Third-year law student Joni Bodnar balanced caring for a newborn with finishing her final semester at KU Law.
The first week after having baby Kendall was a blur of visitors, along with trying to recover from surgery. I was healing well enough that I could stop taking pain killers just six days after my C-section, which allowed me time to be free of any grogginess when I returned to school the following Monday.
The school never told me how much time I was allowed to take off to recover, though I am sure they would have given me all the time I needed had I asked. I personally made the decision to only take off one week because I did not want to make it too difficult to get caught up when I finally did return. Fortunately, everything went well post-op, and the only compromise my doctor forced upon me was to have someone else drive me to school my first day back.
Aside from worrying about being physically ready to return to school, I was concerned about how to continue my choice to breast feed when I would be away from Kendall for almost nine hours every Monday, and then six hours every Tuesday and Wednesday. When I contacted KU Law about potential accommodations, they were more than willing to help me find a safe, private place to pump while I was away, and even offered to store my milk supply for me.
Once I had a plan in place for my return and how to handle pumping, my only concerns were how to stay awake during class and how to survive being away from my beautiful baby girl so soon. Surprisingly, I never had an issue staying awake in class, regardless of how little sleep I had the night before (though my mandatory morning coffee probably helped).
As for being away from Kendall, I think any new mom will tell you that as hard as it may be, one way to survive the day is to stay busy with plenty of distractions. With law school, I always had plenty to do, so I kept myself busy with schoolwork (and pumping) between classes. I was also lucky enough to have a retired father and close-to-retired mother and mother-in-law taking care of Kendall while I was at school. This allowed me to regularly check in on her, and also meant I regularly received picture messages showcasing her day at home without me.
On a couple occasions when I did not have a day care option, I was lucky enough that both Dean Mazza and Professor Yung allowed me to bring Kendall to class! I was not sure how things would go considering both times I brought her (Tax Procedure one day and Criminal Procedure the other), class was two hours long. She managed to make it through with very few issues, although she made sure Professor Yung knew when it was time for a break halfway through by announcing with a tiny shriek!
Overall, I can’t say that returning to school so soon was easy, but I think that in general, moms have this inexplicable ability to make things work, no matter what. It takes a lot of prioritization and planning, but I did not feel overwhelmed. I was able to care for my newborn, continue my final semester of law school, take care of my two older children and their daily extracurricular activities, keep up with household chores (most of the time), and even work out most days.
Without the help of the fantastic people in my life, both at school and at home, much of this would not be possible. I am truly blessed for all the help and support from not only my immediate family, but also from my law school family. Having gone through this experience over the past year, I have come to realize how truly great my decision was to attend law school at KU. The faculty, students and staff have far exceeded my expectations of what it means to be a community.
— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her final post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. Previous posts recounted her reaction to finding out she was expecting a baby during law school, how she got through her summer internship during her first trimester of pregnancy, staying focused through classes and finals while pregnant, and meeting her new daughter, Kendall.
For Harmon and Mose, balancing the roles of husband, father and student proved the most challenging aspect of law school. “My wife and kids deserve a law degree of their own,” said Harmon, father of a 4-year-old, 3-year-old and 1-year-old. “They’ve made many sacrifices and are looking forward to being done. We’ve grown a lot as a family and made a lot of friends at KU Law.”
One of those friends was Mose, a husband and father of a 1-year-old from Emporia, Kansas, who says he learned about balancing multiple priorities from Harmon. “I saw how he successfully balanced having a wife, three kids, living in the country, school and church responsibilities,” Mose said. “I imagine most in my class would agree that we’ve learned far more from our classmates than any particular class.”
Paul Mose“There came a point in my second year where I was not sure if I could physically do everything,” Harmon said. “Just when I’d have that thought, I’d get another Law Review assignment.” He persevered by keeping his priorities in check, going home for dinner every night and spending time with his family on the weekends.
“My kids are small, and they’ll never be small again,” Harmon said. “I made a firm commitment at the beginning of law school never to forget that.”
For Mose, the adjustment to law school took a lot of prayer and learning from mistakes, but the big moments — like winning KU’s in-house moot court competition with Harmon – made it worth it.With the support of their families, both Harmon and Mose not only survived law school, but thrived, and found a place in the KU Law community in the process.
“When we came to Lawrence, it was the farthest east we had ever been,” said Harmon, an Orem, Utah, native. “Now we plan on staying.”
“Our ‘first date’ was when my car ran out of gas as I was driving home from class one day,” Manson said. “I decided to call Caroline, partially because I knew she had just gotten out of class, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t because I had a crush on her. After that and a few more dates, we were inseparable.”
The couple’s blossoming relationship was of special note, as Gurney’s parents also met as KU Law students. They went on to marry, have four kids, and forge two successful legal careers between them.
“I think I remind Caroline’s dad of himself when he was young,” Manson said. “His car was falling apart, he was always late to class, and he was dating a girl who was way out of his league.”
Gurney and Manson relied on each other and their classmates to handle the stress and long hours of law school. Both balanced their studies with part-time legal work, and Manson served on the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy for two years. They got through by keeping a consistent schedule, making down time with friends a priority and staying focused on the end goal.
As for the future? Gurney will join Orrick and Erskine LLP, an Overland Park firm specializing in eminent domain and condemnation, while Manson will work for Warner Robinson LLC in Kansas City, Missouri, a firm that focuses on corporate tax credits.
“My mom and dad have set a wonderful example of how two people can do good work in the Kansas City legal community and be outstanding parents at the same time,” Gurney said. “I look to them for guidance on work-life balance.”
“As long as we can continue to respect and support each other’s career and personal goals, we’ll be OK,” Manson said. “We make a great team.”
“Kansas is a tough place for LGBTQ rights,” he said. “That being said, law is as effective a tool for creating change as any, and if I truly want to do this work, then Kansas — my home — is a great place to do it.”
McMillian notes his role in planning the 2015 Diversity in Law Banquet as his most enriching law school experience. Hosted this year by the student group OUTLaws & Allies, the annual event is a major fundraiser for the school’s diversity scholarship fund. “It was the first time that the LGBTQ student group hosted the event, and we raised more money than any banquet in history,” McMillian said. “It was a big moment for KU and for OUTLaws.”
Classmates and faculty rely on McMillian for his tireless support of the school and his peers, but he sees his allegiance as the natural response to the support he received from KU.
“KU Law administration, faculty and students have invested a lot in me as a student and as a professional,” he said. “KU has demonstrated that they see value in me and my interests by recruiting me, hiring me in Admissions to recruit diverse students, sending me to LGBTQ legal conferences to focus my craft, and seeking my guidance and recommending me for committees regarding student safety and inclusion.”
“I support KU Law because KU Law has done so much to support me. Being valued by your institution is the most any student can ever ask for.”
“I enjoy the outdoors, and a smaller community represents more opportunities to pursue outdoor activities with my kids,” Puckett said. “I also wanted to be in a place where I could contribute. I feel like a smaller community gives me the chance to plug in and really make a difference.”
Puckett served in the U.S. Army before law school, continuing his commitment with the National Guard throughout his studies. “After 70-plus hours a week in the military, the amount of time needed for law school didn't seem all that intimidating,” Puckett said. “It helped me take a disciplined approach to studying. I'm now a commander in the National Guard, and a lot of what I do is resolving soldier issues and unexpected roadblocks in training. Law school has helped me approach problems more analytically and broadened my leadership skills.”
Balancing school, family and military commitments was not easy, but Puckett credits his wife and two children with providing constant support, and his professors for their guidance and mentorship.
“As an undergrad, I focused on getting done and getting out,” Puckett said. “In law school, I had a lot of great professors willing to take time [with me] outside of the classroom. Also, I have to acknowledge Career Services and LaVerta’s candy bowl.”
Puckett is looking forward to establishing roots with his family in Salina, Kansas, and growing his career with Salina firm Brown & Vogel.
“My success will depend on my continued willingness to learn and hard work,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
“It was fascinating to navigate a new legal tradition — common law instead of civil law — and see that one is not intrinsically better than the other,” Combs said. “The educational systems are strikingly different. Experiencing both made me a more pragmatic problem-solver, knowing that there is more than one right way to achieve a goal.”
While students of all backgrounds grapple with unfamiliar legal concepts, Combs faced the added challenge of studying the law in her second language. “I overcame that the only way I knew: through hard work and discipline,” she said. “If a reading was especially dense, I just had to put in more hours than my peers, and use the dictionary more often.”
Combs focused her studies on immigration law and international law, and counts her time on the editorial board of the Kansas Law Review among her most enriching law school experiences. This fall she will join the Kansas City office of Stinson Leonard Street as a litigation associate, handling a caseload ranging from local municipal planning issues to international business and immigration matters.
“I will use my planning background and my international background to build a rewarding practice,” she said.
In order to survive my last semester as a law student with a brand new baby, I did a lot of planning ahead of time. KU Law offers two winter intercession courses that count for the spring semester, as well as an additional intercession course immediately following spring semester finals. These courses would account for 6 of my remaining 11 credit hours, leaving only 5 hours for me to take during the actual semester.
Things do not always go as planned when it comes to babies, though, and I barely made it through the first 2-hour intercession course after having two early labor scares. I was not due until the second week of the spring semester, but I did not want to risk being unable to finish the second winter intercession course. The school allowed me to drop without a penalty due to the circumstances, so I was able to relax at home those last couple of weeks before my due date.
I had to schedule a C-section since I had two prior C-sections with my other children, thus I was lucky enough to be able to pick any date from a week prior to the baby’s due date. My original plan was to schedule surgery the day before my due date, so that I could miss as little school as possible, but with the labor scares, my doctor decided it was best to schedule it a week before the due date.
On Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, I gave birth to my amazing little girl, Kendall Marie! She was 6 pounds, 2 ounces, and 19.5 inches long. She was also born with a full head of dark hair, which was a huge shock to me and my husband. Everything went extremely well, and I was able to leave the hospital after only two nights (at my request – if I’m recovering, I would rather do it in my own home and save the money!).
That first week home with my new baby girl was such a blur! Aside from being on pain meds while recovering from my surgery, my husband and I found ourselves deep in the life of no sleep as new parents. Kendall was completely mixed up on her nights and days, so she was sleeping during the day and awake at night. They say to sleep when your baby sleeps, but that is not realistic when you also have two other children to take care of (and one comes down with the flu that first week home with the new baby).
I was so grateful for the time I got with my new baby girl, and I enjoyed every moment before I had to return to school the following week. Even though I was only getting about two hours of sleep at a time, there is something about being a new parent that keeps your adrenaline going and allows you to not even care about your sleep schedule. During many of those late-nights feedings, I would just stare into my new baby’s beautiful eyes and think how amazing she is. And as I thought about returning to school so soon after having her, I reminded myself that I was finishing school for her as well. I wasn’t finishing just to better provide for her, though, but also as an example of how women can pursue both a career and a family without sacrificing either one.
— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her fourth post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. In the final installment, Bodnar will talk about adjusting to law student life as the mother of a newborn. Previous posts recounted her reaction to finding out she was expecting a baby during law school, how she got through her summer internship during her first trimester of pregnancy, and staying focused through classes and finals while pregnant.
From left: Law students Jennifer Hackman, Professor Bill Westerbeke, Joni Bodnar, Ashlyn Lindskog, Andrea Horvath and Suzanne Hale at a baby shower that Westerbeke threw for Bodnar.
By the time the fall semester began, I was almost halfway through my pregnancy at 18 weeks. I had made it through my summer internship and, most importantly, the first trimester!
I was feeling so good at that point in my pregnancy that I was able to get up early every morning and work out before I had to get the two oldest kids up and ready for school. Now, if I could recommend anything to any pregnant woman, let alone a pregnant law student, it would be to try your best to work out regularly, if possible. I did not exercise much during my first two pregnancies, but it made a tremendous difference during the third one. I felt physically better all around as a result, and it allowed me to have an hour each day to forget about school and the billion things I constantly had to manage.
That fall semester was a busy one for me. I took an additional 3-hour course when I found out I was pregnant (so I could take fewer hours when the baby arrived), giving me a total of 15 hours. This may not sound so bad, but add in the fact that I commute an hour each way every day and have two older kids in a ton of sports and activities, and things can get a little crazy. But this was the case even before I was pregnant, so my pregnancy did not really impact my schedule too much.
The biggest obstacle that semester was my lack of ability to focus for extended periods of time, which is a fairly common issue during pregnancy. I read a ton of articles online claiming that pregnant women can’t perform as well on tests because of this, so I was honestly a little worried about taking finals in December when I was 8.5 months along.
Though I did get distracted easier while studying throughout the semester, I now know not to believe a word of those online resources regarding any correlation to test performance. I am here to officially say that, after taking my finals — including an intellectual property exam that ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — there is no truth to that!
Looking back on my fall semester being pregnant, it was honestly one of the most enjoyable times I had while attending law school. Maybe it was partially due to finally reaching 3L status, or maybe due to the excitement and anticipation of my new baby. Honestly, though, I believe all the wonderful friends and professors are what truly made that semester so amazing. I received so much support and understanding on all fronts. One of my professors even threw me a small, intimate baby shower with the help of one of my closest law school friends. I don’t know how many people can say their professor gave them a baby shower, and for that I am truly blessed in knowing that I picked the absolute best law school to spend three years of my life!
— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her third post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. In future installments, Bodnar will address planning for and delivering her daughter, and returning to school after her baby's arrival. Her first post recounted her reaction to finding out she was expecting a baby during law school, and her second post detailed how she got through her summer internship during her first trimester of pregnancy.
From left, Grant Treaster, Paul Budd, Joni Bodnar and Christopher Staley (Washburn).
By Joni Bodnar
Like many 2Ls beginning their summer internship, I was extremely nervous and worried about making a good impression, hoping for that coveted offer of full-time employment at the end of the summer. I was also one of five interns, and we all knew we most likely were competing for a limited number of offers. So, no pressure whatsoever!
I was only two weeks into that “no-pressure” internship when I found out I was pregnant. This was one of the most nerve-wracking things of all to sort through. In a normal job situation, I would simply wait the requisite 12 weeks and then make the joyous announcement to my boss and fellow co-workers that I was expecting. No big deal, right?
Well, a summer legal internship was completely different. I had only three months to show what I was made of, to show that I was a dedicated, driven employee to whom they would definitely want to make an offer of permanent employment.
My baby news created two complications for me. The first one was how to deal with breaking the news. Should I tell them I was pregnant right away so they would not think I was rude when I turned down offers of camaraderie over beers? Or should I try to hide it, and basically fib my way through those first 12 weeks, with false excuses as to why I was not fully participating? This was a real dilemma because the social aspect of the summer internship is a pretty big deal, and I did not want to seem like I was not a team player and lose an offer because I did not fit in socially with the firm.
The second issue: If I planned to hide the pregnancy until I was further along, how would I account for my perpetual exhaustion and the multiple bathroom trips as I dealt with my nausea?
I decided to put my research skills to good use and found out I was allowed to drink 200 mg of caffeine per day. I also looked up every coffee on the Starbucks menu and found out I could still have most grande lattes and be under the 200 mg mark (though it was a far cry from the quad-shot lattes to which I was accustomed).
My internal struggle with when and how to break the news was eventually solved for me when a partner jokingly gave me a hard time for not having a beer at a social function. I was 10 weeks along and had just had a sonogram of my baby a few days earlier confirming her health, so I figured now was as good a time as any to share my news.
The partners’ reactions to my news was better than I could have ever hoped, and I was immediately met with congratulatory hugs and cheers. All my fears about sharing my news were much more trivial than I had built them up in my head. No one even noticed my exhaustion or multiple bathroom trips. I felt so relieved, and I realized that even though this was a summer internship, I was still surrounded by normal people who were extremely excited to share in the joy of my baby news.
— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her second post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. In future installments, Bodnar will address tackling her fall semester, planning for and delivering her daughter, and returning to school after her baby's arrival. Her first post recounted her reaction to finding out she was expecting a baby during law school.
By Joni Bodnar
When I first learned I was pregnant, I had just completed my 2L year and was two weeks into my summer internship with a law firm. Now I know there are many different emotions a woman may feel when she finds out she is pregnant, depending on her particular circumstances. Since I was already married with two children, ages 5 and 7, one would think the news of a third child on the way would cause me elation, but that honestly was not my initial reaction.
John and Joni Bodnar with children Addison Beffa, 8 (left), and Harper Beffa, 5
Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I had actually talked many times about having a third child, since both of my older children were from a previous marriage and this would be our first child together. We talked about possibly having a baby during my third and final year of law school as opposed to my first year as a lawyer. We even talked about how perfect it would be if I got pregnant in April of my 2L year, because then the baby would be due over Christmas break. (And as we all know, babies always come at the most convenient time!)
When April came and went, my husband and I decided we should probably just wait on the whole baby thing. At that point, any baby would be arriving during my last semester of law school, which is when I am supposed to be interviewing for jobs, applying to take the bar exam, etc.
Exactly 29 days after our decision to hold off on expanding our family, we found out we were expecting our third child! My first reaction was to immediately process the news from a pragmatic standpoint: How would I handle being pregnant during my current summer internship? How would I handle missing school my final semester? How would I handle day care? These were things I needed to have completely figured out right away so that I could feel secure and happy with the ultimately great news of having another baby.
But as the initial shock wore off, I slowed down and realized I had plenty of time to figure out all the little details. Then, I did something very foreign to me: I began focusing on one day at a time, one thing at a time.
I first decided to focus on figuring out my schedule for my 3L year, so I contacted the dean to get permission to decrease my course load for the spring below the required 12 hours. I also added 3 hours to my fall schedule. Then I put my name on a list and turned in a deposit for day care. With those initial concerns out of the way, I could turn my attention to the next task: getting through the first trimester of pregnancy as a legal intern, sans caffeine!
— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her first post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. In future installments, Bodnar will address getting through her summer legal internship during her first trimester, tackling her fall semester, planning for and delivering her daughter, and returning to school after her baby's arrival.
Over the last three years, I’ve noticed striking similarities between playing sports and being a law student. Both activities require lots of time and dedication. To excel in either, you must learn the game, discover your strengths and weaknesses, and of course practice, practice, practice in preparation for game day. To be successful in law school, there are three things to remember: train daily, practice makes perfect, and play until the end.Train Daily
Like being introduced to a new sport, very few people come to law school knowing already how to play the game. During the first year, I spent most of my time learning the fundamental concepts and doctrines of the law. The thought of having only one exam at the end of the semester to determine my grade was worrisome. What I learned is that I have to train daily to be successful.
High-performing athletes maintain a daily training regimen: early morning workouts, strict diets and meal plans, and reviewing game film. Similarly, successful law students train daily. My daily training consists of reading for class, reviewing class notes, or preparing an outline/study guide. Something can be done everyday to prepare for finals. Spreading work over a span of 15 weeks is much easier than cramming at the end of the semester. A classmate of mine goes on a series of short runs, ranging from 6 to 10 miles, in the months leading up to running a marathon. The same concept must be applied to law school exams. Mastering your coursework a day at a time paves the road to law school success.Practice Makes Perfect
Practice? Yes. In the famous words of Allen Iverson, “We talkin’ about practice.” Practice is an essential piece of playing a sport. In practice, you learn plays, prepare for specific scenarios, and build endurance. Some high-performing athletes even visualize their performance before each game. I have learned that by practicing, I am much more prepared to answer final exam questions.
After I have spent some time training, I like to see how well I’ve mastered the material by answering practice questions. One invaluable resource available to law students is access to old exams and test questions. If time permits, I take as many practice tests as possible to get familiar with analyzing facts and applying the law clearly and concisely. Similar to professional athletes preparing for certain situations, the more familiar you are with various fact patterns, the more prepared you will be on test day. An NFL football team would not show up to the Super Bowl without practicing first; a successful law student should not show up to the final exam without answering practice questions.Play Until the End
Playing “until the whistle blows” is a familiar sports mantra. I have learned to apply that same attitude toward law school. A shining example of playing until the end of the game is KU’s late season basketball game against West Virginia. The Jayhawks rallied from down 18 to beat the Mountaineers in overtime. The ’Hawks erased a 4-point deficit in the last 49 seconds of the fourth quarter. If the team had decided that this game was over and gave up, they would not have tied the game, sending it to overtime and ultimately claiming victory.
In the last few years, there have been times that I didn’t fully comprehend a concept or doctrine until the final week, even days, before the semester’s end. Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture until you’ve learned all of the parts that make the whole. Sticking with a subject until it clicks is necessary for success.
Similarly, I have had the same attitude in final exams. Last semester I found myself extremely flustered during my Federal Income Tax final. I came to a question that completely derailed me, and I contemplated what would happen if I quit, left the exam unfinished and walked out. After a split second, I came back to reality and said to myself, “Just finish the exam.” Good thing I did, because I did much better than expected. Deciding to give up is never a good plan. It is unwise to let one question get under your skin. There are many points to gain on a final exam. Staying the course, finishing the exam and answering as much as possible before time runs out is the best way to maximize your test score. Athletes and law students alike should commit to playing until the end.
To conclude, successful law students should approach the semester the same as athletes approach a big game or match. Taking time to train daily, practicing to gain familiarity, and playing until the end are all methods that have worked for me in my journey through law school. Hopefully one or more of these tips will assist you with navigating through your education experience as well.
— Johnathan Koonce is a third-year law student and KU Law Student Ambassador from Colorado Springs, Colorado.