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With the ABA’s Help, Chapman University School of Law Tackles the Topic of DUI

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Vol. 39 No. 5

By Marilyn Cavicchia

The law student hadn’t planned to drive home so early. But a friend was ill and needed a ride home, and the student did not feel at all impaired.
When the friend vomited in the car, the student pulled over. This drew the attention of a highway patrol officer, and the student was tested, cited, and eventually convicted of DUI.

And then the student, who attends Chapman University School of Law (Orange, California) approached Assistant Dean Jayne Kacer to say he or she wished to speak at the school’s annual Wellness Week, in hopes of helping other students avoid making similar mistakes.

Career consequences of DUI. No one knows yet how the DUI conviction will affect the student’s character and fitness evaluation, and thus, his or her career prospects, says Kacer, an adjunct professor and assistant dean of student and alumni affairs. She knows of other students who have had a single DUI conviction and have been deferred to the state’s lawyer assistance program instead of being allowed to practice upon passing the bar exam.

This limbo period can last as long as 18 months, Kacer says, and any convicted student might carry a stigma for far longer. He or she will likely “always” have to explain the delayed career start, she explains, and employers, such as attorney general offices and JAG programs, tend to reject otherwise impressive candidates with a DUI conviction. Both the state bar and future employers would likely consider a recent DUI—such as one received during law school—to be even more significant than an older one, she believes.

Most law students who consume alcohol likely do so responsibly, says Meghan O’Brien Taylor, a Chapman alum who is now an attorney at The Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, a criminal defense firm that handles many DUI cases. The problem is that they believe only irresponsible drinkers are convicted of DUI. The fact is, she says, “It could happen to you.”

A productive discussion. Taylor, along with Landry and Kacer, spoke at the DUI discussion held during Wellness Week. Taylor and Landry were there primarily to explain how the body absorbs and burns off alcohol, that it’s quite possible to meet California’s .08 blood alcohol threshold even if you don’t feel impaired, and what a person’s rights are if pulled over on suspicion of DUI.

Taylor believes Landry’s and her portion of the discussion hit home in part because the student, whom others know to be a responsible person, spoke before them—so attendees knew the information regarding DUI could apply to them, too. The attendees, some of whom actually knew Taylor, seemed to appreciate hearing from an alum, she says, adding that “It was really fun going back and being on the other side.”

Taylor says she has done other speaking engagements, and that this one, which kicked of Wellness Week, seemed to be especially well attended. Kacer agrees. A grant from the ABA Law Student Division “allowed us to reach out and touch a lot more people,” Kacer believes. As a leader of Chapman’s Student Bar Association, 3L Kaitlin Drake was involved in the decision to include DUI as a topic during Wellness Week. “This is something students should always be thinking about,” she says, “as it could affect their legal career.”

If your student organization is producing an activity and you need funding, the ABA Law Student Division may be able to help you, too. The Division’s Grant Program supports new programs and student-organization projects at ABA-approved law schools that provide professionalism and ethics training, promote diversity in the legal profession, and advance public interest and public service efforts in local communities.

See the guidelines and download an application.

—Marilyn Cavicchia is a staff editor at the American Bar Association.

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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