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Online Hybrid J.D. Student and Alumni Spotlights

Ali Stillman

Ali Stillman

Tell us a little bit about your background.
I studied anthropology in undergrad. I was very interested in food and culture, particularly how what we eat influences our identity. I moved to Boston and worked at a gourmet cheese shop in Cambridge while earning my master’s degree in gastronomy from Boston University. I studied topics ranging from food policy to the politics of meat consumption.

It was an incredible education, but when I was finished, I desperately missed Colorado. I moved back to my home state without really considering my job options. At that point, all I wanted was to be close to family.

What inspired you to go to law school and earn your J.D.?
Once I was in Colorado, I proceeded to be a ski bum for several years before deciding that I needed to buckle down and get serious about a career. Growing up, I had been told by several people that I would make an excellent lawyer (not sure if that was supposed to be a compliment). Law school always seemed like a lofty, unreachable aspiration.

When I looked into it, I began to think, “Hey, this is actually something I could do.” I started buying up books about law school and studying for the LSAT. I am a first-generation college graduate, so I really had to navigate the entire process on my own, but I am lucky to have a very supportive family that is willing to help me in any way they can.

How did your current role help you decide to pursue a legal career?
My boss and mentor, Ted Hess, has had an incredible life and career. He was a brigadier general in the Marines and, at one point, was their top lawyer. After retiring, he moved to my hometown and started his own law firm, which specializes in immigration, criminal and employment law. I started assisting him with the employment and civil cases, which gave me insight into the legal field before starting law school. Ted and the other attorneys have been incredibly helpful and willing to provide assistance as I began navigating the world of law.

What would you like to do once you graduate from the program?
I plan to be a public defender. I like the idea of being an advocate for the underdog. A lot of people who need public defenders have been forgotten or abandoned by society in one way or another, and they need someone to be their voice and advocate.

My entire impetus for attending law school was to be able to provide some value to the world. I believe working as a public defender is a great way to give back to my community. I understand that it will be a Sisyphean battle, but one definitely worth fighting. I also would like to work for a human rights organization down the road.

What drew you to University of Dayton?
I don’t have any connections to the University of Dayton or Ohio. I’m a West Coast child all the way. (I was born in California and raised in Colorado.) I chose the University of Dayton because of the flexibility.

When I first began considering law school in 2017, I was somewhat upset and bewildered that I couldn’t find any ABA-accredited remote programs. I thought that if I wanted to go to law school, I was going to have to pack up my family and relocate to somewhere across the state or country. In 2019, one of my sister’s friends told me that there were some new hybrid programs that would qualify me to sit for the bar exam. I jumped at the opportunity.

Why did you select the online format rather than an in-person program?
The University of Dayton was a perfect fit for me. It allowed me to keep my job (at least part time), and I didn’t have to worry about relocating my family while pursuing my aspirations of becoming a lawyer. The class size is small enough that I feel involved and able to effectively communicate with my professors. I have also bonded with my classmates, which is so invaluable to my success as a student. We are accomplishing something very difficult and novel together.

What is a day in your life like?
I wake up at 5:30 a.m. I do a short yoga and meditation routine, and then I prepare for the day. I drop my daughter off at preschool and then get to work right away.

I have two large whiteboards in my office: one with my weekly to-do list and one with my daily to-do list. I chunk out my schedule and treat my study days like a full workday. I start by 8 a.m., work until 5 p.m. and attend class from 5 to 7 p.m. After class I spend about 10 minutes reviewing my notes and reflecting on the discussion. I also work two days per week at the law firm.

By sticking to my schedule consistently, I ensure that I don’t have to stay up late on the weeknights or spend my weekends studying. Around midterms and finals, I dedicate more time to studying, but I really value having time to spend with my family during the semester. I also make sure to take regular breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout. When I feel I’ve reread a paragraph several times, I step away and go on a short walk or play with my dogs for a bit. 

Have there been any standout moments during your time in the program?
I absolutely loved Property I with Professor Watson. I thought Property was rather difficult and overwhelming at times, but Professor Watson has an incredible sense of humor, which made the content engaging and fun. I always looked forward to the synchronous class time.

Tell us about your classmates.
It’s slightly strange attending school from a distance. Even though I haven’t met any of my classmates in person, I already consider many of them friends. We spend a lot of time together each week and converse regularly regarding course content.

We also use each other as support systems as we struggle through each semester. In a way, we are the only ones who can sympathize about what we are going through.

I feel fortunate to have a good connection to many of them because I was concerned that distance learning would be a barrier to that necessary solidarity that is so essential to academic success, especially in law school.

What advice do you have for prospective students?
Design your schedule and stick to it! I felt that the first few weeks of the program were the most difficult because I was in new territory and still figuring out when and how to study. Once I fell into my routine, it got better. I now have a very consistent schedule that only varies slightly each semester.

This program never gets boring because there is so much stimulating content to digest each day! It keeps me healthy and well because I know what to expect each day. You really can conquer incredible things when you have a good plan — and a good plan B!

Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I take a short break and remind myself, “You can eat an elephant … one bite at a time.”


School of Law

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