SALT LAKE CITY — Kim Reeves had three children, one on the way, when she decided she wanted to go to law school.
She had already earned a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in business administration, but Reeves was still seeking a path that would lend to more flexibility given the responsibilities of a growing family, her spouse's military deployments and demands of a business that designs and creates custom dance costumes, choir dresses and bridal apparel.
The more she and her husband Jesse talked about it, law school seemed like the right fit.
"I had a baby in the spring of 2014. I ordered an LSAT (Law School Admission Test) prep book that I took to the hospital with me when he was born and I started studying,” Reeves said.
In the fall of 2015, she joined other first-year students at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law. Her commute from Alpine to the law school became a dividing line between a full load of legal studies and her family.
"I found pretty early on that once I got home, I needed to be 'home.' I kind of tried to treat it as a job and come home at a regular time in the evening and when I was home, I was 'home' and weekends belonged to my kids," she said.
Attempting to strike that balance meant something had to give.
Although she had the grades for it, Reeves decided against law review. A "cost-benefit analysis" told her she couldn't afford the time away from her children nor was she planning to seek a position in a large downtown law firm, she said.
"I didn't go to law school to not see my family again. So I don't need the 2,200 billable-hours-a-year job," Reeves said.
So she set her own goals, to get good grades and select her classes so that her legal writing loads were more manageable. Still, law school is rife with stress: pressure to finish in the top 10 of the class, "do that clerkship, get that job," she said.
"I'm mostly passed that," Reeves said. "But inherently, I'm a very competitive person and law school could be very competitive."
ExpandThe Reeves knew that it was likely that Jesse, serving in the Utah Air National Guard, would be deployed while she was in law school, but they wanted to have another child closer in age to their youngest instead of waiting until she was finished with her law degree.
In the spring of Reeves' first year of law school, the Reeves found that they were expecting. The baby was born in early November, delivered by C-section. Jesse Reeves was still deployed but watched the birth via FaceTime.
Roughly 2 ½ weeks later, Reeves was back at school, infant son and stroller in tow.
Reeves said classmates and faculty helped her get back up to speed. The new law school building had changing tables and nursing rooms, which was very helpful "because I wanted to breastfeed as long as I practically could," she said.
She and a couple of schoolmates in the class ahead of her who also had babies traded off child care while they attended their respective classes.
Although Reeves' mother, sister and sister-in-law took care of things at home during school days, it was still a grind keeping up with her many responsibilities, she said.
"The spring semester of my 2L year after my baby was born is kind of a blur to me. I could not get that baby to go to sleep before 1 or 1:30 (a.m.) and I would have to get up at 6:30 in the morning to get ready, nurse him and get up to the law school in time for class. I really think I only got three to five hours of sleep that whole semester. I think I slept a little more on the weekends but it's really a blur," she said.
Because she took a lighter classload the first term of her second year, Reeves took 18 credit hours both terms of her final year so she could graduate on time and take classes she wanted to take.
When Reeves graduated Friday among a class of 97 law students, she had a large cheering section of immediate and extended family. They all played a role in ensuring she could complete her legal studies on time and keep life manageable at home, for which she is profoundly grateful, she said.
The couple's children, who range in age from 12 years to 18 months, (four boys and one girl in the middle) helped in their own ways.
"Overall they've done really well. I'll take that as a huge blessing," she said.
While she could have scaled back their activities to help manage things at home, the Reeves made deliberate choices to keep their lives as normal as possible.
Reeves said she hopes that her children have learned, as she's earned not only a law degree but an MBA, that their family values education and they, too, can do hard things.
While her family and law school family were supportive, there were occasional naysayers who asked, "Why would you want to do that? Don't you care about your kids?"
"I said 'I care a lot about my kids. That's why I'm actually doing it. I'm going to be able to pay for college now,'" she said.
Reeves plans to relocate to Idaho to start her legal career in business law with the law firm Hopkins, Roden, Crockett, Hansen & Hoopes.
Her goal is to provide legal services to people starting businesses, help them put together deals and solve problems.
"My general philosophy of life is, how can I solve a problem. How can I create value for other people, myself and my family.
"If I'm going to work on something that's not going to provide value for me and my family, why should I ask my family to sacrifice for that? If I cannot provide value for other people why should they pay me for that?"
If that sounds like something you might hear on "Shark Tank," Reeves comes by it honestly. She knows what it takes to start and grow a business.
Reeves is owner and creator of a successful fashion design company that makes custom dance costumes, choir robes and bridal apparel. She's operated the business while earning her undergraduate degree in history from the U., her MBA and continues to serve established clients.
"I'm not quite ready to let that die," Reeves said, explaining that she learned to sew when she was 3 and she has family members who were models and fashion designers.
"I love it. I love rhinestones."
Some joke that she's Utah's version of Elle Woods, the fictional fashion design major who was admitted to Harvard Law School, the stuff of the motion picture "Legally Blonde."
Reeves is also blond, but unlike Woods, she wasn't hosting mixers with her law school class. She's lived the life of a suburban mom and law student and military spouse.
Cathy Hwang, an associate law school professor who taught Reeves in three separate courses related to business law, calls her "an inspiration."
She approached the challenges of law school with a cool, calm demeanor reminiscent of the most seasoned of attorneys, Hwang said in a statement.
Besides earning high marks, Reeves served on the law school’s faculty hiring committee, a curriculum committee, the Student Veterans Association and the Federalist Society.
“She’s hardworking, never afraid to speak her mind, and extremely engaged in the life of the school. Not only is she a talented student, but she’s a valued community member. I’m so glad she chose to spend her three years here, and I can’t wait to see her take her smarts, her calm demeanor, and her passion for service into business-law practice,” Hwang added.
Reeves, who is in her 30s, said she enjoyed the intellect and scholarship of her classmates.
While there were several members of the class in their 30s and a couple in their 50s, Reeves said she sometimes felt older among her peers.
"Very few of them have a 12-year-old," she said.
But she's found that life lessons that come with nearly 15 years of marriage and the births of five children are a boon.
"We've bought and sold a couple of houses. I've seen this contract stuff and how it really works in the real world. It's been really nice having that perspective," she said.