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Episode

15

Bonus: Life as a 1L

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Air date: 

November 17, 2022

Producers Kevin Huffman and Lisa Gray check in with former Dillard students Amaya Ronczyk and Lajeanne Shelton. Amaya is currently a 1L at Harvard Law, and Lajeanne is a 1L at UC Hastings Law. They talk about their personal experiences as a first-year law student, along with giving some helpful advice for future students, going from an HBCU to a PWI, skills carried over from the Dillard Mock Trial team into their current courses, and some exciting news about this year’s Dillard case law.

Learn more about the schools, programs and special guests:

Harvard Law School

UC Hastings Law

Dillard University Pre-Law Program

American Mock Trial Association 

National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) 

National Bar Association

Follow us on Instagram @ClassActionPod

Visit our show page for transcripts and more details about the series at ClassActionPod.com

Follow host Katie Phang on Twitter@KatiePhangand Instagram@KatiePhang.


 

TRANSCRIPT:


Katie Phang:

Class Action is a production of iHeartRadio and Sound Argument.

Kevin Huffman:

Just as a quick hello, I'd like to welcome everyone back to Class Action and my partner Lisa Gray, and our special guest tonight are Amaya and Lajeanne, formerly of the Dillard team and now first year law students. So let's start with you, Lajeanne. Where are you and how is school?

Lajeanne Shelton:

I am currently a one L at UC Hastings. That name might change very soon, but that's where I currently am right now in San Francisco, California.

Kevin Huffman:

Why will the name change?

Lajeanne Shelton:

They did a background check on the person we're named after and he was very instrumental in genocides of the Yuki people, which is an indigenous tribe in California. So they want to get rid of the name Hastings, but now his family is suing the institution and asking for the money he put down with over a hundred-year interest. So they're asking for about a good three million dollars from us, which we don't have.

Kevin Huffman:

An auspicious beginning for your first year, but good for the researchers out there to dig this up. That's great. And Amaya, where are you and what year are you in? Just kind of let's fill in our audience.

Amaya Ronczyk:

Yes, so I'm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am currently a 1L at Harvard Law.

Kevin Huffman:

How would you describe Boston now that you spent a little time there or Cambridge? What's it been like for you?

Amaya Ronczyk:

As a first year, I don't know that I've even experienced it to the fullest. I'm usually on campus most of the time. I will say I try to set aside two days of the month where I go out and treat myself to something. So I'm trying to find places to eat, but it's definitely not necessarily a culture shock because I knew what I was getting myself into. But it is a lot different from where I grew up in Florida and also where I went to school, which was New Orleans,

Kevin Huffman:

And Lajeanne, you're back in the hometown. How's that going?

Lajeanne Shelton:

It's going pretty well. I'm used to everything around here already, so I'm back by family. I'm happy to be back, but at the same time I do miss New Orleans. Just a little bit. Not too much. Just a little bit.

Kevin Huffman:

Lajeanne, what was your first class and what was it like when you walked in? Describe that for us.

Lajeanne Shelton:

So my first class was Crim Pro, so Criminal Procedure and Hastings has a thing where you choose your seats prior, so I didn't have to get there an hour early to try to get a good seat. I just had to do a little selection thing on Canvas. It was fine, they just jumped right into it. There's no such thing as a syllabus class here. They're like, okay, so here are the elements of a crime. Now let's go through it. I said, "Oh, okay, let me get my notebook out."

Kevin Huffman:

Same to you, Amaya. I know I talked to you when you had visited, but if you could walk us through that first day on campus when you're going to your first class, what was that like? Just sort of paint that picture for us and what was the class?

Amaya Ronczyk:

Yeah, so my first class was Legislation and Regulation. It was 8:00 AM so I wasn't fully there yet. So I don't know that I have too much to offer, but I will say, I don't know, I guess I was expecting my professor to introduce himself or something like, "Hi, my name is," but he just, as soon as the class started, he started talking about the case. So that caught me off guard a little bit. But other than that, he's a fabulous professor. I do remember I got my first cold call that day during my last class in property and he asked me a question that wasn't necessarily in the reading and so I'm flipping through my notes, did I miss something? I'm freaking out. But it was just one of those jokey type of questions and I wasn't expecting that. So I'm over here thinking I'm about to burst out in tears. But it was fine. It ended up being fine and that's actually one of my favorite classes now. But yeah, I was the first person called in that class and I'll never forget it.

Kevin Huffman:

Lajeanne, you mentioned Criminal Procedure. What are some of the other courses that you're taking?

Lajeanne Shelton:

For my first semester I take Criminal Procedure, Torts and Civil Procedure. And then I have a Legal Research and Writing class where I learn how to write memos. So that's my first semester. And then my second semester I have to take Contracts, Property, Legal Writing and Research and a Statutory class or Constitutional Law.

Kevin Huffman:

In what ways did Dillard and the mock trial team prepare you for those? I can see you with criminal procedure because obviously this is some of the stuff that you got to know cold through mock trial. But for some of these contract classes and other things like that, what was the prep like or is this all kind of new to you?

Lajeanne Shelton:

I wouldn't say it's new. I would just say it puts things into a different perspective. When you guys followed us last year, we were doing a criminal case, but me and Amaya have had two civil cases under our belt with AMTA. So we've done torts before. We have had experience in doing torts and trying to find whether a defendant is liable or not liable through use of negligence. So I was fine with that per se, but there really isn't anything else besides knowing how to talk in front of people and just knowing how to answer questions.

Lajeanne Shelton:

Your honor, opposing counsel, members of the jury, may it please the court follow the hoodies. On August 1st, 2020, Jalen Williams, a Midland Center firefighter, heard the alarms of the fire station ringing, meaning that it was time for him to once again risk his life. With no second thought and no hesitation, he grabbed his gear and rushed onto the fire truck and unfortunately you will learn that search and rescue mission did end in one casualty. And on that very day, Midlands lost a hero and a citizen and most important, a family lost a father and son. We all lost Jalen Williams.

Kevin Huffman:

Back to you, Amaya. Just give us a sense of some of the other courses that you're taking.

Amaya Ronczyk:

Yeah, I'm basically taking the inverse of what Lajeanne is taking. I think the only class we share is Civ Pro and LRW, Legal Research and Writing. So I'm taking those two. And I'm also taking Contracts, Property and Leg Reg. I think for me material wise, Property might be my favorite class followed by Civ Pro because I think I do have some experience there. And for me, because I was a urban studies and public policy major, right now we're learning about mortgages and just like a week or so ago we were talking about urban renewal or negro removal and in my head I'm like, oh my gosh, me and Dr. Trivor were talking about this. So I do get a little bit excited there because I understand it and this class kind of gives a different layer of context and I kind of can think about the implications in my community.

And so I appreciate when my professors do that. And as far as Civ Pro, I think basically me and Lajeanne kind of had a really good briefing to Civ Pro because we worked for Hamilton Lewis, which is a black owned law firm in New Orleans. And Raashand Hamilton, our boss, shout out to her. She must have thought she was our Civ Pro professor because she had us writing petitions, motions, discovery. And so when that stuff pops up in my class, I get so excited. I'm looking in my old folder at my stuff to try to better understand it because before I was just kind of going through the motions because that's what she told me to do and that's what she said lawyers did.

And I had the rules and stuff, but I didn't understand the justification and the years of history and cases that got us to that point. I was just going through the motion. So now having that background makes it a little bit more exciting. I'm not going to say that it's the easiest class because it's not, but just having some familiarity to hold onto I think has been helpful so far.

Lisa Gray:

Have there been any doubts about going to law school or has it fulfilled the expectations that you were anticipating going into these programs?

Amaya Ronczyk:

I think there was more fear before I got here. And I'll say, first of all, I'm grateful for the experiences that I've had because I think I'm in a much better place now because of that. I hope I'm making sense of this. But basically I've dealt with imposter syndrome for years, anxiety for years, but through summer programs during undergrad or through mock trial or just through my professors really supporting me, my parents, I think, not necessarily that that got rid of all of my issues or anything, but it equipped me for this space. I could be having a million breakdowns a day. And of course there are tough moments. I've had a couple tears here and there. But I think just I've been trained to lean on God and family and I'm not in the place that I thought I would be.

In fact, I'll go to class and there are some days where I'm bored, I'm not going to lie. But there are other times where I'm just so excited to be there and learn. And that's something that I used to feel like as a kid, learning about history or something like that. I genuinely liked school and that's obviously why I'm here today. But I felt like not all of my classes at Dillard of course, but as I finished my major courses and I just was taking electives here or there, I lost kind of that excitement. And then of course with my priority for a lot of the time being mock trial, I didn't allow myself room to grow in a lot of areas. And I think here I get that childlike feeling back and I'm just excited. My brain is a sponge and I thought I was going to go in here and that coming straight from college, I thought it was going to be dried up and that I couldn't absorb any more information. But that's definitely not the case for me.

Lajeanne Shelton:

I think we went into this knowing it was going to be very difficult. I can't even count how many times when I've told somebody, whether it was a pre-law director at Dillard or I asked another person who I knew who went to law school or is currently in law school, they were like, "Ooh, law school is extremely hard. Law school is this. Law school is that." I didn't really hear any nice things about law school. So I came into it knowing it's going to be really difficult. It's not going to be the easiest thing. So you just kind of have to manage your expectations and just be like, look it's going to be getting ready, getting right to work. It's just all about managing your expectations. But I feel like I knew when I came here, I had a job to do and I got people that are counting on me to complete that job. So I'm going to do what needs to be done.

Kevin Huffman:

Well what is the hardest part?

Lajeanne Shelton:

For me at least, I think the hardest part is just running off of very little sleep because I can tell you I love to take a nice nap. I used to take naps every day. I scheduled in a nap every single day. I wake up at 6:30 every day and I don't go to sleep until two. So it's very tiring, it's very exhausting and you're expected to digest all of this information off of very little sleep and very little food and a whole bunch of coffee. I did not used to drink coffee. Now I drink coffee every day. It is the hardest part is just balancing taking care of yourself and taking care of business.

Amaya Ronczyk:

I kind of have to second that. It's not necessarily that much of a thing for me this time around because, and Lajeanne knows, there's been moments where I've been passing out, getting sick because of mock trial. And so I just had it beat into me that I needed to start taking care of myself. And now I'm just now starting to do it. So the least amount of sleep I'll allow myself to have is six hours. I'm trying to take care of myself. I think for me though, the worst part about it, and I think Lajeanne could agree with this, we're kind of perfectionists. And I think even if we're not immediately good at something, we train ourselves until the thing that scares us the most is what we're the best at. So even with objections, there is times in high school I never objected. I might respond well to it, but I wouldn't have the guts to just object if I didn't think of all of the 12 arguments that might come after that objection.

And I just beat that into me until I got it right and it didn't become... It's not perfect now, but I didn't get to be Amaya by not practicing. And it took me all throughout college to get there. And with this, we have so little time in the day that you have to kind of decide, okay, am I going to give this time to myself and rest? And for me I'm religious. Am I going to read the Bible during this one hour free time? Am I going to go to the gym? Am I going to read whatever cases I have that I haven't finished for tomorrow? Am I going to do some additional work and look at old tests and try to figure out how I would solve the problems on the test? And it's difficult trying to find and prioritize your time in that way. And I'm a very organized person with my planner and stuff like that.

But even just choosing not to do a reading is such a big thing. And then now I feel like I'm behind and I also feel like because I didn't necessarily get full credit on this one assignment, that means I don't understand it when in reality this is something that I've been doing for years at a law firm and I do understand it. I just can't fully flesh out my argument. And as I'm talking now, I'm realizing that that's not a new problem. I've understood concepts in mock trial, but it took me a long time to fully flesh out that argument and understand or get other people to understand why I was right. I think I just have to apply that same type of practice to my work here. So yeah, just saying that out loud kind of makes me feel better. But I think just allowing myself room to grow and understanding that it's not going to come overnight. It's still hard though. Definitely.

Amaya Ronczyk:

They want you to forget that their family is counting on us to do what's just. They want you to forget that their family wakes up every single day hoping that they'll see their son again. That they want to believe that this is all a dream, that they cry at the thought of someone else taking over his locker or his seat at the dinner table. Members of the jury, the real victim is not here today. The villain in today's case is the defendant. The defendant is the person with the plan. The defendant is the person with the motive. The defendant is the person who the day after the fire with not even enough time to mourn their business, requested that 1.5 million dollars in full. Members of the jury, do what's just in today's case. We've done our job. We've proven these elements to you beyond a reasonable doubt. So now it's your time, your moment to do what's right in today's case and to show the defendant that when they burn their building, they can't get away with it. We must hold them accountable. Find them guilty. Thank you.

Kevin Huffman:

Maybe for those listeners who are currently at an HBCU like you were, and thinking about going to law school, was there any transition or is there something that you feel like it's important to point out for those students who might be going into a school that's not an HBCU for law school?

Amaya Ronczyk:

I've been saying this since before I even got into law school. First of all, when I was even talking about applying to a HBCU, I had friends very confused as to why. And I constantly had to make the argument why HBCUs were so valuable. My mom went to one, so that's why I knew. And I even got into NYU. They didn't give me any money, but I was encouraged by a counselor to go there instead because the degree would be worth more. And to a lot of people that might seem true, but I've done summer programs where people from Ivy League institutions will say, "We don't have anything close to what the pre-law program at Dillard is offering you." So we have the lead program there for $200 and you can get some of that back. They're offering us what, six, five months of LSAT prep.

Other schools are not offering that number one or the students are having to pay thousands of dollars for private tutoring. And I just think that the support is unmatched and with black faculty understanding the obstacles that we are going to have to go through to reach a minimal amount of success as our white counterparts. I think that to me is extremely valuable. And in a lot of fields we're responsible for the most Black professionals. So I'm very adamant about this, that we can hold our own and even here, do I know everything coming in? No. Are there things that I don't know? Of course, but it doesn't scare me. I thought it would. In fact I'm just like, "Oh, I don't know that. I'll know it after a couple of classes." It doesn't intimidate me at all. There's some things too that I think any black person would experience that might come from a similar background as me.

There are just some things that in my community we didn't necessarily talk about or in my family we didn't talk about that comes up. There are even times where I'm sitting in class and we're talking about a case and in my head I'm like, we could've sued for that or we needed a lawyer for that. And it makes me excited that now my family is going to have somebody to kind of lean on even though I'm just one little girl, but somebody who can be that bridge and provide that type of access just to their family regardless of the entire community. But that to me is exciting.

And so it provides us a different type of awareness about the implications of these laws and the impact that it's going to have on our community that only HBCU students or only black students are going to be able to offer. And talking that through with some of the black students in my class who didn't go to an HBCU, but us being able to share our experiences, that to me has made it a little bit better. So yeah, I think we hold our own and if you go to a HBCU, do not think that because you didn't go to Columbia or whatever school, that you couldn't get into these places or thrive in these places because that's absolutely not true.

Lajeanne Shelton:

I didn't apply to any HBCU law school. I did not. I had my HBCU experience and I'm thankful for that. I love my HBCU, but I want to experience other things. Whether we like it or not, an HBCU is not going to be representative of what the legal profession is going to look like. It's not. HBCUs definitely have their place and I loved my undergrad experience. I felt like I needed to branch out and go to a different institution. Well I will say though, if you're coming from a HBCU undergrad and wanting to go to a PWI law school, you are automatically going to make friends with every black person on that campus. It's almost always, that's just what it is during orientation. It's like we all locked eyes with each other and we're like, we're friends now. No matter what, we're friends now.

So you automatically are going to get some friends. At least that's what happened at my law school. But if the thing that is scaring you the most is that there's not going to be anyone that looks like me, I no longer consider that an argument that's going to hold too much weight because whether we like it or not, a lot of people aren't going to look like us. This field is not representative of the population of the United States at all. There are very, very little black faces in this profession and depending on where you want to practice, there can be even fewer.

Sometimes you're just going to have to do it and you're going to just have to have that support system regardless if it's with peers that you make, the black faculty at your school or even staying in contact with your friends who went to a HBCU with you. Talking to Amaya, talking to my other friends, just staying connected with them and making sure you have your support system. And honestly your family is going to be the most important thing. That's what has been the most important thing to me since I moved back, being with my family and being close to them, they have really supported me here. So just don't let that scare you. You will be just fine.

Lisa Gray:

Have you run into any mock trialers that you went up against?

Amaya Ronczyk:

No. For me, I feel like the memorable people, and that sounds kind of like bad, but the memorable people for me, I know where they're at. They go to a different law school and they were older than me. And then I know a couple of younger ones. But yeah, I haven't met any competitors though. I don't know that I would... Maybe I would say something, but in my head for some reason, unless I've gotten to know them outside of mock trial, they're always competition.

Lajeanne Shelton:

I have not ran into, but I have been made aware of the presence of a former competitor. One of my close friends who currently goes to UC, Berkeley who I went to high school with told me like, "Hey, one of our captains actually goes to UC, Hastings and we scrimmaged against them to prepare for nationals. I was like, oh my god, now I'm going to see her during tryouts. Look at that. I bring up mock trial all the time because I'm a nerd. I haven't really met anyone who's been like, "Yeah, I did it all four years. I competed with this and this and this." So no, not that yet.

Lisa Gray:

Is it too early to tell what differences, what uniqueness you bring to law school right now from doing four years mock trial? I mean you did mention certainly getting a case, going through the case and preparing in that sense. What is some of the unique things that you have recognized that you bring with that experience?

Lajeanne Shelton:

I just know certain terms that people don't know. So when the professor asks, "What does this mean," I'm the only person that raises my hand. And then I just look kind of smart compared to everyone else because I know what it means to impeach a witness. I know what admissible versus inadmissible evidence is.

Amaya Ronczyk:

It's some of that for me, there are some classes where we don't really get to raise our hand and ask questions just because there's 80 of us and we don't have time to get through everyone. So I don't volunteer a lot, but when I first started out, I wasn't writing out 10-page case briefs. My case briefs are a page, maybe two pages. And so I can distill the important facts a lot quicker. And then I think too, a lot of the times if I'm talking to somebody, hearing what they are assuming to be is important is not necessarily what I took away from it. And sometimes that's helpful for me. But other times I think it just shows like, oh, because of my experience, I'm able to figure out what the rule is very quickly, figure out what the important facts associated with that rule are.

And I don't spend as much time on it. And I think it's also helpful in my LRW writing when I'm doing a memo because at the firm, because I didn't go to law school already, she kind of let me formulate what my arguments would be or what I thought they would be and then have bullet points. But with mock trial, I was able to organize things by elements through my speech and through my writing. And I think it's more helpful when I do have a law that has more clear elements and I think that's where my analytical reasoning shines more is when I have that. Now, when the law isn't clear, I don't know what to tell you. But yeah, I think it's helpful for that.

Kevin Huffman:

I do want to ask if you've reached out or have heard from Miss Kimbro or from Judge Reese?

Lajeanne Shelton:

I have heard from Judge Reese. Me and Judge Reese text all the time.

Judge Kern Reese:

Just drawing upon experience as a trial litigator, you always have to be able to maintain your composure. There'll be times when people will shock you. There'll be times when people will anger you. There will be times when cases can get unbelievvably sad and you run through the range of human emotion, but you always have to be a professional and that's what I stress with them. And you always have to be prepared to go forward.

Lajeanne Shelton:

Just being an alum and knowing that our hard work, the work that me and Amaya and so many others put in didn't go unnoticed by the AMTA world. So he messaged me the other day and was like, "Dillard just received an invite to the University of Virginia's UVA's, Great American Mock Trial Invitational." And it's invite only and it's one of the best tournaments that you can get invited to. Our team got invited to that because of what we did to get to Nationals. I'm just like, ah, the work I put in did something so everybody knows who we are. We're getting our name out there. It's getting the people who are coming after us these opportunities to go to these really important tournaments. So I can just hope that the momentum continues, that we keep getting invited to these big tournaments, that we keep going to nationals.

Kevin Huffman:

That's fantastic. That's really great.

Amaya Ronczyk:

I first want to just mention something that Lajeanne failed to mention. I don't know. The opportunity was right there. Lajeanne's name is in one of the cases for the current mock trial case. It's her and another teammate, Renee Simian. They've mentioned Dillard last year, but this is the first time that two of our members have been named in an AMTA case. And first of all, me and Lajeanne have dreams of creating our own mock trial case when we get on the committee after law school. But this is just solidifying our future.

Lajeanne Shelton:

So we get case law so we have a case that they can use to help further their argument. It's Simeon v Shelton. My friend from Berkeley literally texted me the other day and was like, literally, we heard your case name get mentioned so many times at this tournament we were at. I'm important case law, important, everybody is saying my last name at every competition across the country.

Kevin Huffman:

And Ms. Kimbrough, have you heard from her and what's that been like?

Amaya Ronczyk:

Well, first of all, judge Reese, he's always offering encouraging words, telling me to take care of myself. Of course, Mrs. Kimbro, we do text anytime I hear something crazy in class or just talking about mock trial. A couple of days ago, someone on the team called me asking for advice and we were talking about it because I guess once someone else was doing the same thing with her. I'm hoping that she's going to be out here very soon. So I'll be able to see her face to face. I'm very grateful to still have both of them in my life.

Lajeanne Shelton:

To echo Amaya's point, people from this team still call and ask me about how can I apply this rule of evidence? What does this case law mean? How do you argue this again? And I'm just like, "Okay, I can take a break from torts to tell you how it is."

Kevin Huffman:

But have you heard anything? How is the team going?

Amaya Ronczyk:

I think it's going where it should be going. I think there are some frustrations because it's the beginning of the season and there are some people stepping up to the plate who have never been leaders on the team before that are kind of just trying to find their style of leadership, which is normal. I think sometimes we also forget where we came from when it comes to mock trial. Once we've gained a certain amount of experience, we forget about what our frustrations were when we were like first year students on the team. So I think now that they're finally starting to realize like all of the ins and outs that me and Lajeanne were doing behind the scenes, Mrs. Kimbro.

I think they thought, oh, Mrs. Kimbro and Judge Reese just get together and put their favorites as the closers and openers. And they didn't realize, oh, somebody has to be actually planning the schedule to get us to the competition. Someone has to be thinking about if you place this person in this role, what happens if this other person... I don't think that they really understood until they got to that point. It shows some type of appreciation for stuff that me and Lajeanne were doing. It feels rewarding though that your work didn't go overlooked like Lajeanne said, that people still feel like they can lean on you because of course they can. So I always try to set aside time for people who need my help.

Kevin Huffman:

Well this has been great and it's always great to see you and hear from you. And we are just both very proud of you. I know we have no license to be proud of you, but just to be someone who spent a little bit of time with you and telling your story. Every time I see something that you post or that you're doing, I'm just really proud of you and we want to stay in touch and keep hearing great things from you.

Amaya Ronczyk:

Thank you. Wait, I just want to say this. Dillard, everybody on the team when y'all hear this, we love y'all. We miss y'all. We're rooting for y'all. Can't wait to see y'all at Nationals.

Lajeanne Shelton:

If y'all have big easy online, y'all know who to call to judge.

Katie Phang:

Class Action is a production of iHeartRadio and Sound Argument. Created, produced, and edited by Kevin Huffman and Lisa Gray. Executive producers are Taylor Chicoine and Katrina Norvell. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your favorite shows.

 

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