UK Rosenberg Law Students Win 1st Place in Diversity Case Competition

Shantale Davis and Ashlei McPherson, both first-year law students, pictures in front of the J. David Rosenberg College of Law
Shantale Davis (left) and Ashlei McPherson, both first-year law students, pictured in front of the J. David Rosenberg College of Law. Photo submitted.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 16, 2021) — University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law students Shantale Davis and Ashlei McPherson, both first-year law students, placed first in the 2021 Law Student Diversity Virtual Case Competition hosted by Cincinnati-based law firm Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL in partnership with the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Center for Professional Development.

Davis and McPherson took home $3,000 as the first-place team. They competed against students from six other law schools, including the second-place team from Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law and the third-place team from University of Cincinnati College of Law.

“The program is part of our ongoing commitment to inclusion and diversity at KMK Law,” said Bethany P. Recht, KMK partner and chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, in a news release. “While we missed the opportunity to meet and network in person this year, our virtual competition provided the law students the opportunity to showcase their legal abilities and sharpen their professional skills just as our event has in years past.”

First-year students from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups are eligible to participate in the Diversity Case Competition. Using the case model, students are given an opportunity to display their problem-solving and communication skills. The competition exposes students to practicing attorneys and Fortune 500 corporate counsel, who serve as coaches and judges.

“Diversity and inclusion are vital to the legal profession because it provides opportunities for people with unique experiences and ways of thinking to make the profession more well-rounded,” said Davis, who is from Erie, Pennsylvania. “Besides the ethical and moral implications of diversity and inclusion, it is also practical. One would be hard-pressed to find a ‘standard’ or ‘typical’ client. It would be a disservice to have one standard or typical legal professional.” 

Similarly, McPherson said diversity and inclusion are important in the legal profession because people have unique experiences that influence the way they perceive situations.

“Our lived experiences of growing up as two Black girls influenced by pop culture is what helped us win the competition because we understood that the case was about more than just a legal issue,” McPherson said. “The court of public opinion was also an issue that needed to be addressed. Who we are in the world influences the type of lawyers we are going to be, and having a diverse lived experience with a diverse perspective is going to help us better serve clients.” 

McPherson hails from California and knew little about Kentucky — except Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Kentucky Derby — before she applied for a job at the University of Kentucky about a year before she enrolled in law school. McPherson said she “fell in love with the place.”

Davis said she came to UK for law school because of a scholarship offer and the high post-graduation employment numbers. 

“The recruitment team was very engaged and went the extra mile to convince me that UK could be my future home,” Davis said. “From my time of application to my arrival on campus, the effort put in by Jimmi Nicholson (director of admissions) and the rest of the admissions team helped UK stand out from the crowd.”

Davis said she decided to go to law school because she wanted an active role as an advocate. 

“I had a desire to better understand the processes that led to no convictions in cases like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and even more recently, Breonna Taylor,” Davis said. “Furthermore, by understanding the law's nuances, I can serve my family, friends, and community by helping them come to realistic conclusions, which will allow for better strategizing.”

Davis and McPherson said their family, friends and professors were excited about their win.

“I reached out to Professor Cook because she has been such a positive and motivating role model for me since I started at UK,” McPherson said. “Honestly, there was a point last semester where I wanted to drop out and her words of motivation allowed me to push through to the finish, and I am truly glad I stayed.

“Law school isn’t always unicorns and rainbows, so it is important to have your tribe — your community  of support — and I want to thank my friends and family and everyone at UK who has been that for me.” 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.