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Living Law School: Full-time Brandeis employee earns her law degree

May 8th, 2009

By Kevin Hyde

Over the last four years, University of Louisville law school event coordinator Simone Beach has put in more than her share of long days at the school. Sometimes, having started her day at 9 a.m., she wouldn’t leave the law school until 10 p.m. Often she’d come back on weekends.

It wasn’t that her job always required so much time. In 2001, Beach decided to follow through on a long-held idea to get a law degree. At the time, she was law school distinguished fellow Ron Mazzoli’s assistant. As such, she enjoyed a front row seat as the former U.S. congressman counseled prospective law students.

“People would send their children and grandchildren to discuss law school and seek a possible letter of recommendation,” recalled Beach, who has worked at the law school for more than 10 years and at UofL for more than 12.

Mazzoli’s office, where Beach worked from 1998 to the end of 2001 before becoming the law school’s event coordinator, provided a compelling vantage point. She had considered pursuing a law degree for longer than she could remember — since her days right out of college working on Nashville’s Music Row.

That’s when the Floyds Knobs, Ind., native and graduate of Floyd Central High School was living her dream of working in the music business. Not looking for stardom. She just wanted to be in the biz.

“I thought maybe I could work in a recording studio,” she said.

Beach earned a recording industry management degree from Middle Tennessee State University and immediately got a job at a music publishing company. There, she worked down the hall from a studio where the likes of Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, T. Graham Brown, the late Keith Whitley and others recorded demos.

“I started in the copyright department, handling forms, making sure songs were copyrighted correctly and that they were protected,” she said. “That was when I first started thinking about being a lawyer someday.”

That thought lingered — through her 10 years in Nashville, through her return to Southern Indiana and employment at UofL — to those years when she sat just outside Mazzoli’s office.

“There were all these kids coming through, and I saw them apply, get accepted and then go through three years of law school and graduate,” Beach said. “I saw the whole process. I thought, if they can do it, I can do it.”

And she did. Beach is among this year’s graduating class.

A Different Kind of Work Study

When Beach began her studies in fall 2005, the first obstacle she had to overcome was the mundane reality of being in the same place all the time.

“There were times, especially on weekends, when I would be studying with a group and we would meet in the law library,” she said. “Driving back to campus was the last thing I wanted to do. Because I was in that building sometimes from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week.”

Another obstacle was striking the right balance and rapport with her professors. The same people she worked and collaborated with as part of her job taught and evaluated her as a student.

“That was sticky at first,” Beach admitted. “From their point of view, I’m sure it was difficult. They had to make sure that I wasn’t going to expect special treatment. But once they had me in class for about a week or two, they knew that wasn’t going to be a problem.”

Beach went out of her way to put them at ease.

“If I went to talk to them about a work matter, I would call them by their first name,” she said. “If I went to talk to them about class, I called them professor so and so. I did everything I could because I knew the situation was unusual.”

Taking into account her own experience, would Beach have any advice to UofL employees who are considering pursuing a law degree or furthering their educations in another way?

“My advice would be different to someone who is earning their degree in the school or department where they work versus studying in a different department because of the personal dynamics, and you’re going to live and breathe that building for what seems like 24 hours a day,” she said.

She also emphasized the importance of family support for people planning to work full time and pursue a degree.

“I’m not married and I don’t have children,” she said. “And I struggled. It’s not a matter of managing the time but finding the time.”

It wasn’t unusual for Beach to call her mother, Jeanette, on a Sunday morning for help with the laundry: “I have nothing to wear to work this week and I don’t have time to put anything in the washing machine.”

“My mother is a saint,” Beach said. “I’m taking her to Florida for a week after the bar exam because she has made so many sacrifices.”

Despite extra weekend laundry duty, her mom is proud of Beach’s achievement.

“She’s been going around telling everyone, ’My daughter is going to be a lawyer!’ ” Beach said with a laugh. “Yeah, you could say she’s extremely proud.”

Beach said she plans to pursue a job in the corporate arena — a job where her degree will complement her career experience. But in the meantime, she plans to continue working at the law school and settling back into a normal life for a little while.

“Being able to go to the movies sounds really nice.”

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Always being at the law school was a challenge for staff member Simone Beach when she decided to pursue a law degree.

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