Taylor in Kansas City, Missouri, after graduation, with a long-term goal of becoming a federal appellate lawyer. He hopes his KU Law classmates remember him as outgoing, driven and light-hearted.

“Even though law school can be very intense, I’m a class clown at heart,” Stringer said. “I hope I was able to provide some levity for my classmates and professors during some of those more stressful moments.”

— By Mindie Paget

This post is the fifth in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018. Check out stories about Maya TsvetkovaSam LaRoque, Joe Uhlman and Waynell Henson as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.

From soda to Sunday school

Waynell Henson

Business-savvy law student learns best on the job

Every major brand has a tagline. Coca-Cola urges consumers to “Taste the Feeling.” Kraft Foods Group encourages shoppers to “Make Today Delicious.”

KU Law student Waynell Henson asks: “Are YOU Ready for Sunday School?”

It’s a question she poses as founder and president of That Sunday School Girl, a nonprofit offering video training, resources and products to ministry leaders. After nearly 20 years working for two national consumer goods companies (you guessed it: Coca-Cola and Kraft), Henson wasn’t ready to hang up her business hat during law school. So she built a personal brand and a social community that garnered more than 5,000 followers during her 1L year alone.

“I believe that no experience is wasted, and each of us is challenged to leave our imprint on the world and make it a better place,” said Henson, who earned an MBA at the University of Mississippi. “My work as a global sales and marketing leader now allows me to touch more than 10,000 people weekly around the world through my own brand with a message that is positive, building and uplifting.”

Waynell Henson, aka That Sunday School Girl.

Waynell Henson, aka That Sunday School Girl.

Not surprisingly, Henson favored experiential learning opportunities during law school. She took Deposition Skills and Expert Witness Skills, and participated in the Mock Trial Program.

“Coming from a career back into an educational setting was quite a swing,” she said. “I find my best learning happens in the actual work context. I love when passion meets performance. It is truly the place where the practical application of theory is illuminated.”

Henson put that practical experience to work during a Judicial Field Placement with Judge Stephanie Mitchell in the 291st District Court in Dallas. She also interned with the Dallas County Prosecutor’s Office and the Dallas County Defender’s Office. During her final year at KU Law, she participated in the Elder Law Field Placement with Kansas Legal Services in Kansas City, Kansas.

If Henson sounds like a go-getter, that’s because she is. But that might not have been apparent to someone who met her on her first day in Green Hall.

“When I arrived, I had determined in my mind that I was going to lay low,” she said. “Connecting with the Black Law Students Association created a sense of community and a conduit to positively and productively raise social issues and give back.”

As BLSA president for 2017-2018, Henson oversaw the 27th annual Thanksgiving Food Drive, which generated 3,044 pounds of food and more than $2,500 for charities in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas. Her marketing prowess shone brightly with daily promotions like “Mash It Up,” which awarded 4x points for items such as instant mashed potatoes and canned yams.

Henson hopes her classmates would describe her as kind, effective and results-oriented – someone who has their back.

“I bring calm and reason to chaotic moments and situations,” she said. “I bring the ability to keep people focused on what is really important. I am not perfect, but I hope it is said that I strive daily to reflect the values consistent with my faith.”

After graduation, Henson hopes to reconnect with the corporate world, this time working in the legal department.

“Ultimately I aspire to a senior leadership role in an organization that represents a great brand and cares about the community it serves,” she said. “I also hope to be a benefit in some way to my church.”

— By Mindie Paget

This post is the fourth in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018. Check out stories about Maya TsvetkovaSam LaRoque and Joe Uhlman as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.

Burning desire

Joe Uhlman

Former firefighter earns law degree to help ensure justice

In his previous career as a firefighter and medic, Joe Uhlman witnessed the lasting damage that some people inflicted on others. He picked up the pieces the best he could in the brief time he spent with people during emergencies.

“I wanted the opportunity to be more proactive – to do what I could to ensure that the people who caused that damage were held accountable for their actions,” Uhlman said. “Law provides the best opportunity to do that.”

So with an eye toward working in a rural prosecutor’s office, Uhlman enrolled at KU Law and embraced every opportunity to hone his courtroom skills. He served as chief justice of KU’s Traffic Court and a justice on the KU Student Senate Court of Appeals.

Joe Uhlman and his wife, Misti.

Joe Uhlman and his wife, Misti.

He also participated with great success in both mock trial and moot court. Uhlman competed on teams that took first place in the regional rounds of the Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Herbert Wechsler National Criminal Law Moot Court Competition, winning the Ryan J. Mullins Award for best professionalism, civility and sportsmanship.

All this while also serving on the staff of the Kansas Law Review and as treasurer of the Jewish Legal Society. His drive and personality made an impression on classmates.

“When Joe Uhlman took part in any organization, event or dialogue at KU, you could tell immediately,” said John Truong, fellow 2018 graduate. “He left his unique brand of style, humor and intelligence on every project he participated in or authored. Although unconventional – perhaps even contentious – his constant drive to push himself, and the many accomplishments that resulted from that drive, makes him an outstanding student of KU.”

Uhlman published articles in the Kansas Prosecutor, Kansas Law Review and Journal of the Kansas Bar Association, and he won first prize in the Center for Alcohol Policy’s 2018 national essay contest.

But his most memorable law school experience came this spring when Traffic Court hosted Chief Justice Lawton Nuss for the awarding of the inaugural Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss Award for Excellence in Advocacy.

“It was wonderful to hear Chief Justice Nuss share stories about his time as a law student and a justice on Traffic Court,” Uhlman said. “It’s pretty incredible that KU Law has such an impact on its alumni that even the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court is willing to give up an evening to spend time with its students.”

As he reflects on his time in Green Hall, Uhlman knows one thing for sure: He couldn’t have made it through law school without the unwavering love and support of his wife, Misti.

“I think sometimes we present people’s accomplishments as though they were earned alone, and I’m not sure how true that is – but I know it isn’t true for me,” Uhlman said. “Any accomplishments I can claim are as much hers as mine. Her strength has kept me going through all the times I thought I couldn’t – and there were several of those times during the last three years.”

— By Mindie Paget

This post is the third in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018. Check out stories about Maya Tsvetkova and Sam LaRoque as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.

Cosmic pull

Sam LaRoque meets U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Sam LaRoque counts meeting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas among his most memorable KU Law experiences.

Astrophysicist’s rendezvous with law school written in the stars

Some might say the stars aligned to bring Sam LaRoque to KU Law.

As a doctoral candidate in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, LaRoque wrote his dissertation on observational cosmology – the study of the structure, origin and evolution of the universe using high-powered telescopes. What he didn’t discover observing the cosmos was a passion for astrophysics.

So he changed direction. Toward the end of a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in medical imaging, he stumbled upon a job listing for a technical advisor with a patent litigation group in Minneapolis. He applied on a whim and got the job. LaRoque and his wife moved to Minnesota, where he worked at the firm for seven years.

Sam LaRoque with his wife and sons.

Sam LaRoque with his wife and sons, ages 4 and 6.

“I focused mainly on the technical aspects of each case but came to love learning and thinking about patent law and legal strategy,” he said. “After a while I decided I would love to go to law school and do patent litigation as an attorney instead of an advisor. It’s funny to think that if I hadn’t been looking at the job postings in that particular magazine on that particular day, none of this would have ever happened.”

In 2014, LaRoque’s wife – a breast cancer researcher – accepted an offer to join the biochemistry faculty at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, and everything clicked into place.

“It was perfect because I knew KU Law had Professor (Andrew) Torrance, who is an amazing resource for patent law,” LaRoque said. “I also knew KU Law had a great skills-based program to go along with its doctrinal offerings, and I wanted to be a litigator.”

He tailored his law school experience toward that goal, serving as an intern to Chief Judge Julie Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas through the Judicial Field Placement Program. He took Trial Advocacy, Expert Witness Skills, Deposition Skills and Pretrial Advocacy.

“I have loved having the opportunity to draft discovery, to be up on my feet arguing and to examine witnesses in a controlled setting where I can learn from my mistakes without actually harming anyone,” LaRoque said.

He also participated in KU Law’s nationally ranked Moot Court Program, which led to one of his proudest law school triumphs.

“Winning the regional finals of the National Moot Court Competition with Ashley Billam as a 2L was a pretty big event for me,” he recalled. “It was kind of an upset, as we beat an experienced 3L Oklahoma team that had won regionals the previous year.”

LaRoque attended KU Law through the Rice Scholar Program, which provides full tuition and fees to students with outstanding academic and leadership records. He’ll graduate at the top of his class and has been selected to carry the law school banner at Commencement. But you won’t hear that from him (LaRoque’s classmates voted him “Most Humble” at law prom this year).

Following graduation and the bar exam, the 41-year-old father of two will practice patent litigation in the intellectual property group at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP in Kansas City, Missouri – the fulfillment of a decade-long goal.

“It’s funny because I came into law school knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and sometimes my classmates who haven’t decided yet say, ‘You’re so lucky to know exactly what you want to do after law school,’” LaRoque said. “And I always say, ‘Yeah, I guess I am, but don’t forget it took me 20 years to figure it out.’”

— By Mindie Paget

This post is the second in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018. Check out a story about Maya Tsvetkova as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.

Found in translation

Bulgarian immigrant learns language of law at KU

Maya Tsvetkova got by with a little help from “Friends.”

When the 2018 KU Law graduate immigrated to the United States from her native Bulgaria as a teenager, she spoke Bulgarian, Russian and German – but not a word of English. Watching reruns of the popular NBC television series with subtitles helped her understand all the fast-talking Americans around her.

“I think it is exceptional that Maya came from not knowing English at age 15 to graduating law school,” classmate Claire Kebodeaux said.

Maya Tsvetkova with friends

Nolan Wright, Maya Tsvetkova and Rayven Garcia at a KU Law Homecoming tailgate.

It was a different TV show, “Ally McBeal,” that sparked Tsvetkova’s interest in the law as a little girl. And her desire to be an attorney only intensified during her efforts to immigrate to the U.S. She was raised by a single mother who moved to Oklahoma for work.

“During that time, I was separated from my mom, which encouraged me to look for ways to bring us together faster,” Tsvetkova said. “I applied for a student visa after a series of tests and interviews with the American embassy in Bulgaria and – at age 15 – finally moved to Tulsa to be with my mom.”

Tsvetkova majored in business with a specialization in business law at the University of Tulsa, and chose KU Law after visiting Lawrence during Admitted Students Weekend.

“KU Law faculty and students were extremely nice and welcoming,” she recalled. “I didn’t even look for a different law school.”

And she’s made the most of her time in Green Hall. Tsvetkova was a member of Women in Law and the Business & Tax Law Society. She also served as vice president of the Student Bar Association and gained professional experience working as a law clerk for the Kansas Department of Revenue and as a research assistant to Professor Raj Bhala.

“My favorite part of law school has been meeting people from so many different backgrounds and unique experiences,” Tsvetkova said. “I have gained new perspectives on world issues and life in general. Being in law school has helped me grow as a person and taught me how to overcome even the hardest obstacles that stand in the way of my success.”

Tsvetkova plans to pursue a career in transactional law, with a focus on tax and finance. Ultimately, she sees herself as in-house counsel for a successful corporation.

— By Mindie Paget

This post is the first in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018 as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.

Falling into place

Maslyn Locke

Unexpected 6th Semester in D.C. experience perfectly caps student’s law school journey

I never meant to spend my last semester of law school living and working in Washington, D.C. — seeing Abe Lincoln whenever I wanted to and doing the work I came to law school to do. In fact, throughout my entire law school experience, I have consistently felt like I tripped and fell into this place, only knowing that I wanted to save the honey bees and help the people and thinking that maybe being a lawyer would help me do that. Deciding to go to D.C. felt much the same way, especially as a joint-degree student, because I always thought there was no way I could finish everything and graduate on time by spending a total of four semesters physically in Green Hall. Joke’s on me!

Back in November, I found myself sitting in Professor Jennifer Schmidt’s office, talking about a paper, when she said her usual, “Have you thought about 6th Semester in D.C.?” I laughed out loud and said a quick, “Yeah, nope, that’s impossible.” A few weeks later, I was in D.C. about to begin interning for the litigation team at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.
Maslyn Locke
I spent this last semester researching everything from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the migration patterns of the Atlantic right whale, and learning more than I ever would have learned studying for my last round of finals the week before they started. I met people from all over the world who are working on incredible projects and making a meaningful difference advocating for the earth. I practiced all those skills you learn in Lawyering during 1L year that I promptly forgot: sending demand letters, drafting motions, writing memos. And, believe it or not, I got to help save the honey bees.

If I could say one thing to anyone who will listen to me talk about law school or read this blog, it’s this: Take the opportunities life presents to you  —  whether they come through KU Law or anywhere else. If you think it’s crazy to move out of your apartment, complete your bar application and decide to move to D.C. all in one week, it is. But it’ll be worth it. Just because you don’t have a plan doesn’t mean you won’t end up somehow doing exactly what you want and need to do, even if it feels like a strange and happy accident (which I will be sure to continue to remind myself of as I begin this adventure called “bar prep and becoming an employed adult”).

As I write this, I know that in less than 25 days I will graduate and be asked, “So, what’s next?” at least 1,000 times. The truth is I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing after graduation, but I hope to be somewhere in the mountains, working for a nonprofit, advocating for clean air and water and the laws that keep them that way. Sure, having no set plan is a little unsettling, but it is also what has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities like the 6th Semester in D.C. program.

I know it’s easy to feel like everyone around you in Green Hall has a plan and if you don’t, you’ve failed. But that’s not true. No one has it all figured out. If you think you do, you’re lucky. But if you know you don’t, I think you’re even luckier. Not having a plan means you can experience things you never even knew you wanted. It means you can take those chances. Take those risks. Lean into the discomfort and the fear and the challenge and learn about who you are and what you need. My 6th Semester in D.C. was a wonderful and unexpected adventure filled with monuments, comedy clubs, museums, concerts, marches, cherry blossoms, occasional legal research, and, while it wasn’t always easy, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

— Maslyn Locke is a 3L from Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Health is wealth

Humans are complex beings. The evolutionary marvel that is the human brain is both our species’ greatest strength and weakness. It allows us, as lawyers and future lawyers, to understand, communicate and untangle intricate legal issues. On the other hand, it houses a complex web of emotions, thoughts and experiences all tied to the human condition. Lawyers are often called on to resolve distressing situations, frequently in time-sensitive settings. These type of environments create a concerning reality for many currently, and soon to be, in the legal profession.

In a recent study, the ABA partnered with Hazelden to examine the rates of substance use and other mental health concerns regarding lawyers. Among the approximately 13,000 lawyers polled, 61 percent reported concerns with anxiety and 46 percent reported concerns with depression. To cope with said mental health struggles, many attorneys turn to substance abuse—with over 20 percent of those polled screening positive for hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.

The sad truth is we, as legal community, have known this for decades. Years and years of research has consistently indicated higher prevalence of suicide, alcohol/drug abuse, anxiety and depression among attorneys when compared to other professions. There seems to be a cloud of shame surrounding the issue for many—much of the way our society has, and still does, treat mental illnesses. For some, mental health is treated as inferior to physical well-being and there is much reason to believe this has had its consequences.

Thankfully law schools and organizations such as the ABA are teaming up to tackle the issue of mental health in the legal community. Furthermore, some law firms are adjusting internal policies and implementing programs geared toward their employees’ mental health.

Know that no amount of wealth or prestige can buy you a new brain. Know that no amount of wealth or prestige should take precedence over being mentally and physically healthy. Know that it is never too late to get healthy and never too early to start good habits. Know that there are people who are always available to talk. Know that your most important asset is your own well-being—because you simply cannot help other people until you help yourself.

-Jöel Thompson is a 2L and student ambassador from Fairfax, Virginia.