KU Law alumna dedicates career to public service, advocacy

Emily Warr, L’14
Photo by Joy Asico / Asico Photo.

Since graduating from KU Law in 2014, Emily Warr has dedicated her legal career to public service and advocacy. Warr has provided legal representation for low-income clients as a public defender, worked as a contract attorney on a large hospital settlement and helped develop innovative projects in public interest law.

She spent her first year out of law school working as an independent contract attorney at MultiCare Health System in Tacoma, Washington. She simultaneously worked as an overflow and conflicts attorney at the Mason County Public Defender’s Office in Mason County, Washington. Then, she spent two years as a public defender at the Yakima County Department of Assigned Counsel in Yakima County, Washington.

After three years of working in public defense, Warr moved cross-country in 2018 to become a portfolio manager at Equal Justice Works in Washington, D.C. At Equal Justice Works, Warr managed Fellows working in public interest law on topics, such as immigration, indigenous peoples’ rights, prison reform, prisoners’ rights and environmental justice. She also helped grow the Fellowship program and expanded the Midwest fundraising base.

Most recently, Warr enrolled as a doctorate student in the Post-Baccalaureate Doctor of Nursing Program at Columbia University in New York. She began studies in psychiatric mental health in June 2020.

Warr’s time as a public defender inspired her to reflect on the criminal system, return to school and pursue a career as a nurse practitioner in psychiatric mental health.

“I really loved being a public defender, and it was a lot of the issues that I care the most about represented in the criminal system,” Warr said. “Part of my caseload was working on mental health and substance use cases in civil courts and criminal courts. I was on the psychiatric unit a lot, which made me think about becoming a nurse practitioner in psychiatric mental health.”

Upon her completion of the 2.5 year program at Columbia University, Warr hopes to start restorative justice practices as alternatives to incarceration. She hopes to establish Yakima, Washington as one of many places around the country turning to restorative justice as an alternative to prosecution and possible imprisonment.

Warr – who is a Washington native – has a special connection to the city of Yakima. She was born there and has family that still live there. She grew up nearby in Puyallup.

“There are some places doing restorative justice practices in New York and in Washington, D.C., but I don’t know if there are any in Yakima,” she said. “If I could start them in Yakima, I would. I feel like I know I can dedicate my time there.”

Warr earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Seattle Pacific University in 2009. While in college, Warr sparked a passion for public service and advocacy.

“I came out as a lesbian when I was in undergrad. I was at a university that was not very accepting of that,” Warr said. “A small group of us came out during our time there, banded together and created our own group that the campus would not approve of. I feel like that impacted my desire to be an advocate going forward.”

A few years after undergrad, Warr decided to pursue a law degree at KU because, “it felt like a place where I could get really good experience in areas that I wanted to work in.” While at KU Law, Warr was the president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. She was also president of OUTLaws & Allies, a student organization for LGBTQ students and their allies that seeks to educate the community at large about the issues and concerns specific to the LGBTQ community.

“There were multiple things that I knew I was interested in doing as an attorney around reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights,” Warr said. “I felt like Kansas was really an epicenter of some of the things that were going on in this country, especially at that time in reproductive rights.”

From the KU Law faculty and administration, Warr cultivated her interest and love of public interest law. “The faculty and staff at KU made all the difference,” she said.

Professor Emeritus Sandra McKenzie, who retired in 2015, was a dedicated and highly regarded teacher. Warr said McKenzie was known for her accessibility to students and open-door policy.

“She was a big advocate for OUTLaws & Allies and always had us over for Thanksgiving. She showed us how to be an advocate, whether you’re practicing in public interest or not,” Warr said. “She was wonderful and very supportive.”

Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Leah Terranova was also impactful to Warr’s time in Green Hall.

“Leah was a really big public interest advocate. She tried to help me navigate finding internships and connected me with people,” Warr said. “She was very helpful and got me to think outside the box.”

— By Ashley Golledge

Graduate Profile: Brett Sitts, L’20

Brett Sitts
Brett Sitts, L’20

Active student took on law school with an open mind

For students considering law school, Brett Sitts has this advice: “Keep an open mind and stay true to yourself.”

That’s how Sitts, who graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in May, tackled his time in Green Hall.

One of his favorite experiences at KU Law was clerking for the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies. Sitts doesn’t plan to practice criminal law, but he gained valuable writing and speaking skills from supervising attorney Alice Craig, and “learned so much from the experience,” he said.

“I was grateful to have an exceptional partner in Terra Brockman – we made a lot of progress in our cases,” Sitts said. “We worked well together and the experience taught the ever important idea that two minds are better than one.”

Sitts, who is from McPherson, earned his undergraduate degree in communication studies and political science from Kansas State University. As the first person in his family to attend a graduate program, Sitts wanted to go to a law school that was supportive of first-generation professionals.

“Law school is hard in general for anyone no matter the circumstances, but having no prior knowledge in my family about what to except was frightening,” he said. “I felt at ease when I visited KU Law – I knew the law school would believe in me and help me grow throughout my three years.”

Sitts was active in several student organizations during his time at KU Law. With the Student Bar Association, he served as class president for his 1L and 3L classes, and executive board treasurer during his 2L year. He also competed in the Texas Young Lawyer Association’s National Mock Trial Competition; participated in the International Law Society; and was student appointee to the law school’s Academic Affairs Committee.

Through simulation courses and clinics, Sitts built a skill set that prepared him for his first job out of law school.

“During my 2L and 3L years I learned how to: draft contracts, take depositions, litigate a full trial, draft pleadings, and negotiate a multi-million dollar sale. Learning these skills in a low-stakes environment is invaluable,” he said.

Brett Sitts participates in a Deposition Skills simulation course with Jasmin Townsend.
Brett Sitts, left, L’20, and Jasmin Townsend, L’20, participate in the Deposition Skills simulation course in January 2020. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

From the KU Law faculty, Sitts gained practical skills and career advice. Professor Lumen Mulligan helped Sitts transform his writing abilities and understand contract law and the Uniform Commercial Code. Mulligan also offered advice, “whether it be law school-related or not,” Sitts said. Taking Dean Stephen Mazza’s course on Federal Income Taxation was also impactful.

“The class is arguably the hardest class I have ever taken in my life, but I know the IRS code now thanks to Dean Mazza. I recommend everyone take it because let’s be honest, tax is involved with everything,” Sitts said. “Additionally, Dean Mazza was always willing to make a call to someone when I was looking for employment. He was always there for me, and I really appreciate it.”

After taking the Kansas bar exam in July, Sitts plans to start work at Hite, Fanning, and Honeyman LLP in Wichita as an associate attorney.

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the eighth is a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out previous stories about Denise Dantzler, Cara Beck, Terra Brockman, Harrison Rosenthal, Sasha Raab, Tara Mollhagen Shepherd and TJ Blake.

Graduate Profile: TJ Blake, L’20

TJ Blake
TJ Blake, L’20

Student succeeds with engagement outside the classroom

TJ Blake took a tireless approach to law school.

From spending late nights preparing for moot court competitions to serving as managing editor for the Kansas Law Review, Blake found success in engaging in activities outside the classroom.

“Law school is exhausting – but it’s also incredibly rewarding,” said Blake, who graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in May.

The effort paid off – he and competition partner Andi Leuszler, L’20, won the KU Law In-House Moot Court Competition at the end of their second year, earning them a chance to compete on the school’s national moot court team.

“It was so satisfying to know that the late nights that Andi and I had spent obsessively preparing had been worth it,” Blake said. “The competition was obviously a success, but more than that, it was so fulfilling to take a step back and realize I’d made a lifelong friend in the process.”

TJ Blake presents an argument in the KU Law courtroom
TJ Blake presents an argument during the 2019 In-House Moot Court Competition Final Round. Photo by Andy White/KU Marketing Communications.

Originally from Hutchinson, Blake earned his undergraduate degrees at KU in political science and strategic communications in 2017.

When he decided to make the leap to law school, he took a self-assessment of his career goals and personal priorities. Blake and his husband, Tucker, are both Kansas natives, and knew “there’s no place like home,” Blake said. Still, he needed to make sure KU Law would fit his professional needs.

“After seeking advice from personal mentors, speaking with alumni about their experiences, and spending a day observing the academically competitive, yet friendly, environment of Green Hall, it became clear that KU Law had the resources and community to facilitate my success,” Blake said. “After that point, the decision was simple.”

Blake valued the team of professors who helped him succeed through law school. He credits professors Laura Hines and Lumen Mulligan for pushing him to continuously improve. Clinical Professor Elizabeth Cateforis – who worked with Blake as a team coach for national moot court competitions – “ended up being one of the most valuable life coaches I could have ever asked for,” he said.

“One of the best aspects of KU Law is the diversity of strengths in the faculty team. Because law school challenges you in a way that most people haven’t experienced before, you need a team of professors to help provide resources for your success,” Blake said.

In addition to participating in the National Criminal Procedure Tournament and the Hunton Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship in the past year, Blake published an article for the Kansas Law Review, titled “In Their Words: Critically Analyzing the Admission of ‘Me Too’ Testimony in Kansas.” He was also a member of OUTLaws & Allies, and participated in Traffic Court and Moot Court Council.

After taking the bar exam, Blake will join the Kansas City, Missouri law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paiser, where he was a summer associate for the past two years.

He advises future law students to go into the experience as a blank slate.

“What you know – or think you know – about the law is about to completely change. Don’t be hard on yourself if/when you don’t find immediate success; law school comes to everyone at different speeds,” he said. “Challenge yourself to ask questions, pursue answers, and accept that ‘it depends,’ is almost always the end result. Enjoy being in an environment that celebrates hard work, competition, and continual academic development.”

“At times, this might feel like the longest three years of your life – but at the end, I think you’ll be glad you pushed through.”

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the seventh is a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out previous stories about Denise Dantzler, Cara Beck, Terra Brockman, Harrison Rosenthal, Sasha Raab and Tara Mollhagen Shepherd, and stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Tara Mollhagen Shepherd, L’20

Tara A. Mollhagen Shepherd, L’20

Exemplary student to pursue career in business and tax law

Tara A. Mollhagen Shepherd, L’20, plans to use what she learned in the classroom at the University of Kansas School of Law to succeed at a career in business and tax law.

“I’m excited to start a career in business and tax law because those areas leverage my prior work experience and education with my new education and experiences at KU Law,” Mollhagen Shepherd said.

Through practical courses such as Deals and Contract Drafting, Mollhagen Shepherd will be able to translate the business and tax law skills and knowledge she learned into her practice.

“My favorite classes were the practical courses that utilized the substantive materials from traditional courses to tie into practice,” Mollhagen Shepherd said. “The combination of the two allow me to, for example, know the significance of provisions in a contract and know how to communicate the changes I made to a precedent to my supervising attorney.”

Mollhagen Shepherd fondly recalls workshopping ideas and theories with study partners during her time in Green Hall. She said that she met fantastic people at KU Law who opened her mind to new ways to analyze problems.

“I had confidants that I would spend hours agonizing over topics and substantive materials with, and my favorite moments are the moments where the information clicks with the study buddy or with me because we were sharing together,” Mollhagen Shepherd said.

During her law school journey, Mollhagen Shepherd found value in the relationships she formed with her peers and professors.

“The community is the best part of KU Law — the gems you meet both in the faculty and student body,” she said.

Mollhagen Shepherd gained legal experience through participation in a variety of student organizations at KU Law. She served as president of the Business and Tax Law Society; volunteer and co-coordinator of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Clinic (VITA); and staff editor and business manager of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy.

“VITA allows students to help the community by assisting low income individuals file their tax returns,” Mollhagen Shepherd said. “With COVID-19 this year, tax returns were vital to helping some of our patrons navigate through the pandemic with both refunds and updating their information for the relief payments.”

Tara Mollhagen Shepherd, L’20, was a runner-up in the elite invitation-only “The Closer” National Transactional Law Competition on January 16-19, 2020. Photo by Eric Guel Photography.

Mollhagen Shepherd was a runner-up in the elite invitation-only “The Closer” National Transactional Law Competition at Baylor Law School on January 16-19, 2020. At the competition, participants competed solo, rather in the teams usually seen in student transactional law contests. Mollhagen Shepherd competed against students from 11 law schools nationwide, which were selected for this year’s competition. Volunteer coach Bill Quick accompanied her at the competition in Waco, Texas, and reported she distinguished herself in terms of skill, knowledge, professionalism and collegiality.

For demonstrating excellence in the practice of corporation and securities law throughout the past three years, Mollhagen Shepherd was recently awarded the Robert E. Edmond Prize in Corporation and Securities Law.

Originally from Wichita, Mollhagen Shepherd graduated from Wichita State University magna cum laude in 2014 with undergraduate degrees in business administration and accounting. She has also been a member of the Kansas and American Societies of Certified Public Accountants since 2009.

Mollhagen Shepherd spent three years working as a senior associate at BKD, LLP CPAs and Advisors in Wichita after graduating from Wichita State. In this role, Mollhagen Shepherd managed accounts, prepared tax returns and trained new tax preparers on software.

During law school, she gained practical, hands-on experience through a Judicial Field Placement with the Hon. Robert D. Berger at the District of Kansas’ Bankruptcy Court and an Elder Law Field Placement with Kansas Legal Services. She also did a summer internship at Bever Dye LC in 2018 and served as a summer law clerk in Washington, D.C. at the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of Chief Counsel in 2019.

After studying for the bar exam this summer, Mollhagen Shepherd will begin her legal career at Bever Dye LC in Wichita. Bever Dye is a business and tax law firm.

“Tax law constantly changes to meet the needs of our nation and its people. I find the diverse public policy initiatives we manage to get into the tax code fascinating,” she said. “I look forward to seeing our country develop.”

— By Ashley Golledge

This post is the sixth is a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out stories about Denise DantzlerCara BeckTerra Brockman, Harrison Rosenthal and Sasha Raab. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Sasha Raab, L’20

Sasha Raab, L’20

Nontraditional student balances law school, being a mom

When Sasha Raab sat for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), her daughter Edith was six weeks old. Now, Raab is wrapping up her law school career in the top 10% of her class and Edith is 3 years old.

Raab was able to balance law school and parenting a young child with the help of her family nearby and her law school support system.

“The best part of going to law school at KU was the people, from the fellow students and professors to the administration. Everyone is always so kind, encouraging and involved,” Raab said. “I have enjoyed making lifelong friends.”

The juggling act between being a mother and law student is a demanding job, but Raab still found time to get involved.

Raab was president of Jewish Legal Society, Head Dean’s Fellow and executive comment editor for the Kansas Law Review. Raab dedicated herself to her work. She went above and beyond in each of these roles to contribute to the experience of her peers in Green Hall.

While serving as president of Jewish Legal Society, Raab helped organize a panel on anti-Semitism. The panel was a Blue Out event, which urged students to stand in solidarity against hatred by wearing blue.

“My favorite part about serving as president of Jewish Legal Society was bringing people together to discuss important topics,” Raab said. “It was a timely and worthwhile discussion. I was proud to be a part of a team that worked hard to make it happen quickly as a response to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.”

During her time in Green Hall, she has also provided free legal assistance to the community through participation in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Renewal Clinic and helped prepare tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Additionally, Raab represented KU at the Interscholastic Transactional Law Competition in Durham, North Carolina in March.

Sasha and Edith Raab participate in a Dean’s Fellows event at the KU Natural History Museum. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

Raab’s favorite law school memory was attending a Dean’s Fellows event the night before fall orientation.

“The first year, my friend Joy Merklen brought her daughter too and we let them have a play date at the Spencer Museum of Art while we met our small section,” Raab said. “The next two years I attended as a Dean’s Fellow and continued to bring Edith with me. I loved meeting all the new faces and making that connection with the entering class.”

Raab is originally from Stilwell, Kansas. She received an associate’s degree from Johnson County Community College in 2013. She graduated summa cum laude from Park University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. Then, she spent two years in the workforce before coming to law school.

“At the time, I was an administrative assistant for the legal department at Cerner Corporation and one of the executives I supported was a KU Law alumnus. He reached out to Dean Stephen Mazza on my behalf, and I heard from Dean Mazza almost immediately,” Raab said. “This made such a great impression on me.”

Raab enjoyed the opportunity to take experiential learning courses and gain practical know-how before pursuing a career in business law.

“I have enjoyed all the classes at KU Law, but of course I tend to gravitate towards more transactional, business and tax law topics,” she said. “After taking Business Associations, I felt even more passionate about my choice to practice business law and then I took every class I could that related to transactional, business and tax law.”

Raab advises prospective law students to find their intellectual passions.

“While in law school, find opportunities to improve your writing, researching, and advocacy skills,” Raab said. “Take advantage of anything that strikes your passion for the law and challenges you in new ways.”

Raab’s countless hours of hard work and sacrifice paid off. Raab received the Law Class of 1949 Award for Leadership, which is given annually to the student who, in the opinion of the faculty, contributed most significantly to the overall experience of the students in Green Hall.

After graduation, she will practice business law as an associate at Payne and Jones, Chartered in Overland Park.

“I am excited to pursue a career in business law because I get to combine my undergraduate studies and legal studies to help entrepreneurs achieve their goals,” Raab said.

— By Ashley Golledge

This post is the fifth is a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out stories about Denise Dantzler, Cara Beck, Terra Brockman and Harrison Rosenthal. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Harrison Rosenthal, L’20

Harrison Rosenthal
Harrison Rosenthal, L’20

Dual-degree student pursues law, journalism and well-being

On the way to earning KU degrees in law and journalism, recent graduate Harrison Rosenthal made well-being a priority.

In 2018, he founded the Mindfulness in Law Society of the University of Kansas, a student organization that aims to improve law students’ well-being through mindful practice. He also served as the student representative to the Kansas Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being, an effort by the Kansas Supreme Court that focuses on law student and attorney wellness. In that role, he created a wellness survey that will be distributed across the state to help collect information and further the mission of well-being in the bar.

“Law school is an interesting experience,” Rosenthal said. “The key to success is (1) finding what makes you happy and (2) pursuing that thing. Life is too short not to do what you love.”

Rosenthal graduates this month with a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas School of Law. He will complete his doctoral degree from KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications in May 2021.

Originally from Overland Park, Rosenthal earned his undergraduate degree in journalism from KU in 2017. He decided to attend KU Law because of the school’s joint degree program in law and journalism.

“KU is among a handful of American universities offering joint communication-law degree programs through independent schools of journalism and law,” Rosenthal said. “The opportunity to pursue graduate and post-graduate education with expert faculty, and lead the vanguard into an important and dynamic field, made KU an obvious choice for my legal education.”

While pursuing his degrees, Rosenthal completed several internships and clerkships, and has published several pieces. He interned for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas. He clerked for the Seventh and Tenth Judicial Districts of Kansas and for the Kansas Court of Appeals.

His paper “Viewpoint Conditioning: Social Media Use, Political Self-Efficacy, and First Amendment Perceptions” was accepted for presentation this spring at a conference hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Rosenthal also serves as an officer for the AEJMC Law & Policy Division, where he writes a regular column. He has a book chapter titled “(Non)existent Laws of Workplace Cyberbullying: Limitations of Legal Redress in a Digitized Market” in press with IGI Global.

Rosenthal’s most enduring law school memory is of the KU Law community’s response to tragedy. In October 2018, the Jewish Legal Society organized a Blue Out event in response to a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The group urged students to stand in solidarity against hatred by wearing blue, and hosted a lunchtime panel discussion with academics and leaders from the Lawrence and Kansas City Jewish communities. Rosenthal served as vice president of the Jewish Legal Society.

“The outpouring of support was inspiring. The entire law school, from student leaders to administrators, came together to support a deeply personal and important cause. This is both my favorite law school memory and a thing of aspiration for the organized bar,” Rosenthal said. 

Several professors and administrators impacted Rosenthal during his time at KU Law, he said.

“By minimizing power differentials and treating pupils as future colleagues, the best teachers empower students with agency and autonomy such that students become excited to pursue their passions,” Rosenthal said.

After graduation, Rosenthal plans to focus on passing the bar exam, finishing his doctoral dissertation and finding a job he’s passionate about.

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the fourth is a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out previous stories about Denise Dantzler, Cara Beck and Terra Brockman, and stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Former Naval aviator applies lessons learned in flight school to succeed in law school

Second-year law student Jared Jevons spent 11 years in the Navy before coming to law school. Jevons is pictured over Wake Island in the western Pacific Ocean. Photo courtesy of Jared Jevons.

Naval aviators consider themselves professionals. We did so (and Naval aviators continue to do so) because the profession required us to pass our craft onto future Naval aviators. Passing on our craft included an expectation that future Naval aviators will advance the profession and not maintain the status quo. Because our craft was constantly changing, it meant we were students whether we had 100 flight hours or 2,000. To pass on the craft, we sought in our interactions with others to be humble, approachable and credible. If we exuded those characteristics, we could best pass our craft onto others.

Humble

Being humble meant we sought to be modest and downplay our success. Assistance is sought from those who are humble, rather than those who are boastful or arrogant. Although pride and self-confidence are a natural consequence of gaining proficiency in a craft, humbleness was the quality pursued because it works hand-in-hand with approachability. A humble demeanor creates an approachable presence.

Approachable

Being approachable meant you were accessible to individuals beyond your close colleagues. Being unfriendly or inaccessible ran counter to our goal of passing knowledge beyond our close colleagues. The passage of knowledge was critical to our success as a profession, so being approachable meant having an inviting presence despite our own individual momentary stressors. Importantly, in passing on a craft, humility and approachability only goes so far if you cannot communicate your knowledge.

Credible

Being able to effectively communicate your knowledge gives credibility.  Being credible meant knowing your craft and knowing it well. Credibility is a product of preparation, dedication and study. It is a quality that exists at all experience levels, but is also built over time. By establishing credibility in one interaction, more knowledge would be sought later, and in turn our colleagues became more credible. However, credibility alone does little good if your demeanor and presence prevents others from seeking your knowledge. Thus, passing on our craft to others means being humble, approachable and credible.

Of course, this approach is applicable beyond Naval aviation. It will not get you an “A” on your next exam. But it will make you a better fellow student in Green Hall, future attorney and human being. I try to exhibit these characteristics around Green Hall. I challenge you to do the same.

No matter the stage of our legal careers, being humble, approachable and credible will help us pass on our craft, make us better co-workers and be sought after for counsel. Furthermore, exhibiting these characteristics will mean we better represent ourselves, our education and our profession. As we turn the page on the academic year, whether we engage with others virtually or in-person, let’s take our humility, approachability, and credibility into the classroom, office and courtroom.

Congrats to the Class of 2020! Good luck in your careers. Congrats to the Class of 2022! The scariest part is over. Congrats to the Class of 2021! We’re almost there.

— Jared Jevons is a 2L from Manhattan and a KU Law Ambassador. He spent 11 years in the Navy and flew over 2,000 hours in the F/A-18F as a Weapon Systems Officer.

Graduate Profile: Terra Brockman, L’20

Terra Brockman, L’20 

Outstanding graduate distinguishes herself through leadership, service

Terra Brockman has distinguished herself through leadership and service at the University of Kansas School of Law. Brockman, a third-year law student, will graduate this month. She has led the student body throughout her three years at KU Law by serving as Student Bar Association president and Student Ambassador president.

“I enjoyed being an advocate for the students at KU Law because it was important to me that everyone felt like they had a voice,” Brockman said. “It wasn’t always easy, but it was definitely worth it.”

As a two-term Student Ambassador president, Brockman gave tours to prospective law students; enhanced student recruitment for KU Law; and helped build an inclusive and welcoming community.

Brockman served the school in other ways as well. Brockman is a member of the Black Law Students Association and the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council. She has served on the Graduate Student Advisory Board, Mock Trial Counsel and KU Court of Parking Appeals. Brockman also represented the law school at the American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition in 2019 with seven of her peers.

“I enjoyed holding multiple leadership positions because I love to serve my community. I think I have always grown up that way,” Brockman said. “I grew up learning about famous leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Hillary Clinton and Nelson Mandela. I am always blown away by the impact they had on their communities. It really inspired me to give back, and always contribute to something bigger than myself.”

Brockman received the Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award from KU Law, which is given to the graduate who has most distinguished him or herself through leadership in the law school.

During law school, Brockman gained legal experience as a law clerk at DRZ Law; a legal intern at the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office; a law clerk at the Wyandotte County District Court at the 29th Judicial District; and as a research assistant for Professor Suzanne Valdez. She also got a firsthand look at the criminal justice system through an internship at the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies.

“Professors Alice Craig, Jean Phillips and Elizabeth Cateforis taught me a tremendous amount during the year I spent in that clinic,” Brockman said. “It was absolutely one of my favorite experiences at KU Law.”

Brockman is also on KU Law’s Pro Bono Honor Roll. She completed 70 hours of pro bono service throughout law school and earned Pro Bono Distinction recognition. Pro bono work is defined as uncompensated, law-related work that benefits the public, such as through a nonprofit organization or government agency.

Terra Brockman, L’20. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

After she graduates from KU Law, Brockman will practice in family law and criminal defense at Joseph, Hollander & Craft in Wichita.

“KU Law prepared me for the workforce in a lot of ways. Going into law school, I knew I wanted to be someone who argued in a courtroom,” Brockman said. “KU Law provides so many classes for those who are interested in going this route.”

Brockman enjoyed the rigor of the KU Law curriculum and the opportunity to take experiential learning courses.

“My favorite classes at KU Law were all experiential courses that I took that I felt prepared me for practice, such as Trial Advocacy, Deposition Skills Workshop, Expert Witness Skills Workshop and Alternative Dispute Resolutions,” Brockman said. “It was nice to learn skills one day, and then use them in class the next. These courses definitely helped make me a better advocate and litigator.”

When asked who her favorite law professor was, Brockman was not able to narrow down her choice to one individual.

“There are too many to count! Some of my favorite professors are Professor Sward, Professor Valdez, Professor Mulligan and Professor Schnug,” Brockman said. “All four of these professors have given me so much guidance both in and out of the classroom.”

Brockman received undergraduate degrees in philosophy and psychology from the University of Kansas in 2016. She is from Kansas City, Kansas originally but moved to Overland Park, Kansas later in life. Brockman considers both as home. When looking at law schools, she initially did not intend to go to KU Law because she had lived in Lawrence for the previous four years. After visiting Green Hall and experiencing the KU Law atmosphere, she decided to spend three additional years living in Lawrence.

“When I walked in Green Hall, I could just feel the energy. The students were nice to each other; they interacted well with each other; and the faculty and staff were even better,” Brockman said. “The energy that I felt in Green Hall was not something that I experienced at the other law schools that I visited. It’s nice to know that after three years here that energy has remained the same.”

Brockman’s favorite KU Law tradition is the school’s annual Barber Emerson Bluebook Relays event for first-year law students. The competition, sponsored by a Lawrence law firm, tests legal research skills learned in the lawyering skills courses. Working in teams, students locate references in the library and write the citation in correct bluebook format. The point system rewards speed, accuracy and citation skills.

“I was the Bluebook ‘expert’ for my team and loved getting to participate with my small section in this KU Law tradition. I think the whole experience really shaped the year for us and made us closer as colleagues,” Brockman said.

Terra Brockman, L’20, is pictured with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in January 2018. Photo courtesy of Terra Brockman.

While Brockman was a first-year law student, she had the opportunity to meet U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he visited KU Law in 2018. Thomas was the second black man to be appointed to the country’s highest court. He is the only black justice currently serving on the Supreme Court. Brockman considers his visit to be a unique experience that she’ll carry with her throughout her legal career.

“I would definitely say having lunch with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a favorite law school memory,” Brockman said.

Brockman advises prospective law students to be patient with themselves, break out of their comfort zone and make the most of the opportunities that come their way.

“There is an incredible amount of pressure sometimes, and you want to be the best at everything. But sometimes you learn the most and get the most from the things you aren’t good at,” Brockman said. “Enjoy the process. It really is an incredible three years that serves you a lot of personal growth.”

— By Ashley Golledge

This post is the third is a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out stories about Denise Dantzler and Cara Beck, and stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Cara Beck, L’20

Cara Beck, L’20. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

Dedicated student is headed to federal clerkship after graduation

Cara Beck’s favorite memory of her time in Green Hall is a noisy one.

Her 1L small section, taught by Professor Ellen Sward, was competing in the 2017 Barber Emerson Bluebook Relays, an annual tradition that tests first-year students’ citation prowess.

“I’ll never forget Professor Sward standing by and plugging her ears because the main lobby gets so loud with all of the excitement. That was the first time at KU Law in the midst of the stress of 1L year where I felt part of a community,” Beck said.

As part of the graduating class of 2020, Beck’s time at KU Law is ending on a quieter note. During her three years at the law school, Beck made a mark through her involvement in a student-edited publication and as a teaching assistant from the lawyering program. She was an articles editor for the Kansas Law Review during her 3L year and a staff editor as a 2L.

Beck (front row, fifth from left) with the winning Team Swardfish at the 2017 Barber Emerson Bluebook Relays. Photo by Mindie Paget.

Beck said her favorite law classes were Federal Courts with Professor Sward and Employment Discrimination with Professor Kyle Velte.

“I loved those classes because not only were they academically challenging, but Professors Sward and Velte challenged us to think critically about the material,” Beck said. “I learned so much in both classes, and both will be extremely helpful in my career.”

Originally from Mitchell, South Dakota – a town of about 15,000 in the southeast corner of the state – Beck earned her undergraduate degree in government and international affairs and history from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She chose KU Law because of its wide alumni network.

Cara Beck
Cara Beck, L’20. Photo courtesy of Cara Beck.

“Being from South Dakota, I wanted to branch out and go to a larger school that had more possibilities near a larger city, as well as have a diverse alumni network in various areas of the law,” Beck said. “There was something that seemed to be valuable about being a Jayhawk lawyer. Everyone knows the Kansas Jayhawks.”

Beck expanded her legal experience through summer internships for Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, P.C. in Sioux Falls and Husch Blackwell in Kansas City, Missouri. She said KU Law helped prepare her for those experiences and future work by challenging her to handle multiple responsibilities.

“Law school is an environment where you’re stretched thin with responsibilities – be they homework, extracurriculars, networking or job hunting – but KU Law taught me to juggle all of my responsibilities and learn to excel when your plate is full,” she said.

Beck advises prospective law students to build and nurture professional relationships. Networking and keeping up connections can open doors to new opportunities, she said.

“I made a connection with an attorney at a happy hour as a 1L and kept in contact with her throughout the semesters, asking to meet for coffee or lunch and keep in touch,” Beck said. “She was able to speak on my behalf to my personality when I applied for a summer job at her firm, and I think that really was instrumental in me getting that summer employment.”

After graduating, Beck will clerk for Judge Jonathan A. Kobes on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She is one of six KU Law graduates to land a federal court clerkship in recent years. Following her one-year clerkship, Beck plans to practice labor and employment law in Kansas City. She hopes to one day land in the nation’s capital.

“I hope to make it to Washington, D.C. at some point in my career,” Beck said.

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the second in a series highlighting just a few of the exceptional members of the Class of 2020. Check out a previous story about Denise Dantzler, and stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Denise Dantzler, L’20

3L Denise Dantzler delivers the welcoming address at the 2020 Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy Symposium. Dantzler is the editor-in-chief of the publication. Photos by Ashley Golledge.

Accomplished student to pursue career in patent law

Third-year law student Denise Dantzler is a trailblazer. Dantzler was the first woman of color to serve as the editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, which was founded in 1990. She was also the first in her family to go to law school.

In addition to holding the top leadership position at the Journal, Dantzler is a Shook Hardy & Bacon Scholar; member of the Black Law Students Association; member of the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council; teaching assistant for lawyering skills classes; research assistant for Professor Andrew Torrance, who is an expert in patent law; and member of the Jaffe Transactional Law Competition moot court team.

Dantzler received the Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership, and Service Award from KU Law, which is given to the student who has most distinguished him or herself in the combined areas of scholarship, leadership and service.

Dantzler also participated in KU Law’s Summer Start program, which allows students to get a head-start on their law school education the summer before their peers begin law school.

“KU Law’s Summer Start program drew me to the school. As a science undergrad, I figured I could use any extra time and resources to make the switch over to ‘thinking like a lawyer,’” Dantzler said. “In the long run, this experience gave me the tools I needed to be successful as a law student.”

Throughout law school, Dantzler gained a variety of legal experience. She was a summer patent law clerk at Hovey Williams LLP, did a legal internship at CenturyLink, worked as a summer associate at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and did an externship with the Hon. Julie Robinson, L’81, Chief Judge of the United States District Court of Kansas.

Dantzler said that KU Law’s legal writing and experiential classes have helped set her apart from peers attending other law schools.

“Over the past three years at KU, I have written briefs, contracts, opinions, a scholarly article, legal and legislative memorandums, research pathfinders, and more. I had no idea how much legal writing experience we receive until I compared our classes with other law students over the summer,” Dantzler said. “I cannot thank my professors enough for this exposure.”

While at KU Law, Dantzler formed a special connection with Professor Ellen Sward.

“Although I have enjoyed learning from all of my professors, my favorite professor is Professor Sward. She always puts her students before herself and wants each of her students to succeed,” Dantzler said. “I am thankful I attended KU Law before she retires this year.”

Denise Dantzler, L’20

Dantzler, who is originally from Omaha, earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe. As an undergraduate student, she was a member of the school’s soccer and track teams. She also tutored her peers in chemistry and writing, and has continued as an academic counselor for the MidAmerica Nazarene soccer team as a law student.

Dantzler advises prospective law students to have an open mind about what they want to do after they finish law school.

“Law school can open many doors for you, so do not close any before your start,” she said.

Creating a strong circle of trustworthy and reliable friends has also been important to Dantzler during her law school journey.

“As much as I have appreciated my familial support over the past three years, sometimes, family members cannot understand the sacrifices you may have to make during law school,” Dantzler said. “If it were not for my three great friends, I would not have gotten through law school!”

After graduating from KU Law this month, Dantzler will be a patent law associate at Hovey Williams, a boutique intellectual property law firm in Overland Park. Dantzler will leverage her background in chemistry to interpret domestic and foreign patent office actions and develop scientific and legal arguments.

“Because patent prosecution work is a perfect combination of science and law, I am thrilled to enter a field I know I will enjoy, and I hope to help inventors convert their novel ideas into business solutions,” Dantzler said.

— By Ashley Golledge

This post is the first in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2020. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.