Law School: Pepperdine University School of Law
Status: 3L, Juris Doctor candidate, 2015; Master’s in Dispute Resolution candidate, 2015; Certificate in Criminal Legal Practice candidate, 2015
Undergraduate: Pepperdine University
Home: La Palma, California
When you ask Amanda Michelle Sanchez about the transformative experiences in her life, she talks about having an autistic brother and attending Pepperdine University School of Law.
“I grew up watching my mother and father often having to navigate the special education and disability law fields on their own, trying to obtain the legal services to which my brother was entitled,” Sanchez, a 3L, said in e-mails and a telephone interview.
Though she had long wanted to be a neurologist, to help her brother and others like him, her parents’ experience showed her that the law was another avenue to the same goal. “I would be able to give a voice to those who may not have necessarily had one in the courtroom, or just may not have been comfortable using their voices,” she said. “I would also be able to help them through the stress and conflict in their personal lives that brought them to a courtroom.”
Sanchez, a long-time volunteer in her brother’s school, has continued volunteering in the special education classrooms of elementary schools near Pepperdine – which leads her to the law school’s transformative powers. More than an academic or intellectual challenge, she said, it’s been a life experience. “I think back to who I was before I started 1L; I was so different from the person I am now,” she said, “from the incisive way in which I think and analyze situations to the self-assured way in which I carry myself and the confidence I’ll carry with me in my career.”
Many people, she said, describe law school as humbling, with classmates and professors right-sizing their abilities and accomplishments to average or adequate at best. By contrast, she said, the Pepperdine community helped her discover her strengths – the individual talents that are unique to who she is and will be as a lawyer.
“I’ve also learned that lawyers aren’t all the same and don’t fit into a one-dimensional archetype or personality profile,” Sanchez added. “I can be the outgoing, fun-loving person I am and at the same time a zealous and capable advocate for my clients.”
LAWDRAGON: What were key factors you used in choosing a law school?
AMANDA MICHELLE SANCHEZ: I took into account location, ranking and bar-passage rates. Then I looked at the community aspect of the schools. I knew, for example, that I should try to attend a school in California or one whose graduates find jobs in California, since I definitely want to live and work here. I can now see what an advantage that decision was, because I have externed every semester and summer of law school after 1L year. Though it is difficult to balance working part-time with classes and extracurriculars, the externships have provided some of the best and most practical learning experiences while I’ve attended law school.
I knew Pepperdine was breaking the top 50 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings at the point at which I was applying, which was appealing to me. I applied to California schools up and down the top 100 rankings. I also looked for the highest bar-passage rates. I remember that Pepperdine had the second-highest bar-pass percentage of all the Los Angeles area law schools, higher than that of UCLA Law, which is consistently ranked higher than Pepperdine overall. And realistically, a main reason you go to law school is to prepare you to pass the bar later.
While applying to grad schools, I realized for the first time that I didn’t necessarily need to go on in my educational career, though I obviously wanted to so that I could pursue a law career. But this realization showed me that I could be a little more selective in my law school choices. I didn’t have to apply to “safety” schools, as I did for undergrad. If I didn’t get in to a reputable law school that would benefit me to have it on my resume and help me pass the bar, I didn’t have to go. I could take a year off and maybe try again.
After receiving my LSAT scores and looking at my GPA, I applied to schools that seemed to fit me exactly and a few “reach” schools that I was hoping would give me a chance. Though I thought about trying out a different school from my undergrad alma mater, I would visit other campuses and think, “It’s just not Pepperdine.” You know when you’re at a school and surrounded by a community that will support you through this challenging experience. I had that feeling only at Pepperdine.
LD: It sounds as if those criteria would still yield a large number of schools to which you could apply. Did you use any other criteria to further narrow your choices?
AMS: I may start to repeat myself, but it’s something I can’t emphasize enough. The Pepperdine community was the tipping factor in this decision. Pepperdine was not the school offering me the biggest scholarships; it was not the most central location to jobs, and it was not the highest-ranking school that offered me admittance. It was the one that aligned with the reason I wanted to go to law school: So that I could help people.
Pepperdine not only says that it wants to create lawyers who are dedicated to their clients, but it demonstrates that in every way possible, including the way in which it treats its students. The Pepperdine faculty and staff always care about students’ wellbeing, not only in their professional lives, but in their personal lives as well. I wanted a place that would support me in all aspects of my life during this time.
LD: Is there anything about law school, or Pepperdine that has surprised you?
AMS: I was surprised at the close friendships I created. I came into law school understanding the rigorous academic experience it was going to be, but it’s also a life struggle. I say that having endured a few personal struggles that were nothing compared with what some of my friends have gone through – and all of this in addition to trying to excel and trying to shoulder the individual burdens that we each carry. I think the reason we all have gotten through is that we’ve created incredibly strong bonds. From my extracurricular activities to my 1L section to my Bible study, I’ve met some amazing people who understood what I was going through, who wanted to help and knew precisely how to help.
LD: How did you discover that you love trial practice?
AMS: While working for the District Attorney’s Office in Compton. I was a certified law clerk, so I was able to do prelims regularly. The adrenaline rush I felt while on the record was almost identical to that rush I used to get when I played competitive sports. I’ve also been lucky enough to second-chair a jury trial at the District Attorney’s Office. It solidified my love for litigation by combining the two things I truly enjoy: trial practice and communicating with people – in this case, members of a jury.
LD: You earned an undergraduate certificate and a master’s degree in dispute resolution. You’re editor in chief of Pepperdine’s Dispute Resolution Law Journal. Why focus on that academically, especially since you are now interested in litigation?
AMS: Coming into Pepperdine, I wanted to take advantage of its dispute resolution program before I knew what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. Pepperdine’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution program has been the No. 1 dispute resolution program in the U.S. for the past 11 years. I love that the classes are practical; you’re constantly performing simulations with your classmates that are akin to real-life negotiations and mediations.
Though I don’t plan on practicing alternative dispute resolution right out of law school, I have already used the skills I’ve learned in every one of my externships: how to communicate with people effectively; how to recognize that the person to whom I’m speaking understands what I’m saying and what my position is so that I can cater my argument directly towards that person and his or her concerns. It’s made me a better litigator because I better understand how to communicate with my witnesses, opposing counsel, judges and, especially, juries.
LD: What has been your most memorable or valuable experience?
AMS: My most memorable law school experience has actually been a series of experiences – the times I sat with a professor and discussed our lives. Sometimes I’ll just walk around the 3rd floor of Pepperdine Law, where all the professors’ offices are, and stop to chat with any number of the ones who have their doors open, welcoming student interaction. I’ll come in and begin by talking about the weather or something seemingly insignificant that turns into a discussion about something much larger that I’m struggling with – my career goals, for example, or the intersection of faith and law. I can have conversations with them about questions to which I wish we had answers; at least they’re there to shed some insight on the situation.
Another 3L student not so long ago asked a group of us, “Which professor are you going to miss most next year?” The group went silent and you could see the wheels churning in each person’s head until a couple names were thrown out. Each time another professor was named, students would recall their favorite times with that professor. In the end, we concluded that the question was just too difficult to answer: We’ll keep each fond memory we have with each professor, and with each other, as we leave our Pepperdine family. Becoming a family with the students, faculty and staff has been the most memorable part of law school for me.
LD: You’re a longstanding member of several organizations on campus. Could you tell us something about them?
AMS: Advocates for Public Interest Law is a fundraising club that creates a scholarship fund for students working unpaid public interest jobs in the summer. Last year as an officer, I planned an online and on-campus auction with items donated from the community and professors for people to bid on.
Christian Legal Society comprises about 50 members – students, faculty and staff – who meet every Wednesday at our professor’s house to pray and worship together. I began going to this with my roommates during my 1L year and found it a great way to rejuvenate halfway through the week. I’ve met some of my closest friends through this organization and they constantly remind me why I came to law school in the first place.
Phi Alpha Delta is a legal fraternity that participates in various networking activities throughout the area. Though the Pepperdine chapter is not extremely active, it’s been a great source of information for me for post-grad opportunities.
The Asian Pacific Law Student Association focuses on networking within the Asian Pacific community in the LA area. Various Asian American Bar Associations in the area work with us to help mentor law students. Once again, it’s been a great source of information for me for post-grad and scholarship opportunities.
Being a 1L student mentor has been one of my favorite extracurricular activities in law school. I served as a student mentor my 2L and 3L year to a new group of about six students every year – sometimes more because I tend to “adopt” more mentees whom I meet along the way. Pepperdine’s mentor program matches upperclassmen with a few incoming 1Ls during orientation so that they have their first contact point to student life at Pepperdine.
I like to extend my mentor duties past orientation by sending my mentees encouraging emails at hectic times during the year, sending them outlines to help study and, yes, baking them cookies after their exams. I just don’t want any 1Ls to think that they don’t have someone to whom they can talk during law school, because I know it can be a humbling experience that some people are not ready to handle alone.
As a Themis Bar Rep, I help promote that bar review on campus. I help students stay informed about their choices for bar preparation by sharing why I chose Themis myself. Once again, I see Themis being a classic example of Pepperdine values in the way it promotes direct one-on-one contact with its students throughout their bar study months.
LD: What do you plan to do with your law degree?
AMS: That is definitely a loaded question for a second semester 3L who hasn’t confirmed a job offer yet. Broadly speaking, I plan on using my degree to help people, as I’ve said all along. My goal in law school has been to give a voice to those who don’t have one, or who don’t have a strong voice in the legal arena.
I came into law school focused on being a public interest lawyer, which to me meant that I was going to work directly with people and help them navigate the legal waters in what is probably the scariest and most difficult time of their lives. As law school continued and I started to find my place in legal practice, I’ve maintained that primary goal of helping people, but I’ve also found that I really love trial practice.
I now plan to use my degree to help victims of crime find justice in the courtroom as a District Attorney. While those plans are still being sorted out, as in which office I will work in, I can say with certainty that this my goal whether I achieve it right after passing the bar or some time in the future.
Contact Margot Slade at (914) 396-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.