USD Law F1RSTS: Navigating & Embracing the "First-Gen" Experience in Law School


SAN DIEGO (May 29, 2020) – On Thursday, May 28, University of San Diego (USD) School of Law alumni Nicholas J. Fox, ’11 (JD), and Hon. Rohanee A. Zapanta, ’98 (BA), ’02 (JD), served on a virtual panel along with current law students Rolaine M. Castro, ’21 (JD), and Jordan L. Jones, ’22 (JD), for admitted students on the first-generation law school experience, moderated by Mike Chavez, Associate Director of Admissions & Diversity Initiatives. Chavez, Fox, Zapanta, Castro, and Jones are all F1RSTS.

First-generation students are defined as those whose parents or legal guardians have not completed Bachelor’s degrees–they are the first in their families to attend a four-year school and graduate. Many first-generation law students encounter unique challenges as they begin law school, and most attend law school with minimal guidance. The panel provided an inclusive and safe environment for admittees to ask questions and understand the resources available to them at USD.

Fox is Senior Counsel at Foley & Lardner LLP, and works primarily out of the firm’s office in San Diego.  He is also a member of the USD School of Law Alumni Association Board of Directors, and has leadership roles on the executive, nominating, philanthropy/sponsorships, and diversity committees.  In 2019, Fox received the law school’s Rising Star Recent Alumni Award. Zapanta is a judge in San Diego Superior Court currently presiding over juvenile dependency in the Juvenile Division.

Castro served as the Student Representative of her class for all three years, participated in Moot Court, and former Vice President of and current Attorney Liaison for the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA). Jones is on the Executive Board of both the Student Bar Association and Pride Law, is a member of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA).

Chavez asked for Castro and Jones to share how they coped with the academic rigor and transitioning from undergrad to law school.

Jones shared the amount of reading required in law school is what most surprised him during his first year of law school. ”It can be exhausting. You become more practiced with it over time and learn how to manage and process everything, but I had to train to keep the pace.” Castro added, “It isn’t only the volume, but you have to be meticulous in reading every word and understand the meaning behind the word.”

We know that time management is everything, “Although it is hard to say no, don’t dive in all at once. Prioritize what needs to get done. You need to learn the law, pass the Bar, and start your legal career. You are not here for student government,” advised Fox.

In response to how to ask for help from faculty and staff, Zapanta shared that as a part-time student working full time while attending law school, “My scholarship was at risk if I didn’t get my grades up and I leaned on the professors for help to solidify my understanding of the lessons.”

Chavez encouraged incoming law students to never question if they are meant to be at USD, “You belong here and are a part of our community.” Fox reiterated that no one has it figured out when they first come to law school. “Everyone struggles in their own way.”

“Be authentic, be you. Share your story. Your story is memorable and be proud of it,” concluded Fox.


About the University of San Diego School of Law

Each year, USD educates approximately 800 Juris Doctor and graduate law students from throughout the United States and around the world.  The law school is best known for its offerings in the areas of business and corporate law, constitutional law, intellectual property, international and comparative law, public interest law and taxation.

USD School of Law is one of the 84 law schools elected to the Order of the Coif, a national honor society for law school graduates.  The law school’s faculty is a strong group of outstanding scholars and teachers with national and international reputations and currently ranks 36th nationally among U.S. law faculties in scholarly impact and 22nd nationally in past-year faculty downloads on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN). The school is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Founded in 1954, the law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, independent, Roman Catholic university chartered in 1949.


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