Posted on June 1, 2021
Following his first year of law school, Blake Saffels took a field placement with the Missouri State Public Defender’s office in Kansas City, Missouri. The experience put him on a path that will continue after his graduation from the University of Kansas School of Law.
“It provided great practical experience from working with some excellent attorneys and from getting hands-on experience interacting with clients. That experience also reaffirmed my desire to go into criminal defense,” Saffels said.
In addition to the Field Placement Program, Saffels prepared for a career in criminal law by participating in the Judicial Field Placement Program, Expert Witness Skills Workshop and Deposition Skills Workshop.
Saffels will start his legal career as an associate attorney focusing on criminal defense at Berkowitz Oliver in Kansas City, Missouri.
“At some point in my career, I will hopefully get to witness the end of the death penalty, mass incarceration, and many of the other problems in our country’s criminal system,” Saffels said.
Professor Emeritus Ellen Sward was one of Saffels’ favorite instructors at KU Law. Sward “kept things fun with her unique sense of humor” and was committed to her students’ success, Saffels said.
“I would not necessarily say that her infamous 9-hour Civil Procedure final was my favorite experience ever. But both classes I took from Professor Sward were challenging without being overwhelming, and she made complex material easy to understand,” he said.
Saffels earned a nickname – “Justice Saffels” – during his first year of law school. Friends had joked that his objective and thoughtful speaking would make him a great judge. When a professor asked during class if he was related to Judge Saffels – Blake’s grandfather was a judge – the name stuck.
“I could not tell you why because I do not plan on trying to become a judge, but some friends decided to call me Justice Saffels almost exclusively for the next two and a half years,” Saffels said.
Originally from Overland Park, Saffels earned his undergraduate degree in accounting and finance from KU in 2013. He and his wife, Hillary, had their son, Emerson, one month into Saffels’ first semester of law school. Their daughter, Lillian, was born last summer.
— By Margaret Hair
This post is the eighth in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill, Howard Mahan, Zachary Kelsay, Marisol Garcia, Leah Lewsader, Samantha Natera and Delaney Hiegert.
Posted on June 1, 2021
A 2020 KU Law graduate’s article was recently featured in the spring 2021 edition of The Business Lawyer, the flagship journal of the ABA Business Law Section. Tara Mollhagen Shepherd’s piece won her first place in the 2020 Mendes Hershman Student Writing Contest.
A highly regarded legal writing competition sponsored by the ABA Business Law Section, the Mendes Hershman Student Writing Contest encourages and rewards students for outstanding writing on business law topics.
Mollhagen Shepherd’s article, “Lien This Way or That: The Trouble with Categorizing a Lien as Judicial or Statutory,” was published in the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy in 2019.
Winning the contest was “a wonderful surprise,” Mollhagen Shepherd said.
“Of course, with something as prestigious as The Business Lawyer, I was thrilled. The reward for the amount of work that went into my article was so fulfilling,” she said.
Mollhagen Shepherd selected her article topic while she was serving as an extern for Hon. Robert D. Berger, of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Kansas, through KU Law’s Judicial Field Placement Program.
“I’m so thankful to Jessica Rebel and Judge Berger over at the United States Bankruptcy Court: District of Kansas and the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy for answering writing and research questions and helping me along the way,” Mollhagen Shepherd said.
“For Tara’s article to be selected as the winner this year is a big honor, and one that Tara very much deserves,” Harper Ho said.
Working as an associate attorney at Bever Dye, LC in Wichita, Mollhagen Shepherd practices in areas including estate planning, taxation, trusts and estates, and business law.
During law school, 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 & Public Policy. She also competed in national transactional law competitions, placing as a runner-up in the elite invitation-only “The Closer” National Transactional Law Competition at Baylor Law School in 2020.
Mollhagen Shepherd received the 2020 Robert E. Edmonds Prize in Corporation & Securities Law from KU Law.
— By Margaret Hair
Updated on May 26, 2021
Jeff Stowell, L’01, and Carol Stowell have seen first-hand the strain some students have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Carol Stowell finished her nursing degree in December, she saw her younger student peers struggle to stay in school as they faced job loss, a sudden increased need for childcare, and other challenges.
“We were really motivated to try to increase the size and reach of the KU Law Student Emergency Fund by our observations of the sometimes quiet effects the pandemic was having on young people,” Jeff Stowell said.
The Stowell family contributed a $25,000 matching gift to the Student Emergency Fund during this year’s university-wide giving day, ONE DAY. ONE KU. In response to the Stowells’ matching gift, 92 donors contributed $24,200 to the emergency fund in a 24-hour period.
The fund provides one-time grants to law students in need of emergency financial assistance, including covering costs such as counseling and mental health services. The grants do not need to be repaid. The Student Emergency Fund was made possible by support from the Janean Meigs Memorial Award in Law fund and its stewards.
Leah Terranova, assistant dean for academic and student affairs, said the fund provides a safety net for students who encounter a situation that could affect their ability to continue law school.
Since the fund was established in fall 2019, more than 30 emergency fund requests have been filled, providing more than $30,000 in financial support to students with emergency needs. Students have received grants to cover such unexpected expenses as car repairs, medical and dental bills, loss of income or family support related to COVID-19 or deaths in the family.
“We also use these funds to pay for counseling fees for students who may not otherwise be able to afford therapy. Ideally, we remove any financial barriers to students seeking mental health supports,” Terranova said.
In addition to the Student Emergency Fund, KU Law has provided grocery store gift cards to students to help with food insecurity during the past year.
To Jeff Stowell, there’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic made his family’s decision to support the Student Emergency Fund timelier.
“But it probably shouldn’t be that way,” Stowell said. “It’s becoming increasingly challenging for most students to be able to afford a quality education.”
“A rapidly growing number of our students sit in pretty precarious financial positions where a simple wrong turn of a screw can force them to drop out. We should continue to pay attention to that,” he said.
— By Margaret Hair
‘Looking forward to seeing what type of good I can get up to with a J.D.’
For Delaney Hiegert, L’21, the most impactful experience during their three years at KU Law was all about helping others.
In fall 2019, Hiegert – along with classmate Ellen Bertels – gathered support from the Douglas County Legal Aid Society and LGTBQ+ activists across Kansas to launch the Gender Marker and Name Change Project. The GMNC Project, operating within the KU Legal Aid Clinic at Green Hall, provides pro bono legal representation for transgender and nonbinary individuals as they seek affirming gender marker and name changes in Kansas.
“Ellen and I had a pipe dream of helping transgender Kansans by providing pro bono representation and free resources for them as they sought gender-affirming legal identity document changes on their journey of living authentically,” Hiegert said.
In addition to providing representation and resources, Hiegert and Bertels made connections with attorneys across the state and began offering CLE trainings related to advocating for transgender clients.
The experiences they had co-founding and working with the Gender Marker and Name Change Project “will stick with me throughout my legal career,” Hiegert said.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to serve our trans community and help to ensure the legal profession is capable of equitably advocating for transgender and gender diverse people in Kansas,” they said.
Hiegert and Bertels recently received the national PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award, honoring their work launching the Gender Marker and Name Change Project. Presented by the National Association for Law Placement, the award recognizes law students whose commitment to law-related public service work contributes to a culture of pro bono service within their law school. Hiegert and Bertels recruited and trained classmates to volunteer with the project.
At KU’s Lavender Graduation & Pride Awards in April, Hiegert received the Be You at KU Student of the Year Award, and the GMNC Project earned the Best Program or Initiative Pride Award.
KU Law awarded Hiegert the Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership, and Service Award at graduation. The award is given to the student who has most distinguished themselves in the combined areas of scholarship, leadership and service.
During law school, Hiegert was on the leadership team of OUTLaws & Allies, and participated in the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council, the American Constitution Society and the undergraduate ACLU of KU student organization. They were also on the board of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.
Favorite courses included Professor Kyle Velte’s course on Sexual Orientation and the Law.
“It was a great opportunity for me to engage with LGBTQ+ advocacy issues in the specific context of the law,” Hiegert said. “Plus, our final projects were podcasts related to an LGBTQ+ legal issue we were interested in, so I actually had a lot of fun creating it!”
This spring, Hiegert worked as a legal intern for the National Health Law Program through KU Law’s 6th Semester in D.C. program, which allows students to spend their last semester of law school taking classes and working in Washington, D.C.
“I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn about life as a full-time attorney prior to the start of my first post-graduation job,” Hiegert said.
Born and raised in Topeka, Hiegert earned their B.A. in communications studies – with minors in journalism and criminal justice – from Newman University in Wichita.
“I’m a Kansas kid at heart, so I was happy to have the opportunity to stay in my home state for law school,” they said.
Looking back on their time at KU Law, Hiegert said their favorite memories “are just all the little moments I had with my friends in Green Hall that got me through each semester.”
“Heely-ing in the basement through the tile hallway before each final; our first (and only) law prom; late-night study session snack runs; drag shows at the Jazzhaus; the Bluebook relays. There’s too many to choose one!” they said.
After graduation, Hiegert plans to sit for the July bar exam before starting a clerkship with Judge Jacy Hurst, L’07, of the Kansas Court of Appeals. Following their clerkship, Hiegert plans to pursue public interest fellowships or attorney positions focusing on LGBTQ+ justice issues and social justice issues.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what type of good I can get up to with a J.D.,” Hiegert said.
“I think that the skills I learned while at KU Law have prepared me to be a truly effective advocate for the causes that I am passionate about, and I am eager to put them to use!”
— By Margaret Hair
This post is the seventh in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill, Howard Mahan, Zachary Kelsay, Marisol Garcia, Leah Lewsader and Samantha Natera. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.
Updated on May 12, 2021
Student dedicated to immigration, employment cases
Third-year law student Samantha Natera dedicated her summers during law school to working on immigration and employment cases.
Following her 1L year, Natera completed two internships focused on immigration law. She spent the first part of the summer interning at Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Inc., in her hometown of El Paso, Texas.
“We had the opportunity to help many people apply for asylum who were in detention centers,” Natera said. She came back to Lawrence later that summer to intern with Treviño Law Office, working on immigration cases.
In summer 2020, she worked remotely for Farmworker Legal Services, a Michigan-based organization that helps migrant and seasonal farmworkers to fight against employer injustice. Natera continues to work with the organization.
During her 2L year, Natera volunteered for a workshop, hosted by Legal Aid of Western Missouri, on nonimmigrant visas for victims of violent crimes. Student volunteers had the opportunity to assist with some cases and understand the basic concepts of helping clients with U and T visas.
“It was a good practical experience that helped me understand how being a lawyer can impact so many lives and see that there are many attorneys out there who care about the community,” Natera said.
Natera plans to take the Texas Bar Exam this summer. After that, she is open to opportunities, including returning to Kansas. Natera said she is excited to start her legal career and help people.
“I have enjoyed working with immigration and employment-related cases,” Natera said. “I am excited that I will be able to work on more cases like these and learn more every day about how I can make a positive impact in someone’s life.”
Natera grew up on the border of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. She earned her undergraduate degree in finance and international business from the University of Texas at El Paso.
When she was choosing a law school, Natera had narrowed her choices to two. She stopped by KU Law with her family for a visit but found the school was closed when they arrived. Professor Lou Mulligan answered the door and offered to show them the building.
“He gave me and my family a tour, and then I just knew that KU felt like a right choice for me,” Natera said.
At KU Law, Natera was president of the International Law Society and vice president of the Hispanic American Law Students Association. She worked as a student assistant in the Career Services Office and translated international recruiting materials for outreach to Spanish-speaking students.
Along with her J.D., Natera will earn the International Trade and Finance Certificate. Several of her favorite law school classes were part of the certificate program, including International Trade Law, International Commerce and Investment, Chinese Law, and Asylum and Refugee Law. As a student in the Mediation Clinic, Natera worked on a project to develop training materials for diplomats at the United Nations through a partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.
“Through all the amazing people working at KU I have had the opportunity to participate in clinics, internships, workshops, and have met wonderful people,” Natera said. “These experiences have been so helpful and have given me confidence on what will come next.”
— By Margaret Hair
This post is the sixth in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill, Howard Mahan, Zachary Kelsay, Marisol Garcia and Leah Lewsader. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.
Updated on May 11, 2021
Former educator pursuing a career in immigration law
Leah Lewsader started her career as an educator.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Loyola University Chicago, Lewsader spent six years teaching elementary school in Santiago, Chile, before enrolling in law school at the Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane, Washington. She transferred to KU Law in her second year.
When she graduates this month, Lewsader plans to support children in a different way in her work as an attorney. She will join an immigration law firm in North Kansas City, focusing on asylum and working with unaccompanied minors who cross the U.S. border.
“As a former educator, I am most excited about working with children again,” Lewsader said.
Originally from Carbondale, Illinois, Lewsader was excited for the chance to come to KU Law as a transfer student after her wife was offered a coaching job at KU.
“Being from the Midwest, I jumped at the opportunity to move to Kansas,” Lewsader said.
Lewsader found community at KU Law with the student organization OUTLaws & Allies.
“I really enjoyed being a part of OUTLaws because as a transfer student, it was an instant sense of community,” she said.
Outside of Green Hall, she was involved in the legal community through the LGBT Bar and the Kansas Women Attorneys Association. The Kansas Bar Association recently awarded Lewsader its Capitol Federal Foundation Diversity Scholarship.
During law school, Lewsader interned with the KU Law Medical-Legal Partnership, served as a pro bono fellow with the Migrant Farmworkers Project for Legal Aid of Western Missouri, and was a policy fellow for a Missouri state senator. She will earn Pro Bono Distinction at graduation for completing more than 50 hours of unpaid legal service during her KU Law career.
“The Legal Aid Clinic is an incredible way to get hands-on experience and work directly with members of the Lawrence community,” Lewsader said. Clinic faculty Melanie Daily and Meredith Schnug center the client and promote social justice in every case, she said.
“Law school generally solidified the importance of kindness, compassion and relationships,” Lewsader said.
— By Margaret Hair
This post is the fifth in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill, Howard Mahan, Zachary Kelsay and Marisol Garcia. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.
Student aspires to make a difference in hometown
After graduation, Marisol Garcia plans to utilize her legal education in her hometown of Wichita.
Garcia plans to start work at Martin Pringle Law Firm LLP as an associate attorney after taking the Kansas bar exam in July. Garcia was a summer associate at the firm for the past two summers.
“Community has always been important to me, and I want to incorporate that in my future legal career,” Garcia said. “I’m excited to build relationships with my future clients and other attorneys in my area.”
At graduation, Garcia received the Robert F. Bennett Student Award. The award is given to a graduate whose undergraduate degree is from a Kansas university or college and who has demonstrated leadership qualities through public service.
Garcia refined her writing and practical skills through practical courses at KU Law, such as Appellate Advocacy, LGBTQ Seminar and Criminal Practice in Kansas.
At KU, Garcia was a member of OUTLaws & Allies, Hispanic American Law Students Association and competed in the Wagner National Labor and Employment Law Moot Court Competition.
“I was immediately drawn to OUTLaws & Allies, and it had a positive impact on my experience during my time at KU Law,” Garcia said. “Our group is full of amazing members who want to use their law degrees to help the LGBTQ+ community wherever they are. It felt great to have a group that shared the same values and desire to help our communities and who were always there to lend a helping hand when you needed it.”
Garcia also served as the president of First-Generation Professionals, an organization designed to benefit KU Law students who are either first-generation college students or first-generation law students. This organization helps prepare first-generation professionals for entry into the legal field.
While at KU Law, Garcia formed a special connection with Professor Laura Hines. Garcia considers Hines’ first-year Civil Procedure class to be her favorite law school course.
“She was always engaging in class and was willing to help you in any way she could, especially when it came to exam time,” Garcia said. “I’ll miss the sound of the pop of her Diet Dr. Pepper cans!”
“It absolutely does not get better than Pub Night 2019. Can’t choose between the skit, the band and the company! All of the 2Ls and 3Ls were talking about how awesome and fun it was,” Garcia said. “I thought they were exaggerating, but they were completely right.”
Before coming to law school, Garcia interned at Joseph, Hollander & Craft in the firm’s Wichita office.
Garcia earned an undergraduate degree in history from Kansas State University in 2018. She earned a minor in leadership studies and was involved with K-State’s Mock Trial Team.
— By Ashley Golledge
This post is the fourth in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill, Howard Mahan and Zachary Kelsay. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.
Moot court, mock trial shaped student’s KU Law experience
Zachary Kelsay, L’21, has been practicing advocacy skills in mock trial competitions since his undergraduate days. When moot court and mock trial contests moved online this year, Kelsay took on the new challenge.
“It was fun to learn a new way to litigate because none of the books on litigation provided guidance on how to advocate digitally,” he said.
Kelsay and first-year law student Emily Depew won the top prize at the 2021 National Native American Law Students Competition. In 2020, Kelsay and teammate Karen Fritts, L’21, won the first-place award for Best Overall Advocates and placed in the top three teams overall at the NNALSA competition. Professor Shawn Watts coached both teams.
“Karen and Emily are exceptionally skilled advocates, and it was exciting to work with both of them,” Kelsay said. “I learned a lot about the law while writing briefs and preparing for oral arguments. It made me confident that advocacy is the right career path for me.”
Kelsay also competed in the 2020 National All Star Bracket Challenge, a mock trial competition, with coaching from Professor Alice Craig. He was a member of KU Law’s Mock Trial Council and earned the Payne & Jones Award for Outstanding Oral Advocacy in spring 2019.
Learning how to advocate during remote competitions using KU Law’s dedicated Zoom room is Kelsay’s favorite law school memory. He thanked Kris Koenig, IT coordinator, and Crystal Mai, associate dean for administration, for helping competition teams get set up in the virtual space.
“After mock trial and moot court transitioned to an online format, they both worked hard behind the scenes to make our transition seamless,” Kelsay said.
Outside the courtroom – and Zoom room – Kelsay was active in several student organizations at KU Law. He served as a staff articles editor for the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. He also participated in the Student Bar Association, Dean’s Fellows, Black Law Students Association, and the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Scholars Program.
At graduation, Kelsay received the law school’s Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award. The award is given to the graduate who has most distinguished themselves through leadership in the law school.
Originally from Independence, Missouri, Kelsay came to KU Law through the Legal Education Accelerated Degree Program (LEAD). The program allows students to complete an undergraduate degree and a J.D. in six years, instead of seven. Kelsay earned bachelor’s degrees in global and international studies and history from the University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in 2018.
In the classroom, Kelsay said he appreciated Professor Jean Phillips’ Criminal Procedure course, “because she is such a kind person and makes every class exciting.”
“I have a much deeper appreciation for the Fourth Amendment, the Constitution and criminal justice reform after taking her class,” Kelsay said. Dean Stephen Mazza’s course on Federal Income Taxation also made an impact, preparing Kelsay to interpret IRS regulations and help people understand tax law.
After graduation, Kelsay plans to move to Washington, D.C.
“I am excited about using my legal skills to advocate for policy change and support community-level development,” Kelsay said.
— By Margaret Hair
This post is the third in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill and Howard Mahan. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.
Updated on April 22, 2021
Life has a lot of moving parts. Sometimes those parts move incredibly fast. Other times moving parts are relatively slow. Every so often, they move in totally unexpected directions. It can be hard work to even keep up at times. This is especially true when the unique challenges that law school presents are added to the mix. There isn’t a uniform best strategy to adopt to succeed. Finding what works best for you is a highly personal determination. However, those who routinely achieve their goals, regardless of their chosen means, share one common element: consistency.
To be consistent means to fully commit yourself to a sustained effort of action over a period of time until the moment your objective is achieved. Law students’ primary objective is twofold – to learn the material and to get good grades. Time is precious – maintaining consistency requires planning ahead to determine the steps you’ll take. Develop a plan at the outset of each semester that details your objective, priorities and a schedule to follow. Sticking to your plan can increase efficiency and accountability while acting as a guidepost directing your efforts. As the semester marches on, the ever-mounting workload can make it hard to see the road ahead, but as you keep going, it gets clearer. Stay the course as the fog of readings and assignments dissipates.
Planning and keeping your eyes on the prize are important, but what makes consistency the key to success is the grit it requires. Fully committing doesn’t mean spending every waking second and every bit of energy grinding in the library. Not that there aren’t times where that’s necessary, but doing so throughout the course of law school would be unsustainable and unnecessary. Don’t try it. Rather, it means always showing up, always giving your best effort and honoring your commitments in the face of all misfortune life throws at you. Some days it’ll be easier to pull the sled than others. Regardless of the bandwidth you’re bringing to the table on any given day, just by showing up, you’re confirming what you really want. Showing up familiarizes you with what you’re working toward. Familiarity breeds confidence. When you’re familiar with something, it’s easier to engage with. The easier something is to engage with, the easier it is to forge ahead even on your worst days. Simply, the more you do something, the better you get at doing it.
Not mentioning the human elements of consistency would be a colossal oversight. Remaining consistent in law school can heartily test your patience and question your self-efficacy. Staying patient over the long haul isn’t easy. Modern technology allows us to forego patience almos entirely in many respects. Law school, however, requires a great amount of patience – as does anything fulfilling, really. Managing your expectations about the time the learning process takes before realizing progress, is paramount. Beginning is always the hardest because it’s easy to feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. But if you stick to it, before you know it, you’ll recognize breakthroughs and be glad you took the time to do it right. Trust the process.
Stumbling is unavoidable in law school and is nothing to dwell on. Easier said than done. Self-efficacy, or in other words, your belief in your abilities to accomplish what you do set out to do, plays an especially major role in nailing down daily responsibilities. Floundering a cold call or receiving scathing feedback on a brief that you were proud of can sting, but you can’t let those little things make you doubt yourself. Everyone comes up short every now and then. Shortcomings merely reveal where you can improve, not that you’re incapable. Putting such a positive spin on what’s more easily viewed as a negative event makes getting up and dusting yourself off all the easier. Though that can be especially challenging depending on the circumstances, it’s never impossible. Consistently reassuring yourself that you’re capable when confronted with setbacks will, over time, build resiliency, the characteristic that empowers people to overcome difficult situations. Speak it into existence.
There are many ways to be a successful law student, but all roads to success are paved on a foundation of consistency. By committing to achieving a goal, always showing up, always giving your best effort, and never doubting your ability to succeed, you are developing character traits that attract a fulfilling life. Above all else, you owe it to yourself.
— By Andrew Arbuckle, a 2L from Mulvane, Kansas and a KU Law Student Ambassador.