Human trafficking victim starting new life in U.S. with help from KU Law student

No more interviews with the Department of Homeland Security, no more meetings with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, no more facing her traffickers in court. The criminal case was finally closed. Now she was living in a foreign country, away from family and friends, with minimal funds, unable to speak English, and wanted to stay in the U.S. to avoid retaliation from her traffickers. This was the client I was assigned during the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) externship orientation.

hill-henning-72dpiI have never felt so nervous than I did when I left the MLP orientation. And I have never felt so confident and excited about pursing a legal career than I did on my last day at the MLP.

Orientation day for the MLP was the most overwhelming day I’ve experienced during law school. I walked out of the office with a client who had been a victim of human trafficking, a book about T and U visas (something I knew nothing about), and a list of people I had never met with whom I needed to schedule meetings. I had never had a real client, conducted an interview, worked with an interpreter, or written anything more complex than a summary judgment. I felt incredibly unprepared to take on my client’s task and was beyond scared that someone’s future had been placed in my hands.

My one semester in the MLP gave me invaluable practical experience. My first task was a trivial one make a phone call. But I had to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ask for copies of documents filed during the criminal trial of the traffickers. My hands were shaking as I dialed the number. By the end of the semester I was on a first-name basis with my contacts in various government offices. My MLP experience taught me more than just how to do legal research, fill out forms, and write. It taught me how to connect with my client and maintain emotional health, showed me the importance of networking with people who aren’t lawyers, and that legal work is much more complex than class materials ever intimated.

I ended my time with the MLP by turning over an almost 2-inch-tall stack of papers that was my client’s T visa application. It needed one final review and would then be sent off. I walked out of the MLP confident in my work. For the first time during school, I felt like I had accomplished something. That day I was sure I was pursuing the right career.

Ten months later I received a phone call from the MLP office. My client’s T visa had been approved. The gravity of what I had worked on for an entire semester truly came into focus at that moment. I had helped make a real difference for a real person. This was my best day during law school. My MLP experience showed me that true success as a legal advocate is achieved when your client succeeds.

— Monica Hill Henning is a third-year KU Law student from Kingman, Kansas. She is set to graduate in May 2016.

Top Five Law School Myths

Sarah McMillin-Beckman and friends

Sarah McMillin-Beckman, far right, gathers with classmates at Women in Law’s annual Pub Night Gala.

Myth # 1: You won’t have time to have a social life in law school.

While I spent more time in the law library this year than I ever thought possible, I’ve still had plenty of time for other activities. Which is good because there are lots of opportunities to get involved at KU. There are 28 student organizations at the law school alone, and over 600 campus-wide. There are also plenty of social events such as Barrister’s Ball (Law Prom), Pub Night and TGITs.

Myth # 2:  Everyone at KU will be from Kansas, and everyone will stay in Kansas after graduating.

I love Kansas. But after growing up near Fort Riley, an Army base, I recognize the immense value in having a student body that has a diverse set of experiences. At KU, the Class of 2018 includes students from 25 states and three foreign countries.

While KU does an excellent job placing students in regional jobs, the school also has a large network of dedicated alumni working outside of Kansas who offer invaluable assistance to students hoping to travel with their degree.

Myth # 3: Professors will teach “the law.”

When I came to law school, I expected to learn black-letter law by listening to lecturing professors. But instead of rote memorization of cases and statutes, law school has been more about actively learning how to “think like a lawyer.” Instead of focusing exclusively on legal theory, there are plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning while still in school. The school offers several workshops and twelve clinics, where students can earn school credits by improving practical skills.

Myth # 4:  If you want to go to law school, you have to major in Political Science or Philosophy.

There is no major that will perfectly prepare you for law school. Focus on taking classes that will advance writing and critical thinking skills. At KU, there are a wide variety of college majors represented. As someone who received degrees in Political Science and History, it’s refreshing to take classes with students who bring many unique perspectives.

Myth # 5:  School rank is the most important factor when deciding which law school to attend.

Law school experiences are difficult to quantify. While national ranking systems can be a helpful tool, they shouldn’t be the only thing you consider. For some ranking systems, cost of attendance makes up only 15% of the overall score. For me, cost was incredibly important, because I didn’t want to graduate with a level of debt so high that it would determine my entire career path.

There were also plenty of factors that were important to me but impossible to assign a numerical value. I wanted professors who were accessible, a career service office that would invest time in getting to know each student, and an environment where students were collegial and welcoming. Visiting the law school made it clear that KU was the best fit for me.

— Sarah McMillin-Beckman is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Junction City, Kansas.

Former teacher found calling as pioneer woman attorney at KU Law

Judge Jean Shepherd, L’77, was one of the KU Law women pioneers of the 1970s. Like several of her women classmates, Shepherd pursued law as a second career, leaving behind the fields traditionally open to women at the time. When she entered law school in 1974, Shepherd was a non-traditional student, a single mother and a former high school teacher. The campus had changed since she completed her undergraduate degree in 1968. Women were wearing jeans to class, and students were consumed with the Vietnam War and civil rights, which resulted in a more “aware and involved” student experience.

“I graduated in January of 1968,” Shepherd said. “Things were really changing on campus. When I was an undergrad the big ruckus was women not wearing dresses to class. Those were such non-issues when I came back for law school in 1974. Students were focused on larger issues. We were much more aware of the world and the country. It was no longer this idyllic, Midwestern isolated college experience. It was much more aware and involved.”

Though the atmosphere on campus was one of engagement and action, the KU Law community was still adjusting to women studying in Green Hall. “We had a little bathroom with just two stalls, and there would always be a long line coming out the door,” Shepherd said. “It wasn’t set up for women students at that point.”

Judge Jean Shepherd, L'77

Judge Jean Shepherd, L’77, pictured at left.

Aside from the logistical issues, more fundamental challenges existed as well.

“I was a single parent,” Shepherd said. “I found out we were expected to have Saturday classes. I didn’t have child care. I went to Martin Dickinson, gathered all my courage, and said, ‘I don’t have day care for Saturday classes and can’t make that work.’ He rearranged my schedule, which was unheard of. But that was it for me. It meant I was able to stay.”

Shepherd and her women classmates banded together to tackle the challenges, developing deep friendships, professional connections, and a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation that continues today.

“I just remember how close the women in my class were, and it certainly wasn’t because we all had similar interests,” Shepherd said. “There was a woman who was a harp major and sold real estate, a woman who was a nun, women from a variety of first careers. There were not a lot of us, but we were really close. We ate lunch together and encouraged each other. It took that kind of a process for us to feel comfortable enough to stay there and get through it.”

Though she left teaching behind, Shepherd maintained her commitment to children and families throughout her law practice and judicial career.

“I always valued areas of the law that related to children and families and thought that’s where a difference could be made for the future,” Shepherd said. “In law school I was head of the juvenile clinic, and we represented children in court. When I first started practicing, I was in the DA’s office, so I prosecuted cases involving child victims. When I was in private practice I represented children and families in abuse and neglect cases. In those situations you have one or a few clients and can really advocate for and get to know them. As a judge you’re not an advocate for a child, but I could advocate for system changes and programs that would help children and families involved in the courts system.”

Shepherd also credits her teaching background with making her a more effective judge.

“I think teaching was the best training I had for being in control of a courtroom,” Shepherd said. “There’s a lot of teaching that goes on–explaining people’s rights and the process. There’s a look that students and adults get when they’re nodding their heads but don’t understand. You need to recognize that look and rephrase things, find other words to use so people can get some clarity. Sometimes the excuses people use are like all those excuses for why homework didn’t get done, only at a different level.

“In teaching, you learn how to act like you’re in charge even though you’re not sure you are, and there were certainly moments like that in the courtroom. You make really important decisions and you mete out consequences that are hopefully appropriate, but people have to understand the process. If people feel they’ve been heard and if they feel they understand what happened, there are very few complaints.”

– A version of this post appeared in the fall 2015 issue of KU Law magazine. The issue celebrated the career of Martin Dickinson, KU Law’s longest-serving professor, and included reflections from several of Dickinson’s former students. 

KU Law basketball campers ‘love, cry and bleed crimson and blue’

Neil's Atomic Fireballs

Neil’s Atomic Fireballs is the unofficially official University of Kansas School of Law camping group. For over 20 years, law students from KU have been waiting, scheming, and plotting in the concourse at Allen Fieldhouse before every home men’s basketball game. In 1995 we finally gave ourselves a name: Neil’s Atomic Fireballs. The law school camping group is one of the longest-running camping groups at the university, rich in tradition. We are proud to occupy our small corner of that history.

Our name was chosen in honor of the late Neil Dougherty, who was an assistant basketball coach under head coach Roy Williams from 1995 until 2002. He was known for handing out Atomic Fireball candies to players who did well in practice.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, camping or a lottery or some variation of either or a combination of both is a well-established and time-honored tradition at many of our nation’s elite basketball programs.

At Kansas, we do it all: We use a lottery to determine the order of entry. We camp to stay in that order. We do it for every game, whether it is an exhibition game against Washburn; a get-up game against Kentucky, North Carolina, or Duke; or a renewing-the-hate game against that team to the west of us in Manhattan. We do lottery. We camp. For every single game. There is a reason that our student section was voted the inaugural Naismith Student Section of the Year.

We don’t just care. We love, we cry, and we bleed crimson and blue with every heartbreaking loss and every shining moment.

Here is how the process generally works:

Groups are put on a list in the order that they show up at Allen Fieldhouse. The closer a group is to the top of the list, the better seats its members can get. From the time that the group signs up on the list until two hours before game time, at least one member of the group must be in the Fieldhouse all day.

Groups verify that someone is present from every group by randomly calling roll. Any camper can call the roll at any time, and if any group isn’t present for a roll call, that group gets crossed off the list.

Finally, two hours before game time, a final roll is called. The groups then get to line up according to their order on the list and enter the Fieldhouse first, before any other students or general admission ticket holders. Each group can have up to 15 members in line. This is still no guarantee that you will get the seats of your choice, though. Once groups enter the doors, it’s then a mad scramble to get to the seats they want and an even greater battle to save seats for cohorts!

Law students, of course, have our own way of organizing things. We have a point system to decide the order we get to go into games. However, it’s also easy to get to go if you aren’t in the camping group. As a 1L, it’s been a great way to get to know law students I would not have met otherwise. This season, we got to sit in the front row multiple times. Whether you’re a casual fan going to your first game at Allen Fieldhouse or a die-hard fan who camps for every game, Neil’s Atomic Fireballs is a great experience to have in law school.

— Claire Kebodeaux is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Olathe, Kansas.

What’s It Like to Have Your Mom in Law School?

1L Alison Dessert and her children

Sometimes I like to pretend that I am no different than any other law student. After all, each of us has particular strengths and challenges that make his or her time in law school unique. However, I suppose I am a bit different because my exceptional circumstances have 4 different names: Francesca, Peter, Bella, and Eden.

Instead of me talking about what it’s like to be a mom in law school, I thought I would ask my kids what it’s like to have their mom be an attorney-in-training.

What do you think your mom learns about each day in law school?

Bella (age 7):
She learns about how you should act in public. And she probably takes a lot of tests.

Eden (age 5):
I think Mom learns about taking care of her kids, and also I think she learns about how to drive a car.

What does a lawyer do?

Bella (age 7):
Goes to court.

Eden (age 5)
I think a lawyer studies. I also think lawyers talk to people.

What has been difficult about having your mom in law school?

Francesca (age 11):
We don’t get to see her as much. But we know that she’s working towards helping us because she will have a good job.

Peter (age 10):
Whenever we get into a fight, Mom talks about court things and what we would do if we were in a court to solve the problem. Why can’t we talk about it like normal?

Bella (age 7):
Mom has to study a lot.

What is cool about your mom being in law school?

Francesca (age 11):
In class when we talk about the law, I can say that my mom is in law school. And we get to learn a little bit more about the law because Mom teaches us.

Peter (age 10):
I’ve learned so many things about the law that I did not know about before. Like the Constitution.

Bella (age 7):
When she does it, it makes her happy and she feels proud of herself.

— Alison Dessert is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Lawrence, Kansas.

‘KU Law just feels like home’

claire-kebodeaux-pub-night

Claire Kebodeaux (center) enjoys a KU Law tradition — Women in Law’s Pub Night — with law school friends.

If you had told 18-year-old me that I would be attending law school in Kansas, I would have laughed. After growing up 45 minutes from Lawrence, I managed to attend undergrad somewhere as far away and different from Kansas as possible — Miami, Florida. I thought I was going to stay there forever. When I began my law school decision process, KU was never the front-runner.

That changed when I visited. Everything I had heard about the people being the best part of KU Law was absolutely true, and I was sold.

I walked in on the first day of orientation not knowing what to expect, but I immediately found people to connect with and realized the room was full of people genuinely wanting to meet each other. I bonded with a group of girls over our love of Fuzzy’s Tacos and hot cheese. Being placed in a small section made making friends easy. My section played intramural volleyball in the fall and somehow decided to let me stay on the team even though I hit the ball a total of zero times. During finals, my study group and I alternated between studying and playing ping pong (more studying than anything else, though, I promise).

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop — where were all the competitive, ruthless, and vindictive people I had heard law school attracts? Eventually, I realized they aren’t here. People at KU Law — students, professors, staff — all want you to succeed.

The friends I have made at KU Law have made all the difference. Law school is hard. Really hard, actually. But being surrounded by supportive, insightful, and compassionate people makes a hard time so much easier. I’ve only been here one semester, but I can’t picture myself anywhere else.

KU Law just feels like home.

Claire Kebodeaux is a 1L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Olathe, Kansas.

A window into the policy process: Grant Treaster, L’15

PartGratn Treaster, L'15icipating in Professor Jennifer Schmidt’s Public Policy Clinic convinced Grant Treaster of the value of gaining legal research and policy analysis skills in a hands-on learning environment. When enrollment opened for Professor Schmidt’s Legislative Clinic, Treaster took advantage of the opportunity.

Students meet weekly, but most learning takes place at the statehouse in Topeka, where students intern with legislators. Treaster was paired with Sen. Jeff King of Independence, who serves as vice-president of the Senate and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Treaster conducted legal research, compiled data, wrote memos and presented his findings to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a rare opportunity for a student intern. His work centered on a bill to increase penalties for drunk drivers whose actions result in bodily harm to their victims. While Kansas previously charged drunk drivers who killed their victims with felonies, those whose victims were injured but did not die faced only misdemeanor charges. Treaster researched sentencing guidelines and compiled data, which he shared during his presentation.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Treaster said. “But after spending the whole semester there, going to meetings, getting to know senators, researching in depth, it ended up being fun and interesting.” Ultimately, Treaster followed the bill’s journey from the initial drafting stages, through committee, to passage on the floor.

Legislative Clinic students write a reflection paper at the end of the semester. Treaster came away with two surprising conclusions: how complicated Kansas politics is, and how small a role partisan politics plays in the political process. “I realized you cannot look to a person’s party label and know how they’re going to vote,” Treaster said. “You have to dig deeper to determine where someone lies. It didn’t seem like interest groups and some of the more cynical things we associate with politics were happening on a big level. It really seemed like on both sides of the aisle, senators were voting based on their beliefs, views and instincts. That was refreshing to see.”

Treaster currently puts his research and analysis skills to work as a law clerk for Judge Julie Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. “Having the background from the policy and legislative clinics sets me apart from students who focused solely on civil or criminal research,” Treaster said. “It definitely helps me in doing the job.”

Treaster touts the invaluable networking opportunities the clinic provides and the legal experience for those pursuing government or litigation careers. “You get to work closely with all kinds of people in Kansas government, from research offices to the Attorney General’s office, to different state agencies,” he said. “It provides a great window into how policy is formed.”

Learn more about KU Law’s clinical opportunities.

Experiencing Work and Life in India

This summer I had the opportunity to work as an intern with the firm J. Sagar and Associates in Gurgaon, India, a suburb of New Delhi. I got the job by talking to a former KU Law student, Aqmar Rahman, who had done the same program. I went with the hope of working in international trade law and experiencing a new culture.

Baumgartner visiting the Baha'i House of Worship

Baumgartner visiting the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi.

I worked alongside 10 other interns, all from various parts of India. This turned out to be quite the stroke of luck. In terms of work, the other interns helped me navigate the Indian legal landscape, introducing me to Westlaw India and explaining how to find government agency orders, a common work project. Outside of work, the other interns did everything from teach me Hindi phrases to help me catch buses. We ate lunch together in our building’s top-floor café with a nice view of the city.

The work itself, like most legal work in my experience so far, ranged from the exciting to the technical. In the former category were advising the head competition law partner on a question of U.S. antitrust law and researching state requirements for setting up an alcohol manufacturing plant, while the latter included a tedious calculation of the average time the EU Competition Commission has taken to review mergers over the past three years. I did a variety of legal research projects–looking up government orders, exploring antitrust issues, and examining factors influencing and inhibiting the growth of the Indian logistics sector.

My most enriching project was researching the tax laws on setting up an alcohol manufacturing facility in different Indian states. I didn’t have any background in tax law or Indian law, but after learning how to navigate Indian research tools, I was able to find answers. The project gave me the feeling that if I can figure out something like this, which I had absolutely no clue about before I started, I can probably figure out most things.

In addition to work, I was thankful for the opportunity to travel and experience the Indian culture. In just this small area of the country, there was an incredible amount of religious, linguistic and culinary diversity. The fact that India can function as a democracy with this kind of diversity never ceased to amaze me. I was able to see the Taj Mahal and the Sikh’s Golden Temple and went on a memorable three-day hiking and camping adventure in the Himalayas. I also went ice skating in a mall with my fellow interns, something I certainly hadn’t expected to do in India.

Regardless of the specific project, since J. Sagar is a “big law” firm in India, practically all the work involved an international component or some nationwide matter. I enjoyed being exposed to these big-picture issues, and the experience helped me realize that I may enjoy working in a large firm. Many thanks to J. Sagar for making this experience possible for me.

-Ben Baumgartner is a third-year law student from Hesston, Kansas.

Egyptian Fulbright scholar embraces college-town experience while earning doctoral degree

Ahmed Mansour

Fulbright scholar Ahmed Mansour is calling Lawrence home for the next three years, and just a semester into his stay, he’s taking the Fulbright’s mission of mutual cooperation and cultural exchange to heart.

A native of Luxor, Egypt, Mansour completed his undergraduate degree in English and Sharia Law at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, then earned an LL.M. in intellectual property from the University of Derby in England. After returning to Al-Azhar to teach and practice at a Cairo law firm, Mansour applied for the Fulbright program, which increases global understanding and cooperation through scholarly exchanges. Mansour will earn his Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) at KU Law before returning to his practice and teaching duties at Al-Azhar.

“Having Ahmed here is exciting,” said Professor Mike Hoeflich, Mansour’s faculty advisor. “Like all of our S.JD. students, he is a bright, young foreign lawyer, and the first to receive a Fulbright. This marks a major milestone in the growth of our program and shows the quality reputation our school, faculty and students enjoy at the highest levels.”

“It’s huge to have two different legal experiences,” Mansour said. “I already have a French and Latin legal background, so when I started to work in common law, I found little differences. I started to see how the two systems can get mutual benefit from each other.”

Mansour’s research interests center around intellectual property law — specifically how IP regulations affect access to pharmaceutical products in Muslim countries.

“Islamic law understands the value of having property protected, but it also protects people who need access,” Mansour said. “It’s hugely important in many countries around the Middle East these days. Fewer people are lobbying the pharmaceutical industry, which is setting prices regardless of the financial status of many people. Islamic law puts some rules in favor of society and public interest.”

The differences in educational systems have proved illuminating, too. “Most of the courses I’ve taken in the UK are more theoretical, philosophical,” Mansour said. “Here it’s more practical — perfect for someone who would like to have a practicing career and a scholarly career.”

Mansour also believes that his expertise in Islamic law will help him confront misconceptions that create barriers to mutual understanding.

“Islam unfortunately now is associated with acts of terrorism and killing,” Mansour said. ”It’s so sad to see this. It’s totally unrelated to Islam. Islam is a religion that encourages people to have cooperation with others, mutual respect, understanding.”

Mansour is encouraging that mutual respect on a personal level as well as a scholarly one. When he observed homeless people on Lawrence’s streets, he got involved with the Lawrence Community Shelter. He plans to continue his commitment to service when he returns home to Egypt and dreams of opening his own soup kitchen someday. When he’s not volunteering, he spends his free time exploring Lawrence’s dining scene — the Ladybird Café’s chicken fried steak has become a favorite dish. One of his most memorable moments as a new Lawrencian was scoring a 100-year-old painting from an estate auction.

Mansour is also heartened by the warm reception he’s received from his KU Law classmates, faculty members and mentors. “American students are open to new people and cultures,” he said. “As long as they know you need help, they will offer it — sometimes without even asking.”

— By Emily Sharp

10 Things Every Law Student Can Relate To

When you choose to binge watch “The Good Wife” instead of studying.

1) When you choose to binge watch “The Good Wife” instead of studying.

When you get called on in class but you’ve been on Buzzfeed for the last 15 minutes.

2) When you get called on in class but you’ve been on Buzzfeed for the last 15 minutes.

When you choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

3) When you choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

When your professor uses the “lightning strike” method.

4) When your professor uses the “lightning strike” method.

When you decide that watching “Law & Order” is basically the same thing as studying.

5) When you decide that watching “Law & Order” is basically the same thing as studying.

When you don’t quite know what “business casual” is, but you’re pretty sure it’s not pajama pants.

6) When you don’t quite know what “business casual” is, but you’re pretty sure it’s not pajama pants.

When your diet consist solely of whatever food is being served at club meetings.

7) When your diet consist solely of whatever food is being served at club meetings.

When you think you can totally handle 16 credits, a research position, a staff editor position, and a part-time job.

8) When you think you can totally handle 16 credits, a research position, a staff editor position, and a part-time job.

When you wonder if anyone actually still uses the books in the library.

9) When you wonder if anyone actually still uses the books in the library.

When you really just want to learn how to get out of traffic tickets.

10) When you really just want to learn how to get out of traffic tickets.

Travis Freeman is a 2L and KU Law Student Ambassador from Olathe, Kansas.