In 2012, PUC alumna Brittany (Collins) Cheney, ’07, graduated at the top of her class at the UC Davis School of Law, one of the top law schools in the nation. We caught up with her following graduation to discuss the factors of her success in a competitive and challenging professional program.
Why did you choose to go into law?
I had considered it off and on since high school but I didn’t have the desire to do it right after school. So I worked with a couple of non-profits, but I knew I needed to continue my education if I wanted to do something more than being someone else’s assistant. So I looked at my options and considered a number of different graduate programs. I knew a lot of lawyers who really enjoyed what they did and felt like they were making a difference. It’s not necessarily something that non-lawyers think of the profession, but having those people in my life who really enjoyed what they did was helpful for me.
Tell me about UC Davis.
It was a great school. It was a much friendlier learning environment than most law schools, so that was a nice surprise. It has a very good reputation, a very good academic and clinical program.
What were some differences between your time as an undergraduate and in law school?
I went to Adventist schools from preschool through college, so this was my first experience in a public school or even in a non-Christian school. There were a lot of things that were very different. I don’t think I ever really got used to it, but I got less and less surprised at how people’s lifestyles were so different from mine. But both [PUC and Davis] were very excellent academically, so they did have that in common, and a lot of wonderful professors who were really good at what they do and really passionate about teaching students.
What factors in your time at PUC helped you in law school?
I learned that I had to be very disciplined and I couldn’t bite off more than I could chew. I knew my limits, so going into law school I knew what extracurricular activities I could be involved in without falling behind in school. I played basketball and volleyball at PUC, so I was used to having a very full schedule, which actually really helped me. I got to be competitive in athletics and I think that gave me an advantage. One of the most important skills in law school is writing and I had a lot of good writing experience at PUC. I felt like I was really prepared for that in law school and I think a lot of people weren’t. And being on Student Senate definitely helped me prepare for being in the courtroom.
Did you continue that level of involvement at UC Davis?
At Davis I tried not to get over-involved in extracurriculars because I really wanted to focus on my academics. Also a lot of law school activities are on Saturdays, like moot court and mock trial, so I had already decided ahead of time that I really wouldn’t do much of that. But I did participate in the Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic, which provided legal assistance to low-income victims of domestic violence. We had a supervising attorney and ten or twelve law students. We actually had real clients, went to court for them, wrote court documents for them and advised them. That was my second year of law school and I loved it. That’s really what got me interested in family law and got me to consider that as my specialty after law school.
You excelled academically at both PUC and Davis. What did it take?
It was a lot of work. I remember I was interviewing for a job and the person interviewing me made it sound like I was just, you know, brilliant, and that I hadn’t had to work at all. I said, “No, actually, I just worked a lot.” I have a really supportive husband who didn’t mind that I was working so hard. That made a huge difference. It’s also a ton of reading, and I really enjoy reading. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed all of my law school reading, but actually enjoying reading was very helpful as well.
One other thing that I feel gave me an advantage was taking Sabbath off. At first, I was kind of worried about how I would perform academically if I was studying one less day a week than my classmates. But I found that I could perform better when I had a day to rest and spend time with my family and friends and go to my church. I think that was essential to my success and I’m really glad I did it.
Were you surprised when you found out you would be graduating top of your class?
I was! I didn’t expect it at all. I knew there was a chance but I didn’t think it was going to happen so it took me by surprise.
You had to give a speech at your law school graduation ceremony. What did you say?
I decided to take the chance to thank the people who had gotten me through law school and helped me be successful.
So you’re done with law school and the bar. What are you doing now?
Well, I am sleeping in and relaxing for the first time in three years. I took the bar exam and it was as horrible as everyone said it would be, but I made it through. I’ll be practicing family law at Downey Brands, the largest law firm in Sacramento.