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The 2017-18 school year began with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law welcoming its largest and most highly credentialed incoming class of all time and will conclude in May by sending off a remarkable group of graduates.
Degrees in hand, the future is bright for the Arizona State University Law Class of 2018. The top-10 public law school is ranked 19th in the nation for percentage of graduates who land high-quality law jobs at 89 percent, and it has ranked in the top 20 in that category for the past five years. During that same five-year stretch, ASU Law has held the highest bar-passage rate in the state, and it is a top-five school for bar-passage differential, which compares a school’s rate to the overall rate in its state. ASU Law’s passage rate for graduates within two years of law school is 93 percent, far exceeding the overall rate for Arizona law schools, which is just under 64 percent.
“We’re one of only 13 law schools in the country to rank in the top 20 for high-quality employment each of the past five years, and that’s a testament to our students, faculty, staff and approach of providing comprehensive and personalized legal education,” said ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester. “The Class of 2018 has been amazing, and I’m confident they will have incredible careers.”
Among the top honorees are:
The Class of 2018 will be honored with a pair of convocation events. The ceremony for graduates of the Master of Legal Studies and the Master of Sports Law and Business programs will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, in the W. P. Carey Armstrong Great Hall at ASU Law’s home, the Beus Center for Law and Society at the downtown Phoenix campus. The ceremony for Juris Doctor and Master of Laws graduates will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, at the Phoenix Convention Center.
For Rabia Chaudry, being named the convocation speaker for the JD and LLM students holds special meaning. Family issues prevented her from attending her own graduation from the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, and that left a void she is finally getting to fill.
“For years I’ve thought, ‘I wonder if I contact my law school and say I wasn’t able to actually attend and walk and go through the ceremony, they’d let me join another class,’” she said. “And then as the years passed, I kind of let it go. So this is a real honor for me, and I’m going to feel like, in a way, I’m right there with the graduates, because it’s going to be my first experience as well.”
In a wide-ranging career, she has practiced immigration and civil rights law and has conducted research on the intersection of religion and violent extremism as a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. But publicly, she is perhaps best known for her book and podcasts about her friend Adnan Syed, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after the death of his ex-girlfriend in 1999. Chaudry has backed Syed’s claims of innocence and become a leading voice in wrongful-conviction law.
She took his story to the podcast “Serial” and then wrote a book called “Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial,” which became a New York Times best-seller. And she hosts “Undisclosed,” a podcast on Syed’s case and others.
At the time of Syed’s arrest, Chaudry was in law school, which was an incredibly challenging period of her life. She had given birth two months before starting and was struggling through a difficult marriage.
“Getting through law school, to me, was like a mountain I just had to get to the other side of,” she said. “I wasn’t able to be that active because I had so many family obligations and other things to think about, so I thought I wasn’t going to have a successful career. Because other students were way ahead of me and had jobs lined up and all these experiences with law review and mock trial. If somebody had told me then, not that none of it matters, but that it’s not going to matter as much as you think it will, I would’ve felt much better about my time in law school.”
She was thankful to have graduated, given her circumstances, and wants to offer encouragement to students who may have endured similar struggles.
“There are a lot of people who go to law school who have other commitments,” she said. “Sometimes they go in the evenings, they go part-time, they have families, they have jobs they still have to sustain, and it can be particularly rough for those folks. I just wish I had a little more encouragement when I was in law school and a brighter view of what I could do.”
In her commencement speech, she plans to talk about the things she wish she knew when she was a law student, as well as the things she has learned in the years since.
“It will be a combination of the lessons I’ve learned and how I have evolved in terms of my philosophy of how to approach the law, and why the law exists, and what our role is as stewards of the law,” she said. “And I might share my failures. I think it’s great to share your successes, but when you share some of your failures, it shows people that those are not obstacles.”
The graduation ceremony for MLS and MSLB students will be a homecoming for convocation speaker Sam Semon, who graduated from ASU Law in 1991.
“It’s a prestigious, top-tier law school putting forth best efforts in creating bridges between academic legal opportunities and the business world, so I’m very flattered by this honor,” he said.
Semon now works as an executive vice president for NBC Universal, focusing on business affairs. He said it was never his goal to practice law, and he estimates 30 to 40 percent of his classmates aren’t directly involved in legal practice either. And that, he says, underscores the need for the MLS and MSLB programs.
“ASU Law has come up with this fantastic program that is designed not only to introduce students at a graduate level to the finer points of the law, but also the practical uses of that law in their own chosen professions,” he said. “That to me is a brilliant solution to the alternative of going to law school for three years without the intent of practicing.”
Although he might have considered one of the master’s programs had they been available at the time, the three years Semon spent at ASU Law pursuing his JD made a profound impact on his life.
“I have to admit, coming from an East Coast school like Dartmouth, where I went as an undergrad, I had reservations about coming to Arizona,” he said. “But what I found was the place was idyllic. The law school was relatively small at roughly 450 students, on a campus of close to 60,000 students. So I had a big-school experience while attending what was an intimate, small affair, where I still had the opportunity to build up relationships not only with other students but with the faculty. I fondly, fondly remember my professors and the time I spent with them outside of the classroom. That to me was as instrumental as the time I spent with them in the classroom. It was a wonderful experience.”
Semon has closely followed the evolution of ASU Law, praising Dean Sylvester and the staff’s innovative efforts to address the practical needs of the students.
“I can’t tell you how important it is in this day and age, compared to when I started in the business, that you actually have practical experience before you start a career search,” he said. “And the fact that ASU Law emphasizes practical study in the form of internships and externships, as opposed to the standard Socratic method taught in a classroom, is fantastic. I see it as being quite a bit ahead of its competitors.”
This will be Semon’s first visit to the Beus Center for Law and Society, which opened in 2016 in downtown Phoenix. Although he’s excited to see the new facility, he has nothing but fond memories of Armstrong Hall, ASU Law’s longtime home on the Tempe campus.
“I have to admit, I’m a little nostalgic for the funky architecture of the rotunda,” Semon said. “That place was just so odd that you couldn’t help but remember it as uniquely yours. It was all designed around a common space, and I loved the fact that in between classes, you spent time with your classmates and you spent time with them doing things unrelated to the study of law. That created a great community.”
So much so that Semon, who grew up in Los Angeles as a USC football fan, is now a Sun Devil for life.
“It’s a funny thing how the place grows on you,” he said. “I never thought I would switch allegiance, but now I’m screaming loudly and obnoxiously at ASU-USC football games, and I’m sitting on the correct Sun Devils side. That’s the kind of place ASU Law is. It made me so proud to be a part of it, and the fact that the school is honoring me and allowing me to speak just delights me. I’m so flattered to be a part of this.”