Armenian Law Students Association – National

The  Armenian Law Students Association: Past and Present

[The Armenian Bar Association thanks Aleksan Giragosian for preparing this article.]

It’s the first day of my first semester of law school, and, of course, I’m going to be late to class.  I hop off the campus shuttle and weave through oncoming pedestrian traffic. I get caught behind a group of turtle people who walk in an impenetrable formation. To get around them, I hop across the street and narrowly miss an 18-year-old in a Mercedes. I get to the law school, identify my classroom, and use my t-shirt to dab the sweat off my face. I open the door slowly to avoid interrupting the lecture, which results in the door squeaking for 5 agonizing seconds. The entire classroom turns around, and the professor is visibly annoyed. I survey the room for an open seat, and spot the only one in the center of the first row. I take my walk of shame through the aisles, all while avoiding the professor’s gaze. I sit down, pull out my laptop, read the word “Torts” written on the board, and think to myself, “What the hell is a Tort?”

At this point, I’m wondering whether the tuition I just paid is refundable. Then I get an email from a guy named Armand Kizirian that reads:

“Hi everyone,

To start off with, sorry if you’re not Armenian and are getting this email by mistake, I’m trying to guess based off of names! My name is Armand Kizirian, and I’m a 2L here at UCLA. I wanted to reach out to you guys at the start of 1L, basically to offer any help or advice I can in the challenging experience that is the first year of law school.

As you all probably know, 1L is not an easy year, but it doesn’t really have to be so bad… Some things you will have to figure out on your own (i.e. a study routine that works for you). Other things, you can ask me or other upperclassmen (most are very willing to help). For example, the differences between a casebook and treatise, what a law school final is like, when do you start outlining, what is outlining, Weyburn Terrace stuff, do we really start reviewing for the bar exam this Friday (no bar review is a social, you go to a bar!), etc. Feel free to ask…

Cheers,

-Armand

P.S. For your Lawyering Skills memos, you will need to adhere to a very particular formatting. I used a template that never failed me in getting the right font, the correct number of lines per page, etc. Since the first writing assignment comes up in only a couple of weeks, I am attaching it to this email.”

Just moments before, I was contemplating dropping out. Then  Armand, a person I’ve never met, reached out to me and offered support, because we share an “ian.” It was very encouraging. Soon, other Armenian upperclassmen began offering advice, outlines, and beer.

I’ve heard similar stories from other Armenian law students. In honor of Armand and all the other helpful upperclassmen, I wrote this article to chronicle the formation of the Armenian Law Students Association (“ALSA”), the primary means by which Armenian law students help other Armenian law students.

What is the Armenian Law Student Association?

ALSA is a student group found on some law school campuses across the United States. Unlike the Armenian Student Association (“ASA”), whose activities are coordinated by the All-Armenian Student Association, ALSA has no central leadership.  As a result, ALSA chapters are formed independently and lack a uniform name, logo, and mission.

ALSA is the most common name for the Armenian student group on law school campuses, but it’s not the only one.  Some law schools have an Armenian Law Society (e.g. University of La Verne College of Law), while others have an Armenian Law Student Society (Whittier Law School). For purposes of this article, I will refer to them all as ALSA.

Only a handful of ALSAs have an official logo. However, the logos that do exist vary widely. Here are four such examples from Southwestern Law School (old and new), UCLA School of Law, and Thomas Jefferson School of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law, and Loyola Law School:

What is the Armenian Law Student Association?

ALSA is a student group found on some law school campuses across the United States. Unlike the Armenian Student Association (“ASA”), whose activities are coordinated by the All-Armenian Student Association, ALSA has no central leadership.  As a result, ALSA chapters are formed independently and lack a uniform name, logo, and mission.

ALSA is the most common name for the Armenian student group on law school campuses, but it’s not the only one.  Some law schools have an Armenian Law Society (e.g. University of La Verne College of Law), while others have an Armenian Law Student Society (Whittier Law School). For purposes of this article, I will refer to them all as ALSA.

Only a handful of ALSAs have an official logo. However, the logos that do exist vary widely.

 

Why do some law schools have ALSAs?

The first ALSA chapter was founded at Southwestern Law School in the 1985-1986 academic year. Former members recall organizing a student-led relief effort to assist the victims of the Spitak Earthquake in December 1988 and working closely with the  Armenian Bar Association at its founding in 1989.  Below is a yearbook photograph of Southwestern’s ALSA in 1990.

originalAt its founding, ALSA was a loose association of Armenians that organized ad hoc events.  It wasn’t until the 1991-1992 academic year that Southwestern Law School’s ALSA, and the newly formed ALSA at Loyola Law School, elected a central leadership and held regular meetings. According to attorney John Balian, ALSA was a registered but inactive organization on Southwestern Law School’s campus when he was a first year.  He and some friends decided to restart the organization in the 1991-1992 academic year with the hope that Armenians can, “come together, help one another during tough times in our lives, and develop lifelong relationships. The friendships I developed there 20+ years ago are still going strong.”

The organization has since spread to 11 law school campuses throughout California.  The newest ALSA chapter was founded in the 2015-2016 academic year at the UC Berkeley School of Law. Nare G. Aleksanyan, a second year and one of the founders of Berkeley’s ALSA, notes: “Although few in number, Armenians have been a part of the student body at Boalt for many years. It was time to establish an official ALSA to attract more Armenians to Berkeley Law.”

Regardless, there is no single reason why Armenian students decided to establish an ALSA on their respective campuses. Other reasons given by students for starting an ALSA include:

1) providing academic support and mentoring;

2) coordinating with Armenian-affiliated legal organizations to provide legal services to underserved communities;

3) creating opportunities for students of Armenian heritage or students interested in Armenian culture to network with like-minded students;

4) organizing legal events pertinent to the Armenian community;

5) increasing awareness about Armenian issues among the law school community

6) working closely with the Armenian Bar Association and developing ties to Armenian professionals in the legal field; and

7) meeting eligible Armenian singles looking to make Armenian babies.

The ALSAs of each campus reported organizing similar events, like inter-chapter mixers, Armenian food fundraisers, and panels of lawyers and judges.  Some organized particularly remarkable events.  For example, the Southwestern ALSA of the early 1990s would organize a skiing trip to Big Bear. Another example is UC Hastings’ ALSA, which would organize a special dinner with retired California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter in his private chambers. Nevertheless, every ALSA, regardless of size, past and present,  reported organizing some event in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

 

Why don’t some law schools have ALSAs?

William Saroyan, the Armenian-American author, said of the Armenian people: “For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.”  He’s right! Diasporan Armenians tend to seek each other out, whether they’re in the same city or on the same campus.  Once they find each other, they almost invariably begin organizing themselves into a community, Saroyan’s “new Armenia.” However, he was wrong about the number; apparently it takes at least 6 Armenians, not 2.

No law school has started an ALSA with less than 6 members.  According to the interviewees from the law schools without ALSAs, the primary reason they haven’t started an ALSA is the paucity of Armenian students.  Alek Kargorodian, a second year at Santa Clara Law School, says, “All of us Armenians would enjoy being more unified with a club, but a club with just 5 members doesn’t seem worth it…It’s a great thing being around people of your same culture, but it’s so hard to find others who are Armenian that it turns people off from starting a club.”

Numbers aren’t the only factor preventing Armenians from founding ALSAs. Interviewees noted that on some campuses Armenians tend to join other student groups that appeal to their ethnic identity, but have a broader focus, like the International Law Society or Middle Eastern Student Association.  Others painfully conceded that the Armenian students on their campus show no interest in getting to know one another.

 

How many Armenians currently attend the 21 ABA-accredited law schools in California?

I love asking this question, partly because the responses vary so dramatically. People have estimated as low as 100 Armenian law students and as high as 1,000. After nearly four months of intermittent research and approximately 65 interviews with Armenian law students and alumni, I estimate that the actual number is somewhere between 350-400.

Unsurprisingly, about 340 of those students are located in Southern California law schools. Southwestern Law School alone has about 130 Armenian students, the largest Armenian population of any law school in California.  Stanford Law School has the fewest, with only 1 Armenian student currently enrolled.[1]

However, the size of each school’s ALSA varies independently of the number of Armenians. Loyola Law School has approximately 40 Armenians, but it has 120 registered ALSA members. In comparison, UCLA School of Law, with 14 Armenian students, only has 14 registered ALSA members. The difference is attributable to the degree to which some ALSAs are willing to recruit non-Armenian members.  Laurie Tomassian, a second-year student at USC Law School, believes expanding ALSA’s membership base to include non-Armenians benefits the organization. She argues, “Our community has a lot to offer – we hold a strong presence in Los Angeles both in terms of our numbers and our successes. It’s important for us to open the door of our culture to non-Armenians so that they too may witness and benefit from the great work Armenian lawyers do every day.”

 

Going Forward

Conversations with the different ALSA chapter leaders revealed a pattern of common organizational shortcomings, including a lack of cooperation across campuses, limited support and guidance from the Armenian Bar Association, and problems transitioning from year to year. Regardless, California’s 11 ALSAs continue to thrive.  Their numbers have increased, their activities have diversified, and they’re more integrated into the fabric of their respective law school communities.  Most importantly, they continue to offer support to those 1-Ls who show up to their first day of class late, sweaty, and pondering the meaning of a Tort.

CENSUS OF ARMENIAN STUDENTS AT ABA-ACCREDITED CALIFORNIA LAW SCHOOLS
Current Number of Armenian Students Existence of ALSA on Campus Academic Year of Founding Number of Armenians at Founding
California Western School of Law 4 NO
Chapman University School of Law 4 NO
Golden Gate University School of Law 0 NO
Loyola Law School 40 YES 1990-1991 10
McGeorge School of Law 3 NO
Pepperdine University School of Law 23 YES 2000-2001 ?
Santa Clara University School of Law 3 NO
Stanford Law School 1 NO
Southwestern Law School 130 YES 1985-1986 7
Thomas Jefferson University School of Law 15 YES 2011-2012 6
UC Berkeley School of Law 7 YES 2015-2016 7
UC Davis School of Law 8 YES 2014-2015 9
UC Hastings School of Law 9 YES 2006-2007 11
UC Irvine School of Law 7 NO
UC Los Angeles School of Law 14 YES 2011-2012 12
University of La Verne College of Law 13 YES 2010-2011 12
University of San Diego School of Law 6 NO
University of San Francisco School of Law 0 NO
University of Southern California School of Law 40 YES 2010-2011 8
Western State College of Law 0 NO
Whittier Law School 45 YES 1999-2000 7

 

 

 

I sincerely appreciate all the help provided by the following interviewees:
Schools Student Alumni
California Western School of Law Megan Mangassarian Ani Shagvaladyan
Chapman University School of Law Susie Grigoryan
Golden Gate University School of Law
Loyola Law School Arteen Mnayan

Derik Sarkesians

 

Vahan Saroians

Edvin Minassian

Aram Ordubegian

Mark Horoupian

Greguar Ozhekim

Mhaer Alahydoian

McGeorge School of Law Esther Ismayelyan Sarkis Piloyan
Pepperdine University School of Law Serje Havandjian Nora Sassounian

Lilit Vardanian

Vanna Kitsinian

Sareen Bezdikian

Khajak Kassabian

Santa Clara University School of Law Alek Kargodorian Anita Koumriqian
Stanford Law School Sarah Shirazyan
Southwestern Law School Armine Barsegyan

Sona Arakelyan

John Balian

Lucy Varpetian

Socrates Manoukian

Vahe Messerlian

Chris Keosian

Anahid Gharakhanian (Faculty)

Thomas Jefferson University School of Law Meline Grigoryan Lyla Askejian

Ani Tutundjian

UC Berkeley School of Law Nare G. Aleksanyan
UC Davis School of Law Anita Barooni

David Gevorkian

Ara Karamian

UC Hastings School of Law Arsen Sarapinian

David Navasartyan

Sona Karakashian

Armen Taslakian

Ara Galstyan

Rose Barsamyan

UC Irvine School of Law Sasha Danielyan Hagop Boyaci
UC Los Angeles School of Law Suze Papazyan Armand Kizirian
University of La Verne College of Law Christina Torossian Christopher Markarian

Artin Fiterz

University of San Diego School of Law Nareene Karakashian
University of San Francisco School of Law Alex Hrag Bastian

Mariam Danielyan

University of Southern California School of Law Taline Gettas

Talia Tanielian

Laurie Tomassian

Amaras Zargarian

Garric Nahapetian

Karineh Tarbinian

Western State College of Law
Whittier Law School Narek Balagyozyan

 

Rafick Issagholian

Janet Soultanian

Taline Seikeldjian

Andrey Altounian

[1] There were schools for which I couldn’t find any Armenians, but I didn’t want to list them because they may have more than 1 and I just haven’t found them.