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!!

– Olivia 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

Beyond the Books

Navigating Law School as a Person of Color

Christy Harris, 2L

Congratulations! You did great in undergrad, scored well on the LSAT and made it into law school. Despite all of your achievements, being a person of color in a predominantly white institution (and field) can have you questioning your place in the midst of it. From the micro aggressions, feeling unseen, unheard and is some cases, blatant racism, law school can be difficult to navigate. As a person of color, here are nine tips to help maintain a strong mental and emotional dynamic, while earning your JD:

1. Diverse Desks, Diverse Minds:

Law school can be a bit like a courtroom drama from the ’90s – traditional and lacking diversity. But guess what? Your unique background is an asset. Embrace it. Share your experiences and challenge perspectives. Your view is of value!

2. Participate in Affinity Groups:

Build your tribe. Join affinity groups, connect with students who share your background, and create a supportive community. Having a crew that understands your journey is priceless.

3. Be Your Own Advocate:

It’s not just about defending cases; it’s about defending your space. If you encounter bias or stereotyping, speak up. Be your own advocate, and let your voice be heard. Your perspective matters, and it deserves respect.

4. Mentorship Matters:

Seek out mentors who’ve walked a similar path. Their guidance can be a beacon of wisdom in the sometimes-murky waters of law school. Learn from their experiences and let them be your legal compass.

5. Network, Network, Network:

Networking will be the MOST IMPORTANT thing you do, while in law school and beyond. Attend events, connect with alumni, and build a network that extends beyond the walls of your law school. Your connections can open doors and create opportunities.

6. Balance is the Verdict:

Yes, law school is demanding, but don’t forget to balance the scales. Take breaks, indulge in hobbies and STAY CONNECTED TO WHO YOU ARE. It’s not just about doing well on exams; it’s about maintaining a healthy and holistic approach to your legal journey.

7. Rise Above Stereotypes:

Stereotypes may try to shadow your brilliance, but it’s YOUR excellence that got you into law school…REMEMBER THAT! YOU BELONG! Let your accomplishments be the counter-narrative. Show the world that brilliance knows no color, and the legal arena is richer for it.

8. Celebrate Your Wins:

From acing that tough exam to surviving your first moot court, celebrate your wins. Every triumph, big or small, is a step toward breaking down barriers and paving the way for future trailblazers. Even if your grades aren’t where you desire them to be, focus on being KNOWLEDGABLE, COMPETENT and EFFICIENT. That is what your clients will appreciate. They will not care about your rank.

9. Inspire Others:

Remember, you’re not just navigating law school for yourself; you’re setting a precedent. Your journey inspires others to follow their dreams, regardless of background. Be the change you want to see in the legal world.

Navigating law school as a person of color is a journey worth taking, but not an easy one. Embrace your uniqueness, build your support system, and let your voice echo through the hallowed halls of justice. Be BOLD. Be BRAVE. Be BRILLIANT. You got this!

– Christy Harris is a 2L KU Law Student Ambassador from Dallas, Texas

Is Your Refrigerator Running?

The benefits of laughing while in law school

Wren Browne, 1L

There are a lot of jokes and stereotypes that revolve around exhausted, neurotic grad students. Law students fall into this trope very nicely, what with all the reading, writing, interviewing, cold calling, working and once in a while sleeping necessary to staying afloat. It’s a stressful three years – but there is a Superman-themed BandAid. Laughter is the best medicine.

No, seriously. There are studies on studies on studies that show the benefits of laughing in both the long and short term. Laughter can make you feel better both physically and mentally.

The stress relief from a good laugh is quick, it’s easy, and best of all: it’s free. Laughing relieves stress by activating and releasing your stress response. What that means on a very basic level is that your heart rate and blood pressure both rise and then fall, allowing you to feel relaxed. This is especially noticeable if you’re already pretty stressed, and maybe haven’t allowed yourself a study break in a few hours or have consumed more Red Bull than water in the last week, when the rise and fall might be a little more dramatic. Laughter forces you to take deeper breaths and your muscles to relax. Also, laughter gives your pain tolerance a boost – very useful for those Con Law readings.

Laughter has also been shown to be a mood booster. Even fake laughter can leave a person feeling not just relieved, but happy. Long term, this can mean combating extreme bouts of depression. Also, many – if not the majority of – law students start their first semester not knowing a single person. Good news: laughter can help with that, too! Laughter helps build bonds between people. You find the same things funny, which is a simple but effective way to link and even create a friendship. Laughter indicates to others that you aren’t stressed, which can signal that you aren’t a threat or that your environment lacks threats. This not only gives you the joy of connection, but also creates long-term bonds that have long-lasting stress relieving effects.

There’s a lot to be stressed about, sure. Midterms, finals, assignments, the construction this summer (as long as they don’t touch those third-floor ceilings; Green doesn’t have the best ceilings I’ve ever seen, but they’re up there). But there’s also the 1L Pub Night skit, being silly with your friends, and this picture of my friend’s dog.  No one said law school would be easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable either.

– Wren Browne is a 1L KU Law Student Ambassador from Midland, Michigan