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Public Interest Board

Governing bodies: The Student Bar Association and its new leadership team

“As a first-year law student, I saw the impact the Student Bar Association (SBA) could make and I knew I wanted to be part of it.” Those are the words of Brittainy Boyer, the newly elected president of the SBA. Along with JP Ray, the vice president, Boyer oversees The University of Tulsa College of Law’s organization that serves as its students’ governing body. The SBA also coordinates student activities and other student organizations, while acting as a liaison between students and the college’s administration and faculty.

“Law students can get involved with the SBA as early as their first semester,” Ray noted. “Then, after a year of involvement, they can stand for election or be appointed to a leadership position.” The SBA comprises elected class delegates, a judicial branch and an executive board. “I ran as a 1L delegate,” said Boyer, “and have been involved ever since.” Recently, as TU Law has welcomed increasing numbers of students who begin in the spring semester, a “1/2 L” delegate position has been created so that all classes have representation on this influential decision-making body.

“We have been extremely fortunate to have had dedicated and capable student leadership on our SBA over the years,” remarked Karen M. Grundy, TU Law’s associate dean of students. “The SBA’s mission is to be the voice for the students in the life of the College of Law, and it has been instrumental in putting on time-honored social events, such as Barrister’s Ball, and in establishing new initiatives, such as the Mental Health Fair held in the fall.”

Grundy also commented on how fortunate she has been over the years to work with talented students in the position of SBA president and vice president. “This year is no exception,” she noted. “Boyer and Ray will do an outstanding job representing the students at the College of Law and in helping us to enhance and support our community here at the law school. I look forward to working with both of them in the coming academic year.”

One of the strengths of TU Law, the SBA and the college’s many other student organizations is their ability to bring together people like Boyer and Ray – individuals from different backgrounds who wind up at law school by following a multitude of various paths, but who all thrive in the college’s tight-knit, supportive community and work hard to excel.

So, who are this year’s SBA leaders? Where did they come from? What makes them tick? Here, Boyer and Ray introduce themselves.

Brittainy Boyer’s “evolving” dream

Osiyo. I’m Brittainy Boyer. My friends call me BB.

Some of my classmates will tell you they have always known they wanted to be a lawyer. That was the not case for me. My dream was to be a teacher, like my mother, and to provide children with a solid foundation on which to build their lives. My dream evolved as I saw how often children were denied the opportunity to succeed because of early and frequent contact with the criminal justice system. I wanted the chance to join in with others whose goal it was to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, and so I applied to law school.

Student Bar Association President Brittainy Boyer smiling and wearing a white open-collar shirt and a black blazer
SBA President Brittainy Boyer

As a teenager, I was among the near 30% of students at my high school who did not graduate. I worked in the service industry for over 10 years, waiting tables and making lattes. During that time, I organized and participated in many volunteer events, most of which were to support public schools, the LGBTQI+ community and animals. Through leadership opportunities and volunteering activities, I realized that there was more that I wanted to do.

I enrolled at Tulsa Community College and, at the age of 30, I received my first diploma. Next, I went to Northeastern State University, where I majored in history and minored in theater. While I was finishing up my bachelor’s, my partner encouraged me to take the LSAT. At the time, law school seemed out of reach for someone like me: a person who had not finished high school and who had been working at Starbucks for the last nine years. Nevertheless, I gathered up my courage, took the LSAT, applied to TU Law and was accepted.

TU Law is a small, tight-knit school that prepares us to be hard-working, zealous advocates. The college also encourages volunteer work, which was of the utmost importance to me when I was considering where to apply. As I have progressed in my studies, I have experienced the ease of access to professors and their willingness to assist in a multitude of situations. I should mention, too, that I watched my partner go through law school at TU and I saw how prepared she was for the bar exam and for her career as an attorney.

Serving as SBA president alongside JP is a great honor. But the SBA is not the only organization that grabbed my heart. In my time here, I have served as an executive board member of the Board of Advocates, which hosts moot court competitions for the law school. I have also served on the executive board member of the Public Interest Board, which promotes pro bono and volunteer work within the law school.

I also had the privilege of serving on the board of the Women’s Law Caucus as the Women in Recovery Book Club coordinator. I also served as president of Paw Law, a student organization that promotes the safety and well-being of animals. I am, likewise, a member of many other student organizations, including the Native American Law Student Association, OutLaws (LGBTQI+) and ImmLaw (immigration rights), to name just a few. There are countless ways for TU Law students to be involved in the issues that matter to them.

JP Ray’s “powerful sense of community”

My name is JP Ray and I grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. After high school, I accepted an athletic scholarship at Central Christian College of Kansas. I graduated a year early with a bachelor of science in business management. With my family’s legacy of using education to create better opportunities for the next generation, I’ve always known I wanted to obtain some form of further education.

Student Bar Association Vice President JP Ray smiling and wearing a blue blazer and blue open-collar shirt
SBA Vice President JP Ray

Initially, I wanted to pursue a career in managerial leadership and use the analytical skills learned in law school to compliment my business management training. However, my desires changed when I arrived at TU Law. This school has a powerful sense of community, which has influenced me to follow a more impactful career in criminal justice and civil litigation. TU Law’s core values are centered around excellence in scholarship, dedication to free inquiry, integrity of character, professionalism and commitment to justice and humanity. One of my favorite things about this school is that it backs up its core values with a high bar passage rate, job placement and educational recognition throughout the country.

Another thing TU Law does well is promoting the importance of obtaining legal experience while in law school. Most schools require their students to get experience; however, not every law school has the remarkable Professional Development Office that TU Law has. I have obtained valuable hands-on experience at litigation firms, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office.

Like Brittainy, I have also gotten involved in several student organizations. There’s the SBA, as well as the Black Law Students Association, Federalist Society and Board of Advocates. For me, though, being an active member of the SBA is one of the best ways to experience the rigors and excitement of leadership and to work with diverse personalities.

As an African American with no lawyers in my family history, one of the hardest challenges I overcame as a student was learning the right way to study for classes. As a collegiate student-athlete, I graduated one year early with honors; yet, I found my first year of law school extremely difficult. I was challenged in ways I had never been challenged academically before. Nevertheless, I relied on my family’s encouragement to use education to create better opportunities, and I made the adjustments necessary to succeed and overcame my first-year struggles. Now, I use my story and experience as a first-generation minority law student to help others overcome the challenges they face.


Are you considering taking the plunge and becoming a lawyer? Discover how TU Law can help you gain the knowledge and skills you need to unleash your inner advocate.

TU Law’s Public Interest Board: Community support and skills-development for future lawyers

As Madison Cataudella (LLM ’19, JD ’19) walked across the Lorton Performance Center stage in December 2019 to receive her LLM and JD degrees, she looked forward to a career as a lawyer at CharneyBrown, but also backward to three enriching years as a law student. At The University of Tulsa College of Law, 18 student organizations give budding lawyers like Cataudella opportunities to gain new knowledge, skills and a network of friends across diverse areas, including animal rights, LGBTQ+ legal matters and Indian law.

It was at law school that Cataudella discovered an interest in oil, gas and environmental issues. The expertise she gained through her studies in these areas will prove useful at Charney Brown, where she will focus on researching and drafting title opinions as well as helping clients prepare submissions to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Madison Cataudella
Madison Cataudella (LLM ’19, JD ’19)

Beyond the classroom, Cataudella’s experience as a member of the Public Interest Board (PIB) and other student organizations was instrumental in laying the groundwork for a rewarding legal career.

“Getting involved with TU Law’s student organizations equips one to practice law,” Cataudella noted. In addition to her involvement with PIB, she was active with the Board of Advocates, Women’s Law Caucus, Phi Alpha Delta, the Student Bar Association (SBA) and REELS (Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Society). “With each group you join, you acquire new knowledge and get exposed to fresh ideas. Collectively, you are able to experience facets of life and the law that might normally not be available to you. That can make you a better lawyer because there is a large chance you’ll be advocating for a client with whom you might not have a lot in common. Additionally, being able to learn from others and draw on more than just your own thoughts and experiences can broaden and strengthen your arguments and ideas, especially as a young lawyer.”

Cataudella observed that these organizations provide experience in event planning, contacting and coordinating people, setting up logistics, communicating with students and faculty, planning and handling budgets, and meeting deadlines. “All these skills are so useful out there in the professional world. Not to mention getting accustomed to communicating with people. It is hard to advocate for your client or bring ideas to your firm when you do not know how to speak effectively.”

Public Interest Board: Helping underserved and underrepresented Tulsans

For one of these groups, PIB, creating opportunities for law students to take part in community service and pro bono work is at the heart of its mission. Cataudella joined the board soon after beginning law school, and she served as its president from May through December 2019. “PIB’s goal is to assist the underserved and underrepresented people in Tulsa,” she noted. “We also strive to develop in TU Law students an enduring commitment to the community through forging strong relationships. We help students step outside their comfort zones and realize they can do more.”

Madison Cataudella addresses TU Law students who volunteered to help City Lights Foundation
Madison Cataudella addresses the TU Law students volunteering to help City Lights Foundation (Aug. 2018)

City Lights Foundation of Tulsa is one of the nonprofit organizations PIB members regularly assist. In fact, it is involvement with this nonprofit’s Night Light program that Cataudella credits for finding the inspiration to pursue her own philanthropic drive. After completing a bachelor’s degree in communication at the University of Arkansas, Cataudella returned home to Tulsa. At the urging of her step-father, she joined him at one of Night Light’s Thursday evening gatherings beneath an Interstate 244 overpass in West Tulsa.

“I started volunteering with Night Light in January 2016 and I’ve never stopped going back,” Cataudella remarked. “Almost every Thursday since then I’ve been under the bridge with an incredible group of people who all have a servant’s heart for our community. This hands-on experience transformed my desire to help people into a real passion.”

Tyler Parette, a program manager with City Lights Foundation, observed that “Madison’s tenure as a volunteer staff member of Night Light Tulsa left a profound impact on our guests and volunteers. We are grateful for her dedication to those we serve, and we are confident in her ability and drive to advocate for those who find themselves in the margins.

“More broadly, the service of TU Law’s PIB has provided for the direct needs of our guests, and it is our sincere hope that PIB members will serve the interests of those experiencing homelessness for the remainder of their careers. Systemic change requires all of us, and we’re happy that the PIB is part of our growing community.”

PIB’s extensive and varied community service

Throughout the year, each of PIB’s directors selects an external organization or cause to support. “We always start with our directors’ passions,” Cataudella said. “We ask them: what comes to mind when you think of community service?”

Some PIB projects carry over from year to year, while new ones regularly arise. As an example of the latter, on Indigenous Peoples Day in fall 2019, PIB members went to Tulsa’s Guthrie Green to volunteer with local Native American groups. That opportunity was sparked by Julie Combs, a PIB director who is also the president of TU Law’s Native American Law Student Association.

TU Law students at the 2019 Expungement Expo
TU Law students who volunteered at the Expungement Expo (Nov. 2019)

In recent years, other PIB efforts have included helping at Tulsa’s annual Expungement Expo and traveling to a local elementary or middle school on Constitution Day to educate youngsters about the origins of the United States and its foundational laws. December 2019 saw the group partner with the SBA on its first Angel Tree. This entailed members buying and wrapping 150 gifts for children in need.

Foundations of Legal Study students volunteering at Women in Recovery in August 2019
TU Law students volunteering at Women in Recovery (Aug. 2019)

One of PIB’s annual signature initiatives is organizing the incoming law students’ service day, which is part of TU Law’s Foundations of Legal Study orientation. In August 2019, this encompassed five placements across the city, including the John 3:16 Mission, Women in Recovery and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

Beyond Opioid Litigation

In December 2019, PIB charted new waters for the group and the College of Law by convening the Beyond Opioid Litigation panel. Organized by Cataudella and Combs, this multi-stakeholder education and networking event brought together medical staff, attorneys, courthouse clerks, judges and people who had personal experience with opioid litigation and how their own or family members’ lives have been affected.

The creation of this unique symposium entailed a partnership between PIB and Tulsa County District Court Judge Linda Morrissey and local attorney Joel Wohlgemuth. “Madison and Julie were instrumental in generating interest at the law school and throughout the community,” noted Judge Morrissey. “They worked diligently with Joel and me to plan the event, and on the day, there was an overflow crowd of community leaders, judges, attorneys and students.”

Beyond Opioid Litigation: Judge Morrissey introduces the symposium and panel
Beyond Opioid Litigation: Judge Morrissey introduces the symposium and panel (Dec. 2019)

Wohlgemuth added, “The PIB board really broke ground from the standpoint of format and substance. The event was led by a panel of true experts from the judiciary, medical profession and the bar, and it remains a matter of discussion in and outside of the College of Law. This was a step well beyond other symposia and it established a strong precedent for future PIB projects.”

“This panel was one of the most significant achievements of my career because of the grassroots approach to educating those on the front lines with knowledge to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate opioid addiction in Oklahoma,” remarked Morrissey. Noting that the program’s success was largely attributable to Cataudella and Combs’ leadership, she concluded: “The legal community is fortunate to have these two young women in our ranks.”

 

Do you have a commitment to community well-being and want to earn your JD from a Top 100 law school? Then consider applying to The University of Tulsa College of Law, where you will receive a high-quality education and be able to get involved in a wide variety of student organizations.