Before entering law school, Merxbauer, originally from Aberdeen, South Dakota, earned her undergraduate degree in English from USD's College of Arts & Sciences. Following a spark that began in a high school AP literature course, Merxbauer found a passion for etymology – the study of the origin of words – and the working of language while earning her degree.

This passion for language, combined with guidance and support from a family member, inspired Merxbauer to continue her education and pursue her law degree.

“I realized this passion could be used in the bill-making process,” said Merxbauer. “My aunt, who is a lobbyist in Pierre, also showed me the flexibility and uniqueness a law degree provides. She told me about her career where she worked in litigation, for the governor, as a lobbyist and so much more. As a person who wanted to open the door to multiple career opportunities, I loved the flexibility a law degree could provide.”

While in law school, Merxbauer served in several roles, including notes and comments editor for the South Dakota Law Review, pro bono officer of Healthcare Law, and research assistant for Career Services. Not only did she balance all these leadership roles with her education, but she also managed family responsibilities.

Merxbauer and her husband, who pursued his M.D. at USD’s Sanford School of Medicine, welcomed their first child only two months before Merxbauer began her first semester of law school. Despite the adjustment, Merxbauer found balance, excelled in law school and served as a role model to her peers.

“It’s special to be able to be a role model and leader for other women and families,” said Merxbauer. “Through pregnancy, nursing and motherhood, I’ve been able to model to others that law school and a family is possible. Balance is possible. In this unique leadership role, I have been able to answer questions for prospective students and classmates. This is an honoring role because there were a few upperclassmen who were role models for me as parents. It means a lot to have someone show you that you can do it, too.”

Merxbauer graduated from the Knudson School of Law in May. Long term, she said she sees herself editing bills at the state legislature or working for an agency to ensure compliance or work on agency rule edits and drafts – career paths that allow her to leverage her English degree to scrutinize specific language and review the etymology of words.

We asked Merxbauer about her time at the USD Knudson School of Law, the lessons she’s learned and more, and this is what she had to say.

Why did you choose the USD Knudson School of Law?

I was already living in Vermillion, having attended my undergraduate here. I took a year off while my husband started medical school here. I decided to apply to USD’s law school because it was the best for our family. I did not want to be away from my husband, and we were expecting our first child in May 2021. I started classes two months after having my daughter, and I felt like USD law would be a supportive community for my family and education.

I had also been given advice to go to school where I desire to practice. Law school creates tons of connections, and it has been helpful to know there are tons of friendly faces around the state now.

What is the most valuable skill you learned in law school that you’ll take into your career?

Enforcing time off for leisure. This is great for my mental health, for my family and for my career. I am happier when I know there is time away from my work, and I’m completely focused on my family or fun.

Who or what makes a good lawyer?

A good lawyer does more than win a case. They discern what is right and wrong and follow a moral compass in their career, which includes following the ethic standards and more.

What was it like to go through law school while your spouse went through medical school?

There were pros and cons. It was great having someone know what I was going through stress-wise, even though it was a different program. Since we were in different programs, we had different slow and busy times, so we were able to lean on one another and support each other during hard times. One of us could take our daughter out while the other studied or just listen to the other vent. I also got to make friends from two different graduate programs which was great – a lot more people to get support from and find friends in similar situations as us. While I did an internship out in Rapid City last summer, my husband was able to do rotations out there and a lot of both of our classmates lived out there, so we still had a community.

The Knudson School of Law strives to embody and promote a community of excellence, service and leadership. Who models these values in your life?

Although not in law school, my husband models excellence, service and leadership in my life. He is balancing medical school with our family. He started medical school a year before I started law school. In that year, he showed me how I could get through a graduate program. He always encouraged me in my degree and family. He serves our family in so many ways, whether that is taking the kids so I can study, making dinner for us, or reminding me to have fun through video games or playing with our daughter. Having a support system like him is a huge reason I am here.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering law school?

You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Everyone else is also adjusting, learning and doubting things. Becoming a lawyer takes education but also time and training. I would also say to learn balance. Whether you are single or have a huge family, everyone needs to take some time off from school and do something enjoyable because life does not start after graduation. Your life is going on right now. Do not put everything enjoyable off. Yes, you will have to make sacrifices, but setting aside a few hours, or one day a week for leisure and truly not worrying about school, will help your mental health.

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