Nikki Kuklo (1E), class of 2023

I am entering my second semester of law school in the part-time program… Who would have thought that would happen for me?! I am 30 years old and have been a horse trainer since I was 10 years old, or at least that was when my mom put a receipt book in my hand and taught me how to start charging my client. So, one might say that my experience so far has been a complete and utter culture shock. I was filled with so much doubt regarding my ability to integrate into this wholly new way of thinking and doing things.

One thing you learn early in training horses is that horses need constant care and diligence. There is never a day off because, at a minimum, horses need to be fed and watered. This holds true for law school as well. As Professor Telfeyan reminded my GLS I class frequently, daily diligence is key.

The law school experience has shown me that consistency and persistence in your studies is crucial. You have to tame your mind to be a little less wild each day. You have to have patience on the days when you feel like you have not retained a single thing, reward yourself on the days you have pushed – despite feeling like you do not belong –  and do a little dance when everything starts to click. Feeling my mind transformation has been a startling and liberating experience.

Unlike training horses though, I am not alone in my work. I get to be a part of the amazing part-time cohort. There is a real camaraderie in the part-time class. Everyone has schedules that often appear like blackout dates for the airlines. So, they come prepared; they know exactly why they came to law school, and they are here to get everything out of a class that they can. They challenge you to be at the top of your game and they expect you to meet them at their level in group work. So you do. And as you improve, they cheer for your correct answers in the face of the scary professors and they console you when you take a chance and it goes poorly.

At times, scheduling is the hardest part of law school for a part-time student, not the content. There were many Thursday evenings, after Criminal Law was over and we had completed our Skills Lab Study Group at 9:30 pm, that I would sit staring at the list of assignments I had compiled throughout the week. I keep that list in one notebook and I have a physical calendar that lays the week out by the hour. It starts at 7 am and ends at 8:45 pm.

Any law student will tell you, there are not enough hours in that day. I have to plan out each hour, including everything from work and free time to exercise and family obligations. You may not get to everything on your calendar, every time – I know I have failed occasionally. Note the missed material and evaluate your schedule accordingly. What you put into law school is what you get out of it. This applies to making connections with your cohort as well.

I have not had the opportunity to meet any of my cohort in person yet. Anyone who started law school in the fall of 2020 is experiencing something no other incoming 1L group has ever faced: Zoom classes. The professors find engaging ways to keep our attention and deliver the material, even though most of us are in the comfort of our own homes. As one of my fellow cohort members said, “the academic rigor has survived despite the less-than-ideal circumstances.”

Still, one cannot help but feel a sense of disconnect and isolation from time to time. Personally, I have noticed that I worry about jumping into a discussion without being able to read the room because I am concerned I will talk over a point being made by a fellow classmate. I also experience some insecurity when an answer is not received well and I cannot immediately see that the rest of the class is feeling my pain right alongside me.

Fortunately, we are adapting. The part-time cohort has set up group discussions so we can support one another and make sure everyone has as much information as possible. We have Slack channels, small group texts for assigned group work, a text chain with our entire cohort, and a Facebook page. None of this is a substitute for meeting up in person, but we are connecting as we can. It feels a lot less lonely when someone reaches out to remind you there is an assignment due, showing they care about their fellow classmates.

To sum it all up, the experience thus far has been terrifying and exhilarating, exhausting and fulfilling, painful and transformative. There is nowhere I would rather be than in the part-time programs with dedicated students at McGeorge School of Law. I cannot wait to meet them in person as we continue our journey.