Wednesday Webinars

Pre-law Wednesday Webinars, an educational outreach initiative of UCLI’s PLEDGE Program (Promoting Legal Education to Diverse Groups Everywhere) provide Utah high school students, undergraduates, and law students with the opportunity to learn from and ask questions of Utah’s attorneys and judges.
Topics include, but are not limited to: exploring legal careers, life as a law student, pathways to legal education, college and law school applications advice, building mentoring relationships, professional development and self-advocacy.


1. I Love the Law

In our premiere episode, we hosted three panelists who were able to share some of their experiences and their motivations for attending law school. 

Melinda Shiraldi, who works at the US Attorney’s Office, went to the University of Utah for her undergraduate degree and Penn State for Law School. As a curious learner and a first-generation student, Ms. Shiraldi wanted to find a career that would provide a solid foundation, motivating her to attend law school. 

Sam Alba was born and raised in Mexico. He moved to the United States as a teenager and worked as a migrant farmworker. He attended Utah State University for his undergraduate degree and Arizona State University for his law degree. Mr. Alba later became the first Hispanic to sit on the Federal Bench in Utah and currently works in complex commercial litigation and white collar criminal defense. He went to law school because he wanted to make a difference in his community and has been fascinated as he has been exposed to new legal problems. 

Abby Dizon-Maughan attended the University of Utah for both her undergraduate and law degrees. However, she worked as a law firm for 10 years before attending law school. After working in criminal defense for the first five years of her career, she now works in commercial litigation. Ms. Dizon-Maughan enjoyed arguing and some of her personal experiences motivated her to become an attorney. 

The panelists were able to highlight some skills they believed necessary to have when attending law school, and ultimately, when becoming a lawyer. First, it is important to be curious and love to learn new things. The law is a big field with many different subtopics, so wanting to learn new things can be crucial. Other skills included having a good work ethic and being a critical thinker. Another important skill was to be an empathetic listener to understand your clients and how to better represent them.

2. Resources for High School Students

In our second episode, UCLI recaps some of the resources available for high school students to navigate the path of becoming a lawyer. First, UCLI Executive Director, Melinda Bowen, talks more about her background in order to show how there is no set path to becoming a lawyer. Everyone has a unique experience that leads them to law school. Ms. Bowen took a year gap working at an alternative school before attending law school, and then worked in a variety of different legal fields.

Then, UCLI’s Assistant Director, Ling Ritter, highlighted the resources for students. The first resource UCLI provides are mentorships that can help students avoid missterps in college/law school applications, guide student interests, and get the important experiences of a legal environment. UCLI’s Ambassador Program is tailored specifically for high school students; students can host events at their high school to learn about a legal education and legal careers. UCLI’s webinars are another resource that can provide an insight into different legal careers and opportunities. Webinars are a good place to explore student interests under the umbrella of legal careers and education. Lastly, UCLI recognizes that financial aid is an important consideration, so UCLI built a comprehensive list of scholarships for high school students, undergraduate students, and law school students. The database is available on our website (! 

Outside of UCLI, some things students can do is to find ways to improve intellectual development in ways that are interesting to you. It is important to develop critical reading and writing skills, as well as being introduced to legal environments to get a feel for your potential careers. 

UCLI is a resource for students to learn about the law, and provides a network of support for students who are interested in a legal education and career! 

3. Resources for Undergraduate Students

The Utah Center for Legal Inclusion offers a variety of resources of undergraduate students. Our PLEDGE (Promoting Legal Education to Diverse Groups Everywhere) Committee utilizes a three-pronged approach to helping students. The first prong is financial support. UCLI has created an LSAT prep scholarship that covers up to $1000 of costs associated with prep courses. UCLI recognizes that taking the LSAT is a significant part of a law school application, so this scholarship provides extra support for undergraduate students. 

The second approach is educational outreach, mostly done via presentations and our Ambassador Program. This helps students explore legal careers and educational opportunities. 

The third approach is providing mentorships for students. Mentorships can guide students to learn more about the law school process and explore legal careers. 

Some recommendations from the UCLI team consist of treating the LSAT as a job, meaning students should dedicate time to studying for the LSAT. Practice tests are a good way to get into the mindset of studying for the LSAT. Also, when asking for letters of recommendation, it is important to ask people who know you and your work. Ask professors or supervisors who you have experience working with! 

Outside of UCLI, there are a variety of resources for undergraduate students wanting to attend law school. One example is the University of Utah’s webinar series that covers specific topics like who to ask for letters of recommendation! 

4. What I Wish I Had Known in Law School

In our Webinar this week, we had three recent law school graduates who shared their experiences in law school. 

Two of the panelists, William Bates and Steven Arroyo, graduated from BYU Law. Our third panelists, Ezzy Khaosanga, graduated from the University of Utah’s law school. 

The panelists talked about their motivations for attending law school, from wanting to be a positive influence to wanting to create a stable foundation for the future. 

Some advice from the panelists covered the topic of time management. It is important to be realistic about the time you are willing to commit to the different activities in law school. It is good to explore many different options, but also set aside some time for self-care. In terms of self-care, it can be helpful to surround yourself with others to socialize and network. Networking can be hard, but building relationships with professors, friends, and others can be very helpful in learning more about your interests. There are many chances to network as a law student and it is important to not be afraid to ask questions!

Law school can be hard, which can create a competitive environment. But it is important to remember that focusing on learning the content is more beneficial than chasing the grade you want. 

As undergraduate students, there really is no required major for attending law school. However, it is important to develop writing and research skills, while also thinking critically about the content. These are some important skills to develop throughout your undergraduate experience, and then develop them even more in law school!

5. Book Discussion: An African American and Latinx History of the United States

In our first Resource Roundtable, UCLI was able to host Professor David-James Gonzales from BYU.  Professor Gonzales received his Bachelor’s degree from UC San Diego, and his PhD from the University of Southern California. 

Professor Gonzales guided the conversation over the book, An African-American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz. Some important terms that came up in the book are racial capitalism and emancipatory internationalism (a way to challenge oppression). 

Furthermore, Professor Gonzales touched upon the importance of intersectionality between different minority groups coming together to battle oppression. The book itself presents different examples, and Professor Gonzales mentions how minority groups working together is an essential tool in combating oppression.

Professor Gonzales touches on the importance of teaching these different perspectives to students. Some suggestions are for teachers to have their own guided philosophy and then teach according to who their audiences are. 

Lastly, other resources were recommended so that participants can learn more about some of the issues mentioned in the webinar and in the book itself: An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, and The Heartbeat of the Wounded Knee by David Treuer.

6. Judicial Campaign Finance

In our sixth webinar, our panelist Professor Dane Thorley, spoke about the implications of judicial finance campaigns. Professor Thorley majored in political science as an undergraduate, and then pursued a PhD and JD program after his undergraduate experience. He worked in field experiments that intersected with legal questions he was interested in. 

Professor Thorley’s research examines how donations can affect the decisions that judges make, despite the idea that judges are supposed to be neutral. Elections of judges opens the doors to financing, which can have an impact on judicial decision-making. His current studies focused on why judges don’t recuse themselves from cases and why attorneys don’t ask the judges to do so. Two main reasons judges might not recuse themselves is that they don’t want to hurt their reputation or don’t want to hurt their future elections. On the other side, attorneys have to be sure a judge is showing a bias when asking a judge to recuse themselves, and even this can lead to resentment from the judge. 

Some alternative solutions are mandatory recusals, external recusals, or extra-judicial disclosure. In summary, his work on judicial finance campaigns follows a flaw in the judicial system and how it can be potentially addressed.

7. Lawyers as Legislative Advocates

Marina Lowe, a Legislative and Policy Attorney for the ACLU Of Utah, talked about her work in working with the state legislature and working to pass legislation. After attending UC Hastings for law school, Marina Lowe worked in a big firm, but realized that it wasn’t for her. She then moved to Utah, where she eventually started working at the ACLU’s office here in Utah! 

Ms. Lowe mentioned how her law degree has been super helpful in her work because having a legal understanding of bills makes it easier to understand legislation. Also, skills such as persuasion, negotiation, and public speaking have been helpful in her work. Another interesting point is that knowledge of the law can serve as an objective and neutral basis for discussing legislation with others. 

Some of her tasks in working with legislatures consist of drafting talking points for legislators to present and finding ways to convince others of supporting a piece of legislation. Ms. Lowe works as an advocate for groups within Utah and helps by working with state legislators to uphold legal rights. An example was how she helped in passing same-day registration for voting in Utah! 

8. Legislative Counsel and Lawyer-Legislators

In our eighth episode, we had three panelists talk about their experiences working in the legislative process. Representative Stephanie Pitcher talked about her experiences working in the legislature while also working as the Deputy District Attorney for Davis County. Mr. Eric Weeks talked about his experiences working as Deputy general counsel for the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. Our third panelist, Ms. Christine Gilbert, also works for the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, specifically working with tax-related bills. 

In sharing their work experiences, the panelists highlighted some of the benefits a law degree has on their work. Mr. Weeks mentioned being excited about politics and drafting bills, as well as having the ability to look at an issue from both sides. Ms. Gilbert added that her law degree has helped her with writing and drafting bills and being able to critically think about the issues at hand. Representative Pitcher then mentioned how her law degree and her role as Deputy District Attorney has provided an extra sense of confidence in working as a legislature. 

Working in the legislative process can be a rewarding experience.A huge benefit is being able to draft bills and see those enter the legislature. Another pro that was talked about was being able to interact with people with different ideologies and understanding their point of views in working together to draft bills.

9. Appellate Court Judges

In our ninth episode, UCLI hosted three appellate Court judges who talked about their experiences in this part of the judiciary system. Judge Jill Pohlman has been serving for the Utah Court of Appeals for the past four years. Before joining the UT Court of Appeals, Judge Pohlman worked as an attorney in a firm for about 19 years. Our second panelist is Justice Paige Petersen who has been serving in the Utah Supreme Court for almost three years. Before joining the UT Supreme Court, Justice Peterson had a variety of different jobs in the legal field, such as working in international criminal law and serving on the District Court for two years. Judge Carolyn McHugh has been on the bench for the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit after being appointed by Former President Barack Obama six years ago. Before that, Judge McHugh worked in litigation and served in the Utah Court of Appeals for eight and a half years. 

In talking about their positions, Judge Pohlman, Justice Petersen, and Judge McHugh mentioned some of the pros and cons of being a judge. A common pro mentioned by all three panelists was the ability to work back and forth with smart and thoughtful people who come prepared to offer legal solutions to cases that come before them. A con that was mentioned is that the workload is heavy and tough, but in the end, the job is worth it. 

One important opportunity that was touched upon was a clerkship. Our panelists mentioned how clerkships are great opportunities to see behind the scenes of how a decision is made. While they touched upon the responsibilities of a clerk, they also highlighted some of the skills necessary for a clerkship, such as great writing skills and critical thinking.

10. Fight and Lead: A Tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In this episode, we honor the memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her legacy as a strong advocate for women and minorities.

Justice Christine Durham, serving on the Utah Supreme Court for 33 years, honors Justice Ginsburg’s work in ensuring equality under the law for women. Her courage touched the hearts of many and inspired generations of people, especially women, striving for civil rights. Her courage, which has entered our everyday culture, has created a model of justice that needs to be fought for. We must honor Justice Ginsburg’s legacy by fighting for equality under the law where it is currently faltering.

President of the Women Lawyers of Utah, Kimberly Neville, briefly mentions some initiatives striving to promote and retain women lawyers in Utah. Initiatives like Project Pipeline are meant to support women lawyers as they navigate our legal profession.

We honor the legacy of Justice Ginsburg and her pursuit of equality. We would like to close with a powerful quote from Justice Ginsburg, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

11. Trial Court Judges

We had the opportunity to speak to three trial court judges. In this week’s webinar, they discussed their legal career and how they became judges.

President Clinton appointed Judge Tena Campbell. Judge Campbell is a judge for the U.S District Courts (District Of Utah) and has been on the bench for 25 years. Before entering the legal field, she was a teacher. Judge Jenifer Brown is a judge for the fourth state of District Court for the State of Utah.  Judge Brown knew she wanted to be a lawyer since she was in fourth grade. She started her career in civil litigation. While working she realized the impact that good judges and bad judges can have on the outcome of the case, and decided to pursue being a judge to help make a positive impact. Judge Clemens Landau is a judge for the City Justice Court. He graduated from college thinking he was going to be a doctor. After being a paramedic for a couple of years, he decided that medicine was not the right career. He attended law school with his wife. He has experience working at different law firms before becoming a judge. 

In this episode, they talk about their casework and how it differs from court to court. For example, Judge Campbell only works with federal cases. In contrast, Judge Brown sees various cases from criminal to cases that fall under the general federal jurisdiction court. Judge Landau handles class B and C misdemeanors and small claims. He explains that he has to deal with a high volume number of cases. 

In addition, they discuss the pros and cons of being a judge. One of the dominant pros is that they all love what they do. They also provide an insight on how to remain unbiased so our legal system can work. Finally, they discuss self-care tips.

12. Self-Care for Students from Underrepresented Backgrounds

In this week’s episode, we discussed the importance of self-care in the legal field. We had the opportunity to speak to Jessica Ramirez, an Associate at the Ray Quinney and Nebeker Law firm, and Jamie Sorenson, a partner at the same firm. 

Jessica Ramirez is a first-generation college student. She attended the University of Utah, where she got her Bachelors in Finance and went to the University of Utah S.J Quinney College of Law. Currently, Jessica works in employment law and loves being able to support employers to have the best relationship with their employees. As a first-generation student, she shares how vital mentorship was for her. She further explains how hard it can be to ask someone for advice out of fear of wasting their time. However, she recommends keeping in mind that lawyers love to help and never be afraid to reach out.

We asked Jessica what wellness meant to her, and she explains that wellness is about being in tune with how she is feeling. To practice wellness, she prioritizes exercising, whether that is going on walks or taking breaks when feeling tired. She also discusses methods she wished she would have implemented earlier in her life. For example, she recommends listening to the Happiness Lab Podcast. Jessica gives an insight on how law school ratings can be stressful and feel like they have a significant weight on your career. Jessica touches on how imposter syndrome can also cause negative thoughts of not belonging. We asked Jessica if there are any particular challenges in promoting wellness in the legal career. Jessica explains that due to Utah’s nature of being family-friendly, it would be a much better transition if you practice in Utah. Furthermore, she talks about specific self-care practices that work for her as a woman of color in the legal field. 

Jamie Sorenson is a partner at the same firm and practices bankruptcy and litigation. Jamie explains that a wellness practice in the legal field is finding an area of practice that you enjoy doing. The law is so massively broad, having the courage to try new things can help bring contentment. Part of what worked for him in the bankruptcy field is that the people he worked with made it enjoyable. He also mentioned that having friends inside and outside the law is helpful.

A wellness practice that Jamie wished he would have adopted sooner in his life is exercising. He explains that it is easy to work late and work early. However, prioritizing some time for himself is essential. Jamie goes on walks or runs whenever he can. He mentioned that his favorite part about practicing law is the relationships that he has built with his clients and the opportunity to get involved with his community. 

13. Avoiding Burnout While Staying Actively Engaged

In this week’s episode, we discussed the importance of avoiding burnout while staying actively engaged. We had the opportunity to speak to Amber Stargell and Sadé Turner.  Amber Stargell is an associate at Christensen and Jensen. Sadé is a shareholder at Strong and Hanni Law firm.

Both Amber and Sadé are not initially from Utah. Some of the factors they took into consideration for coming to Utah was that S.J Quinney College of Law was a good law school, safe, and the financial support.

Amber originally transferred from a law school in Texas. During her 1L, she did an internship in Utah with her current law firm. Amber decided to transfer to the University of Utah and stay here because of the legal community. In Texas, she mentioned how the legal community is significant, and she doesn’t have the opportunity to interact with the entire bar. It can also be intimidating and can be easy to overlook your own needs and wants. Amber stayed because the bar in Utah is small, and you can interact with various people in the legal community. Both speakers also talked about different ways that they built their network. Sadé participated in a court activity while in law school. This court activity allowed her to meet judges and attorneys and speak to them about cases that were assigned while making connections. For Amber, since she had interned with her current law firm, the lawyers there supported her and were willing to invite her to specific events.

In this episode, Amber and Sadé give specific practices to maintain a healthy work-life balance. They talk about how important it is to learn how to say no. Sadé mentioned that she always wanted to say yes to everything. However, you are technically saying no to everything because you will not be able to be present and contribute in the way you want to. To solve this, she decided to say yes to tasks she was passionate about. Amber adds that you can determine what is worth your time once you understand your focus and passion. They also provide examples of how to say no while still building on your network and perhaps elevating others.