3L advocates for change through congressional bid

James Houston Bales candidate photoFor the class of 2017, the final year of law school was a time of transition. The Republican party took control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, promising sweeping policy changes and a shift in priorities.

For 3L James Houston Bales, the political transition resonated on a personal level as well as a national one. In addition to his coursework and internship with a local criminal defense firm, Bales spent the fall semester of his final year of law school campaigning for national office. A Libertarian, Bales ran against Republican incumbent Lynn Jenkins, who ultimately kept her seat, and Democratic challenger Britani Potter for Kansas’ 2nd Congressional district.

As a third-party candidate, Bales acknowledged that his campaign was a long shot. A law student active with the Federalist Society, the Hispanic American Law Students Association, Christian Legal Society, and KU Court of Parking Appeals, his time and resources were limited. But his motive wasn’t to win. It was to build a foundation for change. “The status quo is not in a good place,” Bales said. “I figured I’d put my money where my mouth is and try to change it. It’s an extra responsibility, but if it needs to be done you need to step up.”

A lifelong Kansan, third-generation Jayhawk, and co-owner of a family farming operation, Bales’ desire for change comes from a deep belief that all Americans have the right to self-determination and that government officials should be held accountable for their decisions.

“This was the first position I ran for, and I got about 7 percent of the vote,” Bales said. “The percentage is not too much, but 18,000 people thought I had a good idea. That’s a mind-blowing thing, how many people will respond to an idea if you put it out there. Considering this was my first time in politics, I learned a lot and I’m really proud.”

KU Law Mock Trial Team

Bales, far left, and his mock trial teammates represented KU Law at the regional American Association for Justice Student Advocacy Competition in Denver in March.

Running a campaign during law school was challenging, but Bales found the balancing act worth it. He relied on support from his friends, family and state party leadership, and took advantage of the long hours in the car between campaign stops to study flash cards. “You can’t do it alone, even if it’s a local race,” Bales said. “You’ve got to budget that time, but you’ve got to be really careful you don’t get caught up shaking two more hands, because you have to go home and outline.”

Bales was the only candidate in his race with legal experience, a perspective that he feels is beneficial to the policymaking process. “We need people making laws who understand how they will be enacted and enforced,” he said. “One of the biggest failures of our system is well-meaning laws that don’t work in the real world. When legislators enact laws based on knee-jerk reactions, they create barriers for enforcement, leaving bureaucratic bodies and judicial systems to deal with the consequences. If you write a bad statute, you’re going to make enforcement nearly impossible.”

Bales plans to pursue a career in criminal defense after graduation. In his brief time as a law clerk, he said he’s encountered countless clients who did not receive a timely preliminary hearing as the law dictates, or received draconian punishments for minor infractions. “It irritates me,” Bales said. “We are the land of the free. We should have all these protections in our Constitution, but we have the world’s largest prison population. We’ve decimated our communities by removing access to education and resources. We’ve normalized going to prison. I’m going to dedicate my life to helping Kansans who may not have someone willing to say, ‘These lives are worth protecting.’ If I can’t do that in the Legislature, I’ll do that in the courtroom.”

Bales remains committed to his Libertarian vision and plans to stay active with the party.

“I think Kansans in particular are receptive to the Libertarian message,” he said. “We are the Free State. The civil war started here. We understand personal freedom. We’re here not necessarily to change things, but to fight for your ability to decide for yourself. I don’t know how much change I’ll be able to make on my own, but I’ll be fighting to make every ounce of change I can.”

— Emily Sharp

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

‘An 8-to-5 gig with a whole lot of overtime’

Kriston Guillot and his infant son, Kai.

Nontraditional student balances law school, parenthood

Kriston Guillot interns at the Douglas County Legal Aid Society and Legal Services for Students, is president of the 3L class, serves as a Traffic Court justice and KU Law Student Ambassador, is member of the Moot Court Council and the Black Law Students Association and, above all, is a father. Guillot has dedicated the past three years to paving a fruitful future for his family.

Kriston and his son Kai.For Guillot, law school was an unnatural, yet navigable, transition. After completing his undergraduate degree, Guillot spent nearly nine years in the pharmaceutical sales industry before heading to law school.

“I navigated the transition by treating school as my job,” Guillot said. “I worked at it like an 8-to-5 gig with a whole lot of overtime.”

Guillot said he overcame any doubts by honing his strengths and putting weaknesses in perspective. While law school can be challenging for anyone, Guillot balances more than just a full course load.

“There’s no true balance between being a father and a full-time student. I’m both all the time,” said Guillot. The father of 3-year-old Kai remembers his long-term goal – which is etched into the bracelet he wears every day – “Father/Lawyer for Kai.”

Kriston Guillot in moot court finalsThe juggling act between father and student is a demanding job, but Guillot still finds time to get involved. He says winning KU’s In-House Moot Court Competition was his most memorable experience in Green Hall.

“I remember sitting in the courtroom for the finals a year before. There, I saw the most outstanding competitors, people I admired, do what I could only dream of,” Guillot said. “Then a year later, when they announced my partner Erica and I as the winners, I couldn’t differentiate reality from the dream I had dreamed so often.”

Guillot’s dreams continued to come true in February when he was selected as a University of Kansas Man of Merit. Guillot was recognized for his commitment to social justice, advocating for youth and positively defining masculinity.

“I was raised by loving parents who would help anyone and expected me to do the same,” Guillot said. “They taught me that life is only measured by what we do for others. We are all blessed with unique gifts and talents that should be freely shared to fulfill our true purpose and change the world for the better.”

Guillot’s countless overtime hours and sacrifice paid off. After graduation, he will work as a litigation associate at Polsinelli PC in Kansas City, Missouri. His biggest hope for the future? “I most look forward to growing as a litigator and learning from great professionals at Polsinelli.”

— Rachel Riggs

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

A tumultuous, but rewarding, time to be an attorney

Joel ThompsonThe late Jeremy Bentham once said, “The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.” The truth in Bentham’s words became apparent almost immediately after I started my classes at KU Law. One of the most fascinating things about our legal system is how malleable our law is, bending with the times and current events. Despite your political affiliation, it should be clear modern events are trending towards an environment in which lawyers will be more necessary than ever.

In classes such as Constitutional Law, professors frequently use hypotheticals to ensure the class understands a particular rationale from a case. However, lately the “hypotheticals” have turned into “realities” because the pressing issues usually poised as fake questions are actually before us as a legal community, and society as a whole. Issues such as the legality of the latest travel ban, Medicare expansion and the possible “deconstruction of the administrative state” are all currently before us.

Attorneys have been and always will be charged with ensuring our legal system operates fairly and equally for all. The “uncertainties” in the law are there for interpretation, and the young minds of the legal profession will soon come to play a crucial role in said interpretation. These are not vague, above the fray issues – but serious legal problems, which will affect possibly millions of people.

The choice to go to law school is not an easy one, but it is definitely a rewarding one. Everyday I appreciate going to class, acquiring knowledge that will ensure I am prepared to adequately address any legal issue presented. I find comfort in knowing, even though there are those who may disagree with me; we are all bound by the same law. During such tumultuous times, the world needs honest, fair-minded lawyers who will pledge to uphold the law. Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear robes and suit jackets.

– Jöel Thompson is a 1L and student ambassador from Fairfax, Virginia.

Rewards of staying busy

Student finds place in legal community during hectic 2L year

You may have heard the old adage: the first year of law school they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death. I can’t speak about the third year yet, but I can say that my second year of law school has been the busiest — but most rewarding — year of my life.

Claire Kebodeaux with partner Matt Smith before KU's in-house mock trial competition.

Claire Kebodeaux with partner Matt Smith before KU’s in-house mock trial competition.

The first year of law school is scary, but completely doable. It’s hard because it is so different from anything you’ve done before.

I convinced myself this year that I could do everything. I’m president of Women in Law, president of Student Ambassadors, part-time employee in the admissions office, staff editor of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy, intern in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence. And, oh yeah — I take classes.

I learned I could do everything, but it took support from my family, friends and faculty. One of my favorite parts about KU Law is the supportive atmosphere. Students are friendly and willing to work together. Professors have a true open-door policy. If they are in their office and their door is open, they are willing to chat with you. Not just about class, but about careers or life. Faculty here at KU go above and beyond to help you.

A passion for women’s rights and criminal prosecution brought me to law school. Through my classroom education and extracurricular activities, I have been able to explore my interests and prepare for my career. As an intern in the Project for Innocence, I am able to work with real clients as a second-year student and help them with post-conviction remedies. By taking Criminal Practice in Kansas, I am learning how Kansas statutes work, which will directly translate to my future practice. On the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy and in my Sex Crimes and Feminist Jurisprudence classes, I wrote in-depth research papers on topics that truly interested me.

While I loved learning the basics of law during my 1L year, 2L year has allowed me to explore my passions and find my place in the legal community.

— Claire Kebodeaux is a 2L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Olathe.

Unexpected expert

KU Law student Kevin Berndt

Legislative committee invites KU Law student to testify on tax credit 

Earlier this semester I had the privilege of testifying before the Assessment & Taxation Committee of the Kansas Senate. Of all the unique and interesting experiences KU Law has afforded me so far, this one really stands out and was certainly the most unexpected.

The opportunity to testify came out of my involvement in the Public Policy Practicum during the fall semester. I enrolled to improve my research and writing skills and gain exposure to the interactions between law and public policy. As part of the practicum, students embark on the semester-long task of writing a research paper on a topic of particular interest to the Kansas Legislature. The practicum, taught by Professor Jennifer Schmidt, culminates in the submission of this paper to the Legislature for members to read and rely upon. I found this aspect of the practicum novel and almost surreal since most papers we write in school are essentially for educational purposes only and never receive exposure beyond the confines of the classroom.

The topic of my paper was Kansas’ earned income tax credit (EITC). This tax credit helps low- to moderate-income working Kansans by easing their tax burdens. However, awarding these tax credits also means reducing the funds available to the state budget. Because of the fiscal implications, the EITC has become a topic of much debate within the Legislature, with 2015 alone seeing the introduction of two bills concerning the EITC – one hoping to reduce the credit, the other hoping to increase it.

KU Law student Kevin BerndtAfter submitting my paper and concluding the fall semester, I thought my involvement was complete. So I was surprised when, a week before spring break, I received an email extending an invitation from Sen. Caryn Tyson, chairwoman of the Senate Assessment & Taxation Committee, to appear before the committee and testify on the EITC.

Without really knowing what I was in for, but knowing I could not pass up the opportunity, I accepted Sen. Tyron’s invitation. And I am glad I did because the experience that followed was truly rewarding and enlightening.

Professor Schmidt met me in Topeka at the Capitol and introduced me to members of both houses, lobbyists, Capitol staff, and other members of the political community. Before my testimony, I sat in on a hearing about a tax increase on gasoline and witnessed the impressive oratory skills of veteran lobbyists as they advocated for their sides the issue. Following that, I was called to lead off the hearing on the EITC.

My testimony, which lasted about 15 minutes, began with an overview of the EITC and its policy implications and ended with me fielding questions from the committee. Taking their questions, while a little nerve-racking, was definitely a highlight because it showed not only that the senators had read my paper but that they trusted the knowledge I had gained in researching the topic enough to feel comfortable relying on me to answer additional questions on the subject.

And to think, prior to enrolling in the Public Policy Practicum, I knew almost nothing about tax credits in general and had never even heard of the Kansas earned income tax credit. That in one semester I could go from having essentially no knowledge on a topic to being invited to testify on the same topic is a testament to the research skills I’ve honed under the guidance of KU Law professors.

– Kevin Berndt is a second-year KU Law student from Kansas City, Missouri. He plans to pursue a career in civil litigation.

Brunch, cherry blossoms, and KU basketball: Sixth Semester participants discover D.C.’s friendly side


Sixth Semester group on Supreme Court stepsI can sum up my experience in D.C. by taking you through the events of Saturday, March 25, 2017—the day Frank, Josh and Devontè broke our collective hearts. It started like the best weekend mornings in D.C. — eating brunch with friends, mimosa in hand. For reasons I haven’t quite deduced, brunch is a way of life in D.C. (except when we’re protesting), and when you come here you better be prepared for that.

After a couple more drinks, we set out to explore a sight only D.C. can offer, thousands of cherry blossoms in full bloom. There’s something iconic about seeing the Washington Monument framed by those beautiful flowers. One of D.C.’s greatest strengths is its abundance of amazing (and free!) entertainment. I’ve spent afternoons exploring the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art, among others. Kansas will pass a tax increase before you find yourself bored in D.C.

Mannebach with Bob Dole

Mannebach meets former Kansas Senator Bob Dole.

After the cherry blossoms, we headed to the KU alumni bar for KU’s Elite Eight game against Oregon. If you can’t watch the game in Lawrence, watching with a few hundred alumni and KU fans at a bar in D.C. is a nice consolation. Meeting KU alumni and other Kansans has been one of my favorite things about this experience. I’ve met lobbyists, government attorneys, members of Congress and senators. I even had the chance to ask Senator Roberts why several of President Trump’s nominees were less than honest about Russia in their confirmation hearings (this may shock you, but I didn’t like his answer). These are opportunities you can only get in D.C., and specifically, in the Sixth Semester program.

I don’t think I need to recap the KU game for you. Let’s just say the mood at the bar was more somber than Paul Ryan’s house after he couldn’t pass a healthcare bill he had seven years to work on. Of course, it was still Saturday night and we couldn’t head home yet, so we mingled with the other people hanging around.

At this point I should mention my favorite aspect of life here: No one is from D.C., so everyone understands what it’s like to move here without knowing anyone. This makes people much friendlier compared to other places I’ve lived and visited. For instance, as we mingled after the KU game we ran into a few people we’d met once before. These people barely knew us, and certainly didn’t owe us anything, but after a few minutes of talking about the game they invited us to jump in their Uber and head  to a house party they were going to. Likewise, at the house party everyone was incredibly friendly and let us party with them the rest of the night. This is just one of many instances where I received uncommon friendliness from D.C. residents.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is—if you like delicious food, free entertainment, meeting Kansans doing remarkable work, talking politics like you know what’s going on, or hanging out in a big city with friendly people, then you’ll enjoy this experience as much as I have and the Sixth Semester program is for you.

– Nathan Mannebach is a 3L from Garden Plain, Kansas.

Finding balance

Sophia Dinkel with children at Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.

Busy law student, former teacher makes time to mentor children

While in law school you may have to give up a few things, like sleep. But you don’t have to give up your passion.

I have been working with kids for about 11 years now. The majority of those years were divided between three different summer camps. I also got my bachelor’s degree in secondary education. After I graduated from college, I taught 5th grade.

It’s safe to say that my passion is working with children.

But when I came to law school, I gave up working with kids to focus on my studies and really immerse myself in the law school experience. That was a good plan for my first year, but I really missed working with and mentoring children. So toward the end of my 1L spring semester, I applied to be a group leader at Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. It has been one of the best decisions I have made so far! I am able to work with children and balance my busy law school schedule.

I love law school and all of its challenges. But I also love working at Boys & Girls Club and giving back to my community. Law school demands a lot, but everyone needs balance and a passion or hobby that helps them deal with the stress. Whether it’s reading, hitting the gym, climbing mountains or even mentoring children, we can make time in our busy lives to pursue the things that feed our spirit.

Sophia Dinkel is a 2L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Norman, Oklahoma.

From newbie to whiz kid

Samantha Wagner

LEAD program lends novelty status to one of KU’s youngest law students

“The best three years of your life that you will never want to experience again.” That was how a current lawyer and mentor described law school to me. And let me tell you, he was right. I am currently in my first year, and it is the most challenging, stressful thing I have ever done. That being said, I am loving law school! It is amazing, and I have made closer friends in the last few months than I had through years of undergrad.

I have had my sights set on law school since high school. I am a member of the inaugural class of KU’s Legal Education Accelerated Degree Program. It is a 3+3-year program for my bachelor’s and law degrees. Part of being in the LEAD program means that my first-year law classes are counting toward the last year of my bachelor’s degree, and after I finish my 1L year I will graduate from undergrad.

I was a summer starter, so I finished the last day of my junior year undergrad on a Friday and started orientation at Green Hall the following Thursday. It was intense and nerve-racking, but I was more than excited to pursue the education I had been working toward for the last three years. Being in an accelerated program means that I’m the youngest of almost all my law school classmates. On the first day of classes, my professor went around the room asking what degrees we had, what schools we had them from and whether we had been in the workforce before law school. For everyone else that meant, at the very least, listing their bachelor’s degree and for some their master’s or higher! Many listed different work experiences they had after completing their most recent level of education.

Then the professor got to me.

Now remember, I haven’t graduated yet. After listening to all the people who had spoken before me, I really didn’t know what to say. So, in a fairly quiet voice, I told the class (and the intimidating professor) that I am still working toward my bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and explained the LEAD program.

Starting law school at age 20 has had its ups and downs. But here are the top five things about being a little bit younger that made law school better:

  1. During the summer I wasn’t tempted away from my studies by fun and adventurous nights out with friends.
    Sometimes it was hard and not so fun, but for the most part I was very focused on school. This sounds like a pretty lame downer, but in law school studying is vital and having a built-in excuse was nice sometimes.
  1. Your friend base is a lot more diverse than other people your age, and you have the opportunity to learn from them.
    Law school is a diverse place. When your peers go from being primarily single students around your age to being people from all walks of life, all relationship statuses, and all ages, you learn a lot about the world. For instance, while a bunch of us are bachelors and bachelorettes, one of my classmates has a 15-year-old and another has newborn twins!
  1. You feel like a whiz kid when others find out your age.
    Getting raised eyebrows isn’t always a good thing, but it does help you stand out when there is a large group congregated around a recruiter’s table.
  1. It is a great conversation starter.
    There is no way to not have a conversation with someone who finds out that you are younger than most, and bonus points for being in the LEAD program. Having a narrative that you can follow also makes it easier to find things to talk about when you are feeling a little intimidated.
  1. You feel like you are getting a jump-start on your career.
    Being a year ahead of the curve is scary, but it is also a great feeling to know that you are on track to be just a little younger going into a legal career. With the world changing, every advantage helps. Having a one-year head start is a comforting feeling.

Samantha Wagner is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Paola, Kansas.

Living for the memories, not the glory

Arizona transplant finds friendship, community at KU Law

“How do you like KU Law so far?” is the question people ask me most often as a Student Ambassador. My best response is to describe the way KU Law has influenced me outside of the classroom. Law school is more than attending classes and taking exams. It’s a way to build friendships, discover yourself, and make memories that will last a lifetime.

I had hesitations about attending KU Law because I’m from Arizona and would have to leave my family and friends behind. However, as I finish my second year of law school and reflect on the memories I have made at KU Law, I am beyond happy with my decision to become a Jayhawk.

I remember the first person I talked to after deciding to come to KU Law. Her name was Maya, and she was a KU Law student, too. She posted in the Class of 2018 Facebook group seeking a roommate. I messaged her, and the rest is history. I’ve been so lucky to have her as a roommate and friend. When I felt homesick or had doubts about law school, she reminded me she was there for me and we would get through law school together. No words can adequately capture how thankful I am for her support and friendship.

I remember my first time entering Green Hall. Maya was by my side, and the building was full of new law students anxiously awaiting the start of orientation. We gathered in the commons and started making new friends. Dean Mazza gave a speech. We took a mock class. We met our professors. I still recall how nervous I was, knowing that I was about to officially start law school.

I remember two times I felt a sense of competition at KU Law: during the Bluebook Relays and the BLSA Thanksgiving Food Drive. For both events, first-year small sections compete against each other. My Bluebook Relays team chose the theme “Ware’s Waldos,” in honor of our Contracts professor, Stephen Ware. We won! And we used our prize money to purchase canned goods for the food drive. We all worked together and had a great time.

My favorite memories involve our KU intramural sand volleyball team, “Motion to Strike.” Volleyball gave my small section time to forget about our studies and have fun. We got to know each other on a more personal level. Eventually, we formed a softball team and invited other classmates to join. I remember my friend, Matt, diving to catch a ball in the outfield and getting the last out of the inning.

If I had not come to KU, I would never have met my best friends or my roommates. I take my studies seriously, but I want to leave law school with memories beyond the words in my textbooks. I don’t know what my future holds, nor whether the friends I’ve made in law school will be my friends next year or a decade from now. But I’m living for the memories, not the glory.

Rayven Garcia is a 2L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Tucson, Arizona.

Early black graduates exemplify how diversity makes us better

Isaac F. Bradley Sr. was KU Law’s first black graduate, graduating with the class of 1887.

Isaac F. Bradley Sr. was KU Law’s first black graduate, graduating with the class of 1887.

The University of Kansas School of Law has a proud history of diversity in its faculty and student body. On the heels of Black History Month, I feel it’s appropriate to honor and remember two KU Law graduates: Isaac F. Bradley Sr. and his son, Isaac F. Bradley Jr.

Isaac F. Bradley Sr. was KU Law’s first black graduate, graduating with the class of 1887.

He maintained a private practice in Kansas City, Kansas, before serving as a city justice of the peace from 1889-91, becoming one of the state’s first African-American judges. Bradley Sr. then served a five-year term as assistant county attorney in Wyandotte County beginning in 1894. He was also active in early civil rights movements, joining W. E. B. Du Bois in a predecessor to the NAACP called the Niagara Movement in 1905. In 1930, Bradley Sr. became the owner and editor of the Wyandotte Echo newspaper, where he worked until his death in 1938.

Isaac F. Bradley Jr. was born in 1895 in Kansas City, Kansas, and matriculated to KU Law in 1914. He graduated with the class of 1917 and was admitted to the Kansas State Bar the same year. Bradley Jr. served as special assistant attorney general from 1937-39, but left the post to serve as a captain in the Kansas State Guard during World War II. Bradley Jr. died in 1975.

The example set by the two Bradley men serves as a great opportunity to learn how diversity can impact the future. They lived during times where acceptance and inclusion were hardly guaranteed, but both persevered and exemplified all the characteristics that KU Law hopes its students absorb during their time in Green Hall. They were hard-working, motivated, generous men who, together, set a high standard for all future KU Law students.

Diversity means bringing together all sorts of different backgrounds, ideas and worldviews and using that mixture to grow and improve our own understanding of others. During a time when the world is wrought with tension and fear of those who are different, I think we can look toward the Bradley men for examples of how diversity can make us better. Diversity has been a pillar of KU Law since its inception, and it is imperative that we continue to value those who are different from us and use such differences to learn and grow.

— 1L Aaron Holmes is a KU Law Student Ambassador from Hutchinson, Kansas.