MULS Legal Education: Following Footsteps and Forging Your Own Path

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Education, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public, Student Contributor

Sensenbrenner Hall

zilber forum
From Sensenbrenner Hall (left) to the Zilber Forum at Eckstein Hall.

When I was asked if I would—together with my daughter Micaela—write a blog for the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog, I wanted to make sure it was known I haven’t practiced law full-time in fifteen years.  So, fair warning, this is not going to be a technical legal discussion.

Let’s start with a short background: I graduated from MULS in 1989.  In fact, I just celebrated my thirty-year reunion (quick shout out to my classmates:  You guys rock!  We had the highest turnout of any reunion class!).  It was wonderful catching up with old friends, some I have kept in touch with; regrettably, some I have not.

As I stood in the Zilber Forum (as I have done several times previously, more on that later), I reflected on my law school experience at Sensenbrenner Hall, and, despite feeling envious of the students who are privileged to study law in such a marvelous facility, was transported in back thirty years to the year I graduated from MULS.  I remember the hope, the promise, coupled with the uncertainty and anxiety I was feeling at the time. Not to mention the excitement of my impending marriage one month later to my beautiful wife of thirty years, Ellen, whom I met while we were both studying at Marquette (she was earning her Masters in Analytical Chemistry at the time).

Flash forward thirty years and imagine my pride when Micaela announced to us that she would be attending MULS. In fact, Micaela is officially a 3L and is on track to graduate in May 2020. While it may not be shocking for a child to follow in a parent’s footsteps, it didn’t look like that would be happening with Micaela.

I knew that ever since she was young, Micaela and I thought about things much the same way. I mentioned something to her early in high school that I was pretty sure she would go to law school and do well there.  Micaela’s response was very close to: “Oh my gosh Dad, I absolutely do not ever want to do what you do,” which, for most of my fifteen years spent practicing law, was civil litigation.  “That’s fine,” I said, and absolutely meant it.

Micaela graduated from high school a few years later, attended UW-Madison with a major in English Literature, and halfway through her junior year of college announced that she wanted to go to law school.  Then, when she finally started at Marquette, we discussed what area she might want to pursue.  Micaela said, “I don’t know what area I want to practice in, but I know that I don’t want to be a litigator.”

That idea stuck with her throughout her entire first year. For example, during her first year, she attended the 2018 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition and said to a friend, “I will never do that.”  However, she decided to take the Appellate Writing and Advocacy class her first semester of 2L year so that she could become more comfortable with public speaking and was subsequently invited to participate in the 2019 Jenkins Competition, which she readily accepted; by that time, she was hooked on appellate advocacy. Not only did Micaela participate, after proclaiming she never would, she and her teammate Brooke Erickson won the competition.  And guess what?  In the process, Micaela concluded she wants to be a litigator.  Who knew?  (Besides her dad, of course).

Attending MULS and engaging in private practice for fifteen years has shaped the person I have become today.  I have now been out of the daily practice of law for another fifteen years, owning and operating a manufacturing firm.  And while this business is very different from the practice of law, I still see things through the same analytical and problem-solving lens that I applied as a practicing attorney.  The skills I developed in law school at Marquette, and later honed in my fifteen years of legal practice, have been a substantial part of my success in my current endeavor.

I shared some fun bits of information about Micaela’s experiences with finding her way along the path of deciding what she wants to do—not to portray her as indecisive or clueless about what she wants to be when she grows up, but rather to demonstrate that often what you think is your path is not always where you will end up.

Some of you reading this are doing exactly what you have always wanted and truly what you are meant to be doing.  Bravo!  Others of you may be thinking your path needs a deviation—a correction, if you will.  I left a successful law practice because I decided I needed to make a change, so I jumped into something I really knew nothing about but believed in my ability to figure things out.  Now, I cannot imagine doing anything other than what I am doing now, and I know Micaela has never been surer of her path—at least, for now—as she is right now.

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