As a journalist, Kimberly Veklerov saw the criminal justice system up close covering legal issues. Now, as a rising second-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, she’s using her reporting skills and interest in law to earn a J.D.

At UVA Law, Veklerov is a member of the Extramural Moot Court, the Domestic Violence Project and Lambda Law Alliance.

The Bay Area, California, native was a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle for four years before law school. She graduated with a bachelor’s in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was editor in chief and president of The Daily Californian.

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Veklerov talked about her most impactful news coverage and how being a reporter prepared her for law school.

Why law school?

There were no lawyers in my family, but the idea of going to law school had been in my head since being part of my high school’s mock trial team. As a reporter, I got to talk to lawyers and cover court cases and legal issues. At some point I realized I would prefer doing what they were doing, rather than writing about what they were doing. Learning to be impartial and understand an issue from all angles was incredibly valuable, but I am excited to be an advocate for my clients as a lawyer.

I learned all the good the law can do and some of the places it falls short. I remember writing about an Oakland resident who was getting evicted from her public housing apartment because she was about $100 behind on rent. A judge had issued an order to stop the eviction, but the housing agency proceeded anyway. Luckily, she had pro bono attorneys who helped her fund a hotel room and eventually got her back into permanent housing.

On a more practical level, I got to see how lawyers and judges and litigants operated in a courtroom, which I always found exciting and inspiring. I learned how to read complaints for the important details, how long litigation takes, how to find cases on PACER, etc.

Tell us more about your journalism career, as well as any awards or recognition you received.

I started at the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015 as a crime and breaking news reporter. I covered everything from homicides and police shootings to wildfires and protests. I would usually start the day by looking through police logs and writing about any serious overnight crime. From there I could end up driving south to talk to victims of a Greyhound bus crash or rushing north with an N95 mask to cover a raging forest fire.

I eventually became the Oakland City Hall reporter, which was a crash course in navigating local politics and legislation, source-building and figuring out what issues matter most to a community. I got to learn from exceptional reporters and editors in the newsroom, and impressive competitors at other media outlets, too.

A colleague and I were awarded second place for Best Coverage of Local Government by the statewide California News Publishers Association. I was part of the team that won awards for breaking news coverage of several major wildfires as well.

I was proudest of the stories that shed light on issues readers would not have otherwise known about. One of my first stories for the Chronicle was about a UC-Berkeley football player who died during a team exercise. Using interviews with teammates and confidential depositions, the story revealed how unusual and strenuous the workout was. Right as I was getting ready to publish, the university admitted liability and settled with his family for $4.75 million.

A few stories I did led to investigations by the Public Ethics Commission in Oakland. One story was about a man who tried to bribe city officials to get a permit to sell cannabis. That ended up getting investigated by the commission and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, which recently filed charges.

How has your journalism experience transferred over to your legal education?

There are many similarities between being a journalist and studying the law. As a reporter, I would have to dive into an unfamiliar subject area and quickly learn it well enough to explain it to readers in plain English. The same is true for reading cases. Journalism also taught me how to write concise, no-frills articles and to work my butt off at any hour of the day. I’d like to do something in litigation, but I’m not sure what specific area.

Describe your most interesting law school experience.

My favorite part of law school so far has been the classroom time and the professors who engage and push students. Last semester, for instance, learning about the insanity defense from Professor Richard Bonnie, who was responsible for reforming and preserving the defense post-John Hinckley, was an experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

What’s next for you?

This summer, I am interning for a federal judge in the D.C. area and doing research for Professor [Sarah Stewart] Ware.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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