Graduate Profile: Cortez Downey, L’22

Student leader pursuing a passion for privacy law

Cortez Downey in graduation regalia
Photo courtesy of Cortez Downey.

During his second year at KU Law, Cortez Downey took a course in Privacy Law. The class, taught by Professor Najarian Peters, set Downey on a career path.

“Professor Peters introduced me to the complex, fascinating, and ever-changing world of privacy law, and it has become a passion of mine,” Downey said.

After graduating this month, Downey plans to join a large law firm in Houston as a data privacy and cybersecurity attorney. In addition to taking courses in privacy and cybersecurity law, Downey founded the KU Privacy & Cybersecurity Society, a student organization that promotes current legal issues in the field. He also attended the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Global Summit in Washington, D.C. in April.

“KU Law prepared me for the workforce by offering several classes in my field of interest – privacy and security,” Downey said. “Also, I found it beneficial that some of my courses were taught by adjunct faculty currently working in their respective subject area. This positioned them to incorporate some of their day-to-day into the learning, which I found valuable.”

This semester, Downey joined nine classmates in Washington, D.C. as part of the 6th Semester in D.C. Program. Students in the program spend their final semester of law school working in field placements and taking classes in the nation’s capital. The experience of being in D.C. during the historic confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court was especially impactful, Downey said.

“Being in a new and exciting city – particularly one with so many lawyers – was a great way to meet people and expand my network,” Downey said. “Being in D.C. during Justice Jackson’s confirmation and being able to attend the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Global Summit were amazing experiences.”

Downey has been an active student leader at KU Law, working with organizations including the Black Law Students Association, Student Ambassadors and Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council. As president of the Black Law Students Association, Downey facilitated self-care, wellness education and meditation sessions for fellow students, and led efforts to raise over $4,000 for local charities during the annual Food & Textured Hair Care Drive. Downey has been co-president of the law school’s Student Ambassadors for two years, planning recruiting events and mentoring incoming students.

In 2021, Downey received the Law Class of 1949 Award for Leadership for the 2L class. The award is given annually to students who, in the opinion of the faculty, contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. During three years at KU Law, Downey built a record of service and scholarship that completing legal internships through the Tribal Judicial Support Clinic and Mediation Clinic.

His favorite law school memories are of celebrating local teams with his classmates – from the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win during his first year to “watching the Jayhawks win the NCAA championship at a local KU alumni hangout in D.C.,” Downey said.

Originally from Edmond, Oklahoma, Downey earned his undergraduate degrees in biology and Spanish from Oklahoma State University. He worked for four years with the Houston Independent School District as a high school teacher and college & career advisor before enrolling at KU Law.

As he gets ready for his career in privacy and cybersecurity law, Downey is looking forward to a new type of advising role.

“I am excited about growing in my capacity as an attorney and mentoring other aspiring attorneys, particularly those interested in privacy and/or security,” he 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 2022. Check out previous stories about Olivia Black and Parker Bednasek. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Graduate Profile: Parker Bednasek, L’22

Law Review editor-in-chief was ‘raised to be a Jayhawk’

Law school has kept Parker Bednasek busy.

As editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review, Bednasek was responsible for representing the University of Kansas School of Law in legal academia.

“You also have a lot of interaction with professors at other law schools, so you want to be professional and leave a good impression,” Bednasek said.

While his experience leading the Law Review was a big responsibility, Bednasek also values the time he spent as a teaching assistant in the Lawyering Skills program and as a Shook Hardy & Bacon Scholar. Part of the law school’s Academic Resources Program, the Shook scholars lead study groups for first-year students. Bednasek was also a member of KU Law’s Moot Court Council.

Parker Bednasek
Parker Bednasek, L’22.

“Being a TA and an SHB scholar has meant a lot to me because it provided a mentorship opportunity with 1L students – which I really value,” Bednasek said.

Later this month, Bednasek will join fellow members of the KU Law Class of 2022 for graduation celebrations. They will gather at the school’s first in-person Hooding Ceremony since 2019, finishing a law school career that’s been full of unexpected challenges.

“I think the general experience of navigating law school during a pandemic has been really unique and has created challenges that are different than any other generation of law school students have faced,” Bednasek said.

Bednasek grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both of his parents are from Kansas – “so they raised me to be a Jayhawk,” Bednasek said. KU was the only school he applied to for his undergraduate degrees in political science and history.

“After spending four years in Lawrence for undergrad, I fell in love with the town and university – and it became my home. When looking at law schools, I knew that I would receive a quality legal education at KU because of my undergrad experience and that I would have great employment opportunities after graduation,” Bednasek said.

During his time at KU Law, Bednasek completed two field placements, working for a Kansas district court judge and the Federal Public Defender’s Office. In the Trial Advocacy skills course, he had the chance to question witnesses and give opening and closing statements. He also participated in the Project for Innocence clinic, taught by Professor Jean Phillips.

“I was able to get experience in complex issues of state and federal criminal law with the help of a stellar attorney – Professor Phillips,” Bednasek said.

That experience helped prepare Bednasek for the workforce and the career opportunities ahead.  

“I am really excited about representing KU in the legal field and giving back to the school where I can,” Bednasek said. “Being able to help the next generation of KU lawyers is an opportunity that I would love to have in the future.”

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the second in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Check out a previous story about Olivia Black. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Higher ed law offers ‘a little bit of everything’

Marissa Hotujac, L’20, reflects on her two-year fellowship with KU General Counsel

As an attorney for a university, you get to work on a little bit of everything, says Marissa Hotujac, L’20.

That includes “litigation, contracts, athletics, labor and employment, policies, First Amendment issues, student and Greek life matters, and so much more,” Hotujac said. “There’s always something new to learn and it’s challenging, which I enjoy.”

Marissa Hotujac
Marissa Hotujac, L’20. Photo courtesy of Husch Blackwell.

During a two-year fellowship with the University of Kansas Office of the General Counsel, Hotujac got the chance to work on a wide variety of legal issues that intersect with higher education law. Hotujac completed the 2020-2022 term of the Husch Blackwell Higher Education Law Fellowship at KU in March. She recently joined Husch Blackwell’s Kansas City office as an associate in the law firm’s higher education practice group.

With the general counsel’s office, Hotujac worked on projects related to the university’s response to COVID-19, contracts with international agencies, and athletics matters. She also had the chance to represent KU as the lead attorney in several internal disciplinary hearings.

“It was rewarding to see matters I’ve been involved with get implemented across campus – whether it was research I conducted on an issue or a company, editing university-wide policies, or advice that I gave to a client employed at KU,” Hotujac said.

Regular assignments included reviewing and negotiating contracts; conducting legal research and drafting memos; writing motions, briefs and other litigation documents; reviewing university policies; and advising clients.

Hotujac started full-time with the KU general counsel’s office in June 2020, as part of the pilot term for what officially became the Husch Blackwell Higher Education Law Fellowship in 2022, said Lori Haaga, director of legal administration for the Office of the General Counsel.

Fellows in the program get support from the office while they study for the bar exam. Then, they’re immersed alongside the office’s team of attorneys, Haaga said. Once admitted to the Kansas Bar, the fellow practices as a licensed attorney for the university. They gain membership to the National Association of College and University Attorneys, along with access to conferences, webinars and continuing legal education offerings. Husch Blackwell also provides development opportunities, and the fellow becomes a participating member of the firm’s higher education practice group, Haaga said.

Hotujac interned with the KU General Counsel’s Office during the fall of her 3L year. When colleagues told her about the fellowship and encouraged her to apply, Hotujac took the leap.

“It’s relatively uncommon for a university general counsel’s office to employ recent law school graduates,” she said. “So, I was interested in applying for the fellowship because I thought it was an incredible opportunity to break into the higher education law field and to gain first-hand experience working in a university setting.”

Hotujac accepted the fellowship right out of law school and hit the ground running, said Brian A. White, general counsel for KU.

“Marissa epitomizes the essence and intent behind the creation of the fellowship,” White said. “Throughout her term, Marissa demonstrated exceptional character, significant leadership qualities and a keen intellect for legal issues facing higher education. Marissa’s future career practicing in higher education is bright and we look forward to following her wherever that road may lead.”

Originally from Overland Park, Hotujac earned her undergraduate degree in communication from Truman State University in 2016. At KU Law, she was a staff article editor with the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. Hotujac also participated in the 6th Semester in D.C. Program, which allows students to spend their final semester of law school in Washington, D.C.

“I had an externship with the Department of Justice, and I think spending my last semester working on real cases all day, every day helped prepare me for the professional world,” Hotujac said.

For law students interested in pursuing a similar fellowship or a career in higher education law, Hotujac advises taking a variety of courses, focusing on legal research and writing skills, and gaining practical experience through offerings such as the Deposition Skills Workshop or 6th Semester in D.C.

“Branch out and try to make yourself a well-rounded candidate. You never know where it will lead you,” Hotujac said. Applications for the 2024-2026 Husch Blackwell Higher Education Law Fellowship open in fall 2023, with the two-year fellowship term starting in June 2024.

— By Margaret Hair

Graduate Profile: Olivia Black, L’22

Student leader reflects on 6th Semester Program, hands-on experiences at KU Law

For her final semester of law school, Olivia Black joined nine classmates in Washington, D.C. for the 6th Semester in D.C. Program. Developing friendships with her cohort and connecting with KU Law alumni in the D.C. area has created some of Black’s favorite law school memories, she said.

“The 6th Semester in D.C. program is an amazing program. I worked at the National Association of Attorneys General, and worked on forthcoming important issues. I gained knowledge about cryptocurrency and sports betting legalization during my internship and hope to carry it into my legal practice,” Black said. “More students should take advantage of the program.”

Photo courtesy of Olivia Black.

Black’s 6th Semester experience caps off a law school career that has included time representing KU Law in national business law competitions, leading student organizations and mentoring peers. Black will graduate in May with her J.D. and Certificate in Business and Commercial Law.

Originally from Wichita, Black earned her undergraduate degree in health science from Wichita State University. She chose KU Law because it was close to home and had smaller class sizes – and KU basketball.

At Green Hall, Black was a student leader involved in the Black Law Students Association, OUTLaws & Allies and the Dean’s Fellows. She was a co-head Dean’s Fellow this year, providing mentorship, academic support and guidance to first-year students.

Black competed in two national transactional law competitions through the Polsinelli Transactional Law Center, including The Closer, an invitation-only competition hosted by Baylor Law. As a second-year student, Black and two teammates participated in the UCLA School of Law Transactional Law Competition, winning a first-place award for Best Draft and second-place awards for Best Negotiation and Best Overall. Adjunct instructor and Polsinelli shareholder Bill Quick coached both competitions, along with professors Lua Yuille and Kelley Sears.

“I sat under Bill’s guidance for two years, and during that time, he taught me invaluable negotiating and transactional legal skills. Thanks, Bill!” Black said.

Hands-on experiences including the Medical-Legal Partnership Field Placement and the Judicial Field Placement “prepared me for the workforce,” Black said. She interned with Judge Rhonda Mason of the Johnson County District Court, learning several writing strategies which “contributed to my legal analysis and writing,” she said.

“I participated in the Medical-Legal Partnership with Miss Juliann Morland DaVee. We worked closely with clients at Lawrence Memorial Hospital to address legal issues caused by societal shortcomings. She even assigned me several clients’ cases as if I were a young associate,” Black said.

After graduation, Black will join the law firm Hite, Fanning & Honeyman in her hometown.

“I am excited to return to Wichita and make a positive impact using my legal skills in the Wichita community,” Black said. “Before COVID-19, I had no plans to return to Wichita; now, I am excited to return to my beloved city and build my legal practice.”

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the first in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

Law school is NOT your life

Law school is your life – this is what I was told on my first day of orientation. Throughout my summer and for part of my fall semester, law school was my life, but it would not always be.

In my 1L fall semester, I lost two of my closest family members over the course of five weeks. Halfway across the country from my family and hometown, I was devastated. In October, I went to my Tata’s funeral and felt like I was choosing between my family and law school. I felt guilty for not staying in Texas longer to be with my family to honor his memory, and I felt guilty for not studying more. In November, my Tio unexpectedly died of a heart attack — a week before finals. I was forced to miss his funeral due to finals but was able to spend some time grieving with my family and helping with funeral arrangements.

Olivia Almirudis Schneider with her late Tata and her Abuelita at her college graduation
Olivia Almirudis Schneider with her late Tata and her Abuelita at her college graduation.

It was at this moment of great loss I realized that law school is NOT my life. In the midst of the pressures and stressors of law school, I started to see myself as just a law student or a number on a class rank. But I intentionally shifted my mentality to see law school as part of my life that I celebrate and cherish, and I stopped seeing it as my all-consuming identity.

When we start thinking of ourselves as a number instead of as a whole person, we lose sight of what truly matters in life. My late Tata often reminded me, “Always remember, wherever you are, that you are an Almirudis.” I want to pass on this wisdom to every single law student: always remember who you are and don’t let law school change you to be someone you’re not. You can do that by remembering the three Cs: culture, character and challenge.

1. Remember your culture.

Olivia Almirudis Schneider and her husband
Olivia Almirudis Schneider’s husband is an active supporter in her journey to becoming an attorney.

As the daughter of an immigrant, I stand on the shoulders of generations of beautiful, hard-working people who fought and sacrificed to make my dream possible. My Abuelita would have never imagined that her granddaughter would be able to study to be an attorney. Never forget that your privilege is another’s dream.

2. Remember your personal character.

With my faith background and Hispanic upbringing, my cultural context and values look different than many of my classmates, but this is a beautiful thing. Professor Levy often says that the law is one big, beautiful tapestry that should be cherished, and the same is true for law school classmates. We are one big, beautiful tapestry of people with differing belief systems that need to be highlighted and cherished. Stay true to yourself and don’t change for anyone.

3. Remember to challenge everything you hear.

Olivia Almirudis Schneider's dogs
Olivia Almirudis Schneider‘s pups make adorable company while she studies.

Everyone’s law school experience is different. Throughout orientations, meetings and conversations, you will hear a variety of ranging opinions on classes, classmates, professors and law school in general. Choose to see the best in everyone and try to keep an open mind. I was told that law school would be the three most miserable years of my life, and for me, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, make sure that law school is not your life. Choose, every single day, to remember your culture, and stay true to your character and challenge yourself to live your best law school life.

By Olivia Almirudis Schneider, a 1L from San Antonio, Texas and KU Law Student Ambassador

Mentorship Matters

At times, your 1L year can be overwhelming. As such, advice from those who have experienced it is invaluable. Mentorship opportunities have made my first year of law school much smoother and more fulfilling. I want to share five mentorship opportunities to take advantage of during your 1L year:

Karlie Bischoff
Karlie Bischoff, 1L Student Ambassador

1. Official mentorship

At the beginning of my fall semester, the Career Services Office matched interested students with mentor attorneys from the community. I received three mentors and have enjoyed learning about their careers and daily work lives in their respective fields. All three taught me about careers that I did not even know existed, allowing me to further explore my own future. Additionally, they have introduced me to other attorneys in the community that share similar interests.

2. KU faculty

One thing that continually impresses me is my professors’ availability and willingness to meet outside of class to discuss course material, answer questions and share career advice. Professors and other faculty have helped tremendously in providing guidance on career options, extracurricular involvement, course offerings and general methods to succeed in law school.

3. Older students

Formally and informally, 2Ls and 3Ls are a great resource for learning about class preparation and summer internship options. My 1L small section has two Dean’s Fellows, Sarah and Jacob, who give us advice, motivate us and answer our questions that we don’t want to ask anybody else. Both peers have helped greatly in teaching me about exam preparation, outlining and managing study time effectively.

4. Informal mentorship

Some of the best guidance that I have received in law school has been through attorneys who I met outside of law school through previous jobs, family friends and mutual connections. At the end of my first semester of law school, my Lawyering Skills professor challenged each of us to reach out to an attorney who we know over winter break and ask them to meet for coffee. I accepted that challenge and met with a couple of attorneys in Kansas City. It was a helpful experience both in learning about career opportunities and growing my network.

5. My classmates

Finally, I learned an incredible amount from my classmates during my first year of law school. Each of us came to KU Law with unique backgrounds and perspectives, and we all have something to contribute and teach each other. A large portion of my time is spent with my small section, so being surrounded by encouraging, supportive and interesting peers has been a crucial part of staying afloat during my first year of law school.

-By Karlie Bischoff, a 1L from Kansas City and KU Law Student Ambassador