Mothers and Daughters in Law School Together

Susan Scott (`12) and Susan Kaselonis (`13) built their careers as neonatologists. As much as they enjoyed exploring all facets of the pediatric specialty, from running a practice to serving on the faculty of a medical school, they reached the same conclusion at about the same time: they were ready for a new challenge.

It just so happened that their daughters were too. All four women set their sights on law school. Scott and her daughter, Sarah Plazola (`12), enrolled in the same class at the University of New Mexico School of Law, but Taryn Kaselonis (`11), who had always wanted to be a lawyer, moved on to law school directly after earning her undergraduate degree at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

Here are their stories:

The Kaselonis Women

The Kaselonis Women
Susan, left, and Taryn Kaselonis

The more Taryn Kaselonis talked about what she was learning in law school, the more interested her mother became, until Susan Kaselonis enrolled in law school two years after Taryn. Certain she is the oldest student in her class, Susan's life experience has been a welcome addition to classroom discussions.

"I was afraid I wouldn't fit in, but I haven't felt that at all," said Susan. "This is a very diverse class with a number of classmates also coming from other professions."

She has been both surprised and impressed at how supportive the faculty has been. "They have a genuine interest in the students learning and being successful in the program.

"In medicine, there is always a right answer, but that's not the case in law school," she said. "I like the discipline of thinking in law school, of looking at both sides of an issue."

Susan hasn't given up her medical practice. She continues to work full time and is attending law school as a flex-time student, taking about 10 hours a semester with a plan to earn her J.D. in four years. It's not uncommon for her to leave a 24-hour shift on the weekend and arrive directly at the law school in time for her first class on Monday morning.

With her daughter two years ahead of her in school, Susan and Taryn have new roles in their relationship: these days, Susan finds herself going to Taryn for advice about classes and professors. "It has brought us closer," said Taryn. "It's nice for me to tell mom, as she is struggling, that contracts didn't come together for me until near the end of the course."

"She puts things into perspective," said Susan. "It's also a relief to know that nobody is going to die if I have the wrong answer."

With Taryn poised to head out into the profession after graduation next spring, she will become the first lawyer in the Kaselonis family. She is hoping to find a job in civil defense or with the state Public Defender's Office. As for Susan, her plans include combining her deep knowledge of the medical profession with the law, maybe as an advocate for children's rights, health rights and civil rights. She still has a few years to decide.

The Plazola Women

The Plazola Women
Susan Scott, left, and Sarah Plazola

Susan Scott was on the faculty of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine when she began dreaming about going to law school. Once she was eligible for retirement, she signed up for a new way of thinking at the UNM School of Law. She still works ¼ time at the UNM medical school.

Alongside her in the Class of 2012 was her daughter, Sarah Plazola, who was ready to further develop a budding interest in the law. After earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona, Plazola had been working as a court clerk in Tucson, as a way to explore the profession before committing to law school. She was interested in both the University of Arizona and UNM law schools. She chose UNM, which admitted her first and offered her in-state tuition, even though she had left New Mexico for a number of years.

At first, they didn't let on they were related, but after it became obvious to their classmates that they knew each other well, they divulged their special relationship. Scott, whose married name is Plazola, used her maiden name throughout her medical career, to go along with the name on her diplomas. She continues to go by that name.

During their first year of law school, they were in three classes together and felt lucky to have each other for ready support. With divergent interests, this year they have no classes together. Last fall, Plazola participated in the UNM School of Law's new Washington, D.C. Exchange Program, spending the semester at Howard University School of Law. Now she is a member of the Natural Resources Journal staff and is helping prepare tax returns for the school's Tax Law Club. She's interested in criminal law and international law.

Not surprisingly, her mother is interested in health law and has joined the school's Student Health Law Association, where she is vice president. Her goal is to work on the policy side of health. "We have the potential of a fabulous health care system, but we don't have that now," said Scott. "Health care is all driven by the law, so if we want to change health care, we will have to do it through the law."

Even though their interests are different, they are equally engaged in their law school experience.

"I like having deep discussions about laws, policy and politics, even if I completely disagree with them," said Plazola.

For her mother, spending the day in a classroom without the pressure of a job has been a welcome luxury. "It's been an unbelievable gift to be with a group of people in a situation that has allowed me to use the side of my brain I hadn't been able to explore in medicine," said Scott.

For now, Plazola and Scott enjoy the uniqueness of navigating through law school together, hooking up for lunch and serving as each other's safe harbor.

February 9, 2011