Updated on May 7, 2018
Sam LaRoque counts meeting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas among his most memorable KU Law experiences.
Astrophysicist’s rendezvous with law school written in the stars
Some might say the stars aligned to bring Sam LaRoque to KU Law.
As a doctoral candidate in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, LaRoque wrote his dissertation on observational cosmology – the study of the structure, origin and evolution of the universe using high-powered telescopes. What he didn’t discover observing the cosmos was a passion for astrophysics.
So he changed direction. Toward the end of a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in medical imaging, he stumbled upon a job listing for a technical advisor with a patent litigation group in Minneapolis. He applied on a whim and got the job. LaRoque and his wife moved to Minnesota, where he worked at the firm for seven years.
“I focused mainly on the technical aspects of each case but came to love learning and thinking about patent law and legal strategy,” he said. “After a while I decided I would love to go to law school and do patent litigation as an attorney instead of an advisor. It’s funny to think that if I hadn’t been looking at the job postings in that particular magazine on that particular day, none of this would have ever happened.”
In 2014, LaRoque’s wife – a breast cancer researcher – accepted an offer to join the biochemistry faculty at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, and everything clicked into place.
“It was perfect because I knew KU Law had Professor (Andrew) Torrance, who is an amazing resource for patent law,” LaRoque said. “I also knew KU Law had a great skills-based program to go along with its doctrinal offerings, and I wanted to be a litigator.”
He tailored his law school experience toward that goal, serving as an intern to Chief Judge Julie Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas through the Judicial Field Placement Program. He took Trial Advocacy, Expert Witness Skills, Deposition Skills and Pretrial Advocacy.
“I have loved having the opportunity to draft discovery, to be up on my feet arguing and to examine witnesses in a controlled setting where I can learn from my mistakes without actually harming anyone,” LaRoque said.
He also participated in KU Law’s nationally ranked Moot Court Program, which led to one of his proudest law school triumphs.
“Winning the regional finals of the National Moot Court Competition with Ashley Billam as a 2L was a pretty big event for me,” he recalled. “It was kind of an upset, as we beat an experienced 3L Oklahoma team that had won regionals the previous year.”
LaRoque attended KU Law through the Rice Scholar Program, which provides full tuition and fees to students with outstanding academic and leadership records. He’ll graduate at the top of his class and has been selected to carry the law school banner at Commencement. But you won’t hear that from him (LaRoque’s classmates voted him “Most Humble” at law prom this year).
Following graduation and the bar exam, the 41-year-old father of two will practice patent litigation in the intellectual property group at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP in Kansas City, Missouri – the fulfillment of a decade-long goal.
“It’s funny because I came into law school knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and sometimes my classmates who haven’t decided yet say, ‘You’re so lucky to know exactly what you want to do after law school,’” LaRoque said. “And I always say, ‘Yeah, I guess I am, but don’t forget it took me 20 years to figure it out.’”
— By Mindie Paget
This post is the second in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018. Check out a story about Maya Tsvetkova as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.
Updated on May 4, 2018
Bulgarian immigrant learns language of law at KU
Maya Tsvetkova got by with a little help from “Friends.”
When the 2018 KU Law graduate immigrated to the United States from her native Bulgaria as a teenager, she spoke Bulgarian, Russian and German – but not a word of English. Watching reruns of the popular NBC television series with subtitles helped her understand all the fast-talking Americans around her.
“I think it is exceptional that Maya came from not knowing English at age 15 to graduating law school,” classmate Claire Kebodeaux said.
It was a different TV show, “Ally McBeal,” that sparked Tsvetkova’s interest in the law as a little girl. And her desire to be an attorney only intensified during her efforts to immigrate to the U.S. She was raised by a single mother who moved to Oklahoma for work.
“During that time, I was separated from my mom, which encouraged me to look for ways to bring us together faster,” Tsvetkova said. “I applied for a student visa after a series of tests and interviews with the American embassy in Bulgaria and – at age 15 – finally moved to Tulsa to be with my mom.”
Tsvetkova majored in business with a specialization in business law at the University of Tulsa, and chose KU Law after visiting Lawrence during Admitted Students Weekend.
“KU Law faculty and students were extremely nice and welcoming,” she recalled. “I didn’t even look for a different law school.”
And she’s made the most of her time in Green Hall. Tsvetkova was a member of Women in Law and the Business & Tax Law Society. She also served as vice president of the Student Bar Association and gained professional experience working as a law clerk for the Kansas Department of Revenue and as a research assistant to Professor Raj Bhala.
“My favorite part of law school has been meeting people from so many different backgrounds and unique experiences,” Tsvetkova said. “I have gained new perspectives on world issues and life in general. Being in law school has helped me grow as a person and taught me how to overcome even the hardest obstacles that stand in the way of my success.”
Tsvetkova plans to pursue a career in transactional law, with a focus on tax and finance. Ultimately, she sees herself as in-house counsel for a successful corporation.
— By Mindie Paget
This post is the first in a series highlighting just a few exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2018 as we count down to the Hooding Ceremony on May 12.
Updated on May 2, 2018
Unexpected 6th Semester in D.C. experience perfectly caps student’s law school journey
I never meant to spend my last semester of law school living and working in Washington, D.C. — seeing Abe Lincoln whenever I wanted to and doing the work I came to law school to do. In fact, throughout my entire law school experience, I have consistently felt like I tripped and fell into this place, only knowing that I wanted to save the honey bees and help the people and thinking that maybe being a lawyer would help me do that. Deciding to go to D.C. felt much the same way, especially as a joint-degree student, because I always thought there was no way I could finish everything and graduate on time by spending a total of four semesters physically in Green Hall. Joke’s on me!
Back in November, I found myself sitting in Professor Jennifer Schmidt’s office, talking about a paper, when she said her usual, “Have you thought about 6th Semester in D.C.?” I laughed out loud and said a quick, “Yeah, nope, that’s impossible.” A few weeks later, I was in D.C. about to begin interning for the litigation team at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.
I spent this last semester researching everything from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the migration patterns of the Atlantic right whale, and learning more than I ever would have learned studying for my last round of finals the week before they started. I met people from all over the world who are working on incredible projects and making a meaningful difference advocating for the earth. I practiced all those skills you learn in Lawyering during 1L year that I promptly forgot: sending demand letters, drafting motions, writing memos. And, believe it or not, I got to help save the honey bees.
If I could say one thing to anyone who will listen to me talk about law school or read this blog, it’s this: Take the opportunities life presents to you — whether they come through KU Law or anywhere else. If you think it’s crazy to move out of your apartment, complete your bar application and decide to move to D.C. all in one week, it is. But it’ll be worth it. Just because you don’t have a plan doesn’t mean you won’t end up somehow doing exactly what you want and need to do, even if it feels like a strange and happy accident (which I will be sure to continue to remind myself of as I begin this adventure called “bar prep and becoming an employed adult”).
As I write this, I know that in less than 25 days I will graduate and be asked, “So, what’s next?” at least 1,000 times. The truth is I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing after graduation, but I hope to be somewhere in the mountains, working for a nonprofit, advocating for clean air and water and the laws that keep them that way. Sure, having no set plan is a little unsettling, but it is also what has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities like the 6th Semester in D.C. program.
I know it’s easy to feel like everyone around you in Green Hall has a plan and if you don’t, you’ve failed. But that’s not true. No one has it all figured out. If you think you do, you’re lucky. But if you know you don’t, I think you’re even luckier. Not having a plan means you can experience things you never even knew you wanted. It means you can take those chances. Take those risks. Lean into the discomfort and the fear and the challenge and learn about who you are and what you need. My 6th Semester in D.C. was a wonderful and unexpected adventure filled with monuments, comedy clubs, museums, concerts, marches, cherry blossoms, occasional legal research, and, while it wasn’t always easy, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
— Maslyn Locke is a 3L from Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Updated on May 4, 2018
Humans are complex beings. The evolutionary marvel that is the human brain is both our species’ greatest strength and weakness. It allows us, as lawyers and future lawyers, to understand, communicate and untangle intricate legal issues. On the other hand, it houses a complex web of emotions, thoughts and experiences all tied to the human condition. Lawyers are often called on to resolve distressing situations, frequently in time-sensitive settings. These type of environments create a concerning reality for many currently, and soon to be, in the legal profession.
In a recent study, the ABA partnered with Hazelden to examine the rates of substance use and other mental health concerns regarding lawyers. Among the approximately 13,000 lawyers polled, 61 percent reported concerns with anxiety and 46 percent reported concerns with depression. To cope with said mental health struggles, many attorneys turn to substance abuse—with over 20 percent of those polled screening positive for hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.
The sad truth is we, as legal community, have known this for decades. Years and years of research has consistently indicated higher prevalence of suicide, alcohol/drug abuse, anxiety and depression among attorneys when compared to other professions. There seems to be a cloud of shame surrounding the issue for many—much of the way our society has, and still does, treat mental illnesses. For some, mental health is treated as inferior to physical well-being and there is much reason to believe this has had its consequences.
Thankfully law schools and organizations such as the ABA are teaming up to tackle the issue of mental health in the legal community. Furthermore, some law firms are adjusting internal policies and implementing programs geared toward their employees’ mental health.
Know that no amount of wealth or prestige can buy you a new brain. Know that no amount of wealth or prestige should take precedence over being mentally and physically healthy. Know that it is never too late to get healthy and never too early to start good habits. Know that there are people who are always available to talk. Know that your most important asset is your own well-being—because you simply cannot help other people until you help yourself.
-Jöel Thompson is a 2L and student ambassador from Fairfax, Virginia.
Posted on April 10, 2018
Reinvention the right move for journalist-turned-law student
Just a couple of months away from graduation and a few weeks out from my 28th birthday, I thought recently about where my pre-law school self would have envisioned me at this time in my life. I probably would have hoped that I’d be a news correspondent halfway around the globe. Instead, I ended up just over four hours away from where I grew up.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
In high school, I was sure I’d be heading to medical school after graduation. But the summer before my senior year, I went to a journalism workshop because I’d always liked writing and hadn’t really made time for it in the middle of chemistry and biology (I’ve now forgotten everything I ever tried to learn in those classes). I fell in love with the newsroom — the pace, the constant change, the teamwork. It was enough to completely change the course of my life; I enrolled as a student at Mizzou’s journalism school a few months later.
Once there, I was hooked. I learned to love cold calling potential sources — despite being absolutely terrified of doing so when I arrived on campus. I loved the adrenaline rush of turning around a breaking news story and publishing it just before deadline. I loved the precision and accuracy that editing required. I was certain that once I graduated and began working for the Kansas City Star, I’d be launching into a lifelong career as a reporter.
But when I had the chance to cover court proceedings, something changed once again — I found myself wanting to know more about the trials I was watching, to understand the rules and to be part of the advocacy instead of writing about it. But I didn’t know whether I could make the jump from being a journalist to potentially working as an attorney someday — or even the jump to going back to school. I was unsure of whether any of my writing and research skills would transfer and whether I could be an advocate. I didn’t know if I was prepared for what I’d heard would be a brutally competitive environment. I was convinced as I applied to law schools that I was reinventing myself and my career too many times — that I just needed to pick something and stick with it.
Now that I’m just weeks away from taking my last finals of law school, I’m so, so glad I was wrong. Being a law student showed me that there’s no “right” background to prepare anyone to be a lawyer. There isn’t a correct timeline to follow to get through the doors of Green Hall. All that’s required is that you show up, ready to learn and ready to work, with an understanding that everyone is starting with a blank slate. Far from the depiction of law schools I’d seen in movies, everyone at KU Law has given me so much support. I’ve had countless opportunities to develop as a writer and an advocate. I’ve been able to put the skills I’m learning in the classroom to practical use. And it didn’t matter how long it took me to get here.
— Sangeeta Shastry is a 3L and KU Law Student Ambassador from St. Louis.
Updated on April 3, 2018
In MLP, student learns value of lawyers, doctors partnering for healthy communities
Looking past the stereotypes, lawyers and doctors have a lot in common. Usually seen as adversaries, I know that at least medical students and law students can be friends.
My best friend is an M2 at KU Med – no, not a 2M. She has a different test schedule every four weeks, her grades depend on more than just a single test, she can view her class lectures online at home, and she administers physical exams on trained actors for practice.
We have vastly different academic experiences. She complains about memorizing the clotting cascade for blood platelets. And I argue about a comma under the Last Antecedent Rule.
But we both have professional mentors, we have ethical and professional responsibilities, we worry about passing boards and bar exams, and we both post up at the library for hours on end.
Most importantly, in life, we both care about healthy communities, advocating for progressive and supportive legislation, working for the public interest and promoting women in leadership positions. And that is what we have in common. To be effective in achieving these goals, our professions have to work together.
In undergrad, we took public policy classes together and discussed policy’s impacts on communities. Back then I viewed our future professions as two different worlds — until I participated in KU Law’s Medical-Legal Partnership Field Placement at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. My supervisor’s words meant more to me than she probably intended, that “we cannot work in silos.”
While working at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, I saw this firsthand. I was able to visit patients on the floor to conduct intake interviews, sit on follow-up appointments, call clients with updates and work on court documents. This required working with LMH’s Care Coordination Office, nurses and physicians to provide care to patients.
Doctors and lawyers alone or together can be intimidating, but we have to forge partnerships to make sure our community is healthy. Whether it’s working on the language for legislation, referring patients to supportive services or understanding the medical decisions patients make, combining perspectives is vital to efficiently make a lasting impact on our communities.
While working at the MLP Field Placement, not only did I reconcile medicine and law, but I also found a passion for legal services. As I enter the second half of my law school career, I am thankful that KU Law had an MLP to focus my studies and career aspirations as well as unearth the connection between my degree and skills and an enduring passion that brings different professions together.
— Jessie Pringle is a 2L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Chanute, Kansas.
Updated on March 28, 2018
Student appreciates ‘feats of strength and determination’ by classmates, faculty
Mega-blockbuster superhero flicks are taking the world by storm. “Black Panther” recently surpassed a cool billion dollars at the box office (Wakanda Forever!), and “Avengers: Infinity War” is coming out at the end of April (seriously, can’t wait). Society has become amazed with the incredible feats of fictional characters – so much so that the incredible feats of everyday people go unnoticed. We don’t all have to turn big and green, be the God of Thunder, the King of Wakanda, a science experiment or a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” to be a superhero.
In my short time at KU Law, I have come to appreciate the incredible feats of strength and determination by the people around me. I have come to realize that we all have superpowers. They can be having the mental fortitude to endure an eight-hour final; the will power to fight the temptation to take a night off from studying; the resolve to commute up to an hour daily to Green Hall (and be on time!); the resilience to be stretched to your thinnest and still keep it together; or the concentration to go to school while having little kids and a family at home. These are all superpowers in my book, and this is not, by any means, an exhaustive list.
The source of these superpowers that we all possess is the human spirit. It can be used to do incredible things, and using our superpowers is what turns us in to superheroes. Superheroes overcome great adversity and keep fighting, even when the outlook is bleak. In addition to fighting your power-hungry, mischievous adopted brother; taking down a super-secret organization that wants global chaos; or facing off with a mad titan, adversity can be getting up before the birds or being the last one in the library to make sure you complete the assignments and reading. Adversity can be holding a textbook one in hand and a baby in the other. It can be moving hundreds of miles from family to go to school. The human spirit is a powerful tool that can turn a seemingly average person into an Avenger like Black Widow or Iron Man.
I see these feats in the students and faculty around me, and I am as astonished by them as I would be by seeing Spider-Man swing around above me. I consider myself blessed to spend each day with these superheroes and to face the grind of law school with them. They come from every background and have endured much more than me to be where there are. As for me, I’m just a kid from Lenexa.
— Omar Husain is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Lenexa, Kansas.
Posted on March 20, 2018
I recently realized that I have been at KU Law for six months. It may not seem like a long time, but I’ve done a lot in this time. I moved to Lawrence, made new friends and finished an entire semester of law school! A person can learn a lot in six months, but I think there are six noteworthy things that I’ve figured out since August.
1) No one knows what they’re doing (and that’s OK!).
I’ve never had a lawyer in my family. I majored in tourism and hospitality as an undergraduate student. It’s safe to say that I knew next to nothing about law school before coming to KU for 1L orientation. As a control freak who hates surprises, this was pretty scary for me. But I realized very quickly in my first week at KU that everyone felt the exact same fear that I did. No one knows exactly what to expect before coming to law school. It’s a completely new experience for everyone, regardless of your academic background or your family tree. Your classmates are feeling just as freaked out, so lean on them for support!
2) It’s important to have law school AND non-law school friends.
I love the friends that I’ve made in law school. They’re supportive, fun and always down for a coffee run to the DeBruce Center between classes. Plus, I would NOT have survived finals week without our little study groups! But I quickly learned to appreciate my friends outside of law school, too. For me, non-law school friends pull me back into the real world during those times I can’t seem to stop thinking about legal memos and Constitutional Law hypotheticals. Sometimes a person’s just gotta talk about the new shows on Netflix! Plus, knowing that my non-law friends are proud of me is enough to keep me motivated through the more stressful moments in law school.
3) Getting involved in organizations has perks. Major perks.
Outline banks, free food during group meetings and advice from law students who’ve made it through 1L year: What more can I say? I obviously need these things. Plus, organizations were a great way to meet people with the same interests as me.
4) On that note, there are WAY more opportunities for involvement than I had expected.
KU Law has political action groups, religious-interest clubs, legal clinics, moot court … I could go on, but I won’t. There’s something for everyone. Just a couple of months into law school, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the DACA Clinic. You don’t have to be an experienced law student to find something to do. In fact, if you’re a law student at KU and you’re bored, then you’re doing something wrong!
5) Having a hobby outside of law school is important.
I study a lot more in law school then I generally had to in undergrad. However, I can’t live in the law library forever or I’ll go crazy! So, there are a few things I do to keep my stress levels down. I’ll binge watch some TV (hellooo student subscription to Hulu!), do some yoga in my apartment or catch a movie at the theater. Did you know the seats recline at the Lawrence movie theater? It’s amazing. I also learned that having a hobby isn’t just a waste of time. You can put it on your resume to show employers a little more about your personality. That’s a win-win if you ask me.
6) I’ve already learned so much more than I ever could have expected.
If you go to law school, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn in such a short amount of time. Looking at the papers I wrote in the beginning of my Lawyering Skills class compared to my fall semester final memo, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much my legal writing skills have improved. While I’ve learned a lot in six months, I know that there’s still so much more to come. Here’s to the next two and a half years!
— Emily Leiker is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Hays.
Posted on March 14, 2018
First-year KU Law student Terra Brockman, front row sixth from left, was a member of the winning team in the 2017 Bluebook Relays. The annual competition is just one of the ways students bond with their small-section classmates during law school.
Contrary to popular belief, law school is nothing like how it is portrayed on TV. Unfortunately, no one wears pink blazers like Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde,” and although I am not yet finished with Criminal Law, it does not seem like our professor will be letting us work on cases in court like the 1Ls in “How to Get Away with Murder.” There are some similarities that can be drawn from what is shown on TV, but there is still a lot that they just don’t tell you.
Law school is where you find your people. Almost every law school places you in small sections of people with whom you will have every class. On its face, this sounds a bit like high school, but it is probably the most comforting part of being a 1L. There is nothing worse than being sick in law school. However, being in a small section gives me an automatic 20 people I can reach out to for class notes. If you’re anything like me and managed to escape some undergraduate classes without learning a single person’s name, I promise that will not be possible in law school. These people quickly become your best friends – not just because you see them every day, but because there is something special about struggling together. The best of times, the worst of times, but at least you’re not alone!
At KU Law, different organizations put together events so you get to know your classmates. The Student Bar Association will make all your non-law school friends jealous that you get to relive your prom days. Barrister’s Ball, also known as Law Prom, is one of the few events where you’ll get to see that guy who sits in the back of the class all dressed up. The fun doesn’t stop there because Women in Law has a Pub Night where they auction off events with your professors. I mean, how often can someone say they had dinner at the dean’s house? In addition to both events being a fun excuse to dress up and get out of the house, the proceeds also go to charities within the community. So not only are you having a great time with your friends, but you are making a difference while doing it!
People say that college is the best four years of your life, but it’s safe to say those people probably never went to law school. The most accurate depiction of law school in “How to Get Away with Murder” is when Wes gets cold-called on the first day of class and has no idea that reading had been assigned. If that does scream 1L, I don’t know what does! This experience is like no other. You will lose sleep. You will be challenged beyond your comfort zone and will probably ask yourself, “Why am I here?” But behind every challenging endeavor comes a reward that makes it all worth it.
— Terra Brockman is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Overland Park.
Updated on February 26, 2018
As a KU Law Student Ambassador giving tours of Green Hall, one of the most common questions I hear from students is how to balance all the work of law school with a healthy life — socially, physically and emotionally. Personally, I was worried about that as well. Before I began law school, I had these scary mental images of myself as a hermit, hiding out in my bedroom, only coming out for unhealthy rations. And for the first part of my 1L year, that was, unfortunately, true. I wasn’t very social, I didn’t make/maintain friendships, and I did not do a good job working out or staying healthy. I am not only a stress eater, but also a stress cook, and when I am stressed I cook homestyle, Crisco-infused, tasty food.
As I continued further into my law school career, I realized that I was not going down a healthy road. I decided that it was time to make some changes and kick it into gear. I felt pretty good about the academics, but I needed to balance the rest of my life with my school work. Here are some practices that I implemented:
An awesome calendar to literally organize my life
I am not an organized person. I am perpetually running around like a crazy person trying to figure out where I need to be and when. A calendar minimizes my worry and allows me to organize my schedule in such a way that I can maximize my time. I like when my calendars have a monthly overview with the weeks expanded to allow detailed notes. I recommend finding a style that works for you and then using it to its fullest capacity.
As silly as it sounds, if you are worried about your health (or finances) and find yourself spending way more than you should on food you should not be eating, a lunchbox can really help. It allows me to make healthy food at home that is much more cost-effective. It also allows me to utilize my lunch breaks for school work, leaving less to be done when I get home in the evening.
Prioritizing downtime with family and friends
This one comes directly from my mother. When you start law school, it’s easy to allow school work to take over. I was certainly guilty of this. I am a Kansas girl, and my parents don’t live too far from Lawrence. During my first few months of law school, though, they easily could have lived 1,000 miles away for how much I spent time with them. Nowadays, I make it a priority to schedule one day each weekend to spend time at my parents’ house. I write it into my calendar and schedule the rest of my work with that time in mind. I do the same thing when planning date nights with my fiancé, game nights with friends, or if I am feeling like I need a mental health day. Now there are some times when school work can’t be avoided and you have to encroach on your planned time, but for the most part you can make free time a true priority.
(Mostly) not buying junk food
Now I am the first to say that I am NOT perfect. I have a weakness for cookie dough and a terrible love of gummy worms. If those items are in the house, I will binge eat an entire roll of cookie dough in about 20 minutes (don’t judge me). This just means that I have to exercise willpower at the grocery store; I try not to buy anything that I would be able to binge. Instead of chips, I get baby carrots. Instead of cookie dough, I get dark chocolate chips and peanut butter. Instead of gummy worms, I get grapes. They aren’t perfect substitutes, but they do cut down on the unhealthy stuff a little bit.
Making time for at least a couple of walks a week
I am not a gym rat. I hate cardio. But as a law student, I use school as an excuse to avoid working out way more than I should. (NOTE: I make time for “Criminal Minds.”) Taking walks is an easy and relaxing way to get moving. Again, this is something you kind of need to plan. But, honestly, a 45-minute walk is shorter than most of my grocery shopping trips and the length of one Netflix episode.
Although this is not an exhaustive list, these are some of the things that really helped me feel happier and less stressed while maintaining healthy relationships. Law school really is about finding a balance that works for you.
— Samantha Wagner is a 2L from Paola and a KU Law Student Ambassador.