Non-traditional students, a group that includes part-time students working through school, "second-career" students, older students, parenting students and first-generation law students, face all the same obligations of traditional law students as well as additional sets of burdens and challenges that come with the responsibilities of life outside of law school. Last year, a new student organization, the Non-Traditional Law Student Association (NTLSA), was established at CSU Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to provide support, networking opportunities, and a forum to address the unique concerns of this section of the student population.
Current CSU C|M|LAW 3LE Katheryn Hach founded the NTLSA and is now serving as its president. Katheryn is a member of the part-time evening program and works around 30 hours per week during the school year. She also had an educational break while working full-time between college and law school, and is the first person in her family to attend law school.
Katheryn recognized the need for the NTLSA during the early stages of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. While all students faced difficulties during that transitional period, she noticed the struggles of non-traditional students were exacerbated and their educational and networking opportunities were limited. When bringing these issues to the attention of the CSU C|M|LAW administration, the benefits of organizing a network for non-traditional students became clear.
“The legal profession can be extremely intimidating, and from my experience, that intimidation is tenfold for those who fall under the non-traditional labels,” explained Katheryn. “Many of our members have full-time jobs, kids to attend to, or lack the time and resources to settle into the institution like those who come into law school straight from college. It’s hard to make law school your job as it’s often suggested in orientation when you’ve already got a full-time job to juggle.”
In its first year, the organization attracted more than 20 members and continues to grow. Upper-level student members had the opportunity to share what they wish they had known in their earlier years of law school. Katheryn has also been impressed with the alumni support past graduates who were non-traditional students have expressed that they wished this organization and support system had existed during in their time.
Alumni support is likely to be a major component for the NTLSA, as CSU C|M|LAW as a long and proud tradition of graduates of its part-time program. In the most recent U.S. News and World Reports Rankings (2022), CSU C|M|LAW ranked as the top part-time law school in Ohio.
CSU C|M|LAW Leader-in-Residence and Hall of Fame member Carter E. Strang ’84 was a non-traditional student who went to law school in the part-time program while continuing his career as a social studies teacher at Shaker Heights High School and parenting two young children. Strang became the first member of his family to earn a professional degree and has gone on to become partner at Tucker Ellis LLP, where he handles a broad range of matters in both state and federal court with a primary focus on environmental, mass tort, and product liability litigation. He is the only person to have served as president of both the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association Northern District of Ohio Chapter and is a past recipient of the Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association Alumni of the Year Award.
Strang credits the CSU C|M|LAW part-time evening program with allowing him to launch his legal career.
“It was very, very hard being married with two small children (both of whom are now Cleveland-area attorneys) while working full time and attending law school part-time,” explained Strang. “But I also found that the part-time evening students were less competitive with each other and more cooperative. There was a feeling of camaraderie that helped us through the most difficult times. Everyone in the part-time evening program felt they were doing the best with the time they had. And because many of the part-time evening student were older and more mature, classroom discussions were enhanced.”
Another graduate grateful for the CSU C|M|LAW part-time evening program is the Honorable Michelle Paris ’84. She attended CSU C|M|LAW as a part-time student while working full-time as an examiner in the Civil Service Commission in the City of Cleveland. Paris, a former Cleveland elementary school teacher has gone on to a distinguished legal career that includes having served as a Judge on the Bedford Municipal Court for the past eight years and was a 2021 recipient of Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association Alumni of the Year Award and a member of the C|M|LAW Hall of Fame.
“Cleveland- Marshall graduates that went through the evening program are part of a special club. For many of us, law school was a second career and an opportunity to grow in a different direction. The same will hold true for students today,” said Judge Paris. “As I sit here today as a Judge, I use the legal skills and the practical coping skills that I learned while going to law school at night – managing time, setting priorities, keeping a sense of humor and enjoying the camaraderie among lawyers.”
CSU Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Assistant Dean for Student and Career Services Sarah Dylag Beznoska has found what Judge Paris describes about the time management skills, camaraderie among peers and the ability to prioritize for part-time students to be true and that those are assets that can be particularly beneficial to employers as those graduates embark on their legal careers.
“These students are truly masters at time and project management, and at efficiently completing high quality legal work for successful client outcomes,” said Beznoska. “Employers are always impressed with our nontraditional students.”
Katheryn recognizes that she and her members can learn much from alumni in the workforce who were nontraditional students and intends to develop targeted mentorship between current attorneys and the group’s members.
Katheryn understands the importance of the relationships and networking she is building during law school, and has taken on leadership roles beyond the NTLSA. She is President of OUTLaw, Director of Development of the Student Bar Association, and a Legal Writing Teaching & Research Assistant. She considers working with the members of the faculty, staff, alumni and student body while attending CSU C|M|LAW to be one of her life’s greatest pleasures and prioritizes that involvement in her busy schedule.
"I’m always eager to take on leadership roles because I love getting the chance to speak up on issues I care deeply about, like LGBTQ+ rights and the non-traditional student plight,” said Katheryn. “It’s not easy, but organization is the only thing keeping my head above water.”
Katheryn’s leadership in creating NTLSA will have lasting impact at the law school.
“We have a long history of making legal career paths accessible to students who are working their way through law school,” Beznoska elaborates. “Having a student organization focused on continuing to make connections in the legal community furthers our mission to support all students to fulfilling legal careers, and we're excited to be able to leverage the engagement of the student organization to continue to introduce alumni and employers to this network of students.”
NTLSA LinkedIn page (for non-traditional law students past and present)