Legal Eagles

Samantha Murphy and Jason Johnson

Community colleges are often a place of hope: people on different paths can find exactly where they belong in a future they’ve earned.

Take Jason Johnson and Samantha Murphy—a lawyer and a paralegal respectively at the Cheyenne law firm of Davis, Johnson & Kallal, LLC. Both attended LCCC, each with a unique and gratifying journey.

Raised in Cheyenne, Jason graduated from East High. He knew he wanted to go to law school, so he started at LCCC. “It really made the most sense.” Jason obtained associate degrees in pre-law and in sociology before completing his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at the University of Wyoming. After a short break, he was accepted into the UW College of Law.

Like many students have discovered, LCCC was the right choice for him.

“I appreciated that the faculty at LCCC had such hands-on experience. They could tell you the realities of the field,” Jason said.

Much credit for that goes to Jodi Weppner. A licensed attorney, Jodi is the only full-time faculty in justice studies, which houses the criminal justice and paralegal programs. With the help of adjunct instructors, Jodi is able to find subject-matter experts to strengthen students’ experience and education. 

“Jodi is absolutely fantastic. Her legal background helps but she really taught me to think the way they want you to think in law school,” Jason said.

Recalling this funny and intelligent student, Jodi shared, “Every once in a while I have students come through who say that their goal is law school. Jason was one that I always thought had a very good shot at this future.”

Jason, who was recently president of the Cheyenne Sunrise Rotary Club, keeps busy. In a brief span of time, he got married, opened the new law firm, and had a child.

Even with the happiness in his personal life, he still finds it gratifying to help his various clients. “Hopefully you have good facts, good law, and you don’t screw it up.”

Working alongside a solid paralegal helps that immensely.

“Coming out of LCCC, Samantha’s so advanced. It’s like she’s where I was in my first year coming out of law school,” Jason said.

And they’ve found a great business relationship, playing off each other’s strengths.

“I love working here,” Samantha said, noting how respectful and collaborative the environment is. “I have a sense of comfort here that I really wasn’t expecting.”

Samantha was nervous at first, wondering if she’d be able to tackle the paralegal tasks that came her way. Those concerns were quickly diminished. “What they taught me at LCCC, I can truly apply in my career.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy.

A full-time single parent living paycheck to paycheck, Samantha moved to Cheyenne about seven years ago. “I knew that I wanted to better my life, better my daughter’s life.”

She also wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, so she set her sights on an education at LCCC.

“The hardest part was clicking the ‘submit’ button on my application. I paced around my living room for about two hours before I got the courage to click it.” Questions swirled around her mind before she took a deep breath and told herself, I will figure it out, whatever happens.

“And I did,” Samantha said. “Success is scary. Somehow people don’t feel they deserve to be successful, and that’s how I felt for a long time.”

The next challenge for her was the first day of class. “Remember I haven’t been to school in 12 years. Every time I heard that door open, I wanted to run away,” she shared. “But I’m glad I stayed.”

Her first class was Intro to Criminal Justice taught by Jodi Weppner, and the two had instant rapport.

“The way that she taught made sense to me,” Samantha said. “That’s how I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”

Jodi remembers Samantha’s shyness and anxiety. “I was able to see her open up and really blossom in the program. She was a completely different student by the time she graduated.”

Samantha loved her LCCC experience. “You got the feeling that every single person there wants you to succeed,” she said. Now she can provide the future she always wanted for her daughter.

“I hope that I showed her that no matter how low things get, you can always start over,” Samantha said. “Never give up.”