Veterans, future military lawyers choose Penn State for legal education

When U.S. News and World Report released its most recent Best Colleges for Veterans rankings, it did not surprise law students that Penn State ranked No. 1 among national universities.

Penn State has a long tradition of educating veterans and students who plan on entering the military after graduation; alumni veterans include former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and Air Force Brig. Gen. Christopher Burne, in addition to the four students chosen by the US Army to join the JAG corps last year. Dean Jim Houck retired as the 41st Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy.

Jason Samuel, Nicole Anderson, Thomas Workman, Jonathan Burr and Michael Crowe are among the many Penn State Law students and alumni who are connected to the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Jason Samuel

Jason Samuel served in the Marine Corps Reserves before coming to Penn State Law. Samuel enlisted when he was 17 and worked for four years before being deployed to South America to serve on the USS Iwo Jima. After returning from his deployment, Samuel attended Marine Corps Officer Candidates School and took a commission as a Student Judge Advocate. The Richmond, Va., native said watching “Matlock” when he was young inspired him to work in the courtroom. When he was accepted to Penn State Law, everyone he talked to said great things about the school.

“When I told people I got into Penn State Law they were excited for me,” said Samuel. “The school’s professionalism and staff won me over. When I contacted the faculty, admissions and financial aid they were all very helpful.”

Samuel came to Penn State Law to focus on litigation. He became the Student Bar Association (SBA) first-year representative, the SBA vice-president in his second year, and then the SBA President for his final year. Samuel also founded the Military Law Caucus at University Park.

“I like the service role and I try to do as much as possible to help the students with their concerns,” said Samuel.

Samuel says other veterans should use the mental aspects of military training to discipline themselves for law school. He said law students should be goal-orientated and consider law school a three-year job search from the first day. After graduation in May, Samuel would like a clerkship in Pennsylvania to gain more writing, editing and trial experience before returning to the Marine Corps as a Judge Advocate.

Nicole Anderson

From an early age, Nicole Anderson was interested in the military. During her freshman year at California State University Sacramento, she decided to attend the U.S. Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School (OCS) in a nonbinding contract.

“This allowed me the flexibility to change my mind if I felt the Marines were not a good fit,” said Anderson. “Fortunately, I fell in love with the Marine Corps while at OCS and have stayed committed to my choice with the Marines ever since.”

Students at OCS are required to stay for at least four of the 10 weeks. After four weeks, they may choose to leave. If students complete the training and earn a college degree, the Marine Corps offers a commission to become a 2nd Lieutenant in return for a four-year service obligation. Anderson accepted her commission and will serve as a judge advocate after graduating law school.

A third-year student in Carlisle from Redding, Calif., she wanted to attend law school on the opposite side of the country.

“As a Californian, I wanted a chance to experience life on the East Coast,” said Anderson. “Penn State Law’s international opportunities and proximity to the U.S. Army War College was a huge draw for me. Over the past three years I have been able to take advantage of both the international programs and engage with faculty at the War College.”

After her military service she would like to be a federal public defender so she can practice in a courtroom and potentially take national security cases. Anderson said her experiences give her a better life perspective.

“I have always been interested in foreign affairs, but as a service member you look at world events through a different lens,” said Anderson, who recently completed a semester in Taiwan as a Boren Fellow. “Every major international event has the potential to impact me in a very real way if the U.S. decides to respond to a crisis or other occurrence. Being in the military makes me more grateful for the opportunities I have and the people around me.”

Thomas Workman

Thomas Workman thought he wanted to be an astronaut when he was a child, but during his time in the U.S. Army he decided to go into law. He worked as a military police officer in the army for four years. His duties took him to Fort Bragg, South Korea, and Iraq. He then worked in Maryland as a sergeant in the Army Reserves.

Workman enjoyed the law aspect of being a military police officer and seeing how the rules evolved over time. His job taught him time management skills and how to work under pressure for long hours – all of which he says help him immensely in law school.

Workman received a bachelors in letters, arts, and sciences from Penn State. He returned to Penn State for law school because of his love for football and Penn State’s investments in the law school.

“I like the building and how they invest in faculty,” said Workman. “The caliber of professors is much higher than I expected. I like being around the talent and intelligence.”

As for prospective law school students, Workman said focus on benefits and value of schools, you will get more than you expect than if you follow school rankings.

Workman plans to live in D.C. and work with federal regulatory law. He participated in the Penn State Law Florence Program with the Honorable Antonin Scalia, distinguished guest jurist, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Workman has an externship with Judge Matthew Brann ’90 in Williamsport during the 2014 spring and fall semesters. He will be interning at the Food and Drug Administration this summer in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Burr

Jonathan Burr’s father was a deputy mayor of a township in New Jersey. Because of his father’s job, Burr had the opportunity to see what a city attorney does. A career in law interested him for many years.

Burr served as an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2011, an experience that he said changed every aspect of his life.

“When you are a member of the armed forces, you are quickly taught that there is always a bigger picture,” said Burr. “This change has helped me get to where I am today and to continue striving for the long-term goal of success in every aspect of life.”

The second-year Carlisle student is a strong advocate for veterans starting or continuing their higher education. He said the skills that a veteran learns will help in school.

Burr said all of his professors have been excellent, but Professor Michael Mogill has played an influential role in his career.

“From the first day, Professor Mogill made a point to thank me for my service and continues to inquire into my experiences as a veteran,” said Burr. “He challenges all of his students to think like a lawyer and demonstrates these ‘new ways’ through his own actions.”

Burr has worked for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and has accepted an offer to work in a Big Four accounting firm this summer. One day, he hopes to work on the transactional side of law at a major Wall Street investment firm.

Michael Crowe

Michael Crowe is a third-year student from Damascus, Md. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2005 with a degree in government and served for six years prior to entering law school.  His military experience began in Charleston, S.C., where he spent three years working on maritime security and environmental disaster contingency planning. He then moved on to Louisville, Ky., where he supervised the Coast Guard's local command center, coordinating maritime response operations throughout the Ohio River valley.  After graduation, he will remain on active duty as an attorney working for the Coast Guard Judge Advocate General.

Crowe said the opportunity to go to law school came up while in the Coast Guard. He said the faculty, facilities, and proximity to his home in Maryland put Penn State at the top of his list.

In the Coast Guard, Crowe had to train large groups, speak in public and handle a heavy work load. This experience helped him bring a professional and “real world” perspective to his studies. The University Park student said it is important to be confident entering law school.

“If you haven’t been in school for years, you can do it,” said Crowe. “Don’t be deterred by being older than classmates.”

Crowe worked in the Office of Maritime and International Law at the Coast Guard headquarters this past summer. His course work includes international law, environmental law and classes in national security to prepare for his future as a Coast Guard lawyer. In the summer of 2012, Crowe worked for Captain Brian McTague '92 at the Coast Guard headquarters.

Last Updated July 22, 2015