May 6, 2024
woman smiling

Everything was going according to plan for Dhara Patel. She had leveraged her graduate-level training in accounting to build a successful career for herself, first at a Big Four accounting firm, then at a smaller consulting group. Eventually, she left the corporate world and joined her family’s business, where she started her own consulting company. Patel quickly realized how often she worked with attorneys in this new role and how much legal work was embedded in her new responsibilities, from drafting leases for residential and commercial tenants to writing employment contracts for office workers. Getting her JD just made sense.

Patel was in the midst of deciding where to attend law school when she and her husband received welcome news: they were about to become first-time parents. Upon receiving her acceptance letter to Rutgers Law School, Patel reached out to let them know she was pregnant and was planning to enroll. “I was advised to defer because my due date was too close to finals,” she recalls. “Well, I did not like that answer.” Undeterred, she found support in Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sarah Regina, who was also a mom to young children. “I am so happy I didn’t stop,” Patel says. “Dean Regina totally understood and supported my position. She told me we would make it work, whether I wanted to fast-track my studies or take my time.” 

It had been close to a decade since Patel completed her master’s degree when she arrived on campus during her third trimester, and reacclimating to the swing of academic life presented a challenge. Even so, Patel says her semester managing pregnancy alongside coursework was possibly the easiest of her law school journey.

Once she gave birth at the end of her first semester, Patel embarked on a delicate balancing act as she juggled classes and studying alongside the demands of caring for a newborn. “I would read my cases on my iPad while I was breastfeeding my son because there was no way I could hold a textbook,” she recalls. “Those early days of cluster feeding feel like a distant memory now, but at the time, it felt all consuming.”

mom looking at young son being held on father's shoulders
Dhara Patel `20 with her family

The emotional toll of leaving her infant son to attend classes also started weighing on Patel. “I definitely had mom guilt—I don’t know any mom who has not felt mom guilt,” she says. “I remember one evening, my son cried so loudly and wouldn’t let go of my embrace when I had to leave for class. My husband encouraged me to sneak out of the garage, and insisted he had it handled. That was a really difficult drive to campus, but I also felt so grateful for my supportive husband and family in that moment.”

Patel doubled up on courses during the summer and took as many credits as she could so she could finish a part-time program in just three years. In an effort to gain practical experience, she interned with Rutgers Law Associates as well as a Morristown, New Jersey law firm, and engaged in research assistantships and directed research.

With her spring 2024 graduation approaching, Patel is proud of not only her accomplishments but also her journey, and thankful for her family, professors, and friends who helped her along the way. “I plan to take with me memories I would have never made anywhere else, at any other time in my life,” she says. “I also hope to inspire others who may be starting something scary—be it continuing their education, embarking on parenthood, or both simultaneously—and let them know: it is not easy, but it is possible.”

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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