Law School: University of Akron School of Law
Undergraduate: B.A.; Religion and Business Management; Ohio Christian University
Other Degrees: Master of Divinity, Wesley Biblical Seminary
Home City/State: Circleville, Ohio
Finding the right fit is how Michael Tipton, a 3L at the University of Akron School of Law in Ohio, describes his first years working at a nonprofit.
“I really liked where I was – executive director of Project SPY, which provides emergency home repairs to families in need in southwest Virginia,” Tipton said in a telephone interview. “But I saw how attorneys could both protect us as needed and improve our effectiveness.”
Nonprofits, he explained, have their own set of issues. “They often rely heavily on trusts and estates for financial support, for example,” Tipton said. “I saw lawyers helping us and other similar organizations with those kinds of lifeblood resources.” Lawyers enable nonprofits that are improving their communities to be their best, he said. “Watching these lawyers in action,” Tipton added, “also helped me realize that by going to law school I could find the right fit.”
LAWDRAGON: What were key factors you used in choosing a law school?
MICHAEL TIPTON: Location, affordability and reputation, especially its curriculum strengths in my areas of interest.
My wife, April, had finished medical school at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Virginia and was applying for residencies in family medicine. I began my search by looking to apply wherever she was applying, which included Columbus, Dayton and Akron, Ohio along with Indianapolis, Indiana and maybe one or two others. Lucky for me, Akron was her top choice.
I say lucky because to start, Akron Law is centrally located in northeast Ohio, giving students easy access to opportunities in Akron, Cleveland, Canton and Youngstown, with Columbus and Pittsburgh relatively short drives away. And its students have the opportunity to live and work in a variety of settings, ranging from large cities to small towns.
Akron had one of the lowest overall tuition sticker prices. Coupled with the scholarship I received, it was by far the most affordable law school. In fact, because we both work and we had some savings, I haven’t had to take out any loans for law school.
Finally, there was Akron’s reputation. It was second in the state in terms of bar passage rate when I matriculated. However, the quality of its faculty is Akron Law’s biggest asset. Prof. Alan Newman, for example, teaches wills, trusts and estates, which is my area of interest. He is an absolute expert in the field, an outstanding teacher and very respected here in Ohio.
He encouraged me to write an article for the Probate Law Journal of Ohio. He opened that door for me, and I can’t tell you how helpful that’s been during my job search. Lots of people in my field saw that article, which has garnered substantial positive feedback from attorneys.
That’s just one example of what I mean when I say quality faculty. I was surprised by how connected all faculty members are here: These are people who in their own careers have worked all over the U.S. and in positions of substance – in top law firms, the White House, government agencies and regulatory authorities, for federal and state courts and leading corporations. Despite my research, I hadn’t anticipated when I came here the depth and breadth of experience they had. They know their subject areas, and you expect that. I didn’t expect the number of professors with Ivy League pedigrees and high-profile reputations in their respective fields.
LD: Did anything else surprise you about Akron Law or about law school generally?
MT: About law school generally, several things. The vocabulary really is a different language. You need to understand the nuances of language to be accurate and precise in what you’re saying: The words “ordinary” and “average” don’t mean the same thing in the law world. Neither do “must” and “shall.”
Then there’s been the reading. It isn’t so much the amount of reading that was a challenge. It was the time needed to master concepts, to understand the contours and limits of a doctrine, for example.
I didn’t anticipate the number of things I’d have to give up to succeed in law school – for example, friends with whom we haven’t been able to maintain the level of contact we had in our pre-law school past. You just don’t have the same level of free time that you have even with a full-time job. You have to be far more selective as to how you spend your free time. I didn’t realize how selective I’d have to be.
LD: Is there anything you wish you had known before going to law school?
MT: More about the business side of the legal profession. I wish I’d had a greater understanding of how law firms work. Associates are often an economic detriment to law firms for the first three years, which is why economics plays into how and when they hire. Knowing that wouldn’t have helped me in terms of classes and the like. But it would have helped me position myself in the job market as a student. It makes networking that much more important. I probably would have started on that sooner than I did in my law school career.
Career Services here is outstanding. The people in that office have helped all of us to network with alumni and so much more. But I don’t come from a family of lawyers. So I, personally, didn’t have a lot of exposure to the nuts and bolts of the legal field. That was a real learning curve for me.
LD: What’s been your most memorable or valuable experience in law school?
MT: Among the most valuable has been my connections with professors, to which I’ve already alluded. The professors here understand the complexities of real practice and they know how to prepare students for those challenges. They engage students outside class and are readily available to meet one-on-one.
My connections with other law students have been amazing. My study group, for example, coalesced on the second day of law school. We have continued to meet throughout all three years and we will continue as we prepare for the bar exam. In the same way, I’ve had the opportunity to build friendships with students going into diverse areas of law, including private practice and public service.
Then there are my connections with alumni. Akron Law makes a concerted effort to put students in touch with alumni through on-campus meetings, special events and more. I’ve been able to connect personally with several very successful alumni who have helped me pursue my personal and professional goals. Plus, the alumni contribute to the school in terms of time and money.
As for memorable experiences, I would classify being published in a respected law journal as my most memorable experience. The added extra there was learning about the publication process.
LD: What do you plan to do with your law degree?
MT: Estates and trusts still feels like a natural fit for me. I really enjoy the planning, transactional side of law. I prefer to help people think through problems on the front end than reacting on the back end.
I graduate May 17, while April finishes her residency in June. She wants to practice outpatient family medicine. We will end up wherever there is a good fit for both of us. One thing I’ll say for having a wife who is completing a medical residency: It has kept me humble throughout law school, because on any given day, I’m not the hardest working person at our dinner table.
Contact Margot Slade at (914) 396-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.