Graduate Profile: Leah Hodges, L’22

Student advocates for those with limited resources

Leah Hodges chose to attend law school because of her passion for people and providing support for those with limited resources.

Leah Hodges

After graduating this month, she will begin her role as a Missouri Justice Fellow with the Missouri Public Defender’s Office in St. Joseph. The two-year criminal defense fellowship places participants in underserved communities throughout Missouri, with a goal of making the criminal justice system more equitable for everyone.

Hodges earned her undergraduate degree in sociology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville before attending KU Law.

“I came to KU Law because I have a passion for innocence work, and I wanted to participate in KU’s Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies,” she said.

Hodges not only enjoyed the work in the clinic but also developed an appreciation for the clinic’s supervising attorneys – Professor Elizabeth Cateforis, Professor Jean Phillips and Professor Alice Craig.

“They have taught me what it really means to listen to your client, to respect them and to fight for them zealously,” Hodges said. “I hope to one day be even half of the advocate that they are.”

Professor Cateforis had a profound impact on Hodges’ law school experience.

“She has supported me from the first day I met her and has taught me what it means to be a true advocate for your clients and to persevere no matter how challenging the road ahead may seem,” Hodges said. “I have taken every class she teaches here at the law school and have found such a wonderful friend in her.”

Hodges was involved in several extracurriculars during her time in Green Hall, including Women in Law, Public Interest Law Society, and First-Generation Professionals (FGP), where she served as president. As an FGP student having experienced difficulties to purchase law school textbooks herself, Hodges created the FGP Library at KU Law. Relying completely on donated textbooks and materials from generous alumni and older students, the FGP Library is a free resource to any FGP law students in Green Hall.

Leah Hodges and Erin Nisly
Leah Hodges and Erin Nisly label donated textbooks

“Being the president of FGP was an incredibly rewarding experience for me,” Hodges said. “I was determined to do everything I could in the time I had to show FGP students that we belong here, and we are valued in the legal community.”

Hodges plans to continue her mission of advocating for those with fewer resources as a Missouri Justice Fellow.

“Often times, as a public defender, clients are coming to you on one of the worst days of their lives. I want them to know that despite what their situation may be, they still deserve respect and the best representation I can possibly provide,” Hodges said. “I am excited to be able to have a career where each day I can work toward criminal justice reform by advocating for those who have been marginalized in our society.”

As a first-generation professional, Hodges looks forward to connecting with and supporting her clients through an empathetic lens.

“I may not know what it’s like to walk in my clients’ shoes, but I want them to know that I do know what it’s like to not have the same financial resources as others,” Hodges said. “I want my future clients to know that just because someone is living in poverty does not mean that they do not deserve fair and competent legal ​representation and access to justice.”

-By Sydney Halas

This is the final post in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Check out previous stories about Olivia BlackParker BednasekCortez DowneyAshlyn ShultzDahnika ShortTrey Duran, Heddy Pierce-Armstrong and Lakisha Cooper.

Alumni gift creates labor law fund in honor of Professor Raymond Goetz

From the late Professor Raymond Goetz, William Bevan III learned that objectivity and understanding are essential to being a good labor lawyer.

“If you’re going to be really successful at it, you have to understand what’s motivating the people on the other side of the bargaining table or the other side of a labor dispute,” Bevan said.

Bevan, L’70, recently established a fund to help teach that approach to future generations of KU Law students. Bevan created the Raymond Goetz Labor and Employment Law Support Fund with a $25,000 gift to KU Endowment. The fund is intended to support programs related to labor and employment law. It will also create an award for third-year students studying labor or employment law.

Goetz started teaching labor and employment law courses at KU in 1967. He retired in 1987. Bevan said he and many classmates thought of Goetz as a demanding but fair teacher with a wide range of interests who students could always go talk to.

“He meant a great deal to me as a professor, as a teacher and as a mentor,” Bevan said.

When Bevan started teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh in 1988, Goetz was his first call. He wanted to teach with the same Socratic method that Goetz had successfully used with Bevan and two decades worth of other KU Law graduates. 

The education in labor and employment law he received at KU enabled Bevan to achieve a series of career goals in labor law, from working at the National Labor Relations Board in a number of capacities to building a career in private practice, a career that’s still ongoing.

“I wanted to honor him, and I wanted to give back to the school for giving me the education that enabled me to have a really wonderful career,” Bevan said.

Make a gift to the Raymond Goetz Labor and Employment Law Support Fund

Graduate Profile: Lakisha Cooper, L’22

Educator plans to use J.D., Ph.D. to address inequity

Lakisha Cooper lives by the belief, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Lakisha Cooper
Lakisha Cooper, L’22

She recently graduated from the University of Kansas with two degrees that will allow her to follow that belief on a greater scale.

Cooper, L’22, completed her law degree at the same time as a doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy studies. She worked for 12 years as a special education and secondary English teacher in the Kansas City Public Schools before coming to law school. During that time, Cooper saw the challenges schools face in providing an equitable and adequate education to all students, she said.

“As I prepared to work as an educational leader, it became increasingly clear that policies and procedures that were created to reduce educational disparities only work when monitored and enforced,” Cooper said. “The decision to pursue these degrees concurrently made sense because there is tremendous work to be done to protect the legal rights of students and public education.”

Originally from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, Cooper earned her bachelor’s degree from the KU School of Business. While she worked as a teacher, she completed a master’s degree in special education from Northwest Missouri State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Arkansas State University.

Cooper’s passion for education intersected with her interest in the law. That intersection is also a fundamental part of our democracy, she said.

“In 1894, Frederick Douglas explained, ‘To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature.’ Education equals liberty and is a fundamental part of full inclusion in a democratic society,” Cooper said.

Working toward inclusion and equity shaped Cooper’s law school experience. Serving on the leadership team of the Black Law Students Association was Cooper’s most impactful activity outside of the classroom, she said. Cooper was treasurer of BLSA during the 2020-2021 academic year.

“The summer of 2020 was among the most trying times in terms of race relations in the United States,” Cooper said. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement amplified the need for the legal system to eliminate gaps in protection that allow for the disparate treatment of marginalized individuals, she said.

“As protests ignited across the country in reaction to the killing of George Floyd and many others, as a leadership team we met and discussed the importance of this moment in history to unite and say enough is enough,” Cooper said.

“The crafting of the statement by BLSA to address the death of George Floyd, and the ongoing discussions on diversity with law school leadership, alumni, and members of the Lawrence community over the course of that year was an important part of my development as a law student and future attorney,” she said. “Change is not easy but for change to occur one must be willing to evaluate with a critical eye, be thoughtful and reflective, and ensure everyone has a seat at the table because representation matters.”

Cooper also participated in the Sports Law Society and KU Privacy and Cybersecurity Society. She was a member of the Judge Hugh Means Inn of Court professional organization.

Two KU Law professors helped Cooper develop as a writer and researcher, as she worked with them on projects that aligned with her interests and skills. Professor Lua Yuille invited Cooper to join a daily summer writing workshop that allowed her to meet other women working in the law, collaborate, and learn writing strategies. Cooper also worked with Professor Najarian Peters, supporting research on privacy and Black homeschooling families.

“The training and mentoring I received from Professor Peters helped me develop as a researcher and reminded me of the importance of prioritizing self-care,” Cooper said.

Lakisha Cooper poses in graduation regalia with a Jayhawk statue outside the Lied Center of Kansas
Photo courtesy of Lakisha Cooper

Last summer, Cooper interned with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights through KU Law’s Field Placement Program. Her duties included conducting legal research and working on the compliance and monitoring of cases the office handled.

“This internship provided me with an opportunity to seamlessly blend my education experience with my legal training and the chance to learn from veteran colleagues,” Cooper said. “The mentorship that I continue to receive because of this experience is invaluable and will be a part of my future success as an attorney.”

After graduating, Cooper is excited to pursue work in a variety of spaces on projects she is passionate about.

“I plan to continue my research on Black girls and barriers to educational attainment,” Cooper said. “I want to use my degree to influence policies and laws to benefit those who are in most need of support and advocacy.”

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the eighth in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Check out previous stories about Olivia Black, Parker Bednasek, Cortez Downey, Ashlyn Shultz, Dahnika Short, Trey Duran and Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, L’22

Student turns childhood memories into promising career in labor law

Heddy Pierce-Armstrong is graduating from the University of Kansas School of Law this spring and looks forward to discovering what the future will hold.

Heddy Pierce-Armstrong
Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, L’22

Pierce-Armstrong’s inspiration to attend law school came in the form of a hard-working, take-no-lip mother of two – her own mother. She recalls some of her earliest memories spent on a picket line while her mother’s union was on strike.

“I also remember sitting at the very front of every monthly union meeting with my mom and her friends who were unafraid to speak their minds about injustices in the workplace,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “During these times, I was so proud of my mom.”

Pierce Armstrong’s mother served as a shop steward at her plant. She attended grievance meetings and represented people at the plant facing various forms of discipline.

“I describe her job as being like a lawyer inside the plant,” Pierce-Armstrong said.

She had such great admiration for her mother’s passion and fight that she decided to earn a law degree and get the official title of lawyer.

A longtime resident of El Dorado, Pierce-Armstrong stayed close to her roots and earned her degree in women, gender and sexuality studies at KU before continuing directly on to KU Law as a summer starter.

“I wanted to be somewhere that was a truly collegial atmosphere. A place where students were supported by faculty and change was welcomed,” said Pierce-Armstrong. “At Admitted Students Weekend, I really saw the culture of the school.”

It took no time for Pierce-Armstrong to fully immerse herself in the law school experience, compiling an impressive list of extracurriculars including co-president of the Student Ambassadors; president of OUTLaws and Allies; participant in the Shook Hardy & Bacon Diversity Scholars Institute; and a member of Women in Law, Public Interest Law Society, First-Generation Professionals, Non-Traditional Law Students, the Native American Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association.

“The clubs, particularly the diverse student organizations, have helped me retain interest, purpose and drive while in law school,” said Pierce-Armstrong.

Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, Melinda Foshat and Samantha Lippard  post in front of Green Hall
Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, Melinda Foshat and Samantha Lippard worked together at the Legal Aid Clinic

She also took advantage of the hands-on learning programs offered at KU Law, participating in both the Legal Aid Clinic and Mediation Clinic.

“The clinics have been immensely valuable to my future as an actual attorney,” Pierce-Armstrong said.

Pierce-Armstrong dedicated a blog to the Legal Aid Clinic and the people who keep it running earlier this year, discussing a multitude of reasons why every student should take advantage of the learning opportunity.

Gathering more real-world experience, Pierce-Armstrong competed in mock trial and moot court competitions, including the National Native American Law Student Moot Court (NNALSA) competition which she recalls as one of her favorite law school memories. As a 1L, she traveled with the moot court competition team to observe the competition in San Francisco.

“I was so lucky to learn in my first year just how successful KU NALSA had been in the past,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “I also watched two very talented KU mooters advance to the semi-finals that year. Getting to go on that trip and seeing the talent that existed in that area of expertise drew me in to participate on the moot court team throughout law school.”

Pierce-Armstrong competed in the NNALSA competition in 2021 and 2022. She also competed in the All-Star Mock Trial Bracket Challenge in 2021.

In terms of academic courses, Pierce-Armstrong has taken a unique route as labor law is not a common area of focus, but she praises KU Law for helping accommodate her needs.

“For example, there is not specific labor law curriculum at the school,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “However, that ended up not mattering because I was able to kind of create a carved-out labor curriculum to show future employers that I was truly invested in the work.”

Pierce-Armstrong earned a competitive fellowship with the Peggy Browning Fund, established to prepare the next generation of advocates for workplace justice.

“My application stood out because of my proven interest and education that showed I wanted to work with or for a union,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “KU Law prepared me for the workforce by being flexible and helping to offer classes that were necessary for my future as well as assisted in connecting me with people whose interests align with mine.”

After graduation, Pierce-Armstrong plans to take a break and recoup from the whirlwind of law school and spend more time with family.

She will call on her education and experiences at KU Law as she continues on to her professional career, and she will always remember the childhood memories that got her here.

“I heard so many women’s voices loudly at union meetings. I saw marginalized people stand up for their needs,” said Pierce-Armstrong. “I witnessed the union help families down on their luck.”

She looks forward to fighting for unions by negotiating equitable contracts and representing union members in arbitrations.

“As a lawyer, I will have the needed skill to make the most impact possible,” Pierce-Armstrong said.

By Sydney Halas

This post is the seventh in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Check out previous stories about Olivia BlackParker BednasekCortez DowneyAshlyn Shultz, Dahnika Short and Trey Duran. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Welcoming law library presence celebrates retirement

Jeff Montgomery retiring after 46 years

Photo courtesy of Jeff Montgomery.

After 46 years at KU Law, Jeff Montgomery is retiring.

The circulation and serials department manager for the Wheat Law Library started working with the law school as a graduate student, shelving books in “old” Green Hall – now known as Lippincott – in 1976. He joined the law library staff full-time in 1981.

Since then, he has built relationships with the thousands of students who have passed through the law library.

“That’s been my mission all these years. I know where they’re coming from and I know how stressful it is and how miserable it can be, so I’ve always tried to make this a stress-free zone,” he said. From renewing books for students to printing something a student needed, Montgomery’s philosophy has been to make students’ experiences as smooth as possible.

“I just tried to treat them like I would like to have been treated,” he said.

Knowing everyone’s name is part of that approach. The law library keeps photo sheets of the current and recent law classes behind the circulation desk. Going back to the early 1990s, Montgomery has made a special effort to review seating charts and photo sheets to learn each student’s name.

“I have always felt like learning somebody’s name was a form of respect,” he said. “I just thought that was a nice thing to do for them, so they weren’t just a number. I think they appreciated that.”

For the past three decades, Montgomery has organized the Barber Emerson Bluebook Relays. The raucous KU Law tradition tests first-year students’ legal citation skills. Teams from each Lawyering Skills section race through Wheat Law Library to locate and record references as quickly — and accurately — as possible. Montgomery plans it all and keeps score.

The Student Bar Association honored Montgomery at an event in April, presenting him with a poster signed by current students. Current and past law faculty, staff and alumni gathered for a retirement reception at Green Hall in May. 

In retirement, Montgomery is looking forward to well-earned time to relax.

— By Margaret Hair

Graduate Profile: Trey Duran L’22

Student champion for diversity and inclusion to become victims’ advocate

Trey Duran will graduate from the University of Kansas School of Law this month, and they look forward to using their legal knowledge to give back to the people of Kansas.

Trey Duran
Trey Duran, L’22

“I am excited about contributing back to the public and using the skills I gained at KU Law to help people with their legal problems,” Duran said.

After taking the bar exam, Duran will become a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) attorney with the Topeka office of Kansas Legal Services.

“During my 2L summer, I was a legal intern with the Wichita office of Kansas Legal Services. I worked with Greg Gietzen, L’20, who was a VOCA attorney at the time and represented people who were trying to get protection from abuse orders,” Duran said. “Using my education to help other people was always my goal.”

Duran spent most of their life in Kansas, growing up in El Dorado and completing their undergraduate degree in political science at KU. As an undergraduate, Duran held several roles with the KU Student Senate, including serving as the senate’s director of diversity and inclusion. When the time came to look for law schools, there was a clear path to Green Hall.

“After my undergraduate education at KU, I felt very connected to Lawrence,” Duran said. “I knew that I wanted to practice law in the state of Kansas.”

At KU Law, Duran was the 2L representative for the Hispanic American Law Student Association (HALSA) and was later elevated to president. Duran continued to work with KU’s campus government, serving as a law student senator during their 1L year. They were also a legal intern for the Legal Aid Clinic and an articles editor for the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.

“The pandemic caused most extracurricular activities to reduce their activities. However, Journal was able to continue its full activities remotely, and I gained invaluable critical thinking, writing and research skills from that experience,” Duran said. “I worked with great teams, and I am proud of the publication we produced.”

As president of HALSA, Duran played a vital role in the planning and execution of the 2022 Diversity in Law Banquet, sharing the responsibility with the HALSA executive board – Jamie Treto, Amanda McElfresh, Joanna Alvarez and Lauren Stahl.

“It was the first time most HALSA members gathered together since early 2020,” Duran said. “It allowed us to celebrate the accomplishments of KU Law alumni, like the Honorable Mary Murguia, who recently became the first Latina to ever serve as the chief judge of a federal appellate court.”

As they reflect on their time at KU Law, Duran recalls fond memories with their 1L small section leader Professor Laura Hines.

Duran’s 1L small section led by Professor Laura Hines

“During her Civil Procedure class, my small section had a lot of fun together while learning,” Duran said. “My favorite memory is when my small section members brought a toaster, frozen waffles, syrup, paper plates and utensils, and we had a waffle party during a Civil Procedure class.”

Duran has enjoyed their time at KU Law and feels ready for the next opportunity.

“KU Law prepared me in both classrooms and courtrooms,” Duran said. “I studied and worked with a community of very passionate and intelligent classmates and faculty.”

-By Sydney Halas

This post is the sixth in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Check out previous stories about Olivia BlackParker BednasekCortez Downey, Ashlyn Shultz and Dahnika Short. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.