A different kind of lawyer: Veterans studying at ND Law School

Author: Denise Wager


Several Notre Dame Law School students have served or are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. They represent all five military branches. Their paths to the military, to law school, and to Notre Dame are each unique. Some have retired from military service and others will continue to serve after graduation through JAG Corps or reserve service.

The Law School is grateful to our students who have served our country. As a reflection of our gratitude, the Law School is pleased to provide financial assistance by supporting the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program.

In observance of Veterans Day, we are honored to share some of their stories.

Sam McNally

SammcnallySam McNally, right, with his girlfriend and Notre Dame Law School classmate Noelle Klockner at his Army Ranger graduation.

Sam McNally, 3L, enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard as an undergraduate. McNally commissioned through the ROTC program at the University of Michigan, where he earned his undergraduate degree.

He completed the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course to become a commissioned officer in the Michigan Army National Guard. He serves as the Scout Platoon Leader in his Infantry Battalion. As a reserve officer, he trains once a month, plus at least two weeks in the summer.

McNally has consistently challenged himself. He completed the Army's Joint Firepower course and he served as the liaison between the British and Latvian armed forces in one of the largest reserve component exercises supported by the U.S. military.

After his 1L year, he took a semester off to complete U.S. Army Ranger School, known as the most physically and mentally demanding course in the U.S. Army with only a 35 to 40 percent pass rate. McNally graduated Ranger School and returned to law school for the Spring 2017 semester.

He will also attend the U.S. Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape course, which provides training in evading capture, survival skills, and the military code of conduct.

His military experiences have required him to push through some of the most demanding situations both physically and mentally.

He cites endurance as one of the key strengths he acquired in the military and brought with him to law school. “I have a mind to do it, and I just do it,” he said.

McNally has spent his summers working for a small law firm in Grand Rapids and clerked for Judge David Sawyer of the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids.

“Notre Dame was my top choice for law school. I am blessed to be here,” McNally said.

Justin North

JustinnorthJustin North

During high school Justin North, 2L, knew he wanted to be a Marine. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school in 2003. A few years later a commanding officer saw great potential in him and encouraged him to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy. North said that he was not interested, saying he just wanted to continue as a Marine. The officer persisted and encouraged him to take the SAT and apply as a “test run” to see what would happen. North applied and was accepted, but still he was not convinced. He told the commanding officer that he probably was not going to attend.

Fast forward a few hours, and a stern, convincing call from his mom, and North accepted one of only a few spots the U.S. Naval Academy offers every year to current enlisted Marines.

While he found the Naval Academy very challenging, he succeeded by building on the interpersonal relationships he formed with others while there. “I helped them, and they helped me,” he said. He graduated a commissioned lieutenant.

After graduating from the Naval Academy, he served as an infantry weapons platoon commander in the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He deployed to Afghanistan, where he led patrols to improve Afghan forces’ capabilities against the insurgent fighters in the Helmand Province. He ended his 14 years of military service as a company commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.

“As an officer, I was lucky to work alongside the very best young people that our country has to offer,” North said.

After making the decision to attend law school, he applied to over 20 schools with no idea who would accept him. He liked the welcoming environment of Notre Dame, the strong alumni network, and an opportunity for employment for his wife, Amy, who works for Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life.

“I anticipated coming to Notre Dame, putting my head down, and quietly doing law school,” North said. “I did not realize how much I would love it here. It really caught me off guard.”

He has not quietly put his head down. He is president of the Notre Dame Military Law Students Association, he works with a volunteer legal assistance program for veterans at the Mishawaka Veterans Center, and serves as a mentor for the South Bend Veterans Court, a program designed to help military veterans avoid jail time. He worked last summer at DaVita, a kidney dialysis provider in Denver, and will intern this summer at Fox Rothschild’s Denver office.

He says being in the military for so many years and being an older student gives him a sense of perspective.

“Law school, the grades, all the assignments and tests are very important, but rather than let stress impact me, I try to maintain a sense of perspective," he said.

Matt Pekoske

MattpekoskeMatt Pekoske in uniform with his family.

Matt Pekoske, 3L, has been on active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard since 2004 and maintains his active duty status while he attends law school. Pekoske is a lieutenant and was recently selected for promotion to lieutenant commander. He will return to the Coast Guard as a judge advocate after graduation.

He has held several positions in the Coast Guard, including six years of at-sea deployments. Most recently he served as the chief of operations on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk, where he was third in command and directed the crew of 110 in counter-drug law enforcement missions off the coast of South America. He also was the Captain of an 87-foot patrol boat, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tern, and served as a military aide to a vice admiral.

Pekoske says his time in the Coast Guard definitely helped prepare him for law school.

“Time management, leadership, critical thinking, and public speaking were all skills I learned in my prior duty assignments that have helped me as a student,” he said.

He was always interested in the law, and his experiences after graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy led him to law school. His job at sea was spent enforcing environmental, immigration, and drug trafficking laws.

“I enjoyed the law enforcement aspect and working with other federal agents and attorneys to result in prosecutions,” Pekoske said.

He was selected for the Coast Guard’s advanced education program, which provides active-duty Coast Guard officers with an opportunity to attend law school full time and return to the service after graduation.

“I chose Notre Dame because it exhibits many of the same values I was accustomed to at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and because of its academic reputation and widespread alumni network,” he said.

Daniel Kim

DanielkimDaniel Kim

Daniel Kim, 3L, knew from an early age that he wanted to serve in the military. After graduating from George Washington University, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps where he served from 2011 to 2015. He was a logistics officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014. During his deployment, his battalion was involved in the drawdown of combat operations in support of the current advise-and-assist mission.

Kim says his service in the Marine Corps exposed him to many individuals, each with different political views, religious beliefs, and racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Despite our differences, we came together to get the job done and found we had much more in common than our differences. Although law school is less diverse than the Marine Corps, I am still exposed to varying viewpoints and beliefs,” he said. “There have been many times at law school where I’ve reevaluated my prior views because of my professors and classmates.”

When deciding among law schools, Notre Dame’s commitment to educating a different kind of lawyer stood out to Kim. And he cites Notre Dame’s generous Yellow Ribbon Program as a large factor in his decision. He says his experiences with the faculty and his classmates have been outstanding.

“The ethical responsibility of doing the right thing is ingrained in all Marines. We owed it to our leaders, our peers, and most importantly, our subordinates. I believed Notre Dame Law School’s commitment of imparting the ethical duties of being an attorney is just as important as teaching its students how to think like an attorney,” Kim said.

Kim plans to practice labor and employment law in Chicago after graduation.

Andrei Kouzema

Andrei Kouzema, 3L, came to law school with an inkling that he wanted to pursue a career in the military.

“As a naturalized citizen of the United States, I felt that I owed a debt to this country for the opportunities I was afforded by being here,” he said.

However, he did not think he was interested in becoming a judge advocate in the military. Instead, he told himself that if he was not personally fulfilled with his legal career post-law school, he would quit and join the military in a position unrelated to the legal profession.

During his first year at Notre Dame, he attended a symposium with Notre Dame Law alumni who spoke about the career opportunities in the military for lawyers. It was then he learned that he could practice law and serve his country at the same time.

Kouzema was personally attracted to the U.S. Marine Corps, because it treated the judge advocate position as any other line officer. He would still be required to pass the same training and meet the standards that all other officers had to meet in the Marine Corps. He was selected for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School and attended the 10-week training academy in the summer of 2017, and was commissioned as an officer. This past summer he served 60 days of active-duty orders in the trial service offices of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

When he graduates from Notre Dame, he will begin active-duty service as a judge advocate.

Michael Monk

Michael Monk, 2L, never wanted to leave the U.S. Army. He wanted to be a soldier. He enlisted at age 17 and spent seven years in the Army. He served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 1st Cavalry Division and the 101st Airborne Division.

After his last deployment to Afghanistan, he was medically retired due to combat-related issues.

Not in the best shape physically or mentally, Monk had no idea where he would go or what he would do. His grandmother stepped in and advised him to return to California, get his undergraduate degree, and pursue law school.

He took her advice. He began taking classes at a community college that happened to boast a top-notch Veterans Resource Center that helped him make the transition to college life. He found a passion for English, finished his degree at Sacramento State, and was accepted to Notre Dame. He chose Notre Dame because of its reputation for supportive professors and because of its Catholic mission.

When he started at Notre Dame, he became known right away for the popular companion always by his side — his service dog, Lexie.

When the VA suggested that a service dog would be an effective treatment for some of the medical complications he sustained from service, Monk was reluctant.

He already had Lexie and did not want another dog. He inquired about training her and, after passing a temperament test with flying colors, Lexie and Monk went through the veterans service dog program. Lexie has been by Monk’s side ever since, providing support and accompanying him nearly everywhere he goes. (Monk says, as his symptoms have lessened, Lexie now works part time.)

Monk plans to pursue a career in criminal law and this past summer worked for the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office.

“I loved the Army, but I love being here at law school at Notre Dame just as much,” he said.