Curiosity Leads Beijing Graduate Student to Law Degree at UToledo

December 1, 2021 | Graduate News, News, Student Success, UToday, Alumni, Law
By Cherie Spino

Successful students ask “why?” and “how?” They wonder.

Lei Song’s curiosity led her from her home in Beijing to the United States to attend graduate school. It led to her landing a job as an instructional designer and assistive technology specialist at the University of Toledo in 2016. She wondered what law school was like and decided to take some graduate law classes.

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CELEBRATING SUCCESS: UToledo recognizes the Class of 2021 with a series of stories featuring students receiving their degrees at fall commencement.

“I loved it so much I enrolled part time in the J.D. program,” she said.

Song is scheduled to graduate this month from Toledo Law. Her inquisitiveness and eagerness to learn made her a standout student.

“Ms. Song stood out from the first classes she took,” said Gregory Gilchrist, a UToledo law professor who taught Song’s initial graduate classes and wrote her a letter of recommendation when she applied to Toledo Law. “She readily grasped the legal rules but never stopped there. She wanted to really understand the rules: ‘Why are those the rules? How do the rules work in practice? Are the rules effective?’ It was clear she would excel as a law student.”

Song said she has long been fascinated by the American education system. In her quest to better understand it, she earned a doctorate in student affairs in higher education in 2014 from Miami (Ohio) University.

Her doctoral dissertation explored how Chinese students’ self-concepts changed after attending school in the U.S. She said she loved hearing the students’ stories, especially the stories of dedicated faculty who mentored them.

Her doctoral work helped her understand how educational systems shape culture. Her UToledo law school experience helped her gain another perspective.

“I was able to see the other side of American culture and how it’s shaped by the law,” she said. “You have to have a fair, just system of law and a well-developed educational system. Both are important in creating a society’s culture.”

Song continued to work full time while taking two or three night classes each semester. Thanks to the support of her supervisor, Justin Ballard, director of learning technology, instructional design and faculty development, and judicious use of her vacation time, she was able to craft a flexible schedule that allowed her to finish her required externships.

Her professors also were a great help to her as she navigated law school.

“My advisor, Lesa Byrnes, was wonderful,” Song said. “Law school isn’t always smooth, and she listened and gave great advice. John Barrett was helpful in answering all my questions about academic writing. His feedback and edits helped me learn and improve my legal writing.”


Throughout her time at UToledo, Song never let an opportunity slip by to broaden her intellectual framework. She appreciated the variety of electives she was able to take in law school, studying everything from religious liberty to international law and public health law.

“I loved reading case law and how judges decide cases,” she said. “The more I learned, the more I loved it.”

She relished what each of her externships taught her. In the UToledo Office of Legal Affairs last summer, she was able to work with attorneys on a variety of legal work.

“Lei was an asset to our team the moment she walked in the door,” said Jessica Visser, UToledo associate general counsel.  “Her superior research skills and ability to dive into a project with no previous experience in a particular subject matter allowed our office to close out several ongoing projects. In addition to her great work ethic, Lei was professional and kind.”

This past fall, Song worked with low-income clients in the Toledo Tax Controversy Clinic. She got a taste of the hardships her clients face one day when she was on hold for 2 ½ hours with the IRS.

“It was eye-opening for me,” she said.

Studying law changed her thinking about how society works. Song said she wants to have a career in criminal or family law. She’s seen the high caseloads of public defenders and wants to help where she’s most needed.

“I want to do something that has a positive impact on more people,” she said.

She also wants to help educate her fellow Chinese citizens about America.

“There’s a cultural gap between America and China,” she said. “People need to understand each other better.”

Song ― with her curiosity and knowledge of both worlds ― wants to build that bridge.

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