Law student Corporal Michael Black and family
After military service, law school can be a great next step, as these six law students can attest. Veterans in or considering law school can learn much from their hard-won victories.
“Everything I've done post-military has been because of the military,” says law student and Marine Corps veteran Sergeant Matthew Jodrey. “My military experience was great. I loved it. And it's been nothing but a benefit since.”
A member of the New England Law | Boston Class of 2021, Jodrey served two tours in Iraq. He joined the Marines when he was just 17, following a family tradition of military service. After being wounded in Fallujah and getting out of the Marines, Jodrey spent a few years working with his father as a union carpenter through the Helmets to Hardhats program, which helps transition veterans into construction jobs. Looking for a career change, he took the state police test and was hired by the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA), where he worked as a transit cop for seven years.
Law school was always in the back of his mind, but Jodrey felt a little behind the curve, given his non-traditional path and policing schedule. But with the clock ticking on his military benefits and education incentives at work, he decided to go back to school.
“I did the math and realized how much money I was losing,” Jodrey says. He started going to night school and taking advantage of his VA benefits. After graduating from University of Massachusetts Lowell with honors, he decided to enroll at New England Law full time because of its location, financial aid offerings, and the “personable, down-to-earth” interactions he had with faculty and staff.
Most students consider law school extremely stressful—and it typically is. But for Jodrey, going from the Marines to policing to law school felt a bit different.
“My life de-stressed by 100%,” he says, mainly citing on-call police work, long hours, and the way they both cut into his time with his wife and three children. Law school itself? Practically a cakewalk.
“Dealing with the stress of finals and doing the readings is stressful, but not like what I was dealing with. It's just a different type of stress. It's easier to manage,” he says. “People think I'm insane when I say that coming to law school was de-stressing from my old job, but it really was.”
Related: How Does the Military Prepare You for Law School?
Jodrey entered law school interested in real estate law, but now that he’s had a taste of other legal industries, he’s drawn in different directions.
“I knew what attorneys do, being a police officer; I worked with all the ADAs in Boston Municipal Court, Roxbury District [but] I didn't realize how deep it goes,” he says. “There are so many things you can do.”
Jodrey enjoyed his summer internship working in house for an energy company, where he did a lot of compliance work, so he’s now exploring related opportunities through the law school’s Compliance and Risk Management certificate. Administrative law and legal work with government agencies also intrigue him.
Though Jodrey says he’s still leaning towards real estate law, he’s keeping an open mind, including non-traditional, alternative careers you can do with a JD.
“After coming here, there’s so many possibilities,” he says. “I didn't even know all you could do with a law degree.”
Keep reading for advice for veterans in or considering law school from Sergeant Jodrey and five more New England Law students. And if you’d like to learn more about attending law school as a veteran, please reach out to our Office of Admissions.
Meet Our Law Student Veterans
Corporal Michael Black '21
United States Marine Corps
Deployments: Iraq, 2008; Afghanistan, 2011
Undergrad: Framingham State University
Corporal Jeffrey Hangen '20
United States Marine Corps
Undergrad: University of New Hampshire
Sergeant Matthew Jodrey '21
United States Marine Corps
Deployments: Iraq, 2003, 2006
Undergrad: University of Massachusetts Lowell
Sergeant Robert Kuhn '22
Massachusetts Army National Guard
Deployments: Afghanistan, 2002; Iraq, 2009
Undergrad: Bridgewater State University
Lieutenant Chris Reckmeyer '20
Connecticut Army National Guard
Undergrad: University of New Hampshire
Captain Courtney A. Richards '21
United States Army
Deployments: Afghanistan, 2012
Undergrad: Salve Regina University
Related: Meet Law School Professors: Victor Hansen, Military Law
Law School Advice for Veterans
What makes law school the right next step after the military?
Captain Richards: I knew from a really young age that I wanted to be in the service, and the void after leaving was large. I needed to feel like I was doing something for a cause greater than myself. Law school seemed like the perfect fit—a way to further my educational goals and contribute to the carriage of justice.
Corporal Hangen: Law school was the right step for me because for four years, the Marine Corps ingrained in me the idea that I should always strive for self-improvement, that I should seek out responsibility whenever and wherever I can, and that I should constantly challenge myself. I wanted more than just a political science degree, so I decided to go to law school.
Lieutenant Reckmeyer: I knew from the start of my military career that I wanted to become a JAG. After talking to several JAGs in my unit, I knew beginning law school immediately after undergrad would be the best course of action. The additional schooling JAGs need to complete after law school makes it imperative that soldiers who want to become a JAG complete law school as soon as they can.
A lot of politicians are lawyers. These are the people who determine what we are going to do with our military. There's nothing more serious than deciding to send soldiers to conflicts." —Corporal Michael Black
Corporal Black: During my deployment in Afghanistan, I was injured by an IED. At that point I started to look at other options other than relying on my body to do things. While I was still on active duty dealing with all the physical therapy, I started going to college. My father was a lawyer and I had taken a law class and really enjoyed it. So I eventually decided to take the LSAT and see what happens. I studied, took the test, did pretty well, and applied to New England Law because of the evening JD program. I got a full scholarship and was fortunate enough to also have the VA’s backing and the GI bill.
Sergeant Kuhn: I have been a police officer for fourteen years, currently assigned to the detective division. I chose to attend law school later in life because my military and family obligations always interfered. But once my kids entered grade school and my National Guard obligations died down, I jumped at the opportunity to pursue my law degree. The evening JD program at New England Law was the perfect fit for my work and life schedule, which is why I applied.
How has your military service impacted your law school experience?
Sergeant Jodrey: It helps a lot, because you’re trained to be very task oriented in the military and use everything as a building block. That's very applicable to law school: you do the assignment, show up, take notes, and review. And that's basically what the military is: you train, you execute, and then you debrief. It's a system veterans are already used to.
Lieutenant Reckmeyer: Being in the military for several years prior to law school has benefited my studies tremendously. In law school, you need to have discipline and a work ethic to drive you through the rigorous semesters and workload. The military instills those principles in soldiers and trains you to perform under stress.
Corporal Hangen: I don't know where I would be right now had never joined the Marine Corps. When I left the Marines and returned to civilian life, I had a drive in me that was never there before. I knew I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I put in the work. That has served me well in law school. I don't think I would have had the confidence to pursue a law degree had I not been a Marine.
You’re trained to be very task oriented in the military and use everything as a building block. That's very applicable to law school: you train, you execute, and then you debrief. It's a system veterans are already used to." —Sergeant Matthew Jodrey
Corporal Black: For me, it’s about the law’s ties to politics: politicians are making laws and policy decisions, and it takes a lawyer to know how to decipher them. It was important for me to fully understand and know that process. A lot of politicians are lawyers, and I like to look at their decisions through a legal perspective. These are the people who determine what we are going to do with our military. There's nothing more serious than deciding whether to send soldiers to different conflicts.
Sergeant Kuhn: The mental stresses at law school are akin to the stresses I experienced in my military service. Law school is similar, too, in that the workload seemed impossible upfront, much like tasks in the military. However, putting in the work, adapting to changes, and staying focused and motivated on short-term goals will have long-term results. My experiences in the military have also given me perspective; the worst day at law school is better than any day deployed.
Captain Richards: My military experience has done nothing but benefit me my entire life, and its impact on my law school experience has been no different. The skills I learned in the military are entirely transferable: I am a self-starter, I am prepared, I am punctual, I ask questions when I don’t understand, and I always give 100 percent. The Army expects these things from you as well. Sometimes it’s hard not to not trivialize law school struggles compared with the weightier concerns of the military, but law school is my current battle, and I will succeed because I’m going to keep trying until I do.
What advice do you have for other veterans considering law school?
Captain Richards: My advice would simply be, “do it.” Higher education will only benefit you in the long run, and while it will be hard, it’s not any harder than spending nights, weekends, months away from home fighting for your country! Frankly, law school pales in comparison to the enormity of the task of defending our nation and our freedoms on the front line. But consider your law school experience as just another way to defend our country and our constitution!
Lieutenant Reckmeyer: Being in the military and law school simultaneously creates unique struggles. Having military obligations on the weekends and lots of reading can become overwhelming. My suggestion is to talk to your commander or chain of command, and develop an understanding that you might have to miss a Friday drill or complete drills due to final exams. Having a common understanding that this civilian career move is what is best for you and your family will help ease the tensions between the military and law school. I would also suggest you develop a plan for the week prior to your military obligation. By doing so, you can get ahead of your reading and schoolwork, and you won’t feel as stressed at drill.
Corporal Hangen: When you were thinking about joining the military, you probably asked yourself at some point if your heart was really in it. You should ask the same question before going to law school. Just like the military, law school is a serious commitment. If you are not 100 percent sure you want to be a lawyer, law school isn't for you.
When you were thinking about joining the military, you probably asked yourself if your heart was in it. You should ask the same question about law school." —Corporal Jeffrey Hangen
Corporal Black: Figure out what works for you and take advantage of the programs that are out there. I have a wife and two kids and a life around of them. So I come at these decisions in terms of how to afford them and fit them in. My time constraints are massive: I work, I go straight to law school at night, and then I go back home and sleep about four hours and start my day over. I’m also using the GI Bill®, which essentially paid me to go to law school, whereas almost everyone has to take on a pretty massive amount of debt. If you're a veteran and you don't take advantage of the GI Bill and VA programs, I think you're doing yourself a massive disservice.
Sergeant Jodrey: Don't be intimidated by law school. It is extremely demanding, but so is everything you’ve already done. No matter how daunting it seems, from taking the LSAT to the bar exam looming at the end of it all, it's all just compartmentalized enough that you can focus on what you need to and then move on. Don't be afraid to ask for help either. In the military, the culture is very independent and macho—"if I have a problem, I'll figure it out." But as stressful and challenging as law school is, the biggest thing is that you don't have to do it alone. For me, my saving grace is the study group I'm in with friends I made my first semester. We all have different strengths and weaknesses; just like in the military, you're coming in as a team.
Sergeant Kuhn: I would advise any veteran considering law school that they have the skillset to succeed ingrained in them already because of their service. Law school is not easy, but our experiences have prepared us for difficult tasks.
What do you hope to achieve with your law degree?
Lieutenant Reckmeyer: I hope to use the knowledge and training from law school and become a JAG in my unit one day. I also would like to become a partner at the law firm I have been interning with over the past three summers.
Corporal Hangen: With my JD I hope to work for a small to mid-size law firm doing litigation work. I haven't nailed down what type of law yet; I am fairly open to that.
Sergeant Kuhn: In the short term, I hope my JD allows me to be a better police officer. My long-term goal is to pass the bar exam and apply to the Massachusetts National Guard JAG program. I am still undecided as to what law I would like to practice.
Related: My Law School Story: Sabrina Rocco, U.S. Army JAG Intern
Corporal Black: I go back and forth about going into politics. Politics are incredibly interesting to me, but they’re kind of a crazy game. For now I'm interested in joining my current company where I work as an electrician as an in-house attorney. The owner of my company has been great about affording me that opportunity and letting me know that as soon as I graduate, I have a job waiting for me.
Captain Richards: Ideally, I would like to go back on active duty with the Army and serve as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps. The opportunity to bring my law school knowledge back to an organization that I love would be my dream realized. The Army has given me so much, it has taught me who I am as a person and as a leader, and I want nothing more than to help other soldiers in and out of the courtroom.
If you’d like to learn more about law school and how we can assist you as a veteran, just contact our Office of Admissions. We’d love to answer your questions.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the interviewees’ own and do not reflect the views of the United States government and/or military.