Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pregnant in Law School | Part 2: The Internship

KU Law student Joni Bodnar and fellow law firm interns

From left, Grant Treaster, Paul Budd, Joni Bodnar and Christopher Staley (Washburn).

By Joni Bodnar

Like many 2Ls beginning their summer internship, I was extremely nervous and worried about making a good impression, hoping for that coveted offer of full-time employment at the end of the summer. I was also one of five interns, and we all knew we most likely were competing for a limited number of offers. So, no pressure whatsoever!

KU Law student Joni Bodnar at her summer internship

I was only two weeks into that “no-pressure” internship when I found out I was pregnant. This was one of the most nerve-wracking things of all to sort through. In a normal job situation, I would simply wait the requisite 12 weeks and then make the joyous announcement to my boss and fellow co-workers that I was expecting. No big deal, right?

Well, a summer legal internship was completely different. I had only three months to show what I was made of, to show that I was a dedicated, driven employee to whom they would definitely want to make an offer of permanent employment.

My baby news created two complications for me. The first one was how to deal with breaking the news. Should I tell them I was pregnant right away so they would not think I was rude when I turned down offers of camaraderie over beers? Or should I try to hide it, and basically fib my way through those first 12 weeks, with false excuses as to why I was not fully participating? This was a real dilemma because the social aspect of the summer internship is a pretty big deal, and I did not want to seem like I was not a team player and lose an offer because I did not fit in socially with the firm.

The second issue: If I planned to hide the pregnancy until I was further along, how would I account for my perpetual exhaustion and the multiple bathroom trips as I dealt with my nausea?

I decided to put my research skills to good use and found out I was allowed to drink 200 mg of caffeine per day. I also looked up every coffee on the Starbucks menu and found out I could still have most grande lattes and be under the 200 mg mark (though it was a far cry from the quad-shot lattes to which I was accustomed).

My internal struggle with when and how to break the news was eventually solved for me when a partner jokingly gave me a hard time for not having a beer at a social function. I was 10 weeks along and had just had a sonogram of my baby a few days earlier confirming her health, so I figured now was as good a time as any to share my news.

The partners’ reactions to my news was better than I could have ever hoped, and I was immediately met with congratulatory hugs and cheers. All my fears about sharing my news were much more trivial than I had built them up in my head. No one even noticed my exhaustion or multiple bathroom trips. I felt so relieved, and I realized that even though this was a summer internship, I was still surrounded by normal people who were extremely excited to share in the joy of my baby news.

— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her second post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. In future installments, Bodnar will address tackling her fall semester, planning for and delivering her daughter, and returning to school after her baby's arrival. Her first post recounted her reaction to finding out she was expecting a baby during law school.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Pregnant in Law School | Part 1: The Big News

Joni Bodnar, 7 months pregnant, pictured with her younger sister

By Joni Bodnar

When I first learned I was pregnant, I had just completed my 2L year and was two weeks into my summer internship with a law firm. Now I know there are many different emotions a woman may feel when she finds out she is pregnant, depending on her particular circumstances. Since I was already married with two children, ages 5 and 7, one would think the news of a third child on the way would cause me elation, but that honestly was not my initial reaction.

Joni Bodnar, 3L, with her husband and two children, before the arrival of her third child
John and Joni Bodnar with children Addison Beffa, 8 (left), and Harper Beffa, 5

Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I had actually talked many times about having a third child, since both of my older children were from a previous marriage and this would be our first child together. We talked about possibly having a baby during my third and final year of law school as opposed to my first year as a lawyer. We even talked about how perfect it would be if I got pregnant in April of my 2L year, because then the baby would be due over Christmas break. (And as we all know, babies always come at the most convenient time!)

When April came and went, my husband and I decided we should probably just wait on the whole baby thing. At that point, any baby would be arriving during my last semester of law school, which is when I am supposed to be interviewing for jobs, applying to take the bar exam, etc.

Exactly 29 days after our decision to hold off on expanding our family, we found out we were expecting our third child! My first reaction was to immediately process the news from a pragmatic standpoint: How would I handle being pregnant during my current summer internship? How would I handle missing school my final semester? How would I handle day care? These were things I needed to have completely figured out right away so that I could feel secure and happy with the ultimately great news of having another baby.

But as the initial shock wore off, I slowed down and realized I had plenty of time to figure out all the little details. Then, I did something very foreign to me: I began focusing on one day at a time, one thing at a time.

I first decided to focus on figuring out my schedule for my 3L year, so I contacted the dean to get permission to decrease my course load for the spring below the required 12 hours. I also added 3 hours to my fall schedule. Then I put my name on a list and turned in a deposit for day care. With those initial concerns out of the way, I could turn my attention to the next task: getting through the first trimester of pregnancy as a legal intern, sans caffeine!

— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her first post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. In future installments, Bodnar will address getting through her summer legal internship during her first trimester, tackling her fall semester, planning for and delivering her daughter, and returning to school after her baby's arrival.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Law school no exception to 'practice makes perfect' mantra

Johnathan Koonce, KU Law Student Ambassador

Over the last three years, I’ve noticed striking similarities between playing sports and being a law student. Both activities require lots of time and dedication. To excel in either, you must learn the game, discover your strengths and weaknesses, and of course practice, practice, practice in preparation for game day. To be successful in law school, there are three things to remember: train daily, practice makes perfect, and play until the end.

Train Daily

Like being introduced to a new sport, very few people come to law school knowing already how to play the game. During the first year, I spent most of my time learning the fundamental concepts and doctrines of the law. The thought of having only one exam at the end of the semester to determine my grade was worrisome. What I learned is that I have to train daily to be successful.

High-performing athletes maintain a daily training regimen: early morning workouts, strict diets and meal plans, and reviewing game film. Similarly, successful law students train daily. My daily training consists of reading for class, reviewing class notes, or preparing an outline/study guide. Something can be done everyday to prepare for finals. Spreading work over a span of 15 weeks is much easier than cramming at the end of the semester. A classmate of mine goes on a series of short runs, ranging from 6 to 10 miles, in the months leading up to running a marathon. The same concept must be applied to law school exams. Mastering your coursework a day at a time paves the road to law school success.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice? Yes. In the famous words of Allen Iverson, “We talkin’ about practice.” Practice is an essential piece of playing a sport. In practice, you learn plays, prepare for specific scenarios, and build endurance. Some high-performing athletes even visualize their performance before each game. I have learned that by practicing, I am much more prepared to answer final exam questions.

After I have spent some time training, I like to see how well I’ve mastered the material by answering practice questions. One invaluable resource available to law students is access to old exams and test questions. If time permits, I take as many practice tests as possible to get familiar with analyzing facts and applying the law clearly and concisely. Similar to professional athletes preparing for certain situations, the more familiar you are with various fact patterns, the more prepared you will be on test day. An NFL football team would not show up to the Super Bowl without practicing first; a successful law student should not show up to the final exam without answering practice questions.

Play Until the End

Playing “until the whistle blows” is a familiar sports mantra. I have learned to apply that same attitude toward law school. A shining example of playing until the end of the game is KU’s late season basketball game against West Virginia. The Jayhawks rallied from down 18 to beat the Mountaineers in overtime. The ’Hawks erased a 4-point deficit in the last 49 seconds of the fourth quarter. If the team had decided that this game was over and gave up, they would not have tied the game, sending it to overtime and ultimately claiming victory.

In the last few years, there have been times that I didn’t fully comprehend a concept or doctrine until the final week, even days, before the semester’s end. Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture until you’ve learned all of the parts that make the whole. Sticking with a subject until it clicks is necessary for success.

Similarly, I have had the same attitude in final exams. Last semester I found myself extremely flustered during my Federal Income Tax final. I came to a question that completely derailed me, and I contemplated what would happen if I quit, left the exam unfinished and walked out. After a split second, I came back to reality and said to myself, “Just finish the exam.” Good thing I did, because I did much better than expected. Deciding to give up is never a good plan. It is unwise to let one question get under your skin. There are many points to gain on a final exam. Staying the course, finishing the exam and answering as much as possible before time runs out is the best way to maximize your test score. Athletes and law students alike should commit to playing until the end.

To conclude, successful law students should approach the semester the same as athletes approach a big game or match. Taking time to train daily, practicing to gain familiarity, and playing until the end are all methods that have worked for me in my journey through law school. Hopefully one or more of these tips will assist you with navigating through your education experience as well.

Johnathan Koonce is a third-year law student and KU Law Student Ambassador from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

3L gains experience, confidence in Tribal Judicial Support Clinic

Zach Boggan
Third-year law student Zach Boggan developed an interest in Indian law when he took a course on the subject and participated in the Native American Law Students Association moot court program. “It can be hard to find a firm practicing Indian law in a meaningful way,” Boggan said. “That’s what drove me to the clinic, to get a practical application of Indian law.”

As a Tribal Judicial Support Clinic participant, Boggan helped tribes develop new legislation and review existing legal code, double-checking everything from grammar errors to federal statute references.

Boggan’s work to develop a guardianship code for a tribe relocating to Kansas proved to be his most rewarding clinic experience. “Guardianship is very important to Indian tribes because the federal government has gone so far as to forcibly remove Indian children from their families and place them with white families to assimilate them to white culture,” Boggan said. “A guardianship code allows tribes to keep their children in a way that not only serves the child’s interests, but also serves the tribe’s interests in terms of allowing them to keep their culture, to keep their tribe together.”

Boggan researched guardianship codes of other states and tribes, then created a new one that accommodated his client’s circumstances yet still followed the letter of the law. “Making sure it was a functioning code was the hardest part,” Boggan said. “There were good parts of other codes that I wanted to stitch in there, but everything had to be added in a way that it would be functional by the time it got to the tribe.”

Clinic participants collaborate with tribal attorneys who know their subject area well but lack resources and support. “Tribes have really thin, stretched legal resources. They might have a sizeable tribe or reservation, but have one tribal attorney or no tribal attorney. Anything we can do helps them out tremendously,” Boggan said. “They don’t need to be told what to do, they just need help doing it, and that’s where we come in.”

While the hands-on legal research and writing was beneficial, Boggan found the practical aspects of team collaboration, interoffice communication and client interaction to be among the most valuable lessons of his clinic experience. Tribal Judicial Support Clinic students and Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner, the clinic director, met once a week to discuss projects, interview clients and assign tasks.

“Most of the time Professor Kronk Warner put the client on speaker phone and had us ask questions so we could get used to soliciting the information we needed, get used to interacting with clients and get that confidence to act like an attorney,” Boggan said. “We’d meet and talk about what we were going to do, what our responsibilities would be, then start diving in.”

Boggan plans to move back home to Tennessee to launch his legal career. He’s confident that his clinic experience has prepared him for life beyond law school, both because of his exposure to a specialized area of the law and because of the hands-on experience he gained.

“Whenever you mention Indian law, it’s pretty impressive to a lot of practitioners because it’s so unknown. Everyone knows about contracts, torts, business associations, but hardly anyone knows about Indian law. If an attorney has any connection to it, it stands out,” Boggan said.

“Law school gets so abstract. It’s important to learn how to practice, and clinics start you on that path. If you take a class in contracts or workers' comp, you aren’t going to be ready to try a case or go in front of a mediator, but when you do a clinic and interact with real people and see how it happens in the real world, you’ll be more confident.”

Zach Boggan is a third-year law student from Kingsport, Tennessee.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I get by with a little help from my friends

KU Law students with Professor Bill Westerbeke

From left: Law students Jennifer Hackman, Professor Bill Westerbeke, Joni Bodnar, Ashlyn Lindskog, Andrea Horvath and Suzanne Hale.



I began a little routine during my last semester of my 3L year at KU Law. It starts with dragging myself out of bed and giving myself a pep talk as I blankly stare into my closet for 10 minutes.

“OK, Ashlyn. You can do this. You can be a person today. You’re almost done. Who cares what anyone says … leggings are absolutely pants.”

The necessity of this routine probably stems from a number of different places. First, I really hate putting on pants. Second, the law school grind seems so familiar and “old hat” that it requires an extra dose of motivation at this point. “3L-itis” is a very real thing, and coming out the other side of a three-year long panic attack offers some perspective. It will all get done because it always does. Having a clearer picture of what you’re capable of keeps the panic at bay, and you’re left bouncing between elation at the prospect of getting your life back and the terror of launching a professional career and assuming the adult responsibilities that come with it.

Law school is temporary. It doesn’t last forever. This is both good and bad. Good, because law school is tough and exhausting. Bad, because as the memories of pure panic fade and those moments you shared with your peers come front and center, the last thing you want to do is give them up. It may be fair to analogize law school to childbirth: The mind blacks out all the painful parts so that when it is all over the whole experience feels more meaningful than exhausting.

KU Law students with Professor Bill Westerbeke

From left: Bri Hanschu, Alison McCourt, Jennifer Hackman, Lauren Bavitz, Ashlyn Lindskog, Suzanne Hale   Andrea Horvath.

I don’t know the science of it all, but what I do know is that I don’t remember the mechanics of surviving as clearly as I remember studying for 1L finals with a group of my friends and laughing hysterically at how unprepared we all felt. I remember having whiteboard races to see who could get the information out the fastest and yelling at each other while we competed. I remember taking over a classroom during 2L finals and bringing snacks and a space heater and trying to teach each other legal concepts. I remember hosting baby showers and engagement parties and finding any excuse to celebrate. I remember golfing with my professor and dancing at the various law school events. And I remember how reassuring it felt to be surrounded by people who not only understood my daily struggle, but truly wanted to see me succeed. The kind of people who share in your little victories as if they were their own and refuse to allow you drop of out law school because you don’t have any clean clothes.

The best advice I can offer is to be aware from the beginning how special the relationships you form in Green Hall are. Take the time to build relationships and nurture them throughout your time as a law student. If you do that, many of your peers will turn into friends and confidants and the kind of people you’d wake up for at 4:00 in the morning to analyze a conversation from the night before. KU Law offers you this incredible opportunity to not only create professional relationships that will last throughout your career, but to leave with lifelong friends who will support you even after you’re all gone. The type of friends who will confidently refer clients to you in one breath and question your competency as an adult in another.

Those are the moments you want to take with you when you leave Green Hall, and it is my sincere hope that when you’re a 3L giving yourself a pep talk to get through the last 83 days, you are reminded of how lucky and grateful you are for the opportunity to share this experience with some of the most brilliant, loyal, supportive, encouraging and inspiring peers. It will all get done and you will eventually be an attorney, but for what my opinion is worth, it’s better to be an attorney with really awesome friends and really awesome stories.

Ashlyn Lindskog is a third-year law student and KU Law student ambassador from El Dorado, Kansas.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Judicial Clinic ‘puts things in perspective’ for 2L

Maureen Orth
Second-year law student Maureen Orth aspires to be a litigator, and just halfway through law school, she’s well on her way.

“While you learn a lot in your first year, there’s a lot that you don’t understand until you’ve actually seen it,” Orth said. “Getting to be in the courtroom and getting to see different proceedings has really helped flesh out my academic coursework and understand how it all fits together.”

Through KU Law’s Judicial Clinic, Orth works with Chief Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, a 14-year veteran of the bench with private practice experience. Her duties include observing proceedings, writing orders, reading motions and getting feedback from the judge and his clerks.

“You have unique access to judges at the state and federal level, and equally exciting, you have access to his or her clerks,” Orth said. “I’m getting feedback on my writing from those same people who are researching and writing for the judge. That is an invaluable experience to get in law school.”

The clinic serves as a sort of living laboratory, with Orth learning case law in class one day, then witnessing how those legal concepts play out in the courtroom the next. She recalls taking Criminal Procedure as she was observing criminal proceedings in the courtroom, seeing how search warrants were used and how special agents and U.S. attorneys presented testimony. This semester Orth is taking Evidence and witnessing firsthand how parties enter evidence at motion hearings.

“I can see the benefits of being prepared versus using boilerplate objections,” Orth said. “I can see how what I’m learning will be applicable in the future.”

Beyond the technical aspects, Orth has been welcomed into the Kansas City legal community, learning each judge’s stylistic conventions and building a valuable professional network.

“As someone who does not have anyone in their family who practices law, a lot of the proceedings were unfamiliar,” Orth said. “I’m hoping to practice in the Kansas City area, so familiarity with how the courthouse works is helpful.”

Her courthouse colleagues have offered Orth everything from research and writing tips, to input on career opportunities and advice on which classes to take. The Judicial Clinic also offers a welcome departure from time the classroom, providing a glimpse of life after law school. “Sometimes in law school it can feel like you’re on pause because a lot of people our age are working already,” Orth said. “To get up and go to work feels all the more closer to being a worki
ng professional. You’re working on court orders and doing research that affects someone’s actual case, as opposed to the hypotheticals in class. It puts things in perspective.”

Ultimately, the clinic offers students the hands-on experience employers are seeking in addition to an understanding of theory and case law. “There are few things more valuable that KU offers than the clinic experience,” Orth said. “Law is so interesting from a theoretical standpoint, but until you actually see how it plays out in court, you don’t understand how it all comes together.”

- Maureen Orth is a second-year law student from Prairie Village, Kan.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Some secrets to law school success

Jordan Carter, KU Law student

Networking, anxiety and keeping things in perspective

It's February of my 3L year, and I am flying high. Instead of reading for my one real class, I go to trivia night with my roommates. Instead of writing yet another draft of my Law Review note, I watch “The Bachelor” (#TeamWhitney). Instead of stressing out over Lawyering assignments, I plan weekend trips to visit the friends I can finally make a priority in my life again.

Man, I hate myself just reading that. I'm sorry.

Here's the thing: Like anything else you’ve jumped into blindly, it gets better with time. Two years ago, I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even last year, I felt like I was sinking in a never-ending pit of stress, anxiety and competition. But I slogged through, and it got so much better. To some extent, this is just a natural product of time and experience. Shoot a thousand free throws and you get better at shooting free throws. Do a bunch of musicals and you get better at doing musicals. Take a dozen law school exams and, hey, guess what?! You get better at law school exams. (I am fairly certain this logic is true – I haven't played sports in a decade, and the musical thing is but a lifelong dream).

That said, in the nostalgic and sentimental cruise down memory lane that inevitably accompanies every senior year I’ve ever done, I have been reflecting on the whole law school extravaganza and there are some things I wish I had known earlier. Here are a few of them, compiled from both my own thoughts and with some input from my fellow upperclass comrades who have also conquered this monster of a ride:

You have to network

I can’t count the number of times someone said, "You've got to network!” and the number of times I said “.... but I don’t want to.” I hate networking. It makes me uncomfortable and weird, and all I want is to run away from meaningless small talk about the cold winter we’ve been having and how much work law school is. But, alas, it is so. so. important. It’s the only way to get a job – all the As in the world won’t cover up your extreme awkwardness when you are forced to chat with a dozen people in the span of a callback interview. But it doesn’t end there. Law school events, from summer internship parties to visiting speakers to random conversations with professors in the hallway pretty much begin and end with small talk. Most of us are interchangeable based on our resumes – good grades, involvement in frivolous college organizations that we bill as “leadership,” a study abroad experience that was really a nonstop party, a couple of unpaid internships – so you have to be a functioning human in person. With opinions. But not too many opinions. NEVER HAVE TOO MANY OPINIONS because you will anger someone, and that someone will be a law firm partner, and then you’re done. So I would tell 1Ls to network, but network wisely. Network with care.

All you have is your reputation

Perhaps a piggyback on the last point. [Side note: How many times have you heard, “I’m just going to piggyback off that idea...” in law school classes? More than a thousand? Definitely.] Anyway, I’m going to piggyback real quickly. I think all legal communities are relatively small, but that is definitely true in Kansas and the Kansas City area. It can be a great thing: one small connection, and you're basically walking into a web of opportunities. But it can also be a not-so-great thing: one small connection, and you’re basically walking into a web of disaster. The legal community is small and news (and gossip) travels quickly. Watch what you do and watch what you say because it does follow you for the length of your career. Be nice to each other, and make friends wherever you can. You will need these connections because you will truly be around the same people for the rest of your life.

Anxiety is OK

I have always been fairly anxious, but I managed it fine until law school. This environment was completely new and demanding in a way I wasn’t ready for, and I went a wee crazy for a little bit. I wish someone had told me it was going to happen, or at least when it happened that I would be OK. I will forever be grateful for my best friend, Celina, who was one of my roommates at the time of my anxiety-induced brain fog situation (Google it: It’s real and it’s scary). One desperate night I tried to explain to her what was happening, and she told me in her best nursing student/calm friend voice, “It’s just stress. You will be OK." And even though I probably freaked her out, that is what I needed to hear in that moment. Because it was just stress. And I was OK. But to have a semester’s worth of anxiety, fear, stress and self-doubt come crashing down on you in a flaming explosion where it seems like you are literally going insane was really not what I was anticipating when I started law school. So I would tell incoming law students or 1Ls or maybe even 2Ls who are facing a new batch of stressors: It’s just stress. You will be OK. And also: Go to the doctor, man! No one wants to talk about mental health because we are Strong People Who Don’t Need Help, but sometimes we need help. And that’s OK.

Ask for help to figure out the rules of the game ASAP

None of us know how to do law school. Starting day one, we have to read 20-30 pages a night for each class and are expected to be able to talk about every fact, every rule, every issue, every policy rationale, every dissent, and how everything fits together. OK ... go! And then we are expected to condense it into a brief synopsis that you could memorize and apply to any set of facts. And then we are expected to eloquently articulate it on a three-hour exam and do it better than everyone else in the class can do it. I wish I had reached out to someone and asked him or her to go through a week’s worth of law school with me. Just sit next to me and guide me through it, like an older sibling teaching her little sister how to tie her shoes. I wish someone had explained how to be prepared for class without overstressing the night before. I wish someone had made me figure out time management. I wish someone had explained to me how to outline. I wish someone had shown me how to write a law school exam, one that just gives the professor what he or she wants instead of being a jumbled mess of rules and cases. I mean, I get that we all have to figure that out on our own, it’s all part of the “process” or whatever, but as long as we’re talking about things I wish I had known, I’ll add this to the list.

Nothing is a disaster

So simple to say, so hard to remember. These are not my words (thanks, Emily!) but they sum up the message perfectly. We are in law school, which is such a privilege. We get to spend our days talking about abstract theoretical concepts and hypotheticals. We are so lucky to have the chance to get graduate degrees in a country and a world where that’s not a reality for everyone. My worst days in law school are heavenly compared to so many people’s lives. The things that stress me out are inconveniences – a lot of reading, a lot of pressure, a lot of information crammed into my head – but they are not problems. I wish someone had made me remember that. I wouldn’t have listened, clearly, because I get too wrapped up in my head and lose perspective. But I wish I had done a better job of remembering that it would be fine, that I would pass my classes and graduate and be a lawyer and it would not matter how my final trial in Trial Ad went or if my Law Review paper was not superb. The little failures or the bad days just do not matter in the long run. It will be fine. Nothing is a disaster.

Keep on marching. Savor the good experiences, and do your best to move past the bad. Three years honestly flies by; one day you’re nervously sitting alone in the hallway in your OCI suit, wondering how you can be so sweaty in January, and the next thing you know, you’re booking hotels in the middle of Missouri for the bar exam and hoping your friends like you enough to be character references for your application. 3L year does arrive. And once it does, it’s glorious.

Jordan Carter is a third-year law student and a KU Law Student Ambassador from Topeka, Kansas.