Members of the UC Hastings Student Veteran Organization (HSVO) are a diverse group, representing each of the five active branches of military service.
No two of them had the same experience, and "prior military service is just one part of each veteran's multi-faceted identity," notes 3L Julian Sarkar, HSVO President. Still, some things they share are their unflappable politeness — such as referring to strangers as sirs or ma’ams — the way that they make a tight bed, and their affinity for public service.
Moreover, they share a unique relationship with other veterans, which is part of the reason they joined HSVO. “While we no longer wear a uniform on a daily basis, we still have a camaraderie and pride in what we’ve done before law school,” 3L Nicholas Lansdown explained.
In honor of Veterans Day, we caught up with a few HSVO members to discuss how their military background informs their legal education.
Many of the members found that it was difficult to transition back to civilian life after leaving the service. But because they adhered to regulations in the military, acquiring a legal degree seemed like a natural choice.
After 2L Anthony Rodregous left the hustle and bustle of the service, he wondered: “Now what?” But he found solace in a legal education, where he was able to apply his understanding of regulations.
“After existing in a world where there’s a rule for everything, it’s easy for us to learn about an area of the law that is completely rule-driven because we’re already accustomed to operating in that type of environment,” Rodregous said.
The members of HSVO have seen more while they were in the military than some people do in their entire lives.
Their worldly knowledge helps them put mundane problems into perspective. Sarkar mentioned that his Marine Corps training, which was created to simulate warfare, has helped him navigate stressful situations. “While working as a law clerk this year, I argued motions before a judge in multiple criminal cases. I found that my Marine background was essential to my ability to litigate calmly and confidently in the courtroom, even in the face of unforeseen surprises and challenges,” Sarkar explained.
Veterans were already accustomed to working long hours and shouldering a lot of responsibility in the military. Some of the members have jumped out of airplanes, carried rucksacks through the desert in Afghanistan, and were even in control of multi-million dollar helicopter engine repair shops.
“There’s no other place in America where you can get straight out of high school and have that much responsibility on your shoulders,” Sarkar said. He added that many veterans are already ambitious, so it’s easy for them to parlay the discipline that they honed in the military into acquiring a law degree.
“That mentality of knowing ‘if I don’t do it, no one else will’ drives us to create a clinic or heading a conference,” he added.
Each of the HSVO members we spoke with has lived overseas or has visited places where fresh drinking water was a rarity rather than a commonality. Their experiences living abroad and handling conflict resolution grant them a deeper understanding of the cases they read in class.
“We’re going to bring real life experience to what we study,” 1L Kelsey Campbell said. “Each of us would be willing to talk to our fellow classmates and share our perspective with them,” she added.
After witnessing dispute resolution from the ground up, some of the members decided to devote their lives to public service.
When 1L Eric Schmoll returned to the civilian world from the Marine Corps, he wondered how he could make a greater impact on society. “In the military you have a drive to make a difference and help the world,” Schmoll said.
He added that he was drawn to the military and law school for similar reasons: because he wanted to save the world. Although Schmoll is still in his first year, he plans on focusing on policy-making or becoming a defense attorney so he can help better his community.