Updated on December 18, 2017
Legal Aid Clinic teaches student ‘how to be a lawyer’
My almost three years at KU Law have been less than perfect, but I would not change my experience for anything. As my time in law school slowly comes to an end, I would like to discuss one of the best experiences I have had at KU Law: the Legal Aid Clinic. When I started law school, I was determined to be a corporate lawyer who never saw the inside of a courtroom. But during an internship I realized that was no longer true. I wanted to assist people in court. I wanted to appear in front of a judge and negotiate with prosecutors. Once I realized that, I applied for the Legal Aid Clinic. Lucky for me, Professors Melanie DeRousse and Meredith Shnug believed I would be a good legal intern.
In the Clinic I have learned something that the rest of law school essentially does not teach you: how to be a lawyer. Along the way, I also discovered how to manage my anxiety, step out of my comfort zone and appreciate how important it is to work in a friendly and caring environment.
The first time I had to appear in court, I was a nervous wreck. I arrived an hour before the hearing because I knew I would need to calm my nerves. Soon, the moment came for me to appear before the judge, and guess what? Nothing bad happened. Since then I have appeared in front of a judge at least a dozen times, and not once has anything gone wrong. I have survived each appearance and chipped away at my anxiety and fear. I have the Legal Aid Clinic to thank for that.
Beyond gaining confidence in the courtroom, the Legal Aid Clinic has helped me step out of my comfort zone in other ways. In the past, I probably would have never considered trying to help change a local policy. But here I am, helping. The Clinic has started researching juvenile shackling with an eye toward figuring out what we can do about the issue. I never would have thought of tackling or pursuing a cause like that if it weren’t for the Legal Aid Clinic.
Friendly and Caring Work Atmosphere
Legal work can be stressful, but the lawyers at my internship last summer were friendly and helpful. They created a calming atmosphere that I feared would not be possible in the Legal Aid Clinic, with competitive law students as interns. That has not been the case. Working in the Legal Aid office is the best part of my week. Almost every time I walk in, I’m greeted with a smile and friendly “Good morning, Rayven” from Barb Wrigley, which starts my day off great. I have worked with two amazing supervising attorneys and some of the most inspiring law students in Green Hall.
The Legal Aid Clinic has given me the opportunity to put on my lawyer suit, shed all my doubts about becoming an advocate and know that coming to law school was the right path for me.
— Rayven Garcia is a 3L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Tucson, Arizona.
|Help Mobilize KU Law’s Legal Aid Clinic|
|Legal problems have no regard for deadlines or convenience, and KU Law’s Legal Aid Clinic is ready to mobilize. It can assemble its army of student volunteers at a moment’s notice. As the Legal Aid Clinic celebrates its 50th anniversary, please consider donating to help the Clinic spring into action when the community needs it most. Gifts of any size will get us one step closer to our $5,000 goal!|
Updated on December 12, 2017
As I write this blog, I have just 33 days left of law school (not that I’m counting). Yes, you can graduate in December of your third year. Be a summer starter — it pays off in many ways. Take a few intersession courses, and voila! You too can be the envy of your class come winter break.
I know the number of days I have left not because I cannot wait for it to be over. I love school. I’d happily hide here forever—especially if they would bring in a coffee bar. I know the number of days left because finishing my law degree will be the single greatest worldly accomplishment of my life. Society makes a big deal out of high school graduations—more because it’s a rite of passage, I suppose. But this — the earning of my Juris Doctor — is an accomplishment worth savoring. Primarily because of the emotional roller coaster that law school puts you through. It will test not only your intellectual strength but also your belief in yourself. If there is any insecurity or doubt, law school has a way of reaching in, pulling it out and slapping it down on the table — forcing you to face it or be consumed by it. Does this sound dramatic? Well, it is. Like the burning away of anything that will no longer be useful to you.
There will be highs and lows in law school. Enjoy the highs and have perspective about the lows. On the good days, relish your victories. Let them guide you to an area of practice or service that will allow those strengths to shine. There are many different kinds of attorneys and many different ways to help people with your degree. Find the way and the path that brings you satisfaction and joy. Celebrate your fellow classmates’ victories. Do not be intimidated by their greatness, but instead learn from it and draw from it.
On the days when you feel weak, know that you have shown great courage by even stepping foot through the doors of Green Hall. Most people would never put themselves in a position to be challenged the way that you have chosen to be. And with that challenge comes strife. But your perseverance through that strife will give you a strength that could not have come any other way. And that strength is what will make you a fine attorney.
So, farewell Green Hall. Hopefully the fire you put me through produced a little gold.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist. That is all.
— Oscar Wilde
— Allison Collins Desert is a graduating 3L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Lawrence.
Updated on December 6, 2017
In 2013 I made my first trip to Tanzania on a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship. Not only was this my first trip outside of the United States, but it was also my first experience speaking Swahili outside of the comforts of my classroom. I was terrified that I would only last one week. After traveling around to different cities and visiting with community groups, NGOs and policymakers, my nerves quickly went away and my love for East Africa and my passion for women and children’s rights began to grow.
After leaving Tanzania, I could not get back fast enough. However, from the time I attended law school with my dad when I was in second grade, I always knew that law school was in my future. My dad was a non-traditional law student with two young daughters. I attended class with him everyday after he picked me up from school. I was even called on once! After my first semester of law school, I spent the month of December researching and applying for organizations that would hopefully bring me back to East Africa. Finally, in January I received an email from the executive director of the Tanzania Women Lawyer’s Association (TAWLA). After interviewing in both Swahili and English, she offered me an internship where I would focus on custody issues and land right issues for women.
In July I finished my internship with Federal Magistrate Judge K. Gary Sebelius of the District of Kansas and hopped on a plane to Tanzania two days later. After arriving in Tanzania, with my baggage lost, I started my work. TAWLA consists of five offices in Tanzania, in the cities of Dodoma, Mwanza, Tanga, Arusha and Dar es Salaam. It is the largest legal aid organization in the country focusing on women and children’s rights. I worked in the Arusha office alongside five practicing attorneys. While the jobs at TAWLA are highly sought after, only two of the five attorneys are paid. All other members volunteer.
On top of regular budget restrictions that legal aid faces, TAWLA also functions with just two working computers, one testy printer and limited office supplies. Power outages or printer repairs often delayed our turnaround time for clients. My first week I was amazed by the amount of clients the attorneys would see in a day, sometimes as many as 20 for just a five-woman operation. Issues ranged from a village leader trying to take a widow’s land, to trying to remove a 15-year-old girl from her parents’ custody because they were trying to keep her from school in order to marry her off and reap the benefits of her bride price.
Throughout my five weeks at TAWLA I not only noticed the lack of funding, but also the extreme poverty and barriers that our clients were facing. TAWLA typically charges an attorney fee of 2,500 Tanzania shillings (around one American dollar). However, most clients could not afford it or even pay for their transportation to TAWLA. Not only did the fee normally get waived, but our volunteer attorneys–who were making no salary at all–would often pay or contribute to our clients’ transportation fares.
I was in awe of the attorneys’ generosity not only for their clients, but also for each other and myself. About two weeks into my trip I was rushed to a clinic on the instruction of our executive director, where I found out I had typhoid fever. When the doctors told me they wanted me to stay overnight so someone could watch me because I was living alone, one of the attorneys offered to take me in.
After getting over my typhoid fever and studying the Tanzanian legal system, I began working with my own clients. I did intakes in Swahili and wrote affidavits for land issues and custody petitions. While it took awhile for clients to embrace me as their legal advocate, their confidence in me and my confidence in myself quickly began to grow. I went to Tanzania for an internship and left with not only an amazing experience, but also invaluable friends.
If you are looking to pursue a career in human rights and want to work abroad here are some tips I learned along the way:
- Language is key when working with clients. Speaking clients’ native language not only helps them feel comfortable, but also helps them realize that you are passionate about your work.
- Be aware of the culture you are walking into. Understanding the culture will allow you to not only understand your clients better, but also understand your role and what you should or should not be doing
- Talk to Career Services about funding opportunities.
- Have knowledge of the legal system you are working in.
- Make sure you do extensive medical research beforehand (I learned this one the hard way).
- Cast a wide net and do not give up when applying for international internships.
- Most important, know that you are there to learn and try to take in as much as you can.
-Paeten Denning is a 2L from Overland Park, Kansas.
Updated on November 28, 2017
Jake Turner, back row second from right, with his Spirit Award-winning Bluebook Relays team, Guns ‘n’ Rosenberg
Law student’s first career taught importance of client relationships, being prepared for anything
As a young child, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. Then I set my sights on the U.S. presidency. By the time I got to college, I had decided on a more practical career: teaching.
My family always thought I should go to law school, but I stubbornly dismissed the idea.
Professor of Sociology was the title I wanted, so I spent my time in undergrad at the University of Tulsa preparing to apply to graduate sociology programs. I started having second thoughts during my junior year. Could I really commit to studying sociology my entire life? I wanted to live in the Kansas City area. Would I be able to find a job at a local college? My life plan seemed to be devolving before me. But I still wanted to teach, so I decided to try it at the high school level.
I started my teaching career in Sliven, Bulgaria through the Fulbright program, helping sophomore through senior English language learners perfect their grasp of the language. I tutored students, taught them slang and empowered them to become stronger writers. It was challenging to live and teach in a foreign country, but I grew from adapting to new situations and understanding new cultures. I never knew what my students would say or what would happen in Bulgaria, but I learned to go with the flow.
When I returned to the United States, I continued my teaching career at Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. I taught junior and senior mathematics, from AP statistics to pre-calculus. I built strong relationships with my students and learned from them, probably as much as they learned from me. I learned the importance of being passionate about what I teach: When I was excited about a subject, my students got excited, too.
Leaving Hogan after two years was difficult because I loved my students and colleagues. But I decided that teaching high school, while rewarding, was not something I could see myself doing for my entire life. That’s when I applied to KU Law. Although law is my second career, I’ve found my niche and think my teaching experience will make me a stronger lawyer. I know the importance of creating relationships with my clients and being prepared for any situation.
KU Law also gives me the opportunity to continue teaching. As a 2L, I am a teaching assistant for the first-year Lawyering Skills course. Once a week, I get to return to the classroom, teach lessons and then hold office hours to help my students. I think I’ve been able to cultivate a love of learning legal citation with my students. Last month, they took third place at the annual Bluebook Relays legal citation competition. More importantly, they also won the coveted award for most spirited team. I want my students to love what they’re doing, and I could not be prouder of them for doing just that.
— Jake Turner is a 2L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Mission, Kansas.
Updated on November 27, 2017
Law school is an all-encompassing endeavor. Although challenging, it can be incredibly gratifying and rewarding. Law school really makes you think. There is liability everywhere. The world is a walking torts book.
Sometimes I miss the old days where I could walk through a grocery store and not wonder if someone slipping on the water near the entrance would be sufficient to find the store guilty of negligence. I miss the days where I could drive through Missouri on my back to Illinois without wondering if Missouri would have personal jurisdiction over me.
Sometimes I escape law school by watching television shows. Law school has managed to weasel its way into that aspect of my life as well. I can’t watch Game of Thrones without wondering if The Night King killing the Khaleesi’s Dragon would be trespass to chattels, battery, or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
I know tort law states that parents generally aren’t liable for their child’s torts, but could the Khaleesi be sued for the tortuous conduct of her adult dragons now that they are acting as adults and on her behalf? The Khaleesi probably has much bigger problems to worry about, but I’m more concerned about her possible tort claims against the Night King than I am about her conquest for the Iron Throne.
Sometimes Game of Thrones can be a little too hardcore for me, so I’ll watch The Office. Nope, law school applies there too. Was Michael Scott’s Golden Ticket idea a legally binding contract? Was Dwight guilty of battery when he sprayed mace in Roy’s eyes? How about the time when Jim put Dwight’s stapler in Jell-O, that has to be trespass to conversion, right?
Law school has changed me for the better. I may not be able to completely enjoy television shows anymore, but at least I can tell you a little something about the Article Two of The Uniform Commercial Code. I may not be able to tell you what happened in the news yesterday, but I can tell you all about Market Share Liability.
In all seriousness, law school has been a blast so far. I’ve never been so challenged academically. And although it can be stressful and frustrating, the people I’ve met and fun times I’ve had make it all worth it.
-Colin Finnegan is a 1L from Morris, Illinois.
Updated on November 13, 2017
Five questions with Xiu “Monica” Huang, Visiting Scholar from China
1. Why did you choose to study at KU Law? How did you learn about our program and establish contact?
KU offers world-class education and enjoys a strong international reputation. It welcomes students and scholars like me from all over the world to pursue their goals. And I learned and believe that KU Law will provide me with a supportive and quality academic environment for conducting legal research.
I learned about the program on the KU Law website while I was applying for the Visiting Students Program funded by the China Scholarship Council (CSC). As a Chinese Ph.D. candidate with a great interest in Water Law, I was so lucky to find and read Prof. John Peck’s profile on the KU Law website. I learned that he is a Water Law expert with abundant academic knowledge and practical experience. I emailed him to explore the possibility of being a visiting student, conducting my research under his guidance.
2. What are your professional goals for your time at KU Law? What will be your next career step after your time here?
My professional goals at KU Law include studying American law, conducting Sino-U.S. comparative legal research in the specific area of ecological compensation in inter-basin water transferring, and preparing my doctoral dissertation on Environmental Law from a Marxist perspective. I hope to earn my doctoral degree and obtain a faculty position in China after my time here.
I believe my experience at KU Law will enable me to conduct comparative legal research and analysis between Sino law and American law and introduce the latest legal developments in U.S. Water Law to China, which will definitely play an important role in the pursuit of my legal and academic career.
At KU Law, teachers are always encouraging students to make comments or ask questions about the content of the lesson. Students here are very self-confident, always willing and positive to express their opinions and thoughts. Teachers here care about every student in their classes including the auditing ones. They guide students in terms of forming an effective learning style, doing plenty of readings before the class, absorbing knowledge and solving problems during the class, and continuing further research work after class. I appreciate the wonderful presentations given by the students in some classes. The Wheat Law Library provides abundant research resources as well as comfortable conditions. Areas for cooperative work, discussion, and quiet, independent work are well designed. All the faculty here are gentle or graceful, always ready to give a hand and solve the problem with high efficiency.
4. What are your favorite things about Lawrence? What about home do you miss the most?
Lawrence is a wonderful place. I enjoy its quietness and peace very much. Blue skies and white clouds can easily be seen. The air is fresh and clean, though a little bit dry. The weather here is totally different from my hometown of Wuhan, but quite similar to Beijing where my families live. Most people I meet in Lawrence are fairly friendly, warm-hearted and willing to help. I am deeply impressed with their politeness and consideration of others. I have been in Lawrence for no more than two months, so I guess there must be lots of things for me to explore and experience here. I believe I could find more and more favorite things about Lawrence.
As I am alone here, the toughest thing for me to conquer is separation from my family, relatives and friends in my homeland. I miss my parents and siblings in Wuhan a lot. Who I miss most are my adorable 2-year-old baby girl and hardworking husband in Beijing. I feel sorry or even guilty leaving them so far away, especially when she or he gets sick.
5. What advice would you offer to other scholars who may want to do research abroad?
As far as I am concerned, if you decide to do research abroad, you’d better get yourself ready in terms of foreign language, research proposal and so on. With regard to the foreign language, it is the basic requirement of doing research in a foreign country. First, you have to gain the foreign language skills in listening, reading, writing, speaking and translating. Second, you should set a particular academic goal and make a detailed research proposal during your time abroad. With the goal, you could overcome the difficulties with your will and mind. You would be able to carry out your work step by step according to the plan without disturbance and confusion. Third, find a university and a school which could provide you with an excellent academic environment and resources, with professors capable of offering you wisdom, knowledge and support, and with other helpful faculty members. Last but not least, even though your time and energy abroad are rather limited, it’s necessary and helpful to audit some classes not just to learn, but also to experience the foreign language teaching and learning style.
–Xiu “Monica” Huang is a Ph.D. scholar at Huazhong University of Science & Technology. While at KU, she is conducting research on the legalities of water allocation and usage in China.
Posted on November 9, 2017
“This was before the movie A Few Good Men and before the TV show JAG,” Fischer said. “I didn’t realize the Navy had lawyers. I thought I’d sign up and see what they had to say.”
Fischer found the presentation compelling. “It was a three-year commitment at the time. I thought it would be a fun few years to see the world and do a bunch of different things, then I would have real world experience and could do something different afterward if I didn’t love it.”
More than two decades later, Fischer is still loving it, and still serving.
After finishing law school and passing the bar examination, Fischer completed Navy officer and legal training in Newport, Rhode Island, then reported for duty at the Navy’s legal services office in San Diego.
“When I reported I got a stack of files and started seeing clients very soon,” Fischer said. “That was one of the big selling points–they give you immediate responsibility. I also loved living and working near the ocean.”
Fischer started off processing administrative cases and quickly progressed to more serious issues, prosecuting rape, assault and child sexual abuse cases. “I was doing that within the first couple years out of law school, and I was the lead in these cases,” Fischer said. “It was a lot of responsibility and hard work, but very rewarding.”
One of Fischer’s biggest cases early in her career involved a date rape. “It’s the typical story,” Fischer said. “She said she didn’t want to have sex, he said he thought she did, so it was a contested rape trial. The evidence showed that she did not consent, and I got a conviction. That was a very satisfying experience.”
While teaching at the Naval Justice School, Fischer also served on the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) mobile education teams. The teams, composed of members of all branches of the military, work with partner nations to build capacity and implement democratic rule of law and equitable military justice systems.
Fischer served on a mobile education team deployed to Moldova shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “The folks in Moldova had just gained independence,” Fischer said. “At the time they were operating under the Soviet system and were very interested in how we ran our military justice system. They found it interesting that if a sailor got in trouble, he or she could go to a legal services office and have a Navy lawyer assigned to represent them, advocate for them, and make sure they got a fair trial. For us in the U.S., we think, of course they have rights! They should be represented, they should have a hearing, they should be able to present evidence and call witnesses. At the time, these concepts were new to Moldova.”
Fischer later served on a mobile education team to Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony that was recovering from a protracted civil war and transitioning from a Marxist regime to a democratic system. The DIILS training seminar introduced the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces to the concepts of the rule of law, human rights and civilian control of the military. It also provided an opportunity for rival factions within the military and civilian leadership to come together and discuss their differences and build relationships. Fischer gave presentations on the U.S. military justice system and facilitated interaction between the Mozambican participants.
Both assignments in Mozambique and Moldova were fascinating to Fischer. “Seeing firsthand the living conditions in former communist nations was very eye-opening and gave me a greater appreciation for how fortunate we are in the United States. Despite the hardships, the people she met in both countries were warm and friendly. “It was gratifying to get to know the military personnel in these countries. My experiences reinforced the concept that most people in this world want the same things – “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as our nation’s founders so eloquently wrote.”
“The Department of Defense is still very active with outreach efforts like this,” Fischer said. “Recently DIILS has developed and implemented programs in Burma, Thailand, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Mali, Nigeria, to name a few. They’re working with partner nations, helping them to build accountable, transparent and effective defense institutions and implement critical defense reforms.”
After three years stationed in Italy, and another three years working for the commander of the Navy’s west coast ballistic missile submarine fleet near Seattle, Washington, Fischer is currently based in D.C. There she has worked at the Washington Navy Yard and in the Pentagon in legislative affairs and as executive assistant and special counsel to the General Counsel of the Navy.
The Navy offers post-graduate education for lawyers in three areas: international law, environmental law and trial advocacy. Fischer took advantage of the program to earn an LLM in environmental law from the George Washington University Law School, and put her environmental expertise to work on Capitol Hill. The effect of Navy sonar training on marine mammals was a hot-button issue while Fischer was working in legislative affairs, and she used her expertise in environmental law to address the concerns.
“There was a big outcry by some environmental groups that claimed Navy sonar was injuring marine mammals,” Fischer said. “This became a significant issue that included litigation in the 9th Circuit and before the Supreme Court, and had the potential to negatively impact Navy training and readiness. We had to finalize environmental compliance documents, rebut plaintiffs’ challenges in court, address public comments, and respond to Congressional inquiries. On the Hill, our objectives included helping members of Congress better understand both the effect of sonar on marine mammals, and the strategic importance of Navy sonar training.”
The Navy has specially trained marine mammal lookouts on all vessels equipped with sonar and follows stringent mitigation measures to avoid marine mammals during training exercises, Fischer said. “These measures are effective in preventing impacts to marine mammals.” On the Hill, in the courts, and in the press, Fischer played a key role in the Navy’s ability to inform and successfully rebut challenges to Navy operations.
Fischer currently serves as the Staff Judge Advocate (SEA 00J), Naval Sea Systems Command.
“My philosophy was as long as I’m having fun I’m going to take another set of orders,” Fischer said. “I continue to find it fulfilling and fun, so I continue to serve.”
–By Emily Sharp. A previous version of this story appeared in the spring 2015 issue of KU Law magazine.
Updated on November 8, 2017
James Garfield is my favorite U.S. president. Most people have never heard of our 20th president, and if they have, all they know about is his tragic assassination roughly three months into his presidency. However, prior to his short time in office, Garfield was a congressional representative for many years, multi-tasking as an attorney, often representing clients pro bono before the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Like Garfield, I seek to practice public interest law following graduation. To that end, I applied to attend KU Law’s trip to the 2016 Equal Justice Works (EJW) Conference and Career Fair in Washington, D.C., with a group of my classmates. My experience at the conference changed my life for the better.
The KU Law EJW trip provides the chance for a number of students interested in public interest law to visit the nation’s capital and attend the EJW Conference and Career Fair. When we arrived in D.C. in 2016, we attended a reception with KU Law alumni who live and work in the D.C. area. With a wide variety of legal careers, many of these alumni offer sincere support and invaluable advice to KU Law students aiming to practice in Washington, D.C.
After meeting with alumni, we attended the EJW Conference the next day. EJW is a non-profit organization which aims to connect up-and-coming law students and attorneys to internships and jobs serving the public interest. The EJW Conference and Career Fair combines opportunities to interview and network with potential employers and fellow students with useful workshops and inspiring speakers, including Supreme Court Justice Elena Kegan. While listening to Justice Kegan explain her background in studying history and her somewhat roundabout path toward law school and through her legal career, I couldn’t help but relate. Most of all, I was inspired by the number of students from across the country looking forward to careers supporting the public interest.
Following the first day of the conference, several of us went to walk around the National Mall at night, ending up in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Looking up at the giant face of one of America’s most memorable lawyers-turned-president, I felt resolved to return to D.C. to use the skills I built at KU to help make a difference in the lives of Americans. This realization, supported by the lessons I learned through the conference itself, gave me the determination and drive to seek out opportunities in D.C. for the following summer, including an internship at one of President Garfield’s favorite places: the Library of Congress.
My internship with the Library’s Office of the General Counsel fulfilled my lifelong dream of working in the world’s largest library. I also gained experience working with legal issues related to the library’s educational goals. I had the opportunity to explore the library’s amazing collections and historical documents, including the ledger containing Abraham Lincoln’s check-out record, and to explore D.C. with my roommate, fellow KU Law student Laurel Michel. Together, we attended panels and visits to federal agencies, visited more than 20 museums, galleries, historic sites and countless monuments, and shared even more great memories.
This October, I returned to the EJW Conference, more dedicated than ever to pursue a career serving the public interest. One of the highlights of the trip was listening to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discuss her own career and the support she received in attaining her position on the Court. “If you have like-minded people working with you and you are supporting each other in what you are trying to accomplish,” she explained in her speech. “That makes an enormous difference.” As I continue to prepare for my graduation in the spring, I could not be more grateful for the encouragement and guidance.
— Haley Claxton is a 3L from Olathe, Kansas.
Updated on October 27, 2017
According to the American Bar Association, Native American attorneys make up 0.3 percent of the more than 1 million lawyers in the United States; I want to change that.
Now, more than ever, Native Americans need capable, committed legal representation within their tribes, communities and organizations. My intention in pursuing a law degree is to position myself for a career that will enable me to do just that. I am a member of an emerging group of capable and ambitious American Indian students who, when given the opportunity, not only overcome the social and economic barriers that constrained earlier generations of American Indians, but embrace the challenges of higher education and soar to new heights of achievement. Students like me follow in the footsteps of those earlier generations of Native Americans who sacrificed, struggled and endured so that my generation could one day become leaders, confronting and overcoming the obstacles of our time. I am grateful, and as I pursue my career in law, I will extend my hand and guide others within our communities – as well as other underrepresented communities – on the same (or similar) path.
A creative outlet
While I plan to study tribal law at KU, I also have media law in my sights. I began a career in photography at the age of 15 as a house photographer at the concert/event arena in my hometown of Billings, Montana. I photographed bands including Nine Inch Nails, Buckcherry, Avenged Sevenfold, Puddle of Mudd, Sugarland, Theory of Deadman, Shinedown and others. Inspired by that experience, I enrolled in film school at Montana State University in Bozeman, combining my passion for photography with writing and technical filmmaking skills. While still in school, I landed my first job on a feature-length film. I wanted to learn more about the administrative aspect of film production, so I worked closely with the first and second assistant directors on that feature. Soon after, I landed my next feature film job; however, this time, I advanced from a production assistant intern to an IMDb-credited second assistant director. It is uncommon to advance so quickly, but filmmaking is an industry that rewards ambition. I went on to second assistant direct my third feature film, and I followed that by writing, directing and producing small projects of my own. I eventually ended up in Los Angeles, as most aspiring filmmakers do. While living and working in Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area, l realized that I wanted to complete my degree and pursue a graduate program. I believed that an advanced education would, in the long run, open more doors and create more opportunities to make an enduring impact on issues that mattered to me. I made my way to Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, and two years later I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in indigenous and American Indian studies.
Balancing school and business
I come from a long line of creative people, so art is intrinsic to my life. When I am creating, I am truly happy. Doing photography is an outlet for me which, as a law student, is an important thing to have. Currently, I own and operate my own photography business – Haley Rains Photography – and continue to do concert, event, portrait and other types of photography as well as graphic design, filmmaking and other creative projects. It is my goal to incorporate my photography and filmmaking skills into my legal education and to return to Los Angeles after I earn my J.D. to continue my work in the film industry.
I feel truly privileged to be a member of the KU Law family, and I look forward to seeing the things I and my extraordinary classmates will accomplish.
Posted on October 19, 2017
This summer I had the privilege of working as a Justice Fellow for the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in Lawrence, Kansas. I received the internship offer through an on-campus interview and immediately accepted it.
Kansas Appleseed is a nonprofit, nonpartisan justice center dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans. Through collaborations with pro bono attorneys and community partners, Kansas Appleseed investigates social, economic and political injustice in Kansas and advocates for systemic solutions. The organization’s mission is to champion laws and policies that will build a thriving, inclusive and just Kansas.
I spent much of my time researching and writing about justice in Kansas. This research will be included in a future Justice Library on Kansas Appleseed’s website. This resource will provide information on what different Appleseed Centers are working on across the U.S. and Mexico as well what is going on in Kansas. I attended a poverty conference in Topeka, Kansas that was a very insightful, fulfilling experience. I also prepared memoranda concerning the laws and regulations authorizing and regulating reinstatement fees and how it affect Kansas residents.
As I have grown older, life has taken me far from New Orleans, but I still believe that society and the law owe a duty to its communities to work in the best interests of its citizens. Going forward, I will combine my organizing and legal skills with my desire to help create social change in communities. My public service internship has helped build a strong foundation for a future career serving families, women and immigrant populations. The knowledge I gained from Kansas Appleseed exceeded my expectations and will stay with me as I further my education and career. I cannot wait to continue to serve others, learn and be an effective advocate.
-Erika Owunta is a 2L from New Orleans.