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Students of the night

For love or money, law school appeals.

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THIRD TIME A CHARM:
  • THIRD TIME A CHARM:
Graduates of the Class of 2002 at the UALR School of Law found jobs in private practice (55 percent), as counsel to a company or in business (11 percent), in state, county and local government (13 percent), as judges' clerks (17 percent) and academics (1 percent). About a third of those earned their degree in night school, over a several-year period. One of those night schoolers, Jonathan Warren, hopes to create a particular niche when he graduates in 2005: As a lawyer/screen writer. The radio, television and film graduate of UALR worked at KATV, Channel 7, as a video editor for eight-and-a-half years. But burnout and hopes for a more lucrative career turned his thinking to law school. He is typical of the night school students at the School of Law in that he's worked, and brings that maturity - and a desire to change jobs - to his class. Warren said his mother, Judge Joyce Warren, was "shocked" at his decision to apply to law school, but apply he did - three times. "I was arrogant the first time" he took the LSAT, Warren acknowledged, thinking the test wouldn't require any studying. The result? "I didn't do that well," he said, and was turned down. But Warren forged ahead, enlisting a friend to tutor him and taking the LSAT two more times. Finally, in 2001, he was thrilled to see that fat envelope from the law school in the mail. Warren, 32, now works at the law office of Gary Green during the day, taking calls, writing motions and doing research. "I've actually learned more working here than in school," Warren said, and he hopes to stay there for a time after he graduates. But Warren has relished his law school classes, especially mock trials. He got to travel to Washington, D.C., for moot court competition where "we did well, but we suffered from a little East Coast bias." He has since been named the Moot Court chair and was awarded a scholarship sponsored by a Little Rock law firm. Warren's interest in film is only one distinguishing characteristic; the other is the fact that he's African-American. "My parents raised us that people are people, but I can't help but look around and think, 'I'm the only black guy in this class' " at times, Warren said. However, he's noticed the steady increase in black students since he first enrolled. "When I first came in, it wasn't even 10 percent," he said. Today, 48 out of the school's 400 students are minority, most of them African-American. Now, Warren looks forward to fall, when he's enrolled in a class he couldn't turn down: Law and Film. "I'm hoping we have to write papers and film," he said. Grif Stockley, John Grisham, look out. Bonnie Johnson is another part-time student who had a career before deciding to get a law degree. She started law school "just a couple of weeks before my 50th birthday," and said though it was difficult at first getting back in study mode, she would encourage other middle-agers to try it. (The average age of law school students at the Little Rock school is 38.) She ascribes the late entry to her era - when women weren't encouraged to pursue a professional career - and to the fact that she was a working mother, holding various jobs in the non-profit sector for 20 years. Johnson was working to get a master's degree in public administration from UALR when a joint program with the Law School was created. "By May, I will have been in school for six years and have both degrees," she said. Law school has been a rich experience, she said, her fellow night students "interesting" people who've worked in various jobs, her professors "top notch." Night students, she said, defy the stereotype of cutthroats who'll do anything to come out on top, Instead, they are "so supportive of each other." Johnson's not cutthroat either, but she is on top - number one in her class her first two years in school, with a 3.9 GPA, and now ranked third, with a 3.8 GPA. She's on full scholarship. She's made her mark on campus another way, too: Everywhere she goes, she hauls a pullcart loaded with two legal briefcases, her laptop and her lunch. Johnson, who works full time as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber, is not sure where she's headed with her new degrees. She enjoys law in the abstract as well as the "chess game" of civil procedure. But she'll bring a new perspective to that new job: "In the past, I had a liberal outlook. As I've gotten older, I'm interested in how justice [works] for everybody … how rights and interests of different peoples can be balanced, and how to do that as a society. It's part of the maturing process."

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