Business owner, student, mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Emily Sharp

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

Blazing trails in Barber County

Service, community draw 3L to rural practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brass looks forward to blazing new trails in Barber County.

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

 — Rachel Riggs 

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

Building community

Matt Scarber

Arizona transplant leads through service in adopted home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Rachel Riggs

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

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.