Last spring, Creighton University law graduates found themselves in a situation they couldn’t have anticipated. And in many cases, couldn’t afford. They had to take the bar exam — a nerve-racking experience in the best of times — amid a once-in-a-century pandemic.
In the weeks before the bar, students were hit with added costs after learning they must get tested for COVID-19 at least five days prior to the exam. To top it off, they were informed that those who tested positive in some states might not get refunded the bar exam fees, which were approximately $750.
In the state of Nebraska, they were initially told they would have to pay for COVID-19 testing, but then it was administered free of charge. However, in some cases, that required additional hotel time in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Anyone who has taken the bar exam knows how stressful it is under normal circumstances,” says Joshua Fershée, JD, dean of the law school. “I don’t know what it’s like during a global pandemic, but I am sure that it’s not better.”
It was a complex problem for the law school, considering that students hail from all over the country and were taking a variety of state bar exams.
“Oklahoma was saying that if you didn’t sit for the bar exam, then they wouldn’t refund the fees, which were about $750,” Fershée says. “Nebraska was initially requiring everybody taking the bar exam to get a COVID test at least five days before the exam, which could be as high as $140.”
Although some of these impositions were rescinded after unfavorable publicity, the need remained. And alumni wanted to help.
Fershée encouraged them to contribute to the Dean’s Fund, a long-standing resource created to address the School of Law’s greatest and most urgent areas of need.
The response was immediate and inspiring.
Creighton School of Law supporters contributed $15,515 to the fund, helping graduates offset the cost of a COVID-19-affected bar exam, as well as expenses related to medical care, rent/housing, living expenses, technology/internet access, travel and child care.
Dozens of graduates applied for and received some form of aid. Because of the Dean’s Fund and its supporters, future leaders in the law got the help they needed at a critical moment and were able to take the next step in their journey.
It’s another case of the Creighton experience extending long past commencement — both for those needing a lifeline and those providing one. For others and with others doesn’t end at the campus property line. Cura personalis has no expiration date.
During an online Zoom gathering with law school alumni in late August, Fershée thanked those who contributed the funds that supported graduates through a trying time.
“I can tell you our graduates really appreciated the support,” says Fershée, who — along with his wife, law professor Kendra Fershée — personally contributed to the fund. “Students wrote to tell us how much it took pressure off them and how much just having the backup was a big part of helping them to relax.”
Kristina Schaefer, JD’05, general counsel and chief risk officer for First Bank & Trust in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, consistently makes gifts to the Dean’s Fund.
She says the fund reduces stress on students who already face profound challenges when seeking a law degree. It’s a stage of life she remembers well.
“Finishing my third year of law school, studying for the bar exam and preparing to begin my career as a lawyer was stressful in the best of circumstances,” she says. “I cannot imagine the stress of doing these things during a global pandemic.
“As lawyers, we help clients in some of their most vulnerable times and with their important decisions. It’s important for me personally to support law students in this way. The Creighton Law School Dean’s Fund provides an incredible opportunity to directly support law students — the next generation of lawyers in our profession.”
It also helps law students prepare for an ever-evolving profession, says Dianne Stoddard, JD’75, a consistent donor to the Dean’s Fund. Stoddard works as contract counsel with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Washington, D.C. Like all institutions, she says, law schools change with the times, and the fund eases those ongoing transitions.
“The fund exists to provide readily available resources to allow the dean to seize opportunities to assist students and faculty,” she says.
“The actual uses of the funds, and the programs and people assisted, may and will change over time, but the purpose is the same: to promote excellence. That’s why I contribute to the fund — because what I want is for the Creighton University School of Law to change with the times, but, through it all, to be an excellent school, provide an excellent and relevant legal education and thereby provide excellent service to the community.”
In addition to urgent needs, the Dean’s Fund provides flexibility for the School of Law to support unforeseen expenses related to academics, programs and the student experience. The fund is used for things large and small, ranging from the support of a pro-bono program where students provide free services for the poor to the funding of a $15,000 online bar-prep course for third-year students.
Such online bar-preparation courses are useful resources, Fershée says, since they enable the law school to compare student performance with other schools.
“I can tell not only how our students compare to one another but also how they compare to students around the country who use the same system,” he says. “We might learn, for example, that our students are strong in one area but maybe lagging a little bit in another, so that we can identify areas that may need extra focus.”
As for the future, Fershée is thinking big. For example, the Dean’s Fund could aid a pilot program that would support a faculty member dedicated to helping students navigate their way through law school and prepare for the bar exam.
“The number one thing with the Dean’s Fund,” he says, “is that we will continue to seize opportunities to help our students.”
And to know when and where they need that help the most. When and where they need that help right now.
“I am deeply grateful to our alumni who helped our students with bar exam expenses,” Fershée says. “It’s a testament to our alumni’s foresight and empathy, and it shows yet again that we are America’s Jesuit law school. We look out for one another, even in tough times.
“Especially in tough times.”
Supporting the School of Law
Since 1929, when the first full-tuition scholarship was awarded, the School of Law has relied on alumni and the community to invest in our students.
Thanks to donor support, the School of Law continues to meet its greatest and most urgent areas of need — including scholarships, mission, academics, programs, faculty development and more.
Gift by gift, School of Law donors are helping to shape a new generation of service-minded lawyers and judges educated in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition.
If you are interested in making a gift to the School of Law, please contact Chris Bauer, the school’s director of development, at chrisbauer [at] creighton [dot] edu or 402.280.3884.