Class of 2023: Meet six ND Law graduates who have become a ‘different kind of lawyer’

Author: Denise Wager

Notre Dame Law School’s mission is to educate a “different kind of lawyer.” Our graduates learn to view the practice of law not only as a profession but also as a service to others and the common good.

This weekend, we celebrate commencement for our Class of 2023.

Each student in the class had their own story when they first entered law school. They came with different backgrounds, life experiences, and points of view. During their time here, they found their path — their meaning — to become a “different kind of lawyer.”

No path is typical, and none is the same.

Meet a few of our newest Notre Dame Lawyers. Read the story of what makes each one of them a “different kind of lawyer.”

Emily Lodge

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Emily Lodge

Emily Lodge has textbooks filled with highlights and notes in the margins, as do many law students — a visible reminder of hours spent reading and re-reading cases. But her books are also filled with scribbles by her children — a remembrance not only of her time as a law student, but her children’s early years.

Lodge arrived at Notre Dame Law School with a baby and had two additional children while she was a law student.

Law school is challenging. Pregnancy and being a mother are challenging. Being both a mother and a law student at the same time requires a high level of commitment and tenacity.

“There was no better study break than rocking my kids back to sleep. And as I was pregnant twice in law school, I guarantee there is no one who values a cup of coffee more,” Lodge said. “My law school experience was not typical in many aspects, and these three years definitely had their challenges. But I have a feeling that, looking back, these years will be some of my favorites.”

Community service had always been a big part of Lodge’s life. She became interested in the legal field after learning how a law degree could be used to make a positive impact. After graduating from the University of Virginia, she worked as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., for two years.

Lodge and her husband wanted to attend graduate school at the same time, so they looked for a school that had a top-tier law program and a strong physics program. Notre Dame was the perfect fit.

“South Bend has been an incredible place to raise children, and my family has enjoyed immersing ourselves in all that South Bend has to offer,” she said.

Lodge and her family will stay in the South Bend area after graduation as she begins work at Barnes & Thornburg.

She said she is lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband. She has also become an expert at time management, learning that it’s about making the most of every moment and being intentional with her time.

“When I am with my children, I try to be as present as possible. When I am doing my schoolwork, it means keeping focused and learning how to quickly regain focus when interrupted with distractions,” said Lodge. “I think my need to be so disciplined with my time will be a great asset in my legal career, and I can’t wait to get started.

Blake Hale

Class2023 Blakehale
Blake Hale

Notre Dame was a part of Blake Hale’s life well before he came to law school.

His parents met while they were students at Notre Dame. His mom graduated in 1993. His father played football here and graduated in 1994. And his brother played basketball here. He had been to Notre Dame every year since he was born.

Hale completed the J.D./MBA dual-degree program in three years. He spent his summers working for Reed Smith while also taking his MBA classes. He plans to return to Reed Smith this fall to work in their global corporate disputes group in Philadelphia.

As a law student, Hale was involved as vice president of the Black Law Students Association and was on the Journal of Legislation.

He also found a way to stay connected to the game of golf.

Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, his grandparents taught him to play golf. Hale received many offers to play Division I golf, but he committed to Wright State University in Dayton, partly because his grandparents could watch him play there.

In high school, Hale had been involved with First Tee, a youth program that integrates golf with life skills. “It was an exciting experience,” he said. “There were kids from any number of unimaginable situations, and they were just happy to be out there learning to play golf.”

He decided to find a way to become involved with golf again and found an opportunity at Saint Mary’s College, where he spent this past year as an assistant coach. Although coaching women’s golf was a different experience, he really enjoyed working with the team. He proudly said that Saint Mary’s achieved their best team average in 10 years.

His time studying in the Notre Dame London Law Programme, his MBA class on Sport Administration, an Intercollegiate Athletics Externship with the Notre Dame Athletics Department, and completing a dual degree in three years were just a few examples of opportunities he feels are unique to Notre Dame.

“I was able to combine my legal education with the business side of things and merge them together to be whatever kind of attorney I will end up being,” Hale said. “This is not happening everywhere else. No other law school focuses on and affords those kinds of opportunities.”

As he moved through law school, the idea of becoming a “different kind of lawyer” really began to resonate with him. “At first I didn’t know what it really meant,” Hale said. “But when you reach outside of Notre Dame and talk to other people, you understand that it is different here.”

Kayleigh Verboncoeur

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Kayleigh Verboncoeur

In fifth grade, Kayleigh Verboncoeur wrote a speech about why she wanted to become a lawyer. That childhood aspiration turned into something more concrete growing up in northern Georgia, as she learned about the social and civil-rights issues connected to that region’s history.

Her resolve strengthened while she was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University. Once she arrived at Notre Dame Law School, she became involved with diversity programming and initiatives. While she does not consider herself to be religious, Verboncoeur has an appreciation for Catholic social teaching around helping the vulnerable and showing solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed. She believes that being a “different kind of lawyer” means being assertive about your values and seeking to use your career and professional presence as a means to speak truth to power.

She says her most rewarding experience in law school has been serving as the president of the LGBT Law Forum — especially forming connections between affinity groups and other communities, and seeing the discourse that grows from that.

“The group’s most active and vocal support has come from other student organizations,” Verboncoeur said. “It has been so gratifying to watch the organization grow into one of the most visible and effective voices in the Law School. The commitment the LGBTQ students here have to building and creating a constructive space is incredible.”

In 2020, as she was starting her second year of law school, Verboncoeur was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She took time off for treatment, and returned to school in 2021, now as a member of the Class of 2023. Dealing with the recovery process along with the added financial pressure was challenging. However, she said, “I feel very lucky that things have gotten to a point where I’m not just managing to continue my life, but where I’m thriving instead.”

Verboncoeur spent every summer during law school working for Holland & Hart LLP in Denver. After graduating this weekend, she will begin her career there in environmental law and would like to specialize in energy infrastructure, utilities, and renewable energy. She is excited about helping ND Law students get connected out West and becoming a point of contact like those who helped her jumpstart her job search and understand what she genuinely wanted out of a career.

She is also looking forward to doing pro bono work. “I intend to stay involved with LGBTQ and racial justice work,” she said. “I am fortunately in a position where I can use the resources available to me to push for progress and stay aligned with my values of equity and social justice.”

Rev. Matt Kuczora, C.S.C.

Kuczora Square
Rev. Matt Kuczora, C.S.C.

When Father Matt Kuczora was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross, the prayer card at his ordination featured a quote from Father Jacques Dujarié, a 19th century French priest who played a key role in the congregation’s founding.

I am a priest in order to be a comfort to the widow, the father of the orphan, the protector of the poor, the friend of the sick.

Those words are relevant to Kuczora’s approach as a lawyer, too.

“I view being a priest and being an attorney as carrying out that idea of service — bringing God to people, making God present to people in the world today,” he said.

Kuczora saw how his vocation as a priest dovetailed with the practice of law when he spent last summer on the US-Mexico border, advocating for people seeking asylum.

“When I was on the border, I was with other attorneys. They were great, but it took a while for people to trust them,” Kuczora said.

“I showed up in a collar, and there was this automatic rapport,” he said. “Something about the vocation gave them confidence when there weren’t a lot of other people they could trust on their long, dangerous journeys. I don’t think they opened up like that to the other attorneys.”

Kuczora was already working at the University of Notre Dame when he started looking at law schools, but he applied with an open mind to several schools from coast to coast.

“I wanted to be in a place where law and education policy came together, and especially where faith could be a part of that,” he said. “Notre Dame was the best place for that, so I came here.”

He was involved at Notre Dame Law School with the Religious Liberty Initiative and Program on Church, State & Society, served as president of the Education Law Forum and spiritual chair of the St. Thomas More Society, and worked as a research assistant to John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Associate Dean for External Engagement Nicole Stelle Garnett.

He enrolled in the Notre Dame London Law Programme for the spring 2022 semester. He had an externship with Catholic Education Service, an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, while studying abroad.

After graduation, Kuczora will clerk for Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz of the Florida Supreme Court and then return to campus to work in the Notre Dame general counsel’s office.

Kuczora said the Catholic mission of Notre Dame Law School enhances the legal education for students in several ways. It nurtures an environment where family is important and students support each other, it connects students to a global network, and it fosters open dialogue.

“Being a Catholic law school, everything is on the table for discussion. You’re able to talk about your faith, your hesitancy about faith,” he said. “That brings a real richness.”

He also noted that it was a blessing that he was able to celebrate Mass for his classmates and professors in the Law School’s St. Thomas More Chapel.

Sarah Wetzel

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Sarah Wetzel

When Sarah Wetzel was an undergraduate at Niagara University, she took a study-abroad trip to London.

She loved living in London. And as she learned about the differences between the US and UK legal systems, she realized that she wanted to pursue a legal career in the United Kingdom. She knew that would be challenging, so she looked for a law school that would give her the tools to make her dream happen.

Wetzel came to Notre Dame Law School specifically for the Notre Dame London Law Programme, which is the only yearlong overseas program approved by the American Bar Association. She spent her second year of law school studying in London, and then spent the following summer working at Clifford Chance, an international law firm. It is one of the few firms in London that offer summer associate positions to US law students.

While studying in London, she also did an externship with David McIlroy, who is head of chambers at Forum Chambers in London and a visiting professor with the Notre Dame London Law Programme. During her third year of law school, she was the executive symposium chair for the Journal of International and Comparative Law.

To Wetzel, being a “different kind of lawyer” means practicing law with kindness, inclusivity, and respect, which is personified through an especially congenial and caring student body environment — both here on the main campus and in the UK.

Wetzel majored in psychology and criminal justice as an undergraduate, and she originally thought she would pursue criminal law. After taking some business law classes and working for the Securities and Exchange Commission during the summer after her first year of law school, she found that business law was what she really liked.

After she takes the New York bar exam in July, she will head back to London to start her legal career with Clifford Chance in the firm’s capital markets practice group.

The practice involves advising clients on cross-border debt, equity, and high-yield transactions. Because many of the transactions involve issuers that are not registered with the SEC, U.S. attorneys are utilized to ensure these transactions are still compliant with U.S. law via relevant regulatory exemptions.

Davis Lovvorn

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Davis Lovvorn

Davis Lovvorn wasn’t sure what he wanted to pursue as a career when he graduated from Duke University.

He served two years with Teach for America at a high school in Charlotte, N.C., with a large number of students of color and from immigrant backgrounds. He saw the great potential these students had, yet he also saw the breakdowns in the school system.

“These students were phenomenal,” Lovvorn said. “I realized that our country is not doing the best we can so that all of our students have equitable opportunities.”

It was then that he realized how he could make a difference as a lawyer. “With law, you can make both an individual impact and a systemic difference, getting into the roots of these systems,” he said. “That is why I wanted to come to law school.”

Lovvorn says Notre Dame Law School’s commitment to educate a “different kind of lawyer” spoke to him when deciding where to attend law school.

“It really means something, and everyone has their own interpretation,” he said. “To me, it means being a good steward, contributing to society at large, serving your community, and making it better than you found it.”

Lovvorn spent the summer after his first year of law school working at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino legal civil-rights organization in Chicago. He also took part in the Law School’s Immigration Externship at the National Immigrant Justice Center. He said these experiences threw him right into the fire. With the externship, he worked on a full asylum case and presented it in immigration court.

He has learned that, while public interest work may be difficult and draining, it will allow him to advocate harder and to continue to grow as a lawyer.

One of Lovvorn’s favorite classes was Immigration Law with Adjunct Professor Rudy Monterrosa. He served on the Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, and thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Law School’s running club.

After graduation, Lovvorn will return to Charlotte for a two-year fellowship with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. He will work in their Immigrant Justice Center on asylum cases, especially with youth and unaccompanied minors. It is exactly the kind of work that inspired him to become a lawyer.

“The thought of coming full circle back to Charlotte was important to me,” he said. “Having an opportunity to work with an agency that has that kind of influence with youth and immigrants was a no-brainer.”

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