Posted on June 28, 2017
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.
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.
Updated on June 27, 2017
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.
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.
Updated on May 12, 2017
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.
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 Brass, Kriston Guillot, Taylor Ray, Matt Scarber and Sylvia Hernandez as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.
Updated on May 11, 2017
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 Brass, Kriston Guillot, Taylor Ray and Matt Scarber, as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.
Posted on May 10, 2017
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.
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.”
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 Brass, Kriston Guillot, and Matt Scarber, and stay tuned for more graduate profiles as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.
Updated on May 10, 2017
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 Guillot, James Houston Bales, and Matt Scarber, and stay tuned for more graduate profiles as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 13.
Updated on May 8, 2017
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.”
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.
Updated on May 8, 2017
For 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.”
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.
Updated on May 4, 2017
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.
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.”
The 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.
Posted on April 28, 2017
The 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.