Service Continues for Veterans and Members of the Military
April 14, 2015
For many people who have served in the military, the legal profession can be a logical next step. Qualities one develops while serving are often applicable to practicing law including commitment to public service, respect for other cultures, professionalism, handling stressful situations, comfort speaking in public, thinking on your feet, and adhering to a higher code. As a result, the transition from soldier or sailor to attorney and advocate is a natural one. In recent years, and as more and more service members are discharged after serving in the Middle East, Lewis & Clark is seeing more veterans than ever applying to the law school. These applicants’ unique and valued perspectives enhance our student body, and serve them well in and out of the classroom.
Challenge. Friendship. Ethics. To first year law student Chris Huettemeyer, these three words sum up the similarities between law school and the military. “A lot of veterans miss the challenges that the military provided,” says Huettemeyer. “Law school challenges you every single day and it will require you to apply all the practical skills you learned in the military to be successful.” He further asserts that the intense environments of the military and law school are shared closely with others, and as a result, you form strong bonds of friendship as you go through the process. When it comes to ethics, adherence to an ethical code is serious business both in military service and in legal practice.
Huettemeyer says there were several moments in his life that inspired him to go to law school. “I noticed early on in my military career that the law was intertwined with everything I was doing and that knowing and understanding the law is key to success in nearly any activity you undertake. I also had a chance to work with some great JAG (Judge Advocate General) lawyers. I respected how they approached problem solving, and according to them, they learned many of those skills in law school.”
Brandon Hawkins, third year law student and former Air Force Captain and agrees that the ethical code is equally useful in law. He says, “The Core Values of the USAF (United States Air Force) are Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do,” all of which have applied during his time in law school. Other skills gained in the Air Force have also been useful to Hawkins. “The skills I acquired in public speaking as an intelligence officer have served me well in the courtroom. Asking a judge to impose a particular sentence is a hard argument, but it correlates well to asking a force commander to strike one target over another.” He feels the scheduling and administrative skills he acquired as an officer help him with managing his case load while externing with the district attorney’s office, and in managing his courseload and academic requirements.
Former Air Force Major Dwight Mears, came to law school through a more unusual route. After completing his military service, Mears enrolled in a graduate PhD program. While doing research for his dissertation on U.S. airmen who were held captive after landing bombers in Switzerland during World War II, he realized these men were never recognized as being prisoners of war, despite being captured while serving. Mears sent several requests to the Department of Defense to have these men decorated with POW medals. However, the requests were denied because the medal required formal armed conflict, and the airmen had been captured before any battle ensued. “I conducted several years of research into the legislative intent of the controlling law, and discovered that the medal’s policy had diverged from the law back in the 1980’s due to a series of errors at the Pentagon. In effect, the medal was intended to recognize difficult captivity, not merely the status of prisoner of war as defined by treaty law (which is very restrictive).” Mears sent his research to Congress and several senior leaders in the Air Force to gather support. In 2013, the Armed Services Committee drafted an amendment to Title 10 USC 1128. As a result, 160 of the airmen that Mears identified in his research were awarded POW medals “The experience convinced me that I could influence public policy for the better,” said Mears, and he started looking into law school.
Mears says he chose Lewis & Clark because it was an attractive option and a prestigious school that participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program (a program that matches funds to close gaps in VA tuition benefits). Huettemeyer picked Lewis & Clark because of the excellent legal education and the supportive student environment. “Lewis & Clark is everything that I was looking for and more,” says Huettemeyer.
Although he was unaware of just how beneficial it would be, Hawkins feels “attending law school after military service was a wise choice.” The number of students at Lewis & Clark who have made similar decisions to Hawkins’ is growing. Some of our graduates continue service through the JAG Corps or work for the Department of Justice. Others go on to practice criminal law, administrative law, environmental law, and many others. Government assistance such as the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program can help offset the cost of tuition. Veterans, active military members, reservists, and their family members who are considering attending law school can get information on military benefits via our Veterans Services web page.