Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How to shop like a KU Law 1L

Cody Wood and Ethan Brown, KU Law Student Ambassadors

First-year law students Cody Wood, left, and Ethan Brown

When I started law school, I thought that I had things pretty well figured out. I mean, I had survived for more than four years on my own in undergrad, and that had worked out for me.

Not so, my friends, not so.

Things are different here. Classes are (basically) in a whole new language. I’m surrounded by incredibly brilliant people (I think we can all agree that this is not the norm for undergrad campuses). Even my shopping trips in law school are quite different from how they were in undergrad. Back in the day, I’d saunter in to Walmart (around 1 a.m., of course), grab a cart, and begin my long, aimless meander through the store. I never had a specific, pre-determined list. I might have one or two things in mind, but for the most part my inner-dialogue while shopping went something like this:

     Did I need shampoo or body wash? Eh, I’ll just get a combo and call it good.

     Aw, heck yeah, pizza rolls are on sale! I can fit 17 bags in the freezer, right?

     I should buy some fruit or vegetables or something. How do you tell if an avocado is ripe? I guess I’ll just try a few.

I think you get the idea. By the end of the trip, I probably couldn’t even tell you why I had half the stuff in my cart, let alone what I had originally come to the store for. Probably for the better, my law school shopping trips have come a long way. They are direct and pointed missions. I move through the aisles like a cat on the hunt (maybe more like a dog … a big dog. I’ve never been very graceful, and I tend to bump into things a lot).

To save you the trouble of learning as I had to, I’ve compiled the essential shopping list of a first-year KU Law student. You, too, can have efficient shopping trips during which you don’t forget any of the essentials. I would recommend adapting as needed to fit your circumstances, but I feel that this should cover a wide range:

New coffee maker
That one-cup-at-a-time Keurig just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Sorry. I recommend going for capacity here, rather than features. Really, something industrial might be best.

New shoes
Oh, you’ll have the best of intentions. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll wake up early enough every morning to get one of the coveted parking spots close to the building, but it won’t last long. When you eventually give in to making the trek up the hill from the far lot, you’re going to want something comfortable.

Ingredients for that fancy recipe you’ve been wanting to try
It’s your turn to host the “family dinner” that your small section has every weekend. These people really have become your support system/life lines/best friends, and you’d like to impress them. You’re thinking something that has asparagus in it. That’s always popular.

Dinner rolls and whichever wine is on sale
Because, let’s face it, there’s a very real chance that the aforementioned recipe won’t work out. It’s great that you’re trying new things, but it’s still good to be prepared.

Flu shot
Just give in. Your mom has been bugging you about this one for a couple of weeks now, and she has a point. Being sick is the last thing you want on your plate when trying to study for finals. Besides, you really need that 20-cent-per-gallon gas discount that they’re giving to anyone who gets the shot.

Ear plugs
For some reason, you decided it would be a great idea to live with your best friend, a music major. You have no complaints about his personal hygiene, which is great, but his practicing isn’t always conducive to your studying. I’d skip the little disposable foam earplugs and go for something sturdier. Maybe something that guarantees maximum sound blockage. He’s not just any music major, you know … he’s an opera major.

Potted plant
Spruce up that study carrel! Make it yours! The touch of life provided by something as simple as a plant will make your hours in the library much more comfortable. And, if it turns out that maybe you aren’t completely ready to be responsible for another living thing, you won’t feel as bad as you would if you’d gotten a goldfish.

On second thought, skip the cookies. You go to KU Law now. That means you live in a town where you can have cookies delivered right to you, day or night. (Yes, it’s a very real thing. I wouldn’t lie to you about cookies.)

KU gear
Whether you’re an out-of-stater like me or you grew up in Kansas, you’re a Jayhawk now! Rejoice! As a KU Law student, you are part of a great community in a great town, and that is something that you'll want to show off!

OK, so maybe this list is a little too specific. All joking aside, law school will be a very different experience, no matter your circumstances. There will be challenges, and your life WILL change. The important thing is to adapt and go with it. Hang in there and have faith, my friends. If I can do it, anyone can. Just ask my (very much still living) carrel plant.

Ethan Brown is a first-year law student from Dallas and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Trailblazing judge reflects on career

Twenty-two years ago, I took the oath of judicial office to the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. I was the 23rd individual, and the first woman, to hold that position. Few are blessed with the opportunity to do something which is historically unprecedented. So I approached my swearing-in ceremony on October 30, 1992, with an acute awareness of that fact, a reverence for the judicial system which has served us so well and a thrill which even now is almost beyond belief.

People often ask whether I always hoped to become a federal judge. The answer to that is no – a resounding no. When I started law school at KU in 1972, no woman had ever been on the United States Supreme Court. Only one woman had served on a federal court of appeals. On the trial court level, we had only four women in the entire federal judiciary. Back then, it was common for bar organizations to meet in private men’s clubs – as a lawyer, I remember having to take the service elevator in the kitchen of the University Club to attend bar luncheons. The idea that I might become a federal judge was too far-fetched to warrant serious consideration.

Fast forward 40 years. Today we have 249 women in the federal district courts – 23 percent of the total. Women represent at least half of the legal talent pool in America. And we have a way to go in the federal judiciary, but the day is over when women only appear in high places as token performers.

As I said, I did not start out with any far-fetched notions of becoming a judge – let alone a federal judge. Almost by accident, I became a municipal judge in Prairie Village in 1990. For two years I addressed the entire range of human foibles: drinkers, speeders, window peepers, exhibitionists, picketers, property code violators, and so forth. Calvin Trillin, who wrote for The New Yorker, even picked up on one of my cases – where an irate store owner threw a jar of gefilte fish at a customer and broke the customer’s windshield. To be fair, Mr. Trillin wasn’t much interested in the fact that I had broken the glass ceiling in the Prairie Village judiciary. He was mostly bewildered that a kosher grocer would sell gefilte fish in a jar.

Fresh out of law school, from 1975 to 1978, I was a law clerk for the Hon. Earl E. O'Connor in the District of Kansas. I came to the clerkship, more or less, by indirection. In 1975, I graduated near the top of my class at the University of Kansas Law School. I had set my sights on large-firm practice in downtown Kansas City, but like the other 12 or 13 women in my class, I soon found that this option was beyond my reach. In the end, almost by default, I took a law clerkship position with Judge O'Connor. It was not my first choice, or his. Judge O'Connor had never employed a woman law clerk and he was not enthusiastic or optimistic about the prospect. He was, however, true to his school - KU Law. In the final analysis, I received my clerkship because Martin B. Dickinson, in his capacity as then-dean of the KU School of Law, asked Judge O'Connor to give me a chance. By the time I left my clerkship three years later, my inauspicious introduction to the federal judiciary was a source of candid amusement to both me and Judge O'Connor. Little did either of us dream what the future had in store.

When I had the chance to fill Judge O’Connor’s vacancy in 1992, and to return to the court family where I had begun my legal career, it was extraordinary in every respect. To work with Judge O’Connor again, to enjoy such learned and accommodating colleagues – the whole experience has been a challenge, a great energizer and a privilege beyond compare. I owe it all to a great legal education at KU Law, and fantastic mentors among its faculty, administration and graduates. 

Kathryn H. Vratil, L'75
Chief Judge Emeritus
United States District Court for the District of Kansas

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Achieving balance, pursuing passions in law school

KU Law Student Ambassador Kriston Guillot
When l entered KU Law, I got involved because I wanted an opportunity to showcase my talents and values. I immediately obtained information on all the clubs and activities offered on campus and joined a few that interested me. Did this increase my workload? Sure, but the knowledge I’ve gained and camaraderie among my peers has been rewarding.

Law school is not just a GPA, it’s an experience. Grades are crucial to what future employers look for, but they are not the only thing they look for. If this was the case, there would be no need for interviews. Getting involved in clubs and activities conveys to an employer that you are a team player, that you are able to be cohesive in a unit and successful at the same time. Clubs and activities give you the opportunity to apply your knowledge outside of the classroom. The skill of knowledge application is a critical piece of learning and what future employers are really looking for. Even more important, clubs and activities provide a needed break from scholastic strain. During orientation, so many speakers spoke of the need to find the proper balance for success. I interpret that as a warning against all work and no play. Activities teach the value of work-life balance.

Law school is a competitive beast. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline, but it can also be the greatest experience of your life. Let the clubs and activities become your creative outlet. When I get bogged down in a mountain of memo research and discovery projects, I relieve the stress by pursuing my passions. I pursue my passion for community service by helping coordinate the Black Law Students Association's food drive, or my passion for litigation by helping defend parking violations in traffic court. Whatever your passion is, pursue it. Be the real you. Be the best you. Let your best qualities show through more than a four-hour final. Find a club that you are passionate about, and get to work.

— Kriston Guillot is a first-year law student from Shawnee, Kansas, and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

EMBRACING THE UNCOMFORTABLE: Student combines language and the law in Beijing

As a dual-degree student working on a J.D. and an M.A. in East Asian Languages and Cultures, I am inevitably asked where I hope these two degrees will lead me. It’s a fair question and the best answer I have is, hopefully anywhere.

I spent this past summer in Beijing doing an intensive Chinese language program. To what extent does a summer studying Chinese in Beijing bear on my legal studies? More than you might think. In an increasingly globalized world, language skills are becoming especially important, and as multicultural interactions increase, so too does the value of language skills. This summer I improved my Chinese language skills, but many memories and lessons I brought back are invaluable souvenirs. Learning is a continual process. I have been advised time and again that the practice of law requires practice. It is a valuable kernel of truth applicable to any study one undertakes. Regardless of how many hours, months or years I have spent studying, there will always be new developments. Statutes and case law change and evolve, and so do the ways in which people, particularly young people, communicate and use language to express themselves. Complacency is not just standing still; it is taking a step backwards. Each day is an opportunity to build upon yesterday’s progress.

I learned the importance of encountering the uncomfortable. There were plenty of moments where I felt uncomfortable and out of place in China. The real work has not been forgetting those uncomfortable moments. The real work has been learning to embrace those moments as experiences that, if nothing else, have built character and molded me into a person that is able to find comfort in the uncomfortable. From the stories experienced lawyers have kindly passed on, it sounds as though being a lawyer often involves helping clients through some of the most uncomfortable moments in life. Knowing how to guide yourself through those moments can go a long way in counseling others to do the same.

I learned to never underestimate the healing power of a good meal. The intensive language program I enrolled in put the tense in intense. I spent five hours a day in classes, had a quiz every single day, a test every single week, and a weekly oral presentation in Chinese. There were many days when it felt impossible to keep up that pace. Those were the days I treated myself to a good meal. A good meal can provide a moment of respite and gratitude when you need a reminder about what’s important in life. In my case the reminder was that each day’s hard work was not a means to an end, but an end in itself. Hopefully this is the lesson I’ll keep in mind as I continue to tackle my studies and my next challenge, embarking on my career. There will undoubtedly be challenges, including many that are impossible to predict. My experiences in law school and around the world might not always provide the answers, but they have provided me the tools to find those answers on my own.

Kasey Considine is a third-year law student from Boston and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

PIRATES & PROFESSIONAL KARAOKE SINGERS: Students consider alternative careers, decide law school was best choice

Grecia Perez

From time to time, law school can be overwhelming. During moments of distress, I consider everything else I could be doing instead of attending law school. I decided to poll my peers and compile a list of the most insightful answers. Conclusion? Attending law school was clearly the best decision we all could have made:

  1. Locate the bat that spearheaded the Ebola outbreak and ask it: “Dude, what’s your problem?” 2L
  2. Finding, and eating, the perfect bagel. 2L
  3. Determine how long it would take for someone to go insane while walking around Ikea – 3 maybe 4 hours? 2L
  4. Continue my hunt for Florida’s hanging chad. His arms must be getting tired. 2L
  5. Watch time pass stationed in a fire watchtower in a remote wilderness of marginal land. 3L
  6. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing besides law school” – said no one ever. 2L
  7. The gatekeeper in the far side of darkness. 2L
  8. I’d probably try and get my book on what really happened to Tupac Shakur published, then when that fails, end up back in law school. 2L
  9. Become an architect and redesign Green Hall’s bathrooms. 2L
  10. Watch “The Wire.” 2L
  11. I’d rather be the bat boy for the Kansas City Royals. 2L
  12. Attending Hogwarts and playing on the quidditch team. 2L
  13. Be the custodian at a mud-wrestling arena. 3L
  14. Traveling the world and learning new languages. 3L
  15. Building a “cat snap” empire. 3L
  16. Spend more time training and developing my gadgets to become a better Batman superhero for Gotham and, therefore, the rest of the world. 2L
  17. Finding the perfect cherry turnover recipe. 2L
  18. Golfing and reading everything I can to improve my fantasy football team. 3L
  19. Carrying around Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s booster seat. 3L
  20. Living my life in reality, and not through hypotheticals. 2L
  21. I would become a chef so my job description can be eating all the food in the world. 3L
  22. Fearlessly auditioning to someday land my dream job as a news anchor on “The Today Show.” 2L
  23. Living my dream of becoming a professional “selfie” taker. 2L
  24. Standing in line at the DMV. 3L
  25. Whatever it took to get a ticket to see the Royals in the World Series. 2L
  26. Pursue my dream of becoming a professional karaoke singer. 3L
  27. Shopping. 2L
  28. Enjoying a beer outside in Kansas City! It’s hard not being able to enjoy the great weather we typically have in the area late in the fall. 2L
  29. The sixth member of One Direction. I’m cheeky, everything is better with an American, and statistics suggest that at least one of them is gay and I desperately need a boyfriend. 3L
  30. Rafting in Colorado, living off the land, figuring it out. 2L
  31. I would rather be in any other profession that doesn’t require suits on a regular business day. Sweatpants preferred. 2L
  32. Lying on a beach somewhere, with a drink in hand and sand between my toes. 3L
  33. An international food critic, giving acerbic yet insightful reviews using my charming wit. Basically I want to be Anthony Bourdain. That guy seems to have it figured out. 2L
  34. A World Champion Donkey Kong player. 3L
  35. Trying to become a party in a case in a law school textbook. I mean, have you READ Stambovsky v. Ackley?! 2L
  36. Start my own commune and drive around the country in RVs. 2L
  37. I’d rather be living jobless on a beach somewhere with the money from a large inheritance. 1L
  38. On the island with the person living off of their inheritance. 1L
  39. Making old school hip-hop mix tapes. That, or taking up carpentry and flipping houses. I’m never bored. 2L
  40. Go to D.C. and try to teach Congress common sense, if I hadn’t chosen a profession where I could actually achieve my goals through hard work and perseverance. 2L
  41. Anything else. 2L
  42. Running around the country getting people to put charcoal in their soil. 2L
  43. Leading a super heroic crime-fighting nightlife while wondering what in the world a tort is. 3L
  44. Lying in a sea of corgis with my boyfriend, overlooking a mountain. 2L
  45. I’d rather be a ski bum at a Colorado ski resort and not have a care in the word. There was an explicative in there, but I reined it in. 3L
  46. A professional dog lady. 3L
  47. Move to Somalia and learn how to become a pirate. ARGH! 3L
  48. Jet-setting around the world as Beyonce’s highly paid assistant/eventual best friend. 3L
  49. A professional sports spectator. 2L
  50. Loading a surfboard up on my car after a great day at the beach. 2L
  51. Sleeping. 1L

And finally…

  1. I would rather be Amanda Bynes’ life coach. Girl’s got some problems and could use some direction: “No, sweetheart. Put that back on the ground. That looks sticky.” Easy money. 3L

Grecia Perez is a second-year law student from Boston and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Out of the closet and right at home at KU Law

Travis Freeman, KU Law Student Ambassador

There are many things that make me proud to be a Jayhawk, but in honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11, I wanted to talk about why I think diversity has, and will, play an important part in my law school experience.

When I decided to come to KU Law, one of the things I was really concerned about was the general attitude toward LGBTQ people at the school. I had moved away from Kansas over 13 years ago, and I didn't really remember it being a bastion of liberal ideology. After my departure, I found the strength to come out of the closet and wasn’t especially stoked about the idea of going back in. What I encountered at KU has been the complete opposite. I found a school that not only welcomed diversity, but celebrated it.

I didn’t run through Green Hall screaming, “I’m gaaaaaaaaaay!”, but I didn’t feel like I had to hide it either. I found the culture at KU Law to be incredibly accepting, and I immediately felt comfortable just being myself. During the 1L boot camp, Dean Melanie Wilson pointed out that we are all professionals now, and there is no place for sexism, racism or homophobia in a professional environment. Within my first couple months at school, I had joined the OUTLaws & Allies organization and been invited to a diversity meet-and-greet. At the meet-and-greet, many of the diversity organizations that operate within the law school came together and reaffirmed KU Law’s pledge to diversity. It felt really empowering to know that I had the support of my classmates, the staff and the faculty at the school.

As LGBTQ media visibility continues to rise and waves of court rulings supporting marriage equality sweep the nation, you might be wondering if sexuality is even a relevant issue anymore. To that I say, “You bet it is!” Being exposed to a diverse student body can help prepare you for real life. As lawyers we never know which client is going to walk through our door or which case is going to land on our desk. We need to be able to put aside our personal prejudices and serve the needs of our clients the best we can.

In the classroom, I think diversity brings with it diverse ideas that help facilitate the learning process. Imagine sitting in a class where all of your peers mindlessly nod in agreement to everything someone says. There is no critical thinking there, no academic dialogue. I don’t know about you, but that sounds super boring to me, and so I embrace it when a spirited debate arises from two differing viewpoints. When you have a classroom full of people with different sexualities, religions, ethnicities, political beliefs, etc., you are given access to a wide berth of knowledge and experience that will help you grow personally and professionally.

I think it’s pretty awesome to have a found a place where I feel comfortable being out and being myself. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming out as gay, or as Republican, or just as a huge fan of Nickelback. KU Law has created an environment that feels safe and inclusive for everyone. Because of this, on National Coming Out Day, I didn’t find myself running back into the closet of which I had struggled so hard to come out.

— Travis Freeman is a first-year law student from Olathe, Kansas, and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why KU Law? Big dreams + rewarding career

Elizabeth Schartz, L'88


"I learned how to dream about a career at KU--everything from a small-town practice to working at the largest firms. I had all those possibilities by getting an education at KU."
A farm girl from rural Kansas, Elizabeth Schartz grew up knowing she would be a lawyer.
“There were five girls in our family, so we had an elaborate chore distribution,” Schartz said. “I thought the arrangement was patently unfair, and when I complained about it I was told to take it to the Supreme Court. I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked my dad.”
Schartz’s father explained that the Supreme Court was a “group of judges that all the other judges, Congress and the president had to listen to,” and that one had to study hard, get good grades and go to law school to get there.
“I had to have been 8 or 9 years old at the time, and I announced, ‘I’m gonna be a lawyer,’” Schartz said. “I didn’t know any lawyers; We didn’t have any lawyers in our family. Neither of my parents went to college. But no one laughed at me or said I couldn’t do it, so I did it.”
It was a big leap from rural Cimarron to the state’s largest university, but Phil and Pat Ridenour, a husband-wife team of KU Law graduates, convinced Schartz to make the move. The Ridenours, both from rural communities, excelled at KU and built a successful practice in Cimarron. “Had I not had that encouragement, I’m not positive I would have gone to KU,” Schartz said. “For a small-town girl, it seemed such a big university.”
Law school brought academic challenge and classmates from prestigious universities. Schartz graduated from a small liberal arts college in western Kansas. “Although I didn’t have the undergrad credentials, I appeared to be just as smart as they were,” Schartz said. “I decided that just meant I needed to work harder.”
Schartz built relationships with her professors, who encouraged her to apply for a clerkship. She spent a summer working at Foulston Siefkin in Wichita alongside talented attorneys, many of them KU graduates from small towns. “It was a revelation about the work they did and the level of sophistication,” Schartz said. “It opened a world of possibilities that didn’t exclude staying in Kansas but also didn’t exclude working in a big city.”
After graduation, Schartz accepted a position with Thompson & Knight in Dallas. “My thought was I would come to Dallas for a few years, learn what it was like to practice at a big firm, then come back to Kansas,” Schartz said. Twenty-five years later, she’s still in Dallas.
Schartz practices employment law, representing management and offering day-to-day advice. She is drawn to the dynamic nature of the field with its new statutes and ever-changing interpretations, and opportunity for advocacy through litigation. “The clients we deal with want to do the right thing, and we can help them do that,” Schartz said.
Schartz works alongside attorneys with diverse educational backgrounds, but she feels KU’s small class sizes and accessible faculty gave her an advantage. Clinical programs are also an asset. “It used to be the firms were looking for just the best and brightest – good writers, deep thinkers,” Schartz said. “Today, firms want lawyers to have as much practical experience as they can stepping out of law school.”
Perhaps the most important thing Schartz learned at KU was how to dream, and dream big.
“I learned how to dream about a career,” she said. “The great thing about that dream was that it included everything from a small-town practice to working at the largest firms out there. I had all those possibilities by getting an education at KU. None were closed to me. That’s as true today as it was when I stepped foot on campus in ’85.”