I never graduated from high school. Not for any particular reason, I just didn’t consider education important at the time. After getting my GED at age 17, I began working primarily in service jobs and as administrative support, and although I enjoyed moderate success in those jobs, I knew that I would always be on the lower-wage end of the spectrum. My family relocated to San Antonio in 2008 and after years of working and not getting ahead, my husband and I decided that I would head back to school with the goal of getting a better job in the future. I traded in my full time job for part-time employment at a nonprofit organization and started classes at San Antonio College.
At community college, I was considered a “nontraditional” student, but I found that there were many other students just like me. Often, it was the older students that were better prepared for class and took learning more seriously. Slowly, but surely, I completed basics and eventually enrolled in the bachelor of public administration program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I chose the program because I was interested in how citizens interact with their government. I found I enjoyed learning about how our society governs itself and the areas of urban management and land use were of particular interest to me.
In the fall of 2013, I took a senior seminar course with an emphasis on civic engagement with Francine Romero, associate dean for the College of Public Policy at UTSA. Romero also sits on the San Antonio Zoning Commission and during the semester had students attend a couple of sessions. In attending those meetings, it became apparent to me that something as seemingly mundane as land zoning was significantly more important to our society than I had previously realized.
That semester our class also participated in a community research project, “To Pay or Not to Pay,” designed to measure public opinion on city council pay. The course expanded my interest in public policy issues, but like many students, I was not exactly sure what avenue to pursue following graduation.
At the end of the semester, Romero extended an offer to speak with students considering future plans. She discussed some graduate school options with me and I shared with her that my husband once suggested the possibility of me attending law school. I told her I couldn’t see myself in a court room and she pointed out that there are attorneys out there doing all types of work related to public administration. She helped me realize that the law impacts our lives every day in ways we don’t even think about. Romero said something during our meeting that still resonates with me today, “Don’t limit yourself.”
After much thought and consideration, I decided to pursue law school. I met with an Admissions representative and found out about the part-time evening law program at St. Mary’s University School of Law. A juris doctorate program is typically completed in three years and most students complete the evening program within four to five years. After countless hours of preparing for the LSAT and submitting the application, I received my acceptance letter to St. Mary’s part-time evening law program.
I was ecstatic, but I was also concerned that the law program would be too rigorous. After all, I work (albeit part-time), I care for our four children, my husband works 60-70 hours a week, and I was about to turn 40. I asked myself if it was silly to start law school this late in life. Once I started the program, however, I realized I was not the only one with a full plate. There are 42 students in our evening section, and we all have similar life circumstances. Most work full-time jobs, care for families, or have other commitments, and despite the degree of difficulty and volume of required reading material, each classmate has demonstrated commitment and dedication to their studies.
Although my schedule is jam-packed, I have participated in a couple of the school’s Ask-a-Lawyer events, a joint effort between the law school and Catholic Charities. There are several events throughout the year during which citizens in the community are interviewed by students about legal issues they are experiencing. The students then consult with volunteer attorneys who offer their legal expertise in providing information. These were terrific learning experiences and the citizens I worked with were comforted in knowing they had options, if not solutions, to their legal problems. The experience demonstrated to me how compassion, knowledge, and the intervention of someone with a sense of fairness and legal expertise makes all the difference. There are several other volunteer opportunities with the school and I plan to continue to get involved as much as my schedule will allow.
One issue that consistently looms overhead is my student loan debt. Like thousands of other students in similar circumstances, the debt will be significant. I am counting on the many years I have left in the workforce in order to pay it all back. There are a few student loan forgiveness programs out there that I am considering, but I still find myself wishing I had gone to school years ago.
At this stage in my life, I should be saving for retirement instead of racking up student loan debt. However, this is my reality, and despite the debt, I am still glad I made the choice to go to law school. It was the right choice for our family and in so many ways, we will be better off from it.
After completing the required first-year courses this fall, I will be able to select courses that better suit my interests. I am not sure which area of law I would like to practice, but a career in the public sector would be especially meaningful work. I hope to increase my understanding in the areas of land use, urban planning, and zoning, as they are still of great interest to me.
For now, I am concentrating on my studies. It is a struggle to do well in my job, manage the day-to-day activities of a busy family, and fit in the necessary three hours of preparation for each class. Law school is incredibly demanding. I must confess that at times I wonder if this is worth all the trouble, but when it comes down to it, I love it. I feel like I am achieving something important while giving our children an example of hard work and dedication. I want to make a difference in the community, and although I’m not quite sure how, I know I belong in this field and that I am on the right path.
*Featured/top image: St. Mary’s University School of Law Dean Stephen Sheppard welcomes first-year law students. Photo by Lorna Griffin.