Learning to bridge the gap between people, communities and the law
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Learning to bridge the gap between people, communities and the law

University of Tulsa College of Law student Dalisha Kirk (2L) is looking forward to the second year of law school. Helping stoke her enthusiasm is a combination of a meaningful summer externship and a first year that exceeded her expectations both of what she could accomplish and the richness of a supportive, student-focused academic community. That first year also convinced Kirk that a career as a lawyer would be the ideal way to act on her ethical and political beliefs and commitment to effecting positive social change.

young woman with long black hair wearing a yellow blazer over a white top smiling while seated indoors
Dalisha Kirk (2L)

With a bachelor’s in criminology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Kirk made the cross-country journey to Tulsa spurred on by a desire “to help people in some way.”

Kirk’s ambition was deeply influenced by her family, who “encouraged the idea of giving back”; volunteering during her undergraduate years in minority and disadvantaged communities; and the often uneasy reality of being a Black person in contemporary America. “I’ve always thought it would be easier seeing someone who looks like you help you through a legal problem because, more likely than not, they’re going to be able to understand where you’re coming from,” said Kirk. “I want to be that person who helps bridge the gap between people, communities and the law.”

A demanding externship

Between first and second year of law school, Kirk tested her convictions and applied her growing expertise during an externship with The Demand Project, which is based in Jenks, Oklahoma. The mission of this organization is to eradicate human trafficking, online enticement, child abuse imagery and the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

It would not be overstating the case to say that Kirk excelled during her externship, working on a variety of initiatives that drew on her skills and knowledge. These included reviewing the laws dealing with human trafficking and examining how The Demand Project could improve and grow its relationships with federal organizations. Kirk’ biggest undertaking and the one she says she is “most proud” of involved taking a major hand in designing a program to help victims of trafficking maintain their financial credit, which is necessary for such basic things as renting an apartment, applying for a loan and obtaining a mortgage.

Kirk’s work on The Demand Project’s credit initiative was supervised by Shar Agosto, the organization’s legal director and the executive director of its Journey program. “Dalisha was a wonderful addition to our team,” Agosto remarked. “During her externship, she completed a very complicated project that involved creating credit protection for minors under our Access2Identity program. We were so impressed that we submitted her work to the Oklahoma Bar Foundation as part of our application for an IOLTA grant.”

That amazing first year of firsts

The foundation for Kirk’s rewarding externship was the solid experiences she had during her first year at TU Law. From a great start at orientation in August 2021, where she easily met new friends while bonding over stories about the World’s Largest Peanut, to wrapping up second semester at the Barrister’s Ball “dancing the night way,” Kirk had what can only be described as a remarkable year.

young woman with long black hair wearing a yellow blazer over a white blouse with arms crossed while smiling and standing outdoors in front of a water fountainOn the more serious, academic side, highlights for Kirk included studying in TU Law’s Mabee Legal Information Center (MLIC) and competing in the Redbud and Negotiation competitions. “Even though I didn’t place, I’m happy I did them and I had an amazing partner for both,” she remarked. “As someone who is more introverted, it was great to break out of my shell. And the solid feedback I received from the judges is carrying me forward.”

While she describes herself as introverted, Kirk stepped out of her comfort zone and got involved with a number of TU Law’s student organizations, including TU Law Ambassadors, OutLaws, the Immigration Law Society and the Black Law Student Association (BLSA). “Being able to see my community represented through the BLSA was especially impactful for me,” commented Kirk. “Its members became the people I looked up to as well as my mentors. The BLSA is an incredible organization that gives us a voice and lets us know we’re not alone.”

Kirk’s first year, however, was not all smooth sailing. Perhaps the stiffest challenge she faced was balancing coursework and personal time: “I still think that’s something I’m trying to address. Burnout is real!” Another hurdle entailed developing a coherent and effective study style, which involved turning to methods such as flashcards, Quizlet, Quimbee Questions and Law Jeopardy with her friends at the MLIC.

Finally, Kirk acknowledges that learning the Socratic method employed in her courses took a lot of getting used to. “The first time I got called on I was so nervous and completely messed up,” she recalled. “I still fumble now on occasion, but I am improving. And I have to remind myself that it’s easier to remember everything you got wrong in class rather than the things you did right!”

Full of surprises

It’s clear from spending even a little time with Kirk that people matter to her — deeply. Thus, it is heartening to hear that one of the aspects of being a TU Law student that surprised her the most was “the way everyone comes together to help each other.” Study groups, hallway conversations, help arranging an interview: “All you have to do is ask and someone will point you in the right direction,” said Kirk. “You always hear that law school is cutthroat and everyone is competing with everyone else. Maybe some of those things are true some of the time, but for the most part I’ve found that everyone works together in a wonderfully collegial way.”

Another aspect of being a law student that surprised Kirk was that the cases she received in Torts and Criminal Administration became such a highlight of her learning experience: “The fact is that many of those cases are so strange and, oddly, entertaining. I’d never read and dissected a legal case before I came to TU Law, so it never occurred to me before that it would be an interesting thing to do!”

On the more personal side, Kirk’s first year on the road to becoming a lawyer was discovering “how much I want to experience.” Arriving in Tulsa “pretty set” on working in health or criminal law, the 12 months since beginning law school have, she noted, “opened my mind to other avenues. I still want to focus on public policy, but I now regard law school as a ground for nurturing my curiosity.”

A new year beckons

“It will be hard to top my first year,” laughed Kirk. “I made wonderful new friends, attended my first Hallowe’en party and took part in my first Pride festival. There were so many experiences I hope to repeat this year!”

In addition, Kirk intends to deepen her involvement in TU Law’s student organizations. Recently, for instance, she was accepted into the college’s prestigious Energy Law Journal.

And now that she has a much better handle on what being successful at law school entails, Kirk hopes to spend a little more time branching outside into the wider Tulsa community in order to volunteer doing the people- and community-focused work she treasures: “That’s where my passion to become a lawyer started, and so giving back is a major priority for me this year and throughout the rest of my studies and career.”

Knowledge of the law and its practice are powerful tools in the struggle for social justice. A Juris Doctor from TU Law could be your pathway to effecting the change you believe in.