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A Force to be Reckoned With

Young alumni gain confidence from their strong law education

Candace Alcaraz

From The Lawyer - Summer 2018

Candice Alcaraz, JD ’16, had an impressive tally of real-world experiences on her record, a fact that supplied her with an upper hand when she threw in her hat for a job as a Wyandotte County prosecution attorney and was awarded the position. It was her first job right out of Washburn Law.

“Everything from my experience at Washburn prepared me for that moment,” Alcaraz said. “In those first weeks, everything we’d ever talked about in the practical classes would come running back to me. I’d say to myself, ‘I know this.’”

Within her first days as a county attorney, she was asked to respond to a motion. Alcaraz felt the pressure, but relied on her practical education from Washburn Law to follow through with confidence.

“I made the motion, did the response, went to the hearing, argued it. I did it, full out. I remembered doing this same thing with Professor John Francis at the law clinic,” said Alcaraz. “With me being the new attorney, the judge asked me about case law, and I thought to myself, ‘Here we go, it’s law school all over again.’”

Alcaraz, originally from Chicago’s South Side, wound up a law student at Washburn and, ultimately, an attorney in metropolitan Kansas City through sheer grit combined with serendipity. Alcaraz knew from an uncannily early age she was a force to be reckoned with.

Recalling a long-ago episode in a third-grade classroom in Chicago, Alcaraz said, “My parents had just switched me from a religious school to a public school, and I was suddenly at a loss on the subject of science. I’d been good at everything else up until then. At that moment, I decided, if I let anything hinder me, I’m not going to get too far. I decided I would study hard and go after this with all my might. And I just took off from there. I kept achieving at every grade level.”

Alcaraz graduated in the top 10 of her high school and wound up an undergrad at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. There, in her junior year, she had an auspicious conversation with her criminal justice instructor where it first dawned on her to pursue a career in law.

Fast forward to 2013. With a commendable LSAT score in her favor, Alcaraz had several offers, but her future really came down to a choice between two schools. One of them was Washburn.

“In talking to Washburn, people were friendly, helpful, and informative,” remembered Alcaraz. “I kept thinking, ‘People can’t really be this nice,’ but they were. The other school was treating me like I was just another number. Washburn kept telling me they were very experience-oriented. I felt like, okay, I like this. I got everything I needed and more. It was a great decision.”

At Washburn, Alcaraz threw herself full-force into experiential offerings and seized every opportunity for growth. She led a study group, participated in the Black Law Student Association, won an internship with the Honorable Stephen Hill, JD ’75, on the Kansas Court of Appeals, served as the president of the Moot Court Council, achieved membership to the Order of the Barristers, and earned a certificate in advocacy from the Center for Excellence in Advocacy.

Alcaraz’s boundless drive during her academic career seems almost superhuman. But she’s quick to point out the school and its faculty challenged her to overcome and exceed her limits, and that an atmosphere of collaboration provided her with the encouragement she needed to succeed.

“My first time doing a mock argument during class, I was freaking out. I was terrified. The student who was opposing me was so reassuring beforehand. We all supported each other, we were all students at the end of the day,” recalled Alcaraz. “Still, as I walked up to the podium, I was shaking. But when I started speaking, I was on fire. Professor Emily Grant asked me a question, and I responded, ‘I can give you this two ways,’ and she shot back, ‘Well, show me what you’ve got.’ I knew in that moment that I was good at this.”

Alcaraz cites the emphasis on legal writing, the collegial atmosphere among students, the range of practical opportunities, and the relationships she formed with practicing attorneys and judges as the factors leading to her success.

“Everything turned around for me from my first year to my last year,” Alcaraz recalled. “I ended up having all this experience so I could do anything I wanted and run wild with it. When you get out there, people expect you to know things. Washburn’s practical approach has got to be the wave of the future. You can’t trade that kind of experience for anything.”

Every semester, Washburn University School of Law Dean Thomas J. Romig takes time to get to know incoming students.

“I always ask them to say why they decided to go to law school,” Romig said. “Before 2011, there were maybe 20-30 percent of the students who would say, ‘When I graduated college, I didn’t know what else to do with myself.’ We don’t see that anymore. We have people who are really focused on going to law school because of that smaller pool.”

“Any way you look at it, the chances of getting a job are good for people who graduate from Washburn Law,” said Romig. “They are better prepared to go out and practice law or provide legal counsel because of the courses they’ve taken. They’re ready to hit the ground running. Employers know that.”

Alcaraz is one of those applicants who really knew the law school path was the right one for her.

“I think that, in our profession, people are leery of going after a degree because there might not be a job afterward. That, and the cost of living, scares people,” said Alcaraz, who funded part of her degree with student loans. “I knew it was going to be expensive. But I knew it would pay off over time. If you want this, go after it full throttle. There’s so much you can do with this degree.”

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