What was it like to start law school?
Your professors were once law students too! We asked our Indian Legal Program faculty and staff what it was like to be a law student in their time, and our faculty responded with a variety of experiences.
Q: When did you start law school? What school did you attend?
Robert Miller: Started law school in 1988 at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland Oregon.
Kate Rosier: August 1995. University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah (Fun Fact: I was waitlisted at ASU Law. Grrrrr. I am still a little cranky about that!)
Helen Burtis: I started law school in the fall of 2004, and am a happy and proud graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Trevor Reed: I started law school in August of 2014. I attended Columbia Law School in New York City.
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee: I started in 1998 at Columbia Law School.
Q: What do you remember from your first few days of classes? What were your emotions at the time?
Robert Miller: First few days, I was energized and excited. (But on the first day, when we toured the library, I was panicked by the idea that I had to learn everything in all the 500,000 books there!)
Kate Rosier: I was in shock that I was actually in law school. It was a blur. I was nervous and has a bad case of “imposter syndrome.” I was very worried about staying on top of the reading and not embarrassing myself.
Helen Burtis: I distinctly remember what I was feeling my first few days of law school. I was very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, and I was scared of failing. My family had a rich tradition of attending graduate school, but I was like many other people in that none of my family had gone to law school. Although I knew a lot of attorneys from my prior job, they mostly discouraged me from attending law school. In retrospect, they probably did that because they weren’t happy with their current legal employment, but it didn’t help matters. So I really didn’t know what was going on and felt like I was constantly being dashed by waves against the rocky shoreline all through my first year of law school. Having said all of that, you might think I was miserable in law school. But I really enjoyed it and, by anyone’s standards, I thrived. So I have nothing but good memories.
Trevor Reed: I remember being absolutely terrified. My first class was with was Philip Bobbitt, a highly regarded constitutional law professor who was an absolute gentleman but also really demanding in class. He loved to cold call and question us not just about the case in front of us, but all the cases cited in that case. I recall him kicking two of my colleagues out of class because they couldn’t adequately answer his questions. But it wasn’t long before I got the chance to know him, and really appreciated the experience.
Q: What are some of your fondest memories from law school?
Robert Miller: I enjoyed law school very much and getting to represent the United States as a law clerk in federal court, but my best memories are of my classmates and the friends that I still have today.
Kate Rosier: I love the friendships I made with other students. We had so much fun in our study groups and exploring the beautiful state.
Helen Burtis: I think I had the most fun when NALSA was still able to sell homemade fry bread tacos on the law school lawn as fundraisers. Of course, no one in their right mind ever let me near the cooking of the fry bread, but I was happy to take orders, accept payment, etc. It was actually quite hard work, made even harder because it was usually hot with no shade and NALSA’s fry bread sales were well known so the lines were long. But it was happy work. I also have very fond memories of helping, along with all the other NALSA 2L’s, with the ILP/NALSA graduation ceremony. Back then, the NALSA 2L’s prepared the pot luck dinner and set up the graduation ceremony for the 3Ls. It was wonderful fellowship and a blessing to be able to do something nice for the 3Ls that were like “older” brothers and sisters to us. It’s great that the ILP now hosts graduation, but I’m grateful I got to participate in these earlier, homegrown graduation events back then.
Trevor Reed: I think some of my favorite times as a student came during the NALSA Moot Court competition. We had a really great team with people that were fun, interesting and super invested (we also had some great chefs on our team, which was a nice bonus). My Moot Court partner and I totally geeked out on the problem and became a force to be reckoned with in Tucson.
I was also privileged to be a husband and father during my entire time in law school, and I had some great memories with our family in New York City. But I think my fondest memory of law school was when I crossed the stage with 6 of our 7 kids during graduation. (Our caboose was born a week before graduation, pictured here in the carrier with my wonderful wife Shelley).
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee: There was only one other Native law student in my class, and she is currently the Director of the Indian Law Clinic at UC Boulder. Our small NALSA group would have bake sales to raise money for us to go to the Federal Bar Indian Law Conference. I found a cohort of students interested in human rights and public interest law; we became good friends, and they were of great support to me during law school. I took classes that interested me, and spent a semester studying law in France.
Robert Miller: I think I followed the advice that I still give students today, work hard and dedicate yourself to law school. You should be like a monk for your first year of school. Get a good grounding in the law and the work ethic of being a lawyer.
Kate Rosier: I would tell myself not to worry so much and enjoy the ride. Work hard, be professional and take advantage of networking opportunities.
Helen Burtis: When I think of things I could have done differently, I always conclude that the decisions I made back then were understandable, given my circumstances. So I guess my advice is to forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Always work hard, and give it your best effort. But don’t get down on yourself when something doesn’t pan out exactly as you planned. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, climb back up in the saddle, and keep going. Don’t dwell on it.
Trevor Reed: Looking back, I think I would say remember to keep focused on the big picture and don’t second-guess yourself. Pursuing a JD, especially the first year, will feel like a marathon as you take on a huge amount of new knowledge and are constantly being put on the spot. Just run with it. Most everyone makes it through and you will too—and you may even enjoy it along the way!
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee: I would encourage myself to try harder to join a study group for my first year courses. Study groups can help you grasp concepts you may have missed, and it helps you gain a deeper understanding of the course materials.