When Cherise Braxton-Brooks gets home each afternoon, son Mikhail is already at work on his sixth-grade homework. “Hey, mom,” he says. “Make sure you do your homework, too.”
With her son in middle school and her daughter in college, the time is right for Braxton-Brooks, who has been a case manager for youth in foster care, to pursue a longtime dream: going back to school for a law degree. And she’s not alone. The incoming class at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has a number of non-traditional students who are striving to become attorneys.
One of them, Connie Hunt, has a doctorate in psychology. She saw the opportunity to study law at age 60, after retiring from federal service as a West Coast psychologist with the Indian Health Service. With a JD and perhaps a judicial clerkship afterward, Hunt sees herself gaining a deeper understanding of the laws that govern indigenous people locally, nationally and internationally.
Vasana Chiu came back home to the islands to help care for her elderly parents after spending two decades as an accountant and tax specialist in New York City. She felt it was time to reappraise her career, and make the next chapter truly fulfilling with a degree in law.
“When you’re 50 and going back to school, people worry about your decision,” she says with a laugh. “My parents are worried. They’re very encouraging but, at the same time, it’s very non-traditional. It feels very risky for them.”
In May, 70-year-old Kay Lorraine graduated from the UH law school as the oldest law school graduate in the country. While it may not yet be a trend to hit the law books at a time when it’s more common to be thinking about retirement, age is certainly not discouraging many from pursuing this path.
The School of Law already ranks as a law school known for both its diversity and the number of older students it attracts. In the 2017 edition of The Princeton Review, the school ranked third in the nation as the law school that is “Most Chosen by Older Students” among the 172 best ABA-accredited law schools in the U.S.