My dog’s journey through Paw School

Mellie (left) and Jojo lay on a wooden structure at the local dog park. Jojo is 3L Sarah Buchanan’s dog. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.
A younger-looking Mellie rests her head in the middle of an LSAT prep book. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.

Mellie, my 4-year-old golden retriever, has spent most of her life in paw school pursuing the prestigious Juris Dogtorate degree to become a full-time pawalegal. In these past few years, we’ve both learned a lot. Here were some of our biggest takeaways (that I have transcribed directly from Mellie, of course) from the journey that is law school:

Do what works for you

Everyone has their own study habits and techniques to tackle reading assignments or note-taking. Don’t be afraid to try something new until you find something that works for you. During 1L year, I realized that flowcharts and notecards are an effective study strategy for me. Try not to compare yourself to your peers, focus on what works for you. However, please note that Mellie’s attempt at learning via sleeping on top of notecards might not be the strongest strategy to employ. 

Mellie asleep on the couch with a paw dangling in front of a dry-erase board that contains a flowchart with vague scribblings of property law before a final exam. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.

Authenticity over everything

Be yourself! Sounds easy, right? This notion will get tested time and time again in law school due to its inherently competitive nature. All I can say is, I wouldn’t have had an amazing summer internship opportunity with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project if I wouldn’t have spent the interview passionately rambling about prison abolition. Focus on developing authenticity by discovering your value system and standing up for those beliefs; this will open far more doors than simply trying to fit in.

Mellie asleep in an orange chair with a folded-up trans flag behind her. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.

Find your people and support them

Mellie lying on the couch while tuning in to a presentation on “Gender Marker and Name Changes in Kansas” via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.

Law school is temporary, but the friends I’ve met along the way are forever. If there’s one thing I would do law school all over again for, it would be to meet my friends and mentors who have helped to shape my beliefs and values. Law school is exhausting; having friends help to ease that. My friends have been a shoulder to cry on and the sounding board to whom I vent my frustrations, as well as a source for anime recommendations and new hobbies to relieve stress like painting or roller skating. Finding mentors along the way has helped me keep my house plants alive, in addition to validating my feelings and clearing up career confusion. Mellie and I are so grateful for the support system we’ve gained in just three short years.

Take a break

Mellie recommends naps. Lots of naps.  

Mellie sleeping on the bed during Professor Velte’s virtual Employment Discrimination class. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.
Mellie with pawrents, 3Ls Delaney Hiegert and Bria Nelson, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.

Don’t be afraid to go on new adventures

This January, we moved to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Sixth Semester in D.C. program. It was scary to leave the Midwest for the first time and to venture out into the unknown. Doing so has brought me connections that will last a lifetime and a renewed sense to seek justice for marginalized communities, my communities. This experience has also been a reminder that nothing seems to truly go according to plan in this wild ride called life. You will experience many ups and many downs but will face each new challenge with the combined knowledge of lessons learned along the way. While we have enjoyed this chapter in D.C., we are excited to see what comes next!

Don’t take yourself too seriously

A collage comprised of nine pictures of Mellie smiling with her tongue hanging out. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.
Mellie asleep on an Iowa State blanket in front of a windowsill full of plants. Photo courtesy of Bria Nelson.

Life is too short to not do things that make your tail wag. Develop self-care tactics and make them part of your daily routine. In addition to naps, Mellie likes to go on long walks, roll in the dirt or snow, and sometimes will even doggy paddle her way to happiness. Mellie is constantly reminding me of the simple joys when the going gets ruff. Your law school journey does not have to consist of 18-hour days in the Wheat Law Library if you don’t want it to. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Make sure to pour the same amount of love and compassion into yourself as you are into this new journey.

Rock Chalk!

— Bria Nelson is a 3L from Woodstock, Illinois and a KU Law Student Ambassador.