My Thoughts on the Walk

Thoughts on a 46-year-old KU Law Tradition

Cameron Savard, 3L

Overcast skies and wind gusts didn’t deter Dean Mazza’s lead of some 20+ law students to “Old” Green Hall. It’s a tradition held each spring for the last 46 years and counting. The walk itself didn’t last too long—though you’re going uphill, it goes by quickly with classmates you’ve known since day one of orientation. I waited until my third year to participate in this time-honored tradition here at KU. I felt it would be a fantastic way to reflect on my journey through school with colleagues I’ve made over the last three years while we, as students and faculty, reflected on KU Law’s history where its deepest roots took hold—especially under Dean Green.

Photo from 2023’s Walk to Old Green

We made it onto the steps, sat in front of those Romanesque columns, and listened intently to Dean Mazza’s stories about our 146-year history. I won’t spoil it for those who want to take the walk, but some of these stories involve the building itself and explain why “Old” Green Hall became a special place for its students. As I listened to others, I noticed how KU Law underwent some palpable changes, most notably leaving “Old” Green Hall for the New and yet much about this school remains the same. Dean Mazza noted some aspects of this school that remain essentially untouched. One of these is that KU Law has been open to all people of all backgrounds since 1878, by Dean Green’s design—where within its first two decades, KU Law had women and African American graduates. Another that spoke to me most personally is that Dean Green and other faculty members applied all the experience gained from their highly accomplished backgrounds to the one place they felt mattered most: their students. Dean Green promoted an open-door policy for all and as a 3L, I can personally attest to our outstanding professors doing the exact same to this day. This kind of mentorship here at KU is itself memorialized by Dean Green’s statue, where we see KU Law graduate Alfred C. Alford of the late 1890s with Dean Green’s outstretched arm and support. Over the last three years, I’ve known my professors to live, work and exemplify Dean Green’s legacy with their guidance and professionalism towards my peers and me. I know for sure this aspect of KU Law, amongst others, will never change.            

After being able to walk inside “Old” Green Hall, where the steps still creaked and engraved wood columns stood over us, it was time for us to make our return. Truth be told, this simple walk made me that much prouder to be a future KU Law graduate and the first in my family to attend law school anywhere. I’m incredibly fortunate to attend a school whose core principles—instilled by its first dean—are so very present, even in a different building. No matter where Green Hall is, or what its future holds, KU Law will be the institution it’s always been for those seeking to learn the law. The Walk to “Old” Green Hall only made what I’ve known about this place for the last three years that much more tangible.

Photo from 2023’s Walk to Old Green

– Cameron Savard is a 3L KU Law Student Ambassador from Katy, Texas

30 Years of VITA

KU Law celebrates 30 years of helping the community with free tax preparation

Nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes. For the last 30 years at KU Law, one more thing has been certain: the VITA clinic. Started in 1994, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) was created to connect law students with the community and help community members file their tax returns.

Led by the president of the Business and Tax Law Society, the VITA clinic was already in full swing when Dean Stephen Mazza joined KU Law as a faculty member in 1998. Initially focused on helping international students file tax returns, the process looked a little different than it does today.

“I got involved probably two or three years after I arrived because the IRS was transitioning from paper returns to electronic,” said Mazza. “That was sort of the transition period where Legal Services for Students got a grant from the IRS to help international students and the need for the VITA clinic switched.”

Kat Girod, L’23, advertising the VITA clinic in 2023.

Legal Services for Students (LSS) also offers free tax filing assistance through a VITA grant from the Internal Revenue Service. Like VITA, LSS helps U.S. resident taxpayers but also helps international students, faculty and staff at KU file their taxes for free.

“We know tax filing can feel complicated and even overwhelming for taxpayers,” said Jo Hardesty, director of LSS. “That’s why at LSS, our goal is not only to help taxpayers get their returns filed but to educate taxpayers about the tax system.”

The VITA clinic has remained one of the most visible pro bono projects KU Law offers and is one of the few pro bono projects that is not tied directly to class credit. Students who volunteer for the program receive firsthand experience working with the Lawrence community and developing valuable skills for their future careers.

“This clinic is a great opportunity for students to develop some client interviewing and counseling skills,” said Mazza. “Our students are an important resource for members in our community who get high-quality legal assistance without having to pay for it.”

This year, the VITA clinic has already helped more than 70 members of the local community, but Shannon Greene, 3L, president of the Business and Tax Law Society and leader of the 2024 VITA clinic, has hopes that the number will grow by the time tax season is over.

“Last year we filed 118 tax returns and that’s double how many we filed from my 1L year,” said Greene. “Our program just keeps growing over time.”

Since its inception, the VITA clinic has filed more than 6,500 tax returns and has enlisted the help of more than 500 student volunteers. It’s the community connections that keep law students returning to volunteer year after year. Even recent graduates still remember their experiences fondly.

Shannon Greene, 3L

“The VITA program is a great way to give back to the community,” said Tyler Hellenbrand, L’22, who ran the program in 2022. “For many, filing taxes can be an expensive and confusing process. The VITA program alleviates those difficulties by providing quality tax assistance at no cost.”

VITA has remained a community staple for 30 years and plans to continue for at least the next 30 years.

“Some of our clients have been coming back for decades,” Mazza said. “I remember who they are and when we used to report their children as dependents. Now their children are grown. It’s nice to see the same client base and know that they have enough faith in us to help them year after year.”

Hear more about the program from Shannon Greene on According to the Record by FM 101.7FM 1320AM KLWN.

By Emma Herrman

From Surviving to Thriving

Surviving Personal Hardships and Tragedies in Law School

Olivia Almirudis Schneider, 3L, and her daughter.

When I came to law school, I expected to have typical stressors: unexpected cold calls, late nights of studying and long final exams. However, I did not expect the significant personal hardships that befell me each year: 1L year, losing my Tata (my grandfather) and my Tio unexpectedly during midterms and finals season; 2L year, enduring severe physical pain due to an invisible illness; and 3L year, delivering my daughter six weeks early and surviving a life-threatening childbirth.

During each of these difficult seasons, quitting would have been an easy decision, but quitting was never an option for me. Becoming a lawyer was my life-long dream, and I was not going to let tragedy, pain or setbacks stop me. Through each of these situations, I shifted my mindset to see KU Law as a training ground that was strengthening my resilience, compassion, and determination and equipping me to step into the legal career I dreamed of having. From each year of law school, I’m taking these three life lessons with me into my legal career: (1) do the next right thing, 2) invest in your health and 3) lean on your community.

Do the Next Right Thing

Schneider and her sister, Maria, who is attending KU Law this coming fall.

As an anxious 1L, I was obsessed with figuring out the perfect way to navigate law school: from having the best highlighting system to outlining the most efficiently, to finding the best study carrel on the 4th floor of Green Hall. When unexpected family tragedies struck, my perfect study timeline and system were thrown out the window. Rather than being crippled by a seemingly endless list of to-dos, my husband encouraged me to make my new plan and just do the next right thing. This mindset shift helped me realize how important it is to be flexible and willing to change plans. There’s so much unpredictability in life and the legal profession, and it’s invaluable to learn how to reassess, adjust and move forward by simply doing the next right thing.

Invest in Your Health

Schneider and Lauren Page, L’23

As a 2L, I was taking the most difficult classes I’d taken yet, was working as a Staff Editor on the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy, and was President of Women in Law. The stress of law school was compounding but paled in comparison to the excruciating physical pain I was dealing with from my invisible illness. With five law school finals, the first thing I neglected was my health, and I kept telling myself that I would find time to take care of myself later. My condition worsened, and I was faced with a difficult decision: to use my spring break by going to a life-changing specialty medical clinic or studying and preparing for finals. One of my professors gave me some powerful advice: to take time for myself especially when I don’t feel like I can because that’s when I need it most. Because I took his advice, I found so much physical healing. Through that experience, I learned that the cycle of pushing myself to burnout led to crashing and less—not more—productivity. Instead, I incorporated a new system of mitigating burnout and started slowing down to rest and recharge. Through this new cadence, I’ve found myself so much healthier and even more productive and it will be a system that I’ll be working on implementing my whole career.

Lean on Your Community

In the homestretch of law school, I looked forward to one relaxing final semester and expected my first child to make her debut over spring break. Due to a life-threatening condition, my daughter came six weeks early and spent several weeks in the NICU. As I was laboring in the hospital, in a dangerous medical situation and hooked up to countless monitors and IVs, I pulled out my laptop to work on school. My instinctual reaction was: “I’ve got this. I don’t need help.” But as my condition worsened, it became clear that I would need help to get across the finish line. Although I was afraid of being seen as less than for asking for help, I was met with overwhelming compassion, kindness and understanding. The only person, who expected me to figure out how to do things on my own, was me. When I couldn’t help myself, I found so much power and strength in having my community support me.

When I look back on the past three years of law school, I’m thankful for the professors, mentors and classmates, who helped me grow in resilience, compassion and determination. For future and current law students, I hope my journey encourages you to never give up on the pursuit of your dream, no matter what challenges get thrown your way. Through the terrors of 1L cold calls, the exceptionally late nights of 2L and the exhaustion of 3L, I hope that you never stop doing the next right thing, that you take care of your mental and physical health and that you learn to lean on your community. RCJH!!

– Olvia Almirudis Schneider is a 3L KU Law Student Ambassador from San Antonio, Texas

Have Faith in Yourself

Hollywood’s most famous lawyer inspires young law students today

Keegan Fredrick, 1L

“You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.”

– Elle Woods, Legally Blonde

Having faith in yourself is one of the most important skills I have learned to cultivate during law school. Attending law school and becoming a lawyer has been my dream and goal since the first grade. I remember doing a biography report on a historical individual and researching Sandra Day O’Connor because she was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. That was the first time I felt seen and that I too could study and practice law, as a female with a physical disability. Elle’s wise words have continuously played through my head since beginning my legal education journey this past year.

Having faith in myself stems from knowing that my identity, while underrepresented in my prospective profession, is a unique asset for my endeavors in law school and my future career. Elle’s words greatly impacted me as I began to understand how minimal the representation of people with a disability or differing ability is within the legal profession. The National Association for Law Placement found that ~1.99% of lawyers had a disability or differing ability in 2023. While such findings reveal the severe underrepresentation of people with my identity and perspective, my identity as a female with Cerebral Palsy fosters the faith I have in myself to pursue any goal I set my mind to, whether that be earning a law degree or learning how to stand up on a surfboard.

While it may seem cliche, Elle’s advice, in my opinion, is some of the best advice prospective and current law students could receive. Ultimately, law school and life become more fulfilling and rewarding by having faith in yourself and knowing your unique perspective and identity. After all:

“It is with passion, courage of conviction and a strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world, remembering that first impressions are not always correct. You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.

– Elle Woods

– Keegan Fredrick is a 1L KU Law Student Ambassador from Fredricksburg, Virginia

Spring Break in Lawrence!

How to enjoy Lawrence over break

Melanie Almendarez, 1L

I’ve called Lawrence home for five years now, but this will be the first spring break I will spend in town. While much of my time will be dedicated to preparing my outlines, I’m also looking to add some fun to the mix. So, I stumbled upon the Explore Lawrence website and was not disappointed. I did not realize how many events the city and local businesses hold for the community! From food to shopping, to art events, to music and theatre… Lawrence has so much to offer, especially over spring break! Here are a few events and locations that caught my eye.

Massachusetts Street

Mass Street

If you didn’t know already, Mass Street is the hot spot for places to eat and shop. There are so many different boutiques and retail stores, including KB & Co, which incorporates 14 different boutiques. I personally enjoy walking through the Antique Mall because there is always something interesting to find. There are numerous coffee shops and places to do work as well, like Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop. You can also grab an amazing burger at The Burger Stand for lunch, a quick boba drink at Yolo Boba, or delicious pasta at The Basil Leaf Café for dinner. No matter what you have in mind for your day, Mass Street likely offers the perfect spot for you to enjoy!

The Bottleneck

The Bottleneck, located just off Mass Street, is a live music venue that hosts a diverse lineup with reasonable ticket prices. They are holding four different events during spring break week, including Hockey Dad, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, and Hail the Sun and Intervals. If you love discovering new music and supporting local talent like me, this is where it’s at!

Outdoor and Recreation

Clinton Lake

Many people (myself included) enjoy spending time outdoors and, fortunately, the weather is supposed to be great over break! Lawrence has a long list of trails and parks that are great spots to visit. The famous Clinton Park is always a great destination. They have many trails to choose from, as well as great picnic spots. There is also DeVictor Park and Conrad & Viola McGrew Nature Park, plus many more! Lawrence has such a large selection of parks to choose from, big or small.

These events and locations are just a glimpse of what Lawrence has in store for you over break. You can find more information on the Explore Lawrence webpage, which is very easy to navigate. Don’t forget to treat yourself to some well-deserved study breaks and go do something fun in Lawrence!

– Melanie Almendarez is a 1L KU Law Student Ambassador from Wichita, Kansas

Seven Hundred Generations

Legal Advocacy and Growth in Law School

Alex Nelson, 1L

Law school is such a short time of your life – three brief years. For those of us in law school, those three years seem like a long time. But to help get context on how fast time moves, and how transitory we all are in life, sometimes it can be helpful to take a long-term view of things. For instance, three years is nothing when compared to the time of an entire generation. Sometimes it can be very helpful to think of things in terms of generations, rather than years.

Alex Nelson, 1L; Justin Shock, 3L; Jade Kearney, 3L; Emily DePew, L’23; Skylee James, 2L; Lauren Bretz, 2L; Cody White, 1L

I had an opportunity to really think about things in terms of generations during the weekend of February 23, where I was fortunate enough to travel to Missoula, Montana, as a part of KU’s Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) moot court team. Moot court is a speaking competition modeled after oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court. You and a partner write a persuasive brief arguing why the judges should side with your (fictitious) client in a dispute. Then you travel to a tournament and appear before a panel of judges, arguing why the law supports your client’s position. The NALSA moot court problem focuses on issues in tribal law and federal law affecting native peoples. This year’s problem was focused on issues of water rights and tribal sovereignty, based on a real dispute between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Indian Tribes and Montana farmers.

The tournament began with an opening ceremony, where the chairman for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes shared a story that stayed with me for the entire weekend. The story involved a conversation between a tribal leader and a farmer, where the leader met to talk about disputed water rights, and who would likely prevail in court on a water rights claim. Those who use a water source first often get the primary rights to use that water, and consequently, the question of which generation was the first to use a water source can often be of central importance. In the story, the farmer says to the tribal leader, “I think we will win this dispute. We have all the history here – my family has been farming here for four generations!” The tribal leader nods, and then says “You’re right, four generations is a lot. My family and my people have lived here for seven hundred generations.” Seven hundred generations – that is a long time. And the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are still there, seven hundred generations and counting.

Missoula, Montana

Learning about the idea of the long view, of seven hundred generations, was one of several incredible things about being a part of the NALSA moot court team. I loved traveling to Missoula – the mountains were beautiful, and I never got used to waking up and walking out of my hotel room to a view of what looked like the Misty Mountains from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I loved hanging out with my teammates. I got to know them all in a different way than I would normally have done at school (there is something about being with other people in an airport at an ungodly early hour of the morning that just bonds you together). Being enmeshed in tribal law and learning from some of the foremost tribal law scholars in the nation was also amazing. I did not know very much about tribal law before being a part of NALSA, and it was an incredible experience to learn about it in a very real, tangible, and hands-on way. Lastly, it was super cool to see my teammates do well. KU ended up winning the competition for the fourth year in a row! And we had another team rank in the top 8, with a second place brief (the written part of the competition)! The tournament was a success on all fronts.            

Alex Nelson, 1L; and Cody White, 1L

But above the successes and experiences, the most critical thing I learned from the weekend was the importance of advocacy. Native peoples have inhabited their lands for seven hundred generations and longer, and yet continue to be ignored and harmed by the system. There is often a negative or pessimistic outlook for native peoples in the United States justice system. The feeling is that tribes rarely win legal rights or legal disputes. And yet, the NALSA moot court competition was a group of around a hundred students and many more legal professionals, all dedicated to advocating for tribal nations and making a positive impact with their advocacy.  It struck me that if something seems like an uphill battle or a hard legal problem, a group of committed passionate advocates can make a world of difference. Whether your client is a tribal nation, a struggling single parent, a Fortune 500 company or anyone else – advocacy matters. NALSA moot court helped me understand that as law students and future attorneys, we need to advocate for our clients and causes we care about in the best manner we can so that in seven hundred generations from now, the world will be a better place.

– Alex Nelson is a 1L KU Law Student Ambassador from Stillwater, Minnesota