A strong support system is essential for withstanding the rigors of law school, and no one understands that more that Student Bar Association President Taylor Stephensen Beal. When she began her time at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, she wasn’t sure if she’d ever see graduation day.
“I really struggled through my 1L year,” Beal said. “I actually almost dropped out halfway through my first semester—during fall break, my hand hovered over the 'withdraw' button multiple times. My support system at law school—both my 1L friends and my 2L mentors—were a huge reason I decided to push through that first year.”
The support Beal received from her peers played a large role in her decision to get involved with the Student Bar Association.
“I came to realize how important mentorship and support networks are during law school, and I wanted to provide that to other students,” she said.
The connection and support provided by student organizations is especially important amid a worldwide pandemic that is limiting social interaction.
“This year brings unique challenges to law students. I really want to ensure our Student Bar Association is a support system that can provide resources for students during this difficult time,” she noted.
Beal and the rest of the Student Bar Association leadership are working hard to raise money for financially struggling students who have been impacted by the pandemic. The SBA is also working on a mentorship program for the 1Ls who are beginning law school during this unprecedented time. Additionally, Beal is finding new and safe ways to keep students involved and engaged.
“Student involvement is important because it brings our institution to life,” Beal said. “Classes are great, but education is more than just textbooks and exams. We gain a more valuable, holistic education when we take full advantage of all of the learning opportunities here at SJQ, student involvement being one of them.”
Learn more about Beal’s law school journey and career ambitions with this Q&A.
Q: Why did you decide to go to law school?
The decision to go to law school was a bit of a leap of faith for me. My bachelor's degree in Physiology and Developmental Biology didn't exactly set me up for a legal career, and I didn't even know any lawyers until I had already applied. But I knew pursuing a J.D. would not only create so many opportunities for myself, but it would also enable me to help underserved communities during a very vulnerable and stressful time in their lives. Once I realized this, it became an easy choice.
Q: What drew you to the University of Utah out of the many law school choices out there?
When I received my acceptance letter from the U., I decided to tour the campus and meet with some of the students and professors. I was so impressed with what I saw at SJQ. I sat in on Professor Rosky's criminal law class, and the students were so welcoming to me. Professor Rosky invited me to talk more about my goals when his class wrapped up. I'm sure he had a million things he needed to do that day, but he really made me feel valued and heard. When I was making the difficult decision between two law schools, Professor RonNell Andersen Jones invited me to call her and we had a great discussion about the benefits of the University of Utah and where I wanted my career to go. A lot of institutions tell you they care about their students and they will provide you with support and mentorship, but the actions of these professors showed me this. Additionally, the clinical/externship program at SJQ, as well as the location in Salt Lake City, were also very attractive to me. I wanted hands-on legal experience from my law school education--and I've definitely taken advantage of these opportunities. I've been able to work as a judicial extern for Judge Michele Christiansen Forster of the Utah Court of Appeals and as a legal intern for the Utah Crime Victims' Legal Clinic. Both of those experiences helped me develop invaluable skills as a lawyer in training, and in doing so have boosted my confidence.
Q: How did you first get involved in the Student Bar Association?
I really struggled through my 1L year. I think not knowing anyone who had gone through law school contributed to this. I actually almost dropped out halfway through my first semester--during fall break, my hand hovered over the 'withdraw' button multiple times. My support system at law school—both my 1L friends and my 2L mentors—were a huge reason I decided to push through that first year. I came to realize how important mentorship and support networks are during law school, and I wanted to provide that to other students. I thought being on SBA would be a great way to do that, so at the end of my 1L year, I decided to run for SBA Vice President.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as SBA President?
This year brings unique challenges to law students. I really want to ensure our Student Bar Association is a support system that can provide resources for students during this difficult time. We are looking into ways to raise money for financially struggling students who have been impacted by the pandemic, as we did last semester with our SBA Emergency Stimulus Fund. Another one of my priorities is to cultivate mentorship for the 1Ls who are beginning law school during an unprecedented time. And of course, we want to provide social activities and events that will help keep law school fun and safe.
Q: What are some of the other organizations you are involved in? Why do you think student involvement is important?
In addition to SBA, I've also served as a student officer of the Social Justice Student Initiative, the Women's Law Caucus, If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, the Health Law Club, and the Native American Law Student Association. I wanted to take part in organizations that would help me be a better advocate for underrepresented communities. These groups have helped connect me with so many students, lawyers, and other professionals with similar interests. Student involvement is important because it brings our institution to life, in my opinion. Classes are great, but education is more than just textbooks and exams. We gain a more valuable, holistic education when we take full advantage of all of the learning opportunities here at SJQ, student involvement being one of them.
Q: What have been your favorite experiences at the law school so far?
The friendships I've made during law school have definitely been one of the best parts of the whole experience. My favorite memories are having fun with all the people who study 4th floor. Law school can be overwhelming and draining, and being able to laugh it off with my friends has been crucial to my mental health the last couple years.
Q: What are your hopes for a career path following graduation?
I'm really drawn toward public interest law and I would love to work for a non-profit that advocates for underserved groups.